Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai
Local Government and Housing Committee24/05/2023
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Carolyn Thomas MS|
|Jayne Bryant MS|
|Joel James MS|
|John Griffiths MS|
|Mabon ap Gwynfor MS|
|Sam Rowlands MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dawn Bowden MS||Dirprwy Weinidog y Celfyddydau, Chwaraeon a Thwristiaeth|
|Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism|
|Jason Thomas||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Mary Ellis||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Neil Welch||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Aled Evans||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Angharad Era||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Catherine Hunt||Ail Glerc|
|Stephen Davies||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:16.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:16.
Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. The meeting is being held in a hybrid format, but aside from adaptations relating to that, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. Public items 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? No.
Then, in that case, we will move on. Item 2 is papers to note. We have four papers before us. Paper 1 is the Welsh Government's response to the committee's report on housing Ukrainian refugees. Paper 2 is a response from the Minister for Climate Change to the committee's letter on building safety. Paper 3 is a letter from the Equality and Social Justice Committee to the Minister for Social Justice in relation to site provision for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers. Paper 4 is a letter from the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee to the Minister for Finance and Local Government in relation to the legislative consent memorandum for the Non-Domestic Rating Bill. Are Members content to note those papers? Yes, I see that you are. Thank you very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4, 6, a 7 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4, 6 and 7 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Item 3 is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 4, 6 and 7 of this meeting. Is committee, again, content to do so? Okay, thank you very much. We will, then, move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:18.
The public part of the meeting ended at 09:18.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 09:59.
The committee reconvened in public at 09:59.
Okay, we have reached item 5, then, on our agenda today, and, at this stage, let me say that we have now received apologies from Mabon ap Gwynfor, who isn't able to attend this committee meeting today.
Okay, item 5, then, local authority library and leisure services, and our evidence session with the Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Dawn Bowden, together with officials. Minister, would you like to introduce your officials for the record?
Yes. I think they can probably introduce themselves. We'll start with Jason.
Thanks, Minister. Thank you, Chair. I'm Jason Thomas and I'm director of culture, sport and tourism for Welsh Government.
Morning. I'm Neil Welch, head of sport and leisure.
Morning. Mary Ellis, head of archives and libraries.
Okay. Welcome to you all. Okay, well, thank you all for coming in today. Perhaps I might begin with some initial questions, and, firstly, Minister, the extent to which the statutory framework for public library provision is sufficiently robust and ensures equality of provision across Wales. What would be your view on that?
Well, the fact that you’re asking this question, I’m assuming that you know what’s in the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, because that requires authorities to provide—what is in the legislation is a 'comprehensive and efficient' service. So, the Act requires local authorities to provide a public service. It gives them the flexibility to deliver a service that is based on the assessment of local need. So, library services, as a result of that, do, of course, vary across Wales, and it’s the responsibility, then, of individual local authorities to determine the arrangements for the delivery of their library services, and the Welsh public library standards include a set of core entitlements, which detail what users can expect from library services. So, to answer that very specifically, the Act, I think, is deliberately vague in that area, so that it does give the flexibility to a local authority to deliver the kind of service that is needed within a number of core principles, which are set out in the public library standards.
That vagueness, then, Minister, does that make it difficult for Welsh Ministers to intervene if there is a perceived problem? Does it need to be strengthened? I know that, as far as our committee’s concerned and the research that we’ve done, Welsh Ministers, as far as we’re aware, haven’t used the statutory powers. Is it a result of that definition not being sufficiently strong?
No, I wouldn’t say that, because I think we’re clear within the Welsh public library standards what we expect of a minimum library service, but you’re quite right to point out that no Welsh Ministers have used statutory powers to intervene. That’s not to say that there haven’t been discussions with local authorities over the years about the level of their public library services, and, generally, that’s been sufficient in terms of being able to resolve any difficulties, and that’s the route that we would prefer to go down. So, it would be discussions with the local authority to talk through with them what the concerns would be for the delivery of that local service, and hope that we would get agreement with the local authority to improve the service in the way that meets the standards. But I don’t know whether Mary can say little bit more about whether, in fact, there have been any such interventions—certainly not statutory interventions.
No. We provide feedback to individual local authorities on an annual basis on the performance of their library service. We draw attention to areas that we would like them to look at and we’re happy to follow up and have discussions with library services and more senior staff in local authorities if that would be helpful.
And I think, then, to kind of follow up on the other point of your question, which is about whether legislation would help to tie that down, I think I go back to my first answer, and would say that I think that the process of having a flexible approach to this is what we want. So, I think, if we had legislation, it would tie it down too tightly and make the library services rather more inflexible. Because the library services we would want to be delivering are based on the needs of a particular community, the local authorities are best placed to make that decision. So, we would see legislation as actually being more restrictive rather than kind of freeing it up and giving more clarity.
So, from what you're saying, Minister, then, you've considered though, have you, strengthening provisions in the 1964 Act so that the link, the connection, between the policy framework in Wales and the Act is stronger? Is that something that has been actively considered, but you've decided that it's not appropriate?
