Y Pwyllgor Materion Allanol a Deddfwriaeth Ychwanegol - Y Bumed Senedd
External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee - Fifth Senedd20/05/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Alun Davies AM|
|David Rees AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Delyth Jewell AM|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AM|
|Suzy Davies AM||Yn dirprwyo ar ran David Melding|
|Substitute for David Melding|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dr Tim Peppin||Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Welsh Local Government Association|
|Mairwen Harris||Prifysgolion Cymru|
|Nesta Lloyd-Jones||Conffederasiwn GIG Cymru|
|Welsh NHS Confederation|
|Professor Colin Riordan||Prifysgolion Cymru|
|Rob Stewart||Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Welsh Local Government Association|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Fiddes||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elisabeth Jones||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Gareth David Thomas||Ymchwilydd|
|Rhys Morgan||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:04.
The meeting began at 14:04.
Good afternoon, and can I welcome Members and the public to this afternoon's meeting of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? Before we begin our business, can I remind Members that the meeting is bilingual? If you require simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, that's available on the headphones via channel 1. If you require amplification, then that's also available on headphones, but that's channel 0.
Can I remind Members to turn their mobile phones off or on silent, and any other electronic equipment that may interfere with the broadcasting? There is no scheduled fire alarm this afternoon, so if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. Do any Members wish to declare an interest at this point in time?
Chair, just in particular, to draw attention to my role as chair of the European advisory group for the First Minister.
Thank you. No others? We've received apologies from Joyce Watson and David Melding. Suzy Davies is attending as a substitute for David Melding, so, welcome, Suzy.
And, obviously, following the decision by Mark Reckless last week to no longer sit with the Conservative Party, he therefore no longer represents the Conservative Party on this committee, and therefore is no longer a member of this committee. I'd like to thank Mark Reckless for his work on the committee during his time with us.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 3, 8, 9, 10 ac 11 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 3, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of today's meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Next item on the agenda is, under Standing Order 17.42(vi), to move into private session for items 3, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of today's agenda. Are Members content to move into private session for those items?
They are. Therefore, we now go into private session for item 3.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:05.
The public part of the meeting ended at 14:05.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 14:54.
The committee reconvened in public at 14:54.
Thank you. Can I welcome Members and the public back to this afternoon's evidence session of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? This afternoon's evidence sessions are looking at the follow-up work on Brexit preparedness. Can I welcome Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea city council, but also representing the Welsh Local Government Association, and Dr Tim Peppin, who also represents the Welsh Local Government Association, this afternoon to discuss perhaps the preparedness in relation to local government in Wales? It's an easy one for me to start with, I suppose: what's your current assessment of the preparedness for local government across Wales? We've had discussions before, but we are in a different position, in a sense. We have moved on, time wise. So, what's your assessment of your preparedness? And I'm taking any scenarios at this point.
Okay. Well, croeso—thank you very much for the welcome. My view of the position for local government at the moment is we are as well prepared as we can be. Certainly, there's been a significant amount of activity over the last 12 months across all councils in Wales for us to understand the level of readiness for the range of local government services that we offer.
We've looked again at the numbers of staff potentially impacted by any change in our relationship with Europe. We've looked at contingency planning for our services across councils. But, I'm sure like yourselves, we are still yet to understand what type of Brexit, or any Brexit, we will end up getting. So, it is difficult in terms of scenario planning to get to an absolute degree. We've also had regional consortia, resilience consortia, meeting; we've had a number of tests of our services take place. So, there's been, I think, as much as possible that can be done.
My remaining worry on this is as it was a few months ago, which is of course we deliver a huge range of services with a huge range of supply chains and contractors, and, whilst we can see to a certain level and give ourselves a certain amount of assurance, it's those things beyond our horizon that may come back as issues given the scale of a potential, especially a 'no deal', Brexit, which could be hugely disruptive. So, I think we're in as good a position as we can be. Tim, I don't know if you want to add to that.
Yes. We've been working quite closely with Grant Thornton, who—we commissioned some guidance from them for local authorities, and we also then asked them to ring around all the authorities for an update on how their work was progressing. The feedback we had from that was that things had moved on substantially—from the period when the guidance was issued in December last year through to April this year, there was a lot of activity. And, as Councillor Stewart said, those areas he's outlined—there's been significant progress. So, I think we have taken all the steps we could possibly take in the circumstances.
Well, since you've mentioned Grant Thornton, this paper actually to your Brexit leads in April—it's only a month ago—stated he couldn't say with absolute confidence that Welsh local government is ready for 'no deal' Brexit. So, he says you're not ready, in his view, yet. You're saying you think you are. So, are you taking actions in response to Mr Thornton's [correction: Grant Thornton's] comments?
Chair, if I could just clarify that, I said—I chose my words very carefully—I think we are as well prepared as we can be. I don't think anybody's ready for a 'no deal' Brexit. Again, I've been quite clear in my views over a number of months now: I think a 'no deal' Brexit would be disastrous and I think the totality of the impacts could be significantly above any of our abilities to react.
I think as well, Chair, the context for the comments in that report were that what Grant Thornton was saying was that, because there hadn't been the 'no deal' scenario, we hadn't been able to test our contingency arrangements. They weren't saying that we weren't prepared, what they were saying was, because we hadn't tested them in practice, it was impossible to say whether they'd have been adequate. But they weren't saying that the preparations were inadequate.
Okay, thank you for that one. Huw, did you want to raise something?
Yes. Can I—? This is genuinely not a leading question. I really want a frank answer on this. We're familiar with Welsh Government telling us that there's been something of an opportunity cost with this as well—because of the resource diverted at a Welsh Government level, we're not doing other things. Are you picking up from members that there has been effect on local government delivery, operations, strategic thinking? If the answer is 'no', tell me 'no'. But has this in any way meant—? Are you picking up from members that they have had to choose, because of deploying some resources and a focus on preparation away from other areas that they might have otherwise been doing?
I think there has been some impact, and we were very grateful for the £1.2 million that was made available by Welsh Government to help with backfilling some of the people who were actually assisting with the planning for Brexit. But I wouldn't say it's affected service delivery in local government in perhaps the same way as it has affected, you know, some of the law-making focus in UK Government, which appears to be consumed with Brexit at the present time.
Thank you. I appreciate that. That's quite a frank and honest answer.
Alun, you wanted to explore further the capacity questions.
Yes, I'm interested in that. It was a very bullish response, Councillor Stewart, on where you are at the moment, and that's good to hear, but are you confident that you have the resources and the capacity to deal with the sorts of scenarios that you're considering?
Again, it depends what type of Brexit we get. If we're talking about a 'no deal', then I remain concerned that I don't think we have all of the necessary resources to respond to that. There have been—. The regional consortia have done their work; as I said, we've tested some of the services. But I can't say with a degree of confidence at this point that there won't be contractor failures. Companies that we rely on for the delivery of social care, maybe through supply chain issues or other service issues, might go into administration, therefore leaving a heavier burden on local authorities to deliver those services. You look at schools—provision of school meals and others in terms of suppliers coming in. It's those tier 2 and beyond suppliers that, where we get a 'no deal' Brexit, where perhaps things cannot be imported or exported in the numbers that we need, potentially—. I know you will have spoken to health service providers—again, if there are issues in health, that'll have a knock-on effect for social care. So, it's all of that coming together in a 'no deal' scenario that does worry me, as I said. I don't want to underplay the work that has gone in in local government to try and put us in the best position possible, but, when you look at the range and scale of things that could be affected by a 'no deal' Brexit, I do remain concerned.
