|1. Questions to the First Minister|
|2. Business Statement and Announcement|
|3. Statement by the First Minister: Update on EU Transition|
|4. Statement by the Minister for Education: Introduction of Personalised Assessments|
|5. Statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport: Apprenticeships: Investing in Skills for the Future|
|6. The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019|
|7. The Landfill Disposals Tax (Tax Rates) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018|
|8. Debate: The Holtham Report on Paying for Social Care|
|9. Motion to vary the order of consideration of Stage 3 amendments to the Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill|
|10. Motion to suspend Standing Orders to allow the next item of business to be considered|
|11. Motion to agree to the First Minister's recommendation to Her Majesty to appoint a Counsel General|
|12. Voting Time|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order. May I start by wishing all Members a very happy new year?
The first item on our agenda in this new year is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Neil McEvoy.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the implementation of local development plans in South Wales Central? OAQ53120
The South Wales Central region has complete coverage of local development plans. Local planning authorities, infrastructure providers and developers are responsible for their implementation.
First Minister, in Cardiff West, the area you're supposed to represent, the countryside and greenfields are currently being bulldozed to make way for expensive housing that most local people cannot afford. The developments will lead to at least 10,000 extra cars on the road every single day, and these roads are already rammed with lorries thundering through our communities. You have been a Cabinet member since 2013, yet you've not been able to influence any change of Welsh Government policy to protect our communities from this environmental destruction. Well, as First Minister, there is no hiding place any longer, is there, so why are you sitting back and letting the greenfields of Cardiff West be trashed by corporate developers?
Llywydd, I can assure the Member that his contribution will be considered with all the seriousness it deserves.
It's a practical question I have. Because of the contiguous nature of the very highly ambitious development plans for housing along the M4, north of Cardiff and westwards, from northern Cardiff in the South Wales Central region, through the neighbouring southern parts of Pontypridd, onto northern Bridgend, there's a heightened imperative to make sure that all the local authorities are talking together, working together, developing their plans together to avoid the situation where a laudable set of ambitious aims in one area leads to the detriment of the laudable aims within another. So, unless there is co-ordination of plans, what we could end up with not only from local authorities, but transport authorities as well, is gridlock rather than releasing the economic potential. Now, the leaders of Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend Country Borough Council are already working together to plan their way through this, but can I ask the First Minister—and, by the way, welcome him to his first First Minister's questions as well—what strategic hand can the Welsh Government play in ensuring that the transport infrastructure is definitely in place to enable the grand plans for new housing to end in hundreds and hundreds of happy home owners not grumpy, gridlocked constituents?
Well, can I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that important supplementary question? Of course, he is right about that co-ordination between different local authorities who have shared interests in making sure that housing development meets the housing needs of their constituents, and the infrastructure that is necessary to make successful development, and that those local authorities work closely together. The Welsh Government has legislated to create the conditions in which local authorities can come together to create strategic development plans, and I was pleased to see last year Cardiff capital deal authorities coming together to develop such a plan for that wider area. And I look forward in this year to see how that intention turns into practical action.
At the same time, the Member will be aware, I know, of all the action that is going on to create Bridgend station as a strategic transport hub for the locality, and to make sure that people who live in those new houses—those vitally needed new houses—are able to get to places of work and places of entertainment easily and conveniently from their new homes.
I think what most politicians can agree, First Minister, is that the current planning system is very cumbersome and doesn't serve many people very well, to be fair. Local development plans get bogged down and, very often, delayed. What priority do you, as a new First Minister, give to revamping the planning system here in Wales, so that we do have a planning system that is fit for purpose, does get the houses built that we require to meet a modern, dynamic economy, and ultimately, does take on the serious concerns that many constituents raise about the provision of GP surgeries, schools and transport infrastructure?
Can I agree with Andrew R.T. Davies that there are a series of concerns about the way in which the planning system the housing system, the transport system interact with one another to the advantage of the citizen? We know that these are challenges that we face not just in Wales; there's been some important work that his party has carried out through Government in Westminster, in London, for example, looking at the reasons why planning permissions granted don't turn into houses built for people who urgently need them. I've seen, of course, the housing policy document that his party has published here in the Assembly. One of the things that it called for was a Cabinet member with responsibility for housing and planning. And he will have noticed, I know, that we have such a Minister here in the Welsh Government.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the development of guidance to support local authorities in assessing planning applications for intensive poultry units? OAQ53116
I thank the Member for that question. 'Planning Policy Wales', technical advice notes and the development management manual, all provide guidance and support in the assessment of such planning applications. A working group, including Powys County Council, is meeting to develop any necessary specific guidance in relation to intensive poultry units.
Can I thank you for your answer, First Minister, and wish you a happy new year and every success in your new role? I did raise this with the previous Cabinet Secretary for planning, in regard to IPUs, and I had an answer that was entirely satisfactory, because the then Cabinet Secretary confirmed to me that the chief planning officer would write to all local planning authorities offering that guidance, and I was pleased with that. Can I now suggest that Welsh Government officials, Natural Resources Wales and officials from the Welsh Local Government Association and local planning authorities do convene a meeting together, to discuss how this new guidance is implemented in practice, because there are overlapping factors, such as air pollution, water pollution and manure management plans? When I've spoken to NRW, they have certainly said that they would welcome such a meeting as well. Is this something that you would consider?
I thank the Member for that supplementary question and for his introductory remarks. I've seen the letter that was sent as a result of his previous discussion with my colleague Lesley Griffiths. And he will have seen that, in that letter, it ends by inviting interested parties to come forward to take part in the more detailed work, to see whether specific guidance is necessary in relation to intensive poultry units. I'm pleased to be able to tell him that two groups have been established as a result. The first, an intensive agriculture health working group, has already met, and that involves Public Health Wales and NRW, together with the Welsh Government. That will inform the work of a second group, which will look at the overall approach of planning authorities in dealing with the sorts of matters that Russell George has identified in terms of nitrate pollution, odorous emissions and the cumulative impact of those things. That second group will meet with the intention of publishing a new guidance note in these matters by the end of this calendar year.
I'm pleased to hear what the First Minister has said. Of course, there is an economic question here too, because, although there are planning and environmental implications, what we have seen is an explosion in the number of units of this kind that have developed across Wales. We may not be far off the point where we are over-producing. And while it is right that we encourage farmers to diversify, we must ensure that any growth that we see in the sector is sustainable growth. So, may I ask what assessment the Government has made of the sustainability of this substantial and sudden growth in this sector, and what is your intention in terms of encouraging farmers to diversify in directions that bring the most benefits to the rural economy but also benefits that will continue for many years to come?
May I thank Llyr Gruffydd for the question? Of course, I acknowledge the fact that we have seen a growth in the number of people working in this field. And it is an important part of the rural economy. Currently, what I have seen is that those people working in the field are succeeding, and that is why we've seen many more people submitting planning applications. The Government's challenge, and the challenge for local authorities, is to strike a balance between the economy, and those people working in this field, and local people. That is why we have established a new group, to be clear that we can protect local people when this type of employment is introduced and also that we protect the economy and the jobs created in this field.
A number of constituents from Powys have written to me raising concerns regarding the number of poultry units that have been granted planning permission in recent years. And I do think, and I am pleased to hear, that it's time that we did look at assessing the overall impact of poultry farming and how it affects the environment and also the local communities. First Minister, I'm pleased to hear that the Welsh Government is considering developing a comprehensive plan and guidance for local authorities that are charged with the issuing of these licences. I would like them to take account of the accumulative impact on the local community and the environment, as well as the welfare of the animals that are being raised in these intensive units. So, what we need really here is a comprehensive package that covers each and every single element. In my opinion, we can't go on as we are and things really have to change. We have seen the poisoning of rivers as a consequence of some of these having planning permission and all the spill-off going into those rivers. So, I look forward to the report and I look forward also to the changes that it will bring about.
Well, I thank Joyce Watson for that question. She will know that, as a result of the concerns that she and other Members have raised here in recent times about the growing number of applications and granted applications for development in the poultry sector, action has already been taken to make sure, for example, that larger intensive units are closely regulated by Natural Resources Wales in accordance with the requirements of the industrial emissions directive. 'Planning Policy Wales', which was published by Lesley Griffiths in December, drew particular attention to the need for local authorities to, as Joyce Watson suggested, make sure that the cumulative impact of such developments—cumulative in the sense that they create a number of different environmental challenges, but cumulative in the sense that a growing number of them close by has an additional impact on local communities—is taken into account.
But, as Joyce Watson says, there is a series of strands of regulation that need to be drawn together here not simply in the environmental field, but in animal welfare as well, and that's why the result of a chief planner's letter to local authorities and others is the work that I set out in answer to Russell George's original supplementary question.
Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, your Government announced last week that it has engaged the OECD in conducting a review of Welsh economic strategy. You've used the OECD, of course, through its PISA programme, to benchmark Wales in the educational rankings worldwide. Can you say where Wales ranks in terms of GDP per head against the other member countries of the OECD? And do you think we'd be higher or lower in those rankings if we were an independent country?
Well, I thank the Member to begin with for recognising the work that we've asked the OECD to do. It's an important part of our determination that, in the context we face, Wales continues to be a nation that looks out beyond our own borders, learns lessons from elsewhere and gets the best possible advice. Part of that advice will be to help us deal with the economic challenges that Wales faces as a nation. My own view, Llywydd, has always been that that economic future is better protected through membership of the larger United Kingdom, and I have not changed my view on that.
So, in terms of the rankings, maybe I can help the First Minister. According to the World Bank, we'd be currently twenty-third in the 36 countries that are members of the OECD—that's between South Korea and Spain. So, I guess you could say we're just below the promotion zone in the second division of the world's advanced economies. Ireland, which is a similar-sized country in a similar part of the world is fifth. You talked in your lecture on twenty-first-century socialism a few months ago about using the United Kingdom as a mechanism to redistribute wealth. Well, we're almost 20 years into that century, and as mechanisms go, it's not a very good one, is it? In the two decades since this Assembly was created, we've slipped from 74 per cent of the UK average for income per head to 72.5 per cent. That's one of the worst figures recorded by any UK nation or region. Labour were in power for half that time at Westminster and in power here in Wales for all of the time, and yet the devolution dividend in economic terms has been negative. So, what explanation do you think the OECD will give for Ireland's success and Wales's relative failure, other than the fact that they're an independent nation and we're not?
Well, Llywydd, Labour has been in power in the Assembly during the period in which employment in Wales has risen further and faster than in the United Kingdom, unemployment has fallen further and faster than the rest of the United Kingdom, economic inactivity has fallen further and faster than in other parts of the United Kingdom, and in which those positive factors have been felt more in west Wales and the Valleys than other parts of Wales.
I've no doubt that when the OECD comes to do the work that we've asked it to do that there will be lessons that we will be able to draw from other parts of Europe. No doubt, when they look at the Irish example, they will shine a light on the way that Ireland has been able to attract shell headquarter companies to be located in Ireland in a way that appears to contribute to their economic well-being, but leaves them with disposable incomes below those here in Wales.
I look forward to hearing the First Minister making those arguments when he welcomes the Irish in opening their consulate here in June. It's also true, isn't it, that economic success feeds through to other things as well? Because, actually, what we see in Ireland is that child poverty is lower than in Wales and life expectancy is higher in the Republic of Ireland, so economic success feeds through to social benefits as well.
Of course, it's not just true that Wales is underperforming nationally, but the economic chasm within Wales continues to grow. We were promised a new strategy for the Valleys, but nothing is happening. The city deal for the Cardiff capital region has so far failed to bring forward a project north of the M4 corridor. You promised that work on the technology park in Ebbw Vale would start in March last year—it hasn't. This is what even your own former Valleys Minister had to say last week:
'We've waited for long enough. No more press releases, no more speeches, we need action.'
This has been moving too slowly for too long. This may be your first First Minister's questions, First Minister, but you've been in or around the Welsh Government pretty much for all of the last 20 years. Why has there been no progress on the economic front for Wales during that period? Can you name for us three things that will change now and by which we will be able to judge you on your record?
It's always been a paradox of nationalism, it seems to me in this Chamber, Llywydd, that they are so depressed about Wales and so keen to be somewhere else in Europe. And the Member is at it again this afternoon.
Let me give him three things to answer the final point that he made about Tech Valleys, and this is as a result of the work carried out by this Government and as a result of the work carried out when the Member for Blaenau Gwent was part of this Government, contributing to this effort. We said from the very beginning that it was a 10-year scheme and that the early part would have to address land and property issues to provide the modern industrial units that are needed to bring further prosperity to that part of Wales.
Here are three things. The Member asked for three; he might like to listen to them. Planning consent has been secured for 22,000 sq ft of starter units at Lime Avenue in Ebbw Vale—a joint project between the Welsh Government and Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, specifically designed to bring entrepreneurship and growing small and medium-sized enterprises to locate in Ebbw Vale—and they will be built this year. Planning consent has been secured for a 50,000 sq ft advance manufacturing facility at Rhyd-y-Blew in Ebbw Vale, with construction happening this year. There was a 174,000 sq ft derelict building at Rassau in Ebbw Vale and it's being refurbished now for use by the private sector to bring jobs and prosperity to Ebbw Vale. There are three things. Let him judge us on those, because those things are happening now.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, on behalf of these benches, can I take this opportunity to welcome you to your place? I look forward to our weekly exchanges, and I want to make it clear that I will work with you constructively where I can, but my colleagues and I will also be robustly scrutinising your Government on behalf of the people of Wales and making sure you are held to account for your Government's performance over the coming months and coming years.
So, First Minister, the UK Government published their 10-year plan for NHS England yesterday. Does your Government have a 10-year plan for NHS Wales?
We do indeed have a plan, Llywydd. It was published in June of last year. It's called 'A Healthier Wales'. It's good to see the plan published this week by NHS England borrowing directly from the plan that we have already published for Wales. [Laughter.]
Clearly, First Minister, you don't have a 10-year plan. Publishing a 10-year strategy is essential so that users of the Welsh NHS can see a road map as to how their services can be developed in the future and what they can expect in terms of delivery. As the Welsh Government received the largest uplift in funding for health and social services since devolution, this funding will be essential in delivering improvements. We can't deny that our services are struggling under successive Welsh Labour Governments. The record is absolutely clear. Collectively, our health boards are facing a deficit of £360 million. Our A&E waiting times have not been met since implementation in 2009. Patients are routinely waiting longer than one year for vital surgery. Wales's largest health board, Betsi Cadwaladr, is in special measures and has been for three and a half years. And we've seen vital services close across Wales, such as the special care baby unit in my own constituency. I know that you are no stranger to the challenges faced by Wales's health service because many of these challenges happened under your watch, given that you were health Minister in 2013. Many of the challenges remain as relevant today as they were back under your stewardship of Wales's health services. Therefore, will you now commit to investing every single penny of the consequential funding your Government will receive into Wales's health and social care services?
Llywydd, we are of course investing more than the consequential we received from the UK Government in the health service here in Wales next year. Indeed, the extra money that we will invest in the health service in Wales next year is proportionately higher than the additional funding announced by the UK Government for England for next year too. It's why the rise in investment in the Welsh NHS last year at 3.5 per cent was the highest of all four UK nations. We are doing better on investment. We are doing far better than the English plan on integration of health and social care—there was barely a mention of social care in the 10-year plan that was announced for England this week—and because of that we have seen the resilience of the Welsh NHS over what always are the two most difficult weeks of the year. I want to take this chance, if I can, Llywydd, to thank once again those people who work in our NHS, who were hard at work over the Christmas and new year period, keeping the doors of our hospitals open, keeping patients well attended to. It's a tribute to them and to the NHS in Wales that we continue to provide a service here, publicly funded, publicly available, and designed to meet the needs of Welsh patients.
Llywydd, I'm not going to take any lessons from the First Minister on investing in our health service, because it was his party that actually cut health service funding some years ago. In 2016, my party put forward a comprehensive plan for change in NHS Wales, a vision for a Welsh NHS that's better resourced, more accountable to patients, and delivers better results for those who use the services. This included plans to establish a £100 million health transformation fund to support the modernisation of services, to ensure mental health crisis teams are available 24 hours a day at all major emergency departments, to support innovation in healthcare by providing £50 million in match funding for research into new treatments and cures, and to implement specialist plans to guarantee improved outcomes in the fight against Wales's four biggest killers—cancer, heart disease, dementia and stroke—much of which has been echoed in the plan published yesterday by the UK Government.
First Minister, I know that the Welsh Government has adopted our plan to implement a £100 million transformation fund, but we are still lacking a plan from your Government as to how you will modernise our services in future to bring down waiting times, to speed up diagnostic times and to dramatically improve our mental health services. Considering that Wales's health and social services will receive the greatest uplift in funding since devolution, will you now publish a strategy for NHS Wales, outlining how the additional funding will be used to modernise our services and deliver the timely, fit-for-purpose care that the people of Wales so rightly deserve?
Well, Llywydd, let me go back to the point the Member made in opening, and say to him that there is a great deal in what he said that, of course, we would agree with on this side too. I think it's common ground in most parts of this Chamber that we want to see an NHS in Wales that is well resourced, that is modern in its methods and that is centred on the needs of patients. Many of the things that Paul Davies began in his question, we would sign up to here as well. So, let's say that there's common ground between us in our ambition for the health service here in Wales.
Of course, we will have different ways in which we think that that can be best brought about. We have a plan for the NHS in Wales—we published it in June of last year. It sets out the ways in which we will use the resources we have—the financial resources and, most importantly of all, the staffing resources, or the people who are the most important resource that we have, and the enormous commitment that patients have here in Wales to their NHS—and use all of the resources we can, in difficult times, to make sure that we go on having a health service that remains true to its founding principles and provides the service it does that is, I believe, a modern miracle in the improvements it brings about, day in and day out, in the lives of people in all parts of Wales.
Diolch, Llywydd. I'd like to welcome you, First Minister, to your new post and wish you the best of luck with it.
As we are all aware, obesity is a growing problem in Wales and a particular menace is childhood obesity. There has been a recent survey from Cancer Research UK that is linking obesity in Wales to the ready availability of cheap junk food. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to tackle childhood obesity? Does the First Minister feel that the availability of junk food, and the advertising of junk food, has an effect on childhood obesity?
I thank the Member for that important question and for what he said in his opening remarks. Of course, we have actions that we are already committed to in relation to childhood obesity, led, largely, by Public Health Wales. But, we have called on the UK Government for many years now to restrict the advertising of junk food to children. I remember writing three times myself to Jeremy Hunt, when he was the health Minister, asking him to make lower salt and sugar content in pre-manufactured food mandatory rather than voluntary.
We attempted to secure powers in the Wales Act 2017 to allow planning authorities in Wales to take account of the number of junk-food outlets in a particular area when granting planning permission for another such outlet, and we were unable to secure those powers for Wales, despite the fact that they are available to the Government in Scotland.
