|1. Questions to the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd|
|2. Questions to the Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language|
|3. Questions to the Assembly Commission|
|4. Topical Questions|
|5. 90-second Statements|
|6. Motion under Standing Order 26.17(iii) in relation to the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill|
|7. Motion under Standing Order 16.5 to establish a committee|
|8. Debate on the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee Report: Endoscopy Services in Wales|
|9. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Air Quality|
|10. Plaid Cymru Debate: Climate Justice|
|11. Plaid Cymru Debate: NHS Pay and Conditions|
|12. Voting Time|
|13. Short Debate: Run Happy|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for finance, and the first question is from Lynne Neagle.
1. What discussions has the Minister had regarding funding allocations to the education portfolio? OAQ54345
I regularly meet with my ministerial colleagues to discuss a range of financial matters across all portfolios. As part of the draft budget process, I will be holding a further round of budget bilaterals, including with the Minister for Education, this month.
Thank you, Minister. You'll be aware that the Children, Young People and Education Committee has raised serious concerns about the sufficiency of school funding in our recent report of our inquiry into school funding. I was delighted that the Welsh Government accepted every one of our recommendations. I also note the very significant amount of extra money that was invested in schools in the recent spending review. In view of those very significant pressures on funding in schools, and the major reforms that are under way in our education system, what assurance can you give that investing in the future of our children and young people will be a top priority for you in the forthcoming budget round?
I thank Lynne Neagle for raising this really important issue, which is essentially the future of our young people here in Wales. And Lynne will be aware that early years and skills and employability are two of the particular priorities that Welsh Government has across Government, and we'll be looking very closely at those in terms of the budget setting. But I'll be having those detailed discussions with the Minister for Education, and with colleagues across Government, in terms of setting the budget. Lynne is right to point to the recent spending review. It is a real shame that the UK Government felt able to give the NHS in England and education in England the confidence, if you like, of a three-year review—or a three-year outlook for spending. Unfortunately, they didn't do the same for Wales, so we only have that one year, and we have no confidence of funding beyond that.
I've seen some of the social media and press comment from the Welsh Conservatives, which has been of interest to me. And I think it's worth setting the record straight in terms of education spending here in Wales, because it has increased by 1.8 per cent in 2017-18, and that was the fastest growth of any of the four UK countries, and spending per person on education in Wales was £1,369, and that's 5 per cent higher than spending per person in England, and equates to an additional £65 per person. So, I think it's important to be able to set the record straight.
Minister, in April, new research revealed that school spending per pupil in Wales will have fallen by 9 per cent over 10 years. This works out as a cut of £500 per pupil in real terms. In view of the fact that the Welsh Government will receive £1.25 billion of extra funding over the next three years, what discussion have you had with your colleagues to ensure that the schools in Wales get the resources they deserve?
Well, the Welsh Government will not receive £1.25 billion over the next three years; the Welsh Government will receive an additional £593 million above our current budget for next year, and that represents an increase of 2.3 per cent in real terms, and we'll also receive an additional £18 million in capital, which will be a 2.4 per cent increase on our current budget. And I have to say this goes back to that point about the NHS and education in England being afforded that three-year look ahead in terms of their budgets. We were promised, in a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that there would be a three-year comprehensive spending review this year. Instead, we've only been allocated a short spending round, which doesn't give us the ability to plan ahead in the same way. It doesn't give us the ability to allow local authorities to plan ahead in the same way. So, it's completely untrue to suggest that we have a three-year settlement of over £1 billion.
My apologies. I realised my headphone was broken, and there was no-one to assist me.
Despite the picture that you paint of the situation in terms of the UK, it’s the responsibility of the Government here to set priorities within its own budget. And you will be aware that the Children, Young People and Education Committee suggested strongly that there needs to be a balance of expenditure towards preventative spend, with education and schools as a central part of that. Otherwise, we will continue to lose our most experienced teachers, we’ll see increased class sizes, we’ll see further erosion of early years education and we’ll see well-being and pastoral services disappear, with the inevitable conclusion that standards will fall. So, I do hope that you will take that message clearly into your discussions with the rest of the Cabinet.
May I ask a specific question on support for the further education sector in terms of staff pay and pensions? Can you give us an update, please, because there have been no details about additional funding allocations for further education?
Thank you very much, diolch yn fawr iawn, for raising that issue. In terms of the pensions cost, you'll be aware that the total cost of the pension changes for devolved and non-devolved public pension schemes in Wales is £255 million for this year, and the UK Government only gave us £219 million in respect of those increases, with left us with a funding gap this year of £36 million, which the Welsh Government had to find. Looking ahead to next year, I think we can expect that that funding gap will increase, potentially up to £50 million. So, that does put an additional pressure on Welsh Government, and it's important to recognise as well, in terms of our funding round for next year, that the 15 per cent cut that we had this year has been baselined. So, we will have that 15 per cent cut now in future budgets as well. So, I think that's something that we continue to take up with the UK Government, because, in terms of our funding agreement with the UK Government, when they do provide pressures on us as a Government as a result of things that they have raised, then it is incumbent on them to provide us with that funding, which they haven't done.
Specifically with regard to FE and the pensions there, those are discussions that I am having with the education Minister.
2. What considerations has the Minister given to ensuring that the forthcoming Welsh Government budget does not reduce services to over-60s in Wales? OAQ54305
We continually assess the impact of a range of factors on Welsh Government spending plans, including the latest demographic projections. I'll be meeting with the older persons' commissioner on 9 October, as part of my engagement with stakeholders ahead of the forthcoming budget.
May I thank the Minister for her answer? And it's very important that you do meet with the older persons' commissioner to discuss these needs. We've seen the UK Government cuts to pensioners; they've attacked, for example, the Women Against State Pension Inequality, ensuring that they have harder considerations for their state pension. We've seen how they've taken away tv licenses, or overseen the taking away of tv licences for some people. It's important that this group of people have always been supported by the Welsh Government. They've always been able to benefit from the over-60s' travel concessions on buses. They've also been able to benefit from free swimming for over-60s. I've obviously had a lot of correspondence from constituents following recent announcements by the Welsh Government, particularly the letter from the Deputy Minister last week, which highlighted the changes to the free swimming concessions. These people see this as a benefit for their health, for their well-being, to remove loneliness and isolation, to actually be a very important part of civil society. Will the Welsh Government ensure that these communities are not going to be forgotten about in the Welsh budget, and will be supported to continue these activities?
I can certainly give you that reassurance. Social care is one area that is particularly important to older people, and that is one of our top cross-Government priority areas. As part of my considerations for the budget, I undertook a series of visits over the summer, and a couple of them will be of particular interest. The first one was an integrated care fund project in Cardiff, which is there to support older people, and then, a second visit was to the Maes Arthur housing development in Aberystwyth, and that's a social housing development that is helping older people to downsize to properties that they find more manageable and then also freeing up properties with larger numbers of bedrooms for families to be able to take as well. So, those are a couple of the visits that I took that have a specific relevance to older people.
In terms of the free swimming initiative, of course, there's a question to the Deputy Minister later on this afternoon in terms of being able to explore that further, but it is important to recognise that there will still be a free swimming offer for both young people and the over-60s, delivered by local authorities, based on local authorities' understanding of their communities, with a focus on providing opportunities for young people especially in disadvantaged communities. But over-60s will also remain a target audience, and it's important that local authorities find the best way in order to engage with that target audience to understand how free swimming can best meet those needs.
And on the issue of the free buss pass, I know that there's been an opportunity for you to discuss your concerns there with the Minister for Economy and Transport, and I'm sure those discussions will be ongoing, because, of course, that's part of a piece of legislation that will be subject to the full scrutiny process within the Assembly.
Local authorities, of course, across Wales provide services that are greatly valued and, indeed, much needed by our older people. However, despite having the highest percentage of over-65s in north Wales, Conwy County Borough Council has historically been hit by your poor settlements. The local authority is now facing a budget shortfall of £12.5 million for the next financial year. It would take a 23.1 per cent council tax increase to cover the service pressures, meaning that, yet again, there would be even more penny pinching from our pensioners. This has to stop, and the buck falls fairly and squarely with your Welsh Government. You have the money provided by the UK Government. One pound twenty—£1.20—for every pound spent in England is spent here in Wales. The thing is, will you now commit to using some of this extra £600 million from the Chancellor to stop the strategy of continual slicing of local government settlements, and no more so than for our local authorities in north Wales?
Well, the nerve is quite incredible. The fact that Welsh Government has had budget cuts for a decade—. People have been living with austerity for a decade, and the buck stops firmly in the UK Government's responsibilities there, I have to say. But, that said, I think it's important to recognise as well that Welsh Government has been quite clear in our early discussions about the budget that health will continue to be a top priority, but we are really, really keen to ensure that we can offer the best possible settlement to local authorities.
As far as the local authorities funding formula is concerned, that's decided in partnership with local authorities, and the Minister for Housing and Local Government and I have been very clear that we are open to ideas of other ways to deal with the formula, but the local authorities themselves haven't pressed us for changes to that formula.
A big concern for many people in the Rhondda right now, and something that could reduce access to services, is the question of bus pass renewal. The current bus pass will no longer be valid after December, so people are naturally keen to quickly get sorted what is, for many, a lifeline to the world outside their front door. Unfortunately, from day one there have been major problems. For some reason, the applications were only made available online, and we're talking about pensioners. Some pensioners are, of course, not online and will not have friends or family to help, and the suggestion from Transport for Wales that a carer could help is laughable, because we all know that carers are not given enough time to do their job as things stand.
After a week, it was announced that paper applications were going to be accepted. Whether this is anything to do with the Transport for Wales bus pass renewal website crashing and being offline since last week is anybody's guess. Why weren't these bus passes automatically renewed? No-one has got younger since they first applied, have they? Minister, will this Government take responsibility for this botched exercise and, if necessary, put more resources into this so that no-one who is eligible for a bus pass misses out as a result of someone else's incompetence?
Well, I'll repeat what I said yesterday, and I think Leanne Wood was in the Chamber when I said it yesterday, and that's the fact that the existing concessionary travel cards will continue to remain valid until 31 December. So, the key message is that there's no rush to apply for your new bus pass; we have until the end of the year. And the reason why we have new bus passes is because the current chips will no longer work in the system after 31 December, but the new ones will be formatted so that they can work in a integrated transport setting, and we talk all the time about the importance of integrated travel. It is true, of course, that there was a great deal of traffic on the website in the early days and that did lead to the website crashing, which is obviously unfortunate, but work has been undertaken now to improve the experience and the capacity of that website. And discussions are being held to see how older people can be supported to apply for their bus pass if they don't have somebody to support them with that. I'm sure that the Minister for Economy and Transport will be able to provide further updates in due course.
Minister, as a result of cuts to local government budgets over the years, the over-60s have been hit disproportionately. We have seen the closure of day centres and libraries, which have increased loneliness and isolation in this age group. Minister, how will your Government ensure that your future budget decisions do not contribute to increasing loneliness and isolation?
Welsh Government has been clear that tackling loneliness and isolation is a priority for us. There was a great piece of work that was done by the committee that looked at that, and it is informing Welsh Government as to how we might go about tackling loneliness and isolation in future.
Through local authorities, Welsh Government funding is going towards community co-ordinators or local brokers—they're given different names in different parts of Wales. They're doing absolutely incredible work in terms of linking up older people who are experiencing loneliness and isolation with the kind of services and the breadth of social opportunities that are in communities. And that is something I'm really keen to continue supporting because I've seen for myself the incredible work that they do.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
Diolch, Llywydd. Afternoon, Minister. Yesterday, you provided us with an update on the implications of the UK Government's spending round and your priorities for the Welsh Government budget. I hear what you've just said in answer to a previous question regarding the desire to have a three-yearly sustainable projection of spending in Wales, and that's something I think we would all like to see ultimately.
However, could you give us a bit more detail on how you intend to make the most of the additional £600-million-or-so funding, because that is to be welcomed, which is coming to Wales as a result of this spending round?
Thank you. I'll be, in the first instance, completing my current round of bilaterals with my Ministers. So, I have discussions early on in the year—so in March—where we look at what our priorities overall, our strategic priorities for Government, might be. And, again, you'd imagine that health is high up there in those discussions and also support for local government. But then, through the year, we have a range and series of bilaterals with Ministers when they talk about the priorities within their portfolio, delivery against our programme for government, pressures that are emerging within those budgets, but also, crucially, new opportunities in terms of responding to current issues. So, we have the climate emergency, which has been declared by the Welsh Government, so we've had good discussions with each Minister in terms of how we can best respond to that.
Thank you, Minister. The education Minister has joined us in the Chamber. Obviously, a sixth sense operating, as I was going to focus a little on some of the announcements she made yesterday in terms of education spending. School funding in particular, in Wales, as I said yesterday, has not kept pace with inflation. Between 2010-11 and 2018-19 gross budget expenditure on schools has actually seen a 2.9 per cent real-terms cut—real terms I'm talking about now, not in cash terms—and school funding per pupil has widened to £645 per pupil in 2017-18. How are you going to use the new funding allocation to address this?
It's nice of Nick Ramsay to join us because, of course, in answer to the first question this afternoon, I was able to talk to Lynne Neagle about our approach to education and the priority that we are putting on that. The education Minister is quite right that the gap is actually closing and I think that that is something to be welcomed. I was able to outline at the start that education spending per head in Wales has increased to a point at which it's 5 per cent higher now than education spending per head in England, and I think that's important.
Over the recent years, we've made more than £265 million available through direct education grants to local authorities, and that includes regional school improvement grants, the pupil deprivation grant, and also the local authority education grant, which includes the PDG access and so on. In terms of capital spend, we're doing an incredible amount of work through our twenty-first century schools programme, and hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in that programme as well.
I certainly support the Minister on the issue of the twenty-first century schools programme, and I've voiced my support for that in this Chamber. That is a very good scheme. You mentioned that the gap is closing, but of course that gap is still significant, and it is still a significant gap with spending across the border in England, so we do hope the Government will come forward with policies to close that gap further and also take inflation into account.
It's not just an issue of funding, though, for schools in the current year. A recent report has shown that current reserves held by schools have dropped by 28 per cent from 2016-17. Schools had a total reserve of £50 million in 2018, or £111 per pupil, and that's down from £64 million in 2016. I'm not sure whether you've got this year's figures in relation to reserves, but it's clear that school budgets are under pressure from all angles. So, Minister, how are you making sure that the financial position of schools in Wales, leaving aside the new buildings, which are to be welcomed, but the actual financial position of schools is safeguarded?
If I can just finish by asking you, the Minister for Education set out during the 2019-20 budget that the Welsh Government were investing £100 million in raising school standards over the fifth Assembly term, but that funding, I understand, is not to be allocated to schools via core funding, but through the revenue support grant. Do you think it's time that this was looked at, and that there's a better way to fund schools in Wales so that there is a protection of budgets, so we do really see that improvement in the funding situation of schools that we want to see, and the money doesn't just disappear into other areas where we'd rather it didn't go?
I'm really sympathetic to the need that people have to better understand exactly what our proposals will be in the budget for next year, and I understand the keenness that people have to have some early announcements made. But I think that it would be unfair to go ahead and make announcements before we've had another bilateral round with my fellow Ministers, and also before I've had the opportunity to meet and discuss things further with the children's commissioner, the older people's commissioner, the Welsh Language Commissioner, another round of discussions with the future generations commissioner, and discussions with the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I think that there's a lot of listening and talking to do before we get to the point where we're able to give these indicative budgets for next year. That said, I know that the education Minister has been pleased to accept all the recommendations of the recent Children, Young People and Education Committee inquiry into school funding, and I'm sure that she'll have more to say on that in due course.
