Pwyllgor yr Economi, Seilwaith a Sgiliau - Y Bumed Senedd

Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee - Fifth Senedd


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David J. Rowlands
Hefin David
Joyce Watson
Lee Waters
Mohammad Asghar
Russell George Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Vikki Howells

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adam Butcher Uwch-reolwr Polisi ac Ymgysylltu, Llywodraeth Cymru
Senior Engagement and Policy Manager, Welsh Government
Chris Hale Pennaeth Swyddfa Gwyddoniaeth Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of the Welsh Government Office for Science
Dr Delyth Morgan Pennaeth Datblygu’r Rhaglen Ymchwil, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Research Programme Development, Welsh Government
Julie James Arweinydd y Tŷ a’r Prif Chwip
Leader of the House and Chief Whip
Professor Peter Halligan Y Prif Gynghorydd Gwyddonol Cymru
Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales
Richard Sewell Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Seilwaith TGCh, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, ICT Infrastructure Division, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Abigail Phillips Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Gareth Price Clerc
Joe Champion Ymchwilydd
Robert Lloyd-Williams Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Robin Wilkinson Ymchwilydd

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 9:39.

The meeting began at 9:39.

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

Good morning. Croeso, bawb. I'd like to welcome Members to committee this morning. I move to item 1. There are no apologies this morning. I understand that a couple of Members do need to leave a little early today. Are there any declarations of interest? No. 

2. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 3 a 4
2. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 3 and 4


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 3 a 4 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 3 and 4 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

In that case, I move to item 2, and under Standing Order 17.42, I would resolve to exclude members of the public from items 3 and 4. Are Members content with that?

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:40.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:40.


Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 09:57.

The committee reconvened in public at 09:57.

5. Craffu ar Waith Arweinydd y Tŷ a'r Prif Chwip
5. Scrutiny of the Leader of the House and Chief Whip

I'd like to welcome you back to committee and move to item 5 on our agenda. We're pleased, this morning, to have Julie James, Leader of the House and Chief Whip with us. I'd be grateful, leader of the house, if you could introduce your officials as well.

They can introduce themselves, actually. So, Richard.

I'm Richard Sewell, I head up the Welsh Government's ICT infrastructure department.

I'm Adam Butcher, I'm the senior policy manager in the ICT infrastructure division.

Lovely, thank you. The mobile action plan was launched, leader of the house, in October last year, and we have seen mobile coverage increase since that mobile plan was published. What can you claim out of that mobile action plan as a success with regard to that increase that we've seen?

Well, we've had very good engagement with the industry across the piece, but the main levers for mobile coverage, as you know, are not with the Welsh Government. So for us, we're just an encouragement, setting-some-of-the-scene agency. I engage a lot and officials engage a lot with the industry overall and actually, with local authorities around the piece and so on, to try and smooth the path, but in the end, we don't have any of the actual levers that I'd like to have.

—but they aren't the main levers. So, we have some issues with planning, for example; we have some levers around some incentive levers and stuff—nothing that is particularly good.

So, if you take the example that we've discussed in Plenary a few times around the permitted development rights, planning colleagues are preparing to lay the regulations to change the permitted development rights and it's not in my portfolio, so I'm not in a position to tell the committee very much more about it. But, they have done the extensive consultation and they're in the preparation phase for laying the new regulations.

We've discussed with the mobile industry, for example, the issue about non-domestic rates, but in a conversation that goes along the lines of, 'If we do this, what can we expect in terms of your commitment to further coverage?', or whatever, we don't really get the sorts of responses we'd like. The big issue for Wales is geographical coverage. Where there's good coverage in the conurbations and where there's high population, we don't really have a problem there. Where we have a problem is in more rural or very rural parts of Wales, where there is either a single operator or worse still, no operator at all. That's the big issue for us, and we don't have the levers to fix that.

If I could, I would allow roaming, for example. I've used this example many times before and I'm quite happy to use it again. If you have a European based SIM card, then your phone will connect happily to whatever network is available. If you have a British SIM card, that's not allowed. You can make a 999 call and it's really something that we need to publicise, because people think that if their phone is saying that it has no signal, they can't even make a 999 call, but actually, in most places, you can, because that will then connect to the only available network there and there's a reciprocal arrangement for that. There's nothing to stop that happening. I mean, it's exactly the same—the analogy is using an ATM, if you use an ATM anywhere, then your bank will—. Say you've got bank A card and you put it in bank B, then bank A will be charged by bank B for your using their facility.


Yes. The mobile operators have a different view, but I think that'll be picked up later in the session.

Their view is that that would inhibit further expansion of the network, but there's no evidence that they're expanding the network now. So, I'm very reluctant to accept that as an excuse.

There's been an improvement in mobile coverage. How has that happened without them expanding the network?

There's been some improvement. We have a single operator coverage. We're constantly arguing with Ofcom and with the UK Government about what the geographical coverage obligations should be.

Well, we think that the coverage obligations for Wales in the sale of the spectrum should be higher than they are elsewhere, not lower, because we're already lower. So, if you make them lower again, we're constantly lagging behind.

Well, because they think that the population isn't high enough here to justify the commercial expense, whereas I think it's a public service, and there's a fundamental political difference there as well.

One thing I do want to just come back to in my original question is: what tangible results can you pinpoint as what the mobile action plan has actually achieved? What can you tangibly—?

Well, I think we've had good conversations with the mobile operators. We've actually had quite a decent working relationship with them around what we can do in terms of backhaul and some mast sharing, about planning some of the networks, and so on.

Well, I hope so, but it's very hard to say, tangibly, because we don't have the major levers.

In the Welsh Government statement for this meeting, leader of the house, you stated that,

'it is important to recognise both the opportunities and limitations of what the Mobile Action Plan for Wales can deliver.'

So, if fully implemented, what impact would the mobile action plan have on mobile coverage in Wales? You said earlier on in answer to my colleague that the notspots are virtually now in rural areas, but quite frankly, they are all over the place. Pontypool has very poor reception and Ponthir just outside Newport is a very poor reception area. Will this action plan actually cover those areas as well?

The problem is I don't have the levers to say, 'You must go here.' Would that I did. I really wish that I could say, 'I'm sorry. Here are the three notspots. You, mobile phone operator, have got to go there', but that's just not how it works. What they have to do is show that they have a percentage coverage across Wales and that isn't 100 per cent. So, as long as it's lower than 100 per cent, you're going to get areas that aren't covered, and I don't have the levers to stop that happening.

The mobile phone industry will say to you that it's very hard to get to some areas and that they need some incentives to do so, and some of that is around the cost of putting in masts and backhaul and all the rest of it, but in the end, it's a commercial decision for them, and I can't interfere in that. So, if they've only got three or four customers in a particular place, then they're very unlikely, without compulsion, to actually go to that place on the back of a commercial decision. So, unless you say, 'You must cover—. When you buy this spectrum, part of the obligation of buying it is that you must cover it', then what's the incentive for them to do so? I don't have control over that. 


So, is that the limitation you were talking about when you made that statement?

Yes. So, when they buy the spectrum—2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, as they go up—they buy the spectrum with some obligations that are attached to it, and they include geographical coverage obligations. But those obligations are not 100 per cent, and until they are 100 per cent, you won't get that coverage. So, unfortunately for me, that's not in my hands. Would that it were.

I still find it difficult that somewhere like Pontypool or Ponty—. These have large numbers of populations; they are not isolated, with two or three people, or whatever it is. They're quite large towns, and there's still poor reception for mobile phones within those. Is there some way you can lever them, or—? Do they have knowledge of it?

I'm not familiar with those specific places. I very much doubt that it's a notspot for all operators. So that will be a case of, 'You're not on the operator that covers that particular area'. And that's the issue about roaming. I'm not picking on these companies in particular, these are just random examples, but, if you're on O2 and the coverage there is Vodafone, it won't swap to Vodafone to allow you to make the call, unless you make a 999 call. And I personally think that we should allow roaming to allow that to happen. You can't say, if you run a tourism business in the middle of Wales, 'Come to my lovely tourist area, but don't come unless you have a—fill in the blank operator—number'. That's clearly hopeless.

What we're trying to say is that one size doesn't fit all. I understand why the companies don't want to have roaming in places where there usually is good coverage—although, David Rowlands, you were pointing out that it's not universal across conurbations—but in some areas of rural Wales, in fact a fairly high percentage of rural Wales, there's never going to be more than one operator, so the idea that you can't allow roaming there because it's a commercial problem really just doesn't sit comfortably with us.

