|Bethan Sayed AM|
|Hefin David AM|
|Joyce Watson AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Russell George AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Vikki Howells AM|
|Adrian Davies||Ysgrifennydd, Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol i Gymru|
|Secretary, National Infrastructure Commission for Wales|
|Ceri Doyle||Comisiynydd, Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol i Gymru|
|Commissioner, National Infrastructure Commission for Wales|
|John Lloyd Jones||Cadeirydd, Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol i Gymru|
|Chair, National Infrastructure Commission for Wales|
|Lara Date||Ail Glerc|
|Sam Mason||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|2. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||2. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|3. Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru: Blwyddyn yn Ddiweddarach||3. National Infrastructure Commission for Wales: One Year On|
|4. Trafod y Memorandwm Cydsyniad Deddfwriaethol ar gyfer y Bil Ardrethu Annomestig (Toiledau Cyhoeddus)||4. Consideration of the Legislative Consent Memorandum for the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 6||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) to resolve to exclude the public from item 6|
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 rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 09:43.
The public part of the meeting began at 09:43.
Croeso, bawb. I'd like to welcome Members to committee this morning. We move to item 2. We have no apologies this morning, and Vikki Howells is due to join us shortly. If there are any declarations of interest, please do say so now.
In that case, I move to item 3, and this is the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales: one year on. I'd like to welcome, this morning, John Lloyd Jones before us, and perhaps if I could ask the officials either side to introduce themselves just for the public record.
I'm Ceri Doyle, I'm the chief executive of Newport City Homes and I'm also a National Infrastructure Commission for Wales commissioner.
Adrian Davies, I'm the secretary of the commission.
Thank you, Chairman. As you see, I have brought reinforcements with me this time compared to the last time I appeared in front of you, which is almost a year ago. I think it's important, right at the very beginning, that we understand, of course, I have been in post for 12 months now, but, for my fellow commissioners, as regards the appointments process, which was very well done, because we had some extremely able candidates, we took our time in putting together a team, so they've only been in post since September. And the first commissioners meeting took place in September/October. So, although technically the commission has been in place—i.e. me and Adrian—since the end of June, the commissioners, as a working body, have only been working since the end of September, beginning of October.
Thank you. I think Members may have some questions on that line later on. I wonder if, to start with—Members will ask detailed questions—I can ask some very open, general questions to start with. Can you give us an assessment of the first year in post for you?
Right. Obviously, we were asked to advise Welsh Government on the infrastructure needs of Wales for the next five to 30 years, both from an economic and an environmental perspective. So, that is an extremely wide brief. Part of the first job we actually had to do was to get some kind of coherence into that, because there is an awful temptation to go off in all kinds of directions, because it's a very interesting debate. So, we had to settle on, right from the very beginning, 'What are the milestones?' We had an annual report to prepare, which will be, hopefully, done by the end of November. We had to work out the ground rules of what was going to be in that annual report, what were the topics, and also to try to find out what's the baseline, what's already there, and, of course, engaging with other stakeholders. We have been at great pains to be seen and to have meetings all over Wales with, for instance, the north Wales growth zone and the mid Wales equivalent. So, as commissioners, we have met not only in Cardiff and in Newport, but we've also met in other parts of Wales.
In your first year in post, what do you think has gone well, perhaps even better than you might have expected, and what are you perhaps not so happy with?
I think what I'm really pleased at is the way the commissioners have come together to work as a team, because they have come from a wide range of experiences and skills, and I think that has been really heartening, as far as I'm concerned—how they've gelled together and worked collectively as a team. As to what's going wrong, well, this is not a defensive answer, but it's an honest answer: actually, I think it's too early to tell. I don't have any real problems about what's happening so far. Obviously, if you look at some of the minor details, we may have been able to do some things slightly better, but there haven't been any major problems and there haven't been any major barriers.
Chair, if I may—
Of course, please do.