Well, perhaps what I should say at this point is, it's the Minister for Finance and Local Government who has the lead portfolio in this area. So, I guess that is a question that would need to be put to her in terms of whether there's been consideration around the review or looking at the review of the 1964 Act. But what I would say is that the use of successive Welsh public library standards frameworks does enable library services to demonstrate the contribution that they make to Welsh Government priorities.
So, the sixth framework document is mapped to the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and the seventh framework, which we're due to publish this year or next year, will take into account the programme for government of this term of Government. So, each of the standards is aligned to where our strategies and our programme for government are at a given point in time. Obviously, the seventh framework has been delayed by COVID, so, we're still operating on the sixth framework at the moment, but we do expect the seventh framework to be published in 2023-34.
I see. Okay. if we move on then, Minister, to the statutory framework for leisure, you mentioned the well-being of future generations Act just now: do you believe that existing legislation, primarily, I think, that well-being of future generations Act, provides enough protection for public leisure, or do you believe that perhaps we ought to see more, further legislation that's more specific for leisure provision in this area?
I think my response to that would be very similar to the response to libraries. Although we have a statutory framework for libraries, tightening that statutory framework I don't think would be helpful. And it's certainly my view that legislating for the provision of leisure services probably outweighs the perceived benefits, because, again, this is an area of public service provision that is best determined by the local authority in terms of what the needs of their communities are. So, local authorities will consider what leisure services they provide in accordance with the requirements of the well-being of future generations Act, and I wouldn't want a further layer of legislation to sit either above that or between that that restricts what local authorities do. The well-being of future generations Act is quite broad, but it sets out key areas that should be considered in the provision of services. And as I say, I go back to the point that I do think it’s a matter for local authorities to determine and I think legislation would restrict—potentially restrict—the flexibility that an authority has got to introduce or to deliver services that best fit the needs of their community.
Okay. Thank you for that, Minister. We heard from Unison Cymru that if councils had enough funding, then there wouldn’t be a need to look at legislation to make sure that councils do what’s required of them and what would be most beneficial. Is that a view that you might have some sympathy with?
Well, Unison is my union, of course, and so I listen very carefully to what Unison says, and, having been an official with that organisation for many years, I perhaps should declare an interest as well. But, no, I agree with the basic premise of what they're saying. We are in a hugely challenging financial situation; we can't ignore the impact of 10 years of austerity. We've had more favourable financial settlements in the last couple of years, but the 10 years or more of very strict public service spending and austerity, which has impacted on Welsh Government funding and then our ability to fund the public services that we're responsible for, can't be underestimated. I would say that, to start with.
But, within that very challenging financial situation, what Welsh Government has done is it has prioritised local government and the NHS in terms of receiving the highest level of settlements for those two services. We've had additional and extensive investment in local government for 2023-24, and the idea of that was to enable local authorities to continue to deliver the services that their communities need. So, I think it's probably just worth reminding ourselves of what that was. In 2023-24, local authorities are going to be receiving £5.5 billion from Welsh Government in core revenue funding and non-domestic rates, which they can spend on delivering key services, and it's quite right that they then make the decision about how that money is distributed. That equates to an increase of 7.9 per cent or a £403 million increase on a like-for-like basis on the 2022-23 financial year. No authority in Wales received an increase of less than 6.5 per cent in this year, and, in addition to that, of course, there is £180 million capital funding provided to local authorities, and they can use that to support sports and social facilities if that's what they consider their communities need. But I do not underestimate the challenges that local authorities face, despite the very significant uplifts that they've had in their revenue support grant and capital funding this year.
Okay, thank you for that, Minister. We'll move on, then, to Jayne Bryant. Jayne.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Morning, Minister. Thank you for coming in this morning. You've already touched on the seventh Welsh public library standards, and you mentioned that that had been delayed around COVID and that it's due to be published in 2023-24. Can you perhaps outline how extensive that current review is?
Yes. So, officials began working on the seventh framework over the summer, and that will include a thorough review of the requirements of the existing framework, which I touched on earlier, because that's what we're still working to at the moment, and they're working closely with the Society of Chief Librarians and the local authorities' chief leisure and cultural officers group. That's about finding out from them specifically what the local needs are. What I wouldn't want to do is to anticipate what the review of the sixth framework, or, in fact, what the seventh framework might actually look like, but we are aware that the Society of Chief Librarians would like to see a framework that places greater emphasis on demonstrating the impact of libraries on the contribution they make to national priorities, so very much seeing that local framework within national guidance. But, again, Mary, I don't know whether there's anything you'd particularly like to add about the work that officials have been doing with the chief librarians on this.
I think, during COVID, we were very struck by the increase in the use of e-resources. It's possible that at some point we might see as many e-resources being accessed in libraries as physical books. We're also seeing things like the development of maker spaces in libraries, which is providing technology for people to collaborate and create. I think the nature of libraries is really changing, and we'd like the seventh framework to recognise that change but also to support and develop the kinds of changes that are proving to be so effective in libraries.
So, that review is going to take account of changes in digital, and societal changes as well as societal needs.
Yes, that would be my understanding and my expectation. What we saw was a growth of digital provision through COVID, and I think we saw the benefits of that. It adds a whole new dimension to libraries. We would very much want to see that developed and made more consistent across all of our public libraries, so I would anticipate that being very much part of the seventh framework.