I appreciate that. But in terms of whatever scenario we're looking at—there's a range of scenarios, I understand that—we're not—. Usually when local government and when Welsh Government or whoever plans for different scenarios and plan to deal with difficulties in the order of business, it's done on the basis of an event and then recovery: so, for example, poor weather, snow or whatever, an outbreak of disease, whatever it might be, an interruption to supply. And then you deal with an event, an episode, and then you deal with recovery and then you deal with restoration of normal business. But, of course, Brexit is very different to that, isn't it? Because it isn't simply an event, it's a new, ongoing situation. Now, Councillor Stewart, you've told me on a number of occasions you don't believe that local government has sufficient resources available to it today to deal with the normal order of business. So, how do you then argue that you have the capacity to deal with not only an event, an episode, but an ongoing order of business over not just weeks or days but months and potentially years, where your order of business is going to be fundamentally affected?
Yes. Look, I won't change the statements I made to you when you were Cabinet Secretary, because I do believe that local government could do with further resources. That's different, though, from having to deal with specific issues arising from Brexit, because—. One example, which we've discussed with Ministers, has been, well, look, if we get into a position where supplies are restricted for essential items, for instance, then we'll be in a marketplace trying to acquire those. That will drive up the cost of delivering those services and therefore we will obviously be going to Government to ask for assistance in that. That's different from our ability to cope with delivery of services per se. Again, the cost of delivering services—if they rise as a result of Brexit, of course we'll be talking to Welsh Government and UK Government about additional help.
I'm pleased to hear that. But, of course, if you look at the experience of units of local government across the United Kingdom, where they've had to deal with different scenarios that are ongoing, probably the best example of an ongoing crisis, if you like, is that which affected Salisbury last year, and the attack that took place there, where you had an incident and then you had a recovery that went on for a significant period of time and is still affecting life there. That had an effect not just in the expenditure of resource, of cash, in order to deal with the particular issues, but on people as well. Because one of the issues that I see in local government is that there are very few people, in real terms, who are responsible for decision making, who are responsible for management, who are responsible for leadership within each individual local authority. And if, for example, you're dealing with a scenario that is ongoing, not just for days, but for weeks and for months, then there surely has to be a recognition that you don't have sufficient people to be able to deal with that on an ongoing basis.
Yes, I think you're right in that respect that, if we have an ongoing issue—. But I would expect—. And that's what Operation Yellowhammer is there to do, to make sure that the Governments, the two Governments, are able to respond and assist as needed. Some of the impacts may be at local government level, and we will obviously be working as partners to try and address those. But I'll go back to the point—if this is a 'no deal' scenario where you have issues from food and essential supplies to fuel, to medicines, all affected, then the range of impacts is going to be more than a local authority alone can deal with, and it has to be dealt with then at national level.
Can I make one final point on that, because I think you mentioned about resources as well? One of the key things going forward that we still haven't got clarity on is, of course, the shared prosperity fund. And, if we do end up in a Brexit situation, then ensuring that sufficient money, equal or better to what we currently receive in Wales, is secured and administered by the Welsh Government and on to its local authorities is something we absolutely have to see, because we can't be in a position where Wales is bidding for money from the UK Government against other areas of the UK. That's simply not a fair way for a future prosperity fund to operate.
I think we're in absolute agreement with that, but the shared prosperity fund is there to substitute for European funding, which is there on the basis of additionality, of course, rather than to deliver core services on a daily basis.
I want to explore the point you made about the tier 2 providers and, clearly, you were concerned about the implications upon those in the supply chains. Have you, as the WLGA or individual authorities, therefore, had discussions with those tier 2 providers to ask them as to what Brexit assessment they've undertaken to see any impact upon them?
As we said, we've done our own staffing implications. We've begun and are working through the contractor or the supplier staffing arrangements. But, again, it's very difficult when you're in a multiple and complex supply chain to formally establish all of the implications. These are complex systems and, again, to try and navigate to a potential set of outcomes is very, very difficult. But, yes, we are starting that work, but that is a significant body of work to do all of that.
There have been discussions with all the social services directors, for example, encouraging them to go out and talk to their providers, and authorities are following up on that. They are having discussions with the full range, from the large providers down to the small local providers, as much as anything to alert them and make sure that they are aware there could be employment issues, there could be supply issues. So, in terms of the preparation the local authorities were doing themselves, they were passing the message on down the chain to make sure that their suppliers were doing the same sort of preparatory steps.
Okay. Thank you. Delyth.
Thank you, Chair. You've mentioned in what you've given us that it's important that local authorities don't just plan for a 'no deal' Brexit, but also for all the other various scenarios that you've already alluded to. How would you say that local authorities can decide, proportionally, where to allocate funds, looking at all the different scenarios that could end up coming about, because there's so much uncertainty still?
Just my personal view on this one is that I think the easiest thing to do is to plan for a 'no deal', because that has the most implications, so it allows you to prepare as best you can. Again, there are umpteen variations on what sort of Brexit we get, and nobody in this room or anywhere else, I think, knows what we're going to end up with yet. It's very difficult to establish that. But, as it does say in our paper, given recent events, preparing for remain—because the other thing that we do need to consider is, if we do end up remaining for a period of time or a longer term, then we need to be making sure that we've got the applications in to access funding that would be available so that the UK and Wales don't lose out. And so even preparing for what happens if we remain is a task in itself as well.
And would you say that to date that you're getting a good amount of direction from Welsh Government on that and support?
Yes. I think, to be fair, the Welsh Government have been excellent on this—sharing information, providing local authorities with access to some of the documents. I think the position statements that the Welsh Government have put out in terms of what they would do in terms of Brexit have been really helpful, and again, the support that they've given us and the engagement. So, I am, from a local government perspective, very happy with what the Welsh Government has done to this point.
Okay, thank you. You referred to the need to allow for preparations for remain as well, and, almost regardless of what scenario we end up having—it may be a scenario that none of us even thought about in the medium term—you've also talked about, in your paper, the need to look at possible civil unrest that might come about with emergency services, with health—it can impact on so many different areas. Are there any precedents that we can draw on from this across the UK, like what happened with the London riots, and do you think there are any key lessons that could be learnt from that? I mean, is this something that you think there is a very large body of work going on about?
Well, I know, obviously, planning with Operation Yellowhammer—they had preparations in place for civil unrest, and obviously the Welsh Government will be doing equivalent preparations. I think the only thing for me in recent memory, probably, would be the fuel shortages, because if you think about 15 or so years ago now, it only took a small number of agitators to prevent fuel deliveries, and we suddenly had chaos, and that was a time before we had social media. So, my concern has always been, in a situation where not just fuel but a number of things are either in shortage or at risk of becoming shortage, how do we—local government, Government—ensure that we get consistent, informative messages out. Because one thing's for sure, social media will be well ahead of the game, and making sure that people have a reliable source of information so that they don't add to the problem—because people could start panic buying, and then we find a number of shortages, and then, of course, it leads to civil unrest. But, of course, the other aspect of it is that if people don't get either the Brexit or the decision that they believe they voted for, that in itself—. And we've seen that with the appalling abuse that MPs and others have faced. Civil unrest is something that is of real concern there.
I think local authorities have put on their risk registers that they've been putting together that this is a possibility, whichever way things go, but interestingly they've also picked up on the fact that some authorities where you wouldn't expect there to be any unrest have recognised that the police in their area could be drawn away if there was unrest in other areas. So, I think authorities are thinking across the board, really.
Huw, do you want to come in?
