Pwyllgor yr Economi, Seilwaith a Sgiliau - Y Bumed Senedd

Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee - Fifth Senedd

12/02/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Hefin David AM
Helen Mary Jones AM
Joyce Watson AM
Mohammad Asghar AM
Russell George AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Vikki Howells AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Andrew Clark Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dean Medcraft Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Gill Davies Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Ken Skates AM Gweinidog yr Economi, Trafnidiaeth a Gogledd Cymru
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales
Rebecca Johnson Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Simon Jones Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Francesca Howorth Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Lara Date Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Robert Lloyd-Williams Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy 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 09:38.

The meeting began at 09:38.

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

Croeso, bawb. I'd like to welcome Members to committee this morning. I move to item 1. We have no apologies this morning. If Members have any declarations of interest, please do say so now.

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

In that case, I move to item 2, and we have a number of papers to note. We have a letter to the chief executive of Cardiff Airport regarding the business airports group study from me on behalf of the committee to them. We have a letter from me on behalf of the committee to the Minister for Housing and Local Government regarding the national development framework. And we also have a letter to the Secretary of State for Wales regarding city deals and growth deals, and we've sent the same letter as well to the Minister for Economy and Transport and North Wales.

3. Craffu Cyffredinol ar Waith Gweinidogion ar Drafnidiaeth
3. General Ministerial Scrutiny on Transport

That brings us to our next item, which is item 3, and this is general scrutiny in regard to transport. I'd like to welcome the Minister, with us this morning, and officials. So, perhaps if I could ask officials just to introduce yourselves for the public record.

Rebecca Johnson.

Rebecca Johnson. I work on the transport legislation team. Gill and I are part of a job-share team leading that.

Gill Davies, working on the legislation, working on the Bill.

Simon Jones, director of economic infrastructure.

Lovely. Welcome to committee and back to committee again. I should just say there have been a number of changes to officials, who are different to the agenda, for those perhaps watching in. If I could perhaps just ask you, Minister, to start with: in regard to taxi and private hire vehicles, we're obviously aware that this is no longer part of the Bill that you're bringing forward later this year, so as I understand it the WLGA has undertaken some work in regard to the regulation, when will it be completed and implemented?

09:40

You're right, Chair, we removed the taxi and private hire vehicle element of the Bill as a result of the consultation that had taken place, in no small part, and the feeling that the recommendations weren't going far enough. So, a task and finish group has been established that comprises representatives of the licensing authorities and they're looking at what measures can be introduced on a voluntary basis. So, that will include measures directly relating, for example, to enforcement and the driver licensing application process. It's my intention to ensure that a draft report is completed by this summer, and then we'll look at being able to deploy those measures as soon as possible.

Thank you for that. Of course, we understand that the Department for Transport is also doing some work in this area. Have you had discussions with the Department for Transport? How have they taken place?

Yes. Discussions have taken place on a regular if not constant basis with the Department for Transport. There's been very little movement on this specific subject area, but if and when proposals are brought forward the DfT will be working with us to ensure that any legislation that's taken forward by the UK Government takes account of the findings of our consultation and ensures that England and Wales legislation takes account of the specific needs of Welsh taxi and private hire vehicle drivers.

And to what extent do you think that it'll be likely that you'll be applying regulation that's relevant for England here in Wales?

It would depend, obviously, on the content of the legislation as it comes forward. There is an argument that England and Wales legislation may be more beneficial in borderland areas, particularly in the more urbanised parts of Wales that are close to the border where you have taxi operators and private hire vehicle operators operating both in Wales and in England. But it will be dependent on precisely what is contained in any proposed legislation by the UK Government.

Is that likely to be in the form of an LCM or would there need to be legislation brought forward?

I think it's too early to say, to be honest, Chair, because the work is in its infancy within the UK Government.

Have you got anything you can tell us in terms of a timetable or timings in terms of when some of these decisions might be made?

I think we can say that, by March of 2021, we will have looked to have completed the work on taking forward any Welsh legislation in the future. So, we'll be able to return to you in the spring of next year with the proposals for future legislation. But that will take account, obviously, of any work that is undertaken between now and then by DfT.

I suppose there's a concern from committee here in terms of scrutiny that, if you're applying perhaps English legislation here in Wales, there's a process for us to be able to scrutinise that legislation. How would that take place in some of these circumstances?

And I would share those concerns. This is something that needs to be discussed with DfT and agreed with UK Government. But, absolutely, it's vitally important that this committee and the Parliament gets to scrutinise any proposals that are taken forward on an England and Wales basis by UK Government.

Good morning, Minister. I want to discuss the reasons why the Welsh Government is no longer considering joint transport authorities and the implications of that. So, I wonder if you could outline the reasons why the JTAs are no longer being considered specifically, and how the outcome of the White Paper consultation might have influenced that particular decision.

Sure. I think it's worth saying, Chair, that whether a body is called a CJC or a JTA, essentially, the benefits are going to be the same. During the course of the consultation, proposals were brought forward by the Minister for Local Government and Housing for the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill that contain provisions relating to CJCs. It was felt that, on a cross-Government basis, it's important to work in a consistent way, and the adoption of CJCs for functions that include transport made perfect sense. It was something that local government have been widely consulted on. The proposal for JTAs was very popular, and the same applies to the CJCs concerning the functions of transport.

09:45

If I may add to that, Minister, the opportunity with the CJCs having the potential to be more comprehensive, rather than joint transport authorities, which was the provision under the 2006 transport Act, so the JTAs would relate solely to transport functions, as opposed to the proposals under the local government and elections Bill, which can be much broader. Therefore, there is the opportunity for issues such as transport and planning to be brought together, and it's easy to see how urban design and the ways that people move about—it's crucial to consider those together.

So, I understand why you've reached the decision for the corporate joint committee. So then, how would that work with Transport for Wales and how will that be co-ordinated? How will they define their individual roles?

So, the CJCs will enable powers and functions to be transferred to a regional body. Transport for Wales has been established in order to oversee transport planning across Wales and to be able to advise on the development of projects such as metros. We're working through, with local authorities, the question of how Transport for Wales can assist in addressing some of the concerns regarding a skills shortage within local government and how Transport for Wales could be utilised by the CJCs for the development and delivery of transport-related investment. Simon.

It's probably worth just being clear that Transport for Wales, at the moment, is discharging functions of Welsh Ministers. CJCs are about reorganising, if you like, or re-corralling the functions of local authorities. So, it will be for local authorities to determine, working with Welsh Ministers, whether Transport for Wales should discharge some functions on their behalf. There are already agency agreements in place between local authorities and ourselves for Transport for Wales to discharge some functions.

So, the recent reissue of concessionary fare cards, that was done on behalf of local authorities by Transport for Wales through an agency agreement. If Transport for Wales is going to play a fuller role in discharging local authority functions, then those kinds of agency agreements need to be put in place, because it's the powers of the local authorities that'll be exercised through the CJCs, not the powers of Welsh Ministers. 

Okay, so you've made their roles separate and clear, and I'm sure that there'll be some scrutiny later on on how that works. But, how will that be reflected and set out in the White Paper in terms of structure, powers and functions, because those are the bits of scrutiny that this committee would probably be charged with?

