|1. Questions to the First Minister|
|2. Business Statement and Announcement|
|5. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Update on Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board|
|6. Statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs: Brexit and Our Land|
|7. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Update on the Amber Review Implementation Programme|
|8. Statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip: An Update on Advancing Equality and Human Rights in Wales|
|4. Statement by the Counsel General and Brexit Minister: Update on Brexit|
|3. Statement by the First Minister: The M4 Corridor around Newport|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Rhianon Passmore.
1. What actions is the Welsh Government taking to support businesses in Islwyn to prepare for the future? OAQ53976
Llywydd, the Welsh Government takes actions across portfolios areas, for example through services provided by Business Wales, the development bank and the economy futures fund. Furthermore, our international strategy will emphasise the importance of supporting trade with our closest neighbours and with the wider world.
First Minister, thank you. More than 200 businesses in Wales have signed up to the Welsh Government's economic contract in its first year. The economic contract is designed with the express intention for the Welsh Government to develop a new and strengthened relationship with business to drive and nurture inclusive growth and responsible business behaviours. First Minister, isn't this dramatic proof that the Welsh Labour Government prioritises growth, supports businesses, and ensures that, in communities throughout Wales, like in Islwyn, business is supported for the very considerable challenges that lie ahead? What further measures, therefore, are the Welsh Labour Government considering as the economic contract moves forward?
Llywydd, can I thank Rhianon Passmore for those additional questions, and thank her for what she has said about the way that the Welsh Government supports businesses here in Wales, support we are determined to continue providing? That is why Wales has been one of the fastest growing parts of the United Kingdom. We have the highest number of active enterprises since comparable records began. The business birth rate in Wales is the highest of the four UK nations. The five-year survival rate, and the one-year survival rate of new Welsh businesses exceeds the survival rates across the United Kingdom. That is testimony both to the resilience of the business sector here in Wales and to the way in which the Welsh Government works with that sector to secure a successful future.
As far as the economic contract is concerned, we are now extending its reach. It's being included in remit letters that we provide, for example to the national museum, the national library and Transport for Wales, and we intend to apply the economic contract model to the new £50 million Welsh tourism investment fund that we are delivering in partnership with the Development Bank of Wales—further examples, Llywydd, of the way in which this Government goes on working positively with businesses right across Wales.
First Minister, last year, Wales saw the largest increase in the value of exports—£17.2 billion, with a rise of 4.2 per cent compared with 2017. Exports to EU countries rose by 5.6 per cent—just over £0.5 billion—compared to an increase of just over 2 per cent to non-EU countries. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that companies in Islwyn, and in the rest of Wales, have the support they need to take full advantage of the opportunities provided post Brexit to trade with the rest of the world?
I thank the Member for pointing to the success that there has been in the Welsh economy in relation to exports, a success that we are very keen to build on further. I'm pleased to tell the Member that I met yesterday, as my colleague Eluned Morgan did, with the Japanese ambassador, who was visiting Cardiff yesterday. He's been in Wales again today. He was here to make sure that we have the closest relationship between this Government and the Japanese Government as we move towards the Rugby World Cup, in order to make sure that Welsh businesses are as well placed as possible to take advantage of the platform that the world cup will provide, when knowledge of Wales will be at a higher level as a result of exposure through sport than would otherwise have been the case. And we will go on working, through the ambassador and through our contacts with the Japanese Government, to make sure that Welsh businesses and Welsh exporters are fully equipped to take advantage of those opportunities.
2. What discussions has the First Minister had with cabinet colleagues following the declaration of a climate change emergency? OAQ53936
I thank the Member of that question. Cabinet colleagues continuously engage in discussing actions to reduce emissions and to deliver the low-carbon plan for Wales. New arrangements have been put in place to focus on decarbonisation and biodiversity in the current budget round.
Can I thank the First Minister for that response? I welcome the declaration of a climate change emergency. I believe that climate change is the most important issue facing us today. I'm probably in a minority but I think it is, very much, the most important issue. Will the First Minister produce a road map of planned Welsh Government actions? This could include things such as the annual tree planting target, and an annual target for home improvements, making houses either zero- or very low-carbon emitters.
I thank Mike Hedges for those observations. I don't think he is much alone in believing that climate change is one of the major challenges that face humankind across the globe. We have already set out a series of practical actions in the low-carbon plan, and they build as well on things that the Welsh Government is already doing. We've reduced emissions from our administrative estate by 57 per cent, against a baseline, and we've already exceeded our 2020 targets. And it's in that cumulative effect of the many things that governments do that we will have the impact we want to have. So, only last week, my colleague the health Minister announced the £13.5 million we are investing in 111 new vehicles for the ambulance service in Wales, and 33 of the non-emergency vehicles we will purchase are equipped with solar panels to be able to convert sunlight into electricity. If we are to succeed, then we need action beyond Government as well. And I know that Mike Hedges will be very well aware of the work that goes on in Swansea, through the Swansea community energy and enterprise scheme, carrying out local work within that area, particularly in areas of fuel poverty, to make sure that the way that we address climate change does not fall disproportionately on the shoulders of those least able to pay the cost. The low-carbon action plan, Llywydd, provides £4 million new investment in those local activities that, together with the things that Government can do, will make a difference in every part of Wales. And a road map that draws all of those things together is very much in the mind of Welsh Government as we move to address the problem that we know we face.
First Minister, in March I called on your environment Minister to consider, along with the rest of your Cabinet, the environmental reasons, as well as the economic reasons, for assisting Tata Steel to create its own local energy supply, through a proposed state-of-the-art power station. At the time, I was told that the environment Minister and the economy Minister would be having a joint meeting with Tata in the next couple of months. That's three months ago now, so I'm wondering if you can update us on progress on that and let us know how things are going.
I'm grateful for the question and for the emphasis that the Member puts on environmental issues. I know that my colleague Ken Skates has been in further discussions with Tata on that matter. I was myself in Tata just before half term, meeting with senior executives there. They raised with me once again, Llywydd, the high price of energy that they have to purchase and the failure of the UK Government to act on high costs for energy-intensive industries. It is part of why they are so determined to develop their own power supplies, and the Welsh Government remains an active supporter of that intention, both in the advice that we provide to Tata but also in discussing ways in which we can make a financial contribution to that development.
You said in your initial response that there's an ongoing discussion between you and your Cabinet Ministers on this issue. Of course, the whole purpose of declaring a climate emergency is to change gear and to ensure that more happens. So, can I ask you what instruction you've given to your Ministers on how the declaration of a climate emergency is going to change their priorities? And will the Government, for example, amend remit letters to public bodies in response to this emergency?
I thank Llyr Gruffydd for that question and for that suggestion. As I said in my original response, we've changed the way in which we've approached the funding for next year internally and placed more emphasis on things that we can do across the whole of Government in the context of decarbonisation and other issues in this area. So, we have changed our approach to this. And the purpose of doing that is to collect more ideas and change the things that we are doing across the whole of the Government, and, as regards the suggestion you’ve made this afternoon, we are open to those kinds of ideas.
Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, in the midst of your wrestling with the decision about the M4 relief road and its implications for investment in public transport, have you been made aware that Aberdeen-based First Group is poised to divest itself of its UK bus operations, including in Swansea, where its subsidiary, First Cymru, runs the local bus service that also extends east to Bridgend and west to Tenby, and, of course, nationally through the TrawsCymru service as well?
Llywydd, I was aware of the reports that have been made of that matter. It is exactly why we are committed to bringing forward legislation in relation to bus services in Wales, which will provide new powers to local authorities and others, to make sure that the very significant level of public investment that is made in bus services in Wales can be made in a way that serves the public interest. I look forward to that legislation being put in front of this Assembly later in this calendar year, and to the process of scrutiny that will then surround it.
We, on this side, of course, welcome moves towards the re-regulation of bus services. In the interim, I was wondering if the First Minister would care to say whether the acquisition of First Cymru could be a great opportunity for Swansea to follow both the Cardiff Bus and Newport Bus models, and indeed you could say there are similarities with the situation in Cardiff Airport, in demonstrating how good public service provision can produce returns for the taxpayer rather than profits for the shareholder. Quite rightly, the Welsh Government is subsidising public transport in Wales through concessionary fares offered to bus pass holders, but, except in Cardiff and Newport, a proportion of Welsh Government bus pass funding is finding its way into the profits of private sector companies based in England, Scotland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Singapore. Wouldn't it be much better if this money was recycled in Wales by taking bus operations, such as First Cymru, now that it's up for sale, into public ownership? And would you also agree the opportunity to bring First Cymru into public ownership underlines the direction we should be taking in moving towards and all-Wales integrated public transport network co-ordinated through Transport for Wales?
Well, I thank Adam Price for that second question and to agree with much of the analysis that he set out, which is very consistent with the White Paper that we published in relation to bus re-regulation and the reasons why we intend to bring those proposals forward. I'm very familiar, Llywydd, with the Cardiff model and the fact that Newport has managed to retain public ownership of its bus service. It has been in the teeth of the opposition from the UK Governmen—their ideologically driven determination that local authorities should divest themselves of services that they run on behalf of the public—and our White Paper is designed to use powers we have to reverse that trend here in Wales. The Minister for Housing and Local Government is in her place and will have heard the points that you've made about the actions that could be taken in Swansea direct, and I know that she will be able to discuss those possibilities with the leader of the council in Swansea and to see what appetite there is either to move ahead of the legislation that we intend to bring forward, or whether the legislation that we will provide will provide a better platform for that local authority and others to move in the direction that I think is common between us.
I welcome that. Could I urge the Welsh Government at a national level also to see if there is a possibility in terms of it taking a stake? Some of us will remember, of course, South Wales Transport. It sill has a depot in the village of Tycroes, which the Minister for Economy and Transport and I know very well. So, there is an opportunity here.
Finally, I mentioned Cardiff Airport, which is a strong exemplar, I think, of why this kind of approach can be successful. Nevertheless, I was slightly concerned by the evidence that we had from the airport to the Public Accounts Committee, setting out their belief that they need to take on or that the Welsh Government needs to sell part of its stake in the airport in order for them to secure the investment that is necessary. Can the First Minister say whether that is the policy position of the Welsh Government? Are you open to selling part of your stake? And can you say whether you are aware of any discussions, or what your position would be if that stake was sold to a sovereign wealth fund of a country that had a dubious human rights record?
Llywydd, the Welsh Government has no current policy of selling part of our stake in the airport. I understand the points that the airport makes about the need for capital to support its further expansion and development, and to date we've always been able to support the airport in its ambitions through the Development Bank for Wales and other instruments that we have in our own hands. That, I think, has served the airport well, and I see no reason to depart from that model.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you explain the continued fall of teacher training applicants in Wales under your Government, and why the recruitment targets have been missed for the last few years?
Llywydd, of course I'm aware of the latest figures in relation to initial teacher training. We continue to reform parts of the offer that we make to people in Wales to try and draw more people into the profession, and particularly into shortage areas. We continue to recruit very successfully at primary level. There is more that we need to do, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and in teaching of the Welsh language, to make sure that we recruit the people we will need for the future. We offer a very generous package of support to people who put themselves forward for teacher training in that way. What we won't do, Llywydd, is to lower the standards that we expect of people who come into the profession, and we will continue to calibrate our offer to make sure that we have a supply of teachers that are needed in Wales, and of the standard that we need as well.
First Minister, these figures are very, very worrying, because the number of those training to teach at secondary level was 40 per cent below the target, while the number of students taking primary level courses was 11 per cent below the target. This means 370 fewer students gained qualified teacher status in 2017-18 compared to four years ago, and we've also seen the number of teacher trainee entrants from Wales on secondary school courses in Wales drop by 37 per cent over the last four years, while the number starting to train in England has actually increased by 34 per cent. Indeed, the number of students from England coming to train here has also fallen by over a half. What this exposes, First Minister, is a pattern. Your Government has proven itself incapable of recruiting teachers for the next generation of Welsh schoolchildren, unable to persuade Wales's talent pool to train here, and feckless at making Wales an attractive place for others to come and train. Can you therefore give this Assembly one specific example of a working policy for actually reversing this worrying trend, which has been presided over by successive Welsh Labour Governments?
Well, I entirely reject the hyperbolic description that the Member has offered us—[Interruption.] Facts are one thing; interpretation and description of them is another. It's the description of them that I depart from very much in what the Member said.
Let me give him his one example: we will extend teacher training in Wales through new part-time routes, supported by this Welsh Government for students in higher education. Because we want to bring a wider diversity of people into the teaching profession, and we want people who have experience in other parts of the workforce who are then, at that point in their careers, willing to think about making teaching something that they would offer into the future. They're often not in a position to abandon what they are doing and train on a full-time basis for teaching, but part-time routes, supported through work that we do with the Open University and others, open up those possibilities for new recruits here in Wales and that, I think, is a very clear and specific example of an innovative approach to recruitment in this area.
First Minister, you shouldn't dismiss these figures. These figures are very, very worrying indeed, and it's about time that your Government starts tackling these issues.
Now, in 2016, the Welsh Government announced the ambitious target of 1 million Welsh speakers. To achieve this, we will have to recruit far more teachers who are able to speak Welsh, and teachers who can teach through the medium of Welsh. Unfortunately, the number of students able to teach through the medium of Welsh is at its lowest point for a decade, with only 10 per cent of applicants able to do that. And in addition to that, of the number that are able to speak Welsh fluently, over a third of these weren’t training to teach through the medium of Welsh.
Given these factors, I am concerned that we won’t achieve the target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. The Government must take action now. Certainly, you have to be more ambitious in ensuring that more students want to teach through the medium of Welsh through a credible strategy. So, what hope do we have of reaching this target unless we are moving in the right direction already? So, what are you going to do in order to overturn this situation in order to ensure that more students are encouraged to teach through the medium of Welsh?
Well, to begin with, may I agree with what the Member has said about the importance of preparing young people through our schools if we are to attain the ambitious target that we’ve set? That is why we are doing more in our schools at A-level, in order to get more students to study at A-level and to draw more young people into further and higher education who use the Welsh language throughout the continuum of education.
I attended the Urdd, as I’m sure many other Members did, last week, and I met a great number of young people who use the Welsh language in their school and in their everyday lives, and enjoy using the Welsh language at the Eisteddfod. And I spoke to lots of other people down in the Bay—people who’d just come down to relax in the bay—to explain what they are doing, and to try and create an appetite among other people to support us on our journey.
So, I remain confident that if we work together we will be able to attain 1 million Welsh speakers, and we are doing everything that we can do as a Government, within education and outwith education also, to support this ambitious target.
First Minister, you used to say that you would respect the result of the referendum, but you don't now, do you? Having led the Labour Party in Wales to its worst defeat for over 100 years, you tell the voters that they've got it wrong. You lead a remain establishment that tells the people of Wales, in the words of one AM, that they're ignorant and that they have to vote again. First Minister, when did you stop believing in democracy?
Well, Llywydd, I entirely reject what the Member has said. This Government, for the long months following the referendum, pursued two courses of action that were endorsed here on the floor of the Assembly on 30 January when we voted on both those propositions. The first was always that we believed that a deal could be done that would allow this country to leave the European Union without it doing harm to our economy and jobs. We set that out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. We have used every opportunity that we have had, very often with our Scottish Government colleagues, to advocate for that form of Brexit.
It is clear to me that the leadership contest within the Conservative Party means that it is now impossible that such a deal can be struck, because the contest is between candidates who seek to outvie each other by declaring harder and harder forms of Brexit, and that means that those efforts that we made we made in absolute good faith, we made them for as long as we possibly could, and they have reached the point where they no longer can be credibly pursued. In those circumstances, what I have done is to articulate the position agreed on the floor of this National Assembly—that if we were unable to see a way of securing that form of Brexit, then the decision would have to go back to the people who made the decision in the first place. That's the position we have arrived at. We will do everything we can now to secure that position. And I'll say it again for the sake of avoiding any doubt that, if there were a second opportunity for people to vote on such a proposition, the advice of the Welsh Government will not have changed to the advice that we gave in the run-up to the 2016 referendum—that Wales's future is better secured through continued membership of the European Union.
First Minister, that doesn't explain why you said one thing before the European election and another one afterwards. You make out now that there's such a greater chance of no deal that you've had to change your policy and say you back a referendum whatever, but that's not what you said before the election, is it? You tell us there's so much more chance of no deal—you came to the Brexit committee on 7 January and again on 25 March to talk about no deal; you've only been once since. You came to this Chamber on 22 January, 19 February and again on 19 March to go on about no deal, but you haven't come to this Chamber since. On 5 March, you had that debate supposedly to rule out no deal. Even on 21 January you had a 'no deal' day and you cancelled all Government business for the whole day and gave a statement yourself and rolled out every Minister to tell us about no deal, but none of that since. Because the reality is that things haven't changed, except for what happened to your party in that European election.
You say about the Conservative election process, which you take such an interest in, that the election of a new Conservative leader changes all of that, it eliminates the chances of an agreed deal and hugely increases the chance of a 'no deal' exit. Has he been following the same Conservative leadership campaign that I have? Of the three favourite candidates, one of them, Jeremy Hunt, has said no deal would be political suicide and he wouldn't pursue it. Another, Michael Gove, has said he's so against no deal he's willing to stay in the EU at least until the end of 2020. So, there's one favoured candidate, Boris, who's said he backs no deal if he doesn't get a deal by 31 October. Do you believe Boris? Do you trust everything he says? Do you think there's any more truth in what he says now as there was in what Theresa May said 100 times about leaving on 29 March? Isn't the reality, First Minister, that you've said one thing before the election, another afterwards, and what you say about no deal, what you say about respecting the result of the referendum, is no more meaningful than your manifesto commitment to deliver an M4 relief road?
Well, Llywydd, I'm used to the fact that politics is theatre, although it's a great deal more pantomime than any other form. I offered the Member a proper answer to his first question. He pays no heed at all to the answer and would rather offer us his pre-prepared lecture. 'Nothing has changed', he said, and I wrote down, at one point. Of course, he has changed. He has changed his party a number of times, I think, over the period that he outlined.
The danger of a 'no deal' exit from the European Union, Llywydd, has strengthened immeasurably as a result of the election within the Conservative Party, because candidates there know that the electorate they have to satisfy within that party is an electorate that demands that they will say that they will leave the European Union and if necessary leave it without a deal at all. That is catastrophic from a Welsh point of view. Sadly, to my mind, the ability to try and craft a different deal has evaporated in those circumstances. In those circumstances, I simply reiterate the position agreed on the floor of this Assembly—that if we cannot do a deal of that sort, then we must go back to the people. That's the position we are in today. We will not stand by—we will not stand idly by and allow the Member and others like him to take this country out of the European Union on terms that would do such damage to families, businesses, public services, universities, the length and breadth of Wales. He may be willing to pitch us over the edge of the cliff, but we will certainly not be there to join him.
3. Will the First Minister provide an update on funding for rail infrastructure in Wales? OAQ53937
I thank the Member for that question. Rail infrastructure investment is a responsibility of the UK Government and the discharge of that responsibility remains woefully inadequate in Wales. The Williams review of Britain’s railways provides an opportunity to secure devolution of powers and necessary funding to the National Assembly for Wales.
I thank the First Minister for that answer. First Minister, the Welsh Government has a strong and historic record when it comes to train transport in Wales, opening new lines, opening new stations, investment in rolling stock, electrifying some of the lines and, of course, the metro systems—more than one, of course—around Wales. This contrasts, First Minister, does it not, with the UK Government, who promised to electrify the main line between Cardiff and Swansea and withdrew that promise? Can we also note as well, First Minister, that despite the fact that we get a paltry share of rail investment—1 per cent of the overall budget—the UK Government has repeatedly—repeatedly—failed to consent to the devolution of powers and budget over rail, and there is nothing planned by the UK Government for Cardiff Central station? First Minister, is it not the case that the Welsh Government has shown its commitment to the people of Wales, while the UK Government, through failing to invest in rail infrastructure, has let Wales down?
