Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd
Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd02/04/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood AM|
|Mike Hedges AM|
|Neil McEvoy AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Kirsty Williams AM||Y Gweinidog Addysg|
|Minister for Education|
|Neil Welch||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Kath Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Ross Davies||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Samiwel Davies||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:00.
The meeting began at 09:00.
Good morning. Bore da. And welcome to the Petitions Committee. A very warm welcome to the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM. And also, we do have with us Neil Welch, head of workforce engagement. Thank you.
As you'll be aware, the committee has been considering this petition since May 2018 and we have corresponded with you on a number of occasions over the issues raised in relation to the pay and employment arrangements for supply teachers. We discussed the petition most recently on 5 March and agreed to invite you here in order to enable us to discuss these matters in person and hopefully to fully clarify the issues at hand. Would you like to just make a few brief comments at the beginning?
First of all, I should say thank you to the committee for the invitation to be here this morning. I'm very happy to discuss what are important and complex issues, but I'm very happy to go straight to questions, if that's what Members would prefer.
Yes, of course. The first questions we have start with Mike Hedges, Assembly Member.
Why don't you like the Northern Ireland, or don't see it appropriate to use the Northern Ireland system of supply, which is a centralised, central booking system rather than having it done by an outside agency?
Okay, Mike, I've never said I don't like the Northern Ireland system, and at my request, officials have been over to Northern Ireland to look at how that system operates. I think what is important to recognise is that the Northern Ireland system operates in a very different context to the one we operate in. Essentially, due to local management of schools, the statutory responsibility for staffing and deployment of staff within schools is a matter for individual headteachers and their governing bodies, and, in some cases, the status of the school county councils. Therefore, as a Welsh Government, we simply do not have the power to compel use of a centralised system. Of course, in Northern Ireland, there is a single body, essentially, and therefore the set-up is very, very different. So, it's not as simple as simply taking that model and bringing it to Wales. I think there are huge benefits, and there's nothing to stop individual schools, local authorities, regional consortia working together to develop lists.
One of the things that we have done, and one of the reasons for our pilot project, is to be able to demonstrate how different systems may operate to provide that evidence to schools and local authorities—that there are different ways, through direct employment, which would negate the need to use agencies. But I think the challenge is, in the current context of local management of schools, and that legal set-up, what are the constraints to improving the system? We're trying to do that in two ways, as a Government, because I think the system does need improving, and that is, as I said, to demonstrate the viability and the benefits of different models whilst also trying to reform the agency model at the same time.
My other question on this is that local education authorities used to do it; even at the local management of schools, LEAs used to do it. They stopped doing it because of a court case, where they had to pay people on their relevant grade rather than an on-the-spot payment, and agencies can pay an on-the-spot payment. Would you be prepared to look and talk to the Welsh Local Government Association about recreating a system, whereby LEAs do provide the supply cover, or provide a list of people for the supply of cover? And I accept that in the local management of schools that schools can choose, but if you believe that schools all went out and chose without anything else, you wouldn't have a preferred supplier.
Okay. You're right, Mike. There is nothing to stop local authorities creating a list of supply staff on a county basis, or local authorities working together on a regional basis. As I say, one of the reasons why we have engaged in the pilot is to be able to provide evidence that there are benefits from doing that—and we can talk about those later if you would like—and we continue to have conversations with the WLGA. The national system that we have seen local authorities move to is a decision for them. What we've tried to do is ensure that, when the new contract that is currently being let is let, there are improvements and safeguards put in place for that contract. But we continue to have discussions with the WLGA, and there is nothing to stop them setting up or re-establishing the systems that you refer to.
The one thing I'm confused about, and I'm sure you can un-confuse me, is that you say continually, 'It's local management of schools, it's up to the schools', and then you have a centralised contract. I don't understand how those two go together. The only thing I do know is that the supply teachers are losing out under the current system.
So, it's not our central contract. Local authorities have chosen to use that service. I have got concerns about how the old national contract was run. Therefore, we have worked really hard as officials to ensure that, when the new contracts are let, there are improvements and there are safeguards—safeguards in terms of minimum payments for staff, safeguards for pupils in schools with regard to, for instance, safeguarding and registration. So, we recognise that the old system—I recognise that the old system was far from perfect, and we've looked to work with the National Procurement Service to deliver something that I think is better than we had before.
Okay, that's me.
Okay, thank you. Moving on to No. 2, framework contract and use of agencies—Leanne Wood.
Thank you. You mentioned that you've worked really hard to set up a new contract and safeguards are in place. I've had correspondence from a supply teacher who tells me that they are expected to fund their own holiday pay. Some agencies do this by retaining a section of your pay as a holiday pot. However, New Directions are not only doing this but telling their agency staff that, if they don't draw down their holiday pot by the end of March, then they'll lose it. Will the new contract protect people's holiday pay, as I've just described? And will it also protect people against the Swedish derogation contract?
So, that's going to be abolished, is it—the Swedish derogation contract?
Yes, absolutely. One of the big concerns previously was the use of the Swedish derogation. So, under the new contract, we will be disallowing the use of the Swedish derogation clause, which allowed agencies to sign up teachers on a contractual guarantee hour work basis, and inadvertently many people were signing away their rights. They simply weren't aware or sometimes were kind of funnelled into a situation where they had no choice but actually to sign away their rights. So, the Swedish derogation goes, because I think that was one of the significant loopholes or abuses in the old system. Neil, can you, with regard to holiday pay—?