We're working with WLGA and local authorities at the moment in determining what powers and functions should be transferred to CJCs. We've been very keen all along to stress that regulations would be co-designed with local government as well, and just reflecting on the role that TfW could play in the future, the regulations should allow for a degree of flexibility that addresses local idiosyncrasies and factors. For TfW, it makes sense for TfW to take on a national role where appropriate, for example, in national ticketing schemes. 

I just wanted to ask a speculative question. Is this a scaling down of the original vision that you had for Transport for Wales?

No, if anything, it's scaling up, moving from rail-related projects, rail-related policy and investment through to buses, full integrated transport, a delivery function for national projects. I think, if anything, it's a more ambitious proposal for Transport for Wales.

09:50

But if the regional CJCs are to have authority, then doesn't that inevitably take away from the authority of TfW?

No, because what we were originally proposing with the JTAs was a national JTA, which it was assumed would be TfW. TfW would be just that. TfW would still clearly retain a role in terms of national functions, and I've just given an example of one to Joyce Watson. So I don't think it's scaling back at all of the ambition for TfW. What this will do, with CJCs, is enable at a regional level local authorities to collaborate, to combine resources, to hold money, and to be able to employ people, just as TfW is able to undertake some of the functions as well. I would expect that TfW in many cases would be the go-to body by the CJCs for work to be undertaken.

Because it's important, I think, to respect local democratic decision making.

There will be examples of functions that are discharged in the transport space, particularly by local authorities, that wouldn't make sense to be done on a national basis. So, if you think about a stopping-up order for a road for a couple of weeks, why would we want to do that on a national basis? That's probably better done on a local basis. So part of the work that's being undertaken at the moment is an analysis of all of the functions that are undertaken, and working with, co-designing with local authorities, where the best place for those functions to be discharged is.

So this is about functionality and what works, and subsidiarity—not about concerns about the capacity of TfW.

No, this is about subsidiarity and ensuring that decisions are made in an accountable way.

Thank you, Chair. The concessionary fares scheme—so, the Welsh Government is not proceeding with the plans to increase the age of entitlement for a concessionary bus pass. Can you tell us a bit more about when and how that decision was taken? Because I'm mindful of the fact that in October of 2019 you were still minded to proceed with that.

Yes, so if we can revisit the initial decision for taking forward that proposal for a moment, it was done in the context of austerity continuing, and I felt that it was absolutely vital that the concessionary fares scheme is sustainable for the long term against a backdrop of continued uncertainty about funding and the likelihood of austerity going on. In addition, we have the prospect of a 'no deal' Brexit that could have in turn caused considerable economic damage, and therefore put further pressure on public resources, and in turn that could have led to uncertainty over the future viability of the monetary concessionary fares scheme. So the proposal emerged against that context, that backdrop, and I felt it was a responsible approach to take.

By December of last year a major event was under way, the general election, and I was watching very closely what the main parties were promising. It became clear that each of the political parties would unleash something of a spending spree in terms of transport, and therefore the decision was made by Cabinet in December, about 10 days before the general election, to remove this from the Bill and instead to proceed with work on a broader, far more ambitious proposal for the future of bus services—proposals that will enable us to say that this is going to be a bus revolution.

Now, since then we've seen a number of announcements come from Westminster, most recently just yesterday, with a £5 billion pledge for new money to be spent on bus and active travel. Well, we now expect that £5 billion to translate into a consequential of £250 million for Welsh Government. That £250 million, in turn, would enable us to spend over five years and offer some certainty to the industry, to local authorities, to passengers: £50 million in additional money on bus services. That would essentially treble the bus services support grant and make a huge difference to services across the length and breadth of Wales.

We're being told that we'll have to wait until the comprehensive spending review later this year for confirmation that we'll be receiving that consequential, but I'm going to make it very clear: we expect to get the £250 million that will enable us to spend £50 million more, potentially, on bus services in each of the next five years. And that would pay for the bus revolution that is proposed within the legislation and through other reforms that we are taking forward.

09:55

So, am I right in taking from that, then, that if you get that consequential that you are expecting, there won't be a cost to Welsh Government or to local authorities? 

If I deal with the cost, there'd be no cost to local authorities regarding removal of the provision on raising the age of entitlement, because we reimburse in full local authority costs. In terms of Welsh Government costs associated with removing that particular element of the legislation, estimates vary between £1 million to £1.2 million year on year additional funding requirements. I felt, going back to 2018, that it was important that we behaved in a responsible way, given uncertainty over the future economic outlook of the country and given the likelihood of austerity continuing. We've since seen all the political parties state that they wish to see an end to austerity, and it's my belief that as a consequence and because the Government here in Wales has made bus services such a high priority, that we will be able to accommodate that increasing cost.

Thank you. And how did you assess the financial impact on wider programmes when you were taking the decision?

The cost on wider programmes is associated with a regulatory impact assessment, and that's based largely on data that's already in the public domain that is readily available.

Okay. And going back to the process of actually making the decision to not increase the age of eligibility for the concessionary bus pass, did you consult with—? You mentioned you'd discussed with the Cabinet and that it was a Cabinet decision. Did you consult with any stakeholders as well about reversing that decision? 

We were well aware of the feeling in relation to this particular proposal, given that we'd consulted on the White Paper. We were also aware of stakeholder groups' concerns as well. I met with the Older People's Commissioner for Wales, who I think did an outstanding job in raising specific concerns about what was proposed. And so, I think it's fair to say that the decision was made on the basis of considerable feedback, but also against a changing landscape, which was the promised end to austerity.

Okay. Thank you. My final question in this section requires you to have a crystal ball, somewhat. Do you think there are any circumstances in which a future Labour Government might reconsider this decision, or are there any other concessionary fare reforms being considered instead?

There are ambitious proposals that are being considered in relation to concessionary fares. In the current circumstances, I think it would be unimaginable for this decision to be revisited. However, we don't know what is around the corner in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years. Will there be another major financial crash? Could we still leave the EU without a deal at the end of the year and, if so, what would be the consequences? These are factors beyond our control. But in terms of what we can control, I can say that I do not believe that this would be revisited. 

And in terms of the longer term funding provision for Wales, yesterday we saw the announcement of HS2. I believe we should be entitled to a consequential for that spend. I also believe that £500 million should be made available to electrify the Crewe to Chester line, a further £500 million for the electrification of the north Wales main line. That, in addition, to the consequential that would amount to more than £5 million and the promised gross domestic product spend over the next 20 years would amount to something in the region of £9 billion. So, I'll be expecting the £9 billion to come to Wales over the next 20 years. That's a considerable sum of money that would guarantee the future viability of the mandatory concessionary fare scheme, and could also assist in paying for a far wider, broader, fairer fare regime across Wales.

Can I just clarify, Minister? The UK Government made the announcement of an extra £5 billion for cycle and bus routes, and you've outlined that you haven't yet been informed what the consequential is, but you would expect it to be in the region of £250 million. I think you earmarked £50 million of that potential money to buses, if I'm right. What about—

10:00

Yes. So, it would be £250 million, the consequential, as calculated in an ordinary way, in a regular way. And, over five years, that would then be £50 million. Fifty-million pounds could triple the BSSG—

That could triple the bus services support grant if we were to invest all of it in that particular area. 