Yes, indeed. Thank you, Chair. Just extending what Delyth was saying, but beyond the civil emergencies and civil contingency—that cliff-edge urgency planning. In the longer issue, if we were to have a scenario, whether it's a 'no deal' scenario or another scenario, where we have significant economic impact on some of our most disadvantaged communities, the risk of that, then, is the eating into the community cohesion, the destabilising of those communities. Now, I always preface this by saying I remember the author of Bread—do you remember that series and the Liverpool family—saying, 'Governments can throw whatever they want at us, frankly; we're strong communities, but there is an issue here.' In that scenario, what's your approach? What's your ask, then, of Welsh Government and third sector and other partners? Because it comes back to Alun's point; what we're talking about there is month after month, year after year, degradation of public services, taxpayer base, but also that whole community cohesion. At that point, what sort of planning do you then do?
Well, again, it's a point that we've raised at the partnership committee and at the other committees. I'll give you an example. If we get into food shortages and we have limited supplies at our supermarkets—and, you know, we've got four or five big operators there who supply 70 or 80 per cent of the population—well, again, a lot of those big operators provide end-of-day stocks to our food banks. So, if we've got limited supplies, we're not going to be able to even supply our food banks, which we know—. It's not a political point, but we know that the number of people relying on food banks has significantly risen. So, again, those least able to bear the burden of Brexit or a change are going to find themselves, again, hammered by this. It's one of the sad things that our communities, many of them, voted to leave. On what basis, we can debate about, but one thing's for sure: everything that has followed since then says that our communities across Wales are going to be much poorer in any sort of Brexit. The Centre for Cities's analysis for Swansea recently said that we were going to be the hardest hit in Wales in terms of exports, which is obviously going to hit jobs and going to force more people, potentially, out of the jobs market, and therefore further people reliant on benefits or struggling to get by. What is the council doing in those circumstances? Well, our burdens rise significantly then, don't they, and then our ask of Welsh Government rises significantly and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I really do remain very, very concerned that even a sensible Brexit is going to leave us in a much more difficult position than we are in at the moment.
I personally and individually share those concerns, but it strikes me that, once we know what shape Brexit takes, whether it's a 'no deal' or something that has a long, lingering effect—. People will contest this, but most evidence-based commentators who do the analysis are saying that it's going to drive hard and long and deep there. At that point, it seems incumbent on not just WLGA and its individual members, but also third sector and Welsh Government to sit down and really say, 'Right, now how do we marshal our resources, our strategies and rethink our policies around protecting not just those vulnerable individuals and families, but communities that are going to be at the hard arse end of this?', quite frankly.
And how does Wales interact with the rest of the world differently to what we're doing now? Because, again, we will have specific problems in Wales, in agriculture and others, that perhaps won't hit the rest of the UK as hard. So, again, we're going to have to have a Welsh response to Brexit as well, which I know Welsh Government and others are working on.
The issue has been raised at the preparedness panel as well, which is senior Welsh Government officials meeting with WLGA and a number of chief executives, and they've looked at the possibility of drawing on other experiences. For example, Torfaen have talked about their work on universal credit and how they've looked at how they can help families that are disadvantaged as a result of new policies coming in. So, we are looking at sharing information to deal with those sorts of scenarios.
If I may, Chair, just one further scenario—and again, it's something I'm sure Alun will be familiar with—in September or October this year, local government will start preparing its budgets for next year. Welsh Government will be doing the same. So, if you look at the perfect storm that's coming, you've got a comprehensive spending review, which may or may not take place in the UK Government. If it doesn't, it leaves Welsh Government not knowing what its budget is and, therefore, it leaves all local authorities in Wales not knowing what their budgets are. So, on what basis do we plan? If Brexit lands in the middle of that on 31 October, that is a perfect storm that none of us wants, and it just adds to everything we're currently dealing with.
You've answered my question on that one. I mean, there are opportunities to be sought in this, but there's definitely, I think, a pretty general opinion that there's going to be a bit in the middle where nobody is really sure what's happening, and if there are opportunities, they're not going to be on day one of leaving.
Rob, you mentioned that—. Let me start with what I wanted to ask anyway. At the moment, everything that's been done for Brexit preparedness has been done with 29 March in mind, and that seems to be on the basis of World Trade Organization terms or crash out anyway. That didn't happen on 29 March; there's a six-month gap now. What's happened to any resources that you might have held back in order to help smooth over that crash? Are they being held over for a crash on 31 October, or are they being spent on something else?
The £1.2 million that I mention in terms of Welsh Government support equates to about £45,000 or £50,000, so it allows us to backfill an officer, essentially, or part of an officer to do that. I mean, we are continuing, across the local authorities, to meet and engage with Welsh Government to track the position with Brexit, and the work will continue up to the point that we know what is actually going to happen. We've got to assume that 31 October is going to happen, in the same way we assumed 29 March was going to happen, and we will continue to plan up to that point. And, until we get clarity that something else will happen and that the thirty-first doesn't happen, then Welsh councils will prepare in the same ways we did previously.
Okay. It's just that there are two different budget years here and I was just wondering, when you were thinking, 'Right, we've got to have something in the bank at the end of the budgetary year', you didn't get much time to spend it, necessarily. Or has it just been kept in reserves until—
No, it was money that was released that we can carry over.
Right. So, it's still available and you don't have to look for it twice.
And with the transition fund money, can you just tell us a little bit more about exactly what it was spent on? Because it seems to be additional people, which is completely understandable.
So, there was a case put to Welsh Government that, in terms of the work that was going on in authorities, it was diverting officers from their day job into planning, and we made, I think, a very modest request to say, 'Look, can we have some resources with a bit of flexibility so that each authority can use that to backfill or to employ somebody to assist with Brexit planning?' So, each of us has done it in a slightly different way, but that's basically what we've used it for.
Okay. And are you likely to keep the individuals that you've taken on on afterwards? I'm sure there's other work they could be doing. Would you want the transition fund money to pay them, then?
Again, it depends how long the Brexit stuff runs on for, because we may have to go back to Welsh Government for further funding on that. I would like us to put it to one side and not need a Brexit officer. That would be a really good outcome.
Just for information, by 30 June we have to report to Welsh Government on what arrangements each local authority has put in place. So, we will be reporting back to them, for all 22 authorities, who is now the co-ordinator in that authority, and that could be someone who's been moved across to work on Brexit, or it could be someone part-funded by this funding. But what we'll have then is a network of 22 co-ordinators who will give us regular progress reports on what they're doing. So, with our connections then into Welsh Government, we've got a good two-way flow of information as events unfold. So, we've got an ongoing dialogue there.
So the argument is there for post-Brexit officers, if I can call them that, but it's not clear where their cheques are going to be paid from.
I go back to the point Alun made—it depends what type of Brexit we get. We might be going back with significantly bigger asks of Welsh and UK Government if we get a 'no deal' Brexit and the impacts are significant.
Well, you've done all the planning on the basis of 'no deal', which I suppose is the most expensive version of planning, I'd have thought. In this—
Sorry, Suzy—just to be clear, all we've done at the moment is employ somebody to try and establish what we think the impacts are. We haven't funded what the impacts are. So, the costs of funding the impacts would be very, very different.
Okay, but you've planned, you've scenario planned, to see roughly what it could cost—and I mean roughly. Okay. Now, in this six months that have happened, this six-month delay, has anything new emerged that hadn't crossed your paths before? Because there are always unknowns, and unknown unknowns, as we know, but I just wondered if anything became slightly less unknown.