I thank the Member for that additional question. His own interest in, and commitment to, railways in Wales is known around the Chamber and was very clearly demonstrated during the time that he was First Minister here. He's right, of course—we have 11 per cent of Network Rail's route length here in Wales and we have around 2 per cent of money spent on network enhancements here. Now, the Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Grayling, when he announced that he would not be going ahead with his party's manifesto commitment to electrification of the railway line all the way to Swansea, said that there were five different business cases that he would now be taking forward—a business case, as Carwyn Jones has said, to improve Cardiff railway station, to have additional stations around Swansea, to have improved journey times between south and north Wales and across our border into England. To date, Llywydd, not a single one of those business cases announced by the Secretary of State for Transport at the time of cancelling electrification—that's nearly two years ago—not a single one of those business cases has been seen, not a single penny of funding has been committed and there is no clarity at all on next steps and timescales to live up to that second set of commitments. It's no wonder that the Member draws the contrast between the things that have been done here in Wales to support our railways and the complete failure on the part of the UK Government to discharge its responsibilities—responsibilities it has promised, responsibilities that it owes to people in Wales.
I was very pleased, First Minister, to see, as a result of the UK Government's investment in the rail network, the re-establishment of direct rail links between north Wales and the north-west of England via the Halton curve—[Interruption.] Via the Halton Curve. This has been something that I've long championed in this Chamber, first raising questions on the matter with the former First Minister over a decade ago. Now, those rail links are extremely important to the people of north Wales, but one tragedy is that at the moment there is still no direct rail link for the north Wales coastline into Liverpool, in spite of the railway link now being available. Now, I understand that there are plans to reintroduce one, but they are some time off at the moment and at present there's still a change required in Chester and, unfortunately, the timetables do not match well to deliver a reasonable time for people to be able to commute backwards and forwards to Liverpool for whatever purpose they might need to do so. So, can I implore you to speak with Transport for Wales in order to look at their timetabling arrangements, prior to the reintroduction of the direct rail link between the north coastline and Liverpool, in order to get those connection times right to make sure that people can get in and out of Liverpool swiftly?
Can I join the Member in welcoming the new services between north Wales and Liverpool—the result of action that the Welsh Government took through the Mersey Dee Alliance to make sure that that happened? Of course, the Member is right to point to the timetabling difficulties at Chester, but Chris Grayling's record on timetabling is not one that gives us a great deal of confidence that that problem will be easily solved by appealing to him. We have recently had a memorandum of understanding signed between Transport for Wales and Transport for the North. That will certainly help to solve some of the barriers to the determination we have to have direct rail travel between north Wales and Liverpool, and we have the rolling stock in preparation to do that. And, when we have the co-operation we need from the UK Government, we will look to solve the problems that lie in their hands that are the barrier to this being achieved.
4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the proposed seismic survey of Cardigan Bay? OAQ53975
I thank Joyce Watson for that. The Welsh Government opposes the extraction and consumption of all fossil fuels. Our commitment to decarbonisation and renewable energy generation places fossil fuels at the bottom of the energy hierarchy here in Wales. All of that applies to activity in the St George's channel and elsewhere around the Welsh coast.
I'm really pleased to hear that, and I'm equally pleased to hear that this proposed activity is now under suspension. But the 7,000 people who have signed a petition who opposed this will be equally pleased to hear that, and I did write to the Minister for Environment, Planning and Rural Affairs on this in May. But I think—. And I was going to ask, but you've already pre-empted my question, for some clarity on our position with regard to such surveys, in the same way that we made our position abundantly clear when it came to fracking. So, I'm now able, thanks to you pre-empting my question, to write back to the people who have been writing to me to make that abundantly clear, that we do oppose any such activity, particularly in these waters, where they are marine-protected areas and sustain the wildlife that lives within them.
Can I thank Joyce Watson for the consistent interest that she has taken in this matter, and the way that she has kept Welsh Ministers informed of local concerns? I'm glad to have been able to set out the Welsh Government's position. It's inevitable, Llywydd, and right that our commitment to decarbonisation means that fossil fuels must be at the bottom of the energy hierarchy here in Wales, rather than as in the policy of the UK Government, which is to maximise recovery of oil and gas from the UK continental shelf, including Wales. Indeed, it has placed a statutory obligation on the Oil and Gas Authority to achieve exactly that. Now, that is not the position of the Welsh Government. More than one Government's interest are at play in relation to proposed seismic surveys of the Cardigan bay and St George's channel area, but our position is, I think, as clear as it can be, and I'm very glad to have been able to have put it on the record again this afternoon.
Of course, on this side of the Chamber, we're very pleased indeed that the company has put its application at this point on hold, but I think it's important to emphasise that our understanding is that it's on hold, not abandoned altogether. None of us, I think, want to see this testing in Cardigan bay. Now, the First Minister says that he and his Government wholeheartedly oppose any proposals to speculate for the potential extraction of gas or oil from this area. However, it's our understanding that Eni, the company, justified its application partly on the basis of the draft Welsh marine plan, which specifically says, and I quote:
'Proposals that maximise the long-term supply of oil and gas are encouraged'.
Now, obviously, this is a draft plan as it stands at the moment, but I would ask the First Minister, in the light of what he's said this afternoon, and in the light of the climate change emergency declaration, that he will commit with his Ministers to reviewing the draft marine plan to remove any clauses that companies in future might be able to use, even if they're quoting those clauses potentially out of context, which they may have been in this case—that any clauses that might be seen to encourage extraction should be removed, and a clear commitment to discourage extraction from any part of the Welsh marine environment be in place, firmly in place, within that plan when it's finalised.
Llywydd, I thank the Member for those points and for the caveated way in which she quoted what the company had said. She was right in what she said, that we have published a draft plan, that there is consultation that has taken place on that draft plan, and I know Members will look forward to seeing the way in which the final plan, which we plan to publish later this year, will take into account views expressed during consultation and developments that have happened in the interim.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of affordable housing on new-build residential estates? OAQ53971
Llywydd, increasing the number of affordable homes is a fundamental priority for this Government. Our planning policy requires local planning authorities, through their development plan policies, to ensure the provision of affordable housing to meet their communities’ needs.
The problem is that it isn't in the gift of planning authorities, often, to deliver that level of affordable housing. A recently approved development on the site of the old Virginia Park golf club in Caerphilly put 350 houses through planning committee, of which 7 per cent—7 per cent—were affordable, and the developers continually scale down their affordability provision throughout the planning process. Virginia Park in Caerphilly is symptomatic of a system I've been raising since I was first elected to this Assembly. Existing planning policy gives too much leeway to developers to build executive-style homes that price out many local people and just don't enable people to buy affordable properties. Does the First Minister agree that new housing developments need to have much stricter requirements for genuinely affordable housing and that private developers must be—must be—held to account for that?
Well, I thank Hefin David for that and I agree with a great deal of what he has said in his analysis of the way that the current system can be manipulated to secure outcomes that the system is not intended to secure. It is certainly why we have introduced changes already in 'Planning Policy Wales' that will reduce the room for renegotiation on affordable housing when that has been entered into between a local authority and a developer. When we see those agreements struck we expect to see those agreements honoured. And 'Planning Policy Wales', as I say, reduces the room for developers to come back to the table and to try to renegotiate. We will publish shortly the national development framework for Wales. That will include further actions that we can take to make sure that our system supports our ambitions for affordable housing to be produced in all parts of Wales, in the places where it is most needed, at volumes that help to meet the demand for affordable housing and do so in a way that illustrates genuine partnership working between local authorities discharging their responsibilities and the developers who they rely upon for those houses to be built.
I've got a problem with the term 'affordable housing', because that can be misleading. Affordable housing within the context of technical advice note 2 includes homes owned through shared equity schemes, including Help to Buy. Since the 2016 election, 40 per cent of the 3,458 homes sold through Help to Buy were sold for more than £200,000. That isn't affordable in most people's books. We need to get real about the housing crisis that is preventing many young people from getting onto the property ladder and forcing many to leave the communities that they grew up in because they can't afford to buy a house there anymore. In a housing paper Plaid Cymru published earlier this year, I proposed setting a target of 20,000 new social housing homes in the first year of a Plaid Cymru Government. The market is failing way too many people. First Minister, Wales cannot and should not have to wait until 2021 for the housing crisis to be alleviated. Will you give an undertaking to match our ambition and determination to provide housing that is within genuine reach of those currently priced out of the market?
Well, Llywydd, I agree that there is a problem with the term 'affordable housing'. I don't agree entirely with the Member about what she has said about Help to Buy, which genuinely has helped many young families in Wales to secure housing that otherwise would not have been available to them. But affordable housing rents are 80 per cent of market rates, and, for many people, including people entering professions such as teaching and nursing, 80 per cent of market rents in some parts of Wales are not genuinely affordable. It is why the vast bulk of the houses we are building as part of our 20,000 affordable homes during this Assembly term are actually at social rents rather than affordable rents. So, that's around 50 per cent of market rates, which are genuinely, then, in the sphere of affordability for people in those circumstances. I want our housing policy to be ambitious. I want it to be focused on those people who most need assistance in the housing market. We are confident that we will reach the target that we have set during this Assembly term, and then we will look to see what offer we would make to the people of Wales were we to be in Government in the next Assembly.
6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Arbed scheme in Arfon? OAQ53965
Thank you, Siân Gwenllian, for that question. During the period of Arbed 2, schemes were delivered in the Arfon area. Discussions continue with Gwynedd county council to explore further possible schemes during Arbed 3.
Constituents from Carmel, Deiniolen, y Fron and Dinorwig have expressed concern about the quality of the work done under the Arbed scheme that you mentioned, and that happened four years ago: external cladding not put on correctly and therefore causing dampness, drainage pipes being deficient, cracked walls, cracked render, plaster having cracked inside the house following the work, damage to roofs, and discolouration of the external cladding. I have been in correspondence with the environment Minister on this, but the problems continue. Will your Government review this situation and have an external report to look at the quality of the work and, more importantly, to recommend what the Government can do to assist my constituents?
Well, thank you, Siân Gwenllian, for those questions. I'm aware of the issues that the Member refers to and also her correspondence with Lesley Griffiths on behalf of her constituents. She will know that the conclusion of the recent independent report of the work undertaken previously on Arbed in Arfon was that it wasn't failures of the scheme that were responsible for some of the things they have complained about. I have read that independent report personally to order to see exactly what it said. Now, I know that some of the things that people complained about did not fall within the scope of the independent review that we've held at present, and officials are now considering whether some other issues will require independent advice. So, thank you for raising those points; we're still in the process of considering this within Government.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is supporting Powys Teaching Health Board? OAQ53943
Llywydd, on 8 May the health Minister announced £2.554 million in new funding for the north Powys well-being programme. That is just one example of the support provided by the Welsh Government to the Powys Teaching Health Board.
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. I very much welcome the intention to build a healthcare facility in north Powys, almost certainly to be located in Newtown. The initial sum that you talked about is, of course, just for the initial stages, but the full amount will, of course, be 10 times more in order for that project to go forward. Is there anything more you can say at this stage to provide assurances that further capital funding will be invested to ensure that this facility becomes a reality? And secondly, even if this project moves at quite a pace, it's going to be some years away until that facility is in place. In the meantime, there are concerns about the sustainability of the GP practice and wider health services in Newtown as well. What can be put in place in the meantime in the short and medium term?
I thank the Member for that. We understand, of course, that whenever the Government provides funding from the Welsh Government's transformation fund, there are questions that have to be explored as to the long-term sustainability of those services, and those sustainability arguments are absolutely part of the decision making that leads to that investment in the first place. So, I understand the reason why people ask those questions, but I want to give the Member an assurance that those questions are explored as part of the decision making that has led to this investment in the first place. We wouldn't be making the investment if we didn't believe that it would bring about sustainable change and sustainable new services in the areas in which we are investing.
The Member knows that Powys local health board has had to work on a series of issues where GP services have been altered in the area. They have, I think, a very creditable record of reinventing primary care services in the way that will become increasingly familiar in all parts of Wales, where it is that wider range of professionals who come together under the leadership of GPs to make sure that people going through the door of a practice go directly to the person most likely to be able to respond to their need, whether that is a pharmacist, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, whatever that wider team is able to provide. That experience and that expertise continues to be applied to issues in Powys where there is a need for change to be brought about in primary care provision.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on his support for a people’s vote on Brexit? OAQ53978
I thank the Member for that question. As I said earlier, Llywydd, a contest between candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party means that the context has changed in relation to the policy that has been pursued by this Government. In these circumstances, the National Assembly, which voted on 30 January that the only option is to give the decision back to the people, finds that that is the position that we have now reached, and I have reaffirmed my support for the National Assembly’s position.
Thank you, First Minister. I'm sure you recognise that many of us from across the Assembly very much welcome your announcement of support for a people's vote, but do you also recognise that absolute clarity is needed and that it's essential that yourself and all your representatives in any forum, including the Labour Party, are crystal clear? So, will you confirm that you support a people's vote in all circumstances and that you will campaign and press for one at every opportunity, and that when that people's vote comes you will be the leading voice in Wales for us remaining in the EU?
Well, I thank the Member for that question and for her welcome of my reaffirmation of the position that we are in—that with the possibility of a deal having evaporated, then putting that decision back to the people, as this Assembly said, becomes the only option. I want to assure her that in the meantime, the Government has gone on pressing the UK Government to make the necessary preparations for such a referendum, which was also highlighted in that debate in front of the National Assembly. My colleague Jeremy Miles has discussed this on three separate occasions now with David Lidington, pressing him to take the action that the UK Government needs to take to make sure that a referendum can be a practical possibility. We will go on making that case to him, and I provide her with the assurance that she is looking for that, if a referendum is brought about, this Government will campaign to remain in the European Union and members of the Government will be there with others making that case and trying to persuade people in Wales that their future is better secured in that way.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call the Trefnydd to make the statement. Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are a few changes to this week's business. The First Minister will make a statement shortly on the M4 corridor around Newport, after which the Counsel General and Brexit Minister will provide an update on Brexit. As a result, the statement providing an update on advancing equality and human rights in Wales has been postponed until next week. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Can I call for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to hospice care for children here in Wales? The business manager may well be aware that there was a recent report by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales called 'How are healthcare services meeting the needs of young people?' and in that report it made a very clear recommendation that the Welsh Government need to assess any unmet demand for palliative care services to make sure that children and young people across Wales get the care that they need. I think it's very important that we understand the timescales for undertaking that piece of work to make sure that our constituents can get access to the very important palliative care that is sometimes unfortunately needed for children and young people. We have some excellent children's hospices here in Wales with Tŷ Gobaith children's hospices in the north and Tŷ Hafan here in the south. I think it's very, very important that we make sure that they have the capacity to deal with the children from Wales who need that sort of care and support. So, I would appreciate it if a statement could be brought forward.
Thank you very much for bringing forward that request for a statement today. I agree with you that we do have some excellent provision here in Wales. But it is important that we do understand whether or not there is unmet demand for palliative care for children and young people in Wales, so I will ask the health Minister, in the first instance, to explore that in the context of the report to which you referred and to write to you with an update.
Trefnydd, you may be aware of the controversy that has arisen within my South Wales West region with regards to Bridgend County Borough Council's decision to order the removal of a 'Cofiwch Dryweryn' mural in Bridgend. A huge amount of public interest has followed the decision of the council to take action against the property owner. I must say that I find the actions of the council to be unreasonable, given that dozens of replicas of the mural have been erected right across Wales over recent months in response to the shameful vandalism of the original 'Cofiwch Dryweryn' mural near Llanrhystud in Ceredigion. I'm sure that we would all acknowledge that the flooding of Capel Celyn in Gwynedd in 1965 was a key event in Wales's history. The murals that have been painted across the length and breadth of Wales over recent months simply reflect the strength of feeling that continues to exist.
What is noteworthy is that Bridgend County Borough Council seems to be the only local authority in Wales that is insisting on a planning application for a 'Cofiwch Dryweryn' mural. I believe that this is due to the fact that the council's interpretation of the legislation is simply wrong. I do not believe that the mural can be construed as an advert; it simply marks a historic event. The positions of other local authorities seem to support that view—that it marks a historic event and that it is not an advert. Indeed, only last year, the renowned artist Banksy famously painted on a garage wall in Port Talbot. I do not recall Neath Port Talbot council insisting that Banksy apply for planning permission. If he has, it's still awaiting—still pending a decision retrospectively. In light of the above, I have already written to Bridgend County Borough Council asking it to reconsider its position with regards to the mural. Would the Welsh Government join me in condemning this action by Bridgend council, and would you be prepared to make a statement to that effect?
Thank you for raising this issue. Of course, you remember that I was able to take the opportunity in a previous business statement to express regret at what was mindless and senseless vandalism to the original memorial. The Minister with responsibility for planning has indicated to me that she'd be grateful if you would write to her with details of this particular case so that she can explore the issue regarding the interpretation of legislation.
Minister, please could I have a statement from the Minister for Education on teacher recruitment in Wales? Last week, it was reported that Welsh Government had missed its own target for recruiting new secondary school trainee teachers by 40 per cent. The primary school trainee target was missed for the third year running. Also, the figures indicate that Wales is becoming a less attractive region for young graduates to train, with student numbers from England falling by over half in the last five years. Please could we have a statement on the escalating crisis in teacher recruiting in Wales?
For my second statement, Minister, I would like to ask the Minister for local government if he or she can make a statement regarding the bin collection timing. Because in Newport, the railway station is right in the middle of town and all the streets come towards there. In the morning, it's a real bad state when people want to come and the bin collectors are right in the middle and people are making a queue. Rather than in the side roads, it's in the main streets, so it takes a long time to go to either the station or to work. So, I'd like to have a statement from the Minister on that issue, please.
Thank you for your request for two statements. The first was about teacher recruitment and, of course, your leader did ask the First Minister several questions about teacher recruitment during the Plenary session earlier today. But the education Minister has also indicated that she'd be happy to have questions on that topic during her question time, which will be taking place tomorrow.
There must be a sensible answer to the bin collection issue, but, in the first instance, I would suggest a discussion—. On the bin collection timing issue, a discussion perhaps with the council in the first instance might be the most appropriate way forward.
I want to raise the state of bus services in the Rhondda. I've received a number of representations from constituents about the deterioration in the frequency and quality of service. Many of the modern gold Stagecoach buses have been replaced by older and smaller models in many cases, and I've been informed that these buses have been reallocated to the Blackwood, Newport and Cardiff routes. Some popular routes have also been reduced in frequency, leading to problems getting on to the bus, let alone finding a seat. I can give you plenty of examples of complaints that I've received, but one has said,
'I drive everywhere, mainly due to the fact that the waiting times for public transport in general are appalling. The cost of a ticket isn't worth waiting for buses. If trains and buses were more frequent and cheaper, then I would 100 per cent use them more often.'
I applaud the decision not to go ahead with the costly black route for the M4, if not the cost and the rigmarole that it took to get us to this stage. However, if we are going to make Wales the cleaner, greener and more prosperous country that we all know we are capable of becoming, then there needs to be a radical plan to improve public transport. This Government needs to make a pitch to ditch the car. Can the Government therefore issue a statement on its plans to improve public transport in Wales, and specifically how it will put right these problems that I've referred to in the Rhondda?
I was informed last week of the decision to delay the centralisation of paediatric services in Cwm Taf health board. This decision, which was endorsed by the Labour Government here, would have seen consultant-led services removed from the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant, and concentrated at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr. For me, and the thousands of others who marched and campaigned against those plans for many, many years, this was very welcome news. While the centralisation of maternity services in Cwm Taf cannot be held solely responsible for the failings that we've seen there, it's hardly helped the issue.
I'd like the Government now to acknowledge that the centralisation of services is not the answer to the recruitment crisis. Proactive recruitment and providing more training places is the answer. This is what Plaid Cymru has long been calling for. Will the Government make a statement on its plans for tackling the recruitment crisis please?
