Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus a Gweinyddiaeth Gyhoeddus
Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee06/10/2021
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Cefin Campbell MS|
|Mark Isherwood MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Mike Hedges MS|
|Natasha Asghar MS|
|Rhianon Passmore MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Adrian Crompton||Auditor General for Wales, Audit Wales|
|Auditor General for Wales, Audit Wales|
|Ann-Marie Harkin||Archwilio Cymru|
|Clare James||Archwilio Cymru|
|Gareth Lucey||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Ken Skates AM||Tyst|
|Mark Jeffs||Archwilio Cymru|
|Matthew Mortlock||Archwilio Cymru|
|Nick Selwyn||Archwilio Cymru|
|Stephen Lisle||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Angharad Roche||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:02.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:02.
Bore da, a chroeso. Good morning and welcome to committee members, clerks and witnesses to come. No apologies for absence have been received for this meeting. Do Members have any declarations of registrable interests they wish to declare? No. Thank you.
I'm not sure it's registrable but I'm chair of the Public and Commercial Services Union group in the Senedd.
Okay. Thank you, Mike. I just want to confirm that everybody knows how to indicate if they wish to speak, particularly those of you who aren't here physically; it's easy for you who are. I think that's—. Mike, are you happy with that? Just wave or put a message through to the clerks, please.
Participants in the room today, please note headsets are available for translation or sound amplification if required, with translation on channel 1 and amplification on channel 0. Please ensure that any electronic devices are on silent. In the event of an emergency, an alarm will sound and ushers will direct everyone to the nearest safe exit and assembly point.
The first item on today's agenda is scrutiny of accounts. In this case, accounts of the Senedd Commission for 2020-21. And I'm pleased to welcome Manon Antoniazzi, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Senedd, Nia Morgan, director of finance, and Ken Skates MS, Commissioner with Responsibility for Budget and Governance. Could I ask them please to state their names and roles for the record, just to confirm I've got it right?
Yes, Chairman. I'm Manon Antoniazzi, and I'm Clerk and Chief Executive of the Senedd Commission.
I'm Ken Skates, Member of the Senedd for Clwyd South and Commissioner with responsibility for the budget.
Bore da, good morning. I'm Nia Morgan, and I'm the director of finance at the Senedd Commission.
Diolch, bawb—thank you, everybody. As you would expect, we have a number of questions for you, and I'd like to ask both Members and yourselves to be as succinct as possible, to enable us to cover the wide range of issues this topic has generated. So, if I could begin with the first questions before I move over to committee colleagues. How effectively do you believe that additional costs and savings caused by the pandemic were managed in the year, and how did you balance the need for security—in this case, COVID security—with the need to stay within the budget you have?
If I start on that one. Thank you, Chairman. So, throughout the period, we closely monitored changes associated with the impact of COVID on the accounts. Information was shared almost daily at the start of the pandemic, and a log of all decisions was kept—obviously, including the financial ones. Increased communication and strengthened governance helped us identify and respond in a timely manner to emerging issues and challenges. Examples would be: bringing forward changes to our security, entrance and reception areas, to improve the safety of staff, and that could be funded due to large events not proceeding. We also identified that the increase in the annual leave accrual would require a supplementary budget. We shared this information with the Public Accounts Committee and the Finance Committee of the previous Senedd, throughout the last financial year. And our May 2021 letter to the Finance Committee includes further detail on the financial implications.
In terms of safety, throughout the period, our main focus has been the safety and well-being of Members and staff, to ensure the continuity of business. I think our previous investment in technology and the responsiveness of staff during this period enabled us to transition seamlessly to remote working, which kept Members and staff safe at home from the very start of lockdown. So, close monitoring of the budget and early identification of savings—for example, travel and subsistence—enabled funding to be reprioritised to provide equipment for homeworking, and make the adaptations we needed to the office environment, for example, creating virtual and hybrid meeting spaces for staff who were required to come to the office.
Thank you. A small point, but we noted from the accounts: whereas, understandably, things like energy costs have reduced because of lower use of the main building on the estate, potable water, drinkable water had gone up when fewer people were on the estate. Can you explain that?
Well, a lot of the water that's used—cleaning continued throughout the period. In terms of potable water, that is something I'll need to write to you about separately, I think.
Okay. Thank you very much indeed. How much funding was returned to the Welsh consolidated fund, and how much of that related to the separate Commission remuneration board and election budgets?
May I hand over to Nia to address that?
Diolch, Manon. There were no actual funds returned. How we manage the budget is that we don't draw the funds down into our own bank accounts. We didn't require a supplementary budget this year to reduce the budget as a result of requiring additional funds [Correction: a reduced level of funds]. The situation was that we left funds unutilised at the end of the year. So, splitting it between the election budget, the remuneration budget and the Commission's own operational budget, we had an underspend of around £29,000 on the election, the pre-election costs budget. And as Members from the past Senedd will know, this is ring-fenced, so we don't use that for operational purposes. The remuneration board, there was an underspend of £577,000. And this under-utilisation of this particular part of the budget was explained in detail in the letter that we sent to the predecessor committee—the Public Accounts Committee. So, detail on that—I can go into further detail now, but there's full detail in the May letter that we sent to you. And then the remaining underspend then was on Commission operational costs.
Okay. Thank you. In terms of the underspend, against elements of the revenue budget, such as staff costs, which you've just referred to, why has the Commission overspent against its budget for non-staff costs, particularly given the savings that would have been expected during COVID-19?
If I can have a go at that first and then I'll ask Nia to come in. It's not an unmanaged overspend. As you will know, we manage the budget closely and we reprioritise spending to the areas where it's needed to respond to pressures as they arise. So, this is the net effect of the additional cost less the savings as a result of COVID and additional project expenditure brought forward from the current financial year, for example the new reception areas. Nia, do you want to add to that?
Specifically, the largest variance from the budget you will see is on the staffing budget. We forecast quite accurately for staffing when we lay the draft budget, but when it came to the actual year 2020-21 we saw that we had a number of vacancies to fill at the start of the pandemic. Rather than go externally, we did look at the staffing within the Commission to see where they were being underutilised—so, staff engaged in events activities and security. Rather than fill vacant posts externally, we redeployed those staff, using resources wisely, then. The posts that were left vacant within security and engagement teams—we didn't fill those, and this resulted in that underspend on staffing. And then Manon explained on the non-staff costs that this was a combination of savings and additional costs as a result of the pandemic. It was quite a challenging year for finance staff to manage the significant variances that we had against a number of Commission budget lines. They managed really well. I'm really proud of the staff in how they responded during the pandemic. It was an incredibly difficult period. We went into lockdown, for example, and had an interim audit the following week. I'm grateful also to Audit Wales for the way they responded during the year to what was a seamless audit.
Do you anticipate deploying staff back to original positions and now filling the vacancies created, or are you now focusing on an alternative structure?
We are starting to need to fill those spaces as staff are drawn back to their original duties. I think it's fair to say that the staff, as Nia has indicated, has responded in a very professional and agile way during the last 18 months. It's been, as it has been everywhere, for us a very unpredictable and challenging period. Obviously, we're going to be speaking to the Finance Committee, about our budget needs in the year coming up, on Friday. And we have been reflecting on the fact that, whilst we've done well during the last 18 months, there are needs emerging now that, if we don't plan for them prudently, are going to start resulting in teams not being able to give the appropriate services to Members, and staff well-being, particularly mental health, suffering as well.
Moving on, why is spending on the legislative workbench below budget and what does this mean for the delivery of the project for the Commission or the Welsh Government, given that this is a jointly funded project? Further, what assurances have you put in place to ensure that the end product will be fit for purpose and of a requisite quality?
I'll ask Nia to comment on the finances of it. We always try and run contracts, obviously, as economically and as effectively as possible. In terms of the assurances, the project has undergone extensive system and user acceptance testing before being introduced into service and that's what has provided us with the assurance that it works as specified. The feedback so far has been very positive, and the system is now in use. Nia, do you want to comment on the balance of the budget between last year and this year?
Yes, of course. The amount that was in the budget document was obviously set back in the summer of 2019 and this was before we had the final cost for the project. So, it was an estimate figure in the first instance. The budget of £600,000 was made up of £500,000 for the new software and £100,000 for the maintaining of the old software. During the financial year, it was found that we didn't need to spend that £100,000 on the old software, and the new software came in—the contract cost came in—under the original anticipated figure. The Finance Committee showed an interest in this in one of their recommendations following the laying of the budget, and we responded to them in a letter—I think it might've been May 2020—on the reduction in the overall cost of the project. It was anticipated to be closer to £1 million, and the actual cost came in at an anticipated budget of around £720,000. We are looking at forecast costs now that will bring this in closer to around £650,000. But the project isn't completed in its entirety; we're going into phase 2 now. But phase 1 has gone extremely well, and the Welsh Government and the Senedd are now using this software to support the introduction and scrutiny of the tertiary education and research Bill. But we're quite happy to communicate any further information that you'd like.
Could you add anything about what quality assurances are in place to ensure that the end product will meet the required standards?
I think it goes back to my previous point about the system testing that we undertake before the project goes live. Now it is in use and we're judging by user feedback. As Nia mentioned, it's already in live use with legislation that's being introduced at the moment, and it's going well so far.
We can provide more information, I'm sure, about the extensive system testing that's taken place so far. As Manon said, it's provided the assurance that's necessary in order to roll this technology out. So, we can probably provide a little bit more information about the testing that's taken place.
Thank you; that'll be welcome. And how, in your view, has your response to the pandemic driven innovation? How do you believe this will change the delivery of services this year and in the future?
Thank you, Chairman. That's an exciting subject; we look back on a year where we successfully supported virtual and hybrid business, carried out broad engagement with the public, and continued to deliver services to Members during lockdown by moving to remote working. One of the important factors in this was the strong and constructive dialogue between the Business Committee and the Senedd Commission, and this led the Senedd to be the first Parliament in the UK, and amongst the first in the world, to have entirely virtual proceedings, particularly bilingually.
There's been a strong emphasis on planning and risk management to help make sure these innovations were underpinned by health and safety considerations. Early in the pandemic, the executive board, which I chair, established a futures project, so that we could capture the lessons learned in real time. We produced a futures report in July, and that provided a snapshot of the innovations introduced in the last Senedd, and started to identify which of those changes we might wish to embed for the longer term. We presented that report to the Commission last month, and the Commission has agreed to engage with Members in further dialogue about business in the sixth Senedd, as those needs become more apparent over the period ahead. I could talk for a very long time about this; I'm bearing in mind your request for me to be succinct.