Thank you very much. After a decade of pressure on local government budgets in Wales, they can't face any more cuts, or even stay flat in terms of funding. Can you give us an assurance that local government will be prioritised for 2020-21 with a significant real-terms increase in their budgets?
I can certainly give the assurance that, in the discussions that we've had, the early discussions about priorities, health obviously remains a top priority, but we have all been clear that we want to give local government the best possible settlement. In terms of what more I can say about that, at the moment, without having further detailed discussions, I wouldn't want to say too much more today.
‘Best possible settlement’, I'm afraid, doesn't give me the confidence I'm seeking, and I'm sure it wouldn't give the confidence that local authorities are seeking either. In the past, a flat settlement has been sold to local government as being good news. It is not. I mentioned Ynys Môn in the Chamber yesterday, saying that they needed £6 million. The figure varies from council to council, of course. Bridgend is looking at cuts of £35 million; there would need to be an increase in council tax of over 13 per cent to actually fill that gap in their budget. We can't go back in 2020-21 asking council tax payers in Wales to fill the gap, because the pressure would be too great on them. Additional funding must come from the Welsh Government. Councils are facing pressures of over £0.25 billion next year, and with budgets where there is discretion having been cut so sharply, there is nowhere left to cut now without going to those core fundamental services, such as children’s services, and we cannot afford to cut those. Therefore, I ask again: can I have an assurance that you won't celebrate some sort of standstill settlement as good news, but this time, you will look for an increase to correspond to what local government in Wales say that they need only to stand still?
So, we're having those clear discussions with local government, in terms of what they've identified as the pressures that they're experiencing within their budget, but also their ambitions to do more in future years. I do have a meeting with the local government Minister with the local government finance sub-group, which is the group where all the leaders of local authorities and chief executives of local authorities have the opportunity to talk to me and the local government Minister about finance issues. So, we will be talking at our next meeting, which I believe is next week, and having some early discussions about the budget for next year. We've only had our spending round funding announcement for around two weeks, so, at this point, I'm not able to make the kind of announcements that we're all keen to hear, but I will try and give that kind of certainty as soon as possible.
I note in answers to both myself and other Assembly Members today you have mentioned health first of all as the priority, and all of us, of course, prioritise health, but can I ask you to draw together health and social care in your consideration of what happens to local government funding? Because there's every danger that by pumping into health what some may deem to be necessary for health, very limited resources are left to spend on local government. Without funding for social care in local government we are never going to solve the cumulative and collective health and social care issue. Therefore, can we have an assurance that social care delivered through local government will be prioritised as much as health when it comes to the budget for 2020-21?
I completely agree that health and social care are completely interlocked—you can't separate the two. Pressures in one area will inevitably lead to pressures in another. And investment in one area can benefit the other, which is why we have the integrated care fund. I was pleased, in my previous role, to announce £130 million of additional funding, capital funding, for the integrated care fund to look at housing-based solutions for health and social care issues. And the integrated care fund on the whole is doing fantastic work in terms of changing that trajectory for people, if you like, so that they're able to have their hospital admission prevented, or if people do go to hospital, then it ensures that they are able to leave hospital much more quickly and return either to home or another step-down service. So, we've already recognised the interconnectedness of health and social care, and clearly that will be part of our considerations in the budget.
Minister, you spoke at some length around the block grant for next year and what we now know following the one-year spending review. The other side of your revenues that you'll be able to use to fund spending commitments in Wales are the revenues from the devolved taxes, and I wondered if you could update us around those in the supplementary budget. Notwithstanding another half year’s data, we didn't see any changes in the forecast. The Finance Committee scrutinised this agreement, which I think we broadly support, with the Office for Budget Responsibility, but I wonder, given what’s happened with the UK Government—. I think you said yesterday the OBR hadn't yet been tasked with doing a UK-wide forecast. What impact will that have on how they support you on the forecast for Welsh devolved taxes? Will they be forecast on a self-standing basis just for Wales, or will the OBR still be looking at a comparison with England as to what those taxes will be?
So, we're in constant discussion with the OBR and the majority of our funding is still determined, of course, by the UK Government’s spending decisions, which have just been announced. As you say, there are no new fiscal forecasts alongside the announcement, so there’s no update to the devolved revenue forecast for Wales. But the next tax revenue forecast for the Welsh Government will be published alongside the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2021. So, I said yesterday that I'm hoping to bring forward the publication of the draft budget to the start of November, subject to the agreement of the Finance Committee and the Business Committee. So, we'll be publishing those details alongside the draft budget. And, of course, the two fully devolved taxes are still on course to bring in over £1 billion in their first two years to fund public services here in Wales. The OBR, in their March forecast, said that rates of income tax will raise around £2.2 billion in their first year. So, we have those forecasts but expect more detailed forecasts to be published alongside the budget in November.
But if the OBR is not tasked, at least yet, by UK Government with doing forecasts on a UK basis, how will it be doing those Wales forecasts? Has it got a model of the Welsh economy and will be looking at Wales in isolation, or will it be doing a UK forecast despite not being tasked with that by the UK Government and then applying a variance for Wales? And will the Minister say a little more about what her team are doing and the resources that she has to support that liaison with the OBR? Because it is the Welsh Treasury that is responsible for making those forecasts, and then the OBR will test and validate them, and this is new work for her and her department. For instance, we saw earlier today that house price inflation in Wales was higher than any of the other nations and regions of the UK. Why is that? Does Welsh Government expect that to persist, because that will have an impact on revenue? Similarly, employment growth in Wales and wage growth in Wales—how does Welsh Government expect that to compare with the UK and why, since our revenues and ability to support spending will rest on those judgments, albeit validated, we hope, by the OBR?
So, at the annual tax conference, which I held back in July—and I was really pleased that Mark Reckless was able to join us at that—the OBR gave a very detailed presentation that set out how it considers various elements and what it considers in terms of being able to provide those forecasts. So, they were providing forecasts for us specifically here in Wales, but obviously drawing on a range of data from elsewhere. I think that they'll be doing the detailed work for us here in Wales. I would imagine, by that point that, they potentially would have done it for the UK Government as well. We have to presume that there will be an autumn statement and they will be engaged, I would assume, almost immediately to undertake work to inform that.
If it's helpful, Llywydd, I could organise a technical briefing for Members from the OBR, which might give an opportunity to explore further some of those detailed questions that might be of interest as we start to move towards publication of updated forecasts.
3. Will the Minister explain how the awarding of discretionary business rate relief can support small and medium sized businesses? OAQ54311
Local authorities can use discretionary rate relief to reduce the non-domestic rate bills for businesses and other ratepayers where they consider it will have the greatest local impact. Welsh Government has provided an additional £2.4 million to local authorities in 2019-20 to deliver discretionary relief.
Thank you for your answer, Trefnydd. You've previously talked about, and your predecessors have talked about, reforming the business rate system in Wales. When it comes to business full rate relief, properties, of course, with a rateable value of up to £12,000 can benefit from rate relief in England, but in Wales that figure is just for business properties with a rateable value of up to £6,000. Can I ask you to provide an update on what progress is being made with regard to the work on reforming business rate with regard to supporting small and medium-sized businesses, so that when it comes to the rateable value they are on an equal footing and not disadvantaged because their businesses are located in Wales rather than over the border in England?
Thank you for raising this issue. I think it's important that the thresholds that we have here in Wales reflect the Welsh tax base. Our scheme reflects the fact that rateable values here in Wales—the average rateable value—is much lower than across the border in England. I think in Wales we're looking at average rateable values of £33,000, whereas over in England I think we're looking at in excess of £50,000. So, it is important that our schemes here in Wales reflect the different situation that we have here in Wales. But that said, we are doing some work that looks at the potential reforming of business rates in the future. We're also looking in parallel at potential reforms to council tax in future. So, we're looking at both of our local taxes to see how we can potentially improve them for the future. We're expecting a mid-term report on the work in terms of non-domestic rates around October and I'd be happy to provide some kind of outline as to what the early findings of that are.FootnoteLink I had a good discussion this morning with the Welsh Retail Consortium. They're really interested in that piece of work, and I'm keen to engage their expertise in terms of getting an understanding from them if they feel that the research is taking us in the right direction. But everything I do in terms of tax, non-domestic rates—as we look to reform and change things, I want to do it collaboratively and in an open and transparent way, so I'd be happy to discuss things further.
4. What recent discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Housing and Local Government in terms of providing additional budget allocations to fund recycling in Wales? OAQ54324
I have regular discussions with the Minister for Housing and Local Government to discuss a range of financial issues, including recycling. Despite the cuts to our capital budget, we've invested an additional £30 million over the period 2018/19 to 2020/1 to support the collaborative change in waste procurement programmes.
Thank you for that answer. Minister, you will be aware that local authorities throughout Wales are sending much of their collected recycling to recycling centres in England and further abroad. In our own county of Swansea, for example, the council sends thousands of tonnes of waste to Turkey, China, India, Indonesia and Poland. Do you therefore agree that we need to do more to focus on this agenda? And what additional funding is the Welsh Government prepared to provide to local authorities to develop regional or national recycling centres to ensure that we recycle all that we can in Wales, reducing our carbon footprint and creating jobs for people in Wales?
Well, yes, I certainly need to acknowledge that we need to do more in this particular area, because it is true that some of our waste is exported to Europe and, as you said, to other countries around the world, but it is important to recognise that most of it is processed here in Wales. We've supported the development of infrastructure to process our waste here, with the longer term aim to process as much of our waste here as we possibly can. Clearly, we don't want to be seeing waste being exported from the UK to other countries and not being treated properly, and we've seen some stories in the press about that.
I think the reason that we are able to have the figures, though, which you've quoted to us, is the fact that Wales is the only country in the UK that mandates local authorities to use WasteDataFlow, and that's a system for municipal waste data reporting. As part of that, local authorities are required now to report the end destination of their waste. So I think it's really positive that we have that clarity and transparency as far as that's concerned.
The Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government will be making a statement next Tuesday on recycling, and that will be another opportunity, I think, to talk about this in more detail.
I hear what you said, finance Minister, about waste flow and monitoring that within local authorities, but surely one of the things that as finance Minister you must be concerned about is the strength of the audit trail. Many of us have seen television images and pictures in newspapers showing Welsh recycled waste—and people have entered that in good faith—appearing on shores many, many thousands of miles away from these islands. So, what efforts are you making to make sure that the audit process is robust and any new money you might be putting into the recycling initiatives can genuinely be used to recycle what product is available here in Wales or, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom, rather than just dumped on shores, as I said, many thousands of miles away in a very cavalier way?
Well, as I say, Welsh local authorities do have that statutory requirement to report the end destinations of the waste that they collect, but I think that we're all well aware of the recent WalesOnline article that showed that 0.8 per cent of waste collected in Wales was sent to unspecified final destinations. Obviously, even though that's a very small percentage, it's something that is of real concern to us all. So, I can confirm that all local authorities have now been asked to review their contracts to make sure that we can put an end to that.
5. Will the Minister give an update on Welsh Government plans for second homes taxes? OAQ54333
My officials are continuing to work with local government to review how local authorities are using their discretionary powers to apply council tax premiums. They will consider any evidence provided to aid the review and ensure that the legislation is operating as intended.
There was a discussion on this subject yesterday, if you remember, and I must say that I was stunned that the First Minister missed the point entirely. The totally unacceptable situation is that there's an anomaly in the system, which means that a great number of second-home owners avoid paying taxes. They don’t pay council tax, and neither do they pay business rates, as they act as a business for a very short period of time in the year. That’s the anomaly that needs to be addressed, and you will know that I have drawn attention to this a number of times, and the Welsh Local Government Association also agrees that there’s a need to do something as a matter of urgency. As you say, your officials are reviewing the situation. I met with them back in June, and they promised that there would be some kind of progress or report made in this field, but I’m still waiting to see what the recommendations will be. This is a scandal and has to be sorted out quickly.
Thank you for raising this, and thank you also for your interest in the issue and for speaking to my officials with your ideas as to how we can start to address this particular matter. It is the case that a business must be able to demonstrate that the property that they're seeking to let as holiday let accommodation, for example, is available for at least 140 days in a 12-month period, and actually let for 70 days. Now, the question there is: have we got the balance right? Is 140 days to be shown as available for letting right, and is 70 days for actually being let—is that right? Does that demonstrate that that property is being used as self-catering accommodation? So, this is another issue that I'll be speaking to the local government finance sub-group about at our next meeting, which I believe is next week, but it's an issue that I'm certainly alive to.
We did ask local authorities to let us know of any cases where they felt that a property was being marketed as self-catering accommodation, but actually not being used in that way. Local authorities did come forward, including Gwynedd, with some examples of properties that they thought fell into that category. The Valuation Office Agency looked at each of the cases and found that they were all were operating within the law, but then there is that question as to whether or not we have it right in terms of the number of days, and I'm certainly keen to look at that.
If these properties are not paying a business rate, they should be paying council tax. That seems to be at the heart of this, and we need to sort something out.
I can assure you that we are having these discussions with local authorities in terms of their experiences of the issue, to what extent this is a problem. It does vary across Wales, I think, in terms of how many second homes there are and how many holiday lets there are, and it's certainly an acute problem in some areas. But it's one that we're really keen to address because, as I said, we've got a piece of work going on looking at the future of council tax, looking at different ways of looking at council tax, to try and make it more progressive, looking at land value taxes, looking at local income taxes—all kinds of different permutations of raising local taxation in future. And, certainly, this is part of it.
I would give a simple answer to you: why don't you end the business rate relief on houses and flats? If you do that, then it wouldn't do any good to them to call them businesses. I can see no good reason for giving business rate relief on houses and flats. If you stopped that, you'd remove the anomaly, and you can do that tomorrow.
I know that there have been consultations on this matter by Welsh Government in the past as to whether particular classes of property should be exempt from small business rates relief. Certainly, that was something that was looked at in depth when we developed the permanent scheme. Removal of rate relief for self-catering properties wasn't considered appropriate and I think, if I recall correctly, that was because of the impact that it might have on the tourism industry, where these properties are particularly important in some areas in terms of keeping the tourism industry alive. There's obviously a really difficult and delicate balance to be addressed.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the effect of the UK Government's recent financial announcement on the Welsh Government's budget? OAQ54320
Based on the UK Government’s spending round, our budget for 2020-1 will be 2 per cent lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11, equivalent to £300 million lower in real terms than a decade ago. In my oral statement yesterday, I set out the impact of the UK Government’s spending review.
Thank you for that response. I’m not going to apologise for making a plea once again that you ensure that local authorities in Wales are given an improved settlement this year. We’ve already heard about the £6 million required for Anglesey to stand still. We’ve seen in the paper this morning that Flintshire council is at the edge of a financial precipice, and I wouldn’t like to imagine what the implications of that would be if things were to go terribly wrong there.
Now, previously, the Government has said that local authorities would be at the front of the queue if funding were to be available. I would ask you to at least repeat that commitment and to do that in the knowledge that fairer funding for local authorities, as we’ve already heard, could contribute substantially to health issues through funding social services properly, but it could also allow us to start to tackle the underfunding of schools too. So, what I want to hear from you and the Government is that local authorities will be at the front of the queue.
Thank you. All of these arguments in favour of improved settlements for local authorities are very well made and well heard, and you would have heard the First Minister previously say that were additional funding to be available then local authorities and local government would be at the front of that queue.
Lynne Neagle mentioned earlier the Children, Young People and Education Committee report, which in very strong terms criticised both Governments regarding school funding. The UK Government has responded and increased the Welsh block as a result of increasing its own UK schools budgets by £14 billion. So, we do now need to see action on this from Welsh Government, and I'm afraid, Minister, you can't just justify years of underfunding in our schools in Wales—this is a point made by unions, not just this side of the Chamber—by pointing at another Government that's taken immediate action to reverse the dangers that were affecting them.