Thank you for raising both of these issues. The first was reflecting the concerns of your constituents regarding their experience with bus services in the Rhondda, particularly in terms of the frequency and the quality of the service. You'll be aware, of course, that Welsh Government has recently concluded a consultation on some quite radical plans for the future of bus services in Wales, and we're extremely ambitious for what bus services could deliver in terms of public transport, alongside all the work that we're doing with the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 and so forth. But you say that many constituents have been in touch with you, so I'd certainly encourage you to share those individual experiences with the economy Minister, who is responsible for the consultation on bus services, so that he can consider them as part of that.
The health Minister has committed to providing regular updates to Members regarding the Cwm Taf paediatric services, and maternity services in particular, I should say. And he has recently provided an oral update to the Assembly on the 'Train. Work. Live.' programme, which did offer Members the opportunity to discuss in depth the recruitment challenges within the NHS.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a trade union bulletin in Ford in Bridgend about the possibility of potential strike action if plans, as they understood, go ahead to cut two thirds of the job population at Ford in Bridgend due to cutbacks, and due to changes in Ford on a UK and European level. I understand that there's going to be a top-level Ford management meeting in June—this month—and I wanted to understand what the Welsh Government are doing to (a) take part in that meeting, and (b) to protect and safeguard the jobs at Ford. I'm getting quite a lot of workers at the plant contacting me with anxiety about the future, considering this is one of the biggest employers in Wales. So, I would like to have an update urgently on the position that the Welsh Government is taking in relation to those particular jobs at Ford.
My second question is on something that's been brought to my attention over the weekend, about a lady from Swansea who is an asylum seeker/refugee. She actually didn't know her own status because her husband wouldn't tell her. She was beaten up over the weekend, and went to the police and domestic abuse services, but was told, because she had no recourse to public funds, that she couldn't get any support. So I've been trying to help her over the last few days to get a hostel, to get anywhere to get support, because she couldn't return to this abusive relationship. And, for me, it was about the fact that she had to define herself before she could get any support. She didn't actually know her status, because her husband, being abusive, wasn't telling her. So, what can we do to ensure that the first thing we think about, if a woman is being abused, is to help her, and not to think about how much money she's got, what country she's from, what her status is, so that that woman doesn't go back to an abusive relationship? I would like to have a statement specifically on this small group of people, actually, who need support in relation to a refuge, a hostel, when they simply do not know their status.
The Deputy Minister and Chief Whip has responsibility for both the support that we are able to offer asylum seekers and refugees in Wales, and also the issue of tackling domestic violence. So, I think she'll be very well placed to provide you with an update in terms of how those two pieces of work can mesh seamlessly together, so that we don't put people such as the woman you describe in such a terrible situation, where they are perhaps faced with no other option than to return back to an abusive partner.FootnoteLink We do have a statement next week on the nation of sanctuary, so this might be an opportunity to raise this specific case on the floor of the Assembly with the Minister concerned.
The Minister for Economy and Transport has confirmed that we are in regular contact with Ford, but I will ask him to write to you with an update on the most recent discussions that have been had.
May I ask the Trefnydd for two statements from the Government? First of all, of course, we'll all be aware that many EU citizens had failed to vote during the European elections recently. That is a cause of concern for each and every one of us. I know that at least 3,500 have made official complaints across the UK that they had got to the polling station and been rejected. There will be far more who won't have made an official complaint, and there will be yet more who won't have received the relevant paperwork before even getting to the polling station. It’s not a new problem—there were problems in 2014, but they were far worse this time.
Simple steps could have been taken and could have been to contact directly by letter and e-mail those constituents—as some local authorities did, by the way—but also to offer the UC1 forms that had to be filled in order to say that you were voting here rather than elsewhere, and to provide those not only online but in the polling stations themselves, where they could have been filled in on the spot. Two simple steps, I think, that could have prevented the great misdemeanour that many constituents faced. So, could I ask for the Government to make it clear what contact you've had with the UK Government, and with local authorities, in order to express the concern that many of us have on this injustice, for those who were not allowed to vote, and in order to ensure that that won't happen again?
Could I ask for a statement from the health Minister, if I may? Many of us are increasingly concerned about the creeping privatisation within the health service in Wales. I'm particularly concerned about the situation in Betsi Cadwaladr in my region, in North Wales, which is of course under the direct control of this Labour Government at the moment. Last year, I'm sure you will recall, many of us campaigned to stop the privatisation of dialysis services in Wrexham and Welshpool, where the proposal was even to transfer NHS staff into the private sector. Now, myself, trade unions and others succeeded in that campaign, but now we learn that the health board is turning to private companies to run hospital pharmacies, in Ysbyty Wrecsam, in Glan Clwyd, and in Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor as well.
Labour of course is seemingly fiercely opposed to the privatisation of health services in England, yet seemingly very relaxed about a similar outcome emerging here in Wales. I agree with the trade unions, such as Unison, that there is no place for private companies within these kinds of services in Wales. In light of the ongoing trend that we're seeing, in terms of this privatisation of services across North Wales, I think the Government needs to make a clear statement on outsourcing NHS services, to ensure that we do protect our national health services from private predators.
I can give a clear statement now that we're fundamentally opposed to any privatisation of the health service here in Wales, and we're fundamentally opposed to any suggestion, for example, that there should be an agreement made with the United States of America that might sell off parts of our NHS here in Wales, and we continue to make those points.
On the issue of votes for EU citizens, we'll take into account what the Electoral Commission review will say and the Wales Electoral Coordination Board is involved in that work, and that's an opportunity to make those representations on behalf of those EU citizens based here in Wales who were denied the opportunity to take part in that election.
Thank you, Llywydd. I would like to make a request for a debate in Government time, as we await the statement from the First Minister on the decision on the M4 corridor around Newport. I have no doubt that strong views will be expressed during the next three quarters of an hour or a little longer that will be allocated for that statement today, and there will be strong arguments on both sides, I'm sure. But dare I suggest that there is more to be said than can be covered in response to a statement from Government today? So, I would like to request a debate, and a substantial debate, in Government time, possibly over two days even, on what exactly the implications of this decision are and what steps need to be taken as an institution, as a Government and as a nation, as we move forward from this particular point in time. I think this has been one of the most important political issues that we have discussed in recent years, but I do believe in light of that that we do need to ensure that there is adequate time allocated here in our national Parliament to have this important debate as we face the next steps.
Well, the inspector's report is very long and very detailed, as is the decision letter, and it is really important that Members do have the opportunity to read both of those documents and to consider them fully before we schedule a debate in Government time. But we will bring forward a debate in Government time during the forthcoming weeks, once Members have had the opportunity to consider fully the information that's been set out today.
And that brings us to the statement by the First Minister on the M4 corridor around Newport, and I call on the First Minister to make the statement.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Following my written statement to Members earlier today, and publication of the report of the public inquiry into the M4 corridor around Newport, I can now set out further details in relation to my decision on the proposed M4 relief road, and the next steps to alleviate traffic congestion on the current M4.
Since late February, I have carefully considered the report and the recommendations of the public inquiry into the M4 corridor around Newport. As Members will be aware, the report is a very substantial document, reflecting the work undertaken by the inspector between February 2017 and September 2018, and the many hundreds of written submissions made to that inquiry. The decision as to whether to make the Schemes and Orders, which are necessary for the project to be implemented, falls solely to me as First Minister.
My decision has to reflect the context within which it is made, Llywydd. We are still deep into the longest and deepest period of austerity in any of our lifetimes. It has seen our capital budgets cut consistently since 2010. My ministerial colleagues and I grapple every day with balancing the financial implications of our Government investment priorities.
Llywydd, the Cabinet met at the end of April to discuss the overall financial situation facing the Welsh Government, and the capital spending needs of the coming years across all portfolios, in order to give careful consideration to our forward capital programme. Cabinet concluded that the significant level of expenditure needed to deliver the M4 project would have an unacceptable impact on our other priorities in areas such as public transport, health, education, and housing. It did so, as I said, by placing those capital investment decisions in the wider financial context faced by the Welsh Government.
Llywydd, this is a decision being made at the point of maximum uncertainty about our financial future. Unprecedented austerity in the public finances is combined with a complete lack of clarity over our capital budgets for the coming years, and is exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, while we know that the UK Government’s lack of progress in bringing forward a comprehensive spending review could see the Welsh Government’s budget even lower in the future than it is today.
This financial position has significant and specific implications for the exercise of my powers to make the necessary compulsory purchase orders for the project to proceed. In this regard, and before deciding to make any CPOs, I am required to be satisfied that there is a compelling need for such orders and that they must be in the public interest, and that that, together, must justify interference with the human rights of those with an interest in the land required for the project. I must be satisfied that the necessary resources to carry out the project would be available within a reasonable timescale and that the project is unlikely to be blocked by any other impediment to its implementation. Llywydd, I have concluded that the financial position means that I cannot be satisfied that I can lawfully exercise my compulsory purchase order powers in relation to the project, because I am not satisfied that the project can be implemented within the foreseeable future, given the prolonged period of financial uncertainty we face.
Now, Llywydd, in light of this conclusion, it is actually unnecessary for me to go on to consider whether the advantages of the project outweigh its disadvantages and whether I agree with the inspector’s overall conclusions as to where the balance between advantages and disadvantages lies. Nevertheless, I have proceeded, as the inspector did, by addressing, as he says in paragraph 8.481 of his report, the ‘strong and competing interests’ at play and the question of where the balance between those competing interests should lie. I have therefore considered the advantages and disadvantages identified by the inspector, and I have concluded that, even without the Cabinet’s position on funding, and even if, on those grounds, it was likely that the project would be implemented, I would, in any event, have decided not to make the schemes and orders.
I recognise the inspector’s conclusions as to the advantages and disadvantages of the project. However, I attach greater weight than the inspector to the adverse impacts that the project would have on the environment and ecology. In particular, I attach very significant weight to the fact that the project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent levels sites of special scientific interest and their reen network and wildlife, and on other species, and a permanent adverse impact on the historic landscape of the Gwent levels. As a result, in my judgment, the project’s adverse impacts on the environment, taken together with other disadvantages, outweigh its advantages. In weighing up the inspector’s ‘strong competing interests’, my judgment as to where the balance between those competing interests lies ultimately differs from his. For these additional reasons, separate to those on the grounds of funding, I do not consider that there is a compelling case in the public interest to expropriate the land that is subject to the compulsory purchase orders, and I do not consider that it would be appropriate or expedient to make other schemes and orders.
Llywydd, just as my decision has had to take into account the latest and changed financial context facing the Welsh Government, so too future solutions to the congestion issues on the M4 around Newport must reflect the most recent environmental challenges we face as a nation. Two significant recent reports have highlighted different aspects of these challenges. The first is the UK Committee on Climate Change ‘Net Zero’ report on climate change, recommending a new 95 per cent target for emissions reduction in Wales by 2050. In response, the Welsh Government, recognising the scale and urgency of the threat, declared a climate emergency. Secondly, last month, the United Nations published its global assessment on biodiversity. That report set out the scale of the impact that human activity and development is having on species, and the threat that further development is likely to pose to ecosystems across the world. Llywydd, the findings of that report apply equally to us here in Wales.
Now, Llywydd, I acknowledge, of course, that there are strong views on both sides of the debate in relation to this project. There is a consensus, however, and a consensus that I share, that the issues of capacity, resilience and environment at the M4 corridor around Newport do have to be addressed and that they will need a mixture of both local and regional solutions. In light of the funding constraints and the environmental impacts that have led to my decision on the orders, it is important that those issues are now addressed collaboratively, and that voices on all sides have the chance to shape the way forward together. It's in this context that I announce today a new commission that will be appointed—a commission of transport experts charged with reviewing the evidence and making recommendations to the Welsh Government on alternative solutions to the problems faced at the M4 corridor around Newport. Those suggestions can include innovative technologies and other measures to address those current problems.
The commission will be guided by our overarching ambition to develop a high-quality, multimodal, integrated and low-carbon transport system, and the context of the major challenges of climate change and biodiversity that I have set out already. The commission will be drawn from a spectrum of expertise, and it will be supported in its work by a dedicated team within the Welsh Government. Ken Skates, the Minister for Economy and Transport, will make further announcements on the commission, including timescales—making those announcements to the Assembly tomorrow. In advance of the commission’s work, the Minister will implement a series of fast-tracked, targeted interventions to alleviate congestion on the M4, for example actions to expedite recovery of vehicles, enhanced traffic officer patrols, live journey information to inform better transport choices, and a behavioural campaign to reduce accidents and incidents and to make maximum use of existing lane capacity.
Llywydd, transport is an area, as we heard in the question posed to me by the former First Minister, where this Welsh Government has bold and ambitious plans for the future, from the £5 billion plan we have developed through Transport for Wales for the new rail franchise and metro, to major legislation to improve bus services, to the biggest investment in active travel ever seen across Wales.
Resolving the congestion issues around the M4 is an important part of those plans, but there are, as we see from the inspector's report, no easy or uncontested answers. We are committed to taking an inclusive and collaborative approach to finding innovative, affordable and sustainable solutions in the shortest possible timescales, and we look forward to working with others to achieve that ambition.
Can I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon? As we on this side of the Chamber have been saying for many years, this congestion on the M4 is a foot on the windpipe of the Welsh economy. We have seen a 10 per cent increase in traffic flows as a result of the scrapping of tolls on the Severn, thanks to the UK Government, so a solution is needed now more than ever. We know that £31 million is being lost just to motorists on that stretch of road every year. Now, people have been talking about the need for a solution for the M4 for decades, and we are now no further forward than when we began. In fact, a solution was first talked about by the then Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, at the end of the 1990s, and, quite clearly, this problem should have been sorted out 15 years ago. Perhaps if it had been dealt with then, you wouldn't be using austerity as a reason for rejecting this project. Clearly, successive Welsh Labour Governments have failed to deal with this issue. We need less of your dithering and more action to resolve the challenges facing modern day Wales, and what we've seen today is more dithering and kicking a solution into the long grass.
Now, today, First Minister, you are saying that this project is not now affordable. However, last year you wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in your capacity as the then finance Minister asking for more money to deliver this scheme. In this letter, you clearly thought then that this scheme was achievable, because this is the letter and this is what you said, and I quote:
'I will be seeking an increase in the Welsh Government's annual and aggregate borrowing limits as we move into the next Spending Review in order that we can deliver our investment priorities for Wales, including the M4 project'.
So, what has now changed, First Minister, and do you accept that the people of Newport were sold a pup? Because during the Newport West by-election, you were out campaigning with a candidate, now the MP, who was promising to deliver an M4 relief road.
First Minister, this morning you have published the inspector's report for us as Members to scrutinise. However, you've had months to consider this. This has been sat on your desk since the beginning of this year. Why on earth didn't you publish this report earlier so that stakeholders and the public could actually scrutinise the inspector's recommendations? You've had six months to look at this report. We and the Welsh people have only had a few hours to look at it. This report should have been published long ago, and this is just another example of your Government failing to be open and transparent with the Welsh people.
Let me remind you, First Minister, what this report tells us. It tells us that the inspector was looking at your Government's own proposal. You were part of the Cabinet that agreed to cost this particular inquiry. Do you now think that the £44 million spent on this project therefore is money well spent? Because you were the finance Minister that signed this off, and it's quite clear to me that tens of millions of pounds have now been wasted on this specific scheme.
First Minister, we were assured by the former leader of the house back in December last year that we as Members would have a binding vote on this very important issue. Given that you've already made this decision, it seems now that a vote will not go ahead, and therefore will you now apologise to this Chamber on behalf of your Government for breaking that specific pledge?
You've made it clear in your statement this afternoon that you are again kicking this decision into the long grass by looking to set up a commission to look at alternative solutions. You say that the Minister for Economy and Transport will make further announcements shortly. Can you therefore give us an indication of when the Minister will be making these further announcements? What timescales will you be giving the commission to report their findings?
In your statement you also tell us that the Minister will implement a series of fast-tracked, targeted interventions to alleviate congestion on the M4 in the interim period, but I have to put it to you, First Minister, that these are sticking plasters. What people want to see is a proper solution to this huge problem. In the 2016 Welsh Labour Party election manifesto, there was a commitment in that document to deliver an M4 relief road. Given the setting up of this commission, do you accept therefore that you will no longer deliver on that pledge in this fifth Assembly? And finally, First Minister, today businesses, commuters and residents in south Wales will be extremely disappointed with your Government's decision, and, unfortunately, the foot on the windpipe of the Welsh economy will clearly continue.
Llywydd, I thank the Member for some of those remarks. Let me deal with a small number of them directly. The report, which I have here, has quite certainly not been sat on my desk over those months. I have spent many, many hours reading the report and receiving advice on it, because that's what this report required. It did not require being put into the public domain without the necessary legal and policy advice that went alongside it. It's available to any member of the public who now wishes to read it, but the decision that I had to make required not simply a very close reading of the report, and more than one close reading of it as well, but extensive advice—legal and policy advice—in order to come to the decision that I have come to today. There's been no long delay. This decision has had, as I promised it would, the level of concentration and the level of consideration that a decision of this sort deserved, and that is what it has had.
The Member is wrong as well, Llywydd, to suggest that matters are just being pushed far into the distance. He asked when my colleague Ken Skates will make a statement. It will be tomorrow. He'll make it to this National Assembly. It will set out the short-term remit that we will put to the commission to come forward with a first set of immediate proposals that can be put to work to begin to alleviate the problems experienced at the M4.
The Member began by saying that the situation at Newport now needs action more than ever—needs 'now', he said. The M4 relief road would provide no relief at all for a minimum of five years. And he said to me that those problems will get worse in the meantime. I recognise the significance of those problems, which is why we will take action to alleviate the problem far sooner than the relief road would have done. And we will begin on that work immediately.
As far as money that has been spent in preparing the report and holding a public inquiry, and making sure that those hundreds of people who put their views to the inquiry and who participated in these proceedings are concerned, I think that spending has been proportionate to the task involved. And I think it is right that, when there was a decision of this level of controversy, we made sure that there were all those opportunities available to people to put their points of view and to have them properly considered. As finance Minister, I did have to be satisfied that that spending was properly being applied. I believe it was. It is the cost of living in a democracy. It is the cost of having a genuinely open process in which people are able to make their contribution, know that it will be heard, and know that the results of that will be properly considered.
Finally to the point that the Member makes about a foot on the windpipe of the Welsh economy—the future of our economy, Llywydd, is not dependent on one stretch of road. The future of the economy depends upon all those measures that we discussed earlier during First Minister's questions, and have led to an economy in Wales where, as I said then, we have a faster rate of business growth than anywhere in the United Kingdom, that those businesses last longer at one year and five years than they do across the whole of the United Kingdom, and where we have more enterprises alive and flourishing in Wales today than at any time in the past. That's the state of the Welsh economy, and it depends on far more than a single course of action of the sort and in the way that he described.
When a Government gets it wrong, admits its mistake and endeavours to put matters right, maybe it's my Sunday school upbringing, but I think the proper response in the first instance is to praise the repentant for seeing the error of their ways. And there will be many, many hallelujahs uttered across Wales in response to this u-turn, as there was to the u-turn last week. And I'm pleased to add our amen on this side to the decision made today.
We repeatedly said in response to this question that the black route as proposed was both environmentally destructive and financially unjustifiable. I think both points have been borne out, really, in the statement that we've heard from the First Minister. Financially destructive for the reasons set out very, very clearly by the future generations commissioner in her evidence to the public inquiry itself; financially unjustifiable because, as the First Minister said, it would have siphoned such a large proportion of the limited borrowing powers that we have and of the overstretched capital investment funds available to the Welsh Government.
I think we need to pay tribute to the campaigners, both locally and nationally, who urged the Government to safeguard one of Wales’s greatest treasures, the Gwent levels. Now, I would appreciate it if the First Minister could tell us about the role of the important and significant declaration—more significant than ever now—in terms of the climate emergency, given the role of young people particularly, both globally and in Wales, in calling on the Government to make this declaration. And is it true to say that not only, therefore, were we the first nation to make that declaration, but the first nation where that declaration has clearly had a substantial impact on a policy decision of some import, which will have an impact, more than anything else, of course, on those very young people who are campaigning for the decision that we've seen today?
