|Adam Price AM|
|Lee Waters AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Neil Hamilton AM|
|Nick Ramsay AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Rhianon Passmore AM|
|Andrew Slade||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Anthony Barrett||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Matthew Mortlock||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Mike Usher||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Tracey Burke||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Katie Wyatt||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Papurau i’w Nodi||2. Papers to Note|
|3. Diogelwch Cymunedol yng Nghymru||3. Community Safety in Wales|
|4. Sesiwn Ragarweiniol gyda Chyfarwyddwyr Cyffredinol newydd, Llywodraeth Cymru||4. Introductory Session with new Directors General, Welsh Government|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o’r Cyfarfod||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Meeting|
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.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.
The meeting began at 14:00.
Welcome, Members, to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. Headsets are available in the room for translation, as you know, and for amplification. Please ensure that phones are either switched off or on silent. In an emergency, please follow the ushers. We've received one apology today, from Vikki Howells, who is actually on PAC business for Supporting People at the national advisory board regional service user event being held in Nantgarw.
Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make today? Okay.
Item 2, and we've got a few papers to note. First of all, the Auditor General for Wales's report on the central Government accounts 2016-17. This is the second report on the audits of the financial statements of central Government bodies and was published on 20 December 2017. Anthony Barrett, would you like to comment on this?
Thanks, Chair. Just by way of introduction, really, we've done this for a number of years in local government just to highlight the key issues from an accounts perspective that bodies will need to focus on and some of the challenges they're facing. This is our second report on central Government accounts. We expect this to become an annual report to provide that sort of summary and consolidation of our knowledge of some of the issues. In future years, we'll be looking to incorporate NHS accounts work into that as well so that you will have—not just you, but the public—a total picture of the work we do on accounts.
Thanks, Anthony. Any questions for Anthony on that? No. Good.
It was very remiss of me not to ask Members to agree the minutes—I'm out of practice over Christmas—of the meeting held on 11 December. Happy with the minutes? Good. Okay.
Moving on, then, to the second paper to note, and that's the Auditor General for Wales's report on local government homelessness 2017. This report was published on 9 January. As this is a local government specific report and directs no recommendations to the Welsh Government specifically, I wouldn't propose that we undertake any further work ourselves on this inquiry. However, there may be some issues arising out of it that would be interesting in the context of the Supporting People inquiry. So, I'm proposing to send a copy to John Griffiths, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, who's expressed an interest in looking further at this. Are we happy with that approach?
Are we confident that the local government committee will be holding a hearing on it?
Yes. They're going to be looking at homelessness in the medium term, and then rough sleepers in the short-term inquiry. So, that's actually on their work programme.
Right, because there are quite a few issues of concern in the report. I think they do need to be looked at formally by some committee. So, as long as we're confident that they're going to have an opportunity to properly scrutinise it, then fine.
We can keep an eye on their progress with it, and then if there are any future issues we have, we can always return to it. But I think, in the first instance, it's worth leaving it to them to explore.
Can we make sure there is, in terms of our Supporting People inquiry, some focused look at this and that we're allowed to bring up some of these issues particularly, because it is a troubling read in parts?
Page 91 is actually the problem with homelessness in the areas: it's a nice diagram and nice work, but it's clearly stating in the last point it hasn't been audited. But if you look at this, there's so much improvement, but many are declining. So, we need to have that sort of audit—declining, [Inaudible.] why it's there.
Yes. Okay, so we're happy to leave it to that committee, but if any issues arise in future, certainly in terms of Supporting People, we can factor those in. Yes? You don't look convinced, Lee.
Just to clarify, there will be a chance under Supporting People to look at some of the issues coming out of this report. That's the clarification I'm looking for.
I think we've got the Welsh Government in next week on Supporting People, so there's an opportunity there to pick up, in general terms, I think, some of the issues arising from this report. Obviously, Supporting People is one small element that contributes to a much bigger picture that this report sets out.
Can I just ask, then, Chair, [Inaudible.] if we could just have some protected time in that scrutiny session next week to ask about some of the issues coming out of this report?
On Supporting People specifically, yes. Okay.
The third paper to note is public procurement and the Welsh Government's response to the auditor general's report on the National Procurement Service, which has been copied just for information. The committee received a briefing from the auditor general on 11 December at the last meeting, ahead of the Welsh Government response, and has agreed to undertake an inquiry into public procurement. We've got evidence sessions scheduled for this term. Happy to note that response from the Government?
Can I just express some concern about recommendation 5 on page 139 of the pack papers? They've accepted the auditor general's recommendation that the National Procurement Service makes members more aware of its provisions, and the Government have accepted it by saying they're going to do a series of case study reports. Case study reports, like pilot projects, are the standard tool for unimaginative civil service responses—
Yes. Can I ask the team from the audit office whether or not they think a series of case study reports is sufficient?
It's not unacceptable. I think it's probably a job of work in terms of the daily interaction of NPS going forward to ensure that those that are potentially buying into the frameworks or the public bodies that could buy into those frameworks are made aware on a case-by-case framework basis of the extent to which those things are going to be built in and embedded. So, I think there is scope to go a bit further than what has been set out.
Well, not at the moment. We've only just received this response. I think they're due to come in in early March, so there's an opportunity to find out. We will make sure we log that report for the next briefings.
Yes, that's a good opportunity in March—a timely point to take that up.
Okay, and the fourth paper to note is on the implementation of the National Health Service Finance Act (Wales) 2014. We've had some additional information on issues highlighted in the zero-based review undertaken within Hywel Dda university health board following a request that we made on 20 November. Are Members happy to note the letter?
Can I just ask about the hospital catering letter from Andrew Goodall? He says right at the very end that the framework, which he explained to us was his preferred way of dealing with this, will not be made available to NHS Wales organisations to call from until October 2019. That's just when they're going to be able to call from it; that doesn't mean it's going to be actually in place then. Can we be reminded of when this started from? It was, I think, a seven-year delay. Do any of the officials remember where we'll be up to by October 2019, because this does seem to be getting absurd?
I think we'll be coming up to about 10 years.
Well, since our initial work, certainly, it will be the best part of nine or 10 years since the original PAC inquiry on this. That was one of our observations—that there seemed to also be a long lead time for the framework between going out to tender and then the end of the process. Obviously, some of these OJEU processes can take a long time, but it's not really clear why a nine-month process from start to end should be the case. Of course, you'll recall that things have changed in that we've moved from, 'Shall we procure one system for the NHS Wales as a whole?' to a kind of more framework approach, which they could or could not buy into. So, I think you're right to make those observations, obviously.
Well, it's absurd, and given the report from the audit office on NHS Wales Informatics Service, are we confident that they're going to be able to deliver this within this time frame, because it was a very critical report? I can't say, having read it, that I feel particularly reassured that they are able to pull this off, especially given the delay there's been. So, I'd support a letter back to Andrew Goodall expressing particularly the concern that Matthew's just mentioned about the length of the delay in the procurement and also just drawing attention to the whole farrago.
We can do that, and I was going to propose that we ask for a progress report later in the year, in the autumn, but we can flag that up with him at this point and say we'll be looking to see some sort of improvement.
Well, I'd like a specific justification of why it's taken so long between the beginning of that process and the October 2019 outcome.
They make reference to a gateway review and some recommendations on that, so it would be useful to find out what those recommendations were and what the timescales are for putting those recommendations in place, because, as you say, the timetable does seem to be somewhat protracted.
Yes. As I understand it, there are considerable concerns in some of the health boards about this whole system and it may yet all fall over, so I think we do need to keep an eye on this and make the Government aware that we are keeping an eye on it.
I think, Chair, on both these matters, particularly the community care system, but also the catering system, if the committee decides in due course to take further evidence, following our report on informatics systems, I think that, in both those cases, there's an opportunity to look at where these projects sit in the suite of wider priorities for informatics at the moment and to perhaps follow up some of the specifics in more detail. That's not to say you couldn't write in the meantime, but there may be an opportunity to actually pin some of this down in oral evidence in future as well.
So, will we be getting—[Inaudible.]—or have we had it? I don't know if we—.
I can't really give you anything specific on the community care system, the one referenced in here. I don't think you're due to get it, unless you ask for it.
