|3. Topical Questions|
|4. 90-second Statements|
|5. Member Debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv): Unadopted roads|
|6. Debate on the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee's report into loneliness and isolation|
|7. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Mental Health|
|8. Voting Time|
|9. Short Debate: Getting smart with fuel poverty|
|2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance|
|1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs|
|Motions to elect a Member to committees|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
The first item is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs. Angela Burns isn't present to ask question 1, therefore, question 2, David Rowlands.
Question 1 [OAQ51755] not asked.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline how the Welsh Government intends to simplify planning law in Wales to make it easier to understand? OAQ51744
Thank you. This week, I published the consultation, a completely revised 'Planning Policy Wales', to make it more streamlined. In addition, I've asked the Law Commission to undertake a review of planning law in Wales to provide recommendations on simplifying and consolidating planning legislation.
Thank you for that reply, Cabinet Secretary. I do understand that the Welsh Government has planning laws under consideration, but would the Cabinet Secretary not agree with me that simplicity must constitute a key element in the Government's approach to any changes to laws governing planning, especially given that planning laws in Wales at present are so complicated and often difficult to interpret and that the increasing divergence between the planning laws of England and Wales is, perhaps, exacerbating the situation?
New legislation made in the Assembly and in the UK Parliament may apply to Wales only, to England only or to both England and Wales, thus creating an evermore complex planning regime. Can you give us an assurance, Cabinet Minister, that, when the report is published in March, you will take these concerns into account?
I certainly think there is a very clear need to simplify and consolidate Welsh planning legislation, and, certainly, the scoping paper that the Law Commission brought forward back in July 2016—I think it was something like 94 per cent of respondents clearly said that there was a need to simplify it, so I certainly wouldn't argue with that.
I think, also, since I've been in portfolio, a great number of stakeholders have told me that they do find it very difficult to work through the existing very complex legislation. So, simplification has to be top of the list, I think.
Good afternoon, Minister. At the moment, planning consent will normally lapse unless development is started within three years. Local authorities may serve a completion notice stating that the planning permission will cease if there is expiration of a further specified period, but they do not have the power to require that a development should actually be completed. That is the scenario. What plans does the Cabinet Secretary have to simplify the process for serving completion notices by giving local authorities in Wales the power to specify a date by which a development must be completed? Thank you.
That is not something that I did ahead of the consultation that I launched on Monday. So, in relation to planning law, which was the original question, I mentioned that we've got two consultations running in parallel—the Law Commission one and the one that I launched on Monday. And certainly, within that 'Planning Policy Wales' consultation, it's something that we can look at.
Cabinet Secretary, you'll be aware of the concerns I've raised about the clarity of planning law in respect of houses in multiple occupation and the way that has particularly impacted on parts of my constituency, and Treforest in particular, where you see communities beginning to disintegrate because of the unbridled growth of HMOs. Could you outline what the position is with regard to HMOs and what you intend to do in respect of the representations for those communities that are under threat in that particular way?
Thank you. Yes, I'm very aware of your concerns and I share your concerns. I think we had a very constructive meeting with my officials who, you'll be aware, are analysing the planning appeals that have come forward regarding HMOs right across Wales—in all areas of Wales, I think—to identify if there are any specific issues that we need to look at.
You'll be aware that is is for local authorities to decide whether to introduce local policies against which to assess planning applications for HMOs, and that's after they've considered the costs and benefits for each individual application. And I do understand that Rhondda Cynon Taf council has recently prepared draft supplementary planning guidance on HMOs, and that's currently out for public consultation also. I think that's something that I would very much support.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. The latest figures on the agricultural workforce by the Office for National Statistics, which were published this month, show that 53,500 workers work in the sector in Wales, and, with less than five per cent of the population of the UK, 11.5 per cent of all agricultural workers are here in Wales. Therefore, I think it’s fair to say, as we exit the European Union, that this is another example of how the agricultural sector is going to be open to significant harm—twice as likely, broadly speaking—because of the numbers involved in the workforce. So, can the Cabinet Secretary give us an update on what the situation is now in terms of discussions with the UK Government, and the other Governments in the UK, on establishing a framework for agriculture as we exit the European Union, and ensuring that the voice of Wales, and the rights of the workforce in Wales, are part of that framework?
Thank you, Simon, for that question. You'll be aware of our quadrilateral meetings. We haven't met now since before Christmas, but we are due to meet a week on Monday, actually, here in Cardiff, with the Secretary of State from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and also obviously my Scottish counterparts, and, probably, the Permanent Secretary from Northern Ireland. Workforce is clearly a massive issue for the agricultural sector, and certainly the last three farms, I think, I visited over the last month, all of them had a significant number of EU nationals working on the farm. So, we can see what a huge issue it would be if there were a narrowing of the ability of our farmers, and the agricultural sector, to have a workforce from the EU nationals.
I’m grateful for that. Of course, the issue of the workforce from the rest of the EU is an issue of concern, but it’s also true to say that we should be using every tool in our possession to assist young people in Wales to succeed in agriculture. You will know, of course, that we came to an agreement on £6 million for the young entrants scheme, and the interest in this scheme has been incredible, if truth be told, and the number of young people who have expressed an interest in venturing into this field is heartening, because I don’t always share their enthusiasm, given what Brexit may hold for us. But I do see that young people do want to take a chance in agriculture and I want the Government to support that as much as possible. You have said publicly already that you hoped that the scheme will be delivered on time and will be announced very soon. So, can you give an update to the whole Assembly as to what you hope to achieve through this scheme and how you hope this scheme for young entrants will support and prepare the whole workforce for the challenges of Brexit?
Thank you. Like you, Simon, I think it's really invigorating to see young people want to have a career in agriculture and go forward and get their own holding, for instance. And you'll be aware that the main issue around the scheme is that it's their first time having a holding in their own name. So, what we plan to do is give—I think it's a significant amount of funding—about £40,000, to enable that to happen. There has been a significant interest in the scheme. Officials are still working up the specific details, so I can't update on that. However, we're going to be ready to go on 1 April, and I am absolutely convinced that we will be ready to go on 1 April. And, obviously, you mentioned that there's £6 million available, from our budget agreement between our two parties—£2 million, and then £4 million in the second year. So, I'm absolutely convinced that we will spend all that money, and, who knows, maybe there will be even more of an interest in it. But I certainly want to encourage all young people to come forward and apply for it.
Thank you for that. I look forward to the launch of the scheme, but I look forward even more to seeing, in two years' time, young people having responsibility for holdings for the first time, and showing the way forward for agriculture in future. I’m very confident that the young farmers of Wales have the ideas to do that.
I will conclude on another aspect of exiting the European Union, which is different in Wales compared to the situation over the border in England, or over the sea in Ireland. I am talking about fisheries. A report on fisheries in Wales was published yesterday by the Public Policy Institute for Wales, and that demonstrated, of course, what’s more important to the kind of fishing fleet we have in Wales, which tends to be smaller and fishes for shellfish rather than fish as such—that they want access to those European markets, and that they want that to be tariff free and open, rather than having ownership of the seas, where it tends to have been steering the debate on CAF and European policies.
When I visited Milford Haven, I was struck by how much processing was happening in Belgium of produce that was gathered in Cardigan bay, much of which is transported back and forth in lorries through Wales. So, what can you as a Government do now to ensure that more processing happens here in Wales and also to ensure, however, that we can still sell that processed food with added value directly into the markets that are still important to us?
Yes. Just this morning, I met with representatives of the Welsh fishing association, and you won't be surprised to learn that the continuation of being tariff free is incredibly important to them. You will have heard the First Minister say yesterday that, when he was in Ireland on Monday, he heard about five lorries of fish that couldn't get out of the country, and, certainly, the representatives I met with this morning are even more concerned that, as we go forward, post Brexit, that that situation could happen even more unless the UK Government get this absolutely right from the outset. So, these are discussions that I will continue to have with my counterparts, certainly with the UK Government, and I know, in relation to trade and tariff-free trade, the First Minister will continue, and also my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, in his discussions.
Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, in May last year, I highlighted the Blue Cross's 'Unpicking the Knots' report, which showed that the last time Government brought in a specific law to regulate the sale of pets was in 1951. Given that times have changed significantly since the Pet Animals Act 1951, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to strengthen existing legislation and perhaps introduce new legislation to regulate the sale of pets here in Wales?
Yes, we certainly are looking at what legislation we need in relation to animal welfare. You will be aware that a lot of it is very old, and we're having discussions currently with the UK Government around the animal welfare (sentencing and recognition of sentience) Bill for instance. But, in relation to pets, we've been looking at the code of practices also, and I'm bringing forward a statement—I think it's in March—around a package of either legislation, measures or licensing that we need around animal welfare.
Well, I'm glad to hear that you'll be bringing forward a statement on this particular issue, Cabinet Secretary. Now, one of the more difficult issues that needs tackling is in relation to the scale of unlicensed activity and the rise in the online sale of pets in Wales. The invisibility of this trading system has resulted in many online sellers being able to avoid pet breeding and vending legislation, and it crucially pays no regard to an animal's welfare. Therefore, can you tell us why the Welsh Government has not prioritised this animal welfare issue until now, and can you also tell us what specific action the Welsh Government will be taking to address this particular issue as a matter of urgency?
I mentioned that I will be bringing forward a statement in March, so I can't give you a specific update now. It's not that it hasn't been a priority, but you'll be aware that there are lots of priorities, and animal welfare is very high up, certainly, on my agenda and that of the Welsh Government. So, officials are working to bring forward a package of measures around animal welfare and, as I say, I will be making a statement in March in the Chamber.
We already know that local authorities in Wales are struggling to enforce regulations on pet shops and dog breeders, and so perhaps there's an opportunity for Wales to lead the way by developing a bespoke registration licensing system for anyone breeding or selling animals, which would include all vendors, from pet shops to online breeders. Therefore, when you bring this statement forward in the next few weeks, will you commit to seriously considering perhaps the merits of a bespoke registration and licensing system for pet breeders and sellers in Wales?
Yes, I'm happy to look at anything that will, obviously, improve animal welfare standards. Local authorities haven't specifically raised that concern with me, but, again, if you have any specific knowledge that you would like to pass on to me, please do.
Diolch, Llywydd. Inland fisheries and freshwater fishing is an important part of the rural economy. The Environment Agency has estimated that there are about 1,500 jobs in Wales that depend directly upon it. Whilst we're all concerned about the levels of salmon and sea trout in our rivers in Wales, I wonder if the Cabinet Secretary could give me her views upon Natural Resources Wales's proposals to introduce a 10-year mandatory catch and release policy, and also to introduce a blanket ban on anglers taking any salmon they catch to eat. The angling fraternity is very concerned about this because, obviously, taking home one's catch is an integral part of fishing for many, many anglers, and for the enjoyment of sport. There is a possibility that if the result of this is to deter people from coming to Wales, in particular to enjoy our rivers for fishing, that could have a detrimental effect also upon tourism in the countryside.
I'm waiting for Natural Resources Wales to supply their recommendations, following their consultation on this. I'm expecting it probably within the next two months. So, at the moment, I can't comment.
Okay. Well, I understand the Cabinet Secretary's position on that. There are very diverse reasons for the decline in fish stocks in our rivers. One of them is predation by fish-eating birds. There's a great deal of evidence now. The Angling Trust has produced a database, for example, of predators within inland situations. Apparently, cormorants are now a significant factor in this. Although they're fundamentally seabirds, lots of them are taking fish from our rivers and posing, I think, a dire threat to, particularly, young salmon. There are licences, which are granted, for taking predators and so reducing the scale of this problem. I wonder if the Cabinet Secretary would consider making it easier to qualify for these licences. This at least will be a partial solution to a growing problem that we've got with our rivers.
Again, that's not an issue that's been raised with me, but I will ask my colleague the Minister for Environment to raise it with NRW at her next meeting.
And I suppose the elephant in the room for most people is the extent of river pollution. I know that this is a much bigger issue than just in relation to fish stocks. We've had many a debate here about proposals for nitrate vulnerable zones and so on, but although nobody denies that there is a problem with pollution, it is being addressed by voluntary action, to a great extent. We've drawn attention in the past to the schemes that exist in Pembrokeshire that have been very successful. Pollution does kill far more salmon and sea trout each year than the proposals, which NRW have put forward, for controls on exploitation by nets and fishermen of salmon and sea trout would save, and so this is a problem that should be viewed in the round rather than ascribed to one cause over another. So, I hope that, when she considers NRW's proposals, she will introduce a sense of proportion into the proposals, which they have put on the table. Because there's a feeling that, in Wales, NRW is proposing something that is far more draconian than will be applied in England, in particular. Therefore, going back to what we were talking about earlier on, in Simon Thomas's question, of discussions with your counterpart in England on agricultural issues, we do need to inform ourselves in Wales of the position in other parts of the United Kingdom and the proposals for improvement, which other Ministers are bringing in. We mustn't disadvantage fishermen in Wales in particular unnecessarily.
I think proportionality is very important in any steps that you take. You mentioned about voluntary action. Certainly, the reason I brought forward the statement I did on NVZs was because, whilst I don't think the current voluntary sorts of schemes have worked in a way that we would want them to—and we've seen significant agricultural pollution of our rivers, for instance—I do think that, if you can work with the sector, it's much better than bringing forward legislation, and that's why I brought forward the statement I have. But, again, I will ask the Minister for Environment to raise it with NRW at her next regular meeting.
Question 3: Mark Reckless is not in the Chamber to ask question 3. This is the second Member within three questions who has been absent. So, if I could request that business managers—and one, in particular, this afternoon—to ensure the attendance of Members who have declared an intention to ask questions in future, then I would appreciate that.
Question 3 [OAQ51764] not asked.
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the impact that smart meters are having on combating fuel poverty in Wales? OAQ51750
Thank you. Smart meters are a non-devolved matter, but we are working with Smart Energy GB and Ofgem to ensure that the needs of Welsh consumers are considered in the roll-out of smart meters. Within the powers available to Welsh Government, the most direct way in which we can tackle fuel poverty is to improve the energy efficiency of homes.
Two weeks ago, I was with British Gas to discuss the roll-out of smart meters in Wales; 47,000 now have been installed in homes in South Wales Central. They're part of the solution. Obviously, as a more informed consumer, you can observe the impact of your energy consumption. Of course, when combined with better insulation, it can be a key factor in reducing energy poverty. So, I would like to know how the Welsh Government is itself, and with local authorities, ensuring that people are aware of the benefits of smart meters. Even though you are not directly responsible for the programme, information in the first place is really, really vital to consumers.
Yes, I agree that that is certainly the case. While it is a reserved issue, my officials are working with Smart Meter GB. They were obviously appointed by the UK Government to be the consumer campaign—to promote the take-up of smart meters in both domestic and non-domestic premises.