Of course, I think the First Minister would accept that, on our side, naturally, we're going to say that we would have liked this decision to have been made earlier. There clearly is an opportunity cost in here, financially. Perhaps the First Minister could give us, actually, the full estimated total for the cost to the public purse, including the inquiry itself, the traffic modelling, surveying, design and legal costs. But there's also been potentially even bigger opportunity costs in terms of the time that's been lost—the eight years since your predecessor first took us down this path, which has ended up leading nowhere, frankly—which could have been invested, in terms of the energy, the effort, into an integrated public transport system that Wales so desperately needs. Obviously, we're particularly mindful of the problems that Newport faces—it's one of the most car-dependent cities in the UK—but it's also true, of course, that we need a vision for the whole of Wales.
Again, I mean this in the best possible sense, but we have to find a better way, surely, of making these decisions. There is a British disease, and we have a Welsh version of it, where infrastructure investment project costs are rising—we've seen the inflation in this case—the time that it takes to make the decisions is getting ever, ever longer, and, as a result of that, the third element, of course, is that public trust in the process by which we arrive at these decisions is being eroded. In this case, it has to be said that many, many people, seeing as they saw that promise in the Labour manifesto, will have had an expectation, which has now, of course, been dashed, and there has to be a response to that as well.
Finally, setting up an expert commission—the response to any problem in Wales used to be setting up a committee. We've gone one better—we set up commissions now. Why set up an expert commission when we've just created an independent national infrastructure commission precisely to help us make better decisions in a more agile and adroit way? Why create another commission when we have one already? Perhaps the First Minister could address himself to that question.
Llywydd, I thank Adam Price for those remarks. Let me begin by saying that I want to pay tribute to all those who gave their time and their expertise to the public inquiry on very different sides of the argument. Of course there will be groups who will feel that their views have come through in the final decision, and there were, as Adam Price said, many young people who contributed to the public inquiry making those environmental points, but there were, equally, just as committed people making other arguments, who took a lot of time and trouble to put those views to the inquiry. I pay tribute to all of those who are so motivated to participate in these very important public decisions in Wales that they take the trouble to turn up and to produce documents that argue their case, on all sides of the argument.
I don't accept, Llywydd, Adam Price's opening premise. When the proposal was re-placed on the table back in 2014, the context was very different, and I tried to set that out in my opening statement. Back in 2014, we had never heard of Brexit. Back in 2014, the Welsh Government had a budget that lasted not just for the rest of that Assembly term, but into the next Assembly term, and we had a Chancellor of the Exchequer who assured us that austerity would be over in 2015. In that financial context, the decision to explore the M4 relief road was the right decision. It is the context that has changed and means that I have arrived at a different decision today.
And the Welsh Government has not sat idly by, not investing in all those other things that we know are needed in our transport infrastructure: the metro proposal for south Wales has been developed right through the period that we are talking about, since 2014; the ideas on buses that we talked about earlier this afternoon developed during that period as well. So, we have not stood by doing nothing on that wider agenda of public transport infrastructure while the inquiry proceeded, and we're in a much better position today than we would have been without all that work going on.
I listened carefully to what the Member said about better ways of decision making, and I think he makes an important point there. The conundrum, which I know he will recognise, is that, in a really difficult decision with so many strong views and so many opposing views, making sure that the process is genuinely open enough for people to feel that they've had their chance and their opportunity to have their point of view heard has an impact on the speed at which decisions can be made. Now, I think he's right that we ought to think together about whether there are better ways of doing these things in future, but the way not to do it, I think, is to cut out the public from the way in which their voices are heard in it—and I know you didn't suggest that at all, but I'm simply pointing to the fact that, if you want to involve the public, that takes time and time is one of the things that slows down decisions and gets in the way of making these things in as timely a way as we would like.
Finally, to the point that Adam Price made about the national infrastructure commission—of course, we thought carefully about whether that was the right group to go to to get the advice that we needed, but, actually, it's a different job. The infrastructure commission is there to think long term, to think over a 30-year horizon, to advise us on the long-term needs of the Welsh economy and on public services. What this group will do, this expert group, is to focus immediately on those 28 different ideas that the inspector reports on that were alternatives to the M4 relief road, and to a further set of ideas that have emerged since the inspector concluded his hearings, which are practical ways in which the problems at the M4 can be addressed in the here and now. It is a much narrower, it is a much shorter, it is a much more specific piece of advice that we need. It's why the infrastructure commission wouldn't have been the best way of securing that advice, because, quite unlike the suggestion made by the leader of the opposition, I don't want this to take a moment longer than it needs to to start making a difference for the people of Newport in the problems that they face around the M4 today.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement. The process leading to today has taken years, cost millions of pounds and created much uncertainty for local residents and businesses. Today, we have a decision. It's deeply disappointing and a bitter blow for Newport. I'd like to put on record my thanks to the independent inspector who led the year-long public inquiry and to all of the public who gave evidence to it. The inspector and his team examined over 100 solutions, including the option of doing nothing.
While I respect the objections of ecologists, many will conclude that this decision condemns Newport to further decades of heavy congestion, idling traffic and toxic fumes. The current road is not fit for purpose and was never designed to be a motorway. Idling traffic pollutes more than flowing traffic, and persistent congestion means toxins on this stretch of the motorway and the surrounding residential areas are dangerously high.
The vast majority of M4 traffic is not local traffic. The Government's own estimate suggests a doubling of public transport usage in Newport would remove only 6 per cent of the M4 traffic. In contrast, the volume of traffic coming over from the Severn bridge has risen by 10 per cent since the tolls were removed. How will the commission take into account the traffic travelling from England?
Every time there's an incident or accident or severe congestion at the Brynglas tunnels, motorway traffic is pushed onto local roads, closer to homes and schools. This creates gridlock, choking the city and stopping buses from running on time. While congestion is a major barrier to economic growth in south Wales, it's also the people of Newport who suffer as a result. I've always said that inaction is not an option. The problem around the Brynglas tunnels must not be confined to the 'too difficult' box—that is not good enough. We cannot go back to square one. A sustainable solution has to be found and has to be found quickly.
I've already heard people suggesting a whole variety of different projects across Wales. Can the First Minister guarantee me that the money set aside for a solution to this specific problem will be used for exactly that—solving the long-standing pollution and congestion caused by the M4 running through Newport?
Finally, the people of Newport will have seen many reviews come and go. It's crucial that the commission does not only consider the opinions of a select few—it must include the people whose daily lives are actually affected. What can you say to reassure them that this commission will report on time and deal with the issues once and for all?
Llywydd, I thank Jayne Bryant for the many hours of attention that she has given to this matter, for the many meetings that I have had with her on it over the months before I became First Minister, as she seeks with others to find solutions to the problems around Newport. She's been absolutely assiduous in doing that, and I want to give her an assurance that, in coming to my decision today and in setting it out in the way that I have, I am absolutely determined that we will demonstrate to the people of Newport that there are things that can be done in the here and now, far in advance of any relief that a relief road would have provided, to have an impact upon the issues that they face.
Sometimes, Llywydd, the relief road is described as a solution to many problems. I read very carefully, and take very seriously, the things that the inspector said about air quality around Newport, but when Members have a chance to read it they will find that, while the inspector found that 30,000 properties would have air quality improved, he also found that in 29,500 of those properties the impact would be negligible or minor, that only 12 of those 30,000 properties would see a major impact on their air quality. So, the air quality issues are really important. We are more aware of those today than we were even five years ago, but the M4 relief road turned out not to be a solution to the air quality problems faced by the people of Newport, and I think there are other solutions that will have a greater benefit to them.
I'm grateful to Jayne Bryant for drawing attention to the issue of incidents and accidents, because I set out in my statement those things we think we can do immediately to deal more swiftly with accidents that occur, particularly around the Brynglas tunnel, because, if we are able to have greater patrols, more police presence, different arrangements for clearing accidents away from the motorway so that they can be properly responded to and investigated, then we won't have some of the lengthy hold-ups that otherwise take place, and the motorway will be restored to proper functioning without the impact on surrounding areas that the Member for Newport West pointed to.
Let me deal with the issue of money, because I have said already in my discussions with some of those who will populate the commission that they will have first call on the money that otherwise would have been set aside for the M4 relief road. And I wanted to give them that confidence that, when they come up with practical ideas, the resourcing will be available to put those ideas into practice. I've made that commitment already to them; I'm very pleased to repeat it again this afternoon. When Ken Skates makes his statement tomorrow, he will have more to say about how the commission will operate, its methods of working, and how that will make sure that the voices of local people and others are heard in the decisions that it will make. And I'm sure the Member will want to both ask questions but also to welcome what will be said on that front too.
We greatly regret this decision. In the First Minister's selective boasts about the Welsh economy just now, he didn't refer to Wales having the lowest wages of all the nations and regions of the UK. He had the opportunity today to do something to relieve the pinchpoint that is strangling two thirds of the Welsh economy that relies, to some degree or other, on the M4 to get its products to market. Does he really believe that saying he's going to do something to expedite dealing with accidents and educate people more about avoiding accidents, or setting up another commission—that that's really an adequate response to the scale of the problem? I do welcome him saying he'll listen to all voices, and I do hope as part of that he'll listen to David Rowlands, our spokesperson, on quite a lot of the detailed work that he has done around this.
The decision letter—you say at paragraph 4.3 that there were nine matters you had regard to. You then mention another three matters at paragraph 4.4. I just wondered if I can ask: is there another document whether you paid any regard to at all, and that document is the Labour manifesto, which said, 'We will deliver a relief road for the M4'. Now, you say at the end of your decision letter that—[Interruption.] You say at the end of your decision letter:
'My decisions may only be challenged by way of a claim for judicial review.'
First Minister, don't you think that your decision may be something that voters may have a view on, given that very clear promise you made in your manifesto, which you've now broken?
Now, you speak about the timeline, First Minister. You say that, in 2014, no-one had thought of Brexit. It was in January 2014 that David Cameron made his Bloomberg speech saying there would be an in/out referendum. You talk about this timeline. This poor inspector, he was there from February 2017 to September 2018. He had 83 sitting days of evidence. He was told by the Welsh Government—the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, finance Minister, Mark Drakeford—that the funds would be available to fund this. He did all this work on that basis—spent 44 million quid on that basis—yet then you're told, not before 29 April, that, actually, that's all wrong. So, First Minister, on your evidence, you spent three months looking at this report, doing all this work, giving it such extraordinary consideration in such amazing detail, but then on 29 April it was all to no avail because your Cabinet told you, actually, the money's not available. Is that really a credible basis? Can we really believe that you proceeded on that basis?
Finally, I'd like to draw some attention to an inconsistency between your decision letter and what you said just now. Your decision letter mentions only one environmental factor, and that was the Gwent Levels—perhaps 2 per cent directly affected by the road, but you put such a different emphasis and judgment on that, compared to the inspector, that that's what drives it. But what you said in your statement just now was, 'Oh, it was the committee for climate change, it was net zero'—it was because you've declared a climate change emergency, notwithstanding that you told us it was only declaratory and wouldn't lead to a change of policy last time. Why is it that you're putting such emphasis on climate change in your statement today but not in your decision notice, and what impact does it have on the climate when you have these vast amounts of congestion of cars pushing out carbon dioxide and other emissions, which would be rather less if those cars were actually moving rather than just stuck there with their engines running?
What, finally, about the people of Newport who suffer that air pollution, the particulates and the nitrogen dioxide near those tunnels, that's going to get worse and worse for them, along with this pinchpoint getting worse and worse for the Welsh economy?
Well, there are a number of matters, I expect, in that, Llywydd. I'll try and address some of them. I don't agree with what the Member says about this being such a pivotal issue in relation to all the other things that can be done to support the Welsh economy and that continue to do that today. If there is detailed work that can be made available, then of course we will be prepared to look at that and to make sure that it is properly considered. I don't think there's much I can say to the Member on the matter of manifestos. At least my party had a manifesto. And, as I recall—I'm not an avid reader of his work in this area but I seem to remember that the UKIP manifesto, which was one of the things on which he has stood, was against the black route. So, I don't think there are many lessons for us to learn from him on that basis.
Llywydd, I should have said earlier, so I apologise that I didn't—I'd intended to say it in answer to the question from Jayne Bryant, but of course I wanted to pay tribute to the work of the inspector and his team. Some Members around the Chamber will know that, in the period since the publication of the report, the inspector has passed away. So, I particularly wanted to make sure that I had taken the opportunity to set out my appreciation of the very detailed work that he and his team carried out and which led to the report. So, thank you for the opportunity of putting that on the record.
The inspector proceeded on the basis that the scheme would be affordable. He says it's not a matter for him to deal with that. He takes it as read that the scheme is affordable. Of course that's what he should have done and I've got no quarrel at all with him deciding that that wasn't a matter for him to resolve. Matters of funding are a matter for the Welsh Government, however, and, as I said in setting out my statement, the decision was mine and, in law, is mine alone. I am informed by the Cabinet's view on this matter but I make the decision. That's the way in which this proceeded.
As to the Gwent Levels, the inspector makes it clear in his report—'There is no question', he says at paragraph 8.490,
'that the scheme would have a significant detrimental impact on the historic landscape of the Gwent Levels and whilst there can be some archaeological investigation and interpretation works, that impact cannot be mitigated. This must weigh against the scheme'—
the inspector says—
'and I concur with the consensus that the local impact would be severe'.
The inspector, Llywydd, takes nowhere near the cavalier attitude that the Member takes to the impact of the scheme on the Gwent Levels. He weighs it up very carefully. He points to the cumulative environmental impacts of the scheme. He explores its impact on biodiversity and on ecosystem resilience. He comes—in the balance that he comes to—to a conclusion that the road should go ahead. But nobody here should believe that the inspector simply dismisses the environmental impact in the way that the Member did. His report is of a very different calibre to the argument we heard a moment ago.
First Minister, I agree with the decision that you've made, and I've long held that opinion. But I do understand that it was a very difficult decision for you to make, with very strong arguments on both sides of the equation, which I think explains how myself and Jayne, who very much agree on the scale and the gravity of the problems, nonetheless have different views as to the best solution. But there are very strong arguments on both sides and I very much understand that.
But I do agree that the environmental drivers, the great value of the Gwent levels, which is a unique and historic environment, with great ecological value—in fact, in a recent short debate, I set out the history of the Gwent levels here in this Chamber—that the value of the Gwent levels, and, indeed, the climate emergency that we face, require new thinking, more imagination and new ways of approaching these problems, and that also, the cost is obviously a very real difficulty in going ahead with a road of this scale. And I know many people believe that the eventual cost would have exceeded £2 billion, but whether people take that view, or believe that it would have been contained at around £1.5 billion, it's a very large sum of money, which I believe could be used in much better ways.
I would like you to agree—I think you already have, First Minister, but I'd certainly like to make the point—that perhaps £1 billion or so of available borrowing must be used for that M4 corridor around Newport, where the problems are so grave and intense. And, I think, with the expectation that's built around the history of the proposal for an M4 relief road, local people very much expect that to be the case. I'd like to reiterate as well what my colleague Jayne said about the need to make sure that Newport people are properly represented in the process that's now going to take place around the commission. And I would say that Newport City Council must have a very strong role in terms of the commission, given that no doubt they will be required to deliver many of the actions that will be necessary to take forward the alternative approach.
First Minister, could you give any further reassurance as well in terms of the need to take very speedy action to deal with the problems of the here and now? I know you've addressed this already, but you rightly said that it would be some five years or so at the earliest before an M4 relief road would be up and operating, and obviously, we need to do a lot to deal with the problems in the very short term. And that must be uppermost, I think, in the commission's work, and much needs to happen before the commission even begins its work. And I hope we will see that level of urgency and timeliness.
Could I also say that many of the issues, of course, affect the Monmouthshire council area of Newport East, in my constituency? And I think we're lucky in having communities there that are actually putting forward possible solutions to the problems that we face, including those in Magor and Undy, who propose a new 'walkway' train station. They've been going through the UK process around the new stations fund, and they're currently hoping that Welsh Government will match some £80,000 available from Monmouthshire council to take forward the next stage of that process of applying to the UK new stations fund. So, I hope very much that we'll draw on that imagination, energy and ideas from local communities in addressing these very real problems.
Finally, First Minister, I wonder if you could say anything about the future generations legislation, because I think many people saw this decision as a major test of that legislation and whether we would see a very new approach from Welsh Government. And I wonder if you could say something about the significance of that legislation in you arriving at the decision you have taken.
Llywydd, thanks to John Griffiths. I won't repeat many of the things that I've said already in relation to speedy action and the need for new and imaginative solutions. I'll try and respond to the new points that John has made. He's right to point to the fact that, as well as concern about the current expected costs of any relief road, we have to think about how those costs might escalate in the future. The average cost overrun across the United Kingdom of schemes of this sort is 20 per cent, and there are many examples that are far worse, of course, than that. You're bound to take that sort of evidence into account, in a background way, when assessing affordability.
I'll say again that when the scheme was first proposed, as the then First Minister made clear on a number of occasions here in the Chamber, it was on the basis that a new stream of funding—borrowing powers that had never been previously available to this Assembly—would be sufficient to meet the costs involved, and that there would be no need, therefore, to divert funds from other priorities of this Welsh Labour Government in those important fields of health, housing and education, and so on. But I have made it clear to people who will be involved in the commission that the first call on the money that would have been available for a relief road will be theirs, and that they will be able to press ahead with ideas such as those put forward by community councils in the Monmouthshire area—that they will be able to draw on that money to give them substance.
I agree with what the Member said about the involvement of Newport City Council, and I've already spoken to the leader of Newport council today. I spoke to a range of other individuals with a direct interest in it. My colleague Ken Skates has spoken with the CBI, the FSB and other business interests, and I will be meeting them next week. So, we will make sure that all those who have an interest in the decision have a direct line to the Welsh Government.
The Member has asked me about the well-being of future generations legislation. I want to make it clear, Llywydd, that I read very carefully the evidence that was given by the commissioner, and I read very carefully the way in which the QC, on behalf of the Welsh Government, responded to her interpretation of the Act. My own view is that it was not a reading of the Act that I heard expressed on the floor of this Assembly that proposals for development have to satisfy all seven goals and all well-being objectives, and that they have to do so equally across all the goals and the objectives. It does seem to me inevitable that, in any plan for development, there will be some balancing between the different goals and the objectives that the Act introduces. I did not dissent from the view of the inspector, therefore, that the requirements of the Act had been fairly represented by the Welsh Government in the way that it presented its evidence on the Act to the inspector.
Ian Price, the CBI Wales director, said today that this is a dark day for the Welsh economy, pointing out that we've had decades of deliberation, over £40 million spent, and no problem has yet been solved. He goes on to say that economic growth will be stifled, confidence in the region will weaken, and the cost of an eventual relief road will rise. That is the view of business leaders across Wales. Now, you've talked today, First Minister, about a genuinely open process. You've mentioned the words, 'it's the price of living in a democracy'. But, at the same time, you've actively prevented public scrutiny with the decision to withhold the public inquiry report. And you've mentioned you've been flicking through those pages for months; we haven't had the opportunity—other AMs have not had the opportunity to look at that report. Can I ask you to explain, First Minister, why you could have not published that report without the legal advice attached to it?
You say that the cost of the project and the potential demands on the Welsh Government's capital budget mean that you are not in a position to provide funding for this project. The inspector concluded that the project would, of course, constitute sound value for money and deliver considerable advantages. Your own Welsh economist gave evidence to the public inquiry that the project had a benefit-cost ratio of 2.0:2.2, with economic benefits of £2.12 billion. So, do you no longer accept the views of Welsh Government officials and those working on behalf of the Welsh Government that made this case to the public inquiry on your behalf? The transport Minister said in 2016 that the new section of the M4 would be opened by autumn 2021. The building of the road was in the Labour party's election manifesto. It was a pledge in your 2016 manifesto. The leader of the opposition and other Members have asked this question: do you acknowledge that this pledge has now been completely broken?