In terms of the work that we as commissioners have done, as John has said, there's a diverse range of experience from the commissioners that we've brought both from England and people who live and work in Wales. I guess one of the challenges that we face is, with the knowledge that we have, we already have a broad remit, but when you then have detailed knowledge in the aspects that we're due to cover, whether that be in transport, connectivity, mobile connectivity or any aspects of infrastructure, the magnitude of the brief that we have is quite overwhelming. Now, I'm in no doubt that we are beginning to tackle that, from the work that Adrian has done to enable us to visit different parts of the country and deep dive into the sectors that are covered by the brief. But it is an overwhelmingly broad belief that we're dealing with at the moment. And when we look at—[correction: at other countries]. We've been fortunate to have input from colleagues in Scotland and in the UK-wide National Infrastructure Commission. The depth of analysis and research that they've conducted is, again, very beneficial to us, but it adds to the magnitude of the work that's ahead of us.
Before I bring in some other Members, how do you think your work compares to the UK National Infrastructure Commission's, in terms of what you can achieve?
I'm sure that the chair may have different views from me, but—
The National Infrastructure Commission has circa 40 staff, has significant budgets and has been going for a period that's much longer than us. We had a very constructive discussion with them yesterday at our meeting in Newport, and the spirit of partnership working appears to be in place, and I'm sure that we can learn from that. Having previously run UK-wide organisations, when you consider the scale of the secretariat and the support that we have, it's going to be important for us to maximise the bang for our buck from the work they've already done. I don't think we can be compared as organisations who are [correction: who are not] operating at the same level. We do have clarity on the distinction of the devolved matters that we will have responsibility for, but, inevitably, there's always a grey area. But I don't think, in establishing the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, we were ever envisaging the level of research, deep dive and opinion that has been generated by the national infrastructure—[correction: the National Infrastructure Commission in England].
Okay. And I'll ask the chair: is there anything you disagree with that Ceri said?
Not at all. That was a very comprehensive answer.
That's lovely. Right, I've got two Members who want to come in, and I'll come back with some further questions myself. Bethan Sayed.
Mine's a direct question on the topics you said you are looking at. For me, I thought it was a missed opportunity that the Welsh Government didn't feel fit to look to you when they commissioned the new commission into the M4 relief road. And I wanted to understand what your view was on the creation of a new body, as opposed to coming to the infrastructure commission, which surely would have been the natural home for a discussion of this type. So, I wanted your views on that.
Well, our views on this are perfectly clear. Part of our remit was that we were not expected to make decisions or have a viewpoint on decisions that had already been made, or pending, And, of course, the M4 relief road will fall into that category.
Well, no, because, obviously, they decided not to go ahead with that particular programme, and now they're looking at the future in relation to how we develop the infrastructure around, not only Newport, but other parts of Wales. Surely, that would fall within your remit.
Well, we would be expected to be part of the consultation exercise, but we wouldn't be expected to lead it.
There's a six-month commission that's been—. But you're not involved in that, apart from being a consultee.
No. Apart from being consultee. I have received a letter from Ken Skates, the Minister, making the position perfectly clear.
Sorry, I can see Ceri Doyle looking a bit perplexed. So, I would like to hear your views as well.
My apologies. Not perplexed, but, even yesterday, when we met as a commission, clearly, whatever the Burns report or the Burns commission [correction: I’m not perplexed by the answer, more by the fact that whatever the Burns Commission] comes out with is going to have to be considered by us in our role, because there are challenges with infrastructure provision. If the road had gone ahead, or, as a result of the decision—there are going to be challenges with whatever outcome comes out in six months' time. So, whilst, I think, the chair very clearly has indicated that we were told the position that we are currently in, where we will be consulted on it, clearly, the findings will need to be considered by us in us taking advice, or giving advice, to you and to others, once we know what those recommendations are.
Okay, thank you. Can I ask the chair: your role has been extended until December this year; based on your experience, is the post as expected, and should the job description for the post beyond December 2019 change in any way, and if so, what should be in that, or what should the change be?
There's great temptation here to construct a skills agenda that would fit me. [Laughter.] I'm not going to do that—
Well, that is something to be decided, yes. Put it like this: I'm enjoying what I'm doing, I think it's a challenge. I was initially appointed to set up the commission. My contract has been extended for another six months, in the run-up to an annual report. It would be another challenge, then, to take that report on to a 'State of the Nations' report in 2022.