In terms of business, we have developed virtual and hybrid solutions and ways of working for both Plenary and committee meetings, with minimal impact on Senedd business. In terms of technology, we've benefited greatly from the use of Zoom to deliver meetings bilingually. We've also expanded our use of Teams and made use of laptops and cloud-based services to work remotely. We've developed solutions for the Senedd to meet both in virtual and hybrid ways, and voting via a secure app, which we developed in-house. Flexible working, supported by technology, has also provided us with an opportunity to rethink how we use the Senedd estate, and further thinking on that is getting under way now. Hand in hand with that, we've needed to innovate with our workforce policies, so that we can access and make best use of the expertise and talents within the existing workforce in new ways. So, we've doubled down on internal communications, as you can imagine, including regular e-mails, virtual team meetings, social meetings as well, to keep team spirit going, pulse surveys every six weeks, and half termly all-staff meetings, and this has resulted in greater engagement than ever before and really positive feedback from staff.
I think our commitment to health and well-being has reflected positively within our pulse surveys, and colleagues report favourably on the measures and support provisions we've put in place. We've had excellent engagement also, I should add, with and from the trade unions throughout the pandemic, and we've worked collectively and, I think, respectfully, to develop solutions and address concerns, keeping staff informed. There's a whole other subject on engagement where we've seen innovation in the way we engage with the public. Because the Senedd building was closed to the public for much of that time, we adapted by developing a virtual tour and an online engagement programme to make sure that people could still learn about our work. So, exhibitions that would have taken place in the building moved to Instagram and the Senedd website, and the new ways of engaging have also proved to be more than a like-for-like engagement. We've developed virtual seminars and 360-degree virtual tours of the building. Those events have reached a more diverse and representative audience than was previously the case, which shows that, I think, in future, both in-person and virtual engagement have merit and bring something different to our offering for the people of Wales.
Thank you for an extensive list there. Am I right, therefore, in concluding from that that you believe that many of these changes will be sustained into the future?
Thank you. Could I bring Rhianon Passmore in on her questions on this area?
Thank you. You've covered most of the points that I wanted to make. Obviously, in terms of the innovative ways of working and the flexible and agile ways of working of the Senedd, these have been recognised internationally, so I just wanted to underscore that. I suppose I've got a question that harks back, if I may, Chair, to the letter that you sent to the committee previously, if the Chair will indulge me. The £985,000 savings have gone some way to mitigate some of the mitigations of this year; could I just be reminded and refreshed as to where those savings came from? I'm not sure it's in the pack, otherwise I could have referred to it in there. It's the letter from May.
Thank you. Who would like to take that?
Nia, could I point you at that? The savings will have come—a lot of them—from the determination side, because Members will not have been able to travel as much as usual, and savings on utilities and savings on events, because we couldn't have major events. Does that include the—? I don't have the letter in front of me, I'm afraid, but it may include the big engagement projects we'd envisaged, like Senedd Clwyd.
I've just brought up the letter in front of me here. I can see that the detail of the £985,000 was included in the letter. As Manon mentioned, it's £130,000 of reduced utility costs, £175,000 of police and security costs with a reduced police presence on the estate during lockdown, staff travel costs of £150,000. Member of the Senedd-related Commission expenditure—there are some Senedd Member costs within the Commission operational budget, not only within the determination. External translation costs were down by £47,000 and educational and external events—some of the smaller events within the service area budgets—£78,000, training and recruitment of £89,000 and hospitality of £31,000. That's detailed within the letter, but those are the smaller items within the service budgets. And we also highlight within the letter those larger items, such as quite significant engagement events that did not take place as well.
Okay. Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you. Could I bring Mike Hedges in?
Wouldn't it be easier if we had our public accounts committee meeting where we had the report split into two parts—one with the determination, and one with the actions of the Commission? The Commission have no control over the determination, and therefore it's money in and out that they cannot control. What happens with the Commission expenditure is the responsibility of the Commissioners, effectively, and then has strategic management from Manon and Nia. I'm going to talk about operational management later. Wouldn't it be easier if we had it in the two parts? Because then we'd know exactly what was happening.
I think that's more a question for you, Chairman, but I think—and Nia may wish to add to this—although we did respond to previous comments, and I think it was a direction of which you approved, Mike—. We separated out—we've virtually ring-fenced, as it were—the determination budget, so that we weren't transferring money between that and the operational budget of the Commission. But it is still one single control total, so, as accounting officer, I am still responsible for the whole budget, so it is proper for you to query me on the propriety of the expenditure of that bit of the budget as well.
Is that okay, Mike, or would you like to—? Yes, thank you. We move to the next set of questions and hand over to Rhianon—if you could take the first of these and then I'll come back to you with the third.
That's fine, thank you, Chair. So, in regard, then, to previous discussion in this committee, how have the governance and risk-management arrangements—how have they been strengthened during this year?
Thank you. I may ask Ken, after I've spoken, to just give some of his first impressions of that as a new Commissioner, but we have certainly maintained and indeed strengthened our governance arrangements during this period. Decision-making bodies have all met as usual, if not more frequently; in fact, executive board has met several times a week throughout the period to make sure that we had a clear decision-making framework and an escalation mechanism put in place so that we could consult the Llywydd and Commissioners when we needed to.
So, throughout this period, we've documented and recorded all the decisions, including the use of public money, made in our business continuity decisions log. To monitor changes to COVID regulations and to develop responses and undertake risk assessments, we've established the COVID resilience monitoring group, which is CRAM for short, and CRAM acts as an advisory body to the executive board and gives us a depth of analysis that we probably wouldn't be able to do otherwise. So, we've developed new risk assessments for all activities, including homeworking and working on the estate, to provide assurance on the measures we've put in place to keep all estate users safe, and, where we've required specific arrangements, for example, the Zoom rather than Teams platform, in order to facilitate translation to enable bilingual meetings, we have facilitated that. So, we've been proactive in responding to the increased cyber attack risk during this period, and we've strengthened our monitoring and protections, taking advice and guidance from national bodies like the National Cyber Security Centre. Financial controls, as I hope Audit Wales will be able to confirm, remain strong, and we have been closely monitoring the impact of all these unexpected factors on the budgets and continuing to operate the same financial control rules and procurement processes as usual.
Thank you, Chair, and if I just may, briefly—the CRAM group that you've spoken of, could you just extrapolate a little bit more as to its role? You said about holding to account, so is there an example that you can give so that I can envisage how that's working?
Well, it's more that it—. It's chaired by our director of resources, and it has representatives from services across the organisation on it to make sure that we're drawing together expertise from every part of the Commission's staff. What it does, for example, when regulations come out, is it'll trawl through the regulations and make sure that we're taking account of those in every part of our activities and then will make recommendations to the executive board on adaptations that it should be making to make sure that we're responding to the most recent regulations. It also has been a forum for benchmarking with other organisations. We've obviously kept very closely in touch throughout this period with other Parliaments, and with the Welsh Government in particular, to make sure that we're learning from each other.
Okay. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. I'm conscious that the chief executive said that Ken Skates may want to come in, but do you wish to add to that, Ken, or not?
Thank you, Chair. Just briefly to say that I'm new into the role, but I've been positively struck and impressed by both the simplicity and the transparency and, indeed, the strength of the governance arrangements, particularly, I think, the audit and risk assurance committee has a very, very important role in assessing risk and ensuring that the executive board responds to it. That in itself, ARAC in itself, undergoes effectiveness assessments every two years. I think the last one was in June 2020. Its forward work programme is based on the Treasury handbook, and the next meeting, I believe, is 22 November.
Obviously, alongside the financial risks that we have to assess, there are the major risks associated with coronavirus concerning health and safety. But, regardless of where we're taken with COVID, I think it's fair to say that the risks associated with fraud and cyber attacks are going to be a major concern for us, moving forward.
Okay. Could I hand over for the next question to Mike Hedges, please?
Thank you, Chair. What changes have been made following the internal audit finding in April 2020 about the effectiveness of programme and project governance management? And have you given any thought to slimming down the number of levels of management within the organisation?
Thank you, Mike. So, the PCO is working well and is meeting its aim to manage, co-ordinate and report on the Commission's change programme. One good and simple innovation is that the executive board now receives regular dashboards, which outline the status of all the projects and make it very easy for us to keep up with what's going on. So, these dashboards summarise the progress of projects against the plans, the spending to date and a summary of the risks that each project is facing. And COVID effects are also captured in that. And we can drill down to a more detailed dashboard then for each individual project. The PCO has developed a benefits assessment process to ensure that the value of proposed projects is clearer, and it also supports the biannual project prioritisation exercise, which provides executive board with a detailed assessment of the relative priorities of projects planned to be delivered in-year.
I mentioned the futures work earlier. A new role is emerging from the futures work and, indeed, the capacity review, which will see the programme and change office become more involved with organisational change delivery as well as project delivery. And I think that speaks to your second point about layers within the organisation and the way that we structure ourselves. I think it's good that we have change professionals looking at this and reviewing it, and this will be part of the capacity review that we're undertaking. You may remember, Mike, that we undertook a capacity review shortly after my arrival as chief executive back in 2017, and we looked then at whether we thought the right skills were in the right places in the organisation, and that does include an element of organisational design. We promised then that we would repeat the exercise early in this sixth Senedd, and that work is well under way, dovetailed with the futures work, and should be producing results—well, certainly by this time next year, I'll be able to tell you what results were produced and what the Commission thought of that.
I'll just put all my cards on the table. I have great confidence in both you and Nia, so this is not about you. But then when I start getting down to some operational managers, I get less and less happy. And I think that we've had this discussion previously outside of meetings. But I think there seems to be too big a gap between you and Nia at one end and people who are making the operational decisions at the other.
I think there's a lot to unpack there, Mike. I have to say that I think the organisation as a whole has responded extremely well during the pandemic, and I think I probably need to explore further with you and the committee what specific instances you have in mind. There is a very clear policy for decision making, and the buck stops with the executive board and with me. So, if that is not translating into action, then—as I say, we probably need to pursue that outside this meeting.
Fine. Just a simple question: how long should I wait for an expenses claim to be paid?
Well, we have a protocol about the payment of expenses claims, but I don't think it's helpful for me to—. If there's a specific problem, then I need to look into that.
I think it comes down to something I think we haven't got, which is service level agreements between Members and the Commission. I would think that 14 days was a reasonable length of time for me to put a claim in which is not contestable, i.e., my gas and electric, and for it to be paid to me. But you may think that 28 days is more suitable. So, I think that we should have service level agreements telling me what I should expect, because the speed of my payment for the things that I put in—. I mean, I have to pay my gas and electric, because, if I didn't pay it, I'd be cut off, because the Commission were not capable of paying it before we got to the time of it being cut off. And exactly the same with the telephone, since I started paying my own telephone bills. The Commission were paying it; we were getting late charges because of it. So, I just want to know what I should expect. A letter will do or a note; I don't expect you to answer this now. But I think it just really comes back to my main point: the disconnect between you and Nia, whom I have great respect for, and great confidence in, and the people at operational level.
Well, I don't want to leave that accusation unchallenged, Mike. I have confidence in our teams entirely, and I'm aware that there has been some correspondence with you about that issue, and I apologise for the inconvenience that you've had. But it isn't something that has been generally raised with me, and, if there is a fault, then it is mine, and I will certainly look into that and write to you again.
