Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd
Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd14/09/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Angela Burns MS|
|Delyth Jewell MS|
|Gareth Bennett MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Nick Ramsay MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Rhianon Passmore MS|
|Vikki Howells MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Adrian Crompton||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales|
|Andrew Slade||Cyfarwyddwr Cyffredinol, Grŵp Economi, Sgiliau ac Adnoddau Naturiol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director General, Economy, Skills and Natural Resources Group, Welsh Government|
|Dean Medcraft||Cyfarwyddwr, Cyllid a Gweithrediadau, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director, Finance and Operations, Welsh Government|
|Marcella Maxwell||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Caffaeiliad Masnachol a Strategaeth, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Commercial Procurement and Group Strategy, Welsh Government|
|Matthew Mortlock||Archwilio Cymru|
|Mike Usher||Archwilio Cymru|
|Paul Griffiths||Y Gwasanaeth Caffael Cenedlaethol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|National Procurement Service, Welsh Government|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Tom Lewis-White||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 10:00.
The committee met by video-conference.
The public part of the meeting began at 10:00.
Can I welcome members of the committee and our witnesses to today's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee? We've received no apologies and no substitutions. Can I take this opportunity to welcome Angela Burns to the committee? Good to have you with us, Angela. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at the start of the meeting? No. Okay. As we've discussed, simultaneous interpretation is available from Welsh into English, but only works on the downloaded Zoom app. As usual, microphones will be operated remotely, so you don't need to do that yourselves.
Item 3, and a couple of papers to note. First of all, the Permanent Secretary has written to me with additional information following her appearance before the committee on 6 July. The letter is fairly comprehensive in your pack and covers a number of issues. Are Members happy to note that letter? We will be discussing it later in the meeting with related items under Standing Order 17.42. Good.
Also, the Welsh Government have responded to my letter of 11 August regarding the Minister for Health and Social Services' budgetary announcement in July. The letter also includes further information on initiatives and projects that are helping to control and manage the employment of agency staff as part of workforce planning in the NHS, following the evidence session on 9 March. Auditor General, did you have anything you wanted to say about that?
Thanks, Nick. I think overall we feel that the responses provided do address the questions the committee raised. I guess there's a fundamental question raised by it about the core financial duty in the Act, and whether that's really meeting its intended purpose. In respect of agency staffing, we'll be updating the data tool that we've produced in the past and the committee will see later in the year, so we can keep an eye on that and, obviously, inform the committee accordingly. Thank you.
Great, thanks, Adrian. Are Members content with that letter or, if you wish, we can discuss this with the Welsh Government in an evidence session later in the term, where we can also look at in-year pressures and COVID-related expenditure? Yes, okay, we can approach anything necessary that transpires before that session.
Okay, item 4 and public procurement, our evidence session with the Welsh Government. Can I welcome our witnesses to today's meeting? Would you like to give your name and position for the Record of Proceedings, starting with Andrew? Or starting with whoever, to be honest; it doesn't matter which order.
Shall I start?
Hello. I'm Marcella Maxwell and I'm deputy director, commercial procurement and group strategy.
Sorry, I should have said Paul, of course.
Good morning, all. I'm Paul Griffiths. I'm the head of commercial with the National Procurement Service for Wales. I work within the commercial and procurement directorate, and work to Marcella.
Okay, great. We've got a fair number of questions for you today, so if I'm speeding things along at any point, it's to try and keep to the schedule. The first question is from me, and recognising that other development work has been ongoing, why has it taken so long to get to the point of preparing to consult on a new procurement policy statement, and is it now intended that this document will discharge the Welsh Government's previous commitment to publication of a new procurement strategy, including digital procurement?
Can I take that one? Thank you. So, yes, work has been ongoing with the Wales procurement policy statement. Consultation was undertaken as part of the review work and the post-written statement transformational activity. We also would want it to build on the new working relationships that we've developed between the Welsh Government and the wider Welsh public sector in response to the COVID pandemic. So, a lot of good work has actually taken place in the last six months, which we want to build in through the new lens of what we're doing now. We were also really keen to wait for the outcome of the future generations and auditor general report of 2020 review, which came out in May. So, as I've said, it hasn't been on pause: we've already been engaging with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and her office; we've participated in a really productive breakfast briefing hosted by Cardiff University, for instance; and we're working closely with stakeholders on the next draft—the next iteration—which is going to be the focus. I think that when Andrew gets here he's going to talk a little bit about the COVID work that we've been doing that has put things on hold for several months, but we're now refocusing our efforts on the written statement commitments in a very strong way.
So, in terms of the new draft, we will hope to be out for wider consultation during autumn. We also wanted to wait for the development of the broader social value model tools that local government have been developing, called TOMs, which is the Welsh themes outputs and measures platform. Local government have been consulting on this—a very recent consultation—and commercial procurement services have co-ordinated a response from Welsh Government. So, if the Welsh Government decides to adopt this, and there is a lot of interest across the Welsh public sector, we would like to put together a joint platform for adoption of this wider Welsh public sector tool.
So, a lot of work going on; a lot that we want to bring together. It hasn't been completely stopped at all, but actually want to embrace all the new stuff that we're doing as well.
This has obviously been a large piece of work. You've touched in your evidence paper on learning from the response to the pandemic. What are the key lessons that you see around the opportunity to develop a more holistic approach to procurement policy and delivery?