Okay. So, what I want to ask is: putting aside, perhaps, your own agenda for perhaps wanting to stay in post, if you're looking at the job description independently, is there anything that you would change, take out or add to that job description?
No, not really, because it is such a wide-ranging job, the actual job description is wide-ranging as well. Basically, they are basic chairman skills: the skill to listen to people, the skills to make a group work cohesively and constructively and positively—those are the kinds of skills. Those skills don't change, irrespective of what you're chairing—they're still basic chairing skills. Obviously, a knowledge of Wales is important—very important. The fact that you are able to communicate bilingually is an advantage as well.
I wanted to talk about transparency and governance, and the remit of your post. Can you outline for us the governance arrangements for the commission, as they are, and you say that you think they're sufficient?
Sorry, would you care to expand on that, because I'm slightly uncertain what you're trying to get at?
Well, we're just trying to work out how your organisation, or your commission, works, and if you're happy with the governance structures that exist. So, you've got a body, you're the chair, you've got a commissioner, you've got a secretariat. And also, you've been appointed by the Welsh Government to carry out your role. So, are you happy with those governance arrangements?
Yes, we are in this position. Some people might think it's odd that we are an independent body but we're also accountable to Welsh Government. So, what does that actually mean? Well, independence means that we will give independent advice to Welsh Government. We are quite clear that the advice that we are giving is in the public domain. All our conversations with people are in the public domain. As far as accountability to Welsh Government is concerned, then we are very conscious of the fact that we are funded from the public purse, and therefore we have to spend that money sensibly and wisely.
And moving on from that, it is quite normal for a register of interests of commissioners to be known. Do you think that that is likely to happen?
We don't—. I'm looking at Adrian now, but I don't think we—. Do we have a formal—?
We do have a register of interests. We probably ought to put that on our website. That's an area where we've got a bit of work to do. And it is our intention to make more of our documentation available through the website, yes.
Certainly, by the time we produce our annual report in November, I think we should have achieved that.
We're not preventing the public from seeing it—if somebody asked for it, they could see it. But we could make it more public, I accept.
Could I just make it perfectly clear—? You must understand the resources that we have been working with: up to three or four weeks ago, the infrastructure commission staff was Adrian. We've got two others now. One is a person who's dealing with communications. So, one of the things that we were very well aware that we need to do, and that's to develop our website.
Yes. Also, to make it perfectly clear, we were scrupulous during the interviewing process, that we had to make sure that the people that were candidates for appointments—that we are perfectly clear that their declarations of interest were not sufficient to compromise their ability to work competently and coherently.
Thank you for that. We've seen your remit and we know that there's a focus on the environmental and the economic infrastructure. But what about considerations on social infrastructure? Have any of those social issues arisen?
I'm going to ask Ceri to take that up. Just as an outline, obviously, you can't divorce the social elements from the economic and environmental. You have to take account of them. So, that's why, as Ceri outlined, this is a very large, wide-ranging brief. So, though it's not officially part of our remit, obviously, we have to be cognisant of the social implications of our recommendations and advice.
I think you raise a good question, because in considering the infrastructure for a nation for the next 30 years, having the clarity of focusing on the economic potential and the environment is a benefit, because it gives us confined parameters within this hugely broad brief.
In addition to social issues, though, there are also the cultural issues. And if you think of the multitude of policies that underpin things like the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the work that’s doing, which obviously is inherent to the work that we’re doing, because infrastructure projects have a long timespan—I may not benefit from them; my children may—it’s a delicate area that we have to balance. Hand on heart, our focus has to be on economy and the environment, but the reality is that it would be inappropriate for us to not consider those two issues.
So, as an example: yesterday, we were looking at one of our overarching themes. We have three overarching themes that centre on—draft themes—decarbonisation in relation to connectivity and resilience of the nation [correction: decarbonisation, connectivity, resilience]. On connectivity, you’ve got a focus on transport. If you look at the links north-south, we are aware that the public—and we know from our meetings, when we were in mid Wales and in north Wales, that there are members of the public that will argue for the need for an enhanced north-south road link. Culturally, maybe it would be better for us to look at having internet or mobile connectivity from the north to the south, so, if you are driving, you’ve got connectivity, or, if you do have to drive, there are facilities along the route that you could utilise. So, the social and the cultural aspects, I'm trying to illustrate to you, are secondary considerations to that overarching brief on economy and the environment.
