Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Equality and Social Justice Committee03/10/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Jane Dodds MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Joel James MS||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Altaf Hussain|
|Substitute for Altaf Hussain|
|Ken Skates MS|
|Peredur Owen Griffiths MS||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Sioned Williams|
|Substitute for Sioned Williams|
|Sarah Murphy MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Hannah Blythyn MS||Y Dirprwy Weinidog Partneriaeth Gymdeithasol|
|Deputy Minister for Social Partnership|
|Neil Buffin||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Gwasanaeth Cyfreithiol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Legal Services, Welsh Government|
|Neil Surman||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Partneriaeth Gymdeithasol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Social Partnership, Welsh Government|
|Sue Hurrell||Pennaeth Caffael Gwaith Teg, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Head of Fair Work Procurement, Welsh Government|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Angharad Roche||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Rachael Davies||Ail Glerc|
|Sam Mason||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Stephen Davies||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
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 13:30.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:30.
Prynhawn da. I'd like to welcome Members and members of the public to the meeting of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. This meeting is being held in a hybrid format, with some Members participating here on the Senedd estate and others participating virtually via video-conference. The meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. The meeting is bilingual and you will be able to hear simultaneous translation from Welsh to English. We have a substitution for the first part of the meeting of our normal members: Peredur Owen Griffiths is substituting for Sioned Williams, and Joel James is substituting for Altaf Hussain on all matters relating to the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? Sarah.
Yes. I am a member of Unite the Union, Unison, GMB and the Bevan Foundation.
Thanks, Chair. I'm a member of Unite the Union.
I'm also a member of Unite the Union and also the Bevan Foundation.
If there are no other declarations of interest related to this meeting, I'll now move on to item 2. As this is the first meeting we've had since the July recess because of the delay in reconvening because of the passing of the Queen, we've got 12 items of correspondence to note in public, which are all on the agenda, which you can all see. Are Members happy to accept all 12 items to note for the time being? Jane Dodds, you wanted to come in.
Yes, thank you, Chair. I would like an item noted under the letter from Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman on page 45, I think, of our agenda. I would like a further discussion at another point in relation to the response to that letter with regard to sharing data with the Home Office and immigration issues. Thank you, Chair.
Okay. I suggest we take that item further on in private session when we're discussing our report. I think that's the time to take it. Thank you for that.
I'd just like to draw Members' attention to the correspondence from the Minister for Social Justice and the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, which is about the consultation on those public bodies that are going to be subject to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. There is a lot of information in there that is relevant to the public procurement aspect and the social partnership aspect of the Bill that we're now going to be discussing as the next item on the agenda.
I'd very much like to welcome Hannah Blythyn, who is the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership. Perhaps you'd like to invite your officials to introduce themselves.
Thanks, Chair. I'm pleased to be back here in front of the committee once again, and can I welcome how quickly you've been able to rearrange this session, following our having to postpone it, as you said? I'll start with Neil on my left here and ask him to introduce himself.
Thank you, Minister. I'm Neil Buffin, deputy director of legal services in Welsh Government.
I'll break up the Neils a bit and go to Sue. [Laughter.]
I'm Sue Hurrell. I'm the head of fair work procurement.
Thank you very much. And Neil.
[Interruption.] Excuse me. I've had bronchitis for the last two weeks. I'm Neil Surman. I'm deputy director for social partnership.
Okay. I'm just going to start off, Deputy Minister, just to ask you: when we look back on this Bill in three years' time and scrutinise its impact, what do you think will be the outcomes you will want to be able to evidence at that point?
Thanks, Chair. That's a really good question to open up the session today, because as I imagine every one of us Members elected to the Senedd knows, changing legislation is one thing, but changing lives is the reason why we're here, ultimately. I think, just to start with the background, obviously the evidence and case for change underpinning the proposals in the Bill are set out, as you would expect, in the explanatory memorandum and the regulatory impact assessment. I think it's pretty challenging to look in terms of what we would expect the social partnership duty and such to do because that would depend on the individual actions appropriate to those public bodies that it covers, but I think it may help if I kind of try and drill down in much broader terms into different aspects of the Bill, what we would hope those would achieve and how we think that would enable us to create that system to achieve change.
If we look at the social partnership council, which we'll be legislating for, we would hope that would improve the quality of advice available to Welsh Ministers on the matters covered by the Bill, because we were bringing in people from those social partners who would have that direct contact and that direct lived experience of some of the matters that we would be seeking to drive policy or perhaps legislate on in the future, and that links very much to the social partnership duties on those bodies with which they cover. So, we talk about how it would strengthen the quality of decision making in respect of those aspects of the well-being of future generations Act, but I think to put them in, shall I say, in want of a better phrase, 'more layperson's terms', that's about involving the people who provide those services in shaping those services for the future, and actually recognising that those important strategic decisions made by these organisations are grounded in the experience of the staff who are working there as well. And that's really important, I think. As politicians, we've probably all been in a situation where we've spoken to people working in public services who clearly had their own ideas and suggestions as to how we could improve them, that actually not only benefit the service as a whole, but actually impact on the broader well-being of those people who are involved in providing the services.
I think when you look at things about amending the prosperous Wales goal to refer to fair work rather than decent work, not only would that say we will renew the focus on fair work and what that means, but also, it would mean that that amendment, that change, would oblige every public body within scope to actually look again and consider afresh how they can help make Wales a fair work nation. So, I think it's about actually how this legislation starts to drive those changes we want to see, and then, we work with our social partners to take them forward.
I might ask Sue just to come in. Sorry, she's smiling at me, because she wondered how long it would take until I did that. [Laughter.] Just in terms of the socially responsible procurement aspects of the legislation, actually how we would envisage that would bring about a change in the future.
Thank you, Minister. The question was about three years. I think that's quite an interesting question, because it's going to be a few years until we get through the various cycles of collecting data and reporting. So, within three years, we would like to see public bodies being much clearer about what it is they've got to do to deliver their well-being outcomes, and how that applies into the different categories of spend that they're working in, and I think, by that stage, we should be much clearer about what data we need to be collecting across all categories in order that we can track and monitor progress and increase due diligence and accountability for the public expenditure.
So, I think we may not have years' worth of data to look at trends and progress by that point, but in three years' time, ideally, we would all be very clear about what it is that we need to be doing across Wales and how we're going to measure and report on that.
Thank you, both of you, for that, because it's now on the record, and when in three years' time this committee looks at it, we'll be able to test you against those things. So, Joel, you wanted to have some questions on this.
Yes. Thank you, Chair, and thanks, everyone, for coming this afternoon. I just wanted to start: if I can just touch upon what Sue mentioned there, you mentioned there about you were hoping that in three years' time, public bodies will have an idea then of what is expected of them and what the outcomes were and that. I was just wondering about how you would help them to get to that deadline, if that makes sense, because as we've mentioned before, using the well-being of future generations Act, a lot of public bodies still have, for want of a better phrase, no idea how to implement those regulations or legislation. I just wanted to see how you would then, as a Government, help public bodies to implement what's in the Bill, really, within three years.
So, if I kick off on this: I think it's a really good question in terms of actually making sure that practical support's there on the ground, because one thing we have found in both the engagement we've had with social partners, which include public bodies, and with the consultation around the legislation too is the need to have that support for training and clearer processes in place. And we're well aware of that, which is why we're looking at introducing things in the way we are, particularly around the contract management duties, to give them an opportunity to learn from that, to embed in, and hopefully spread more widely. And I think one of the things we have done in terms of making sure there is that support there is to produce a programme board that looks over the work and is already—or we've already started to implement training for public bodies around what the social partnership duty would mean for them, and also socially responsible procurement. I don't know whether there's any more officials want to add in terms of that training and support that's available as well.