Okay. Can you give us an indication of the level of engagement the Welsh Government has had around the mobile action plan from the mobile industry itself, local authorities and the wider public sector in Wales, and also the UK Government? They are all agencies involved in this, aren't they?   

Yes. We've had workshops, and the officials are in constant contact with all of them, and I've met with most of the operators. We have a rolling programme of meetings with them. I've attended breakfast meetings, round-tables and lots of discussions, and we discuss it with the local authorities in terms of what they can do in terms of road closures for development works, and all that sort of stuff, but, in the end, these are considered to be luxury products being rolled out on a commercial basis. 

Do you have any assessment of how many complete notspot areas there are across Wales?

I think Ofcom—. In the figures from January, anyway, Ofcom is reporting that, geographically, it was 5 per cent. And if you compare that with geographic coverage for all operators, which is about 70 per cent, you can instinctively see a swing, and if you were to make all of the networks available to everybody, then you could swing from 70 per cent coverage to 95 per cent coverage overnight, if you allowed that kind of national roaming. 

How is roaming going to help in complete notspot areas?

It won't. National roaming won't help with that. That's going to require different—


That requires the geographic coverage obligations for the spectrum sales, because, with the best will in the world, these are commercial operators and it's not ever going to be commercially viable for them to go out to somewhere where there are very few customers. So, unless the Government makes them, they're just not going to do that. I have every understanding of why the industry doesn't do that, because the return on their capital investment is slow. And the other thing is—and, Rich, if you want to use your analogy with broadband—in doing the calculation for each operator as to whether the commercial investment is worth it, they're also divorced from the point of sale. So, if you think about the broadband issue, you can work out how much the line costs to get to a particular place and you can work out how many people are there who are likely to buy it, and you can work out what the monthly cost over the amortised capital cost is and you can see whether that's worth it, or not. With mobile coverage, you're selling the phones and the contracts down here on the high street; it's actually completely disconnected to where the commercial decision is made. So, they make the decision on the basis of a coverage wall between the various operators, not on particular places. So, actually, you're more likely to increase the coverage in places where coverage already exists than you are to get it out into the places where it doesn't exist without the compulsion, hence the conversation about, 'You have to put geographic coverage into the spectrum sales, otherwise they just don't do it'.

Thank you very much, and thank you, Minister. I have no doubt as to your willingness to get the best for Wales, and the communication and digital infrastructure  is vital for Wales, on which I agree with you, and prosperity is based on it. Wales is a rural nation with many communities comparatively isolated from large urban areas. This makes Wales's households and SMEs particularly reliant on mobile services provision. You've just mentioned that it's a commercial reason, so not everywhere can go in and earn money. In certain areas, they should lose money, and I have yet to see somewhere where these big companies— telecommunications and others—are losing in their annual accounts. They're making huge profits. So, why can't you be a little bit stronger, contract wise, with these big companies to make sure that they roll out to the smaller areas in Wales? 


That's because it's not devolved to me; it's the UK Government that has that lever, not us, and if you want to put some—. I've been arguing with them that we ought to have those levers for quite some time, so it would be very helpful if the committee agreed with that. 

There are levers that are at your disposal as well, aren't there, leader of the house?

No, not really, because as I say—. I have every sympathy with them; I'm not having a go at the industry. I totally understand why, on a commercial basis, which is what they operate on, they have no public service drivers. So, they buy the spectrum, they comply with the geographic coverage that they buy, and then they make money out of the spectrum that they've purchased. If there's no onus on them to go to other places where they're going to make a loss and would have to cover that over the profit from the rest of the spectrum, why would they do that? I'm not arguing with them about it. I understand why they do that, but, from our point of view, it's very frustrating because we don't have any way of getting them to go there. 

Thank you very much, Chair. Minister, you also said earlier this year, in January, that the Welsh Government would issue an updated mobile action plan as soon as you would receive a piece of research from the planning department. Have you received that research yet? 

So, the planning department are currently considering, as I said in answer to the opening question, laying new regulations as a result of that. That's not in my portfolio; that's in a colleague Cabinet Secretary's portfolio. But I understand that that's in train and is likely to be laid in the new year. 

I was going to say, Adam, we have received that evidence, haven't we, in January? 

Yes. The evidence was published in January. It's available on the site. 

But the outcome of that is that the planning department are looking to lay the new regulations. As I say, it's not in my portfolio. 

And technical advice note 19—is it something to do with that? 

The problem with our mobile action plan is that we're trying to pave the way round the side of something, where the main levers are not in our hands. So, we're trying to smooth out any bumps in the road in Wales that are in our control. For example, the mobile phone operators, I know, have been giving evidence to you about what size mast they want. The problem is, though, that the technology also moves ahead all the time, so that will change fairly continuously. One of the issues there is that it's not planned for the best geographic coverage across the nation on a single build of mast. Each company builds its own networks, so you get a proliferation of masts if you don't have mast sharing in place or, again, there's not an obligation on them to do so. And, of course, each of them has an existing network that they're building out. So, you know, lots of them have legitimate problems with getting their own network out to places, because the masts for the other networks are not in quite the right place to match in to their backhaul. But there's no obligation on them to plan that together either, so you get a proliferation of masts across national parks, and so on.

Hence the careful research in Wales about the—. I've given evidence to this committee on this point before. There's a balance between the number of masts you want in national park areas, and so on, and the coverage that you're trying to get. So, trying to get that balance right is very important. I don't know if the committee's done the research, but if you look at the number of planning applications that have been made by mobile phone operators, it's quite disappointing. It's not like they're champing at the bit making these planning applications, because they're not.  

Mobile UK says that the planned reforms of the permitted development regime are

'along the lines of catch up with England'.

Those are the words. Is this a fair characterisation? 

It's true that the English regime changed a while ago, but the idea that we should just do it because England did, because Wales doesn't have any specific characteristics, I just don't agree with that. So, I think it was essential to do the research in Wales to see what our population thinks is the right balance between the mast building and the coverage. Different communities—that's the whole point of a local planning regime—have different views on the trade-off between having the masts up and having the coverage. So, that's the point of the local planning regime—that the local planning committee, which is democratically elected, gets to make those decisions.


Thanks, Minister. Has the Welsh Government considered introducing a more liberal permitted development regime in return for concessions placed on the mobile network operators? 

So, that's the difficult conversation I was just talking about. So, if we say, 'Look, if we do this—if we reduce the non-domestic rates, for example, or if we pave the way with slightly higher masts—what will you do in terms of investment?' Actually trying to tie that down is very difficult. So, they say that, in general terms it would help, but trying to say, 'If we do this, will you go there?'—that's proved problematic.

We don't have from the industry a list of masts that they are ready to build as soon as this permitted development change happens, or whatever it is. So, we have a conversation; we are engaged in a dialogue and we're going through that planning process to update the rules and change the landscape and reflect better what's in Scotland and England probably. But at the same time, we don't get that return to say, 'And as a result, we've got this slew of masts that are going up in these areas and this is what the coverage impact is going to be.' So, there is an air or a feel of a bit of misdirection here as well. Then, of course, while we're making these changes—we've made changes in the past—the conversation is ongoing about more changes. I think the world is never quite enough in this space.

What specific evidence led the leader of the house to believe that the mobile industry’s view was that,

'it's a silver bullet to simply be allowed to build bigger and more masts'? 

Because that's what they'd asked us for. So, the conversation about, 'What do you want in terms of the permitted development?'—. Because the technology changes, and, again, it's perfectly understandable—the technology changes, so the masts get bigger. So, at what point do you—.

And then that's the other thing I said about the way that they invest—this is not talking about increasing the coverage in places where there isn't any; this is about changing the technology in places where there's already coverage. So, bear that in mind. So, this is not necessarily about extending the coverage network; this is about changing the 4G network to 5G or the 2G network to 3G, or 3G to 4G. So, it's not necessarily the case that they want those masts to build out into places where they aren't yet present. So, that's the other conversation. So, sometimes they're asking for those development rights because they want to change existing masts and not because they want to build new ones.