Yes. Can I just add to that? Of course, some of the changes that will come about over the next five to 30 years will not be just the result of infrastructure, but, actually, of behavioural changes as well, and we’ve got to understand what drives society and what drives behaviour. For instance, there is a very real issue in rural areas with bright young people who don’t see their future within those rural areas, so they migrate, and they migrate towards Swansea and Cardiff and maybe towards the north-east. That is an issue. That probably is so ingrained now, such a part of young people’s psyche, that it would be very difficult to change that, but we’ve got to be aware of it; we’ve got to be aware of the opportunities in rural areas, that, if people want to stay there, then the infrastructure is available to them that will allow them to stay there. I’ll give you one clear—. Sorry—
It's our fault for starting late, but we're a bit constrained for time—
Yes, well, it's just an example of how wide the brief is, you see.
Absolutely. So, have you got any pressing questions, Joyce, because we're going to have to move on?
Just that—and I think you have, but just to get it on the record—you recognise the need to publish more information—I know that you've been restriced—but going forward, now that you're not so restricted, so that, really, you can engage more widely with—
Yes, and I apologise for cutting you off. We're constrained by time.
No, that's perfectly fine.
I'm hearing your answers to Joyce Watson and I think that you've changed your mind from the pre-appointment hearing when you said you were struggling with the concept of independence and accountability. Can I just confirm that?
Yes, indeed. I was uncertain in my own mind how this was going to work. Now, having been operating it, I understand it more thoroughly. It means, basically, independent advice—the advice remains independent—but, on the other hand, I can't put the entire budget of the infrastructure commission on the 04:30 from Doncaster. [Laughter.]
Okay. I just wanted to ask something about the working arrangements. So, I'm understanding that, regardless of the fact that you, Adrian Davies, are based at Welsh Government offices, you're directly accountable to the chair. Are you accountable to somebody else within Welsh Government as well? How do the arrangements work in relation to the staffing?
I'm part of the Welsh Government workforce. I have a line manager at the Welsh Government. But I also treat John as my manager in respect of the work of the commission.
No, I work full time on the commission.
I'm in the planning department.
Planning department, okay. I just wanted to understand. And everybody else?
The other members of the team are also in the planning department, and also work full time on the commission.
So, I'm just trying to understand, you're saying you're happy in terms of taking direction from John Lloyd Jones, but would there sometimes be a conflict if, say, for example, your line manager said, 'Well, actually, we don't feel that those priorities are priorities that we would sit comfortably with'? Are there any tensions like that that exist at all?
None at all. My line manager is very focused on the need for the commission to be independent and for us to protect the independence of the commission and have Chinese walls around our engagements within Welsh Government to make sure that that independence is protected.
And just with regard to the remit letter, obviously, it says that detailed working arrangements will be agreed between the Welsh Government and then there will be an established way of working and assessment criteria. Can you describe what this means in practice and whether they've been published?
We have terms of reference, which again we need to put on our website.
They were agreed between the commission and the Cabinet Secretary around about the end of 2018.
Okay, so we're now in July 2019, and still nothing on the website. Why? What's the problem with that? Is it people with the skills to put things on the website, is that lacking?
The resources have been challenging. It's taken a while to get people into post. It's been a very busy period, and unfortunately that has slipped a bit. I appreciate it's important to put those things on there. We'll prioritise doing that now.
I'm struggling a bit with that, because obviously if people want to find out about what you do, if they can't find the terms of reference, if they can't find how you're working, that's going to be pretty hard, isn't it, for the lay person?
It is indeed, but let's be perfectly clear, I've made it perfectly clear that we do need to be developing our website, we now have the resources to do that in terms of staff. Although the information may not be readily accessible through our website, we have not tried to hide that information. That information is available if anybody asks for it. It's simply that—. The website would be the obvious way of getting that information out into the public sector in the most effective manner and, up to now, we haven't had the resources to do it, but we are actively doing it.