So, there are actions that we are already taking. There are more actions that we would like to take, and in some areas our role is to lobby the UK Government to make sure that they do the things that they are able to do and provide us with the tools that we need so that we can do more to protect our children from the long-term damage that being obese and overweight will cause in their lives.
Yes, I was aware of some of the actions that you've taken in the past regarding lobbying the UK Government, and I think it's a good idea to do that. I thank you for the initiatives in the past. I was aware also that the health Minister in the Welsh Government called publicly in 2016 for the UK Government to impose a blanket ban on junk food advertising on television prior to the 9 p.m. watershed, so I was aware of some of it.
Now, as you say, most of these matters are reserved, but there are some steps that your Welsh Government can do to tackle the obesity epidemic. In Scotland, the Government are currently consulting on a crackdown on junk food that could see restrictions placed on supersized soft drinks, free refills, multibuys and junk food displays at supermarket checkouts. They're also looking to ban advertising unhealthy food at locations used by high proportions of children, such as visitor attractions, and also on public transport. What discussions have you had about that aspect of junk food advertising, and will you be looking to take steps like Scotland to prevent the direct marketing of junk food to children in the areas where you as a Welsh Government can actually legislate?
I thank the Member for those suggestions. We'll be consulting shortly on our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy and learning lessons from elsewhere, and seeing how other administrations are able to use their powers is always part of what we want to do. And we have close links with Scottish colleagues, sharing information with them about initiatives that we are taking, and learning in return from things that they have attempted in Scotland too. Amongst the many things that we are already doing is the creation of a fund jointly between Public Health Wales and sports council for Wales, because as well as preventing those factors that can lead to obesity, it's also important to have a positive agenda of action that we can make attractive to children and young people that promotes healthy lifestyles, and allow them to burn off the calories that otherwise lead to being overweight.
So, in our view, it is that two-pronged strategy. There is more we want to do in the advertising field where we have the powers to do it directly, but, at the same time, we want to make sure that there is a positive repertoire of activities in school and out of school that children can take part in, in order to make sure that we can protect them from the long-term damage that otherwise this will do in their lives.
I think it's a sensible approach and I look forward to further statements from the Government on these issues. Thank you.
3. How many council houses does the First Minister expect will be built in the 2019/20 financial year? OAQ53114
I thank Mike Hedges for the question. The latest plans we have suggest that local authorities expect to build around 600 new council homes in Wales during the next financial year.
Can I thank the First Minister for his response? The First Minister is well aware that the only time post the second world war when sufficient housing was built was when large-scale council housing development took place—dare I say, in places like Ely. How will the Welsh Government help councils increase the number of council houses being built in future years?
First of all, just to absolutely agree with Mike Hedges that we are surrounded by examples of what previous generations succeeded in doing in making sure that there was sufficient housing available—decent housing available, housing built to proper standards to house families and others in our towns and cities. And we have an obligation in our generation to do the same as well. My Saturday surgeries are dominated, as I know those of many Members here are dominated, by people who come through the door with housing problems. It's an urgent public policy issue and it's why I was determined that there would be a Minister with direct housing responsibilities in the Cabinet here in Wales.
There are a series of things we are already doing, of course. My colleague Rebecca Evans set up the affordable housing supply review, and that has a work stream specifically considering what support local authorities need to help them to do more to build council housing here in Wales, and we expect recommendations from that review in April of this year. We have welcomed the lifting of the borrowing cap by the UK Government, which we've called for for some time. That will allow local authorities to borrow within the prudential borrowing rules to allow them to do more. We recognise that some local authorities don't have the capacity directly themselves to do everything they would like to do, and partnerships with housing associations are increasingly important. Being innovative in the way that local authorities go about the business of building more council houses—off-site manufacturing, for example, needs to be a greater part of future supply, and Swansea Council is actively involved in our innovative housing programme and I'm sure will want to be part of the effort that Mike Hedges has pointed to this afternoon.
Again, may I welcome you to your new role? The average number of new homes delivered by housing associations annually in England has risen by a third since 2010, compared to 25 per cent in Wales. The average number of new homes delivered by councils for local authorities in England is up nearly sevenfold compared to a two-thirds fall, up to 2017-18, in Wales. You referred to exit from the housing revenue account—removing the borrowing cap—which does enable local authorities to retain income from tenants and invest that in new council housing. How will you ensure that that is invested, where practicable, in new housing for social rent, either delivered directly by councils themselves or where we can get best value for the resource available in partnership with housing associations, including the 11 where local authorities have already transferred stock to them?
Well, I agree with the Member, Llywydd, that partnerships between local authorities and housing associations are going to be key to accelerating the availability of housing built for rent in all parts of Wales. The challenge is everywhere in the United Kingdom, as I know he will recognise. He will have seen the report from Shelter today calling for major additional investment in housing for public rent in England. I welcome that report. If it were to be adopted it would lead to a significant Barnett consequential for us here in Wales, which we would be able to put to work. As it is, our 20,000 affordable homes target for this Assembly term is amongst the single largest capital investment that we will make as a Government. With the efforts that we are making with the new possibilities that local authorities have, we are determined to do everything we can to make sure that we have a building programme that better meets the needs we know are there for decent, affordable housing in all parts of Wales.
First Minister, it's clear that rates of social housing building have been inadequate now for a number of decades and that's unacceptable. One of the biggest costs, of course, in terms of house building, is land. Will you be prepared to look at how land can be acquired by your Government relatively cheaply so that a land bank can be created, enabling more local authorities to build more council houses?
Well, Llywydd, I'd definitely agree with the Member that land is a fundamental and expensive part of housing provision. It's why, for example, we have established a £14 million stalled sites fund in Wales, particularly valuable, I think, in Valley communities where there is land that needs investment in order to bring it up to a standard where it can be made available for development. There are further plans that local authorities in Valleys communities are putting to us as a Welsh Government to increase the investment we could make there alongside them to increase the supply of land that could then be used for housing and for other beneficial local development. It's why we are pursuing the idea of a vacant land tax, of course, as well, to make sure that where there is land that has all the necessary permissions to be brought into beneficial use, that that land is not artificially held back from being used for those purposes. So, I absolutely agree with what Leanne Wood has said in focusing on the importance of making land available for these purposes, and as a Government we are prepared to look at whatever policy initiatives we might be able to take beyond the ones that I've already outlined, in order to make sure that there is a good supply of land that will allow us to achieve the ambitions that I set out in answering earlier questions.
Can I take this opportunity to congratulate the First Minister on his appointment and I for one look forward to the dry wit you often display in your responses, even if I've been the recipient of some of the more barbed ones. Turning to my question:
4. What are the First Minister's priorities for the Welsh economy? OAQ53136
I thank the Member for his introduction, of course.
The Welsh Government's priorities are captured in our economic action plan: to raise levels of wealth and well-being in Wales, while reducing inequalities in both.
Whilst all of us acknowledge the importance of the public sector in the delivery of the services we have all become accustomed to, almost every in-depth study of the Welsh economy identifies the fact that Wales is far too reliant on job creation and the generation of economic wealth from this sector. Could the First Minister please outline the economic strategies he intends to put in place to mitigate this over-reliance, which are designed to stimulate the private sector? After all, is it not true, First Minister, that we have to create the cake before we can eat it?
Well, Llywydd, while I agree with the Member about the importance of making sure that we have a vibrant and successful private sector in Wales, I myself reject the sort of analysis that aims to pit private and public sectors against one another. They rely on one another. The private sector relies on good public services, just as much as—and I agree with what the Member said—we rely on good private businesses to raise the revenues that we need for public services. So, these are not competitive sectors. They rely properly and productively on one another. I know that the Member will welcome the fact that in the last calendar year, in 2018, there were 259,000 enterprises active here in Wales, the highest number since records of that sort began, and in the last year for which we have figures, 2017, there were over 14,000 business births here in Wales, and that's an increase of 72 per cent in a five-year period. So, I don't think any of us would want to talk down the private sector here in Wales. It's vibrant, it's successful, and as a Government we will want to do everything we can to keep it in that condition.
I also wish you the best in your new role, First Minister.
It is now 18 months since plans for an automotive park at Ebbw Vale was announced. Since that announcement, no foundations have been laid, and their is no sign of the jobs promised. The Ebbw Vale enterprise zone has created only 179 jobs in seven years. Can the First Minister advise when the automotive park will be fully operational and when the Welsh Government will start delivering on its promises to bring valuable jobs to Ebbw Vale, please?
Well, Llywydd, as I explained in an answer to a question from Adam Price, the original investment around the Tech Valleys programme always said that it would be a 10-year programme and that we would have £100 million invested over that 10 years. And, in fact, the amount of investment in this early part of the programme is greater than a pro rata part of that sum would result in. It is inevitable that, in the opening period, the focus has been squarely on investing in infrastructure, addressing the land and property issues to make sure that we are in a position to create those jobs that we know are there to be created for Ebbw Vale in the future. I won't go through again the different planning permissions that have already been secured and the work that's going on there already, but I think it provides the answer to the Member's question and should give confidence to people locally that the plan isn't waiting to happen—it's happening already.
Well, just to move from Ebbw Vale for a minute—[Laughter.]—I wanted to take you further down to Port Talbot in South Wales West. I know that economic priorities and opportunities can sometimes change unexpectedly overnight, and in Port Talbot you will know that we've been blessed—or not so for the owner, Ian—with a new Banksy art piece, the first of its kind here in Wales. I'm in regular contact with the owner, and he's very keen to either keep it in Port Talbot, and definitely in Wales, but I also know that he's had quite significant interest in this piece of art. I met with the national museum yesterday; I know that there are plans from the Welsh Government's point of view for a feasibility study into a national visual arts gallery for Wales that potentially could be placed in Port Talbot. What discussions have there been, and what can you lead on now in relation to protecting this piece of art for Wales and making sure that we support the owner all along the way in making that particular important decision?
I thank Bethan Sayed for the question. Can I begin by expressing some sympathy for the individual involved, who, overnight, has found his house the subject of such widespread interest—fantastic in one way, but undoubtedly, at an individual level, bringing with it some significant impacts on that person's life? I know that there have been discussions between the local authority and the householder about ideas the local authority is able to bring to the table to assist them, and my colleague Dafydd Elis-Thomas will be involved in meetings during this week with the relevant authorities, again, to see if there is anything that we are able to do to assist. The feasibility study on a contemporary art gallery, which was part of the agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, has been received. There are a series of options in there, which we will want to explore jointly with you. I don't recall, from my reading of it some weeks ago, whether it says anything directly about Port Talbot, but there certainly are a series of practical propositions for taking that idea forward, and I look forward to the discussions we can have together to see how we can make progress in that area.
5. What are the Welsh Government's plans to sustain rural communities? OAQ53155
I thank Llyr Gruffydd for the question. Our proposals in 'Brexit and our land' aim to keep farmers on the land, protect our rural communities and ensure they thrive in a post-Brexit world.
Thank you for that response. It's almost five years now since the Wales Rural Observatory was drawn to an end. Now, that, of course, contributed dozens of very substantial reports that contributed to the development of rural policy here in Wales. The relevant Minister at the time, in scrapping the funding, said that the work would continue in less costly ways. Now, I'm not sure if that work has continued. Certainly, there was an interesting article by Professor Peter Midmore in Golwg recently that stated that he wasn't aware of any publication that had the same aim—certainly not of the same quality and substance—as those produced by the Wales Rural Observatory.
Now, we know that there will be substantial change for rural communities, be that through Brexit or other developments. So, may I ask you what informs the development of the Welsh Government's rural policy these days? Isn't it now time to look at creating some sort of observatory that can contribute to this crucial debate?
Llywydd, Llyr Gruffydd is right, of course, in saying that things are going to change in our countryside here in Wales, as they will change across the whole of Wales in the Brexit context. I know that he has seen 'Brexit and our land', and very many people have responded to that policy. The Minister Lesley Griffiths at this point is reviewing all the representations made and she will publish a report on people's comments on 'Brexit and our land' in the spring.
For the first time this afternoon, Llywydd, I will have to say that I am not totally au fait with the rural observatory and what the Member had said about having work in the same sphere but at less expense—what the Minister at the time actually said—but I can find out what has happened in the meantime and I'm willing to write to the Member with further details.
I'm not au fait with the rural observatory, either, First Minister, you'll be pleased to know, so I'll ask you about a different aspect. I'm sure you'd agree with me that sustainable rural communities require a sustainable transport infrastructure. I often joke that you could have hopped on a train in my village of Raglan back in 1955 and travelled to Cardiff to work or to shop. Sixty years on, it's a much more complicated situation, even though we now have such innovative concepts as the Cardiff city region. Can you update us, now that you're in post—and congratulations on that—on your Government's plans to develop the south Wales metro? Where do we go from here, and how do we make sure that rural communities and outlying towns, such as Monmouth in my constituency, are well and truly on that metro map so that all areas of south-east Wales are able to benefit from the development of the metro?
Llywydd, thanks to Nick Ramsay for what he said and for the important points that he has made. He will be glad to know that our plans for the south Wales metro are well on track, that the funding for it that we have secured through the European Union will be used in full, that the money that is coming through the UK Government as part of the Cardiff capital deal will also be part of that broader funding package, together with significant funding from the Welsh Government itself, and we are confident that we will be able to press ahead to the timetable and to the extent that we have already announced, as far as the metro is concerned.
I know that he will recognise as well that public transport provision for communities of the sort that he has identified and represents relies on bus travel as well as on train travel. And there is significant work going on in the department headed by Ken Skates to look at the way in which we can make better use of bus services, taxi services, a more imaginative, sometimes, approach to the way in which those services can be procured, so that, alongside the rail developments of the metro, we will have that wider span of public transport possibilities connecting towns and villages of Wales so that people can live, work and thrive in those communities, confident in knowing that connectivity to other parts of Wales is reliable and secure.
6. What powers does the Welsh Government have to protect Cardiff's cultural heritage from developers? OAQ53141
I thank the Member for the question. Special protection for our cultural heritage is provided in legislation, recently strengthened by the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and supplemented by guidance. Local planning authorities have primary responsibility for the protection of the finite, non-renewable and shared resource that is the historic environment of Cardiff and of Wales.
First Minister, you'll be aware that much of the city centre of Cardiff has already fallen to the mammon of redevelopment, and we currently face a threat to a very fine Victorian crescent at Guildford Crescent, which is owned by the Rapport family. Cardiff council is endeavouring to preserve this special area of architectural interest, and they will also need to apply to get the building listed. But, in the meantime, the developer wishes to demolish the building and has already given notice to quit to the three businesses that have been thriving in the crescent.
In line with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, what can we do in the National Assembly, and in the Welsh Government, to protect our cultural heritage from the redevelopment of areas so that all city centres look exactly the same, which means that people simply won't want to come here? So, on this specific issue, is there anything that the Welsh Government can do to support Cardiff council's rescue attempts?
I thank the Member for that question. Of course, I'm very familiar with the set of circumstances that she outlines and I can confirm to her that officials in Cadw have indeed already been asked to consider the merits of those buildings to be listed and that they are acutely aware of the urgency in their consideration of that request. As far as the city council is concerned, I understand that the consultation that they have carried out on the proposed designation of Guildford Crescent as a conservation area has now been completed and that a decision can now be made by the council's cabinet. If the council decide to proceed with that designation, then it will come into effect from the date of the cabinet's resolution, and, if that happens, then the proposal to demolish will have to acquire an application for conservation area consent.
7. What plans does the First Minister have to promote free public access to drinking water over the next 12 months? OAQ53147
I thank Vikki Howells for that. Over the next 12 months, we will continue to roll out the refill scheme that we have across Wales. The scheme encourages businesses and organisations to offer free water refilling facilities to members of the public. There are already 727 refill stations across Wales, including outlets in the Cynon Valley.
Thank you, First Minister. Just before Christmas, I was fortunate enough to meet with the pupils of Pengeulan Primary School, who expressed their grave concerns to me about plastic pollution. They have a very laudable ambition to make their town of Mountain Ash plastic free and have already done lots of work and research on this. Bearing in mind your manifesto commitment to provide a network of drinking fountains across Wales, that could actually go quite some way to helping them with their ambition, so my request is: would you consider making Mountain Ash one of the very first towns to benefit from that pledge?
I thank Vikki Howells for that supplementary question and congratulate, of course, the pupils at Pengeulan Primary School on their interest in this really important area. Llywydd, if one in 10 people in Britain refilled just once a week, some 340 million single-use plastic bottles would be saved from going into landfill, going a long way to help with the ambition that the pupils of that school have undertaken.
Of course, as we work on the network of drinking fountains, we will certainly bear Mountain Ash in mind. In the meantime, the refill scheme has people working for it who are able to go into schools to explain to pupils there the way that that scheme works, to explain to them its availability locally and to encourage them further in their ambitions for a plastic-free future for Wales, and I'm very happy to help arrange for pupils of Pengeulan Primary School to meet with one of the scheme co-ordinators.
8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to help people out of homelessness? OAQ53160
I thank Rhianon Passmore for the question. Our commitment to preventing and tackling homelessness is supported by significant new funding of £30 million. Cross-Government actions have been announced to tackle youth homelessness, as we invest in housing first projects and support a range of innovative approaches to addressing this complex problem.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. First Minister, I also wish to offer you the best wishes from my constituents in Islwyn for your endeavours as First Minister on behalf of the Welsh people.
First Minister, at least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, according to research by the housing charity, Shelter. The estimate suggests that, nationally, one in 200 people are homeless. First Minister, the Welsh Government announced just before Christmas an innovative scheme that helps people who are homeless to move off the streets into housing and offers them long-term support to live independently, and this has received more than £700,000 of Welsh Government funding. How will Welsh Government action help take people out of homelessness in Islwyn, and how does this action compare to the austerity actions of the UK Tory Government that even the United Nations say were designed to hurt the poor?
Llywydd, the rise in visible street homelessness is surely one of the most shocking and distressing phenomenons of our time and is, in the way that the Member suggests, directly connected to the impact of austerity, both in the lives of individuals and families, but also in the public services that seek to support them. Of course we are pleased to be part of those innovative solutions and to have provided money directly to local authorities over this winter to help with rough-sleeping initiatives. The housing first initiative to which I think the Member has referred has been developed in Conwy and Denbigh, is active in Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taf, and is now being adopted in Cardiff as well. The approach to rough-sleeping and street homelessness is complex. It's more than accommodation, we know. It involves more than one agency in a successful response. It requires more than one pathway, because people's needs are very different between being a young person or someone who has a dependency on drugs or alcohol, and we know that there is more than one solution that can be brought about to meet that problem. The innovative work that is being done by the voluntary sector, by the housing association sector and by local authorities in Wales I think gives us some heart that, in those really difficult and distressing circumstances, there is more that we can and want to do here in Wales.
The next item is the business statement and announcement and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement—Rebecca Evans.