I don't think a new scenario has emerged, so the scenario planning is as it was before. All options, I think, other than—. Well, politically, 'no deal' looks less likely in terms of the way Parliament seems to be going, but all options remain on the table and we have to plan for them.
Okay. So there's nothing new that's emerged that perhaps things like regional partnership boards and so on are having to look at in a different way.
That's useful to know.
All I would say is that we're carrying, as everybody else is, a huge amount of uncertainty, and that is not helpful for our economies across Wales.
No, I agree with you. Okay. I think that's all I had to ask. Thank you.
On the transition fund, you've mentioned that obviously you've received money, and you are putting that towards posts. Are you preparing any other bids from the transition fund as the WLGA to see how—? Are there areas you've identified that you think the transition fund can help you with?
Yes. That is a discussion that we're having at the moment, and again, we will be discussing it further in the WLGA this Friday.
The money we've got so far with the co-ordinators will help to pick up issues that cut across authorities where we're identifying the need for additional support. For example, one is the environmental health officers who have looked at the export health certificates and the increased demand. So it's when all the authorities start to identify an area where they're going to have an increased demand—it's about resourcing that extra requirement.
Suzy, do you want to come back?
Yes—a related question, actually. Obviously, Brexit isn't just hitting Wales. I'm kind of curious about how you're dealing with officials in other parts of the UK.
Okay. So, we attend the different council bodies, so we work with our colleagues in Northern Ireland, Scotland and there's been co-ordination across that.
Just at LGA level or—?
LGA level, yes. I have to say, I haven't seen a huge amount of benefit in the meetings that were held in London in the early days, because there was simply a lack of clarity and information available to councils. But we continue to engage and we continue to talk to our partners to understand what they are doing to prepare. So, yes, there is collaboration going on.
So you've shared ideas, then, on that.
There's been previous sharing of intelligence and information. So, LGA in London have got more resource than us, but they've done analysis on things like the frameworks that are being designed and developed. They've shared that with us. When we got our Grant Thornton toolkit developed, we shared what with the other associations—COSLA, NILGA and the LGA. So, it is that sharing of information so we don't reinvent the wheel.
That's good to hear. It would be a shame to think it was all being in silos, wouldn't it? Okay. Thank you.
Thanks, Chair. I'm just looking here at some of the analysis that's been done by Grant Thornton on individual authorities highlighting the vulnerabilities, areas of exposure and so on. But they also then make a series of recommendations for individual authorities saying, 'You should look at this.' Now, we have, unexpectedly, a sight extension of time. Is it your experience that individual local authority members now are using this time, with the analysis that's been done, with their own analysis, to deal with these issues that—? In my own area, they highlight the exposure in terms of the automobile industry; they highlight community cohesion issues because of the high exposure on the community vulnerability index. Are your members actually doing that now, and using the extra time to say, 'Right, as much as we can, here's what we can anticipate and we can prepare for'?
My understanding is, yes, that is the case, but, of course, some of those recommendations, some of the things they identify are maybe beyond just the local authority's ability to resolve that. But, certainly, every council will have had the Grant Thornton report, will be looking at the recommendations in there, and my understanding is that each council is looking at how they can then incorporate those in their planning.
I think we had a date of 18 April entered in for a meeting with all the authorities in case 12 April would come about. And, in discussion, we decided to go ahead with that meeting. Even though there'd been an extension, we brought the Brexit leads together, had a very good discussion with them, and then Grant Thornton came and made a presentation. And the key message to them was, 'Don't take your foot off the gas, don't think that this is a period to just relax and wait; actually review what you've done, have a look at lessons you can learn from what you've already prepared, and do no regrets actions.' So, if you can work with your supply chain and improve local service and supply arrangements, do that. If you can talk to non-UK, EU nationals working for the authority and reassure them that they're valued members of the staff—. All those things are things that you can do and there's no regrets to those actions.
And you seem to be reasonably confident that that is going on. Is that also a message that's been driven home in the various groups that are engaging with Welsh Government as well, to use this time productively, to use the analysis, whether it's Grant Thornton or others that have been done?
Yes, absolutely. I think, as Tim alluded to, we've got to assume that there will be some form of Brexit until that is off the table. So, all councils will use every opportunity to get prepared for that.
Are we anticipating that in response to the Grant Thornton analysis for each individual authority that each individual authority will be, or have they already responded in some way to say, 'Well, this is what we're doing in response to it'? Or is it sort of just laid on the table and 'Off you go'?
I think the network of co-ordinators, we will be asking them to give us progress reports. So, that will be the way that we monitor it. And I've got to be honest: I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief and did take their foot off the gas for a short period because it had been so intensive. But we will now be using that network to make sure that there is follow-up on those areas.
And just to add there, it's not just the network of course; we've got the regional contingency consortia, which meet regularly, and, again, they will be making sure that the regional planning is sufficiently robust.
Can I ask a question on the auditor general's report earlier this year? Obviously, it was clearly indicating the preparedness of public bodies in Wales. Have you made a response to that report?
Which report, sorry?
The auditor general's report.
Oh, right, yes. We worked with the auditor general when the draft report came out, and we gave them information on work that had been done since they did their survey work. And they did refer to some of that in their final report. They recognised that things were moving on, and they subsequently organised three events across Wales—one in Swansea, one in Conwy and one in Cardiff—which the Welsh Local Government Association undertook, together with Academy Wales. So, that was done following on—.There was a webinar in the Wales Audit Office's offices, followed by three sessions across Wales to try and disseminate some of the learning.
So, can I therefore assume that the response from the WLGA and the local authorities linked into the auditor's report, and that the response to the Grant Thornton paper are being put together so that there will be a cohesive response in this case?
Yes. We are collating all the information from all the different sources. So, we have a pretty comprehensive overview of what's going on in every authority and what stage they're at.
Okay. Have any other Members got questions, because we're almost out of time? No. Then, can I thank you for your evidence this afternoon? You will receive a copy of the transcript, as you know. If there are any factual inaccuracies, please let the clerking team know as soon as possible. Once again, thank you very much, and good luck in your preparedness ahead of you.
We'll be moving straight on to the next evidence session. So, we'll wait for the witnesses to come in.
[Inaudible.] Can I remind people we are in public?
Good afternoon. We'll ask you to introduce yourselves and your position for the record in a second. But, just to remind those of you who haven't been here before, the microphones come on automatically; you haven't got to touch anything. If you require simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, the headphones are there on channel 1. So, for the record, if you could introduce yourselves, please. If I go from left to right.
I'm Nesta Lloyd-Jones. I'm the interim director at the Welsh NHS Confederation. The Welsh NHS Confederation is the membership body for the seven health boards, the three NHS trusts and Health Education Improvement Wales.
I'm Colin Riordan, I'm the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University.
Mairwen Harris, Universities Wales.
Thank you very much for that, and thank you for your attendance this afternoon. Clearly, the position with Brexit continues onwards and we are trying to identify the progress in preparedness for the variety of Brexit scenarios that may exist. I suppose the first question is a very simple one: since last we met, where do you see your preparedness now compared to then? What position do you feel your sectors are in—the university sector and the health sector? Let's deal with the health sector first.
Since my previous director came and gave evidence in October last year, there's been significant preparedness and contingency plans are being put in place across the NHS, but also the health and social care sector.
Since October last year, the Welsh Government has set up a sub-group of the leadership group. So, there has been a health and social care leadership group that's been in place for about 18 months. Then, in January, it was felt that a sub-group should be established that included senior responsible owners from across the health sector. So, there is an SRO from all the health boards, the trusts, shared services, informatics, and also the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru. This sub-group met fortnightly to discuss priorities, concerns and issues.