I think the one thing that I've learned from Smart Meter GB is that the large majority of people who have a meter then become really enthusiastic about making energy savings. That enthusiasm, hopefully, will carry on, so I think that's the thing that I've learned most from Smart Meter GB.
Cabinet Secretary, smart meters can be a vital tool in changing behaviours, enabling us to put a price on that left-on light or to see how much it costs to leave a device on stand-by. However, older smart meters can tie customers into a single supplier as they are useless when switching to a new supplier, and customers often have to pay for a new smart meter to replace the dumb one. The UK Government have allowed energy companies to continue to install first-generation meters. So, Cabinet Secretary, what can your Government do to ensure that customers in Wales will only receive smart metering equipment technical specifications 2 meters?
Well, that's not an issue that has been raised with me, but I will certainly write to the UK Government pointing out your comments and ensuring that people in Wales do absolutely have the most up-to-date meter available.FootnoteLink
5. Will the Welsh Government carry out an environmental impact assessment following the decision by Natural Resources Wales to grant an operating licence for the Biomass UK No. 2 development in Barry? OAQ51760
The Welsh Ministers have informed the developer of the biomass plant that they are minded to direct that an environmental impact assessment must accompany their planning application currently before the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Any representations they will make will be taken into account before a final decision is made.
Well, I welcome that. I think that is some progress, but do you also welcome, as I do, the statement yesterday from the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales that she's considering how environmental permits are granted in Wales by Natural Resources Wales? She's written to NRW to ask them to demonstrate how the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is being applied to the environmental permitting process. This will be welcomed by the residents of Barry and the Vale, who feel that their concerns and evidence on the public health and environmental impact of the Barry biomass incinerator, built in the middle of Barry, close to homes, schools, hospitals and shops, have been ignored in the granting of a permit.
Thank you for that question. I appreciate the residents' and the Member's concerns, and I recognise the role the Member has played in being involved with making representations on this issue on behalf of her constituents.
In terms of the announcement by the future generations commissioner, our guidance in the well-being of future generations Act makes it clear that the Act provides opportunities for public bodies to consider how duties can be discharged in a more integrated way. Public bodies, however, must be confident that their respective statutory duties are being met against the criteria in the relevant legislation.
I think it's fair to say that, in the time that I've been elected to this institution, from a Vale of Glamorgan perspective, the Barry incinerator has undoubtedly been the largest campaign, and across party political divides, I might add as well. I commend the community around the incinerator, and the wider Vale of Glamorgan community, for the actions they have undertaken to fight this campaign. But there is an issue about environmental impact assessments and their suitability. Have you had time, in the time you've been Minister, to get to grips with the scenarios where environmental impact assessments are required? Do you believe that the current model that public bodies in particular work to, such as NRW, is fit for purpose, bearing in mind, obviously, the future generations commissioner's comment? But, ultimately, it will be you as a Government who will determine the parameters for guidance to bodies were they to enact environmental impact assessments.
Thank you for your question. I know, also, that the Member has been vociferous in this matter and has asked a number of questions previously on behalf of residents and constituents.
In terms of the environmental impact assessment, this refers to a specific process to comply with the EIA directive, so that when the EIA is taken as part of a planning application, and acts as a consultee—[Inaudible.]—the environmental point is a matter for Natural Resources Wales, but it is something that will obviously be considered in the whole as well.
6. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of The State of Britain's Hedgehogs Report 2018? OAQ51754
Thank you. The continued decline in hedgehog numbers in rural areas in the UK, as highlighted in the report, should concern us all. The findings will inform the refresh of the nature recovery action plan to ensure that we all take appropriate action to help our most endangered species, including the hedgehog.
I'm sure you will be aware that the Farmers Union of Wales released a statement in response to the report that said that conservation bodies were burying their heads in the sand as far as the impact of badgers on hedgehog numbers is concerned. I can't help but wonder if that is a politically motivated statement aimed at justifying a badger cull. The FUW didn't feel that the lion's share of the blame for the reduction in hedgehog numbers should be placed on farming practices, despite a wealth of research showing that agriculture and land management have the biggest single impact on wildlife, with 84 per cent of land in Wales being used for agriculture. Cabinet Secretary, can I ask for you to look at and assess the implications of this statement from the Farmers Union of Wales, which firmly blames badgers for the decline, and also to look at implementing the changes, as requested by conservation organisations, which clearly mention pesticides?
I don't agree with the FUW claims. Certainly, when you read the report, I don't think that's what leaps out at you. When you read the report, it notes a number of reasons for why hedgehogs are scarcer in rural areas, and that includes the intensification of agriculture, habitat loss, fragmentation, roadkill, as well as predation. Badgers are a natural predator of hedgehogs, and they actively avoid sites where badgers are present in very high numbers. And I think also the report states that they can co-exist—you know, badgers and hedgehogs can co-exist in many areas. So, I think we need to have a better understanding of the habitat.
Cabinet Secretary, I'm glad that Joyce Watson has asked this question. This is an excellent report; well worth the read. I learnt a few things, such as that hedgehogs are hibernating between November and mid-March, so we're currently in a period of that hibernation—what was that about AMs? [Laughter.] I was particularly interested in the Big Hedgehog Map, which allows people to log their hedgehog sighting online, to contribute to research into the animal. I noticed that, in Usk, in my constituency, there are only eight hedgehog sightings. So, hopefully, that will increase with this map.
I know that they get some national and European protection, but what are you doing to publicise campaigns such as the Big Hedgehog Map, so that we can understand a bit more about this animal and protected more in future?
I think it is very helpful. I haven't actually publicised this, so I, too, am very pleased that Joyce Watson has asked this question today.
I also think that reports such as this will help, post Brexit, when we're looking at our programmes and at how we're going to boost biodiversity, for instance. So, I'm very happy to support this report.
As the hedgehog species champion, I welcome—[Interruption.] I'm very encouraged by the interest of other Members in our prickly friends. [Laughter.]
I was concerned to read in the report by the Hedgehog Preservation Society of the decline of hedgehogs in rural areas, particularly aligned to the use of pesticides. Would the Minister agree that the use of big data and artificial intelligence does offer us the opportunity to help in this area? By using the latest precision agriculture techniques, we can specifically calibrate the amount of chemicals required in the cultivation of land and reduce the amount of chemicals put into the soil, which will have a knock-on benefit effect for hedgehogs. Given that the National Assembly has voted for the Government to come forward with the strategy on precision agriculture, can the Minister update us on the progress, please?
Thank you. Lee Waters is certainly the hedgehog champion. I hope you remember that you were actually the second choice, and I was the first, but I decided to be a champion for all species. [Laughter.] But you're also a great champion of precision agriculture, too, and frequently bombard me with a lot of very good research that you've done in this area.
We came forward with an idea that we wouldn't have a specific strategy, but there is clearly a huge amount of work that we can do in relation to precision agriculture, and certainly our policy is to reduce to the lowest possible level the effect of pesticide use on people, wildlife and plants, so I think precision agriculture absolutely can be used in this way. Again, post Brexit, as we're coming forward with our future farming policy and all our other environmental policies, I think precision agriculture will really help us.
Cabinet Secretary, the facts in the report are very, very clear, and that is things like habitat loss and intensive farming are the primary cause of the fall. Incidentally, my species is the Tonyrefail falcon—that's another matter.
Could I just say—? One of the things that concerns me, though, that arises from the FUW statement, is the fact that there's an attempt to almost weaponise hedgehogs to make them to blame for their losses as a result of badgers; so, using one species as a mechanism for trying to attack another species, and so on, and our position has got to lead to a cull of badgers and also to the protection of hedgehogs themselves. This sort of divide-and-rule approach is really just not acceptable.
Yes, I think I've more or less answered your question in my answer to Joyce Watson. Clearly, the report, I think, states very clearly why hedgehogs are scarcer in rural areas, and it's not just due to one particular reason. I gave several reasons around habitat loss, the intensification of agriculture, for instance, and also road kill. So, I think it is very important that everybody looks at this report as a whole, and certainly I do disagree with what the FUW have claimed here.
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the agri-food sector in North Wales? OAQ51751
Thank you. The agri-food sector in north Wales continues to grow and benefit significantly from a suite of Welsh Government programmes, including Farming Connect and food business investment grants. I was pleased to announce £3 million of funding for Food Skills Cymru at the food and drink skills conference in north Wales last Thursday.
Thank you for your answer. Cabinet Secretary, according to the latest statistics, only 5 per cent of Welsh lamb is consumed in Wales. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote Welsh lamb in Wales and the wider UK?
There's a great deal we're doing to promote Welsh lamb. So, I've had conversations with specific supermarkets, for instance. So, just in recent months—probably the last six months—several supermarkets, including Asda and Aldi, have begun selling Welsh lamb. Other supermarkets already did so, and certainly in the lead-up to St David's Day, I think we'll see further supermarkets ensuring that Welsh lamb is on their shelves.
Significant opportunities exist for the agri-food sector in north Wales, including improved supply chain collaboration and associated efficiency improvements. In fact, the brand Wales encapsulates premium fresh produce backed up by great taste, the quality of Welsh grassland, the family farm tradition, the commitment of all in the supply chain and the location of abattoirs and processing facilities close to production. What meetings and how many meetings have you had with representatives, not just of farmers, but processors and retailers, given the importance of engaging with operators in the entire supply chain in relation to these matters?
I've had a significant number of meetings right across the food chain—as you say, not just with farmers, but with processors and with specific supply chain companies. My officials continue to have those sorts of meetings on a weekly basis, and I mentioned in my opening answer to Mandy Jones about the food business investment scheme—that grant funding, again, supports people in this area.
I saw some recent reports that the red meat levy organisations in Britain were going to be sharing a fund of £2 million for marketing and research while a longer term solution to this saga of the red meat levy is resolved—at last, hopefully. I want to know because I have been raising this issue for many years. I’m sure you’re the fifth or the sixth Minister or Cabinet Secretary who’s been grappling with this injustice of the £1 million lost to the red meat sector annually because of the way that the levy is being run. So, when do you think, if this is a temporary measure, that we will have a once-and-for-all resolution to this injustice? And when, at last, will we see the red meat sector in Wales given the funding it deserves?
Yes, it is something that we do need to have a permanent solution on. I'm hoping that the temporary one becomes permanent very, very quickly—hopefully within the next few months. You mentioned I was probably the—I think I am the sixth Minister with responsibility, and I promised Dai Davies, before he finished as chair, that we would get it sorted out. We managed on a temporary basis, but you're quite right, it is something that has been too long in the ether out there that needs sorting out. So, I will continue to have discussions with other Ministers around this and I know my officials continue to have meetings at an official level too.
8. What opportunities has the Welsh Government had to research sea beds off the coast of Wales? OAQ51737
Thank you. Welsh Government undertakes and supports a wide range of work to understand Welsh seas, including the sea bed. I've seen at first hand the excellent academic work at Aberystwyth and Bangor universities in particular. We continue to develop a good understanding of our seas to enable sustainable development.
Sea bed surveying and mapping are of key importance to our economy. The Irish have already acted on this. The EU is now starting too. There's a danger that both Wales and the UK will be left behind. Bangor University has the biggest university-run sea bed research vessel in the UK, the Prince Madog, which is key both to our economy and to fisheries management as we look to the future. But, it's only funded to 2020. What action will the Welsh Government therefore take to ensure critical and sustainable future funding, and to incorporate sea bed research into a strategic national plan?
I am aware that Bangor University are looking to identify future strategic scientific work for the Prince Madog. It is a commercial matter for the universities and others in the consortium, so I'm not able to comment any further.
As species champion for the grey seals, all the talk on Rhossili rocks is about NRW's recent indicative marine protected areas site condition reports. These apparently have highlighted low confidence in determining the status of protected features such as sub-tidal reefs, with some reported as being in unfavourable conservation status. So, in view of that, will the Cabinet Secretary confirm that the extra allocated budget to the marine and fisheries department will be used for the recovery and much needed monitoring of marine protected areas in Wales, and keep my grey seals happy? Thank you.
I very much want to keep Dai Lloyd's grey seals happy. I can't confirm that all the funding will be used for that purpose, but I'm sure that some of the funding will go towards understanding our seas and, of course, the marine protected areas, which are very important.
You will know, Cabinet Secretary, that the decision to reopen the scallop fishery in Cardigan bay was very much predicated on the work that Bangor University had done on the sea bed conditions, and you said at the time, I think, that you'd want to maintain an ongoing monitoring of sea bed conditions to ensure that reopening the fishery didn't have an adverse effect and that it was, as you just said, sustainable development of our sea beds and seas. Can you update us on the position now as regards that fishery and, in light of the earlier question I asked about shellfish generally in Welsh seas, where we are in ensuring that that fishery can be sustainable and meets the needs of the natural environment as well?
I mentioned in an earlier answer, it wasn't to you, that I'd met with the Welsh fisheries association this morning on the subject of monitoring, and on the basis that you can't please all the people all the time you can imagine that the view was coming from a different side. That monitoring is ongoing, but if the Member is happy, I will write to him with the specific situation at the current time.
9. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve community access to green spaces? OAQ51743
Quality green spaces and parks provide opportunities for healthy recreation, support biodiversity and contribute to reducing flood risk and air pollution. The Welsh Government has allocated £27.8 million of capital funding from 2017 to support the development of green infrastructure over a period of four years.
Thank you, Minister. I was really glad that you could speak at the event on community spaces that I hosted the other week. The event heard how access to community green spaces can help to improve health, well-being and prosperity, although it also noted some of the barriers to community ownership. What support can the Welsh Government give to make it easier for communities to not only access but take legal ownership of green spaces?
I was grateful for the opportunity to join you at the event, and it was good to hear from you then. One of the things that struck me at the event that we talked about was the emotional ownership of your local green spaces, but then how that actually becomes actual ownership. And you're right that access to green spaces has broader health, economic and social benefits; it's not just good for the environment. So, community asset transfer presents opportunities for the community to own and manage green spaces. Welsh Government guidance is available to provide community groups with the knowledge and tools to take ownership of these spaces, and there's information available on the Welsh Government website. The green infrastructure capital fund that is currently being put into place will actually be able to assist and support community groups in taking ownership of green spaces.
Minister, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recommends more 20 mph zones around green spaces so that children can walk, cycle and play safely, and also access those spaces more safely. I'm particularly concerned about the lack of access to green spaces for children who live in relatively more deprived areas. We need an action plan to ensure that children do have access to safe playing grounds.
Absolutely. The Member makes very important and very valid points. Green spaces are also not just about safety; green spaces help to reduce air and noise pollution as well. I think we are cracking forward with our air quality strategy at the moment, so that's perhaps something we could take up further and consider going forward.
10. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on Planning Policy Wales? OAQ51767
Thank you. On Monday, I launched a public consultation on a completely revised draft 'Planning Policy Wales', which has been aligned to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 goals and ways of working. I look forward to hearing Members and others' views on the document and the contribution it can make to place making.