Our intention would be to invest the vast majority in bus services, and also to spend, obviously, a considerable sum on active travel. We've already lifted the spend per head on active travel close to the spend per head in best practice cases. And so we're almost at that point of being able to spend as much as any other country that's at the forefront of active travel. So, our intention would obviously be to spend more. But it's bus services that we really need to see heavy investment go into. 

Okay. That's useful to know. Thank you. Helen Mary Jones.

I want to come back to some of the issues that you've already touched on in responding to Joyce Watson and Hefin David, and look back to the bus services Bill. And, to begin with, can you tell us how the consultation, the response to the White Paper, has influenced the decisions you've made to make some changes from the White Paper proposals to what's now in the draft Bill, and give us some specifics around those changes and a bit of the reasoning behind that?

Well, there is a lot of consultation that's been taken with stakeholders that relate to the provisions in the Bill. If I take a few as examples— 

—if that's okay. Okay, yes. So, in terms of local authorities working together through the consultation, it was established that there should be four regions for collaboration for the creation of the corporate joint committee. There was widespread support, it has to be said, for collaboration. In terms of the Welsh quality partnerships, through the consultation it was established that there were concerns that these could be overly bureaucratic, that they could be costly, and so revisions were made to ensure that the Welsh quality partnership scheme is less bureaucratic than the equivalent schemes in Scotland and also in England.

Through the consultation, franchising was widely welcomed, but there was a recognition that franchising may not be taken up in all parts of Wales, and that it will be dependent on local circumstances. So, we're determined to ensure that decision making is undertaken at the regional level, informed by local factors, and that that particular tool is utilised where there are specific competition issues or where there is a lack of any competition.

Are there are other areas that we were able to identify as examples of how the consultation made a difference?

I think, still with the franchising, there was also a lot of feedback around small and medium-sized companies, operators, in Wales, and that actually a significant number of operators in Wales are small and medium-sized operations. And that is something we've been very conscious of in drawing up the bus provisions and ensuring that there's actually something specifically written into the legislation that requires local authorities to consider how small and medium enterprises can participate in any procurement process as part of the franchising. And that was definitely very strong on the consultation feedback, both in the written consultation and the stakeholder engagement events that we undertook as well. And I think there were others as well that—. 

Yes, if I may pick up the partnership regime—. So, we had general good support in terms of local authorities working in partnerships with bus operators, and I think that that was as expected. But, also, as we carried out the consultation exercises that Gill has talked about, and as we met and talked through the development of our proposals, there were some key points that we sought to address. So, the Minister has already mentioned the bureaucratic nature of the proposals in the English regime that are included in the Bus Services Act 2017, and also in Scotland as well. But we heard from local authorities that they wanted a system that was workable, but that they found that the requirement to have to invest in infrastructure and make a commitment for five years was a limiting factor for them to enter into a statutory partnership arrangement. So, that's one of the elements that we've taken into account in development of the Bill provisions. So, the partnership provisions within the Bill will be scalable, allowing a local authority and the bus operators to enter into a Welsh partnership scheme for less than five years—not necessarily in relation to infrastructure. So, it allows the build-up of trust and relationship as that partnership develops. So, they're not restricted that it has to be one year, or three years, or five years, but they're able to have a time period that reflects the nature of the relationship.

One of the other elements in terms of the partnership schemes is opening it out so it's no longer solely restricted to infrastructure provision by local authorities, but the local authority contribution can also be what's termed as 'measures', which could be a traffic management intervention. So, for example, the installation of bus lanes would be infrastructure, and the enforcement of those bus lanes would be a measure. The local authorities don't have to have infrastructure and a measure; it could just be a measure, or it could just be infrastructure. So, there's that additional flexibility. It also allows it to be scalable, so that, if a local authority is doing something significant in terms of dealing with congestion, or whatever it is, within their local area, then they would be able to consider that within a partnership. But, if they're doing something that is significant for their space and their community, but isn't full-on dealing with issues that would be in a city setting, then they can also take account of a partnership provision.

One of the other elements in relation to partnership—. So, we've talked about the local authority side. From the bus operator side, the requirements that the bus operators are able to contribute into the partnership are also broader. So, the partnership provisions can relate to route requirements—so that's around the frequency of services and where those services run, within a partnership area. But it can also relate to service requirements, such as branding, and the quality of the service that's provided. So—

10:05

Okay. That's helpful. Can I just ask a couple of other things about the consultation? You talked about—both the Minister and yourselves—the voice of local authorities. Now, obviously, predominantly you'll hear that through the WLGA. But I'm just wondering whether you are, to a certain extent, getting any variation of messages between local authorities. Because, obviously, the transport challenges, let's say, for a big city will be very different to the transport challenges of a very sparsely populated rural area like Meirionnydd, for example. So, was there any difference of view there? And also, we've heard from you a little bit about how the industry responded, a lot about how local authorities responded. To what extent has the voice of passengers and passenger groups been heard in the consultation, and what's your perception of how happy they might be with some of the moves away from what was in the White Paper to what's now proposed in the Bill?

Those are really significant questions that you've asked there. The consultation attracted more than 500 responses. It was one of the most effective consultations, therefore, that we've ever undertaken. In terms of the voice of local government, yes, there were varying concerns raised, depending on the type of area that lead members and officials represented across their respective local authorities. For example, the situation in Powys is very different to the situation here in Cardiff. And that's why we've developed a range of tools that can be adopted as necessary by each local authority and by each region. We don't expect all of the tools to be adopted and utilised at any one time by all of the regions and all of the local authorities, but we felt it was important that we gave every opportunity to intervene as necessary, dependent on local situations and the state of the bus industry in any given area.

In terms of the voice of passengers, there were representative groups, commissioners as well, and they were very effective in liaising with citizens and conveying the views of the people that they serve. We believe that the provisions in the Bill go a certain way, in terms of addressing the concerns and the aspirations of passengers. But the Bill itself will not lead to the bus revolution that we wish to see. It will come about as a result also of more investment in bus services, in the complete transformation of the vehicles that are utilised; it will come about as a result of the creation of the CJC, which will enable collaborative working; it will come about as a result of the work that's currently being undertaken by Transport for Wales in examining the various grants that are already offered; it will come about as a result of the £29 million that we're making available for zero-emissions vehicles; it will come about as a result of investment in metros as well, which are going to be largely about integrating bus and rail and active travel. 

10:10

That's helpful. I want to come back a little bit to something you touched on in response to Hefin David. We obviously—. There's a balance here between local provision and provision that's sensitive to local need and a national transport approach. Now, it seems to me that the Bill, as it stands, depends an awful lot on local authorities co-operating with each other, but also co-operating with Welsh Government, and I'm not saying that I'm sceptical about that, but perhaps I am a little bit.

Can you tell us a little bit more about why you're confident that local authorities will effectively use the provisions that you're giving them? And what will you do if they don't, because this is—? I'm not a great fan of legislation that's optional. Laws have to—. If people don't abide by a law, something has to happen to them, or otherwise it's not a law; you might as well use policy or provision. So, this seems to be really enabling legislation, and I'd personally support that, but there has to be some—. If I'm a Welsh citizen and I'm living in a local authority area where these measures that you're making available to them are not being used, what will Welsh Government do then to make sure that I'm not being disadvantaged by that? 