No. I think I did ask about it at the evidence session, and they didn't know about it, and they're now confirming that it was in fact amber. So, I think we should ask for the key points from it and the lessons learned, and what it means. Because, as I understand it, there are considerable concerns in the system about it.
We can do that.
Given that we leapt on to the fifth paper, I assume you're happy with the fourth paper.
—about 2.4. This is probably, as a still relatively new member, just for my clarification, maybe. Could I ask why the zero-based review was only conducted, as Andrew Goodall says, within Hywel Dda? It has obviously brought a lot of interesting information to light, so why isn't it happening across the NHS?
As a dotted line to that, I understand that there is an efficiency review—whether that's the exact terminology that's being used, but that's effectively what it is—across the Welsh NHS. How does that relate to this zero-based review? I'd be interested in finding out.
The zero-based review was, I think, one element of the work undertaken at Hywel Dda. Deloitte also did, to my understanding, a slightly wider review, in which they also went into Cardiff and Vale and, if I'm right, ABMU as well. I understand there may be some more work under way at BCU health board as well of a similar ilk. But I think the zero-based review was a particularly focused piece of work. What Andrew's letter hasn't done is to articulate some of the wider messages that fell out from Deloitte's work across the piece.
But I think I'm right in saying that this is an area that we've encouraged the committee to perhaps return to in the summer, once the—what year are we in?—the 2017-18 accounts are laid, to actually look at health boards' financial positioning and to pick up some of these matters at that point. I think that's an opportunity to reflect on the learning that's fallen out from all of these financial governance reviews at different health boards and how that's being shared across the service to drive improvement.
How about we write to Andrew Goodall at this point and ask about the issues raised, and then we can return to it later?
Yes. I'd be interested in whether we could have an overview of all the relevant efficiency savings-type activity that's happening right across the Welsh NHS. It would be interesting to know.
Item 3 is community safety in Wales. We considered the auditor general's report back in December 2016 and, as a result, sought responses on the report from the police and crime commissioners. They were considered in January, and the committee noted last year that the Welsh Government was undertaking a fundamental review of community safety in Wales rather than just addressing the recommendations contained within the auditor general's report. Anthony, did you have any advice you wanted to give on this?
There's obviously quite a bit in there. I think that, from an overall point of view, the response and the report are focusing on the right things. Rather than just on trying to patch things up, they are looking at the impact of more fundamental devolution issues on community safety. So, certainly heading in the right direction. And I think the executive summary provides a reasonable assessment of the current situation. Again, from our point of view, it's very good to see reference to the well-being of future generations in there as well.
It's always good to see a reference to the well-being of future generations. Whether it actually makes a difference in the medium term is—.
Well, it will take time. As an aside, we're doing some work in which we are looking at the year 1 commentary on the well-being of future generations, just to see how well the thinking is developing within the audited bodies.
We can look further at this if Members are so minded and review, or are we happy with progress so far?
I would be happy if it would come back to us. In terms of the national community safety strategy, one of the recommendations, have we got anything in regard to timescales? Has there been anything started in that regard, other than the review?
No, we don't know.
I don't think we're fully sighted of where the Welsh Government's at with that. So, I couldn't say 'yes' or 'no'.
So, does that mean that it's going to be occurring or not occurring?
I think that's a question worth asking Welsh Government in terms of their timescales and where they are with everything.
Another thing, Chair—[Inaudible.]—in the latest community safety also we haven't used the word 'terrorism' but the fact is that should be included in some form or shape or any different wording in the system. It's not mentioned anywhere. We have been going through this in this country in the last few years. There's nothing being mentioned on that line in this community safety, so the reason why is—to ask them where is that stance.
Yes, we can raise all those concerns with the Government and I think, as Rhianon said, clarification on the timescales, if those aren't present—
Just to clarify, we're going to be doing that by letter rather than by hearing—
Well, that's what I would propose, unless Members wish to do anything else. I think if we can at least find out—because, the rest of it, we're broadly satisfied with, so, it really is just getting those—. I think it would be a bit of overkill to call them in at this point.
It may be an area, Chair, to invite a written update on any key developments in six to 12 months' time kind of thing, to ask to be kept informed of what happens in respect of this.
We still have the point about terrorism and radicalisation, please. Thanks.
We are awaiting our witnesses for item 4, our introductory session with the new directors general, who are not far away, but in the meantime we shall take a very short break.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:17 a 14:18.
The meeting adjourned between 14:17 and 14:18.
Great, item 4 is our introductory session with the new directors general of the Welsh Government—welcome. As you will be aware, following the recent recruitment exercise, two new directors general have been appointed in the Government. This introductory session has been arranged for the committee to gain an understanding of their background and initial—very initial—views as the new directors general. Can I welcome our witnesses to the meeting this afternoon? Would you like to give your name and positions for our Record of Proceedings?
Of course, thank you. Prynhawn da, good afternoon, I'm Tracey Burke and I'm the director general for education and public services.
Prynhawn da, I'm Andrew Slade, director general for economy, skills and natural resources.
Great, thank you for being with us today. We're well aware that you're pretty new in post, so let's start off with some general questions, setting the scene. If I can kick off with one of those: what attracted you to the role of director general and how have your previous roles prepared you for the new role and what skills and experience do you bring to the post? Who wants to take it? Tracey Burke.
I'll start, then.
It sounds like an interview question, doesn't it? But you're beyond that process.
It does indeed, yes, and I'm the veteran between the two of us because I think I've been in post now six weeks and Andrew's just in his second week. Actually, some of the committee members will know me from various different roles, as I've been involved in the Welsh public sector for about 20 years, serving in one capacity or another.
Just as background, I was born here in Wales and bred here, but, like a lot of young people, moved away to gain more experience and just as part of life growing up, I suppose. So, I've had a background in working for the UK Government. I worked for the then Manpower Services Commission and I also worked for the performance and innovation unit, which was the Prime Minister's think tank of the day for the UK Government.
I've also worked for the Irish Government. Like a lot of young people of my age, the thing to do was to get an MBA, and I went to Trinity College in Dublin to do an MBA and stayed on then to work for the Irish Government. I came back to Wales and worked for the Welsh Development Agency, and then I merged into the Welsh Government in 2004 to 2006, during the mergers process.
So, that's just a little background to tell you a little bit about the experience I've had. In terms of my skills, I'd say I've got strong analytical and policy skills. I've got quite good people management and corporate skills and set and deliver very high standards in terms of what we call government business. I'd say they are probably my top skills set, and, as I said, I worked for three Governments and had experience both in Wales and outside of Wales.
But I think when I talk about what interested me in the post it's probably down to more of my personal qualities, I suppose. It's, I suppose, a little bit hard to explain. I've worked in many different places, but nothing feels quite as good as coming home and working here because it just matters, and it matters an awful lot more. As I say, I'm from here and it matters to me, the work that we do as a Government. So, the opportunity to have a more senior leadership role in that respect was just something that was just impossible to resist, really.
It's always good to come home.
My background is originally in Whitehall. I joined the civil service on a management development programme in 1993 with a degree in medieval history and French, which makes me uniquely qualified to talk about a number of things we're going to go on and talk about today. [Laughter.] I joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food initially, which then in due course became DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I had a number of policy postings early on in my career, and quite a bit of time spent in private office, including as private secretary to the Permanent Secretary, which among other things brought me into contact with the Public Accounts Committee in a Westminster context, and then later as principal private secretary to the Secretary of State.
In the mid 1990s I moved my family down to the south-west and I spent five or six years in the south-west, first in the Government office, as one of the deputy regional directors there, and then later as one of the executive directors in the South West Regional Development Agency, the economic development agency, before coming to Welsh Government in 2012, initially working on European programmes and European funding, then as director of agriculture, food and marine, and latterly as lead director for environment and rural affairs. Alongside those, two corporate responsibilities within Welsh Government: one as head of policy profession—[Interruption.]
I was going to say, with accompaniment.
—head of policy profession, but I also led some of the work on one of the corporate development programmes for a year or two back preparing for the future, which was the then Permanent Secretary's organisational development programme.