Holiday pay shouldn't be done like that. We have on a number of occasions spoken to New Directions about this, and I am concerned. If you forward that correspondence to us, we will look into it further and answer that very specific allegation and take it up seriously with New Directions.
Well, I don't particularly want to share the correspondence with you because it's been sent to me on a confidential basis.
Well, we can ask on the principle. We don't need to see the name of the person, but we can certainly raise the issue with New Directions. I'm happy to expand further on some of the changes in the contract, if Members would like to hear what else will change in the new procurement service.
If you could outline where else is going to be improved, please, yes.
Sure. So, we will introduce a minimum daily pay rate, below which agencies will not be allowed to pay. We've had a national basis, which has meant the domination of a single supplier. The new contract will be let on a local authority basis, so, actually, we should be able to have greater choice for schools in who they can work with, because it's done on smaller lots rather than an all-Wales lot. We will require all agencies to be members of the relevant professional recruitment body. We will ensure that all agencies work within the code of practice for ethical employment. We are ensuring that all agencies offer a minimum of professional training to people on their books.
So, there are a number of ways, and, crucially for me, there is a requirement for greater transparency, because I have been concerned, and I know many Members in the Assembly have been concerned, about the lack of transparency around fees and profits that are made by these organisations. So, there will be a requirement to make it very visible—so, when schools are using the services of an agency, how much of that cost is the pay of the teacher and how much of that is an agency fee? We're trying to increase transparency in the system as well, so there is greater transparency about the fees that agencies are charging, and that's money that is not going to the teacher. Hopefully, that greater information will lead to better practices and empower teachers, headteachers, or those people in a school making decisions about deployment, so that they can really see where their money is going.
How will you respond to suggestions, then, that the use of the preferred supplier has driven down wages of supply teachers in Wales? The National Education Union published a supply teacher survey report in 2018, and they found that, in Wales, 87 per cent of agency supply teachers who responded were being paid less than £125 per day, and more than three quarters of respondents from Wales were receiving a daily rate of less than £100. Will the new system increase pay levels?
Well, as I said, I've been concerned since coming into office around this system that we currently have, and that's why we're making these changes. So, what the new system will allow is that those who are successful in getting onto the contract will have to pay a minimum. That's not to say they can't pay more than that.
Will that be based on qualifications, then, or experience?
No, it's not pay portability; it sets a minimum pay rate by which those individuals are not allowed to drop below, but it's not based on the principle of pay portability. So, if you left your permanent teaching position, maybe as a senior teacher or a head of department, this system does not guarantee that you would go back into school on those same pay rates as a head of department.
Does it take account of that experience and qualifications at all?
It's a minimum below which people cannot drop.
I've a quick supplementary from Neil.
Is it on what I think it is?
No, just on this particular—
No, I'll save it.
Any more, Leanne?
Yes. Do you have any evidence that the Welsh Government's ethical employment in supply chains has had an impact on supply agencies in Wales?
I don't know if we can point to any evidence that it has to date. What we have ensured is that, in the new contract going forward, all agencies that are on that contract will have to work within the code of practice for ethical employment in supply chains. What we have also done is written to individual schools and local authorities to remind them of their responsibilities and the principles of that code.
I'm going to bring Neil in here because we're on—
Can I ask about devolution of teachers' pay and conditions, then, because that's quite a key question as well? How will the devolution of teachers' pay and conditions impact on supply teachers working through the agencies?
Well, as you know, we currently find ourselves in the first year of these new powers, and there is nothing to—. The pay review body is subject to a remit letter and, potentially, in remit letters to come, this issue could be specifically looked at. But, I lay my cards on the table, given that this is the first year of the system, my priority for this year is establishing the system and ensuring there is confidence in the education system in Wales as a whole. Many of the unions, as you will know, Leanne, were not in favour of the devolution of teachers' pay and conditions.
But you did know it was coming, didn't you?
Yes. So, in the first year of setting up this process, our priority is to ensure that that process runs really smoothly and gives confidence to the teaching profession in Wales of our ability to run that system really well.
Can I interrupt you there? Because previously, you said you couldn't do anything about this because teachers' pay and conditions weren't devolved. Now they are devolved, now you're saying you can't do anything about it because you want a smooth run-in time. Is that right?
No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that we can do something about it now that teachers' pay and conditions are devolved. I'm saying my priority for this first year of the system is to get the system up and running and provide confidence to the profession as a whole, which were sceptical and dubious about the Welsh Government having these powers, that we get that system up and running, and we run smoothly and we focus on pay overall. That's the focus of my first remit letter.
Next year, then?
Okay. I think we do need to move on in terms of time. Thanks, Leanne. Neil McEvoy.
Between 2015 and 2017, two directors of New Directions were paid £894,000 in dividends. I wonder what your view is of that.
As I said, I've got concerns about the system that I've inherited. It's not for me, particularly, to comment on the profit margins of an individual company. My concern is to try and reform the system so that those working in the system are better protected, and we have worked in a way to try and address those concerns. Issues around profit for private companies, I know, are a matter of wider public concern, not just in this Chamber, and that's why, in the new contract, there will be greater transparency where there will be a requirement for agency fees, and the slice of the money that schools are paying to employ teachers via these agencies, to be publicly available. So, there will be greater transparency in the system, which I believe will help empower everybody to look very carefully at how public resources that are meant to educate our children are properly deployed.
