National Assembly for Wales

Back to Search

Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus

Public Accounts Committee

06/01/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Adam Price AM
Darren Millar AM yn dirprwyo ar ran Nick Ramsay
substitute for Nick Ramsay
Gareth Bennett AM
Jenny Rathbone AM
Mohammad Asghar AM
Rhianon Passmore AM
Vikki Howells AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adrian Crompton Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Auditor General for Wales, Wales Audit Office
Dave Thomas Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office
Matthew Mortlock Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Claire Griffiths Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Fay Bowen Clerc
Clerk

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 13:02.

The meeting began at 13:02.

Penodi Cadeirydd dros dro
Appointment of temporary Chair

Good afternoon. The first item on today's agenda is the election of a temporary Chair. Therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 17.22, I call for nominations for a temporary Chair for the duration of today's meeting.

I therefore declare that Darren Millar has duly been appointed temporary Chair for today's meeting.

Penodwyd Darren Millar yn Gadeirydd dros dro.

Darren Millar was appointed temporary Chair.

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

Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody, it's great to see you, and happy new year to you all. Let's crack on with today's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. If I could just remind everybody that headsets are available in the room for translation and sound amplification, and if you could all switch your electronic devices to silent, because they can interfere with the broadcasting and other equipment—. Obviously, in the event of an emergency, we should follow the directions of the ushers.

We have one apology, which has been received today from Nick Ramsay AM, and I'm very pleased to be able to substitute for him. If there are no other apologies, we'll move straight on to the next item of business, but, just before that, are there any Members who wish to declare any interests on any of the items of business today? There aren't.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to note

In that case, we'll go on to item 2, papers to note. We've got quite a bunch of these today because of the Christmas and new year break, the first of which is the NHS Wales Informatics Service. We've had a letter from the Welsh Government, dated 22 November. It's in the packs—you'll see it before you. So, they've written to us with some additional information following the evidence session that was held on 4 November, and this is just an interim response. Yes, Jenny.

It would be good to know the date they're going to actually advertise the posts, because, obviously, this was written on 22 November. One has to assume that, in over a month, they'll have managed to finalise the job description, because I think it's about the pace of change that we need to be chasing them on.

Yes, there have been quite a few different things happening, haven't there? I notice there's been not only a replacement of the chief executive, which is ongoing, of the informatics service, but, as I understand it, they've got lots of different roles and we're not quite clear in terms of where the job descriptions might lie. So, for example, there's a chief digital officer, a chief information officer and a chief clinical information officer, and I know that Members have expressed some concern in the past as to whether there's any overlap in any of these job descriptions and sought some clarity. So, would you like us to write, Jenny, to that effect?

13:05

I wonder if the clerks can write to Tracey and Andrew Goodall and say, 'Well, okay, that was seven weeks ago. What's the latest and have you sorted out these overlapping problems?'.

So, if we ask for some detail on the job descriptions to give us some comfort that they're not overlapping and that people are clear on their roles and responsibilities and also for a further update, particularly in terms of the timetable for the appointment of a new chief exec—everybody happy with that?

I had further—. The second-to-last paragraph, I have some concerns about the over bureaucratization of the switching over from one clinical system to another because GDPR applies whichever system you're using. Why does it—? I don't understand why, if you move from the apple system to the pear system, the patient then has to reaffirm their assent to the information being held, because the same security arrangements would apply that they couldn't share it with anybody unless it was appropriate and secure.

Okay. Well, perhaps we can add that to the correspondence. 

Darren, since the session, we've received a little further correspondence on the issue of the costs associated with the procurement of the new system. So, we're looking into that in some more detail and, obviously, if there's anything relevant that flows from that, we'll update the committee.

That's great. I'll take it that that's noted. Okay, everybody else content? Thank you, Jenny. We'll move on, then. We'll make sure that we write along the lines that we've just agreed.

We've got a paper on our inquiry into regulatory oversight of housing associations. We've had a response from the Welsh Government in relation to this further to the clarification on the skills and capacity issues. I'll take it that everybody's content with that. Happy to note it? Great.