Many of the things that Tracey talked about in terms of appealing, or the nature of the role, I think apply to me. I don't have the Welsh background in that sense, or that coming home point, but there's a huge opportunity to make a difference for Wales in helping join things up. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the top team in the South West Regional Development Agency, and that opportunity to make both a difference in the business area for which I was responsible and corporately, and the chance, again, to do that within a Welsh Government context, particularly in a part of the Welsh Government that I know and love, was again too much of an opportunity to resist, and that's why I went for the job.
And—for both of you, this—in terms of that making a difference, which I think we would all hope to aspire to, have you, either using your experience in the civil service in England or your experience in the Welsh Government here, identified any early priorities that you would like to pursue in terms of the way that the Welsh Government operates? Tracey.
I think it's very early days for that. Certainly, my initial priorities have been around engagement, familiarisation with the role, and also on governance. Those are three initial areas. They're not the priorities for change, but they've been the priorities for me. So, at this stage now, I've reached about 800 members of staff who I've met at their desks. I've tried to meet with people on a one-to-one basis to really understand their roles.87
I also report to a number of Ministers—I think three Cabinet Secretaries and three Ministers—so, obviously, I've been meeting with them. I've started a few external meetings. On the familiarisation, which is, as I say, an important priority for me, I've had quite a few one-to-one meetings and just, really, reading in to the portfolio. And then, on governance, that's been a particular area that I wanted to get across as quickly as possible. I was quite fortunate to be able to meet the auditor general within the first couple of weeks, which was extremely helpful, and I've also met with Mr Usher as well as that. So, those have been my initial priorities coming into post. What about you, Andrew?
Similarly, there are parts of the ESNR portfolio with which I'm less familiar, so getting to grips with some of those areas is going to be important—as Tracey says, I'm week two into the job—meeting staff, getting regular one-to-ones with my top team, getting out and talking to stakeholders, and then having early conversations with each of the Cabinet Secretaries to whom I report directly.
Two key things—Tracey and I were both interviewed on this point at the very outset, which was around how we will take forward 'Prosperity for All', the Government's national strategy, and we've both arrived in post at a time when we need to pursue those areas and drive that work forward. And then the other big priority area for ESNR in particular, but for Welsh Government as a whole, is Brexit, our UK withdrawal from the European Union and the implications for Wales.
Thank you. We won't have any more musical interludes, I hope. Welcome to the positions that you are now both in. In regard to the role that you carry out, amongst others, of additional accounting officer, how do you feel that your relationship with this committee will develop, and how do you feel about the level of scrutiny that this committee will be offering you both?
I hope to have a very productive and effective working relationship with the committee. You can probably tell I'm a little bit nervous. It is—. Or maybe you can't. Maybe I'm like a swan and my legs are going underneath the table. It's not a very comfortable position to be scrutinised, but it's incredibly important that you have the opportunity to do that directly with us because we are accountable for enormous sums of public money and you need to be assured that we're doing our best to discharge our functions to the best of our abilities and to a standard with which you're satisfied. So, I completely understand and embrace the scrutiny role, although, as I say, it sometimes can be an uncomfortable experience to be here. But that is part and parcel of the job.
I certainly have taken the additional accounting officer responsibilities very much to heart right from the start. I think I've read, or certainly been through, all of the relevant public accounts committee's reports that you've prepared relating to my group, and am working through all of the WAO reports, just distilling the lessons learned from there. So, whilst there are some very specific subject-related recommendations that you've made that relate to my portfolio area, there also seem to be some what we might describe as being common failings—it might be a bit of a strong word, but common shortcomings: issues around commercial expertise, perhaps poor project management in cases, sometimes lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities, and data, information sharing, transparency, those sorts of issues. So, I've asked for updates on all of those recommendations and will be following that closely. But I can certainly give you my assurance that I will be giving you as complete and as comprehensive information as I can to assist you with your work.
I think it's in the nature of the business that I will be before you on a regular basis to the committee's level of interest, across the piece, in relation to Welsh Government. But I'm aware, again, in relation to past inquiries, of work that's gone on in relation to the economy, skills and natural resources group. As Tracey says, coming under scrutiny of this sort is not particularly comfortable. It's not meant to be; it's a part of the democratic Government process. It's a reminder to us, if we needed it, that we have both executive responsibilities and then personal accountability through our designation as additional accounting officer.
I've been an additional accounting officer for a couple of years now in respect of my environment and rural affairs work, in particular in respect of common agricultural policy money and European Union funds, and the standards that that requires and in terms of how we communicate those standards to our teams, the people we work with, are incredibly important. As Tracey says, I will come and I will give you full and frank information and answer any questions to the best of my ability, and the same will be true of the people who work for me and around me when they come before you as well.
Thank you. With regard to former post holders, some have been described as being risk neutral or risk likely. What is your attitude to risk in terms of your positions, moving forward, and everything that entails for wider policy?
I would say that I'm probably slightly risk averse, or maybe slightly more risk averse than, perhaps, my predecessor. It's hard to say, really. I didn't work that closely with Owen, but looking at the comments that he made about moving the culture from—I can't remember his exact phrase, but 'from risk liking', I think was the phrase I read through the transcripts of his attendance here at various inquiries that you've had, and that was a theme of his. So, I think I have a tendency to be a little bit risk averse, and I don't know whether the committee would find that to be a good thing or a bad thing. I think what it says to me is that I need slightly higher levels of assurance, so that means that I tend to look into things and ask more questions and seek more assurance. I don't think that's a bad thing, as long as I'm aware of my own risk appetite, and I surround myself with people, perhaps, with different risk appetites and have a plurality of views in which to form my opinions. I've already had a look at our risk-management processes in the group, so our risk register and internal audit work, just to get some initial assurance.
That diversity of approach of the people around you I think is quite important when you're coming to make any decision, whether it's around a particular project for a particular line, in respect of policy, and I think that's important. I don't think it's possible to be risk neutral in this type of work if we are to be ambitious for the people of Wales and to drive stuff forward for the Government and Ministers. We need to be ready to go after things, but in a way that is measured and that involves careful assessment of the risk. So, the risk-management processes that you put in place are hugely important. I'm familiar with those that apply within the ESNR group, but we've already had a conversation, just today, about how we manage our performance as a group with my top team, how we arrange ourselves in respect of risk management and how we bring the experience and the expertise of the whole group to bear on some of these key decisions. That will be true for how we operate across Welsh Government as a whole.
With regard to the challenges that you face, you've mentioned some of them, and you've mentioned one of them. What do you feel are the biggest challenges for Welsh Government and in terms of your particular roles, moving forward?
Shall I go first?
I don't mind.
Okay. So, I think the biggest challenges for the role—I suppose you can look at it in two ways, really: there are the challenges for the role and the challenges that I feel, personally. So, the challenges for the role, I think, are around the join-up required to deliver on 'Prosperity for All'. I think it's a huge agenda and one in which we absolutely have to join up to deliver on it. There's also some very big delivery programmes that really need to be landed and currently, six weeks in, that feels like a challenge to get around and get to understand all of the key issues.
In terms of the role more widely, I think there's a challenge around the span of the role—I'm not sure if Andrew would agree with that. They're quite wide roles, so a personal challenge, really, is to see where I can add most value, where best I should spend my time when I've got an awful lot of different things to do.
There's also the challenge, really—a personal challenge, I suppose—of the step up to the role. Andrew and I were both directors, previously. We've now been appointed to directors general, and that requires a step up both in policy delivery and corporate responsibilities. I certainly don't underestimate that step up, but I feel committed and capable, and ready for that step up, but it would be silly to say that that itself isn't going to be a challenge.
I think I've mentioned the 'Prosperity for All' work, as Tracey has just done again, and what we do in relation to Brexit, which affects so much of what we do. We have a number of big projects and programmes on the go: our relationship to Wylfa Newydd, the M4, where we go on the metro, and we've got some very live issues that are cross-cutters, not just within my group but across Welsh Government, on tackling problems of air quality, and then are some long-running things, like what do we do best to prepare for changes to tertiary education, and the new mechanisms and approaches that we put in place in the future, and what do we want to do with our national development framework, where although there's a run-in to it—a longer timetable—there's a huge amount of work that needs to be tackled. It's a bit like when you take on a house or a property and it has a garden you need to think about the garden alongside the things that need doing inside the house. There are some of those longer term things that we need to get going on or progress alongside the more urgent immediate things upon us.