Then, throughout this process, we have put in contingency plans, again working across health and social care, but with Welsh Government, to put in contingency plans in preparation for a range of areas, whether it's Wales specific areas around medical devices and consumables, or also looking at what is coming out of UK Government with regard to guidance around things like medicines, clinical trials and public health security.
In regard to the Welsh NHS Confederation, we were successful, in November last year, in receiving funding from Welsh Government as part of the Brexit transition fund, and we have, since March, had two dedicated members of staff who have been supporting our members, co-ordinating messages, ensuring our members are prepared, and that any guidance that was coming out of Welsh Government and UK Government was shared across the healthcare system in Wales.
Can I just ask whether that sub-group is still established?
The sub-group is still established. That specific sub-group is now meeting again in September, so it has been stood down. But the leadership group is meeting every month and also another sub-group, the communication sub-group, is also meeting every month. So, the comms sub-group was established in January, it has representatives from the NHS and ADSS to ensure that the messages that were coming out in March are reaching, really, the front-line staff. Also, that comms group is looking at the settled status scheme and ensuring that awareness is raised across health and social care to ensure that NHS staff are aware of it and that they apply for the settled status scheme.
I'm pleased about that because this committee has previously highlighted the fact that communications is a critical element. Huw, do you want to raise a point on this?
Yes, on one very particular area. Back in late autumn, maybe in December, a piece of work was commissioned to look at the impacts on the social care workforce. It wasn't a Wales-specific thing, it was the UK. We have a fragmented social care sector and, as a result, we had data paucity within it. I understand that work was commissioned. Have we had the results of that work, and what do we now know about the exposure of the social care sector to vulnerabilities through Brexit?
So, the Ipsos Mori report that was commissioned by ADSS Cymru, I believe, and Social Care Wales was published, I believe, at the end of March. We were aware of the figures in February, so as always with a number of these meetings, a lot of the information was confidential, so we became aware of those figures in mid February. The figures, ADSS will be able to provide you with the detailed breakdowns, but I do believe that the figures were relatively similar to the health workforce and I think it was around 2,400. So, it did give a good picture in regard to the social care workforce.
In regard to the NHS workforce, as you may be aware, all NHS staff are recruited by shared services, or their details are on shared services, so we are aware through the electronic staff record of the quarterly figures for staff in the NHS. At the moment, we are looking at about 1,500 members of staff and those numbers have increased since the EU referendum. So, our numbers haven't gone down. But, I can send you the Ipsos Mori report that has the breakdown.
You said the sub-group had been stood down until September. Do we therefore assume that the other sub-groups have taken up the necessary actions that you think should be undertaken between now and 31 October? Because there is still a deadline—
—it's just moved to a different date.
So, in regard to the SRO group specifically, a lot of the people on there were the senior responsible officers, but very much delivery of services within their individual organisations. A lot of the actions from that sub-group have been taken up by the leadership group, which is meeting monthly. Also, a report is being written at the moment, nearly finalised, which is bringing everything together in regard to what we've learnt over the last three months or four months—any areas where more work is needed in regard to testing. So, all the areas were tested, whether it was around medicines or clinical consumables, and that report will be looking at whether there is further testing required. So, while that sub-group has stood down until early September, all the areas that were picked up in that SRO group are being picked up by the leadership group on a monthly basis.
Okay. Thank you. The university sector.
So, I think the question was, 'Do we still feel well prepared?' I think we had got ourselves to a point in time for the end of March where we felt that the areas that we could control—the kind of emergency measures that we'd need to take in the case of a 'no deal' Brexit—certainly, I can speak for Cardiff University, that we were well prepared. And I know from talking to colleagues in Universities Wales that other universities also had reached that point. So, we'd looked at all the issues around staff and students, and how we could support them, and the same measures in terms of supporting staff in applying for settled status, and considering what we'd do in the event of a sudden exit, in terms of Erasmus+. So, we'd written to all our partners and agreed with them how we would take that forward. Obviously, we're reliant on UK Government for the underwrite guarantee for both existing Erasmus agreements and Horizon 2020 funding. We continue to receive assurances around that from the relevant Government departments, including the Treasury.
So, in the areas that we could control, I think we remain well prepared. We also have, of course, planning groups, contingency planning groups on this in each university, and we've looked also at our supply chains, stockpiling parts—all that kind of thing. So, all those measures have been taken and do remain in place, because, as you rightly say, it's only been delayed until 31 October, and we don't want to end up in a panic situation at the last second again. So, in that sense, it's a welcome breathing space.
Some of the areas that we really can't control—one of the biggest ones that concerns us is what's going to happen about structural funds, and many of these areas, like Horizon 2020 funding or what will happen in terms of Erasmus, are not necessarily cliff-edge question, but they would rapidly become them over time if they're not addressed. We still don't know what the situation will be on structural funds, and we haven't had the immigration Bill actually go through Parliament yet, so there are so many areas of uncertainty, really, that we can't directly control, and those are the one where we really have to wait and see and get as much information as we can, really, from relevant Government departments. But it's always limited, for obvious reasons.
And those areas you can control—I appreciate there are areas you can't—as the previous witness indicated, there are different levels of supply chains you've identified. Have you had discussion with those supply chains to ensure that they are fully aware and that they've undertaken an analysis to see whether they're prepared for various Brexit scenarios?
So, our procurement departments have been undertaking that kind of communication, and where there is any doubt, if necessary, stockpiling. You can't stockpile everything, obviously, but there are areas, such as potential weak points or potential areas where you would need spare parts for things like your IT systems, ensuring that those are there in sufficient quantity, so that we could deal with any eventuality and still have time to secure other ways of getting hold of what you need.
Thank you. Delyth.
My first question is specifically for Nesta, please. You've mentioned before that there are specific isotopes that might not be available if we were to have a deal that didn't include nuclear materials. I'm thinking specifically—I'm probably mispronouncing this, but is it technetium-99? Because, apparently, it's used in around 850,000 scans across the UK every year—
That's it, right. So, they can't be stored for a long time because of the short shelf life that they've got. What would happen, do you think, to patients or scenarios that would be reliant on them in a situation where we couldn't get hold of them?
So, in regard to radioisotopes, the planning that has been put in place is—. Like you say, they have a very short shelf life, so the planning that has been put in place at UK level is that instead of coming through the ports, they will be flown in to specific airports in England and then travel into Wales. Those plans—I don't remember the detail, but they have been planned in regard to when they would then come to Wales, when they would go to specific hospitals in Wales. So, the impact for the NHS in Wales would be, once you know when they're coming, then you'd be able to change the treatment. So, if somebody's having treatment in the morning, if the radioisotope isn't coming in until late morning, they would just change their treatment times. So, that has been looked at and contingency plans have been put in place.
The other big issue with radioisotopes is how they're regulated, and that's something that's ongoing in regard to Euratom and other regulators. But in regard to getting them here—once they're here, there have been contingency plans put in place.
Okay, thank you. And, presumably, with those contingency plans, if treatments had to be shifted back a few hours, then the contingency plans would take into account the knock-on effect that all of that—.
Right, gosh. Thank you. My other question—
Before you ask your second question—sorry, Delyth—
No, of course.
On that point, because you've just mentioned that it's a UK Government single approach, how have you managed with two different approaches? Because obviously you're working with the Welsh Government in one sense, on one area, on some aspects, but on a wider basis you're working with the UK Government. How have the health boards and health bodies actually managed to find how that works? Has it been effective?