Also, you have said that the so-called expert commission will now be appointed. Well, what is a two-year public inquiry at a cost to the Welsh taxpayer of £44 million all about if that inquiry didn't discuss all the options in extensive detail? Jayne Bryant has said we surely can't go back to square one. Well, this commission is doing just that. It's going back to square one. That's what this commission is doing. And, finally, I was in this Chamber when the former leader of the house committed—committed—to holding a binding vote. The leader of the opposition has asked the question. You, First Minister, have not answered it. Can you now answer the question on the binding vote that was promised to this Chamber?
Llywydd, I think the Member's got a number of things wrong there. It shows, I think, an unbecoming degree of flippancy to suggest that the report had been flicked through. Just let me tell him for certain that I have read this report from cover to cover—[Interruption.] I think I heard you the first time, I don't need a second piece of advice. And let me be clear to you that I am the decision maker here. That's what the law requires. That's why I have seen the report and you see it now, because I am the decision maker, and however strong your views may be, Members of the Assembly generally are not. That's what the law requires and that's the responsibility that I have discharged.
Of course you don't see the legal advice. Members of the Chamber surely understand. You asked me why aren't I publishing the legal advice. I heard you ask me. And I'm not publishing the legal advice, because the conventions of Government, as he well knows, mean that that legal advice is a privileged advice available to Ministers, and that has been the case, just as Ministers in his Government in the United Kingdom would never agree to publish legal advice in those circumstances. So, I'm paying him the tribute of answering the questions that he asked. He may wish he'd asked me other questions, but he didn't, and I've answered the ones he has asked.
We've been round the manifesto question a number of times. I have here a copy of the Conservative party manifesto at the same election. On page 9, it commits his party to electrification of the railway all the way to Swansea—[Interruption.] On page 35, it commits his party to fund a tidal lagoon in Swansea—[Interruption.] The manifesto that we drew up was drawn up in the circumstances that I described. The context has changed, and that's why the decision has changed in that changing context.
As to a vote, you heard the leader of the house earlier this afternoon say there will be a debate in this Assembly. And had the decision been to go ahead with the relief road, there would have been a binding vote, because it would have come on the budget that is put in front of this Assembly every year, because the decision to go ahead would have committed money, and money is only expendable by Government when this National Assembly votes for that money to be available to the Government. So, there would have been a binding vote in those circumstances. Now, there will be a debate, and there will be an opportunity for Members here to make all the points that they want to make.
And quite certainly, Llywydd, this is a decision not about going back to square one. It is about a rapid piece of work by an expert commission that will bring forward practical proposals to resolve some of the issues that are faced by the residents of Newport in 2019 and 2020, not many years from now when the road might eventually have been constructed and opened for traffic.
We're now quite considerably over the time allocated by the Government for this statement, and I have many speakers yet to ask a question. And as the Government has said, there will be a debate again on this issue, but I'm going to allow short questions from the remainder of Members who wish to contribute. I'll challenge you first on that, Mike Hedges.
Can I welcome the decision? The traffic problems around Newport at peak times need addressing, but the M25 gives us an example of what happens with new roads: first of all it gets built, then it gets made wider, then it gets turned into what people have described as the biggest car park in western Europe. I want to put forward some suggestions of what can be done. The Heads of the Valleys could be signposted for those of us coming from the north and midlands who want to go west to Port Talbot. I've said this since Edwina Hart was the Minister here. The outside lane on the M4 could be used for through traffic only, so the local traffic stays in the inside lane, the through traffic goes in the outside lane, unless there's an accident. Why can't we stagger public sector start times, so everybody isn't on that road between 8 and 9 every morning, which is when the problems are, and between 5 and 6? I checked this morning at 11:30 and there were no traffic problems there. Finally, can we look at closing some M4 junctions, because that is really—? If you want to know why you've got a problem, you have too many junctions close together on two-lane motorways. That gives you a problem.
I thank the Member for those suggestions. They are of different levels of acceptability, I've no doubt, but what they demonstrate is that there is no shortage of practical ideas that the commission will be able to consider, and I'm grateful to the Member for putting his ideas in front of the Assembly today.
I've been trying to reduce the traffic on the A40 between Raglan and the castle, but I see Mike Hedges is eager to increase it, but there we are. Two quick questions, if I may, Llywydd. Firstly, as we heard earlier, a considerable amount of money has already been spent on the M4 relief road to date in terms of the scoping of the project and also the acquisition of land—I think it's in the region of £40 million. I'm just wondering if you can tell us—. Well, in terms of the land that's been purchased, I think you said earlier that you weren't able to look at other routes, but there is clearly land that's been purchased, so what's going to be done to try and mitigate the effect on the taxpayer?
Secondly, the road was going to cost £1.4 billion. Now that the scheme has been shelved, can I make a plea for you to look urgently at other infrastructure projects in south-east Wales and south Wales and, indeed, across Wales—projects such as the proposed Chepstow bypass in my area? There's tremendous congestion in Chepstow. I think that if people around Newport aren't going to get relief of the M4 road, then at least constituents of mine and other towns in Wales can get some benefit. And finally, Presiding Officer, a little bit closer to home, the eastern bay link is unfinished and, as we know, it's not just the M4 that causes congestion; a lot of traffic piles back on the A48M because there's nowhere for it to go because of the lack of completion of that eastern bay link. I know that's phenomenally expensive, but perhaps with the money that will be flushing around because we haven't actually got the M4 now, the Welsh Government could look at some of the other schemes that could be progressed to help life in Wales.
I thank the Member for those two questions. The land that is now in the ownership of the Welsh Government forms part of the public assets here in Wales and, when those assets are realised, then, of course, that money will return to the public purse.
Llywydd, I did a short calculation myself of all the different new possibilities for public capital expenditure that have been put to me by Members around the Chamber in the time that I have been First Minister. It came to over £2.2 billion. The Member for Newport appears many times on this list. I am not suggesting for a minute that the ideas that he and other Members have put forward are not good ideas, but I think the point he makes is an important one—that there are choices that you face in Government between using the resources you've got for one purpose or another. I've said again that the first call on this money will be for Newport and for dealing with the traffic issues there, but this lengthy list of other possibilities is always on my desk, and the Member for Monmouth's advocacy of improvements around Chepstow, Monmouth, Raglan and others are all firmly on this list, I can assure him.
Diolch, Llywydd, and I appreciate your patience in allowing us to go a little bit into extra time. Unfortunately, I can't talk as quickly as my good friend Mr Ramsay over there. [Laughter.] First Minister, I believe that your decision today, history will look back and our future generations will look back and judge that you have made the correct decision, so I applaud you on that.
I did have three questions today. One has been pointed to by John Griffiths, my colleague, on the fact that this was a major test of the future generations Act, but I'll leave that there for the time being. Firstly, First Minister, with respect to the feeling of a north-south divide, would you agree with me that we need to use all the borrowing powers we have on a range of projects across the whole of Wales, all corners of Wales, to improve the well-being of all the people we represent in Wales? And, finally, First Minister, do you agree with me that declaring a climate emergency was the right thing to do, and, as a result, it wouldn't have been in our planet's interests to go ahead with this type of project?
Llywydd, thanks to Jack Sargeant for those points. I assure him that we intend to use the borrowing capacity that we have as a Welsh Government to the fullest extent. Can I point out to Members—as I have reasonably often in discussions with the leader of Plaid Cymru—that every £20 million we borrow for capital purposes costs us £1 million in revenue and that at a time when revenue is particularly short, that has to be put into the balance as well, but the Welsh Government's budget plans allow us to draw down the full amount of borrowing that's available to us? And, of course, the point that Jack Sargeant makes is echoed in what Nick Ramsay said. I've repeated my commitment to Newport and to making its needs the top of the list for money, but all parts of Wales have needs; all parts of Wales have transport issues that they face; all parts of Wales need investment in education, in housing, in health services. And I know that around the Chamber and in the comments that the inspector received, there were anxieties at the amount of investment that was being concentrated in one project and in one part of Wales. So, I understand the point that is being made. For me, none of that detracts from the need to resolve the issues that the report was set up to investigate.
And as far as a climate emergency is concerned, as I said in my statement, that is very much a matter for the commission, to draw up its proposals in the new context that the climate emergency, the UK CCC's report, and the work of the UN now bring to the table in relation to environmental impact.
First Minister, it's a very sad day. I'm not saying this; this is CBI—your Minister just met, you earlier said it. It's their quote in the BBC. It's a sad day for those who want to see the removal of significant barriers to economic growth in Wales; a sad day for those businesses who face increased costs when their lorries are delayed by congestion; a sad day for commuters, for tourists, who are coming in quite large numbers after the removal of the Severn bridge tolls, which earlier was mentioned, and other motorists forced to endure frustration and delay to their journeys to south Wales and Wales; and a sad day for those concerned by the impact on our environment of an increased level of air pollution caused by traffic jams around Newport.
First Minister, I've been living in Newport for the last 50 years; I know exactly. Nobody has yet mentioned the emergency services, police, ambulances and fire brigades, their contribution, what they think, or how much it costs annually for these fatalities, especially from the Coldra roundabout to the Tredegar roundabout, because those few junctions in Newport are so dangerous, especially with the speed limits and the cameras there. One camera makes more money than any other camera in the United Kingdom. That's what I was told.
First Minister, I would like to ask a few questions. What is the alternative? There's congestion—a serious congestion problem in Wales. You heard many speakers here earlier. The convention centre is nearly built in the Celtic Manor. That convention centre itself is going to include more than 5,000 people on weekends. While we're speaking, the Afghanistan and Sri Lanka international match is going on in Cardiff. They're all international sporting events, and other events are happening. Traffic is increasing humongously on the M4 every year. So, could you do something?
I'm not saying that you rejected this black route. I'm saying—. For the last 10 years, I've been listening to debates and questions with the First Minister all the time—hopes being built, but it's never been done. Now you are putting a commission. Have you put a timescale for that? How much cost? The money; how much money are we going to waste? And we are now competing with the world. In an earlier question you mentioned that we are economically great. More income is all about export rather than our budget in this Chamber. So, First Minister, could you do something? Where there is a will, there is a way. We need some road expansion around Newport to make sure the flow of this traffic gets eased and goes through our Wales—different cities. Our leader mentioned it's actually a rotor on our blood vessel that this is for Wales. We need to expand and we need to get it done ASAP. Thank you.
Llywydd, Ken Skates will set out tomorrow the timescales for the convention. I set out in my statement the actions we will take immediately in relation to improving the rate of accidents and incidents on the M4. Let me say, Llywydd, because I probably haven't had a chance to do this so far this afternoon, how much the Welsh Government appreciates the relationship we have with the CBI and other business organisations here in Wales; the closeness with which we have worked with them over Brexit and other important matters; the fact that I will meet with them directly next week to make sure that I have that conversation with them. The Member asked that we should work together to find solutions to the problems of the M4, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
On behalf of the residents of Cardiff Central, I would like to thank the First Minister for the careful consideration he has given to the evidence and the complex issues that surround it. Because I think it's really important in the light of the UK CCC report on achieving net zero emissions and the UN global biodiversity assessment that when the facts change, we need to change our mind.
At least a quarter and up to half of the communities that I represent would've had no benefit whatsoever from the M4 relief road and lots of negative impact. That is because they do not possess a motorcar and, therefore, wouldn't be able to use the M4. Instead, they would have had increased congestion because we know by analysing the data around the traffic running between east of Cardiff and west of Cardiff that 40 per cent of that traffic is actually heading for Cardiff. So, most city regions across the UK have invested heavily in integrated public transport, and now that this public inquiry has concluded with the First Minister's decision, I hope that we will rapidly see a much broader development of the integrated transport system that we now need.
So, I welcome the First Minister's commitments to ensuring that transport experts are going to come up with rapid solutions to the congestion problem around Newport and that that will have first call on the money that's now going to be released because we have to ensure that we are spending value for money. We know that per kilometre, a rail line costs about the same as a motorway but carries between eight and 20 times as many people. I appreciate that rail takes time to be reconfigured, but we need to make better use of existing roads more quickly. Other motorways in Britain have dedicated bus lanes in urban areas, and I hope that the experts will consider that.
Other major routes into cities like Bristol restrict the use of one priority lane to vehicles that have at least two people in them, which, of course, encourages car sharing. And I note that page 58 of the inspector's report confirms that mobile phone data was used by the Welsh Government to inform the traffic projections ahead, and I hope that, therefore, we will be able to commission some half a dozen to a dozen express electric buses that we know are available to ensure that the routes usually travelled by those who are currently clogging up the M4 in order to get to work can be given instantly express bus travel instead.
Llywydd, I thank the Member for recognising the complexity of the decision. I agree with her that there's more work that we can do in relation to data and use of data, and that would allow us to do some of the detailed work that would be necessary to underpin some of the alternative proposals. And I thank Jenny Rathbone, as I have other Members around the Chamber, for being willing to put forward those alternative ideas, so that the work of the commission can begin immediately, by drawing on the range of possibilities that have been identified here, as well as the ones that were rehearsed in front of the public inquiry.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Like other Members this afternoon, First Minister, I would like to welcome your statement today and welcome the decision. I think many of us have had great concerns about the proposals of a black route for many years, for many different reasons. My own concerns centred not only around the environmental impacts, which would have been quite horrific across the Gwent Levels, but also on the very narrow range of economic benefits. When I read of the Welsh Government's economic analysis of the black route a few years ago now, it was very, very clear that the economic benefits were restricted to a relatively narrow band across the M4 itself and wouldn't have any wider economic benefits for the regions as a whole. In fact, my reading of the economic analysis demonstrated that Bristol would benefit more than Blaenau Gwent from this investment by the Welsh Government.
Now, what I'm anxious to understand this afternoon, First Minister, is: in moving ahead, we certainly need to move forward with an urgency and set a very fast tempo for moving forward with alternative solutions. Can we ensure that the economic benefits, the wider economic benefits, are also taken into consideration when assessing alternatives to the black route? It is important, and we've seen this in recent years—a real differential in economic activity rates between the Glamorgan Valleys and the Gwent Valleys, where the Glamorgan Valleys have benefited from Cardiff and the success of Cardiff as an economic driver of growth, and where the Gwent Valleys have seen very limited levels of growth as a consequence of issues around infrastructure and other matters around Newport and parts of the M4 corridor. If we are going to invest—and I hope we will be investing the full budget in this region—then it is important that we have the maximum benefit for the maximum number of people as a consequence of that investment. So, in taking decisions, First Minister, I hope that you and the economy Minister will take into account the economic impacts of the investment that's being made in this infrastructure.
Llywydd, can I thank the Member, because he's made a point that hasn't been raised otherwise in the discussion and it's an important one? I agree with him—I think the investment that will be made around Newport will still be, with these alternative mitigating measures, one of the largest investments in solving a problem that has faced any part of Wales, and it is absolutely right that there must be the widest possible economic benefit from that very significant investment that will be made. And the commission will certainly look at the wider impacts of the different investment propositions that it will put to Government. It will do so now within a regional economic development approach that we have developed here in Wales that I think will help answer the question that the Member has raised as to how the money that will be spent at that point around Newport will have that wider economic benefit further up the Gwent area. And it's why, around the table of the commission, we will have voices that will help to make sure that exactly that wider benefit is driven out from the very significant investment that will now be made.
The next item is a statement by the Counsel General and Brexit Minister—an update on Brexit. I call on the Minister and Counsel General, Jeremy Miles.
Thank you, Llywydd. At the end of April, I made a statement welcoming the decision of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council to agree to an extension to the article 50 deadline. Like many, I was relieved that the decision had averted, at that moment, at least, the prospect of a chaotic 'no deal' Brexit. But I was also very clear that, however welcome the article 50 extension was, it also entailed considerable dangers. I mentioned the risk that, during that six months, rather than making decisive progress, the Parliament in Westminster would continue to be in stasis. As I stand here today, the bleak reality is that these fears have been realised. In just a few short weeks, it’s as though everything has changed.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
The negotiations between the Government and the opposition have broken down, destroyed by the jockeying for prominence of would-be Conservative leaders, and we know that there is no appetite in the parliamentary Conservative Party for a form of Brexit that we had consistently advocated, one that retains participation in the single market and a customs union.
The Prime Minister is quitting and her deal is in tatters. It seems inevitable, given the bizarre process and the wholly unrepresentative electorate that will provide us with her successor, that in July we will have a Prime Minister who will demand, in a show of bravado, if nothing else, that the EU-27 reopens negotiations of the withdrawal agreement. This will be rejected, and the Government will set a course to a 'no deal' Brexit. Llywydd, it is incredible that a new Prime Minister, without any public mandate, could willingly preside over the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal. But it is also clear that there is no national consensus over the way forward and little support for a soft Brexit as a way of squaring the circle. We sought to reconcile the result of the 2016 referendum with the least damaging kind of Brexit, but that effort has now reached the end of the road.
The European elections have shown that the electorate remains profoundly divided, and, indeed, the split has widened, with many of those who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum now supporting no deal, and many, probably a majority, wanting us to remain within the European Union. Faced by this sort of binary choice, we are clear that, almost three years on from the referendum, and more than two years after we put forward 'Securing Wales’ Future', we as a Government must recognise these realities and change course.
In doing so, we make no apology for the policy that we and Plaid Cymru put forward in January 2017. It was an honest attempt to articulate a way of respecting the referendum result while not trashing the economy, recognising that the economic fall-out from a hard Brexit would only intensify, rather than solve, the problems caused by austerity—the austerity that, with the sense of being left out, played such a big part in motivating people to vote 'leave' in communities across Wales.
In publishing the White Paper, we were clear that no form of Brexit would be as good for the jobs and livelihoods of people in Wales as remaining within the European Union. And we were also clear that delivering Brexit required a trade-off between political influence and economic prosperity. But time has moved on, the UK Government has wasted more than two years in trying and failing to bodge together a deal that could conceal the inherent contradictions set out in the Prime Minister’s red lines. The ongoing uncertainty is untenable. The Confederation of British Industry has said that the current political situation with regard to EU exit is a 'crushing disaster' for business in the UK, with investor confidence at the lowest since the financial crash a decade ago. This is not some abstract debate; there are real-world impacts for the people of Wales, with lost opportunities and job losses.
So, as a Government, we will now campaign to remain in the EU. And to make that happen, Parliament should now show the courage to admit it is deadlocked and legislate for a referendum, with 'remain' on the ballot paper. We have been calling for months for the UK Government to make preparations in case a referendum should be necessary. Now Parliament must make sure that it happens.
Let me be completely clear: any deal will require a new mandate from the electorate, and leaving without a deal must require one also. And, of course, any referendum must include remaining in the EU as an option. We have always argued that holding a further referendum risks reinforcing divisions, but the European elections have shown that any belief that the country has come together is wholly illusory. And, of course, there is the chance that a second referendum might lead to the same result as the first. But we will campaign to remain, and we will work with those within this Chamber and outside who share that view.
In the meantime, we must continue our preparations for the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal at the end of October. Since the extension was agreed in April, we have been taking the opportunity to review the preparations that we made as the anticipated departure date neared in April. It is important that we take stock and think about how best to build on all the valuable work done across the public sector and beyond. It remains the case that it is not possible to mitigate fully the impacts of a 'no deal' exit on Wales, either in the short or in the long term. There is simply no measure that could fully counteract the effects of a lurch into trading under World Trade Organization rules. The imposition of tariffs and the potential for delays and blockages at ports because of customs checks are an inevitable consequence of leaving the European Union without a deal.
The UK Government’s own paper in February of this year, setting out the implications for business and trade of leaving the EU without a deal, conceded that the UK economy would be 6.3 to 9 per cent smaller in the long term in a 'no deal' scenario than it otherwise would have been when compared with today. Alarmingly, in Wales it would be 8.1 per cent smaller. Law enforcement experts have made it clear that the UK will be a less safe place if the UK leaves without a deal.