I think there's also a scenario where you could go from a pure, network-coverage perspective. So, if you wanted blanket coverage, you would make it as easy as possible to build as high as possible, whenever you wanted, on a permitted development basis without consultation and just build networks. But even in that kind of nirvana regime from a construction perspective, you still wouldn't have the commercial incentive to put masts in all of the places where they are needed. There's a cost involved in extending 100 per cent coverage across Wales. Because of the topography, it needs more infrastructure, whether it's tall infrastructure, short infrastructure. Whatever it is, you need more of it, and that comes down to a pure commercial argument and the willingness to invest.

While we talk with the industry about what we can do to help and support and the levers we can pull and that we can put the plans on the table, ultimately there is a point at which their willingness to invest stops and that probably is in the realm of 80 per cent or 90 per cent coverage of the population, because it's the population that gives them the revenue, and it's also on a par with their direct competitors—everybody's fighting in the same space. So, as long as you've got enough to aim at, you don't need to go the extra mile commercially to mop up everybody.

To use the analogy—and I'm hesitant to do that with Russell George as the Chair—with broadband, if you don't allow public investment in that infrastructure, then they're just not going to go there. So, without the public investment in the broadband infrastructure, they would never have gone outside the commercial areas, and it's no different for the mobile network. 

I'll come to you in a second, David. One thing I do want to mention is that the mobile operators, when put to them last week that they wanted to build as big a mast as they wanted, anywhere they wanted, they didn't recognise that comment.

Ask them the question: where are you going to go if the permitted development rights are lowered? Where are the new masts going to be? Ask them. I would be very grateful if the committee could get that information.


They did make the point that, if they had taller masts, they could share much easier those masts. I can understand your scepticism with regard to that, but is there a possibility of you saying, 'If we allow these larger masts, you must share these—

I don't have the power to do that. That's the problem. In terms of the size of masts, bear in mind it's not only the height of the mast; it's also the width of the mast and the style of the mast. So, obviously, the more triangular the mast the more stuff you can hang on it, but the more ugly it is, the harder it is to shroud and make it look like a tree and all that sort of stuff. So, there is a trade-off between what type of mast you allow to be built—height and width and all the rest of it—and the coverage. Again, there's been a conversation with the network operators—I don't know if you got this piece of information off them, but there's been a conversation with the network operators and the Home Office about whether they share the Home Office TETRA masts. That conversation has not been—well, it hasn't been as fruitful as we would have liked, shall we say. 

Again, I'm not trying to say that they're just being awkward for the sake of it. You have to understand that they have a network and they need to understand how that backhaul works and where the masts need to be for the optimum coverage for their network. But they're not looking at geographic coverage in that, they're looking at their own network and they overlay. We haven't planned this as an infrastructure set up; it's just been planned as a commercial set of operators doing something for profit. My own particular view is that that is not now adequate because it's become something that people rely on and therefore it's becoming an infrastructure and not a luxury product.

Before I come—. Sorry, did you want to come in, Richard?

I was just going to say that it's probably worth adding as well that the planning process allows operators to put in applications for masts as tall as they like. What we're talking about here is going through a permitted development route, which shortens that and reduces the level of consultation required with the communities involved. So, there's nothing stopping a company now coming forward and saying, 'We want to put a 100m mast up', as long as they're prepared to go through the proper process, which is a bit longer and involves consulting with people and taking their views on whether they want that infrastructure in their eyeline or whatever. So, it forces them down a road of engagement and consultation. That's the bit they don't like because it gives—

There's not a lot of evidence of them doing that all over Wales. We're not inundated in planning authorities with applications for bigger masts. I don't know if the committee's done some research into how many there have been in the last few years, but the planning authority is not inundated with these requests.

And, where you do see the planning applications going in, it is to satisfy the obligations on them with their licences, which Ofcom would have imposed on them—so, for example, x coverage for the price of the licence. So, we do see those applications going in, but it's for that purpose, and it takes you back to the levers. We've lobbied Ofcom about the 700 MHz release, to put the obligations on, and maybe even then to Treasury, 'Do you actually ask—?'—make this not about the Treasury return and make it about a coverage return, what is the important bit in a rural area.

And the other argument I've made several times in this committee and in answer to questions in Plenary is that we would like to see an obligation of using what they buy as well—a bit like a planning consent; you have to use it within a set amount of time or it reverts to public. We know that people have the ability to put 4G out, for example, across Wales and they're simply not doing it because it's not commercially viable or whatever. Well, we would like that to revert back to us after x years when they haven't used it so that we could actually do something with it. But it's not sold in that way, so, once they've got it, they've got it. If they choose not to use it, then what can we do about it? That's a real issue in the way that the spectrum sales are done, because, as I say, they are still sold as if they are a luxury product, and you all know sitting around this committee—I know there's no argument here in Wales—that this is really an essential infrastructure. So, it's very frustrating from our point of view that it's still treated in that way.

Okay. Before I come to Lee, can I just clarify one area? You did say earlier this year that you'll issue an updated mobile action plan as soon as you've had a piece of research from the planning department. I think you said you've had that in January, yet you've not updated your action plan. Is that right?

No. They've been consulting, so—. They've been consulting on what they want to do with the planning regime, and, once they've finished that and lay the regs, then we'll update the action plan. So, I accept entirely that that slipped, but there doesn't seem any point to me in updating the actual plan by saying, 'Well, we expect this to happen in the near future.' So, once we're clear what planning is doing then we'll update our plan accordingly. We expect that to be sometime—well, they're working on the regulations now, so they'll lay them early in the new year. So, we expect that to be sometime in early spring next year. 


So, you've made the case—convincingly, I think—about market failure and that the regulatory regime allows that to happen. You made the parallel with broadband—so, are you reaching the stage where you think that the Welsh Government, even though this isn't devolved, may need to step in to intervene, because otherwise the market will not meet our key needs?

So, that's a discussion we're having. I don't think, unless we—. We're still hopeful that we can persuade Ofcom and the UK Government to sell the new spectrum sales on the basis of a much higher, if not 100 per cent, geographic coverage, and also to do what I said about putting time limitations on them and so on. But, if that doesn't happen, then there are going to be areas of Wales that are just not going to get it. The other thing we're very keen to do is to see people leapfrog from nothing to 5G—not to have to climb the ladder, if you like. So, you don't want all the conurbations to have 4G and 5G services and parts of Wales to have nothing or 2G if they're lucky or voice calls only or whatever. And so it's a question of what the best way of doing that is with commercial companies, because unless you incentivise them or put public money into it or force them to do it as part of the obligations under the licence sale, it's difficult to see how else you're ever going to get coverage out into those areas. 

So, failing the UK Government and Ofcom taking a different tack, the Welsh Government is actively considering whether or not it intervenes. 

Yes. Yes, we are, and we're also looking to see what we can do with the public realm, what we can do by way of public Wi-Fi, for example, and so on, because the technology is changing quite rapidly, so you can use mobile technology to make internet calls or you can use broadband technology to make mobile phone calls. They really are starting to overlap and the artificial distinction in the devolution settlement is quite difficult, so we've got quite a lot of things going on around looking to see what we can do to run Wi-Fi off public buildings across Wales. We've got a piece of research going on at the moment—I don't have any outcome on this, just to be really clear to the committee, but you know that we have the public sector broadband aggregation running across Wales to all public buildings, or the vast majority of public buildings, and we're looking to see what we can do by way of using that to broadcast Wi-Fi signals. There are problems with that, because that's a public sector programme done under state-aid rules and there are lots of complex procurement issues around that, but we are actively looking to see whether we can use our broadband investment to put the Wi-Fi signal up high enough to allow people to make Wi-Fi calls on their smartphones, as most people have smartphones these days and not ordinary mobile phones. So, there are a number of—. We're making efforts in a number of areas to see what we can do with existing infrastructure that we control to try and get that out there, but there are complicated rules about what we can do in terms of interfering in a commercial market. So, we've got to get state-aid cover for that and all the rest of it. All I can say to the committee is that we are actively looking at that. We don't have any outcome about whether we'll be able to do that or what the best way of doing it is. 

It's worth pointing out as well that we're not alone in this space; there are other parts of the UK grappling with the same issue. Adam spent a bit of time up with Scotland looking at what they're doing so we're not reinventing the wheel. I don't know if you want to talk more.

The Scottish model—they're looking at public infill, so they're looking at 16 mast sites at the moment in those areas where the commercial sector just isn't going to go. I think they're on their first mast. As Richard said, I've been up to Scotland to see what they're up to, spoke to their consultants and the Scottish Futures Trust as well just to try and learn something of what they're doing and whether that would fit a Welsh model or not. Their issues are slightly different to ours in that they've got very high mountains and not many people behind them, whereas, in Wales, our mountains are a bit lower but we've got a lot more people hidden behind them. So, it's not the same thing but it was interesting to go and see what they're up to and the issues they were facing. 