We see huge opportunities and that was even before the pandemic. But I think particularly in responding to the pandemic, where partners have been, if you like, forced to work much, much more closely together to respond in terms of—and Paul can say a little bit more about this in terms of responding—particularly on PPE, which we can talk a little bit about a bit later—. But particularly it also highlighted the greater engagement that we needed and we've already seen that improvement in that area. And the pandemic has demonstrated how, and forged the way really, for how much more we can deliver by working together. Now, I've come into this role—. I've only been here for six months, and joined just as the pandemic was starting, and I have to say that I've seen a massive improvement in the way that we are engaging with the wider local government and public sector—the NHS shared service partner.
A key lesson is embracing how we use new technology that we can quickly organise and bring together and establish strong engagement that works across policy and functional boundaries. We adapted a rapid matrix management approach, as exemplified by the critical equipment requirements engineering team, and I'm going to hand over to Paul to say a little bit more about that, because that was a co-ordinated response that is still in train because the pandemic isn't over yet. So, Paul, do you want to say a little bit about that?
Yes, thank you, Marcella. The CERET, as we know the critical equipment requirements engineering team, was a group that really exemplified the new way of working that we're looking to, well, that we're embedding currently and we're going to build on moving forward in terms of procurement. But specifically around the CERET, what this was was a very rapid corral of experts, in terms of on the NHS side, we had Industry Wales, a wide range of Welsh Government officials, life sciences hub and representation from the scientific and materials testing laboratory within the NHS. All in all, it was a team of great talent that was brought together to meet a particular—. It had to meet a really urgent problem around the pandemic and how we could address key things, such as ventilators being brought swiftly to the market, how we could address the issues around PPE, which I know we're going to talk about a little bit later, so I won't go into the detail. But what it set out was, effectively—and Marcella described that matrix management approach—a really strong cross-functional approach that was, basically, meeting on a daily basis.
We built upon that as well. So, we've worked very, very closely. We've had daily meetings with colleagues in local government and the Welsh Local Government Association, facilitated through the WLGA. That then brought on colleagues from the NHS—the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership. We've undertaken very regular sessions with colleagues in the third sector. We set up a matrix management group that was looking at PPE more widely outside of health and social care. So, there was a lot of really good, strong activity based on the technology, based on people coming together, and I think they're the fundamental lessons learnt that we are now embracing moving forward.
So, just as a swift example, Marcella touched upon the themes, outputs and measures work. So, that has very much moved into a co-evolution piece of work now, led originally, of course, by Welsh Government—sorry, by local government, I should say—and with us now supporting that approach moving forward and embracing the ways of working that Marcella has just described.
You've acknowledged that, following the new policy statement, work will be needed to update guidance, training and tools, and that there have been some omissions in the coverage of procurement advice notes issued by Value Wales. How long do you expect this work might take, and what are some of the areas currently omitted from the procurement advice notes?
The work is already in train and officials are working across the directorate looking at a range of tools. As part of the digital strategy, we've already delivered a number of e-learning training modules and the PANs work is progressing really well. But we've decided to review all the current PANs—which are the procurement advice notices—and have renamed them as 'Wales procurement policy notes' to ensure consistency and clarity around the purpose of the notes, and we will be moving all these onto a central platform to ensure ease of access.
So, essentially, the review identified that it was a bit patchy, that we needed to bring it together into a more cohesive framework. We are doing this exercise, and as part of that we will be identifying any current protection commissions that will be better realised by—[Inaudible.]—analysis being completed. A cross-referencing exercise will also be carried out to ensure all current policy areas are included and continuous improvement is under way.
So, again, Value Wales has always provided guidance, training and tools, and again we see this as very much part of the ongoing work with the new Wales procurement policy statement that we will then be working on in consultation with partners on the guidance and the training and the tools that stem from that. There are going to be some quite radical changes.
Can I just ask, before I bring other Members in? I appreciate that the pandemic has had particular pressures and strains. Is there any—? Looking at this from outside, is there any question of playing catch-up here? Should some of this work have been done before the pandemic, and is it the case now that, yes, it's necessary to do it now, but, really, we could have been starting from a better position?
I think, probably, yes, we could have done that. There have been a lot of changes though in terms of staffing, as you'll be aware, in the commercial procurement directorate. I think some of that would be a reason for why there may have been some delay. But, certainly, from December 2019, we put renewed focus and effort into looking at all of the written statement commitments and assessing where we were in terms of the direction, in terms of the timing, and putting more impetus then and focus on areas that we needed to do so, and I think that's what we did. So, progress has been what I would call reasonable to good, but much-needed emphasis as well.
Dean Medcraft, did you—? Sorry, Andrew Slade.
Thank you, Chair, and apologies for being a few minutes late—partly IT and partly because I think a number of us had the meeting in at a slightly later start date than was the case, but it's good to see you and I hope you and committee colleagues are well.
Just to build on what Marcella was saying there, effectively, the UK is dealing with what I think is fairly regarded, or are fairly regarded, as the two biggest peacetime challenges the country has had to face since the end of the second war, which is preparations for leaving the European Union, and of course we're now in the transition phase but that work is very significantly ramping up again now, and then, of course, pandemic coronavirus. An awful lot of work had gone on and been affected by Brexit preparations even before we got into the pandemic and that will have had an impact on the ability to make progress.