Okay, thank you. Can you expand on the development of the culture strategy and how that's intended to dovetail with the development of a new library standards framework?
Yes. What I would say is that libraries are integral to the considerations for the new culture strategy. It will include how the library standards work. So, we've consulted with representatives of the libraries sector, and we're including them in the next phase of developing and reviewing the key themes, and developing the strategy. The strategy covers four areas of culture, with libraries being one of those significant areas. They've all got equal value and equal importance within the strategy, and I'm hoping that that will be published later this year.
It's developing the library standards and the culture strategy in tandem. So, again, I don't want to see the two things sitting separately, because the culture strategy clearly needs to inform the library standards as well. So, that's why it's important that we make sure that there is that close relationship between library officials, people working on the culture strategy, and the development of the framework. But again, Jason, I don't know if there's anything you want to add, particularly on the work on the culture strategy and how that's been including libraries.
Thanks, Minister. The work has been progressing really well on the development of the strategy. The consultants who have been working with us have had many conversations all around Wales with key stakeholders, including those involved in the library sector.
I think the most important point for me is recognising how genuinely impactful the library sector is when it comes to culture. We know that libraries—they're far more than book repositories, as some people might think of libraries when they first think of libraries. Libraries are places where people come together. They form part of the local culture, society more broadly, where people come to learn, and all of those things are absolutely intertwined with culture and what Welsh culture is. So, they just have a really important part to play in it. So, they are going to be intertwined, as the Minister said, with the culture strategy. It wouldn't be an effective culture strategy if it didn't take into account, not only the impact of libraries as they currently are, but the potential for libraries as we go forward.
So, yes, absolutely great—close and joint working, and that will continue over the coming months.
Thank you. Just moving on to leisure now, can you set out your vision and ambition for public leisure services in Wales, and how do you think that could be linked more broadly with health and well-being strategies?
Well, again, I have to say, strictly speaking, public leisure services are not in my portfolio; they're the responsibility of the Minister for Finance and Local Government. But they're obviously integral to the delivery of sport, and many local sports clubs and community organisations use public leisure services, and that does fall into my portfolio, so there is a significant kind of crossover area.
But you're absolutely right, the premise to your question is that our leisure services, whether they're swimming pools, leisure centres, areas of outdoor recreation, have a huge role to play in the health and well-being of the nation, and fits very much into our programme for government around healthy living, participation in physical activity. So, that is very much a cross-Government priority, because, I think, what we understand is that healthy minds and healthy bodies also have, further down the road, longer term savings for our health services, and for people not getting involved in criminal activity and so on.
So, there are many cross-Government benefits to people actively using leisure services to improve their own health and well-being. And as I say, that very much is a Government priority, and not just in my portfolio, but a cross-cutting Government priority.
Because it is so important, isn't it, and I think that collaboration is really important, between, I suppose, Government departments and Ministers as well, but also, to ensure that those services improve and maintain provision to increase participation. Do you think those strategies sufficiently address that at the moment?
So, if we start with Sport Wales, which is my responsibility, and we start with their Vision for Sport in Wales, which they published in 2018, that was a strategy for the whole sector of Wales, and that provides a platform for cross-sector engagement. That's the sector—this is the public I'm talking about now—that provides a platform for their engagement in sport and physical activity, and that's part of a transformation programme.
In terms of the activities across Government, the Vision for Sport in Wales, which I've just mentioned, was co-produced, as I said, with a range of stakeholders, including local authorities, leisure trusts and the general public. So, that is really our starting point in terms of the vision for sport and how we deliver it. And then, of course, we have the programme for government commitments around participation in sport and physical activity, and that is very much part of my portfolio, but that does cross over into health and into education and into the environment, and so on. So, there's a whole piece of cross-cutting work being done in Government to try to meet those ambitions in the Vision for Sport in Wales. I don't know, Neil, whether there's anything more you want to say about the Sport Wales vision.
Not too much. Basically, you won't get people into sport unless they've been physically active in the first instance, and that starts—. We're doing a lot of work with education right now, so introducing a daily active scheme to try and increase, alongside physical education provision, the concept of being physically active in different ways. So, looking at outdoor spaces, outdoor learning opportunities, looking at active lessons. Scotland have trialled something called 'the daily mile', which is more about just running, getting the blood flowing, and healthy bodies and healthy minds makes for better learning. We're looking at a daily active scheme that cuts across all types of different sports and opportunities, and the theme that the Minister's been talking about is about local need—each individual school being able to set how they want to be active during their learning day. Sport Wales are working very, very closely with education colleagues in developing that pilot, and that, hopefully, will be live sometime in the next academic year.
Brilliant. Diolch, Cadeirydd.
Okay, thanks very much, Jayne. Just one question from me at this stage, Minister. You rejected, didn't you, a recommendation from the culture committee in terms of a new approach, a new strategy for participation in sport and leisure in disadvantaged areas. There is a particular set of issues there, isn't there? I think we're all aware, in our own constituencies, that you don't get the participation in the more disadvantaged areas that you do in other places. So, it is a problem, and a new national approach isn't the right response. What will be done to address those issues?