That training and support will be ongoing, but we're doing it right now with a view to implementation of the legislation, ongoing once the Bill, we hope, becomes law. What we're aiming to create, effectively, is a sort of self-sustaining, self-improving system, so the early data that comes in, the early experience of partnership working and the impact of the social partnership duties, the public procurement provisions and all the rest, that will all be within the area of the social partnership council, whose role it will be to advise Ministers on what is going well within the new system or what perhaps is going less well and what practical steps Ministers and others, public bodies within scope of the legislation, might need to take to address any inefficiencies.
Over time, we would hope the impact of the legislation would grow as the new system beds in, as the data builds, as we've got a more robust understanding of exactly what works well on the ground and where, perhaps, more effective action needs to be taken. You don't effect system change overnight, clearly, it takes time, but we hope we're putting in place the right conditions to enable that sort of change to happen over time and to be tracked and reported upon appropriately.
Thanks ever so much for that response. So, with that in mind, how would you ensure that this legislation delivers on outcomes rather than spending the majority of its time trying to fine-tune the process, if that makes sense, so it actually delivers something rather than—again, using the three years as a deadline—that we spend the next three years putting everything into place, but we haven't actually delivered anything yet, if that makes sense.
Absolutely. It's a really good point, although I think, given everything that's happened in politics in the last few weeks, three years is an incredibly long time to look ahead to. But, actually, what we're seeking here is long-term change as well. It goes back to what I said, that the point of legislating is to change something rather than just for legislation's sake alone. This legislation is quite technical in nature in a lot of the parts of it, and it does establish processes, so it establishes the process requirements that are around establishing the social partnership council and the framework that we're going to need to implement the duties and around the socially responsible procurement. The purpose behind that is creating—it's not the end, it's the means to the end.
So, this actually goes back to what Neil said around, ultimately, success is going to see this approach embedded across public bodies across Wales and it is a longer term cultural change, but it goes back to what we're saying that, actually, the work has started now in terms of how we're making sure that those bodies and those organisations are best in a position to hit the ground running in terms of how we achieve that change in the longer term. But, absolutely, 100 per cent, I concur with what you say that, ultimately, it's about the impact this legislation will have, improving public bodies and improving people's well-being. But, part of it is putting those processes in place to give us that platform to achieve that as well.
Perfect. Thank you, Chair. Just one final question from me, then. We've heard a lot of evidence from stakeholders, but also the Bevan Foundation, and they've highlighted that, and I'll quote from the notes here, actually, there's
'very limited evidence that the imposition of duties on public bodies results in material improvements'.
I just wanted to know your thoughts on that. Also, they've highlighted that there's a concern there that it just leads to a tick-box exercise, rather than actually, again, achieving the outcomes that you've expressed you want. I just wanted to know to what extent did you agree with that statement and then how the Bill is looking to address that, if it isn't already.
Thanks. It's important for me to say at the outset it's probably not appropriate for me to comment in too much detail on the Bevan Foundation's statement without having more of an opportunity to consider in detail what they referred to. But I think the point they make, actually, around that concern that perhaps duties are seen as another tick-box exercise for organisations is something that we were very alive to when drafting this legislation. I think one of the things to perhaps refer the committee to is that when we're looking at the social partnership duty as part of this legislation, it could have been drafted as a simple requirement—I'm looking at the lawyer on my left now—to consult, but what we've done is specifically talked about consensus and compromise, because, actually, that is about having a meaningful engagement. If you say 'consult', perhaps each one of us could interpret 'consult' in a different way, so it could just be, 'We've spoken to so and so—tick—we've consulted.' So, I think we've been alive to those concerns as we've been developing this legislation on social partnership, talking with organisations and bodies as well. So, I think, actually, we've done everything we can in this legislation to move away from that. I don't know whether Neil or anybody has something to add.
It's a common criticism of Government, isn't it, that we tend to adopt a sort of catapult approach to policy development and implementation? We come up with what sound like impressive policies within Government, we chuck them over the walls and we expect something to happen with them; we expect public bodies or others out there to deliver on the promises that we've made as a Government. We're not doing that in this case. We're seeking here to put in place the mechanics, the nuts and bolts, of a system that will allow us to drive improvement over time, which will allow us to track how well the system is performing, will allow us to measure to what extent social partnership is in fact contributing to the improvement of well-being through, in part, the improvement of public services in Wales. So, I would hope that we're avoiding the pitfalls that I think you and the Bevan Foundation have very appropriately identified. I'm certain it is the case that that is true in many instances. I don't think it's true in this instance, however, because we're doing the very things that I would hope would prevent this falling into a morass of work-around processes and systems and reporting arrangements without any real impact on the ground. That's not the purpose of this legislation.
Sorry, Chair, if you don't mind, Neil would like to come in.
Just to say as well the Bill is quite interesting in that it's quite prescriptive in how the social partnership duty has to be carried out and exactly what involvement means: giving sufficient information, giving that information at a sufficient time to the social partners. So, it's really quite rigorous in its approach, and I think that too is designed to get away from the pitfalls of a tick-box exercise.
Good. And no doubt you'll all have read the Auditor General for Wales's report that came out last week about how equality impact assessments are being regarded as a tick-box exercise, and they were unable to find any evidence of actual impact. So, I'm sure you'll want to be mindful of that.
I haven't actually had a chance to read that yet, but I shall definitely add it to my list to go away and look at.
Okay. Very good. Now, moving on to the financial implications of the Bill, Peredur.
Just quickly before I do that, if I can, Chair, with regard to what you were saying there, Neil, about being quite prescriptive, have you given any thought, then, to if that falls down and people aren't—? Is there an Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service-type system that could be put in place to help resolve conflict?
That's not something I've considered, no, with this. But I think, really—. The fact is there is guidance out there that bodies will have to have to regard to. It's a duty there. There are the reporting mechanisms around this, and I'm sure—you know, these are all matters to which bodies could be held to account.
Okay. Thank you. Thank you. Moving on the financial implications, Chair, as you said, we know that the Welsh Government's currently consulting on adding eight public bodies subject to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and, consequently, subject to the social partnership duty. What additional cost do you think will emerge from that, and bearing in mind—? With a real-terms cut in income, how are you going to cope with that?
As you've recognised, we are in very challenging times, and with, unfortunately, likely further on the horizon, from what we've hearing today as well. Just to touch on the two aspects, with regard to the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill itself and, obviously, the consultation that is ongoing and open until 20 October on more public bodies to be added to the well-being of future generations Act, as you would have seen and expect, the benefits and the costs of this legislation specifically are outlined in the regulatory—. I can't say it; the RIA, that's the easiest way to do it, actually. We said that if that social partnership duty was wider, then we would anticipate that the estimated costs would also increase. In practice, we would expect, from the kind of engagement that I and officials have had, that most, if not all, public bodies in Wales will already have some established mechanisms in place for working with their staff and recognise trade unions in a social partnership manner. So, in many respects you wouldn't anticipate any significant cost, but, as I've said previously to the committee, if any public bodies have concerns about that, then the door is open there to have the conversation with their respective Welsh Government sponsor departments. I think one of the things that I would say with regard to that is that the consultation is open until 20 October.
Extending the list of bodies subject to the well-being of future generations Act—the commissioner's general duties and functions are covered under that—will be our—. I don't know whether officials have anything to add, but we are in discussions with the commissioner's office on the financial implications for her office in terms of monitoring and supporting those additional bodies, but I think it's important to set out too that this Bill itself—the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill—does not set any explicit additional obligations on the future generations commissioner and doesn't change any general duties or the powers. But, in preparing our statutory guidance, depending on the outcome of the consultation after 20 October, of course, we will then need to look again at our guidance and the regulatory impact assessment to see what impact that would have in terms of the—. If the decision is to include those bodies being consulted on, then we would commit to review the regulatory impact assessment and what it means for our legislation.
Okay. So, we'd then get a revised RIA for this Bill.