But no service level agreements.
Well, we can certainly come to an agreement about the level of turnaround, if that is the issue. I can certainly talk to the Commission about what is felt reasonable as speed of response. I'm aware that there have been some individual issues, but whether there is a generalised issue here, I'd need to look into—. I would repeat: by and large, we have—. All the teams in the Senedd have been working under great strain, have had to change their modus operandi overnight to work from afar, and, by and large, I'm very pleased that service levels have been maintained, but, obviously, that isn't the case with the issue that you raise, and I will be happy to address that.
[Inaudible.]—service level agreements.
Can I make what might be a helpful suggestion, that we conduct a very rapid piece of engagement with Members, a survey, perhaps, to understand if this is, as Manon's alluded to, a case of isolated issues, or whether there is something broader that we need to address?
You're quite right, and of course we will do that. We do survey Members regularly on the services that they receive. In fact, the responses to those surveys form part of our key performance indicators, and there will be another survey coming up as soon as Members have had a chance to get their feet under the table and new Members in particular have been able to form an impression of what they need from us and what they think of our services. But we will certainly carry on with that, because we're here to serve Members, and that is what we need to do properly.
We do monitor KPIs around the payment of invoices and expense claims from Members from the point that they're authorised and agreed by Members' business services or by a signatory within the Commission, and our response rates for paying to ensure good cash flow for smaller suppliers et cetera is exceptional, within a number of days, not even weeks. So, Mike, if you don't mind, if we go away to see if there's a particular issue between the submission of a claim and the authorisation of a claim within MBS, if there's a particular issue there, because, as you can appreciate, we are audited on all claims, so we do want to make sure that the process for authorisation and the transparency of claims being processed is at an exceptional level. So, there may be a delay within the checking of claims et cetera.
Thank you. Clearly, this committee's role is, as you know, looking at the effectiveness and efficiency of use and administration of public resource, and that would be where we would be interested, possibly, in how the Commission takes this forward. I will just add, if I may, that claims are taking a lot longer than they used to, but I'll leave it at that, as I'm sure the public have got bigger concerns than Members' expenses to consider. So, if I could come back to Rhianon to pick up the question.
Thank you. I'm not going to input on that particular line of conversation, but, as an action point, I believe Ken has stated—the Commissioner has stated—a way forward, and we anticipate a survey coming out shortly, from what Manon has said, in order to be able to address this, and I won't speak any further to it—I'll go straight to my next question.
In regard to the temporary position or the consultancy around the chief legal officer, obviously there's been a non-appointment of a permanent role. Could you comment on the value, really, I suppose, of that consultancy post? And what impact has that had, if any, and what are your intentions moving forward? Because obviously a chief legal officer is a very important role for the Senedd.
It is indeed, Rhianon, and to cut to the chase, the vacancy of chief legal adviser will shortly be advertised on a permanent basis, and this will bring our arrangements in line with arrangements for other senior specialist advice to the Commission. I would say that the interim arrangement has worked very well, and has given us a chance to review what we need on a more permanent basis. Had we not had that specialist advice available on hand when needed, and often in response to urgent pressures, this could of course pose a great risk. So, recruiting permanently, the new appointment will be on the staff, which will provide us with an opportunity to address that risk, and the annual cost for both the interim and the permanent appointment is within the budget set for the previous chief legal adviser. So, I would say that that's value for money, certainly compared to what it would cost us to source the information piecemeal from the private sector.
Okay, thank you. In regard, then, to what's been previously mentioned, in my next question—or inferred—the risk attached to fraud, particularly around the risks attached to cyber security now that we are working in a hybrid and virtual world, has exponentially grown, and it's obviously identified in what looks like a risk register here. So, in that regard, how is that being mitigated? We've not really had a chance to talk about the different platforms, but obviously it is important to note that Zoom is not recommended in the public sphere, so how are the conversations developing in that regard in terms of Senedd business?
Sure. The measures we take to ensure the availability of ICT systems and integrity of data are a balance, as you say, between effective protection and ease of use. To date, we have successfully protected our working environment against the growing cyber threat and have minimised the restrictions on use, and during this time, obviously, as you say, we have seen a greatly increased use of our ICT systems through the pandemic, both for internal and external activity. The Commission makes a full assessment of the impact of new cyber security measures on systems used by Members, Members' staff and Commission staff, and whether that's internal or external, the existing security measures don't prevent or inhibit channels of communication or engagement, be that by telephone, email or virtual meetings.
We've provided support and guidance on the use of Teams and Zoom for Senedd business and Members' constituency work as well, and we're in the process of providing Members with Zoom licences and access to Zoom webinar tools. You mention the initial nervousness about using Zoom—we had to balance those considerations against the fact that there is not a functionality within Teams to enable us to conduct business bilingually, and therefore we developed a series of protocols which meant that we were only using Zoom where a risk assessment had taken place, the meeting was taking place in public, and personal data was not being shared. We're continually looking at products being brought to the market, and improvements that are being made. A number of improvements have been made to the security of Zoom since those early days.
Sorry, Chair—if I may stop you on that particular point. So, what you're saying, then, is that in regard to this particular vehicle being used, we still don't have a bilingual version with Teams.
Because I know that was being developed, but what you're saying is that mitigations have been put into the platform in terms of the use of Zoom that weren't there previously.
Okay, thank you. And, if I may, on this particular topic, very briefly—and I don't know how you'd like to address this—but so that we can scope the levels of risk, has there been any particular threat in terms of cyber security of note that you are able to assure this committee, or otherwise, of in regard to the heightened risk register around cyber security, or is it just general advice that you're working to?
Well, we do give general advice. We also tackle specific threats. Human error remains the greatest weakness when defending an organisation against cyber attack and fraud, and therefore we've provided a lot of training to raise awareness of staff. And we use software to stimulate phishing attacks, and so on. From memory, I think the organisation receives about 4 million e-mails a year, and within that we've identified about 100,000 malicious or potentially malicious e-mails which have been stopped before reaching the intended participants. So, it does show the scale of the threat that organisations like ours face every day.
Okay, thank you. And finally, I wish to ask you about how staff resources were prioritised around the risks to service delivery, and how those emerging priorities, such as COVID-19, were, I suppose, scrutinised in terms of the emerging new devolved settlement with the EU transition period, and also in terms of—. We've not really mentioned Brexit and the EU transition period in terms of risk. I'm not quite sure if I've asked that properly, so I'll say it again. How were staff resources prioritised and the risks to service delivery managed to ensure scrutiny to support those emerging priorities?
Absolutely. And, of course, the scrutiny of the developing constitutional arrangements were a very important priority throughout the year that we're looking at here, and I think that the Commission's ability to support the Senedd in delivering robust scrutiny to legislation arising from EU transition—and, of course, sometimes with very little notice in the midst of a global pandemic—has been founded on a number of factors. And first, I must say, the professionalism and expertise of staff in those services, efficient forward planning by service areas to anticipate and adapt to the legislative agenda, with a proactive focus on looking at skills, knowledge and experience that could come under pressure, and then identifying individuals who could help.
We have worked very effectively at official level between Parliaments through the sharing of information, and the support of committee scrutiny of common frameworks and other Brexit-related work. And we've also made use of the Brexit academic research framework as a means to access external expertise, which has allowed us to commission very specialist and short-notice briefings. We appointed an EU exit co-ordinator to support the leadership team, and that provided collective oversight. We also, Rhianon, as you can imagine, ensured corporate preparedeness. So, we reviewed procurement and supply chains to ensure continuity of supply, for example, of ICT technology and consumables.
So, all of these risks were specifically scrutinised both by the Senedd Commission Audit and Risk Assurance Committee and its independent advisers.
And finally, on that particular point, the last time we discussed this in terms of risk, there was concern around staff capacity, and we've already understood from questioning so far the virements of staff that have occurred. How much of a risk is that, moving forward, in regard to numbers of staff in terms of different roles being backfilled, or is that now comfortable? How would you articulate that landscape?
We have raised an overarching risk on our risk register about the effect of the pandemic, going forward, and so that is one way in which we focus on the risk of the volatility of the environment that we're working in now. And it is, of course, a risk, but managing the organisation like that is our job as Commission staff, and that's why we have a complicated—well, thorough, rather than complicated—system of service planning, so that we can, insofar as we can, anticipate and foresee these risks, as we're trying to do now, looking forward to the sixth Senedd, when there may be more radical changes in the way that we operate, depending on political decisions made.
Okay, thank you, Chair.
Thank you very much indeed. We'll now move to some questions on procurement and contractors, and if I could hand over to Cefin Campbell, please.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd, a bore da i chi i gyd. Mae fy nghwestiwn i, wrth gwrs, yn ymwneud â’ch perfformiad chi mewn perthynas â chaffael. Mae'r pwyllgor yma, fel rŷch chi'n gwybod, wedi gosod targed i chi fel Comisiwn, i sicrhau bod cwmnïau wedi eu lleoli yng Nghymru yn cael contractau caffael, a'r lefel, neu'r targed sydd wedi cael ei osod yw 43 y cant. Nawr, rwy'n gweld, yn ôl yr adroddiad, mai 38 y cant oeddech chi wedi ei gyflawni llynedd, a rhyw 39 y cant y flwyddyn flaenorol, a 38 y cant y flwyddyn cyn hynny. Felly, y cwestiwn amlwg sydd gen i yw: ydych chi mewn sefyllfa i gyrraedd y targed o 43 y cant ar gyfer eleni? Achos, mae ymchwil yn dangos, am bob 1 y cant ychwanegol o gaffael cyhoeddus ar draws Cymru, mae'n golygu miloedd o swyddi ychwanegol a hwb enfawr i economi Cymru. Felly, mae gen i ddiddordeb mawr mewn clywed ydych chi ar darged ar gyfer eleni, ac efallai, os na, beth ydy'r rhwystrau.
Thank you very much, Chair, and good morning to you all. My question, of course, relates to your performance in relation to procurement. This committee, as you know, has set a target for you as a Commission to ensure that companies located in Wales get procurement contracts, and the level or target that's been set is 43 per cent. Now, I see, according to the report, that 38 per cent is what was delivered last year, 39 per cent the previous year, and 38 per cent the year before that. So, the obvious question from myself is: are you in a position to reach the target of 43 per cent for this year? Because, research shows that for every 1 additional per cent of public procurement across Wales, that it means thousands of additional jobs and a massive boost to the Welsh economy. So, I have a great interest in hearing whether you're on target for this year, and perhaps, if not, what are the barriers.