Moving on, then. Public procurement: we've had a letter from the Welsh Government dated 4 December. So, they provided an update on some of the work that they've undertaken over the summer on some of the procurement-related activities. 

I mean, since then, we've had a general election, and therefore I think my concern is how fit-for-purpose are the procurement arrangements, given that they're going to need to be quite different arrangements for the procurement of food. If we leave the EU and we potentially have tariffs, there's going to need to be a lot of change here, so—.

I think we are expecting further updates later in the year, but perhaps we could ask the Welsh Government what consideration they've given to the impact of any tariffs in the future on their procurement processes. I think that's a reasonable question to put to them. Are there any other points on this? Other than that, then, shall I take it that the correspondence is noted? 

So, we've also had a copy of some correspondence from the auditor general. This is in relation to the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill. We've been copied into the letter that's been sent to John Griffiths because, obviously, he's Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee that's looking at this particular piece of legislation. Do you want to add anything to—?

The main reason to copy it to this committee is because of the overlap with the issue pertaining to town and community councils, which you took some evidence on before Christmas, but obviously the letter to John's committee goes much wider than that. If Members have any questions on that outside of committee, we'd be very happy to—.

I'd like to discuss this with the—[Inaudible.]. I think there are some difficult issues—.

Apologies for being late. I got temporarily stuck in the lift and then I decided I needed a cup of tea to recover.

Happy new year. [Laughter.]

Okay, well, if we defer further discussion on it until private session, if Members are happy. But I'll take it that the correspondence is noted. 

Moving on, then, waste management: we've had some additional information from Natural Resources Wales. This is a technical note that was requested by Jenny Rathbone in relation to gasification and treatment of waste. I'll take it that everybody's content with that. Noted? Yes. Thank you.

Moving on to the next item of correspondence, we've had an update from the Permanent Secretary following the evidence session on 11 November in relation to the use of the Welsh language within the Welsh Government. We've had another letter from the Permanent Secretary in relation to the antiviral drugs that were purchased back in 2008-09 and written off.

Does anybody want to come in on these items? I know that we've got a further update, or we can expect a further update later in the year in relation to the use-of-the-Welsh-language policies from the Welsh Government, and perhaps it's something that the committee might want to return to at the next review of the accounts when the Permanent Secretary comes in, because, by that time, there should have been about six months for any new arrangements to bed down. Does that sound reasonable? Yes.

Just in relation to the Relenza drug, obviously, there was quite a bit of stockpiling of drugs because of the potential swine flu outbreak, if I remember, back in 2008, so Tamiflu and Relenza both had different shelf lives, and I think that's why the drugs have been written off at different times. Jenny, I can see some—

13:10

Well, it fails to explain why so much of these drugs were ordered and that have now got to be disposed of and written off. They failed to explain that you need to assume x numbers of the population and, therefore, you've got to buy y amount of the drug, but I'm assuming there's something in the background as to why we buy—because I think it was 7.5 million from memory.

Yes. Having been a Member at the time, I can remember there being a great deal of concern that there was going to be a huge swine flu outbreak, and I know that the Government tried to acquire as much Tamiflu as possible at that time, and there was a shortage, actually, of Tamiflu around the UK. So, I think this two-pronged approach with the resistance to Tamiflu for some people and the fact that they couldn't get enough Tamiflu for the whole of the population was why they bought the two sets of drugs. But I know they were expensive, because, obviously, demand was very high at that time.

It's a difficult trade-off, though, isn't it? This is money that wasn't then spent on something else.

It is. The question is: have they learnt for any future potential events? I think that's a reasonable question. But you've had an explanation as to why Relenza was purchased at that time, which I think is a reasonable explanation. Any other Members want to come in? No. Okay, I take it that that's noted.