Interesting analogy from Welsh Government: the house and the garden. Before I bring Oscar in—Lee Waters, do you have a supplementary?
Yes, just a specific question for Andrew Slade, if I may, in terms of the issues on your horizon. I just want to ask you about the new economic strategy document the Government's recently published, and the role of the chief regional officers within that, because, as I read it, these have got the potential to be quite powerful local barons within the Welsh Government. As I understand it, the people holding those posts are doing them alongside existing posts for the next six months and have got no additional resource to do that job, and this will be reviewed at some point in the future. Can I just ask you, then, given how important this shift to a regional emphasis is meant to be, whether you're confident that's the right approach, they have the right resources and the right focus to be able to do that job effectively?
The short answer is, no, I'm not confident at this stage. I've got a meeting with the regional officers and their line managers next week to go through some of this territory exactly along the lines that you describe. The intention is certainly not to create three barons operating across Wales—that's not the principle underpinning the economic action plan or, indeed, how we expect these individuals to operate—but whether they can do it alongside everything else that they've got on and the kind of support that they have in the roles is something that I definitely want to have a look at with them.
Right, but you're starting from a point of being sceptical, whether or not that's a sustainable arrangement—
I'm starting from the point of if we want to make the economic action plan a success, and there are key roles to be played by our chief regional officers, I need to make sure that they're properly supported and that they've got the amount of time needed to do the job effectively.
I refer to my previous answer. I want to look at this from a perspective of how we make a success of the EAP. I can entirely understand why we are at this stage in proceedings. We've got people who are doing things alongside their day job. That may well be the best model to adopt going forward, but I want to have a conversation with them and other members of the team to satisfy myself that that is the case.
Once you've formed a view on that, could you update the committee on it?
If I could just pursue that line of questioning, actually, because I was struck in terms of these three regional directors, some of whom cover vast swathes of Wales, inevitably. I suppose the closest analogy in my mind is—you probably know it from your university days—the Napoleonic prefect model, the state representative in the region, so, certainly, it has a significance, potentially. I'd just like to ask about the areas of Wales, in terms of the economic action plan, that actually cross those three boundaries, and, in particular, two, which are the Valleys, which cross two of those three regions, and then rural Wales, which arguably, possibly, crosses all three. So, will there be, I don't know, sub-prefects maybe responsible for traversing those regional boundaries?
So, again, we're not intending that the chief regional officers should be prefects or in charge of each of the departments or that model—[Laughter.]—although I entirely see where you're coming from. The expectation is that they will act as central points of contact and have an overview for what's happening in those regions, and I see the model, from my own perspective, a bit more like that which operated within the Government office network in England a few years ago, which was not that you had people who were barons or prefects, but were pulling together thinking, making sure that you had key lines of contact to key companies and key players, local authorities and so on, and were taking a more place-based approach to how we develop the economy in this context.
The Valleys, of course, have a task force looking at this, ministerially led, precisely because of the nature of the challenges and potential opportunities for the Valleys. So, it's subject already to a set of structures that sit alongside the new regions.
In respect of rural Wales, I had a meeting on that just last week. How does all this come together in terms of the narrative for different parts of Wales? Are we clear that we are clear enough around the offer to rural Wales? Is our offer built largely around what I used to think of as part of the environment and rural affairs portfolio, principally around the land-based sectors and food, or is it wider than that? So, there's quite a lot of work now off the back of that meeting to pursue some of these points further. The Ministers are very interested in this area, not just from the point of view of how we come across in regions or in areas, but in terms of how we link that up to our wider objectives for Wales as a whole.
Sorry, a very brief supplementary to the supplementary; the answer was very interesting—the Government regional office analogy, then. I'm sorry if I missed this, but does each of the three have a physical designated head regional office, if you like, geographically? And secondly, with rural policy, which Minister does that accountability lie with—junior Minister or deputy Minister level?
So, to take the last point first, we have a Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs, but I don't think Lesley Griffiths would regard herself responsible for everything, because we have a health Secretary and an education Secretary and so on whose remits run in rural areas.
In respect of the economy, it would be our economy and transport Secretary, Ken Skates, with support from a number of other Ministers, including Lord Elis-Thomas and Baroness Morgan from the skills perspective.
The other point was about locations. All of our regional officers are based in the regions that they will be serving and looking after, but I don't think we've got as far as saying that there will be regional head offices as such; at the moment, it's merely where they happen to be based. But it does go back partly to Mr Waters's point about the support arrangements that they have around them, how those are set up and where those are based, and that's something that we're looking at.
Thank you very much, Chair. Congratulations to you both. My question directly to you is: recruitment information suggests that you will hold a number of corporate roles, including sponsoring one of the Welsh Government’s staff equality and diversity networks. How do you intent to embrace this aspect of your role in order to support and develop a good organisational culture within the Welsh
I've been asked to lead the women's network. So, I think we've got about four or five different equality and diversity networks in the Welsh Government, and I've been asked to lead the women's network, which I'm absolutely delighted to do. I haven't met with the leads for the network yet, but that is being diarised; they've been in touch and are very keen for an early meeting. For me, it's a perfect network to head up, and I look forward to working with the women in the Welsh Government to understand any barriers there are to them progressing in the organisation, but also what opportunities there might be too, and also perhaps sharing my experience if that's of interest to them. So, I'm committed and interested in taking that network forward.
I'm a board-level champion sponsor for the PRISM network, the LGBT+ network, a responsibility that, as Tracey has just said in respect of the women's network, I'll take very seriously. We had our first photo op on Friday and we'll get that out around through the organisation. They're a very active network—lots of good work going on already across Welsh Government, and it's a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to come and represent them at board level.
I think the other thing to do there, which is reflected in your question, is about the wider corporate role that we can play over and beyond the network champion roles. There's a lot that we can do as part of Shan's top team, I think, in terms of not just the leadership provided by the organisation, but the tone that we set and the culture that we engender through the work that we do. But also, yes, in our group there are about 2,400 people, and that's a lot of people—it's getting on for half of Welsh Government—so it's not just what I do in my cross-Welsh Government work, but what I'm doing within the group and making sure that we are working effectively with the different protected characteristics and networks I think is going to be vital too, as part of that kind of culture-setting process.
Thank you very much, but the thing is—. You have answered two questions giving the early priorities in your job—what you're going to actually implement—but my question to you is: what new priorities are you going to put in your education department and Natural Resources Wales, which are very important, and where we know there's so much to do? What are the new priorities you're going to bring into your respective departments?
Is that specifically in relation to the networks that we're leading?
Okay. Well, as I say, I think, probably, my main priority would be to see what barriers there are to women's progression in the workplace—particularly areas where, through my action or my leadership, I can help make a difference. I'm particularly interested in part-time workers. Many women end up—because of caring responsibilities, either for parents or for their children—working part time, and I think there is quite a bit of work for us to do as an organisation in making sure that part-time workers have the same opportunities for progression as full-time workers. So, things like job shares—those kinds of issues will be initial priorities.
I've got an early conversation with the PRISM network in a week or two's time where, again, I want to listen to what they perceive as some of the issues blocking progress, whether that's around facilities and infrastructure, or about the way that we approach a number of staffing issues across the organisation. On the wider piece across the ESNR group, we are moving into a different phase now, on Brexit, which I mentioned earlier. That brings with it new challenges and things that the group as a whole need to get to grips with, including in how we work with other parts of the UK. And, if we take the economic action plan, one of the strands of that is around decarbonisation, and the green growth agenda, and that will certainly be a big focus for me in the new role going forward. That's an area that we've been working away on, but I think needs new focus and effort.
My question is primarily to Andrew, about the—. I'd be interested in how you approach, within the areas within your ambit, the whole question of Brexit. There's a massive swathe of things you could be focusing on, so how do you prioritise? Is it thinking in terms of essentials versus desirables, risks and opportunities? Maybe you could just walk us through how you approach it, and also give us some of the high-level summary of the work that's currently under way, and how you see it proceeding.