And I welcome that review alongside the question David Rowlands asked at the beginning. The Cabinet Secretary will be aware of my support for strategic development planning, which is provided within the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, to help move developments away from over-concentrated areas around Cardiff and the M4. Will the Cabinet Secretary therefore support the view that 'Planning Policy Wales' needs to reflect the suitability of strategic development plans over local development plans, and that local authorities' elected representatives within the areas covered by strategic development plans need to work together and show their support for more dispersed sustainable development that is in line with the well-being of future generations Act?
Thank you. I know the Member will be aware from our conversations that I'm very keen to see strategic development plans. I wrote to all local authorities back in December, inviting them to look at how they can work together on SDPs. I've had some responses, and around joint development plans also, although not everybody has written back yet. I have also reminded them of the need to increase housing supply, and emphasised that new housing must contribute to the creation of cohesive communities. We don't want to see unacceptable impacts on social, economic or environmental infrastructure.
Diolch, Llywydd. Firstly, may I apologise both to you and to the Cabinet Secretary for missing my earlier question?
Cabinet Secretary, as the species champion for the greater horseshoe bat, can you assure me that in this consultation on the new planning policy for Wales there will be adequate weight given to protecting endangered species whilst, of course, not stopping necessary planning and the renovation of old buildings? But, we do need to look after our smaller friends; they have no voice—we need to be their voice.
Yes, absolutely, I agree with that and just to say to the Member that I thank her for her apology; it was actually a question to the Minister for Environment.
'Planning Policy Wales' in its draft form noted the concept of sustainable development has been broadened, of course, under the well-being of future generations Act, and there is now a requirement to improve the four aspects of well-being—economic, environmental, social and cultural. There are also seven well-being goals that the Act has brought forward to help to ensure that public bodies are working towards the same vision of a sustainable Wales. The Welsh language is one of those seven well-being goals under the Act, and is also part of the cultural aspect of well-being. Why, then, doesn’t the draft planning policy of the Welsh Government strengthen the responsibilities of local planning authorities as they consider the Welsh language as part of their planning decision making?
Well, the Member will be aware that we looked at the technical advice note that was specifically in relation to the Welsh language and strengthened it, but I'm very happy to take on any comments that she has on it—if you feel it wasn't strengthened in a way that you think is appropriate—as we go through this planning policy consultation.
The next questions are to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and the first question is from Russell George.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the future of Welsh Government offices located outside of Cardiff? OAQ51738
The Government’s location strategy maintains our commitment to a Welsh Government presence across Wales while ensuring that we optimise the efficiency of our estate and reduce our operating costs and environmental impacts.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The Welsh Government have always had offices, since its creation, in my constituency, and there has been some concern in the past that Welsh Government plans to scale back on its commitment to basing Welsh Government staff in Newtown. In 2015, the then Permanent Secretary, Sir Derek Jones, confirmed to me that the Welsh Government is committed to a long-term presence in Newtown, beyond March 2020. Now, there have been some developments since, and the building that was previously owned at that time has been sold. Are you able to provide an assurance that this is still the case?
What I have to tell the Member is this, that, at times when budgets are under very significant pressure, we have to continually review the estate that the Welsh Government occupies. We occupied 75 properties in 2010, and we occupy 28 properties now, and that has released significant savings, which allows us to invest in public services. We remain committed, however, to a well-dispersed, interconnected and accessible presence for the Welsh Government right across Wales.
The Welsh Government offices in Caernarfon are for sale, with the staff moving from the site to a leased site. Caernarfon has seen the loss of far more Welsh Government staff than the national average over the years. What I don't understand is how reducing the number of staff in an area such as Caernarfon is contributing to the economic development plans of the Government, a model of economic development, and I quote, 'which focuses on regions in order to tackle regional inequalities in terms of wealth and opportunities across Wales.' This week again, Plaid Cymru has published evidence that the south-east region is given three times as much capital investment per capita by the Welsh Government compared to some other regions—and that's evidence based on information gathered from your own Government.
Llywydd, the Member continues, absolutely properly, to champion the cause of Caernarfon in relation to the Welsh Government's presence there. I'm able to offer her a guarantee that the current changes in Welsh Government presence in Caernarfon is not a move from Caernarfon. It is simply a relocation to alternative new accommodation in the town at Caernarfon dock, and the Welsh Government intends to continue its commitment to its presence in the town.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on recent intergovernmental discussions about Wales's future relationship with the EU? OAQ51758
I thank the Member for the question. Recent meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Union negotiations have been more constructive than hitherto. The machinery remains, however, defective in both design and delivery. Further steps are needed to ensure that Welsh interests are taken into account in shaping any future relationship with the European Union.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Perhaps I should more usefully have asked about the internal workings of the UK Government, because as far as I can see they can't agree amongst themselves at the moment on the nature of our future relationship with the EU, so it's really hard to see how they can talk sensibly to the devolved nations about it. We've heard several times, Cabinet Secretary, that the clock is now ticking on the EU negotiations, and I fear that time is now against us if we're to deliver the best deal for Wales and the UK. Given that the Joint Ministerial Committee has not met since December and is not providing a mechanism for the serious engagement that is required on these issues, and in light of the recently published national, regional and sector analyses, which I'm hoping to get over and see at some time this afternoon, do you agree that it is imperative that the UK Government now get their act together if the devolved nations are to have a proper opportunity to plan for the consequences of these negotiations with the European Union?
Llywydd, I entirely agree with the Member that the really challenging issues that are there in negotiating the UK's future beyond the European Union are not helped by the inability of the UK Government to organise itself in a purposeful and reliable way. When the JMC on European negotiations next meets, it will have its fifth chair in the 15 months in which it has been in operation. It is no wonder that we have not met since December when we have yet another change in personnel at the head of that body. So, dealing with the UK Government is immensely frustrating in the way that they struggle to provide a coherent single voice that represents their views on these things, and then to provide practical leadership of the sort that will be needed as the UK leaves the European Union. The Welsh Government continues to take every opportunity that we can, nonetheless, to play a constructive part in every forum to which we are invited and at every encounter that we have with the UK Government.
One thing we know, Cabinet Secretary, is that the footprint of diplomatic activity across the European Union will change from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and they are resourcing their footprint to a greater degree. Obviously, it's vital that that new footprint does recognise the devolved context that the United Kingdom operates under, and I'd be grateful to understand what interaction his department has had with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make sure that Wales's representative role within that new footprint of representation, diplomatically, is recognised and is as strong as possible?
Llywydd, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is represented from time to time at the JMC on European negotiations, and is normally represented at the JMC on Europe. That does provide us with an opportunity to discuss directly with UK Ministers the way in which diplomatic representation will be organised the other side of Brexit. We take every opportunity we have to impress on those representatives the need for a UK presence to be genuinely representative of the whole of the United Kingdom, and regularly make offers of assistance to the UK Government to make sure that, when it is speaking on behalf of the United Kingdom, it is well informed about Welsh interests and opportunities that there will be there for Wales in the new post-Brexit era.
There have been indications from the UK Government that it may be prepared to reverse its approach to the Brexit Bill after legitimate concerns were raised about a Westminster power grab that would undermine devolution and pose a constitutional crisis. Now, this mooted u-turn from the Westminster Government is welcomed by Plaid Cymru. However, we see time and time again that Westminster cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises. Can you confirm if you've had any indications of such a policy reversal and, furthermore, can you tell us how you intend to hold them to their word, and if you have a plan B should they renege on their promises?
I entirely agree with Leanne Wood that we must have more than warm words from the UK Government on this matter. We have to make sure that they act on the promises that they have made, and she is quite right to say that they have made very explicit promises in this area. The Secretary of State for Scotland said on the floor of the House of Commons that the UK Government would come forward with amendments to put right the problems in the withdrawal Bill at Report Stage in the House of Commons, and that did not happen. We have had further repetitions of that promise, however, on paper and orally, that this will now happen at the House of Lords.
The Welsh Government will pursue a twin-track approach here. We will work with our colleagues in the Scottish Government where we have opportunities inside the discussions with UK Government to press them to come forward with an amendment that we could support and that could lead to a legislative consent motion being laid in front of the National Assembly. But we are yet to see any text that would give us comfort that that is to be produced, and, while it isn't available to us, we will pursue amendments at the House of Lords. It was very good to see Lord Dafydd Wigley at a briefing session that the Welsh and Scottish Governments jointly ran in the House of Lords two weeks ago. There was a considerable interest, Llywydd, amongst peers of all parties and crossbenchers, in the case that we were jointly able to make about the defective nature of the withdrawal Bill and why it will need to be amended. If we can't get an agreed amendment with the UK Government, we will pursue our own amendment in the House of Lords, and we will seek to defeat the Government so that we can amend the Bill in the way that is necessary.
Cabinet Secretary, inter-governmental discussions are obviously vital if we're going to get the best deal for Wales, particularly to industry. You will know that my home constituency is home to Deeside enterprise zone, and is the home of many companies, including Airbus and Toyota. My constituents rely on many companies like this, and those like Tata Steel, for their livelihoods and their children's livelihoods. Having worked on the Deeside industrial estate myself, I know how important it is too. Can the Cabinet Secretary reassure me that all efforts are being made by this Government to ensure that the UK Government delivers the best deal for my area and the industries that we rely on?
Can I thank the Member for that supplementary question—the first, I'm sure, of many in which he will represent the vital interests of his constituency? And he's absolutely right to point to the fact that Deeside has a whole series of major industries that rely on our membership of the European Union for their success and current way of operating. So, we press, as we always do upon the UK Government, the vital need for full and unfettered access to the single market, so that Airbus, for example, which relies on the ability to move goods across the European Union in a tariff-free way, is not impeded in its ability in the future and does not lead, as a result, to questions being raised about whether investment in Wales is the best place for that company to see its future. Not only does Airbus rely on the free movement of goods, but it relies heavily on the free movement of people—the ability of people who operate across the footprint of that company to move in and out of Wales in pursuit of the company's business. We make these points regularly and specifically to UK Ministers, and it's very good to have the support of the Member this afternoon in the efforts that we make to do so.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Adam Price.
Thank you, Llywydd. According to the 'Wales procurement policy statement', public procurement, when used effectively, is
'a strategic tool to deliver economic benefit to the people of Wales.'
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Government, as you note in your economic strategy ‘Prosperity for All’, published just recently, is endeavouring to increase the level of Welsh purchasing in the public sector in order to create jobs and help businesses in Wales. So, may I ask whether the percentage of Welsh purchasing in the public sector that you’re directly responsible for is increasing or decreasing?
Well, I can tell the Cabinet Secretary that’s not the case and it’s going down. In 2015-16, in that financial year, 41 per cent of health service procurement was made in Wales, according to your statistics, but, by the following year, the percentage had fallen to 39 per cent. In response to an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee recently, the Welsh Government stated that you were trying to lead by example. But, since 2015-16, the percentage of Welsh purchasing by the Welsh Government itself has fallen from 44 per cent to 41 per cent in that year—the most recent year. So, can the Welsh Government set a specific target for the level of Welsh procurement by the Welsh Government and the health service, and put it, for example, on an equal level with local government, which is succeeding in reaching a level of 59 per cent of expenditure remaining in Wales? If you were to do that, that would lead, immediately, to an additional £400 million of expenditure through businesses in Wales.
Let me say this to the Member, Llywydd: there's no difference at all between us in an ambition to see the percentage of public procurement spend in Wales that goes to Welsh companies grow and to grow across the different opportunities that there are there. We are reviewing the future of procurement policy in Wales, particularly in the light of Brexit, to see whether there will be more opportunities to do that in the future. I'm perfectly happy to ask the group of people who are charged with that responsibility, and the stakeholder group that is assisting them, to take a view on whether targets would assist in that process. They have a part to play, potentially, but they can be distorting, we know, as well. So, I'd want to make sure that the idea was thoroughly considered. If the conclusion were that it is a useful way of improving the position, then that is exactly what we are trying to do, so I would, of course, take that advice very seriously.
Well, I would suggest that it would be at least beneficial to have a target so that the level increases, rather than decreases, as is happening at the moment.
Let's turn to another question that Siân Gwenllian alluded to, namely the level of regional investment. In 'Prosperity for All', the Government outlines its aspiration to ensure that every part of Wales benefits from investment and economic growth, but the figures published recently by yourselves demonstrate that spending per capita on infrastructure, for example, next year in south-east Wales is going to be twice as much as it is in north Wales and three times as much per capita as mid and west Wales. This inequality is disgraceful. It is entirely contrary to the claimed strategy of 'Prosperity for All'. Perhaps that should be renamed in light of this information. Now, would the Government commit to ensuring that the remit letter of the national infrastructure commission for Wales includes a commitment to ensuring more equal investment by the Welsh Government across Wales?
Llywydd, geography is not the determining principle of our capital programme. The determining principle is best value for the investments that we make, and best-value investments happen right across Wales and the proportions of capital spend in different parts of Wales change over time, as different projects come to the fore. No part of Wales is left out of our capital programme and we will continue to invest right across Wales, but not on the basis of geography, not on the basis of saying that everybody must have the same level of investment, because different parts of Wales have different sorts of needs, and these will change over time, and it is much more important to align capital spend with need and best value than it is with a simplistic appeal to geography.
Diolch, Llywydd. I refer the Cabinet Secretary to the questions already asked by the previous Member. That's the problem with coming second, isn't it, but there we are—not politically, that is, I mean in the order today.
Cabinet Secretary, procurement is clearly on the lips of most Assembly Members in the wake of the collapse of Carillion, and that clearly affected services and projects across the UK, but also, to a lesser extent, in Wales. The outsourcing firm Capita have also announced that they are in some financial difficulty. What assessment have you made of the Welsh Government's dealings with Capita in terms of the extent of the contracts with them and your assessment of the risk posed by those agreements?
Llywydd, we work carefully with the UK Government in relation both to Carillion and Capita. The UK Government confirmed that they're not standing up a team with Capita in the way that they did with Carillion, but that they continue to monitor Capita very closely, and the Cabinet Office are heavily engaged with Capita in addressing some of the underlying issues that that company faces. We have produced an overview of spend and services delivered by Capita in Wales, and we've shared that with the Cabinet Office in order that the efforts that the UK Government are making in this area can be fully informed about the needs of Wales.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I asked a number of written questions to the Welsh Government—some to yourself, some to the economy and transport Secretary. And, as I understand it, the Welsh Government has signed five contracts with Capita for the delivery of services in Wales. I further understand that there hasn't been any substantive discussions with Capita within the last six months. Do you think it would be wise for the Welsh Government to engage a little bit more with Capita at this point? I appreciate there's a UK dimension to this as well—but just to make sure that risk is mitigated as much as possible.
I can assure the Member that action is happening within the Welsh Government to make sure that any exposure in Wales to Capita is fully understood, and that where discussions directly with the company would be helpful in managing through the position that they face, then we would certainly be open to do that. Capita is not in the same position as Carillion, as far as we are aware, and it's important that we conduct our relationships with them in a way that doesn't give rise to undue alarm that wouldn't be merited by the facts.