And, as Marcella has just said, I think one of the things I'm most impressed by—and I'd like to put on record my thanks to the whole procurement community across Wales within Welsh Government and outside, the NHS, WLGA, local authorities and others for coming together so brilliantly through this period. I don't know whether Marcella has given you the killer stat, but I think, between us, various parts of the procurement sector have ensured that over 330 million items of PPE have gone out into the public service to help us meet C-19 demands, mainly to the health and social care sector, but wider than that. So, it has been an absolutely brilliant effort. But I think that context is important in terms of what we've been able to achieve. I'm impressed by what's been done in the context. A lot has been moved forward, despite the prevailing conditions.
Dean Medcraft, did you have your hand up?
Thank you, Chair, and apologies for coming in late; I thought we were starting at 10:15. Again, just to say what Andrew said, I'm really proud of the team and how they pulled together. I think the lessons from when we did the review, resulting in the written statement, was that we had a fragmented community as well and what we've tried to do ever since is bring that community together and, by doing that, we've actually been able to take things forward. It's probably not at the pace that we would have all wanted. However, it is a very small team and also it's a small team within the wider procurement sector. But they're dealing with a lot in the meantime and I'm really proud of the way they've done it and actually delivered during the pandemic as well. We could have been a bit further forward than we wanted, but I think we've progressed really well and even during the pandemic we've taken forward the written statement as well. Thank you.
Thanks, Dean. Just for clarification, the session with you was due to start at 10:15, so you did have the correct information, but we got through our papers to note particularly quickly. Normally, of course, when we're in the Senedd building, I can see you outside or not, but here it's difficult to see who's here and who isn't. So, thanks. Okay. If I bring in other Members now—and Vikki Howells.
Thank you, Chair. Taking account of everything we know already, as well as, of course, the Commissioner's recent report, what do you see as the key areas for improvement so that we can ensure that public procurement decisions are seen through the eyes of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015?
Can I kick off there, Chair, if that's all right, and then colleagues can come in? Miss Howells is quite right—a very valuable report from the future generations commissioner and we very much welcome the work that she and her team have put into this and we've been engaging closely with the commissioner's office throughout.
I think there's reason to be encouraged, in the sense that organisations across the Welsh public service are not always the ones that come within the purview of the Senedd. I think the wider Welsh public service bodies, including police forces in Wales, are keen to use the spirit of the future generations Act as a guide for what they're doing, so that's hugely encouraging, and, therefore, we're seeing a lot of adoption of the five ways of working and of the well-being goals. Whether that always translates through into what's happening in respect of procurement and detailed indicators there is a slightly separate issue and I know a number of colleagues have commentated on the need, which I think is quite right, to bring—as the saying goes—procurement out of the backroom into the boardroom, so have some sort of link between the strategic decisions that organisations are making and then tracking that through to what we're trying to secure from procurement and best value from the public pound.
Paul has already touched on the work that local government has led in respect of themes, outputs and measures for the future, and he might like to come back on one or two of those points, but a lot of work is going on across the public service to join up procurement work with what we're trying to achieve through the well-being Act, and, as I say, there's reason to be encouraged in terms of what's going on. And this then tracks through into procurement policy advisory notices. Although we haven't got to the point yet of publishing a new, complete public procurement policy statement, a lot of the underpinning work around sustainability, around decarbonisation, around social value, that's been going along throughout this period and indeed through the pandemic. So, those factors will all come together and I think in a helpful way to help us deliver on the ambitions set out in the well-being Act and the future generations commissioner's report.
Lovely. Thanks, Andrew. Just to add to that, as you noted there, the commissioner did reflect that the five ways of working and the impact upon the seven well-being goals was generally being very well considered across the procurement community in Wales, so I think that's a big, big step forward—so, very positive to hear that. But, as was noted, that fundamental area for improvement was linking procurement decisions to organisational national well-being indicators.
So, again, back to the themes, outputs, measures—the TOMs—work that Marcella described earlier, that's very much a key element of that particular activity. So, we have a range of these indicators. They have been mapped across through very close work between local government, the commissioner's office and the Welsh Government. They've been mapped across against the national well-being indicators. The approach now is currently being piloted with a number of organisations, so I believe that Cardiff Council and Caerphilly council are very much at the forefront of that particular activity. And so, as the TOMs develop, and, as Marcella described, we move that particular work forward, we'll be in a very, very good place for procurement then to capture its particular outcomes against the well-being indicators. So, I think that is a big, big plus.
But, to echo what Andrew said, we've been working in sustainable procurement across the Welsh public sector for many a long year. I can remember working with colleagues in Value Wales on promoting what was then the sustainable procurement assessment framework. That was going back into the noughts; so, it was around 2006. So, Welsh procurement has been at the forefront of sustainable procurement and we shouldn't forget that, but now, thanks to the work of local government, which we're very pleased to be part of, we're looking to strengthen the links with the well-being of future generations office and link everything back to those indicators.