So, medicines management—pardon me, I've missed one out, we've got so many of them. Municipal waste strategy—we've had an update following the evidence session on 18 November. I don't know if anybody wants to comment on that, but it gives—

The Swansea approach is very interesting, and I think it begs the question as to why other local authorities aren't doing the same. I've certainly written to my local authority, asking them why not apply the same approach as Swansea, because, otherwise, it undermines the whole recycling thing if 80 per cent of the population are doing a good job and the others are just ignoring it and shoving everything in black bags.

Can I ask the auditor general: is waste management an issue that has been touched on by the good practice exchange at all? I know that you arrange sessions—

Yes, at one point previously, but the committee's inquiry fell out from three of our audit reports as well, so, there's been quite a bit of—

—Wales Audit Office commentary from our reports. I think the Swansea example—it's probably important to bear in mind, I think it was emphasised that the council is seeing that it's ultimately fining residents as a last resort, but using enforcement notices to raise awareness and try to change behaviour in the meantime.

You get that, Jenny, in terms of the fact that it has been visited a number of times by different reports, different committees, but, obviously, the Swansea success in terms of using enforcement letters as a means for improving behaviour is something that—

I think, Chair, it's probably worth noting that just before Christmas, the Welsh Government published their consultation on their new waste strategy as well—

On their new waste and resources strategy. It came out, I think, in the week before Christmas. So, there's an opportunity for the committee to reflect on that as it draws together its own thinking on the evidence that it took on waste management as well. That can pick up on any concerns, such as Jenny's.

Okay, I think that's a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and perhaps it's something we can feed back to the consultation on. Happy, Jenny? Great.

Moving on, then: medicines management. We've got a copy of an update on the Welsh Government's responses to the medicines management inquiry report. I think there are just three remaining recommendations to be implemented, but it's a fairly comprehensive update. I'll take it that Members are happy with that. Auditor general?

13:15

I invite Dave just to say a couple of words, briefly, Darren, that are relevant to this. 

Thanks, Adrian. It might have escaped the committee's attention, because it goes back to February of last year, but in response to a previous update, the committee had asked for a slightly wider update on a few issues—important issues around repeat prescribing and waste avoidance and medicine storage. I don't think those have been covered off in those two subsequent updates you've had, in January and this one now. So, it's up to the committee, but potentially there are some bits of missing information that you've asked for previously that haven't been included. 

Can I suggest that you work with the clerks to nudge us in the direction of those particular items and we'll make sure that we request further updates? Is everybody content? Yes. Thank you very much, Dave. 

Moving on: financial management and governance in community councils. We've had a letter from the Welsh Government in relation to this. This is because we asked for some clarity on the number of uncontested seats. It's pretty remarkable, in terms of the response, suggesting that 64 per cent of local community council election seats were uncontested back in 2017. I think that that should be something that we're cognisant about, particularly when the Bill is going through its committee stages. Anybody want to comment on that? It's just for information—

We clearly need to reduce the number of seats, because they're not being taken up. If we reduced the number of seats, there'd be more seats being contested. Reduce the number of councils. I think there is some work on that going on. 

I think it's merely a point of information for us, unless we want to do a piece of work as a committee on it. There is, of course, the Bill going through at the moment, which gives an opportunity to consider this, and participation in town and community council elections could be—you know, they could take evidence as they're taking oral evidence and written evidence on the matter. Matthew.

I was just going to add that you may recall that one of the actions that the Welsh Government set out in its action plan that you considered at the end of November was around raising awareness and interest and engagement with town and community councils as well. So, you would expect that—I think it was one of the areas that needs to be progressed in due course—to try and drive some interest in actually people standing for election as well. So, it's certainly one of the areas that was within the suite of actions that they've set out for you. 

But, it is pretty woeful in terms of participation and the lack of seats being challenged, I have to say. Jenny. 

I just think it probably reflects people thinking, 'Well, why do I want to do this, because what level of influence am I going to have on my community if I did this?' And if the answer is, 'Not much', then why would you want to do it?

One area, Chair, on this. For community and town councils, there's no public awareness there. There are not many people who know what they actually do and how people can apply. It's not like the council elections, Assembly elections or Parliament, where there's some sort of information in the public domain for them to go for it. There's no such thing for the public to understand when they should apply for community councils. There should be some sort of incentive for Government to raise awareness among the public to make sure they go for it, rather than local people being unelected, coming and joining and making a committee there. 