I appreciate the Cabinet Secretary for his answer to that. In asking the question, I'm aware that there are big differences, but nonetheless these areas, I think, do need to be scrutinised. Adam Price has already mentioned the Wales Audit Office criticism of recent procurement procedures. Their remit is here, clearly, but there have been faults with procurement procedures across the UK as well. I think in answer to your earlier question to Adam you mentioned the ongoing review. Could you provide us any more details about that review, the extent of it, when you expect it to report, and potential alterations that could be made, so that we do make sure that the Welsh Government procurement procedures are as watertight as possible?
Well, Llywydd, the review is well under way. I expect it to conclude during this calendar year, as well as the work that is being carried out inside the Welsh Government on the review. It will be overseen by a stakeholder group, which will have a significant impact on it, and that stakeholder group will include those organisations that are the major users of the National Procurement Service. But I also fully expect that the review will take into account the Wales Audit Office reports into public procurement and the National Procurement Service, and I welcome as well the Public Accounts Committee's inquiry into procurement in Wales. And I, again, expect that the conclusions that that inquiry comes to will be part of the material that the review will draw on in coming to its conclusions.
I fully endorse what the Cabinet Secretary earlier on said in criticism of the UK Government and the confusion that seems to reign in the Cabinet on its Brexit policy, largely due to the activities of diehard remainers like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who seems to be regularly trying to undermine the whole process. But, of course, the Welsh Government could assist in getting the best possible outcome from these Brexit negotiations if it was prepared to recognise that the best way to avoid a 'no deal' is to prepare for it, and to make it clear that we can cope with the consequences. The Cabinet Secretary will be well aware of the report of the external affairs committee published recently, which made a number of recommendations. In particular, it said that Wales needs
'a stronger steer from the Welsh Government about how they should be preparing for Brexit'
and that sectors and organisations are looking to the Welsh Government for leadership, and it's imperative they're able to start making their own plans for life outside the EU. This has been expressed in as non-partisan a way as possible. And I'm trying to do that myself in this question—to encourage and urge the Welsh Government to take an optimistic view of the outcome beyond Brexit. Even if there is no deal, there are opportunities there, as well as challenges, and those should be pointed up rather than constantly harping upon about the negatives.
Well, Llywydd, even in trying to respond to the tone in which that question was raised, I can't avoid saying to the Member that I fundamentally disagree with what he has said. A 'no deal' outcome from Brexit will be catastrophic for Wales, and there is no preparation for no deal. And one of the reasons that I always say that is that it's really important to resist the notion that no deal is just simply one other eventuality that you can prepare for. The normalisation of no deal is in nobody's best interest here in Wales. So, the Welsh Government will continue to prepare for all the different possible outcomes of negotiation. Whenever I speak to UK Ministers, they absolutely emphasise to me that no deal is not what they are seeking to bring about, and I fully support them in that ambition.
Well, the Cabinet Secretary knows that the British Government is doing its best to achieve a deal with the EU. The only people who are playing hard to get in this are the European Commission themselves. This is an essential part of Monsieur Barnier's negotiating strategy, and the kind of response that the Cabinet Secretary has just given to me is music to the ears of Michel Barnier. That's exactly what he's looking for people in this country to say—to indicate that, therefore, the pressure will be on to do what the EU wants rather than what the British Government wants. Yes, of course, we want a free trade deal with the EU; we would be mad not to and everybody with any common sense is pressing towards that. But constantly saying, 'What the EU wants out of this' is not going to help us in our negotiating position. So, I urge the Cabinet Secretary, yet again, on behalf of the Welsh Government, not just to concentrate on the negatives that will happen if there is no deal, because if there is no deal, that won't be because of the efforts of the British Government, it will be because the EU has put its own political priorities before economic common sense.
Llywydd, I've lost count of the number of times in the Chamber that I've heard the Member assure us that a deal would be the easiest thing in the world to bring off because German car manufacturers and everybody else in the European Union would be so desperate to do a deal that it would be brought off with hardly any effort at all. I find it very difficult to square his views in that regard with his suggestion this afternoon that somehow the Commission is hell-bent on not reaching a deal. We won't get a deal if we regard the Commission and the European Union as somehow our enemies in all of this. There is a shared interest in getting a deal, and getting the best deal, and the Welsh Government has set out what we believe the best deal would be. And simply assuming that we are pitched against one another, in which a good outcome for one is a bad outcome for the other, is not, I believe, the way in which the best interests of Wales will be secured.
The Cabinet Secretary knows that I don't see this as a zero-sum game where Britain benefits at the expense of the EU. I've always made it clear that a free trade deal is in the interests of both parties, and actually, is much more in the interests of the EU, in a sense, than it is to the UK because we have a massive deficit of about £80 billion a year in trade with the EU. And as regards German car manufacturers, we have a deficit on trade of €36 billion with Germany. Of course, it's massively in the interest of German car manufacturers for us to do a deal with them, because we buy one in seven of all the passenger cars that are manufactured in Germany. But if the Cabinet Secretary persists in saying 'Oh, well, we need to give in to everything that the EU demands of us in order to get a free trade deal', that is the best way to ensure that we don't get one.
Well, I reject the language of giving in and the approach that the Member suggests. The Welsh Government has articulated the sort of deal that we believe is in the best interests of people and businesses in Wales: a deal in which we have full and unfettered access to the single market, in which we will remain in a customs union, in which Welsh businesses, Welsh public services and Welsh research institutions are able to go on recruiting people who we've been lucky enough to attract to come and make their futures here in Wales, in which Welsh citizens continue to enjoy the protections that they have gained through the European Union, as citizens, as workers, as consumers, and in human rights too. There is a positive view of the sort of deal that we need with the European Union, which we believe, the other side of the European Union, would allow Welsh businesses and Welsh jobs to go on thriving. That's the sort of language that I think best assists us in trying to make an influence on the UK Government and on the Commission in the conduct of these very, very important negotiations.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the role of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 in developing electricity infrastructure in Ynys Môn? OAQ51763
May I thank the Member very much for the question? This Act ensures that public bodies in Wales take account of our long-term well-being. 'Planning Policy Wales' is to be revised in light of the Act. It will be a material consideration for decisions made by the Secretary of State in electricity infrastructure matters.
Thank you for that response. You refer to public bodies in Wales and the duties placed upon them, but, of course, there are other bodies that are public, or quasi-public, or have links to the public sector and operate in Wales and have a real impact on us. The National Grid intends to build a new electricity connection across Anglesey with the cost beingthe main, if not the only, factor in deciding what kind of connection that will be. What they intend to do, therefore, is to go for the cheapest possible option, which is pylons above ground rather than undergrounding, or placing cables underwater, which is what we in Anglesey would want to see. Going underwater or underground would safeguard the interests of Ynys Môn now and for future generations, and we do have a Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 here in Wales. Now, you're the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the implementation of that Act. Are you willing to give a commitment that you will work with me and others as campaigners against pylons to urge the National Grid, Ofgem and the UK Government, who will ultimately make the decision, to ensure that this connection plan can only happen in accordance with the principles of this important piece of legislation passed in this place?
Thank you very much, Rhun ap Iorwerth, for what you said. I know of the work that you have done in the context of the island on this issue. We as a Government are working more closely with the local councils on the issues that he has alluded to. Now, I was pleased to see the statement from the National Grid. So, they have made a statement on well-being, where they state, in the context of the Act,
'While these do not specifically place requirements on the National Grid or the development of new transmission lines, National Grid believes that the aims of the Act are important and deserve consideration.'
So, there is some recognition there by the National Grid of the impact of the Act. The Act is binding as far as the local council is concerned. The Secretary of State will be influenced by it. I hear, of course, what the Member says about undergrounding and overgrounding, and the Welsh Government's starting position is that undergrounding is the preferred option, but there will be discussions that will be needed, and the local authority and Welsh Government will be involved in them as we seek to maximise the benefits for the island while mitigating the impacts of these developments.
Last Thursday, the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee visited the Anglesey enterprise zone board and we met representatives of the board—Anglesey council, Menter Môn, third sector, businesses and education—and they told us how important the significant electricity transmission infrastructure is not only to the development of Wylfa Newydd, the new nuclear power station, but to the Holyhead port expansion, proposals for new offshore tidal power, and so on. What engagement, therefore, are you having with the board of Anglesey enterprise zone to take advice on sustainable electricity transport infrastructure in the future, and how will you ensure that those communication channels remain open in the future following this morning's announcement that Anglesey's enterprise zone board is to be merged with that of Snowdonia?
Well, Llywydd, these matters are, essentially, for my colleague Ken Skates, rather than for me as finance Minister, but I agree with what the Member said about the need for an efficient and reliable electricity infrastructure, not simply for the Wylfa Newydd development, but for the broader agenda that is there for Anglesey as an energy island. I can give him an assurance that officials of the Welsh Government are in very regular contact with the essential interests in the island on this matter and I'll make sure that his question to me is drawn to the attention of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport.
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary clarify the terms and conditions for the £50 million EU transition fund? OAQ51762
We are developing the detailed operation of the EU transition fund in partnership with Welsh businesses, public services and other key organisations, to help them prepare for Brexit. Discussions of potential terms and conditions of the fund formed a major agenda item at last week’s meeting of the European advisory group.
Well, I welcome that response, Cabinet Secretary. I also welcome the Welsh Government's proactive engagement in securing Wales's future, not just with the announcement of the £50 million EU transition fund, but also the regional investment and trade issues plans. I'm also very pleased to be part of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which provides constructive scrutiny of the Welsh and UK Governments in the Brexit negotiations. But I have to say, last week, I asked, in my capacity as a member of that committee, to have sight of the so-called leaked document on the impact of Brexit on the economy. We were asked to go to a separate UK Government building, not on the Assembly estate, and book an appointment from a selection of very limited and specific time slots in order to enter a guarded reading room. I understand that the Brexit committees in the Houses of Parliament have full access to this report. This cannot be right. Extensions to this week are neither acceptable nor convenient. I'm squeezing in a time tomorrow, which is going to be extremely inconvenient. The report should be made public not just for us, but for our constituents and our stakeholders.
But what's more important is what the report says, and I do understand that this official analysis by the UK Government shows that Wales would suffer a 9.5 per cent hit to gross domestic product if the UK leaves the EU without an exit deal. Furthermore, the study also reveals that Wales would see a 5.5 per cent reduction in GDP even if the UK leaves with a free trade deal, and that there would still be a 1.5 per cent reduction if the country stayed in the single market. The predicted losses are understood to cover a 15-year period. So, given these low-growth scenarios and also current uncertainties about the terms of a transition period, has this had an impact on your planning and arrangements for the Welsh Government EU transition fund?
I thank the Member for what she's had to say. We had earlier questions this afternoon, Llywydd, about the way in which the UK Government organises itself around the Brexit matter. The sorry story of access for Members to the so-called leaked reports would have disgraced Clochemerle, let alone a UK Government. I share the view of Anna Soubry, myself. [Interruption.] I share the view of Anna Soubry—that Conservative Member of Parliament who described the UK Government's performance on this issue as farcical. It treats the Parliament and this Assembly, and the Scottish Parliament, as though we belonged in the nineteenth century. We are taken to locked rooms to look at documents that we can't even take notes on, while members of the public are reading it on the internet. It's entirely farcical and it's disrespectful, and it does not add to confidence that the UK Government is capable of discharging these responsibilities.
Llywydd, may I apologise for the discourtesy of having missed a question in the previous session?
I'm not sure whether the Cabinet Secretary has been with David Melding and Jane Hutt to read these reports, but he may also be able to tell us whether the report about leaks or otherwise on the reshuffle will be published, given his new commitment to openness and transparency in public life. Can I also ask him, when he considers these reports from the UK Government, will he consider that the forecasters who have written these extraordinary large estimates of potential output loss are, in the main, the same ones who said there would be an immediate recession if we voted on 23 June to leave, and there would be 0.5 million job losses across the UK when, actually, there have been 0.5 million new jobs?
Well, I'll make two points, Llywydd. The first is that the people who made these estimates are the people that the UK Government chose to make these estimates. They're not some group of people who simply set themselves up for the purpose. They are the people that your Government decided were the best-placed people to give them this advice. Of course, when they come up with advice that doesn't suit you, you think the easiest thing to do is to rubbish the people who provided it.
The second point I would make to the Member is this: that the trade policy that the Welsh Government published recently also contains estimates of the impact on the Welsh economy of different ways in which we might leave the European Union, and there is a remarkable coincidence between the figures that the people who have advised us in producing that report came to and those the people who advised the UK Government came to too. Just because we don't like the figures, I don't think we can simply dismiss them because they don't suit the view of the world that we happen to take.
5. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the implementation of the landfill disposals tax? OAQ51740
I thank the Member for the question. Agreement has been reached with the UK Government that landfill disposals tax will go live on 1 April this year. A number of landfill sites have already applied to register with the Welsh Revenue Authority, and feedback on the registration process and the guidance produced by the authority has been positive.
Thank you for that answer. There does seem to be a real opportunity here to use this as a really good scheme that will hopefully go some way to offsetting some of the potential negative impacts on communities that live within a five-mile radius of landfill sites. But there doesn't seem to be an awful lot of information available beyond the fact that the WCVA, the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, will be administering it. So, is it your intention, or the intention of the WCVA, to let communities and organisations know how they can actually first of all understand the scheme and then apply for any assistance that those communities can benefit from, in accordance with this landfill tax?
Can I thank the Member for drawing attention for the communities scheme in the landfill disposals tax? It is a very important part of the way we are doing things in Wales, and members of the Finance Committee took a particularly keen interest in it. The fact that we have a five-mile zone that now includes waste transfer stations, as well as landfill sites, was one of the changes that was made to the scheme. Our colleague Mike Hedges was particularly influential in advocating that, and Joyce Watson will be particularly glad, I know, to know that that means that there are now 16 waste transfer stations in her region, where communities will be able to benefit from the scheme who previously had no benefit from it at all. The WCVA has been selected as the body that will oversee the scheme. We expect the first applications to it to come in in the late spring of this year, and there will be a period between now and then in which a fresh burst of publicity about the scheme and the three essential purposes for which it is available are drawn to the attention of groups that might wish to make such an application.
Cabinet Secretary, what are the chances that the rates will actually diverge between Wales and England? Or, do you feel that the problem of the border is always going to be insuperable in terms of having a more nuanced and specific policy in Wales to meet our own needs?