So, when did the resources get put in place? Because you've just said that you are seconded from Welsh Government and there are other staff. When did you get the resource to do this?
Communication was three weeks ago. I think, just as a point of clarity—
On communication, on the website, there is a question at the moment as to whether the website exists. There is a space on the Welsh Government website at the moment that refers to the independent National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. I think our colleague Leri started three weeks ago. Our first meeting—. We meet monthly. We received a paper yesterday that we've considered in a lot of detail. We've still to resolve whether or not there needs to be an independent website for the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, but we did make a number of decisions yesterday that will enable some of the communications that you've referred to to start now happening. There will be different views, clearly, when you have a number of commissioners, but if we are going to hang on to that principle of independence, an independent body giving advice to the Welsh Government, then maybe further consideration needs to be given to how that website is actually established.
Yes, well, I mean, really, this is poor, isn't it? Because we shouldn't be now having these conversations still. If you're an independent commission, you would expect to have an independent website, for people to be able to come and access you, for people to understand what you're doing. Without that, it's pretty poor, isn't it?
I wouldn't disagree with that, but I would suggest that having the resources to enable that to happen is also essential.
Yes. Okay. Just following on, then, I know that there has been discussion about making you a statutory body after a year, and whether you believe that waiting for a review from the Welsh Government to make this so is something that you agree with. Or, do you believe that it should happen without such a review?
Well, the National Infrastructure Commission itself is a non-statutory body.
Yes, that's what I mean. But you're non-statutory, should it be statutory? I believe that there is a review that will take place of the commission before the end of the Assembly. Do you believe that, in that review, there should be a consideration of making you statutory?
I think that option should be on the table, yes.
What is my personal opinion about the whole thing? There are obvious benefits in being a statutory body, in the fact that your status, for instance, in terms of discussions with the regulators is significantly different, and also with decision makers like planning authorities, who then have to pay due regard to a statutory body. Now, the phrasing 'pay due regard' is a rather weak legal term, but it's there, so there are obvious advantages.
The disadvantages, of course, are that if you are a statutory body, there are stronger audit requirements on you, and sometimes the audit requirements can be quite onerous. For instance, when I was doing the review of the national parks, the audit requirements on national parks, because they were single-tier local authorities, were incredibly high. But, there we are: we have to live with that.
Are you finding, then—this is my last question—that because you're non-statutory, you're not getting the level of respect that you think you deserve, or is there an issue around how people engage with you because of this non-statutory tag?
It is not an issue so far. It is not an issue so far. The National Infrastructure Commission have managed to be a non-statutory body during their existence, but that is probably under review as well. In fact, we had a discussion with the chief executive of the National Infrastructure Commission yesterday about this very subject, as to exactly what the change in status would mean to them.
In terms of resource, there has been some discussion about not being able to do as much as you would like due to the lack of resource. Do you think that they should have had more resource from the beginning?
That's a very simple question, but actually it's quite a complex one. When you start off with a blank piece of paper, you don't know what resources you actually need to start filling it up. As we've got into this debate, first of all—. The first important thing was to get the commissioners up and running and working coherently, okay? The more we've gone into this, of course, the more that we realised that, at some stage, we would probably start having to commission independent research, and that is quite costly. We need to have the resources for that. In our preliminary meetings with the Minister, at the moment, she has said, 'If you need those extra resources to commission extra reports, then clear it. Have a coherent argument and reasons why you need the resources and I will look at it.' Adrian, do you want to come back on that?
I think that that's the situation.
I was just trying to reconcile—. At the beginning, you said that you were content with everything; there was no big area that you weren't happy with. But then there do seem to be some areas where you said, 'Well, we couldn't do that because we haven't had enough resources', and I wanted to reconcile the two.
Oh, hang on, hang on. What I said was that the priority was to get the whole thing up and running. As the thing gets up and running, obviously your needs and your ambitions expand.
Okay. So, if I go back to my original question again, which I started with: is there anything that you are unhappy with in terms of this being the first year in post?
No. I refer back to the first question. I think that we got our priorities right.
It wasn't about priorities. It was more general, in terms of whether you are happy with how the first year has gone. It seems from discussion that there perhaps could be more resource that needs to be made available to you. I'm trying to draw that out.