Are you aware of how much agencies charge?
At the moment, we know that there's a sliding scale, but it is murky. Some agencies use umbrella organisations so there are practices—
Could you be precise and say how much they charge?
There are practices that make it difficult to say, but there is a range of fees that people do pay, and that's why we're changing the system, so that we will know for definite, from the money that you're paying over to this agency that will supply you with a member of staff, how much of that money will go to the teacher to actually pay that teacher for their service, and how much of that money will be made available to the agency. We'll also be looking at making sure that there is greater transparency for—. 'Transfer fees' is not the correct way of describing it, but when—
Minister, could you tell us the—? It's really important, the differential between what is paid to a teacher and what is paid to an agency, because teachers are being ripped off and you're sat on your hands.
Neil, with all due respect, the Minister has said that she's introducing transparency going forward. She said the model that she inherited is one that has caused her concerns, so we have to have confidence and—
We've not been told the differential. I'll tell you what the differential is. Teachers are paid £85, generally, and the agencies will cream off up to £160.
Well, I think, Minister, you've made it clear that you intend to change the system, don't you?
The new contract allows for a minimum payment for teachers and requires agencies to make absolutely clear the fees that they are retaining when schools use their services, which is very different from what we have at the moment.
Okay. Minister, on cluster arrangements, are there any early indications of how the cluster arrangements have been operating?
I think we will have a formal evaluation of the pilots later on this year, so there is nothing formal yet that has been properly tested, but what I can share with the committee are some initial findings and feedback that we have had. The project currently employs 52 newly qualified teachers, and they're working in 106 schools in 15 local authority areas. The feedback that we've had is, first of all, in terms of teaching and learning, which, of course, should be the primary concern for all of us, there have been a number of benefits noted by having these supernumerary teachers in terms of better outcomes for children because those same teachers are embedded in those schools, so, therefore, the children know them, the teachers know the workings of the school really well and, therefore, we're already seeing some benefits in terms of teaching and learning. Staff report also, because of those better relationships and because children know the number of staff who may cover for their regular teacher, there's better behaviour. We are looking at wider school improvements, so, actually, the supernumerary teachers are able to work on specific projects when they're not covering, and that provides some benefits to wider school improvements.
So, there are a number of benefits that we believe are coming forward and are being reported to us. If you can imagine the difference between going into a school on an irregular basis—you're not familiar, necessarily, with the workings of that school or how things operate in that school, and the children don't know you—and if you are a regular member of staff, then those relationships are stronger, you know your colleagues better, you know the ethos in those particular schools, you know how they work, and so there are benefits to the individual teacher, but, crucially for me, I believe that there are benefits to individual children and to wider school improvement.
Thank you. How enthusiastically have schools and recently qualified teachers engaged with the pilot? Has there been full take-up?
Yes, it's been a full take-up. As always, there are some people who are chomping at the bit and want to get on with it and move really, really quickly. There are some where it's been taking a little bit longer to get the pilots up and running. Sometimes that's due to capacity issues within local authorities and availability of staff, because people are looking for specific staff with specific skills, but the full pilot has been taken up now and, as I said, with those that are involved so far, the anecdotal feedback has been wholly positive, but you can't rely on that. We will have to do a formal evaluation, and what I'm hoping, Janet—what I'm really hoping—is that we will be able to demonstrate to clusters of schools, to local authorities, that there are wider benefits for school improvement by working in this way. And it's about knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. This might be more cost-effective in the long-term way of covering your supply needs by working in this way with direct employment, and we hope that the evidence from this pilot will really encourage a step change in how employment practices move forward.
Okay. We're going to move on now to direct employment by schools. Mike Hedges.
How do you encourage and support schools to consider direct employment of supply teachers?
We have been working with the WLGA, and the WLGA has recently written to all directors of education reminding them and bringing to their attention the rights of schools to appoint and employ teachers directly. Sometimes we've had correspondence that said that schools feel that they've got no choices and that they have to work in a certain way, and we want to remind directors of education that they can't force schools down a particular route because it's actually their responsibility and there are other ways of doing it, because some of the feedback we've had is that headteachers have said they wanted to directly employ someone or work in a different way, but perhaps their director of education has suggested that they need to use the national agency approach. We're just reminding people that there are other ways and schools have the right to do it differently.
I believe it's a social justice issue, and I'm very unhappy with the way that agencies work. I think that's a view held by several people in here. But once you have a national supply agency, once you make them your preferred supplier, it does have an effect on people employing. Why do you have to have a preferred supplier?
Well, of course, in the new contract we won't. We won't have one national preferred supplier. We're breaking that down, so there's no national approach; there's an individual local authority approach. So, we've tried to change that system, Mike. I appreciate very much everybody's frustrations with the current system, but I guess the issue is, within the confines of what we have, which is a legal structure that empowers headteachers and governors with this particular role or responsibility, if Members are saying they want to unpick that, Members are perfectly entitled to say that they want a different system and they want to remove local management of schools. That, of course, would require legislation to do that, and that's a major overhaul of how we run our schools and our education system. But, within the confines of local management of schools, we've tried to improve the contract, address some of the challenges and concerns that Members have had in making sure that the new contract going forward is better, as well as using Welsh Government resources to try and demonstrate that there are alternative ways.