Well, David Melding is absolutely right that the border is a very significant issue in landfill disposals tax. Waste tourism, which some of us became familiar with during the passage of the Bill, is a genuine risk, and it is why I said, in setting rates and bands for this tax, that we would not diverge from rates and bands across our border for at least the first two years. We have already diverged, however, in setting a 150 per cent band for unauthorised disposals, and that doesn't exist across our border. So, there is already some—and I think very useful—differentiation here. We will look to see the way in which the tax operates over the first two years of its life because we will now, for the very first time, have precise evidence about the way that landfill disposal occurs in Wales. There will then be an opportunity to see whether some purposeful divergence is possible. I've said all the way along, and I'll say it again: I'm not a believer in divergence for the sake of it. If it suits us and does things in a better way for us in Wales, we will, but we will wait to have the evidence before we make such a decision.
6. How much additional funding is required to cover the costs of the M4 relief road? OAQ51757
Llywydd, no additional funding will be required for the budget period in which capital plans have been set out, and no money will be allocated until the outcome of the local public inquiry.
The Cardiff capital region has laid out in ‘Powering the Welsh Economy’ that an integrated transport system aligned with land-use planning could be a catalyst for economic change across the region.
‘At the heart of this aspiration is the Metro vision for a modern high quality multimodal, integrated public transport network; offering rapid, frequent and reliable services; linking communities together and supporting economic development; to create a dynamic, sustainable and liveable city region.’
I quote that because there is absolutely no mention of the M4 relief road contributing to that vision. My concerns are that, with the continual rising estimate of the cost of the M4 relief road, were it to go ahead, how much of the Welsh Government’s overall capital borrowing limit would be gobbled up by this project? And what, if anything, would be left for developing the metro?
Well, Llywydd, I don’t, myself, find it surprising that the M4 relief road is not referred to in the Cardiff capital deal document, because funding the metro is actually a specific and major component of that deal, and the funding that underpins it is already set aside for metro development.
Let me be clear on the position as far as capital borrowing is concerned. The Welsh Government was offered early access to borrowing, with that borrowing predicated on it being available for the M4. In the event, as I explained to the Finance Committee this morning, I’ve not needed to use borrowing for capital costs for the M4. In this financial year, I’ve been able to cover them using conventional capital. All of that was overtaken by the fiscal framework, which was signed in December 2016. The Welsh Government will be able to borrow £125 million in 2018-19, and that will rise to £150 million thereafter, up to a total of £1 billion. But that borrowing is not hypothecated to the M4. Finance Secretaries at the time will need to take a decision on the balance to be struck between conventional capital and borrowing for the M4, should that go ahead, which is dependent, as we’ve said, on the outcome of the local public inquiry.
Cabinet Secretary, the traffic analytics firm INRIX estimates that the traffic jams on our roads last year cost the Welsh economy almost £278 million, which is a striking figure. Congestion cost Cardiff £134 million, Swansea £62 million, and Newport £44 million. Will the Cabinet Secretary confirm that this cost to the Welsh economy will be taken into account when deciding the future of the proposed M4 relief road in the Newport area? Thank you.
Making sure that there is transport infrastructure that allows people and business to be moved effectively across Wales is, of course, important to our future, and that's at the heart of the public inquiry. Does the answer always have to be building more roads? Well, of course it doesn't have to be. That's why we are investing in the metro, to which Jenny Rathbone made reference. So, the issue, of course, is one that we recognise. The solutions to it will be many and various.
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the progress of the Swansea Bay city deal? OAQ51756
The city region continues to work with the Welsh and UK Governments to move the deal into the next phase. That is a delivery phase, and that will unlock Government funding.
Cabinet Secretary, I am a great supporter of the city deal, and I believe that the real benefit will not just be in the 11 projects that have been selected to go forward, but in the economic climate that that infrastructure will create, and the multiple small projects and alternative projects that can come off the back of it.
In Pembrokeshire, the Pembroke Dock marine has been put forward as the key project. Now, Cabinet Secretary, the city deal input is some £28 million, with £24 million coming from other public funds, and another £24 million from the private sector. But could you please confirm to me which organisations will be responsible for paying the interest element of those loans?
Well, the loan aspect, if I'm understanding the Member's question correctly, will be borne by the local authority, because prudential borrowing was always part of the contribution that local authorities were to make to the deal. When the deal was struck, and the financials of it were very carefully scrutinised both by the Welsh Government and by the UK Government, the ability of local authorities to support the contribution that they are committed to making to the deal was carefully examined. I remain, as I know she does, very keen to move into the phase where the money that I have set aside, and the money I know the UK Government has set aside, can be released, both to support the Pembroke Dock marine project, but also the other 10 projects that are in the deal. Local authorities must make sure that they are in a position to deliver on the funding aspect to which they made a commitment when the deal was signed.
Naturally, as you know, as part of the city deal, investment in the public sector is crucial, of course, in order to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place and that the individual projects, as we’ve heard, have the best opportunity to succeed. Having said that, everyone is aware that private sector investment will also be crucial to the success of the city deal. Without it, it will fail entirely.
So, given your most recent discussions, can I ask you how confident you are at the moment that the city deal is going to deliver the necessary private investment, and what are you doing as a Government to support these local authorities to achieve their aims?
Llywydd, one of the things that were on the face of the city deal for Swansea bay was a contribution coming from the private sector and the role that the private sector would play when the deal was designed and planned. Now, I am looking forward to the appointment of the chair of the economic strategy board, which will be key to the deal, and that chair will come from the private sector. So, it is totally vital in the deal to draw together what the local authorities can contribute, what we can contribute as a Government, but also to use the energy and the tangible things that the private sector can contribute to the deal. And I am confident that there is an interest from the private sector, and we can use that to get a deal that will succeed for every part of the south-west of Wales.
The one thing I'd like to tell the Cabinet Secretary is that there's massive cross-party support from people living in the Swansea bay city region to make Swansea bay city region a success. What I'm asking is: will the Cabinet Secretary confirm that all the money initially budgeted by the Welsh Government for the Swansea bay city deal is still available for the Swansea bay city deal?
I'm very happy to confirm to the Member that the £125.4 million that we put on the table to get the deal to its conclusion is still available. I am very committed, and as I said to Angela Burns, to do everything we can to assist the deal to move into the next phase so that money that is available can be put to work to support the commitment that I know is there amongst the local population to make this deal a success.
8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's new borrowing powers? OAQ51753
I thank the Member for that question. The new fiscal framework secures £1 billion-worth of capital borrowing powers, as I've set out before the Finance Committee and in this Chamber. My intention is always to maximise the use of the least expensive forms of capital before proceeding to more complex and expensive kinds of investment.
Thank you. Cabinet Secretary, I'm sure you'll join me in welcoming the new borrowing powers of, as you say, up to £1 billion, under the Wales Act 2017, coming into effect in just a matter of weeks. Now, of course it is vital that these moneys and powers are used to drive the Welsh economy forward, and in north Wales in particular, this means making journey times faster and more reliable, especially in regard to the upgrading of the A55. Can you advise me as to what assurances you plan to give the forthcoming national infrastructure commission in terms of your commitments to using the extra borrowing powers to ensure that access to such finance is taken into account as part of this long-term and much-needed infrastructure planning here in Wales?
I do share the Member's welcome for the borrowing powers that we will have. As I'm sure she would point out to me, borrowed money has to be repaid. Therefore, it's a careful balancing act required in investing today and being confident that we are able to pay back the money that we've borrowed in the future. But I regard that, as I think she was just suggesting, as an investment in the future of our country and its economic success. I've listened many times to her making the case for investment in transport matters in north Wales. I know that she will have welcomed the £250 million that this Government is committed to using to address congestion in the Deeside corridor, and there are other steps that my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for economy and investment is making to make sure that A55 continues to be a highway that drives prosperity right across north Wales.
Borrowing, as you just said, Cabinet Secretary, always comes with a cost, but we are currently at historically very low interest rates and so now is an incredibly good time to borrow, especially if you can get borrowing at fixed rates from the Public Works Loan Board. Has the Welsh Government considered using borrowing for our hospital renewal programme to cut the cost for health in running some of the buildings they've got?
Well, Llywydd, one of the things that's apparent from the questions we've had this afternoon is the understanding that the borrowing we're able to now draw down is available for a whole range of potential purposes here in Wales. I know that my Cabinet colleagues will be coming to me, all of them, with worthwhile schemes that they will want to take forward to invest in—essential infrastructure and public services and health. The ability to create buildings of the future that run more efficiently will, I'm sure, be on the list of proposals that the Cabinet Secretary for health will want to propose to me.
The next item is the topical questions, and to ask the question, Simon Thomas.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on children's services in Powys in the wake of a report by the Mid and West Wales Safeguarding Board regarding the death of a child in the care of the County Council? 142
Diolch, Simon. This young person's life was lost in the most tragic of circumstances and I think the publication of the review will be a difficult time for his family. They and we would expect Powys to expedite the necessary improvements to ensure that the very best care and support is always provided.
I thank the Minister for his reply, and obviously all of us would want to send our condolences to the foster parents and anyone else affected in this concern. It's clear from reading the child practice review report that the child had actually expressed very strong anxieties and uncertainties about his pathway, and one of the most fundamental and very disturbing things to read in the report is this breakdown in communications between a child, his foster carers and the authorities, who simply weren't listening.
If I can ask two questions of the Minister? Earlier this morning, he produced a written statement on children's services in Powys, which talked about carrying on working with the county council. I want to understand whether he has taken this review report into account in issuing that written statement, as many people in Powys feel that this is another sign that things have broken down so fundamentally there that actually there needs to be more direct intervention than the Minister has been prepared to give so far, and I know I've discussed this with him in the past.
The second element that I'd like to ask him about is that it becomes clear from reading the report that the national practice guidance that he has as the national Government, 'When I am Ready', which talks very clearly about allowing eligible teenagers to remain in care beyond the age of 18 if they're not ready to leave care, and talks very clearly about putting them at the centre of care plans—that good practice guidance simply wasn't followed in this case; no due care was taken to it. So, what assurances can he give the people in Powys now and the wider community that this guidance, which we trumpeted as being one of the world-beating kind of guidance for children in care, is actually being followed in all parts of Wales, particularly in Powys? How can he give those assurances going forward?
Can I thank Simon both for bringing this to our attention today, but also for the pertinent questions he's raised in his and others' continued focus on these very important matters? Let me deal with each of the points that he has raised. First of all, I just want to thank the young man's parents for their assiduity in pushing for this child practice review. There were different ways of taking this forward; they were insistent on a child practice review. And this extended child practice review is a good opportunity not simply to reflect, but to make sure that the lessons that are within this, some of which he touched upon, are actually now, and they are, built within the improvement that we are already looking for Powys, in concert with others supporting them, to actually deliver, and to deliver not only in short order, but in the medium and long term as well, so that they're binding.
He referred to the aspect, the fact, that the voices of children and young people themselves, how they important they are generally, and we have that as a matter of principle within our statutory framework, and yet here it was missing. That's a key point that comes out within this review and report, and we would expect Powys as part of its improvement plan—it's already in there—but to take forward the lessons from this in line with their improvement plan, and to make sure that is binding so that the voice of young people is listened to. The voice of the child is key to this. The Chair of the committee sitting next to me has reiterated this in her committee's work before, and so on. We need to make sure that this is implemented on the ground at every interface with front-line professionals.
Simon referred to the approach of 'When I'm Ready'—exactly that point—so that the concerns and the aspirations of young people are listened to, particularly at that moment of transition planning, and here it is made clear in the report that that was not the case. And tragically, we know that if that had been listened to, then perhaps this tragic scenario could have been avoided.
There is indeed a statement that has been issued in the name of my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services and my name today. It's the latest in a sequence of statements following on from improvement plans and action plans. The statement today updates Assembly Members, and I would urge Members to look at the next phase of support to Powys County Council, and the establishment of an improvement and assurance board to oversee and co-ordinate the delivery of improvement in Powys County Council. This doesn't take away from the work that's already going on within social services. What this actually does is build upon that. In urging Members to look at it, it goes wider into the corporate sphere of leadership and the culture of Powys to make sure that these are binding changes, and not only the review and report today, which goes hand in hand with the improvement plans that are already in place, but that wider corporate leadership that needs to be driven through, with support within Powys, and needs to really bind, so that we minimise the possibility of this sort of eventuality ever happening again. So, I draw attention to that statement.
I've also asked my officials to ensure that the learning from this child practice review informs the ongoing work of my ministerial advisory group, chaired by David Melding, our colleague, on improving outcomes for children, and also to advise the ongoing work of Social Care Wales and the work of the other safeguarding children boards in Wales. Too often, we say we have to learn the lessons from this. Well, some of these lessons had already been learnt—we put in place the right frameworks, and so on—we now need to make sure that it's implemented without failure right across the board.
Minister, the tragic case that's been outlined today, of course, clearly goes back to 2015 and predates the critical care standards inspection report into children's services that was issued last October. Will the work of the current children's services improvement board take into account the findings of this report, and what lessons do you think have been learnt in the wider context? And can I also ask, in light of this report, do you think that there is a need for further assistance to the local authority?
On the latter point—thank you for those queries—indeed, if I could refer the Member to the quite extensive statement that we've made jointly today, because it signals the higher level of engagement that we now have directly with Powys on a corporate level, on a cultural level and on a leadership level, which goes beyond the sphere of purely social services. I thank my colleague for the very intimate way that our officials have engaged in this matter, trying to actually help Powys to help itself and turn this around. There's been a great deal of peer support from other authorities already, not only within social services, but now within the wider corporate sphere as well.
In terms of how this feeds into the ongoing work, well, yes, absolutely. I'm pleased to say that in line with the previous statements that we've made and the warning notices that we've issued, and the actions that we have demanded of Powys, whilst putting support to them as well, which they have readily now taken, this does form part of the ongoing work. So, all of the action plans that are identified within here—. If you look at the four key areas that have come out of this report: transition planning, including the knowledge of the 'When I'm Ready' approach and the legal framework for children, when the local authority does not share parental responsibility—that's part of it; the escalation and challenge, which includes the development of quality assurance mechanisms and performance information—that's part of the ongoing improvement work; the corporate parenting, including the development of quality assurance mechanisms to monitor the effectiveness of the resolving professional difference policy, the use of multi-agency performance, tracking good outcomes for children—that's part of the improvement plan; and finally, the fourth key point, the key point of participation and the voice of the child. This includes a review of the effectiveness of regionally commissioned advocacy and assurances from the regional safeguarding board, CYSUR, and from partners about how the voice of the child influences their ability to ensure good outcomes for children. So, all of this dovetails very much with the improvement plan that is already in place.
As I say, the announcement today—the joint statement from me and my Cabinet Secretary colleague—shows the higher level now of engagement with Powys to make sure that, not only in social services but right across Powys, this change in leadership and culture and ownership is there.
Can I support Simon Thomas in what he said earlier on and also support the Minister in what he has just said about helping Powys to help itself? I know from discussions with him that, if that doesn't bear fruit in due course, he will take more draconian action. I wonder whether he'd agree with me that one of the most troubling features of this case as it appears in the child practice review report is that, as it says,
'the most significant challenge appeared to be the simplest, namely that of good communication and coordinated planning, based on a thorough understanding of Child A’s daily lived experiences and the significant impact of serious early childhood trauma.'