So, it's important, I think, to recognise that, by the time the tools are available, CJCs will have been created. That's hugely important, and, by the time the tools are available, we would have expected to see that £250 million consequential to begin to flow into the Welsh Treasury. That's a huge sum of money that can be used to incentivise collaboration, to incentivise the transformation of service provision.  

But that's incentives—what happens if they don't take up the incentives?  

I'm very confident we're offering all of the tools necessary, and, through the CJC, we're ensuring that there's collaboration that will lead to the transformation of bus services in the way that we've outlined. 

Can I just add to the point? So, there will be, as the Minister said earlier—. There will be some circumstances where a local authority may not need to use some of the tools. So, if we think about the franchising tool, for example, in rural local authority areas, where the market has failed, and there are a number of local authorities where there isn't a single—

So, there's not a single commercially operated bus there. So, those buses are operating under something called section 63 of the Transport Act 1985, which is effectively franchising by another name. So, franchising already exists in those areas. So, actually you would ask the question: 'Why would we need to impose another layer of franchising when we've already got it?' So, I think there's—. You wouldn't expect it to be applied in that kind of area. And, similarly, the provision to run municipal bus companies. We've already got a couple of municipal bus companies in Wales, so there would be—you know, why would local authorities create municipal bus companies where they've already got them? So, there will be an element whereby local authorities can choose to use these things, because they won't necessarily apply in their areas.  

I think I understood that, but I suppose what I'm saying is: what if they're not using any of the provisions, and what if the services are not being improved? Because giving a local authority the power to do something is, by implication, also giving them the power not to do something, and I suppose what I'm putting to the Minister is that—. This is a worst-case scenario, but then we have laws for worst-case scenarios; otherwise, you can do it with incentives, with grants, with policy. So, if we've got—. Taking on board everything that you've all said about flexibility and needing to be able to respond to local circumstances, and many local authorities won't need to use this enabling power, but they might need to use that—all of that is fine, but what if you find you've got a local authority who is just not playing ball? And that is not impossible. In current circumstances, it sounds as if all our current local authorities are going to play ball, and that's great, but we have things like local authority elections and different people get elected. Similarly, we have Welsh Government—. So, I'm just trying to drill down to what would happen, worst-case scenario, where you've got a local authority, you've given them all these potential powers, and they're just not effectively using them.

10:15

Ultimately, it comes down to the funding, to the grants, and it's what TfW is looking at at the moment. I prefer to empower rather than impose, and so the tools that are available are designed to do just that. But I do recognise that, in the very worst-case scenario, which I think is—

Highly unlikely. Given the accountability that local authorities have to their citizens and the importance of local bus services to people across Wales, I think it would be unthinkable for a local authority to ignore the need to improve public transport provision. But, if they were to do that, then of course we would utilise the grant regime, which is being reviewed by TfW, to incentivise responsible behaviour. And, if that was not apparent, then we would have to address the shortcomings of a local authority through the removal of such support.

You're penalising them financially if they don't carry out the spirit of the legislation effectively.

If I can point to one example: the bus services support grant, as it currently exists. We've always been clear that the BSSG should not be used instead of local authority support; it should be used in addition to. But in some cases, that's not happening. TfW are looking at the rules concerning BSSG, and that may lead to eligibility criteria concerning local authority contributions.

That's helpful. And I just want to come briefly back to—because I think you partly answered the question I was going to ask you in response to Hefin David—the role of Transport for Wales and their strategic role moving forward. I think, in response to Hefin, you were saying that there would be things that the consortia could go to Transport for Wales to ask them for help with. You'll probably be aware that, when we were talking to James Price from Transport for Wales on the twenty-ninth of last month, he said that he thought this legislation was a necessary but not a sufficient step to achieve the kind of transport integration that you're looking for.

Which is why I think the local government and elections Bill, alongside this, is so very important. So, I think what James Price was talking about was the need to ensure collaboration takes place in order to drive integration, and that's precisely what the CJCs will do. The CJCs will enable local authorities to employ, to hold money, to borrow. That's going to be really important in the delivery of bus services on a regional basis in an integrated way. 

That's helpful, but I'm also thinking about integration between—. You mentioned the metros, which are going to be the integration between rail and buses. I suppose I'm left with the concern that, if you've got bus planning and bus franchising and all those exciting possibilities here, and then you've got rail somewhere else, I just want a bit of reassurance that that strategic role for Transport for Wales is not going to get lost.

So, we're working on that with the WLGA at the moment.

It comes back to, if you like, that work breakdown of where tasks are best delivered: at local, at regional or at a national level. And as we said, that's got to be co-designed with the WLGA. So, if we want to create an integrated public transport system, the fewer moving parts that you have in terms of the institutions involved, the more likely you are to be able to achieve that. I think that's a goal that's held across the public sector, that that's what we want to create.

My question is regarding the draft regulatory impact assessment, the RIA, for the bus services Wales Bill, Minister. How have the estimated costs and benefits set out in the draft RIA been received by the stakeholders, particularly local government and the bus and community transport sector? Have they been accepted as a reasonable assessment?

Okay, so I am aware of some concerns concerning the costs, but those costs have been calculated using established figures that are in the public domain. I'd be more than happy to discuss the estimates with stakeholders, but they are based on established figures.

Thank you. How has the Welsh Government engaged with stakeholders to further develop the estimates set out in the draft RIA? Can the Minister provide specific examples of changes to the approach between the draft and the final RIAs?

10:20

Yes, they were revised, and they were revised on the back of quite an extensive piece of consultation, engagement and dialogue over the summer of last year. Those figures were revised for the transition, the set-up costs for local authorities, for Welsh Government, for recurring costs, and for the costs of IT relating to the operators' responsibilities as well. Gill, do you want to give detail?

I can provide a bit more detail on that. Obviously, with the draft RIA published at the beginning of the summer, we were very conscious that stakeholders hold a wealth of information. We've used, as the Minister said, the published data, but what we were very conscious of doing was undertaking consultation and stakeholder engagement with operators and local authorities, in particular the key stakeholders, as well as others, so we could test the robustness of the data, test those figures and the data that we had got, and the cost assumptions. And as the Minister said, those were altered based on the feedback that we received.

I think particularly in terms of the franchising, the costs have been reassessed based on the feedback that we received. Even in terms of the Welsh Government costs for franchising and Welsh partnerships as well, those have also been revised to reflect the scale of the work that needs to be done in producing that guidance and the level of expertise that will need to be brought in to help do that piece of work as well.

I think we've talked a lot about the enabling tools, but the Bill does include other provisions as well in relation to information sharing, and actually those costs as well were discussed and revised on the basis of, particularly for bus operators, the costs of the open data requirements and the potential costs that they may have in terms of updating software, IT systems, ticket machines and things like that.

Okay, thank you. The fact that the draft RIA estimates the cost of establishing the franchise between £0.5 million and £1 million per local authority, and that operators would spend between £160,000 to £1 million in bidding: is this affordable for local authorities and also SME bus operators, bidding with no guarantee of success?