So, we want to make sure that our preparations are as robust as possible. Overall, I am pleased to say that reflections on previous preparations are positive. We had robust governance structures in place that provided effective co-ordination and decision-making. We established sound structures for engagement with the wider public sector—indeed, the Wales Audit Office noted in their report that the Welsh Government had provided leadership in this area. Where expenditure on no deal has been required, we have sought to ensure that, as far as possible, it was in line with wider strategic aims and ideally would be beneficial in the event of no deal or otherwise.
We've given the UK Government our reflections on UK-wide preparations. While we did see improvements in information sharing and the same type of central co-ordination that we had in Wales, it came too late. It is also important that the relationships and structures that have been built up do not deteriorate. So, building on these reflections, we are revisiting our planning and preparations to ensure that they are as robust as possible, considering, in particular, whether any of our underpinning assumptions need to change. For example, we've been considering the implications of a potential leave date in the autumn instead of the spring, such as the different patterns of imports and exports and the availability of storage capacity.
The health and well-being of the people of Wales remains our top priority and we will continue to do our utmost to secure access to medicines and security of food supplies. We will continue to support businesses in all sectors of the economy through advice provided by the Business Wales Brexit portal and financial support through the Brexit business resilience fund, the economy futures fund and the Development Bank of Wales. And we will continue to press the UK Government so that Wales does not lose a penny of funding.
We continue to strike a balance to ensure we allocate resources on 'no deal' preparations appropriately and proportionately, whilst continuing to deliver other priorities and also to prepare to ensure that Wales’s interests are reflected in any future negotiations. But with the current parliamentary impasse, the lack of any consensus about a way forward, and the prospect of a hard Brexiteer leading the Conservative Party and the country, the threat of no deal remains very real, and so we must prepare for it.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I would encourage all businesses and organisations across Wales to do the same. Of course, we fully recognise the challenge of devoting scarce resources to planning for something that may not happen, but the risk of ignoring the threat of no deal is very great. It is simply not enough to now take the chance that Parliament or the EU will put a stop to it at the last minute, once again. We provide advice and guidance through our Preparing Wales website—Paratoi Cymru—which is regularly updated with support for the people of Wales. Businesses can access financial support and advice about trading through uncertain times on the Business Wales website, including the Brexit portal, and through the Development Bank of Wales. We have now identified a number of simple, low-cost actions to help businesses prepare for a 'no deal' Brexit and which will be useful for their businesses anyway, and those details are now available on Paratoi Cymru.
Dirprwy Lywydd, we are facing the real and ongoing threat of a disorganised Brexit. Against a backdrop of real uncertainty, we are taking action where it lies within our power to make sure that Wales is prepared. As a responsible Government, safeguarding the interests of the people of Wales will always be our absolute priority.
Thank you. Darren Millar.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for your statement. I have to say that I'm disappointed with much of what you said. There was a lot of criticism of the Conservative Party, which, of course, has been a party that has tried, as much as it possibly can, to have delivered Brexit and gotten a withdrawal deal through the House of Commons. You've said that you don't like the fact that there's uncertainty and a deadlock, but, at every opportunity that there's been in the House of Commons to vote for a withdrawal deal that would prevent a disorderly and chaotic Brexit, the Labour Party have voted against it. Ninety per cent of Conservative MPs—[Interruption.] Ninety per cent of Conservative MPs have always, consistently, voted for that withdrawal deal, unlike 100 per cent, or almost 100 per cent, of the Labour MPs, who have voted against. So, you've had it within your gift as a party to deliver a Brexit with a deal that honours the outcome of the referendum result, and I think many people will find it pretty extraordinary that, in the wake of the EU election results, which saw a third of the vote—including some our vote, much of it your vote too—drift to the Brexit Party, which clearly wants to simply deliver Brexit—.
Now, you made reference in your statement to the fact that there are many of those who voted for Brexit in 2016 who are now supporting 'no deal' and many, probably a majority, wanting to remain, and that some people have switched their view. In my experience, most people have switched their view in the opposite direction, because they respect democracy, unlike, it would appear to me, the Welsh Government. The fact is that the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union, in a referendum. There was a debate that was conducted. I was concerned at times about the quality of that debate on both sides of the argument, but, at the end of that debate—at the end of that debate—the people of Wales voted to leave. And there has not been a single referendum, ever, in the history of our nation, where the outcome of that referendum has not been implemented. And I think that it's our duty as politicians to listen to the public when we give them the opportunity to have their say, and to implement the outcome of those votes.
Now, you made reference as well in your statement to the fact that the CBI has expressed concern that we might be leaving the European Union without a deal. You seem to listen to the CBI when it suits you, and to ignore them when it doesn't suit you, as we've seen in terms of the M4 relief road today, and, indeed, in terms of their view on the withdrawal agreement, because, of course, they supported the withdrawal agreement that you all voted against. So, you can't have it all ways, simply selectively quoting individuals when their view has been quite clear about the Prime Minister's withdrawal deal, because they had a very clear view, and that was to support that deal in order to avoid a disorderly Brexit.
Now, let me make it quite clear that, our benches, we want a deal. We want a good deal. But, if that cannot be secured, then we are prepared to support a 'no deal' scenario, because we must be prepared to walk away—[Interruption.] You must be prepared to walk away if the deal is not good enough. Now, it's quite clear—[Interruption.] It's quite clear that the current withdrawal deal, the current withdrawal agreement, cannot command a majority in the House of Commons. It's been put to the House of Commons on many occasions. So, it cannot command a majority in its current form, and who knows what the position might be after we have a change of Prime Minister. But one thing is for certain, and that is that we must respect the outcome in terms of the referendum.
Now, I was pleased with one part of your statement, and that was the end—not just in terms of you concluding what you were saying, but in terms of the fact that you were referring to some of the responsible behaviour that you are taking as a Government in order to prepare for the possibility of a 'no deal' Brexit. Now, as I say, I don't want to see a 'no deal' Brexit, I would far rather that we have a good trade deal with the European Union, but it seems to me that there's a lot of intransigence on the European side of the debate, where people simply do not want to give us a good deal, and that may well lead to us coming out of the EU without one.
So, it's very important to make sure that we do obviously have some proper preparations in place. And I'm pleased to see that you are taking that risk much more seriously and have been since the start of this year in terms of preparing for a 'no deal'. Now, can I ask—? You've allocated in the past sums of money to prepare for a 'no deal' Brexit, including to various projects and activities around Government. Can I ask you whether you're going to increase that sum, given the approaching date of 31 October, and, if so, what activity you're expecting to fund from it? Because I think it is important that we understand more precisely the activity that you want to promote.
Can you also tell us: in terms of the projects that have already been funded as a result of the EU transition funding, in terms of the people actually tapping into those funds, do you have a geographic distribution within Wales where you can map exactly the interest and the engagement? Because I think what concerns me, if there is going to be a 'no deal' Brexit—and, as I say, I want to avoid that, but, if there is, we need to make sure that all parts of Wales and all industries within Wales are prepared for that possibility and that eventuality. So, I would appreciate some updates on that in particular.
I welcome what you said, as I say, about the range of activity that's going on and the serious preparations that are now being undertaken, but I do regret that you're in a party now that is supporting a second referendum, which is talking about campaigning to remain in that referendum, and ignoring, effectively, the outcome of the first vote. I put it to you that you are a party that has consistently in the past implemented the outcome of referendums whether you've liked the outcome or not, and you've been on different sides of referendums: some you've won, some you've lost, historically. What's so different about this one? I just do not get it.
I thank the Member for some of those questions, certainly. He started with the approach of ascribing blame, if you like, for the breakdown in parliamentary talks and the failure to achieve a parliamentary consensus. I think—and I don't seek to minimise the results of my own party in the European elections, but I think the electorate across the UK has been very clear in its judgment on where the principal responsibility for that lies, and they are right to put the blame at the door of the Conservative Party.
We have engaged until the last moment in an effort to seek to reconcile the 2016 referendum result with the kind of Brexit that we think was the least damaging form of Brexit in the interests of Wales. We have always been clear that we think any version of Brexit is less in the interests of Wales than staying in the European Union. We failed to win that argument in 2016, but we have striven in the period since then to seek to find a consensus for a path through that. And it has been from the start the Conservative Government's in Westminster and Theresa May's complete intransigence in seeking, from the start—which was the responsibility of leadership across the UK—to build that consensus, difficult though that would be, across Parliament. She failed to seek that, let alone to achieve that. So, I take no lessons from the Conservative Party about seeking to engage creatively and constructively in this process. I'm absolutely clear where the failure lies, and that is at the door of the UK Government and Theresa May as Prime Minister.
He talks about being prepared to support a 'no deal' scenario; I just want to be very clear that, if we get to a 'no deal' scenario and we see the damage unfolding across Wales that we on these benches are very clear will be the case, that statement is remembered, that the Conservative Party in the Assembly here is prepared to tolerate a 'no deal' outcome for Wales—for which there is no mandate, by the way, and an incoming new Conservative Prime Minister who chooses to pursue that route has no mandate for that route. And I know that, in other contexts, he's called for general elections when there have been changes of national leadership, so I'm assuming in this context he'll be calling for a general election when a new Prime Minister is elected in Parliament.
We have sought throughout to—. He talks about listening to the public; it is because we have seen the failure of an attempt to reconcile those two principles that we are today saying, as the First Minister said last week, that we are calling for a referendum so that the people can give their opinion on how to resolve this and we will listen to the people and take their judgment on how best to resolve this situation.
You asked me about preparations. You asked me about preparations. Well, you will know that we've spent—. Of the European Union transition fund, we've allocated, of the £50 million earmarked for that, around about £34 million already, and there are discussions under way about the make-up of the balance of that fund and the sorts of investments that might be made in it. Clearly, one of the issues is ensuring that we allocate it against a range of Brexit scenarios. At this point in time, we think that the risk of a 'no deal' Brexit is very likely, and so, in that scenario, clearly the focus will be on that, but we are considering the quantum of that fund at this point in time.
In relation to the point that you made about geographic distribution, a number of the investments from that fund have been on a pan-Wales basis. So, for example, most recently, perhaps—or one of the most recent allocations is an additional £1.4 million, I believe, to local authorities across Wales to enable each local authority to recruit a Brexit-specific officer to co-ordinate local activity. But there's additional funding for the Welsh Local Government Association on a cross-Wales basis. There have been investments into the red meat sector, for example, benchmarking activity across Wales in that sector. And we encourage applications to that fund from all parts of Wales. We've tried to manage the fund in a way that is low in terms of bureaucracy, and we would encourage applications, of course, from all parts of Wales. And in particular the dedicated Brexit resilience fund, which has been very popular—we encourage applications from businesses in all parts of Wales to that fund. We recognise the importance of making sure that all parts of Wales are engaging with that and ensuring that they get the support that's appropriate.
I’m pleased to welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has changed its policy. It’s not a reaffirmation, as the First Minister said, it is a change of policy on the need for a referendum in order to put the final say on our relationship with the European Union in the hands of the people. I’m not sure how many times we’ve discussed this issue in this Chamber with the Government insisting that a sensible Brexit remains possible, but at least now, thanks to the European elections, perhaps, you have come to the conclusion that Plaid Cymru came to many moons ago, that a referendum is the only way of resolving the Brexit dilemma.
Now, I agree with what you’ve had to say about how appropriate and constructive the publication of ‘Securing Wales’ Future’ in 2017 was, and I’d like to pay tribute to the excellent work of my predecessor, Steffan Lewis, in drawing that up jointly with your Government. But it did become apparent at a very early stage for us that we couldn’t reason with the UK Government, who simply refused to listen to the voice of Wales. There was no choice then but to seek a public vote. I would like to ask, therefore: in light of your u-turn, what actions will your Government now take in order to deliver this objective? What steps will you take to put the necessary arrangements in place to hold a referendum? How will you go about campaigning in order to secure a referendum and to win that referendum on the ‘remain’ side, and what pressure will you put on the Labour Party centrally, which continues to refuse to give a clear policy statement?
Clearly, the referendum itself is only part of the picture. Major work is required in order to bring society back together, in order to start to reintegrate our communities and to alleviate the splits that have developed over the years. So, what plans do you have in relation to this?
I’d also like to ask for details on the process of how the Government decided to change the policy. When was the decision taken? Was it before the vote at the European elections or after the results of the election? What was the process? I’m asking for the sake of transparency, to try to understand how the Government makes major decisions such as this one.
Finally, I would like to ask for clarity on something that you said in a meeting of the external affairs committee yesterday. In discussing a disagreement between your Government and the UK Government on state aid, you said, and I quote,
'We have a shared view on how state aid should work.'
—so, a shared view with the Westminster Government.
Plaid Cymru agrees that state aid is a devolved issue, as it isn’t listed in the Wales Act as a reserved power, but can you explain how your Government, under a socialist leader, can share a vision with the Tory Government in Westminster on how state aid should work? Why don’t you believe that the Welsh Government should have the ability to support industries that could be at risk as a result of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, for example? I’m particularly concerned about the steel industry, which is facing a torrent of uncertainty as a result of Brexit, major changes as a result of the unstable markets and the trade war between China and the United States. In a Guardian article recently, Carwyn Jones stated that the UK Government hadn’t offered any support for our steel industry. How, then, can you say that you agree with their vision in this area?
I thank the Member for the questions that were tied to that contribution. Could I just explain first, in terms of the policy in terms of supporting another referendum, that it wasn’t the electoral results? They weren't the only factor in that. The First Minister, here in the Chamber, about 10 days before the election, mentioned that the time was approaching to look at the question of another referendum. The discussions between the front benches were going on at that point, and it became clear by mid May that that wasn’t going to bear fruit, and that was a very important factor, because that was the most likely process that was going to lead to an agreement on a soft Brexit.
Then, the morning after the election, before the results came out, Theresa May, of course, decided that she was going to resign as Prime Minister. Although it had been difficult to come to an agreement with Theresa May on the kind of Brexit we’ve been calling for here, it would be much more difficult to do that with any of the people who might succeed her. It was, obviously, in the wake of those factors together that the question of having an agreement on the kind of Brexit that has been described in ‘Securing Wales’ Future’—that the question of securing that came to the end of the road.
Following that, given that this Senedd had decided—also, the Member’s party, as well—and supported on several occasions motions that put a referendum as one option, it was important that we recognised that policy and the pressure of that policy in calling for a referendum. Of course, we’ve been clear that we would campaign to remain in the European Union, as we did last time, and we’re willing to do that with other parties, to answer her question, to ensure that result, if there is another opportunity to do that.
Can I just make one point about this question of Plaid Cymru’s commitment to a referendum? It’s not true to say that this was a very early decision. In my mind, this happened when the leadership swapped from Leanne Wood to Adam Price. It’s fair enough to say that it happened, but I don’t think that that was an early decision that was made. Our parties worked for a significant period after ‘Securing Wales’ Future’ to try and realise the principles, as she recognised, that Steffan Lewis did so much to co-operate with the Welsh Government to describe.
In terms of the process of organising a referendum, on the whole, as the Member will know, the responsibility lies with the Westminster Government for that. In recent weeks I, and the First Minister also, have continued to push for that. I did that in mid April with David Lidington, and in May, and also with Stephen Barclay when he came here to Cardiff. Various steps in the necessary legislation need to be taken before these measures are taken. In terms of our work here in Wales, the First Minister has written to the Permanent Secretary to ask her to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to allow us here to be ready for that. The kind of steps tied in with that are dealing with the registration officers at a local level and considering whether we need different guidance for the administration of Governments during the referendum period. So, those specific steps are being taken.
She asked me what the opportunity was to persuade the Labour Party centrally on this. Well, we’ve been arguing consistently about what we think is in the best interests of Wales and the kind of Brexit that we thought we could achieve. It’s obvious now that there’s no hope of achieving that, and it’s obvious as well that the First Minister has been arguing the case for a referendum with the central Labour Party. But can I be clear? What I’m accountable for here is the way of thinking of Welsh Labour and the Welsh Government on these issues. At the end of the day, as has been made clear since last week, when we feel that we need to do something different, but in the interests of Wales, we’re going to do that, and we’re clear in our opinion that we need a referendum here to resolve the situation we’re in at present.
And just to clear up this question on state aid, the Member is clear, I think, that she wants to have a close relationship with the single market, but in order to ensure that, I say that we need to have the same state aid arrangements. We need a consistent floor for these across the markets that we want to export into and trade with, and that’s the principle that was being shared with the UK Government. I think that that principle is shared also by Plaid Cymru. It’s clear to me that there is more flexibility in the state aid rules than it appears the Government has taken into consideration so far, and so in the future I hope that there will be more consideration of these issues. But the principle that we’re committed to here, and I think her party is as well, is that we need a level playing field for these issues for the European markets that we would wish to be able to trade with in the future.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. May I also welcome the statement that we’ve heard this afternoon? I do think there has been a welcome, perhaps not in all corners of the Chamber, but certainly on these benches. We warmly welcome the statement given today, and we’re also pleased with the tone that you have adopted this afternoon, Minister. It is important that the Government leads on this, and doesn’t simply respond to what we hear and see as events develop.
May I ask three things? First of all, you’ve said in response to previous questions how you intend to implement this policy and what your approach will be. Can I have some confirmation that this will be the subject of debate in meetings that you will have with UK Government Ministers and also whether you have discussed this with Ministers in Scotland too? Because I do think it’s important that we broaden out the discussion on a referendum and how we ensure that we can generate the necessary tempo to do that.
And can I ask you what the status of the White Paper is? You’ve already mentioned the White Paper this afternoon, and you mentioned it in your statement, but what is the status of that White Paper now? Does the White Paper stand as a policy objective of some kind? Does it remain as the Welsh Government’s policy? And will you still be making the case for the objectives set out in that White Paper?
Finally, the other question I’d like to ask you, Minister, is this. We know, and I know, as one who represents Blaenau Gwent, that the reasons for people’s decisions in previous elections and previous referenda on Brexit are very often nothing to do with Brexit and relate to many other issues. We’ve discussed this in this place previously. Is there any way in which the Welsh Government can ensure that we can communicate clear messages about Brexit and the impact that that will have on communities that are already economically vulnerable, such as Blaenau Gwent, and also ensure that there is a clear message about the damage that Brexit could do to communities such as those in Blaenau Gwent, and that that should come from the Welsh Government? Thank you.
I thank the Member for those questions. There are three main questions that he asked. In terms of the first question, this will be a subject of debate with UK Government Ministers. I can confirm that that will be true. As I mentioned earlier, we have raised this question, but we will continue to do that and continue to press for specific action to be taken. This has been the subject of debate for a long time with the Scottish Government, and that relationship mentioned the importance of collaboration. We’ve seen in this Chamber where we have succeeded is where we’ve co-operated between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru in the White Paper, and also with the Scottish Government. That collaboration has been a very important factor in the successes we’ve had along a very turbulent journey since the 2016 referendum.
In terms of the content of the White Paper, well, if it was possible to have an agreement in Westminster, then that would be the kind of agreement that we’d like to see, but we don’t think that’s possible, and just to be clear, I’m not just seeing that as something that’s different to a referendum. We think that we need a referendum on any kind of deal. I don’t want that to be misunderstood. But if a deal was possible, then certainly that’s still the kind of deal, from our perspective, that would be best for us. But the possibility of that, in our opinion, following the elections for the Tory party leadership specifically—we think there’s no realistic possibility of that in terms of my personal analysis.
In terms of the final question that the Member raised, I think this goes to the heart of the issue, because we have been discussing the relationship between the UK and the EU for three years, and every second of that time that we’ve been discussing that is a second where we could have been discussing the issues that are really at the heart of the decision of people to leave the EU—austerity and pressure on public services and so forth. I believe that when we can communicate directly with people and explain, for example, that voting for the Brexit Party means a vote for putting the NHS on the table for discussing that in a trade deal with the US Government—that’s the kind of policy that’s at the heart of the party behind me, not the relationship with the EU. That’s a starting point for the kind of UK and kind of Wales we would not want to see, and undermines the communities that we represent.