Might there be a mutual or a co-operative solution for the public provision of services? 

Yes. We're actively looking to see what we can do. We've also got, just to stray—. Because these technologies are so mixed up—we've got the same problem with broadband, with the last 2 per cent or 3 per cent of broadband, so we're actively looking to see what we can do in the public realm to invest in that, or to stimulate some kind of publicly owned or mutual model of ownership, and one of the things that you'll all have heard me talking about is trying to get individual communities to come together to put the coverage in. The point is that, if you put 1 GB broadband coverage into your village then you'll have a Wi-Fi signal sufficient to make your mobile network work. So, the technology crosses across.

So, we're actively looking to see what other solutions we can put in, because—and, again, I'm not trying to criticise the market here, they have an imperative that is not geographic coverage, but they're clearly not going to make a commercial decision to go there, so we need to find some other solutions to get out to the populations there, and frankly, it's not just notspots. You cannot, as I say, advertise a good tourist attraction by saying, 'Come to my brilliant tourist attraction, Julie James Lollipops. Don't come unless you're a x mobile user.' That's clearly nonsensical. That's no good. It's not just for the people who live there. If you're trying to run a major tourist industry then everybody who comes has got to be able to use the kit that they've got. It just doesn’t work as a single coverage application.


And we had evidence during our inquiry on automation about precision agriculture needing 4G in order to be able to be rolled out. So, in terms of the industry's position—because we had different evidence from them last week in which they were saying that there are no deliverables yet, but I was struck by Mr Sewell's phrase of 'misdirection'.

I think this is a complex area where, on the face of it—. If you'll indulge me in an analogy slightly, imagine you're the grandparent of a student who's learning Spanish for the first time. What you have is—the tools at your disposal are to support the cost of a tutor, to support the cost of a trip to Spain to learn Spanish, the cost of apps, and all that kind of stuff, but you haven't got the direct influence over that student in terms of being their parent or being the school.

Yes. But what you have is you can contribute to a plan, and that's where the action plan sits. There are actions we can take to support that student on the fringes in terms of getting a better GCSE result. But the levers, a lot of the levers, sit with the school in terms of the regime that they describe, and with the parents in terms of how they can directly influence their child. But ultimately the pupil himself has to put the effort in and want to get the result done. We can do all we can do in terms of sending the child to Spain or whatever, and create the environment, create the potential for improved results, but, if the child does not want to put the effort in—you know, you can do all you want.

But to extend the analogy, from what the Minister just said, it may end up with granny splurging the cash out for this.

Well, potentially, yes. So, we have to be careful and—

If you take the analogy, actually, granny ends up dressing up as the pupil and going to take the exam, frankly. [Laughter.] Because what we're saying here is the operator has to put the effort in, and if, in the end, that operator says, 'Well, no matter what you do, I'm just not going to put that effort in, well then you have to substitute the pupil with something else. The analogy's starting to break down now.

Yes, but the point is, in the end, it's a commercial decision for the operator, and we understand why, as a commercial decision, that isn't likely to happen, because there just isn't the return for it in commercial terms. So, the options for that operator are that they are forced, by geographical coverage obligations, to do it—so, you have to do it in order to exploit the licence—or we incentivise it in some way to take the commercial risk out, which is what the broadband intervention has been, so, we de-risk it for the operator—the operator's still investing huge amounts of money, but we've taken the risk out of it for them, effectively—or we do the whole thing. So, with the broadband interventions so far, it's not been us doing the whole thing. The commercial operator there has invested a lot of money in that as well, but we've de-risked it; so we've taken a lot of the commercial risk out of it for them. So, there are several options here. We can de-risk it, we could take it over—although we don’t have the power to do that at the moment, and, as I said, we're investigating different ways of doing that—we can incentivise them, and we can argue about the penalties.

So, just a final question from me, just in terms of how all this applies to 5G: could you just update us on where you think 5G development is at?


So, that's extremely experimental at the moment. We've got some trials running across Wales. There are various examples of trials running. There are lots of issues around 5G exploitation at the moment. It's the sexy one to talk about, but there are lots of other technologies around—LoRaWAN is a very interesting technology for a lot of what we're doing as well.

But, as I said, what we're really keen on seeing is not that the people who now have 4G get 5G, and the people who don't have anything don't get anything, or everybody moves up a bit. We want to make sure that the people who are still in notspots and not served by this are able to leapfrog up that.

5G is really interesting on a number of philosophical points as well. If you're going to use 5G as the way of getting an automated vehicle to speak to the road, then I, personally, would not want that in the hands of a commercial operator. You don't want your car to be told that its operator has just gone bankrupt and, therefore, it's going to lose contact with the motorway that you're on. To me, that's not a sensible way forward. So, I think some public realm stuff has got to be put in place if you're going to have big public services like transport run using those kinds of networks. So, there are lots of philosophical conversations to be had there about who controls those networks.

To what extent would it be fair to say that the evidence given by Mobile UK to the Government's inquiry request for evidence on non-domestic rate relief was distinctly unimpressive? 

So, if you ask the question, 'If we lowered the rates that you have to pay for your masts, where will you build?', I don't think the answer is very edifying. 

I'm referring to the evidence that Mobile UK gave to your call for evidence.

No. As Richard said earlier, we don't have a list of places they're rushing to build at if only we would lower the rates.

But you're giving them an opportunity here. Why do you think they gave such poor evidence? We've received the written evidence since last week's oral session, and it doesn't seem to make much of a case. Why aren't they making the case?

Because I think each one of them has a different commercial imperative and has a slightly different need for their own network to be rolled out. So, they haven't got the imperative, 'We'd like to cover Wales.' They've got the imperative, 'How do we get more people into our network by small incremental growth of the network?' That's the best financial outcome for them.

But when you talk about non-domestic rates relief, this is something that they would all, universally, benefit from.

So, there's no division there—Mobile UK can make the case.

But the point is, they'd benefit from it now, wouldn't they? If we lowered non-domestic rates en masse across Wales, then the current infrastructure that they have would benefit from that. Their commerical—

But what you've said is that the evidence they provided was insufficient to make the case.

Yes, because we wanted evidence that said, 'If we do this, it will make the commercials on deciding to put the capital investment into building new masts in Wales look better, and therefore we're more likely to make the commercial decision to build out from where we are now if you lower these prices.' That's what we wanted, and we haven't got that.

So, you're looking for that evidence. You're also looking for evidence on business case mechanics, thresholds or measures they use to determine whether to deploy a site and the precise way rate relief could trigger an investment decision. They simply aren't providing that information. I'm trying to understand why.

No, not sufficiently for us to think that the loss of revenue to us is worth the outcome of it. 

But why aren't they beating down the door to say, 'Here's the info'?

Because I don't think that it's that significant an element of the commercial decision that they make.

So, it's just not worth it. So, business rates relief, as an incentive, is not going to solve this problem.

Well, we are not convinced that it's sufficient. And if the mobile phone operators, who I'm sure are watching this evidence session, want to give me better evidence, then I'd be very grateful to receive it.

I think, when we have looked at—. If you look at it on a blanket basis, I think we'd find it difficult to make the case stack up. I think the industry would probably say that they've got wider issues, that it's not one single issue. Business rate relief is one in a composite lever that—

Yes, but we'll focus on that just for this piece of the inquiry.

I think, what we are looking at is, maybe, more targeted options around that. So, a plan's in place to look at what if we were to look at specific areas where there was a range of measures that we could do, including rates relief. So, it's a bit more targeted—

That's your more focused rates relief scheme that you're proposing—

Yes, but we still need the evidence.

But even so—yes, you still need the evidence. Last week, I was trying to get out of them whether they were actually thinking, 'It's not our job to give you the evidence—it's your job to make the decision.'


But the point is that that's a trade-off, isn't it? It's one of the levers. It's a difficult conversation, because they need to go through their commercials with all of the elements of the commercials. No doubt, as Richard has just said, that will be the difficulty of getting planning consent—the permitted development rights would help that, they would de-risk that for them a little bit. The non-domestic rate lowering would take some of that risk out of it for them and so on. But, in the end, they've still got to do a commercial piece for every mast that they build and for each extension, and I don't think they've got the evidence themselves to say that that makes sufficient difference. 