Well, we are very conscious of the fact that there are more than 80 bus companies in Wales currently in receipt of some form of grant or repayment from Welsh Government. A huge proportion of those are SMEs. Therefore, we're requiring that, through a franchise procedure, there must be a pathway to procurement for SMEs. Franchising will not be undertaken by all local authorities. It will be for local authorities themselves to determine whether or not to pursue that particular opportunity, and the regulatory impact assessment clearly states that a local authority should pursue franchising as an option only following the development of a business case. It's a commercial decision, ultimately, for a bus company, whether to deliver bus services, whether to seek to deliver bus services in a certain area, and therefore, in the case of a franchise, whether to bid for a contract. 

Okay, thank you. We know the bus industry in Wales has a significantly higher proportion of SME bus operators than England has. The fact is that the draft RIA suggests that there will be benefits to bus operators in terms of reducing over-bussing and excess capacity. On what evidence base does the Minister believe that either of these are widespread issues in Wales?

Well, on the evidence that was compiled by Arup, and through intelligence gathered by officials who are experts in this particular field—. Do you have any of the data at all, Gill, that demonstrates the case?

Yes. The Competition Commission's research in 2011 drew out some figures on this, that 1 per cent of weekly bus services might experience over-bussing, and that 63 per cent of services don't face effective competition, and identified excess capacity is a potential factor. Obviously, it doesn't apply to all parts of Wales. In highly populated, more urban areas, there is the tendency for bus operators to compete with each other on the roads and at bus stops then to pick up passengers. I think, in the revised RIA that will be coming out with the Bill documentation, we have actually now included a competition assessment, an impact assessment, in that document, which goes into a little bit more detail about the commercial markets in Wales and the mix of commercial and subsidised services, which will draw in a little bit more detail on that.

10:25

Chair, can I just go back to a really important point that Mohammad Asghar has raised, which is the ability of businesses within the sector to be able to operate in the environment that we are proposing. If we take a step back and look at where we were four or five years ago, we saw the collapse of operators that we thought were sustainable, that appeared to be sustainable, but could not compete because the market wasn't allowing them to, or because we had so many bus companies competing for contracts that deliver such narrow profit margins. And so, four years ago, we commenced work on the five-point plan, and part of that work was designed to ensure that businesses were more resilient, and so we drew in Business Wales to work with the sector.

Now, I think it's important to make the point that, four years ago, when the first bus summit took place, I talked about the need for bus companies to work more collaboratively. At the moment, we have more than 80 bus companies—. If we go back four years, we had more than 80 bus companies that were operating individually, in pretty much all cases, with their own HR functions, with all of the fixed overhead costs associated with operating in the industry. My call to the industry was to collaborate more, in order to reduce some of those costs, to share the burden of some of the bureaucracy that is associated with operating in this field. And that's something that I wish to see more of, and that may lead to a degree of consolidation in the industry, which in turn would benefit our passengers across Wales.

Thank you very much, Minister. Just a final question, away from what is in front of me. You've already mentioned that buses are a high priority to you, and we heard about the investment in infrastructure from your colleague just earlier. My question to you, as the Minister for transport, is—we've heard from London, in the last 48 hours, a massive investment in trains, from London to Manchester within an hour, and the infrastructure for buses and walking and cycling, investing billions there, and within the next 10 years people will be travelling within an hour from London to Manchester—is there any plan, being the Minister for transport in Wales, that from Newport to Anglesey we'll travel in half of the time?

Okay. This is just such a big issue. It touches on— 

Do you know what? Let's just face the facts: we are not responsible for rail infrastructure. It is still reserved to the UK Government. And in the last five years, even though we've got 11 per cent of track, 11 per cent of stations, 20 per cent of level crossings, we've had less than 2 per cent of investment. That amounts to £1 billion of underinvestment in Welsh rail: £1 billion.

We wish to see that addressed in the current control period, and in future control periods. We wish that IOU, as I believe it is an IOU, to be paid in full, but we also require a commitment by the UK Government to devolve responsibility—and the Williams review has been looking at this very issue—and to devolve the settlement, the funding that will enable us to transform rail infrastructure in Wales.

Now, you pointed to HS2, which will give a huge competitive advantage to certain parts of the north, and I'm not opposed to HS2 on principle; what concerns me is that Welsh communities should not be left at a disadvantage as a result of investment elsewhere and that, when the UK Government talks about levelling up, it should also talk about including Wales in that levelling up.

In order to do that, a number of things have to happen in regard to HS2. One, we need to see the electrification of the line from Crewe to Chester and then onward from Chester to Holyhead. We have to see that. That would amount to around £1 billion. Against £106 billion overall investment in the programme, that's not a huge amount to expect. Also, we wish to see an element of the project directly benefit Wales in terms of the employment and the economic infrastructure opportunities associated with it. An obvious one would be the award of the contract for the actual trains to CAF in Wales, and if HS2 trains are to be built by CAF, they would be built here in Wales. So, that would be my call to the UK Government: trains built here, electrify from Crewe to Chester, Chester across north Wales.

But there is also an important point to make about a fair settlement and fair investment, moving forward, which is why Williams is so important. We can't have, in the next five years, the sort of investment that we've seen in the past five years, which, quite frankly, has been paltry in terms of enhancements. Some people say, 'But you're going to get a huge amount of money spent on rail infrastructure in the coming years,' but that's only maintenance, and the reason that that is not to be celebrated, as some are celebrating it, is because the railways have been so poorly maintained. This is deferred maintenance that money is being thrown at; it's not new money to create new stations or new lines. If we are to see all of the opportunities that we've talked of, as part of a bus revolution, metro revolution, then we need that fair funding settlement for Wales—those billions of pounds that could be invested in metro south-east, metro south-west, in metro north Wales, in bus services, in integrated travel, in improving railways across the length and breadth of Wales. That's what we need to see.

In addition to that, I love buses. I absolutely love buses. For people in Wales, bus provision is more important than rail provision in a vast number of communities. Over 100 million people use buses for bus passenger journeys—about 100 million each year, compared to around 30 million rail journeys each year. But if we are to benefit from the announcement that was made yesterday, then we need to get the consequential, and we need to get the £250 million that we can then utilise to benefit Welsh bus passengers.

10:30

Can I stay on rail infrastructure—rail infrastructure that you're responsible for with regard to metro? There are various organisations involved in the delivery of the metro schemes right across Wales, but who is, ultimately, overall responsible for the strategic direction of each of the metro schemes?

So, there is an even broader point to be made about strategic direction that relates to what I've just said in response to Mohammad Asghar, and that is that we have one-year revenue settlements and two-year capital settlements from UK Government, and we don't have powers over rail infrastructure.

My question wasn't so much about funding, it was about responsibility for delivering the projects.

Yes, but that curtails, if you like, the ability to provide the strategic direction if you don't have the funding certainty. I outlined, in our future for rail travel and transport as a whole just last year, what our ambitions are. I was criticised because we weren't applying any funding to ensure that they are delivered, but I was very clear that we couldn't do that, because we didn't have funding devolved to Wales. So, we can offer the vision; at the moment, strategic direction is inhibited by the fact that we only have those one-year revenue settlements and two-year capital settlements—

Regardless of the funding, who is responsible for the delivery of the projects?

