Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

04/05/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mabon ap Gwynfor
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Amy Staniforth Sefydliad Siartredig Llyfrgellwyr a Gweithwyr Gwybodaeth Cymru
Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Wales
Carwyn Jones Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn
Isle of Anglesey County Council
Chris Neath Rhwydwaith Cymheiriaid Cenedlaethol Llyfrgelloedd a Reolir gan y Gymuned
Community Managed Libraries National Peer Network
James Hooker Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Julie James Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Nicola Pitman Cymdeithas Prif Lyfrgellwyr Cymru
Society of Chief Librarians Cymru
Rob Stewart Cyngor Abertawe
Swansea Council
Sarah Rhodes Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Sharon Davies Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Manon George Clerc
Clerk
Steffan Lewis Ysgrifenyddiaeth
Secretariat
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

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 09:04.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:04.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau.
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. The meeting is being held in hybrid format, but, aside from adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. Public items of the meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest from members of the committee, please? Joel.

It's basically with regard to the evidence session this afternoon, where one of the evidence givers is the relationship manager of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. I'm also a member of that organisation.

Okay. Thank you very much for that, Joel. Thank you.

09:05
2. Yr Hawl i Gael Tai Digonol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 6 -y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
2. The Right to Adequate Housing - evidence session 6 - Minister for Climate Change

We will move on now to item 2, our sixth evidence session on the right to adequate housing. I'm very pleased to welcome the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, to committee, together with two of her officials, Sarah Rhodes, who is interim deputy director of housing policy for the Welsh Government, and James Hooker, who is head of private sector housing policy. Welcome to you all. Thank you for joining committee this morning.

Minister, perhaps I might begin with a couple of initial questions before other members of the committee ask further questions. On the Green Paper, Minister, I wonder whether you could inform committee of progress with the Green Paper on the right to adequate housing and rent controls and the potential timescale that's currently envisaged.

Certainly. 

Bore da, Cadeirydd. Bore da, pawb. 

Good morning, Chair. Good morning, everyone.

It's very nice to be here. So, yes, absolutely. We have a commitment as part of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru to publish a White Paper in this Government term, and the timing for that is summer 2024. That will set out proposals for a right to adequate housing. It's also important, though, to point out that that isn't the only thing the White Paper will look at. It will also look at fair rents and new approaches to making homes affordable for those on local incomes. So, as part of developing the evidence base to understand the potential impacts and consequences of that, we'll be launching a Green Paper, which is basically a call for evidence, before the summer recess this year.

We've got a stakeholder advisory group established so that we have a collaborative approach and appropriate representation from organisations that represent tenants, landlords and local government, who are the main categories of people impacted and likely to have the kind of data that we're looking at. Lots of the people on our advisory group, I know, Chair, have already provided evidence to your inquiry.

We know that we have lots of data and evidence gaps, particularly in relation to the affordability aspect of a right to adequate housing, and that's why the Green Paper is a call for evidence. So, pretty succinctly, really, we want to help build our evidence base to inform the development of the White Paper. We want the White Paper to be a direct route to a Bill. Sometimes, you have a White Paper and it looks more like a Green Paper, because it's a wide, discursive document, but we're having a Green Paper and then a White Paper in order to get a proper build-up to a Bill that would introduce the right to adequate housing.

The Bill is not part of the co-operation agreement, the White Paper is, and the reason for that is that we are very unlikely to be able to get that Bill to come forward in this Senedd term, given the legislative timetable that we already have. We also have, of course, as the Chair will know, as the committee will know, a very large homelessness piece of legislation on its way as well, and it's been my long-stated policy that we need to do those sequentially, because we need to—. I would very much like a right to adequate housing to be enforceable, and I would like people to be able to get adequate housing as a result of that. It's not a statement of intent; it's an actual right.

To do that, we have to establish what we mean by 'affordable', what we mean by 'adequate'. We also have to put local authorities into a position where they can get people adequate housing, and, to do that, we need to reform the homelessness legislation. We have—the lawyers don't like me saying this, but—a sticking plaster at the moment over the legislation that allows us to give a service to everyone in Wales, but we want to put that right so that it's properly set out in law, and then the next Bill will follow as a matter of course.

Thank you very much for that, Minister, and we'll be coming on to other legislative questions later on in this session. Could you tell me the extent to which there have been discussions across Welsh Government departments to develop the policy for a right to adequate housing, where you are in that process?

Yes, certainly. Myself and Cabinet colleagues are all fully supportive of the general principle that everyone should be able to access adequate housing. We've been consistently driving housing policy and practice towards that goal the entire time. The ending of homelessness in all of its forms has been a top priority in driving towards that. We've already taken and continue to take significant steps towards meeting the criteria to deliver housing adequacy, and we do that on a cross-Government basis. So, I've got a number of examples I could give, Chair; the work to end homelessness is obviously a prime example of that. We work with education, health, social services, criminal justice, local authorities, to take forward our shared goal of ending homelessness, pooling budgets and developing joint programmes of work, and all of our policy and legislative work across housing is taken forward in collaboration with colleagues right across Welsh Government, as well as external partners. I can specifically name some, but every department is involved. We specifically work, for example, with the Deputy Minister for mental health, we work with substance abuse colleagues, we work with the Deputy Minister for children, we work with health overall, economy. Even rural affairs is included here, because we have rural housing enablers in place; we have a whole project around second homes, which the committee will be familiar with. All of these policies are driving towards adequate housing across Wales, and so we have a very long and very well-established process for pulling in colleagues from across Government. Well, and indeed, wider—the wider government family, like local government as well.

09:10

Okay. Diolch yn fawr, Gweinidog. And now Sam Rowlands. Sam.

Thank you, Mr Chairman. Morning, Minister. Thank you for your time with us this morning. Thank you, then, for just walking through some of your process of consideration around Green Paper into White Paper and moving through from there, and we have already heard as a committee from a number of stakeholders who have expressed some support for the right to adequate housing into Welsh law, and I wonder whether you would be able to expand a bit further on how you think we would see benefits from incorporating a right to adequate housing into Welsh law, and what tangible difference will it actually make being law, rather than being a directive, as it were.

That's really quite a complex question, really, Sam. So, legislation isn't a panacea here. It doesn't in and of itself deliver adequate housing for everyone. We have to have a series of strategies, policies and programmes that deliver the housing, which then allows everyone to have that adequate housing. So, we've got all kinds of issues going on there. We've got record levels of funding across housing portfolios here in the Welsh Government that will deliver a housing supply and so on. What we want is for local authorities to be able to deliver it in practice. So, we want, when somebody is asking for adequate housing at a housing options service, for example, for the local authority to be in a position to say, 'Well, yes, we have x, y, z on offer'. That absolutely is not the case at the moment. We have a lot of work to do to get there.

We have to have collective understanding of what we mean by a right to adequate housing. So, there are seven specific criteria that are put forward by the UN, and my official James, who is in the committee with me today, is more than happy to take the committee through those, if that would be helpful, Chair; I'm sure you've heard of them before. And then we're focusing on putting all the building blocks in place in order to deliver housing adequacy for everyone in practice.

So, I suppose the philosophical answer to the question, Sam, is that I think that it's a fundamental human right that you are adequately housed, and that it's the mark of a civilised society that we can adequately house our citizens. I don't think there's much disagreement with that. The issue we're dealing with is the route to get there, and then that's why I've just talked about the route for a Green Paper, White Paper, Bill. The Green Paper is to call for evidence. We know that we don't have enough Welsh-specific data on what we're looking for, so we need to fill in those data gaps, and both the officials with me on this call can talk to you in a great deal of detail if you want them to about exactly what the data gaps we're looking at are.

I chair a housing cabinet with members across Welsh Government and we talk there about how we get data together; we collaborate with various centres for collecting housing data, statistical organisations and so on. But we need to know what we're doing, because interventions in the housing market can have consequences that are unintended, so we like to make sure that we have the data sets available. It's very difficult to answer what seems like a simple question simply, I'm afraid, so it's a complex series of building blocks we're putting together here to get us to where we want to go.

Thanks, Minister, and I certainly recognise the complexity of this, absolutely. I wonder is it worth, then, as you mentioned, hearing just what those perhaps top two or three biggest data gaps might be at the moment and perhaps how you're seeking to resolve them. Because, I guess that's part of the challenge or concern you might have about incorporating this into law.

And secondly, I wonder whether we could hear about your thoughts on the challenges it might bring for public bodies in Wales, whether they be local authorities or other public bodies that would be responsible for actually delivering this on the ground.

09:15

Yes, thanks, Sam. I'm going to ask James to come in and just talk you through the process that we've been identifying the data gaps and so on with, if you don't mind, Chair, and then we can go on to the issues with local government.

In actual fact, we were going to come on to research and data later on actually, so, I wonder, Sam, if we might park that just for the time being and that you might address the other issues that Sam has raised at this stage, Minister.

So, the issues for local authorities are pretty straightforward. Sam, you'll be very familiar with them from your previous role. we want to have a service that is adequate. We want to re-enable the local authorities that are stockholders to build, and the ones that aren't stockholders to work with their registered social landlords to get a housing supply in place. It's not just about new build though, it's about bringing a whole series of other measures to bear, and it's about changing the way that we run housing options. 

So, the committee, I know, is very familiar with this, but we've been working with the homelessness action group for quite some time. You'll know that, just as a matter of serendipity, they had given us a report just before the pandemic hit. We were able to implement that report in a very short period of time, when we'd originally intended it to be over a number of years, and we've kept that approach up.

But there's an enormous culture change to be driven through the system here, because, in fairness to colleagues in housing options, for many years, they've operated what's effectively a rationing system, and we've turned that around into a front-facing service for everyone. And that's quite a big culture change for them. So, we've been working with the local authorities to do that transformational change. It's very much welcomed by most of the staff in the service, because the service has not been set up in that way. And then, we've worked with local authorities around the way that they work, either with their own housing departments as a whole authority challenge, using what's called, the 'trauma-informed approach'. And we've worked with the non-stockholding authorities to work well with their RSLs in a similar way. We've got a lot of work to do there, which, Chair, I'm more than happy to talk—I could talk your arm off, as you know—I'll talk very happily about that. But basically, we're trying to get a system change here and local authorities are absolutely at the heart of it.

Yes, and just perhaps a brief response further to that, Minister, I was wondering whether you think that, whilst they may well commit and want to see this change, do you think they have the capacity to be able to then deliver on this change?

Yes, so, that's the point of the data and the call for evidence, isn't it? What we want to know is: what does this system require? So, when we go out with the Green Paper, we're expecting local government to respond by saying, 'Well, if you're going to do that, then we will require this.' And we expect the RSLs to do that; we expect the tenants' organisations—you know, we expect people to do that.

And then, the White Paper will have a set of proposals, which again, is a consultation document, obviously, for local government to respond to. And then, if we're going to deliver a right to adequate housing, local government has to be in a position to be able to deliver it—they are the delivery arm, effectively. Obviously, they do that in a variety of ways: through the RSLs and through their dealings with the private rented sector, through their local development plan and their planning process and through their homelessness and housing functions. You'll know how diverse the services that a local authority provides are in this sphere. But we need that system change. So, the whole point of the Green Paper and then White Paper process is to make sure that we have an adequate consultation mechanism in place. And, in the meantime, I continue to meet very regularly with both leaders of councils and with housing planning cabinet members in order to make sure that we're driving towards that outcome.

Okay. Thank you very much, Minister. Thank you, Sam. Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon.

Bore da. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am ddod y bore yma. Rwy'n falch iawn o glywed eich datganiadau agoriadol. Dwi'n deall yn ôl yr hyn rydych chi wedi'i ddweud eich bod chi eisiau gweld polisïau gwahanol yn cael eu gosod mewn trefn—dwi'n meddwl mai 'sequentially' yr oeddech chi wedi'i ddefnyddio fel term. Ydych chi ddim yn teimlo, hwyrach, o gyflwyno deddfwriaeth mor fuan â phosib, gan gymryd bod angen y data, ar yr hawl i dai—the right to adequate housing—y buasai deddfwriaeth o'r fath yn sicrhau bod y polisïau eraill dŷch chi am weld yn cael eu gwireddu yn cael eu gwireddu oherwydd bod deddfwriaeth o'r fath mewn lle, heb felly orfod gwneud pethau mewn trefn?

Good morning. Thank you for joining us this morning. I'm very pleased to hear your opening remarks. I understand from what you've said that you want to see different policies being put in order—I think that 'sequentially' was the word that you used. Don't you feel that, in introducing legislation as soon as possible, assuming that we need the data, on the right to adequate housing, that kind of legislation would ensure that other policies that you want to see being delivered would be delivered, because that legislation would be in place without doing things sequentially?

09:20

No, Mabon, I'm afraid I don't agree with that at all. I think you could put a statement of principle into legislation, but you can't put a delivery mechanism into the legislation. We have a principle of not putting legislation in place without all of the funding available for it. I can't imagine what the regulatory impact assessment or the financial assessment of such an Act would be at this time. It would have to include all of the things I've just talked about, and those things are not in place yet. So, quite genuinely, I want to see this—it's something we should have; all civilised societies should have it. I absolutely agree with that. But we have a long road to travel to get to it, and I want it to be deliverable and implementable.

The committee will be very familiar with the fact that it took us many years to implement the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. Fundamental system change takes a long time. It's not just about the principle in the legislation. It's about the ability to actually deliver it on the ground. We want to learn the lessons of the renting homes Act in putting the homelessness legislation in place. That is a transformational piece of legislation by itself. This committee will be dealing with it. That has fundamental changes in the way that we approach housing—really fundamental changes. We need to put that in place first and get the system change running first before we then put the rights that come with it in place. If you do it the other way around, we will have something that nobody can implement and that everybody just shrugs about. We've had unattainable goals put in place before, where everybody just—'Well, nobody can do that, so that was interesting', and it just doesn't happen. There are many examples of that, Mabon, that you and I could discuss at great length, you know, 'Why didn't that happen?' And I really want this to happen.

So, we want to put a practical set of steps in place that get us to this goal, which is adequate housing for everyone. It's a very straightforward goal, isn't it—adequate housing for everyone? It's a right. You have a right to it. But at the moment, we wouldn't be able to implement that right. We can't give everyone at the moment adequate housing. That's the horrible truth of it, and we need to get our system to change itself around so that we can do that. That will take a little more time. We've gone a long way towards it in the last three years, but we've got a few more years to go yet before we get there.