Okay, so they haven't got evidence that would actually say that rates relief would make any—

If you imagine the way they do it, they'd have to do that for each mast they want to do and then they'd have to work out what element of that was—. So, it's quite a complex and, probably, costly exercise for them, to be fair.

So, could I infer from that, then, that non-domestic rates relief is just a very minor part of this bigger picture, given the—

It's part of a conversation we'd be happy to have with an operator who was talking to us about rolling out in Wales. I'd be very happy to have very specific conversations with them about specific issues.

But you've already given them an opportunity, and they haven't taken it, so it's clearly not a game changer—non-domestic rates relief.

I think it accounts for about 14 per cent of the annual operating costs of a mast, so it's not insignificant but it's not significant either, if that helps.

Okay. I'm still none the wiser as to why they won't give you that information.

Well, I don't think they have it in quite that way, because I don't think they make the investment decisions in quite that way. So, as I say, what they do, as I understand it, is they look at their network, they look at what the population looks like around that network and how many people are currently connecting to it on a daily basis—incoming and all the rest of it—and then they look to see what incremental commercial growth they might get out of extending that network geographically outwards.

But, you can't make a decision on relief until you have that information.

It's a trade-off for us, isn't it? It's an income to us, so we're losing income in order to—. I want proof that losing the income will actually generate the benefit that we want.

Well, I think we'd have to have very specific discussions in particular areas. The other issue is, as Richard said, that they're not usually looking at targeted non-domestic rate relief. They want it across the piece for their network, which increases their profit level.

You looked like you were going to say something there. I want to give you the opportunity—I don't want you to hold back.

This is a complicated conversation that we have. We have many discussions amongst ourselves upstairs and with the industry—

We are, really. This is it—this is the conversation about how you would get people to share commercially confidential information with you in order to be able to assist them. That's why I started to talk about needing more public intervention in this sphere. So, if you use the broadband analogy—we're doing well on analogies here today—until we incentivised the operators via an actual public procurement, putting public money into that, we had no roll-out outside the conurbations of high-population centres—and that's no different, really.

When I said earlier about misdirection, perhaps I was being slightly unfair, but it is, in a way—. What we're doing here with the action plan is making the right environment for further investment. So, there are levers you can pull, like non-domestic rates and planning. They all help, but they are almost, to a certain extent, to some degree, some sort of leap of faith, because you have no guarantees that the follow-up investment will happen. 

But, the point is that mobile operators are here and you're here, and nobody's kind of—.

Just use the roaming example, because that, I think, fundamentally shows you. The stats are: we've got 70 per cent coverage via lots of operators and we've got 95 per cent coverage by one operator. So, you could, overnight, by just switching roaming on—. It's not a complicated thing to do—they have to do it for European SIM cards, they have to do it for—. So, you could switch that on, and you could take that coverage to 95 per cent for all operators across Wales overnight.

But, I'm trying to understand the specific issue of—

—because they're run by commercial imperatives and not by public service imperatives, and that's the conflict, isn't it?

And that's why I'm a socialist, Chair. [Laughter.]

Amongst other complex reasons, I should hope, but there we are.

Good morning, Cabinet Secretary. I can give you a really good—not an analogy—factual account of covering my area, which is two thirds of Wales. I have two phones. At times, I can get signal on both, or, at other times, I can get a signal on one or the other, and, other times, I can't get a signal on either one or the other. So, in the current system, we'd be asking people to have four phones connected to four different networks so that they could have continuous coverage, and there are big problems with that. One of the big problems that are emerging is the fact that more and more people are not actually having landlines, they are relying completely on mobile coverage, only to find that they've been sold a phone and the network isn't there. So, there's another part to this whole equation, and that is about selling phones to people, knowing, or you ought to be knowing, that, actually, they can take it home and it's not going to work at all. So, I'll leave you with that thought.

So, having said all of that—and we've heard a lot of what you've said this morning and we've felt your frustration, and I've felt it on the road myself when everything goes down—what is it exactly, in terms of the contract that is being rolled out by the UK Government, over which we don't have any control or any levers, that would make the biggest difference to the people in Wales in the way that I've just described?


One hundred per cent geographical coverage obligations is the short answer to that, and, at the moment, Wales hasn't even got the same geographic coverage obligations as England and Scotland; we're the lowest in the proposals. So, yes, just forcing geographical coverage as part of the sale of the spectrum would make the most difference. 

I want to pick up one point, because I don't want it to be lost—it's the time limitation that you mentioned, because if they haven't got a timescale to deliver that obligation, you could be looking at 10 years down the road, because of the lack of timescales. 

So, at the moment, there are no obligations. They buy the spectrum, but once they've got to the geographical coverage obligation that they have, they have no obligation to use that spectrum in other areas, but they still own it, so nobody else can use it. So, what I'm proposing is that if you—. You don't need both. If you had a 100 per cent geographic coverage obligation, you wouldn't need to have the spectrum revert, because you'd have to use it. I'm suggesting that there are two alternatives. One is that you put that coverage up, which, of course, means the Treasury gets a lower take because the companies won't pay as much for that, because there's a clear trade-off with the obligation and the amount of money the Treasury gets, so that's a calculation for them, or, my other suggestion, if you want the tax take for that to be as high as possible, is that if they don't use it, on top of the geographic coverage obligation they have, within a set amount of time—planning consent is six years, I think I'm right in saying—then it reverts to the public purse, if you like, and we have another go or we use it as a public service. At the moment, we don't have either of those two things, so the company possesses, if you like, the spectrum, but doesn't have to use it, so we can't even get hold of it and use it ourselves, so it's very frustrating.

We've heard—. You briefly covered the issue of mast sharing, and we've been told by some that they would welcome it, and others, we know, wouldn't welcome it. And you've mentioned about public buildings in the way that you did, in terms of using that for broadband. Are we looking at some of those ideas as well, in terms of mobile coverage?

Yes. To be fair, with the broadband roll-out, for example—. And, Chair, this is the problem, because these technologies are merging at quite high speed here. So, in some places in Wales, the solution to the broadband coverage problem has been a mobile application, because some of the backhaul for the mobile is better than some of the broadband coverage. So, these are seriously merging in terms of technologies, and the converse is true. So, if we get a good broadband signal into an area, then that will enable Wi-Fi calling and it doesn't matter that the actual mobile signal is lower. So, there are lots of different solutions to that. I will say, though, if you're using a Wi-Fi solution on a secured network, obviously that doesn't help if you just wander through—it doesn't assist the ambient mobile signal. So, it requires communities who want to run tourist attractions, for example, to allow access to the Wi-Fi facility, and there are examples of that right around Wales. We've got good examples of it. There are complexities in using the signal that way, but to be fair to the mobile companies, lots of the technology that they've made available on the networks they have has actually solved some of our broadband issues. So, it works both ways, really.


I think there's also an appetite in the industry to share where they can. I think—

The issue there is how they plan their networks. So, if the mast is in the right place for a number of networks, it makes sense. What we're trying to encourage them to do is actually plan the network together, which they're much less pleased with—that idea.

Thank you, Chair. I'd like to understand a little more about the impact of emerging technologies on mobile expansion. Is this a significant area or is it just an interest on the side? 

No, it's significant. The problem is keeping pace with it, and, as I said, this ladder effect we're very keen to overcome as well. So, the difficulty we've got is trying to—. It's just this coverage area, and it's the same for broadband and for mobile, actually. The imperative of the company is to climb the spectrum ladder in the conurbations because that's where all the people will pay for it. So, if you roll out 5G in the centre of Cardiff, you're going to get a lot more customers than if you roll out 5G in the centre of Monmouthshire, clearly. And if you roll it out in central Powys, you're going to get even fewer customers, and, conversely—I mean, it's just an obvious fact of life.

The difficulty is that a lot of the emerging technologies are particularly useful in rural settings. So, Lee Waters mentioned precision agriculture, for example. Well, you need good coverage for that, but you need it in low population density areas. So, there's not going to be the commercial incentive there, and, so, you have to roll it out as a public service, it seems to me. So, we're looking to see what we can do by way of emerging technologies to fill in the blanks, and, as I say, the conversation we were just having about using mobile to get broadband coverage and using broadband to get mobile coverage is a good example of that because they do both work in both areas, but they have limitations.