Lynne Neagle asked about early years, but can you confirm that most if not all of the money will go to schools or local authorities for their school budgets? I appreciate you can't give details on that, but in principle. And, if that money does go to local authorities for their school budgets, will it be protected so that councils won't be tempted to divert that money into other areas of need and priority?
Well, I can't agree that the UK Government's taken immediate action to address funding in schools. They've been in power for a decade, so it has taken them some time to wake up to the importance of education and also they gave schools in England and the NHS the certainty of a three-year outlook for their spending. They didn't have the courtesy to do that here in Wales, where we had been promised a three-year spending review. So, in terms of making announcements today and pledges today, I'm not in a position to do that. We've only had our spending allocations for next year, with two years to do that. But I would just reassure people that we are listening to all the arguments that you made, which local authorities made, which different sectors are making, and all of that will be considered as we look to set the budgets in future.
Minister, within this austerity context, if could we have some clarity as to the financial situation, perhaps you could tell us how much money we've lost since 2010 when the Tories came into power, perhaps you could tell us what guarantees you've had in respect of European Union funding were we to leave the European Union, and, in respect of the additional money that's being promised, have we actually seen any of this money or is it still as imaginary—[Interruption.] Is it still as imaginary as the Prime Minister's Brexit deal?
I thank Mick Antoniw for raising that. In terms of, 'Have we seen any of the money of it yet?', well, the answer to that is 'no', and there's no cast-iron guarantee that we will, of course, because it has to be subject to a finance Bill going through Parliament, and Parliament, of course, is not sitting at the moment. So, that's obviously an area of concern to us. So, we won't see a single penny of that until the necessary parliamentary processes have completed.
In terms of EU funding, again, the Chancellor was absolutely silent on replacement EU funding and the proposed shared prosperity fund. I asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about the shared prosperity fund and, again, it was pushed down the road—'There'll be consultation in future'. We've been promised that consultation for about 18 months now and we are really keen to engage in that. It shouldn't be right that we're consultees anyway, because this is so fundamental, but we continue to make those points that we cannot have a situation where devolution is bypassed as a result of that fund.
I did raise the issue of the fact that Wales should not be a penny worse off with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and reminded him that it was a key pledge during the referendum, but he replied, of course, that that was a pledge by the 'leave' campaign, and they are the Conservative Government, but then we reminded him that the Prime Minister is actually one of the people who led that campaign, so we would expect him to stick to that promise to the people of Wales.
Mick Antoniw is completely right to raise the fact that we've seen a decade of cuts and that the funding that we have now additionally put before us doesn't even begin to take us back to the level at which we were 10 years ago.
The next item is questions to the Minister for International Affairs and the Welsh Language, and the first question is from Llyr Gruffydd.
1. What importance does the Welsh Government place on young people aged 16-18 in considering its target of reaching one million Welsh speakers by 2050? OAQ54321
Thank you very much. Young people are at the heart of Cymraeg 2050. We’re working with schools and FE colleagues to increase opportunities for young people to use Welsh. Of course, we've also expanded the role of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, but we also acknowledge that there is a need for us to do more.
Can you tell me, therefore, what’s the purpose of expanding provision when more and more young people contact me saying that they can’t access that provision? Many of us in this Chamber, I’m sure, have seen an increase in the casework that we receive from sixth-form students in Welsh-medium schools who are facing a situation where the transport that was provided to those schools by local authorities is being cut. I’ve dealt with cases in Wrexham, Flintshire, Denbighshire and in other counties across north Wales. Some of them have been resolved; others, unfortunately, have not. So, can I ask you what you’re going to do to ensure that students can access, through transport, those schools where this additional provision that you mention is provided?
Well, we are spending quite a lot of time at present trying to ensure that we improve the situation. I have had another meeting this morning with the Minister responsible for education, and both of us have written to the Minister with responsibility for transport, and so there is an effort being made to ensure that we are able to come to a different place as regards this problem. There will be a refresh of Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008, and that’ll be happening in the autumn, and, of course, that’s an opportunity for people to respond to the consultation, but we do acknowledge that there is a problem and that, particularly, there is a problem in Flintshire, and also in the Neath area.
Minister, Llyr Gruffydd made a very valid point about the importance of being able to access those Welsh-medium services when they are provided. And whilst we all welcome the 1 million Welsh-speaker target and recognise the importance of Welsh-medium education in delivering that, I think the pressures that Llyr has alluded to are probably even more pressing in anglicised areas of Wales, such as the area that I represent, than they are in some of the more Welsh-speaking areas. So, referring to the answer you gave to Llyr in terms of the transport that Welsh-medium—I didn't quite catch your answer there, but the answer you gave—can you say what particular focus you're putting on making sure that my constituents who wish to access Welsh services in an area where, traditionally, that hasn't been the case, they will get specific support to make sure that Welsh-medium education and Welsh-medium services are available to all?
When local authorities are developing their Welsh in education strategic plans, they do have to be cognisant of the transport issues in relation to how those children get to school. There is, of course, a statutory requirement for them to provide that to Welsh-speaking schools under the age of 16. There is an issue for those over 18, and this is where the issue comes in, because it is not a statutory situation at the moment, and we are assessing what are the possibilities to re-look at that situation. It is quite complex and, obviously, there may be some knock-on effects. We are actually spending a lot of time now trying to address this very issue.
You would agree with me, Minister, I'm sure, that it's important in areas where the Welsh language isn’t as deeply rooted that we do more to help to root it more firmly. So, how will the Welsh Government work with local authorities and local communities in Ogmore to promote the Welsh, and how ambitious will the education targets and the early years targets be in assisting with this?
Thank you very much, and may I thank you for posing that question in Welsh? Of course, we do set targets for local government. My officials have been busy over the summer holding discussions with the officers in some of the local authorities, including Bridgend, and, of course, what we’re trying to do is ensure that we lead the demand and not just react to the demand. In Bridgend, we hope that we will attain a target of approximately 30 per cent over the ensuing decade. What we’ve been doing is offering additional support to try and promote the Welsh language in those areas and to try and engender more interest from local people.
What’s also important is that there is progression or continuity, that people go from primary school on to the secondary schools, and that has been a problem in the past—particularly in your area, I’m afraid. But, of course, we’re not just talking about schools; there are other things that we are doing to promote the Welsh language in areas such as Bridgend, such as the mentrau iaith that give people a lot of support to have the opportunity to speak Welsh socially.
2. What actions are the Welsh Government taking to promote community sport and recreation? OAQ54335
Thank you very much, Joyce. Encouraging our communities to become more active is a Welsh Government priority. In the year 2018-19, our delivery partner, Sport Wales, provided around £16 million to local authorities, national governing bodies of sport and other partners specifically for community sport development and to support them in delivering sport and physical activity opportunities reflecting local needs.
I thank you for that answer. I recently visited Open Newtown project in Powys and it's part of a community asset transfer project of 130 acres of green space that secured a 99-year lease from Powys and Newtown councils. And there are many elements to this project and they'll be delivered over five years, with funding from many sources. But the main aim of the project is to enhance green spaces in Newtown for both the community and the visitor, and it has a very strong emphasis on improving and enhancing sport and recreation for all. It's being done in many ways: improving pathways, football pitches, play areas and building a footbridge for pedestrians and cyclists. Have you made any assessment, Minister, of whether the community asset transfer projects are a possible way of enhancing and improving activity, sport and recreation within those communities?
I think we all have experience in our regions and constituencies in this place of the success of community asset transfers. It is a way of taking on the activity of public authorities in a way that links with the community needs. So, we will certainly continue to assess the effectiveness of both community asset transfer and trust models, and, in our work with Sport Wales and others of the public bodies for which I have responsibility, we work to ensure that the effectiveness of community asset transfer is made aware to people. And I would recommend to you, if you haven't been on it already, the Club Solutions website of Sport Wales, which emphasises how community asset transfer and trust models can be a very effective way of managing facilities for sport and other activities by communities for themselves. I haven't mentioned, of course, the wonderful swimming pool and climbing wall in Harlech, and I shouldn't have done that.
Deputy Minister, you may be aware of the long-established partnership between the Valero refinery in Pembroke and Sport Pembrokeshire, which has supported sport across Pembrokeshire for many years. This is an excellent example of businesses working with the local authorities and the local communities to support community sport, and certainly the partnership has had a real impact on community sport throughout Pembrokeshire. Now, in light of this, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to encourage more relationships between businesses and local authorities to develop sports programmes in the community?
I am most grateful for that specific information. I’m familiar with Pembrokeshire—in fact, I was there this week. It’s always a pleasure to see how major international companies, such as Valero, invest back into the community. I will look in greater detail at that. I’m certainly most willing to draw local government and local communities’ attention towards the possibility of improving their services by receiving effective commercial sponsorship. This is true in the field of the arts, and it’s also true in the field of sports. The Valero company, as you know very well yourself, has contributed in those two directions—to increase and augment the arts and sports community provision.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Delyth Jewell.
Minister, the draft international strategy that you published over the summer includes three aims. The third of these is to highlight Wales as a nation that is responsible at a global level. Can you explain how that is in keeping with the Welsh Government’s presence in the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair last week?
It is important that we ensure that our principles and our values are seen throughout the world. I do think it’s important that, together with that strategy, it also states clearly that cyber security is one of the main issues where people understand that Wales has expertise in this field. It’s important for us to highlight that. And it is difficult—. Because there is a close relationship, and we have to acknowledge that, between what occurs in the field of defence and what happens in commercial cyber security. So, it’s very difficult to separate the two things. There is a relationship, but I think it’s important we do not detract from pushing cyber security when we have the opportunity to do so.
Minister, I don’t think that response is sufficient. Time and time again, we’ve received pledges from your Government stating that you want to be responsible, ethical, progressive, and time and again, you undermine this by behaving in unethical, irresponsible and non-progressive ways. So, one area that is highlighted in the strategy is to use the Welsh language to promote the unique heritage and culture of our nation. The strategy of the Basque Country, for example, includes a role for the Etxepare Basque Institute in order to promote the Basque language, and to increase the profile of the language and its culture across the world. For example, they went this year to the Edinburgh fringe festival. The only mention of the Welsh language in your international strategy is a few references to the fact that the Welsh language exists. Do you agree that you need to reconsider this, and consider the role of the Welsh language within your international strategy? Will you commit today, as a first step to put right the error, that you will overturn your disgraceful decision to refuse to provide Welsh language lessons free of charge to refugees in Wales—a decision that is entirely contrary to the commitment in your nation of sanctuary scheme to ensure that asylum seekers are included in the opportunity to learn Welsh?
I do believe that we do much more than that as regards promoting the Welsh language. We’ve already been in the United Nations, giving a lead in the field of minority languages. And we’re going to hold a special conference in Aberystwyth in November to celebrate the UNESCO international festival on minority languages.
There is an event in the Senedd this evening, where we will be bringing people in from Catalonia and, of course, the Welsh language is part of that. I’ve already commissioned a video so that we can show to ambassadors from all of the world that we wish to take a lead in this field. And so I do think that the Welsh language is an essential, vital part of that strategy.
Just on the matter of refugees, I do think that it’s worth underscoring the fact that we are channeling the method of teaching Welsh to non-first-language Welsh speakers through the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, and there are two pilot schemes already up and running, one in Cardiff and one in Swansea, where Welsh lessons are given free of charge to refugees.
Well, I’m afraid that’s an inadequate response. It’s good to hear about the good work that is happening on the Welsh language within Government, but that should be in the strategy. In terms of asylum seekers and refugees, you should consider that as a matter of urgency.
I’d like to turn now to the other weaknesses of the international strategy. It’s a strange mix of overgeneralisation and being overly detailed, simultaneously. You focus on the three industries to promote internationally: as you’ve already mentioned, cyber security, the composite semiconductors and creative industries. Now, I don’t doubt that these are important sectors for the economy, but should we place semiconductors at the heart of our strategy? Wouldn’t it make more sense to promote an industry that corresponds with international responsibilities, such as renewable energy? So, why haven’t you set an ambitious pathway, based on making Wales a carbon-zero nation by 2040 or sooner?
Where are the plans to make the most of the Welsh diaspora and promoting the contribution of the diaspora from other nations living in Wales? Where is the strategic plan for making the most of Wales's overseas offices? Now, talking about publishing a remit in future when these have already been in place for many years simply isn’t good enough. Where’s the vision for promoting the excellent research done by our HE sector and the commitment to ensure that this can continue? Where are the targets that are so necessary in order to measure the success of the strategy? How can you justify the fact that there are only two meetings per annum that you intend to stage an order to measure progress, and where is the great vision for the future of our nation on the international stage?
I would suggest that you start afresh, building a unique and ambitious strategy, a strategy that could only be made in Wales, promoting a welcoming, green Welsh nation that is ready to succeed and to take its proper place on the global stage, rather than this document, which reads, at times, as a PR exercise, I’m afraid.
Well, I do not accept that. I do think that the values that we have in Wales shine through clearly in the strategy. What we must acknowledge is that it’s difficult for us to write a strategy at the moment, because how can you do that when Brexit is hanging over us? One of the things that I was eager to do was to draw attention to our strengths. Lots of places throughout the world do different things, but where we can give a clear lead as an innovative nation and change the mindset that many people have about Wales? Or, possibly, they don’t have any idea about Wales at all. That was the idea of selecting some sectors. Of course, things will emanate from this strategy, so there will be something on the diaspora. We had a meeting this morning on that.
As regards the targets, I was very eager to include targets, and I’m sure that you would agree that it’s really difficult to put targets in when we’re in such a different situation. Just to give you an example—you mentioned higher education. Well, of course, the fact that the Prime Minister said last week, ‘Right, people can stay for two years after they graduate’, that will then attract more students. So, things are moving so quickly at the moment, it’s difficult first set targets. So, I am very eager to ensure that that does become part of the strategy, once things are settled in this fast-changing world.
Minister, it's now six years since the Government rolled out it's tourism strategy for Wales, the partnership for growth, and the strategy remit will end next year. The main ambition was to increase tourism earnings by then by at least 10 per cent. I notice that Scotland, who have a strategy running for exactly the same time, are now doing a lot of review work and consultation, and I just wonder what is the Welsh Government doing at the moment to review the operation of the partnership for growth, particularly that 10 per cent target, and what sort of work is being done to develop and prepare a new strategy.
Thank you very much for that very helpful prompt. I can now give you a trail for an oral statement, which I hope to make during the month of October to this Chamber, on our tourism strategy. My ambition has been to produce priorities for each of the main areas of my responsibilities as a Deputy Minister. I have tried to indicate priorities already in the area of heritage, and tourism, I'm pleased to tell you, is the next one. So, there will be a publication similar to the priorities that we produced for heritage on tourism, and I will welcome a response from Members and from the sector. You may recollect that we did, in fact, hold a tourism summit in Llandrindod last year, and the response from that meeting in the sector was very positive, and we may well decide to hold a similar event next year.
Well, I thank the Minister for his mostly helpful response, particularly that we all should take part in the work to review the strategy and to construct a new one, and particularly for the sector. You didn't say whether that 10 per cent target is going to be met. Obviously, there's still a year to go, but I think it's key that we're at least candid on whether we've achieved that, and if we haven't why and what we need to do about it.
Now, clearly, we have two markets—the domestic market for the UK and then visitors from abroad. And I think it's fair to say that we do very well in the domestic market, but we don't really achieve what we think we should in terms of foreign, overseas visitors. So, I wonder if in the new strategy it will contain two sets of really ambitious growth markets for those markets, because they do require I think separate approaches, and perhaps we haven't quite grasped that in the current strategy.