Diolch. Dwi'n derbyn yr hyn rydych chi wedi'i ddweud o ran bod angen gwybod effaith, er enghraifft, ariannol polisi o'r fath—beth mae o'n mynd i gostio—ac mae angen inni gael y wybodaeth yna. Mae data rydym ni wedi'i dderbyn ac rydych chi wedi'i weld, wrth gwrs, gan Alma Economics a gafodd ei gomisiynu gan Back the Bill yn dangos arbedion hirdymor o gael polisi o'r fath. Ydych chi wedi modelu i mewn—? Wrth ragamcanu cyllideb dros y blynyddoedd nesaf, ydych chi wedi modelu i mewn effaith gadarnhaol potensial yr hawl i dai ar finances Llywodraeth Cymru a sut mae'n mynd i gael effaith gadarnhaol ar gyllidebau adrannau eraill?

Thank you. I do accept what you said in terms of the fact that we need to know the impact, or the financial impact, for example, of that kind of policy—what it's going to cost—and we need to have that information. The data that we've had and you've seen from Alma Economics, which was commissioned by Back the Bill, shows long-term savings in terms of having that kind of policy. Have you modelled in—? In projecting budgets over the coming years, have you modelled in the potential positive impact of the right to adequate housing on the finances of the Welsh Government and how that's going to have a positive impact on the budgets of other departments?

'Not yet' is the answer to that. That's part of what we want to do through the Green Paper process, so, we accept that, we absolutely know that it's a kind of invest-to-save proposition, if you like. But we don't have any data for Wales. There are data sets from around the world. James can talk you through all of this. He's much more knowledgeable about it than I am. We have data sets that show that, but we don't have it for Wales. We don't have it specifically, and we don't know how much that would cost upfront, so we don't know what the invest amount is and we don't know what the save amount is. There is quite a piece of work going on at the moment. We're doing it as part of the clean air Bill as well, to look at what health impact savings might look like. We're doing a piece of work with the national parks around that as well—what do the national parks save us in terms of health impacts, mental health impacts and so on? We're doing that internationally as well, Mabon, but we need the evidence base. We don't have it at the moment. So, the Green Paper—. That's one of the things the Green Paper will be looking for. There are several international efforts being made at the moment to properly map out how you adequately account for health savings in various green measures, and we're really interested in being able to take advantage of that, but there is no current model for that.

I have seen the Back the Bill proposals, but they're not Welsh-specific either. So, we need to get that in place, basically. But, yes, absolutely, we accept that it's an eventual saving, but there are three things to say also on top of that. First of all, we have to have the investment upfront. As you know, the budgets are very constrained at the moment, so, trying to get there across a number of years has been our approach to putting that investment in place; we just don't have the funding upfront to do that. So, we can do it over a number of years. And it's just a whole issue at the moment of the supply chain. So, we can't do this without supply—that's the bottom line. We have to build the housing, or have access to the housing that is the adequate housing we're talking about. So, we need to accelerate that supply, and it's well rehearsed—and I'm sure the Chair doesn't want me to rehearse it yet again—where we are with the current economic problems that we have in the supply chain, and the problems we have with inflation. So, each house we build at the moment is costing us significantly more than we thought it would when we put the programme in place. Although we have record levels of investment, each house that we build is costing considerably more than it did at the point in time we put the investment in place. So, it's not buying us as much as it would have in the first place, and that's the case for absolutely all of us with everything, isn't it? So, we're in, pretty much, a perfect storm over some of that. 

So, Chair, I'm sure you don't want me to, but I can talk for hours about what we've been doing on the supply chain interventions, and so on, to try and speed that up, and the interventions we've made to the social housing grant, and so on, to increase the level of intervention from the Government to make sure the houses keep being built. But the whole system needs to be in gear to be able to deliver the housing supply, which is the adequate housing we're talking about. 

09:25

Diolch, Gweinidog. Wrth gwrs, pan ein bod ni'n sôn am y ddarpariaeth—y supply o dai—mae'r Llywodraeth yma wedi rhedeg rhaglenni peilot yn y gorffennol—Ely Mill, dwi'n meddwl, yn un enghraifft lled ddiweddar, lle mae'r Llywodraeth wedi bod mewn partneriaeth efo cyrff eraill, Principality, ac yn y blaen i ran-ariannu. Felly, tybed a oes yna ffordd, er mwyn cyflymu'r broses i ddatblygu'r partneriaethau yna efo, er enghraifft, cwmnïau pensiwn cyhoeddus Cymru, i dynnu pres i lawr i gyflymu'r broses? Hwyrach bod hwnna'n un datrysiad i chi edrych arno.

Ond yr hyn dwi'n ei glywed, cywirwch fi os dwi'n anghywir, yw bod yna ymrwymiad, felly, i gael yr hawl i dai digonol—mae'n mynd i fod i yn ddeddfwriaeth—cyn belled â'ch bod chi yn y cwestiwn, mae'r Llywodraeth yma yn y cwestiwn; mae yna ymrwymiad i gael deddfwriaeth efo'r hawl i dai digonol, ac mi fydd y Papur Gwyn yn cychwyn yn 2024. O ran y broses yna, ydyn ni'n medru cael ychydig fwy o sicrwydd ar yr amserlenni? Dwi'n gwybod eich bod chi wedi dweud ei fod e'n amhosib yn y tymor yma, ond os yw'r Papur Gwyrdd a'r Papur Gwyn yn dilyn trefn yn naturiol, onid oes lle i ddadlau bod yna, hwyrach ar ddiwedd y tymor yma, le i gyflwyno deddfwriaeth—gan fod yna bartneriaeth gydweithredol yma—bod yna le i gyflwyno deddfwriaeth ar yr hawl i dai digonol, o gael pob peth mewn trefn yn gywir? Ac hefyd, gan dderbyn bod y rhan fwyaf o RSLs yn cefnogi'r alwad yma, ac eisiau gweld hyn hefyd—mae'r gefnogaeth gyhoeddus yno. 

Thank you, Minister. Of course, when we talk about the supply of housing, this Government has run pilot schemes in the past—Ely Mill, I think, was one example recently, where the Government has worked in partnership with other bodies, the Principality and so forth, to part-fund the project. So, I wonder whether there is a way, in order to accelerate the process to develop those partnerships with, for example, public pension bodies, to draw funding down to accelerate the process. Maybe that's one solution for you to look at.

But what I hear, correct me if I'm wrong, is that there is a commitment to the right to adequate housing—it's going to be legislation—as far as this Welsh Government is in the question; there is a commitment to having this legislation on the right to adequate housing, and the White Paper will start in 2024. In terms of that process, can we have some more assurance on the timetables? I know you've said that it's impossible in this term, but if the Green Paper and White Paper follow that natural order, isn't there scope, at the end of this term, to introduce the legislation—given that there is a co-operation agreement—and that there would be scope to introduce legislation on the right to adequate housing, if everything is in the right order sequentially? And also, accepting that the majority of RSLs support this call and want to see this happening—that is, there is public support for this. 

Yes. So, Mabon, if it's possible to put legislation in place, then I would love to. The co-operation agreement is an agreement to put the White Paper out, just to be clear; it's not an agreement to put the legislation in place. Depending on how we get with the White Paper and so on, I would love to do it. I'm just trying to be realistic about it. In all honesty, the legislative programme is crammed, really crammed, and we know, from past Senedds, that Bills that start to be introduced towards the very end of the programme tend not to make through the Senedd in time, so we have a number of examples of that in the past.

I don't want to say 'never' to you. I don't want to say it absolutely isn't possible, but I think it's unlikely that it would be in this Senedd term, given where we are. And I really, really want to get the homelessness legislation in place. That's the acute end of this, really. We really need to get that right. And I really want to get the homelessness legislation so that it's implementable immediately it passes the Senedd, and we don't have a huge delay lag on renting homes, because we haven't done all of the consequential issues that arise from that. We've learnt a lot from trying to implement that Bill. It took a long time as a result of various processes.

So, I hear what you say, Mabon, and I have a lot of sympathy with it, but I'm trying to be practical about it as well, and we really do need to get this system change under way to get there. I'm sure we'll get around to the data and evidence sets, but that's partly why I'm being a little bit hesitant about it. It's not just about having a Bill—it's about having an implementable Bill, which is a very different kettle of fish, we've learned.

09:30

Diolch. Diolch, Gadeirydd.

Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog, a diolch yn fawr, Mabon. Carolyn Thomas.

Thank you, Minister, and thank you, Mabon. Carolyn Thomas.

Thank you. Minister, could you give me your view of the draft Bill put forward by the Back the Bill partners and the proposals for incorporating the right to adequate housing into law?

Carolyn, I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow account through the Bill. I understand exactly where the Back the Bill campaign is coming from and, indeed, you can hear that I'm very sympathetic to the aims of the organisation. But we have to have a Bill that is in the devolved context, takes into account the wider legislative context, has a clear and understood policy objective, and is underpinned by a robust evidence base.

We also need it to be fully implementable. And again, Chair, I'm sure this committee will want to see lessons learned from the renting homes Act and so on at some point, but you will be nevertheless aware that it took us many years to implement that Bill. One of the main reasons for that is because it is a radical system change, and that's what this is. So, we need to be really sure that this isn't just about saying, 'Let's put a right to adequate housing into law', it's about, 'Let's have an implementable, enforceable right to adequate housing', and we want to be really sure that we get there.

The process that we've set out, we think, will get us there. It's not the only thing we're doing. As I keep saying, there's an enormous number of other things to do, including the homelessness legislation and all of the issues we've just discussed about supply. The issues with local authorities et cetera all play into that as well. So, I'm going to decline the very kind offer to take you line by line through the draft Bill, I'm afraid. I don't think that would be appropriate for me. I think the organisations backing it absolutely have their hearts in the right place and I understand exactly what they're trying to do. The organisations are also part of the stakeholder advisory group that's in involved in advising us on the Green Paper, so they're fully involved in this.

During evidence sessions we heard that the policies are very progressive in Wales, and are complementary, but lacked long-term vision. Looking at this Bill, you were saying that it could be based on available finance, but well-being is very important. Not all costs and benefits are financial; benefits are not always measured. How can you monetise the benefit of well-being? Looking at this, as well as incorporating, long term, the impacts on health, education et cetera, the impact of well-being as well and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, how could that legislation help to deliver the right to adequate housing?

Thanks, Carolyn. Obviously, all legislation has to interact with one another, and we do have a set of progressive pieces of legislation here in Wales. There are other Acts that you could mention as well—the environment Acts and the various pieces of housing legislation, like on renting homes, for example.

I'm a bit taken aback to hear that we don't have a long-term vision. I'd say we've got an extremely clear long-term vision, which is that every person in Wales has an adequate house. I'll say it again; what other long-term vision were you hoping for? That is the long-term vision—that every single person who lives in Wales has an adequate home throughout their lives. What do we mean by 'adequate'? We can have another chat about that, but it's an adequate, lifelong home throughout their lives.

The well-being of future generations Act would give us some powers to be able to do some of that, but it requires a whole set of pieces of work around the future consequences of current policy and a whole series of other goals, which are all commensurate with this, I completely agree with you. The new Bill would have to build on that foundational building block.

It's not just about the legislation—it's about having an implementable system change that goes with it, and a whole system that's geared up towards that. We do not have that at the moment, and I'm afraid I don't think the legislation, as proposed, would deliver that either.

Chair, I think I'm repeating myself endlessly now. I'm not quite sure what we mean by a lack of a long-term vision. I'm slightly thrown by that, actually. I think the reason that we have a set of progressive policies and Acts in Wales is because we do have a long-term vision for that. We have a long-term vision for the Wales that we want. Part of the Wales we want is a healthy, prosperous Wales, and you can't have a healthy, prosperous Wales unless people are adequately housed.

09:35

Thank you. It sounds from your feedback that your commitment is really there to have this right to adequate housing, but it sounds like you need more information regarding impacts on Wales. You need more devolved information, because what's been provided so far in the Back the Bill campaign is based on UK-wide, and it might take time. Am I correct that that's the main thing?

That's right, Carolyn, and also we need to understand what the system would look like to deliver it. So, how would it be monitored? How would it be enforced? And, frankly, just as simple as, 'What do you actually mean by adequate housing?', 'What is an adequate house? What does that look like?' This is the sort of language you can use, but when you actually ask each individual person around the table, I suspect you'll all come up with a slightly different answer. If we're going to enforce something in legislation, it has to be certain; we have to understand what is that duty when you place it on a local authority and what constitutes an 'adequate' house for the local authority to deliver. So, it sounds easy, but it's more complicated than that. We need to have a system that delivers that and then continues to deliver it into the future.

The objectives of security of tenure against forced eviction, availability of services, safe drinking water, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location, cultural adequacy—you don't think they're strong enough definitions, or not defined enough.

Would that be delivered by a converted office building with one-bedroom flats that are poorly insulated, for example? I don't think it would, but might that definition meet that? I would like to have very distinct policies in place that mean the local authority has to deliver to a decent standard right across Wales. Those lists are things we can all agree with. James, I'm sure, will talk to you about the data and evidence required for the seven pillars in a minute, but we need to be able to make sure that we can deliver them everywhere across Wales. 

And the other thing to say, Carolyn, is that different homes mean different things to different people. If you're an urban dweller, a high-density home with lots of services around it might suit you down to the ground; if you're a rural dweller, that might be a very different kettle of fish. What can be delivered in Gwynedd might be very different to what can be delivered in Cardiff, and that might be fine. We've got to be able to put this duty into law in a way that means the local authorities can actually deliver it.

Okay, Carolyn, diolch yn fawr. We'll turn to Joel James.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Minister, for today's evidence. I just wanted to pick your brains on a few of the comments you've made. In previous evidence sessions, we've heard from Alma Economics and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, and I just wanted to quote from one of their written submissions. They mentioned that

'if Wales was hypothetically and fully on the path toward universal adequate housing under current policies, introducing the RTAH would not generate any additional costs or benefits'.

With that in mind, I took that—and you've mentioned it in your evidence so far—as the current policies and legislation that are in place are almost failing. You've talked about system change, and I just wanted to get your opinion on whether or not—. You've mentioned that the legislative programme is crammed. Is there scope that the Welsh Government should be looking to improve existing policies and legislation rather than looking into introducing a right to adequate housing Bill?

I think I've covered that by saying that we need to do it sequentially. We've had enormous system change since the pandemic; we'd already put in place a set of proposals to do that, and then, as I said, the homelessness action group reported just before the pandemic hit and we were able—. Chair, I want to take this opportunity to just once more thank all of the people who work in housing across Wales for having done it. They implemented that in weeks, not years, and accelerated that. As I've just explained, Joel, we've put a sticking plaster over the current homelessness legislation to allow us to give a service to everyone in Wales, but that needs a fundamental reform.

I don't accept that what we've done is inadequate, if that's what you're trying to say. What I've said to you is we have a sequential series of steps we want to take along our transformational journey. We intend to take them in that sequence so that we have a deliverable policy at all times through our local authorities, so that our local authority partners are sure about what they're expected to deliver, and there is a well-defined path between where we are now and where we want to get. So, absolutely a right to adequate housing will deliver benefits, because it will entrench that right, so that Governments of the future can't row back on where we are.