So, you would disagree with me when I say that you're actually unpicking the local management of schools by having a central or local authority based contract for supply teachers. You're actually fettering some of their discretion.
We're not fettering their discretion at all, they are perfectly allowed—. As I've said, we have reminded local authorities of the schools' ability to employ people directly. They don't have to go through an agency at all. Clearly, local authorities—because it's not the Welsh Government that established the all-Wales contract, that was something that local authorities did.
What we've tried to do is, in the new procurement service, going forward, to actually make it a better contract, to put some safeguards in place. Now, if we weren't concerned about this issue, we're not the employers, we could have turned around and said, 'Well, nothing to do with us.' We've sat down with the National Procurement Service—officials have—and we have worked with them to come up with better standards in this new approach and in this new contract. NPS have sat down with those campaigning for a better deal for supply teachers. We have a supply workforce group, where the unions are around the table, who keep working with us and have worked on this contract. So I acknowledge that the previous contract had flaws and led to a situation that I was unhappy and uncomfortable with, and we have used this opportunity of that contract coming to an end to try and put something better in place. As I said, we're not the employers, but we were so concerned as the Welsh Government that we have tried to work and empower others to make this contract better and to address some of those concerns that people legitimately had.
Okay. Thank you. Professional learning, Leanne.
Thank you. Very few supply teachers and schools are engaging with the Hwb, apparently, and New Directions charge teachers to attend professional learning, and so that means that, as well as having to pay for training, they lose a day's pay as well. In what ways can you ensure that the new contract supports supply teachers' professional learning?
Like you, it was extraordinary to me that supply teachers weren't allowed their own log-in to Hwb. It seemed absolutely nonsensical, and we've changed that. And my understanding is, the latest figures are that there are 600—approximately 600 supply teachers have now registered and have log-in credentials for Hwb.
Is that 600 out of 4,000?
I think it's around about that, but we've been encouraging supply teachers to register their interest to go onto Hwb. Previously, you had to have a school e-mail address to get onto Hwb. We've worked with the Hwb team to change that, so you now can have your own e-mail address and have access to Hwb. So we've been registering them for about the last six months, and we're up and over 600 now.
So we've tried to address that.
With regard to training, under the new contract, those applying to be on the contract will have to provide free professional learning opportunities for those working in those agencies. Obviously, this is a crucial time for professional development for the entirety of the workforce, as we move towards the new national curriculum, and we're not just relying on agencies to provide that training, we're working with our regional consortia to ensure that the professional learning opportunities of supply staff are also addressed. So we're not just leaving it to the agencies, we're actually using these mechanisms that we've got to be able to develop programmes for supply teachers specifically, as we move towards the introduction of the new curriculum, because it's really important that all staff who could be working in our schools have the appropriate professional learning for that change.
Okay. Can I just come back on a point that was made earlier on? You mentioned with the pilot scheme that there was full take-up. The information that we've got is that the petitioners told us that they were advised by Welsh Government that only 37 of the 50 places in the pilot scheme have been taken up. Is our information wrong?
It's probably just out of date.
Just out of date.
It's now full, 52, and we've got 52 employed teachers now, seven of whom have got permanent employment as a result.
Okay. Great. And when can we expect—as in, what month can we expect—the report on the pilots?
We're expecting this summer to do the report. Yes, this summer.
So, July, June, August?
Well, I would hope to have it done before we rise for recess.
Okay. Great. Thank you.
That's the plan.
The next questions on quality assurance, Neil McEvoy.
Thanks, Chair. I thought I was doing unqualified teachers.
I've got you down here.
Yes, okay. I'll do the unqualified firstly. The petitioners say that a huge number of lessons are taken by unqualified teachers. I wonder if you had a percentage on, first of all, secondary education, and secondly, primary education—that's the percentage taken by unqualified teachers, the percentage of lessons.
Neil, you will know, because you've worked in the sector, the Education Workforce Council (Main Functions) (Wales) Regulations 2015 set out who can undertake specific work—i.e. teach—in a maintained school or in a special school in Wales, and prescribe when there may be alternative arrangements put in place. I am aware of the freedom of information request that the campaigning organisation has submitted. I think, potentially, there could be some data in that, such as trainee teachers, overseas trained teachers that were working to a Welsh qualified teacher status who may have been included in some of that data, so I'm not clear exactly how accurate all that data is.
All I would say is that if there is evidence of teaching assistants and unqualified staff undertaking the full range of specified work in our schools, then we need to know of those examples, and that needs to be reported to local education authorities and the Education Workforce Council, because that would be in breach of the law. And I'm very happy to receive that evidence and take action on that evidence, because it's a breach of the law, and schools should be very clear about when their non-qualified staff can undertake certain activities.
How is the quality mark scheme going to work?
Well, this is—
Or quality standards.
Yes. This is something that we are considering to underpin the changes to the contract, because the contractor arrangements are one thing but, actually, we're considering whether we could strengthen that even more by having regulations that would prescribe only authorised agencies being used. At the moment, we're relying on contracts to drive the change. We are considering whether there could be a statutory underpinning to that, so that we weren't just relying on the contractual arrangements. So, what we would be looking at is legislation that would say to school governing bodies that they had to use prescribed agencies and those agencies had to be qualified.