I agree with that analysis. Can I also say that we think that there is still a great opportunity on what is called staycation? Not one of my favourite words, although I did have a bit of a staycation this summer and enjoyed it very much, including a lot of time—some of it spent in Monmouthsire—but a lot of time on the Marches of Wales looking at how we can work more closely along that wonderful connecting link between north and south Wales on the eastern border called Offa's Dyke. And we are hoping in the future that we will emphasise that there is room again for more visitors to come, both from the conurbations and those who land in Manchester Airport and those who've come through Heathrow. But I do take the point that we need to emphasise international marketing. We have identified certain countries on mainland Europe, and we will pursue this strategy to make sure that those people are aware that our borders are still open between Wales and England, whatever may happen to the borders of the United Kingdom.
Can I say I share his love for Offa's Dyke? I have completed the walk, though that was, I'm afraid, over 40 years ago now. This year, I walked in Gower, which was as beautiful. Minister, one way in which we can certainly harness international tourist appeal is to make Wales the sustainable capital of tourism in the UK and indeed in Europe. For example, more and more environmentally savvy tourists are seeking out green tourist destinations. A recent survey found that 64 per cent of respondents consider environmental issues when booking their trip, and 82 per cent were willing to pay more for green services and products. Global travel societies like National Geographic now use environmental sustainability as a key criterion in the their destination rating. So, I really think if we want to take a step forward and be really, really competitive, this is an area where we could see a very great increase in our offer, and it fits in with our general strategies—the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, for instance. Do you agree with me that Wales is well placed to lead on this agenda and that that needs to now be a central part of our new strategy?
Thank you for helping us to write the strategy. We already have a draft and I'll make sure that sustainability is at the top, because clearly, green tourism and tourism that caters for the whole population and all age groups—. Those who have mobility difficulties are equally important as visitors to those who are able-bodied and able to enjoy recreation in the countryside. So, we need to make sure that what we provide is accessible wherever people want to go, if they are mobile and able to take advantage of the access opportunities. But we also need to make it clear that sustainable tourism means sustainable for all who wish to take advantage of the offer we have in Wales.
And therefore, in my recent visit to Pembrokeshire, which I referred to, I was particularly moved by the commitment of one developer to ensure that seriously disabled people were able to enjoy the facilities of tourism in Pembrokeshire. Both sustainability and accessibility of our tourist offer to all citizens who wish to come here or visit destinations here, and that includes the people within Wales itself and the people from across the bridge or across the dyke, whatever we want to call it, and wherever they come from and however they get to come to Wales, that they feel that, after the experience of being in Wales, they have been properly welcomed. And I would like to thank the leader of the opposition and, indeed, Angela Burns, who have been part of my visit in Pembrokeshire and east Carmarthenshire, wherever I was on the day; I don't even recognise borders within Wales, let alone between Wales and England. Thank you.
3. Will the Minister confirm whether adding the ability to speak Welsh as a desirable skill on job specifications for vacancies in the Welsh Government has increased the number of Welsh speakers within the organisation? OAQ54342
Mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi pennu sgiliau iaith Gymraeg mewn hysbysebion swyddi ers nifer o flynyddoedd a gallaf gadarnhau bod cynnydd bach wedi'i weld yn nifer y staff sy'n siarad Cymraeg ers i'r safonau iaith Gymraeg ddod yn weithredol.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. A current Government job vacancy lists Welsh language merely as 'desirable' but then goes on to say that the postholder should be able to read some work-related material with the support of a dictionary, hold some work-related conversations and prepare some work-related materials all in Welsh. To me, that sounds like someone who can't speak Welsh would be not deemed suitable. Even vacancies that don't have Welsh language as a 'desirable' still say that the Government welcomes applications from people who are bilingual. Surely the inference is therefore that those who can only speak English are less welcome to apply. In this time of increased joblessness in Wales under your Government, don't you agree with me that unless Welsh language skills are essential for a particular job, we should not do anything that discourages English-only speakers from applying to work here so that we can have an as large as possible pool of applicants from which to choose the best person for the job?
I think it's important that we recognise that we do have an ambition to create a million speakers in Wales and that actually part of that means that we also have to be a part of that transformation project that's going on. At the moment, the number of Welsh speakers in the Welsh Government is around 22 per cent, which is reflective of the demographic population, but there has been an increase since 2015.
What is clear is that we, as a Welsh Government, have a responsibility to provide a bilingual service for the public and, in order to do that, we need to have the staff who are able to provide that. At the same time, of course, we don't want the inability to speak Welsh to be a barrier to people to apply to work in the Welsh Government. And, obviously, what we can do and what we do do is to give comprehensive support to people to enable them to undertake Welsh lessons once they've been appointed. I visited Nant Gwrtheyrn last week. There were people from the Welsh Government, from the Welsh Assembly, taking part in those lessons. So, there are ample opportunities for people who come into the organisation to learn Welsh.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Thank you. I’m sure you would agree that, in accordance with the spirit of the million Welsh speakers strategy, we need to move away from this old-fashioned, simplistic system of noting linguistic requirements to posts where the Welsh language is either essential or desirable, moving to a more meaningful system that notes the skills level required from one to five, and making courtesy level a requirement for all jobs. The Assembly Commission has seen some success in doing this, but I do have to say that the Welsh Government is dragging its feet, despite a working group of senior officials recommending back in March 2017 that the Welsh Government ought to move in the same direction. This working group also suggested that the Welsh Government should be a truly bilingual institution and should work towards adopting Welsh and English as official languages on an administrative level by 2036, but in confirming that you as a Government taking action at last during the culture committee meeting held prior to the summer recess, I see that your target will be 2050, rather than 2036 as was originally recommended. Can you explain why? Thank you.
Well, what I can say is that detailed language planning is now ongoing within Welsh Government, and the Permanent Secretary will announce the future steps and what the plan is to attain the target in 2050, and what our responsibilities will be within Welsh Government in order to attain the target. This is a question for the Permanent Secretary, and I would assume that the answer is that if you want to progress, it makes sense to progress when you know that more children will be coming out of the Welsh schools. So, this is a long-term strategy, and, therefore, it will be easier to recruit people as we move forward, because education in Wales and the number of people coming out of the schools will be greater, and it will be easier to get people to apply for those jobs with the necessary language skills.
4. What is the Welsh Government doing to achieve its goal of one million Welsh Speakers by 2050? OAQ54304
Thank you, David. Your Welsh is excellent and I would like to hear you speaking more of it, please. We are taking steps in a number of areas in order to reach a million speakers. This includes steps to increase the number of speakers, the number of people who use Welsh every day, and to create the infrastructure and context to enable that to happen.
Thank you for that response, Minister. I would like to ask about school transport, which is a theme similar to Llyr's question—he's gone now. Encouraging pupils to receive Welsh-medium education is a key factor in ensuring the Welsh Government's ambition of a million Welsh speakers. Recently, Neath Port Talbot council proposed changes to school transport that has seen an additional charge for pupils who want to continue with post-16 education through the medium of Welsh. I welcome the decision to postpone this, but it's possible they could reintroduce this in the next few years. Changes to the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 will make a difference for these young people and encourage more to continue with Welsh-medium education without fear of additional transport charges. I'm pleased that you've met with the education Minister to discuss changes to the Measure, but when will these changes be available, and when will they become legislation?
Thank you for that question. Of course, we were are concerned as a Government about what is happening in the Ystalyfera area and the Ysgol Ystalyfera Bro Dur area, and we are glad that Neath Port Talbot local authority have deferred the decision. Naturally, we are looking at this matter, and, of course, local government is under financial pressure. We understand that, but what we don’t want to see is that it becomes more difficult for people to receive their sixth-form education or their tertiary education through the medium of Welsh. We don’t want to make it more difficult for them. That could potentially happen at present, and that is why we are trying to see how we can assist matters. If you want to change the guidance, that’s one thing, but if you want to amend legislation, that’s more complicated. So, we’re discussing at the moment the best way to approach this in order to ensure that we can resolve this problem.
Minister, promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language in people’s everyday life is important if the Welsh Government is to meet its ambitious target. Recently it was revealed that less than half of 1 per cent of apprenticeships in Wales were offered through the medium of Welsh. So, can I ask, Minister, what discussion have you had with your colleagues to increase the opportunities for those who wish to learn and train through the Welsh language, especially in our industrial sector? Thank you.
Thank you very much. We recognise that this is an area that we need to give attention to and that’s why we have now set a target for 50 per cent of those who have Welsh as a GCSE in first language, that 50 per cent of the course that they are following, particularly in some sectors—. We’re starting off with the health sector, the care sector, the early years, and public services. So, we’re starting off with those apprenticeships first. So, we are taking very practical measures, and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol is, obviously, helping us in this regard.
The target of a million Welsh speakers will never be achieved, of course, unless we create a revolution within the Welsh-medium education system. At the moment it is entirely deficient, despite great growth in demand, as we have seen in Merthyr this week, where there is no Welsh-medium secondary school despite the demand. And then one sees the situation with Bridgend council, which is staggering, if truth be told, when we consider that initially the council was only going to create new places for 22 pupils over four years within Welsh-medium education provision. We have heard that that figure has now improved, but it does demonstrate that this system of WESPs is deficient and that we need new legislation in this area. Will you therefore consider the report that I published over the summer, written by Gareth Pierce—an education expert in Wales—which makes the case for legislation to strengthen Welsh-medium education? I would be delighted if you were to read this and I would be pleased to have your feedback. Thank you.
Thank you very much. I do believe that we have taken positive steps. I believe the WESPs transformed the way in which local government look at its own provision. The fact that we are expanding and enhancing the planning time that local authorities must apply—. This consultation took place over the summer. We are collaborating very closely with local authorities to ensure that they are supported through the system, and we've given each of them a target, depending on where they are on the journey and what their expectations are. We put an additional £30 million of capital in to help people on this journey.
Of course I'd be happy to read the document you referred to. But we must see first of all how these WESPs are progressing and the response to them before we move forward. But I'm more than happy to read that report. Thank you.
5. What key objectives has the Minister set for the Welsh Government's promotional activity at the world cup in Japan this year? OAQ54332
Well, I think we're all getting very excited, aren't we, about the world cup? This is a huge opportunity, I think, for us as a Welsh nation to really publicise ourselves on the world stage. I know that already we've sent a food and drinks mission out and there's already been a response and we've got some contracts already as a result of that. We do have a trade mission. We have 17 companies participating in that mission. There are very clear targets in terms of our expectations. We would like to see an increase in exports as a result of that, but it's not just about business; it's about raising our profile. You'll be aware that we have a 9 ft dome that is going to be placed right in the centre of Japan, which is going to be the centrepiece of our promotional activity. This is about really raising Wales's profile internationally. Obviously, food and drink is going to be a key part of that. Tourism: seeing an increase in the number of tourists would also be a key part of what we're expecting as a return.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. I have to say, it must have bypassed me, I didn't realise we had a dome in Japan. I'm sure we're all waiting with bated breath for the pictures of that dome when it arrives on those shores. But, what is key is that, at the end of this process, we don't just say, 'Welsh Government spent x and sent y number of people out there.' We need to measure how successful we've been.
It's pleasing to hear that the food and drinks promotion is already showing dividends, but in developing these strategies for promotion around the rugby world cup, who have you engaged to support that development of the strategy, so that we do know that we're getting the biggest bang for our buck? Because many other countries will be using it as a platform to promote their wares, and what's vitally important, as the WDA used to do, is make Wales stand out on a very cluttered stage indeed. So, have you engaged fully with the honorary consul here, for example, for Japan, and Japanese companies in particular that are based here who can give us that internal expertise about how to deal with Japanese culture, so that we can get doors opening for the companies we're looking to send out there?
Thank you. I think I should probably emphasise it's not a Peter Mandelson kind of dome; it's about a 9 ft dome. It's not quite as expensive as that one, but I think it will attract a huge amount of attention. What we've done is to get people actually sponsoring the dome and it's an all-embracing facility where things are projected onto the walls and it's very exciting. Lots of companies have taken the opportunity to promote themselves out there. We have been co-operating very closely with the Welsh Rugby Union and I think they've done a terrific job so far, if you look at the welcome that the team had in Kitakyushu.
And of course, we have a Welsh presence in Japan already. We have an office there. We have 40 years of establishing a relationship with Japanese companies. We have Clwb Hiraeth, so lots of people who have worked in Wales have gone back to Japan. All of those networks are being actioned as a result of this promotional activity. So, of course, yes, we've been working with the honorary consul for Japan and all of those networks are being really stepped up as a result of the world cup.
6. What discussions has the Minister had regarding the availability of tests and revision material for the driving theory test in Welsh? OAQ54328
The Welsh Language Commissioner has confirmed that theory tests are available in Welsh in every centre in Wales and that the DVSA intend to publish an online version of the revision materials before the end of the year. The revision material is also available in Welsh already in hard copy.
Well, I will sit down immediately and say, ’Thank you very much.’ But this is an issue that goes back a long way. I think it was in 2014-15 that I was in correspondence with the DVSA about this issue, because you're quite right in saying that the tests are available in Welsh and have been for years, but given that the online revision material isn't available—surprise, surprise—what people tend to do when practising in English is to decide to take the test in English. I'm pleased that this is happening now. I received a letter on 19 January 2015:
'You'll see from our letters to the Commissioner that we propose to re-examine the potential costs and benefits of developing an online driving theory test practice service in Welsh.'
It has taken four and a half years, but I will claim it as a minor victory.
Well, I'm pleased that you're able to do so. Of course, what's important now is that we encourage people to use the service and that we see an increase in the number of people doing so because, at present, only 58 people sat the theory test, which is 0.07 per cent. And, of course, one can understand why that happens, but we hope that we will see an increase in that figure. The next step, of course, is to create what young people would use to do that test, namely a Welsh language app. It might be an idea for the Welsh Language Commissioner to see whether he could bring pressure to bear to get a Welsh language app because that's the way in which young people learn in order to pass the theory test.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 3 on the agenda is questions to the Assembly Commission, and all questions will be answered by the Llywydd today. Question 1, Mark Reckless.
1. Will the Commission make a statement on the decision to select Carole Cadwalladr as the Assembly's Hay Festival speaker at the GWLAD—Future Wales Festival? OAQ54306
The GWLAD festival programme is delivered in partnership with a range of external organisations, one of which is the Hay Festival, which has agreed to deliver a Hay Festival lecture at the GWLAD festival. Carole Cadwalladr will be the speaker for the Hay Festival lecture during the weekend festival, which will be held in just under a fortnight. Carole Cadwalladr was the winner of the Hay Festival annual award for journalism this year.
Carole Cadwalladr has been responsible for some of the most extraordinary conspiracy theories relating to the EU referendum. She first called me up about three or so years ago about this, it was about Russia and Putin operatives brainwashing millions of people through social media to back leave. More recently, I think her line is that a conspiracy of hedge fund managers is trying to drive through a 'no deal' Brexit because they've shorted the pound. Even by her own admission, many of her articles have been grossly inaccurate, and I would just question the selection of this individual to speak for the Assembly. Doesn't this just underline the impression that this place speaks for a remain establishment, rather than for the people of Wales, who voted to leave?
Thank you for your contribution. You sound more informed and more fascinated by Carole Cadwalladr than most of us, I suspect. I would say that freedom of speech and the right to express any view is something that this Assembly holds very dear and wants to promote, and Carole Cadwalladr is as welcome here as anybody else to speak. I'm certainly looking forward to hearing her speak, and I hope you are too.
It is important that there's plurality of thought and as many speakers as possible should be engaged by the Assembly so that that plurality can be listened to by as many people as possible. We're a democratic institution. But it is a fact that Carole Cadwalladr has had to put many clarifications and corrections out there, and I'm just interested to understand why an alternative view isn't being offered as well, and there's only just the one speaker, as I understand it, speaking on this particular topic. As I said, I don't dispute that people should be able to come forward and offer as many views as possible, but this does seem to be a one-sided view that's coming from an individual who has had to clarify and correct many of the points that she's put over in her articles.