One of the things about progressive gains is that you have to entrench them and then guard them fiercely, otherwise they get rowed back. We want to make sure that this is implemented properly. As I said—I'm in danger of being groundhog day a bit here, I'm sorry, Chair—we need to do this in a sequential way that allows the system to adapt and adequately change, so that this is implementable. This is a big thing to do, it's something we should be doing, it's something we are doing, and we have a very good and well laid-out path towards it. But we want to do that in an implementable way. I hope you're going to come on to the research stuff in a moment, but I do think it might be very useful to let James just take you through where we are with each of the headings, if you don't mind, at some point in the next few questions.

09:40

We will come on to that very quickly now, Minister. But, Joel, please continue with the legislation questions for the time being.

Okay. Thank you, Minister, for that response. With that in mind, could I just get some idea, then, of what is currently being done? Because you mentioned the sticking-plaster approach. Could you just elaborate more on that? And obviously you mentioned the sequential changes that would need to happen first. Could you outline that for the committee in the sense of what you think needs to be done before that? Because I know one of the questions I was quite keen to ask is how existing legislation would interact with this right to adequate housing. If you could just elaborate.

At the moment, we have changed the priority need categories so that everybody is included, and that means that we can offer a service to everyone. But the way that the housing and homelessness legislation is set up isn't adequate to provide a service to everyone who's homeless in Wales and it certainly doesn't get them into rapid rehousing, which is where we'd like to be.

As I said in my opening remarks, we will be bringing forward homelessness legislation that radically transforms the current legislative piece for homelessness. The committee I know has already done some work in this regard. The sticking plaster is that we've basically added everybody into the priority need category, so everybody's in priority need. But what we actually need to do is get rid of priority need. That's nonsense if you're giving everyone a service. What we need to have is legislation on homelessness that makes it clear and obvious that every single person in Wales is entitled to a service from a housing department and what that service should be. I can't outline that in today's evidence session, Chair—that's an enormous piece of work that the committee will be looking at in great detail going forward. But that needs to come first, so that we have the gear-up of the system to get people into rapid rehousing.

At the same time as that is going on, as I've spoken about a lot, we have an ambitious 20,000 social homes for rent target for this Senedd term, in a perfect economic storm. We are doing an enormous amount in the supply chain and build category. The committee will know all about the problems we've got with phosphates and planning. We've got an enormous number of exemplar sites coming forward on our own land, to show people what can be done when you do it properly. There's an enormous number of interventions already going on. But we need to get into a situation where all of that comes together to produce a set of housing legislation in Wales that allows us to implement an enforceable right to adequate housing—not a philosophical right, not a general right, but one that means you can rock up to your local authority and say, 'Oi, where's my adequate house?' That's where I'd like to get to.

Thank you, Minister. I suppose I've just got one last question, and it's about timescales. Do you have an estimated timescale for all this, or is it—? Sorry, I see you nodding, so go on.

I set that out at the beginning: the Green Paper will come out before the end of this summer term, the White Paper is scheduled for next summer, and then the Bill will follow. I already discussed with Mabon whether or not the Bill would then follow in this Senedd term. I'd love it to, but I think it's unlikely. The co-operation agreement is an agreement to have a White Paper, and the reason that it's just for a White Paper is because I can't promise that we can get a Bill in in this Senedd term. But we can get a long way towards it. 

09:45

With that in mind, though, in terms of all the sequential stuff that needs to be done as well, have there been timescales for that? Because you mentioned some of it's just policy change. 

We're already doing the policy change, and the Green Paper will underline that. I'm sorry, but I think I've already answered that question in a number of different ways, really. The long-term policy is in place, and now what we need to do is the various component parts of that policy to get us there. We're already delivering policy, programmes, legislative change, that moves us towards the right to adequate housing. And as I said, Chair, at the beginning, the White Paper doesn't just cover the right to adequate housing, it covers fair rents and affordable housing as well. 

Okay, Joel? Thank you. Research and data, then, Minister—you'll be pleased to know we have some questions on that. Jayne Bryant. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and good morning, Minister. So, research and data—I know there's a lot to say on this. Firstly, it's just on the aspect of other countries, and whether other countries provide models for Wales to follow to incorporate a right to adequate housing into law. 

Thank you, Jayne. We're very well aware of international comparators and examples. We're having a really good look at it. One of the ones the committee, I know, has heard about is in South Africa, but that's very much been hampered by the availability of resources needed to deliver the supply—so, back to making sure that you've got the system in place to do it. But what we have to do is understand that you can't pick up many of those models and just put them down in Wales. We have to understand the Welsh context, the cultural context, and all the rest of it, and that's why we need to do this call for evidence in the Green Paper to get the data. I wonder if you would mind if I bring James in at this point in time to just explain in a little bit more detail to the committee exactly where we are. 

Thank you. Good morning, everybody—hi. As part of the work to inform the development of the Green Paper we've actually appointed Alma Economics and the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence to look at some of these international models, and look at various aspects around affordability, for example, in particular. What's coming out from that, as the Minister has highlighted, is that there's a real gap in evidence and data on the Welsh context in order to understand the Welsh context.

If we go back and look, the United Nations have set out those seven factors of adequacy, but we need to be able to define a minimum core, and without this evidence and understanding the Welsh context, we won't be able to define the minimum core. The centre for collaborative evidence on housing, which is the universities, the academic institutes, has clearly said that the context is vitally important. Cardiff isn't Ceredigion, and Llanelli isn't Lampeter. So, we can't move ahead and look at minimum core without understanding that real Welsh granularity and context. 

Alma Economics have looked at over 130 data sets on socioeconomic factors and affordability. That's raised some challenges, and that report will be coming out alongside the Green Paper. But again, it's the different scales the data is being collected on, it's both the geographical scale and the timescale that data's being collected on—the boundaries don't necessary marry up very well, and we need to get a much better understanding of those data gaps and where we need to look at addressing those data gaps to then be able to move into how do we look at defining that minimum core against those seven factors. 

Brilliant. That's really helpful, because I was going to ask around where you do have data, perhaps where you are able to do some work. I know the Minister has said some of the policy changes that are happening at the moment, where perhaps some of that can already be addressed. But then, it's just about those obvious gaps within the data that are missing, and which mean that you can't take this forward as quickly as you'd like. I don't know if there's anything else you want to say, particularly around the data, or if there's any additional research that you're intending to commission, perhaps, in the future. 

On that, Jayne, we're basically looking for Welsh context data, from larger data sets, and also, in particular, for very granular data around things like, given the large increase in social housing that this entails and that we are very keen to support, what does the maintenance and long-term future improvement budget for a local authority look like, given the increase in social housing, and how can we build that into the formula for local government funding, for example. That has to be very Wales-specific. That's a very granular set of data that we would need to put into the regulatory impact assessments for the Bill. We don't have that at the moment. Forgive me James, but I'm not sure that we really understand quite how we would get it. That's what the call for evidence is for. So, we will be asking people, 'How can we get this data? How would you suggest that we do it?'

We have already done several pieces of work with other organisations in the past. We have worked with—I can't remember the name, but Sarah or James will remind me—something like the housing centre for data and something or other. I have spoken at a few of their conferences. It's 'statistical data and something'. It's got a very long title. They are really interesting. We have worked with them to try and get more granular detail for us. Then, there's the issue around where is the supply, where is the need, and are they even remotely matched. We are already doing an enormous amount of work on trying to do that—match the supply to where the demand is. That might sound easy, but it really isn't. Just because somebody's currently living in Cardiff, it doesn't mean that that's where they would like to live. They might prefer to live in Ceredigion. So, we need to be able to match the housing supply to the economic aspirations and needs of the communities around Wales, for the future and not just for the present. They are quite complicated data sets for that.

Then, we have a whole series of other system changes. For example, housing allocation, and the way that the social housing register works, is a rationing system. And it's a rationing system because we have an inadequate supply. So, we have to increase the supply and change the way that the allocation system works, and we need to know how to do that in equilibrium. So, as the supply increases, you—. You can't just do it and then—. You will cause chaos. You will all have examples from around Wales of people who have been on housing waiting lists for ages and ages because they are category 2. Actually, nobody who isn't category 1 ever gets moved because, actually, the supply is so inadequate. We need to get under that and change it. We need to understand that we need houses that are adequate for people with all kinds of disabilities and lifelong issues, and also people just with regular changes in their lives. All the way from a baby to a young family, to an established family, to an ageing family, the home needs to be able to be adaptable and change for all of those things. We just haven't got that yet, and we need to know what that looks like in order to put this in place.

We have done a lot of policy change over the last three or four years, in particular in the homelessness area. The move to rapid rehousing and housing first policies has been transformational. It is not embedded yet. We are in the process of embedding it, and then, as I say, we will have the rest to come. I am looking forward to the Green Paper process, to be honest. I am really hoping to enthuse people right across Wales—across the world, actually, because we will be putting it out there—to help us get these data sets in place so that we can have a really robust set of policy interventions, going forward.

09:50

Absolutely. Thank you, Minister. That's really helpful. Diolch, Gadeirydd.

Thank you very much, Jayne. If Members have no further questions, thank you very much for coming along to committee this morning to give evidence, Minister, and thank you to your officials as well. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 4 ac eitem 8 ac o'r cyfarfod ar 11 Mai
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 4 and 8 of the meeting and from the meeting on 11 May

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o o eitem 4 ac eitem 8 ac o'r cyfarfod ar 11 Mai o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4 and 8 of the meeting and from the meeting on 11 May under Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Our next item is item 3, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 4 and 8, and the meeting on 11 May. Is the committee content so to do? I see that you are. We will then move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:54.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:54.

10:45

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:47.

The committee reconvened in public at 10:47.

5. Gwasanaethau Llyfrgell a Hamdden awdurdodau lleol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 5
5. Local Authority Library and Leisure Services - evidence session 5

May I welcome everybody back to our committee meeting today? We've reached item 5, our fifth evidence session on local authority library and leisure services. I'm very pleased to welcome our witnesses here to committee this morning. Joining us in person are Amy Staniforth, relationship manager with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Wales, and Nicola Pitman, chair of the Society of Chief Librarians Cymru. Joining us virtually is Chris Neath, network manager for the Community Managed Libraries National Peer Network. Welcome to you all. Thank you very much for coming along to give evidence to committee today.

Perhaps I might begin with some overview questions. Firstly, I wonder if you could summarise the key benefits and value of leisure and library services to communities and residents, together with the impact on communities when services are withdrawn. So, quite a general initial question, but I wonder if you could answer that for committee today, please. Who would like to begin? Nicola.

I was just going to say, 'How long have you got?' [Laughter.]

Yes, I should have perhaps included in my question the need for a succinct answer, Nicola, but do attempt it.

I shall do my best. I think I'd like to start off with social connection. We've all seen the impact of social isolation that's been experienced during the pandemic and the effect on mental health. For many, libraries are their one place they can go to to become connected. There are so many different groups and activities that are run throughout the public library network within Wales. It gives people a sense of purpose, taking part in walking groups, and for our older customers, taking part in things like walking football, walking netball, things like that. We do things that you may not expect a library service to be undertaking. Obviously, things like knit and natter and stuff like that are going on, social groups, but also morning meet-ups. We support unpaid carers, people who are bereaved to get back out into the community and have a place to go and to feel that they are connected to others.

I would say, obviously, literacy, an opportunity to develop a love of reading. Our groups that support children, so our reading groups, our story times, our rhyme times. And during the cost-of-living crisis, we offer free events and activities that parents can take their children to. Throughout the winter, we've had warm spaces within our libraries, where people can't afford to put the heating on, so they are welcomed, they have been welcomed, and we are maintaining some of those groups in some of the libraries. What else would I say? Peer support, so targeted peer support for particular health elements, including things like carer support groups, dementia cafes. The list is endless, of where we have been able to sort of work to impact the health of people's communities, and to stop the decline that can occur without that connection.

So, yes, libraries are not just about the books. Obviously, the books are important, but they're just one, product, really, and we have many: digital inclusion, again, keeping people connected, helping people with work opportunities to develop skills. I'm not quite sure—have I left anything? I could go on and on and on and on, so, I don't want to take too much time. But hopefully, you can get a sense that we are a very multilayered service for the people within our communities who rely upon us.

10:50

Yes. Thank you very much for that, Nicola. Amy, Chris, did you want to add anything to what Nicola has said?

Yes, I would just echo everything that Nic has said. In a public letter about cuts that didn't end up happening earlier this year, we quoted a journalist in the Financial Times who said—I'm going to read it, because it's better than me saying it:

'Libraries serve a manifold role. They provide books, periodicals, digital resources — information! — curated and stewarded by experts'.

And I would add that that information isn't just the latest blockbusters, it's information about visas, about local knowledge and societies, about if your child is saying that they want to transition, what might you do. I mean, it's literally information about everything.

'And they take up the slack of countless underfunded or disappeared social programmes. Public libraries are English teachers, job hunters, after-school administrators, technology trainers and citizenship educators. They are cooling and heating centres and refuges. They serve the very young and the very old. They are, in effect, crucial twin engines of democracy and economic growth'.

And so, that's other people saying that, people who understand that, and we would just add, I think, from a CILIP point of view, that they're also staffed by people who see their roles as vocational; they don't do it for the money. I'm also a librarian in my other role, and if I'm made redundant from that, or when I retire, I'll still be a librarian, and that's not because we're nice, it's because we know these things are important. We're providing services where people can go to wait; they can wait for a job interview; they can wait for the late train. And they're not pressured to buy a cup of coffee, and in how many places in all of our communities is there a space where that already exists? So, we see those spaces as being very important—the staffing, the fact that they're warm and all of the other services that Nic was talking about; they're very integrated as a network across Wales, and that's very valuable.

Thank you very much, Amy. I don't know, Chris, did you want to add anything?

Thank you, yes. I would absolutely mirror those thoughts. I think libraries are an element of education and literacy source, but they go far beyond that. I think they provide an absolute linchpin for social inclusion, offering a free, safe space for absolutely anyone in the community, and heighten those marginalised voices, and I think that's a really important element of what libraries provide. They're a safety net for people who are struggling and they can go for non-judgmental guidance and support before the situation for them gets worse. And libraries remain that trusted centre for information, providing support to absolutely anyone who needs it.

I think it's already been mentioned about the significant amount of digital support that you can get from your library for those who are digitally excluded. But I also wanted to mention about the impact when services are withdrawn. Transport and accessibility: the fewer libraries there are, the bigger the burden for people to try and reach those centres of learning, and accessibility and space become a lot harder. The libraries are a huge investment in communities, they save other departments money, they support local business development, IT skills, advice; you can go for legal support, you can go for guidance when you're dealing with homelessness, fuel and food poverty. And all of this support and advice lessens the burden on other centrally funded support services. So, the effects on those library services being withdrawn are absolutely huge.