I'm not explaining it very well. At the moment, we're relying on that contract, but, actually, could we strengthen that by regulation and underpinning in law?
Do you think there's a danger that that may favour companies like New Directions and, in effect, create almost a kind of monopoly?
No, I believe that in doing that, I think it would ensure an even greater level of assurance that those agencies that were working in the field actually had to meet certain quality indicators. And as I said, we can do that initially by contractual arrangements. I am minded that we can strengthen that by underpinning some of that work in regulation also. Neil.
What we're looking at as well is the principles of the ethical code and the fair work principles as part of underpinning the legislation. So, rather than create a system whereby the larger companies find it easier to comply, it's by setting in place a set of principles by which any agency could comply, such things as not using umbrella organisations for payroll, so that you then comply with Inland Revenue rules and regulations, because at the moment some of the agencies you referred to earlier taking larger profits out of schools are using other methods to make money, rather than being transparent in their fees. So, what we're going to try and do is work with the procurement team on ethical code and fair work to figure out how the legislation could underpin the contract.
Just finally from me, really, is there any truth in the allegations that New Directions offer sporting tickets and golf days or is it just an urban myth?
If I'm correct, Mr McEvoy, you stated that this was a fact in the Chamber, and as I said when I answered you then, if there is evidence of that going on, then I'd be very happy to receive that. I might have missed it, but I don't recall that you provided that evidence, having made those allegations in the Chamber. But, if you have evidence of it, that offer still stands. That offer still stands. Because that's—
To be frank, there are, I think, teachers in the public gallery giving me the thumbs up there, because this is said to me constantly. So I'm putting to you, Minister: the allegations have been made. Have you undertaken any investigation? Have you asked any questions whatsoever?
I have met, actually, with New Directions, not on this specific issue but on wider issues, such as professional learning, their employment practices. So I have—
So, have you—
Neil, let the Minister finish.
I have met with New Directions. And as I have said to you when you raised this question many months ago, in fact, maybe years ago, in the Chamber—
A Labour AM raised it as well, Minister, not just me.
Well, that Labour AM isn't in the room. You're in the room and I'm saying to you, you said that that's what's happening, and I've said to you if you have evidence of that happening—because I have to work on the basis of being given that evidence, and shown that evidence—then we would like to see it and we would be able to address those issues. But, in the absence of that evidence, then—I really need to have it. And if you've got it, by all means send it across.
So you've not proactively undertaken any investigation. All right. Thanks.
Neil, I think the Minister has made her position very clear. Do we have any other questions? No. Okay. Well, all that remains now is for me to thank you, Minister, for coming and giving some very comprehensive answers to the questions we've laid before you. Thank you, and thank you to Neil as well. Thank you.
That's all right. You're very welcome.
We will now be considering the evidence we heard, and we'll agree a next step to take in relation to the issue.
With Members' permission, we're going to now move into private session.
At the end.
So, we'll move on now to our new petitions.
Are we in private now, or not?
Our first new petition is 'Water Safety/Drowning Prevention and the effects of Cold Water Shock to be taught in all Schools in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Carmarthenshire Water Safety Partnership, having collected 394 signatures online and 502 on paper; that's a total of 896 signatures. Do you have any comments?
Well, we've had a further response from the petitioners. I would suggest that we follow normal practice and send that on to the Welsh Government, asking for their comments.
Neil, happy to support that?
Yes. It's a really good petition, so, yes.
And the next one is 'Let's Get Every Young Heart Screened (Age 10-35)'. And you'll find that on page 57. This petition was submitted by Sharon Owen, having collected 3,444 signatures. Of course, the background to this is that an initial response to the petition was received from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services on 6 March. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided, and the petitioner has also provided further comments. What action, and how would you like to take this forward?
Can I just say, the response from the Minister that population screening programmes should only be offered where there is robust, high-quality evidence that screening will do more good than harm, I don't quite understand that argument? It seems pretty obvious to me that if you screen people and identify risk, then you're in a position to deal with that risk, whereas if you don't screen, you don't identify it. So, I can't see how it would cause more harm, unless someone could explain that to me. So, can we write back to the Minister for health to ask for details of the current Welsh Government and NHS policy in relation to identifying undiagnosed heart conditions among young people?
All right? Everybody support that?
Okay. So, we'll write back to the Minister.
This was a petition that was accepted last week: 'Make baby and toddler changing available in both male/female toilets'. We've had an initial response to the petition, received from the Deputy Minister on 12 March. I think, really, it's quite self-explanatory:
'Within Wales there are many businesses, hospitals and council run parks/sites that don't have baby changing available for use by both men and women.'
These concerns have been raised with us. The petitioner has raised further comments. So, on reading those, how would you like to take this forward?
I support this petition very strongly. We can't move, as a society, towards equal and shared care of children unless we enable both parents to be able to change their children. But I would say that this fits into a much wider strategy and issue around public toilets, because many local authorities, as a result of austerity, have closed their public toilet facilities, so baby changing in general is being reduced. So, I think we should go back to the Government on this and ask what their plans are, and for clarification about provision for designing unisex toilets, but I think we should also ask them to consider the overall strategy. I know local authorities are responsible, but I think, given that there's a big public health question on the provision of public toilets, we should ask the Government to analyse what local authorities are doing.