There are two changes to this week's business. The First Minister will make a statement shortly on an update to the EU transition, and the statement on apprenticeships: investing in skills for the future has been postponed. Draft business for the first three weeks of the new term is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Congratulations on your new job, Minister. May I ask for a statement from the Welsh Government on the level of council tax increases in Wales? Although I'm advised that there is no official cap on what councils can raise taxes by, there is an informal limit of 5 per cent set. Newport City Council intend to raise council tax in the city by 6.95 per cent—nearly 7 per cent—increasing the burden on already hard-pressed local residents of this great city. Could we have a statement on whether Newport City Council requires Welsh Government permission to raise council tax above this limit, or is this 5 per cent cap just another example of words and not action by your Government?
Thank you very much for raising this issue. However, the setting of council tax rates and levels is very much an issue for each local authority to decide independently of Welsh Government interference.
May I also congratulate the Trefnydd on her promotion to this new role? I'd like to raise two issues. The Deputy Minister for culture will be aware that there's been a change of policy from PPL, which distributes funding for the use of recordings to individual companies and musicians. The policy change happened without any warning or any consultation or any study of the impact of the change on smaller companies, particularly individuals and companies who specialise in recording materials through the medium of Welsh. The changes to payments are reliant on the number of listeners, which means that Welsh language music received smaller payments. This is a cause for concern and raises questions about the future of the industry here in Wales.
There was a similar change by the PRS back in 2008. Some of us recall that particular battle, but that change was also challenged by the barrister Gwion Lewis, and the principle argued there was that the value of a piece of music is not reliant on the number who listen to that music. Indeed, the value of a piece of Welsh language music to a station like Radio Cymru is higher because that is the main characteristic and specialty of the station. Given this, I would be grateful if the Deputy Minister would be willing to bring a statement before the Assembly stating clearly what the Welsh Government is doing on this issue, to outline any discussions that the Government has had with the BBC and others, and how the Government is going to support recording companies in Wales in the future.
And the second part is about ambulance services. On 6 November, dealing with the review of amber category ambulance calls, the Minister for health outlined that he'd committed £140,000 towards a falls response in conjunction with St John's Ambulance. He acknowledged that the median response time for amber calls had increased since 2016, clearly aware that some people are having to suffer horrendous waits that are not acceptable. Now, I had a constituency situation on Boxing Day when a 90-year-old constituent of mine fell in the Swansea area and had to wait over five-and-a-half hours for an ambulance. Now, clearly, this terrible example shows that, despite the best efforts of staff on the ground, the system is still not able to perform to a standard that we would expect for our loved ones.
So, during his statement in November, the Minister stated that he would be happy to provide an update on the impact of the £140,000 investment that he announced. I would respectfully ask that the Minister does that as a matter of urgency and brings forward a statement that outlines clearly how the Welsh Government is going to tackle the lengthy waits suffered by fallers across Wales. Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you very much for raising both of these issues. With regard to the first, I will ask the Deputy Minister to write to you on the issue of the policy change, and to outline the kind of discussions that he had with both the BBC and other interested parties and the considerations behind that policy change.
And on the issue of the ambulance response times, I'll certainly liaise with the health Minister to ensure that that update is forthcoming.
I want to again ask for a Government statement on support for Virgin Media staff being made redundant in Swansea. On 4 December, your predecessor said
'There are two phases planned for next year as well. Our placement support team has taken on responsibility for providing staff with onsite access to key partners of the taskforce, including Careers Wales, the Department for Work and Pensions and local employers. The Welsh contact centre forum is a key partner in our taskforce and has arranged job fairs in October at the Virgin Media site and brought recruiting employers to the site as well as providing careers advice for those staff seeking alternative employment. It's too early for me to provide specific details of those who have been successful in securing alternative employment as a result of the job fairs, but we are holding further job fairs to coincide with the additional tranches of staff leaving the company next year. So, our involvement continues in order to make sure that all of the staff who are affected by this have the best possible outcome.'
I'm really asking for an update now on what has actually happened about people getting into employment, and about further actions that are taking place.
Thank you very much for your question, and for the way in which you have consistently brought this issue to the Government's attention, and to the floor of this Assembly. And I declare an interest as well, in the sense that I represent many constituents who are affected by the decision of Virgin in Swansea, as is my colleague Julie James. The first tranche of those staff did leave in November, and there will be a further two phases planned for this year. Virgin Media's out-placement support team has taken on responsibility for providing staff with on-site access to key partners of our Welsh Government's taskforce, including Careers Wales, the DWP and local employers. The jobs fair in October took place on the Virgin Media site, and there are further jobs fairs planned to coincide with the additional tranches of staff who will be leaving. So, those further jobs fairs will be timed in relation to those further tranches, as I say, of people who will be leaving the company.
Leader of the house—no, it's not leader of the house anymore, is it? It's organiser—organiser. Can the organiser please arrange for a statement to come forward from the planning Minister in relation to a Welsh Government decision that was made on the Hendy windfarm? I've raised this several times with her predecessor, but there are two issues that do need clarifying here. One: who is responsible for making sure that the conditions attached to the permission are undertaken by the developer before development starts? Is it the Welsh Government, or is it the local authority, given that the Welsh Government made the decision to approve it? And, two, I had assumed that the developer would have to be compliant with the conditions before any work was undertaken on the site, because, as I understand it, the developer is trying to get work undertaken so that they can get the turbines erected, to meet the renewable heat incentive obligation that Ofgem set. If they are not compliant with the conditions, surely that is a breach of the RHI scheme. And I do think it is incumbent on the Welsh Government to clarify exactly what the discharging of conditions will amount to, when, obviously, these will be passed back to the local authority.
Thank you very much for that question and to my two colleagues giving me a crash course in planning at that moment. I'm advised that this is the responsibility of Powys council, and that not all of the applications are subject to those pre-application procedures that you described. However, I think it's best if I ask my colleagues to write to you with some clarity on that.
I met today with representatives of the Kurdish community in south Wales. And I welcome the fact that we now have a dedicated Minister for international affairs here in the National Assembly. So, I would like to ask for a debate, to ask for her to outline what her priorities are in relation to international affairs, and also to request that we have the plight of the Kurdish people as part of one of those key priorities. We know that there are those who are politicians in Turkey who have been imprisoned for many years, and some of whom we haven't heard from for two years now because of the lack of progress in discussions with the Turkish authorities. So, I would urge the Welsh Government for a debate on this issue. We have thousands of Kurdish people living in Wales, and they want to seek answers and they want to have leadership from the Welsh Government in this regard.
My second request would be for a statement on what the Welsh Government has done to support the plight of the asylum seeker Otis Bolamu, who is from the Congo originally. We know that he was threatened with deportation on Christmas Day, and we know that politicians from all parties were involved in trying to stop this from happening. And while we saw some light at the end of the tunnel from the UK Government, in stopping that imminent deportation, he is still in a centre, away from Swansea, which he now classes as his home. So, I would want to understand what the Welsh Government are doing, and how we can stop this happening, because he is an active volunteer, as I'm sure you will know, at the Swansea Oxfam bookstore, and we want him to return to the city where he now lives.
Thank you very much for those questions. The Minister with responsibility for international relations and the Welsh language has questions in the Chamber on 30 January. I think that will be an opportunity for Members to question her about the breadth of her portfolio. I do think it's important to recognise that the portfolio covers those items to which the Welsh Government has devolved responsibility, so there will be areas of international relations that are very much reserved to Westminster. However, this post is extremely important in demonstrating that Wales is very much an outward-looking nation, very keen to engage on a global scale and on that global stage, which is a very welcome development.
On the matter of Otis, who is, as you say, a resident from Swansea who was taken from his bed at four o'clock in the morning just before Christmas and threatened with deportation on Christmas Day, I was in contact with the First Minister, expressing my concerns as a constituency Member on Christmas Eve, and I know that many Members of the Assembly have been making representations very strongly to the Home Office on a number of issues. The fact that Otis is very much a valued member of the community in Swansea—he's a volunteer, he's very active in his local church, he has a huge community of people supporting him.
But, actually, the most sinister thing about this case is the fact that the Home Office sought to deport Otis on Christmas Day when yourself and other Assembly Members, including myself, were finding it impossible to get any answer from the Home Office, because, obviously, it was closed over the Christmas period. And that timing was not accidental, it was purely deliberate on their part in order to frustrate our attempts to make representations on his behalf and on behalf of our constituents as well. So, I think the Home Office has some serious questions questions to answer about the way in which it operates in these situations.
As you say, Otis wasn't deported on Christmas Day, but he's still fighting his case and receiving legal representation. I know that there are many people in Swansea who are very keen to have him back.
Whilst wishing everybody a very happy new 2019, and welcoming my colleague to her new role, could I ask for a debate on the social and economic forecast for Wales for 2019, in light of the Bevan Foundation analysis that was published on New Year's Day? They were working very hard indeed. It does point to the dampening effect of the uncertainty of Brexit, of course, but regardless of that, and putting aside the potential disaster that it flags of a 'no deal' Brexit for a moment, it does highlight that, where there is economic growth in the year ahead, it will not always reach those parts of Wales where it is most needed, where there is a distance from vibrant labour markets, where transport infrastructure is lacking, or where skills and job readiness are less developed. There is a welcome forecast for a modest increase in wages, but also a forecast that these gains will too quickly be offset by increases in the cost of living, from food and train fares to rent and energy bills. It predicts that, for people at the bottom of the income spectrum, 2019 looks even tougher with frozen benefit rates struggling to cover essentials so poverty could deepen.
Now, we need, as a Welsh Government and a National Assembly, to prove these and other Bevan Foundation predictions wrong so that youth unemployment in the Valleys is reduced dramatically, everything within our power is done to tackle poverty for children and families and in-work poverty, and the only things being made redundant are food banks, not people. Now, we have an opportunity, because the First Minister's manifesto for leadership put forward ambitious plans on the economy, digitalisation, the foundational economy, social partnership, housing, transport and travel, equality, child poverty and more. This is a good basis for thwarting the 2019 predictions of the Bevan Foundation, but it also allows for a more fundamental readjustment of the Welsh social and economic model. So, an early debate would be welcome on how this Government, despite the challenges of Brexit and the long scorpion tail of austerity, raises up all of Wales, delivering prosperity and social and economic justice for the many, not just the few.
Thank you very much for raising that issue and drawing our attention to the Bevan Foundation report, which really does place some significant importance on building a resilient and inclusive economy, which is something that we certainly would support and something that we're taking forward obviously through our economic action plan, which is injecting some really fresh thinking into the way in which we do business in that part of Government, through the promotion and encouragement and delivery of responsible practices—economic contracts, for example. You referred to economic forecasting, which always will carry a large margin of error, but what we can obviously say already, with some certainty, is that Brexit has already extracted a significant economic cost from Wales and across the rest of the UK, with gross domestic product somewhere between 2 per cent and 2.5 per cent lower than would have been the case otherwise. Multiple credible studies suggest the Brexit penalty will increase further under any Brexit scenario over the next years, and the penalty will be proportionate to the degree of access that we retain to the customs union and single market. So, against that background of relatively poorer economic prospects, it is inevitable that public finances will come under further strain, limiting the resources available to reduce poverty and limiting the resources that we're able to inject into our core public services as well. So, I know these are all issues that Members will be keen to raise with the economy Minister when he takes questions next week.
Can I also welcome you, Trefnydd, to your new role? I would like to ask you to liaise with the Minister for Education to consider bringing forward a statement about the grave situation that's ongoing in Swansea University at present. In doing so, I need to declare an interest as a very recent employee of the university. Members will have noted from the previous coverage, of course, and today's article—and it is important in this context to say—that the university management themselves chose to put this matter into the public domain before the article in the Western Mail today. Serious concerns have been raised with me by members of staff, and I'm very grateful to the Minister for Education, who was kind enough to meet me privately before Christmas to share those concerns from the members of staff with her. Now, many Members will, I think, have been very concerned to read the article in the Western Mail today and see the grave impact on Professor Richard Davies as an individual—notwithstanding the rights and wrongs of the issue, into which we cannot go—but I know, and I'm sure the Trefnydd does herself, that Professor Davies is known to many of us as a person of fundamental honour and decency. He's an outstanding public servant. He's transformed the university through his exemplary leadership into the world-leading university that it is now, and it has, of course, international importance to Wales and particular importance to the west of Wales.
I don't think it's enough now to say that this is an internal matter for the university alone. It is now a matter of public debate, and the implications are too far reaching, for the reputation of the university itself, for the individuals affected and for the sector. I'd like to ask if it's possible for the Minister—. I realise these issues are complicated because universities are independent organisations, but I'd like to request that the Minister make a statement as to how she will ensure that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales intervenes in this crisis to protect the reputation of the university and to ensure justice for all the individuals involved. I would submit that an independent inquiry into the governance of the university as a whole and the handling of these particular issues is urgently needed.
Thank you very much. My understanding is that there's an ongoing investigation at the moment, which should be allowed to come to its conclusion before, I think, Welsh Government would have anything further to say on that.
Leader of the house, I'd like to ask for a statement from the Welsh Government on the oil pollution incident that happened in the port of Milford Haven waterway between 2 January and 3 January. Understandably, members of the public are extremely worried about the spillage and any potential impact that it might have on the environment, the wildlife and local businesses. It is an area of special scientific interest and internationally renowned for puffins, razorbills, Manx shearwaters and grey seals. I have contacted Valero every day since Friday, and I've expressed my concerns and asked for an update, and they've been very forthcoming in those updates, assuring me that the spillage is contained—that booms are in place to help prevent potential further spread. But the reality is this: the weather is calm and has been calm at the moment. The oil spill is actually being driven down into the sea bed. Those things are going to change, and they will change very quickly and probably very soon, and we will be seeing this oil landing—there is evidence already—on the beaches in the locality. What I'm really keen to hear is that the Welsh Government is in contact with Valero and the other agencies—NRW and Pembrokeshire County Council, as well as the RSPB, and I'm a member; I'll declare an interest—in knowing what is happening in the ground and, if need be, to take immediate and fast action to remedy any wider environmental damage that can happen, and also whether the Welsh Government is in contact with Valero to know exactly what is being done to repair the damaged pipe that is and has been leaking this oil into the environment.
I thank Joyce Watson for drawing our attention to this very important and serious matter. The scale of the pollution is currently still under evaluation. We understand that very little oil has made landfall yet. As Joyce Watson said, we've been fortunate in terms of the weather, and the slick is no longer visible, suggesting that the oil has sunk. Now, that in itself, however, is a concern, because there are some really sensitive sea-bed habitats at this location, so some further evaluation will certainly be needed there.
But there is an oil pollution contingency plan in place. The lead authority for the implementation of that plan and of dealing with the oil spill coming in contact with the waters covered by the plan is the Milford Haven port authority. But the plan does bring together a multi-agency response team that includes the harbourmaster, Natural Resources Wales, Pembrokeshire County Council, Milford Haven coastguard and the Maritime Coastguard Agency duty counter-pollution officer. They met this morning and I know that the Minister with responsibility for the environment will be providing a written statement following that meeting, and I can assure Joyce Watson that Welsh Ministers and Welsh Government officials are receiving regular updates and assurances from NRW, and officials are certainly keeping Ministers fully informed with regular briefings.
During recess, we had the unbelievable case of 32 refugees from Libya marooned at sea since they were rescued in the Mediterranean on 22 December. They are marooned because no European port would allow them to dock. Robin Jenkins, who is originally from the Vale of Glamorgan, was a member of crew on the Sea-Watch that carried out the rescue when the small rubber boat began leaking fuel.
I answered Robin's call for help on social media and I wrote two letters to the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, calling for compassion and for some kind of intervention. As yet, I've only had one reply and, frankly, that wasn't worth the paper that it was written on. Meanwhile, Robin Jenkins has today written on Facebook that the Sea-Watch boat is still stuck out at sea and enduring force 9 to 10 winds, which are too strong even for RNLI boats to be launched into.
Apart from wanting to publicise the petition calling for positive action with regard to this case—and I'm aware, of course, that immigration is not devolved—I'd like to know the extent to which the Welsh Government can make representations to Westminster on these matters. Will you be prepared to work with charities that assist refugees to improve the situation for the 32 people stuck on this Sea-Watch boat? Can you please send out a strong message from this Senedd today deploring the inhumane treatment of refugees fleeing danger that now seems to be the norm? The Home Office have been woeful on this. We can take a different and much more compassionate stand here in Wales, so, will you, please?
Thank you very much for raising this. I followed very closely the social media that you were putting out about this, to draw people's attention to a story that otherwise, I think, nobody would have known about were it not for the constituent and the person from Wales who was involved getting in touch and drawing Wales's attention to this. We've been following it very closely. The first priority always has to be to safeguard human lives, and it's essential that the international community does come and work together to find both short-term solutions to this particular issue but also long-term solutions to the issues facing migrants and refugees. Migration policy, as you say is a matter for the UK Government, but the Welsh Government firmly believes that the UK Government, alongside other countries, should be receptive and supportive to people who are fleeing war and persecution so that they can make a home and rebuild their lives. We would welcome them to do so here in Wales. We have a nation of sanctuary refugee and asylum seeker plan, and that's due for publication on the twenty-second of this month, when the Deputy Minister will be making a statement and you'll have the opportunity to question her further on how Wales can be a true nation of sanctuary.
I'd like to welcome the Minister to her post and ask for two statements, please. Firstly, could we have a statement on reducing drug use in Welsh prisons? We know that no prison in Britain is drug free and that this situation is getting worse. Drug use in prison fuels violence, suicide, self-harm and has a serious detrimental impact on mental health. This undermines rehabilitation as often offenders are stuck in a cycle of offending fuelled by drug addiction. Whilst I understand this is primarily a role for UK Government, obviously when people leave prison they are released back into the community and use local services. A statement on how NHS Wales and other support services are working with prison authorities on reducing drug use with offenders would be valuable.
Secondly, could we have a statement on how sporting events, clubs and individuals raise the profile of Welsh towns and cities? Newport County AFC's fantastic result against Premier League club Leicester City on Sunday was a sell-out. It was broadcast live on BBC and the result went worldwide. Our FA Cup draw against Middlesbrough will not only pit those two teams against each other but it'll also be a battle of the transporter bridges, and our fantastic manager Mike Flynn is looking forward to going head to head with the Newportonian Tony Pulis. Hopefully, it'll be another great day for the city, the fans and the club. I'd be grateful for an update on how Welsh Government can use sporting successes like these to promote Wales and all that our towns and cities have to offer.
I thank the Member very much for raising two very different but two very important issues. Tackling drug misuse is clearly a complex issue that the Welsh Government has been working very hard to address over a number of years, particularly through our substance misuse strategy 2008-18 and the associated delivery plans there. We're undertaking some significant work with our partners in this area to reduce the harms associated with substance misuse. The substance misuse services in prisons are delivered in line with clinical guidance and prison health teams work in partnership with community services—so, for instance with the Dyfodol programme, to ensure that support is provided throughout the criminal justice system and people's journey through that. Our take-home naloxone programme is provided to prisons at the point of release, and that's really important in terms of preventing harm when people do return to the community and we know it's helped target and reduce drug-related deaths within the community. There's a current prescribing pilot in HMP Swansea and that will inform future improvements to substance misuse services in prison.