Diolch, Cefin. Dwi’n deall yn iawn ac mae hwn yn flaenoriaeth fawr i ni fel bwrdd ac mae e yn bwnc mae'r Comisiwn wedi cymryd diddordeb arbennig ynddo fe hefyd. Dwi’n derbyn eich pwyntiau chi yn llwyr ynglŷn â'r pwysigrwydd o wneud yn siŵr bod arian cyhoeddus yn cael ei ailgylchu yn y ffordd yma yn yr economi Gymreig. Beth fyddwn i'n dweud yw, yn anffodus, mae'r sefyllfa iechyd cyhoeddus wedi cael effaith ar ein gwariant ni gyda chyflenwyr o Gymru. Dŷn ni ddim wedi gallu gwario drwy'r cytundeb arlwyo neu drwy'r cytundeb darlledu yn yr un modd. Mi wnaethom ni symud ymlaen ychydig bach, fel y sonioch chi, yn ystod y flwyddyn 2019-20, ond rŷn ni wedi colli tir ychydig bach, fel rŷch chi'n nodi, yn symud o 39 y cant i 38 y cant yn ystod y flwyddyn ryfedd yma, 2020-21.
Beth rŷm ni'n ceisio ei wneud i symud hwnna yw cynyddu'r gyfran o'r gwariant yng Nghymru sy'n cael ei drefnu drwy'r cytundebau mawr ymbarél fel y cytundebau rheoli'r ystâd, a bob tro rŷm ni wedi gallu annog cadwyni cyflenwi Cymreig drwy'r cytundebau mawr yna, rŷn ni wedi gwneud. Er enghraifft, mi brynwyd offer ar gyfer ein hystafell brint ni oddi wrth gyflenwr o Gymru. Yn chwarter cyntaf 2021, mi wnaethom ni gynyddu i 42 y cant o'r gwariant wrth i'r ymdrechion yma ddechrau dwyn ffrwyth, ac mae hwn yn bositif, ond i raddau mae cyrraedd y targed yna o 43 y cant yn mynd i gael ei ddylanwadu gan natur y gwahanol gytundebau a'n llwyddiant ni yn cysylltu efo cyflenwyr addas yng Nghymru.
Yn anffodus, mae llawer o'n gwariant ni ar bethau fel ynni a gwresogi a chytundebau ICT efo cwmnïau mawr sydd ddim yng Nghymru. Gallwn ni ddim cael y gwasanaethau yna yng Nghymru. Ac felly, beth rŷn ni'n trio gwneud yw torri'r cytundebau mwy i lawr mewn i unedau llai, er mwyn bod ni'n gallu deall yn well pa wasanaethau sydd yn gallu cael eu darparu yng Nghymru, ac ymgysylltu â'r farchnad er mwyn gweld sut gallwn ni ddargyfeirio gymaint ag sy'n bosib o'r gwariant yna yn lleol. Ac mi rydym ni yn rhoi tipyn o adnodd staff ar y gwaith yna.
Felly, rŷn ni hefyd wedi aildrefnu, ac mi ofynnai i Nia mewn eiliad i ymhelaethu ar hwn. Ond, rŷn ni wedi edrych eto ar ein hamserlen ni ar gyfer gosod rhai o'n contractau mwyaf ni fel ein bod ni'n rhoi amser i ni'n hunain i ystyried yn iawn beth yw gofynion newydd y Senedd, yn y chweched Senedd nawr ac wrth i ni arfer â dulliau newydd o weithio ar ôl y coronafeirws, a hefyd ein bod ni'n gallu datblygu'r gwaith yma ymhellach o ymgysylltu efo'r farchnad Gymreig a gwneud yn siŵr ein bod ni'n gosod cymaint o gontractau o fewn i Gymru ag sy'n bosib.
Thank you, Cefin. I understand entirely and this is a major priority for us as a board and it is an issue that the Commission has taken a special interest in as well. I accept your points entirely in terms of the importance of ensuring that public money is recycled in this way in the Welsh economy. What I would say is that unfortunately the public health situation has had an impact on our expenditure with suppliers based in Wales. We haven't been able to spend through the catering contract, nor through the broadcasting contract, in the same way. We did move forward a little bit, as you mentioned, in the year 2019-20, but we have lost a little bit of ground, as you said, in moving from 39 per cent to 38 per cent during this strange year of 2020-21.
What we're trying to do to make progress is to increase the proportion of expenditure in Wales that is arranged through the major umbrella contracts such as the estates management contract, and every time we've been able to encourage supply chains based in Wales through those contracts, we have done so. For example, we bought equipment for our print room from a supplier from Wales. In the first quarter of 2021, we increased to 42 per cent of the expenditure as these efforts started to bear fruit, and that is positive, but to some extent achieving that target of 43 per cent is going to be influenced by the nature of the different contracts and our success in connecting with appropriate suppliers in Wales.
Unfortunately, a great deal of our expenditure goes to things such as energy and heating and ICT contracts with major companies that aren't based in Wales. We can't receive those services in Wales. And so, what we try to do is to break down the larger contracts into smaller units so that we can understand better what services can be provided in Wales, and to connect with the market and engage with the market to see how we can redirect as much as possible of that expenditure locally. And we are allocating a great deal of staff resource into that work.
So, we've also reorganised, and I'll ask Nia in a moment to expand on this. But we've also looked again at our timetable for awarding some of our largest contracts so that we give ourselves time to consider fully what the requirements of the new Senedd are, now in the sixth Senedd and as we get used to new ways of working after the coronavirus, and also so that we can develop this work further of engaging with the Welsh market to ensure that we award as many contracts as possible within Wales.
Gaf i ddod nôl jest ar yr ateb yna? Diolch, Manon, am ymhelaethu. Dwi'n derbyn bod y llynedd wedi bod yn flwyddyn eithriadol, ac eleni hefyd, wrth gwrs, ond gan edrych ar batrymau'r blynyddoedd blaenorol, does yna ddim llawer wedi newid. Mae'n hynod o galonogol i glywed eich bod chi'n awgrymu ffyrdd gwahanol o fynd at gwmnïau drwy greu pecynnau llai sydd o bosibl yn mynd i fod yn fwy posibl i gwmnïau o Gymru i dendro amdanyn nhw. Mae'n fater o siom bod dros 50 y cant o wariant y Comisiwn yn llifo allan o Gymru, felly byddwn i'n gofyn eto, mewn gwirionedd: ydyn ni'n debygol o gyrraedd y targed o 43 y cant fel rŷch chi'n gweld pethau ar hyn o bryd?
May I come back just on that response? Manon, thank you for expanding. I do accept that last year was an exceptional year, and this year also, of course, but in looking at the patterns in previous years, not much has changed. I'm very heartened to hear you suggesting different ways of approaching businesses by creating smaller packages that possibly may make it more possible for Welsh companies to tender for them. It's a matter of disappointment that over 50 per cent of the Commission's expenditure flows out of Wales, so I would ask again, really: are we likely to reach the target of 43 per cent as you see things currently?
Wel, mae e'n mynd i fod yn heriol, Cefin, ond dyw hwnna ddim yn meddwl y byddwn ni ddim yn parhau i ymgeisio. Ac, fel roeddwn i'n ei ddweud, mae hwn yn fater lle mae'r Comisiwn yn ein gwthio ni'n galed ac mi fyddwn ni'n dadansoddi ac yn ailddadansoddi’n gwariant i wneud y gorau y gallwn ni. Mae e'n edrych yn her eithaf egr ar hyn o bryd.
Well, it is going to be challenging, Cefin, but that doesn't mean that we won't be continuing to strive to achieve that. And, as I said, this is an issue where the Commission is pushing us hard and we will be analysing and reanalysing our expenditure to do the best that we can. It does seem to be a major challenge at the moment.
Ac i ymhelaethu ar beth ddywedodd Manon, y cytundeb arlwyo, er enghraifft, byddem ni wedi gobeithio gosod y cytundeb neu fynd allan i adnewyddu'r cytundeb yna eleni, ond o dan yr amgylchiadau o dan y pandemig, rŷn ni wedi gorfod creu extension nawr i'r cytundeb yma tan fis Medi'r flwyddyn nesaf. Felly, fe fyddai yna wedi bod cyfle i gynyddu canran y gwariant Cymreig, ond bydd hwn yn cael ei adnewyddu nawr y flwyddyn nesaf, sy'n anffodus.
And to expand on what Manon said, the catering contract, for example, we would have hoped to award that contract or go out to renew that contract this year, but under the circumstances as a result of the pandemic, we've had to offer an extension to that contract until September next year. So, that would have been an opportunity to increase the percentage of expenditure in Wales, but that will be renewed now next year, which is unfortunate.
Cefin, could you take the next question?
Ie, sori. Yn yr adroddiad hefyd, mae'n ymddangos bod y Comisiwn wedi talu rhyw £363,000 i gefnogi cytundebau gyda chyflenwyr, ond bod yna ddim gwasanaethau wedi cael eu derbyn neu wedi cael eu cyflawni yn dilyn y gwariant hwn. Allwch chi esbonio rhywfaint bach am hynny i ni, os gwelwch chi'n dda?
Yes, sorry. In the report as well, it appears that the Commission has paid around £363,000 to support and secure contracts with suppliers, but that no services have been received or delivered following this expenditure. Can you explain a little bit about that, please?
Ie, ar bob cyfrif. Mae'n beth anarferol, ac mi wnaethpwyd y taliadau yma i Charlton House, sef ein darparwyr arlwyo ni, ac mi roedd hwnna'n ymateb i bolisi caffael a gafodd ei gynhyrchu gan Lywodraeth Prydain ac a gafodd ei gefnogi gan Lywodraeth Cymru. Felly, mi roedd yna procurement policy note a gafodd ei gynhyrchu ym mis Mawrth 2020 gan Swyddfa'r Cabinet i roi cyngor ac arweiniad i gyrff cyhoeddus ar dalu eu cyflenwyr er mwyn gwneud yn siŵr bod yna barhad gwasanaeth yn ystod ac ar ôl y pandemig. Felly, fel awdurdod cytundebu, mi roedd angen i'r Comisiwn weithredu i gefnogi cyflenwyr oedd yn wynebu risg fel eu bod nhw'n gallu dod drwy'r argyfwng a pharhau i gyflawni eu dyletswyddau cytundebol pan fyddai'r argyfwng wedi pasio. Felly, yn y bôn, mi roedd yr arian yna i sicrhau swyddi yn ystod y cyfnod, ac er ein bod ni ddim wedi derbyn gwasanaeth arlwyo llawn yn ystod y flwyddyn yna, mi roedd y staff yn medru parhau i dderbyn cyflog ac maen nhw nawr yn ôl yn gweithio'n llawn amser, wrth gwrs.
Yes, by all means. It is unusual, and these payments were made to Charlton House, which is our catering provider, and it was a response to a procurement policy that was produced by the UK Government and supported by the Welsh Government. Therefore, there was a procurement policy note produced in March 2020 by the Cabinet Office to provide advice and guidance to public bodies on paying their suppliers to make sure that there was continuity of service during and after the pandemic. Therefore, as a contracting authority, the Commission needed to act to support suppliers at risk so that they could get through the crisis and continue to carry out their contractual duties when the crisis had passed. So, basically, that funding was paid to secure jobs during that period, and even though we didn't receive a full catering service during that year, the staff were able to continue to receive a wage and they have now returned to full-time work, of course.