And interestingly enough, it says here that
'Building Regulations do not set requirements (for new build or refurbishments) for toilet or baby changing provision'.
Well, that's something that could potentially be changed quite simply.
I'm sorry I missed the handover of this petition, because I wanted to meet the petitioners and congratulate them, really. When I was a young dad, which wasn't that long ago—a decade or so ago; quite a long time—it was a nightmare trying to find places to change my little one. As Leanne was saying, what we have are basic gender stereotypes, where females care for children and males don't. When you walk around the Assembly—I'm not sure if the plaque is still there, but it says 'changing space' and there's a little figure with a skirt. It's not a stick man; there's a skirt, therefore implying that only females and mums care for and change their children. In this area—it's an area of huge interest to me—we really must move towards some kind of equality. So, I strongly support this.
So, moving forward, we could write back to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to share the petitioner's comments or seek clarification about the reference made within design standards to baby changing provisions not being provided in unisex toilets. We could also ask what analysis the Welsh Government is intending to do of some of the local toilet strategies.
If I could add just one thing: most baby changing doesn't take place in public toilets—local authority or hospital-provided toilets—they take place in private sector toilets. Most large shops would have toilets and anywhere that serves food has to have toilet facilities. So, could we also ask the Minister what discussions she's had with the private sector, which provides toilets for use by the public?
Can I also ask—? A few years ago, one of the committees here looked into the provision of public toilets, and I remember there was a lot of discussion at the time around disabled people's changing spaces. That's when this new building was created, and a fully accessible changing toilet space was provided. I think we need to include that question to the Government as well. It may be worth looking at the committee report into toilets, which was produced a couple of years ago, to see what recommendations were implemented and what is outstanding from that, because there is no point in us reinventing the wheel with this. I think it should be considered as part of the wider toilet and changing facilities strategy.
The next one is 'Protect school funding or admit to the weakening of service provision.' This was submitted by James Wilkinson having collected a total of 5,784 signatures. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Education on 27 February. You'll find all this on page 76. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided any further comments. How would you like to take this forward? There is an inquiry going on, by the way, with the Children, Young People and Education Committee into general school funding.
This is an issue that's been raised a number of times in Plenary as well, following a letter that went from one of the trade unions via the headteachers to many of us as Assembly Members. I think this inquiry by the Children, Young People and Education Committee is essential in this. There's no point pursuing it until they've concluded their findings. So, if we can make contact with that committee, find out where they are with it, and then keep this issue on our agenda for after when they've reported to see if there are any further issues that we can take up.
Okay. Do all Members support that? Thank you.
Now we move on to updates to previous petitions. We've got 'Unacceptable Waiting Times for NHS patients in A & E Wrecsam/Wrexham Maelor Hospital', page 86. You'll see that the background here is that the committee last considered this petition in September last year. We agreed to write to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to ask for an update on the subject matter, and a response was received on 11 March. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?
Betsi Cadwaladr have offered us a further update on developments in six months. We should get their report in six months and decide what we want to do with it then, and hope that things will have improved.
Okay. We'll write again to the petitioner to seek comments.
'Ensure access to the cystic fibrosis medicine, Orkambi, as a matter of urgency'. I think Members will be quite well aware that this petition has been with us. It collected 5,717 signatures. We last considered it on 29 January when the committee agreed to write to the Minister for health. We received a response on 8 March. A written statement on access to Orkambi was also published. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comments. So, how would you like to take this forward?
I'd like to write to the Minister and ask him to explore the use of the Patents Act 1977, whereby the patent for Orkambi can be revoked on the basis of—in the public interest. Because having read lots of articles by different doctors, they clearly think the drug works, and I think that seems to be the evidence generally, but the issue is cost. I'm told that it can be produced for £5,000 a year per patient, yet the company is seeking £105,000 a year. Clearly, they've done the research, they need to be rewarded, but there's a limit to what can be done with public money. I think really the Government should be trying to provide this drug and should be looking at use of the patents Act. I would imagine that power lies with Westminster, so I think it would be good if we could write to the Minister and ask him to explore the use of that Act, possibly, or whether he would consider that.
Okay. Do Members support that?
I've got no problem with that. I think the other thing we could ask the Minister is what discussions the Minister has had in terms of trying to reduce the cost.
Leanne, anything to add?
Yes. Reducing the cost seems to be the key question here. We need to keep an eye on developments, I think, because there are discussions at a UK level on this as well. I don't know if we know when there are likely to be more developments on a UK level, do we, if there's anything in the pipeline?
The Health and Social Care Committee at Westminster has quite recently written to the Secretary of State for health. That's the outcome from a one-day committee inquiry that that committee held. I believe that letter, which is in your packs, was sent in early March. So, I would guess that they will be looking at this again in the coming weeks and months.
In terms of the situation in Wales, we've corresponded with the health Minister here on quite a number of occasions now and the response, consistently, is that the ball is in the company's court. They have been offered, invited to submit their evidence for the drug to be assessed again by the Welsh medicines strategy group. The Minister tells us that, to date, that has not happened, even though discussions between the company and officials seem to have restarted in the last three or four months. But that evidence still has not been provided. So, the Minister's position here is that the Government cannot review this decision until it receives new evidence.