And, of course, I'm absolutely delighted to wish Newport County the best in their upcoming game, and I'm sure that the Deputy Minister will be keen also to show his support.
Like others, I'd like to welcome my colleague to her new role. Can I ask for a statement on the delivery of the south Wales metro system? We have seen and heard timetables for the delivery of new services on many of the Valleys lines serving the Heads of the Valleys area, but we are still waiting in Ebbw Vale to hear about new services on the Ebbw Vale line. We understand that there will be an additional service in 2021, but we are looking towards four services an hour on the same basis as other Valleys lines and as other Heads of the Valleys areas. So, I hope we'll be able to have a statement on that. At the same time, I would like to have a statement on the new development of railway stations. We had the statement from the economy Secretary, I think about 18 months ago, on new stations serving different parts of the metro system. I'd be interested in understanding when that process will be continuing to be developed and when we'll be able to make applications for additional stations to serve all parts of the Valleys. The Trefnydd will be aware that the Ebbw Fach valley in my constituency is currently not served by the metro system, and the Abertillery station proposal was not supported by the Government. We would be very anxious to be able to continue to support a station in Abertillery to ensure that all of the Valleys are served by the metro system.
Thank you very much for raising this. The economy Minister has indicated he'd be very happy to provide you with a briefing to answer some of the questions that you've raised.
Welcome to your new position, Trefnydd—I hope I got that right. Could we have an update from the Welsh Government—either the Minister for Economy and Transport or his deputy—on the provision of electric charging points for cars in Wales and the electric charging infrastructure in general? We know there have been some issues with that over the last year. In my constituency over Christmas there were some particular issues when the charging points at the Magor services on the M4 failed, which meant that people coming back from Christmas breaks were left perilously short of electricity as they got back to their homes in my area.
But there is an overall problem with the lack of charging infrastructure, which I know the Minister for the economy has been trying to address. Could we have an update on what progress is being made with that, so that we can make sure that as people acquire more electric vehicles across Wales—this problem will only develop—that they can be confident that they can use those vehicles and not have the fear of being stranded?
Thank you very much for that. The Minister did issue a statement on precisely this subject towards the end of last year, but he will certainly be pleased to provide a further update in due course.
The next item is a statement by the First Minister: an update on EU transition. I call on the First Minister to make the statement. Mark Drakeford.
Llywydd, thank you very much. At the beginning of 2019, it's obvious that an unmistakable sense of crisis surrounds Brexit. It's the UK Government that's responsible for this. Over the last two and half years, it has prioritised a vain attempt to unite the Conservative Party rather than concentrating on the future of the country.
The UK Government has made no attempt to build a cross-party consensus for its strategy and neither has it made any serious attempt to agree an approach to the negotiations with the devolved administrations. Through its own ineptitude, it has failed to secure an agreement capable of attracting sufficient support to secure a parliamentary majority. As a result, only weeks away from leaving the European Union, the prospect of leaving without a deal is hardening, and this would be catastrophic for Wales and the whole of the United Kingdom.
It is incredible that we are in this position, and it's completely unnecessary. Almost exactly two years ago the Welsh Government, jointly with Plaid Cymru, published a White Paper, 'Securing Wales' Future'. It contained a basis for a sane and rational approach to European Union withdrawal that would protect the vital interests of Wales and the United Kingdom more widely. Last month, by a sizeable majority, the National Assembly reaffirmed this approach.
Llywydd, let me repeat our priorities. First and foremost, we want a Brexit that protects jobs here in Wales. We cannot connive with any outcome that results in tariffs or other barriers that will make it harder for Welsh businesses to export, encourage inflation by increasing the costs of imports and, most seriously of all, disrupt the integrated pan-European supply chains that so many of our employers rely on to thrive and, in some cases, survive. This necessitates continued single market participation alongside participation in a customs union, which would not only preserve our integration with the European market, but would also give us access to more than 60 countries that have free trade agreements with the European Union. It is the height of folly to turn our backs on extensive existing free trade arrangements around the globe.
Beyond that, Llywydd, we want an approach to migration that is fair to those EU citizens who have chosen or, as we hope in future, will choose to make their lives here in Wales, and fair to those who fear that the risk of exploitation is increased by the lack of rigour with which this UK Government has enforced workers' rights. By contrast, the hardline and hostile approach of this UK Government to migration jeopardises not only our capacity to negotiate the right long-term relationship with the EU, but also the viability of the NHS and other public services, as well as some of our key economic sectors—agriculture and food production, hospitality, and our higher education sector—and, I might add, will deprive Welsh citizens—perhaps above all, our young people—of the opportunity to live and work in 27 other member states.
Llywydd, this Government and I believe a solid majority in this Assembly want to preserve the social, environmental and labour market rights that have been patiently built up over many years of EU membership, and to keep pace with future developments that benefit the citizens of our continent. Moreover, I believe that a deal of the sort I have just described could also have been more acceptable to our EU partners.
Michel Barnier has said that a United Kingdom outside the European Union but within a customs union and accepting single market regulation across the economy is a form of Brexit that the EU could support. Such a solution would ensure that the so-called Northern Ireland backstop would never be needed, and would in any case avoid the great majority of the real problems associated with Mrs May's current proposals.
It is symptomatic of the failures of the UK Government and of the Prime Minister that her deal surrenders political influence over our future while simultaneously failing to gain any guarantees that the long-term relationship with the European Union will be one that defends our economic future. By pretending that we could both bring back control over our laws, our borders and our finances, and at the same time maintain the best economic relations with the European Union, the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back provides the assurance of neither. And that is why her deal cannot be accepted as it stands.
In the short term, we now face the prospect of chaos and privation if we leave the European Union without a deal in barely 10 weeks' time. This prospect is increasingly and alarmingly real, and we are doing whatever we are able to prepare for it, while remaining clear that there is no deal, no plan, however good, that can simply wipe away the harm that a crash-out Brexit will create. As Members know, we are working hard with the National Assembly to facilitate the passage of legislation necessary to prepare for Brexit. This represents a heavy burden of unscheduled work for the Welsh Government and for the Assembly itself, and we are reprioritising other Government business to put the legislation we need in place before the end of March.
Now, Llywydd, many of the levers for a 'no deal' Brexit are in the hands of the UK Government. It is they, and not Welsh public bodies, who will set tariffs and regulate the flow of goods across borders—in Holyhead, Fishguard and elsewhere. We are working at a practical level as closely as we can with the UK Government to share information and to be as fully prepared as possible. This has not been without its frustrations. Since the referendum we have found the UK Government too opaque, too slow and sometimes downright secretive. We have been clear that we are willing to work as closely as possible on an inter-governmental basis to prepare even for an eventuality that we believe should be taken off the table. But now is the time for real openness and full co-operation.
Many businesses here in Wales, particularly those who import and export, have been making contingency plans for some time. For those who haven't, now is the time to start doing so, and our Brexit portal is the starting point for businesses who need to find out more. Likewise, every public body in Wales—local authorities, universities, health authorities and others—should by now be well engaged with their own contingency preparations for a 'no deal' Brexit. There will be more that we will have to say on all of this as a Government over the next few weeks.
Llywydd, even at this late stage I hope that the Prime Minister succeeds in securing a better deal, one which aligns more closely with our ambitions as set out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. If the UK Government cannot do its job it should ask the European Union for an extension of the article 50 Brexit date of 29 March and then provide the whole of the United Kingdom with the opportunity to provide a clear mandate for the way forward, through a general election or a public vote. That is the position agreed by this Assembly before Christmas. It remains the best recipe for both Wales and the United Kingdom.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon but you won't be surprised that I remain disappointed with the stance from the Welsh Labour Government on this issue. Your predecessor confirmed in a statement he made on 20 November last year that relatively little needed to change for the Welsh Government to support the UK Government's current deal with the EU. So, your view seemed very removed from that particular position in such a short space of time. Can you therefore tell us what has changed in that time?
Now, I note you accuse the UK Government of putting the interests of the Conservative Party before the interests of the UK. Nothing could be further from the truth, given—[Interruption.] Llywydd, I can hear other Members from other political parties shouting. I gave them the courtesy of listening to the First Minister and I'd expect the same courtesy back.
Now, nothing could be further from the truth, given that the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that the deal negotiated by her Government is in the interests of the whole of the UK, which will protect jobs and offer stability in the future, which you say in your statement you also want to achieve. However, it seems to me that the Labour Party and your Government can't make up its mind as to whether the UK should leave the EU or not. Eight of your own backbenchers and four members of your Government have called for a second referendum. So, for clarity this afternoon, can you tell us if your Government is now in favour of a second referendum and whether this is now official Welsh Government policy?
And it is a bit rich of you to accuse the UK Government of failing to agree an approach to the negotiations with the devolved administrations when your predecessor didn't extend an invitation to me to meet to discuss the impact of the withdrawal agreement on Wales in my capacity as an opposition leader in this place. So, I won't take any lessons from your party with your claims for the lack of meaningful engagement and consultation. Surely, it would have been far better for all party leaders to have met and discussed the proposals to discuss the impact that they would have on Wales and on the operation of this Assembly. Indeed, I know that the Prime Minister has extended that courtesy of having discussions regarding Brexit with many opposition parties, including the leader of Plaid Cymru.
Now, as you would expect, I've met a number of small and large-scale businesses recently and the message is abundantly clear: they want a deal. They say that a 'no deal' will have a grossly negative impact on business and the impact would be far-reaching and damaging. If the vote is carried next week in Parliament—and I sincerely hope it is—then businesses say they can plan the next stages. The time-limited implementation period would provide a bridge to the future relationship, with permission to allow businesses to continue trading as now until the end of next year. I'm sure this is something the First Minister would welcome. Without it, there is a huge amount of uncertainty and the implications could be very severe. We need to heed their stern and real warnings.
The Confederation of British Industry have made their views clear. They've said, and I quote:
'This deal is a compromise, including for business, but it offers that essential transitional period as a step back from the cliff-edge.'
Don't just listen to me and the CBI; listen to Andy Palmer, the chief executive of Aston Martin, who has put his thoughts on record as well. He has said that the Brexit deal in front of us is good enough. The Welsh Government are obviously not listening to the clear and consistent views of the business community, which has spoken with real clarity on this issue. So, since your appointment, what discussions have you had with business leaders in Wales, as we need to know that their view will be accurately reflected when your Ministers continue to discuss this issue with your Westminster counterparts?
Now, the Welsh Government has been clear in saying that the last thing they want to see is a hard border between Wales and Ireland, and I totally agree with that position. Your predecessor talked about massive ramifications, particularly on the roads structure leading to our ports. Now, the case for dualling the A40 in my constituency, for example, has been made since the 1950s, and you will know that I've continually asked Government Ministers in this Chamber about commitments to dualling this road. However, this remains a single carriageway, and I mention this because this is just an example of where the Welsh Government has responsibility. So, it's even more important that the Welsh Government tells us what plans it has to improve the roads structure to our main ports.
Now, I note in your statement today that you also referred to the flow of goods across borders in Holyhead, Fishguard and elsewhere, and I understand that you've been working very closely with the UK Government on the effect of Brexit particularly on Holyhead port. I'd be grateful if you'd give us a further update on the progress of that work.
With that, Llywydd, can I thank the First Minister for his statement today? But it is incredibly easy for the Welsh Government to apportion blame and criticism to the UK Government. I would remind the Welsh Government that they also need to look at their own competencies, and I would encourage you and your Ministers to work constructively with the UK Government over the coming weeks.
I thank Paul Davies for those questions, Llywydd. I give him an assurance that all Welsh Ministers seek to work constructively with other partners across the United Kingdom and will be doing so very actively during this month as we step up our involvement in Brexit preparations. On Monday, my colleague Lesley Griffiths will be in London again for quadrilateral discussions on the rural economy and on the environment. Higher education Ministers from across the United Kingdom will be meeting in Cardiff during this month, again entirely on the Brexit agenda. We are hopeful that the next meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on European negotiations will take place in Cardiff this month. The Welsh Government is entirely committed to working as constructively as we are able, wherever those opportunities exist.
Our frustration has always been that the UK Government has not made enough of the offers of help that we have consistently put in front of them and has not drawn on the expertise that we would have been able to contribute to make sure that the plans, for which ultimately they are responsible, are as fully informed as possible on the needs of devolved administrations and nations and the responsibilities that are discharged in this Assembly for Wales.
Llywydd, the leader of the Conservatives here in the Assembly knows perfectly well that when Mrs May's deal is defeated in the House of Commons next week it will be the votes of Conservative Members of Parliament that will sink her deal. That's where her failure has been: she has failed to persuade her own party—very large numbers of her own party. And the criticisms that I have made this afternoon of the deal are absolutely mild in comparison with the language that members of his party—Members of Parliament of his party—every single day parade themselves on the radio and the television to make in relation to his Prime Minister's deal. So, I think, when the Welsh Government comes through the door to talk to Mrs May, we are a relief from the conversations that she has to conduct with recalcitrant members of the Conservative Party.
For us, the deal is not good enough. It's not good enough because it doesn't provide dynamic alignment for citizenship rights that will be enjoyed in other parts of the European Union. It doesn't explicitly provide for participation in a customs union. But in the way that the previous First Minister said—and I entirely agreed listening to him—our dissent from the deal is relatively little compared to our dissent from the political declaration. That is the point that Carwyn Jones was making—that of the two things that will be voted on together, we have even more and greater difficulties with the lamentable political declaration than we do with the deal to leave the European Union.
Let me take up the final point that the Member made, because he is right in saying that our work on ports with the UK Government is an example of where we have been working closely with the UK Government. We have a working group that brings together the UK Government, the Welsh Government, the port authorities, and that takes advice from the hauliers association and others, to make sure that we are doing everything we can, so that were a 'no deal' to happen, then the impact on our ports, particularly on Holyhead, we have a plan in place to deal with that. Because it involves the use of land beyond the port itself, those plans are necessarily—as I know he will understand—at this point commercially confidential because they involve discussions with other parties. But I can confirm what Paul Davies said: that that co-operation has been consistent over recent months and that it is doing good, practical work to mitigate the worst of the effects that we will see in ports in Wales should the catastrophe of a 'no deal' Brexit come about.
I also thank the First Minister for his statement. It is an update on the situation and provides an analysis of a situation that is complex and, as we've heard, very concerning for us in Wales. What we need more than anything, of course, at the moment, with only 80 days to go until we depart the European Union, is two things, I suppose, from the Welsh Government: clarity on the Welsh Government's policy in terms of safeguarding the interests of Wales, and then a clear plan to avoid the crisis that the First Minister has set out. I fear that neither of those two things have become clear to me in the statement that we have heard this afternoon.
If I could return to an issue that was raised yesterday during the First Minister's questions before the external affairs committee—this ambiguity of the Welsh Government's policy on the language that is used. We heard the Trefnydd a little earlier using the language 'membership of the single market' and 'of the customs union', but, instead, what we've heard from the First Minister this afternoon is the language that we've heard in the past, which is:
single market participation and participation in a customs union.
Now, I asked him how this could be reconciled with the motion that he's referred to already this afternoon, which was passed on 4 December, because that motion was quite clear, and I will read it:
'Calls on the UK Government to seek UK membership of both the European Single Market and Customs Union.'
'The European Single Market and Customs Union.'
And, again, we've seen Labour politicians in Westminster today saying that the UK Government has to respect motions and amendments to the motion that are to be tabled next week. Well, surely the Welsh Government should then respect the same principle here. The policy has been decided, and this isn't a semantic difference, as the First Minister argued yesterday, as far as the customs union is concerned. Continuing within the EU customs union would mean that exporters could continue to trade with the European Union as they do now, without having to face tariffs or non-tariff barriers. The other option, of an alternative customs union, would place us in the same position as Turkey, having to steer through new, expensive barriers, such as rules of origin rules, in order to continue to export to the European Union. And, of course, that customs union for Turkey doesn't include agriculture. Therefore, that's why that difference is so crucial, and the fact that we have passed a motion, and now the Welsh Government is going back on its word on that, according to what has been said today, is a cause of great regret for me, as we are in a critical situation now where there should be clarity from the Welsh Government as to its stance.
So, may I ask the First Minister: why is the Welsh Government's policy, according to what he has said this afternoon, on this issue different to the policy that was agreed by this Parliament with the support of the Welsh Government on 4 December? And why do you believe that leaving the customs union, which already exists, is better for Welsh exporters, given all of the reasons that I have outlined?
Finally, the motion that was approved also called for the extension of article 50 unconditionally, unlike what you have said in your statement today. You said that you were doing everything you could to avoid this catastrophe that we are facing. If so, why have so many Labour Members had to write to you to do more—to plead not only with the Prime Minister in Westminster, but also to plead with the leader of your own party, as we are now facing a situation within just a few weeks of this catastrophe? And the clearer option, of course, is a people's vote. Why can't you show leadership in this regard and avoid what you quite rightly describe as something that could be very destructive to the people of Wales?
I thank the Member for his observations, and I'm disappointed in him, Llywydd; I can't avoid saying that. I really do think, and I say this in all seriousness to Adam Price, that we are more influential and we have more impact on behalf of Wales in this debate when we focus on the fundamentals on which we are so largely agreed, rather than arguing over things that matter not at all to people outside this Assembly and who are baffled by the sort of remarks that he will have made this afternoon, as though they represented the serious part of the debate. The serious part of the debate was represented in the document that we worked hard on together, and which we still stand by, and the motion that we agreed on—both parties were able to agree on.
You can't simply be selective about it, Adam. Your final remarks ask me why I wasn't prepared to come down in favour of one of the two equal courses of action that that motion sets out. So, you can't ask me to select one bit of that while you choose to select another bit of it. If he wants an answer to his question—not that I think, as I say, that I believe that this is where the focus of this debate ought to be—I'll put it on the record this afternoon, Llywydd. I'll do it in relation to the issue of a customs union. The European Union customs union forms its 28 members into a single territory for customs purposes. That is established through a treaty, a treaty on the functioning of the European Union, the TFEU. The UK's exit from the European Union is achieved in legal terms by withdrawal from EU treaties. Given that the EU customs union is established by a treaty, once the UK is no longer a signatory to that treaty, it will not, in law—it will not—. There's no point in the Member shaking his head; it's a matter of legal certainty. It will not be part of the customs union. If he doesn't want to take it from me, let me quote from the Scottish Government's publication, 'Scotland's Place in Europe'. And this is what the Scottish Government say: 'while the UK could not'—could not—'remain within the EU customs union, as this would require it to be a member state, we would advocate'—they go on to say—'the creation of a UK-EU customs union, which replicates the terms we currently enjoy as a member of the EU customs union.'