Yes. So, if the decision is taken by Ministers in fact to bring those additional bodies within the scope of the well-being of future generations Act, in time—. So, when we have to revise the RIA to take account of the Stage 2 amending process around the Bill, we will seek to do it then, in that reiteration of the RIA.
It's worth remembering also that the procurement duties cover a wider set of bodies already, some of which may be the bodies that are being considered for inclusion for extension—
Okay. So, they might already have been taking account—
—and some of the biggest costs associated with this legislation fall into that category, into the procurement category.
Okay. Going on to another aspect, the trade unions have told us that they'll probably need additional facility time to meet their obligations under the social partnership duty. Do you think there'll be a requirement then for additional facility time? If so, how will you ensure that public bodies provide this and what are the costs and benefits that will arise from that facility time?
Yes, so, this is something that has not only been raised with yourselves in committee but has also been raised in the engagement I've had with trade union social partners as well. At the point we are now, Welsh Government as an organisation does not have the information, the full picture, of trade union facility time across the public sector, largely because, obviously, arrangements are made locally within each public body, so it's usually a matter for them to determine.
So, one of the things we are doing, bearing in mind what has been said to yourselves—and I think, you know, it's not just with respect to the social partnership duty; it's across the piece, in terms of looking at things like a just transition and the role that a green recovery and such would play as part of that. So, Welsh officials are undertaking some work with partners to see what exactly that would mean in terms of, should additional facility time be needed, what that would look like and what the implications would be. I don't know whether, Neil, you want to come in in terms of what's already happening on that.
Yes, we've just begun the process of reviewing the issue of facility time. So, we have—. Within my team, we've got some secondments from both the employers and trade union parts of this partnership. So, we'll be taking forward that work. We're hoping, first off, as a scoping exercise, obviously, to try to establish a baseline for what facility time currently exists across the public service in Wales, then to look at the arguments for any change in that, specifically related to the social partnership duties in this Bill, perhaps more widely. On present plans, that work will come to an end in terms of a report and perhaps some recommendations for the Minister around about the middle of November—certainly before Christmas.
So, if that has a knock-on effect on the costs of this Bill, then would that be revised—
We would need to take account of that in the next iteration of the RIA.
And, of course, I'm happy to report back to this committee in due course, once that work has been completed.
Thank you. Could I now call on Sarah Murphy, who's going to look at the actual role and operation—?
Okay, sorry, Joel—I failed to see you.
Sorry about that, Chair. It was just to touch upon what Peredur said there, and then your response. You mentioned you're looking into the facility time element of it. What about the training aspect of it, then, in the sense of—? They would have to train their members to undertake these duties. Do you see that cost being borne by the trade unions themselves, then, or would they be given funding to help undertake that?
We're looking at facility time specifically, because that is an issue that, as the committee said, has arisen both in your scrutiny but also separately with us and in conversation with the Minister. So, we're treating that as a discrete exercise. The issue of not just training, but wider support for the implementation of the Bill, is being taken forward through our implementation programme, and we have a programme board established, working with partners represented on that board, across the whole range of implementation challenges for the legislation, including the need for additional support and training as we move forward. So, that's part of that process, which will be ongoing over the next two or three years as we move to implement the Bill.
So, that would be for all partners, not just trade unions—social partners.
Very good. Can I bring in Sarah Murphy now?
Thank you, Chair. So, I just want to ask some questions about the role and operations of the social partnership council. During the COVID pandemic there was a shadow social partnership council, and it's been commended by business representatives like the Confederation of British industry Wales, the Federation of Small Businesses Wales and Chambers Wales for having a very clear mandate and also a concise agenda, which I'm sure we can all appreciate. So, how will you ensure that the council builds on these foundations?
Thanks, Sarah. I laughed in agreement then and very knowingly about the merits of concise agendas, when we can have them. In all seriousness now, I welcome the comments that employer social partners have made to this committee around the merits and the value of the shadow social partnership council during the COVID pandemic, and, actually, I should say on the record that is not just the position of our employer social partners; that's across the piece. We've had a really good session, as it's come to evolve towards the end of the shadow social partnership council, about actually how we take away those learning points and the things that worked well and how we would want to improve that in the future for any social partnership council and what we can learn from that.
I think we were in a strong position at the outset, because we already had the foundations of social partnership working in Wales, but I think what the pandemic has done and the shadow social partnership council and also things like the health and safety forum, which we established as well—it really brought home the value in bringing social partners round the table and having a clear agenda for what your work agenda was, albeit in very different circumstances, because it was an emergency situation. Broadly, what we're going to be looking at at the social partnership council would be more business as usual—although I don't think, actually, business as usual exists in political or economic life at the moment, anyway. That enabled us to actually not only have that clear focus, but also to be able to be agile and flexible when we were able to come back and shape it from those experiences of our social partners, to be able to strengthen what the Welsh Government was doing in that area. So, whilst the social partnership council will have a very different remit and focus from the shadow social partnership council, we're very much committed to learning from those recommendations and actually those experiences from the partners who were part of that.
The remit will be around advising Welsh Ministers on the social partnership duty, the pursuit of the prosperous Wales goal and socially responsible procurement, and the way that the social partnership council will operate will be set out in published procedures, and obviously we will work those procedures up in social partnership with those partners to ensure that we have a basic framework of procedures, but also that it enables us, like we have done before, to be able to work without impairing the flexibility of the social partnership council's work programme as well.
Thank you. And then there have been concerns raised by the Wales Trades Union Congress that the social partnership council should be able to determine its own procedures, whereas at the moment—. It says that Welsh Ministers should not have powers under section 7(5) of the Bill to revise those procedures, because it could end up then that it would give them more powers than the actual social partners themselves. So, how would you respond to those concerns?
I think it's really important to set out that we're absolutely committed to working with social partners to develop the procedures that will govern the operation of the social partnership council, and, as I said to your previous question, it's very much the intention that SPC members will be part of that process and invited to comment on the draft procedures drawn up in partnership prior to them being published and being fully transparent as part of that process. I think it's really important to emphasise the intention with the procedures is to provide that basic framework without impairing the flexibility of the social partnership council's work. And it will be for the social partnership council itself to determine what its work programme looks like. Neil's nodding. I don't know if Neil wants to come in in terms of anything in legislation that—
No, I'm agreeing, Minister.
That's always a good sign. In terms of the work programme and the focus of work of the social partnership council, that is purely a matter for members of the social partnership council.
Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Chair.
What's the purpose, then, of that clause? If it's your intention to work in partnership, why are you putting that clause in?
I think, from a legal perspective, it's fairly standard. It's a new group, and it is really just establishing the bones within which the flesh is placed. So, there's no intention to fetter the discretion of the SPC in terms of what its agenda is, or, indeed, if it wishes to create new sub-groups. But, it's really just establishing the basics for the council. It must be remembered that the council itself doesn't have any specific legal status; it is a combination of members. So, from a legal perspective, I think it's a fairly standard provision.
Okay, thank you. Peredur, you wanted to come in on this.
Yes, thanks. We've heard from the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales—they've called for the establishment of an equality and human rights sub-group of the council that will ensure that those areas are integral to discussions around fair work. The first part of the question is: are you considering establishing a sub-group in that area, and what would your reasons behind that view be?
But then, beyond that, we've been listening to lots of evidence, and I've been going through my notes preparing for this meeting, and it talks a lot about voices and different voices being heard and not heard, some from big organisations like the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, who are non-affiliated to the TUC, so they have some concerns there, from smaller unions—the fire service unions, and those—and from other third sector organisations, smaller organisations working especially in mental health and in health, with health being one of the biggest procurement areas in Welsh Government. Have you given any thought to creating statutory sub-groups to try and capture some of those voices, so that at least they'll have not necessarily a place at the big table but at the other tables, so they can feed those voices into those, but actually creating them in the Bill rather than hoping that the SPC creates them separately?