Iawn, dim rhagor o gwestiynau. Diolch.
Right, no more questions. Thank you.
Thank you very much indeed. We can move on to the next set of questions, which are around staffing, and if I could ask Natasha Asghar to pick up the baton.
Thank you very, very much, Chair. Good morning, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us. I'd like to begin by just touching upon diversity, if that’s okay. I can see a lot of attempts have been made by the Senedd, by the Commission to actually increase diversity, which is fantastic. I also notice that you’ve taken up a number of initiatives, such as the race, ethnicity and cultural heritage network. The REACH network has done podcasts, conferences, feedback sessions, training sessions et cetera, et cetera. But I just wanted to know—. The essence is that you want to increase the number of—I hate the word myself—but the ethnic minorities or BAME population getting involved within the Senedd and at the actual workplace itself, but how effective have you actually found this? And the reason why I'm asking you this is because, prior to coming here today, I actually spoke to a variety of professionals from my region of south-east Wales if they’d actually heard of any of these initiatives, and 10 out of 10 said 'no', they hadn't. So, I’d like to ask you what you personally think have been the successes of this? And, moving forward, what’s going to be done about it?
It's a good question, Natasha, and it is definitely something where more work needs to be done, and it’s something that I feel very strongly about. It is more than reasonable to expect that the Commission’s workforce should reflect the demographic make-up of Wales and be broadly representative of the nation that the Senedd serves, and to enable us to work as a team of staff as best we can.
I think it’s important to say that we are proud that, for the most part, we are very diverse in terms of a range of protected characteristics. However, while our aim is for the organisation to be representative at all levels, our data does tell us that we’re under-represented at certain grades, particularly at senior and decision-making level. But we have implemented a number of changes and that has had a positive effect on our application numbers. But I hear what you say about your own sampling of the market and I would very much like to talk to you further about that. We have introduced inclusive branding, we now advertise on a broader spectrum of platforms and we have targeted campaigns. We work alongside community leaders and members of Business in the Community Cymru and public sector bodies more broadly.
In terms of our black, Asian and minority ethnic targets, we’ve built on the success of the Commission’s apprenticeship scheme, which worked very well. We’ve created a new graduate internship programme, which is positive action in that area, and that will bring in talents at more senior grades. We’ve developed a targeted developing and coaching scheme also for our existing colleagues who identity as black, Asian and minority ethnic, and that will help us move people to more senior roles within the organisation. Every recruitment campaign is looked at from a diversity and inclusion perspective, and we’re engaging with specialist partners to help us develop a disability action plan, exploring lessons learned from last year’s experience of different ways of working.
So, we definitely do, I think, need to identify and measure against the relevant data benchmarks to make sure that our data analysis is meaningful across protected characteristics, particularly as you say in relation to BAME data. We’re currently using the Cardiff travel-to-work area figure, but I think we need to test about whether that remains the right benchmark post-pandemic because now, of course, we have seen an increase in flexible and remote working, and we’re reviewing this by the year end in readiness for our next reporting cycle in March 2022.
Okay. Thank you very much. I also notice that there are quite a lot of pay discrepancies between the members of the ethnic minorities compared to those who aren't within the Senedd, and I wanted to ask you—this is a sub-question to what's already in front of me. When it comes to applications—and I can say this because I am an ethnic minority myself, I speak five languages but Welsh isn't one of them—so I wanted to ask you, when it comes to the application process, is the Welsh language perhaps a hindrance for a lot of ethnic minorities who don't speak the language, when it comes to applying for jobs here at the Senedd or in the Commission in fact?
The evidence is that it isn't. The increase in applications that we've seen and the successful apprenticeship scheme that we ran last year were all after our courtesy Welsh requirements were introduced. So, I think we have to look elsewhere for the barriers to entry. That doesn't mean that there still clearly isn't a lot to do in terms of seeing why people from this background are not represented properly at our senior levels. So, I'm in no way complacent about it.
Okay. And if moving to virtual interviews has had any benefit in terms of success for a more diverse range of candidates, how have you found that experience, particularly during the lockdown? Because I know there has been greater emphasis on all interviews now having been done virtually in the last, I should say, well, quite a few months in fact. So, in relation to that, how has that been helping in regards to—I know we've mentioned a few times the search for a chief legal adviser, but also for other positions within the Senedd?
Well, it's a bit early to draw clear conclusions, but we are confident that moving to virtual interviews has allowed us to recruit from a wider and therefore, logically, a more diverse field than had we continued with face-to-face recruitment. So, we've adapted our approach to recruitment to support a high-quality virtual recruitment experience, where we think about what it's like for candidates, we seek feedback. And I think we find that candidates have appreciated the ability to participate from any location, which offers greater flexibility, and that obviously impacts particularly on people who might have disabilities or caring responsibilities. But we have included a question about this in our candidate feedback form, and we're starting to gather data, and that will allow us to draw meaningful conclusions over time.
Can I bring in Mike and then Rhianon?
Two questions. The first one is: do you collect data on where people live by the first level of their postcode, so that we will know exactly which areas are well represented in employment in the Senedd and which aren't? I accept that most of them are going to live in the general Cardiff area, but which parts of Cardiff they tend to live in, because what I'm getting a feel of is that the wealthier parts of Cardiff and the Vale are better represented than the poorer parts of central Cardiff and west Cardiff. Now, I may be absolutely wrong, but if you collect that data, you could correct me on that.
The other thing on recruitment, which is along the same lines, is that I know you have to collect personal data when people apply, but have you ever considered collecting that separately, so that the application form that is examined by people who are making the decision whether to short-list or not does not contain information about home addresses? I'm sure you'll exclude gender and things like that from it. So, it doesn't include those things, so all you get is a person's qualifications and experience on the form being examined, not data, which you need, obviously, in order to contact them, et cetera, but which isn't actually of any importance in making the appointment.
Yes, Mike. Part of the reviewing of our recruitment is to remove from the application form any data that might distract from the candidate's skills and what is required for the job. In terms of your wider socioeconomic demographic point, since we have had previous conversations with this committee, we've started collecting socioeconomic demographic information from candidates. We started doing this in April 2021. We've worked with partners to establish a series of questions that are industry standard for gleaning an impression of people's socioeconomic background. But with only six months of data, it's too soon to draw meaningful conclusions from that, but by the time we're in front of you next year, we'll have 18 months of data and so we'll be in a better position to understand that.
It is slightly more complicated when it comes to getting that data from the staff who are already in post. We are committed to better understanding the socioeconomic diversity of our workforce, but we do need to engage with advisory bodies, like the Social Mobility Commission and our trade union representatives, to support this commitment and make sure that it's taken forward in an appropriate and sensitive way.
Thank you. You've started to discuss the social class, socioeconomic benchmarking, if you like, and it's something that I feel is really important, and I'm so pleased that you're working with the organisations that you are. I don't know whether 18 months is too far away, and granted it's only been six months, but it's really important. We know that social class and social mobility often have more impact on policy than protected characteristics, and often they come together. I'm also interested to find out that demography, and I think Mike Hedges has referred to that as well. So, are you saying that we've made no analysis so far of that data? When can we expect, as a committee, to have some overview? I think 18 months is quite a long time to wait. Have you any comment on that?
I think the comment is that, as I started to say, I think it is important that, as Commission staff, we represent the communities that are served by the Senedd. So, we're not going to wait to implement any findings, but perhaps it would be an idea if I wrote to the committee in-year to give you an update on progress rather than waiting until this time next year.
Okay. Thank you, Chair.
[Inaudible.]—back to Natasha.
Thank you very much, Chair. I believe we're moving—are we moving on—? Sorry, bear with me a second; I do apologise. In relation to the majority—. I do apologise, Chair; bear with me for a second. I believe the—. Sorry, excuse me for a second, Chair. Are we on this section? My apologies, everybody. Okay. In relation to staff welfare, what progress have you made in publishing the headline results of the annual Commission staff survey, as the Welsh Government does?
It has been published.
Okay. Fine. The Commission has mentioned benchmarking its staff survey results against competitor organisations such as the Scottish Parliament, for example. So, I'd like to know what areas does the Commission excel in, and are there any areas where it can learn from other areas.
We would like to work in partnership with our public sector peers rather than compete with them. It's important that we learn lessons from the people who are better than us at doing certain things. Focusing on ours, we were marginally better than the industry benchmark across all the findings of the survey, so it was a great encouragement to us that we're developing our staff engagement policies along the right lines. We're going to carry on keeping an eye on that as we go forward.
Thank you. I wonder if you could also explain why, in your view, sickness rates have fallen. Is that predominantly because of the COVID impact or otherwise? And how have your offices adapted to the need to virtually manage staff performance and absence rates consistently over this funny period?
Because of our regular engagement with staff, we can tell that the pandemic conditions during this year have seen staff report an impact on both their physical and mental well-being. This didn't, as you say, translate into instances of absence during 2020-21. In fact, absences dropped considerably during the lockdown period, and I think this was largely attributable to resolvable issues: lockdown restrictions, people were nervous about coming in, they had caring responsibilities, home schooling, shielding.
But I would add a note of caution that, although absence relating to mental health reduced during the year, we have seen a bit of a peak in this financial year, and that peaked in July. That was influenced by a small number of mental health-related long-term absences and has now started to reduce again, but I think it does show that we need to keep an eye on that. I think that the lower absence rate is attributed in part to active support for performance and well-being organisationally and by line managers. Our surveys overwhelmingly report that staff are clear about what is expected of them and feel well informed and supported. So, the Commission performance has remained high through the prioritisation of projects, regular communication between teams, a flexible approach to working hours and other business continuity actions.
Turning to the second part of your question about the need to virtually manage staff performance, again, the survey suggests that our line managers have adapted well to the need to virtually manage staff performance and absence rates across the organisations. That isn't simple. We're looking after everybody's mental health and well-being. So, that mental health and well-being concern has been a guiding principle from the start. This has been regularly communicated, and we've ensured that line managers and colleagues talk to each other more than might be usual within the office environment. We've had a few points in the year; we've had well-being check-in activity, where we ask line managers to speak directly to all their reports, and that data is regularly reviewed at executive board, together with absence data and workforce trends generally. That means that executive board can take decisions in good time to adopt new or different approaches as is necessary. And all of these activities, of course, have taken place against the backdrop of the lockdown requirements and risk assessments.
I'll bring in Cefin.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Fe sonioch chi, Manon, mwy nag unwaith yn y fan yna am iechyd meddwl y staff, a sut mae'r pandemig wedi effeithio arnyn nhw. Mae nifer, wrth gwrs, yn gweithio adre gyda chyfrifoldebau gofal a gofal plant, ac yn gorfod ymrafael â hynny a gwneud eu gwaith yn ogystal. Ac mae rhywun, yn anecdotaidd—ac mae e yn yr adroddiad hefyd—yn clywed am gynnydd yn y nifer o bobl sydd yn dioddef o broblemau iechyd meddwl. Felly, byddwn i jest eisiau gofyn: pa gefnogaeth ydych chi'n ei rhoi i bobl sydd yn ei gweld hi'n anodd ymdopi yn y sefyllfa rhyfedd hon? A hefyd sut ŷch chi'n monitro unrhyw ymyrraeth a recordio deilliannau o safbwynt yr ymyrraeth a'r gefnogaeth rŷch chi'n eu rhoi?