I certainly accept the point that we want to support a plurality of views and for all of those views to be offered a platform here, both in this Chamber and in work that happens on our estate generally. This is a lecture that's being held in partnership with the Hay Festival. The winner of the journalism prize at the Hay Festival this year was Carole Cadwalladr and she is the guest lecturer. I think it's important to remember as well that she is a Cardiff woman. She is an investigative journalist who has won many awards. Whether you agree with her views on any issues that she espouses, she is somebody that we can be proud of in terms of her being a Welsh person who has had quite considerable acclaim and attention from remainers, who are equally valid in this place as leavers are. And I urge you all, if there are tickets remaining because it's proved to be very popular—all tickets remaining—I urge you all, if you can find time in your diary, to listen to Carole Cadwalladr and maybe ask her a question, rather than asking me this question. [Laughter.]
2. Will the Commission confirm why, unlike the Scottish Parliament, Her Majesty the Queen has not been invited to the Assembly to mark celebrations of 20 years of devolution? OAQ54309
The Commission agreed its programme of events to mark 20 years of devolution in March 2019. The programme provided opportunities to reflect on the anniversary and for the people of Wales to discuss their future and that of Welsh democracy. There are no royal visits planned for this year.
I do think there's been a missed opportunity that the invitation was not extended. Sorry, my translation device fell out of my ear just as you were saying your opening remarks. But I think I am correct in saying that no invitation was extended to the head of state to come to this legislature, this Parliament, which is an important part of the democratic make-up of the United Kingdom, and I do think that's been a missed opportunity on behalf of the Commission.
I appreciate we're coming to the back end of the year now, it's most probably far too late to issue such an invitation, but irrespective of whether you're a republican or a monarchist, it is a fact that we live in a constitutional monarchy, and I do think we are the poorer for not having the head of state to address us in our twentieth year, which has been rightly celebrated by the Commission. And I would ask the Commission maybe to reflect on this for future events, key events, that the head of state is considered a guest that we would want to have within our midst and address us as the Parliament of Wales.
Yes, of course, the Queen did attend the events in the Scottish Parliament as part of her Holyrood week in early July. I can confirm that no invitation was sent or any discussion held at the Commission on this particular issue. Of course, the head of state is asked in every Assembly to attend the opening and be part of the opening ceremony of the Assembly, as she was three years ago. I'll reflect on the view that you've expressed. Obviously, it's late in the day now. There will be celebrations, hopefully, well into the future where the head of state will need to be considered as to whether that invitation is offered or not. That will be a matter probably now for future Commissions in celebrating other celebrations that we will have in the future, but I accept that that view is one that you've expressed to me now. As I said, our decisions on this were taken in March of this year, but I thank you for expressing that view and for noting it, and it'll certainly be something that future Commissions will need to be reminded of.
Question 3, Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. These might have been paired, actually, so I'm sorry to come across as a little repetitive.
3. What effort has been made to ensure a wide variety of speakers at the GWLAD—Future Wales Festival? OAQ54315
The Assembly Commission has worked in partnership with external providers and organisations to deliver a variety of activities during the GWLAD festival held here at the Senedd at the end of September, and at regional events that will take place in November at Carmarthen, Caernarfon and Wrexham.
Diolch, Llywydd. Of course, GWLAD is advertised a conversation starter that will encourage discussion about the future of Wales. Now, despite the festival not having taken place yet, you can certainly be proud that it has technically achieved its aim—it is very much a conversation starter now. Not least, this is because of some of the invitations that have been extended to the speakers at the event. So, I am quite alarmed at the lack of attention that has been given to a fair balance of speakers, because the inclusion of Carole Cadwalladr is likely to see the discussion meander in a particular direction on Brexit, and we all know that she speaks in a very, very politically motivated way. So, in answer to the questions that have been raised here and questions that have been raised with me, what steps have been taken to counteract this? Just please tell us, in terms of balance, who else has been invited in order to actually present at the festival so that there can be a truly balanced representation at this event?
I can confirm that Guto Harri, who once worked for Boris Johnson from The Telegraph, is amongst the speakers invited and taking part in Gwlad, and I would have to say—and I heard it said as you were speaking, Janet Finch-Saunders—that politically motivated discussion is something that we excel at in this Chamber, in this building, and we need to promote more political discussion in Wales rather than less of it. So, the list of speakers—some are speakers, some are contributors, some will be members of the public, hopefully, coming to this building, taking part in democratic debate for the very first time. All of that should be encouraged and I encourage all of you to, if possible at all, attend any of the events and ask your constituents and others around you to attend as many events—. We need to have a festival of democracy in this place and at this time.
Thank you very much.
Item 4 is topical questions, and topical questions this afternoon will be answered by the Deputy Minister for the Economy and Transport. John Griffiths.
1. Will the Welsh Government provide an update on the action taken since the announcement of the proposed closure of the Orb Steelworks in Newport? 339
Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government has engaged with the company to understand what this announcement means and how we can best support those affected.
I'm grateful for the involvement of Welsh Government and, indeed, of course, the strong campaign by the trade unions on behalf of the workforce and grateful for the commitment that's been received that there will not be any compulsory redundancies but redeployment, possibly, in the Tata plants at Llanwern and Port Talbot. But the primary campaign, of course, is to keep the plant open and I'd be grateful for some insight into Welsh Government's activities in terms of working with the trade unions and workforce, with industry, and with UK Government to look at the possibility of the necessary investment, which, I think, Tata put at £50 million, to keep the plant open and equip it to provide electrical steel for electric cars, which we all expect to be produced en masse in the very near future. I said at First Minister's questions that the whole history of that plant and the workforce has been about adaptability, adapting to change, developing new skills, new methods of production, new products. So, the history of innovation and adaptability and flexibility is there, which, I think, is very promising for the future. The missing ingredient, really, is the necessary investment, and that's where I'd really like assurance from Welsh Government that you are working with the workforce, the trade unions, UK Government and industry to facilitate and encourage that investment.
Thank you for the question. As I say, we have been in close discussions with the company and with the trade unions. My colleague Ken Skates spoke to the company immediately on the news breaking and officials have since been to the local plant to meet with the team there. We are reassured that the existing workforce will be fully redeployed, as we understand it, within Tata—that no worker that wants to continue working will be left without an opportunity—which is of some comfort, though, of course, it's a matter of deep regret that the facility has been lost to Newport and to the Welsh manufacturing sector.
This, obviously, is a decision for Tata. We have supported Tata with a considerable amount of money. Were it not for the intervention of the Welsh Government, Tata would no longer be manufacturing steel in the UK at all, certainly if left to the UK Government, which offered a lot of words but no action in the light of the steel crisis back in 2016. So, I think we have a strong record of intervening to make sure that steel production remained in Wales. Of course, the Orb site has been for sale since May 2018. The company tell us that it's been running at a loss and they've been unable to find a viable way forward for the plant. It's not correct to say that the steel made in Orb is used for electric vehicles, as some media have reported. That sort of steel is made by Tata in its Swedish plant, but it's not made in Orb, and in order to rekit the factory to produce that steel, it would need a considerable investment that Tata simply did not think was justifiable, given the state of the market, given the uncertainty of trading conditions, and given, also, the uncertainty in the market for electric vehicles—whether the demand simply isn't there at the moment and may not be there for some time. So, this is ultimately a decision for Tata. They themselves, who are a profit-making company, cannot find a way of making a profit from further investment in this plant. We are working with them to try and make sure that the existing workforce have as prosperous a future as could possibly be managed, but we continue to work with John Griffiths as the Assembly Member, and the local council, and the trade unions, to see if there is an alternative available to keep some manufacturing in the facility. There is a role for the UK Government here to step in and take a strategic view. We've been calling on them to come forward with a sector deal for the steel sector. The trade unions and UK Steel have been issuing similar calls and they have simply not stepped up to the mark. So, in terms of the longer term prospects of the industry in the UK, the UK Government needs to do far more to make sure it has a viable future.
Minister, news that up to 380 jobs are at risk at Tata Steel's Orb plant is a devastating blow to the workers and their families directly affected and to Newport as a whole. Tata has said it hopes to offer jobs to those affected elsewhere in Wales. So, can I ask what assistance you will provide to those workers who can relocate, and how you will ensure that those workers, unable or unwilling to move, are aware of the support and training possibilities available so that they can seek new employment elsewhere?
Further, I understand that Tata Steel has been attempting to find a buyer for Orb Electrical Steels. Can I ask, Minister, if Tata has approached the Welsh Government for assistance in finding a buyer? And if not, will you given an assurance that every assistance will be provided, even if at a late stage, to Tata industries? Thank you.
Thank you. I can confirm that Tata have not asked for any assistance from the Welsh Government, though we are working closely with them to make sure that any assistance the workforce needs is provided.
It is worth pointing out that the uncertainty of the market that Tata's operating within has been a contributing factor for their decision to close the plant. If we are to leave the European Union without a deal, then steel imports into the EU face a quota of 25 per cent—that's a quarter increase on price of steel being exported into Europe. And similarly, if a World Trade Organization situation was to come about, as we frequently hear from Mark Reckless and others, as providing some kind of bucolic free trade solution to the future of the UK economy, that could mean that Chinese imports flood the UK market as tariffs are lowered on them. So, the two scenarios of Brexit—of tariffs going into the EU or tariffs coming off Chinese steel coming in—are very real factors in the decisions these global trading companies are making about the future of the steel industry. We're talking here in very broad, ideological terms about Brexit, but here are the hard, practical realities of the impact of British industry from these debates that we are having. These are not casualty-free discussions, and the UK steel industry is already suffering from the laissez-faire attitude of the UK Government refusing to intervene to help it with research and development, refusing to intervene to help it with energy costs, refusing to give it a viable future, signing up to the procurement requirements that have been called for by both UK Steel and by the trade unions. And now, on top that lack of help for them, they're introducing an uncertainty in trading conditions that is the straw that has broken the camel's back in this case.
Deputy Minister, I've been an Assembly Member for less than a year and I've lost count of how many times we've had to discuss the loss of jobs in our communities in this Chamber. Schaeffler in Llanelli, Ford in Bridgend, Rehau in Ynys Môn, Quinn Radiators in Newport and now Orb in Newport again—in total, it's more than 3,000 jobs in the space of months. So, Deputy Minister, I'd like to ask what is going wrong with the Government's industrial strategy and what's your analysis of the reasons behind all of these closures in such a short space of time.
In relation to the Orb announcement, I'd like to ask what steps your Government will be taking to support the workers who are facing redundancy and if you'll offer assistance to them in acquiring redundancy payments in the case of involuntary redundancies. How will you help them to get new jobs, particularly if that requires retraining? And, finally, how do you intend to hold Tata to account for the broken promise that they made to workers of job security in exchange for pension cuts? One worker told Newyddion 9 that he felt he'd been lied to. So, have you held a meeting with Tata to reiterate this justified anger? I think everyone in this Chamber would appreciate answers to these questions and an explanation of how you're going to make sure that more of these job cuts aren't seen in the near future.
Well, I think a number of those questions have already been answered in previous answers, so I won't rehearse them. In terms of the general picture of the changes in the economy and the decline of some manufacturing firms—the Member mentioned Schaeffler in my own constituency and Ford—we are facing, in many ways, a perfect storm, and I do hate the overused metaphor, but the changes in the automotive sector are clearly having a massive impact as the demand for diesel falls. Allied with the trading uncertainty I mentioned just a moment ago, it's not giving businesses the confidence to invest, particularly the prospect of significantly higher tariffs from exporting from the UK. So, these joint impacts, which are beyond the control of the Welsh Government, are clearly having a huge effect. Despite that, until now, the employment figures have been encouraging, though, of course, patchily applied.
We are working hard to find new markets and also, for the future workforce, on Monday we'll be publishing the report by Professor Phil Brown into the future of automation and digitisation, and we'll be looking at how we can make sure the Welsh economy is best placed to take advantage of new industries as they emerge.
I have to say, it is, of course, incredibly disappointing to hear of yet more potential job losses in south Wales, and, clearly, my thoughts are with the families affected. We are, of course, aware of a number of businesses that are having difficulties along the M4 corridor—some of the businesses were mentioned in Delyth Jewell's question as she outlined some of the businesses affected. I wonder what contribution do you think that the Welsh Government's delay in addressing the congestion and transport issues along the M4 has had in terms of Tata's decision. And what steps are you taking, Deputy Minister, to ensure that we address the wider connectivity issues, which, I would say, are stifling businesses in a very important key region of Wales?
Well, I'd be interested in any evidence that Russell George has that those decisions he cited had any impact at all. I think he's kicking sand in our eyes here, trying to deflect from the blame of his own UK Government's failure to intervene to help the steel industry, creating huge uncertainty in our trading environment by openly promoting the prospect of a 'no deal' Brexit, which would increase tariffs by 25 per cent, and many in his party, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, talking optimistically about WTO, which we know would flood the market with Chinese steel. So, rather than casting around for ways to blame the Welsh Government for this—I don't think any of the workers will find any of this talk reassuring—we need to be focusing on how we can support them. [Interruption.] He's saying from a sedentary position that he was simply asking a question; he knows full well what he's doing. There is no evidence that any of the decisions he's cited have got anything to do with this at all. In fact, Tata have not mentioned them to us; Tata have not asked for any support from us. In contrast, they've asked for support from the UK Government for the steel sector deal and they've had diddly-squat in return.
Topical question 340 not asked.
Thank you very much.
Item 5 on the agenda are the 90-second statements and this afternoon—Neil McEvoy.
Diolch. The 16 September this week was Owain Glyndŵr Day. Owain Glyndŵr is particularly worth recognising this year, as Wales is quite literally on the march. In three successive All Under One Banner marches in Cardiff, Caernarfon and Merthyr, thousands of people have marched for our nation's sovereignty and independence. I was proud to take part in two of the marches, in Cardiff and Caernarfon—such great atmospheres of hope and optimism about building a just and free Wales.
Owain Glyndŵr was a visionary, well ahead of his time. He had a vision for an outward-looking Wales, secure and confident in its place in the world. Contrast that with the disunited kingdom we have now, where Wales does not count. It's no wonder so many are now choosing for Wales to stand on its own two feet. This Assembly does very little to recognise the historical significance of our national liberator, but I know that this will change when this institution becomes the sovereign parliament of a Welsh state. With such a vibrant, positive and inclusive Welsh national movement now on the march, that day is coming sooner rather than later. Diolch yn fawr.
Item 6 on the agenda is a motion under Standing Order 26.17 in relation to the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. And I call on the Llywydd to move the motion.
Motion NDM7134 Elin Jones
To propose that The National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 26.17(iii), agrees that Stage 2 proceedings of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill be considered by a Committee of the Whole Assembly.
Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 7 is a motion under Standing Order 16.5 to establish a committee, and I call on the Llywydd again to move the motion.
Motion NDM7136 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 16.5:
1. Establishes a Committee on Assembly Electoral Reform.
2. Agrees that the remit of the Committee is to examine the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform.
3. Agrees that the Committee will be dissolved following a Plenary debate on its final report.
Thank you. No speakers, therefore the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Objection. Therefore, we defer voting on this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Item 8 on the agenda this afternoon is a debate on the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee's report, 'Endoscopy services in Wales'. And I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion—Dai Lloyd.