Thanks. There's quite a lot to unpick there from the notes you've been keeping, Peredur, but I will try my best to delve into that. On the first point around the evidence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on establishing an equality and human rights sub-group, to go back slightly in terms of the membership of the social partnership council, and I may have said this to this committee previously, but, actually, we anticipated when we first did the consultation on the draft Bill that there were a lot of organisations that would want to have a seat around the table. And I guess there's a challenge of managing it as a council, rather than what I think would become a conference every single time, and actually how you make it a workable number.
I think the feedback that we have now is that the balance we have around the tripartite membership is the right way forward, but there is then the opportunity to bring in other expertise, should that be the wish of the social partnership council, whether that is through establishing other sub-groups or inviting other social partners or stakeholders to come and present, or to be part of a certain piece of work as well. The Bill makes provision for these sub-groups, and the rationale behind the only sub-group on the face of the Bill being the procurement sub-group is, actually, just because of that direct connection between the socially responsible procurement side of the legislation and the social partnership council itself.
So, if we're thinking about things and we truly want them to commit to working in social partnership, then it's not a decision for the Welsh Government to legislate on the face of the Bill what those sub-groups should be; it should be a decision of the social partnership council. But, clearly, many of the things that have been raised in this committee before are ones that we would anticipate that would be something that the sub-group would want to look at.
And I think, if I just pick on perhaps the other point you made in terms of making sure voices are heard, like I say, there's—. You called it the 'big table'. We've always been very aware to make sure that there is that connection between those who may not be represented on that and those who at the moment have a seat around that table—that they have a means to be part of that, and to feed in and to feed back in a meaningful way. And I know there's been—and I think Neil might come in—the work that's already going on with third sector colleagues, in terms of making sure they are part of that as well. We already had the sector partnership forum. As I said previously, and I'm happy to share information on this with the committee as this work progresses, that, alongside this legislation, we are having a review of social partnership working right across Government to make sure it is best connected and people's voices are enabled to be heard through that, but also so that it doesn't duplicate so that we have the most effective way of doing things, and, I think, to make sure that, working with that responsibility on the different partners around the big table, so to speak, they are working with their constituent membership groups to ensure that they are being representative of them and they have the mechanism and means, and we're supporting them to make sure they are able to have their voice heard one way or another.
So, on the back of that, then, if you don't necessarily want to change the face of the Bill, would that form part of the statutory guidance as to trying to nudge the council into making sure that they are looking out for these voices and that element?
Neil, do you just want to pick up on the third sector part first?
Yes. So, in terms of the operation of the SPC, clearly, it's going to be chaired by the First Minister, and it will be an advisory body to Welsh Ministers. So, Welsh Ministers will very much be able to, if not direct, certainly have a very strong hand in shaping the work and the priorities of the SPC, because it's important that it serves the needs and the interests of Ministers and the nation. There have been a number of more or less direct or indirect calls for sub-groups of different kinds. And the danger, of course, is that, if you say 'yes' to every one of those, then you create a system that is so unwieldy and so incapable of change, going forward, that you undermine, in some part at least, the purpose of the system itself and the SPC.
I'm mindful of the—. There was reference to the Bevan Foundation's evidence earlier and their argument that the SPC would need more input, for instance, in relation to labour market analysis and economics. You can have a sub-group dealing with labour market issues. Certainly, the third sector—conversations that I've had both with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Ruth Marks, and other colleagues, and our internal third sector unit in Welsh Government—have been supportive of the idea of a potential third sector sub-group. So, that might be a possibility as well. But there are other means, of course, of achieving the same goal.
So, I think the important thing for me is that the SPC, when it's up and running, has access to the data, the evidence, the research and the challenge that it will need properly to be able to advise Welsh Ministers on the issues under consideration. That could be by means of setting up specific sub-groups to look at particular issues, it could be by means of tapping into academia, research networks. We might well need to establish an underlying research and evidence programme to support the work of the SPC, and that job, presumably, would fall to Welsh Government. So, there are a number of ways of coming at this challenge to make sure that the work of the SPC is fully and properly informed, across both equality and diversity and social justice issues, and other matters that are of concern to stakeholders. Sub-groups would be one answer, but I think it would be quite limiting if we only thought in those terms.
Thank you very much for that. It's finding the right balance, isn't it? Certainly, some of the voices that I've listened to, especially in the third sector, are nervous that they're not going to be heard, and that's always an issue then—that the bigger organisations have more clout, somehow, and we forget the wonderful work that is done by some of these smaller organisations that provide things for our communities. Can I move on to—?
Would it be okay, Chair, if I just responded to that briefly?
It's some time ago now, but I did once used to be head of the third sector unit in Welsh Government as well, so I too am a huge admirer of the third sector and everything that they do. The conversations that I've had with third sector colleagues, including WCVA, as I said, suggests that a primary concern for them, given that they have just the one seat on current plans at the social partnership council, is that we ensure that the system we create in relation to social partnership, including the SPC, is fully aligned, or as aligned as we can make it, with the existing third sector scheme, the third sector partnership council, and all the work that goes on in that context, and that's certainly very much at the forefront of our minds. So, we've already begun discussions about how to make sure that happens, and we're exploring ways and means in which we bring those two systems as close together as possible, so as to create as little friction as possible between them.
Thank you. With regard to some of the evidence that we've had from the Welsh Language Commissioner, they've asked for clarity on how the council is subject to the Welsh language standards, given that it will be a separate legal entity to the Welsh Government. Can you explain if you've got any plans for that?
So, it wouldn't possess a separate legal entity to the Welsh Government, which would have implications for us in terms of the Welsh language standards on the council, but SPC procedures will be drafted to provide for use of the Welsh language during SPC business, and be inclusive of Welsh language speakers and promote the use of Welsh language nationally, and that will inform part of the social partnership council's published procedures.
Thank you. If we can move on to Joel James—you wanted to come in about the membership of the council.
Thank you, Chair. Yes, it's just to touch upon again, really, what we've already mentioned—Peredur, or it might've been you, Deputy Minister, talked about that big-table dialogue, and I know, when you last addressed the committee, back in June, you addressed concerns that small trade unions had, and also those who are non-unionised in terms of the role that the Wales TUC has. And you mentioned that you'd hoped, or expected, the Wales TUC to nominate non-affiliated trade union members to these social partnership councils, and I was just wondering what led you to believe that they would do that and how you would ensure it as well. Do you think there's a need to legislate for that to happen, or would you expect it through the council's own procedures?
Thanks. So, I think, firstly, it's not our intention to amend the Bill to legislate for that. As we said at the outset, our position is we strongly encourage all representative bodies to make diverse and inclusive nominations, as we've come to expect. I know that, during their evidence to this committee, the Wales TUC, or union representatives, intimated a commitment on behalf of Wales TUC to ensure that non-affiliated unions are part of that process and that they ensure their inclusion, the same way they would do for many aspects of work that we do now as well. I think it's really important. Like I said, the onus—. Part of working in social partnership is there's a certain amount that we can set out as Welsh Government in terms of the expectation and procedures, but part of, actually, the whole process of partnership is having the onus on each partner to play their part and needing to be where we need to be. So, from their evidence to this committee, I know there is a commitment from Wales TUC to take on board those concerns and to ensure that those unions are part of those conversations and are able to be represented. And I think it also comes back to the broader questions that Peredur asked previously in terms of ensuring—and as Neil said in his response—that those channels are there. There's limited space. I'm not going to use that phrase any more around the social partnership council itself, but, actually, that is just one opportunity to be part of the social partnership agenda and process in Wales, and to shape policy and to actually ensure that your representatives' concerns and expectations are part of that.
Thank you, Minister—Deputy Minister, sorry.
You can call me 'Minister' if you want. That's fine.
I know that the WCVA and the EHRC highlighted concerns about the lack of non-unionised workers on the council. How do you respond to their concerns, because I know, when we've debated this—well, not this specific item—in the Chamber, you've always stressed the importance of joining a union. Is that what they should do?