Well, I think given what we've been told about the Government obviously wanting to do more to address this particular issue and to promote participation, and given the fact that we've got a Bill going through the National Assembly for Wales at the moment, I think we should perhaps share a copy of this letter with John Griffiths, as Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, so that he can be aware of this, and we can encourage them to take an interest in how to overcome this through the legislative process with the Bill going through. Everybody content with that? Okay. 

Next, then, we've got a letter from the Chair of the Committee on Assembly Electoral Reform, Dawn Bowden. She's obviously writing to committee Chairs about the potential implications for the Assembly's committees if there is any change in the size of the Assembly. I'll take it that the letter is noted. I know that individual Assembly Members and groups will have views on this that they will want to relay into the committee, and can I suggest that it's best done through groups and through individuals rather than by the committee as a whole? Are Members content with that? That's great. Thank you.

13:20

The only question that she's asking that's relevant is what implications it might have on the size of Assembly committees. I don't think this committee needs to be any larger to be more—I don't think it would be more effective just because it was larger.

And I'm sure your view is shared by many people. As I say, I think if the individual political groups and individual Members want to feed into the process, I think that's probably better than having a wide-ranging discussion in the committee. Okay, thank you.

Okay, we've had some correspondence in relation to the Welsh Government's relationship with Pinewood from the Deputy Minister, further to the evidence sessions that took place last year. So, we requested information on the media investment fund's performance and the financial performance and income projections for Pinewood. I don't know, auditor general, whether you want to comment on this, but it's a pretty shocking piece of correspondence, I think, in terms of the sums.

It's certainly fairly bald at the moment, and for me it raises some important questions as much as it answers others. We're in the process of doing a little more work in this area. So, again, we'd be very happy to come back to the committee to brief you more fully on that. But, on the basis of what we have in front of us, I'm not sure that this actually goes to the heart of the questioning that the committee had when it held its evidence session.

I have a question about what the 'Welsh spend to date'—the last column—means. Does it mean the amount of money spent by that production in Wales, or does it mean the amount of public money invested in that project?

I think it's the former of those two. So, when the committee took evidence and reported, it reported on a target figure of £90 million for economic impact against an investment through the fund of £30 million. So, they were looking for a 3:1 ratio in terms of Welsh spend. So, it's the economic impact through jobs and expenditure by those projects in the Welsh economy. But, what you'll see is, against a £30 million projected investment for the fund originally, they're about halfway through the investment profile, but the Welsh spend is still short of halfway towards the £90 million target. Some of that may be yet to occur as well. I think what we were interested in was that, actually, the investment value of £15 million is the same as it was this time last year when the committee reported, so there haven't been any new investments by the fund over the past 12 months either. I'm not sure whether that was expected or not, if I'm honest.

I think the other thing that is quite surprising about the cover letter is that there's not a lot of information in terms of Pinewood departing, if you like, from these studios and when the Welsh Government actually took over from them and how that relationship ended. In the figures, in terms of the projected income and expenditure figures, they're also pretty sketchy. They come with some caveats, of course, in terms of rent reviews being due and some sort of reconciliation of utility billing at the site being under way, which is likely to lead to higher running costs. So, we're talking pretty significant spends, aren't we?

What we don't know is what was anticipated at the point of making the investment decisions. So, some of these may be entirely in line with what was expected for individual projects, but we just don't know the answer to that.

So, has that information not been supplied at all to this committee?

Not on a detailed line-by-line basis, certainly. In fairness, when the committee took evidence previously, the history of the Welsh Government taking back control, I think, was covered in the committee's report and touched on at the time. So, that predates the committee's report, Welsh Government taking over the fund and the Pinewood studio's management. But, I think it would have been helpful in this context for you to understand better what does zero mean, for example, on the amount recouped. Is it that that project is fairly new? Or would we have expected—? Is it a failure? Or is it just that it hasn't kicked in yet to deliver a return on the investment?