Thank you very much. You mentioned, Manon, more than once there about the mental health of the staff and how the pandemic has affected them. A number of them, of course, are working from home with caring responsibilities and childcare responsibilities, and having to address that and do their work at the same time. And one, anecdotally, has heard—and it's in the report as well—of an increase in the number of people who are suffering from mental health issues. So, I would just want to ask: what support are you providing to people who are finding it hard to cope in this strange situation that we're in? And also, how do you monitor any intervention and record outcomes in terms of the intervention and the support that you provide?
Mae gyda ni wahanol raglenni o gefnogaeth ymarferol ac emosiynol, nid yn unig i staff y Comisiwn, ond hefyd i Aelodau ac i staff Aelodau. Rydyn ni'n rhoi'r wybodaeth yna allan yn rheolaidd, ac mae e hefyd, wrth gwrs, yn barhaol ar ein mewnrwyd ni ac ati. Ac mi fyddwn i yn annog, drwy ein system ni o reoli llinell, cyfeirio pobl sydd mewn trafferth at y ffynonellau hynny.
O safbwynt monitro deilliannau, mae'n rhaid i ni fod yn ofalus i barchu cyfrinachedd, a dydw i ddim yn cael adroddiadau nôl ar pwy sydd wedi bod yn defnyddio'r gwasanaethau yma. Mae hwnna'n iawn, achos dŷn ni ddim eisiau i unrhyw un deimlo eu bod nhw ddim yn gallu defnyddio'r gwasanaeth oherwydd bod yr angen yna am help yn cael ei nodi. Ond rŷn ni'n para ymlaen. Un o'r heriau mawr, a dweud y gwir—dŷch chi wedi rhoi eich bys arni—o fod yn rheoli o bell yw ei bod hi'n fwy anodd i reolwyr llinell, ac, yn wir, i gydweithwyr, i weld os oes rhywun yn dioddef. Felly, dyna pam rŷn ni wedi bod yn rhoi ymdrech ychwanegol i mewn i aros mewn cysylltiad yn rhithiol. Dros yr haf, mi fuon ni yn defnyddio'r ffaith bod yr adeilad yn weddol wag, er enghraifft, i annog pobl i ddod nôl yn eu timoedd, yn eu tro, mewn ffordd ddiogel, fel bod pobl yn gallu cyfarwyddo â bod mewn awyrgylch wahanol, ac efallai dod dros unrhyw nerfusrwydd ynglŷn â bod ymhlith pobl eto, fel ein bod ni'n gallu ailadeiladu’r synnwyr yna o undod tîm, sydd wedi bod yn nodwedd o weithio gyda'r Comisiwn yn ystod y blynyddoedd diwethaf.
We have different programmes of practical and emotional support, not just for Commission staff, but also for Members and their staff. We provide that information regularly, and it is available continually on our intranet sites and so on. And I would encourage, through our system of line management, referring people who are struggling to those sources of support.
From the point of view of monitoring outcomes, we do have to be careful about respecting confidentiality, and I don't receive reports back on who has been using these services. And that's absolutely correct, because we wouldn't want anyone to feel that they couldn't access a service because that need for help would then be recorded. But we do continue. One of the challenges—you've put your finger on it—about managing remotely is that it's more difficult for line managers, and, indeed, colleagues, to see whether somebody is suffering. So, that's why we have been putting additional effort into keeping in touch virtually. Over the summer, we used the fact that the building was relatively empty, for example, to encourage people to return in their teams, in turn, in a safe way, so that people could get used to being back in a different environment, and perhaps get over any nervousness about being amongst people again, so that we could rebuild that sense of team unity that has been a feature of working with the Commission over the past few years.
Moving on, what's been the impact on communications and engagement of changes in senior management over the year, and how does the Commission measure effectiveness when the pandemic situation has been so volatile?
Thank you. We've had a bit of change in the communication and engagement team. Towards the end of the year, two new heads of service came into post, and since then, we've accelerated the process of giving stronger support to the business services, especially planning for committee inquiries. There are more members of the communications service now sitting on the committee integrated teams, so that they can feed into the planning process at an earlier stage. That has freed other staff to focus on delivery, and that has been seen in the fact that we've been able to reopen our doors to a limited and focused extent. We've already hosted a number of high-profile events under challenging circumstances, including the Olympic/Paralympic homecomings, the recording of television programmes like Pawb a'i Farn and Cynefin on S4C, and, of course, we have next week’s official opening of the sixth Senedd, which we hope to deliver successfully.
In terms of measuring success, there are certain straightforward indicators that we can look at in terms of numbers for engagement. The Gwlad festival in 2020 had eight online events, but if you analyse the 600 or so people who engaged with that, it’s good to see that 50 per cent hadn’t engaged with the Senedd before, and nearly two thirds identified as politically apathetic, so it shows that we’re, hopefully, getting beyond the circle of people who would be paying attention anyway, and reaching wider audiences. We’ve had over 1,200 visits to the Senedd virtual tour and 1,000 have attended the online presentations, which suggests that these virtual means of engagement have merit and a permanent place in our armoury. But you’ll see in the KPIs what outcomes we’re looking at and measuring ourselves against going forward.
Thank you. Cefin will take the final set of questions. We've got nine minutes left, so I'd be grateful if everybody could be as concise as possible.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. Ynglŷn â chynaladwyedd a'r defnydd o blastig, fe welon ni bod y targedau cynaliadwyedd diwethaf wedi dod i ben yn 2021. Beth oedd y targedau mwyaf heriol i chi o ran cyflawni?
Thank you very much, Chair. Regarding sustainability and the use of plastics, we saw that the last sustainability targets came to an end in 2021. What were the most challenging targets to meet?
Os edrychwn ni nôl, fel dywedoch chi, rŷn ni wedi cyflawni ein targedau presennol ac wedi gwneud cynnydd da o safbwynt lleihau ein hôl-troed carbon ni. Mi roedd e’n heriol i ni leihau effaith teithio i’r gwaith a theithio o ran gwaith, ac, wrth gwrs, mae hynny wedi cael ei ddatrys drosom ni yn y flwyddyn ddiwethaf. Dwi’n meddwl mai’r her fydd cadw i’r lefelau isel yna wrth i lefelau gweithgaredd ddychwelyd i normal. Mi rydym ni’n edrych ar ddulliau newydd nawr o annog staff i ddefnyddio trafnidiaeth gyhoeddus, i'w helpu nhw i brynu ceir trydan, ac mi fyddwn ni yn edrych i wneud yn siŵr ein bod ni’n defnyddio’r dechnoleg newydd rhithiol yma i wneud yn siŵr bod pobl ddim yn gorfod teithio pan dŷn nhw ddim yn gorfod.
Mi fyddwch chi’n gweld ein bod ni wedi gwneud ymdrechion mawr i leihau ein defnydd o blastig untro. Dwi’n meddwl bod gwaith y Senedd Ieuenctid wedi gwneud yn siŵr, petai angen, ein bod ni wedi ffocysu’n gryf ar y gwaith yna, a does bron dim byd ar ôl nawr. Rŷn ni’n gweithio gyda’n cyflenwyr i edrych ar y mathau o blastig mae nwyddau’n cyrraedd wedi eu lapio ynddyn nhw—dyna’r math o beth sydd yn dal, yn anffodus, yn anodd i ni symud i ffwrdd oddi wrtho fe. Ond mae hynny’n ffracsiwn o’r hyn oedd yn cael ei ddefnyddio rai blynyddoedd yn ôl.
I think if you look back, as you said, we have reached our current targets and we've made good progress in terms of decreasing our carbon footprint. It was challenging for us to decrease the impact of travelling to the workplace and travelling as a result of work, and that, of course, has been solved for us over the past year. I think the challenge will be maintaining that low level of travel as activity levels return to normal. We are looking at new methods of encouraging staff to use public transport, and helping them to buy electric vehicles as well, and we will be looking to see that we're using this new virtual technology to ensure that people don't have to travel when they don't need to do so.
You'll see that we've made major efforts to decrease our use of single-use plastics. I think that the work of the Youth Parliament has ensured that we needed to place a major focus on that work, and there's nothing much remaining. We're working with our suppliers to look at the kinds of plastic that products arrive wrapped in—that's the kind of thing that is still difficult for us to move away from. But that is a fraction of what used to be used a few years ago.
Os caf i ddilyn ymlaen, Cadeirydd, o ran yr agwedd o ran cynaliadwyedd a lleihau allyriadau carbon, mae’r dull yma o weithredu mewn ffordd hybrid, lle mae rhai yn gweithio o adref a rhai o’u swyddfeydd yma yn y Senedd, yn peri heriau gwahanol, wrth gwrs. Felly, sut ŷch chi’n mynd i annog staff sy’n gweithio o gartref ac Aelodau o’r Senedd sydd yn gweithio o gartref i weithredu mewn ffordd sy’n gallu lleihau eu hallyriadau carbon nhw hefyd, gan ein bod ni’n symud, efallai, i fyd newydd o ran ymgysylltu â’n gilydd?
If I could follow on, Chair, in terms of the sustainability aspect and reducing carbon emissions, this method of acting in a hybrid way, where some people are working from home and others are working from their offices here in the Senedd, poses different challenges. So, how are you going to encourage staff who are working from home and Members of the Senedd who are working from home to act in a way that can reduce their carbon emissions also, as we are now moving, perhaps, to a new world in terms of engaging with each other?
Rydych chi'n hollol iawn, Cefin; mae yna agweddau y gallwn ni eu gwneud fel Comisiwn. Rŷn ni wedi bod yn edrych ar gytundeb hirdymor i gynhyrchu gwres ar gyfer yr ystad, er enghraifft, yn fwy cynaliadwy yn y dyfodol. Ond mae yna newidiadau diwylliannol fydd eu hangen os ŷn ni'n mynd i gyrraedd y targed o gael niwtraliaeth carbon erbyn y flwyddyn 2030, sydd ddim yn bell iawn i ffwrdd, wrth gwrs, o safbwynt cynllunio. Felly, dwi'n meddwl bod hwn yn mynd i fod yn rhywbeth sydd yn newid dros amser. Mae e'n rhan o'r cynllunio soniais i amdano fe eisoes yn ein hadroddiad ni ar ddysgu gwersi'r pandemig a'u cadw nhw'n fyw ar gyfer y dyfodol. A dwi'n meddwl y bydd angen arweiniad ac y bydd angen ymroddiad oddi wrth y Comisiwn, ac oddi wrthyn ni i gyd fel staff, i yrru'r newid yna mewn ymddygiad, a dwi'n siŵr y byddwch chi'n cadw'n traed ni at y tân yn hynny o beth hefyd.