As you say, Mr Price, there's a lot in this, so I'll try and give you the headlines as I see them. There's a strong UK component to all this: how we're engaging with the UK Government on making sure that Welsh priorities are reflected in the article 50 process. And then beneath that and around that, the UK is going to need a new way of working with itself in future. So, many of my teams are now very heavily engaged in constitutional stuff. What are the frameworks that we're going to need to operate post Brexit across the UK? How do those interplay with devolved responsibilities? So, for example, with respect to agriculture—the world that I've come up through, originally and then latterly—agriculture is a devolved competence, and therefore the expectation is that we would manage agricultural issues here. That's the responsibility of Welsh Ministers. Nevertheless, we completely agree, and the First Minister's been very clear about this, that with respect to our concerns about the withdrawal Bill, Welsh Government is willing to engage with the UK Government—and indeed we are, at an operational level—on how you design frameworks to enable the UK to operate and function effectively in the future. You don't want to put in place a series of blockages within the internal UK market that would make life more challenging. So, there's a whole piece of work there. We've done an awful lot of that work on the environment and rural affairs side of the house, where, of the framework areas, about two thirds fall to stuff to do with the environment, or agriculture, fisheries and so on. But there's a wider set of issues that we need to take forward, I think, across the whole group.
There are then two blocks of readiness-related work. One is our internal readiness, so whether we're right and fit for action legislatively, so what we're going to need in terms of the day after we leave. Have we got the right legislative provision in place? Much of that is grinding work, which we have to work at, going forward—. It's not particularly sexy or appealing work, but it's very necessary in order to make the legal code work properly when we leave, but also in relation to systems and the kinds of teams, capabilities and skills that we'll need within Welsh Government—that's the internal-facing stuff—and then externally, how we work with our sectors to get them in as good a shape as possible, both to meet the challenges of leaving the European Union, but also to harness the potential opportunities that come with that. We've done a lot of work, again, on the environment and rural affairs side. That work is reflected more widely now across the Welsh Government, and, of course, last week, the First Minister announced a headline fund for Brexit readiness for people to bid into, and we take that external-facing work very seriously. I think, probably, we're ahead of other parts of the UK in that regard. So, those are the kind of key planks of this Brexit work, and as a group, we're going to be getting further to grips with all of those as we move into the next phase of the EU withdrawal process.
I'd be quite interested, actually—and if you're not able to say, then I understand—but both the London mayor and, indeed, the Scottish Government have—. Well, the Scottish Government today, and, I think, the London Mayor in the last few days produced their assessment of the potential economic impact of a hard Brexit, which is very sobering reading. Is that something that the Welsh Government is working on, impact analysis of various scenarios? Obviously, we accept that we don't know where we're going to end up at the moment.
Yes, we've been doing a lot of scenario work and feeding into work that's gone on at a UK level as well. I don't know whether we have a single figure in the way that the Scottish Government have announced today, but we certainly have ranges that we work within against different scenarios, both within the wider economy elements of the portfolio that I now lead, but also in respect of the environment and rural affairs side. We've done a lot of work with stakeholders on the various scenarios, and that work has informed the various publications that we've put out, starting with 'Securing Wales' Future', the White Paper from last January. The various daughter documents that have flown off the back of those have all been informed by those sorts of assessments. But I think, fundamentally, we would stand behind points made by the IMF and others that a very hard Brexit would have, certainly in the short to medium term, significant consequences for the economy, and part of our planning has to take that into account. But there's a limit—as the Cabinet Secretary for Finance has pointed out—to what the Welsh Government can do to mitigate the absolute hardest Brexit outcomes. These are parts of the discussions that we need to have and continue to have with the UK Government.
Adam, just before you go on, a couple of people have indicated. Rhianon, did you have a supplementary on this specific point?
A supplementary in this particular area. In regard to the magnitude, you mentioned functionality across the UK in terms of the market and the constitutional issues—the whole magnitude and scale of the agenda that you're working within. Do you feel comfortable that you have got sufficient amount of working heads on this particular issue? And in regard to the potential for a hard Brexit and the view of the IMF around how that could be of significant impact to us economically, do you feel that you're in a position to be able to bring more people on board to work on this if necessary?
We've had a small consequential in the UK budget that links to Brexit preparations, and we'll use that wisely where we can. Ultimately, though, we're having to use the resources that are available to us already to weave in our Brexit work. As far as possible, the approach has been to set up small, dedicated hubs with the kind of expertise and the capability that we need, and then, on a hub-and-spoke model, if I can put it like that, to use the teams who are the experts in the subject matter to engage, both with the centre of our organisation and then their relevant counterparts in Whitehall. But it is stretching stuff and we need to be as smart as we can about how we use resources, how we prioritise effort, and I know that Ministers and colleagues across the Welsh Government are thinking about how we do that in the context of the resource challenges we face for this year and the years thereafter ahead, because we are operating in a period of constraint on public resource.
So, to answer my question, do you feel that you're able, once that transitional pot of money is no longer with us, unless we get any more—that you're able to bring in different resources if necessary?
I think the nature of the work in some respects will change. So, this process, over the next few years, is going to be one of transition. I think it's almost inevitable that we'll need to be more engaged in inter-governmental working across the UK than, perhaps, we have been in some areas to date, because that will be required in order to make the UK framework-type model work effectively in the future. And, as I said earlier, I think the UK will need a different way of working with itself. But there are pressures on us in respect of resources, undoubtedly.
And with regard to the challenges and the question that I asked you earlier, would you see this as one of the key challenges that you will be facing?
Certainly for me, yes.
I need to bring Adam Price back in, and then I'll bring—. Neil, did you have a quick follow-up?
I just wanted to ask a simple question. Given that almost anything that you read that emanates from any governmental source—not just in Wales, but throughout the United Kingdom and around the world—in relation to Brexit is likely to be propaganda, why should you pay the slightest attention to reports such as the one Adam mentioned from the Scottish Government or the London mayor? Insofar as you consider the views of a body like the IMF, are you going to look into their forecasting record in the past to see whether this informs you about the validity of what they're proposing?
Well, Mr Hamilton knows the views of the Welsh Government, and we could spend a lot of time talking about—
—forecasts or, as you say, getting into policy. I think the key thing, going back to Mr Price's question, and Ms Passmore's as well, is to make sure that we are as ready as we can be for the different scenarios that are coming. It's not all about downside risk; it's about upside opportunity as well. The First Minister has been clear that the Welsh Government didn't seek Brexit, but it's going to try and make the best of it for Wales. And, you know, in respect of certain aspects of, for example, regulation or other things, I can see lots of opportunities to do things in a different way in future, but they need to be worked through carefully.
Just to finish up on the trade side, in as much as it is possible for you to answer this question, if you divide up the three areas that you could focus on, which are (1) working very, very hard to defend and maintain Wales's current level of exports to the EU, (2) import substitution, which, maybe, in uncertain times, actually is an interesting area, and I mean within the UK as well as within Wales, and (3) extra-EU—you know, the sunlit, green pastures that people like Neil next to me often refer to—presumably, you're working on all three of those areas. Where would you see the priority at the moment, and do you see it shifting over time?
I do see it shifting over time. It's a multipronged approach at the moment to try and make sure, as I said earlier, that we are, and the interests of Wales are, properly reflected in UK thinking and that we are as involved as closely as possible in the article 50 negotiation process and in relation to any trade deals that may be done off the back of it or elsewhere. Apart from anything else, that requires us to have a pretty clear view about sensitive sectors, not just, again, in relation to risk, but also in terms of opportunities. I think there is a lot we can do about the import substitution. If I take an area from my previous work around the dairy sector, we import a lot of dairy products that we eat—butter, cheese, yoghurts, and the like. In various Brexit scenarios, there is an opportunity for us to tap that market more effectively than we have at the moment. That requires processing capacity and perhaps a different approach in parts of the supply chain, but that potential is there.
For stuff outside of the EU, you've got to be very targeted and clear. And this is absolutely inherent in the way that Welsh Government is going about it. We are not interested in scatter-gunning what we do; you need a presence in certain key places, but thereafter you need to work up the market potential carefully and persistently have a clear offer to people who are coming in, or potentially are going to come in, and follow that through. But, on your point about the single market, of identifiable exports, whether that's goods or services from Wales, we know that roughly two thirds currently go into the single market, into the EU 27. That's a big market to lose. So, it has to be a key part of our focus.