So, there's already some work under way in the Teifi valley and the Llanbedr airfield. Could you tell us a bit more about those projects? 

So, there are lots of projects right around Wales looking at various emerging technologies. So, we've got LoRaWAN projects where, for example, the one I was particularly impressed with the other day was in Newport, where we were putting in a LoRaWAN network for council areas—putting a LoRaWAN network into a lot of the assisted housing facilities—and it tells you things like, 'The person hasn't put the lights on' or hasn't put the kettle on, and, therefore, they know they haven't got out of bed, so they know they've got a problem. So, it's not intrusive in the sense that it's not—but it means that you can call by if you're the warden and say, 'Are you all right Mrs Jones? Your pattern's changed', and Mrs Jones can say, 'Yes, I decided to stay in bed later this morning.' But there are some really good things that you can do. You can tell if somebody isn't turning their heating on and you can make an intervention. You can use it for all kinds of social contact, and those are very low frequency, very cheap devices that give you enormous amounts of data that assist with big social problems. So, those are not the, sort of, sexy 5G things, but they're still new, emerging technologies and, actually, our society's going to be transformed by them in the next 20 years. So, we need the network coverage out there to make sure that we can pick up the data from that. So, LoRaWAN technology's really interesting because the devices are little; low-maintenance; cheap to buy; don't require a massive spectrum to run and so on, but give enormous amounts of really useful data for things like social care or social housing.

And then, 5G, as I said, we've got to solve some of the philosophical problems. The example I gave you of the car talking to the road, we can all see all of the difficulties of that if that's a commercial enterprise that's got problems. So, you'd have to have a lot of safeguards in place. So, there was experimentation on that. I said in Plenary the other day about a college in Monmouth, in Montgomeryshire—I can't remember where it was, in the north, I'm sorry, I can't remember the name of it off the top of my head—that's using 5G throughout the whole school so that all of their systems are enabled by 5G technology. That's really interesting. We've got Ebbw Vale doing a test—

[Inaudible.]—in Pembrokeshire. 

Yes, the Pembrokeshire one. There's quite a lot of them around the place. I don't know if the committee's had the chance to go out and have a look at one of them, but I would highly recommend looking at one of the LoRaWAN networks. It's really interesting what can be done.

Thank you. And it sounds not just interesting, but, as you said, really significant in its impact for social care in particular. 

I think it's transformative over the next 10 years. We'll be so used to these things in 10 years' time that none of us will think it's even technology; it'll just be part of the scenery.


And talking of 'transformative', that's an adjective that's been used to describe the new Wales and borders franchise, and I'm interested in what you can tell us on plans to improve mobile coverage on Wales and borders rail services.

Yes. We're in discussion with Transport for Wales about putting mobile signal all the way down all of the networks in order to improve coverage all the way along all of the arterial routes, with a view to getting it out there as fast as possible, really. They're advanced discussions.

Yes. It was part of the franchise deal, the bid to improve coverage, and there are options to further increase coverage through dialogue. So, we're having that conversation now.

Leader of the house, a couple of times you've mentioned roaming. What the mobile operators would say is that that leads to poor customer experience because of drop-out. But they would perhaps say that, you would say, because they've got an agenda, but Ofcom also share that view as well. What's your view on that? 

No, they don't. I think that the problem with the roaming conversation is that it's often a conversation in which we're assuming that one size fits everywhere, and I did say, when I talked about it, that I entirely understand why they don't want roaming in high-coverage areas. So, if you're in the centre of Cardiff or Swansea or Wrexham or somewhere, I entirely understand that.

The point I was making though is that if Ofcom know that only a single operator has geographic coverage obligations across a big landmass, why on earth would you not make that operator allow roaming onto that network? Because, otherwise, nobody can get onto it at all. Drop-off is slightly better than none, I would argue to you. So, they're right, there are problems about the large number of connections and so on, but some connection is better than none. And at the moment, if you're not on the network operator that has the geographic coverage, then what you've got is nothing.

At what point would you consider intervening with public investment?

Well, we're sort of rapidly getting there, quite frankly, and the conversation about the spectrum sales at the moment is really essential. I mean, I can't emphasise enough that the way that the UK Government chooses to sell this next lot of spectrum will be really instrumental in what happens. The geographic coverages that they're currently proposing are inadequate, and we're really worried about what the outcome of that might look like if they choose to maximise the tax take and not look at the public benefits.

With regard to the emergency services mobile communications project, how have your officials liaised with the Home Office?

They have regular meetings with them. Richard, do you want to—?

Yes. The part of Welsh Government that deals with emergency services has a direct relationship with UK Government because there's a financial impact on Wales for moving from airwave to a different way of deploying via the mobile networks. So, there's a clear line between Welsh Government and the Home Office to discuss the impact of that.

My team, in particular, has been involved in discussions with the Home Office about ensuring that the masts that are constructed are capable of sharing, if not immediately, but in future, through ensuring that they have the right width at the bottom to allow height extensions and all that kind of stuff. Provision is made for backhaul and power that would support more than one operator. To take you back to the conversation just now about the impact of national roaming, I mean, it is true to say that there will be sites where having everybody be able to access that mast would put a strain on it because of the capacity in. These things are finite; you need a certain amount of power and you need a certain amount of backhaul to take the signal back.

This is a complex area. So, in terms of Home Office, we lobby for the capacity for future sharing and we have good dialogue with them on that. And we are engaged with the review of that programme, and we're encouraged that it is pressing ahead, but it remains to be seen to us, now, what the impact is going to be on the timescales for the delivery of the 63 masts that the Home Office signalled for Wales.

And of those 63 masts, how many will be available to the commercial user?

Well, all of them is our understanding; that is the starting point. Now, again, it depends on the impact of this fresh timescale, the new approach. We haven't had the detail, but the starting point is, all of them need to be capable of sharing for use of wider operatives. Our understanding is that from day one, it's EE's intention to make all of them part of its network; therefore, as available as a normal EE mast. There will be isolated constraints, I think, on some of them, particularly in rural, isolated areas, where it's only looking down one stretch of the road either way, where the backhaul's challenged to get in, or the power's challenged to get in, but I think that'll be in a very small percentage. The vast majority will be available for commercial use from day one by EE, and then, hopefully, by other operators as well.


Perhaps, finally, there is a view in the mobile industry that the Scottish Government is way ahead in terms of mobile coverage. I see you're looking at that, I'm looking for your comments on that. But that's not only the mobile operators, or the industry's view, it seems to be Ofcom's view—well, I think I'm right.

That's not our experience. As Adam said earlier, the issues are different in each country, and we've had this conversation lots of times, haven't we? The way that the Scottish population is situated in its countryside, it's in concentrations up its valleys. People don't live on the very top of the Scottish mountains.

But the argument would be, back from the industry—I'm sure what they would say is if there is a difference, that's all the more reason for Wales to be ahead in terms of permitted development.

I disagree with that; I don't want to go back through the argument that we've just had, but we think it's very important that the population of Wales get the right answer for them. And it was very important to consult about this whole issue around coverage versus proliferation of masts. One size does not fit all; that's our view.

Scotland are looking to do some stuff, we're looking to do some stuff. We're looking to see if we can learn off each other, even do it together, perhaps, in some ways. But they have very similar problems to us and their permitted development rights regime hasn't stopped them from being the subject of more asks from the mobile industry for higher masts or different shaped ones and so on.

Okay. Right, that brings us to a close for this session. Can I thank the leader of the house and her officials for providing us with evidence this morning? Thank you very much.

We haven't got a scheduled break. Do Members want a five-minute recess? You do. Right, a five-minute break. Back at 11:07.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:02 a 11:07.

The meeting adjourned between 11:02 and 11:07.

6. Craffu ar Waith Prif Gynghorydd Gwyddonol Cymru
6. Scrutiny of the Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales

I'd like to welcome Members back and members of the public watching in. I move to item 6, with regard to scrutiny of the chief scientific adviser. I welcome Peter Halligan this morning to committee, and I'd be grateful if you could perhaps—or if I ask your colleagues to introduce themselves as well.

Yes, sure. My name's Chris Hale. I'm head of division for the Welsh Government's office for science.

I'm Delyth Morgan and I head up the research programme development in Peter's office.

Lovely, thank you. Can I ask what is your vision for science in Wales?