You'll be shocked, Joel, to learn that I still strongly believe, and the Welsh Government does, that workers are best represented by recognised trade unions and that trade union membership—being a member of a trade union—is the best way for workers' voices to be heard and represented and their rights protected, and would therefore encourage workers to join trade unions. And, aside from this legislation, we're working as a Government to encourage and support that as well. I know that it's been raised previously, and I know it's been raised by Jane Dodds as well in terms of the need to take on board that there are workers who are not a part of trade unions and how they could be included as part of this. So, very specifically, the social partnership duty does refer to,
'recognised trade unions or (where there is no recognised trade union) other representatives of their staff'.
So, we have been mindful of that, but we remain of the position that the best way, if you're at work, to have your voice represented and your rights recognised is to be part of a trade union.
Okey-dokey. Just one final question, Chair, then. I know that the Bevan Foundation and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action have called for the inclusion of independent members on the council—what consideration have you given to this? And also, have you given any consideration to an independent chair rather than the First Minister?
So, in terms of the Bevan Foundation calling for independent members of the council, I've tried to seek some clarification. I think the best way to clarify it, to start from the point of actually going back to what I said previously, it's a tripartite social partnership council made up of equal representation of Government, employers from the public, private and voluntary sectors, and also the appropriate representative trade unions as well. And, whilst we've recognised, going back, that people have raised in the past other suggestions for people to be part of the social partnership council, there is a general consensus, we believe, that people are comfortable and understand why we've got to the position that we're at with what's on the face of the Bill now.
In terms of the points that perhaps organisations like the Bevan Foundation make in terms of independent representation, from the point of view of when we're talking about being able to benefit from and include, perhaps, as I said previously, academic expertise, people who have expertise in different areas at the social partnership council or any sub-groups they may be focusing their work programme on, there is the possibility to do that within the legislation; the social partnership council has that ability to not only set up those sub-groups and include in those sub-groups people who have that expertise as part of it, but also to invite, as we said previously, members or other representatives, other academics, say, for argument's sake, to present to the council and to be a part of that work programme as well, at the invitation of the social partnership council.
So, in short, I believe that there are ways to address those points raised by the Bevan Foundation without needing to change the make-up of the social partnership council.
Okay. Thank you for that. Ken Skates, would you like to come in at this point?
Yes. Thanks, Chair. Thanks, Minister. If we go back to June, the Welsh Government raised concerns that including both higher and further education institutions within the scope of the Bill might well impact on the Office for National Statistics' assessment of their accounting status. Is there any progress on this? Have you had any discussions with the Office for National Statistics, by any chance, that may have helped to inform your view?
Thanks, Ken. So, I think the first thing to point out is to clarify that this wasn't necessarily a concern of the Welsh Government; I think it was officials who perhaps relayed or reflected concerns that had been expressed to us by further and higher education representatives in respect of the draft Bill that was consulted on prior to the Senedd elections in 2021. The Bill as presented, as laid before the Senedd now, doesn't raise the same concerns, therefore we haven't consulted ONS on that matter. I don't know whether, Neil, you want to add to that.
I think Sue may want to come in as well, because there have been some recent conversations and meetings involving HE and FE colleagues. It was me who raised that point, and it was me reflecting upon some of the concerns that have been expressed to us, not just in relation to this Bill, but in relation to other matters as well by HE and FE colleagues over the years. I believe—because certainly I have not been lobbied on this question since—that the Bill in its current form does not raise those same concerns for our HE and FE partners, and I think that they are quite enthusiastic, I would hope, still, about taking up their seats at the social partnership council. Certainly, those issues, I think, were probably live issues in relation to the draft Bill. The Bill as introduced in the Senedd does not raise the same issues, and so those concerns, I think, have fallen away. But Sue may have something to add on procurement.
Yes. I guess the only thing to add is that, in recent meetings with HE colleagues around procurement, they've expressed quite a lot of interest in what we're doing. They’re actually coming along to some of the workshops, where we're thinking about the foundation of statutory guidance, and really participating, just the same way as any other public body, with a view to participating using the same guidance and doing the same things if and when the Bill becomes law. So, just to reassure this committee that not being listed within the procurement duties doesn't mean that the sector is not interested in the issues that are raised. And, in fact, in some areas, HE in particular I think, has really led the way in the past, and I believe that they would still want to continue to do so.
Lovely. That's really good to hear. It would be very welcome indeed if we saw a number of FE and HE institutions enter into social partnership on a voluntary basis before the Bill becomes an Act.
I'm just going to move on to some more specific parts of the social partnership duty and just some issues that remain to be addressed, or may well have been addressed since we last met. First of all, one that concerns the TUC and the GMB, both of whom have called for a mediation mechanism to be developed to resolve issues when public bodies may be in breach of the social partnership duty—have you given this suggestion consideration? And how do you envisage mediation working in practice?
Thanks, Ken. I think we recognise, absolutely, that there will be times when certain matters cannot be agreed through social partnership mechanisms, but neither should that take away from the broader benefits and the potential benefits of this approach in terms of developing those long-term, productive, constructive, collaborative relationships between social partners. So, whilst there's not a mediation mechanism on the face of the Bill, social partnership council members can bring issues related to the social partnership duty before the social partnership council, and then the council could advise on that, provided that it was to do with the social partnership duty directly.
The social partnership council could provide advice, but not mediate and, I think, in this instance, it's that element of accountability and transparency and trying to work through, in social partnership, that the legislation places an emphasis on. I don't know whether Members recall in the previous session, we did talk, when we were developing the draft Bill, about one of the things that we went out to consultation on, which was what enforcement and things like that would look like, and there was no consensus on how that would work and how that could work in practice. So, I think the approach that we've gone for is around transparency, accountability and that collaborative working. And, of course, you know, the social partnership council will be there to advise and it may be that they say, again, in three or four years or whatever down the line that, on the basis of the evidence that has been brought before them, they may advise that we do need additional mechanisms to move things forward, or there may be other things to do. But I think that the approach we have strikes that balance now.
So, I mean in a proportionate way, first of all, would I be right in assuming that the council offers resolution advice, and the Ministers assess how that progresses before then considering whether some formal mechanism for mediation is required?
So, the social partnership council is not that sort of body, really. What will happen in instances where the social partnership duty does not fail, but where public bodies, in good faith, have tried to discharge their duty, but have not been able to reach agreement with their recognised trade unions or other staff representatives in the setting or implementation of their well-being objectives, that fact has to be reported upon in their annual report. Those reports will, of course, be subject to review by the social partnership council. It could be that there is a very good, very particular reason in the context of one public body and its operations why that agreement has not been possible. It could be, however, that it's a more endemic problem across public services, which makes reaching those sorts of agreements more difficult than they should be, and that will be a matter, at both levels I suspect, that would be of concern to the social partnership council. The social partnership council will be able to advise Welsh Ministers on both the factors perhaps giving rise to those instances and what might be done about them, and the answer will be different depending upon, I suppose, whether it was a particular portfolio issue for a Minister and a public body. And I would expect that Minister, therefore, to want to take that up through the appropriate channels.
If it is a more endemic system-wide problem, that would be something, clearly, for the SPC itself, and for the First Minister and other Ministers at the table to respond to in some fashion. So, I think that there will be a variety of ways of coming at that problem, but, of course, we would hope that, primarily public bodies and their recognised trade unions and staff representatives will, in fact, be able to reach agreement on those matters. The whole system is set up with that aim in mind.
Okay, thank you. Just moving on, then, you told committee that it would undermine the democratic process for the Welsh Government to have to consult with trade unions or the social partnership council on its well-being goals. Now, responding to evidence from Audit Wales, do you think it's appropriate that Welsh Ministers have a separate social partnership duty to local authorities, where the controlling party has been elected on a democratic mandate, with a clear manifesto?