Part of the work of the first year is actually to try and get a handle on exactly what resource and the level of the resource that we actually will need.
Can I jump in, chair?
Okay. Do you think I'm being taken—? Yes, because every time we have asked for a meeting with various Ministers, and we have asked for meetings with Ministers across the portfolios, we have had interesting and constructive discussions with them.
If I can add to that, the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales is broad, and I've explained earlier that, actually when you get into the detail of the work, it feels even broader. We'll publish a report in November of this year, which will pretty much be our assessment of the work that we need to conduct. It will identify those thematic areas. I would hope—so, a personal view, rather than the collective view of the commission—that we will get a good response from key stakeholders, public sector bodies, private sector bodies, as well as the general public. With that information, we'll have confirmation that our baseline assessment has been accurate and that the themes that we're presenting to pursue in more detail are the ones that, collectively, those with an interest in our work think we should pursue. At that point, I would suggest it is inevitable that we will need more resource, and at that point, we will be in a better position to respond to your question about whether our advice to date has been taken seriously. It's very much been an exercise of information gathering and setting the parameters for operation.
On resource, can I ask the chair? You mentioned that the Minister said to you that if you need more resource for a particular project, then you can bid for that, but how can that be regarded as you being independent, if you have to bid for that resource?
I suppose we will move to the fact that we will be allocated a budget. The budget will be based on a work plan for the year, but we're not at that stage at the moment.
But how can you be considered to be independent if you have to bid for that resource?
In relation to the question your colleague also just presented, with the publishing of our first annual report, we'll need to then progress to putting in place a work programme. The work programme may identify, dependent on the response to the consultation that we get, key areas of additional research that needs to be conducted, independent assessments, work that needs to be progressed. At that point, we will be clearer on the resource requirements. At that point, if the resource requirements we believe are needed—within the parameters of value for money, because we all have to work to those parameters—are rejected, then we'll be in a clear position to advise you on whether or not we are being taken seriously.
Okay. Thank you for that answer. So, I think my final question on that strand would be: that's the future, do you consider yourself to be independent now?
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you to all of you, because you have already answered some of my questions on resources. Have you got enough resources at the present moment to look after your staff—skilled staff, those who are competent to fulfill your commitments?
Your resources at the moment are enough, accordingly, as your staff, to fulfill your commitments.
Yes, at the moment. Look, it would be very easy for me to come here and tell you, 'Actually what we need is an awful lot more resources.' Okay? You know? Wonderful.
I can if I want to, but on the other hand, as Ceri says, you know—
Everybody needs more resources. That's not the question. The question is: what would you do with the resources?
The question is the question we ask. The question is: do you need more resources? That's the question.
Everybody needs more resources, but we are uncertain at the moment as to how those resources should be spent. Look, I don't want to be in a situation where I've chaired a public body where, at the end of the year, the biggest sin you could commit is not to spend your budget, okay, and it's just getting money spent. That's not what we're about. We need to have a clear plan as to what we require, and, on that basis, we will make an application for extra resources.
I think Oscar's question, and the question that flows from it, is—and this is a key question for us as a committee in scrutinising your work over the past year and the future of the commission—do you believe that you need more resources? Are your resources now sufficient? These are key questions for us.
Okay. Well, if—. Okay, if it makes—. It'll make my job much easier to say, 'Yes, we do need more resources', okay. You know, that's perfectly clear; it makes my job considerably easier.
That's the question that we need to be working out, is what we need those extra resources for. We can say, yes, we need extra resources for research, okay.
Yes—quite clear. But, then, once you've said that, then you have to work out exactly what research you're going to commission and why you're doing it.
Okay. I apologise to Oscar; I jumped in on you, sorry—taking your theme of questions.
Chair, you've got the prerogative to ask whatever you want. But the fact is—. Thanks for the answer, John. The fact is you mention your priority for artificial intelligence, and that's a very specialised area to work on. Is that the area that we have to develop—especially, you said, environment and some base management sort of thing that you want to do?
Sorry, I don't think we have a priority—
The thing is it is mentioned somewhere—I read it—that the chair identified artificial intelligence as an initial priority. This is mentioned somewhere in the papers.