Well, I think we did explain, in rejecting that recommendation, that was explained to the committee at the time, and it was because we have the sport strategy that I've just set out and that Neil's just expanded on, and we didn't want to waste time and resource developing a new strategy when we were already working to a strategy that was engaging with the sector and with stakeholders across local authorities, across the third sector, with the general public and across Government. As a result of that vision and that strategy, we've developed things, as Neil has talked about, like the daily mile. We've also talked about the 'HealthyWeight: Healthy Wales' strategy—all of that came out of that vision that was established by Sport Wales. So, it was really about not reinventing the wheel. We just felt that we were already doing that. Now, colleagues in the culture committee and elsewhere could say that they feel that we should do more. But what we didn't feel was an appropriate thing to do was to ditch a strategy that we already had and that was working well just to reinvent a new one. So, the reason for rejecting that recommendation was, basically, that we are already doing it.
Okay. Thank you—
Just to add to that one. Thanks, Minister. We're already starting to see, I guess, the benefits of that strategy. So, one major thing that's going on in the sport and leisure world at the moment is that there's a new investment model for sport that Sport Wales are implementing that's been in development for a number of years. One of the key things that they are trying to achieve with this new investment model is getting people from under-represented groups, people who haven't been participating in sport, to participate in sport. And it's a really data-based model that looks at all the young people across Wales—what sports do they want to do, what sports do they currently do? And the aim with all of this is to get people more active at a really young age. That's all an implementation of the vision for sport. So, that recommendation that came from the committee, as the Minister says, we believe that we're already going to be delivering against that with things that are happening at the moment.
One thing I would also say, Chair, is that one of the things—we did give evidence on this in the culture committee as well—that we were going to be developing, or delivering, was a sports summit, which we did at the end of last year. We had over 200 participants in that event, and that was about addressing exactly the kinds of issues that Jason has just set out about how we attract people from more disadvantaged areas, those who don't necessarily participate in sport for whatever reason. And we wanted to hear their voices about why that was the case and how we could further develop that Sport Wales vision. So, all of that work has been ongoing, and I'm actually going to be meeting with Sport Wales in two weeks' time to have an update on the work that follows from that summit that we had with those various stakeholders and partners back in October.
Okay. Thank you, Minister. Carolyn Thomas.
Morning. I'm just going to ask some questions regarding social value. So, the Institute of Welsh Affairs and Cwmpas have raised the importance of getting social value. So, I was just wondering about your views on how we could actually measure that. It's raised that when councillors are having to make financial decisions, how can they put a value on the social value—on the benefits of health and well-being—that libraries and leisure services provide, you know, the well-being of exercise, social inclusion, et cetera. So, your views on that, please.
Thanks, Carolyn, for that. We did commission a report from Sheffield Hallam University. That was back in 2018. And, actually, Sport Wales have re-commissioned them now to do a further report, which is going to cover exactly the areas that you've just talked about, because the original report did look at the economic value of sport in Wales, the wider social impacts of sport in relation to health, subjective well-being, social capital, education, crime, volunteering, and what the outcome of that report showed then was that, for every £1 we invested, there was a return of £2.88. Now, don't ask me how they worked that out, because it's not something that you can—. It's not like economic investment, where you can see your return on investment based on how much you invest, but there is a formula and a methodology that they use, and that was what they determined back in 2018. So, this is five years on now. We need to reassess and revaluate that, and I'm not sure, Neil, when that report—. Because it's been commissioned. When is that anticipated, that we will get that?
Later this year. They've commissioned it; they're in extensive discussions with Sheffield Hallam right now about the process, and that should be completed before the end of the year.
And I think the Football Association of Wales have also undertaken—. I haven't seen what their report has come up with, but I think they had very similar findings, the FAW. They undertook a report on the social value of football in Wales. If it would be helpful to the committee, Chair, I'm sure we could seek out a copy of that and let the committee have a copy of that as well.
That would be really useful, thank you. I've got a note here. So, they found in Lincolnshire that, for every £1 of investment, it generated £5 in social value, which is really interesting, isn't it? It was work with Sheffield Hallam University. So, yes. So, I just think—
So, it's the same organisation that did the work for us. So, it would be interesting to see if that figure for Wales has changed in five years. So, we'll know later in the year, and we'll obviously share that with you.
That's great, thank you. I think that's all from me, isn't it? You've covered everything there on social value.
Okay. All right. Diolch.
Okay. Thank you, Carolyn. Sam.
Thank you, Chairman, and I thank the Minister and your team for being with us this morning. It's always appreciated. I was really interested in hearing the desire to see more young people participating in sport and outdoor activities, and if only there were a private Member's Bill going through the Senedd that also sought to support that, that would be fantastic, wouldn't it? [Laughter.] And I'm sure there'll be equal support coming from your side for that, as it goes through.62
Just in relation to perhaps some of the services that local authorities provide in particular and perhaps where they're located, we've seen, haven't we, in recent years, much more co-location of services, whether in libraries or whatever it might be, coming together. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are around that, whether it's something you endorse, whether it's something you want to see more of. Yes, your thoughts on that, really.