Yes, we do feel that it's appropriate, because I think it's important to point out that the differentiation and the application of this duty actually reflects the different approach of setting the well-being objectives under the well-being of future generations Act, because it's different from Welsh Ministers, and then other public bodies, which include local authorities. So, in the well-being of future generations Act, which I'm sure you'll be familiar with, Welsh Ministers are required to set their objectives within six months of election and for the period of the term of Government, so it's directly connected already to that democratic process. So, other bodies, which include local authorities, are not set within electoral timescales, which therefore may be more general in nature. So the approach that we're taking directly connects and reflects what's already in the well-being of future generations Act.
Okay, thanks. Just one more question from me, Chair, if I may. The British Medical Association Cymru has suggested that in sectors such as healthcare, where there's a large number of different trade unions, it could be difficult to secure agreement between public bodies and unions on the annual reports required under section 18 of the Bill. How are you able to respond to those concerns, and to what extent do you plan to address those concerns in the guidance of the Bill?
Thanks, Ken. I think this connects to some of the other previous lines of questioning around ensuring representation, and that a broad collective of voices are heard from across the representative social partners that may be involved with this legislation, or involved in social partnership procedures more generally.
It goes back to some of the previous questions around mediation, and the Bill makes provision for instances when agreement cannot be reached between, potentially, employers and trade unions on the contents of an annual report. I think Neil just touched on this previously, the reports must be agreed with the public body's recognised trade union where that is appropriate, or other representatives of staff where there isn't a recognised trade union, and it needs to contain a statement explaining why it was not agreed. I think, again, it goes back to what we said previously about the role of the social partnership council being able to consider the annual reports by public bodies and provide the necessary advice on these matters, including, potentially, on the need for guidance for Welsh Ministers in the future.
Okay, thank you. Thanks, Chair. That's all from me.
Okay. Over to Jane Dodds then.
Thank you very much. Prynhawn da, Deputy Minister, and your team. The first question is with regard to fair work and the draft Bill. Could you explain why the fair work provisions in the draft Bill are now significantly different?
Thanks, Jane, and nice to see you as well. I think this is something that we touched on in previous committee evidence—that, when we consulted on the draft Bill, we actually didn't put a definition of fair work on the face of that Bill. And what we've sought to do now—. And initially, it was around a fair work duty on Welsh Ministers, and what we are doing now actually looks at the implementation of the recommendations of the Fair Work Commission to amend the prosperous Wales goal from the well-being of future generations Act. And ultimately, it goes further in terms of its application than we were previously suggesting, because that fair work duty would have just simply been on Welsh Ministers alone, and this will capture all those bodies that are captured by the well-being of future generations Act.
Thank you very much. We heard from the deputy future generations commissioner, who told us that the monitoring and assessment of the first round of well-being objectives found that only the Welsh Government and Cardiff Council had actually included references to aspects of fair work. So, it really is a question, again, around monitoring. How much of an increase in public bodies incorporating fair work into their well-being goals are you looking to achieve, and how will you encourage them to do this?
Thanks. To start off, I think the ambition is, and I believe, that this Bill will help draw attention to the intrinsic link between fair work and well-being. One of the things we've talked about when we've had feedback from both the formal consultation process itself and engagement with stakeholders and social partners is consistent terminology and accessibility. I think the move away from decent work to fair work, in line with the work we've done more broadly with the Fair Work Commission's recommendation, I think that's going to be welcomed by public bodies and stakeholders and social partners, to have that consistent definition. But more importantly from a practical perspective, as a consequence of this legislation, organisations covered by the well-being of future generations Act and the prosperous Wales goal will need to review their well-being objectives to look at fair work again, and of course the social partnership council will play an active role in providing information and advice in the pursuit of the prosperous Wales well-being goal. I think, collectively, these changes, obviously, will renew that focus. We'll need to have that review of those objectives and to work collaboratively to be able to support organisations, as we said previously, with the training and the training that's already taking place around the legislation, to make sure that this is something that not just renews that focus, but actually has those well-being outcomes that we all want to see.
Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr iawn. We also heard from academics, and the Wales TUC as well, around the introduction of a deputy fair work commissioner to be based in the future generations commissioner's office, to ensure that fair work is really prioritised sufficiently. So, it's really what consideration maybe you've already given to this, and is it something that you might include in the Bill?
Thanks. It's a good question, and I recognise that while Wales TUC and other contributors to this committee may suggest the introduction of a deputy fair work commissioner in light of the renewed focus on fair work, there are no plans to legislate for that as part of this Bill. From, perhaps, my perspective and that of colleagues in Welsh Government, creating a stand-alone position actually could have the opposite effect to the intention, in terms of creating a silo approach, when what we are looking to do is to actually integrate fair work across what we do and the overall approach towards well-being.
I would also perhaps want to raise that creating a separate post risks cutting across the functions and responsibilities of the social partnership council, who would be the right and proper way and would have the key role in providing advice on how fair work has been effectively pursued. I think it's also really important that we build on social partnership rather than create a separate advocate, which would be outside those social partnership structures. But, that said, I think we are very mindful of, perhaps, the rationale behind suggesting that position and making sure that we work closely with the future generations commissioner's office to ensure that the changes to the well-being goals as part of this legislation are fully considered and are part of their work programme moving forward.
Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Chair.
Diolch. Can I just ask whether the way you've phrased clause 20 to amend the well-being of future generations Act is because there were concerns about our competence—both the Senedd and the Welsh Government—as a way of getting around that? Because Alan Felstead did throw this in as a possible reason for why the Bill had been changed.
So, as I say, as with every other aspect of this Bill, our approach, as you would expect, is framed by the devolution settlement, and we believe the approach we've taken is consistent with the legislative powers of the Senedd. It goes back to my initial answer to Jane Dodds, I think: we sought to find a definition on the face of the legislation through the consultation on the draft Bill that met the ambition, but also made sure we were within our legislative competence. And I generally do firmly believe that where we are now in terms of amending the well-being of future generations Act actually will have a more positive impact and outcomes by actually not just placing that duty on Welsh Ministers alone, but across those public bodies as well.
Okay, thank you, Minister. I'd now like to bring Sarah Murphy back in to discuss the issues around data rights and the digitalisation of work. Sarah.
Thank you, Chair. Deputy Minister, Unite Wales told the committee that digitalisation of work and data rights are important social partnership issues that have not been included in the Bill. Within the boundaries of the devolution settlement, what consideration have you given to these issues in the development of the Bill?
I thank Sarah Murphy for her question, and I know that this is an area of work that Sarah's a passionate advocate of, and I've been pleased to be able to work with Sarah through her cross-party group on this, in terms of the role digital rights play within the fair work agenda as well. I think it's important to say that the purpose of the Bill is not to address specific social partnership issues, which we would probably say the challenge of digitalisation and data rights and how that impacts on workers is, but to create the kind of platform and system through which, not just to potentially address those issues, but to direct action upon them.
Okay, thank you. And do you have any plans for the specific mechanisms to embed consideration of digitalisation and data rights issues into the individual parts of the Bill, though—so, for example, the social partnership council's work or socially responsible procurement? Will there be any mention of it at all in the Bill?
You're absolutely right to highlight that there are potential opportunities to address this really key and emerging challenge, and it's important both in relation to the social partnership council's work and the socially responsible procurement duties. My position is that this is just the sort of issue that the social partnership council should be considering, and I've previously committed to working with colleagues on it and making sure that it's brought to the attention of the social partnership council as a potential subject for early future work. I'm also happy to ask officials to consider how the statutory guidance on socially responsible procurement might require contracting authorities to address risks of data misuse as part of that procurement process as well.
Thank you very much, Deputy Minister, and thank you, Chair.
Thank you. Moving on now to the socially responsible procurement aspect of this Bill: Jane Dodds, would you like to come in?