So, if we want to go over and over the semantic point, there is the legal basis why the formula that I end up using is correct, and the one that he would like me to use would have no validity in law. But it is, to say it again, Llywydd, not where the substance of this debate lies, and, on the substance, on the fundamentals, the position that we as a Welsh Government have taken, and the position that I've heard set out very clearly by Plaid Cymru members, is much closer together. That's why I was pleased that we were both as parties able to support the motion in front of the Assembly before Christmas. I referred directly, Llywydd, to that motion in the JMC plenary chaired by the Prime Minister, making it clear to her that I was speaking not simply on behalf of the Welsh Government, but on behalf of the Assembly, quoting to her the terms of that resolution. And, on the substance of it, I think we are very close together, and I think we are more influential when we focus on those genuinely important things rather than arguing about matters that appear to divide us, but, really, are of no genuine significance in this debate.
Thanks to the First Minister for bringing us another statement on Brexit. You say, First Minister, that you want a Brexit that protects jobs. Jobs for whom, I wonder—jobs for British people, or jobs for the hundreds of thousands of people who have come to Britain in recent years, who together comprise—[Interruption.]—who together comprise a formidable pool of cheap labour for big business? So, my first question is: do you acknowledge that the interests of British people have to be a higher priority for the UK Government than the interests of non-British EU citizens?
Perhaps, once freedom of movement ends, the job prospects of Welsh people at the lower end of the labour market in Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, and other towns in those travel-to-work areas, may markedly improve. Things may materially—[Interruption.]—things may materially get better for those people struggling to find a job—struggling to find a job with decent pay and conditions, struggling to find a job with guaranteed hours. Those conditions may conceivably improve once we actually have something limiting the endless supply of cheap labour, such as a proper immigration policy. Perhaps I can ask you if you acknowledge this possibility. You say there was a pretence that we could bring back control over our borders. Do you therefore believe that the UK Government cannot hope to exercise control over its borders, and do you think that would be a laudable situation? You say that, if the Prime Minister cannot secure a deal, she should seek an extension, so that we can have either a general election or a public vote—in other words, another referendum. What would be the point of either eventuality, I ask myself: a general election so that the Labour Party—the national Labour Party, led by the arch leaver, Jeremy Corbyn—can put forward another formulation that takes us no further forward, because nobody knows what Labour's position in Westminster actually is. Last time, they stood on a platform of respecting the referendum result and leaving the European Union. So, what about another public vote? Why, when it will in itself mean ignoring the clear mandate provided in the last one, which has not yet been implemented, and, under your formula, perhaps never will be? The UK voted to leave, and so did Wales. We need to stop this shilly-shallying and leave the EU in 10 weeks' time. Seventeen million people will cheer when we do.
Llywydd, I understand that the Member has repeated the policy of his party in his final remarks. Let me just respond to his opening remarks, where I don't simply believe that he is wrong in his analysis, but he is offensive in the way that he makes those points as well. The people from other parts of the world who we are lucky enough to have attracted to come here in Wales are every bit as valuable to our communities and our economy as anybody else who makes that positive contribution. And it is the jobs of people who already live in Wales who are at risk if we cannot attract people to come here to fulfil essential parts of our economy—obviously in places like the health service, where providing those vital services depends on our ability to go on recruiting people from other parts of the European Union, but in the parts of the economy that he focuses upon as well. I've said it before in this Chamber, Llywydd, so I'll say it briefly, but I'll recount the story told to me by the very successful owner of a hotel in mid Wales, who has run that hotel for a long period of time, who employs 100 people. Eighty of those people are people who live locally, and 20 of them are recruited from outside Wales. And what he said to me was, 'If I can't get the 20 people, my hotel cannot operate, and it is the jobs of the 80 people that will be at risk.' And that's why his dichotomy is such a false one—pretending that, somehow, there is a distinction to be drawn of the sort that he attempted to do. I reject it, I think he's wrong, and I think that his prescription will lead to not better but far, far worse economic prospects for those of our citizens who struggle the most already to make a living here in Wales.
Can I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon? Because, clearly, this is a very fluid process—we know what happened before Christmas, and we're still seeing the shenanigans going on in Westminster today. Can I also highlight the fact that I think the Tories on my left are actually in denial of the chaos in Westminster? Because, if you can't see the chaos, then you must be blind or have dark glasses, because there's a total shambles going on in Westminster with the Tories in power. First Minister, can I also welcome the appointment of a Brexit Minister here in your Government? Because it is important we have someone to co-ordinate. You yourself undertook the role, in a sense, in the previous Government—you know the complications that are involved, and therefore the co-ordination of that is crucial across Government. I very much welcome that.
Can I ask a couple of serious questions, because I think what we've heard sometimes is more sort of pampering to their own audiences than anything else? Can you give us an indication of the timescales that the Welsh Government will be putting in new Bills? Because, in the transition—. If we end up leaving on 29 March without a deal, we have a more urgent situation than if we have a transition period in which—and, let's be honest, the transition period, we're talking about December 2020. Well, there are European Parliament elections in May of this year, the Commission will have to be appointed, so it's likely to be October before a new Commission is in position. And, if they want an extension to the discussions in the transition period, they've got to be done by 1 July. That actually gives about nine months, and it's nigh on impossible to actually achieve all that you want to achieve in that nine months. So, there are going to be very tight timescales. So, when will we be seeing Bills from the Welsh Government—a culture Bill, a fisheries Bill, an environmental Bill and other Bills—so that we can ensure that we are in a position in this place to actually have passed Bills reflecting the areas that we have responsibility for?
Can I also ask whether you have taken steps as to whether there is a need to have new environmental governance bodies in Wales? Because many of the statutory instruments going through are actually referring to 'Secretary of State' and not necessarily new bodies in Wales. So, will there be any new bodies in Wales that you have to establish for ensuring that we can meet the current obligations we have? Your OECD review, which the leader of Plaid Cymru mentioned in his questions to you in FMQs—he didn't actually ask the question as to when will that report, and, as a consequence of that report, when will we see a policy objective coming through to look at how regional development in Wales can link into the economic action plan, so that, as we lose European structural funds, we can actually have something in place to develop the economic regeneration of those areas.
Can I also ask whether you've had an opportunity to meet with Michel Barnier yet, or will you be going to meet with him, because it is important that we keep our connections in Europe—[Interruption.]—? It is important we keep the connections in Europe—for mobile phones if nothing else—[Laughter.]—to ensure that the discussions we have beyond Brexit allow Wales to be an active member of the communities in Europe, particularly as the large proportion of exports from Wales goes to that marketplace. For example, I know you've talked about the First Minister—the previous First Minister—having looked at the Norway model, but, of course, it's now being discussed as a Norway pus model. Have you had an opportunity to start looking at whether there is any merit in a Norway plus type model and how it could be best suited, and would it be worth passing that agenda to the UK?
And a further question is the frameworks. We've common frameworks under discussion. From what you said to the committee yesterday, we are succeeding very well on those, and progressing well, but will they be in position by 29 March if we leave without a deal? Because, clearly, if we leave without a deal, we will have no European frameworks to abide by; we'll have to use the UK frameworks. Are they, therefore, going to be ready for the date of 29 March, which I think might be the exit? Because I have a horrible fear that we will see an exit without a deal if she does not get her deal next week, because I see project fear—the real project fear—as telling the leavers, 'If you don't vote for my deal, you'll get no Brexit', telling the remainers, 'If you don't vote for my deal, you get no deal', thus scaring them into voting for something that we know is not going to be of benefit for the people of Wales.
Llywydd, I thank David Rees for the questions. Just to begin by saying that, as I said to Adam Price, I think we have been more effective in having an influence in this fundamental debate when we've been able to speak together, so I think that the work of the committee that David Rees chairs has had an influence as well in the way that it has worked with parallel committees in other parts of the United Kingdom to make sure that the responsibilities of legislatures are properly articulated in the debate.
When I established a Cabinet shortly before Christmas, Brexit was uppermost in my thoughts. It's why I wanted key Ministers with major Brexit responsibilities to stay in those positions so we would have continuity of political oversight in health, in the rural economy, in our economy more generally. It is why I wanted to appoint someone within the Government who would be able to co-ordinate work across the Government in relation to Brexit and to represent Wales in key forums, and it is why I was keen to create a new Cabinet portfolio, which my colleague Eluned Morgan now discharges, which is there to make sure that, the other side of Brexit, we make even more of an effort than we have in the past to keep Wales's reputation alive, well, known about in other parts of the world. And, in answering David Rees' question about that, I'm sure he'll see how that has been reflected in the way that portfolios have been designed.
To come to a small number of his specific questions, I share his view that a transition period with another cliff edge of 31 December 2020 was never a sensible way to negotiate that. I've said it time and time and time again, along with Scottish Ministers, in the JMC, that it was a flawed way of constructing the transition period. But the date was insisted upon—insisted upon—by David Davis, when he was still Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, otherwise he was going to leave the Cabinet. Well, it didn't keep him there for long and the legacy is one that we will all have to deal with, because I cannot believe that everything that will need to be done in the transition period can be concluded within that period.
We are about to go out to consultation on a new environmental body for Wales. The OECD review will report within a two-year time frame. It is not so much advice on the policy objectives, because we have already published information on our policy objectives for regional economic development, it's about the methodology by which you achieve those objectives, the best practice elsewhere in Europe that we will be looking to the OECD review to assist us with. I'm yet to meet Michel Barnier. I know that the Chair of the committee has done so, and, certainly, the previous First Minister did so, and I look forward to being able to play my part in making sure that Wales's views are in front of senior members of the European Union over coming weeks and months.
Finally, on the frameworks point, to confirm what I said to the committee yesterday that work has continued actively on the frameworks. It has gone, on the whole, reasonably well. Progress on all 24 framework areas is due to be reported to the next meeting of the JMC on European negotiations. Will everything that needs to be put in place be there by 29 March? Well, I doubt it, but that does not mean that every effort that can be made is not being made in the run-up to that date.
I welcome the statement today and also the preparations being taken forward by the First Minister and his Government in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. This is definitely a case of hoping for the best, but anticipating and planning for the worst.
I'm pleased, as well, to take over from Julie in having some role in the allocation and oversight of regional funding, but also the future shaping of regional funding within Wales, as well, which will be important whatever the outcome. Can I say it was clear, I believe, last autumn, as it was clear before Christmas, immediately, that the Prime Minister's Brexit deal, being neither fish nor fowl, was doomed to failure? It satisfied no-one. It would've faced defeat then in the Commons and next Tuesday, the Prime Minister's deal is likely to be defeated. Now, in that eventuality, many of us in this Chamber desperately hope that Parliament can prevent the Prime Minister sleepwalking the country over the cliff edge of a hard Brexit. It would be an act of monumental self-harm that no responsible national leader should seriously even countenance, let alone use as a threat. Which leaves us, ultimately, possibly, back in parliamentary gridlock, as the cliff edge rapidly approaches. We're getting to that Thelma and Louise moment, which, whilst stirring and heroic and very filmic—we know how that leap off the cliff ultimately ends.
So, can I particularly welcome the First Minister's statement and the part that reads,
'If the UK Government cannot do its job it should ask the European Union for an extension of the Article 50 Brexit date of 29 March and then provide the whole of the United Kingdom with the opportunity to provide a clear mandate for the way forward, through a general election or a public vote'?
It almost seems like those five or six hours spent on composite motions in the Liverpool Labour conference were all worth it.
Can I ask, in your discussions with UK Ministers and with the Prime Minister, do you, First Minister, believe that that there is some understanding of the exposure of Wales and the UK and its businesses and citizens to a 'no deal' Brexit? And if so, why would a responsible Government and a responsible Prime Minister even leave that option on the table? Secondly, could I ask what his assessment is of this, going forward, on the bread-and-butter, run-of-the-mill business of Welsh Government, as well as the UK Government?
I thank the Member for those very serious questions and I thank him for the work that he has been willing to take on in a bundle of interrelated Brexit matters in chairing the programme monitoring committee and in chairing the group that we've established to advise on the future shape of regional economic development, and indeed, in being willing to chair the European advisory group. That will mean that we have someone with that overview of those different strands, which will be very important in the work that we as a Government do, and will definitely be of interest to the Assembly as well.
I agree with what he has said about a 'no deal' Brexit. For what it is worth, Llywydd, when I have been with the Prime Minister, I believe that she does understand the damage that would be done to the United Kingdom from a 'no deal' Brexit, and I think she has other members in her Cabinet who equally share that analysis. Her problem is that she also has people around that very same table who don't share that view at all and who are sanguine about a 'no deal' Brexit. The idea that there will be some minor, temporary disruption, and we'll all emerge, blinking, into the sunny uplands of a newly vibrant United Kingdom—I mean, it's nonsensical. We know it is. I think the Prime Minister knows it is, but her difficulty has been—and ultimately, I'm afraid, her political failure has been—to see off those people and to create a consensus with others who share her view and could have done a very different deal.
Huw Irranca-Davies is right to point to the impact that all of this inevitably has upon the wider work of the Government. I was grateful to have confirmation over Christmas that we will have £31 million as a consequential available to us next year, as a result of the additional staff that are being taken on across Whitehall to discharge Brexit-related activity, and that will allow us to strengthen some of the support available to us as a Welsh Government as we do the work to bring legislation forward and put in place 'no deal' preparations, alongside everything else that we want to do and that Members here highlighted during First Minister's questions. There is a challenging period coming for the Assembly itself as we try and manage the new weight of legislation against everything else that we need to talk about in this forum, and that challenge is equally felt within the Welsh Government.
First Minister, I'm very grateful for the fact that you mentioned a number of key points, the first one being workers' rights, and my concern is that already we are hearing UK Government Ministers talking almost with glee about the possibilities of deregulation and changing standards, contrary to all the promises that were made.
The second point you made in your statement, which I think is vitally important, was raising the issue of EU citizens living within the UK. Over Christmas, I was looking at my late father's papers from when he came to this country after the war. He had an alien certificate that he had to produce every time he moved somewhere, every time he sought work, that he had to produce when he got married, and I remember as a child the policemen coming around every Saturday to check where he was and that everything was in order. It just seemed to me—. Is this the sort of society we're moving backward to, when you look at the sorts of terms that are being set for EU citizens—people who've made a decent contribution to our society and what will be required of them? I find that really quite offensive.
Can I also ask about the issue of the relationship that we are seeking to develop in terms of EU institutions in the event that we do leave the EU, and what plans are in place to actually generate those and to create those? Can I also ask about what assurances you've been given still about the shared prosperity fund and the funding that would be due to come to us—the so-called 'Brexit dividend'? Has any assurance whatsoever actually been given in that respect, even this late in the day?
And then, one final point: isn't the constitutional crux of the situation this? When Paul Davies, leader of the Conservatives said nothing could be further from the truth that the UK Government was putting the interests of the Tory Party ahead of the interests of the country, when you have a Government that has no majority, a Government that has no mandate, a Government that no longer has any legitimacy beyond how much money it can drive the Northern Ireland MPs with, doesn't that indicate that you have a Government that is now effectively totally without any basis for its continuation, and that any decent Government, any Government that put the interest of the country first, would say, 'This is the situation we're in, we have to now go back to the people for a new mandate'? And probably the most effective way of that would be through a general election or whatever.
Well, Llywydd, I thank Mick Antoniw for that. We have always, and I think in different parts of the Chamber, put a particular emphasis on the rights that Welsh citizens have gained as a result of our membership of the European Union, whether that's environmental rights or consumer rights or workers' rights, and we will not sign up—we will not sign up as a Government to any prospectus that suggests that leaving the European Union will lead to a diminution in those hard-won rights.
As far as EU citizens are concerned, let me just say this, Llywydd, and I tried my very best to make this point as hard as I could in a conversation with the Home Secretary when the document on future migration policy was published by the UK Government. That document says that citizens of the EU arriving in the United Kingdom after exit day will not enjoy—not enjoy—the rights that existing EU citizens in this country will have. I asked him how an employer would be able to distinguish between the person who arrives after 29 March and the person who has been here for 20 years. And he wasn't able to give me an answer to that question because he knew that the real answer is that the person who has been here 20 years will end up having to produce certificates and documents and will find themselves suspected by the person that's having to prove somehow that they have a right to be here. And we're finding it hard enough to hang on to some of these people who we rely upon now, without a new regime being put in place that casts a shadow over their continued participation in Welsh society.
On institutions, then, my colleague Eluned Morgan will be working alongside other Cabinet members to make sure that we identify those other parts of Europe, those European institutions where we need to make the greatest effort to sustain a Welsh presence and a Welsh interest. I've been heartened, Llywydd, by the number of letters that I have received since becoming the First Minister, pointing to the work of my predecessor in sustaining relations with other regions in Europe, saying how much they hope that we will continue to be in a fruitful relationship with them.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
I've almost nothing further to add on the shared prosperity fund to what we've reported here before. The promised consultation document before Christmas failed to materialise yet again, and I have been as clear as I can with the Deputy Prime Minister, and directly with the Prime Minister, that some of the proposals that we see trailed by the UK Government will be absolutely unacceptable to us here in Wales.
Thank you very much.
Item 4 on the agenda is the statement by the Minister for Education: introduction of personalised assessments, and I call on the Minister for Education—Kirsty Williams.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Deputy Presiding Officer, pupil assessments' prime purpose must be to provide information that guides decisions about how best to progress learning, and to provide information to the learner, to the teacher and to parents and carers. Therefore, assessment should improve learners’ learning, teachers’ teaching and parents’ understanding.
I am pleased to report that we are successfully moving forward with the transition from paper-based reading and numeracy tests that learners sit each year to online, adaptive, personalised assessments. Starting with procedural numeracy, they will replace paper tests completely by 2021, and, in the term before Christmas, we began the phasing-in of these assessments.
High-quality, ongoing assessment has a crucial role in teaching, learning and raising standards, but the current system of paper-based testing has its limitations. The new assessments have flexibility and adaptability built into them, so learners will be presented with questions that match and challenge their skills levels.
In turn, this means that teachers will have much richer information and will be able to gear lessons more specifically to help learners improve. These assessments have been designed to support the fundamental shift of our new curriculum, and both are built on the concept of progression. The curriculum will offer teachers more freedom to teach in a way that best meets the needs of each of their pupils, and the new assessments will tell them clearly what those needs are.
We want to provide teachers with the tools for sustained improvement in teaching and learning and we want this to be flexible, an approach to assessment that is formative and provides feedback on skills and strengths, areas that they need to work on and next steps. This type of ongoing, quality assessment is crucial in raising standards across the board and to help us to deliver on our national mission.
And we have the support of the profession for this type of assessment. The practitioners we have worked with in the development stages saw the new assessment tools as a powerful way to move pupils on in their learning. We know that learners who are given high-quality feedback, who understand where they are in their learning and where they need to go next, and crucially how to get there, are the most likely to make the most improvement.