This seems to be a failure of partnership working, principally, and it's rather troubling that we have all these professionals who are apparently unable to communicate effectively with each other. In this particular case, child A was very eloquent in telling them what his needs were, and the difficulty was that the professionals were not able to communicate that between themselves. Nobody underestimates the difficulty of the job that these professionals have, so one doesn't want to undermine their confidence or esteem in themselves, but nonetheless there are very significant lessons here that must be learned by all those in the chain of authority leading to this dreadful outcome.
So, I wonder whether the Minister can tell us today in rather more detail how this improvement in communication within the authority and between the different professionals involved is going to be effected.
Yes, indeed. Thank you, Neil. You're right in drawing attention to some of the key parts of the report that say, for example, that professionals need to feel confident—to feel confident—when working with parents who are perceived as challenging and to be more empathetic in working with families, that all professionals need to have up-to-date knowledge of new guidance and legislation, and be able to think creatively about planning with and for children in their care and so on.
This is about good practice, and there is individual good practice within Powys. The problem is this aspect that we have seen where it's not simply the leadership within a department, it's leadership at all levels, the sharing of best practice and the dissemination of best practice, and that professional approach. Now, it is turning round. That's why we reissued a warning notice.
We noted the improvement on 15 January that had been made already, including the appointment of new leadership, on an interim level, to certain key positions. But there is more to be done, and that's why we haven't lifted the warning notice, we've extended it and highlighted the key milestones in a month, in three months, in six months and beyond. We are keeping our support firmly there, our encouragement to do better firmly there, and we are seeing the improvement. I think, if anything would give solace to the family and those people who knew this young person today, it would be that this is translated now into that continual improvement within Powys.
It's worth reflecting that the purpose of a child practice review isn't to point the finger of blame. It's to actually say, 'This is where you can positively make a difference and improve, and we expect that to happen.' So, we and CYSUR, and all the other agencies and the peer support that's already in place, will be working with them to make sure that these improvements are bolted in and that we give those front-line professionals both the confidence and the knowledge they need to do their jobs well, creatively and safely, looking after our young people, giving our young people the right opportunities and the right choices, and not locking them out of the conversation. That's what the learning from this tells us, and that's why it needs to be embedded into the existing improvement plan that is ongoing, which we have some confidence is being delivered, but there is a long way to go still.
The first thing I want to do is to send my condolences to anyone who has been affected by what is a real tragedy. But the tragedy, it seems to me, in all of this—Neil Hamilton did talk about the chain of events and conversations, and I agree with him, because what it should have been was a circle. We had this extended chain of individuals speaking separately, when they should have been clearly joined up. I don't know about other people, but I do know about myself: I'm absolutely fed up of talking about case reviews where things have gone wrong from a lack of joined-up thinking—these key words that don't ever deliver any change. And yet we will learn from it. Well, will we? That's the question I'm posing here today, because it's really, really upsetting to read about the anguish that this young person went through, who expressed that to certain individuals, but nobody along the line actively intervened in the best interests of this child.
I know in the past—and I'm sincerely hoping things have changed—when I've written to Powys council because I was concerned about a family, and asked them to act, they said that I had to write my concerns to the cabinet member. Whoever heard of such a thing? I wrote back in the strongest of terms, saying, 'Just forget that one, and try and take some action.' I still had to write back six months later, asking for a reply. So, whilst we might have lots of faith here, mine has been stretched to the ultimate, and it would have been about this time. I see others nodding their heads saying they've had the same experience.
So, my question here is that we really need to go in and make sure that not only do Powys learn these lessons, but that everybody else learns them too, so that we don't have to read about young, vulnerable individuals who are terrified of going into the world on their own, who didn't actually have to go into the world on their own, because there was a system in place that would have supported them, and that was called, 'When I'm Ready'. I really think we ought to do something about this now. I'm really fed up with sitting here listening to the failures, time and time again.
Joyce, thank you very much. I think any Minister who stands in a position like this and says, 'We will be able to rule this out, any eventuality like this ever happening again', would be an unwise Minister. But it is within our power, both through the messages that we've just heard, through the frameworks that we've set in place—and do bear in mind that, within Wales, we're in some ways ahead of the game here, because of the way that we've approached safeguarding with the national board, with the regional boards, that framework of safeguarding, with some of the initiatives that have been talked about that actually should have been embedded here, should have been delivered on the ground. Listening to young people is what we do, it's what the—. It's the framework that we've put in place.
But I think the anxieties of Assembly Members within the Chamber today, I hope, will have been heard in Powys, but I would also like them to hear not only good front-line staff, but also the changes that they've been putting in place over recent months because of the willingness of this Assembly and this Government to hold their toes to the fire, both encouraging, but also saying that there is a backstop position here if things do not improve—that they will improve, and we are seeing them happening on the ground now within Powys.
Your point is well made, though, as well, that the lessons from this child practice review, as for any child practice review, should not be simply for Powys, they should be right across the piece, and that is what will go out. That is the message from here. This child practice review will be disseminated not simply across that region, but, through the national safeguarding board, across the whole of Wales as well. We do need to keep the focus on excellence within this service, listening to young people, providing them with what they deserve and what they need and listening to them to do so. It has failed on this point. It is a tragedy that it has failed, and I think the voices of Assembly Members today in saying that we have to do everything to avoid this happening again that is within our power and encourage those who work on the front line to have the confidence and the skills and the knowledge to make the right decisions and to engage with young people—I think that has come across very strongly indeed this afternoon.
The next item, therefore, is the 90-second statements. Llyr Gruffydd.
We know that the newspaper industry generally is contracting these days and that there is concern about the future of many titles and that much of the emphasis is on creating hyperlocal websites. But there are two areas in Wales that still see the value in their local weekly newspapers, and it shows that hyperlocal newsprint still survives and still thrives. Corwen Times and Y Cyfnod, which serve areas of Edeyrnion and Meirionnydd, have started a new period in ther history last week—a history that goes back to the the establishment of Y Cyfnod in 1934 and Corwen Times and Merioneth Express, as I understand it, emerging in the 1950s.
The Merioneth Express disappeared in 2013 as the three papers came to an end for a brief period, but, thanks to the work of Mari Williams of Llanuwchllyn, who stepped into the breach at that point, Corwen Times and Y Cyfnod were reborn, and she has just transferred the reins to Siân Teleri, a local woman who has identified the need, but also the opportunity, to develop these papers further.
There's no doubt that Corwen Times and Y Cyfnod offer an important service in the areas that they serve, with thousands of people reading them on a weekly basis and they are being produced, by the way, without any public financial support.
Therefore, as we see the newsprint industry across Wales shrinking, I wanted to take this opportunity to congratulate Siân Teleri and the team of Corwen Times and Y Cyfnod for securing a future for a newspaper that has been, and is still, central in their communities, and I’m sure that we would all wish them all the best for a prosperous future.
Diolch, Llywydd. AMs from all parties came together today at an event organised by the Wales Environment Link. This was held in support of the Show the Love campaign.
We know the risks posed by climate change to the world around us. It’s affected the behaviour, abundance and distribution of all manner of flora, fauna and fungi around the world, but also here in Wales. But it is not too late for us to make a real difference and protect Wales, and the rest of the world, from climate change, observing and understanding the warning signs and taking remedial action. Show the Love gives us the chance to think about the places, species and habitats we love and want to protect. It helps us celebrate the significant progress we've already made, whilst also affording us an opportunity to consider the next steps we can take to build a clean, secure and sustainable future. Those of us who are species champions have been given green hearts to wear as symbols of the campaign—a very fitting emblem on Valentine's Day of all days. Thank you to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds supporters who crafted them. I will wear mine with pride as species champion for the nightjar and also as a reminder both of the impact of climate change and the role that I, and all of us, can play in tackling it.
Arthur Joseph Gould was known as 'the prince of the three quarters', and Wales's first rugby superstar. Gould was nicknamed 'Monkey' for his love of climbing trees as a child, played rugby for his hometown, Newport Rugby Football Club. His first full game was at Rodney Parade on 20 October 1882. In that game, he ignored his captain's repeated instruction to kick, and scored two tries. He went on to become a complete footballer, running 100 yards in 10.2 seconds, and successfully being able to kick off both feet. Gould's career spanned 16 seasons. He played for Newport during the 'invincible' season of 1892, and played 27 times for Wales. He captained the national side 19 times, including the Triple Crown win in 1893. Arthur was so popular in Newport that fans were determined to honour him by presenting him with the deeds of the house he was living in—Thornbury, on Llanthewy Road. They were presented to him in commemoration of his brilliant successes as an all-round athlete, in recognition of his valuable service to rugby football and of his extraordinary prowess as a player. Last week, following a crowdfunding appeal, a blue plaque was installed on Thornbury. This will ensure that Arthur 'Monkey' Gould will forever be remembered in his beloved home of Newport, and is a testament to 'the prince of the three quarters'.
The next item, therefore, is motions to elect a Member to committees. In accordance with Standing Orders 12.24 and 12.40, I propose that the motions to elect a Member to committees are grouped for debate and voting. I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move.
Motion NDM6659 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Jack Sargeant (Labour) as a Member of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee in place of Dawn Bowden (Labour).
Motion NDM6660 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Jack Sargeant (Labour) as a Member of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in place of Mick Antoniw (Labour).
Motion NDM6661 Elin Jones (Ceredigion)
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Jack Sargeant (Labour) as a Member of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee in place of Lee Waters (Labour).
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motions are therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motions agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
That brings us to our next item, which is a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv), and I call on Dai Lloyd to move the motion.
Motion NDM6635 Dai Lloyd, David Melding, Nick Ramsay, Mike Hedges
Supported by Vikki Howells
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the number of roads in Wales which are unadopted, and are therefore not maintained by the relevant local authority.
2. Notes that a number of developers have not built roads on new estates to adoptable standards.
3. Recognises that there are weaknesses in the house-buying process, which does not always ensure that buyers have sufficient financial retentions in place to bring these roads up to the local authority's adoptable standard.
4. Recognises that house buyers are often faced with having to invest significant sums of money in order to bring roads up to the local authority's adoptable standard.
5. Notes that many of these roads remain unadopted and in a bad state of repair, for a number of years, sometimes in perpetuity.
6. Calls on the Welsh Government to establish a taskforce, to include local authorities, the legal profession, developers and other key stakeholders, with a view to developing improvements to the house buying and road adoption process.
7. Seeks to develop a Wales-wide programme to deliver a reduction in the number of unadopted roads in Wales.
Thank you very much, Llywydd, and I’m very pleased to open this debate on unadopted roads.
Following my election to Swansea County Council in 1998, one of the first pieces of casework I received involved an unadopted road in Waunarlwydd. The road in question was full of potholes and uneven, it posed a risk to the health and safety of its users, and, ultimately, it detracted from the local area’s beauty. The road had been unadopted for decades, and walkers and vehicles would have a hard time traversing it. The local residents and visitors were entirely fed up. Twenty years later, the road remains unadopted, and they continue to be fed up.
The road in Waunarlwydd, of course, is not an isolated case. Throughout Wales, in almost every constituency, we see example after example of these roads. Some of these roads are ancient, and who owns them is unknown. In Wales, several of these roads were developed during the nineteenth century, when land was provided for miners’ cottages on coal magnates’ estates. Terraced houses were often built with minimal infrastructure. With the nationalisation of the industry, some of these houses were sold to the National Coal Board, but what happened to the land between them wasn’t clear.
When the coal industry was decimated in the 1980s, the issue of who owned the land became even less clear. Often without any street lighting, without drainage and without a proper surface, these roads become inaccessible to older residents, especially at night and in the winter months. They are also unsuitable for children in our most disadvantaged communities—they are no place for a bike or skateboard, nor are they safe places to kick a ball. In addition, these roads can also be wholly unsuitable for the emergency services, such as ambulances or fire engines, and can create additional pressures as these services attempt to respond to an emergency. Due to their poor condition, they're often the cause of a significant amount of letters, e-mails and telephone conversations between residents and county councils across Wales, often going round and round in circles, with the problems persisting.
Unadopted roads are the responsibility of the road owner, if they can be found, or the residents of properties fronting on to the unadopted road, often with no help from the local authority even though they pay full council tax. Unadopted roads, of course, can be adopted at the instigation of either a local authority or the frontages, but local authorities would normally expect the road to be of a proper standard before it can be adopted. Under section 236 of the Highways Act 1980, the local authority is permitted, but not required, to pay some or all of the cost of bringing a road up to an adoptable standard. The reality, of course, is that local authorities rarely instigate the process, and, in these austere times, it's seen as a liability that they can do without. The precise scale of the problem is not actually known. While local authorities are required by the Highways Act 1980 to maintain a register of the roads for which they are responsible, there is no such requirement to maintain a register of unadopted roads within their areas. Therefore, quantifying the scale of the problems is difficult. The data that is commonly quoted is generally sourced from a 2010 House of Commons library note on unadopted roads, which states that a Department for Transport survey in 1972 found that there were then approximately 40,000 unadopted roads in England and Wales, making up some 4,000 miles of road then. It's not just the roads that are neglected, but the stats are as well.
The UK Government estimated in 2009 that it would cost £3 billion to make up these roads to an adoptable standard. The reality is that, as well as these historic unadopted roads surveyed in 1972, we have had a significant number of new estates being built in Wales, and we can all point to examples in our own areas where developers have either decided not to put forward roads for adoption, or have gone into liquidation, and where the roads in question remain unadopted for years on end and often in a state of disrepair.
I've got those statistics in front of me as well, Dai Lloyd, and, as you say, 1972 is going back—well, it's when we entered the European Union, isn't it, or around that time. Would you join me in calling on the Welsh Government to get the up-to-date statistics so we know what we're dealing with in this situation, and then we can move on and get these roads sorted?
Absolutely. I was coming to that as part of a call for a taskforce later on. We need to know exactly where we are now. We are also seeing a rise in the number of new estates being developed with households then subject to annual management fees, sometimes running into hundreds of pounds a year on top of their council tax bills. There can be no doubt that the number of unadopted roads in Wales is on the rise. We might not be able to put a national figure on it— I'm sure we're working on it—but we can all see the reality on the ground.
Since residents cannot look to the local authority to maintain their road, they must do so themselves. Residents sometimes form an association, collect contributions, organise maintenance and deal with other issues such as insurance, parking, tree surgery, rights of way and so on. This brings with it added stress for house buyers, local residents and local representatives, which often results in disagreements, community tensions, legal costs and much local authority officer time being wasted going over the same arguments year after year. There must be a better way, a simpler way, a fairer way.