Thank you, Chair. Professor Alan Felstead and the Wales TUC have suggested that the social partnership duty should also apply in relation to the socially responsible procurement duty, so that trade unions are consulted on public bodies' procurement strategies. Do you plan to add this requirement to the Bill, and could you just outline your reasons behind your views? Thank you.
Thank you. The Bill makes provisions for how a contracting authority should prepare a procurement strategy, including the issuing of statutory guidance that will cover the necessary consultation as part of that process, for its development in initial form and also the process by which it approves its strategy. I think one thing to say is: not all contracting authorities required to publish procurement strategies will also be included in the list of bodies covered by the social partnership duty. The Bill also allows for two or more contracting authorities to prepare joint strategies. But I really want to emphasise that the importance of engaging with social partners on the development of procurement strategies will be included in guidance, but I don't know whether Sue wants to add any more about why this is the position.
I guess we're talking about some very large bodies and some quite small bodies publishing strategies, and for some of them, there is provision for them to do that together. This approach would allow some flexibility in doing that whilst also requiring consultation and engagement as part of the development of those strategies through the statutory guidance, which those bodies will have to have due regard to.
Thank you very much, that's really helpful. We've heard and taken evidence on the concept of targets to be set in the Bill to increase the percentage of procurement public bodies source from Welsh suppliers. This was certainly something that was heard quite a bit in terms of our initial evidence. So, do you have any ideas or thoughts around setting those targets within the Bill?
Thanks, and I know this is something that's, like you said, had a great deal of attention, not just in your evidence sessions but through the—. Peredur has nodded at me and I know he asked quite a lot of questions on this last time and there was a lot of work going on jointly with Plaid Cymru as part of the co-operation agreement in terms of how we can develop work in this area. As I said previously, there are a number of difficulties with agreeing targets on the percentage of procurement sourced from Welsh suppliers at the moment, and that's largely because of the quality and the level of the data that we've got. Inaccuracies in the data mean that the baseline for the percentage of procurement public bodies source from Welsh suppliers cannot be determined accurately. So, work is actually under way; we're not sitting still. Work is under way to address difficulties in data collection and the associated analysis. And I think, until that work is complete, it will be difficult to set meaningful targets anyway. I am going to defer to Sue again now, but work is under way to get that baseline of the data we need to enable us then to be able to set meaningful targets moving forward.
Data and targets are one aspect of this. Another really important aspect is what the steps are that organisations should be taking to make sure that, when they're doing their procurement, they are making it possible for or encouraging and promoting local procurement. A lot of those tools and techniques have been tried a lot over the years, and there are certain public bodies in Wales that have really made a lot of effort and seen a lot of success in this area. So, I think we just need to make sure that we really embed some of that good practice in the way that we develop the statutory guidance; that's absolutely key to this.
The other thing to say about this is that we are operating—I don't know whether Neil Buffin might want to comment on this as well—but we are operating under some constraints, of course, legally in what we can do in terms of 'buy local', and I know that we have to be mindful of that as we develop guidance on the Bill and also the guidance that supports the Bill.
I'd agree with that. Thank you, Sue. The other thing that occurs to me is: what happens if the targets aren't met, what if there are genuine reasons for not meeting them or what if, simply, someone says, 'To hell with the targets'? That then gives a whole host of other legal issues in how we would approach that. So, to some extent, from a legal perspective, there may be merit in having this more within the guidance, if that was the desired policy.
Thank you, Chair. I just wonder if I may follow through a little bit on that, given that it was something that seemed to be a really strong theme in the evidence that we heard. So, you've talked about it not being part of the Bill and that it would be part of guidance, but I suppose my question is always that people can ignore the guidance, and unless it's actually in the Bill, then there really isn't a need or a drive to ensure that people do look at Welsh suppliers. So, I just really wonder, Deputy Minister, if I could get your comments on that. You have reflected that maybe this is something that you'd be looking at further and I just wondered if we could get some more thinking behind that, or possibly have something further from you, to hear about what the direction would be in relation to trying to ensure that Welsh suppliers were actually a bigger part of the Bill.
I think an important point to pick up is that it's statutory guidance and they would have a duty to have regard to the guidance, so it's not that easy just to decide you don't want to adhere to the guidance, but I will bring the lawyer in, to my left, further on that.
Thank you, Minister. You've taken the words out of my mouth, as it were. That's right, the fact is there is this duty to have regard, so the guidance can't be departed from unless there are cogent reasons for doing so. What also strikes me, thinking about the issue of targets, is how exactly they are specified. Clearly, targets are going to be moveable depending on a whole range of issues. Certainly, there would need to be a system that allowed that flexibility of approach, and it seems to me the guidance is probably the most sensible means of achieving that.
Peredur, did you want to come in at this point?
Just very quickly. I think Neil probably covered it there with the fact that the statutory guidance would be the place where you'd set a target, but surely there should be somewhere in the Bill that points towards that. So, would there be a line somewhere in the Bill that says that you'd give due regard to targets set in guidance or something like that?
With respect, I don't think that would be necessary. The fact that due regard must be had to the guidance delivers that. Otherwise, it might suggest that the guidance is two tier in nature, whereas in fact the guidance as a whole must be regarded by bodies.
Just a quick question that I had in the first session we ever had with you: are there going to be amendments to collecting that locality issue around contracts as well? The address didn't seem to be one of the points that we were collecting.
There's some work going on on that at the moment. It's not at a stage that I can give you any definitive answers, but there's a great deal of thought going in at the moment to thinking about how we can more accurately track the location of a business. It is complex as well, because sometimes an initial contract might be with a business that has a very strong local Welsh-based wing of that business, and with others it's less so. So, it is difficult sometimes to do that accurately, but there's a lot of work going into that at the moment in Welsh Government.
Back to Jane Dodds. Did you want to ask anything further on this area?
Yes, please. Just one final question, moving from locality to global. We heard from organisations like Fair Trade Wales, Size of Wales and others as well around how you could capture the well-being goal on global responsibility and how the statutory guidance will clarify this. Also, could you tell us why you have decided against including provisions on this on the face of the Bill, please? I realise we've not got much time, but if you could just clarify that.
I'll try and answer as quickly as possible, then. Obviously, Welsh legislation cannot apply otherwise than in relation to Wales, and the current wording in the legislation is there to make sure that, if any contracting authorities now or in the future exercise functions outside of Wales as well as in Wales, the duties apply to only those functions exercised in Wales. So, the globally responsible well-being goal is referenced directly within the Bill, and then the statutory guidance will make clear how this goal should be addressed. There'll be various sections in the guidance where material can be included, especially around publishing objectives and procurement strategies and the collection of data and annual reports.
Thank you, Chair.
Very good. We've got 12 minutes, so if we can have short questions and short answers.
The WLGA and fire and rescue services have outlined the capacity challenges that they'll face in delivering the Bill, particularly in relation to the procurement aspects. How will Welsh Government support these bodies to address these capacity issues and what role do you propose the procurement centre of excellence and collaboration will play?
This is something we've touched on previously—the need for support and training for public bodies. One of the themes that really came through in last year's consultation responses around the procurement duty specifically was the need to have adequate implementation training, and also then the ongoing support for organisations. We absolutely recognise training is essential for the successful implementation not just of this legislation but the UK Government procurement reform as well alongside that.
We've already, as we've heard, committed to working across the public sector to provide the necessary training and to ensure that there's a joined-up approach in terms of the UK Government procurement Bill as well. You said in your question that, in the public sector, resources are stretched in terms of delivering these changes, but this legislation, and the UK Government procurement one, actually, as well, has been developed with the clear intention of trying to reduce that administration burden on both contracting authorities and suppliers, compared with the current legislation and raft of policy expectations that are out there.
You mentioned the procurement centre of excellence. As you'd expect, we're expecting the procurement centre of excellence to have a role in supporting organisations. My procurement officials have undertaken a procurement exercise for a pilot, which includes the sharing of best policy, enablement and training. I don't know whether anybody here is able to expand on that pilot, even though it was procurement officials.