I think the plans that we've put in place and the structures we've put in place since January have been effective. So, by meeting through the senior responsible officer route—that's where that detail is discussed. So, there has been testing at that group and at contingency groups, looking at both UK-level areas and Welsh Government areas. So, presentations have been provided in regard to: these are the areas that we are aware of at UK Government, the guidance has been coming through from the UK Government, and then the areas that are specific to Wales, such as clinical consumables and, as many of you are aware, the purchase of the warehouse and ensuring that the stock levels are appropriate in that warehouse. So, presentations have been provided and contingency planning and testing has been provided throughout, I would say, late February, early March. So, that has been discussed.
I think the challenge for us at the Welsh NHS Confederation was the amount of guidance coming out at UK level and trying to keep on top of that, because a number of pieces of guidance came out around medicines, around reciprocal healthcare, around clinical trials, and it's a question of trying to consolidate that and pick out the key messages for our members. Welsh Government also sent out a number of letters, so Andrew Goodall, the director general, sent out a number of letters in February/March, just to highlight where things were, and also a number of bulletins were sent out—one on food, one on medicine—and those were cascaded through the networks, both at health and social care to reach the front line. That part has been tested now, so whether those bulletins—there were four of them—actually did reach the front line, whether the nurses, the GPs and allied health professionals—did they ever become aware that these messages were coming out of Government? So, that's being tested at the moment.
Thank you. Sorry, Delyth.
No, that's all right. Thank you. In our previous session earlier this afternoon we were talking about the different Brexit scenarios and whether the local authorities are able—well, to what extent they are able to plan for not just a 'no deal' Brexit scenario but all of the different scenarios that could be planned for. Could you tell us about your experiences of planning for different scenarios of Brexit and whether you've had sufficient support from Welsh Government to date on that, please? That's to all of you.
Well, it's asking both sectors, obviously. The universities can take it first, then.
Yes, you go first. [Laughter.]
They can go first this time.
So, we regularly plan for all kinds of scenarios of things that might go wrong in the university. So, we have a major incident plan, which we would apply to unforeseen circumstances. And you can try and foresee as many as you can, clearly, where we might have to do things like close the university or really change our procedures in a rapid fashion. So, we apply that thinking and those procedures to any scenarios relating to Brexit. We feel that the support we've had from Welsh Government has been very good, it's been very helpful. We've had £3.5 million of funding for universities in Wales via Universities Wales for the Global Wales project, for example, which will help us prepare for the possible partly reputational and also practical aspects of exit from the EU. But you can spend an awful lot of time doing scenario planning when you actually really need to get on with business as usual. So, what we've done is use our existing procedures for major incident planning—if there is a major fire or something like that—and applied those, really, to these scenarios. So, that's how we're handling that.
I would say the same thing. We have contingency managers that plan for things like winter and other issues, whether a hospital needs to close because there's been an outbreak of infection or a ward needs to close. So, we have looked at working with the structures that are already in place. Since January/February time, because the risk of a 'no deal' became more acute, each health board and trust had a 'no deal' Brexit on their at-risk registers, which meant, then, that it was discussed at a board level, and that's then why there was a senior responsible officer group established as well, just to look at contingency. I think, before 31 March, a lot of time was in looking at no deal and the contingency. There were one or two pieces of work, such as Public Health Wales's health impact assessment, which wasn't looking at contingency but looking at where Wales could be in the short, medium and long term. So, now we are spending a bit more time looking at those other areas, such as the future immigration White Paper, the health impact assessment that Public Health Wales have done, and then other pieces of work that our members have highlighted to us, such as the reciprocal healthcare and the workforce numbers as well. So, while the contingency and planning for 'no deal' is still very much in everybody's mind, it has given us a bit more time to look at wider areas as well.
Professor Riordan, in your answer you talked about the Global Wales programme. The Children, Young People and Education Committee's report looking at the implications of Brexit actually expressed disappointment in making a recommendation to the Welsh Government—and I know this is the Welsh Government and not you—but I suppose the question I want to ask is: are you now comfortable that the Global Wales programme and Welsh Government's review into research and innovation funding are actually proceeding appropriately now, based upon the disappointment that was expressed in our sister committee's reports?
Well, the thing is, we're only one university in Wales; there are eight of us. So, you can't have everything going your own way, and you need to reach a compromise on what the best way forward is for the universities, and that's what we're prepared to do—'You know what? I'm going to try and steamroller every project to our benefit.' So, I do feel that the Global Wales project is a really very good development for Wales and for Welsh universities and shows real vision on the part of the Welsh Government. And so does the research and innovation investment fund as well, which I think is going to make a real difference.
So, in your view, it's actually a good programme and it has now started to deliver on what it was intended to do.
Thank you. Huw, did you want to come in?
Yes, I just want to come back to an issue around medicines again. And it's not on the preparation we've heard about with warehousing and trying to do as much as we can to ensure continual supply in one way or the other. It's actually to do with exchange rate variations. We've seen over the years that medicine supplies for individual cancer drugs, for example, have been, sometimes for months, held up because suppliers that are located overseas suddenly find it's not profitable for them to put it into the UK market. I'm just wondering, in the preparations, is any analysis being done, not of the foreseeable ones like we're talking about with warehousing, but those still foreseeable but slightly more worrying contingencies of if something like an exchange rate fluctuation of a significant scale happens, where, frankly, there is no incentive to supply into the UK market?
In regard to medicines, that is UK Government that's been working with industry and suppliers in relation to that, and I'm sure that they would have that information, and I am aware, from speaking to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and others, that that's something that they've looked at. I think the answer to that is that the UK Government has worked very closely and they've had a very positive relationship with industry in regard to medicines. So, to my knowledge, that hasn't been raised, but if you look at the long term, it could be an issue, but we wouldn't be the ones to provide that expertise to you.
I wonder, Chair, whether there is a way that we could find that information, as a committee, because it seems to me that it could be long term, it could be immediate. Because if there's a volatile reaction in the market, for example, a 'no deal' where, overnight, we have a dramatic change in exchange rates, with all the goodwill in the world from pharmaceutical companies, they make commercial decisions quite hard-headed. Now, I'd love to think that they would simply say, 'Don't you worry, we'll keep the supply chains going', but I've seen it before in individual medicines—why would it be different now? So I just wonder, Chair, if we can't—. I understand that you haven't got the information today, but I think we need to drill into that, because it'll be a 'Wales and England and Northern Ireland and Scotland' issue—to see if scenario work has been done on that.
I wondered if you wanted to respond to Huw's remark.
No, he was making a point.
Right, okay, that's fine. Before we move on from that, I want to come back to the Global Wales programme as well and Global Wales II, and maybe this is one for Mairwen Harris, because it's a bit mean to ask you to speak on behalf of everybody, Colin, on this one. There was a specific recommendation from the Children, Young People and Education Committee that Welsh Government should explain how the Global Wales II programme is going to help mitigate the impact of the reducing number of EU students. We're already seeing a lower number of EU students coming in. Are you happy with progress?
At the moment, we have two markets already identified—one is the US and one is Vietnam—and by the end of next month we'll have two [correction: one or two] more markets identified. So, one of those may be Europe, another one may be more global. We're also looking at how we recruit in England as well, to try and mitigate the reduction in EU students.
It's good to see the university sector moving ahead on the recommendation that was meant for Welsh Government, really. So, are they giving you direct support at this stage? Or are they expecting you to use your transition fund money—?
It's a three-year fund and we're only part way through the first year, so there are still two more years to run on it.
Okay, so it's still running in a discrete way. You're not using transition funds from the Welsh Government to help support it.