Motion NDM7132 Dai Lloyd
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the report of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee on endoscopy services in Wales, which was laid in the Table Office on 8 April 2019.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. I’m pleased to take part in this very important debate today on the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee’s report on endoscopy services in Wales. This is the first in a series of spotlight inquiries undertaken by the committee, and over the coming months we will bringing forward short debates on our findings in a number of areas, such as dentistry, hepatitis C and community and district nursing. The committee agreed to undertake a one-day inquiry into endoscopy services because, at that time, the majority of health boards in Wales were breaching waiting times for tests that can diagnose bowel cancer. We were also told that an alarmingly low number of eligible people take part in the bowel screening programme. Screening is the best way to diagnose bowel cancer early, but, between April 2017 and March 2018, only 55.7 per cent of people eligible to take the bowel screening test in Wales actually completed it. Uptake is higher in females compared to men. There is also a strong correlation with deprivation. Uptake in the most deprived areas is 45.6 per cent compared to uptake in the least deprived areas at 63.3 per cent.
In terms of the introduction of the FIT test, from January 2019, Wales began replacing the current screening test with a simpler and more accurate one called the faecal immunochemical test—the FIT test—which is expected to increase the uptake of screening. There are concerns, however, that endoscopy units in Welsh hospitals are already struggling to cope with demand, and so, even though the new screening test is a positive improvement, it could put more strain on an already overstretched service.
We recognise that demand has to be properly managed, but we are disappointed that the thresholds for FIT testing are lower in Wales, and we’re concerned that Wales, without a clear plan to optimise the programme, will fall further behind its counterparts in other parts of the UK. We would like to see the Welsh Government, through the national endoscopy improvement programme, set out milestones for achieving programme optimisation in terms of age and sensitivity, so that these can be measured and progress can be monitored in the hope of achieving full optimisation earlier than 2023.
Turning to waiting times, in 2015, the Welsh Government committed additional funding to improve waiting times for diagnostic tests, including those waiting for endoscopy procedures following a positive screening result. Additional funding was also provided in 2016-17. However, despite this extra funding, waiting time statistics still give cause for concern, and there needs to be a clear commitment that health boards will deliver the maximum waiting time target for diagnostic tests, namely eight weeks, by the end of 2019.
Witnesses to our inquiry described the Welsh Government’s approach to tackling issues related to capacity as reactive and short-term. A number of health boards provided details of hospitals contracting with external private providers for insourcing services to deliver endoscopy procedures within the health board on weekends, as well as outsourcing, where patients are sent to private providers at sites outside the health board, to cope with demand. While more investment is needed to get waiting times under control, there also needs to be a more sustainable approach, as outsourcing and insourcing are expensive and do not deliver a long-term solution.
To the workforce now: changes are needed to the nature and skills of the current workforce, with a commitment not only to increase the number of gastroenterologists and other medical endoscopists, but also to develop nurse and other non-medical endoscopists. The committee was therefore disappointed to hear that some nurses are paid less than others in Wales to perform endoscopy. This needs to be addressed.
The message from witnesses was that focus and pace is needed to ensure that Wales doesn’t fall behind other nations. Bowel Cancer UK, for example, wanted to see a national action plan with key milestones, so that the Welsh Government could be held to account for delivery and implementation of the plan. Witnesses also made the point that there had been a number of reviews, and that the issues, or the problems, were clear. Actions and solutions are what is needed now.
We therefore made one overarching recommendation in our report: by October 2019, the Welsh Government should work with the national endoscopy improvement programme to create and publish a national endoscopy action plan that addresses current and future demand for services, with clear timescales and targets for improvement. I welcome the Minister’s positive response to our report, and I'm pleased to say that the Welsh Government has accepted this recommendation and has committed to publishing an action plan for endoscopy services within the six-month timeframe requested by the committee. I thank the Minister for the written statement, which provided an update on the progress of the national endoscopy programme, earlier today. I am pleased that the action plan has been drafted, and I look forward to its publication, in accordance with the committee's recommendation.
To close, as the Minister said himself, it's vital to maintain the sustainability of endoscopy services so that people can reach the examinations that have been set for them in order to have the best results possible. It's now time for progress to be made, and I'm confident that the Welsh Government will provide the strong leadership that is needed to deliver this agenda. Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the committee very much for doing this report. Unfortunately, I personally was absent on the day that you did the one-day report, but I've read your report, I've read the Government response, and of course I'm reflecting the commentary of many of my constituents who come to see me over these kinds of services. And I noted the Government's response to the recommendations made by the committee, and, to be frank, I found some of it—only some of it—very weak, because you have accepted the recommendation made by the committee. However, you say that endoscopy services are under stress because of population changes, a lower threshold for cancer investigations, an increasing demand for surveillance, and the need to expand the bowel-screening programme. In response, I would say that, as a minimum, the service should be able to respond currently to the objectives of the bowel-screening programme. Given the take-up rate is so low—a mere 55 per cent—there should be some slack already in the system in any event. To aim for a higher take-up rate without ensuring the tools are on hand to deliver the programme is a complete paradox. And I would also point out that, despite recommendations made as far back as 2013, there's been little progress made in addressing the challenges that endoscopy services throughout Wales are facing. Therefore, the challenges, Minister, that you identify in your response to the committee are nothing new. To imply otherwise is disingenuous and, above all, it allows those who are charged with planning services a measure of wriggle room that they do not merit. I see that the endoscopy implementation group wanted a more directive approach from the Government, and it's to your credit that you have moved in that direction. But it does beg the question as to the capabilities for planning and delivery within health boards.
Given the crisis facing endoscopy services, Minister, are you able to accelerate the delivery of a national plan? The commitment in September 2018 was there, but, a year later, the terms of reference are still being finalised. It's hardly fast paced and, in the meantime, I'm concerned that services continue to stagnate and people's lives continue to be affected. If there's any way that you can see to moving that forward and increasing that pace and accelerating that so that we can deliver good endoscopy services throughout Wales I think that will be a very positive step forward.
The welcome introduction of the FIT test has the potential to improve the uptake of screening. It should improve detection rates for bowel cancer and pre-cancerous polyps in the bowel—however, a paradox again, because there are unacceptable waiting times in play, and there needs to be a clear commitment from health boards to address this issue, because no programme can work without having the appropriately trained personnel and infrastructure in place.
The current workforce is desperately short of gastroenterologists and other medical and non-medical endoscopists. Nurses involved in delivering endoscopy services are on disparate and lower pay rates, and we need to see that the joint advisory group on gastrointestinal endoscopy accreditation—my goodness, doesn't the NHS come up with some exceptionally long words at times, shall I just say that little bit again? We need to see that the joint advisory group on gastrointestinal endoscopy accreditation is put in place so that we know, so that we can be secure, that all health boards are delivering services in line with best clinical practice.
But, Minister, the real frustration comes in the lack of planning and appropriate commitment by some health boards. Let me give you an example: Ysbyty Glan Clwyd had a stable team of three gastroenterologists: one retired, one moved, yet there was no forward planning to cope with this change; there was no plan B. Wrexham Maelor is struggling on locums; weekend capacity is struggling. So, this is a prime example of mismanagement. There's no contingency plan, there was no forward planning, and it has devastating consequences for individuals. A terminal bowel cancer patient received their invitation to meet the consultant in the same month that another consultant in another hospital said they would not make. How awful would that be to get the letter saying, 'Come along in this month to have your diagnosis confirmed' and somebody else has already told you, 'You're probably going to be dead by that point'. That health board needs to do better. The NHS needs to do better. We all need to do better.
The discussion around the report has, understandably, focused on the importance of endoscopy services to the treatment of bowel cancer in Wales, and, in response, the Welsh Government points out that it's also important for the treatment for serious non-cancerous conditions, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and I know that Crohn's and Colitis UK have campaigned for better endoscopy services in Wales.
And, with this report in mind, I met with Norgine, a company in my constituency, based in Tir y Berth—a very big employer, and an anchor company for the Welsh Government, who manufacture pharmaceuticals that are both treating these conditions and also used in the prep for colonoscopies. So, they have a very strong interest in this area. And it was quite an education to have met with the staff there and to talk through some of the issues. They actually, when I went there, had a copy of the committee's report on their desk. So, it was good that the committee's investigated this and shows the value of the work you're doing. It's being heard out there and it's been heard by this company.
They asked me to raise some key issues, which I talked through with them, because I'm not an expert in this area. I didn't fully understand the issues until I had that conversation with them and I read your report, which is a very good report. The key issue for them is how the efficiency of services is tackled—so, doing better with what we already have. And indeed, the Welsh Government has noted that in their response to the report's key recommendation. Norgine were concerned that, in the report itself, that efficiency wasn't explicitly examined. They said that high-quality bowel preparation prior to colonoscopy is a key area that should be addressed as part of the endoscopy action plan and that initiatives to drive efficiency gains and overall sustainability were key in what the Welsh Government should do next. They told me that inadequate bowel preparation is the leading cause of a failed colonoscopy procedure and can lead to missed or delayed diagnosis, longer and more difficult procedures and the need then to repeat procedures. They said that their operation is continually trying to improve that process and that their product is designed to do that.
They have, therefore, three key asks both of the outcome of the report and of the Welsh Government in their response. They want three things: they want the prompt publication of the endoscopy action plan, which the report has pushed for and we're starting to see. But alongside training and hospital capacity, it's important that broader areas for improvement are given the appropriate level of scrutiny—so, looking beyond simply training and hospital capacity—and if required that the committee and/or the national endoscopy programme should engage with relevant stakeholders to explore what improvements could be realised in the area of bowel preparation. What they're saying to you, Minister, is that they've got expertise and they'd be more than willing to hold that conversation with you. They're a Welsh-based company; they've been in Tir-y-berth for 50 years and they would welcome a conversation with you, particularly with regard to that better prep process.
I notice that you've issued a written statement today encouraging that efficiency gain, but I urge you to engage with that company because I learned a lot that day and I think that kind of dialogue can only help in the future design of services.
I thank the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee for their report on endoscopy services. As I, and many others, have highlighted, pressures on diagnostic services in Wales are impeding our ability to improve cancer survival rates. Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Wales. Around 17 people die of bowel cancer each week. We have lost two of our own to this horrible disease.
As with every cancer, early diagnosis is key to long-term survival. When diagnosed at stage 1, 90 per cent of bowel cancer patients survive. This drops to fewer than one in 10 when diagnosed at stage 4. Bowel screening is the best way to ensure early diagnosis, yet less than 10 per cent of bowel cancers are picked up by the Wales bowel screening programme.
Earlier this month, the FIT test fully replaced the old, less accurate blood test for bowel screening for anyone aged between 60 and 74. Unfortunately, the FIT test will be conducted at a much lower sensitivity due to capacity issues in endoscopy services. We will continue to miss many cancers because we don't have the workforce. Yet again, a lack of strategic workforce planning over the past couple of decades has left our NHS unable to cope with future pressures. We have to degrade our ability to detect cancer because we don't have the workforce to conduct further tests.
The UK national screening committee believes that everyone over the age of 50 should be screened for bowel cancer in order to combat the 16,000 annual deaths due to this terrible disease. Once again, we have not taken up this recommendation due to capacity issues. This is not due to a shortage of money; it's due to a lack of forward planning and an utter failure of successive Governments to implement strategic workforce planning.
I welcome the committee's recommendation and calls for a national endoscopy action plan. I'm pleased that the Minister has accepted the committee's recommendations and that he has made it clear that the 60 per cent uptake threshold is a minimum requirement and not a target. We have to ensure uptake closer to 100 per cent, but in order to do so, we must ensure that we have sufficient capacity now to cope with the anticipated massive increase in the over-50 age bracket.
This will require strategic planning at a Welsh and UK level. I urge the Minister and Health Education and Improvement Wales to work closely with the other home nations, as well as the UK Government, to ensure that we have enough well-trained staff across our diagnostic services. We can beat this terrible disease by ensuring that everyone at risk is screened regularly and made aware of the early signs of bowel cancer. Only then can we ensure that other families don't have to go through what Sam and Steffan's families had to. Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you. Can I now call the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething?
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'd like to start by thanking the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee for bringing forward today's debate on their report following their inquiry into this important issue. I recognise this is an issue that has not had much focus and attention in terms of committee reports and scrutiny in the past, and I think it's a good thing that that has taken place now. It provides questions for the Government and it's the case that we don't always have comfortable answers, but there are honest answers in our response about the current position, and indeed about our commitment to invest the time and effort that is required to deliver the sort of service that all of us in this Chamber would want for our constituents. Because I do recognise that endoscopy services are vital if we are to be in a position to deliver timely and high-quality investigations for a range of treatment areas. It's a prerequisite for delivering the diagnostic and cancer waiting times, achieving endoscopy unit accreditation, and of course delivering better outcomes for conditions such as cancer. However, we should not underestimate the very real challenges that face our NHS. It does involve necessary improvements in data and planning, recruitment and training, revising and standardising our clinical pathways, as well as capital investment in units and new digital enablers.
So, it is a multifaceted challenge, all against a background of genuine year-on-year increases in demand, which are driven both by an ageing population and changing clinical guidance. So, it requires some immediate action, of course, but that must come together with the longer-term and sustained focus that I know the committee have recognised and urged on the Government. And we agree on that, so it is not simply a matter of turning on additional funding to reduce waiting lists. That is why we will publish an endoscopy action plan as the committee recommended by the end of this October, and I will ensure it addresses the points that the committee has raised. In the meantime we have taken a range of immediate action that is required and put in place a detailed and comprehensive national programme. I have published a written statement today, which I know the Chair referred to, to outline in more detail the approach that we are taking, the progress that has been made to date, and of course the work that is due to take place in the coming months. So, we will then need to move quickly to the medium-term objective and actions that are required to stabilise endoscopy services, and then the longer-term objectives and actions needed to achieve a genuninely sustainable service. So, the programme has been set up as a nationally directed service by the Government, rather than led by the NHS, and that is consistent, if you like, in context with the ambitions that we set out in 'A Healthier Wales'. There will be times when we'll need to take a stronger, central guiding hand.
So, the new endoscopy programme board is chaired by the deputy chief executive of the NHS and the deputy chief medical officer. The board is comprised of senior health board representatives and people who represent important allied programmes of work like cancer, pathology and bowel screening. I'm thinking about Hefin David's point about the interest that Norgine have in this area, and I think it might be appropriate to see if they would meet and have direct discussion with the endoscopy board. I'll take that up in a conversation with him about the local company. But that board will oversee four work streams, looking at demand and capacity planning, workforce education and training, clinical pathway development and facilities and infrastructure requirements. Significant support is already being provided by the NHS collaborative. That includes the national programme lead and their team, as well as clinical and managerial leads for each of the four work streams that I've outlined. This programme will be supported by the £1 million allocation that I've put in place as part of the NHS budget for 2019-20. More than half of that has already been allocated to support the programme work that I have identified.
In the coming months, all units across Wales will be receiving pre-assessment visits to determine what is required locally to achieve the accreditation standard set by the Royal College of Physicians. I won’t try and deliver the full tile as Angel Burns bravely did, but there is a real challenge about making sure that the infrastructure is in place to meet those standards. I recently met with the team in the Royal Gwent and they recognise that they’re unlikely to meet the standard because of the physical place in which they’re currently located. And there’s some perhaps not very interesting in terms of a political discussion, but the technical way in which you need to design an area, the space that you need—all those things are really important aspects of actually delivering the outcomes that all of us here want to see. So, it will require capital investment, which will take some time. We should know the condition within each of our units, so there is a national workshop planned to consider that further and the unit reports are due to be received by health boards by the end of the year. We’ve also scoped out—no pun intended—the training programme, secured key elements of its delivery, and I’m hopeful that the first clinical endoscopist trainees will begin their training before the end of this calendar year. And these roles will be key to sustainable services given the challenging recruitment pipeline for doctors, who have until now been the main providers of investigations and interventions.
I can see that time is against us, Chair but I have provided a detailed response to the committee and I will, of course, keep Members and the committee itself updated on the actions that we are taken and progress that is made, and I have no doubt the committee themselves will return in the future to this report and the action the Government has undertaken to take today.