So, I think we could raise the question about the patents Act, as Neil has suggested. I think you're right; that's not going to be a devolved area of policy. So, we could ask the Government for a view here on that. It's worth noting that the Westminster health committee's letter to the Secretary of State asks that, if this cannot be concluded within a reasonable time frame, the Government at Westminster considers other options—like that option, or like the Competition and Markets Authority, maybe, needing to intervene in this case. So, I think there are developments, but the timescales are unclear.
And we're going to have to wait for whatever is a reasonable time then, are we, to—? Okay.
Are we going to write to the Minister about the patents Act, to see if he supports that?
If the committee agreed with that, we could write to ask for a view from the Welsh health Minister.
Yes. And if we can write to the petitioner as well for a response. Thank you.
'We need Welsh Government funding for play!!'—this petition was submitted by RAY Ceredigion and was first considered in March 2018, having collected 328 signatures online. We discussed this last on 15 January. We've written to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask for an update on the funding for play, and to Play Wales to seek their views on the issues raised by the petition. We got a response on 20 February, and we've had a response from Play Wales. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed today but has not provided further comment. Any comments?
I think the question of ring fencing comes up fairly often, doesn't it? It's quite a difficult one, really, because we wouldn't like it, as an Assembly, to have certain powers transferred to us from Westminster and be told, 'Right, you can only spend it on that', even though that kind of is what's happening with the M4 relief road. But nonetheless, I think that play and play areas and opportunities for children to play is the kind of thing that gets cut when budgets are squeezed, because children tend not to have a voice for themselves. I'd like to know how this fits in with the legislation that states that Ministers have a duty to consider the impacts of decisions on children and how local authorities fit into all of that. I would recommend that we write back to the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to consider guidance to accompany future grants to ensure that local voluntary organisations receive sufficient funding to enable children's play facilities to be expanded. I don't think children have enough opportunities to play as things stand, so if play opportunities are going to be reduced in the future then we need to do something to take a stand against that, I think.
Are Members all in agreement? Okay.
So, moving on—'Create a national task force for children’s mental health'. This was submitted by the National Organisation for Children's Mental Health. It was first considered in January of this year, having collected 91 signatures. We've written to the Minister for Health and Social Services. We wrote to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've had responses. A further research brief has been provided. And, again, on this one, the petitioner has also provided further comment. So, how would you like to take this forward?
The only thing I would like to say, about the Petitions Committee in general, if another committee is looking at anything in detail, we may wish to keep a watching brief on it and act as a post box to the petitioner, but we're not in a position to do the level of detailed investigation that the committee is. So, just hold it and wait for the CYPE report.
So, moving forward, 'Re-open the Cwmcarn Forest Drive at Easter 2018'—oh, it was Easter 2018. And that had received 1,450—
But it's nearly a two-year-old petition, isn't it?
Is it open now?
Yes, it's still open, but Natural Resources Wales advise that £1 million funding has been allocated from within their budget for the work required to re-open the forest drive, with the aim of achieving this in spring 2020. So, there is actual—you know, this is ongoing, but it's obviously not going to be open for this year. Recruitment for a project manager was under way. In light of the commitments made by NRW, the committee may conclude there is little now that can be gained from further scrutiny at this time.
I think we'd be better off closing it now, because, if it isn't opened in spring 2020, they can bring a further petition—
They can actually come back to us.
—and then we can look at it again. But it is out of date and I think we have to close it.
Okay, so we have a proposal to close this petition. Do we have a—?
Okay. Next one: 'Save the trees and ground in Roath Mill and Roath Brook Gardens before it's too late.' And this one, again—this started in February 2018, having collected 8,700 signatures on paper and another petition website. Background: we last considered on 12 February, we agreed to seek the views of the campaign group on the latest developments, we've had a response from Natural Resources Wales, the petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed again but has not provided any further comment. So, how would you like to take this forward?
Just a watching brief, Chair.
Well, they've confirmed that they're reconsidering the delivery options for phase 3 as a stand-alone scheme. This will require a—or may require a—new business case that will need the approval of the Welsh Government, and a stakeholder meeting is planned for late March or April. So, we could keep a watching brief on the issue and perhaps look in six months’ time—
Yes. I think so, yes.
—to maybe move it to resolve. Okay. Everyone agree with that?
'Control Rapidly Expanding Intensive Poultry Industry in Wales.' This was submitted by the Brecon and Radnor branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales—4,567 signatures. We've done quite a lot of work on this: we've written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, we've written to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, provided the petitioner’s analysis and the views expressed by Natural Resources Wales, and we've got further comment from the petitioners. How would you like to take this forward?
Given that the petitioners have expressed a number of concerns about the make-up of the working group, I think we should write back to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask for a list of the membership of that group and to confirm its title and terms of reference. We should also propose that the group includes membership from environmental organisations or independent scientists.
Everyone's in agreement. Thank you.