The system has been designed very much with the needs of schools and teachers in mind too. Assessments can be scheduled at a time that works best for the school. This is about putting control in the hands of the teachers who can decide what is best for them and their learners, and also in the numbers that work best for the school too—pupils can be assessed individually or in small groups.
We have not designed these assessments in isolation. We have learned from the best with an expert group, including representation from Denmark and the Netherlands, providing advice throughout. This has enabled us to lead the way. Adaptive assessments for procedural numeracy and reading have been developed elsewhere, but Wales is the first nation to develop online assessment for numerical reasoning skills.
Deputy Presiding Officer, Members will know that since entering Government I have sought to tackle the issue of access to IT and broadband. We have provided the WLGA with an additional £1.7 million to distribute to schools who are in most need of an IT upgrade. We will be providing ongoing help as these assessments are rolled out, support materials will be available online, we will be holding webinars to ensure that schools understand the process and how they can use the reports.
So, personalised assessments, Deputy Presiding Officer, provide a tailored, interactive experience to engage learners, to assess the level of their skills and will offer immediate, high-quality feedback, supporting both teachers and pupils in their development. So, in conclusion, this is an exciting and necessary development for raising standards and reducing the attainment gap.
Thank you very much, Minister. Good to see you're still here—that helps with continuity, I must admit. First of all, something that has actually become clearer from this statement today in terms of this assessment tool is something that's—and I think you used the word a couple of times—ongoing. Because one of my early concerns about this test, and I completely recognise that this isn't about accountability, was how frequently it would be used. Professor Donaldson was explicit that he thought that frequent testing was to be avoided, so my first question, I suppose, is: how frequently will an individual child be assessed in a given year in order to provide meaningful data to both the child and teachers about progress?
If the purpose of the test is to guide learners with more bespoke support—I suppose that's the best way to put it—and, as you say in your statement, more freedom for teachers to teach in the way that best meets the needs of pupils, something I support, I would still expect to hear a little bit more about how the effectiveness of those individual bespoke mini programmes, if you like, are themselves likely to be measured. Because where I disagree with your comments made back in 2017 is here, where you said, and I'm quoting:
'it would not be right to use individual children's test scores to judge the performance of that school.'
Whereas I would say I think it's entirely proper for a school to be judged on the progress made between those tests in the case of individual children—anonymised, of course—because there is something that can be told to parents and us here in the Assembly about how efficient and effective those bits of bespoke support for children have been. It's great to offer it, but if that still doesn't work we need to know about that as well.
So, bearing in mind that Professor Donaldson recommended that Welsh Government needed to establish a comprehensive assessment and evaluation framework, we know something about the assessment now, but can you tell us a little bit about how the evaluation side of it will work? Bearing in mind, and the point I accept, that this isn't in itself an evaluation tool, it's an assessment tool, but we need something to talk about the progress between test No. 1 and test No. 2 and test No. 3 and so forth, because outcomes really do still matter.
As you say in your statement, the new tests are about raising standards, so a couple of questions on that—one is about self-evaluation, obviously something supported by the OECD. One of the reasons that, perhaps, we're in this place at the moment is that there was a loss of confidence in teachers' predictions of children's level of achievement at the end of primary school, before they went up to secondary school. Part of that was because there was an over-reliance on internal self-assessment, I suppose, or certainly internal assessment. So, without stepping on teachers' toes here, is there any kind of guidance you will be bringing forward—or who might even bring this forward; it could be Estyn, I don't know—that might help schools, including the pupils, if I understand this correctly, to self-evaluate in a way that we can all have some confidence in?
Again, in the case or situation of raising standards, you said last year that £5.6 million was going to consortia for professional learning, in part to prepare for these assessments. How are you going to evaluate how effectively the consortia have contributed to these becoming a success? I appreciate that they haven't really started yet, but the preparation for them will have happened. So, if you can give us a bit of information on that, that would be great.
The timing—I completely agree with you that it's up to schools how and when they do the timing, but I also agree with you that the last thing that's useful to parents and, indeed, children is a report that lands on the last day of term, particularly at the end of the summer term, when there's quite often a bit of rollback for some children over the summer holidays. So, I certainly wouldn't be happy if you were telling schools when to do this assessment, but will you be dropping them any heavy hints about avoiding that last week of term?
Finally, on the £1.7 million for schools most in need of improving their information technology, I wonder if you can tell us whether that's ring-fenced and when we might see it distributed, because I can think immediately of one school in my region that would be very interested in a new funding stream for precisely that. It would be helpful to be able to tell them that it is targeted at IT rather than disappearing into the revenue support grant or schools' funding generally. Thank you.
Could I begin by thanking Suzy Davies for that series of questions? First of all, can I say that the Member referred to the assessments on a number of occasions in her contribution as 'tests'? These are not tests; they are assessments. There is a difference between a high-stakes test and an assessment that is used for the purposes of informing teaching and learning going forward.
If I might say, there is a slight contradiction in the issues that the Member raised. On one hand, the Member said that she would want to see the results of these tests being made publicly available. What we do know is that it is exactly creating a high-stakes public accountability around assessment that has led to some of the concerns about the quality of teachers' own self-assessment. If they feel that these assessments are going to be used to publicly assess their abilities as an individual teacher or in a school, there is the human temptation—there is human temptation—not to do that correctly.
So, the issue here is—we have to be clear—these are not tests. These are assessments that are there to assess where a child is in their learning, to be able to provide feedback to that child and, yes, crucially, to parents. Suzy, I couldn't agree with you more: I'm sure all of us who have been parents in the system have been aware of that envelope coming home on the very last week of term with previous test scores in it, leaving parents no time to have the opportunity to go back into school and discuss with the classroom teacher the results of those tests.
The great thing about these tests is that they are tailor-made for individual children. No two children's tests will be exactly the same, because the questions that will be asked will be responding to their ability to answer them. The results will be instantaneous, and those results will be available to parents within a day or two of that child taking the test.
The Member asks how often the children will take the test. You're absolutely right: Graham Donaldson did say that frequency of testing should be kept to a minimum, but Donaldson also recommended an innovative approach to assessment, including interactive approaches. So, actually, we've taken on board the advice of Graham Donaldson, and it will be up to individual classroom teachers to decide when a child should take a test, or take an assessment—I'm doing it now—and how frequent that assessment could be, because it could be the decision of a teacher that this assessment is carried out at different points in the year to feed back on whether progress has been made, but that is left to the discretion of the individual classroom teacher knowing those children the best.
Again, the good thing about this system is rather than all schools having to do the test within a week's period at the same time of the year, this is allowing the individual teachers to decide when best to employ this strategic tool to assist their children. But, of course, it is just one part of assessing where a child is and self-evaluation will continue to be, and teacher evaluation will continue to be, a very important part of our education system. At present, Estyn are working with practitioners and schools and the OECD to develop a self-evaluation toolkit so that schools become much, much better at understanding how they are performing and what they're delivering in their school is impacting on their learners. And it is that self-evaluation that will become the bedrock of our accountability system.
We are working with Estyn to look at the prospect of Estyn accrediting schools' self-evaluation. If Estyn are convinced that a school is doing this correctly and properly, then they will be, in a way, licensed to carry on to do that for a number of years. If Estyn has concerns—if Estyn are not convinced about the school's ability to self-evaluate—it could result in more frequent visits from Estyn to a particular school. So, self-evaluation will become one of the core principles of how we actually hold schools accountable for their performance, but that is not the same as using individual children's data and individual children's performance, because that leads us into the conundrum I've talked about earlier about high-stakes tests.
With regard to professional development, you'll be aware that money has been made available both in this year, which has gone out via consortia, and for the next financial year, which will be used in conjunction with our partners in local government. The consortia will be reporting back on how that money has been used to support professional learning and, of course, all of our consortia are subject to Estyn inspection and ongoing review by Welsh Government itself.
With regard to infrastructure, obviously the £1.7 million has been given to the WLGA, and they as a group of local authorities are working out how best that they want to distribute that money. That's just one part of the investment that we are making in IT infrastructure. We continue to work to ensure that all schools are connected to superfast broadband and are able to receive superfast broadband speeds. So, that is the infrastructure outside the school, and we continue to work with our partners in local government to understand some of the constraints within local government's own systems and individual schools systems that mean that they can't avail themselves of the opportunity of those speeds if the fibre has been connected. And we will continue to work with our Learning in Digital Wales programme to look at ongoing investments to support schools and local authorities to ensure that all of our institutions have broadband speeds and technology within their school that will meet the needs, not just for the ability to deliver online adaptive assessments, but also the curriculum as a whole.
Thank you for the statement. I am speaking on behalf of Siân Gwenllian as she's not here today, so I'm sure she will want to follow up any progress with you when she returns. From listening to the debate already and from reading the statement, obviously broadly we would support personal appraisals if that means that we can be taking the pressure away from young people in terms of those intense tests that happen at the end of a given period. Even if you're not a parent, I'm sure many of us will have heard from our constituents or from family members where young people are feeling the stress due to those testing structures.
To that end, I wanted to understand from you what will be the parameters of these personalised appraisals in relation to the support given to the teachers, because if we're going to be individualising much more, if we're going to be giving different timelines to teachers to do different things with different pupils, I need assurances that they're going to be having the capacity within the classroom to do that. We know that many classroom teachers are stretched with the budgets in the situation that they are and so I need assurance. For example, will the TLAs, or the teaching and learning assistants, be given that support as well to upskill to be able to support the teacher in the classroom where those assessments will be taking place? We're all for individuality, we know that people progress along different paths at different stages, it's just how we're able to do that in a systematic way via the budget you're giving to the local authorities.
A couple of points of clarification from me—. It's noted in the information in the background to these plans that information will be delivered with the results of assessments to teachers immediately after assessments have been submitted. I'd just like to understand how the assessments will be judged and what system will be used to deliver back such immediate results, because what was brought to my attention by the word 'immediate' was: does it always have to be immediate? Can we give time for the teachers to sit down and discuss this on a wider level as opposed to giving immediate feedback that might not be as useful as intended in the initial instance. It might just be the way it's worded but I seek clarification on that—how they're going to be calculated, for example.
Touching a bit on what Suzy Davies said: will the results of the personalised assessments be used to guide teachers and schools in how they proceed to move forward with pupils, or will certain results come with particular prescriptive actions set more centrally at a national level? For example, if you see trends in one area, will there be changes that you'd want to make based on the outcomes of those assessments or not? Is it basically going to be giving more freedom to the teachers? I would support that, ideally.
My last question—I'd also like to ask whether or not this will completely end teacher assessments as we move into the future and whether or not there are plans to expand this approach into later years of schooling. Thank you.
Can I thank Bethan for those questions? The online adaptive testing is intended to replace the current paper-based tests that all children sit from year 2 through to year 9. So, these online adaptive tests will be available to the same timescales, so children will be able to take these assessments from year 2 through to year 9. The important thing about the adaptive testing is that the questions that are asked of the child are reflective of the child's individual ability. It's not based on their age, it's not based on the year group that they are in, but genuinely based on individual children's ability to engage in those questions. That means, for some parents—and I would agree with you, there are parents who have expressed concerns about the suitability of the paper-based, one-size-fits-all arrangements that we've had to date—. If those children, for whatever reason, are unable to engage in that paper test, it can be very demoralising and potentially upsetting to the child. The fact is that the adaptive assessment literally does change depending on the ability of a child, so there's no assumption that because a child is a certain age or at a certain stage in their academic career, the questions will all be the same. That should take away some of the anxiety that I know sometimes parents do feel. The fact that the children will not have to do it in a controlled situation—so, again, sometimes that adds to the anxiety and the high-stakes nature of what we've done in the past—where the entire classroom has to sit down for an allotted time and do the paper—that sometimes can create an atmosphere that can be stressful to children. As I said, it'll be up to individual classroom teachers whether a small group of children do an assessment at a particular time or whether an individual child does it. So, again, this is about trying to ensure that those issues that sometimes can cause angst to children and to parents are removed.
I can't say it enough—because I sometimes think that there is still a misconception amongst the profession themselves—these assessments and the data arising from them is not used as any high-stakes accountability measure regarding that school. Sometimes even the professionals themselves assume that the data collected from previous tests and now these assessments are somehow used to make a judgment on them. These are for the purpose of progressing learners.
Now, quite rightly, we do have to be mindful of workload for our teachers. This in fact takes workload away from teachers in the sense that these are less bureaucratic to administer. When we talk about instantaneous feedback, the results are literally driven by the test results and are available immediately. That's not to say that the teacher needs to then immediately sit down with the child. Clearly, a teacher will need to look at what the assessment says about that child and make progress, but it's far less bureaucratic for teachers than what we had done previously, and, actually, the investment that we're making in these online assessments is actually coming out of a Welsh Government spend-to-save budget, because, actually, we think that this will save us money in the long-term compared to what we're currently spending on the paper-based tests. In an age when we really need to be careful about what we're spending, actually this presents us with a more cost-effective way, as well as a better way, of delivering the system.
Teachers and classroom assistants will be supported through this process. There will be support and training materials available. We'll be running a series of webinars so teachers don't even have to travel. These are available within their own communities and contacts, and help is literally only a telephone call away. There is a hotline available, so if the school is struggling with some IT issues or how to actually run the test, there is a helpline available.
Assessments began before Christmas, and, to date, the feedback that we've had is that those schools that have employed them so far and used them so far have not anticipated any problems. It's also important to remember—and I'm sure this would be of interest to Siân Gwenllian if she were here—that the assessments are available fully bilingually. Teachers are able to choose which language they want the assessment to be carried out in, and obviously that's a very important equity issue for all of our learners.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. It's all very well heralding this wonderful new assessment tool and, granted, I think an adaptive tool is an improvement on a paper test, and the explanation you've given about the tool—it sounds like a very, very good online tool, but don't you think it should be up to the individual schools to decide how they assess their learners? It's the schoolteachers who have the classroom experience and knowledge and, with respect, not you, Minister, and yet here you are saying that you know better than them how they should be assessing their learners. If you want to provide a tailored interactive experience for learners, there's none better than that provided by a teacher who has the time to sit down with the learner and provide that positive learning experience. A teacher will be gathering information about a learner's progress in many different ways in every interaction with that learner and making immediate and sometimes subconscious assessments.
Immediate and high-quality feedback is something that's part and parcel of teaching individual learners, provided, of course, that the teacher has sufficient time to spend with that learner, and I think that's the crux of the matter. Given the Minister's comments in her statement about the impact of the tests or assessment on improving standards of teaching, one can't escape the feeling that this system is simply automating something that's part and parcel of teaching and taking the setting of assessment criteria away from teachers and giving it to the creators of a faceless app.
Good teachers already have an understanding of individual children's abilities and needs and don't need a computer to tell them. This assessment, whether online or not, is no substitute for the assessment of a real-life teacher with enough time to do the job they went into teaching to do. It's tempting to view this as a vote of no confidence in schools' ability to assess the progress of the children they're teaching, or should we all take this as a sign that Welsh Government isn't going to be employing the significant number of additional teachers Wales needs, making automation of certain aspects of a teacher's role necessary?
If a school is confident that they don't need to use the new system or that they have a better way of doing it, why should they be forced by a Minister with no teacher training or experience to use that assessment? This week, a report on the BBC website said that one in 10 learners at our secondary schools is bullied every week, and even though the children's commissioner and anti-bullying charities have asked for statutory recording on incidents nationwide, this Government says that it's for the individual schools to decide which approach works best for them. But if schools can be trusted to record and deal with bullying as they see fit, why not the way they measure the learning progress their children are making?
Some final questions: where will the teacher's personal assessment of a child fit in with the new system? What happens if the teacher's assessment differs from that of the online assessment? Will the results of the online assessment be a tool for an individual teacher to use to inform their own personal assessment of a child's progress or will it itself feed into another process? And will the results of the online assessments inform judgments made by professionals other than the individual learner's teacher? Thank you.
Let me be absolutely clear in response to the questions and comments from Michelle Brown: teachers understand where their pupils are in their learning as, she is quite right, they spend every working day doing just that, but the online assessments provide teachers with an extra tool, high-quality personalised feedback on learner skills, so that they can then put in place the appropriate support and interventions. This is not here to replace teacher assessment. These online adaptive assessments are here to improve upon the paper-based testing system that we currently have in Wales. It is more useful for teaching and learning. I would argue that it is more useful for parents. It puts more control into the hands of our teachers rather than less, in the sense that they will be able to decide when the children undertake the assessment, and when and how they administer it. And, therefore, this is exactly the opposite of what the Member says is happening.
She makes a useful point about teachers having the time to do what they do best. That's why this Government is investing in extra teachers to reduce class sizes and why we will continue to work with the profession and their unions to ensure that we can reduce workload wherever possible so teachers are given exactly that: the time that they need with individual children so that they can apply their skills alongside the information that these adaptive assessments will provide for them, to give that tailored experience to move the child on with their learning.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 5 on the agenda this afternoon has been postponed.
Therefore, we move to item 6, which is the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. I call on the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd to move the motion, Rebecca Evans.
Motion NDM6912 Rebecca Evans
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
1. Approves that the draft The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 27 November 2018.
I welcome the opportunity to bring forward these amending regulations today. I'd like to thank the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for its report on the regulations. The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 amend the 2013 council tax reduction scheme regulations. The scheme provides direct help to households across Wales by reducing their council tax bills. The UK Government abolished council tax benefits on 31 March 2013 and passed responsibility for developing new arrangements to the Welsh Government. The decision was accompanied by a 10 per cent cut in the funding for the scheme. The Welsh Government responded by meeting the funding gap to maintain entitlements to support for around 300,000 of the least well-off households in Wales.
Amending legislation is needed each year to ensure the figures used to calculate each household's entitlement to a reduction are increased to take account of the rises in the cost of living. The operating regulations therefore maintain existing entitlement to support. The financial figures relating to working-age people, disabled people and carers for 2019-20 are increased in Wales in line with the consumer price index at 2.4 per cent. This contrasts with the UK Government's policy to freeze working-age benefits until the end of 2019-20. Figures relating to pensioner households continue to be increased in line with the UK Government's standard minimum guarantee and mirror the uprating of housing benefit. I wish to protect families on low incomes who have been affected by welfare reform from further cuts to their income.
In making these regulations, I have also taken the opportunity to include minor technical changes and to make additional amendments to reflect other changes to related benefits and a new social security benefit, bereavement support payment. For example, in collaboration with local authorities, we've clarified the wording of the regulations in order to bring the regulations in line with housing benefit regulations. These changes will ensure that billing authorities assess entitlement to council tax reductions in a consistent manner. These regulations maintain entitlements to reductions in council tax bills of households in Wales. As a result of this scheme, around 220,000 of the most hard-pressed households will continue to pay no council tax in 2019-20. Council tax reduction remains a cornerstone of our targeted support for people and families who have been adversely affected by the UK Government's welfare reforms. I ask Members to approve these regulations today.