My vision? Well, it's a very ambitious vision and it's predicated on the idea that—. I've been in this position now for six to eight months, and discovering, to some extent, the great opportunities that are available for Wales, but also the legacy that I've inherited from my predecessors. The vision is that we should become, and considered to be, a very important player—scale wise, we don't have it, but in terms of the excellence of our research. A lot of the work that I'm trying to do at the moment is to demonstrate to people that, unbeknownst to themselves, there's a lot of very good research science here. So, the vision for Wales, to some extent, is to be a main contributor with regard to the science, because, at the moment, the UK brand is very prestigious; people don't realise how much the Welsh science base actually makes a contribution to that. So, I'm very keen to promote and make people aware, and challenge misperceptions with regard to where Wales is.

From that point of view, I want to integrate a variety of things, and, as I've indicated in my document, there are five particular areas that I'm very keen to bring together. One is what it says on the tin—I'm a science adviser to the Government. From that point of view, to some extent, Wales was slightly later than other constituencies in doing that. I'm very concerned about ensuring that there's the quality and the type of advice that we can inform, and the evidence that we can inform, with regard to Government deliberation and decision making. We're not decision makers from that point of view, as CSAs, and I've spent a lot of time looking at what others have been doing. The other aspect is the promotion and communication. I don't think we do enough about that, and I'm very keen to do that and I can allude to that. The other aspects I'm doing in terms of part of that vision, because it's conceptualised in five particular pillars, is the idea of managing the Sêr Cymru brand, and that is a particularly successful brand that the UK Government is actually very interested in, in emulating, and they have sought to do that, and I can elaborate on that in more detail later on.

I'm also very keen, as part of that overall vision for science, to deal with the gender imbalance and also to encourage more people into science. From that point of view, role models are clearly important, but also the idea of people being aware and inspired. I'm very keen as part of that to show some of the great ideas that have come from Wales.

The other aspect is, in some respect, having an evidence base; there's no point being a science adviser if you're not going to be able to derive some of that science and put it together with regard to the evidence to the best usage for Government but also in promoting and describing where we're going.


Unquestionably, it has to be Brexit. So, from that point of view, there is a variety of things I can elaborate on. But also the second aspect is the reaction and the response the UK Government has to do that. Obviously, research in the wider sphere is in some respect dictated by Whitehall, so one of the real important aspects that I'm keen to do as part of my role is to actually link much more closely—to help shape and get under the skin of, to be seen to be a contributor in shaping some of those policies rather than waiting to react to those. So, from that point of view, we're developing in keeping with several recommendations from reviews getting more proximity to those opinion formers in London. So, in terms of my role and the office in London, we are expanding that to have a focus on science and innovation. Also, I regularly go down and meet the Government chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance and his whole team of departmental—[correction: his whole network of departmental CSAs]. I make sure I'm down there to hear what they're doing—so that's intelligence—but also to contribute where Wales is. There's a lot of despondency at the moment with regard to those groupings I'm talking about and the departments with regard to a 'no deal'. It's the idea of where we can interact with the UK Government, because Brexit is here and we've got to deal with that.

One of the aspects I'm also keen on, and I've done this in a variety of events recently. I've been out in Bulgaria and I've been out in Estonia talking about science advice and how we link up with other European Governments. From that point of view, I want to demonstrate how a small country like Wales can actually be a [correction: act as a] role model in terms of providing some of the advice and the guidance.

But, to come back to your question, Brexit unquestionably and the fact that we will lose a considerable amount of structural funds that we have been using in a very productive way, and I can talk about that in more detail. And then the reaction of the UK Government in terms of developing with UK Research and Innovation and the variety of strategies they're planning—. So, they're the two aspects. They're both related. 

Right. I know other Members have got questions about those items, so I'll let them expand on those later.

Finally, is there anything about the role that surprised you since you took the role on six, eight months ago?

Yes, there were a couple of surprises. First of all, there is the idea that what I'm now calling, as part of my Cabinet paper, the Welsh Government office for science—. There are a lot of good people doing work that we don't know about. So, that was one of the surprises, so I want to take some of that and put it in an outing both in terms of the Welsh audience, to make sure the taxpayers are aware of it, the UK audience, but also from a wider point of view.

There are also the challenges of working with the UK Government; I wasn't aware to some extent. There is a variety of conversations that take place at different levels, and to some extent there are opportunities there for improving the co-ordination of that. But I think, in some respects, coming as I did from academia into the environment with regard to Government, I was surprised with regard to the amount of work that is going on that perhaps could be better well known and distributed out of Government in a way that demonstrates that the Welsh Government is contributing to this in a very significant way.

I'm aware that we have two Members who have to leave early due to some other commitments today, so I'm going to bring them in first. Oscar Asghar. 

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you very much, Professor. Your earlier statement—I listened very carefully, and you mentioned brand UK, but what we are talking about here is brand Wales, so that is the objective, and I want to find out from you what you are doing to promote brand Wales to this committee, please. That's the first.


Okay. So, with regard to that, I'm working on a variety of documents. My colleague Delyth will refer to it, but the Sêr Cymru programme is a programme of capacity building that I have been asked by the UK Government to give more details of, which they used to inform some of the United Kingdom Research and Innovation initiatives—the future leadership fund—that they've got at the moment. Because this was up and running since 2012, so, from a brand point of view, the association—Sêr Cymru—the brand of that programme lives on.

It started in 2012 and it's got international attention, and it's been reported in Science and so forth. So, there's an example of a starting point. But what I'm trying to do in a variety of documents at the moment, because we need more materials to get it out there, to get that brand, to get the message, is, I've been working with regard to publicising how we've done in the research excellence framework, and I've also commissioned recently Elsevier because the UK Government—[correction: because the UK Government also use their bibliometric data]. Every two years, the bragging rights for the United Kingdom to say to the rest of the world that they're the best—. They use bibliometric data. I've now commissioned that for Wales, and that data indicates that we are very successful. When you control for population, we're outperforming Scotland. Scotland was always the desirable target. We were always ahead of England to some extent, because of the variety and with regard to that, but that data I'm now going to be putting out in a variety of different sources.

In terms of innovation, if you compare benchmark against regional areas within Europe, we actually do very well. We're the top of the innovation leaders [correction: the strong innovation leaders group]. I will get that out and I'll provide the evidence because there's no point in me just talking about it; other people can do that, but I have to provide the evidence. So, from that point of view, it's all building up with regard to the brand.

There are other aspects I'm doing in terms of our research impact. So, take—not the publications [correction: the academic publications] that I'm very familiar with—but, take it out, what does research actually do in the real world? In the last REF, we outperformed the rest of the United Kingdom; nearly 50 per cent are rated 4*. Now, if that was any other country, they'd be lording it; we seem to have lacked a little bit of the confidence to talk about those things. But when you put together those aspects that I've just described, you get a very credible evidence-based amalgamation of information that provides for quite a strong brand, one that can sit alongside with regard to where the UK Government is going in terms of research excellence.

Thank you very much. And what does the Wales brand mean within the United Kingdom? That's what I mean, anyway. Can you explain what your objective and targets are for your tenure? You've only been there for the last six months, I know, and appreciate very well. As the chief scientific adviser, how will you communicate these, and any action towards achieving them, to key stakeholders, please?

Okay. My objectives are, as laid out in the actual document in terms of the five pillars—they're the objectives. Within that, there's a variety of components that link with other aspects of Welsh Government that I don't have total control over. But the promotional aspect and the main objective is linking with the UK Government to try and ensure that, with regard to mitigating the disturbance, the perturbation that's going to occur as a result of that [correction: of Brexit], I think that has to be my priority.

Regarding linking with stakeholders at the moment, I've been out to many of the companies—IQE, I've been linking up with Airbus, I've been up in north Wales looking at the science park [correction: the new science park]. My intention is to go around and make sure that it actually is science in the round—so, it's higher education but it's also those companies. That's what I'm doing; I'm going out visiting those. But I'm also making certain presentations, and I'll be putting a series of documents together to get out to those stakeholders.

Just to take you back a couple of seconds to the research brand that you are identifying and to invite you to explain the importance of that brand in terms of maintaining our place but also in terms of investment in the near future, especially with Brexit looming, both to industry and to academia.

Okay. As I've elaborated with regard to the brand very much, with regard to that I've inherited, which I'm very pleased to have inherited, it's in terms of the programme, Sêr Cymru—Stars Wales—from that point of view. There were three elements to that. The first one with regard to these was based on the Stanford model [correction: Sêr Cymru was based on the Stanford University model] of bringing in excellent professors and the teams around those. That's done very well and it's something that other people are seeking to emulate with regard to it.