10:55

Okay. Thank you, all, very much. Quite a number of the benefits of library services that you've mentioned are particularly relevant to the more deprived people and families in our communities. Do you have any statistics on that—the demographic of library use and how it relates to social class and particular groups in Wales, or not?

There hasn't been a significant amount of work on the social value of the Welsh public libraries, I would say. I guess, I mean we're all aware individually, within the authorities—obviously, every authority is unique to itself, and I know that they do take time to look at the community profile of the make-up of the authority. Librarians and library service plans are really good at doing that so that they can make sure that they're framing their services for the communities that they aim to serve. Talking about the books again, making sure that the books are reflective of the communities so that people can see themselves mirrored within those collections, which is something that Amy has been working on, haven't you? And I guess, yes, we know numbers; we collect all those figures on people who are accessing our warm spaces, or taking part in the activities to improve their financial situations and all the people who have been referred to, or are accessing directly into, work groups—things like that. But, yes, there could be more work done on this. I think it is an area that we should be focused on and maybe potentially could be focused on on a national level.

Yes. I was just going to say that we very echo that there isn't a lot of research that's been done across the UK, so, I did speak to our chief executive officer in London as well to ask whether there are any lessons from English libraries that we could take forward, and there just isn't an awful lot of research, so, that makes it very difficult for people running library services to make evidence-based decisions. So, we'd very much ask for some more research into public libraries—what works and what doesn't. 

And, in terms of more deprived areas, I think librarians are obsessed, perhaps quite rightly, with who is not using their services, and that's very difficult to measure. But I think we do need to spend time—I don't want to edge too much into later questions—thinking about that in the new public library standards and how we do that. There are lots of really interesting cases across individual authorities, and sometimes individual libraries, where people are doing really interesting work in these areas, but, as Nic suggests, it's not very strategic at a national level, and we'd really welcome that.

Yes, okay. Chris, did you want to add anything or—?

I think the only thing I would add to that point, which I totally agree, there is a lot more data and research that could be collected and I think the fault of that is around that qualitative-impact-social-value information on how it can be done strategically. And I think a lot of the work that's done at the moment is fantastic, but it's done from a ground-up approach—it's the passionate library staff and volunteers knowing their communities and adapting the service to meet the needs of as wide a pool of people as possible. So, I think there is—. I think this may come up again, certainly later on, but there's a lot more to be done strategically in terms of that data and research.

Okay, Chris, yes, thank you very much. I well remember a library in the area where I was brought up, which actually is in my colleague, Jayne Bryant's constituency—Jayne's joining us online today—which had a keystone that said, 'Knowledge is power'. And I think it's interesting to reflect on how the knowledge available through libraries might empower, particularly, those more disadvantaged members of our communities, so I'm sure we will come back to that later.

Just in terms of the current picture, we know that local authorities are under tremendous pressure at the moment—financial pressure—and budgets are very difficult, and you reflect on that in the evidence that we've received. How would you characterise the current state of library services run by our local authorities in Wales, especially really, looking forward, what we may see, although I know it's difficult to look into the crystal ball, but how would you characterise the current situation and the immediate future?

11:00

I think it is a difficult time, potentially, and I know from conversations with the other members within SCL Cymru that there are levels of vulnerability being felt in some of the authorities. It does depend how invested the authority is with its library service in, I guess, how comfortable the authorities and the library heads feel currently. It is vulnerable also due to aspects that I know we're going to come onto later around the standards and around the development of a new strategy, the culture strategy, that is happening, and making sure that there is a strong library voice in that. There are issues around the public library Act, and you know, what the interpretation of that Act actually means. So, yes, I would say, perhaps, disquiet. There are levels of disquiet among the membership at the present time, although no immediate threats that I am aware of anyway. I think that's probably the picture at the moment.

Thank you very much, Nicola. Anything to add, Amy or Chris?

I don't want to keep going before Chris, but jump in, anyway, if you do want to. I suppose I speak anecdotally for public libraries, because our membership cuts across other sectors in Wales, but that can be quite interesting as well. We have a lot of members in health libraries and in the NHS libraries across Wales and in HE, FE and in schools. The picture, anecdotally, is that a lot of public library staff, as Chris was alluding to, are ambitious for their service, but it rests on them to really move forward and adapt, as he said. Some of those people are tired, and they are leaving. I was just speaking to a colleague in HE yesterday, and there are a lot of public librarians who are taking up posts in HE, and it's really sad for public librarians. It's not just sad; it's a real problem, because they're excellent. The reason that they get these jobs is that they're really good, and they go somewhere where they are really appreciated because they've worked in quite difficult circumstances.

I'm not sure people quite understand what it's like to work at the front face of a public library and what they have to deal with. And they're good; they're good at their job. They're really keen. They go somewhere where they're really valued and then work even harder, so it's great for them, it's great for the sectors that they're moving to, but that isn't happening in reverse, and I think that should tell us something—that we should, not panic, not get overly alarmed, but I think we have to understand—. Well, we have to think about why people start these jobs in the first place, and CILIP would really like to see local authorities being able to use entry-level positions and apprenticeships to really offer librarianship as a career path to local people, so, it isn't just, 'Oh, we go there when we're unemployed and we need a job, or I need a printer', which is what lots of us do. It's at any time in your life; it might be when you've got kids, it might be when you're retired, it might be when you are applying for a job. So, it's a life cycle and it's also a professional opportunity, and that at the moment isn't really there. Yes, disquiet, I think, is a good way of putting it. We're not panicking, but we need to be doing something to make sure that the stuff that we're worried might happen doesn't. And there are lots and lots of opportunities to work together, because, in Wales, we are smaller, we have the standards already, and it's frustrating if we can't quite get to the next level. 

11:05

I suppose what I would add to that is that I think there's something around the infrastructure itself, maintaining, traditionally, fairly old, ageing buildings. We're looking at greener, more sustainable methods—I do think that's worth mentioning—and there's a cost and a long-term strategic approach to that. I also wanted to mention the collaborative and collective approach as a whole, and that's involving community groups, that's involving staff, that's involving other organisations, and local government, to look at a collective, long-term approach to a sustainable level of service delivery.

I think, for a long time, the approach was often a little bit more reactive, and that's certainly the situation with lots of local authorities that we've had experience of in England. So, I think that level of long-termism, and also having a good level of engagement with all aspects across society—so, lots of community engagement, but not just stopping there, engaging with the private sector as well, the social services sector, and really understanding the impact of libraries as a whole, to make sure that they fit into a sustainable model going forward. 

Yes, okay. I know, Amy, that, in your evidence, you referenced this sort of piecemeal approach to libraries and budget decisions, without a sort of really strategic look and a meaningful plan, really, which, obviously, Chris has just referenced as well. Is there a real threat of drastic reduction in services, and closures at the current time, do you think?

Well, I think from—. I can certainly say, from a UK point of view, we're expecting things to get worse, because, as each local authority has to work out what to do with its smaller budget, we then find out about consultations, about where those cuts are going to fall, and, to us, it seems sort of fairly unavoidable, in a sense. How we respond to that, though, is—. It doesn't have to be local authority by local authority. I think what we should really be doing is thinking, rather than responding and being reactive, as Chris said, and asking ourselves—. We have this network, we have a network at the heart of communities across Wales. All the programme for governments that I ever read, anything that comes up, say, 'We should build some hubs in local communities', whether that's for tech delivery, digital skills—whatever—health. And we've already got these hubs, because they are libraries, and I think we have to be thinking, 'What is it we want to do with them? What is it we want them to perform in those communities?' And if we ask that first, and we're not constantly saying, 'How can we save this authority some money when they've got to pay for x, y and z?', what we're saying is, 'We want this thing to do x, and that's how we're going to interpret the Act for the next five years.' We should sort of turn that on its head. 

And we do have a network—we've got the Society of Chief Librarians, we've got the national library. We've got a Government department that is understaffed, and that's proving to be a real issue, that we're not making the most of the work that they are doing and the funded projects that they're putting out. But the potential is there. As each of these cuts happen, I think what the real problem is is that, as the cuts hit, we're not then coming back. If a budget ever goes back, there is no plan, there's no guarantee, there's nothing accountable to residents in that local authority that says, 'When we're slightly better next year, what we will do is hire back some staff or buy some more books for this particular library.' There isn't that long-term plan. 

I see. Okay, thanks very much for that, Amy. We'll move on, then, to Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd, a diolch i chi am ddod i gyflwyno tystiolaeth i ni y bore yma. Mae un peth wedi bod yn ddiddorol yn yr ymchwiliad yma hyd yma, sef gweld y gwahanol ffyrdd o ddarparu gwasanaethau, llyfrgelloedd yn yr achos yma. Mae yna rai yn cael eu cynnal gan awdurdodau lleol; mae eraill yn cael eu darparu gan ymddiriedolaeth, eraill yn cael eu darparu gan gyrff lled-braich o awdurdod lleol, a gwahanol fodelau tebyg. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod yna un model yn well na'r llall? Neu beth ydy rhinweddau'r modelau yma, os gwelwch chi'n dda?

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you for giving us evidence this morning. One thing has been interesting in this inquiry so far, namely the different ways of delivering services, library services in this case. There are some that are delivered by local authorities; others are delivered by trusts, others by bodies at arm's length from local authorities, and other delivery models. Do you think that there is one model that's better than another? Or what are the virtues of these different models?

11:10

Yes, I'm happy to, because I suspect it'll be shorter than my usual answers. We don't have a strong opinion or a fixed position on this. I've personally worked with fantastic librarians, both in trusts in Wales—in trust-run services and in local-authority services. The question has to be: what is a successful library? Is it doing what we've all decided that a library should do? Is it equitable across Wales? Are all citizens able to access the same information, the same resources, the same excellent trained staff? And how do we measure that?

I think the only real concern I have about the idea of outsourcing to a different model that's outside of a local authority is that skills are being lost in that local authority. Any procurement exercise has to be repeated at some point, contracts have to be renewed, so who is doing that internally? Where are we getting the expertise from? How do you know what to ask for? So, I think it's really important, especially if these decisions are being taken reactively, that that has to be built in. We have to work out where do we get our expertise when we're going to do this, because how do you know if something's a good service, if what they're saying they're going to do is a good idea? And there just isn't much—. Again, as we said, there's not much research out there. There's certainly not much research out there on failed outsourcing, because nobody wants to share that. So, I think it's really important that we're honest about that lack of evidence.

Do you want me to come in there? I would say, for the millions of customers across Wales, it actually makes no difference. The membership of SCL Cymru is made up of all the different models of delivery. And we are all—. The main thing is our performance, what are we expected to—how are we meant to maintain that quality performance and have that comprehensive and efficient service for our customers. And of course, we come back to the standards. So, we're all governed by the same, I guess, targets and objectives, and it's about making those standards the best they can possibly be so we can ensure that customers throughout Wales, are all enjoying consistent service. I work for Cardiff and we have the hub model, which is fine; it's great. We also have very good trusts in Wales operating library services, and they have fantastic services. So, it's back again to that performance assessment and having a robust scrutiny of that, which is the key thing, not the model of delivery, I would say.

No, okay. Thank you, Nicola. I don't know, Chris, did you want to come in on this?

Yes, I would. Obviously, we as an organisation are a support and advocacy charity for community libraries. So, that is our core. I think community libraries are defined by how embedded they are in local communities, and the benefit of those groups, individually, running library services, is that level of ear-to-the-ground consultation, the ability to reflect the needs of marginalised voices. With that, I would say and totally agree that engaging with sector-wide good practice is essential. I don't think there is any need to come away from that in any way, and I think having standards and equality is absolutely vital for the sector, and community libraries that we work with are passionate and want to be involved and measured by those standards as well.

And just to go back on the point of the interpretation and the perspective that people have of libraries is that they don't tend to notice the difference, I've spoken to and visited hundreds of community libraries, and the general feedback that you get talking to people is that they don't know who runs it, necessarily. Whether that's a good or a bad thing for that community organisation, I don't know, but the service at the point that they receive it is the same. 

On top of that, I think that there's an element of the organisations in a charity governance model, because most community libraries are registered charities—community interest companies or charitable incorporated organisations—and this does enable them to crystalise their social purpose and their vision and focus their efforts on a clear and specific strategy for their community, and this allows their organisations to be really agile as well in response to new developments or pressures, whether that be funding the workforce or the pandemic and cost of living that's been hitting libraries over the last few years, and they've responded fantastically to it. 

I'd also just say that there's a real importance in that strategic, collaborative, sharing model as well, and, even with a wide variety of different models and approaches to service delivery, the core elements are the same, and to ensure that we have a sustainable service in the long term, it's that sharing of good practice, good guidance, information, but also celebrating the sector. They've proved fantastic at dealing with huge, global issues that have affected everyone, pivoting their model and the services to meet the needs of people as they change, and I think it's just really important that that is recognised and celebrated as a broad sector.

11:15

Diolch am yr atebion hynny—mae'n ddifyr. Yn un peth, dim ond i fi drio deall, rydych chi'n dweud mai'r hyn sy'n bwysig ydy darpariaeth y gwasanaeth ac effeithlonrwydd y gwasanaeth hwnnw, a bod rhywun ar lawr gwlad, mewn gwirionedd, ddim yn gweld y gwahaniaeth rhwng y math o fodel sy'n cael ei ddefnyddio pan fyddan nhw'n derbyn yr un gwasanaeth. Ond rhywbeth roeddech chi, Chris, wedi sôn amdano, am ystwythder rhai modelau elusennol, a rhywbeth rydym ni wedi'i glywed, ydy bod rhai o'r ymddiriedolaethau, er enghraifft, yn dweud eu bod nhw'n llawer iawn yn fwy ystwyth i fedru ymateb i anghenion cymunedol, tra bod llyfrgelloedd sydd, hwyrach, o dan reolaeth awdurdod lleol yn llawer llai ystwyth, oherwydd bod yna haenau o atebolrwydd maen nhw'n gorfod mynd trwyddo cyn medru creu newid. Felly, ydych chi'n derbyn hynny? Ydych chi'n credu bod hynny'n gywir, a bod yna rinwedd, felly, i'r ystwythder yna a modelau sydd yn fwy annibynnol?

Ond yna yr ochr arall ydy bod y rheini sydd o dan reolaeth awdurdod lleol yn llawer iawn mwy democrataidd, o bosib, efo atebolrwydd lleol yn rhan o'r broses. Felly, mae yna rinweddau ar y ddwy ochr, a dwi'n trio deall a oes yna gryfder neu rinwedd yn well yn un nag yn un arall, a pha fodel sydd felly'n well mewn gwirionedd i'r bobl sy'n defnyddio'r gwasanaethau yma.