The issue of legal advice is one aspect that comes up time and time again. We hear of examples of new housing estates being built, the developer going into liquidation, and the residents left to foot the bill in order to bring the road up to an adoptable standard. Very often, the sums that the solicitors have retained for this purpose are totally inadequate—only a few hundred pounds, where the actual cost for bringing the sewerage, roads and lighting up to adoptable standard runs into thousands. For many low-income families whose savings have been spent in buying their first home, this is an expense that they simply cannot meet. It is unfair, and it is cruel. What advice is available to solicitors to help them set aside sufficient levels of retentions? What more can local authorities do to address the situation? What can the Welsh Government do to aid the legal profession and bring about a uniform and fair system in Wales? Members will know that this area of law generates a large number of constituent enquiries. The adoption of roads is a devolved matter, so we have the power to bring about change.
We need to ask ourselves this afternoon some pretty fundamental questions. Do we believe that the current situation is unacceptable? Do we believe that we can develop a better system? Do we believe that the Welsh Government should be taking steps to address the issue? The answer to those questions, in my mind, is a resounding 'yes', 'yes' and 'yes'.
So, what can we do? Is there a case for changing legislation to ensure that more roads are adopted? Can we seek to establish a national, regional or local funding mechanism that would allow local authorities to adopt roads? What about innovative funding solutions—interest-free loans to residents who want to adopt roads, payable over a long term, perhaps? Is there room to introduce legislation that would allow land adjacent to these roads to be sold, with the funds used to bring roads up to adoption standards? Are there additional duties that could be placed on local authorities to be more proactive in getting to grips with this issue? Can we develop a long-term plan, over a number of years, to decrease the number of roads yet to be adopted? I believe that it is vital that we get to grips with these problems facing taxpayers and residents in a number of our communities. Those residents deserve support, not indifference.
The motion today calls on the Welsh Government to establish a taskforce, including local authorities, the legal profession, developers and other stakeholders, including those people who can count how many of these roads aren’t adopted in our nation, with the intention of developing improvements to the processes for purchasing houses and adopting roads. I am confident that, through collaboration, the Assembly can show clear leadership on this issue and develop a programme that will decrease the number of unadopted roads here in Wales. We must develop a better system, a system that’s simpler and a system that is fairer. Thank you.
Unadopted roads can be split into three categories: unmade roads—I think Dai Lloyd's explained in great detail about those—private roads that have public access but have been made up by the local residents, and people probably don't know they are unadopted roads; and what I want to concentrate on is roads in new estates that have not been built to a standard that would allow the council to adopt them, and there are a lot of those happening at the moment. I know Dai Lloyd mentioned builders going bankrupt; some of this is done by some of the biggest builders in Britain. They're building estates, and they're not building them anywhere near the standard. I've got an estate, a very large, relatively affluent estate near where I live, which Dai Lloyd will know, which is the Herbert Thomas Way estate, which used to be known as Brynheulog, where there are a lot of roads that are unadopted. I'm sure that Dai Lloyd has had lots of letters from the residents and has been talking to the residents' association. I have, and I'm sure the Minister has been contacted by them as well. I want to concentrate on this group.
A new road will be considered by the council for adoption provided that the freehold owners of the land dedicate the road as a public highway when it is built, under a section 38 agreement of the Highways Act 1980, and the following criteria are met: there is a direct link with the existing public highway network; it must be of sufficient utility to the public and offer wider community benefits; the roads offered for adoption will have a wider use than simply providing access for individuals to their houses; the road will remain open to the public to pass and repass at all times when formally adopted; the carriageway and footways offer safe passage for pedestrians and vehicles. That's the easy bit. If that was the answer, there would be no problem at all, but the next bit is the bit that catches them: the carriageway and footways have an approved means of surface water drainage, street lighting must conform with current local requirements and national standards, and the road is constructed to a satisfactory standard. And I'll tell you, I wouldn't know, walking down a road, how thick the tarmac is on it. If I see tarmac on it, I assume it's okay. I'm sure most other people who are not civil engineers would feel exactly the same. And commuted sums are paid to provide ongoing maintenance.
For all roads offered for adoption, the developers must ensure that these accord with the above criteria prior to consulting the councils. Councils do not adopt all new roads built by housing developers. Housing developers can choose to keep their new roads private if roads do not meet the above criteria. Residents see a new tarmac road and believe it will be adopted. Why wouldn’t they? I would. They do not know if the drainage meets the requirements or not. They don't know whether the lighting columns are the right height in the right places, have the right-sized bulbs, are able to have the right-sized bulbs, are dealt with effectively by electricity. How would they? And they have no idea what the sub-structure of the road is like. The first that many residents on new estates know that their road has not been adopted by the council is when a problem occurs.
Often, a street light stops working and they then go directly to the council who tell them, 'It's not our responsibility.' This is when the irate residents contact, first, their local councillors, then their local Assembly Members and MPs. This is becoming more of a problem as major house builders are not building roads to adoptable standards. This has to be addressed. This needs legislation, I'm afraid. When a new planning law is brought in, it needs to allow councils to set a planning condition that all roads will be constructed to adoptable standards and that roads built are built to a standard under a section 38 agreement. I do not believe that people buying a house on a new estate want unadopted roads. In fact, all my experience is they're desperate to have their roads adopted. Why would they want an unadopted road? Why would they want a road where they are responsible for its maintenance? No rational person, I would suggest, would want to buy a new house and then want to look after the road themselves. If nothing else, it reduces the resale value of the property.
It always amazes me that, under conditions, planners can specify the brick colour, the colour of the window frames, but cannot specify that the road must be built to adoptable standard. I'll tell you now, most people buying a house would take adoptable standard of the road well ahead of what colour brick it's made of and what colour windows it has. This is an issue causing concern for many people. When a road is unadopted, a fairly lengthy process has to be undertaken to get it adopted. I supported a constituent in getting Bishop’s Walk in Morriston adopted, which was only completed because it had one resident prepared to lead on it and do all the work—work with the solicitor, and, more importantly, set up a company. I mean, it's a fairly lengthy process. It's not, 'Dear Sir, please will you adopt our road?' It's a fairly lengthy process, and all the residents worked together and supported it. If one resident had been opposed, it would not have gone to being adopted. If one resident had been unwilling to pay any of the money needed, it would not have been adopted.
All new estates should have roads built to adoptable standard. As the developers are not doing it voluntarily, I would urge the Government to give serious consideration to legislating, as part of the new planning Bill, to ensure that all roads built must be to adoptable standard.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
I think we've heard two outstanding speeches that covered most of the ground and done so, I think, with great eloquence, because I think we all have experience of this issue and it is a matter that really does affect our constituents. It affects day-to-day life and can leave them in a very exposed financial situation. Like others, I've been very concerned to find that we're way short of best practice, often, in the way developers leave roads in new estates. We have a historical problem, which is probably more difficult to deal with, but what's happening at the moment, when we're building record low numbers of houses—it does seem astonishing that we can't regulate that activity more effectively.
I'm very concerned about what happens when roads are unadopted. Just to spell it out: roads, grass verges, pavements and playgrounds are then retained by the developer and the developer usually subcontracts day-to-day management. These companies pass on the costs to homeowners, for freeholders and leaseholders, via a deed of transfer that obliges the homeowner under the Law of Property Act 1925—I think that takes us even further back than the research note from the House of Commons Library of 1972 [Laughter.] The Law of Property Act 1925 is governing these practices, and they have to pay for the maintenance of the land. This is often referred to as an estate charge, a community charge—not a name that evokes very much happiness—or a service charge, and, unfortunately, these practices are not dying out. I share the real anger that Mike had for this being continued now.
We are already facing, generally, problems of affordability with housing. I mean, even people in good jobs and, however, no access to other wealth—or wealth—find it difficult to buy a home, and then to be faced with these sorts of charges and—. I have to say, it would never occur to me to check that the road is being built to acceptable standards and, you know, by the time you go under the road and think of the drainage and everything—these are duties of care that the planning system should be able to deliver, frankly. I think that's what we should be aiming for.
Some of the other onerous clauses on these ground rents are just remarkable—a charge for altering the property, charges even to sell the property. Some practices are perhaps similar to what we're now experiencing with the leasehold crisis coming back, and developers sometimes selling on leasehold, and then selling on those leaseholds, and doing the same with the management companies. They're not required to publish accounts to the residents and to prove the works that are being charged for are being delivered to an appropriate standard. There's a horrible lack of transparency in this area. It is antiquated and it's leaving these home owners exposed to really punishing practices. As Mike said, these matters are now devolved, as far as I understand, and they are things that we can attempt to tackle.
So, if you are minded to tackle this area, Cabinet Secretary, I think you can rely on extensive support across the Chamber, and I do hope that you will move—. You've heard the suggestion of a new law or, at least, a taskforce at first to examine the situation.
Can I just finish with the lack of data? I'm told that there are 92 km of unadopted highways in Cardiff. It is really quite remarkable—[Interruption.] Well, that's their best guess in 2010. So, it may be very different now. But really, this area cries out for reform and we should deliver it.
I'm pleased to make a brief contribution to this debate. Now, I don't profess to have the kind of detailed and technical knowledge that some of our other speakers have shown this afternoon, but what I do know is that I have dealt with a very steady stream of complaints about unadopted roads in my 19 years as Assembly Member for Torfaen. Now, in some cases, those roads have been in a genuinely woeful condition. I made a site visit a few years ago to Brook Street in Pontrhydyrun in Cwmbran, to find that the road was in such a bad state on a rainy day that a duck had actually taken up residence in one of the potholes there. I hasten to add that this was not a water feature that anybody in the street was pleased to see.
Now, I am acutely aware of how cash-strapped my local authority is. I know that they simply don't have the resources to deal with this problem throughout the borough, and I also know that, in most cases, my constituents don't have the spare cash either. So, I therefore very much welcome the idea of a taskforce to bring everybody together to look at this issue. We all know that we are in very difficult times because of austerity with our public finances, but I hope that bringing people together can be an opportunity to look at innovative solutions, like the ones that Dai Lloyd has referred to, but others such as where the local authorities can come together to block-buy materials to work together to do things. I really think we have to think outside of the box on this. Otherwise, it will be a problem that's with us in another 40 years, and that duck will still be there. So, thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute. I will be supporting this motion.
Thank you to Dai Lloyd for bringing this debate forward this afternoon. I think it's the third debate that we've had on similar areas. We've talked about cavity wall insulation and leaseholds, and now this issue today. These are issues that do concern our constituents, and it's very appropriate that we discuss them here at the National Assembly and, more importantly, that we seek solutions to these problems.
I'm going to tell you about one example in my own constituency, which is a perfect example of what we're talking about this afternoon. The Caeau Gleision estate in Rhiwlas is an estate of 80 houses built between 1975 and the early 1980s. The cul-de-sacs there are now in an appalling condition, to say the least. I haven’t seen any ducks in residence yet, but there are large, water-filled potholes and there are huge problems. The roads and cul-de-sacs on this estate have never been adopted by the local authority, namely Gwynedd Council, and there are nine of these cul-de-sacs on the estate. Over a period of time, the surface laid by the developers has been washed away, leaving large potholes and puddles, and rock in some places, or the hard-standing. That is all that is left. From what I understand also, there are pitch fibre pipes that have been laid to carry surface water away, and whilst these kinds of pipes were recommended at the time, they have now become damaged and they’re not fit for purpose. They need to be repaired.
There are individuals on the estate who have tried to tackle this problem. They’ve been in touch with the county council, and the MP and I as the Assembly Member have been trying to help them, but unfortunately we haven’t had much success to date. The response that we get from Gwynedd Council is that the roads and cul-de-sacs are unadopted and therefore, in the current economic climate, they don’t intend to do anything about the situation. By now, because of the condition of these roads, the estate as a whole appears to be very unkempt, despite the fact that the residents are keeping their homes as neat and tidy as possible.
We in the constituency have tried to do some research into this area to see what’s possible and we’ve been studying a book by the author Andrew Barsby, a book called Private Roads, and this includes a number of suggestions as to how residents can take action, but it depends, to a great extent, on having ownership of the road, which isn’t always an easy process. The developers disappear over time, and it can be a very expensive process for individuals, of course. According to the book Private Roads, if it’s not possible to gain ownership of a particular road, then it is possible for local residents to make improvements to the state of the road, but they do run the risk of prosecution on the basis of unlawful trespass.
So, it’s a difficult situation, and I welcome the proposals put forward here, particularly the idea of the establishment of a taskforce and having a work programme in place so that we can tackle this problem in a meaningful way and resolve a problem that exists in all constituencies, I would assume. Thank you.
Many of the points I make will have already been made by other contributors to this debate, but I make no excuses for repeating them because I don't think these arguments could be repeated too often. I, as have many others, have had a number of contacts from constituents with regard to the matters raised in this motion, which can, in certain circumstances, lead to health issues caused by anxieties with regard to the financial problems related to unadopted roads. So, UKIP is broadly in agreement with all the points included in this motion and would be supportive of the calls on the Welsh Government included in point 6.
However, could not all of the points and problems noted in the motion be negated in the future by the local authority making planning permission dependent on the developers contracting to provide roads to an adoptable standard?
That's what I asked for because, at the moment, they can't make that a condition on giving planning permission.
Well, thank you for that, Mike.
But subsequent failure to provide such roads would then place them in breach of contract and liable to commercial penalties. Perhaps the Cabinet Secretary will look to being able to give local authorities that power in the future. With regard to historical neglect in respect of unadopted roads, I fear that this will not be seen as a high priority for local authorities. Lynne Neagle has made the point that, obviously, they are under great austerity measures and there could be substantial costs in bringing the roads to an adoptable standard. And, of course, an adopted road will be a further and continuing drain on their resources. It would therefore seem that only the Welsh Government would have the necessary funds to carry out these improvements or repairs, but is there a will to do so?
Thanks, Lee. [Laughter.] I'm delighted to speak to Lee Waters and to the rest of the Assembly as well.
I'm pleased to subscribe to this motion. Roads are an issue close to my heart, whether I'm supporting them or opposing them, with some of my colleagues sometimes. And at the heart of this motion is the fact that, when you leave the beaten track of our motorways and our A roads and B roads, many of our rural roads and also, as we've heard, our urban roads are indeed way below the standard that we would expect, and many speakers have already spoken about those problems.
I was looking at the website of the Resident Adoption Action Group, which outlines some of the issues affecting our unadopted roads in Wales, including the fact that regular health and safety inspections are not being undertaken to ensure that the roads are being kept safe. And as this is a national issue, there are countless road users who are regularly driving on unsafe and unregulated roads. As Mike Hedges and other speakers have mentioned, developers can often save thousands by dodging the legal agreements that pass the roads on to local authority control—an issue that seemingly has no repercussions for those developers. And I support Mike Hedges's call and others to perhaps put this on a statutory footing to make sure that road adoption is part of that planning process at the outset.