I don't know an awful lot about it at the moment. That's just something that's literally just about to kick off. I know one of the first areas they're going to be looking at in terms of policy is on zero-carbon, carbon reduction, and thinking about how they can support that better, but it's something that's just beginning. I'm sure there'll be more to talk about later.
There was some uncertainty from the deputy future generations commissioner about the roles of the procurement centre of excellence and the social partnership council sub-group on procurement. Do we need both?
I think there are two very different roles. If we're talking about the procurement sub-group, it's about accountability, it's about challenge, it's about looking at the outcomes. The centre of excellence's main purpose is in support; providing the tools, techniques, advice and support to the public sector. So, they're two quite different roles. Clearly, it would help if they worked well together, and that would be the plan.
Thank you. And a last question from me. In your letter to the committee in July, you said that the Welsh Government is considering how good practice in food procurement can be included in the statutory guidance. Can you outline which aspects of food procurement are being considered for inclusion in this guidance, and why you'd plan to use the guidance rather than include it on the face of the Bill? I probably know the final bit of that, but maybe just talk us through that.
The socially responsible procurement duties in the Bill will apply to the public procurement of food, and all other categories of expenditure. One thing I would say around the statutory guidance is that it gives—I think we've talked through this previously—an ideal opportunity to include practical details as well, case studies, and examples of how to achieve well-being through procurement. As we've already touched on, there's a duty to have regard to the guidance. And also, as, perhaps, the situation changes, it's easier to amend and change guidance, to update it, than legislation, to make sure this is something that we can continue to move forward and build upon as well. I'm going to bring Sue in again, just to talk around the work that's ongoing at the moment around the foundational economy team and things around food procurement as well.
Again, this is not my area, so I can't talk about it in a great deal of detail, but there's a lot of focus on thinking about food supply and local sourcing of food, on quality of food and those sorts of things. There's a lot of detailed work going on within that team. Then, I guess, the opportunity is to take the outcomes of that work and think about how we can feed them into the statutory guidance, to then make sure that that good practice is then taken forward across all the bodies that are subject to these duties.
And using the Bill as an example, would you then look to co-produce the statutory guidance, using the social partnership models to try and make sure that it's an evolving document?
Yes. The development of the statutory guidance is something that's being done in a very open way, through the co-operation agreement, through social partnership and also through engagement with all the stakeholders who will be affected by it. We're starting that already. We're already beginning to work on the construction contract management duties. We've thrown that very wide open, engaging with lots of people, to start thinking about that particular area.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Finally, just homing in a little bit more on the procurement issues and how we bring everybody up to speed, given that the fire and rescue services said that finding good procurement officers was like hen's teeth, how do you see the procurement centre of excellence working in partnership with this sub-group? Is there not a danger of duplication?
I think, as Sue said previously, the hope is for them to work together. They have two very different roles. In terms of the social partnership council it's to monitor and to advise, and the centre of excellence will be more to support and to provide the tools, the resources and the training. We absolutely recognise, and we've seen that from the consultation responses and, obviously, from evidence to this committee, that there is a need to support the sector to improve and to streamline procurement; it's what we're trying to do through this legislation. But, in terms of the work we're already starting around training and engagement, we absolutely recognise there is the need to do that and, also, to develop the procurement profession as well at the same time.
The problems revealed by the Grenfell fire indicate that procurement has been something that hasn't had enough light shining on it. So, specifically in relation to the construction industry, how do you prevent large contractors simply pushing all of the risk further down the line to subcontractors, who, frankly, the commissioner will know nothing about?
The purpose of that section of the Bill around contract management is to ensure that the agreed outcomes are delivered by all organisations in the supply chain, and that they're not just pushed on one or another—that it's shared amongst the entire supply chain. The statutory guidance will set out how this should be achieved in practice, and the responsibility will remain with the contracting authority.
I think it's really important that what we're doing with this contract management legislation is that all businesses in supply chains are not just responsible for socially responsible procurement obligations, but that this should be clear at the outset and factored into the subcontracting arrangements. This Bill will require public bodies to put processes in place to ensure that outcomes are delivered. Officials have already started, as Sue said, to consult on the types of systems available to support this, and we want good practice in this area to be part of that statutory guidance as well.
There's obviously quite a lot of law around the construction industry; less around food. What role would you envisage for certification of food so that what it says on the tin is actually what has happened? When people claim that something is organic or it comes from within Britain, all of these sorts of issues, just looking at them won't tell you whether that's the case. So, how do you envisage public bodies, particularly around food procurement in the future, are going to be able to confidently award a contract to somebody who is going to deliver what they say they're going to?
That is a difficult challenge, and it's not specifically a procurement challenge, particularly. I think it's probably something that I would like to take away and discuss, and maybe come back with. Just to give an example, over recent years I've been working on the ethical employment code and thinking about slavery in supply chains. It's really difficult to rely on audits and processes to ensure that the right things are always happening, particularly if you're applying them across the globe or in some remote part of the UK, perhaps, where it's hard to actually be able to be certain about those labels. It tends to be a mixture of making sure that you've got the right processes and audits in place, top down, but also ensuring that you've got the opportunity for bottom-up exposure of areas where things aren't working as they should be. But, obviously, it's about picking the right labels in the first place and deciding what to do with those. It's a huge area, and I don't think it's one that we can get into, particularly, today. There is an opportunity to do things through procurement, but it's not just procurement; it's a bigger system problem.
True: see Drax power station, passim. A very specific issue raised by the deputy future generations commissioner is some clarity about the procurement investigation powers that the Welsh Government will have under this Bill with the powers of the future generations commissioner to investigate procurement. Can you tell us how that isn't going to simply duplicate effort in a very difficult financial environment?
The future generations commissioner has review powers rather than investigatory powers, and no powers that are specific to procurement. So, the current commissioner used her review powers to look at procurement, given that it's a function of public bodies captured by the well-being of future generations Act. So, there's no duplication of that function between this Bill and the well-being of future generations Act. A review of procurement was carried out because of the future generations commissioner's view that there are inconsistencies in the way that well-being outcomes are being pursued through procurement and reported by organisations. This Bill doesn't result in any changes to the future generations commissioner's role or powers, but it does mean that there will be, as we've discussed previously, additional oversight of the achievement of the well-being goals through procurement, which will be provided by the social partnership council and also by the procurement sub-group as well. Welsh Government's role alongside that will be implementing and supporting that advice in legislation.
Okay. And just lastly—I know we have run over time slightly—Unison is calling for a centrally published list of suppliers that are barred from procurement because they've done something that's—. Clearly, in the light of Grenfell, there are reasons why we all need to know about organisations that simply aren't above the line in terms of safety and accuracy. Is this something that the Minister has considered, having some sort of list of 'these are not recommended'? Or is this something that you'll simply use public information to highlight?
I think the last point you made is really important, around the role for transparency and accountability as part of this legislation, and the publication of reports. But, in terms of the specific point that you raised, that Unison raised, as we've said previously, this social partnership and public procurement Bill sits alongside the UK Government Procurement Bill and the broader procurement reform, and the UK Government's Procurement Bill includes provision for a form of debarment list or register for grounds relating to a wide range of misconduct. So, with that in mind, at this point, we don't feel it would be appropriate for us to make a broadly comparable provision in this social partnership and public procurement legislation, because it would probably lead to complexity and confusion in law. But, obviously, it's something we would monitor moving forward.
Okay, thank you very much. Thank you very much for your attendance today, and for that of your three officials. We'll obviously send you a transcript of everything you've said, which you obviously need to ensure is accurate. Otherwise, we look forward to debating Stage 1 of the Bill.
Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
So, under Standing Order 17.42, I'd like to ask Members to agree to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:03.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:03.