Thank you for those answers—it's interesting. If I can just understand, you say that what's important is the provision and the efficiency of the service, and that the person on the ground, in truth, doesn't really see the difference between the kind of model that is being used when they receive the same service. But, Chris, you mentioned the flexibility or the agility of some charitable models, and something that we've heard is that some of the trusts, for example, say that they're a lot more agile in terms of responding to the needs of communities, while libraries under local authority control are less agile, because there are different tiers of accountability that they have to go through before being able to create change. So, do you accept that? Do you think that that is right and that there is merit, therefore, in that agility and the more independent models?

But then the other side is that those under local authority control are a lot more democratic, possibly, with local accountability being part of that process. So, there are merits and virtues on both sides, so I'm just trying to understand whether there are virtues on one side that are better than the other, and which model is best, in truth, for the people who actually use those services.

I think the different model approach is dependent on the community itself. What we've found is that the provision of a really successful community-led library is based on the passion in that community and what it wants to see delivered. It's therefore very embedded in understanding the local voices and engaging with people and consulting with people properly. I think that's the important thing. That's dependent on who you are and where you are, and how the local authority has structured its approach, because it doesn't work everywhere in that sense. What I would say is, wherever it is, there should be a close collaboration between local authority library services and community libraries anyway. It's more about having that collaborative, working-together approach to make sure there's successful delivery across the board, nationally.

Just on the accountability point, I can understand the democratic structure of being in a local authority setting, however, the community library organisations, the way that their governance structure is set up is that they're accountable to the community as well. So, there's always a level of accountability, but I would always promote and prefer the model where the community groups are working very closely with the local authority. And there are some really successful examples of that in England, in various local authorities where they have worked together, but allowed the freedom for that agility where it's needed. And where one small community group is in a more deprived setting, for example, they can then relate to the needs of their community, which wouldn't necessarily be relevant across the board for a whole library service.

11:20

Chris, which local authorities in England, then, would you particularly point to in showing that good practice?

There are a couple I would probably mention, which are Staffordshire and Leicestershire. I think they've had a really resilient approach and they're very supportive in the way that they work with the community libraries, and there are a number of community libraries in those local authorities. But what they've done is they've engaged with them in terms of having library support officers who are there, so the professional and accountable level is there to support them when they need it, but they're also able to step back and allow that agility and that more localised service development to happen at the same time.

I'd like to point out that is happening in Wales as well. We have community libraries in Wales. In fact, there are some in the Vale, and they work very closely with the authority. We also have, as Chris just mentioned, community groups that work directly with library services, and that is happening across Wales as well. We have several of those groups in Cardiff, where they work on events together, they really connect with the community. We have Awen in Cardiff. They call themselves 'friends of library groups', and we have a number of those across Wales, and they'll work on programmes together. So, it is actually happening in Wales as well.

I wanted to say, because I listened to one of the other sessions, that I was very taken with the way some of the trust-run places talked about how it wasn't a financial decision to be outsourced, that it was about efficiencies and ways of working and developing the service, and I can think of examples of where I'd agree with that. But I think what Nicola and I were probably trying to say was that there are also examples of where that doesn't work in the trust, because it isn't terribly well run. You get really well-run local authorities where there might be a funding issue, it might be a managerial issue, and then you get some that are less good. I don't think the answer can always be, 'Oh, well, this isn't working for us, so let's outsource it to somebody else' or a different model of delivery. Changing your model of delivery shouldn't really be because a local authority can't manage to perform its statutory duty. And I think we have to think about what they're losing if they are changing that model, what isn't working.

And in terms of agility, because that's where it just sounded like, 'Oh, yes—'. In my other job, I work at a university library, and, yes, it takes a huge amount of time to get a machine like that to move or to change its behaviour, and I imagine local authorities are similar. But if COVID showed us anything, it's that they absolutely can do that, and libraries were at the heart of how local authorities continued to serve communities in a very direct way. So, they can do it, and I don't think we should let them off the hook—if that's what we're doing. It shouldn't be that, 'Oh, well, they just can't be agile'; I think we have to think about different ways of working. For us as CILIP, it's about having the staffing in place. In Wales, we are quite small, so if you get a really good, committed librarian in a high-leadership role, then their service tends to be good, their staff tend to be happy, the users are happy, and that's whether it's a trust-run service or whether it's a local authority service, and the reverse will be true.

I would suggest looking at the performance as well, the performance reports, of all the different models, and then you could decide for yourselves whether you feel that it's a more agile library service or not.

And actually, it's unique to Wales, isn't it, that I think the community-run libraries do have to submit and, as Chris said, want to submit, to the Welsh public library standards. That doesn't happen in England, and they're quite jealous, I think.

11:25

Mae'n gas gen i am ofyn hyn, ond dwi'n casáu’r syniad yma bod pob dim yn cael ei fesur yn ôl gwerth ariannol, ac wrth gwrs mae llyfrgelloedd yn cynnig gwerth llawer, llawer iawn mwy nag edrych ar y bottom line, fel petai. Ond, yn achlysurol, mae'n rhaid edrych yn oeraidd ar elfennau ariannol. A dwi jest eisiau cyffwrdd ar hynny. Os medrwch chi edrych yn oeraidd ar yr ochr ariannol, ydych chi'n meddwl bod yna rai modelau sy'n cynnig gwerth am arian gwell na modelau eraill? Ynteu, wrth edrych ar awdurdodau lleol, er enghraifft, mae ganddyn nhw'r ôl-swyddfa yna, efo'r holl sgiliau ag adnoddau HR angenrheidiol. Ond eto, mae awdurdodau lleol yn gorfod torri'r gôt yn ôl y brethyn, ac rydyn ni'n eu gweld nhw'n sôn am gau rhai llyfrgelloedd yn achlysurol, tra bod llyfrgelloedd cymunedol heb yr adnoddau yna ond hwyrach eu bod nhw'n medru tapio mewn i wirfoddolwyr a chyfraniadau elusennol, ac yn y blaen, eraill. Felly, oes yna un model, eto, sydd yn cynnig opsiwn ariannol gwell, ynteu, yn mynd nôl i bwynt Chris, ei bod hi'n ddibynnol ar y gymuned?

I regret having to ask this, but I hate this idea that things are measured according to financial value, and of course libraries offer much more broader ranging value than just looking at the bottom line. But, of course, sometimes we do need to look at the cold, hard facts in terms of finances. I just want to touch on that. If you could look at the financial side, do you think that there are some models that offer better value for money than other models? Or, in looking at local authorities, they have the back-office functions with all of the skills and HR resources, which are vital. But, then, local authorities have to cut their cloth accordingly and we do hear about library closures occasionally, while community libraries don't have those resources but maybe they can tap into volunteers and charitable contributions, and so forth. So, is there one model that offers a better financial option, or, returning to Chris's point, does it depend on the community?

I think we'll stick to our guns and say you'll get what you pay for, in any delivery model. There will be good services, you'll get cheap quotes, you'll get really expensive quotes, and, as Nic said, it's the performance at the end of the day. We have to have evidence that this is working, and there isn't a lot of evidence out there either way. 

Yes, and I would say how granular do you want your library service. I would say that; it's probably as far as I can go with that comment, really. In terms of value for money, all of us, across the 22 authorities, act in consortia to secure the best, I guess, value for money possible, with consortia around book purchases and our library management system as well. We're currently involved in a big project around that, driving costs down. We all use volunteers anyway, and we want to offer that experience to people in the community to develop their skills, and also volunteering can really help people overcome loneliness and social isolation and get a sense of purpose as well. So, we are utilising volunteers already. So, yes, I'm not quite sure—I probably can't say anything more than that. 

Yes, it can be more financially viable, a cheaper alternative—it certainly can. I would again echo the point that it really does depend on the service, and I would always advocate for that long-term investment from local authorities, even if they are then exchanging to community library ownership in some senses. I think there is that ability to fund raise and to provide the services you need ad hoc. So, with the backroom staff element, I know lots of community libraries who are able to then structure in a way where they have financial support, HR support, on that ad hoc basis, and it can be made very affordable for them depending on the needs at the time.

But again, I would go back to that it's very much dependent on two main things. They are the skills and experience and the enthusiasm of the community that's involved—that group—however it's structured and whoever is involved. In many cases, if it's a charity that has formed as a 'friends of' group to take over the ownership of a community library, it's what experience and skills are spread across the board of those trustees. That is what invigorates a really successful community library, but, at the same time, working very closely with other libraries across the sector, whatever model or structure you've taken, is really, really important. 

And then, just on the procurement and working as a wider structure of community libraries specifically, there is a lot of opportunity for that, and that is something that we're working to develop more and more in terms of the number of community libraries that there are across England and Wales. There is a huge amount of experience, skills and support that can be shared there, but also to procure things on a bulk basis, whether that's stock or a table and library management system that works well with volunteers, for example.

11:30

Okay, thank you very much, Chris. Mabon, are you content?

Diolch yn fawr. Okay, we will move on, then, to Carolyn Thomas. Carolyn.

Thank you, Chair. I want to go back to social value and well-being. It seems to me that the role of and need for libraries have changed significantly over the last few years—warm hubs, somewhere safe and quiet and free to go and study. Also, community groups are using them more. So, I know local government have looked, as they've had to make cuts over the last few years of austerity, at anything non-statutory, and sometimes libraries seem to have a bit of protection because of the 1964 Act, and you think libraries as statutory, maybe leisure services a little bit. Listening to previous evidence from Aura leisure, they've been applying the future generations and well-being Act to help protect their services, looking at the long term. So, do you think that local authorities put enough value on the social value and well-being now that libraries do offer? It sounded earlier on that you don't. So, how do we make sure that there is the quantitative value put on that social health and well-being now as they've changed? Who do you think would be in the best position to do that collection of data, because you said that it would be really useful to have that? Who do you think would be in the best position to do that, because I think it really is important now, going forward, as models have changed?

You mentioned earlier the new public library standard. Now, I've not picked that up, so it might be in the report and I've missed it, I'm sorry, but is that part of the new culture strategy that's coming forward? If you could just give me a little bit on that, because I think we, maybe, need to capture this social value and well-being as part of that, and so it could be a quantitative measure, going forward. So, if you could just say something on that, please. 

There is a strong emphasis on the ground on that engagement, social value, the impact. On the ground, we're all engaged in this work. There is a little bit of a missing trick, though, that starts with Welsh Government, I would say. So, when the programme for government was developed and the strategies that developed as a result of that—. I'm going to say the strategy for an ageing society, for example, is one such strategy. Now, I would argue—. It just so happens I also happen to be the age friendly lead for Cardiff, as well, so I'm able to put two and two together and always make four when it comes to libraries, but not everybody's in that position. So, libraries are delivering in spades on that strategy. No-one at Government level has made that sum and realised that this is the case, so we're not part of these conversations. It's just completely missing a trick and possible investment, then, into the library offer and that focus on what we are actually delivering.

I'd also say the unpaid carers strategies, the mental health strategy, the loneliness strategy, specific elements around preventative social care, as well. We're doing all of this stuff, but when the strategies are put together it's like it's a battle to get libraries in there. So, on the new cultural strategy that you've just mentioned, there hasn't been a library-specific strategy in Wales for several years now. I can't remember what the last time was we had one, actually, but it has been quite a while. Yes, there is work being done for a cultural strategy that will involve also museums, archives, arts, tourism, as well, a little bit in there, I think, and we are lobbying hard to get an awareness and an understanding of what libraries can actually deliver within the cultural space. It will be the only strategy, though, and for authorities to be hanging their hats on that strategic direction, it's really important right now. And it's a challenge, and we're all feeling not very confident that our voices are going to be heard loud enough within that strategy. So, yes, it's at that level, it's that Government level, and we're going back to what we said about a division that is under-resourced within Welsh Government. But yes, we need people to be doing the sums at a higher level, bringing us into that—what's the word I'm looking for here—conversation. So, that is a challenge.

And the standards you mentioned as well. Obviously, the standards are the way that the Minister evaluates whether authorities are doing what they should be doing to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. It is a fact that the Act itself—the standards are not legislated for within that Act. I think I might be answering a subsequent question here, but they're not. Theoretically, a library authority could have a telephone box full of books in a park or wherever else, and it would be legally compliant with the Act. So, yes, there's a question mark there about what should be done with the standards, and bringing in some of those focuses on that social value that you've mentioned, and maybe the standards demonstrating more effectively the social value by asking us, I guess, to collect all this data that can make it clear.

We have clinically selected book stock within our libraries, so these are not selected by librarians; these are selected by clinicians, healthcare professionals, and people with lived experience of conditions such as dementia and mental health. We have a children's list and we have a young person's mental health list as well. They're really powerful ways of accessing bibliotherapy. And we want to have more of these lists. This originated in Wales, this bibliotherapy programme. In England, they have all sorts of clinically—. They've taken our idea, basically, and they've run with it. We need more investment in aspects such as that, and collecting that data nationally, so that we can evidence how good this is. All of these people are coming in, and we're amplifying prevention through people accessing these collections, so the standards could potentially help us to achieve that, and help us demonstrate our social value more effectively. But the trick is at national level.

11:35

I don't know if I've spoken too much, but—yes.

Food for thought. Is it okay if I continue? I think it is very much—. We were talking before—. I've sort of found in CILIP that libraries are not that well understood in Government. So, the digital strategy for Wales that came out just didn't reference libraries, and so, we organised a cross-sector response. I think public libraries suffer a little bit, like I think Nic was sort of alluding to, in that they're sort of positioned here under the culture division, which is appropriate, but actually, they work across all sorts of issues, so they're in health, in education; they're cutting across all of these things, and there isn't brilliant working across those sectors. And I represent librarians who work across those sectors—in the education sector, in the health sector, for example—so I know what kind of discussions are happening. And nobody's super-funded anywhere, obviously, because we're not in that sort of environment, but they are taken more seriously, for example, in the health sector, and there's more money in the education sector, and if we could actually just work together, because we have the same professional skills and we all come from the library and information sector, we could do an awful lot with it in Wales, because we're small enough to have those conversations; we know each other already. And I think that would really help with this understanding of social value.

And again, perhaps a bit dismissively earlier, I said that we're librarians, not because we're nice—and obviously, some of them are nice—but something like social value, it can come across as nice and nice to have sometimes, and, actually, that's great from a user perspective, they don't need to know all the things that go on behind that. But behind that lie a lot of professional skills. If you're delivering, as they did during COVID, rhyme time online via Facebook to a load of parents going insane at home with their children, that's nice, but what it also includes is a lot of information organisation and retrieval. It takes copyright skills, data protection skills, it takes technology skills, it takes audience-awareness skills, it takes literacy training skills, and those things are what make social value. It doesn't just pop up because people like it and they're enthusiastic, it comes out of a serious profession and an approach. 