Thank you. There are no speakers in the debate, therefore the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 7 on our agenda this afternoon is the Landfill Disposals Tax (Tax Rates) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, and, again, I call on the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd to move the motion—Rebecca Evans.
Motion NDM6911 Rebecca Evans
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
1. Approves that the draft The Landfill Disposals Tax (Tax Rates) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 26 November 2018.
Thank you. I will now talk to the Landfill Disposals Tax (Tax Rates) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, which relate to setting the 2019-20 tax rates for landfill disposals tax. These regulations set the standard, lower, and unauthorised disposal rates for landfill disposals tax, which, subject to the outcome of today's debate, will apply to taxable disposals made on or after 1 April 2019 in Wales.
These regulations maintain an appropriate cost to the disposal of waste to landfill sites to incentivise more environmentally sensitive activities, such as reduction and recycling of waste. When landfill disposals tax was introduced last year, the Welsh Government committed to setting the same tax rates as the UK Government for the first two years of devolution in recognition of the risks and incentives around this tax, including waste tourism. This is the second year of setting the tax rates. I'm pleased to report to Members that the first year of the tax was marked by both its successful introduction and the smooth transition from the UK landfill tax regime to the new Wales-only landfill disposals tax regime with the consistent rates across the Wales-England border.
In accordance with my predecessor's announcement of the draft budget in October, the standard and lower rates for landfill disposals tax will remain consistent with the UK tax for the next financial year, providing the stability that businesses have so clearly told us they need. We announced the draft rates in the budget on 2 October—in the draft budget, excuse me. The UK Government reaffirmed the rates it had previously announced for 2019-20 in autumn 2017 at its autumn budget on 29 October. The only difference to note is that the UK Government does not currently have a rate for unauthorised disposals. The unauthorised disposal rates is unique to Wales and was introduced through the establishing legislation for landfill disposals tax to reflect the additional cost associated with tackling illegal disposals. It recognises that illegal landfill site operators do not incur the costs associated with a legitimate landfill site and creates an additional financial deterrent to establishing an unauthorised site. I ask Members for their support for these regulations this afternoon.
Thank you. Again, I have no speakers, and therefore the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Darren Millar.
I now move on to item 8, which is a debate on the Holtham report on paying for social care, and I note that Members are not present in the Chamber. [Interruption.] Well, that's fine, then. If a Member of the Government will move the motion, then I'm happy to proceed. I take it that's within order. Are you happy to formally move the motion, or do you want to speak to it, on social care? Oh. There we go.
I thought perhaps at the start of a new year we might have managed to have all got in on time. Therefore, we will once again say now we move to the debate on the Holtham report on paying for social care, and I will now ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to open the debate—Vaughan Gething.
Motion NDM6906 Rebecca Evans
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
a) the pressures on social services arising from austerity and population change;
b) the report commissioned from Professor Gerald Holtham, 'Paying for Social Care'; and
c) that an inter-ministerial group on social care has been set up by the Welsh Government, the work of which is being informed by the Holtham report.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and my apologies for being stuck in another meeting, when I thought the clock had plenty of time, and it did not, and I apologise to Members who have been waiting for the debate to start. But I am pleased to have this opportunity to open the debate and move the motion on the paper, centring upon Professor Gerry Holtham's report on paying for social care. The report and the economic analysis, commissioned by the Welsh Government, were published in June. Members will recall a social care levy was one of four new tax ideas to emerge from the national debate about new taxes in summer 2017. How we meet the costs of caring for an ageing population is a challenge relevant to every constituency in Wales and, indeed, the very many nations like ours with an ageing demographic profile.
We have made enormous progress in improving healthcare and tackling illness, which is helping us to live longer. Equally, we're making significant improvement in the provision of social care, taking forward the approach set out in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. The nature of social care in Wales today seeks to be co-productive, based on what matters to people, by promoting prevention and early intervention. Whilst social care is changing and improving, the challenges of an ageing population are inescapable. That is why we are committed, as a Government, to developing new funding models to support the future costs of social care. This commitment is at the heart of the work of the Government's inter-ministerial group on paying for social care, which I will now chair, taking over the work of my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies, and I should say that that was ably done and it leaves us in a good place.
Professor Holtham's report, which this debate centres on today, has been key to informing our early thinking. More broadly, the report is serving as a catalyst to refocus the wider debate around paying for care, and this, of course, includes direct engagement with our partners in local government. A social care levy is the approach that Professor Holtham has suggested, and his advice requires careful consideration alongside all other options, including insurance-based models. This approach may soon be considered in the context of the long-promised UK Government Green Paper on social care and potential proposals for a UK-wide system of paying for care.
Before I return to Professor Holtham's report itself, I want to say a few words about social care and the vital work that our social services do today to keep vulnerable adults and children safe, to help people to remain independent and to live fulfilled lives and to improve their well-being outcomes. The decade of austerity that we are living through and our diminishing resources mean that local authorities are facing pressures across all aspects of social services provision. The Welsh Government budget in 2019, the day-to-day revenue spending, will be 7 per cent lower, or £1.2 billion lower in real terms, than in 2010-11 on a like-for-like basis. Despite that challenging environment, spending in Wales on social care for older people has been protected in relation to our overall budget. There was a 13 per cent increase in cash terms in social care funding between 2010-11 and 2017-18—almost three times the rate of increase in the Welsh Government's overall budget. Wales has a higher proportion of older people than England, but, even allowing for that, spending per person over the age of 65 in 2017-18 was 23 per cent higher in Wales than in England—up from around 8 per cent higher in 2010-11. It should not, therefore, be a surprise that we will not support the first Conservative amendment that tries to shift blame away from Tory austerity. We will, however, support the second amendment.
The final budget for 2018-19, which we will debate next week in this Assembly, includes a further £7 million to raise the capital limit for residential care to £50,000 from this April. From April, people will be able to keep more of their hard-earned savings before having to contribute towards the cost of their care. This is the most generous threshold of any country within the United Kingdom. This Welsh Labour-led Government promised Wales that we would more than double the capital limit in this Assembly term, and we have done just that.
Official population forecasts add further impetus to the debate about how we pay for care. The forecast suggests a rapidly ageing population over the next 10 to 15 years that would increase demand upon our services for older people and place pressures on already stretched budgets. The population of over 75s in Wales is likely to increase by more than 40 per cent by 2030 and by more than 70 per cent by 2040. And the number of people living to be over 85 is projected to more than double by 2040, and that, of course, is something to celebrate, but is also something to plan for. It is against these forecasts and the anticipated increase in demand for social care that Professor Holtham proposed a levy on income to help pay for care. The proceeds from the levy would help fund the immediate costs of care for older people, with the remainder being placed in a ring-fenced fund and invested to help cover expected increases in the demand for care for future generations.
Our key objective in bringing this debate today is to invite Members' views on Professor Holtham's model and, in particular, to explore the four fundamental questions that Professor Holtham raises in his report. Firstly, he asks whether the social care levy should be earmarked or hypothecated to meet the social care costs. Now, hypothecation can, of course, reduce overall budget flexibility, but his report suggests that proceeds should be ring-fenced to help increase public acceptability of a new tax. Secondly, Professor Holtham asks whether the social care levy model should be based on the contributory principle: so, should a record of payments into the scheme be required to enjoy the benefits? Such a system could create higher administrative costs, but he also concludes, though, that the system should be of the collective type, where benefits are offered unrelated to the scale of a person's contributions. Next, he considers how fairness to those on different incomes and age cohorts could be assured. With Professor Holtham's model, the levy rates would vary between 1 and 3 per cent. They'd be higher for older people initially, as they would pay in for shorter periods, and that would enable an element of intergenerational fairness, but such a system would come with administrative cost.
Finally, he asks: should the scheme be pay-as-you-go, or should revenues be paid into a fund and invested to meet future demands? Professor Holtham makes the case for a funded approach. An initial age-related tax with rates of 1 to 3 per cent, declining over time to 1 per cent, could potentially support a 20 per cent increase in care spending per person for older people and accommodate the forecasted effects of ageing to at least 2040, but this is only possible with adequate investment returns and if collection and administration costs are kept reasonable.
These are, of course, all important questions. As Professor Holtham himself explained both to the Finance Committee and to the inter-ministerial group on paying for social care, his assessment is based on a number of assumptions that we will need to properly consider and to take a view to inform our policy formulation.
I really do welcome the views of Members about all the possible models of paying for social care in the future, as well as those fundamental questions posed by Professor Holtham in relation to a social care levy. I hope that today will be the start of a more informed debate between parties, not just within the Chamber, but outside it, and, indeed, potentially within other committees of the Assembly. We will need maturity and commitment across political parties to deliver on this challenging but unavoidable agenda. We will look to make progress, with a clear and focused plan to take this work forward. There are no easy answers to the challenge of paying for care, as the delayed UK Government Green Paper shows, but, together, I'm confident that here in Wales we can develop an approach tailored to our needs and fit for purpose now and in the future.
Thank you. I have selected the two amendments to the motion, and I call on Janet Finch-Saunders to move both amendments tabled in the name of Darren Millar. Janet.
Amendment 1—Darren Millar
Delete sub-point a) and replace with:
'the pressures on social services arising from poor local government settlements and population change;'
Amendment 2—Darren Millar
Add as new point at end of motion:
Recognises the need for a more integrated approach to the provision of both health and social care.
Amendments 1 and 2 moved.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It is surely common knowledge that adult social care services in Wales are facing unprecedented levels of pressure and are struggling to meet the growing financial and social demands of an ageing population. As our former Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Sarah Rochira, noted to the Finance Committee, social care support is a critical lifeline, helping vulnerable citizens to maintain their own independence. However, this lifeline is straining at the seams to keep up with current demand. For example, data from the ONS shows that over 800,000 of our 3.1 million people living in Wales are now aged 60 or over, with around a third of these aged over 75—this being only set to increase in coming years. Also, Wales currently has the highest rate of long-term illness in the UK, which is the most expensive aspect of NHS care, having previously increased from 105,000 to 142,000 between 2001 and 2010. As a result, pressures on adult social care services are fully expected to rise by about 4.1 per cent every year. Fully funding these pressures would require an extra £1 billion by 2030, according to the Health Foundation. At the current levels in investment and support, this is simply unachievable. As the Finance Committee Chair acknowledged, these pressures have led to a funding shortfall. The Welsh Government continues to underfund vital services. The promise of an extra £60 million, given in the 2019 budget, is nothing more than a drop in the ocean of need. As Welsh Conservatives, we believe too that a better spending use could be made by looking at some of the reductions of wasteful spend by this Welsh Labour Government. One only has to look at the special measures implemented now against the Betsi health board, where £10 million have been spent, and yet, in three and a half years, we've seen no improvement. How much better that spend would have been had it been put into a social care budget and given to our local authorities? Not only do local authorities already spend over £550 million on social care for the elderly, the WLGA now predicts that there will be an extra £344 million-worth of added pressure on social care services by 2021-22. These are eye-watering and very worrying figures.
Besides the lack of direct funding, the Government have repeatedly mismanaged funds that could have been used to improve the quality of social care services. What benefits can be drawn for those people requiring these vulnerable services from the £221 million spent on uncompetitive enterprise zones? Also, has it not been 18 months since the £100 million automotive park at Ebbw Vale was announced? Yet we still do not see any foundations laid or a single job brought about by this so-called investment. Indeed, this is becoming quite routine from this Labour Government.
The funding gap has extended to the point that adult social care investment needs to rise by 4 per cent every year, increasing the spend to £2.3 billion. And this is according to the Health Foundation.
Now, in contrast, the UK Government is due to publish a Green Paper covering a wide range of issues, reflecting their broader vision for a sustainable system of social care. This would be implemented through areas such as workforce planning, backing the sector with £2 billion of investment between 2018 and 2021 to get the right people into the right roles, or considering a more holistic and person-centred care service.
In his most recent report, Professor Holtham puts forward the case for a social care levy. However, as the Finance Committee has advised, and this will be debated again tomorrow, the Welsh Government will need to be able to justify how any funds raised will be used and to demonstrate their impact. Other areas of caution include his admission that further research is almost certainly needed to prevent a reliance on highly provisional figures as well as managing the impact of issues of complex and costly administration, or let's look at the concerns raised by Age Cymru about hypothecation of financing, worrying that money would be diverted by the whim of Ministers like the national insurance fund.
Despite these worries, the fundamental message remains the same—the adult social care service in Wales is creaking. Those working in our care sector are under immense strain and our services are facing a growing demand and increased financial pressures.
I believe, and I understand and agree with you, Minister, that we need to look at this really holistically, really maturely, and I think that it is prudent for us now to work forward, collectively, across the political barriers and we really do need to start having some serious and some tough talking as regards taking our social care funding requirements going forward. Thank you.
I'm pleased to take part in this very important debate. Social care provision—surely, as has been announced, the challenge is great and it demands priority, and the Holtham report is a valuable contribution to that debate.
I don't know if I mentioned in the past that I've been a GP for about 35 years, but I've also been a past trustee of Crossroads Caring for Carers as well, so, exposure to the demands of my patients requiring social care has been great and continues. Now, obviously, people are living longer, largely due to the success of the NHS, despite some vilification from some corners. Okay, we've got clean water and some better housing as well, but the recent increases in life expectancy have come about because of the NHS. Two hundred and fifty people in the UK in 1950 celebrated 100 years of age, 2,500 celebrated 100 years of age in 1990, 13,700 celebrated 100 years of age two years ago. Yet, just focusing on financing the current, stretched social care system would betray our elderly population too, and is a very limited response to the challenge that we do face.
One of the reasons why I'm a fan of a Labour politician, Aneurin Bevan, is that he managed to create a coherent national health service with salaried nurses, doctors, physios; contracts; terms of employment; training; and all the rest when faced with the mishmash of health delivery in the 1930s, which was part public provision, part private provision, part charitable provision, with nobody really in overall charge and people missing out on healthcare in droves. He overcame huge vested interests and brought the NHS into being as a coherent stand-alone service, despite opposition from doctors.
Fast forward over 70 years and when you look at the social care system, it's like health was in the 1930s, with part public provision, part private provision, part charitable provision. We need to create a national care service in the same way that Aneurin Bevan faced down opponents who were saying, 'It's going to be too expensive, it's going to be far too complicated, doctors don't want to lose their private practice, local authorities losing their role.' Huge political will brought about a truly national health service, free at the point of delivery, from general taxation, with all our health risks pooled together. We need to take Aneurin Bevan's inspiration and vision and create a national care service in this twenty-first century.
Just talking about finance is limited and cold because we're dealing with people here—frail, elderly, vulnerable people. Shouldn't we make care better? Pay care staff more, employ them in a national service with terms and conditions, train them and register them, exactly like the NHS. A national care service with parity of esteem with the national health service. A national care service financed out of general taxation, just like the NHS. Care free at the point of delivery, just like the NHS. No distinction between free nursing care and, in the future, free personal care. There is a distinction now, personal care is means tested and charged for. Imagine such a revolutionary scenario with no division between nursing and social care. 'But we could never afford it,' people will say, forgetting that 80 per cent of social care costs today are paid for by Government, are publicly funded now—80 per cent is already paid for.
Imagine the uproar if you attended your GP today and you were told that you would need complex, expensive healthcare and that you would need to sell your house to fund it. Imagine the uproar, people on the streets protesting, topical questions in the Senedd, no doubt, but we accept people having to sell their homes to fund long-term social care with hardly a whimper. A social care levy would not reorganise the care service or stop you having to sell your home to fund care either.
Let's just stop—my final point—looking at social care as just a cost. We've had several speeches over recent months from Labour benches about the foundation economy, and social care is right there in the foundation economy. It's recognised with the NHS as a driver of economic development, especially in rural Wales, with 80,000 jobs in the NHS and a similar number in social care. The NHS is recognised as an important economic driver in terms of employment and higher than average salaries in areas where job prospects are often bleak. The same would apply with a national care service employing carers in a national service all over Wales, guaranteeing employment and decent salaries in areas of Wales with little alternative employment options and with care support workers no longer on zero-hours contracts, poor pay and little training. So, any discussion, to close, about social care should not just be about costs. There's an economic development opportunity here as well, and an economic gain, indeed, potentially outweighing those costs. Diolch yn fawr.
I think this is a very important debate and, hopefully, the first of many, because it's a very complex subject. Before Christmas, I visited all the care homes for the elderly in my constituency, and by and large I was very impressed with the quality of the care that these homes provide and the dedication of their staff. My particular interest was prompted by the fact that one of the homes in my constituency had to close its nursing beds last month because the quality of the nursing provision was simply not good enough. I have to say that it is a good example of how Care Inspectorate Wales does work as a system to ensure that poor care is rooted out, and of the consistency with which the district nurses followed up the concerns that had been raised and flagged up the failure to improve. So, the leadership of this home took the right decision in closing these nursing beds, but, obviously, the lack of leadership that had initially led to the poor care is something we should all be concerned about. In this case, all of the residents were able to find suitable alternatives, but as the care system becomes more and more constrained, that could prove much more difficult in the future.
Talking to the staff, it's perfectly clear to me that wages for social care are simply quite inadequate. This is a really complex job, which requires huge dedication. It's completely unacceptable that people are doing this important job, looking after frail elderly people, and they're being paid less than the living wage. I mean, it's—.
The bidding system that operates in Cardiff guarantees that wages stay low, because for each individual who they want to place in a residential place, they will invite all tenders. The citizen may have chosen a particular home, but if it's not the cheapest then they have to find the money, either from their own resources or somebody else amongst their loved ones, to pay for the top-up between the lowest and the cost of the home that they wish to go to. So, those who don't have those sorts of resources don't have any choice at all. I think that's not a very comfortable way to ensure good care is rewarded and poor care is driven out.
One of the matrons I met said that she felt so underpaid that she was thinking of resigning in order to campaign for decent wages for social carers, and I think she's absolutely right. She says, 'It's okay at the moment. The group of elderly mentally infirm people I am looking after at the moment are fine and jolly—easy to control. In the past, I have gone home black and blue from people who violently assault me.' It's obviously not the fault of the patients, but it's a good example of how you really do need very, very skilled care when it comes to people who have completely lost sight of what are normal social norms.
So, I think we could, and we should, put pressure on our local authorities to only commission services from providers who recognise trade unions, because this situation is never going to change if individuals simply say, 'I'd like to be better paid for the job I'm doing.' They'll simply not be called back—there will be other people who they will replace them with.
We talk of procurement to achieve these objectives in other areas of responsibility, and we should be doing that in the case of social care as well. But, I fully recognise that local authorities are operating with a finite pot. If we increase wages to a decent wage for people in social care, it will lead to local authorities having to raise the bar of the criteria for people to get residential care. That, in turn, will then put even more pressure on the health services. Hospital beds will fill up with people who can't any longer live at home but aren't able to find anywhere that's able to provide them with decent care in the community.