13:25

Okay. Now—just one second, Oscar—I know that the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is going to be looking at this on 8 January, later this week, so I think it would be useful if we could forward any particular issues that we think ought to be considered by that committee in advance of that meeting. So, we'll see if we can bring some of these thoughts together. Oscar. 

Thank you, Chair. I think it was this time last year when we heard they were losing nearly £0.75 million, and in the next two years they are making a profit of £0.5 million. So, if it's a primary tenants agreement, actually, we need to know who they are. Is the rent definitely going to be paid in advance? Or, how is the rent going to be paid? Because the thing is, if you check through it, over £1.2 million rent is coming for the next two years, and after that—. The last line there is that further than that there is no agreement, it's only for two years. What is after? Is this short-term renting or leasing or whatever it is? It should be long term rather than just two years. Because if you look at the last line on this, the primary tenants agreements are not yet confirmed beyond 2021. So, for me, I can't digest how come there's only two years profit and after that there's no contract whatsoever.

And there is a rent review, which is due this month as well.

I don't know whether they were given discounted rents just to get tenants in at the start and whether any of this is realistic, in terms of a projection. And I'm not quite sure what the scope of the work is that the other committee is going to be doing. But I think we do need some more information, don't we? We need some more detail on the anticipated amount that will be recouped and a clear definition of what the Welsh spend column actually relates to.

Yes, Chair, my question is: is it short-term renting or long term or medium term? What type of lease agreement? We haven't seen—. It just mentions it's been rented out to primary tenants. Who are the primary tenants? 

Does the committee have any desire to revisit this, perhaps after the other committee has undertaken its considerations, in case there are any items you want to wash up? 

I think it's a primary responsibility for the culture committee, because some of this is around why do these projects need state funding, and are we looking for a return on investment, like Their Finest, or are we looking to enrich the culture of the country?

What are the objectives and how are they being met? Because, for example, with Goose Green—which isn't the one where Welsh people were primarily involved in the Falkands war—there was no Welsh spend commitment. So, it didn't even take place in Wales, as far as one can read. 

But, going back to the point that's been made by the audit office, we've no idea what they were anticipating with these investments at the start in any case, have we? 

I think that's the point. All I was going to add to that is, in terms of the presentation of this information to us as the Public Accounts Committee—I don't disagree with your point that you're making, Jenny, in terms of the wider benefit for the culture committee to investigate. But, for us, in terms of even just a simple Welsh spend to date, that's not clear enough for me. And also, in regard to the longevity of each of these projects—. Because it's all right saying, 'You've only recouped a third of what you put in to each particular project', but how long is that project going to be ongoing for? It might be that, in five years' time, one of those is a blockbuster. So, it's more nuanced, and I don't believe that this presentation of information is good enough, in a sense, for the Public Accounts Committee to be able to try to look into that.

Okay, so I think we've got some questions that we want to try to obtain more information on, haven't we, in terms of a clear definition of Welsh spend to date, the amount that they're expecting to recoup per project, and the profile over the period by which they expect to recover that? Because it may well be—. I don't know what the agreements are like with these projects, but there may be a timeline where there's a cut-off date. It's the first five years, or 10 years, or whatever else they might have come up with in terms of their contractual obligations. So, if you're happy, we'll write back asking about those two things in particular, and also for some more information, Oscar, in relation to the tenant agreements and why they're so short, or they appear to be so short.

And also the tenancy of the media hub. They're talking about £80,000-odd every year. 

It would be good to know the occupancy of that as well, wouldn't it? Because it was only half full, wasn't it, if I remember? Yes. So, we'll ask some of those questions, and then perhaps we can reflect on the evidence and the work that the other committee is doing at a future meeting and discuss whether or not we want to take further oral evidence. Okay, that's great.

13:30
3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

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.

Motion moved.

Okay, item 3, then: motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of our business. Does any Member object? If there aren't any objections, then we will go into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 13:30. 

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 13:30. 

Explore the Welsh Parliament