And, yes, so, Welsh public library standards, which are under review now for the seventh framework—. So, currently we're limping along a little bit in the sixth framework. They will go under review. They've been delayed because of the library management system tender, which is going to affect it because they work together across all of the local authorities and because of the culture strategy coming out, and they want to dovetail, and that makes sense, but, in the meantime, there's a lot of—. It's really hard for libraries, but Nic can tell you more about that. 

But I did want to draw attention to the actual, on-the-ground decisions that are then being made. So, if you get the latest blockbuster, you know you're going to get a lot of loans, and that's the statistic that we're counting—we're counting how many loans you're making. So that's digital—it's e-books and it's print books. So, you can keep buying extra copies of that to up your loan stats—and why wouldn't you do that, because you're serving a community—but it's quite a small community of people who are regularly using libraries. If you're not very well funded as a library and your budget for stock is cut, you're taking a bigger risk to buy something that's for a particular community that doesn't normally use libraries. You're going out on a limb and you might only get one usage out of that, you might get none, but you might get one usage that has a massive impact on that user's life, and how do you count that? How are you measuring it? How can we get that into the Welsh public library standards? And to be fair, I think everybody agrees that that's what we're trying to do next—that's what the seventh framework should look like. But I think everybody has to work together to make sure that that is what we're doing when we're asking for the right numbers, the right data.

11:40

Carolyn, just before you move on, I think Sam just wanted to come in on this point. Sam.

Maybe—I know, Chair, that's very generous of you, but it's a slightly separate point, maybe [Inaudible.] to the broader thing when we come on to—

Just on that, do you have visitors to the libraries and is there a register of what organisations and groups use your libraries, besides books being hired out? I just think that information would be really useful for you, going forward, if you could do that.

Can I just come back on that? I mean, librarians count everything. You're the one who knows what exactly is in the current questions in the standards, but we count everything. What we're not very good at is making sure that we do something with that data, because then we're too busy. And to be fair to the culture division, they're so under-staffed, they don't actively share those reports very widely, and at CILIP, we'd love it if they were easier to find online, if they were easier for researchers and any members of the public to actually—. I mean, they can, they can access them, they're available, but it's quite difficult and we don't have these public occasions where we get together to talk about them, and that's difficult for libraries; the libraries themselves should get to talk about them. And I think, again, going into another question perhaps, they need to have teeth—there needs to be something that happens when something's not working, when there are drop-offs year-on-year. Because it's incredibly useful having data that crosses time and sectors and local authorities, but what do we do with it? And that, I think, is where we're not so good and that's a capacity issue.

Data is often used, though, as evidence for applications for funding, isn't it, unfortunately? So, sometimes, we have to measure all these values—

Yes, we have the quality indicators—the quality indicators for the standards. Although, I know, speaking just as the Cardiff head, we have numerous key performance indicators that we work to, some of which are reflected in the standards, some of which are not. But part of that conversation now, really, as we draft the new standards—. I will also talk about the case studies. So, under the sixth framework, authorities have to submit case studies of impact that you've had, either on an individual or a group of individuals, and there are some absolutely outstanding case studies of how library services across Wales have made such a difference to the lives of individuals, even some who have rediscovered a sense of purpose when they were considering—. There have been things like suicide, or people newly arrived in the country, finding friends and connecting, and things like that—anyway, fantastic case studies. But going back to what Amy has just said, they all get sent through as part of that standard process, and then nothing happens with it. And in terms of advocating for the impact of library services, you're not going to get better than that. So, something needs to happen, and like Amy said, it's the teeth as well, isn't it, that are missing at the moment.

11:45

Okay, I've just got one supplementary on social value and well-being. Do you believe that community-managed libraries offer greater social value and improved well-being? Cwmpas, which is the the co-operative body, notes that alternative delivery models such as social enterprises produce significant social value. We did go to a really good community library in Gresford; it was managed by an ex-librarian, which was fantastic, though, as well.

I think Chris was referring to this earlier, Carolyn, wasn't he, when he was talking about the community aspect and producing good community libraries if there is very good community buy-in, and it comes from that bottom-up situation. Perhaps it's not so much about the model—. Chris, do you want to add anything to what you've said earlier on this?

Yes, I think I would add, expanding on that point, that community libraries are very well placed to adapt to the social need very quickly. I think community libraries have been found, often, to exceed the expectations of specific outputs—so, we've talked about financial savings and there are things like opening hours and visitor counts. But while also maintaining those quality levels, they're often able to increase that social capital in a local area, and again, it's coming back to that point of really knowing your community and having your ear to the ground and having that focus that is very specific to the community that you are part of and working in.

I think there are also areas where stakeholders have reported that they felt that community libraries can be better placed on occasion, when they're delivering services that are very tailored towards those local communities. I'm very aware that this happens across the board as well, but it's that encouraging community consultation, and I know I mentioned it before, but I'll say it again, it's amplifying those lesser heard voices and bringing those voices into how you steer the service, going forward, in those areas.

Okay. Carolyn, I think we'll have to move on. Sam, do you want to come in at this stage? And maybe, Sam, co-location is a good topic to cover at this point.

All right, no problem. Thank you, Chair. Just a quick point, just reflecting on the evidence given so far, a number of different types of services and support is provided by libraries. I wonder, do you ever consider the risk of 'jack of all trades and master of none', and losing some of that professional expertise and the focus of what a librarian can offer? Is there a pressure on those professional librarians and library services to provide lots of other things that perhaps, then, does water down some of the core work that you'd expect a good library to deliver?

Yes, we do worry about that, and that's across all sectors, not just public sectors, I think, because we don't do a great job of explaining what we do, but we do try and be nice all the time, as I keep saying. I think that can undermine people's understanding of what we do.

I did a project last year, interviewing acquisitions staff in libraries for the Welsh Government, and I think it surprised even them how libraries buy books, for example. What I think is interesting there is that very few of us know how libraries buy books, except the people who work in them, and that they work with these big global suppliers, and they work on profiles, and they're buying everything that's new. Literally, you could look at The Observer reviews from Sunday, and those books will be appearing in your library almost instantaneously, and there's a lot of work and a lot of money that goes into that, and they're very, very contemporary. So, I think, often in—. Certainly, when I've seen debates about representation and about culture and about heritage in Wales, we think of museums and archives, and then we sort of put libraries in there. But these aren't historical collections; they're contemporary collections, and they are incredibly dynamic. And I think that's sort of lost on a lot us, even—. I didn't know that's how it worked in public libraries; it's very different in universities.198

So, I suppose, I'm pointing to that to try and say we're much more—. It needs those range of skills, whether you learn that at university, whether you do that through an apprenticeship, whether you do that through chartership; there are lots of different routes into the profession. But that does need to be taken account of, whatever the model is. Whether that's a hub, or whether it's a trust, we need to be asking questions, and I suppose that's what I was sort of suggesting earlier, that, if you don't have the expertise in-house when you're doing your tendering, how do you know what to ask for? And we would say, 'Well, ask what you're going to do with your staff. Who are you hiring? What kind of development opportunities are you giving them to move forward? What kind of professional training are you offering them? What are you requiring of them?' And I think that can be embedded. There's no reason why we can't do those things, why we can't start those entry-level and apprenticeship kind of roles, but it can't be sidelined, or it shouldn't be sidelined, and it has been a little bit from our perspective. 

11:50

Okay, thanks. Can I continue with a further question, then? I was struck at the start of the evidence session also, Amy, when you mentioned libraries providing a space for waiting, and it reminded me of the most widely distributed book in the world ever, which makes a link between being strengthened and the moment of waiting. And I wonder whether you see the opportunities of the co-location of some of the health side of services, talking about people being strengthened in that space for them to be strengthened within. Are we missing a trick, outside of local authority services, whether it be health or other things? Are we missing a trick at the moment about that co-location? Is there more that we could or should be doing in working with other services, whether it be private sector, public sector or third sector?

Yes, I think Nic's a good person to respond to that, but I would say, yes, absolutely. And those moments of, those spaces—. It's really important, and what I should have said was that this is a moment where we can be citizens, not just consumers, and it's there that you can start to have those other conversations with different community groups, as Chris has alluded to, but also across those different aspects of local authority services, because we are—. There was a workforce mapping survey in 2015 that covered library and archive sectors, and it was rerun in 2022, and the Welsh Government was one of the partners in that one. So, it hasn't been published yet, the results, but they do confirm we're quite a stable sector, people love being and working in it. They're not entirely sure anymore that they're being valued as much as they have been, but the fact that we're very stable also means we're not very diverse. So, there's a lot of information about why people work there, and what it is that they're seeing. 

But it's really important that those other services—and again, it's not that it can't happen, but, if you're in a trust, and there's something new happening from a programme of government level and a local government level—that we use those networks, that they're not sort of cut off from us, because we've signed them over and we're outsourcing them, that they're used for that equitable provision of whatever it is that we're sharing across the country at any moment. And you wouldn't want a local authority to lose that opportunity, whether that's something in mental health, or whether it's something in physical health, or all of the other things that you're doing. But I'll let the hub expert talk.

It is a fantastic opportunity, I must say to—. I call it 'upselling' or 'cross-pollinating' services, particularly around health. So, we've been developing a strong focus around age-friendly advice, for example. People are coming into the hubs, and we train our staff to be screening champions, for example, so that they can have that conversation. To be carer aware is another area that we're looking at. We do things like we're installing screens that we can have, almost like the GP surgeries. So, we can direct people to information that's going to help them manage their own health, things around, even, like HIV screening, all of these aspects—bowel cancer screening. Obviously, it was Bowel Cancer Awareness Month last month. Things like that, where people are coming in and waiting for, say, advice or housing advice or whatever else and they're there, almost like a captive audience. And then you often find that they'll take a book out as well, which is great. So, yes, there is an opportunity for that. But I know, for some of the other authorities, where they haven't got the hub model, they are doing this health engagement as well.

It's also about bringing partners in. So, we work with so many different partners in libraries. It's working with the health board, it's working with Public Health Wales, things like 'stay steady' clinics, working around falls prevention. So, they'll come in and they'll use our venues, and they have an opportunity then to access our customers in the community. So, yes. But the hub model does actually present an opportunity, I would say, for that captive audience, almost, sometimes.

11:55

We've dealt with the statutory framework and standards to some extent, but not entirely. Jayne. Jayne Bryant.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Yes, I was going to say that I know that we've touched on the public libraries Act. I just wonder if there's anything in particular you'd like to add to that around if you think that—you know, to what extent you feel that that Act provides a statutory protection for public libraries in Wales, and the evidence that local authorities are fulfilling their duties in providing that comprehensive and efficient library service.

So, I think I've sort of touched on the main issue with the Act in relation to the standards, in that there is no connection, really, and possibly it's something that should be looked at, particularly as we are now developing the seventh framework, as we've mentioned.

Then we mentioned the 'teeth' aspect of it—what is missing is the monitoring of performance as it relates to the standards. So, what happens afterwards where, potentially, authorities may have fallen down below what would be seen as acceptable levels? What takes place then? So, that needs to be a bit clearer, I think.

And then, on its flip side, where things have gone really, really well, we need to use it as a vehicle to advocate for libraries, so people can understand what they are and what opportunities they present. So, I think those are probably the main elements of it.

I'd just agree. We were talking before in the waiting room and, I think, from a CILIP point of view, that Act, it does a lot of heavy lifting across the UK, and it's useful for people to rally around when there are cuts threatened. But it doesn't do an awful lot. It's really important in a public sense and it's really important that it's there as a starting point, but it's up to us as stakeholders—that's SCL, that's the national library, it's the Government, it's organisations like CILIP—to then decide what that means for us today, now, and how we're going to implement that.

And it was interesting though, sitting in the waiting room, talking to Nicola about it, and she said, 'Well, we need to tie the standards to it, from an SCL point of view.' And it's like, 'Well, yes, obviously'—(1) why haven't we done that, and (2) we've just solved that, because why hasn't anybody asked us? Why hasn't anybody asked the chair of SCL that before? So, I think that's sort of telling that those conversations aren't happening. It's brilliant that's it's happening today, but why hasn't it happened before? What's going on that means that we're not getting that feedback? So, those case studies and the Welsh public library standards should be stuff we should be so proud of, and they should be all across Government. It shouldn't be a surprise to people, and there should be an interest in what's happening, because every politician has a community and a library in it. So, why wouldn't they be having a quick look seeing how they're doing? It should be out there, on that profile. So, I think it's all happening, it's just happening slowly, and that's affecting services and then we're not shouting about it—it isn't out there.

12:00

Amy, do you see a need for specific Welsh legislation to address that?

Well, I was going to say 'no' until I'd had that conversation, because then I was thinking, 'But, actually, we've got these standards', and I know I keep saying, 'We've got them'; everybody else wants them—they're talking about doing all sorts of things in other places, about trying to get library accreditation in the way that museums have accreditation. It's like, 'Well, really? What? We'd set up this whole other process?' Sorry, that's a very personal opinion, but we've got some standards—let's just improve those, let's make sure everybody has a stake in them, consult widely on them, and really make them work, but then do something with them. So then, maybe, in Wales, what we could do is directly link the standards to the Act, and that might give it some more teeth. I don't know.

Yes. I'm happy to just come in, actually, and I'll be quick because I'm conscious of the time. Thanks ever so much for coming in today. You mentioned there about the Welsh public library standards and everything, and you've spoken quite highly of them, and also, in your written evidence, you've spoken quite highly of them as well, but you have identified there that they need to be used more effectively, and I know in other written evidence we've taken that there's a lack there in terms of it doesn't necessarily properly define what a proper library is, and one of the evidence sessions we've had then says, 'Well, that's a green light, then, for council cuts', because it isn't defined properly what it's meant to be. I know some other evidence we've taken, where—. It was Awen Cultural Trust, that, basically, said that the Welsh public library standards need a whole revamp. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, because you've spoken quite highly of them, so I'd assume they don't, but they've spoken quite negatively of them, and I just wanted to get your views on that, then. 

Mine would actually be 'yes' to both parts of your question in a sense, in that we speak highly of them because they exist, but they exist in frameworks that have evolved since 2001, I think. So, there's a new one coming that, I think, does need to be a complete review, and perhaps in that there's a stronger definition of what a library service can be, which is really tricky because they're changing constantly, and we have to be, as we've talked about, agile. Technology in particular is changing what we do and how we do it, and the skills that we have to maintain and develop. So, I think we have to be careful not to wed ourselves to a notion of what a public library perhaps was or is in some people's minds still. But, yes, I mean, I think the Welsh Government know that they need to be completely reviewed, and that's why it's taking so long, but they need some capacity to do that.

I would say that my colleague at Awen, I know that she's not negative about the standards themselves, it's more this problem with the process that we've been talking about and the lack of using the fantastic evidence that comes out of it, and also that scrutiny element of it, which is also lacking, is where I believe are the main misgivings around this.