In terms of governance, if you like, it varies across Wales depending on which of the projects we look at, but I—

I wish to see Transport for Wales take the clear role in ensuring that—

It would make perfect sense, on all of the projects, for Transport for Wales—

Well, they're now getting involved in that; that's part of their remit for this year. The reason that it's important is because each of the metro projects are at a different phase in Wales. For example, in the south-east, TfW are now moving from looking at the rail-based solutions to bus solutions within the metro area. In north Wales, the focus has very much been on connectivity within and between employment sites, primarily in the Deeside area, but now TfW are looking at moving their focus across the region to other strategic employment hubs. And then, in south-west Wales, the focus has been very much on developing the vision, and that vision is focused on enhancing rail connectivity for the west of Wales.

Before I bring Helen Mary in, can I just check—as it stands now, I know your intention is for Transport for Wales to have that overall strategic direction for each of the projects, but who is responsible for each of the metro projects from a strategic direction point of view?

10:35

South-east Wales, the delivery elements of it are with Transport for Wales. The broader piece in south-east Wales is actually butting up against the work that Terry Burns is doing with his commission, because there's clearly a significant piece there that is looking at what the next phases of metro will be. Once we get the output from the Burns commission, that will be fed into Transport for Wales, so as the Minister said, Transport for Wales will take that forward.

In the north, that's been a co-production between Welsh Government and local authorities up until this point, but as the Minister says, Transport for Wales will be remitted to take that forward and turn that into a delivery activity. In the south west, that's work that is being undertaken by the local authorities with grant funding from us, but as the Minister said, the intention is for Transport for Wales to now grab hold of that and turn that into a delivery activity.

You've partly answered what I was going to ask in response to the Chair, but I'm interested in the timescale for this. When are Transport for Wales going to have this strategic overview? Because in terms of our role, in terms of scrutinising this, and in terms of our role as responding to people's concerns about this, at the moment it's really confusing. If somebody writes me a letter and says, 'What's the progress on this particular metro?' I don't know who I ought to be writing to, and that makes my job difficult, but more importantly, it makes it very difficult for the public to see where the line of sight is on this. This is so important in terms of your agenda, which I'm sure most of us would share. So when will Transport for Wales actually have the overall responsibility for this, and are you confident that they've got the capacity to be able to do that effectively? And, is there any delay in transferring that responsibility to them because you're not confident that they've got the capacity?

In reverse order, no, and then, it's an issue that I've already raised with the chief exec and with the chair—the capacity. I've been assured that the capacity is there. And then, thirdly, in terms of the timeframe, it's in the remit letter for the forthcoming financial year.

In many ways, Helen Mary talks about representing her constituents and who to ask, but if you're a member of the public and you want to know what's going on with any of these metro projects now in terms of the delivery and the funding, and of the specific projects, where can they go for that? Is there any public information that people can be directed to?

There is a good amount of information now on the TfW website. I've asked for as much information as possible, but in a very clear and comprehensive way, to be provided through TfW on their website.

I don't think it is now—I'm looking at officials—in terms of having specific information about the projects, the governance and the funding. Otherwise, we probably wouldn't be asking such detailed questions as we are now.

There won't be that level of detail on there. There'll be a very broad view of what the programme might look like, but it won't get into the governance and the funding at this stage, partly for some of the reasons that the Minister outlined. Some of those questions won't be answerable immediately.

I just think we need to unpick governance and funding, because I completely get, Minister, what you're saying—that you can't guarantee that the projects will be delivered unless you know that you've got the money. That's fine. But in terms of who's responsible for that delivery, that is a different thing, and again, in terms of what the Chair said about the public perception, I think it's absolutely fair for you to say, 'This is our plan; this is what we're going to do'—I don't like the word 'aspiration', because aspirations don't get us anywhere—but, 'This is our plan, but being able to deliver the plan is dependent on whether we get the money.' That's fair. But it needs to be clear whose responsibility it is for that delivery, subject to you getting the money, and I think that's still a bit muddled. Hopefully, from the end of March onwards, it won't be.

Chair, I think this is a really important point that's being made, so can I commit to contact you again in writing? I'll meet with TfW to discuss this very point—the clarity that's required, from March onward. And we'll provide you with details soon as possible on how they're going to ensure that people can see those arrangements.

I'm grateful for that. With regard to the south-east Wales metro, it's envisaged that there's going to be a range of models, not just rail. When will the delivery of the enhancement of integrated bus services begin, and who will be responsible for that? I assume it's Transport for Wales, from your previous answer, but I'm just confirming that.

We're in this transition at the moment between the local authorities and Transport for Wales. The local authorities are, as things currently stand, responsible for bus functions, as we talked about earlier on. So, it will continue to be a co-production with Transport for Wales leading on the programme of these activities.

10:40

Okay. Thank you. Hefin, you want to come in and then we'll come on to your set of questions. 

Just to come in on that, the idea is to co-ordinate bus services with rail services; that's a significant part. One of the issues in Caerphilly County Borough Council's budget this year—and I think I've mentioned it to the Minister before—was an £81,000 a year grant to a bus company to run a bus service between the town of Blackwood and Ystrad Mynach rail station. It was actually put in the budget this year as a possible saving, by cutting the funding. They aren't going to do that now. I've made representations and they're going to keep it. Do you have concerns that things like that are going by the board and it undermines the principle of what you're trying to achieve in the long term?

Yes, and that's why I've asked Transport for Wales to look at the criteria for eligibility for the bus services support grant. It's absolutely vital that the money that we are investing in bus services is not used to replace the investment that local government is offering up. 

Do you think it might be a better focus for the bus subsidies to be on capital funding rather than revenue funding, perhaps? Might that be a creative option?

It could well be. I'm going to await the review by TfW. They'll be looking at all sorts of solutions to this problem. 

Okay. I'd like to get on to Cardiff Council's white paper—an innovative piece of work. Can I just quote you some of the figures from it? They said, and this is directly from the white paper:

'We estimate that transforming Cardiff’s transport system will cost between £1-2billion...Making these plans a reality will require a partnership with every level of Government – most importantly with the Welsh Government'.

How much of that £2 billion are you going to give them?

Well, there's no business case at the moment. There's no business case and therefore we're able to carry out the work that I've already announced that will look at, on a regional basis and on a national basis, what interventions may be most appropriate. I've been very clear, I think, in welcoming the ambition and vision, but I've also been equally clear that any proposals—any proposals—must have at their heart the principle of fairness and equality. Before a business case is even developed, it's absolutely vital that we carry out the review and the investigations that I recently announced. 

Aside from some of the specific measures—and I know you're thinking of one specific measure—do you think it's realistic for them to talk about those kinds of figures in a white paper?

I think in outlining what it is that they would seek to achieve and the associated costs that may be required or may have to be met, I think it's appropriate for them to outline that. But, as I said, this is essentially a proposal, a vision; it's not a plan at this stage and it's not reached the point of feasibility, either. 