Yes. I think you'll see, Sam, there's a theme emerging here, because what my response to that is going to be is: I think that's very much a matter for the local authority, because, again, it is very much horses for courses. So, where we have seen co-location hubs, if you like, we've seen cultural hubs, we've seen co-location of services, and where we have seen that happening, it's been very effective. We've seen, where libraries have co-located with other cultural services and other local authority services, we've seen the usage of that library increase, because people may be there for other reasons. And then, while they're there for another reason, they see the library and they access the library as well. So, we're seeing a lot of that now. We're seeing multiple agencies delivering services. We're aware, for example, that one of the health boards is working with a local leisure service, providing their services closer to the community.
So, I think, if you're asking for my opinion, I think where that will work, that is something obviously we would support. The evidence seems to suggest that, where it has been tried, it is effective, but it would very much be down to a local authority to determine whether or not that would be effective in their particular area. Because the impact, really, we don't yet know; it's still a very new innovation. And, for some local authorities, they cover very large rural areas, is that as easy to do in a large rural area as it is, perhaps, in areas of higher populations, cities and towns and so on? But I think the general principle is something that we would be supportive of. But, again, I don't know whether, Mary, there's anything you want to add about your experience of dealing with some of the co-located hubs.
No. I think, as the Minister has said, they're quite new, but the early indications are, where we've been able to collect any data, that the services have been popular and it's convenient for people to be able to access a number of services in a single location. And it certainly helped to promote libraries as a source of information for people.
Thanks for that response and, Mary, thank you for that as well. I think some of the evidence we've heard to date certainly supported your comments. But perhaps some of the concerns have been also—you mentioned in the more rural communities—those transport links. So, if it is a case of, potentially, a hub being created by some smaller units no longer being in existence, how do people access those? So, perhaps your response to that. And I appreciate, again, local authorities, it may be their choice, but if hubs are seen to be useful in terms of the holistic support they can provide and bring all the services together, how do we mitigate and put in the transport links?
And the other, perhaps, challenge we heard from people giving evidence was perhaps a concern, in particular in library services, of the watering down of some expertise and that professionalism of library services, that it was deemed to be a less professionalised service, a more generalist type of thing. It's how do you get that balance right between ensuring, with libraries in particular, with the statutory duties, how that is able to maintain its professional status amongst a hubbub of lots of other activity taking place, really.
I think all of those are fair points and fair challenges. I mean, transport is challenging in most areas at the moment, as we know. And I very much welcomed the transport Minister's announcement yesterday, which is about bridging the gap, particularly with bus services, between where we are now and where we need to be with the new franchised bus services that we hope to legislate for later in this term. That can't come soon enough for my constituency, and I'm sure that's true in a lot of other places as well. But, obviously, that would be one of the considerations that a local authority would have to think about, in terms of, if they were going to co-locate a number of services or create some kind of cultural hub, would they do that in an area where they knew that transport was available to get to it, so that that made it accessible to somebody, or would that mean that, by doing that, there would be other communities that wouldn't be able to access it, and so, therefore, that they would feel that that wouldn't be the way forward. So, there isn't a one-size-fits-all, and there isn't something that I can sit here and offer as any kind of magic bullet, if you like, to a local authority, in those circumstances. All we can say at this stage is that it is a fairly new concept that we are still evaluating, but where it is happening, it seems to be working very well and has been well received.
I don't necessarily accept the case that it dumbs down the expertise in libraries, because we still have to, as you alluded to in your question, Sam, have a statutory public library service that meets particular standards. So, that will still require library expertise, it just means that that service can be located with other services. And if somebody is accessing another service, while they're accessing that other service, they might see that there's a library there and go and use that as well. For some people, the library is still a place where they just want to go and borrow a book; for other people, it can be, as Mary alluded to, something very new—digital, something where we can do very innovative things. So, I think the jury's still out, but it looks promising, is what I would say.
Yes. That's fair. Sorry.
Thanks, Minister. Just quickly to add to that as well, in terms of co-location hub services, we do have a grant programme, called the transformation grants, and we've really looked closely, over a number of years now, at the bids that come into that grant, whether there's genuine partnership working that's built into the applications. And we've seen some fantastic projects around Wales that have benefited from that programme. I can speak for the one locally to me in Pontypridd, where the library has been co-located with other RCT services, and it's right there in the heart of the community. We worked with them and supported them with some grant funding towards that, and there are other examples right across Wales, and I'm sure, if the Minister was content, we could share some examples of where we funded that co-location.
I'm aware that on my own patch, in Conwy, there's a culture hub that was put together—we never called it the 'culture club', of course, we called it the 'culture hub'. [Laughter.] But the analogy I've used in the past is that we call these things 'phones', and a phone is a fundamental part of this thing, but I use it as a phone probably five per cent of the time.
Things change, and actually having those services in one place, I think, as you describe, makes a lot of sense; I'm guessing those challenges aren't always easy to overcome. In terms of the evidence you mentioned about the increased usage—and I think in your written evidence you suggested that as well—has that been published in terms of research, and how has that been gathered together to show that increase?