Thank you. I call on Dai Lloyd to reply to the debate.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’ve only got a brief amount of time left. Could I congratulate and thank everyone for taking part in this very important debate? Angela Burns, first, setting out the challenge—we need actions and solutions now. And, of course, to say the obvious thing: we need more specialist staff and more endoscopy units now to tackle this challenge.
I’m very grateful to Hefin David for setting out his recent experience, and also for saying that there are other diseases that we should be thinking about, not just bowel cancer, but also Crohn's and ulcerative colitis and so forth, and the importance of preparing bowels for colonoscopies in the first place, because we forget about preparing the most basic things.
I also thank Caroline Jones for emphasising the pressure on services and the importance of early diagnosis. Also, I thank the Minister for his positive response to the recommendation by the committee. We’re looking forward to seeing the action plan seeing the light of day. The challenge is significant, and the challenge requires a robust response now. Thank you very much.
Thank you. The proposal is to note the committee’s report. Does any Member object? No. Therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Rebecca Evans, and amendment 2 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected.
We now move to item 9, which is the Welsh Conservatives debate on air quality, and I call on Angela Burns to move the motion.
Motion NDM7133 Darren Millar
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes that Wales has some of the worst air quality in the UK and that some areas have breached EU regulations for several years, culminating in the Welsh Government being taken to court for its lack of action.
2. Regrets that around 2,000 people die early each year (6 per cent of all deaths in Wales) as a result of poor air quality.
3. Further notes that air pollution exacerbates existing lung conditions and is a cause of asthma and lung cancer, and that long-term impacts of poor air quality are not yet fully understood.
4. Calls on this Assembly to pass and enact a clean air bill in this Assembly term before the next Assembly elections.
5. Believes that the act should:
a) enshrine in law World Health Organisation air quality guidelines;
b) mandate the Welsh Government to produce a statutory air quality strategy every five years;
c) provide a statutory duty on local authorities to appropriately monitor and assess air pollution, and take action against it;
d) introduce a ‘right to breathe’ whereby local authorities are obliged to inform vulnerable groups when certain levels breach recommended guidance.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm delighted to move the motion tabled in the name of Darren Millar. During the debate today the Welsh Conservatives will demonstrate that not only does Wales currently have the worst air quality in the UK—a damning statistic in itself—but it's further compounded by the awful reality that 6 per cent of deaths annually in Wales are as a result of poor air quality and the impact that poor air quality has on asthma, lung conditions and heart and circulatory conditions. And this is why it's vital for the Assembly to prioritise bringing forward a clean air Bill before the end of the fifth assembly.
Breathing problems affect one in five of the population. Whilst charities and medical professionals are working hard to find new and innovative ways of treating and preventing respiratory diseases, they are fighting a battle against ever worsening air quality. A Public Health Wales report in 2014 estimated that over 13,500 life years were lost in Wales. What a tortured sentence that is. It's not actually people, but it's the amount of years that they could have lived if they hadn't had these awful diseases because of poor air quality. And 13,500 life years are an awful lot of life years. They also describe air pollution as second only to smoking as a public health priority. It is estimated that the cost to NHS Wales from health service costs and lost work days because of air pollution is over £1 billion per year. That's 11 per cent of the 2019-20 Welsh NHS budget.
An air pollutant is defined as any substance in the air that can harm people. Particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are two pollutants. Particulate matter is a mix of solids and liquids, which includes carbon, sulphates, nitrates, mineral dust and water suspended in the air. The UK Government's air quality expert group states that half of particle pollution from road transport is made up from particles to do with brake wear, tyre and road surface degradation, which are enormous contributing factors. It is surprising that Wales has some of the worst air quality in the UK, considering our relatively low population density and our smaller cities. But, Cardiff and Port Talbot both have higher levels of some pollutants than Birmingham or Manchester, and part of Caerphilly is classed as the most polluted road in the UK outside of London.
This is down to us. The vast majority of air pollutants are man-made and the rising levels are a result of the choices that Governments and citizens make every day. We must accept our decisions—[Interruption.]
Thanks for giving way and I'm sorry to interrupt your opening remarks. How far do you think we should go as legislators and policy makers in recognising the challenge that she has said about individual citizens as well, in actually prescribing things such as active travel around schools, beyond simply providing routes, but actually saying, 'Parents will work with those schools to actually make sure that their children are going to school by walking or cycling or scooting, and not by cars'? Because the impact on children's health around schools is massive.
If my esteemed colleague would just hold on a few more moments, I will develop that a little bit more. But, what you have just said absolutely reinforces our call for a clean air Bill, because those are the kinds of discussions that we as an Assembly, within all our committees and taking appropriate evidence from people, could actually start to boil down—how far can we push it, where do we lead, what are the promises, what's the stick, where's the carrot, how does it work?
Because it is down to us. The vast majority of these pollutants are man-made and the rising levels are our choices. We must accept that our decisions, the ones we make when undertaking those car journeys or those foreign holidays or whatever, do have an impact on the quality of air that we breathe. I'm not advocating that we should legislate to reduce car usage, but I am saying we should all consider how we make use of our cars, and that means that public transport has to step up and we need to reduce our car usage and improve our public transport usage.
A simple solution, and here's one thing that we could put in our clean air Bill, would be to reduce the pollution in some of our cities and towns by encouraging local authorities to enforce current bye-laws around idling cars, by which I mean cars that are parked up and leave their engines running for an unreasonable period of time. We've all seen it, there's a range of people who do this kind of thing. We know it, we've probably done it ourselves. There's evidence that for every £1 invested in tackling this problem by a local authority, there is a return of over £4. I'd like to urge the Welsh Government to look at how this issue could be better addressed, because this would be a quick and simple win.
The Welsh Government have often hidden behind the environmental arguments when it comes to their reluctance in going ahead with the M4 upgrade, but the counter argument conveniently ignored is that for several hours each day that motorway around Newport is blocked with vehicles stationary or travelling at very slow speeds—the same problem—pumping pollutants into the atmosphere. The Government also seems to think that investing in electric vehicle infrastructure will help solve the problem of emissions, but it doesn't address the whole issue. Whilst such vehicles do not produce the same levels of greenhouse gases, they still emit particle matter pollutants, and 45 per cent of those pollutants, as I said earlier, are from brake and tyre dust. What we need to focus on is fewer cars rather than newer cars. We need to be looking—you need to be looking—at how we get people off the road and expand those public transport networks.
The health risks associated with poor air quality are very well known. There is an exacerbation of existing cardiovascular diseases and an increased risk of asthma and lung cancer. Children, as I think Huw Irranca-Davies already mentioned, are particularly vulnerable. The effects of the pollution that they're taking in today will be seen into the future. They tend to breathe faster than adults and their lungs are still growing. Air pollution exposure during pregnancy is linked with low birth weight and premature birth. Children are smaller so they're often much lower and are therefore nearer. In their little pushchairs, they're being pushed up and down the pavements and they're breathing in all those exhaust fumes.
According to Asthma UK, the number of people dying from an asthma attack in 2018 increased by 8 per cent from the previous year. And 33 per cent—over a third—more people are dying since 2008 because of this. Furthermore, in the elderly population, poor air quality can have a detrimental effect on existing conditions. Chronic exposure to elevated levels of air pollution has been correlated to incidences of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema.
Pollutant-attributed mortality is significantly higher in urban areas compared to rural areas and there is a deprivation gradient, with the most deprived areas having the highest nitrogen dioxide concentrations and pollutant-attributed mortality. It is interesting and sad to note that, according to the British Lung Foundation's 'Toxic air at the door of the NHS' report in 2018, two Cardiff hospitals and more than half of the city's GP surgeries report particulate matter levels above the World Health Organization guidelines. Preventable deaths due to respiratory disease in the most deprived areas of Wales run at over 60 per cent in men and 66 per cent in women, compared to only 11 per cent in both the sexes if you happen to live in a nice leafy suburb or out in the country. A shocking statistic, wildly unfair and leads yet further to the inequalities in society.
It is not just respiratory conditions that air pollution has an effect on, but also circulatory conditions. British Heart Foundation research has found that even short-term inhalation of elevated concentrations of particulate matter increases the risk of a heart attack within the first 24 hours of exposure. Studies have also found that particulates in diesel exhausts exacerbate the disease atherosclerosis—gosh, it's my day for saying difficult words today, isn't it?—more commonly referred to as a build up of fat around the arteries. Globally, it is estimated that 80 per of deaths attributed to air pollution are from cardiovascular disease.
Now, Minister, I have set out much of the background here as to why we urgently need to tackle poor air quality and just want to touch on what action we are going to ask you to take. As a party, we welcome the direction of travel the Welsh Government is going in when tackling air pollution and air quality, but we do call on you to go much further. In June 2019, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs told the Chamber that clean air is central to our well-being, and I call on her to consider this statement when you consider our motion today.
The UK Conservative Government has set out an ambitious plan to reduce levels of particulate matter by 30 per cent next year and by 46 per cent by 2030, cutting the costs of air pollution to society by £5.3 billion every year from 2030. And our motion today calls on the Welsh Government to follow this lead. The UK Government's clean air strategy works in tandem with the clean growth strategy and the 25-year environmental plan creates a holistic approach to cleaning the UK's air and improving all of our health. But we think you've dragged your feet on sufficiently reducing emissions in Wales. Here, emissions increased by 5 per cent between 2015 and 2016 and, on average, between 2009 and 2016, by another 1.4 per cent per year, whilst throughout the UK emissions reduced by 5 per cent. We want this clean air Bill. We do think that we would like to have very clear ideas of what it could do. We do think that we could get to it by cohesive cross-party working together on a good Bill that would tackle this awful and very difficult problem.
I just want to very quickly turn to the amendments. We're delighted and very grateful for Plaid Cymru's amendment. We are supporting it. I do want to make one point, which is that we really need to encourage the manufacturers of the technology to keep pace with our political ambition, because we want to have these 2030 targets, but we need them to step up to the plate and really make it happen. And, as for the Government, I have to say that the Government amendment, a 'delete all', is so unhelpful for a discursive debate and it does go against the spirit of co-operation that we look to see on such an important global issue. I look forward to hearing everyone's contributions today to see how we can work together to deliver better, cleaner air for the people of Wales.
Thank you. I have selected the two amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected. I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move formally amendment 1, tabled in the name of Rebecca Evans.
Delete all and replace with:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes that unacceptable levels of air pollution persist in some areas of Wales, the UK and Europe.
Regrets that some estimates suggest long term exposure to poor air quality is a contributory factor in the death of as many as 36,000 people in the UK, and as many as 1,400 people in Wales.
Further notes that short term exposure to air pollution can exacerbate respiratory disease, that long term exposure increases morbidity and mortality risk from lung cancer and other conditions, and that we may expect other health impacts of poor air quality to be identified as the scientific understanding evolves.
Welcomes positive action by Welsh Government including the introduction of permanent 50mph speed limits, the delivery of the Clean Air Day campaign and the development of a Clean Air Plan for Wales.
Calls on the UK and Welsh governments to use all available legislative and non-legislative actions to improve air quality.
Amendment 1 moved.
Thank you. I call on Llyr Gruffydd to move amendment 2, tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth. Llyr.
Amendment—Rhun ap Iorwerth
Insert as new sub-points in point 5:
require the gradual phase-out of the sale of diesel-only and petrol-only vehicles by 2030;
create clean air zones in towns and cities;
give communities the right to place pollution-monitoring equipment outside of schools and hospitals;
enable local authorities to introduce pollution and congestion charges;
set national and regional plans to reduce air pollution in Wales;
reform planning law to require impact of air pollution to be given greater weight in the planning system.
Amendment 2 moved.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. May I welcome this motion? We'll be happy to support it, of course, but we do want to move an amendment just to expand a little on what we believe can be done.
Plaid Cymru, of course, did hold a debate on this issue earlier this year, and, therefore, we are very happy to see that support continues, and this is something that we are all eager to see, or I hope that each and every one of us is eager to see. Because the damage caused by air pollution is undoubted. We've heard some of the statistics.
We've heard some of the statistics already listed. We know that Public Health Wales has said that air pollution is now a public health crisis second only to smoking, and this figure of 2,000 deaths a year is a startling figure. Maybe I and others are guilty of bandying this figure around so many times that you lose that sense of proportionality—2,000 deaths, or 40-odd deaths a week, from something that we could actually prevent. That's the reality. And of course—
I'm grateful to the Member for taking an intervention. Of course, that's the deaths figure that Public Health Wales have put there, but how much illness, and critical illness, is caused that is underlying that graphic figure that you just put out there?
An absolutely valid point, and I'm glad you made it because it's important that we do remember that as well.
It disproportionately affects, of course, people in deprived areas, which, again, is something that is of huge concern. We know that both short and long-term exposure to ambient air pollution can lead to reduced lung function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma. Maternal exposure is associated with adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight, pre-term birth and small gestational age births. There's emerging evidence also suggesting that ambient air pollution can affect diabetes and neurological development in children. It can cause, as we know, many cancers, and some air pollutants are also linked to psychiatric conditions.
As Plaid Cymru environment spokesperson, of course, there are ecological effects as well. Air pollution can cause serious environmental damages, clearly to the air, but also to the groundwater and to soil, and it can seriously threaten the diversity of life. Studies on the relationship between air pollution and reducing species diversity clearly show the detrimental effects of environmental contaminants on the extinction of animals and plant species.
Many Members will be aware that we have, of course, a cross-party group on a clean air Act in this Assembly, and Dr Dai Lloyd chairs that. I have to say, when Dai used his short debate, a number of months ago now, to call for an Act, he shared with us one thing that really stuck with me: 150 and more years ago people tolerated dirty drinking water, and we look back and we think, 'How outrageous was that?' Well, we're tolerating, or we have been tolerating, dirty air. In years to come, we'll be looking back in the same way and thinking, 'How on earth did we ever imagine that we could tolerate that?' I hope now that people are realising that the time has come to act.
So, moving on to our amendment, clearly, as I say, we're supportive of the motion and the principle behind it, we just wanted to maybe articulate a bit further some of the actions that we feel are needed.
We need to ensure that diesel-only and petrol-only vehicles are phased out gradually by 2030, and before that if possible, but certainly the technology must allow us to do that. There are options. There is a place in mid Wales producing hydrogen vehicles. I went on a visit there—Riversimple. So, there are options out there. What we must do is ensure that people can take advantage of those opportunities.
We need to see clean air zones in towns and cities. We heard about Cardiff and Port Talbot, which have higher levels of particulate matter than Birmingham and Manchester, and some of the most polluted streets in Britain outside London are in Wales.
We need to give communities rights to place pollution-monitoring equipment outside schools and hospitals. We need to enable local authorities to introduce pollution and congestion charges. We need, yes, national plans, but also regional plans to reduce air pollution in Wales. And I do feel strongly that we need to reform planning law to make it a requirement to put more emphasis on the impact of air pollution within that planning system.
There is a lot more that can be done. The major frustration for me is that much of this hasn't already been done. There’s been too much dragging of feet. And, as I said earlier, every week that we wait will lead to around 40 unnecessary deaths. So, the time for talking must be over, and I'm looking to Government here and saying, 'It's time for action.'
Margaret Barnard was secretary of a British Lung Foundation-supported Breathe Easy in Neath, a Welsh group of people living with lung disease, mainly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The group offered mutual support and raised money for pulmonary rehabilitation equipment. She was utterly unforgettable to everyone who knew her. I mention Margaret not just for her award-winning work with the British Lung Foundation, but her determination to live well, set an example, despite a most debilitating condition that eventually took her life in 2016.
Margaret may have been marvellous, but suffocation is not. That's why we need action to help all the other Margarets in Wales—5,500 years of life lost every year in the former Abertawe Bro Morgannwg university health board area, 368 actual deaths from nitrogen dioxide, and the smallest particulate matter pollution every year, and that's just one health board area. In my own area, in South Wales East, there's an estimated 300 deaths a year of those aged 25 and above that's been attributed to air pollution.