Can I add, making the link again, then, back to the Wales procurement policy statement, again the importance of making those strategic linkages as well? But I also want to make the point that we wouldn't want this statement to be sitting on the shelf, and, listening to some stakeholder feedback, this is, again, about how do we practically implement the things that we're saying we need to do. So, we would envisage having an action plan stemming from the statement, from the development of the statement, again consulting with our public sector colleagues. There's a lot of good practice out there. We don't have all the answers, so we very much want to work closely with them, again, not just in terms of what the statement says, but actually how is it actually going to work on the ground, including how do those links across to the future generations and the well-being goals happen. And I'll just say on that as well that this isn't something that just sits in a procurement box, this is a policy issue as well—you know, so how do we use procurement as a strategic lever for some of the major policy priorities, for delivering on some major policy priorities.
Thank you. So, in terms of general improvements, what the commissioner has recommended is that the Welsh Government should provide clear guidance and leadership to other public bodies as well as monitoring and assessing how they're considering the Act in their procurement activities. So, do you accept that there's a need for the Welsh Government to do more on both of these fronts?
I think it's absolutely reasonable and a sensible expectation that Welsh Government should set the tone and take the lead, and that's what we've been trying to do both through the way we've gone about things, but also the work that we've tried to put in place. As Marcella and Paul and I have said already, there are areas where we know there is further work to do. A lot of that has been affected by C-19, by the COVID pandemic, and also the work associated with getting ready for EU transition, but also both of those things have driven pluses. So, we've talked about all the work that has been driven through coronavirus bringing people together and that's helped build trust in relationships and we certainly don't want to let that to go as we move forward.
And similarly, on EU transition, it's forced us to think very long and hard about what we want, how we want to engage with other parts of the United Kingdom, what's Wales-specific and what's the Welsh offer in comparison to things that might come afterwards. So, even though these have been immense challenges to deal with, they have also brought the opportunity to think afresh about things and to build relationships. A lot of work's gone on, as we've just described, with local government partners in particular in terms of framing the future; there's a lot that we're doing across the whole of Welsh Government. I think the committee has, in previous sessions, made the point very validly that the Government needed to be more joined up and also that we shouldn't see procurement in isolation from other things, and that's a point you've made to me in previous meetings. And I think if you take into account what we're doing on the foundational economy, the development of local supply chains, what we're trying to do to get under the headline figures in terms of spend, there is reason to be cheerful. There's a huge amount more that we can do using, as Marcella says, procurement as a lever, and the future generations commissioner has pointed to a lot of those things.
So, yes, I accept the premise that we need to provide leadership. I think we're doing a lot in this area. We can do more, and some of the areas, the specific areas, we've already touched on and we can expand on those if helpful.
Thank you. My final—
Marcella, did you want to come back in?
No, sorry. I'm waving my pen, sorry. [Laughter.]
Okay, that's fine. Vikki.
My final question is one that you've addressed to a great extent already. I was going to ask about the social value measures, and I think all of you have already talked around that, so just to tie that up, really. Are there any possible difficulties with that approach? Are there any reasons why looking at it through that lens would be something of a challenge?
We think the lens is hugely important; it's a big feature of our policy making across Welsh Government generally and is reflected in all sorts of things, including social partnership, what we're trying to do around climate change and decarbonisation, what we're trying to do around air quality—a whole suite of things of that sort. So, it's very much driving our policy position and we are keen to see that reflected in the new procurement policy statement, which is, effectively, the strategy for procurement in Wales. I think the degree to which we can force sovereign organisations out there—there are stuff that we can do within Welsh Government that we control directly and we can certainly work with colleagues who we help fund, but I think the degree to which we can absolutely insist on clauses in contracts and so on is something that we're still working our way through. But the principles and good practice are certainly things that we want to see as part of the statement and the strategy.
Okay. Jenny Rathbone. You're on mute.
Thank you. I just want to focus on the progress that it's been possible to make on the foundational economy. Andrew, you've already mentioned the significant sums of money that you've been able to commission in terms of response to the pandemic and the supplies that were required. In the March 2020 report you talk about initiatives like setting up a factory in Ebbw Vale, in one of the most deprived communities in Wales, and all this is good stuff but—. I appreciate that the pandemic may have hindered some of the progress you'd hoped to make through commissioning CLES, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, to advise the public services boards on how to increase the amount of money that's being used in the Welsh economy or in the local economy to strengthen that local economy. So, I just wondered if you could just tell us what CLES has managed to achieve within the constraints of the current situation?
Well, a lot is happening on the foundational economy. You're quite right, Ms Rathbone, that some of the things that we were looking to do, specific initiatives, have been put on hold or have slowed down a bit in respect of having to deal with the pandemic, but, in other areas, we've seen real progress. So, as you were just referring to, the work that we've done through the CERET—I think as I joined the call Paul was talking about that and picking up on some of the stuff that Marcella was mentioning earlier on. From not quite a standing start, but from a fairly low base, we've got to a position now where we've got supply chains all across Wales working to supply or feed PPE into the system—gloves, scrubs, masks, hand sanitiser and so on—through a range of different mechanisms. And that is the foundational economy work in action, isn't it? It's about stimulating local supply chains to feed in in response to demands, including demands set by the public sector. So, again, there are reasons to be cheerful about the work that we've done there.
We took the CLES on board earlier this year. They have done quite a bit of work with the public services boards; they're also now doing work—and colleagues might want to say a little bit more about that—with the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership, particularly looking at the PPE category, but also at food to see whether there is more that can be done to drive local supply chains and help—and this is a point you've made in the past: how do you get to a point where you can get small and medium-sized enterprises engaged in a business that has in the past often been dominated by large players, and where you've got large players involved, what can you do, working with them, to make sure that they, in turn are drawing in from smaller players in the supply chain? So, we have made progress. CLES have done a lot of work with the public services boards and, as I say, they're now embarking on this slightly more focused piece of work with one of our really big procurers. You know, the amount of spend that goes through the NHS is very significant, and therefore they're a logical place to start.