Thank you very much. If I may change my focus now, and put a question to you now, Tracey, if I may, you've inherited, in a way, two large-scale areas of transformation and reform, both in education and in public services, primarily the local government reorganisation, AKA reform agenda—you're picking that up halfway through, but they are probably decade-long programmes of reform. Could you say a little bit about how you see your group, effectively, delivering on those sorts of very ambitious objectives?
Of course, yes. So, as you say, they're two major reform agendas, both large in scale and, as I say, some of the timescales are quite long. Thanks, Andrew. I've got a bit of a cold, so excuse me.
Yes. So, on the education reform, that is really a very new area to me. As you will have seen from my background, I do not have a background in education. So, that's felt like a very large learning curve for me, right across a number of aspects of the reform and the overall education strategy. So, I've been reading as much as I can. I've met with the senior officials who are leading the education reform. I have to say they seem to be an excellent team—very experienced individuals, and hugely committed to the Cabinet Secretary to this reform agenda. So, on the education reform, I have my first sort of management scrutiny of the curriculum reform this Thursday, where we'll have the chance to go through the timetable. I'm aware of the revised timetable that the Cabinet Secretary announced, which I understand was based on feedback from stakeholders. So, I'll be going through that on Thursday with the team, and sort of satisfying myself to progress, but also various elements of the reform because, you know, there are a number of different programmes and elements to it. So, I'll be taking the opportunity to take various elements through something we've got, called the assurance board. I have to say, Owen Evans left me what seems to be an extremely well-managed group, with very good management and assurance processes in it, which was a huge comfort in starting to get to grips with these issues. So, I'll be taking those through our assurance board and our management board on the education reform.
On the local government reform, equally challenging, as you say, but I have sat down with officials to go through the development of the local government Bill, which is a piece of legislation we hope to bring through the Assembly this year. And, again, major challenges there. But I will take a very kind of strong assurance role in seeing that those reforms are delivered.
You mentioned working at the performance and innovation unit at the UK Government level.
I did, yes.
You also mentioned the Irish Government. They've recently—in 2014, I think—set up an innovation lab. Innovation labs have been cropping up right across the world, really, as governments face many of the same sort of public service delivery challenges that we face here in Wales. Notwithstanding what you said about your own personal risk appetite, do you see that, actually, public service innovation—? Obviously, part of innovation—we've all read the books—we know that failure is a necessary part of the innovation process. Do you accept that innovation is an absolute imperative? I mean, in public service, right across the world, partly because of decreasing resources, but also because of demographics, the world is changing, et cetera, automation—Lee's area of expertise. Where is that innovation coming from at the moment within the Welsh Government, within your areas?
Well, I think that certainly, on the education reform, they have a number of stakeholder groups with a lot of expertise around it, and I think they're driving new ideas and bringing in new ways of working. I'm not so sure on the local government reform, I have to say. I couldn't really answer that at the moment. But certainly I think there seems to be an innovative culture around the education reform proposals that I've seen, to date.
I think you're right that public services are under increasing pressure because of decreasing resources and increased demand—and not just increased demand in terms of volume, but increased demand in terms of public expectations of public services—and that we're not going to improve public services without that significant reform. I'm very open to new ways of bringing in innovative—. I'm thinking it's certainly something that I'll be discussing with both the local government Cabinet Secretary and the education Cabinet Secretary.
I think that's probably about all I can say, right now, based on my knowledge, but I've certainly got a very open mind to that. As you say, having worked in the performance and innovation unit, that was particularly helpful in terms of trying to drive some of that cross-Government ways of working, and that's something that is a key priority for us now. We'll certainly be looking at that.
I was going to say, in relation to the policy profession and my work as head of the policy profession, with Tracey and others we've been trying to foster an approach that allows us to do policy trials, make more use of short-term projects to try and test out a concept, to use a lab approach to see if you can thrash through things in a workshop or a deep dive over 24 or 48 hours to try and crunch a problem. We've got the Y Lab system, a unit that is supporting some of the work on Tracey's side. We're also working with the Public Policy Centre on things of that sort. As you say, we're going to need to do more, not least to address the challenges we've got around money.
Finally, probably education is an area where we have learnt globally. Obviously the foundation phase is based on the Finnish education system. Do we do that systematically? Do we look, do we engage in policy learning rather than trying to reinvent the wheel? Are we always scanning the environment for new ideas that we think, if they were tweaked a little bit, could work here?
Absolutely. The best ideas are not always the ideas that we've come up with ourselves. Certainly, part of any good policy-making process should be that horizon scanning to learn from best practice and elsewhere. Andrew alluded to his role as head of policy profession, and we have—I can't remember the exact name of it now—a policy directors group across the civil service, so that covers Northern Ireland, Scotland and the UK wider civil service. But also, we learn from best practice elsewhere, where we think there are elements that are relevant. We also find that some of the work that the Public Policy Institute for Wales have done very recently has actually been bringing in experts in the field, and quite often that has been looking at international best practice. So, I don't detect any sense of 'If it's not made here, it's not good policy' at all.
And possibly networks like the OECD that, in education, you've used, obviously, very systematically.
And continue to use, yes.
That'll probably be even more important post Brexit, because we'll need to have other networks.
Yes, absolutely. We've got a lot to learn, I think, from that.
Just to support the innovation point that Adam Price has made, I'd like to focus specifically on digital, artificial intelligence and so on. I understand what you said about the high-level acknowledgement of a policy gap, but in terms of the pace of change there is in the outside world, it's exponential, and the pace of change within Government is glacial. Now, from what you've said, you recognise the problem, and we had a recent session with the Permanent Secretary discussing the Welsh Government's digital strategy, which seemed to me to be largely an IT strategy for Cathays Park, not a broader strategy for public service delivery in Wales. So, can I ask you a bit more on the specifics? The fact you acknowledge the problem is an excellent start, but in terms of the capacity to deliver that change, within local government, the services that come under your umbrella, and within Welsh Government itself, we seem to have an awfully large mountain to climb. So, what are the early steps into the foothills that you plan to take in the next six, nine months?
I've obviously read the transcript from the committee at which you discussed that, and the one prior to that, and the note from the Permanent Secretary to get as wide a perspective as I possibly can, and I know that the leader of the house's portfolio actually now covers digital infrastructure and digital inclusion and that digital service transformation. So, certainly I'll be playing my part in supporting her in that role.
In terms specifically of the areas that are in my portfolio, the local government digital agenda, I believe that there was a report just last year that all 22 local authorities took part in. I did make a note of that, actually, because I was having a read of it—it was called the digital baseline report. So, that looked at four elements of local government preparedness for the digital future. So, it looked at the maturity of their digital services; it looked at their use of data; their plans for ICT; and how they share best practice. So, certainly for me, that'll be the starting point for ongoing work with local government. And, in education, we have Hwb, which is a digital platform for sharing best practice. So, those are two specific areas that I'll certainly be taking action on.
As your question implies, there's an awful lot that we can learn from others. In many respects, it's unlikely that Government will ever be quite as innovative and out there on digital as commercial enterprises in a number of respects. Nevertheless, the Government Digital Service at UK level have done a lot of good work and we could learn more from that.
Within my own area, I think it's patchy. We have probably the best online application process for common agricultural policy payments, certainly within the UK and, I would argue, probably within the EU, or we're certainly one of the front-runners within the EU. If you talk to people who do cross-border applications—England and Wales—they much prefer the Welsh system; it's more intuitive, it gives people sight of the whole enterprise, with maps and a whole range of other business tools that are helpful to them in addition to the process of applying for common agricultural policy funding. So, we've done a lot of work there, using agile methodologies, with our stakeholders, bringing them in: 'How does this look to you?' So, we're actively using the user as our guide to what's needed in coming up with something that makes sense and works effectively.
So, there is learning that we've done and applied within Welsh Government already, but there are lots of other areas where, either in relation to service delivery or in relation to how we do digital content for our guidance, our websites, we've got a lot to do.