Where's this mentioned in there?
Okay, it's mentioned in my pre-appointment. Okay, well, as I said, it's a very, very wide brief. At the moment, in order to get some coherence into this, we are concentrating on digital, transport and energy. Obviously, within those three subjects, the roles of artificial intelligence will have a key role to play, especially if you project the debate forward for a five to 30-year period.
Here comes another question now: have you got a skilled force to do the artificial—you know, innovation? This is a very, very classified area—a very important area, a very technical area.
Yes. I don't think there is a commissioner with specific skills within artificial intelligence. In all probability, they would have the knowledge of where those skills could be found, but you have to remember this is a very quickly developing field.
Okay, thank you. And another thing: where is your office and when is it going to be established?
So, you've pointed out that you've got an office within the Welsh Government, but—
Well, I suppose what we're asking there is is do you have any—what plans do you have to move out of Welsh Government offices and have your own office, independently of Welsh Government?
I think, when you're setting this organisation up, because of its broad remit, because it's across Government departments, it makes imminent, practical sense to have Adrian in Cathays Park, for the simple reason that it makes it much easier for him to arrange meetings with members of Welsh Government, both politicians and civil servants. It makes it much easier to arrange meetings with them. I could go to Cathays Park, as I have done—met with the chief planner and the head of finance all in one day, and that's been no problem simply because of the fact that Adrian is embedded there.
Now, obviously, some time down the line—but we're not here yet—if the department grows, then there has to be a perception problem here: you know, can you be an independent body if you're embedded in Cathays?
At the moment, we can be. At the moment, the practical benefits outweigh the negative perceptions.
So, other than setting up the office, it doesn't seem like you've done much of anything policy-wise in the last 12 months.
Well, that's very unfair. I'm—
Well, obviously, our output over the period that we've been in existence will be defined by our annual report.
We'll be concentrating on digital, energy and infrastructure. Sorry, did—
The detail. Sorry, did you want to take that, Ceri?
The annual report will focus on decarbonisation, connectivity and resilience. Now, in order to get to that decision, so far, with the work that Adrian has managed to conduct himself and the connectivity he's had with colleagues within the Welsh Government and other stakeholders across Wales, we've had a suite of policy briefings and data analysis from a broad range of areas—everything from ports to energy to transport. So, in terms of the policy briefings we've been given and the assessment we, as commissioners, have been able to conduct, I can't really fault the information that we've requested. That's enabled us to focus on these three strategic overarching themes that we need to look at.
The challenge we've got between now and November when the report will be published is that, at the moment, commissioners—and quite rightly—are actually scribing the areas that we want to focus on and utilising their own individual expertise to bring that to the table. That's okay, in my view, at this stage, because we are moving to present our first annual report, our baseline. But, as commissioners, we need to be able to independently assess the information that's being presented to us. So, in due course that resource issue will become real.
Okay. So, will your annual report be looking to deliver a, you know, 'This is how things are at the moment' or will it be looking to identify things that need to be done, specific things that need to be done and things that the Government can take up?
So, firstly, the agreement that we have across the commissioners, through John's chairmanship, is that we are not presenting a state of the nation at this point. So, we'll cross-reference to the data that we've utilised and the policies that we've utilised in order to identify our three priorities.
It will say to you, to the public, to other stakeholders, 'We think these are the areas that we need to consider in more detail and give independent advice to the Welsh Government on', and the three areas, as I keep coming back to, will be within those overarching themes of decarbonisation—I'm forgetting them myself now—connectivity and resilience.
So, nearly 18 months on, it will still, effectively, be a scoping exercise.
I've been in post six months.
Okay. The national infrastructure commission—. It will be a scoping exercise.
It'll be 12 months, just under 12 months, before the report is published, and the report will say, in line with our remit letter, 'These are the areas that we feel we should prioritise.'
Okay. One thing that came out in your appointment hearing was that you said that—sorry, the chair, John Lloyd Jones—your scoping study would be three months up to the beginning of the following year, identifying subjects in which you could add value. So, that time has slipped, then, with regard to the scoping study identified.