We were building on a platform that we've talked about previously, which I think was very positive around Better Jobs Closer to Home, working out what you can do in an around the community to help supply into areas where there are either gaps or where there is a real opportunity for Welsh companies to be providing into the needs of the Welsh public service in a sustainable way. So, I think more progress has been made than we might reasonably have expected. We were talking in March about the things that we wanted to do, and, of course, at that point, we were plunging into the pandemic. But I think we have made good progress in a number of areas. I don't know whether Marcella or Dean want to come in on any of that work.
Yes, I think Paul can talk about this as well, because of the work he's been doing sort of spearheading with CERET and the NHS shared services partnership, which is, again, a particularly good example of responding to the COVID crisis and building on some really positive platforms. I think the other thing to say about CLES is that they were unable to do the groundwork because of the crisis, so they focused on detailed examination of procurement data to develop a clear understanding of flow of expenditure, and now, with easements, or at least current easements, they're in the process of engaging with member organisations and, as Andrew said, looking at the NHS shared services partnership where the huge spend is. I think, Paul, you were working with them on that.
If I could come in there, I think with the four pilots of Better Jobs Closer to Home, we learnt significant lessons there about understanding the local indigenous community,what they could do, and then, when it came to the pandemic, when there were shortages of PPE, we were able to put the supply and the demand together and I think that was a really good initiative in the first few months of the pandemic.
I think with the CLES work, it was slightly put on hold with the work of the public services boards in the actual meetings, but what CLES was able to do was more of the data analysis and that analysis will really help us take things forward at this current point in time, basically. So, nothing was wasted and I think that analysis will be a real benefit to us going forward, basically, and looking at supplier voids as well and what is missing in that local community and in the region and how we can fill that. So, that work is now being taken forward.
I want to come back to food, because I think food security has risen up the agenda yet again, with the possibility of a no-trade deal with Europe. How do you think this way of working that you've developed with the NHS and with PPE, et cetera, and construction is strengthening our ability to deal with massive disruption to food supplies?
Well, I think the question of resilience in that sense, including shocks to the supply chain, was very much in our minds as we were preparing for a potential 'no deal' Brexit—well, this time last year and a bit earlier than that, too, and then really being brought home to us during pandemic flu. The work that we've done through CERET on manufacturing is in turn feeding into some work that the economy Minister has commissioned. So, alongside the work that the Deputy Minister has been doing on the foundation economy, the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales will be launching, I think next week, a sort of manufacturing future for Wales, and that's looking at a number of things, including how we do more around PPE and get that area covered off.
On food, I think on the numbers at the moment, about two thirds of the food procured by public services, which is worth about £55 million or £56 million per annum, comes from Wales-based suppliers. I think CLES are coming in to work with colleagues to look at what sits underneath those headline figures—a point I was making a few minutes ago—so if you're contracting with a tier 1 supplier, a major player, what they are doing with their tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers to make sure that we're sourcing from Wales, and that goes alongside working with other partners in the context, certainly, of EU transition to make sure that we keep supply chains open as much as we can.
You and I have talked in other committee fora in the past about self-sufficiency and temperate foodstuffs and where the UK is now, but I think that agenda, this business about what we can do from within our own resources—and in the context of manufacturing, not just finished goods but components as well—I think has definitely come up the running order and is more a feature of discussions that we're having across the United Kingdom at the moment.
Paul, was there anything else worth saying on food in particular, or have I covered most of the key points?
I think you've covered most of the key points there, Andrew—just a couple of very small additions. You reference the NHS work, and, of course, they've been working with CLES to undertake a separate study to see what more they can do in terms of Welsh supply chains, so I understand that work is progressing, but I'm not directly sighted on that particular activity. And just to say, Caerphilly council, who are now taking on regional arrangements for the provision of food and associated produce—they are working, I believe, with Welsh Government in terms of, again, growing the amount of local produce coming in to supply chains. And that work's in a very good place, because we know that Caerphilly have done some very good work over the years—Woosnam Dairies has been a particularly good example—so they're looking to build on that particular activity, and I'm sure we'll see some very positive results.
Okay. Chair, do you want me to come in on this now or come back later?
If you could come back, because I think Angela Burns had a supplementary.
Yes, thank you. Just a very quick point, and I want to make sure I don't stray too much into questions I know that Delyth would like to ask, but in terms of that initial COVID response to all of the needs of the NHS, can you just tell me, did that fall within your remit when all the suppliers were contacting the Government and saying, 'We can make ventilators', or 'We've got PPE', or 'We've got this', or 'We've got that'? Were you the people who were basically tasked with assessing those businesses, understanding their validity, their competency and awarding contracts? Was that within the Government's direct control, as in the ministerial team that were handling this? And whoever was in charge of it, did they bring in a load more people, because there were significant delays in those early days and I'm just trying to understand where that's sat?