So, the evidence that we have on this is through the discussions that we've had with those particular local authorities. I'm not aware that that's been published, Mary, has it?
Not as an overarching report, no.
This is anecdotal evidence from the local authority areas, yes.
Okay. But I guess it will be part of your, as this continues—
The evaluation, yes, absolutely.
—evaluation, and it may then become more official rather than anecdotal, perhaps.
Okay. Chair, if I can move on to some other points.
Yes, please, Sam.
Thanks. Just in terms of looking at leisure services in particular now, with the financial support, I understand that there is potential for some consequential funding—around £3.5 million may be coming through. I was just wondering if you could expand on where you might be up to in your thinking about where that £3.5 million might be spent.
Okay. It's interesting the way you framed that question, because you haven't said, 'Will you be spending that £3.5 million on swimming pools?', because I think that is the important principle of devolution, is that any consequential that we get is a matter for the Welsh Government to determine where it will be most effective. We think it will be around about £3.5 million in consequentials, from the £63 million that was announced for swimming pools in England. So, those discussions are still going on in Welsh Government, about what the most effective use of that money will be. You will appreciate that there are many challenging financial situations right across Government, and £3.5 million, whilst it sounds a lot, is actually a relatively small amount of money, so looking at how it can be used most effectively is going to be an important factor in determining how that is spent.
What I would say is, of the £3.5 million in consequentials, only £1.2 million of that is revenue. The rest is capital. Now, on swimming pools, the big ask has been about support for energy bills and energy costs. I have to say, Sam, that if we’ve £1.2 million available to help 120 swimming pools with energy costs, that isn’t going to go anywhere near touching what they need. So, whereas I’m saying Government has not yet made a decision on what will happen to that £3.5 million, and in particular that £1.2 million revenue, I think a wider conversation is needed with the sector about long-term sustainability around energy-saving measures. We do have a number of Welsh Government schemes, and I’m sure colleagues can expand on those, where we have supported leisure centres, swimming pools and so on with advice on energy saving, access through the Wales energy scheme, and there are interest-free loans available, administered through the Development Bank of Wales, and so on. So, what I’m saying, just to summarise, really, is the £3.5 million is still under consideration, but I think there is a much wider conversation that needs to be had about how swimming pools in particular manage their energy efficiency for the longer term, and not just short-term fixes around dealing with very high energy bills as of today.
Some good news today—I’m sure you heard—is that it would appear that energy bills seem to be levelling out now. They’re still very high, and I suspect it’ll take some time before they come down, but that is something that is going to be a real challenge for the leisure sector for some considerable time to come, and I don’t think there are any easy or quick fixes to that.
Thanks for that response, Minister. Absolutely, the long-term way in which energy is produced and funded for leisure centres in particular is definitely a conversation that needs to be had. I guess a bunch of these swimming pools and leisure centres will be saying, 'That's all well and good, but we're in a pickle right now, and there's a risk of these pools closing.' I guess £1.2 million revenue is better than nothing. Swim Wales in particular have called for funding to bridge that gap at the moment. They estimate, as I'm sure you're aware, a best-case scenario of between £10 million and £12 million due to energy costs in the next 12 months. Of course, £1.2 million is not that full amount, but it would certainly help. So, how do you respond to their ask in the immediate term—not just the long-term solutions that may need to be put in place, but in the immediate term how that funding gap may be dealt with?
Well, I think it's important to put on record here that we have called on and continue to call on the UK Government to use its policy levers around energy costs. That is not a devolved matter. That is a matter for the UK Government and, as you know, leisure centres and swimming pools were excluded from the UK Government scheme for receiving the level of support that they needed with energy bills. We continue to press the UK Government on that, and I think the announcement of £63 million for pools in England was partly a response to that. But actually, £63 million for swimming pools in England is very, very much a drop in the ocean—or a drop in the pool, shall we say? Given the number of pools they must have in England, £63 million—. When I'm saying to you that £1.2 million is going to go nowhere near even touching the energy costs of swimming pools in Wales, I don't know what they think £63 million is going to do in England.
So, I go back to what I said: our strategy has to be longer term because we don't have the funding just to provide money to swimming pools to pay their energy bills. We just literally don't have it, and as I say, that is very much, in our view, a matter for the UK Government to address, and, so far, they've singularly failed to address that.
Having said that, local authorities—I go back to one of my earlier answers—have had a significant uplift in their funding this year, and they have to consider their priorities, in terms of what they want to see with their leisure services in those areas. It is for local authorities also to determine whether they can support leisure centres and swimming pools through this process as well. I go back to what I was talking about with the Welsh Government energy service—we continue to support both public organisations and community enterprises with that. But, again, Sam, yes, it is a long-term objective, but we simply don't have the money available in the Welsh Government to pay everybody's energy bills.
If I just may respond to that from my side, again, Minister, I absolutely understand that, but it's impossible to argue with the logic that £1.2 million is much better than nothing.
Well, what I would say to you, we've got 120 swimming pools in Wales, and £1.2 million—
It's £10,000 each.