No. So, that's project funding, really—£3.5 million was that project.
Okay. Could I ask you, then, about the four areas that Universities UK suggested all universities should be looking at? Colin Riordan mentioned earlier that you're already looking at supporting students and staff and helping them through the settled status process. You spoke about Erasmus, a little bit about goods and services, which were three of those areas, and then the fourth was the shared data between the UK and the EU.
So, that is something that UUK are leading on.
How are you influencing that?
Well, Universities Wales is part of UUK—so, a subset of that. It's probably not the highest priority for us because it's more of a slow-burn thing, but it clearly depends on how the data protection regulations are going to work, and that sort of thing. So, the UK will be lobbying Government to see what we want to see, which is as free a flow of data as we can possibly have. Particularly for the services it's very important, because for things like rare diseases, if you lose access to EU data on that, because the diseases are rare, you need a very large population. So, it's almost pretty much a 500 million population is really critical to that. So, those are the sorts of areas where some extremely important research projects where we lead could be potentially badly affected, and also areas like clinical trials where data sharing is really critical. So, it tends to be in that kind of area, and really the whole of big data as a topic. I say it's low in my priorities; in terms of urgency it is, because this will be a slower burn thing.
That's why is was trying to get a sense of, of those four areas of work, which one was prioritised?
But it's still very important.
Particularly as there've been some questions about Reid-style money as well, and what you're talking about now, I can see the crossover. I wouldn't like to think the opportunity's lost just because in terms of urgency it doesn't look the most urgent. On that, of course, we were all looking at exit day being 29 March. We're now looking at the end of October. That's six months. How are you using that six months in terms of preparedness?
It just depends on the high politics, really. I think we've done pretty much everything—. Well, we maintain our preparations, but until we get some decisions and some clarity about what's actually going to happen, there's really not much more we can do, because what we've been hoping for for a long time was initially last October and then in December that we would get clarity about the future, and we could then start the next phase of actually talking to the Commission about the details of some of these things, and we can't talk about co-operation, we can't talk about data, we can't talk about trade. People who are students obviously were part of the first phase with the three things, the Irish border and so on. But those items 2, 3 and 4 on that list we can't actually talk about, and they won't talk to us, and I understand that, and that is not going to happen unless and until there's an agreement, and if there's not an agreement there won't be any—at least, not initially—any talks. So, we're stuck in limbo, really.
And it's a united voice, is it? You're all pretty much saying the same things within the university sector, or would say it if you had the opportunity.
One thing that has changed is the underwrite situation for Erasmus+, because with the change in deadline date, that will mean that the funding for 2019-20 students should move forward. We were concerned that that funding wouldn't come through for projects that hadn't already been agreed. The projects for next year should be agreed in June, so that underwrite would follow. So, if we did come out with a 'no deal' at the end of October, we'd be in a better position Erasmus-wise than we would have been at the end of March, which was quite a concern at the time.
Well, you kind of predicted my last question, in a way. It's whether money, or resources—let's call it that—were being held back by the sector generally in order to meet any concerns over 29 March—whether they'd been released or whether you were just basically hanging on to them for another six months, because the same issues could arise again.
With Erasmus, that situation—
As you've just explained. But with anything else?
I can speak for—
Agency staff, for example.
I don't know exactly what other universities do, as, obviously, that's their management and council and I can't sort of—. But, on Erasmus, we had made provision to underwrite the entire amount from our own resources in Cardiff, because we can't just leave our students without. We've taken that provision out for next year, but, clearly, as we move forward into the subsequent year of budgeting, we will probably, depending what happens, put it back in again. We clearly cannot do that for research funding, because that's just tens of millions of pounds, and—
So, for Erasmus, it's pushed the problem forward potentially—potentially.
Yes, it's done it for everything. It's pushed it all out, yes.
But, for high-level research, you just have to carry on as best you can, anyway.
And hope that the Treasury underwrite will help. The issue with that is they need to know what it is that they're underwriting, and, of course, having more time has helped with that, because the 'no deal' planning didn't really start until October or November, when UK Research and Innovation then opened a portal where you could register all your research projects. I think all the universities are covered now, so the Treasury now knows what the projects are, and that database is being maintained, because, of course, the Commission is not going to tell—. So, we'll have to do that for Erasmus and for—. And we've had time to do that, so, in many ways, we will be in a more stable position, I imagine, by October than we would have been, because there'll just be more information available and more thinking will have happened.
Okay, so the partnerships are more secure, basically, when you're working with other universities.
Yes, there's better information out there.
I suppose we're still not sure how the underwrites will work, particularly for research. So, the underwrites have been guaranteed, but how the money will actually flow for structural funds and for Horizon 2020—
Well, I'm sure other committees will examine that. It was just an opportunity to get some good news. Have you anything to add for the health sector, Nesta?
In the next couple of months until October, I think, like I said earlier, it's testing what we've already put in place. So, we put the contingency plans in place, they were tested in March, and now it's a question of testing them again, because one or two areas were highlighted as issues. So, with regard to the medical devices and consumables, having that clinical voice at a UK level—who were the clinicians from Wales who were going to be providing that clinical voice? I think having the warehouse now in place and seeing how that works—. And, as the Chair highlighted, communications have been highlighted in previous committee sessions, and, again, it's testing those bulletins, which were public-facing bulletins, whether they are going to the front line. So, that's what the next couple of months are going to be about.
I think, for us, the last year has really highlighted how health and social care work very closely together. The intelligence that we've gathered, both through the Ipsos Mori report and the intelligence that we've gathered with regard to the medicines that our health board have—. So, there is a lot more information that we've now got. Around procurement, a lot of work's already been done, with health boards contacting their local suppliers, whether it's around food—. Food is a low-risk area, but things like fresh food could be a risk area, so what we do in that circumstance? So, those kinds of things will be looked at and tested more between now and 31 October.
Were your members in a position where they held back resources in anticipation of 29 March that they've now been able to release? I'm not saying the problem might not occur again down the line, because, obviously, we're talking about two different budget years, as well.
To my knowledge, no, they haven't. A lot of the additional work that's being asked of health boards and trusts as a result of a 'no deal' has come from the staff who are already there, so the contingency managers and the directors of planning and other directors have just been asked to do a bit more and stretch, really. And I think there have been questions with regard to the cost for the NHS, and it would be very difficult to quantify because it's people's time.
But the six months haven't made the hugest of difference. They've given you a chance to test resilience a little bit more—which I'm sure is the same for you—and also you've had the opportunity to, shall we say, solidify some of the stuff on Erasmus and the partnerships with other universities that have research funding. Okay, I did understand that. Good. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to return to Global Wales for a moment, and it's just interesting that the two markets with potential that you've identified are the highly competitive US market, where everybody's fighting over US students. I was pleased, the other day actually, to have a US student here on internship via Swansea University, which was brilliant. I hope to see lots more of it. But the other one is Vietnam. Bearing in mind the funding that goes along with the programme goes up to 2021, what's your reading of when we would start to see dividends, beyond the process dividends of establishing the relationships, which is a fundamental first part of it and so on—building those relationships and so on? When we will actually see the taps being turned on of students coming from those two new destinations?
So, we have got 20 postgraduate scholarships with Chevening for Vietnam, which will have an intake in 2021 and 2021-22, and applications are open from August this year.
So, the situation is you have some postgraduates already lined up?
We've identified scholarships, yes, and then we're working now—our marketing team has just come into post—towards recruitment now.
And is it your anticipation that these—. The other part of the programme is maintaining the existing relationships and building on existing markets as well. Is it your anticipation that the US and Vietnam will replace students that are being lost in other markets? So, are we looking at a standstill or are we looking at increasing?