Yes. That element of, 'Well, what do we do when something isn't working?'

Because if you're going to capture all of this data—we're all there and we're capturing all this data, all this analysis—you want something to be done with it, don't you? Otherwise, it's just going into this big, black hole, and for what purpose? 

Okay, Joel. Chris, before we conclude, is there anything you wanted to add to what you've already said on any of the last few matters we've discussed?

I think I would very much echo a lot of the points that have been discussed. I think the two main things that I would add to is that the library sector is not very good at celebrating itself, that the data and the impact is there, it's just how it's used and how it's got out into the public consciousness as well. It isn't necessarily just about informing strategic development, which is very important, and general policy, but it's the understanding of libraries in the general public as well, because that's what happens when library services are cut—that is when people come out to defend them, and they should be defending them all of the time. So, I think that would be a good point for me to leave it at.

Okay. Well, thank you very much, Chris, and thank you very much, Nicola and Amy. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence to check for factual accuracy. Thank you very much for coming in to give evidence to the committee today. Diolch yn fawr.

Okay. Committee will break until 1 p.m.

12:05

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 12:05 ac 13:01.

The meeting adjourned between 12:05 and 13:01.

13:00
6. Gwasanaethau Llyfrgell a Hamdden awdurdodau lleol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 6
6. Local Authority Library and Leisure Services - evidence session 6

Welcome back, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. We've reached item 6, which is our sixth evidence session on local authority library and leisure services. I'm very pleased to welcome, all joining us remotely: Councillor Carwyn Jones, portfolio holder for corporate and customer experience at the Isle of Anglesey County Council, Ynys Môn; Councillor Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea Council; and Sharon Davies, head of education for the Welsh Local Government Association. Welcome to you all. Thank you for coming along to give evidence to committee today.

Perhaps I might begin with some overview questions. Firstly, could you summarise the key benefits and value of leisure and library services to communities and those that use them, and the impact on communities and the local workforce when services are withdrawn? I know it's potentially a big question, but I wonder if you could give us fairly succinct thoughts on that. Who would like to begin? Rob.

Chair, I'm happy to go first. I think it'd be a mistake to underestimate the impact that both library and leisure services have. We all rediscovered our parks and our play areas and our sports fields during COVID, and if we want to have a healthy population, then we've got to provide really good-quality leisure services, which is challenging for any local authority, given the statutory services that are often a higher priority for local authorities in terms of education and social care. They are hugely important.

For libraries, they're not—or are no longer, if they ever were—just a place to go and get a book; they are community hubs, they provide a range of services, they are, potentially, one-stop shops for residents and real community bases. In Swansea, they've doubled up as warm spaces, as places for people to go and get community advice on housing and other matters, so they are really, really important facilities in our communities.

Just turning back to leisure and leisure centres, again, if we want to maintain a healthy population, if we want to achieve our well-being aims, if we want people to be healthy and fit and active and to reduce reliance on social services and health services later in life, then investing in those leisure services is really important, but challenging.

Thank you very much. Carwyn, did you want to add anything?

Prynhawn da. Diolch, Mr Cadeirydd, a diolch am y cyfle i gael siarad ger eich bron heddiw. Dwi'n meddwl bod yna ddau wasanaeth ofnadwy o bwysig rydyn ni'n eu trafod heddiw, gwasanaethau sy'n effeithio gymaint ar drigolion hyd a lled Cymru. Mae'r gwasanaeth hamdden a'r gwasanaeth llyfrgelloedd yn fwy na beth ydy eu pwrpas craidd nhw. Maen nhw'n cyfrannu cymaint tuag at amcanion yr awdurdodau lleol ac amcanion Llywodraeth Cymru yn y gwaith maen nhw'n ei wneud. Dwi wir ddim yn meddwl ein bod ni, fel awdurdodau lleol, na'r Llywodraeth chwaith, ac aelodau etholedig i gyd, yn wir gwerthfawrogi'r cyfraniad mae'r ddwy ddarpariaeth yna yn ei wneud i bob dim, ac i'n hamcanion ni trwy Gymru. Dwi'n meddwl y dylem ni ffeindio ffordd o ddeall yn well yr holl waith maen nhw'n ei wneud. 

Darpariaeth llyfrgelloedd—wel, dim jest y llyfrau yn mynd allan, fel roedd y Cynghorydd Stewart yn ei ddweud. Maen nhw'n gwneud cymaint mwy. Maen nhw'n gweithio gyda'r adran addysg, mae plant yn dod mewn, maen nhw'n gweithio gyda'r gwasanaeth ieuenctid, maen nhw'n gweithio ar draws gwasanaethau, gyda'r gwasanaeth iechyd yn enwedig. Felly, mae yna gymaint yn cael ei wneud, ac mae yna fanteision ataliol i'r gwaith yma—ataliol o ran nadu pethau rhag mynd yn waeth, a nadu sefyllfaoedd wedyn rhag mynd i ddwylo'r gwasanaethau cymdeithasol. Felly, dyma'r pethau maen nhw'n eu gwneud dydyn ni ddim wir yn gwerthfawrogi. Gyda'r gwasanaeth llyfrgelloedd yn Ynys Môn, maen nhw wedi gwneud yn y flwyddyn diwethaf 289 o achlysuron ychwanegol, dim jest mynd i nôl llyfrau—pethau fel outreach, summer reading scheme, rhyme time, health visitor groups, coding clubs, Lego clubs, paned a sgwrs—so, lot o bethau ychwanegol dydyn ni ddim wir yn meddwl amdanynt.

Wedyn, i sôn am hamdden, eto, mae'r ddarpariaeth yn gallu mynd o, ie, yn amlwg, gwersi nofio i bobl ifanc—ac yn Ynys Môn mae yna 1,900 o bobl ifanc ar hyn o bryd yn cael gwersi nofio Swimtime, sydd yn bwysig—ond hefyd, mae yna glybiau garddio, rydyn ni'n gweithio'n agos gyda Disability Wales, so mae yna lot o bethau sy'n dod â phobl i mewn i'r canolfannau hamdden yma, yn fwy na rhywun jest yn mynd i'r gym a chodi pwysau. Mae yna gymaint o ddarpariaeth. Felly, i'n pobl leol ni, rydyn ni'n gwybod eu bod nhw'n bwysig, ond pan mae'n dod i warchod, rydyn ni'n meddwl am y cyngor o ran lot o bethau eraill, a dydyn ni ddim yn meddwl am ba mor bwysig ydy beth mae'r rhain yn ei gynnig o ran manteision. Diolch, Mr Cadeirydd.

Good afternoon. Thank you, Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I think that there are two very important services being discussed today, which affect individuals across Wales. The leisure service and the library service are more than their core purposes. They contribute so much to the objectives of local authorities and the Welsh Government's objectives as well in terms of the work that they do. I don't think that we as local authorities, and all elected members, really appreciate the contribution that those provisions make to everything, and our objectives throughout Wales. We need to better understand the work that they do. 

Library provision—well, it's not just about book lending, as Councillor Stewart said. They work with the education service, children come in and they work with the youth service, they work across services, with health particularly. So much is put in, and there are preventative benefits to this work in terms of preventing things from getting worse and ensuring that things don't fall into the hands of social services. So, the things that they do we don't always appreciate. With the library services in Anglesey, they put on 289 events as well as book lending, such as outreach, the summer reading scheme, rhyme time, health visitor groups, coding clubs, Lego clubs, paned a sgwrs—so, and there are lots of things that we don't think about.

When we talk about leisure, the provision can range from, yes, obviously, swimming lessons for young people—and in Anglesey there are 1,900 young people having swimming lessons with Swimtime, which is very important—but also there are gardening clubs, and we work with Disability Wales, and there are lots of things that bring people into leisure centres, rather than somebody just going into the gym and lifting weights. There's so much provision on offer. So, for our local people, we know that they're important, but when it comes to protection in the council, we think about other things, and we don't think about the importance of this provision in terms of the benefits that it provides. Thank you, Chair.

13:05

Diolch yn fawr, Carwyn. In terms of those challenges, really, that you've touched upon, the challenges in maintaining services and protecting them at such a difficult time in terms of budgets, what would you say in terms of those key challenges that are facing local authorities in terms of leisure and library services at the moment? How bad are they, really, and how might you find a way through? 

Who do you want to go first?

No problem. We know that, whilst the settlement that the Welsh Government have made to local authorities in Wales is more than we were expecting, it's still well below inflation, because obviously the Welsh Government themselves had a below-inflation settlement. That's meant that we've got huge pressures on services. As I said, often, or in most councils, education and social care will take the majority of what you have, so you've got to try and cover all of your other services with what's left.

Trying to respond positively to that is where we are as local authorities. I'll give the example of my own local authority, because I know it best. We've already tried to move to a different way of providing library services. We're in the process of creating a new central library hub, which will be home not just to our libraries, but to our archive service, and a host of other local housing and other services provided by the council—so, essentially incorporating a library into a building with other services as a one-stop shop. We propose to replicate that on a smaller basis across the authority. Because I think the days of having an individual building as a library and then an individual building to do something else, and an individual building to do something else, are probably behind us. Therefore, we're trying to address some of the ongoing costs of running services by co-locating them in a single location.

In terms of leisure, like a number of other authorities, we have had to look at a non-profit model, working with a trust partner. In our example, it would be Freedom Leisure. Again, that allows us to have significant investment from the partner into the leisure facilities, but to also run them at a lower cost than the council could do if it was doing it directly.

While those arrangements are working well for us, those partners are also facing significant pressure this year from the cost of living and energy crisis. So, we are having to look for additional support for a number of our leisure providers, and providers who run some of the leisure facilities for us, to help with that energy cost. We publicly announced a fund of £15 million to support schools, services and external providers who are in partnership with us, to get them through the energy crisis.  

13:10

Rob, just in terms of the leisure trust and the lower cost that you mentioned, what's the picture in terms of the staff. Are some of those lower costs at the expense of staff, as it were—whether it's numbers or the salaries that they receive or, indeed, the pension arrangements?

No. Obviously, it's a mixed picture because some of the staff who now work for Freedom previously worked for the previous operator and then previously for us. So, there are very different sets of terms and conditions in there, but the principle for us is that it's not about driving those cheaper costs through paying people less, because that's not what we are about and that's not what we would entertain without partners. But of course, it's the on-costs that you pay as an employer directly that add 20 to 25 per cent to running your services. And of course, when they are a trust or a charity, they may be able to access different terms that a local authority can't access, and they may be able to access different grants that a local authority cannot access. So, there are benefits by not being a public body in terms of being able to run your operation at a lower cost, and therefore deliver that saving. But we certainly don't support arrangements whereby the staff in those organisations are seeing erosion of their wages and salaries as a result of the model. 

Just a little bit further on that, Rob. In terms of on-costs and that 25 to 30 per cent saving for the authority, if those are costs associated with employing people, presumably the trusts would have those costs. Basically, I would imagine that they would have been transferred from the local authority to the trust, so the trust would still have to cover them, wouldn't it?

Some of those will be covered because that will be recognised in the arrangements that we have set up. Obviously, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 and other legislation applies to give people protection when they transfer between employers, but what we are talking about here—. I was trying to address the point, 'Are you basically in a contract with somebody who is then going to lower the wages below what you would pay?' That is not the position. What we are trying to do is set up a model that allows for an operation to be at a lower cost than the council could do if it was running it directly.

Our preference, though, just to be really clear, is always to run something in house if we can. But of course, often, if you have got a service that has already been outsourced or is in a partnership or a trust, it is difficult, within the constraints of the budget, to find that extra money to in-house that service and to bring those additional costs online. I think the key factor for us as well was unlocking the capital investment that the trust and the partnership could bring with Freedom, because that is allowing investment of over £5 million into the facilities in Swansea to upgrade them and improve them, which is not then directly laid against the taxpayer. 

Carwyn, beth ydych chi'n ei feddwl?

Carwyn, what do you think?

Diolch, Mr Cadeirydd. Dwi’n gwybod hefyd fod Sharon wedi darparu gwybodaeth dda i’r Pwyllgor yn y ddogfen. Felly, mae yna lot o wybodaeth yn y fanna ynglŷn â’r costau a'r heriau hefyd. Rydyn ni’n sbio ar ddarpariaeth llyfrgelloedd. Ers y blynyddoedd llymder, o 2010 ymlaen, mi oedd yna lot o edrych ar y gwasanaethau. Yn amlwg, roedden ni eisiau cadw’r gwasanaethau craidd—gwasanaethau cymdeithasol, addysg, priffyrdd, tai, ac ati. Felly, lle’r oedd yna doriadau’n dod, roedd pawb yn sbio ar lyfrgelloedd—beth fedrith rhywun ei dorri yn y llyfrgelloedd, beth fedrith rhywun ei siafio oddi ar y costau hynny, a hamdden yn yr un modd.

Wrth wneud hynny, beth rydym ni wedi'i wneud, ac un o'r heriau sydd yno rŵan efo'r ddarpariaeth llyfrgelloedd, ydy ein bod ni wedi mynd i lawr i fath â skeleton staff o ddarpariaeth. Felly, mae her eithriadol rŵan i ddarpariaeth fath â llyfrgelloedd o ddod i lawr i'r asgwrn mewn beth rydym ni ei gynnig yn nhermau safleoedd ac yn nhermau staffio'r cynnig yma. Felly, os mai dyna rydych chi'n ei gynnig ac mae rhywun i ffwrdd yn sâl, wedyn mae yna her eithriadol a ydych chi'n gallu darparu'r gwasanaeth yna neu a ydych chi'n gorfod oedi'r gwasanaeth yna. Felly, mae hynna'n her ofnadwy.

Lle mae staffio'n gost, mae'n gost fawr. Ond mae'r gost yna wedi dod i lawr yn sylweddol—so, mae staffio'n gost, ond yn gost rŵan ar y skeleton, lean model, os hoffech chi, o staffio. Mae nifer y llyfrgelloedd wedi mynd i lawr, ac rydym ni hefyd wedi gweithio efo darpariaeth gymdeithasol yn ardal Biwmares ac wedi gwneud asset transfer yn fanna o adeilad er mwyn i'r ddarpariaeth gael ei chynnig yn lleol, yn nhref Biwmares, drwy fenter gymdeithasol. Hefyd, yn dod i mewn i hamdden, mae hynna wedi digwydd ym Miwmares hefyd gyda'r canolfan hamdden, a oedd ym mherchnogaeth y cyngor cyn i'r comisiynwyr ddod i Ynys Môn. Ond un o'r penderfyniadau a wnaed oedd y byddai'r ddarpariaeth hamdden yn cael ei throsglwyddo, a dyma'r gymuned ym Miwmares yn rhoi eu dwylo i fyny, felly mae honno o dan fenter gymdeithasol. Ond dydyn ni ddim wedi eu gadael nhw ar eu pennau eu hunain—mae'n bwysig, fel cyngor, ein bod ni'n gweithio gyda mentrau cymdeithasol, a phan fo yno gyfleon yn dod am hyfforddiant a chyfleon lle mae staff hamdden y cyngor yn gallu mynd â rhoi darpariaeth, rydym ni yn gwneud hynny.