Right, so, £1.2 million divided between them is £10,000. That's one month's energy bill. That isn't a solution. The solution is long-term energy efficiency. I understand all of the pressures and the difficulties that all of these pools and leisure centres are facing, but a one-off payment of £10,000, to me, is not efficient use of that money, because that doesn't solve the problem. I think we've got to work in collaboration with local authorities and leisure providers to look at a longer term strategy and, hopefully, local authorities can get their leisure services over this hump and work with us to put longer term energy efficiency measures in place.
Thanks, Sam. Minister, where either leisure trusts or local authorities that are still providing leisure services in-house are ready to go, as it were, with renewable energy schemes, might it not be as long term as you're talking about, but something that could happen quite quickly, in terms of the support that's available?
I'm not an expert in the field of energy efficiency schemes, Chair, but we clearly do have a net-zero ambition, so we do want to make sure that we've got energy-efficient schemes in all of these establishments. We would put in place, or work with the local authorities, leisure centres and swimming pools to put in place, schemes that could be delivered quickly, and that's what the Welsh energy service can help with. Local authorities also have capital funding available to them to support those services that are their responsibility. So, there's a two-pronged approach to that. Some energy efficiency schemes can be delivered quite quickly, others are more long term.
One of the things that we just have to accept also as a matter of fact is that a number of our leisure services, leisure centres and swimming pools are actually quite old now. So, retrofitting energy-efficient systems is not easy, so it may be much easier and much quicker to get those into newer buildings. But, you know, where we could deliver that quickly, I think that is absolutely what we want to do, because that has got to be the longer term strategy and the longer term approach.
Okay, thank you, Minister. Carolyn Thomas.
Thanks. During the evidence sessions, I just made some notes, so I've got, 'Leisure centres were not included in the UK Government energy bills discount scheme', which has been mentioned by the Minister. But, Plas Madoc was one place that we visited, and that's the stand-alone one now, not part of the local authority, relying on volunteers to run it. They're saying that their energy bills have risen from £6,500 to £16,000-17,000 now, so that's a huge difference. Also, I think Swim Wales said that the average cost of swimming is approximately £12 per session in Wales, so it just shows how much a swimming lesson needs to be subsidised, really, doesn't it, at the moment, with the rising energy costs et cetera? I just thought that they were quite good facts there that we noted to raise. Perhaps, you know, with swimming being so important, we need to have some sort of strategy in place, whether it comes more under health prevention, and is that something we could look at, going forward?
All the costs that you've referred to are well known to us and, as you will imagine, Swim Wales and other organisations are regularly advising us of the difficulties that they are facing. Of course, we do continue to support swimming activity, which is free. Local authorities have funding allocated for that, and they choose, again, to deliver free Splash sessions for under-16s, for over-60s, some targeting particular areas of deprivation. We also have a veterans swimming scheme, and so on. But one of the things that I have done recently is to meet with the Minister for education to discuss the lack of schools that are actually engaging in swimming lessons. Because you're quite right that swimming lessons—. What we provide is free swimming, and Welsh Government is funding that, but that's not free swimming lessons, and lessons cost money. Swim Wales provide qualified teachers, and so on, but their concern is the cost of the swimming lesson, and I absolutely get that. But I think part of the answer to that is we have every school involved in swimming lessons, and, at the moment—. To take one of the councils, in my own constituency, in Merthyr Tydfil, there is not one school in Merthyr Tydfil that engages in swimming lessons, and one of those schools actually has a pool and they don't deliver swimming lessons for the kids. I have met with the Minister for education to discuss that, and we're going to try and do some work jointly with local authorities on persuading them of the value of ensuring that children have free swimming lessons delivered by school from an early age. Because, the figure I think that you quoted to me before, Carolyn, when we discussed this in the culture and sport committee, is quite frightening when you think of the number of kids that are coming out of primary school unable to swim.
My grandson is three and a half, and he's already doing swimming lessons, and I did it with my kids. I just think it's so important that children learn to swim at a very early age. It's a life skill and it's quite possibly a life-saving skill. So, I absolutely agree with what you're saying.
I really welcome that and you having the conversations with the education Minister. I also agree with you that through school means that more children will probably get to learn to swim and that's the way forward. I think schools raised that transport was an issue, but then you've just said that a school with a swimming pool is not using it.
I just want to raise one other thing. The leisure centre we visited, which is not part of a local authority anymore, raised that, when accessing grants through Sport Wales, they have to do that through the local authority and so that might be an issue. So, perhaps, would they be able to just apply direct to Sport Wales in the future? That might be helpful.
If they're an independent community organisation, they can apply direct. They would only have to go through the local authority if they're a local authority facility. But if they're an independent, registered community organisation—sport organisation—then they can apply for grants direct to Sport Wales, yes.
Great. We can feed that back to them, then. That would be great. Thank you.
Before we move on, Minister, as we've been talking about financial issues and funding and the pressures that exist, we know that there are different models for delivery of leisure services and library services, but perhaps more so for leisure services in terms of independent trusts—some of them for profit, most of them probably not for profit. I'm assuming, Minister, that you may say that it's a sort of horses-for-courses situation again and local authorities will decide for themselves what best suits their local circumstances. But there are certain financial advantages, aren't there, to some of the models. For example, some of the trusts don't have to pay non-domestic rates, and some models may be able to access sources of funding that wouldn't be available to a local authority, for example. So, do you offer any advice and support for local authorities or others considering these issues, as to what they might do?