That it was a team effort is the first thing to say, and one of the reasons that CERET was set up, and we've touched on that already, was to help marshal these offers of support into the system. And CERET included the work of the shared services partnership within the NHS to look at materials testing to make sure that, among other things, what was being offered was going to be worth having. I can't remember the figures off the top of my head, but if you look internationally, there are something like 70,000 manufacturers of masks based in China alone, and they were rushing on to the market offering services for anybody who was looking to buy. So, there's a huge amount of information to sift through. CERET then helped provide, through Business Wales as a portal, an entry point, a means of getting all of the offers coming through so that they could be assessed. We worked very hard, in a 24/7 operation, to get to a point where we could say, 'Yes, we think this is worth considering', or 'No, we think, on balance, sadly—thank you for the offer, but this is not going to give us what we need or in the quantities that we need for the amount of effort involved.' And there were a few players along the way who were trying it on, and this will always happen in a situation like that. So, in the early days, there were lots of people popping up all over the place, very local, and some bigger players saying, 'We can do this, we can do that'. We put the CERET machinery in place, and that was meeting twice daily in the height of the pandemic to sift through all of that work. We worked with the life sciences hub and others to help marshal that activity. And then, I can't remember the point at which we worked through all of the key offers, but we did systematically go through them all and make contact with people. But in the early days, it was a lot of information that was coming at us from all sorts of different directions, and we needed to put something in place to filter those.
I don't underestimate the challenge that you have faced. It must have been absolutely like fighting fire on a grand scale. I think the real point I'm trying to drive down to, if we face this situation again, is: was Welsh Government able, or were yourselves able, to bring in from other sectors, other organisations, the private sector, whoever, experienced people who understood the whole process of due diligence, contract management, procurement to help you, or was it just the same team getting more and more beleaguered? Because I know that I had multiple approaches, as did my colleague in Plaid Cymru, and, indeed, directly to the Minister. The three of us met on a very regular basis to discuss the amounts of offers that were coming in, and some people were waiting, some organisations, substantial organisations, were waiting sort of 12, 13, 14 weeks; some even now say that they still haven't heard back. So, that's why I wanted to understand so that if we face this situation again, we have that plan B, or some way of looking at that plan B, of who we can bring in, how fast, from what organisation, and what level of capacity and capability do they have to be at.
Okay. Those are very fair points and I'm sorry I didn't answer the first question fully.
So, in terms of capacity, we brought in people from wherever to help bolster this activity, and Industry Wales were very helpful in making sure that we brought people in from the private sector to help with this activity. A lot has been done over this period to get our supply chains mobilised. I think CERET, from memory, had a hierarchy of approach. So, can we ramp up people who are suppliers, bona fide suppliers, to us in a meaningful way—that was the first thing. Second, are there people out there who are supplying these things that we can, in the jargon, onboard quickly, get them into our frameworks so that we can then use them as suppliers. Then, thirdly, can we convert people who are doing other things to provide the things we want. The most obvious example that springs to my mind, but colleagues will have others, is the Royal Mint turning their hand to production of visors. But there are a lot of companies of that sort who moved from producing alcoholic drinks to hand sanitiser. We had a number of companies involved in production of ventilators and, indeed, in the international marketplace, other countries using tech that's been designed here in Wales.
So, I think lots to celebrate there; much better placed for the future in light of that. I wouldn't wish to overclaim, because we don't quite know what the next twists and turns of this pandemic might be, but I think we've got a lot of better arrangements in place. And it's brought this fruit of dialogue and of joined-up working and networks that were always there before, but they've been tested and they've been tested and worked and built trust in the process.
And the last thing I would say, but other colleagues may want to come in on the specifics, because it's a really important area, is that if you've got, or any other Senedd Member, for that matter, examples of people who still feel they haven't been talked to by us or haven't heard from us, please let us know, either directly through me or, I'm sure, through Ministers from the committee, and we will pursue those points.
A couple of your colleagues wanted to come in there, Andrew. First, Paul Griffiths. Did you have your hand up first?
Yes, please, Chair.
And then Dean.
It was just to make a couple of points in support of what Andrew said. I can remember a weekend early in April—and just to say for the committee's benefit, I've been part of the CERET team pretty much from day one—when we worked very progressively and very rapidly to supplement that CERET team with additional resource on the procurement side. And not just CERET—particularly the life sciences hub in terms of the due diligence around PPE, which is quite significant, as Andrew described, with 70,000 PPE mask manufacturers as an example. So, the life sciences hub approach, it has been wound down currently, but it could be brought right back into action if required, so please be assured that can certainly be put into place. NHS and Welsh Government health department have developed a winter plan for PPE. So, that is well advanced and they're currently sharing that with us and other officials at this moment in time.
Probably, at the start of the pandemic, would you describe any of the NPS team as being PPE specialists? The answer to that would clearly be a 'no', because it wasn't something that we were directly involved in. We were able to draw upon expertise from the NHS, and we're particularly grateful as wel to surgical materials testing laboratory colleagues, a gentleman called Pete Phillips, who did some sterling work supporting us all—Pete and his team. We moved very rapidly to enhance our expertise, and that led to us working with industry colleagues and other parts of the picture such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in England. We were able to produce a fairly simple buyer's guide for PPE, which talked about how you could approach the due diligence. That was shared with 70 or 80 or so organisations across the third sector. We worked very closely with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. We worked closely, gaining knowledge from local government. So, we came together as a real team effort on this. And also, just to say, colleagues in housing moved very, very quickly to establish their PPE credentials and expertise.