I'd like to see a complete sea change in the way we look at this. I'd like to see much more imagination, creativity and community involvement in the way we deliver social care. I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to make progress on the Buurtzorg pilots, which I've heard very disappointing reports about. I'd be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say on how he thinks that is going, because that is one of the ways in which we can ensure that the community at large—that the citizen can be involved in their own care, as well as their carers and the community at large. At the moment, we have a completely top-down system that doesn't allow for that.
I'm pleased to follow a thoughtful speech on this important subject from Jenny Rathbone. I agree with her about the wages that are paid to those who work in nursing homes. For the last 18 months of her life, my mother was in a nursing home—she'd been incapacitated by a stroke and couldn't do anything for herself at all. I was amazed at the commitment of the staff who looked after her and the others in her home on the poverty wages that they were being paid, and the long hours that they worked. I was absolutely astonished at what we got for what the service cost, and I do think that most people, if they could afford it, would be prepared to dip into their pockets to raise more money for those who work in social care of this kind, to put them on more than the technical living wage. That's one of the many important topics that we're going to have to grapple with in the years to come.
I'm going to continue along these consensual lines, because I do think, as the Minister said, we need to have maturity in this debate. It shouldn't be a political football. There may be disagreements, of course, about which is the best way forward, but I don't think that we should treat this as a kind of a party political dogfight issue just to score points for the sake of them, because it's a problem that has its own in-built intractability which we've got to cope with, whoever is in Government, and all of us in all parties. And as I approach my seventieth birthday myself, I'm of course keenly aware of what may lie ahead. I'm in the fortunate position where I could afford to pay for social care, but of course there are millions and millions of people in our country that can't, and it's desperately important for us to put in place now—and as quickly as we can—a sustainable system for the future that would give people dignity and respect in old age, in vulnerable years, when it's impossible for them to look after themselves.
I commend the Government for bringing this debate forward today and, indeed, for commissioning the Holtham report, which I think, broadly speaking, does show the way forward. It's a mature appraisal of the situation, and the facts are really quite stark. In the executive summary of the Holtham report, it's worth pointing a couple of these things out. The ratio of over-70s to those aged 20 to 69 is going to rise by the early 2040s from 23 per cent to 37 per cent, so that's a 50 per cent increase within the population. The demand for spending on social care is projected to rise by over 85 per cent by 2035 at 2016-17 prices, so that's a 20 per cent increase in spending per head and an increase in numbers requiring care of over 55 per cent.
And so, even if the UK economy and the Welsh budget grows at 1.5 per cent a year faster than care costs, spending a constant proportion of the budget on care will lead to a real increase in funding of only about 30 per cent of what we need. So, there is going to be a growing gap between what is needed to be spent and what is projected to be spent if we just keep things as they are.
In 2007-08—compare the figures today with those years—those who are over 65 has increased by 16 per cent in the population, but of those who are over 65 and in social care, the numbers have actually gone down from 14.9 per cent to 12.9 per cent. Now, part of that may be attributable to improvements in healthcare or greater effectiveness and efficiency in the way the care system works, but it's much more likely to be that health needs that are currently needed are not being met, and that is something else that we have to try to cope with in the years ahead.
So, I do believe that there is a great deal of goodwill across parties to find an acceptable solution. Whether it's the way forward that Dai Lloyd suggested of having an NHS model for social care, I'm not so sure, because I think the real problem we've got here is that despite all the arguments about austerity, that isn't really the problem. The problem is we're going to have to give higher priority to spending in this area, which means, because resources are finite, that we're going to have to downgrade some other areas of spending in the years to come, or else we won't be able to pay the bills. After all, we've doubled the national debt in the last eight years, and we're in a much worse situation today for meeting the problems of recession in the future than we were at the last financial crisis in 2008.
So, these problems are not going to go away. We're going to have to be brave and disappoint some people in order to benefit others, but I do think that the growing problems of paying for social care do deserve to have a greater priority within the Government budget, both within the UK and, indeed, in Wales.
Before making some remarks or comments about the report by Professor Holtham itself, I'd like to make a few remarks about my experience and my impressions of the care that's provided at present. In my constituency, before Christmas, and at other times of the year, I've seen great care being provided to people in care homes in my constituency by people who are on very low wages, but they do it because they see that role as a calling for them, or a vocation for them. I see a lack of beds locally for people who can't afford to pay for their own care. I see departments of social care in local authorities not being able to pay for the kind of care that they'd like to provide for people across Wales. Somehow we have to aim for the kind of sustainable system that all of us want to see.
Yes, the demographics are changing, and the costs are going to rise as we have an older population, but the basic question here is: how can we share that cost across society and ensure that everyone contributes towards that additional cost, rather than leaving the people who can afford to pay for their own care—people who are very fortunate, like the majority of us here in the Assembly—leaving us to pay while leaving other people who can't afford it to hope that a new system is introduced? We have to have a new system, and I'd like to see a different culture. I agree greatly with Jenny Rathbone that we need more of a community flavour to the care that we provide for people, and introduce much more co-operative systems for providing that care in our communities. So, we need a cultural shift, but we also need a policy change as well.
I'm very grateful to Professor Holtham for providing his ideas about one model that we could be looking at. We need to think outside the box, because the challenges are going to grow so much in the years to come. I have a number of doubts about the model that he recommends. It's not clear to me whether it's a levy being recommended here to take the place of the costs that people pay for social care at present, or an additional source of funding. If we're talking about introducing a levy and asking people to keep on paying for their own care, well, obviously that's something that we have to realise is a political challenge to have to sell to people. On the other hand, if what we have here is a levy that's supposed to pay for all the costs emanating from the public purse at present, I think possibly there is a lack of clarity regarding the financial figures that are mentioned in the report. He's talking about £550 million as the social care cost—that cost in truth is £750 million, but it just happens that £200 million of that comes in costs from people. So, the figure that is central to this proposal from Professor Holtham is rather unclear. Maybe the Government could explain whether they understand that this is a levy to replace costs or to create an additional fund. Is that what it is?
And, the figures relate to social care for people under 65 in this report. There is a lot of demand for care for those who are under 65—sorry, this report deals with over-65s. There is the issue also of the years that we will be waiting for that fund to pay out. What is the Government's view in terms of how we would pay for care now while we're waiting for that fund to reach the point where it would be able to pay out?
Finally, returning to the comments made by Dai Lloyd, it says a lot, I think, that it has taken us decades since we established the NHS for us to reach this point where we think, 'Well, how can we have a care service as well?' And maybe, in all seriousness, what we should be doing is not talking about how we're going to create £400 million annually for social care, but how we can look forward and look ahead to creating billions more for a health and social care service. And the fact that we are discussing the social care element in isolation here shows me that we are much further than we should be away from thinking of an integrated service for the years to come.
But, as I said, I'm grateful to have this paper and I'm looking forward to a broader discussion tomorrow in the wake of the Finance Committee's report.
I'd like to thank Professor Holtham for producing yet another insightful report, which will help inform one of the biggest decisions facing our nation: how do we pay for social care? No-one can deny that this is a pressing concern. Social care is in crisis, as the health committee has pointed out. The current level of funding is insufficient to meet current demand, let alone future need. The Welsh Government blames austerity. The opposition blames the Welsh Government. But both are right. Austerity has led to unsustainable cuts, but the way the cuts have been implemented lies firmly at the Welsh Government's door. Local government has cut social care to the bone in recent years, yet they have been allowed to build up massive reserves. Health boards have been allowed to mismanage their finances, and they are not alone. Our Welsh Government bodies have also hit the headlines in recent months as a result of financial mismanagement. Nobody wins in this blame game. And while politicians bicker over whose fault it is, people in desperate need of social care suffer. One thing that all sides agree on is that future demand will outstrip our ability to pay for social care.
Wales is facing massive demographic upheaval in the coming decades. The number of working age adults will be outstripped by the numbers of retirees, and the numbers of people living with long-term chronic illness is set to rocket. Therefore, we need to ensure that we plan for the changes coming, to ensure that we have sufficient funding to provide great quality social care and ensure that whatever the source of that funding, it is equitable.
Gerry Holtham's report gives us one idea for how we pay for care, but it shouldn't really be up to us, the politicians, to decide, because we need a national conversation about the best way to pay for care—a way that is acceptable to all. I personally don't believe that raising income tax is the answer, but then again that's not up to me. The Welsh public has a right to decide what would be the most fair and equitable method of paying for social care. Do we cut other areas of spending? Do we raise income tax? Should we increase national insurance? Would a new social care insurance be the answer? All options should be open for discussion, and whatever the most supported option is, that should be the option we take forward. Our job now is to start that conversation, to facilitate it and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to partake.
However we decide to pay for social care, we have to ensure intergenerational fairness and ensure that funds raised are used to pay for front-line social care, not more local government bureaucracy. As Dai Lloyd stated, it isn't just about finance; it is about how we deliver the care. Can we use a more holistic approach in our delivery? How can we improve the care received and how can we ensure our carers feel valued and that they receive the proper training? We have a crisis looming, and we need to decide as a nation how we meet it. Diolch yn fawr.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
Just a very brief contribution from me as Chair of the Finance Committee, just to express disappointment that the Government has decided to proceed with this debate today, because, as we've already heard earlier, we are to have a debate tomorrow on the cost of caring for an ageing population, which is a report compiled by the committee on this very same topic. I did ask the Government to consider being more innovative in the way that we deal with this situation, and that we could merge, perhaps, the two debates into one, or that we could have one after the other, so we can have a more meaningful, rounded debate, rather than having two separate debates. Unfortunately, the Government decided not to take that approach, so I just want to put on record my disappointment in that regard, and the fact that we have missed an opportunity, because now we will have the same debate, involving the same people, probably, on the very same issue, just 24 hours after this debate. So, it is an opportunity missed, and, indeed, I don't think it's the most effective or efficient use of our time in this Assembly. It's just a missed opportunity.
Now, when the history of the fifth Assembly is written, I think it is our willingness to use our powers over taxation that will mark a clear dividing line, a dividing line that shows the political maturity of this Parliament, a sign of our commitment to use all the tools at our disposal and a promise to the Welsh people to do all we can to create a more prosperous Wales. Nowhere is this clearer than in the ambitious raft of potential new taxes the current First Minister unveiled back in October 2017, and crucial among these is the suggestion of a levy to fund social care. But we must be under no illusion: the challenge to provide the appropriate social care to meet the needs of our society is a considerable one, as I think every speaker in this debate has actually mentioned so far.
Now, around a third of local government spending in Wales is allocated to social care for over-65's, and if you speak to any council leader, they will impress upon you that this is their biggest concern about budgets moving forward. And population trends suggest that this burden is only set to grow. Numbers aged over 65 will increase both absolutely and proportionally over the next decade and the numbers needed in care could increase by a quarter. An ageing population, combined with rising costs and increasingly complex and chronic conditions, will pose economic challenges. The Health Foundation noted in 2015 that Wales spent nearly £400 per person on social care, and that's excluding children and family services. They also estimated that costs would rise by over 4 per cent a year over the next 15 years, and that would mean that by 2030-1 we'd be spending an additional £1 billion on social care in Wales.
Determining a workable solution within the straitjacket of austerity also poses problems. I won't be supporting the first amendment. It misses the very obvious point that our budgets are constrained by the spending decisions taken at Westminster. In turn, this constrains the budgets that can be passed on to local government. If our budget had kept pace with the growth in gross domestic product, Wales would have £4 billion extra to invest in local government, social care and other services, but despite these pressures, the Welsh Government has continued to prioritise social care. For example, the 2019-20 budget contains an extra £50 million to alleviate the frontline pressures on local government.
It is clear that the failed Westminster orthodoxy of austerity is impinging on our ability to provide current and future demands. However, the problem is more deep-rooted than this. Even if our economy and budget grew at a faster rate than the cost of care, we would still face a spending gap that we'd need to bridge. We, therefore, need to seek evidence-based solutions that meet the challenges and Professor Holtham's report provides a critical contribution to this debate and road-maps one solution. Holtham explores the arguments and the various models of determining a sustainable and fairly funded outcome, but his conclusion is clear: raising a specific levy to pay for a specific outcome would meet public concerns, especially if such a levy is age and income dependent and contributory with the social security system stepping in to help those who need it. Holtham also powerfully explains why a funded system would be more efficient than a pay-as-you-go system. Rates could be smoothed and equitable between generations. Hypothecated outcomes would provide cast-iron guarantees for hypothecated input and it could potentially offer wider economic benefits acting as a community fund to promote national growth. As Holtham notes in conclusion, a funded contributory scheme could provide a viable solution to the problem of funding social care in an era of demographic change. Such a scheme would meet shifts in the age profile of Welsh citizens. Again, it would also be self-sustaining.
There will be questions that require further deliberation, of course, but this offers one pragmatic solution to what is the most critical of future needs: ensuring that we meet the care needs of current and future generations and doing so in a way that enshrines dignity and the very best standards. Moreover, Holtham provides a solution that seems to have a certain consensus behind it—in my party, at least. Our recent leadership election certainly generated a range of brilliant ideas from all candidates, but one area where there was a significant amount of agreement was in terms of Holtham and a social care levy. I look forward to these ideas being taken forward.
Thank you, Llywydd, and I'd like to start by thanking Members for their contributions this afternoon. Today's discussion has helped to continue, if not open, a debate that we do need to have on paying for social care. And our aim in bringing this debate today is twofold: to continue to identify the issues and implications in respect of options for the long-term financing of social care costs and to start to develop a platform from which we can build a wider consensus around a potential solution or solutions. And as I've said, there are no easy answers and there are no quick wins, but I'm heartened today that a number of the views expressed in the debate converge on a consistent drive to address this agenda, because there is a clear need for a nationwide debate on what a high-quality and sustainable social care sector in Wales looks like. And that, of course, means continuing to progress our agenda to integrate health and social care to deliver improved outcomes and experience. All parties in this place were, of course, involved in helping to commission the parliamentary view that we then accepted and built upon, and is central to our 'A Healthier Wales' agenda—the joint long-term plan for health and social care here in Wales.
But the debate, moving forward, about social care should rightly include options on finance, including taxation, and we will consider existing research and previous work. And as I said earlier, the debate has to acknowledge the role that local government have because they provide and commission much of the care that we have discussed today. Other providers and people across different parties will also need to be involved, and I do want to highlight that in that conversation with local government, it is taking place across different political leaderships: Conservative-led, Plaid Cymru-led, Independent-led and Welsh Labour-led councils are all part of the discussion that we wish to have, and are having, including with the Association of Directors of Social Services. It takes on board the point that Vikki Howells made—that when you talk to local authority cabinet members and leaders, their No. 1 concern about the future finance is actually about social care and education, the two big blocks of spending, and how they'll manage to maintain spending in this area, not just from a financial point of view but, actually, for the quality of care that they wish to see provided in their local communities. So, we are committed to taking account of new thinking and any creative approaches that exist, particularly as we do develop new models of care—to continue to promote a preventative approach, to make full use of new and existing technology to help people remain as independent and supported in their own communities as possible.
And there will of course be questions about how much we expect to raise in new revenue. So, not simply how we use the revenue that we have now but how to raise new revenue and what that would, or should, provide. And there are questions raised and a number of comments about what we are seeking to do. To replace revenue or to raise new revenue? We want more revenue to be available. I'll turn to some of the comments made—I won't be able to address each and every one—but we do have this debate about whether we get stuck into just talking about underfunding vital services. So, I say a £1.2 billion cost is the minimum cost of austerity—just keeping pace with inflation, not keeping up with GDP. We are then blamed by other parties. We respond by saying that in three successive general elections of championing austerity, we won't actually get to address the challenges that we have, either within Wales or the rest of the United Kingdom. There are choices to be made within our budget, and we have made choices, because there is no consequence-free choice to be made. We chose, within a diminishing overall budget, to invest more into our NHS, and that has consequences on every other budget line that we fund. There's no point pretending that that hasn't happened. But for social care, if we cannot generate extra revenue, then we accept that we'll have a diminishing amount and quality of care. So, this isn't simply about raising extra revenue to maintain a service; we want to raise extra revenue to maintain but also to improve a service. So, it's not just about keeping pace with demographic challenge. And our biggest concern, of course, is that social care has always been means-tested, where the NHS, since its creation, has not. And many of our citizens whom we represent are surprised that social care is means-tested—at the point at which they need that social care, they're surprised that they have to go through a form of means test.
Now, I recognise what Dai Lloyd said about wanting to have a national care service and the broader point about improving services for the citizen—the citizen who requires dignity in the care that they take part in and receive, but also dignity for the member of staff delivering that care. I was very pleased that, within the debate, a number of Members made the point that they have seen social care taking place, they've visited people and had their own personal experiences, and they're impressed with the quality of care that our staff are providing, and often staff who are not very well paid. For the challenge, I agree, is not simply a question of finance, but we do need to move ahead with new funding models if we are going to meet demographic and quality challenges for the future.
As I stated earlier, Llywydd, we will oppose the first Conservative amendment, but support the second. I thank Members for their contributions today and look forward to carrying on this conversation to inform our options to develop the financing of the future costs of social care here in Wales and I genuinely do look forward to being able to do that within my own party, but across different parties and different partners within and outside this place.
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I will defer voting on this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
That brings us to our next item, which is a motion to vary the order of consideration of Stage 3 amendments to the Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill. I call on the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James.
Motion NDM6910 Rebecca Evans
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 26.36:
Agrees to dispose of sections and schedules to the Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill at Stage 3 in the following order:
a) sections 2-4;
b) schedule 1;
c) sections 5-9;
d) schedule 2;
e) sections 10-26
f) section 1; and
g) long title.
I have no speakers. Therefore, the question is that we agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next item is the motion to suspend Standing Order 11.16 to allow the next item of business to be considered. I call on the First Minister to move the motion.
Motion NNDM6904 Rebecca Evans
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Orders 33.6 and 33.8:
Suspends that part of Standing Order 11.16 that requires the weekly announcement under Standing Order 11.11 to constitute the timetable for business in Plenary for the following week, to allow NNDM6905 to be considered in Plenary on Tuesday 8 January 2019.
The proposal is to suspend Standing Orders temporarily. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
That brings us to the item itself, which is the motion to agree the First Minister's recommendation to Her Majesty to appoint a Counsel General. I call on the First Minister to move the motion.
Motion NNDM6905 Mark Drakeford
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 9.1, agrees to the First Minister’s recommendation to Her Majesty to appoint Jeremy Miles AM as Counsel General.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. Can I just say that the remarks I'm going to make are in no way a reflection on the individual, whom I hold in very high esteem? But Jeremy Miles is listed on the Welsh Government's website as, I quote, 'the Counsel General designate and Brexit Minister'. His duties as a Minister, as far as I can work out, include chairing the Cabinet sub-committee on European transition, the EU structural funds and the shared prosperity fund. The First Minister was congratulated by one of the Labour backbenchers this aftern