You're entirely right, Cefin; there are elements that we can do as a Commission. We have been looking at a long-term contract to generate heat for the estate, for example, in a more sustainable way in future. But there are cultural changes that will be needed if we're going to reach the target of carbon neutrality by the year 2030, which isn't very far away in terms of planning. So, I think this is going to be something that will change over time. It is part of the planning work that I referred to in our report on learning lessons from the pandemic, and keeping those lessons live in future. And I think we'll need guidance and leadership, and we'll need commitment, indeed, from the Commission, and from all of us as staff, to drive that change in behaviour, and I'm sure that you will hold our feet to the fire in that regard.
Ie, dwi'n edrych ymlaen at dderbyn rhyw ganllawiau gennych chi ar gyfer ni fel Aelodau a hefyd staff y Comisiwn, o ran gweithio gartref a sut y gallwn ni wneud mwy i leihau ein hallyriadau carbon ni yn ein gwaith bob dydd. Felly, mae hynny'n rhywbeth dwi'n edrych ymlaen ato'n fawr iawn.
Y cwestiwn olaf gen i: fe wnaethoch chi sôn am y defnydd o blastig untro, a dwi'n falch iawn bod dylanwad Senedd yr ifanc wedi bod yn fawr arnon ni o ran lleihau hynny. Ond, wrth gwrs, beth ŷn ni wedi'i weld yn ystod y 18 mis diwethaf yw mwy o ddefnydd o PPE, sydd, wrth gwrs, yn cynnwys deunydd plastig untro. Sut ydyn ni'n rheoli y defnydd hwnnw hefyd er mwyn cyrraedd y targed o leihau'r defnydd o blastig untro?
Yes, I'm looking forward to receiving some guidelines from you, for us as Members and also Commission staff, in terms of working from home and how we can do more to reduce our carbon emissions in our day-to-day work. So, that is something that I'm looking forward to very much.
My final question: you mentioned the use of single-use plastics, and I'm very pleased that the Youth Parliament has had a significant impact in terms of reducing this. But what we've seen during the last 18 months is more use of PPE, which, of course, includes single-use plastics. How are we managing the use of that also in order to reach the target of reducing the use of single-use plastics?
Mae hwnnw'n un caled, achos mae e'n flaenoriaeth inni sicrhau iechyd a diogelwch ein staff a chontractwyr, ac mae angen iddyn nhw ddefnyddio PPE. Dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n broblem i'n cymdeithas ni'n gyffredinol fod llawer o'r deunydd sydd yn gwarchod pobl ar hyn o bryd wedi cael ei wneud o blastig untro. Ond rŷn ni'n ymwybodol o'r broblem yna, ac rŷn ni wedi bod yn siarad â'n contractwyr ni ynglŷn â hynny.
Well, that's a difficult one, because it is a priority for us to ensure the health and safety of our staff and contractors, and they need to use PPE. I think it is a problem for our society as a whole that a great deal of the equipment that protects people at the moment is made from single-use plastics. But we are aware of that problem, and we have been talking to our contractors about that issue.
Iawn. Diolch yn fawr i chi. Diolch.
Right. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr. Rhianon Passmore has a question.
Thank you very much, Chair. In regard to the standards Commissioner, I have noted that there was a charge for 540 hours, and 391 for the year before that. Is there any analysis or breakdown of the difference? And just a question, really: are those hours in any way capped? Just some background information. Thank you.
They're not capped, Rhianon, and I think that the document that I would direct you to is the annual report that was produced earlier this year by the standards Commissioner, which break down exactly what his hours were spent on.
Okay. Thank you.
Thank you very much indeed. All that remains now is to thank the three witnesses, Manon Antoniazzi, Nia Morgan and Ken Skates, for their contributions this morning. A transcript of today's meeting will be published in draft form and sent to you, which you can then check for accuracy, before publication of the final version. So, again, thank you, and hopefully you'll have a good day. In terms of the committee, if we can now go into closed session for, I think, seven minutes, and return for 10:35.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:29 a 10:41.
The meeting adjourned between 10:29 and 10:41.
Okay, well, croeso. Welcome back to the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee. The next item on our agenda is a discussion of the predecessor committee's—the Public Accounts Committee—report on barriers to the successful implementation of the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The previous committee's report was published in March this year and contained a number of recommendations for Welsh Government particularly, but also the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, the Auditor General for Wales, the Business Committee of the sixth Senedd, and recommendation 11 was directed to all public bodies in Wales subject to the well-being of future generations Act. Responses have been received by the committee from the Welsh Government, future generations commissioner, Auditor General for Wales and the Business Committee of this sixth Senedd. And you'll be aware, Members, that the Welsh Government tabled a statement on the response in Plenary yesterday, although that was then replaced with a statement more generically on the Act itself, and reference was made to three reports, including our own. So, before yesterday's statement, the clerks kept me well briefed. We received the Minister's response only last Wednesday, so this committee didn't have a chance to consider it before yesterday's statement. This is our opportunity both to do that and to consider if and what further action we may wish to take. So, could I invite, please, Chloe Corbyn, from the research service, to discuss her briefing paper.
Thank you, Chair. So, Members, in your briefing pack, you'll see that there's a summary document, and what that does is just pull out the key points from the inquiry that was conducted, including the key conclusions and recommendations, and briefly summarises the response from the Welsh Government, the auditor general, the future generations commissioner and from the Business Committee as well. I won't reiterate too much the things that are in there, only to highlight that, obviously, as discussed in the debate yesterday, the Welsh Government accepted most of the recommendations in principle, and only one of them fully accepted. We had a very thorough response from the future generations commissioner, and it was good to see in that that some of the things that the committee recommended have already been taken forward. For example, the committee recommended that public bodies needed more dedicated support from the commissioner, and the commissioner has already put that in place. So, there is a clear line from the committee's recommendation through to that.
In terms of the response from the Welsh Government, there was also a number of positive aspects in there, particularly around the fact that remit letters are now going to be framed around the Act—remit letters for public bodies—and the fact that the Welsh Government plans to review the public bodies that are subject to the Act. As you'll be aware, a number of new public bodies have been created since the Act came into place, like Transport for Wales, for example, which aren't currently subject to the Act. So, the committee's recommendation was in line with the recommendation from the Auditor General for Wales in that regard.
In terms of the response from Business Committee, obviously, now the Equality and Social Justice Committee has overall responsibility for the Act, including scrutiny of the commissioner, but this committee will want to consider, given the previous committee's recommendations, what, if any, role it wants to have with the Act, moving forward. I'm not going to go on any further, but if Members have any specific questions about any of the issues in the responses or the inquiry itself, I'm happy to answer them. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. Can I just add one point? The response received from the Welsh Government indicated that, apart from recommendation 8, all the other recommendations were 'accepted in principle', rather than in full. This is a practice the Permanent Secretary agreed with our predecessor committee in January 2018—I believe Rhianon was a member of that committee—would cease and that in future they would only use the terms 'accept' or 'reject'. I think that was also a point picked up yesterday in the Chamber by the Chair of the social justice committee. In her covering letter, the Minister has provided an explanation for the Welsh Government's reasons why they've done this in this instance, but, again, Members may have a view on that in their responses. I think, as I indicated yesterday, working with the clerks and Chloe in preparation for what we said, the Minister's explanation related to the specificity of the committee's request for timings and ways of working, which the Welsh Government felt were undeliverable. So, bearing in mind what we said about commitments made to the previous committee and the views expressed by both myself as Chair of this committee and the Chair of the social justice committee, whether in future we would prefer 'accept' or 'reject', or whether we feel that the justifications given by the Welsh Government validate the use of the term on this occasion, could I invite Members, please, if you have any thoughts, ideas, questions, proposals regarding the latest developments? Mike, thank you.
On 'accept in principle', I think I would just say 'accept in principle' is 'We don't want to do it, but we don't want to have a row over it, so we'll avoid the row.' I think that if things are only going to be accepted in principle, that is, effectively, a rejection, isn't it, because you're not accepting the recommendation. So, I think we need to get further detail, not on this one, but in general of why there's, effectively, a rejection. A better answer or reply would be 'reject, but accept the general principle,' rather than 'accept in principle,' because that's really what they're doing.
Thank you, and in stating, for example 'reject', would you then hope and expect that the Welsh Government, in accepting, nonetheless, the essence of the proposal or recommendation, should indicate alternative timings or ways of working so that we're aware of how we may measure that? Thank you. Any views from anyone else?
I don't disagree with what Mike has said, and we had come to some felt consensus around this, and I think the difficulty is if you accept in principle, it is very generic, and, from the Welsh Government's perspective, they probably think it's too prescriptive and, therefore, more difficult. But I do think we need to have a common understanding of what we're saying, so I'd be happy to go back to Welsh Government and ask what it is that we're working with and what's happened to the previous memorandum of understanding.
Is everybody agreeable to that—that we write to the Minister accordingly?
We need to know what we're dealing with, yes.
Cefin and Natasha, are you happy with that? Thank you. Any other points that Members would like to raise regarding the responses received or other matters arising?
I've got a comment. I don't know if others want to jump in in regard to the details of this. I'm just constantly struck by two different tensions, actually, which is that all commissioners have not enough money to do their job. It's the way of working. And it's easy to say, 'Well, that's your envelope, work within it'. However, I think this is different, and I think the future generations legislation is iconic for Wales, and I think if it is to work, then we have to enable it to work. And on this occasion, the argument is cogent, put down by the commissioner, in terms of, if we are to have more support and outreach to public bodies, if we are to see cultural change and transformation, then that has to be enabled. So, with the caveat that I've already stated, I do think that her points that she makes with regard to funding, and having used her reserves to carry out this piece of work, is an immense challenge under that envelope.
I think in the statement yesterday, Jane Hutt did indicate that the commissioner's budget has been increased this year and is now in line with the budget of the children's commissioner. However, her remit is a lot broader than that of the children's commissioner.
So, what I was going to add to that, then, is that the devil is in the detail around that. So, I think her general argument is very sound. I know that's been accepted, but, in that regard, is it still—. It's better than nothing.
Yes. If I'm—
But support for that is my point.
Thank you. Because if I'm correct, the previous committee, of which you were a member, noted that the Act was now—well, it's been six years in existence and yet there has been no scrutiny by a Senedd committee or otherwise of its implementation, delivery and impact. And therefore, this committee engaged with other committees and produced the report it did. So, allied to that, and the response, I think, both from the Minister and from the Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee acknowledging that, whilst this falls within the remit of the social justice committee, it's also cross-cutting and, clearly, this committee has an overarching role in terms of the effective and efficient use of resource and administration of resource. Do you therefore also—? Or perhaps I'd better bring the auditor general in before I ask the next question of you. So, yes, can I ask the auditor general to give his comments on this?
On which aspect, Mark? On my own response to the committee?