So, all of this was brought together and corralled through that central point. We talked earlier about that more effective way of collaborative working. So, just to sum up, a lot of additional resource was brought in to support the approach. Could it all be ramped up again if needed? Most certainly. But NHS and Welsh Government health colleagues have put in place a very strong winter PPE plan.
And briefly, Dean.
Thanks, Chair. I think Paul's really summed it up there, but I can just say in the first few weeks it was total madness, there were offers of PPE coming from everywhere. I think that the life sciences hub received 2,000 offers of PPE equipment. What we did do was join up the life sciences hub, the NHS shared services centre and NPS. They had one portal, it was all going through there. We produced due diligence guidance that was used across the public sector. That work can be ramped up, it can be brought together again. We have learned the lessons there, and we can take that forward in a second wave.
Okay. Angela, had you finished with your supp?
I have, because I'm sure Delyth is going to ask some more detailed questions on this.
I'm bringing you back in later, anyway. Rhianon Passmore.
Thank you, Chair. We've touched upon some of the first questions that I've got, but today's evidence paper and the March 2020 progress report on procurement describe plans for all-Wales procurement and commercial skills, and you've gone into some depth around CERET and the NHS services centre and the working with the wider Welsh public sector social outcomes. And I'm very interested in the tool that you've talked about that's being developed by Caerphilly County Borough Council around food resilience and the shocks that we are anticipating to come, not just from COVID, but from Brexit, which I know we have questions on later. But I'm also very concerned in terms of the capacity for this work moving forward, despite the systems that we have now in place, and the lack of capacity, potentially, from what you've said, of our staff—nothing to do with how well they've worked, but the numbers of staff that we actually have to deal with the ongoing C-19 issues and Brexit, around procurement. So, I would like you to comment on that very briefly, before I go on to my question next.
Well, I think, just generally, I would go back, Ms Passmore, to the—and you and I have talked about this before—point I made a few minutes ago. Somebody said, a week or two back, that the UK is facing its two greatest peacetime challenges since the second war: dealing with leaving the European Union, which is massively complex and needs to be worked through with care and brings to Wales a series of new functions and responsibilities, operational as well as policy, and then a whole new way of working across the United Kingdom—so that's at one level, not to mention trade, work et cetera, and you've said you will want to come back to EU transition a bit later on in the session—but then pandemic flu, which is going to be with us for a while. Until we've got to a point where we've got a vaccine, where we've got reliable and consistent therapeutics, test, track and trace that can get on top of anything anywhere at the drop of a hat, we are going to have to operate in a different way, and that's having some profound impacts already. It's going to have consequences for the economy and employment levels. It's already affecting—and you will have seen the coverage over the weekend—ways of working and to what extent do we harness those ways of working. And Ministers are keen that we should do that, come out of this the other side and reconstruct the way we operate and do things in a different way. So there's lots going on there. Can you do all that and cope with everything else simultaneously? 'No' is the answer, so you have to prioritise as best you can the most important things, the life and limb related stuff, and I would put PPE supply right into that category that comes first. Legal obligations, things that we need to do to deliver on key statutory programmes—those are the things you put your effort in first. I haven't got lots of people that I could just pluck from a tree somewhere. The Permanent Secretary regularly says that, and we have to manage as best as we can internally. I think the CERET experience and the PPE experience has taught us that we can draw in input from a range of other sectors, so that's another learning point for us. Ms Burns made this point about bringing in others with the relevant expertise. We can operate in partnership ways to help us with some of these challenges, but they are, nevertheless, immense challenges.
Okay. Thank you. I don't think I'm going to get much further on that in terms of what you have to deal with. So, in regard to your evidence base, how has that informed the targeting of your planned programme in terms of procurement, and how is Welsh Government funding this work? What assessment have you made of the overall budgetary requirements?
I might bring colleagues in in a minute or two on the money side of things and, as you say, what we're able to fund. We feel we've got a pretty good evidence base for the work that we need to do. You and I have talked about these issues before, and I've talked with committee over the last few years on procurement. A lot has gone on to develop our understanding of what's happening out there across the wider public service and to build networks, and we've got a pretty good idea of where key gaps are. We are always trying to do more around developing capacity and capability. I can list a few things, but other colleagues may be able to add to those. We know that we've had some issues in relation to colleagues in north Wales getting access to training and things of that sort, and actually one of the benefits of our new way of working through C-19 has been the ability to do much more remotely. So we have, despite all, pushed on with our e-learning work, whether that's on project bank accounts or on e-procurement or on how best to use our supplier database—all of those things. Those have carried on, and they're done online. We've worked with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply on new courses tailored to Wales to help us get more qualified CIPS candidates through the system. I think—Paul will correct me—that our practitioner-level work is already under way, so the first cohort is now studying, and we're going to bring our—
Sorry, can I interrupt you on that? Because it goes back to the capacity issue. With regard to that as being a critical tool, not just for this pandemic now, but for what we're facing in terms of trade, the economy, Brexit, et cetera, how much focus is there on that? Because growing capacity for the future will be absolutely integral, because there are not enough fish in the sea for what we're about to deal with. So could you just say how many numbers we're talking about here? Is it tiny?