Well, it's an issue that I've already flagged up with members of my team as an area that we need to get going on, not just in the context of digital per se, but in the context of redesigning and redeveloping the services that we provide. That includes our work on grants. It includes a whole range of things that the ESNR group does as a whole—not just in the context of digital, but how we work differently along the lines of some of the challenges we've already discussed.
You mentioned the Government Digital Service, which is a Whitehall unit. Do we have a formal relationship with them?
I think the chief digital officer for Welsh Government sits on a cross-UK digital group. I'd need to check that—
Do we buy in to their services? Do they support your teams? Are you able to call upon their services?
There's certainly a relationship. Whether it's a call-off relationship in those terms, I'm not sure. We've also done quite a bit of work with some of the UK Government providers in Wales—the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and others—in terms of the work that they've done and we've been drawing them in to learn from them and their experience. So, in an inside-Wales context, we've been doing a lot of work with others there.
And just a specific question for Tracey Burke: those two examples you cited were the report last year and Hwb in education. Hwb is now probably, I don't know, four or five years old. I really worry when I go into schools in my constituency about the gap between the schools I've seen across Wales that are cutting-edge, which are up there with the best in western Europe, certainly, and many of the schools I go round, which are 20 years behind. And we talk about Hwb as the example that we can draw upon of harnessing the digital change. Hwb is better than it was, but it's not an all-singing, all-dancing system by any measure.
I specifically worry about coding. Coding is the modern foreign language, and we have a fairly modest coding clubs initiative, which is primarily targeted at the most able and talented children. We are offering nothing to the majority of schoolchildren, and this really should be something we're urgently tackling. We seem very ling-di-long about the whole thing in an era when ling-di-long just won't do any more.
No. I think, from my initial familiarisation with Hwb, it is something that's constantly under development as a platform. It's being added to all the time. So, whilst it may be five years old, it's not stuck where it was five years ago; it has been developing. I can't answer the more specific question around coding and what we're doing, but if it's appropriate, I'd be more than happy to provide a note—
—on what we're doing on that, which will be in more detail than I can provide here today.
I was trying to get my head around it myself, but I think it's an important aspect of the modern syllabus, so—
It is. Absolutely. I'd be more than happy to do that.
If you can get back to us that would be great. Did you have any more questions, Lee?
I have a separate question I'd like to ask about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Just briefly to begin then, would you tell me, in practical terms, in what way your team's doing things differently as a result of the future generations Act?
Shall I start?
Yes, okay. That's fine.
It is certainly challenging them to think differently when making policy. So, I suppose we would have always thought long term, or had an aspiration to do that, but it sort of tests them very hard in terms of long-term and preventative measures. It also challenges, in policy making, around collaborative working and making sure that we are thinking around collaborative working in proper partnerships with people— long-standing, sustainable partnerships. So, it's testing in that regard. So, for me, the goals are the goals to achieve, but it's the ways of working that it advocates that perhaps challenge us the most in policy making.
I think it's pushed us much harder down—. I mean, some of the ways of working are not completely new, but it's certainly pushed us harder on those areas of join-up, of thinking longer term.
I don't know if you'd agree, because you're head of profession for policy, but that's my sense of how it's really pushed us as an organisation.
It's changing. I think, principally through the five ways of working, we're starting to have slightly different conversations on some issues and in some areas. We're seeing more of the WFG Act principles feeding through in the way we do particular projects and particular grants. In the case of the rural development programme, I was answerable, and I still am, but even more directly, I suppose, in my previous portfolio. We ran all of that programme through the tests in the WFG Act to make sure it stood up and was fit for purpose.
It's not just about us; it's about how we work with other public bodies, with other people who are covered by the Act, and with people who are suppliers to Welsh Government, and it also means that we measure things in a different way. I know that colleagues at the centre of Welsh Government are working with colleagues at the Wales Audit Office and with the auditor general around the kinds of measures that we need and, from an internal perspective, what we do around appraisals. We are obliged, as accounting officers, to make sure that regularity, propriety and value for money are covered off. What do we also need to think about in respect of the WFG Act? It's a work in progress. I wouldn't overclaim, but I am seeing, as Tracey's just said, significant signs of change, and 'Prosperity for All' is all about a more integrated and targeted approach; a joined-up way of addressing some some of our big challenges and opportunities in Wales. That WFG approach goes through the middle of that.
Can you think of any examples of decisions that have been made that would have been made differently before the Act came in, and different outcomes?
I don't know whether this is the best example, but, certainly, in some of the work that we've been doing on air quality we have been thinking about in the context of the WFG Act. I think some of what we've done around one or two of our grant propositions, which now feeds into the economic action plan, would pick that up as well.
Just on the air quality example, what are the outcomes, what's going to be different because of the Act?
I think we are looking harder, alongside whatever we may be obliged to do in European law, at longer term opportunities. That links to things like our active travel plans, clean travel, what we're doing about battery technology, clean cars, the electric energy infrastructure for running cars across Wales, and so on, as part of a whole approach to the air quality problem, rather than seeing it as something fairly technical over here and divorced from other bits of our policy making.
You said you wouldn't overclaim it, which is good, because the Government has been going to town in banging on about what an innovative thing this is, and your answer to me was that, 'We are having slightly different conversations in some areas', which, actually, I think is rather honest and a reflection of where things are at. But that's not exactly what the promise of the future generations Act was meant to be about, and your department in particular has been quite shameless, in the evidence that has been given to the public inquiry, for example, in saying, essentially, that business as usual is fine because it meets some aims of the Act. I'm not seeing, and your answer hasn't reassured me, any significant change in mindset or working to reflect what we have claimed, rather ambitiously, about what this Act is going to do, and it does seem to be a slightly business-as-usual approach to us.
It doesn't feel, internally, as if it's business as usual, so I can give you that guarantee. I think that, as a board within Welsh Government, we are taking it seriously. We have got a board-level champion. I've sent a member of my former team across to support, with a number of others, the work that we are doing across the Welsh Government as a whole to drive forward work including that in relation to how we account for and measure our pace of change. The conversations are different. If I underplayed that in not seeking to overplay our success, I apologise, but I think we are starting to get to grips with it as an Act. But, it is early days, and I wouldn't wish to overclaim the level of change that has happened at this stage. At an international level, and indeed within the UK, it is something that we should trumpet because—
We do. It's just whether there is any merit to it, is my question. Trumpeting we are pretty good at; it's just the substance and follow-up I'm worried about.
Well, we're not always good at advertising the successes that Wales has, but I accept that we've got a lot to do.
Can I just specifically ask, finally, Tracey Burke, on the question of working together and the formal ways of working, and specifically about the public services boards, which are meant to be the front end of how the future generations Act comes together? I'm not sure if any analysis has been done about the efficacy of the public services boards. I hesitate to quote anecdotal examples, but my anecdotal experience of the views abroad about the worth of public services boards is that the jury is out. That's me being polite. So, I just wondered what your thinking was on public services boards and what we can do to actually give them some teeth.
Okay. So, the feedback that I've had, just through talking with colleagues, is that they are playing an effective role. I think they took time to find their feet and to begin to work together effectively. But, certainly, the feedback that I've had in my questions over the last few weeks has been that they are, on the whole, working effectively, joining up services. I'm quite happy to look into that if there are very different views about the efficiency or effectiveness of the public services boards, but, personally, I haven't heard those kinds of comments being made about their work.
My question is directed to Andrew. What plans are in place to update the input and output tables that are used by the Welsh Government when developing the economic policy they have made?
We have had a conversation just today, actually, in this context of the economic action plan about how we underpin the economic policy that we develop as an organisation. There are a number of commitments in the economic action plan that we will need to follow up specifically, and that includes how we set out our inputs and our outputs. It also includes some of the work that I was referring to a few minutes ago in respect of the WFG Act. That requires us, again, to look at the magenta book requirements in relation to accounting officer work on evaluation, to make sure that we are following up not just on the detail going into policies at the outset, but also making sure that we follow up afterwards. It's part of our learning process, and it's also part of our reassuring that we have spent money effectively and learning lessons around that. So, there's a suite of work in progress, but if you would like me to follow up specifically with you with a note, I'm happy to do that.