Of course, it was the EU who put the NHS on the table in its TTIP negotiations. But if I may try and find a little common ground with the Minister, in terms of the 'no deal' preparations, which I did see, in terms of the Minister's knowledge of and exposition of, through my membership of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, I think it is good that Ministers have sought to spend money, where possible, in a way that also supports other objectives. I think Ministers also had some success, from a Wales perspective, in improving communications with the UK Government, which were poor initially but have improved at least to a degree. I think when one compares the 'no deal' preparations—certainly, Ministers here have been subject to fewer successful legal challenges than UK Ministers have on some of their preparations and I would like to recognise that.
The Minister refers to the Wales Audit Office reports saying they've given leadership, and I'm sure he likes to cite that. He also refers to the robust governance of the programme and sound structures. Could he clarify: is he referring there also to the Wales Audit Office or, on those bits, is he more marking his own homework?
The bit we've seen—I find this insouciance absolutely extraordinary. People who aren't in his bubble listen to him say that there needs to be a referendum and that, 'Of course, any referendum must include remaining in the EU as an option', as if we haven't had a referendum less than three years ago, which he promised to respect the result of but now is doing the opposite. I mean, he argues a bit with Plaid Cymru about which went back on what they promised earlier, but the fact is that they both promised to respect the referendum result, and both of them don't respect the referendum result and are telling people they need to vote again, as if that will solve divisions in our society. We took a decision; you refuse to implement it. Why, if you ask people to vote again, would they expect you to implement it any more next time than you have this time? And you may rightly observe that it's the UK Government at Westminster that bears a particular responsibility for this.
We have heard one face of the Conservative Party speaking today, and I agree with much of what Darren has said. I do wonder, though, what the Minister's assessment is of the probability of our leaving with no deal on 31 October and how that compares with the probability that he'd previously assessed of our leaving on 29 March, because real hard spending decisions follow from his judgment. The First Minister would have us believe that everything has changed and that it's now definitely going to be no deal or almost certainly or very likely, I think as the Minister said. But, actually, the reality in this Conservative leadership contest is that we have Michael Gove saying, 'Oh, well let's stay in until at least the end of 2020', Jeremy Hunt saying it would be political suicide to have no deal, and I don't know if the Minister puts more stress on the promises of Boris Johnson than I do, but he says we'll leave with or without a deal, but that's what 500-odd MPs said when they voted for article 50. It's what Theresa May said over 100 times. How likely does he really think it is that that's going to happen when he's reaching into taxpayers' pockets and trying to make sensible judgments about where to spend that contingency money in preparing?
He said earlier in his statement—. And I don't know how he reads the tea leaves on this, along with Alun Davies; they know much more about how people vote than they do themselves. Perhaps it's a sort of false consciousness: 'Of course the EU referendum had nothing to do with the EU; it was all about austerity.' I mean, very convenient for you, but how do you know that? You say today that the European election showed that probably the majority were wanting us to remain within the EU. I mean, what tendentious way do you get this? Is this sort of adding up all the losers votes and telling them what they all think? Is the Minister actually aware that there has been an exit poll that surveyed 10,000 voters on a representative sample who'd voted in European elections, asked them how they voted in the referendum and 45 per cent said they voted to leave, 50 per cent said they voted to remain—suggesting that turnout was higher amongst remain supporters—but notwithstanding that, that exit poll said that 46 per cent would now vote to remain, while 50 per cent would vote to leave?
Finally, can I ask the Minister: we've heard what Darren has to say, but a fellow doyen of the remain establishment said that when people voted for the Brexit Party—and this was Nick Ramsay, the AM for Monmouth—it reflected the ignorance of voters in Wales; does the Minister agree with him?
I thank the Member for some of those questions. On the question of preparations, I thought we were off to a good start, then, until he asked me whether I was marking my own homework. Just to be clear, what we are doing is perfectly proper and appropriate for a Government in this situation. So, the Wales Audit Office has given the report that he is aware of and that Members all know about, but, as I've been very clear, we've undertaken a separate exercise to ascertain whether we are comfortable with the actions that we have been taking, and that's been the content of my statement. The UK Government, completely appropriately, is doing its own exercise. It's running to a slightly longer timescale than ours, and we will be drawing all of that together, which is exactly what we should be doing as a responsible Government, so I make no apology for that. The judgments in this speech reflect my understanding of where we are today, but I'll be making further information available in due course to the Chamber in relation to that.
He talks about respecting the referendum. Let's be absolutely clear: we have sought to do that. We have spent the last three years seeking to do that, and I've made it very clear today that we feel a kind of Brexit that's not destructive of Wales, but which recognises that referendum, is not—. We've reached the end of the road with those discussions. And he sits there—. He's an advocate of a 'no deal' Brexit, for heaven's sake: a Brexit that has no mandate at all. None of that was aired in the referendum campaign in 2016. We were told quite the opposite: that a deal was a walk in the park, and absolutely that has been morphed into a vision that that was an endorsement of a 'no deal' Brexit. It's precisely because of the failure to get to any other alternative that we're advocating a referendum at this point because we know that a 'no deal' Brexit is so catastrophic to Wales.
In the question that he asked the First Minister earlier, he was talking about low wages in Wales. The 'no deal' Brexit that he advocates would lead to £2,000 less in people's incomes in Wales. That probably isn't very much to a man of his means, but the people who he's pulled the wool over their eyes for the last—. [Interruption.] Absolutely, that kind of Brexit that he advocates is not in the interest of Wales, and if we end up having that kind of Brexit, people need to remember who was advocating for that sort of Brexit.
With regard to the planning assumptions, there is a very, very significantly increased risk of leaving with no deal, and that is the basis on which we're allocating our resources and making the preparations that we are making. I'm afraid to say that there's a hint of complacency, I'm afraid, in the Member's question. Yes, we were working towards 29 March; yes, we were working towards 12 April; and, yes, now we're working towards 31 October. We don't want to be in this situation, but we are making the best planning assumptions based on the circumstances that we find ourselves in. And he would do well, I think, to recognise the work that's been undertaken in Government to prepare adequately and appropriately, and recognise that the judgments we are reaching are ones that are balancing the pressures that we face from 'no deal' with trying to ensure that Wales's interests may be protected as far as they can be in any future negotiations that we might end up having with the European Union.
Thank you very much, Counsel General, in your Brexit Minister role.
We now move on to item 5, which is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services, which is an update on Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was placed into special measures in June 2015. The significant concerns at the time centred on leadership and governance, maternity services, mental health, re-connecting with the public and primary care out-of-hours services.
Progress has been made in each of these areas. Maternity services and primary care out-of-hours services have both been de-escalated and are no longer special measures concerns. The health board has met a number of the expectations set out in the special measures improvement framework to be achieved by April this year. There have been improvements in governance and quality processes, board leadership, mental health services, engagement and partnership working, and achieving sustainable hours in general practice.
David Jenkins, the independent adviser to the board, has provided assurance that board oversight and scrutiny of delivery and performance has improved markedly. He also reports the board is now setting clear expectations and providing constructive challenge. The chair has brought new impetus with more active and constructive participation in partnership working arrangements.
Quality improvement has been a key driver for the health board under the clinical leadership of the executive director of nursing and midwifery. Concerns-related data is now available at ward level following the roll-out of the harms dashboard and harm summits to promote shared learning. There's also been significant improvements in infection rates, including a reduction of more than 50 per cent in MRSA rates.
I've been pleased to see that recent Healthcare Inspectorate Wales reports on mental health, together with feedback from Emrys Elias, the independent adviser on mental health services, have provided independent assurance that improvements have been made to the quality of care provided, the commitment of staff, and access for patients.
Like all health boards, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is collaborating with partners through local primary care clusters to transform local services. The health board is achieving positive results with fewer GP practice resignations, managed GP practices moving back to general medical services contracts, and all trainee GP posts in north Wales filled for the first time.
The special measures oversight has, however, identified other concerns across the whole system to deliver the progress needed in finance, planning and waiting-time performance. The health board has not met the expectations set out in the framework in these areas. The health board faces a significant financial challenge, but also opportunities to improve on its financial position. This has been supported by local assessments of financial opportunity and benchmarking. In 2013, a Deloitte's benchmarking exercise identified potential efficiency savings ranging from between £85 million to £125 million. A further internal benchmarking exercise in 2017 estimated an even higher level of potential saving. It is simply not acceptable that little or no progress has been made in pursuing these opportunities.
To make the required progress, I have agreed support that PricewaterhouseCoopers works alongside the health board during the first quarter of this year to improve its planning and approach to deliver sustainable financial improvement. This will help to ensure it has a more robust plan for 2019-20 and a basis for sustainable financial planning for the future. I also recognise the need for additional high calibre turnaround expertise and officials are already working with the chair of the health board to take forward the Public Accounts Committee's recommendations in this area.
The future success of the health board beyond special measures in delivering timely, high-quality services within the resources available will depend upon its ability to develop a sustainable clinical strategy. A clear strategy is necessary to underpin the board's wider vision of providing care closer to home with an increased focus on improved population health and well-being. This is also the clear view of the Wales Audit Office. Without an appropriate clinical strategy, the board will struggle to sustainably address its poor performance in planned and unscheduled care. It is also likely to remain overly reliant on locum and agency staff in trying to maintain services with associated service quality and cost implications.
Whilst the clinical services strategy is developed, I will be providing more focused support to deliver progress in waiting times, specifically in orthopaedics, urology, endoscopy and child and adolescent mental health services. To secure sustainable improvements in orthopaedic services, I have asked the NHS chief executive to intervene to ensure progress is made. Support will be provided to invest in community musculoskeletal services, expansion in the number of orthopaedic consultants with a further six posts, and to finalise the capital design and procurement process for the capital schemes across the three main hospitals.
The additional recurrent funding that I announced last July has supported increased capacity, capability and resilience across the three main hospitals. I expect the 90-day improvement cycles in unscheduled care to maintain improvements in patient flow and to start to demonstrate a sustained positive impact on other unscheduled care targets.
I expect to see significant action and progress on the outstanding concerns so that people in north Wales are assured the focus remains on making the improvements necessary beyond special measures.
I'm shocked, actually, by this statement. When you read it, if this was a health board that was going into special measures now, or had been in special measures for six or eight months, I could accept a lot of what you were saying, that it's still a work in progress, but we are talking about four long years.
I had a nice little list of things I was going to ask you about what we should be doing, or what you should be doing in Betsi Cadwaladr, but actually out of your statement leaps one absolutely shocking commentary: 'without an appropriate clinical strategy'. I would've thought that was absolutely the fundamental core business of a health board: to have a clinical strategy that delivers for their patients, that delivers for their areas, that enables their staff to do the job that they have trained to do and wish to do. For you to stand here, Minister, after four years and say that Betsi Cadwaladr health board still do not have a robust and agreed clinical strategy is truly shocking. And, therefore, I'm not surprised that the many other improvements that this health board seeks to implement and needs to implement have not been able to be implemented, because unless you have a plan, you don't know where you're going, you don't know where you're coming from and, above all, you don't know whether or not you've achieved the goals you've set out to achieve. So, this I find absolutely shocking and I would like to have much more detail from you about this clinical services strategy, about who is going to put it together, when you would hope that it will really—and I mean really, not the timescales here—be implemented, and how you're going to ensure that it is a clinical strategy fit for the people of north Wales.
The other comment that you make is that, finally—and I have mentioned this to you, and we can check the Record so you know it's there—I've mentioned to you many, many times before that transformation is a skill, it isn't a blind science, it is not an art, it is an absolute management skill, and to truly transform something in trouble, like this organisation, you need new boots on the ground, and I've asked you again and again and again: when are you going to put new boots on the ground? I am pleased to hear that you're now finally going to bring in an outside organisation to help this health board, but, again, it is four years too late and, to be frank, I would've thought that just a tiny bit of humility from the Welsh Government on this subject of this very troubled organisation would've gone a long way.
I have a couple of very quick additional questions to ask, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, last summer, you published a special measures improvement framework that set out milestones for the board to meet by September 2019. Now, are you really confident that these have been met, or are in the final stages of being met, or do we have to wait for this clinical services strategy? What progress has the board made with implementing the Ockenden and Health and Social Care Advisory Service reviews from last year and how confident are you that mental health services have improved, then, because I note that your statement talks about CAMHS, but it doesn't actually talk about adult mental health services? You've mentioned NHS England's experiences with trusts in special measures previously—what best practices have you looked at to bring forward to help move this trust forward?
And, finally, I have lots of questions, but I'm very aware that the Welsh Conservatives tabled a motion last week to talk about the fourth anniversary of Betsi Cadwaladr being in special measures tomorrow—so I'm not entirely surprised, I suppose, that this statement has popped out of the blue today—but, again, in your statement, you do mention that you have stemmed the losses of general practitioners. But let's be very, very clear: there are precious few general practitioners now left in north Wales. What do you believe the 'Train. Work. Live.' policy is delivering there? Do you think it's keeping up with that demand, especially as training places for GPs are now oversubscribed? And do you think that, given that we have such a dearth of general practitioners—there's a real shortage in north Wales of GPs—and are you confident that Betsi's out-of-hours care will be fit for purpose in the coming years? The rest of the commentary I have on this statement and on Betsi in general and on the Welsh Government's handling of this poorly performing health board I will reserve until tomorrow afternoon.
Thank you for the comments and questions. It's good to see you back in the Chamber, Angela; we have missed you. I should point out—and you haven't been here for some time, and I really am pleased to see you back—we've had this on the business statement for some weeks that I would be making a statement today; it hasn't been produced as a strategic attempt to try and spike the debate tomorrow, and it's entirely appropriate for the Government to be making a statement in the week of the fourth anniversary of this health board going into special measures. It is an unusual length of time. The Medway NHS Foundation Trust in England was in special measures for just under four years, Barts Health NHS Trust in England was in special measures for just over four years on quality grounds and is still in special measures on financial grounds. So, it is unusual within the UK setting, and we've never tried to hide from the fact that that is the case. I've said before, and I say again at the start, before dealing with your points—to come out of special measures, the health board has to show not just progress, but show a level of confidence about its ability to sustain that progress and still continue to improve. And the framework that I've set out previously has been designed to show clearly the areas it needs to improve upon, and show real and sustainable progress. But the independence of the advice that I receive before I then have to make a choice—it's not someone else's choice; it is still my choice—comes from that tripartite process involving the NHS Wales chief executive, the Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales. The points that I've made on the progress that has been made come from the independent sources around the board, not the board marking its own homework. So, the points that you make about mental health services and out-of-hours—out-of-hours is no longer a special measures concern because of the advice that we've had about the sustained improvement that has been made. Indeed, the comments that I made in my statement, not just about CAMHS but about adult mental health services—again that comes from the feedback both from NHS Wales Informatics Service alliance and also Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, and I pointed that out in my statement too.
On your broader point about when we'll see the progress, well, actually I can't tell you now where exactly the board is, given that I'm waiting until autumn 2019 to see how much progress has been made against the framework. That's what I said—I'd form a judgment on the work that they've done, but, obviously, the progress they've made through that time will be considered when the tripartite escalation meeting takes place in its normal time frame over the summer.
Now, when it comes to leadership, there has been a significant change in the executive team, and indeed in the independent board members, since the health board went into special measures. The chair and the vice-chair are different, and I think there are six different independent members and eight different executive members. So, it's been a real turnaround. We've now seen that the finance director has left the organisation. We're recruiting a new medical director, and that's a key post for, actually, the ability to deal with the clinical services strategy. Because, actually, in west Wales what we've seen is that having a strategy is not something that is done in a quick and easy manner—you have to bring your staff and the public with you, and even then, with lots of investment and time to do so, it is something that is still controversial, where people always have a view on whether they want to see that happen, because it requires you to look at the way you deliver services now and the way you want to deliver services in the future, and that requires change and reform. But without that, the board will only be able to go on on a year-to-year basis, so it's a longer term objective that they need to make progress towards. But on the progress they do need to make in the here and now—on turnaround, we are looking to have new people come in. That's what I signalled in my statement. The Public Accounts Committee have made clear their view, and, in fact, it's a fortunate coincidence in terms of the position the Government and the health board are already in. The chair had recognised that already. There've been conversations with Government on improving the turnaround function, having external advisers' support to do so, and the Public Account Committee recommendations reinforce the need to do so.
Your final point was about general practice in north Wales. I'll have more to say generally about general practice and our ability to train and recruit staff in general practice in every part of Wales, but in north Wales the picture is much more positive. We have not just filled all three of the training schemes in north Wales—we've overfilled two of those, and I've announced earlier this year that there is the capacity to overfill across Wales by at least 24 places. I'm looking to reset our ambitions and our capacity to have GP training here in Wales, following advice we've had from Health Education and Improvement Wales, but I'm making a statement on that in the coming weeks, before summer recess.
I'd also like to begin, as the Minister has done, by welcoming Angela Burns back to the Chamber. We have certainly missed her contribution here and on the Health and Social Care Committee. It's good to see you looking so well.
I begin by associating myself with much of what Angela has said in her introductory remarks; there's no need for me to repeat them. But I am a little bit surprised that, in his response to her, the Minister refers to examples of health institutions in England that continue to be in special measures for a very long time. Now, it's my understanding that we have a very different system here in Wales, a system that I think the Minister would probably agree with me ought to be better, and a system that very certainly does give the Welsh Government much greater control over health institutions in Wales than the English Government has over institutions in England. So, I would put it to the Minister that it is little comfort to me, I am afraid, for him to tell me that there are institutions in England that are doing just as badly under Conservative Ministers in their attempt to recover, as the Betsi Cadwaladr board is doing or not doing under him.
I am grateful for the opportunity that we'll have to discuss these matters in more detail under the motion that the Conservatives have tabled tomorrow. A couple of the points that I want to raise with the Minister—I wouldn't necessarily expect him to have the facts at his fingertips today, in the point of quite a general statement, but I would be grateful if it was possible, perhaps, for some of those points to be referred back to when he responds in the Conservative debate tomorrow.
I'm going to structure my questions as briefly as I can, Dirprwy Lywydd, because I'm aware that we've had a long afternoon already, around the five aims, the five issue, that brought Betsi Cadwaladr into special measures in the first place, and the first of those is governance and leadership. I wonder if the Minister shares my concern that, this far in, financial issues are still in such a grave and, I would say, parlous state in the board. I hear what the Minister is saying about the steps that he and his officials are taking to attempt to improve this, but, four years in, I am concerned that the problems must have been pretty deep-rooted if he hasn't managed to improve them yet. Specifically, I'd like to know a little more about the cost of all of this, and particularly the intervention of PricewaterhouseCoopers. I welcome that he's bringing external expertise in if that's what's needed, but that, of course, will not necessarily deliver sustainable change unless something is being done at the same time to build up the financial capacity and financial planning capacity within the board itself. So, again, I'd be grateful to hear from the Minister what steps he and his officials are taking to ensure that that financial capacity is built up, not only at the top where it's obviously crucial, but further down the health board where people are accounting for smaller units, because there is the saying in Welsh: diwedd y gân yw'r geiniog—at the end of every song, there's always the penny to pay. And in the case of Betsi Cadwaladr, unless the financial issues can be resolved, other issues will continue to be a real challenge. I would agree with everything that Angel Burns has said about the need for a plan, but, again, we can return to that tomorrow.
So, I'll turn briefly to mental health. Now, the Minister will be aware, because of correspondence that I've shared with him, about some real concerns that are continuing to be brought to me by constituents who live in the Betsi Cadwaladr area about aspects of adult mental health services. He mentions some clear improvements. He was provided independent assurance that clear improvements had been made about the quality of care provided, commitment to staff and access to patients. I profoundly hope that he's right about this this. Some of the evidence that's come in to me, albeit anecdotal, suggests that he may not be entirely right about that, and so I'd be grateful if the Minister can tell us either today or tomorrow: what are the matrixes that are being used to judge those improvements? What's the baseline? How are we judging that improvement? And where is the voice—in making judgments of that improvement—of patients, patients' families and carers? I think that's absolutely crucial.