It does contain some very specific proposals, but the next stage would actually be to assess whether they're feasible and then, if they're feasible, to build up the business case. 

Cardiff Council would think they're feasible, though, or they wouldn't propose them.

But they'd have to test whether it's feasible. There can be an assumption based on the evidence they've got at the moment, but there would have to be a feasibility study undertaken. 

Okay. So while Cardiff Council are convinced, you're not convinced about the feasibility at this point in time. 

I don't have the available data, information or evidence to hand that would be needed to be able to say categorically whether each and every one of the proposals is feasible or not. 

I don't think they've jumped the gun. I think what they've published demonstrates a willingness to lead and a determination to lead in an area of activity that is increasingly becoming the subject of public concern, which is the climate emergency and the need for improved public transport. 

But if they're not a think tank, what's the point of coming up with proposals that might not be feasible?

I think the important work that now needs to be undertaken concerns what we would do on a national basis and, indeed, looking at what could be done on a UK basis before we then drill down into a local area and what might be required in that specific geographical area. 

It just might be worth adding to the funding piece that there are a number of ways of raising that funding that aren't just about the traditional means that we've talked about. They've identified road-user charging as a potential source. 

10:45

The Minister has talked at length about the devolution settlement for the railway. That is non-devolved, so that money would, potentially, need to come from the railways owner. There's an opportunity for the private sector to get involved, so we've seen, for instance, in some schemes in Cardiff, like the Cardiff parkway station—that's a privately led scheme, albeit we've got an interest in that, but the majority of that funding is coming from the private sector.

There are other means of doing this as well, so the value of the land around those transport interventions will increase over time. So, there are ways that land value capture can be used. We haven't done much of that in Wales, but, certainly, in places like London and other parts of the world, there are methods in place for capturing the value of land, which increases as a result of significant transport infrastructure investment. So, I think there's a variety of different ways that this could be looked at, and as the Minister says, that needs to be explored through the detailed business case to understand how all those things could fit together.

With that in mind, I can understand that you don't want to talk about outcomes at this point—you're waiting for that detailed business case. So, can we look at the process? Do you think it would have been better if Cardiff had been more engaged with their regional partners in the design of the White Paper?

So, my call to all local authorities is to engage on a regional basis, and to engage with Welsh Government on issues that we may be able to assist with as well. There is a good, I think, example of how Cardiff Council has engaged with its partners within the region if you look at the north-west corridor proposals, for example, that is a case where there has been a good degree of collaboration. I think it's essential to apply that partnership working across the board as well. That would be my call not just to Cardiff but to all local authorities.

Okay. We met with Transport for Wales, as a committee, on the record, and one of the things that they said on the record was that they weren't consulted with regard to specifically the congestion charge idea, which was specifically outlined. No consultation with Transport for Wales—that's concerning.

Well, again, it's absolutely vital that local authorities work with all partners, and Welsh Government, TfW and local authorities need to work very closely together, hand in hand, when it comes to transport provision across geographical borders, administrative borders, and they require a degree of integration across each of the modes.

I appreciate that, and what I understand from that is you would not, as a Government, allow anything that didn't conform to that.

I've been very clear, what TfW are there to deliver is an integrated transport system—

—and the CJCs will be delivering decisions that affect and benefit passengers in terms of integrated travel and, therefore, it's vital that local authorities work together collaboratively and with TfW and with Welsh Government.

And we've got less than 15 minutes left for this transport session, and we've got three different subject areas to cover, so if I could just ask Members and the Minister to take that into account. A bit more leeway for Joyce Watson, who I know has not asked any questions so far. Joyce Watson.

This is the important bit, the implications of Brexit for the Welsh transport network, and we haven't got a few weeks, we've got a few minutes. But, anyway, what I'm looking for is an update on the Welsh Government's work to prepare, where possible, the transport network for Brexit, particularly the implications of the withdrawal agreement proposals for Northern Ireland and details of any work that you've been doing with the ports, because they'll be the people who will have a particular focus on that, and also, therefore, the UK Government.

We're working closely with UK Government. We've been working very closely with Welsh ports, with the Welsh Ports Group. In terms of our planning for the 'no deal' Brexit, extensive work was carried out in assessing the implications of a 'no deal' Brexit on Welsh port infrastructure. Given the interdependencies of devolved and reserved powers with regard to ports, it's vital that Welsh Government and UK Government work very closely together.

There are certain calls that, obviously, I'm making on UK Government. One is to honour the requirement that the UK had as a member of the EU to upgrade the south and north Wales main lines—to electrify by 2030. In addition, we know through the withdrawal agreement that, essentially, there'll be a free flow of goods across the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border, and, therefore, it's absolutely vital that the same border procedures are applied to all ferries between Northern Ireland and Scotland and England, and the Republic of Ireland and Wales, to ensure that Wales is not left at a competitive disadvantage. That's a huge issue that needs to be addressed by UK Government, and we need the assurance that that will be addressed in a way that does maintain the prosperity of the country.

10:50

You have commissioned some work from the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, and asked them to provide a paper on the implications for Welsh ports, and, of course, their trade. Do we know where that is at?

Okay. Well, the report has been received. It underpins our position. There are two primary outcomes from the report. One: the conclusion that any delay in checks—it's pretty obvious, to be honest—of certain perishable goods would be particularly damaging for the Welsh economy and for Welsh ports. And the second is that any difference in checking regimes at ports on the British mainland would, in turn, lead to displacement of activity, and, therefore, the potential for Welsh ports to be badly affected by decisions that could be made by UK Government. 

Of course, one of the areas that could be hugely disadvantaged is fresh food, particularly fishing, because most of it is small scale anyway, the Welsh fishing. And 80 per cent of all of that catch is actually exported, mostly to Spain or France. So, I'm assuming, Minister, that you've made those representations really strongly.

And, of course, lamb, and other products, again, could be badly affected—well, would be disastrously affected, because fresh food has to be delivered fresh, not rotting in the back of vans.

The interesting example that I was reading up on recently was the export of sandwiches, going through Holyhead to Dublin, and how that particular market could be decimated if there are prolonged checks. And you're absolutely right; the points that you make were picked up very much so by the University of Sussex, and were highlighted in the report. 

Of course, the UK Government has made some announcement—I think it was yesterday—about free ports. Not sure what that really meant. And I'm sure that not many other people really understood what it really meant. So, with that in mind, how frequently do you engage with the Secretary of State and the free ports advisory panel?

My last discussion with UK Government Ministers concerning free ports was about 10 days ago—10 days, or two weeks ago. We are open to discussions concerning the creation of free ports. We're naturally cautious about them, because, as of yet, we've not seen evidence that demonstrates the impact, positive or negative, to a degree that would give us confidence that free ports are an attractive proposition. There's also the key question of displacement that needs to be answered, and it still hasn't been fully addressed.

I asked, or I agreed to a piece of work to be undertaken by one of the enterprise zone boards in Wales specifically regarding free ports, and perhaps, if it would assist the committee, I could ask the Chair of that particular enterprise zone to provide, if not the full report, then at least the highlights, if that would be helpful, Chair. 

I don't believe it's been published for public consumption. 