The second aspect was very much at [correction: very much directed instead at] a meso level—the capacitising in terms of rising stars and fellows and so forth. But we also had networks, so the brand it's associated with is the success and how we market that, and how we use the objective data with regard to bibliometrics, the research excellence framework, the innovation scorecards and so forth, to demonstrate how we're doing. So, the brand is only as good as it can be shown to be. So, from that point of view, I'm very keen—I spoke to the last question—on getting that information in a cohesive, co-ordinated way in a place where both Ministers and other officials can use that in a coherent way to dissuade people or challenge misperceptions with regard to where Wales is going. So, the brand is a very powerful vehicle from that point of view.


I understood that. I think the point I was trying to get to is that we know all of that, you know all of that, and you're going to prove it. So, having done that, what is the importance of it in terms of moving forward and maintaining our place in academia investment and also our place with bringing in industry, using that brand as a marketing tool? That's the point I'm really trying to draw out.

So, in other words, using that brand for the purpose of—.

Well, with regard to the academia aspect, demonstrating within the United Kingdom, which is now going to be the funding source of all that, that we do have a very important place to play—and, there, from that point of view, there's a variety of deliverable arms that we can take that information and make sure they're aware of it. Because they're using the word 'excellence' in terms of the quality of how they're going to distribute it; it's going to become internationally competitive. If we can show that, then the brand can demonstrate that, where we stand in terms of the funding associated with that, we have a legitimate place to sit at that table.

In terms of industry and innovation with regard to that, obviously, as you know, UK Research and Innovation amalgamates [correction: incorporated] Innovate UK, so, from that point of view, there's a more joined-up aspect, bringing different levels of funding together across what might be considered the training readiness levels—that's the TRLs—not just in terms of higher education, but moving out in terms of the translational aspect. So, from that point of view, we have evidence to suggest that we have [correction: that Wales has] been doing that, and, when I go out to industry and have discussions with them and explore with them, I can indicate the standing we have. And a reputation like that invites inward investment, because that's what Ireland has been doing, that's what Scotland has been doing; they've been using their universities and their research base. We need to use more of it, particularly at this point in time with regard to Brexit.

Thank you. That was the point I was trying to get to.

Thanks. I'd like to ask about artificial intelligence, because what I find interesting about the developments is it's not simply science in itself, it's the creation of a new discipline—it's science alongside engineering, alongside computing, alongside psychology, amongst other things. Cardiff and Swansea universities are beginning to bring those things together. I just wonder what your thoughts are on how we integrate these agendas to allow us to apply this in a way that means something real.

Well, it's one of the areas that you know that the UKRI are focused on, one of the grand challenges with regard to that. And there are misconceptions and concerns, rightly, with regard to the fact that it might be stripping away some of the existing employment, but, with regard to the actual application aspects of AI, I have some knowledge with regard to that in terms of brain imaging. So, one of the areas I was associated with setting up was Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre and one of the next-generation developments that they'll be doing is using artificial intelligence in a variety of clever ways to understand the link between the genetic aspects, the psychological, behavioural aspects and the structural aspects with regard to brain tissues and so forth. So, I can't comment in the total round of it, but I can simply say that, Cardiff and Swansea, you're right, but there are other areas as well where artificial intelligence can be a very important stimulus for smart universities that have been developing some of these, and the area that I'm talking about is brain imaging, which I'm more familiar with.

What I'm interested in is how you're going to use your office to try and bring these disciplines together, so you're not simply thinking of science in an old-fashioned, siloed way, but applying it to this new challenge.

Exactly. I think that's a very good way of describing it. First of all, we're dealing with the translational aspect of that science—getting it out. Because one of the ways I describe my role, to some extent, is 'It's science with a purpose'. Now, science always has a purpose to some extent, but it's demonstrating that in a more realistic way. Artificial intelligence is one of the areas we can do that and we have some strengths—I'm thinking of the areas of discussions I've had with Airbus and other groupings, as it were, with regard to cyber security and the applications there. So, the potential for us to link up—and, for this role, I'm very keen that artificial intelligence is only one of those areas. But my former position at Cardiff was actually interdisciplinary research; to do that, you have to learn some of the language of some of those disciplines, and one has to be mindful of the fact that, at the moment, all that money that's coming out from the UKRI and EU sources is challenge based, and getting people to work in that cohesive way by demonstrating examples of success is one of the ways I would seek to do that.


Right. But that's, essentially, mimicking what's going on at a UK level rather than trying to forge a different path within Wales. Is that a fair summary?

Well, to some extent, some of the path that the UK is doing is not a bad one, to some extent. I would think that we have a contributing role to play with regard to that. If you're saying at the moment, 'Do we have a distinctive aspect with regard to that?', I think it's too early. I think we have the potential to demonstrate that, but I think it's too early. But I do think that, if we don't fit in with the UKRI way of looking at it, we'll miss out on some of the funding sources there might be. So, I think alignment is pretty important, but it's not to say we haven't got potential for more distinctiveness downstream.

But if there are areas where we are leaders in, say, for example, the work that IQE are doing, for example, where we are clearly leading, we've argued in our most recent report on automation that we should be looking at these sorts of—I'm trying to remember the phrase; in terms of these strength areas we have in the Welsh economy, to see where we can apply a domain expertise of our own. So, where is it that Wales genuinely has a lead, and could we become leaders in those areas in the application of AI? Now, that's taking science with industry and applying it in a real setting, so I just wonder whether or not you have a role in driving forward that agenda and those conversations to try and make sure we're not simply last in the queue of what's happening at the UK level, but trying to do our own thing.

Yes, I see your point. I think that's a good point. There are—. I do think it's fair to say that, in Wales, we cannot claim to have strengths in all areas. We clearly have them, I would say, in a handful of areas, to some extent, and the one you describe—and the work done at SPECIFIC, for instance, is another one. From that point of view, it cuts the muster with regard to UK interest and the funding that's followed with regard to it. So, you're absolutely right: we can make a contribution with regard—not just in terms of AI, incidentally. One of the areas we've been developing in the north-west is nuclear, and the development with regard to the research and development associated with that is not just for Wales, but for the UK.

Sure, but let's just stick to—. That's in hand, isn't it? The thinking around AI is not in hand. So, I'm just wondering whether or not you think you have a role in trying to marshal that to apply to our existing strengths.

The answer, very simply, is 'yes', I do have a role, and it's an important role, particularly with regard to the industries you've identified.

Okay, thank you. My final question is in terms of the various different Government strategies and reform programmes in play and how you weave your way into all these different ones: so, the economic action plan, the Reid review, the PCET reform, the Innovation Wales strategy—an alphabet soup of different activities. How do you weave in your reform programme with all of those?

To some extent, I fit in with those, because, when I came in, there was the opportunity to actually set up a new strategy with regard to it, and the guidance I had with regard to it—. We have a strategy; it's called the economic action plan, and on page 33 it says the engine of prosperity for that is research, innovation and skills. So, from that point of view I fit in in terms of the coherence of that.

But, in terms of what you're alluding to in terms of the various reviews, you're absolutely right—we have Diamond, we've Hazelkorn and we have Reid, and then we've got the developments that are occurring from UKRI developments as well. Yes, it is a bit of a challenge to marry some of those together, but the coherence in terms of research is very, very positive. So, Diamond, in terms of as it starts to work its way through—the funding will become more available in areas where Wales was somewhat on the back foot. With regard to Hazelkorn and PCET and TERCW, there is a model that's different. You were talking about it earlier in terms of distinctiveness, with regard to Wales maybe having it. There is a difference there; we're bringing together research and innovation together with education, and that's unique from that point of view. Maybe as a small country to some extent that's exactly where we should be, and Scotland has been doing that.

With regard to the Reid review, there's a variety of recommendations there. It's very simple to remember, because there are three, and we, and particularly I, am taking it forward with regard to the first one in terms of using the London office, getting under the skin of officials up there, asking and being sought to advise with regard to where Wales can play a role. But you're right, there is a variety of dynamic or fluid aspects of those reviews that are feeding into where TERCW will be to and the research and innovation committee that will be a part of that TERCW.


Could I ask, Professor: what's your view on the proposals for a tertiary education and research commission for Wales?

Professor Peter Halligan 11:30:16