Clearly, we need to make unadopted roads a priority, and in order to fully do that, we do need up-to-date statistics. I'm still laughing, amused, at Dai Lloyd's mention of the 1972 Department for Transport survey that found that there were then approximately 40,000 unadopted roads in England and Wales. I think it would be helpful if we did have some Welsh statistics. So, I support the call for a taskforce and ask the economy and infrastructure Secretary to look into getting some up-to-date statistics on that infrastructure.
I do think that there is light at the end of this tunnel—pardon the pun—and if we look back through history, as David Melding did, there is good reason to be hopeful for the future. In fact, roads in the UK were not classified at all until the 1920s, and the classification itself was not tidied up until the 1930s. In those days, they had a rolling, yearly reassessment of the classification of roads—probably far more up-to-date than it has been since 1972, but they recognised the importance of a good road structure. And when we went into the second world war, the road network was in a shambolic state, and after that war, it was clear that something—[Interruption.] Tory Government—get over yourself. [Laughter.] After the second world war, it was clear that something needed to be done, and there was that programme of road building and road improvements that has been going on since then. But throughout all of the time, under Labour Governments and Conservative Governments and coalition Governments, the issue of unadopted roads was not addressed, and maybe that's because it was seen to be too difficult to deal with, or just easier to ignore, and it wasn't necessary to the national infrastructure of the country. But, of course, we now know that many of these roads are not just unsuitable for emergency vehicles—and I was looking at a case where an ambulance actually got lodged in a pothole on one of these roads back in 2014—but, of course, those road surfaces aren't even suitable for modern motor vehicles of any standard. So, this is a problem that has existed for far too long.
I'm delighted that Dai Lloyd asked me to be a subscriber. I think there is general agreement in this Chamber that something does now need to be done. So, let's get on with the job of doing that, let's get a proper survey, get that taskforce under way, get a survey to see what were actually dealing with, and then look to bring all our roads up to a satisfactory standard so that motorists and emergency vehicles can drive on safe roads.
There is an estate in my constituency that was built in the 1970s: the roads are spacious, there's plenty of parking, large gardens, and spacious houses. And it is striking that when you visit the newer houses that have been built in the last decade, the newer estates that have been built in the last decade, the houses are squashed in, it's unclear which street is which, and everyone is packed in together and the roads are unadopted. We have taken steps backwards in the last 10 years, and I think that part of it is because the big four housing developers, or the big six housing developers, are using the housing shortage to their advantage, and they have all the power in these circumstances. That's not good enough, and I think this is an opportunity to do something about it. I'm not going to repeat, actually, Dai Lloyd's speech, David Melding's speech and Mike Hedges's speech—my speech was an amalgam of those three. So, I'm not going to go and repeat everything that's been said, but I will just pick up on some of those things.
Adoption of roads: absolutely. I've checked out the statistics and there is one unadopted private street—that's a street with only one access point—in Caerphilly borough. There are seven unadopted rear lanes. But there are 15 unadopted new developments, and what is happening—. I'm going to name-check Castle Reach and Kingsmead estates, because I've been trying to sort out the broadband there. I went out and delivered a letter to every house about broadband and nearly sprained my ankle on the potholes that are in the roads on that unadopted estate. It is not good enough. I've had correspondence from constituents who feel very strongly. And the estate is still being built. People have been living there for two years. The estate is still being built. When are they going to finish? They're stringing it out so they don't have to complete the roads and the infrastructure. It is not good enough.
I had a meeting at Cwm Calon at the other end of my constituency, which is a completed estate with most of the roads adopted, but some still not. The residents there are paying to an estate management company. I shouted the word 'extortionate' when that was being said, and Michelle Brown said, 'Well, it's not extortionate'. Well, actually, I don't think that's too far off the mark, to be honest with you. The residents in Cwm Calon wrote to the estate management company. One resident had a response from the estate management company to her. 'With respect', it said, in an e-mail, 'get a life'. That's from the estate management company to a resident in Cwm Calon estate. Absolutely disgraceful.
Now, I'll be looking to have a meeting with both the developer and the estate management company to look at what more they can do to complete the work that they should be doing as a result of the monthly payments that people are making in that estate.
Just to share an experience in my constituency where one developer said, 'If you go to your Assembly Member, I will make damn sure that I will never do the work that needs to be done on your street'.
Rhun ap Iorwerth, you make a very clear point, because that is exactly the kind of language that's being used, because the power is in the hands of these people. They're doing the minimum—the estate management company are doing the minimum amount of work on these estates. They're holding residents to ransom, and the contracts that you have to sign to buy your house aren't worth the paper they're written on when you want work done. It's used as something to constrain and control residents and make sure they just keep on paying up. And I think that needs to change, too. So, it's not just the unadopted roads. It's also the way that the estate management companies work.
So, I think—very rarely do I get furious in this Chamber, but I'm, I think justifiably, furious about the way residents are being treated in my constituency. I'm not pleased, but I'm pleased that we've had the opportunity for other constituency and regional AMs to identify that this is happening in their constituencies and regions too. So, I think it's time to take this opportunity to support this motion and ask the Cabinet Secretary to do whatever is in his power, as outlined by Mike Hedges, to take action against these companies that are taking advantage of residents and the housing shortage.
I share absolutely all of the sentiments and views that have been expressed in the Chamber this afternoon so far. Like every Assembly Member and constituency, I also have estates with unadopted roads in my own area, the most prominent of which is the Sandy Cove estate, which the Deputy Presiding Officer will be familiar with. It's an estate of 250 bungalows that were built in the 1930s as holiday homes for wealthy people from around the UK to come and enjoy some time by the seaside in. But unfortunately, over a period of time, those homes have become permanent residences, and the company that built the estate has folded and left this legacy of all of these roads that, now, are in a very, very poor state of repair. It's not ducks we're seeing in those puddles, it's seagulls, predominantly, and unfortunately, many of the people who live on that estate—. There's a public health issue here, because many people who live on that estate are people with mobility problems, people with walking difficulties, other chronic illnesses, and the condition of those roads, the lack of pavements, the lack of drainage, the lack of even street lighting on those roads, is causing them, yes, anxiety, but also difficulties in just getting out. They are living in social isolation, many of them. They feel unsafe because it's dark. And of course this estate, to add to its woes, is also in a flood-risk area, immediately behind the sea wall defences in Kinmel Bay. It's been flooded on multiple occasions in recent years. So, it's in a pretty sorry state of affairs.
Now, to be fair to the local authority and others, they have tried to do what they can to support those residents. They've tried to look at what the cost of bringing those roads up to an adoptable standard might be, and the latest estimate is that it would be around £3 million, which is obviously a significant sum of money for 250 home owners to be able to find. In fact, it's nigh on impossible for them to raise that sort of sum in order to get those roads up to an adoptable standard.
And worse than that, of course, many of the people who own those properties don't actually live in them, they're rented out, because the value of those properties has been depressed as a result of the state of the road. So, obviously, they can be a lucrative source of income for some potentially unscrupulous buy-to-let landlords. So, that further complicates the problem, because of course those buy-to-let landlords, so long as their rent is being paid, so long as the income is coming in, they're not really interested in making any sort of contribution to bringing those roads up to a standard that is even passable for motor vehicles in some places. Frankly, the situation is intolerable and we need to do something about it.
A few years ago, back in 2011, I can remember being in this Assembly when the then environment Minister took a very brave decision to use some powers that she had under the Water Act 2003 to transfer private sewers and lateral drains into the water system, which is of course the responsibility of Welsh Water here. So, they were all basically adopted, whether they had been before or not. I think what we need is that sort of approach, frankly, with all of these historic unadopted roads, in order that we can solve this problem once and for all. Then, absolutely—as Mike and others have said—we need to change the planning system to make it a requirement that if an estate is going to be built, there has to be an adoptable road that is accessible.
One of the things that really irritates me on nearly every planning application I see these days is so-called 'private driveways'. You've seen them—where there's one single link road through the estate, which is adopted, and then you have a private driveway that serves as an access to about 10 or 15 different properties, which is generally brick paved because it looks attractive, but within four or five years is starting to crumble, the dips are starting to appear in it, because it's not been made up to an acceptable standard. So, we're storing problems up for the future, and I do believe that the current review of the planning system that is under way in Wales gives us an opportunity to sort this out once and for all.
One thing I would like—if the Cabinet Secretary is minded to establish a taskforce, which is an idea that I very much welcome—is that that taskforce sorts out, in terms of priorities, which areas might need to be addressed first, because I can tell you now that I suspect very much that the Sandy Cove estate in my own constituency would be right near the top of that list, for the reasons that I've outlined today. So, I encourage people to support the motion.
In rising to speak in support of this motion today, I will focus my remarks on the experiences of my constituents—my constituents who live not just on unadopted roads, but, as so many of my colleagues here have stressed today, on unadopted estates. I want to talk about the impact that the failure of developers to bring these estates up to adoptable standards is having on my constituents. Indeed, I don't think it's being overly dramatic to talk about the misery that this is causing.
I am at present dealing with three sizeable housing estates of so-called 'executive homes', all built by the same developer. This is one of the so-called 'big four' UK developers. I know other AMs have talked about the problems caused when house builders go into liquidation, but I am talking about a company here that remains one of the big four UK house builders. So, far from being unable to sort these issues out, they are too busy going on to build more houses in other locations, making millions and millions of pounds, before they complete estates to proper adoptable standards. I'm not going to name the developer here today, but the comments that I make later on may hint at their identity.
As the motion notes, one of the most pressing problems relates to roads on these housing estates. As the roads have not been adopted, they're in an unsafe condition. This can cause damage to residents' cars, which I've taken on numerous pieces of casework about, but also injury to residents, too. Again, I've taken on numerous cases involving that. In particular, in this example, it is not just the road that the developer has not bothered to finish: residents of the same estate of over 150 properties have had issues with their broadband provision; a promised playground has not been built; landscaping hasn’t taken place; and a pumping station hasn’t been completed. All of this has a negative impact—a very negative impact—on householders. And in this case where the housing estate was completed four years ago, it has left residents feeling very disappointed that the shiny, brand-spanking-new homes that they were promised have been dumped in what resembles little more than a building site. Some of the householders are so disappointed they've told me they want to move, but the poor condition of the estate means that they cannot do this because their homes have been devalued.
I'm dealing with two other estates, built by the same big housing developer. Here, residents face similar problems. In one case, the work needed to bring the estate up to an adoptable state hasn’t been completed 17 years after the houses were built. I want to re-emphasise that point—17 years, by a major UK house builder. That is just not acceptable.
Now, I've spoken to the house builder. I've met with their executives and received a warm and mollifying response. But in terms of action, nothing has changed. No progress has been made. My residents' queries, pleas and complaints have fallen on deaf years. And what makes these matters all the more galling is that the developer is already looking at a new site in my constituency. Yes, we need homes, but there is no duty on large-scale builders to ensure that works are completed before they move on, and I think this is very wrong.
I agree totally with what you've just said, and you're placing the problem of unadopted roads within a wider problem: that we've got an increasing number of estates now run by management companies with services provided. I think you're exactly right: the developers move on to the next site without properly finishing what they've got already, and we should address that with legislation.
I couldn't agree with the Member more. If you take a school, for example, if a school was performing badly and not delivering results for its pupils, then action would be taken to ensure that it was brought up to standard. But in terms of the private sector, we don't have these powers currently, but we do have the ability through the planning review to look at this, and I think it's absolutely vital that we do so.
I know that the developer in question has also paid multimillion-pound bonds to the local authority, but that also seemingly has no impact either. And in many cases, the sums needed to bring these estates up to an adoptable standard is comparatively insignificant. For example, the estate that has been unadopted for 17 years, the housing developer there told me themselves that the one and only outstanding job would cost just a few thousand pounds to complete, yet nothing has happened.
At the same time as I was meeting that developer, lobbying for my constituents, they announced a bonus package of over £500 million for their top bosses. This may provide a clue to the developer’s identity. In addition, the package included over £100 million of personal bonus payments for their chief executive—for one man presiding over a company where they told me themselves they have over 40 unadopted estates in Wales. It is no surprise that this leaves a bad taste in my constituents’ mouths.
I'm delighted to support this motion today, and I'd like to echo Mike Hedges's call for the current review of planning in Wales to address this issue. I can only hope that it helps contribute to a resolution for my constituents.
Firstly, I'd like to welcome this debate because following on from the debate on leasehold, it shows the importance of these types of debates that actually identify issues that have complete cross-party support, that relate to powers that we have where we can use those powers to make a real difference to people's lives. Leasehold was one, this was the other one.
Can I also thank David Melding for reminding me of the Law of Property Act 1925? [Laughter.] That wonderful revising piece of legislation that couldn't be contained in less than 1,000 pages and which propped up more bookshelves than I ever came across. I also thank Darren Millar, really, for his exposition of the iniquities of the capitalist system. [Laughter.] But, particularly thanks to Dai Lloyd for his almost Shakespearean exposition of the injustice that does exist.
There are just a number of simple points that I want to add. Firstly, planning permission. We know that whether they be maintained estates or whatever, it's just clearly the case that planning permission should not just be given. Just as we should not be allowing planning permission to be given to new properties with leasehold, exactly the same applies here as well.
Secondly, in terms of unfinished roads and responsibilities and so on for new properties, why can't we have a simple thing like a National House-Building Council certificate? You have that—something that gives a guarantee if the property developer goes bust, a guarantee in terms of rectification of the structure. Why could you not have something exactly like that that gives that extension—? Because the crux of it is the lack of guarantees and deposits, so that if the developer disappears or doesn't fulfil it, the house purchaser can go along and say, 'Well, there is the money, there is the resource or the guarantee that enables this to be done.' It seems to me that that is the future.
The point that was made in terms of the companies themselves, because what they will say is, of course, 'Ah, yes, but all these are things that add to cost and so on.' These property developers, they work on at least a 25 per cent profit margin. This is it. This is exploitation of the worst kind, and the fact that you have one director of one of these companies with many properties in Wales, some of which are getting a bonus of £150 million—. I mean, it is out of control and it is absolutely outrageous. It is a public scandal.
Just a very brief intervention—thank you very much. In the case of Llys Tegeirian in Llangristiolus on Anglesey that I mentioned earlier, different property holders have taken out different insurance schemes against possible losses or the defaulting of the developer down the line. Would what you're proposing, a uniform plan, get around that issue of different householders, due to the different legal advice that they're getting, paying out different sums to try to get around the problem?
Absolutely. I mean, the Government stepped in to force insurers, for example, to deal with uninsured vehicles, cars, with the Motor Insurers' Bureau. The NHBC is also a similar product of that, and why should that not be extended in exactly the same way? It seems to me to be a relatively simple solution. We talked about the profitability of the house building companies. These are the same companies that said it was not viable to put sprinklers in our houses to prevent those houses being burnt down and they wouldn't build houses that sold. Sooner or later, they've got to be taken to task.
So, the crux is—I agree very much—it's an area where there is legislation that's justified, we do need a strategy, and this is an area where we can make a real difference to people's lives in Wales.