I wouldn't dare. I don't know whether the Minister for local government would—[Laughter.] I think you're right, it is horses for courses. I have two local authorities in my constituency. One provides direct leisure services, the other one is a trust. Which one is better? You pay your money, you take your choice. They are very different models, but they deliver a level of service, and I think that is what the local authority ultimately has to look at: what is the most effective way of delivering the service that its community needs.
You quite rightly highlight that the trust model, in theory, does provide much more flexibility in terms of being able to raise additional revenue and so on. I'm not sure in practice that actually happens everywhere, because there are costs attached to that as well. They are different models, so I wouldn't be able to sit here and say which is the best model. Personally, from a philosophical point of view, I prefer things to be delivered directly by a local authority, but I understand if that's not always an option and that other options like trusts sometimes work very, very well. I don't think we have any evidence that there is a difference in the level of service that's delivered by a trust or a local authority.
No, we don't. But it's also fair to say that even within the same types of models—. So, with leisure trusts, the contractual arrangements between a local authority and the trust also differ, particularly for energy. So, there are one or two who have agreements with the local authority to provide energy and, therefore, it's a fixed cost. Others are left to source their own energy. So, we've got—I think Swim Wales have alluded to this in their evidence—one or two trusts who are struggling because they didn't have long-term agreements for energy, and there are one or two who are benefiting from the security that the local authority has provided them with the energy source. Two are quite close to here, with very different arrangements. So, even within the models, there are variations of contractual arrangements as well. So, it's one complex issue.
I don't think there's evaluation. I can check to see if there's any evidence out there as to efficiency measures one way or another, and, if there is, we'll come back to you.
Okay. Thank you very much. Finally, then, in terms of committee members, Joel James.
Thank you, Chair. As they say, they save the best for last. Apologies, Minister, that I can't be there in person today.
That's okay. Nice to see you, anyway.
Thanks ever so much for all of this morning's evidence. You mentioned previously the issues that leisure facilities face, and one of the issues that was raised with us previously is decarbonisation and the difficulties the leisure service has in doing that, and that how the majority of their buildings are often the worst in terms of emitting carbon and energy amongst local authorities' portfolios. I just wanted to know whether or not the level of capital funding made available by the Welsh Government is enough to meet the net-zero ambitions, and whether or not you think that there should be more long-term, more sustainable funding commitments, such as the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme, and whether or not that would be a better model.
Thanks for that question, Joel. I think I go back to the point that I've made in answering a number of questions today, about two things. One is that the level of local authority funding has increased significantly, including capital funding, and so it is a matter for local authorities to determine how they address their net-zero objectives across their estates, including sports and leisure facilities. But in addition to that, we do have the Welsh Government energy service, which, as I said previously, does continue to support both public sector and community enterprises in delivering energy projects. I know the kind of scheme you're referring to—you're referring to something similar to the twenty-first century schools, where there is a major capital programme. We have no plans to do that at the moment, because this is very much a service that is delivered via local authorities, and we are trying to support local authorities to be able to do that with the level of funding that we are able to deliver. Jason.
Thanks, Minister. The Member mentioned the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme, as did the Minister. I think it’s important to recognise that that, also, in and of itself, will deliver leisure provision in local communities. Funding there has been used for swimming pools, different forms of leisure provision as well. So, that is also, in its own right, achieving some of these objectives.
Okay. Thanks ever so much for the response. The final question that I have is on something that was brought up, again, in previous evidence sessions. If I remember rightly, it was Awen Cultural Trust who brought it up, about a lack of awareness of what financial support is out there in terms of helping to decarbonise. And I was just wondering, from your point of view, if there was sufficient evidence that partners are aware or unaware of the support and funding that is out there.
I would hope so, because, certainly, the Welsh Government energy service engages regularly with the chief leisure officers group to make sure that all the best available advice is provided. And last September, we had an energy costs webinar that was arranged in collaboration with the Welsh energy service, the chief leisure officers of Wales group and the Welsh Local Government Association, and there were excellent examples that were delivered there of projects in Anglesey and Carmarthenshire. And another excellent project is the solar PV installed in the Geraint Thomas velodrome in Newport, which Jayne Bryant will be well aware of, and that’s a community-led installation on a public building. So, I hope that we’re doing enough to promote that, but that is something that I’m always happy to take back and have a look at, Joel, if there is any concern that what is available isn’t reaching the parts that it should reach, because, as I say, we do engage with the sector at a specific level, but if we have to look further and wider than that, then I’m quite happy to do so.
Thank you, Minister. Yes, it was just surprising that one of the biggest players in the game, as you’d say—Awen—was just unaware of the amount of support that was there, really. But, yes, if you could, that would be good.
Okay, we’ll certainly take that back and have a look at it. Thank you.
Okay, thank you, Joel. Thank you, Minister, and thank you to your officials as well for coming in to give evidence to committee this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way.
Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you very much.
Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you very much.
Okay, the committee will meet in private for the remainder of today’s business, in accordance with the decision we took earlier.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:03.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:03.