'Protect children's lungs from harmful pollution whilst at school.' This one—the British Lung Foundation put this forward—Cymru—and it was first considered having collected 159 signatures. Again, we've done quite some work on this. We've written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. We received a response on 14 Feb. A joint response from the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and the Children's Commissioner for Wales was received. You could write to other groups if you want, such as Natural Resources Wales, Public Health Wales, the Health and Safety Executive, to seek their views on the petition—that was suggested to us by the future generations and the children's commissioners. If the committee wishes to explore the issue of air quality around schools further in advance of the Government's clean air plan for Wales, it could consider taking further evidence on the petition after the Easter recess. How would you like to take this forward?
Get the further information first and then, after that, decide whether we want to have an oral evidence session or not.
I'd like to know what powers the children's commissioner would have as well. It says that the future generations commissioner does not currently have legal powers to enforce policy or legislation around air quality, but the children's commissioner could review the exercise of those functions. So, can we have some more information about what they can possibly do, what powers are there with the children's commissioner?
Yes, we can arrange for there to be a briefing provided to Members on that.
That'd be great, yes.
My understanding of what the commissioners, in their joint letter, are saying is that they have powers to review legal duties. At the moment, those legal duties are not specific enough in this area for them to review them in this way, but we can clarify that understanding in a paper for the committee the next time we consider this.
If there's anything we can do, as a committee, in terms of clarifying what those powers are, perhaps that would be useful as well, from the children's commissioner's point of view.
Okay. So, in terms of writing for further evidence, would you like to do the groups that are in the brief—so, NRW, Public Health Wales and the Health and Safety Executive?
Thank you. 'For single use items: introduce a Deposit Return System for drink containers and make fast food containers and utensils compostable'—of course, this came in via the Marine Conservation Society in 2017, having collected 1,993 signatures. Again, we've done quite some work on this one. How would you like to take this forward?
Are we discussing the three petitions together now?
Yes, these are grouped—thanks, Leanne. So, we've also got 'Ban Single Use Plastic Items in Wales', and that one collected 161 signatures. There's another one: 'Our natural world is being poisoned by single use plastics...it’s time to introduce a tax!' So, this is a very, very important issue at the moment, isn't it? I know that it's one that people are wanting to see some real, positive action on.
There's a number of different things going on here, as well, on this agenda, aren't there? So, there are a number of consultations outstanding, which run until mid May. So, it might make sense for us to put this on hold until we see the result of those consultations and responses to them.
Okay. Any other actions?
No. That's fine.
Okay. 'Tackling school bullying'—this petition was submitted by the BlowforBradley campaign, and was first considered in February 2019, having collected 1,463 signatures. The committee last considered the petition in February, and we agreed to write to the Minister for Education to provide further comments received from the petitioner, to ask her to provide an assessment of the sufficiency of current legal duties in relation to preventing and tackling bullying in schools, and also to ask for further information about when the outcome of the public consultation on anti-bullying guidance will be made available.
We received a response from the Minister on 12 March, and the petitioner has provided further comments. Obviously, if you want to discuss the comments and the contents of the correspondence—. How do you want to take this forward?
I was quite surprised to read that there's no legal requirement for recording incidences of bullying. I would have thought, given workplace legislation means that you have to record, you know, the smallest little accident, perhaps with a stapler or something—the idea that schools are not required to record bullying is a bit of an anomaly, I would have thought. So, is that something that we can go back to the Government on?
I'd like to suggest writing to the Youth Parliament as well, and see what the young Members there feel about this.
Yes. Everybody support those actions? Thank you.
Economy and transport: 'Hi speed broadband to Llangenny village'. This was submitted by Llangenny village residents in 2018, January, having collected 72 signatures. We've had correspondence back from the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, in March. There are further comments back from the petitioner, and we've written to the Minister. So, how—? The Deputy Minister's letter states that postcodes in Llangenny,
'are not scheduled to be connected under the successor programme. Openreach has determined which premises they can cover under this project based on multiple factors including value for public money, deliverable broadband speeds and delivery timeframes.'
How would you like to take this forward?
Well, I don't think there's any more we can do, but it is a terrible situation that a small number of people can be excluded from what is, actually, an essential service now. I think it's unacceptable, but I don't know where further we can go with it.
I have a main town currently within my constituency, and it really is—it's not isolated in any way. It's actually in a quite heavily populated urban area, and they've been told they won't be entitled to anything under the successor programme. It just seems bizarre, really, when, you know—.
Have these groups connected up at all? Is there any sort of campaigning work they can do together on this, because it's a massive exclusion, isn't it?
It is, yes. We know that sometimes very remote, rural isolated properties can struggle, but we're talking communities here. The area I'm talking about in my constituency is about 3,000.
The point is, right, if you're trying to run a business—say, you're living in a rural location and you've got a B&B and you're trying to rent that out—how can you compete with all the others who are on the internet when you can't have access without paying extra to—?
Well, this particular area in my constituency, it has two schools, it's a really heavily populated area, but for some reason we've had representation to say it is not included in the successor programme, and people just think, 'Why not?' There is a weakness there.
It's a wider issue, and I think it's one that is probably better for questions in a Plenary session than for us as a committee, because we don't really want to be talking just about one village if there are lots of other places affected as well, so I suggest we close this petition, but it's incumbent on those of us who've got parts of our constituencies that aren't covered to raise it during Plenary sessions.
Yes, okay. So, how do we take this forward?
Close the petition.
Okay, close it. Okay.
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.
Right. I now propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee now resolve to meet in private for the remainder of today's meeting. Are Members content?
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:08.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:08.