That was—. Yes, but just remember—
Well, I was appearing in front of this committee in June, I had been in post about a fortnight. I didn't know at that time the length it was going to take to do a very constructive appointment system for the commissioners. So, all these things—. Okay, if you're dealing with a five to 30-year time period, three months' slippage—is that a problem?
Well, you identify that you are going to be doing it three months at the end of that year, so we're looking at a year late.
Well, the three months—. June last year, then the three months at the end of that would be, what, November this year—that would be, what, just slightly more than 12 months after most of the commissioners had been appointed.
Okay. So, you were little bit over-optimistic with regard to the timescale.
Of course. I mean, I'm an optimist by nature—I'm a hill farmer for goodness' sake; I've survived on optimism.
Okay. There's no need to take offence at any of the questions we're asking.
No, no. [Laughter.]
The questions we're asking are scrutiny questions, and I think you should be answering them without taking offence.
With regard to your 'state of the nation' report, you were talking about a three to five-year delivery of that. Is it more likely to be five than three years?
No. Well, at the moment, our target is for 2022.
That's three years from now. It's three years from the annual report.
So, three to five, it's fair to say. And what will that deliver? What tangible changes will occur as a result of the delivery of that kind of report?
That is an impossible question to answer at the moment. What we are trying to aim for would be some constructive and coherent advice to Welsh Government as to the infrastructure needs of Wales over the next five to 30-year period. So, it's a two-way process. The advice that we'll be giving to Welsh Government—its effectiveness will be largely dependent on what Welsh Government is prepared to accept.
Well, the likes of the Minister, Lee Waters, has been very clear on the direction of travel he wants to take economic policy. So, you've had a clear idea. So, are you in tune with that direction or do you think you're going to recommend something that is—
We have to be—. We have to be very aware of the policy direction of Welsh Government on the one hand. On the other hand, we have to defend our independence as well.
What do you think the policy direction of Welsh Government is, though?
Well, it's—'Prosperity for All' is the binding principle.
It's to make the best uses of all the assets that we have, quite simply, and those assets are both in terms of people and structural assets.
Maybe to expand on that point, when I've referenced some of the policy briefings that we've had and the depth of strategies and policies that have been summarised for us to consider, one of the early debates of the commissioners was—clearly, not everybody will agree with the policy or strategy that was presented, and, in us bonding as a team, there was a lot of consideration as to whether or not we needed to have a position on whether we thought a policy or a strategy was maybe inappropriate, relevant to the remit that we were asked to deliver. We've decided against that approach, so, when we go forward initially with our annual report and then 'state of the nation' in further years, we're accepting that we're not in place to set the policies and strategies of Government, but what the 'state of the nation' will be drawing out is where we are potentially at odds or where we think a different approach could deliver more for the people of Wales.
Okay. Two more questions, then. With regard to that, are you working with the future generations commissioner to deliver that? Are you working closely? Will there be an influence from the future generations commissioner?
We've had meetings with the future generations commissioner, yes.
Okay. And, finally, with regard to existing Welsh Government approaches, such as the Wales transport strategy, which we're very interested in, have you made a material difference to the development of that, which will be delivered in 2020?
No, we haven't.
Okay. Thank you for your time this morning. Apologies—we started a little late as well, so sorry for keeping you a bit extra as well. A transcript of this morning's proceedings will be sent to you, so please review that transcript, and, if you think that anything needs to be added or you want to comment any further on anything that's been said, then we'd welcome that as a committee as well. But we'd certainly like to thank you for your time with us this morning.
Thank you, Chairman. Thank you, committee.
I move to item 4 and I would like to invite Sam Mason to join us from the Assembly's legal services. Item 4 is consideration of the legislative consent motion for the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill. I can see—Members will see in their packs on pages 23 and 24—we've had some legal advice from the Assembly and the legal services are satisfied that the Bill makes provisions for a purpose within the legislative competence of the Assembly and that the LCM is necessary under Standing Order 29. Having looked at the brief myself, I agree with that assessment. Do Members have any other views or questions?
No. In that case, we're accepting the Assembly's conclusion in that regard. So, thank you, Sam.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I move to item 5 under Standing Order 17.42—resolve to exclude the public from item 6. Are Members content?
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:35.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:35.