Thank you. And, what sort of input you are getting from other devolved nations in this context.
Do you mean we should cover that in the note?
Yes. Will do.
I think—I mean, Oscar will correct me—he's referring to input/output tables in the context of modelling the economy, rather than input/output in terms of an evaluation framework. There was quite extensive work done over many years—Max Munday and others—in terms of modelling the economy, and it hasn't been updated, possibly, in recent years.
Okay. I will follow up with you on that specifically and make sure that you have got the latest detail.
If you could get back to us on that, that would be great. Neil Hamilton.
I'd just like to ask you about Welsh Government-funded arm's-length bodies. With the candour that one always hopes for in a senior civil servant, in his valedictory meeting with the committee, James Price said in October that arm's-length bodies had been a bit of a bane of his life and that it has never been clear from a governance perspective what 'good' looks like. So, I was wondering whether, unencumbered by experience, you could shed any light upon this, and whether you think, so far as you can tell at this stage, as regards independence and accountability of these bodies, that you've got some ideas as to how to improve things.
So, whether they've been the bane of my life or not, arm's-length bodies have been a big part of my career from Whitehall days and, indeed, I've looked at this from both ends of the telescope, having worked in a regional development agency in a non-departmental public body, and the requirements that used to come down to us from Whitehall. There's a review that's more or less complete now that's gone on across Welsh Government. A lot of the arm's-length bodies are within the ESNR group's purview, and we have contributed very significantly to that review. Indeed, James Price, my predecessor, got it going in the context of ESNR, and then we all agreed it was better to do this from a Welsh Government perspective.
I think—I may be wrong about this—that the Permanent Secretary has either written to you or is about to write to you with some of the key findings of that review. It's around a mixture of things: clarity—some of the points that Tracey was making earlier—about instructions; transparency; being very clear about lines of Government; making sure that we've got good record-keeping in place; and making sure that we're learning from best practice. I don't think the intention is that we should centralise all ALB sponsorship functions into one place, because they're such a diverse group, but making sure that we have clear arrangements, consistency of approach and that we're learning along the way I think will be some of the things that we will be doing, including how they are treated from the point of view of accounting, and so on.
How do you intend to establish and build on existing relationships in this area? A lot of these bodies, of course, straddle different areas of policy, so that your teams inside of Government will not be congruent with these bodies, and so there's a lot of dispersal of responsibilities. So, in those circumstances, it's quite difficult to see where the central focus might be inside your departments.
So, if there isn't already, certainly as a result of the review there will be an accountable lead sponsor function within Welsh Government for each of these bodies. I think, in most cases, that is already true, and we will follow that through and make sure that that is absolutely the case, and it is their responsibility to make sure that, in our various interactions with those bodies, we've got a more joined-up approach.
From my own perspective, part of it is getting out and meeting the individuals concerned—the chairs and chief executives—where that is appropriate, talking to the sponsorship teams and making sure we're clear about what we're looking for in our relationship with those bodies, and making sure that that is clearly set out in the paperwork that exists.
If I could just add, if they are a bane, I've only got two arm's-length bodies, so perhaps they're less of an issue. I have Qualifications Wales and the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales, and both of those have accounting officer responsibilities. So, I've already met with the director for Qualifications Wales just to discuss accounting officer responsibilities, and also to check that the framework document was in place and that it was regularly reviewed, and I will continue to meet with him going forward. I have a meeting in the diary next month to do the same with the local democracy and boundary commission.
I'm conscious that we're banging up against the deadline of 3.30 p.m., but there's just one more question I'd like to ask. In September 2015, the Welsh Government senior management was restructured. How do you see the current structures within your own management groups, and do you see a need to continue to review the structure of the organisation?
So, it's a live question for me, not only because I've got two vacancies—one left by Tracey when she moved into her new role, and also another one on the environment side—and what that means for the relationship between those functions and other parts of the group is something that I'm thinking about at the moment. These are not conversations that are just going on in my own head, but taking to colleagues as well.
I think structures are undoubtedly important, but if we're to deliver 'Prosperity for All' and the economic action plan successfully, it's going to have to be much more about how we work across the organisation, matrix working, pushing through programmes where you've got accountable leads for particular outcomes, but then drawing in other people.
If I take Wylfa Newydd, which I was talking about earlier, that requires a whole-Government response; we can't have a structure that will deal with that particular issue. We need to get better at cross-Government working, and that will be a key focus I think for me, both within the group and in terms of how we engage across Government as a whole.
In response to your earlier question, the Permanent Secretary is due to write to the committee shortly regarding arm's-length bodies, so you're quite right in what you said about that being a timely issue. We are bumping up against the deadline, but I think, Lee Waters, that you have a very quick final question.
Just a short one to finish to Andrew Slade, specifically on arm's-length bodies, specifically Transport for Wales. James Price, when he gave his valedictory, said that he thought there was a strong case for giving Transport for Wales powers in order to be able to capitalise on land values around future metro stations. When I asked the Cabinet Secretary about this in the Senedd recently, he seemed less enthused about the idea. I was just wondering if you can give us an update on where policy is on that.
I don't have a particular view on that at the moment. I've got a briefing session on Transport for Wales coming up—I think it's either the end of this week or early next. Apart from anything else, that's because James, going into that new role, stepped away from a certain number of those conversations and discussions that we needed to have and, to be honest, I haven't had a chance to talk to the Cabinet Secretary about it either. But that will be one of the key issues for me in the next few weeks—the role, the set-up for Transport for Wales, how we move that forward and the type of work that it can take forward for Wales as a whole.
If you could clarify that specific point once you are clear, that would be great.
Of course, it's always tempting fate to say 'and finally', because immediately Adam Price thought of a question. So, he can have the last word.
This is in the 'breaking news' category as well, I'm afraid. Seeing as procurement and economic infrastructure, Andrew, are part of your role, I was wondering if you could give us a sense—if work has gone on today—of, factually, what the exposure potentially is for Wales as a result of Carillion's bankruptcy. And a more general question then: what is the contingency planning in situations like this? What happens next when a large contractor goes into liquidation, and also what kind of stress tests do we put in place to try and minimise this eventuality?
So, my understanding, Mr Price, at the moment, is that our exposure is relatively low across Welsh Government. We haven't got lots of schools being built by Carillion, or hospitals or parts of hospitals for that matter. There's a degree of modest exposure in respect of some of our road programmes—the A40 and the A55. I think some design work was being undertaken by Carillion. I think from memory, but I will check for you, that in each case they were acting as a sub-contractor and there was contingency provision in the event that a sub-contractor wasn't able to fulfil their part of the contract, and I'm pretty sure that we own the intellectual property as well. Carillion also do some landscaping and maintenance work around portions of the A465, but again I think probably in criticality terms that's relatively limited. I think you will be aware as a committee that they were a named sub-bidder as part of the Wales and borders franchise. We're in the process of working out with our lawyers what that means. But, again, I think the view is that that is not a showstopper, but I wouldn't wish to give you a definitive answer today.
The state of companies—their balance sheets, their cash flow positions—is one of the things that we do look at before we enter into any contractual arrangement with people. I think at least one of the road contracts was done at a time when we knew that Carillion was probably under a degree of stress. We weighed up the risk associated with it and the possibility of bringing somebody else in in the event that they weren't able to fulfil the contract, and the view was taken on that basis that we should proceed. So, that partly answers your stress-test process. We have to work pretty closely with UK Government and others on this, and, indeed, the things that we say around Carillion we have to be a little bit circumspect about, for obvious reasons. The UK Government has given a commitment in respect of service delivery, that much we know, but beyond that, at this stage, I don't think I can advise. A relatively small number of people are employed by Carillion in Wales and we're having a look at the implications for them at the moment.
And that's it, that is the final question. Can I thank our witnesses for being with us today, Andrew Slade and Tracey Burke from the Welsh Government? As Oscar said earlier, congratulations on your new roles. Thank you for giving us a bit of a flavour of how things are at this point, as you start out in your new roles as directors general. We look forward to working with you in future. And we'll send you a transcript of today's session for you to check before it's finalised.
I'm here to see you next week as well—next Monday.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 6 and 7 of today's meeting. All content? Great.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:35.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:35.