Now, these may not be the headline-grabbing figures that we see for heart disease and cancer, but, of course, air pollution is implicated in cardiovascular and cancer cases too. You might expect the number of deaths due to air pollution to look pretty bad in areas of densest population, of car users, power stations and, of course, heavy industry. But, actually, air pollution's status as an invisible killer is best evidenced by the fact that it's in north Wales where we see the greatest number of deaths, due to the smallest particulate matter, which was mentioned by my colleague Angela Burns earlier—the danger dust that comes from brake wear, tyre wear and from road surface wear. North Wales may be more rural, less populated, but like areas in the south—Newport and conurbations—it doesn't have free-flowing traffic. That traffic, rather than other sources, is the greatest air contaminant in Wales, and it's a daunting problem. Replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with electric equivalents still means that cars, lorries and buses producing that danger dust—the PM2.5—are with us today. Yet, separating us from our cars, as we've discussed, requires huge culture change as well as realistic alternatives. Of course, change has happened in the past; I remember when ultra-low sulphur petrol was first brought in—hailed as a great innovation. It was an innovation—it was better than the leaded petrol that had come before—but here we are a number of years down the line now and we need other innovations as well, and electric vehicles must be part of that.
It needs us to be brave and bold, and that's far less intimidating if we all agree it needs doing. I think the political will is here in this Chamber, however disguised it is by the amendment that Angela Burns mentioned earlier—the 'delete all' amendment. We do welcome Plaid Cymru's amendment, which we think brings a valuable aspect to this debate, but we look to see whether that will carry.
This isn't a time for Government, either Welsh Government or UK Government, to get defensive; it's time for all of us to turn a commitment into action. Bridgend County Borough Council announced its first air quality management area in January 2019 for Park Street, not incidentally a particularly deprived area. Details on exactly how the council plans to make improvements there are not so easy to find, although you can find details of how planning permission for two controversial building developments will add further to traffic congestion there.
It's an issue not just for us to discuss, but for local authorities out there across Wales who do a lot of the work on the ground, to make sure that there's transparency in their operations so that people do have access to this sort of information so that informed decisions can be taken. Reducing the volume of road traffic is one thing, but poor traffic management is every bit as much of a culprit here as our love of the car, and it's a big ask of councils to retrofit much-needed changes to local infrastructure, particularly at a time when, obviously, budgets are stretched.
Fifty miles per hour zones are a potential part of the answer, but not the whole answer that Welsh Government might be hoping for. In my area, we have high hopes for the south Wales metro, but many of the more promising innovations are in the future: in south-west Wales, a metro there may be part of the answer, and we look for planning towards that; traffic management must be part of the answer and reducing traffic volume over time; more active travel has been mentioned by Assembly Members; public transport, of course, that people will be able to use effectively, and I mentioned in the business statement yesterday how in my area it's one thing to get to Cardiff to work in the morning, but it's very difficult to get home at night when there isn't a bus service after 5.30 pm. Local development plans should insist that the location of candidate sites for housing will help and not exacerbate the problem in existing hotspots—rather, it should alleviate them. As I said earlier, Dirprwy Lywydd, we are not supportive of the 'delete all' amendment. We do support what the Plaid Cymru amendment brings to the debate.
Thank you very much. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. I can't say I disagree with anything that the speakers have said so far and I think there is a huge measure of agreement on the emergency that faces us and the action needed. So, I hope that the Minister will in her response tell us why she thinks there are only 1,400 people in Wales dying of air pollution when the British Lung Foundation says it's 2,000, because that's quite a significant difference.
I'm going to speak about the situation in Cardiff, as I'm a Cardiff representative on my feet, and Cardiff has air pollution equivalent to or worse than the air pollution in Manchester and Birmingham and that is a pretty damning statistic given that Birmingham and Manchester are much larger conurbations. So, we have a really serious problem here in Cardiff, and we can see why, because we know that four in five people commute into Cardiff by car and only 8 per cent were made on foot and a mere 2 per cent by bike. So, there's a massive culture change and behaviour change that needs to happen.
One of the most polluted areas in my constituency is Newport Road, which both contains the Cardiff Royal Infirmary—ex-hospital, now enlarged health centre—but which is bang next door to a primary school, which has absolutely ghastly levels of air pollution because of the number of commuters going past the door in the morning. So, they've introduced a green screen, an artificial green tree on the fence to try and protect their playground from toxic fumes, and it's a good idea—it does, indeed, according to pilots elsewhere, reduce the amount of pollution by about 20 per cent, but, clearly, that is not sufficient in a highly polluted area. I would like to see the closure of that road but I'm told that, already, the traffic going on the alternative route is working at 106 per cent of capacity. So, those sort of localised solutions aren't sufficient.
We have to reduce the amount of traffic being used for commuting both for school journeys and for people going to work overall, and that means we obviously need a better public transport system, but we also need to completely change the way we think about how our children get to school. We need to have zero tolerance of these parents who are still insisting on taking their child straight to the school gates, which is both bad for the child and bad for the whole community. Last week, I went with the cabinet member for the environment and transport for Cardiff Council on a bicycle ride from Llanishen High School to Pentwyn, from where a lot of students from my constituency are travelling to Llanishen High School. It's nearly 3 miles and the cost of the school transport is a huge barrier to many young people who are simply not turning up in school because they can't afford the bus fare by the end of the week, even though they are eligible for free school meals. That is a desperate situation and we need to ensure that these pupils have alternative modes of transport, and if we can give them a bicycle purchase scheme, there are routes already available, with one or two pinch points that need addressing, to enable them to get to school quite easily—they are aged 11 and above—without having to resort to this expensive school transport. So, that's one thing.
There are electric buses going to be coming into Cardiff because they've been successful in getting Department for Transport money, and that's going to go—. Four of these bus routes on Newport Road are going to be cleaned up as a result. But we really do need to see the sort of clean air zones that are going to be introduced into Birmingham, and are promised in Manchester as well, to ensure our capital city actually feels like a capital city rather than a place where the most deprived population is having to live in areas of huge pollution.
I want to just remind members of the Conservative Party that the lack of electrification of the main line to Swansea is also a huge contributor to the ongoing pollution in Cardiff, and that is because the bi-mode transport means that once the train is either heading towards Swansea or coming back from Swansea, they're belching out diesel fumes instead of much cleaner electric. So, we absolutely need to see a massive change.
And the other big change we need to see is e-bikes, which many of us tried out yesterday when they were brought for us to try out. This is a massive opportunity to switch people not from push bikes but from cars onto e-bikes because they enable the less able, physically, to use a bicycle, they enable you to go up steep hills, as I have in my constituency, and they also enable you to get heavy shopping home without struggling. So, I think e-bikes are one of the ways that we can really promote a different way of getting around our city. But we also have to think of things like school exclusion zones to stop these people from doing the wrong thing and cluttering up the traffic outside of school that endangers all pupils.
In a speech at the American University in Washington in June 1963, President John F. Kennedy said:
'our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air.'
That was a famous quote by a very famous man and, of course, what a true statement. Later in the same speech, he spoke about human rights and went on to to say—his quote is:
'the right to breathe air as nature provided it—the right of future generations to a healthy existence'.
That is what this debate is all about this afternoon, Deputy Presiding Officer. It is a sad fact that Wales contains some of the most polluted areas in the United Kingdom, and there is a clear link between air quality, deprivation and health. Studies have shown that there's a danger to public health that follows repeated exposure to air pollution. Air pollution increases the links to mortality by having a detrimental effect on existing lung conditions. It is also a cause of asthma and lung cancer. This risk is particularly acute to children exposed to air pollution. It's linked to diabetes, cognitive functions, birth defects, outcomes, and damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys—very, very important parts of our body. Some of the most polluted areas exist in my south-east Wales region. Across the Aneurin Bevan health board area, some 15 per cent of adults are receiving treatment for breathing problems.
Members will be aware that homes at the A472 at Hafodyrynys suffer the highest level of nitrogen dioxide in Wales. Levels recorded in 2015 and 2016 were exceeded only by those recorded in central London. In response, Caerphilly council has decided to take the drastic measure of buying 23 of the worst-affected properties and demolishing them. The Welsh Government has agreed to provide the necessary funding, estimated at £4.5 million. This situation at Hafodyrynys has been allowed to continue for too long. Caerphilly council's policy of doing the minimum and waiting for technology to change by 2025 has been woefully inadequate.
Deputy Presiding Officer, this highlights the need for a clean air Act in Wales. The British Lung Foundation and Healthy Air Cymru have called on the Welsh Government to introduce such a Bill. The Welsh Government has been slow in responding to the health risks posed by the poor air quality in Wales. This failure to act resulted in ClientEarth taking legal action. Ministers have failed to set clear targets instead of making a vague statement that denies accountability. A Welsh clean air Act would enshrine in law air quality guidelines produced by the World Health Organization. It would mandate the Welsh Government to produce a statutory air quality strategy with clear targets to improve air quality in Wales. There would be a duty on local authorities to monitor and assess air pollution and to take prompt and effective action accordingly, and it would introduce an obligation on local authorities to inform vulnerable groups when pollution levels breach recommended guidelines.
Deputy Presiding Officer, as President Kennedy said more than 50 years ago, the right to breathe clean air is a human right. We all breathe the same air; we all have a right to breathe clean air. I would like to urge all of you to support this motion today. Thank you.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important topic and thank the Welsh Conservatives for bringing forward this debate. As I've highlighted many times, poor air quality is one of the biggest public health challenges facing Wales. This is particularly true in the region I represent and live in, South Wales West, which has some of the dirtiest air quality in the UK. PM10s are often well above the safe daily limit; at several schools in my region, we have had many days in the last few months where they were double the safe daily limit.
Air pollutants are to blame for the deaths of at least five people per day in Wales and the biggest contributor to air pollution is transport. Since the UK Labour Government incentivised the switch to diesel, the number of particulates and nitrogen dioxide in our atmosphere increased dramatically. The current UK Government recognised the folly of this policy and have introduced a new vehicle tax system to penalise the most polluting vehicles. They have also introduced a new scrappage scheme designed to get old polluting vehicles off the road, and made a commitment to move to an all-electric vehicle future by phasing out all fossil-fuelled engines by 2040.
I welcome these moves. These moves by the UK Government need to be backed up by the action of the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government has been taken to court for its lack of action on tackling air pollution. It’s high time they fulfilled their duties to the Welsh public. They can start by taking action to reduce traffic congestion, which amplifies the effect of traffic pollution. They have introduced 50 mph speed limits on the M4 near my home, yet there is little to no evidence that it will help improve air quality. All this has done is to increase traffic congestion. I would like to see the Welsh Government ensuring that the planning system takes account of the effect new developments will have on traffic congestion.
I have said all along that air pollution is a public health issue and that the Welsh Government must develop a strategy to tackle poor air quality at a national level—
I'm just struggling to understand how you think it's a major issue, but you still resist 50 mph, which obviously reduces the amount of—
Well, because the traffic congestion on junction 41 and so on is awful.
You could have everybody running around at 100 mph, but it would just increase the pollution, because there'd be even more vehicles.
No, you can't have a conversation across the Chamber.
We can have a conversation later.
In addition to local authorities monitoring air quality, there needs to be a reporting system to alert residents of poor air quality. Developments such as the British-made Sentinel-5P satellite, which monitors air pollutants, could be utilised at a national level to improve forecasting of high levels of air pollution and should be used to warn the public about such events, in much the same way that weather reports feature pollen counts. Welsh and UK Governments need to act on this urgently. High pollution levels kill.
We have to consider the huge infrastructure challenges brought by the electrification of transport. How can we deliver charging points to those people not fortunate to have a driveway or garage? I would urge the Governments, both in Wales and at Westminster, to invest in the development of wireless vehicle charging.
In regard to the importance of pollution, is your party now of the understanding and of the nature that pollution and climate change are very intricately linked?
I have always been of that mind. [Interruption.] I'm speaking for myself. You've asked me a question; you haven't asked my party. You've asked me—my point, and I've emphasised it. Thank you.
So, both Wales and Westminster need to invest in the development of wireless vehicle charging. Both Governments also need to ensure the roll-out of electric vehicle charging is not impeded by the planning system. We have to tackle this major public health challenge head on. We have to clean up our act. Alternative forms of transport—walking, when possible—are to be encouraged. We must all work together, though, to ensure no-one dies as a result of poor air quality in the future. We need a clean air Act, as simply demolishing houses in heavily polluted areas is not the answer. We have to tackle the problem and not the symptoms. Diolch yn fawr.
I'm pleased to contribute to this debate. In recent years, for very proper reasons, climate change has come to dominate our political agenda. But, for many people, I think because they don't see an immediate impact in what they're doing, they're dissuaded from making some of the choices that would really benefit us long term. But, when we come to air quality, it is an area that has an immediate impact, and improving air quality an immediate benefit. I think that's what we need to emphasise this afternoon.
I've championed this continuously. It was one of the first speeches I made in this fifth Assembly, when I challenged the Government as to why they didn’t have an air quality section on their programme for government. Fortunately, they put that right very quickly, and I think we have advanced considerably. It was a central part of the strategy we launched last year on liveable cities, and I'm delighted to see the innovations that are being brought and suggestions in this policy area, and indeed I put Plaid's amendment in that category.
Coincidentally, Deputy Presiding Officer, there's an excellent article in today's Financial Times that summarises some of the recent research that shows the short-term impacts of bad air, and I don't think anyone's actually concentrated on that this afternoon, so perhaps I will be able to outline some of the latest studies. It's basically showing the short-term impacts on child development, on productivity, on cognitive effectiveness—all these things are being seen to have big short-term effects, as well as long ones. Research conducted in Israel found that a modest increase in particulates on the day of an Israeli students' high school examination is associated with a significant decline in the exam results of those students. When you really think about it, one significant day of air pollution could have a dramatic impact on your education and your future prospects—quite remarkable.
Another piece of research looked at call centre staff working for the same company but in different Chinese cities. On polluted days, productivity fell by between 5 and 6 per cent. Poor air quality also causes weaker performance in—and I'm not making this up—German professional footballers. They have been able to measure, on the day of the game, that, if you have been subjected to poor quality, it has an effect on your physical and mental abilities. Another study shows that living in an area of the US with a high carbon monoxide pollution rate does more harm to a baby in utero than the mother smoking 10 cigarettes a day, and another study shows that almost 3,000 children in Barcelona who were exposed to more than average air pollution suffered slower cognitive development. These are really quite significant and worrying findings, and we need to really take them very seriously indeed.
I would also like to look at a completely different area to conclude, and that’s the quality of indoor air pollution. Studies have shown that this can be over three times worse than outdoor air pollution, and UK campaigners have called this effect on our households as 'toxic boxes' due to the number of air pollution particulates that can be trapped inside our homes. Research has said this is due to a combination of indoor activities, such as cooking or burning wood, alongside outdoor pollution from transport, which travel inside, creating a build-up of pollution inside the home, and these pollution peaks take a lot longer to disperse than outdoor pollution. So, I think it’s very important that we remember, in terms of the quality of housing design and our current policy, in terms of how we renovate and improve energy efficiency and the like, that there’s a real air quality impact, and those pollutants building up at home can turn our most precious spaces into zones of significant harm.
So, we really need now to have a comprehensive strategy, I think, around air quality. It fits into climate change, but it also fits into many public health issues, productivity, the efficiency of the economy and educational outcomes. But I’ve been very pleased with the tone of the debate this afternoon. I really do think this is beyond party politics, and what we want from everyone and from the Government is more ambition, and we’ll encourage you when you set more ambitious targets, and that’s really also what I think the people of Wales want.