—that would be useful, with a date of when it's going to be published, so we can make that public ourselves, or use that as evidence. Thank you. Vikki Howells. 

Thank you, Chair. I have some questions on the unadopted roads taskforce, which is of particular interest to me and my constituents, and I'm sure to lots of other Members and their constituents too. Firstly, reading the recommendations of the taskforce, it's not clear to me whether they are looking to address existing unadopted roads, or whether they are aiming primarily to reduce the scale of the issue in new developments. Could you clarify that for me?

10:55

It's primarily the latter—the concentration of the work has been on the need to reduce a number of unadopted roads from new developments.

Okay, thank you. And what specific changes in approach are being implemented through the good practice guide and the common standards for house builders and the local authorities, and how will they be monitored and enforced?

Well, the monitoring is something that we're looking at right now—how it's going to be monitored going forward. But it's worth saying, Chair, that the good practice guidance has been well received by local government; it's been adopted very widely. I can perhaps provide more detail on how many of the 22 local authorities are using it, but my understanding is that, at a recent forum that took place concerning this subject, all 15 of the local authorities that were present were using the guidance.

And in fact the First Minister has said that the guidance is currently being trialled by some local authorities. Has that been published?

I would need to check whether it's been published yet. Sorry, Chair, I'll need to come back to you with information on that.

And the report recommended that the database be used to provide cost estimates for improving unadopted estates to reasonable adoptable standards. So, how will that information be used on the ground? For example, do you intend that public money will be used to upgrade unadopted roads?

This is really about providing a cost base, so that people can understand how much it costs, rather than using public money to do that. So, that can be taken back to the developers and the other interested bodies, so they understand what the cost of that improvement would be.

So, it's about using existing levers, then, to force developers to complete.

That's right, yes, but having an evidence base to be able to identify what those costs of that upgrade would be.

Okay, thank you. Will the database be publicly available once it's complete?

We're working with this taskforce on this, and they're working through the recommendations. And I think one of the things that we will be asking for is precisely that question—is this something that should be put into the public domain or not?

Okay. And my final question is just whether you can outline for us, Minister, the next stages of the taskforce's work.

It's basically going to focus on the data collation, and how it can then be utilised in the monitoring of the effectiveness of the guidance.

And providing that evidence base, really, that people can rely upon.

Just briefly, because we're running out of time—and perhaps we could ask the Minister to write to us if need be—looking at the two task and finish working groups, the one on pavement parking, and the one on the 20 mph speed limit, due to report, I think, in the summer. So, if you can just give us and update on the progress of that work, and particularly how you'd expect any recommendations to be implemented and resourced.

This is an area of responsibility that my deputy is leading on. If I may, could I ask for a written submission to be provided by him?

Yes, that would be helpful to us, given the time as well. Thank you.

In that case, this ends the scrutiny session on transport. Our next session with the Minister is on employability support. I appreciate we need to change people around the table a bit, so we'll take a short, five/six-minute break.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:58 ac 11:05.

The meeting adjourned between 10:58 and 11:05.

11:05
3.1 Craffu Cyffredinol ar Waith Gweinidogion ar Gymorth Cyflogadwyedd
3.1 General Ministerial Scrutiny on Employability Support

I'd like to move to item 3.1. This is continuing scrutiny of the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales and this last section is with regard to employability support. I appreciate that some officials have rotated around from the previous session. So, can I ask your officials just to introduce themselves for the record? 

Good morning, my name's Dean Medcraft, director of finance and operations in the economy, skills and natural resources group.

Andrew Clark, deputy director of employability and skills and senior responsible officer for this procurement exercise.

What we'd like to examine and to scrutinise is the plan that the Government had to rationalise the ReAct, Jobs Growth Wales, and the employability skills programmes into one umbrella, one body. So, the first question is: what happened to Working Wales?  

Essentially, it became transitioned into Job Support Wales. The Working Wales advice service, however, is operational; we'll be seeing 7,000 people benefit from that in the coming year. It's off the back of what I think is an incredibly positive story regarding employability in terms of the number of people who have been assisted in gaining qualifications; in terms of the number of people who have been assisted into work; in terms of the number of people who have been able to undertake opportunities through our apprenticeship programme. 

Yes. You were clear in the evidence you gave on 9 January that there's been continuity in those programmes. I'm not challenging that, but what I'd like to understand is the procurement process. For the Working Wales programme back last year, I think £617 million over six years was the figure. Why didn't that procurement process succeed? What was the reason?

As with all of these procurements, they're quite long and tortuous, and we were challenged very late on in the process as to one particular bit of the process that we'd undertaken. My understanding is that the lawyers at the time said that we could try to defend this, but the chances were that we wouldn't be successful in that defence, and, therefore, it was better to withdraw and to start again.

Okay. Can you give us a date for when that happened? A broad date—it doesn't have to be exact.

It was probably around Christmas of 2018.

Okay. And the challenge was on, you said, one bit of the procurement process. What bit was that? What was it? 

There are various questions that are responded to by bidders and then we have evaluators to look at the way that people have responded to the questions and they score accordingly and then the highest score would be awarded the contract. The question was around the fairness of the way that the evaluators had worked. At the time, we did actually restart that scoring process with a different set of evaluators to see if we could improve upon it. That created a slightly different set of results that just confused the issue even further, and, I think, at that point, we withdrew. 

I think it's probably more around the nature of what it is that we're trying to procure. If you're trying to procure something like these glasses, shall we say, you can be very, very specific about the quality of the glass, the size of the thing, how thick it's going to be, how transparent and how much it's going to weigh. But what we are trying to buy is a very, very broad service that's attempting to address barriers to employment that individuals may have. So, we're not setting a very precise purchase requirement; we're more saying that, 'For X amount of pounds, what can you offer Welsh Government by way of a service?'. So, those barriers could be almost anything. They could range from transport arrangements, shall we say, childcare arrangements, possibly mental health difficulties, it could be as simple as not having, perhaps, the ability to drive a fork-lift truck, but wanting to get a job in a warehouse. So, there are barriers to employment that people have, and what we're looking for is a very wide scope of what training providers will give us.

11:10

So are you telling me that the complexity of what you were looking for made it difficult to procure?

It's difficult. It always has been and remains so.

Okay. When this happened last year, did you, Minister, express concerns to the civil service that this had happened?

Naturally you do, because you want to make sure that the exercise is carried out and completed. But I also recognise the difficulty—I've seen a number of complicated procurement exercises undertaken within Welsh Government. I think it's fair to say—and I include the rail franchise in what I say—that this is probably the most complicated that there's been.

But whereas the rail franchise was successful, this wasn't. 

Hefin, I think Dean Medcraft is trying to come in as well. 

Everything that Andrew said, obviously, is correct. The actual precise legal challenge on the first procurement—well, there were three, basically. One was a perception of errors in the assessment. Another one was misinterpretation of the exercise and results, and the other one was against potential Welsh Government breach of regulations. The breach of regulations was refuted and we've looked into all of that. 

With regard to the wider context and lessons learned, a lessons-learned exercise was then undertaken independently of the process, and we've taken that forward on the first tender exercise. 

Can you just repeat those first two reasons again, I'm sorry?

Dean Medcraft 11:11:54