Yes, thanks. It's hopefully straightforward. You addressed one specific recommendation to me, which in essence was to raise my expectations of audited bodies in the next reporting round. I'm very pleased to accept that in full and, indeed, it is a very helpful endorsement of the direction of travel that I wanted us to be on in any case.
Thank you. Natalie—Natasha. Crikey.
It's fine. It's okay. Thank you, Chair. Just a quick one. I completely agree with my lovely colleague who mentioned earlier that it's important to give an opportunity for the future generations commissioner to work, to succeed and to excel, but there have been a few elements of criticism along the way from different organisations, such as the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, the NHS Confederation. I noticed in the response I believe that came from the future generations commissioner that they've had 892 requests for support, 319 from public bodies. In the name of transparency, would it be possible—and please tell me if this can't happen—is it possible to have a list of those individuals that they have helped, because it would just open a door for us to be able to see who are those individuals, groups and organisations that they have helped? I did look, and I couldn't see anything in the file, so my apologies if it's there.
I don't think it is there, but I think that would probably be something that the commissioner would be able to provide. We could certainly ask.
If we could please see that. I'd very much like to just see the transparency element of it, because obviously there are a lot of people condemning and saying that they haven't been helped or they're unaware of the services, or the commissioner hasn't been helpful with their needs and their drive forward, so I'd just like to know who are these organisations that they actually have helped so it just gives us a bit of a comparison to see who is getting the help that they deserve and need.
One of the things that came out during the inquiry, and it came out in the debate yesterday, was that the commissioner said I think she spends—53 per cent of her requests were requests from within the Welsh Government. I can't remember the exact figure, so don't quote me on that. But, yes, we could try to get an overall breakdown.
That would be fantastic. Thank you so much.
Chair, with regard to the statement yesterday, the announcement around the uplift, obviously, this is hot off the press in that regard. When will that come to us as a committee in terms of the detail of that?
I don't know, I'm sorry.
So, can I make a request that we are updated as a committee in terms of what difference that will make and the detail on that?
Thank you. So, as indicated a few moments ago, the remit of the Equality and Social Justice Committee includes the Act, but it also specifies that this need not be done in isolation from the work of the other committees. Are Members therefore agreeable to my writing to the Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, enclosing the responses we received and discussing how we could work together on this issue?
Can I just ask for clarification? No objection, but when we're working with this as a cost-cutting theme, can we encapsulate what we're talking about? Are we just talking about the framework of future generations working? Have we got a more specific remit or mandate around that cost-cutting work, or is it just a theme that we're putting out there? I'm not very clear.
Sorry, it's more about how we consider how we work together to avoid repetition, duplication, and to ensure we're focusing on the areas within our remit but not covering territory that they're also covering and vice versa.
Okay, that's absolutely fine.
Hoffwn i ofyn cwestiwn yn gyffredinol am y Ddeddf. Mae hon yn Ddeddf eiconig, mewn gwirionedd, i Gymru. Mae'n gwbl unigryw, mae'n arloesol, mae'n flaengar iawn, ond yn anorfod, gyda'r amcanion pellgyrhaeddol sydd ynddi, bod yna densiynau weithiau'n mynd i godi rhwng polisïau'r Llywodraeth ac amcanion y Ddeddf, ac mi fydden i'n lico gofyn: ble mae'r ymchwil yn mynd i ddigwydd o gwmpas y tensiynau yna? A sut mae datrys y tensiynau, gan bod y Ddeddf mor ganolog i waith Llywodraeth Cymru, ac i gyrff cyhoeddus ar draws Cymru? Felly, pwy fydd â'r cyfrifoldeb i ystyried y tensiynau yna, a gweld ffordd ymlaen o ran eu datrys nhw?
I'd like to ask a general question about the Act. This is an iconic Act, really, for Wales. It's completely unique, it's innovative, and it's at the forefront of things, but inevitably, with the far-reaching aims in this Act, there are tensions sometimes that are going to arise between the Government's policies and the objectives of the Act, and I would like to ask: where is the research going to happen in terms of those tensions? And how can those tensions be solved, because the Act is so central to the work of Welsh Government, and public bodies across Wales? So, who will have the responsibility to consider those tensions, and see a way forward in terms of resolving them?
Perhaps we can include that in the letter to the ESJ Chair as an area we need to expand upon. We know there are seven well-being goals, five ways of working, and some of those areas might challenge some of the other areas, it depends where you focus, how you focus, and how you effectively do a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that you're not pursuing a route that benefits one or more of the goals but disadvantages others to a greater extent. And I'm not clear in my mind, still, after all these years, how that work is done. It's very easy to just say, 'We should do this, we should do that, we should do the other', but how do we make it work? Chloe.
Whilst obviously there's discussion to be had about how that's done within the Senedd, there's also the role of the commissioner to analyse Welsh Government policy and action and to come to a view as to the extent to which that is or isn't meeting the aims of the Act, and she's done that on specific pieces of policy; for example, the WelTAG guidance—the transport appraisal guidance—and she's worked with the Welsh Government on the policy but is also now looking at how that's being implemented in practice. So, her future generations report, which is one of the reports that the inquiry was in response to, is 803 pages long, so it's a big read, but that has a really thorough look across the piece of Welsh Government policy.
If I could ask the auditor general: obviously, your remit covers public bodies generally, and I know you're very much including the Act within the broader work that you're doing; how might that impact on the discussion we're having?
Part of our approach for this next reporting round is to try to mainstream some of the principles of the Act into our wider audit work, so you will see that coming through, I hope, in some of the reports that come to this committee with us drawing particular attention to areas if we feel some of the principles in the Act could be followed more strongly. To answer Cefin's question, I think part of the scrutiny comes from me and from us, but that's only one specific part of it. As I think Chloe just said, the other obvious route for that kind of scrutiny comes from the commissioner's office, but a lot of it too will fall on yourselves as Members, and the various committees of the Senedd, because my suggestion is that you should be looking out for any potential conflict with the principles of the Act in any piece of new legislation, any significant policy or spending announcements the Government brings forward, and building that into your scrutiny at all times to check that the Welsh Government is following the principles that it itself has put forward through its own legislation.
All I was going to add—and perhaps I misunderstood your question, Cefin, in terms of the actual commissioner herself waiting in any particular way, rather than the actual application of the Act as set out in legislation—I was just going to basically add, in terms of coming before us as a committee, or a myriad of different committees, that is what the commissioner will be doing, and I'm sure she'd say she's over-scrutinised, but obviously that is part and parcel of that particular role, and she's a frequent visitor to this place in terms of scrutiny, and obviously, that's her role.
Well, I love the phrase 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating', and we need to look at the eating in order to assess the quality of the fare. The final question before we move on to the next section, then: given the statement yesterday, Members—apart from myself, briefly—were unable to speak or raise any points. I was very time-limited and couldn't question the Minister about any of our recommendations, except a brief reference to two of them. Are you agreeable to requesting a debate on the report and the Welsh Government recommendation now received? Mike, is that okay with you?
I'm nodding vigorously there, Mark. Yes.
Thank you. Right, lovely.
Then we move on to the next item on the agenda, item 4. We've managed to get ourselves two-and-a-half minutes ahead of schedule, so well done. The next item is Financial Reporting Advisory Board annual report 2020-21. The report acts as an independent source of advice on the setting of accounting standards for the UK Government. The board seeks to ensure that any adaptations or departures from generally accepted accountancy practices in the public sector are justified and appropriate. Its main focus is on examining proposals for amending current or implementing new accounting policies for central government and for examining proposals for accounting guidance for local authorities. The advisory board comprises representatives from Whitehall departments and devolved Governments, plus a number of independent Members. The Welsh Government's director of finance sits as a relevant authority member on the board.
So, in accordance with its terms of reference, the board prepares an annual report of its activities, which is circulated to the Parliaments of the UK—the House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee of the Senedd itself. So, I ask Members to note that report, and ask if you have any matters you'd like to raise from it or regarding it. Rhianon.
It's just really to ask if there is any headline that sticks out in regard to this particular report that we should be aware of. I can't see anything myself, but I'm not an expert in that. I don't know if anybody's got any further comment on that, if there's anything that stands out.
I didn't pick up on any headline. Have you picked up anything specific that we should be concerned about?
Just to note.
Mark, if I could just come in at this point.
Yes, Adrian, please.
Thanks. It is quite a technical document, and ordinarily, possibly, not too much for the committee to pick out. There is one area, though, that I think is relevant to the committee's work. Rhianon and Mike may recall from last year's scrutiny of the Welsh Government's accounts a qualification that I placed on those that flowed from the treatment of some of the grants that were paid out through the COVID period. FRAB was asked to consider that issue that had arisen not only in Wales, but across the UK. So, there is a reference in the report to the guidance that they have subsequently prepared. So, it is quite a technical piece in relation to how grants should be accounted for in the public sector.
My reading of it is that there is nothing in that refreshed guidance that would lead us to any different view to the one that we came to in respect of the Welsh Government's accounts last year. In due course, I believe the committee made a recommendation to the Welsh Government after your accounts scrutiny last year that they respond to you in the light of FRAB's consideration, so I'd anticipate you seeing something from the Welsh Government in due course.
Thank you. Chair, if I may, so that's particularly of importance. This was a very big issue for the former committee in terms of the qualification that was put on it. If my memory serves me correctly, there was great discourse, and of the fact that Scotland were doing something similar, if I recall. So, does this guidance, then, from your reading of it, if I may, Chair, give any further clarity on this particular issue in terms of the usage of grants in that particular way? And I take it from your comment that you say there is a difference—or there is no difference. I'm a bit confused.
There's nothing in the guidance that would lead me to conclude that the position that I took as auditor general would be any different now than it was a year ago.
Okay, thank you. Okay, that's of importance.
So, in regard to the letter that you're talking about, and in terms of our interpretation, then, of this around that particular issue, is there any merit in writing to the Welsh Government around that particular issue, because this was a big issue for us at the time, in terms of whether this guidance would have impacted on that particular issue if it had been out sooner? I don't know.
Are Members content with that proposal?
It's a suggestion. I don't know what other Members think.
Could I suggest we perhaps—? Sorry, yes.
I was going to say, yes, I think you could write and it would be useful to have the Welsh Government's position on this matter ahead of them coming in for accounts scrutiny because, obviously, the accounts will be qualified again this year for the same reason, same issue. So, we could have all of that in front of us before we undertake that work.
We could perhaps also, for Adrian's reference, refer to the previous recommendation of the previous committee regarding this, and to simply look forward to receiving the Welsh Government's letter regarding the latest FRAB report in due course, or some equivalent term.
[Inaudible]—for newbies like us, it'll be good to have that background information, for sure.
Thank you very much indeed.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 6 i 10 o'r cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 6 to 10 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
We move now, therefore, to item 5, and so I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix), that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 6 to 10 of today's meeting. Are all Members content? I see that all Members are content, and I thank everyone who's participated so far and ask the clerk to move us into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:09.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:09.