No, we'll be looking to increase and mitigate problems from recruiting in Europe, certainly in the short term. So, we're looking further afield to fill those markets, especially with uncertainties about tuition fees and whether EU students will be eligible to access the student loan company.
And will these benefits be seen across the wider HE sector within Wales or is it specific institutions at the moment?
No, this is all our institutions. So, it's all eight universities.
Yes. A final question on this. Time has gone by. We're all familiar with the headlines in newspapers internationally, not just within Europe, but in Indian newspapers and so on, talking about the unfriendly environment that was being developed here within the UK. Has that mood now changed or is it the same? What is the feeling in the members of the higher education community here in their contacts overseas? Is there a feeling now that it has changed, that it is slightly warmer, that we're making every effort to say, 'Come what may, come to Wales, come to the UK'?
I think we're making progress. People have noticed that the tone is different. There's not obviously in quite the same way a hostile environment. However, the whole Brexit debate has really not helped. I think we need to take some actual actions. The Government's international strategy for higher education mentions—. The critical issue for us is the post-study work visa, which, under the previous Government, to 2010 was a two-year visa, which was extremely attractive and, at the time, very, very competitive compared with our competitors. That was completely removed overnight, and that had a massively negative effect in India. We went from recruiting UK-wide 40,000 students in India to 20,000 in one year. So, we lost half of that right across the piece, which was a real blow, and we've gradually been building back from that position, but there was profound offence at that actually, and it's been, understandably, quite a process to build that back again.
The international higher education strategy is saying that a six-month post-study work visa will be re-introduced. We're worried about the levels of salary people have to earn in order to be able to get that, and we've been lobbying hard to have those reduced to nearer the £20,000 mark, rather than the £30,000 or even the £25,000 mark—very, very important. You can't expect to necessarily walk straight out into a job paying that much. And we've been saying very consistently we should go back to two years, because that is a more attractive prospect and it's more competitive, because we have other countries offering as good or better conditions, and who are our competitors.
That's very helpful, thank you.
Professor Riordan, you talked about big data. If I remember right, what you said was, 'You can't talk about it now, but they won't talk about it.' Is there a situation where the EU are actually not talking about the way in which big data can be transferred to this point because there's no agreement in place or because we are still awaiting an outcome as to what the relationship is?
Well, what the Commission—. I don't know if any of you have been watching this programme and you can see it all in action with Guy Verhofstadt, but what they decided to do was to say, 'We cannot talk about those issues until we've sorted out the three—citizens' rights, the Irish border, and whatever the third one was, which, temporarily—[Inaudible.] Sorry?
The money, exactly. The divorce bill, yes. So, they won't talk about any of those things until that's happened, and that applies to our future relationship in terms of research or any of that stuff.
Okay. So, the big data's on hold until either an agreement is reached on the withdrawal agreement or we leave without an agreement, and then you're free to have those discussions.
Okay, thank you for that. Regarding the European transition fund, clearly, the Welsh Government has established this transition fund and both sectors have had some funding from this. I suppose one question is: how do you view the funding and are you intending to put more bids in because although that fund is still there, we're in a situation—? Is it helping you in your preparations for Brexit?
I think for the Welsh NHS Confederation it would have been very difficult for us—extremely difficult—for us in March due to capacity. We are a team of nine. So, the Welsh NHS Confederation is a team of nine. I led on external affairs, and I and my previous director had been leading on Brexit for the last two years. We were responding, I would say, to members, trying to ensure that they were informed as much as we could within our capacity, but since having the EU transition fund, we had £150,000 for 18 months and that has enabled us to increase our resources in regard to staff, which means, now, that we have two dedicated members of staff who are ensuring that we have frequently asked questions, promoted by Welsh Government. So, we maintained that before, while now we're proactively updating that every time a piece of guidance comes out of UK Government and Welsh Government. We have now a weekly newsletter that goes out to all our stakeholders, so not just our members—the health boards and trusts—it goes out to royal colleges and the third sector.
So we've been able to really extend our reach, also due to the number of meetings that we attend, both at a Welsh Government level but also at UK level. So, we've been a member of the Brexit Health Alliance and the Cavendish Coalition for the last two years and most of that time has been on the phone and joining those meetings on the phone. Well, now we can physically go to those meetings. So, I met with Stephen Hammond recently with the Brexit Health Alliance, while, before, that would have been something that I may not have attended because of the time commitment. So, it has enabled us to increase our capacity, to increase co-ordination across our membership, to respond to our members when there are specific issues—there were a lot of specific questions coming out—and ensuring that the links were made with social care colleagues. I think that now has increased to looking at the immigration White Paper. Again, we now have the capacity to link in with other organisations and say, 'Let's put a Welsh response on behalf of the White Paper', rather than feeding into the Brexit Health Alliance or the Cavendish Coalition. We've now decided this is a key area for us. It's going to impact on a large percentage of our staff in the future. So, that's an area that we may not have been so proactive on if we hadn't had this funding.
In regard to future funding, it all depends on how long this uncertainty lasts for. We are aware that the WLGA has had funding in regard to local authorities having that funding directly. That's not something that our members have highlighted to us to apply for, and we are a member organisation, so if our members felt that they needed increased capacity within their organisations, then that's something that we would consider, but that hasn't come up as of yet.
And higher education Wales?
Well, we've talked a lot about the £3.5 million for Global Wales and that has helped us look to the future and start proactively developing new markets and also looking at ways to protect current markets as well as UK, EU and international recruitment, and then, finally, to diversify our international student body. So, yes, it's certainly helped us to be much more proactive in that respect.
Do you want to add anything, Professor Riordan?
Well, there are proposals to continue this via having co-operation with Ireland, which we're actually doing already via Celtic Connection, and with Flanders, which we're already doing. To really put some resource into that would hugely help. The Rutherford proposal I think is a very good one as well, because that's where the wealth is—with Brazil, for example.
Okay, thank you. We've come to the end of our allocated time. Any further questions we want to catch before we—? There are none. Therefore, can I thank you very much for your attendance this afternoon? You will receive a copy of the transcript for any factual inaccuracies you identify. If you do see any, please let the team know as soon as possible so that we can get them corrected. Once again, thank you for your time.
We move on to item 6 on the agenda, which is papers to note. We have two papers to note. The first one is a copy of the supplementary legislative consent memorandum to the Trade Bill, which has been laid by the Welsh Government. I'm very pleased to see this being laid, because this committee has raised questions in the past as to whether a supplementary LCM should be laid, based upon the changes to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords. I'm very pleased to see that it has been laid. At this point, I don't think there's anything to report, particularly, on the supplementary LCM. I think we should just simply note this at this point in time. Are Members content to do so?
And the second one is a copy of the memorandum of understanding between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland regarding the common travel area. Again, this is important for us to be aware of because, clearly, with the Welsh ports, it's important to understand the common travel area implications for them. Are Members content to note that at this point in time? Thank you.
With those two things noted, we'll move on to the next item, but before I move to the next item, which is going back into private session, as agreed in the previous motion, I would put on record our thanks to Elisabeth Jones for her work in supporting the committee during the time she's been an excellent legal adviser to the committee. I understand she will be leaving the Assembly Commission shortly, and will no longer, therefore, be able to help us, but we have got other experts in the wings waiting to help us. Please convey our thanks to her for the support she's given this committee in that time.
We'll now move back into private session for the remainder of today's meeting, as agreed previously.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:17.
The public part of the meeting ended at 16:17.