Efo'r heriau ar yr ochr hamdden, mae'r ddarpariaeth sydd gennym ni yn costio tua £2.2 miliwn y flwyddyn i redeg, ac rydym ni'n dod ag incwm masnachol i mewn o'r ddarpariaeth yna o tua £1.9 miliwn. Felly, mae angen sybsidi o tua £300,000 gan y cyngor er mwyn rhedeg darpariaeth hamdden. Rydym ni wedi gweld yn ystod y flwyddyn ddiwethaf fod y costau wedi cynyddu o £100,000, ac mae hyn, yn amlwg, oherwydd cynnydd yng nghostau staff—ac yn iawn hefyd; mae'r staff yn haeddu mwy o gyflog, ac yn haeddu mwy o gyflog nag y maen nhw'n ei gael, a dweud y gwir wrthoch chi—ond hefyd y costau cynyddol rydym wedi eu gweld efo ynni. Mae canolfan hamdden yn sugno ynni, yn enwedig os oes gennych chi bwll nofio—mae pwll nofio yn beth ofnadwy o ddrud i'w redeg—ac rydym ni wedi gweld y cynnydd aruthrol ym mhris ynni er mwyn cynhesi'r pyllau nofio yma. Rydym ni'n gwybod bod pobl yn cwyno bod y pyllau nofio yn oer pan fyddwch chi'n mynd yno, ond mae'n costio'n aruthrol i'w cadw nhw ar y tymheredd maen nhw.

Hefyd, pethau fel carbon deuocsid—rydym ni'n gwybod bod yna argyfwng flwyddyn diwethaf efo'r carbon deuocsid. Doedd dim ond rhyw un darparwr ym Mhrydain, felly mae cost rhywbeth fath â charbon deuocsid wedi mynd drwy'r to hefyd. Felly, mae costau yn heriol, a heriol ydy—. Rydych chi eisiau gallu cynnal y ddarpariaeth sydd gennych chi, ond rydych chi'n gwybod ei bod hi'n costio i chi wneud hynny, lle dydych chi'n methu â'i wneud o yn broffidiol. Ond rydym ni'n trio gwneud ein gorau, oherwydd mae yna heriau daearyddol a dydyn ni ddim eisiau gadael dim un ardal heb ganolfan hamdden, ond, a dweud y gwir, efo poblogaeth fath ag Ynys Môn, o 68,000, efallai mai dim ond un canolfan hamdden all singing, all dancing a ddylech chi ei gael, ac nid y pump sydd gennym ni ar draws yr ynys. Ond dyna ni, rydym ni'n trio ein gorau i gadw'r ddarpariaeth, er bod y costau'n ofnadwy o galed. Ond mae'r ddarpariaeth yn bwysig, onid ydy, i'n trigolion. Diolch.

Thank you, Chair. I know that Sharon has provided good information to the committee in the document. So, there is a lot of information in that about the costs and the challenges. We are looking at library provision. Since the years of austerity, from 2010 onwards, there was a lot of scrutiny of services. Evidently, we want to keep the core services—social services, education, highways and housing and so forth. Where there were cuts, everyone was looking at libraries—what people could cut from those costs, and leisure in the same way.

In doing that, what we've done, and one of the challenges that we face in terms of library provision, is that we've gone down to a skeleton staff in terms of provision. So, we have an extreme challenge in library provision in being cut down to the bone in terms of what we offer in terms of sites and staffing this offer. So, if that's what you're offering and someone is away sick, then there is a great challenge in terms of being able to provide that service or having to pause that service. So, that's a great challenge.

Where staffing is a cost, it's a large cost. But that has decreased considerably—so, staffing is a cost, but we have now a skeleton, lean model of staffing. The number of libraries has gone down, and we have also been working with social provision in the Beaumaris area and we have done an asset transfer there of a building in order to ensure that the provision is offered locally, in the town of Beaumaris, through a social enterprise. Regarding leisure, that's also happened in Beaumaris with the leisure centre, where it was owned by the council before the commissioners came to Anglesey. But one of the decisions made was that the leisure provision should be transferred, and the Beaumaris community put their hands up, and so that's under a social enterprise as well. But we haven't left them on their own—it's important that, as a council, we work with social enterprises, and where there are training opportunities and opportunities for the leisure staff of the council to be engaged in that provision, we want to do that.

In terms of the leisure challenges, the provision that we have costs about £2.2 million a year to run, and we bring in commercial income from that provision of about £1.9 million. So, there is a need for a subsidy of around £300,000 from the council to run that leisure provision. We've seen during the last year that the costs have increased by £100,000, evidently because of an increase in staffing costs—and rightly so; the staff deserve more salary, and, actually, they deserve more than they're getting, to be honest—but also the increasing costs of energy. Leisure centres are very energy intensive, particularly if they have a swimming pool, because they're very expensive to run, and we've seen an astonishing increase in energy costs to heat these swimming pools. We know that people complain about the fact that pools are cold when they go there, but it does cost an awful lot to heat them to the temperatures that they're at.

Also, carbon dioxide—we know that there was a crisis last year in terms of carbon dioxide. There was only one provider in Britain, so the cost of something like carbon dioxide has gone through the roof as well. So, the costs are a great challenges, and the challenge is—. You want to sustain your provision, but you know that it costs a lot of money to do that, and you can't do it profitably. But we're trying to do our best, because there are geographic challenges and we don't want to leave any area without a leisure centre, but, to be honest, with a population in Anglesey of 68,000, maybe you should have only one all-singing, all-dancing leisure centre, and not the five that we have across the island. But there we go, we're trying to maintain the provision, even though the costs are very challenging. But the provision's very important to our residents, isn't it? Thank you.

13:15

Diolch yn fawr, Carwyn. As a regular user of the leisure centre swimming pool in Newport, I can certainly agree that the temperature in the water has gone down in recent times. Just specifically on local library provision, then, you've touched on some of the changes that have happened and are taking place. Do you think that further reductions in service, closures perhaps, are inevitable now, as we move forward? Or can they largely be avoided? Rob, do you want to—?

Yes, certainly. Look, I think it's a real risk that library provision will reduce. For us, we've started, as I said, to try and address that by trying to co-locate services into hubs, of which a library forms a part. In addition to that, we'd be looking at partnerships with private operators, local businesses, who might want to run cafes, et cetera, in the same building to encourage footfall into the library and usage and share the costs of running that facility, but I think, inevitably, if we don't see further funding coming through, that libraries are under threat and that you will see closures across Wales.

I think you've got to remember that our library service, even where we are able to provide it, is not always equal either. There are great disparities across local authorities. In my local authority, some libraries will be open six days a week, while others will be open just a few hours a week. That's one of the challenges for us, to try and equalise that provision, so that especially in areas of deprivation, where they need more library services, where they need more support, those are retained, provided and protected. So, it is a challenge. It's not just about how many you have got, but where they are and the hours of provision that you are able to offer.

Again, there are statutory requirements around things that are called 'libraries', as I am sure you are aware. But again, it's about how you incorporate that into a building that could potentially be open for a lot longer, with other services in it, to try and make it a more sustainable model. But it takes money and it takes resources, and those are the things that are currently, as you'll be aware, a little bit limited.

13:20

Diolch, Mr Cadeirydd. Wel, mae’n anodd dweud efo unrhyw sicrwydd, onid ydy? Dydyn ni ddim yn gwybod beth sydd o’n blaenau mewn termau y toriadau rydyn ni’n mynd i’w hwynebu dros y blynyddoedd i ddod. Ond un peth sy’n saff: mae'r ddarpariaeth llyfrgelloedd, y buaswn i’n ei ddweud, drwy Gymru wedi cael ei thorri i lawr i’r asgwrn, a dweud y gwir, o ran beth yw’r ddarpariaeth.

Ond, wrth fynd i’r dyfodol, efallai y bydd yn rhaid torri mwy neu efallai y bydd yn rhaid ailedrych ar sut rydym yn ei chynnig—fath â gweithio, fel y gwnes i sôn, efo mwy o fentrau cymdeithasol; llai o adeiladau; bod y llyfrgell a'r hamdden efo’i gilydd mewn adeiladau, efo’r adran iechyd. Felly, bydd yn rhaid inni sbïo ar ffyrdd gwahanol.

Rydyn ni’n gwybod am ffaith bod llai yn darllen llyfrau ffisegol, ond mwy yn darllen drwy gyfrwng digidol. Felly, bydd yn rhaid inni ystyried hynny hefyd yn y ddarpariaeth llyfrgelloedd—bod yna fwy o ofyn. Mae pobl ifanc rŵan yn fwy tebygol o ddarllen pethau ar eu ffonau ac ar eu iPads nag ydyn nhw o fynd a gafael mewn llyfr. Dydy hynny ddim i ddweud nad yw’r ddarpariaeth yn bwysig ac nad oes ei hangen, ond mae’n rhaid inni wneud yn saff bod y ddarpariaeth sydd gennym ni yn ffit i bwrpas i'r dyfodol hefyd.

Ond dydw i ddim yn gweld newid mawr yn nifer y safleoedd llyfrgelloedd dros y blynyddoedd oherwydd bod cymaint wedi cael eu torri ac mae’r ddarpariaeth wedi cael ei siafio. Ond hefyd, mae’n rhaid inni addasu i’r dyfodol. Diolch.

Thank you, Chair. Well, it's difficult to say with any certainty, isn't it? We don't know what's in front of us in terms of the cuts that we are going to face over the years to come. But one thing is certain: library provision, I would say, has been cut to the bone throughout Wales, regarding provision.

But, in the future, maybe we will have to cut more or look again at how we provide those services—by working, as I mentioned, with more social enterprises; having fewer sites; offering library and leisure services in the same building, with the health department. So, we will have to look at different ways.

We know for a fact that fewer people read physical books, but more people read digital content. So, we will have to consider that in the library provision—that there is more demand. Young people are now more likely to read things on their phones and their iPads than they are to grab a book. That doesn't mean that that provision is not important and that it's not needed, but we have to ensure that the provision that we have is fit for purpose and for the future as well.

But I don't see any big changes in terms of the number of library sites in the years to come because the provision has been cut so much. But we also have to adapt for the future. Thank you.

Diolch yn fawr. Mabon ap Gwynfor.

Thank you very much. Mabon ap Gwynfor.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd, a diolch i chi am ddod yma o'n blaenau ni i roi tystiolaeth heddiw, gyfeillion. Rydych chi wedi cyffwrdd ychydig ar y trywydd yr oeddwn i am ei ddilyn. Rydyn ni’n gweld bod pethau’n anodd yn ariannol ar awdurdodau lleol, ond mae yna rai awdurdodau wedi mynd ar ôl datblygu rhyw fath o ymddiriedolaeth er mwyn darparu'r gwasanaethau yma—fe ddaru’r Cynghorydd Rob Stewart gyfwrdd ar hynny ynghynt. Mae eraill yn eu cadw nhw i mewn o dan do’r awdurdod, ac eraill yn creu rhyw gwmni led braich.

Felly, a fyddech chi’n medru cyffwrdd ar hynny, os gwelwch yn dda, o ran rhinweddau'r modelau gwahanol yma? Pam eich bod chi wedi dewis y model sydd gennych chi yn eich ardal chi? Neu, o ran Sharon, beth ydy’r modelau sydd yng Nghymru, ac oes yna rhai sydd yn well nag eraill yn darparu gwasanaethau, a’ch meddyliau chi ar y modelau yma, os gwelwch yn dda? Wnawn ni gychwyn efo Sharon.

Thank you very, Chair, and thank you for being here and providing evidence today, colleagues. You have already touched a little on what I wanted to discuss. We can see that things are difficult financially for local authorities, but some local authorities have developed a sort of trust in order to provide these services—Councillor Rob Stewart touched on this. Others have kept them in house, and others have created an arm's-length company.

So, could you touch on that, please, and the benefits of these different models? Why have you chosen the particular model that you have in your area? Or, Sharon, what kinds of models are there in Wales, and are some models better than others in providing services, and what are your thoughts on these different models, please? We will start with Sharon.

Iawn. Mi wnes i sôn yn y papur fod yna fodelau gwahanol ar draws Cymru. Mae gan wyth awdurdod lleol fodel lle maen nhw’n dal o fewn yr awdurdod lleol, ac mae’r gweddill wedyn, naill ai—. Mae gan y rhan fwyaf ohonynt ymddiriedolaethau ar draws Cymru. Mi wnaeth y Cynghorydd Stewart sôn am sut y mae’r rheini yn gweithio yn Abertawe—enghraifft Abertawe. Mae gan bob un ohonynt—. Wel, maen nhw’n gweithio’n dda ar y cyfan, er bod yna broblemau gydag un awdurdod lleol y gwnes i sôn amdano yn y papur. Maen nhw’n edrych i gymryd honno i mewn. Ond, a bod yn onest, mae hynny i gyd yn ymwneud â chyllid, fel y gwnaeth y Cynghorydd Stewart sôn ar y dechrau hefyd.

Rwy’n credu mai’r prif beth sydd angen ei gofio yw bod pobl yn cydlynu ac yn cydweithio ar y strwythur ar yr ochr hamdden ac ar yr ochr llyfrgelloedd, achos maen nhw’n ceisio datblygu—. Mae hyn ar gyfer y cymunedau sydd yn yr awdurdod lleol. Felly, pa bynnag fodel sy’n cael ei ddefnyddio, mae’n bwysig bod y cydlynu hwnnw’n digwydd gyda’r ymddiriedolaeth a’r awdurdod lleol i wneud yn siŵr eu bod nhw'n cynnal gwasanaeth i’r cymunedau. Diolch.

I mentioned in my paper that there were different models across Wales. There are eight local authorities where the services are provided within the local authorities, and the remainder—. The majority of those have trusts across Wales. Councillor Stewart mentioned how they work within Swansea. There is the Swansea example. All of them—. They work well on the whole, although there are problems with one local authority, which I mentioned in the paper. They are looking to take that in house. But, to be honest, that's all to do with funding, as Councillor Stewart said at the outset.

The main thing that needs to be borne in mind is that people co-operate and collaborate on the structure on the library and leisure side, because they're trying to develop—. This is for the communities in the local authority. So, whichever model is being used, it's important that the collaboration happens between the trust and the local authority to ensure that they do maintain a service for those communities. Thank you.

13:25