The Minister mentions in his statement that there is further work to be done around access to child and adolescent mental health services, and, again, I'd be grateful for some detail, either today or tomorrow, about what exactly those improvements are, because, again, certainly, my constituency case load suggests that there are terrible issues with regard to access, and I've got a particular concern about access to services through the medium of Welsh, which is absolutely imperative in this area. And that's not about, simply, a person's right to receive services in their own language, but we know that people are more likely to recover, particularly around mental health areas, if they do have those service available to them.
I want to refer now to aim 4—the GP services and out-of-hours—it's good to hear that the Minister is confident that he has been able to de-escalate those. Again, I would share some of the concerns that Angela Burns has raised about the long-term profile, but the Minister has already said, of course, about the issue around training places and that is very positive to hear. I wonder, given that we haven't been able to find any public, published statistics on out-of-hours availability—and it may be that my research in this has been inadequate—whether the Minister can provide us with some more detailed information about how and on what basis he is actually confident that the out-of-hours availability has improved, because we obviously know that the knock-on effect into secondary care, if the primary care out-of-hours service is not sustainable, is serious.
I would like, then, in that context, to briefly refer to the difference in performance around emergency care in the hospitals across the area. Is the Minister confident that those disparities are being effectively addressed now by the board, and can he tell us a little more about how that is happening and when he would expect to see the other hospitals in the area coming up to the standard of Ysbyty Gwynedd?
And, finally, in terms of the fifth objective, which, of course, was restoring confidence of the local population—I hope the Minister will take from me as one of the representatives of the local population that there are still real issues with confidence. And one issue that's of particular concern to me is of my constituents in the west of the area who feel that the current board does not understand their communities, does not speak for their communities, quite literally does not speak their language, and that is important in itself. And when services are being 'rationalised', they are being rationalised on the basis of where the hospitals are, not on the geography of the whole community. I would like, in all good faith, to ask the Minister to have some discussions, or appropriately for his officials to have some discussions, to ensure that when services, planned services are taken—. Services—. Plans to change services—it's been a long afternoon, Dirprwy Lywydd. When plans are being considered by the board, that they do take into account the whole geography of the region and not just where the hospitals in the region lie. Because there is a sense, and I'm not saying that it's justified, but it comes across clearly to me when I'm in that part of my region, that, when we're talking about moving services, we're moving them to a central point in terms of where the hospitals are, not a central point in terms of where the people live. And in terms of restoring that confidence, Minister, which was one of your aims as you took the board into special measures—in terms of restoring that confidence in the west of the region, it's absolutely crucial that those people need to have a sense that the board and that you understand the geography of the area well enough to know that it's a very, very long way away from Dolgellau to Wrexham. Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.
Thank you for the comments and questions. I think there was a slight misunderstanding at the start about the comments I was making about four years. I was making the point it is an unusually long period of time to be in special measures. I'm giving two and only two examples of health organisations that have been in special measures for a similar period of time. It's not a badge of honour; it's a marker of how unusual it is to be in special measures for this period of time.
In terms of the comments about the various areas that led to the health board going into special measures, I think it's undeniable that there has been a significant improvement in leadership and governance. That is not just the view that I take in my ministerial office, it is not just a view provided by David Jenkins in his work around the board, it's also the view we have from independent commentators, from partners, from engagement with the health board, and it's not just about the new impetus the new chair has provided, although that has been a very visible step forward in the leadership of the organisation, but it is the visible scrutiny within the organisation about decision-making choices, and that is a good base for them to move forward upon.
I don't think there's a direct link necessarily between leadership and governance and finance challenges. The progress we've seen in the last year has actually highlighted some of the unacceptable performance in the finance function of the health board, and I'm looking for a new amount of work to be done around the finance function, that's why I have supported the chair's request for the additional work around PricewaterhouseCoopers, but it's also why the NHS finance delivery unit are engaged and involved around the board as well. So, it's not a laissez faire, just go and make it work approach, but we do expect the board to have a different approach and a different achievement in terms of finance function. It was not acceptable. It was the only board within Wales that was not able to live within it's control total in the last year. It overstepped that. I expect it to make progress to live within the control total within this year. I then expect it to move on to a position where it lives within its means and not within a tolerated deficit.
In terms of access in mental health services—again, this comes directly from work done by the healthcare inspectorate, it comes from the work of the independent adviser, Emrys Elias, who I referred to in my statement—there has been a real improvement in access times in both CAMHS and adult services. That does not mean the service is perfect. It does not mean that you or any other representative within north Wales will not have people come to you with legitimate stories where they're still waiting too long. But it does show that real improvement is being made, and it's the further amount that still needs to be done, but the scale of that has significantly reduced over the period of time within special measures. Indeed, the health board has had some praise for the way in which it's involved service users in redesiging the mental health strategy in a way that simply did not happen in the past. That is part of the base upon which I think there are good grounds for further improvement within mental health services.
On out-of-hours, they were de-escalated quite a long time ago now. In fact, before you returned to the Assembly, out-of-hours services were de-escalated as a concern and are on a par with other services across the rest of Wales. I'm actually looking at the roll-out of 111 as part of our out-of-hours services, and also the role that may play as a model for some of our in-hours services as well. So, we're looking to transform and change the way that part of our system actually works, not just within north Wales but beyond that too.
On unscheduled care, the 90-day improvement cycles are the key improvement method currently being used within the health board. It's stabilised; in fact, there has been some improvement, but actually the challenge is over the next quarter to see much further improvement, because if every part of the health board performed at the same level as Ysbyty Gwynedd, that would mark a significant improvement on where the health board is overall now. But, actually, the whole organisation still then needs to move further and beyond that too. That's partly about models and ways of working, is about the clinical leadership, but it's also about the services outside of emergency departments too, and the link into social care and the linkage across the whole system and, actually, the improved partnership working provides a much better basis to do so as well.
In terms of your point about the geography of north Wales, I've been well aware of the geography of north Wales for some time. When I was a boy, going to different parts of Wales on holiday, my father was very keen to make sure we saw different parts of the country. We have this conundrum not just within north Wales but across the country. And if you think about the parliamentary review measures, some services will be specialised and concentrated, and we will ask people to travel further for better care. The counterpart, though, is that we'll also have more services being delivered in a more local setting. That requires us to invest in those local settings. So, in the recent past, we've invested in new models of care with significant capital. In Alltwen, in Towyn and Blaenau Ffestiniog, as examples, we're providing different services in a different and modernised way to deliver healthcare. So, you'll see both those things happen within north Wales and across the rest of Wales to deliver more care closer to home, but, for some services, they will be specialised and will deliver better care in fewer centres.
Thank you, Deputy Llywydd. Angela, welcome back as well. We have missed you. It's great to see you.
Minister, we are rightly proud of the NHS. We're envied by many other countries for having a health service that is free at the point of use. I'm sorry to be stood here today once again listening to a statement from the Minister whose first responsibility is oversight of NHS delivery and performance. In the case of Betsi, though, it's more than this. As the Welsh Government, you, Minister, have taken over the running of certain aspects of the health board's operations via special measures. This health board has been in existence for only 10 years, so that means it has not been performing as expected for at least 40 per cent of its life, so it seems to me that special measures is more like business as usual. I welcome the areas of improvement you mentioned in this statement. However, after four years, surely some sort of deadline for the ending of special measures should be forthcoming. Today's statement sounds and feels very similar to the last statement you made, and the one before that, and the one before that. We're getting really into this now. I'm interested to know when will you take decisive and positive action to make real change happen.
This statement is silent on the deeply concerning recruitment crisis for medical professionals and support workers in the region. And I wonder what analysis have you done as to the effect of the headlines around the health service in north Wales on recruitment. I think the recently published Public Accounts Committee report on governance lessons learned is really very concerning, in that it appears to me, despite numerous inquiries over the decades, that lessons are not actually being learned. More than anything, I'm concerned about the human cost of the challenge of this health board. Literally thousands of people are waiting far too long for surgery, well over the target times, whilst their health (1) deteriorates still further, (2) they are in pain, (3) they're not able to work, and (4) they're not able to look after their families. Please, Minister, please tell me and them how they can take comfort from this statement and have confidence in your stewardship of the Welsh NHS.
Thank you for the comments and questions. I want to reassure not just the Member but the wider public that special measures are not business as usual. This is about seeing the health board improve and move beyond special measures. And, as I have said repeatedly, I'm not going to set an artificial deadline for special measures to end. That would be an act of convenience for me but absolutely the wrong thing to do for the public and for our staff. Coming out of special measures has to come on the basis of advice that allows me to say it's the right thing to do for the organisation. That advice from the Wales Audit Office, from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the NHS Wales chief executive is hugely important, otherwise our escalation process is meaningless, and it's simply about the convenience of action for politicians around electoral cycles rather than what is the right thing to do for the service and the right thing to do for the public.
In terms of the recruitment challenges we face, I've mentioned a number of these within the statement and in the conversation I had with Angela Burns about GP numbers and the work that we're doing. The success of 'Train. Work. Live.', compared to other parts of the UK, on GP numbers is a real positive for us as well. The fact that we're seeing a number of those managed practices that are now ready to go back as independent contractor models as well, that's a real positive—the fact that we're having a recruitment campaign around pharmacy, around nurses and around therapists as part of the allied health professions too, so we're being active in recruiting people, as well as the investment we continue to make in training the next generation of healthcare professionals here in Wales.
In a time of challenge, we continue to invest more in the training of not just doctors, with additional training places in north Wales as well, but in terms of other healthcare professions as well. So, I think we have lots to say, and within the statement, of course, I outlined the additional work that's being done on orthopaedics—the six additional posts that we're funding, the work that we're doing to make sure that there is a plan and not to simply wait for competing interests in north Wales to come up with a plan at some distant point in the future.
So, intervention is taking place. There is more that has happened because of our intervention, and I look forward to seeing more happen at greater pace, because my ambition is for this health board to come out of special measures because it is the right thing to do, because it has made real and sustained progress with and for its staff, and with and for the people of north Wales it serves.
And finally, Darren Millar.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, can I thank you for your statement? I share your ambition. I want this to be a health board that has turned around in terms of its performance and to be the best-performing health board in Wales and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom, if at all possible, rather than consistently for many things—not all, but for many things—being at the bottom of the UK league table, and certainly at the bottom of the Wales league table.
I would ask you this fundamental question, though, and I think it's one that many people are starting to ask me, now, and that is: special measures—is it a help or a hindrance? Because I'm not sure the special measures arrangements in Wales, which are different than they are over the border in England, are working well. I think that—you know, the information and the feedback that I get from clinicians, from non-exec directors and others is that, sometimes, because of those special measures arrangements, it takes a long time to get decisions through the health board when, sometimes, there needs to be rapid action in order to sort things out.
I was pleased to hear you make reference to the fact that you've recently signed off the investment in community musculoskeletal services, an expansion in the number of orthopaedic consultants and some capital investment around that. But it's taken over 18 months for that capital programme to be signed off by you, as a Minister, and I don't know whether that's a problem because your officials haven't brought it to your attention sufficiently well—I've no idea how your systems work within Government. But it's taken an extraordinary amount of time. And, of course, we know that the six orthopaedic consultants are largely because of the tragic circumstances that saw a regulation 28 prevention of further deaths order in relation to the Megan Lloyd-Williams case—the Flintshire lady, 77 years old, who broke a hip in September last year and ended up, unfortunately, passing away when she shouldn't have passed away had she got the quality of healthcare that she should have been provided.
It concerns me that it takes an event like that—a 'never' event—where there's tragedy in a family and a lady losing her life in order to see people sign on the dotted line so that the plans for improvement can actually get the finance that they need. It's a concern to me that, for example, the national hip fracture database puts Glan Clwyd Hospital, Ysbyty Gwynedd—and I heard you saying that we should aspire to be everything like Ysbyty Gwynedd, but it puts that hospital as well, and Wrexham Maelor, in the top 10 worst performing hospitals on that database in the whole of the United Kingdom, out of 176 hospitals. That concerns me, and I want to see this situation turn around.
Now, there has been some progress; I acknowledge that. There was progress in maternity services, largely because 10,000 people marched on the streets in Rhyl—myself and the Deputy Presiding Officer included—to campaign for a new special care baby unit in north Wales. I'm delighted that we secured that investment—that was the right decision, and I fully supported the First Minister in making that decision.
I acknowledge that there has been some improvement on the GP front as well. I've seen it in terms of some of those practices that were at risk and no longer at risk. But, of course, we've still got a number of GP practices that have shut their doors once and for all, tens of thousands of patients having to face the upheaval of registering with new GPs or being transferred to new GPs. And whilst I accept that you've got some coming back into general practice, rather than being health board managed, the fact is that Betsi's got more health board-managed GP facilities than any other part of the country, and that still concerns me.
I took a visit to Wrexham Maelor Hospital yesterday to visit the emergency department, and I have to say a more dedicated team you will not find in our hospitals. But they were telling me about some of the pressures. When I arrived there, 10:30 in the morning, the longest wait in that department was 11.5 hours, and by the time I left it was 3.5 hours because of the hard work of people trying to make sure that people were getting the flow through the hospital. But I was concerned to hear that on some of the GP out-of-hours services, which you've taken out of the special measures programme, there were still gaps in rotas in parts of north Wales. Now, that's not acceptable. I can't understand how you seem relaxed about the situation with GP out-of-hours services, when they're telling me, the front-line staff, that there are gaps in those GP out-of-hours rotas. That concerns me.
You made reference to the change at the top of the organisation, and there has been a lot of change, but it seems to me that it's continuous churn. You know, the finance director's leaving, the medical director's also in the process of departing the organisation. We were informed by you in a statement in this Chamber just last year that a turnaround director had been appointed. Of course, it was one of the previous acting chief executives of the organisation, on whose watch a lot of this mess that we're trying to mop up had been caused. We said it was the wrong person for the job at that time—
Are you coming to a conclusion? Because you are the second speaker and you've had more than five minutes.
I appreciate that, but I think it's very important for us to have some confidence, because we want to give our constituents confidence, that there are people who have the ability to turn the organisation around, and that your department has the capacity within it to cause the sort of sea change in this organisation that we need to see. I could go on about many other aspects—
No, I don't think you will. I don't think you will.
I accept that. I know there's still time on the clock. But I would urge you and implore you to have a look at your internal systems and arrangements within the Welsh Government, because I'm not sure—I think they're part of the problem now. I don't think they are part of the solution.
Minister, you have under five minutes to respond, because I will cut you off at 45.
Thank you for the series of comments and questions. I will endeavour to deal with all of Darren's comments and questions within the time allotted, Deputy Presiding Officer.
I would gently say that the link to the unfortunate patient death that he described and the six additional posts—there is not a direct link to be drawn in the way that the Member tries to. Since my time at the start of this term as a Cabinet Member for health, I've had discussions with orthopaedic surgeons in varying and competing groups across the three sites, bringing them together with the health board to look at a proper plan for orthopaedics. The challenge is about getting to the point where we're able to get behind a plan to invest in the service that all the sites are actually agreeing with. Now we're in a better place, and that's why we're able to deliver increased investment in that service. We recognise it is absolutely required.
And capital choices do take time—the process that we need to go through to make sure we're investing in the right part of the service—and it's part of my frustration that we're not able to do that more quickly than we are. Actually, I don't think special measures is an answer for a delay in capital choices; it's actually about the health board having clarity in the choices it needs to make together with its staff, to have agreement on what it could and should invest in. And I'm keen to make sure that special measures is an aid to doing so, not a hindrance, because part of the challenge is whether an organisation feels that it can make choices that it really could and should do, and that's part of the challenge about having the special measures oversight to make sure they are continuing to make choices.
On your point about maternity, the investment in the SuRNICC is of course welcome, but actually, the reason why maternity services came out of special measures was a significant cultural change in the way that department operated—a change in the leadership at midwifery level, in particular, and a change in the way that staff actually worked together. That was the biggest factor in improving maternity services across north Wales. That change has been sustained as well, and that's a real positive and it does show for the organisation that it has and it can improve services and sustain that improvement so that staff feel valued, and, actually, the patients, the people they care with and for, feel valued and receive better care as a result.
On your points about general practice, I would just remind you again that no person has been left without a general practitioner, and it is almost always the case that the care is delivered initially from the same place they're always used to. We will see, though, a change in the way that general practice is delivered. It will mean that we'll have larger groups of general practitioners, other GPs working for other GPs, in much the same way that most lawyers are employed by other lawyers in law firms. But I do think we also need to see that as a positive to move people into a place where their care will be delivered in a local community but in a purpose-built and fit-for-purpose setting. That's part of what we're doing in investing in the primary care estate across Wales.
And I'm glad that you did go to Wrexham emergency department, because they are a committed group of healthcare professionals struggling and coping with real challenges that come through the door. It's much easier to be a politician, frankly, even in this job, than it is to go and work in an emergency department in any of our hospitals in any part within the United Kingdom, not just in Wales. And it really does highlight the challenges across our whole system, not just at the front door. That's why I place so much emphasis, in the conversations I've had with partners across north Wales, on delayed transfers of care, on that as a barometer for the health of the whole system, health and social care together, and why we do need to reform and restructure primary care to make sure we have more capacity outside of the hospital, so people don't need to go in there unnecessarily. That, I think, will significantly improve the way that people deliver care and, actually, the way that people can be proud of the care they deliver, and that people continue to value and have real faith and confidence in our national health service. And I look forward to the health board in north Wales coming out of special measures and continuing to demonstrate it deserves the confidence and support of the public, and is a service that all of us here should be proud of.
Thank you very much.
Item 6 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 'Brexit and our land'. I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Last year, the Welsh Government carried out one of its largest consultations on agriculture. I am extremely grateful to everyone who engaged in the discussion. Given the importance of farming in Wales, it is unsurprising the debate was significant. Views expressed by respondents were strong and wide-ranging. Despite this, the vast majority agreed Welsh Government should continue to support Welsh farmers and Welsh land. Today I am publishing the summary of responses to the consultation and the Welsh Government’s policy response. I have carefully considered the views expressed in the responses and have made a number of changes to the policy proposals in light of the consultation, will be explored in the forthcoming consultation in July.
EU membership means our farmers and their supply chains currently benefit from access to a large, tariff-free and frictionless market. The UK’s future trading relationships remain unclear. However, what is clear is farmers will face new challenges when operating outside the EU. Farm businesses will need to become more resilient. After Brexit, we have an opportunity to put in place a system of support designed in Wales. The starting point must be our obligations contained within the well-being of future generations Act, which places a multifaceted duty on the Welsh Government to carry out sustainable development to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. In addition, the Environment (Wales) Act introduces a further set of principles and duties designed to support the sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity in Wales. It follows that sustainability must be at the heart of Wales’s farm support policy.
The well-being goals defined in the well-being of future generations Act are particularly relevant to farming, given its keystone role in our environment, rural economy and communities, culture and language. The basic payment scheme falls short of furthering these goals in critical respects. It is insufficient to enhance the environment, does not provide an incentive to improve and is poorly targeted. Throughout the consultation, the Welsh Government emphasised that maintaining the status quo was not an option, because the UK had decided to leave the EU and its common agricultural policy, with the direct implication that BPS in Wales will come to an end. In order to determine what should replace it, we need to reflect on our obligations and the new economic context. No decisions on future schemes will be taken without further consultation and impact assessment. This also reflects the significant and continuing uncertainty about the nature of Brexit.
However, at this stage, the Welsh Government considers that universal income support not linked to outcomes is not an effective way to support farmers. The Welsh Government therefore intends to move away from a universal income support scheme based on land under management to a new system of outcome-targeted payments, and this will be subject to further consultation in July.
The Llywydd took the Chair.