I probably will rely on Paul to give you the actual numbers. I know that for the sandwich placement scheme, which is a separate thing again where we're trying to drive forward a degree-level qualification working with the University of South Wales, that's only about half a dozen people, and that is a pilot piece of work. But I think the cohorts going through both the practitioner and the advanced online work are a bit bigger. I'll ask Paul perhaps to come in on that and see if he can give us the information. Just to say that the online provision gives us more reach. I think the last time I saw the figures it's about 300 CIPS professionals across Wales in the public service, either fully qualified or going through their final stages of qualification. I would like that number to be bigger. It's a useful number, but I would like it to be bigger. Paul, can you say any more about the cohorts going through the CIPS online work?
Yes. At the entry level of the professional qualification, the MCIPS, we've got 36 people signed up, going through two cohorts that are running in parallel there. Then as we move to the formal advanced practitioner level, which is levels 5 and 6 in terms of CIPS accreditations, I think we're planning 18 students to start that particular course in January 2021.
That's great news, that's excellent, and obviously we'd like that to grow even more, but in regard to competition, once we have trained—. It's the age-old scenario of training those within the public sector and then the risk of the private sector retaining them. What have we done around that in terms of safeguarding those new shoots?
These are all people who are currently actively employed across the Welsh public sector, so it's part of their training and development. I was in discussions recently with colleagues—well, pre-pandemic—in the NHS, and I know that they've done an awful lot of work in terms of bringing people into the organisation and then setting up career paths and career progression. So I think they've got quite a high retention rate. I don't know the exact figure; that would probably be one for colleagues in health to advise, but again they have, I think, in total, nine of the places, so that's part of their already well-advanced approach to ensuring that they have meaningful employment paths for their procurement professionals.
More widely, across local government, again, we're seeing a number of local government organisations who have adopted a similar approach. So, for instance, I know that, again referencing Cardiff Council and Caerphilly council—. I do mention them a lot, but I have a twice-weekly meeting with the chair of the Welsh Local Government Association heads of procurement and the deputy chair and, of course, they're from Cardiff and Caerphilly respectively. I'm sure lots of other local government organisations are making good progress in certain respects, but, again, Cardiff and Caerphilly are examples of two organisations that are growing that procurement resource through a number of means. I think it's fair to describe it like that.
But, certainly, we are a bit thin on the ground in Wales. I don't think there's any doubting that. We wouldn't dispute that particular fact. And there is work to be done holistically as to how we can address this more fully across the wider Welsh public sector.
Paul, can I just come in there, because you've mentioned some good practice? There's the age-old question about the local authorities that aren't doing so well: are the right mechanisms in place to make sure that that good practice is rolled out to those as well?
Well, very positively, in terms of local government, and, again, arising from the lessons learned from the approach to COVID, there is now a monthly meeting, which is very well attended by the heads of procurement from across local government. We're part of that meeting as well, again demonstrating that new collaborative approach, or that enhanced collaborative approach that's now being adopted. I know the chair, the deputy chair, the WLGA and other members use that as a very good opportunity just to share best practice. So, there is a forum that is effectively now in place that we can use to share these lessons, moving forward. But for some of the organisations, we know it's a significant challenge—budgets, et cetera and addressing the needs of COVID.
Great. Thanks. Rhianon, had you finished your question?
I've got one more question, if I may, Chair—and, obviously, I'm very happy to celebrate Caerphilly County Borough Council's good practice. You are planning a reduction to a national programme of 32 national frameworks, from 67, and with the WLGA regional approach, for a further 15 frameworks. What are the key criteria and market analysis determined around your decisions about the merits of whether it's national, regional or local procurement and also, as we've mentioned already, including the option of buying into other UK-wide agreements without wanting to talk about any forthcoming Bills?
Shall I kick off, and then Paul and Marcella might want to add to this? Also, if you want to come back to budgets, we can do that. Dean may be able to pick that up. We're on a journey. We had 67 live frameworks in early 2018. We're now somewhere in the mid 40s and moving towards 32 and, as you said, 15 regional frameworks. Scale is obviously a factor; standardisation of the product or the service you're after; is this something that needs a particular local spin; is it something that really is best done at the national level? It's both an issue of supply and demand, so do we need a lot of this thing and who is out there who can provide what we need at the quality that we need, and who is going to be able to provide it in light of all the work we were talking about earlier on, of social value and decarbonisation—the wider factors that play into what we're trying to achieve through procurement. And there will then be a small handful of things where, actually, we say, 'Do you know what, this thing may be internationally supplied; it's standard, there's no particular Welsh tailoring needed to it'. And if there's a UK-wide framework that will help us buy that thing, whether it's a service or, more often than not, a product—I think particularly here of software, but there may be other things in that category—then we will look to use the UK frameworks. And people are being very sensible and pragmatic about that, and Ministers are clear that we add value and build the foundational economy wherever we can, and accept that there will be some things that we won't be in a position to do that with for the kinds of items that we're after. A lot of work is going amongst the local authorities, as Paul has just set out, in respect of the regional work—a real appetite to do more there—and the three regions are working together to determine who's best placed to lead on particular categories of spend against those frameworks.
Paul or Marcella.
Sorry, can I interrupt you before you continue that? I just wanted to get a response to the questioning around budgets and how you are dealing with that, and I think I'll leave the next question, Chair, unless you want me to ask it.
Shall I come in?
I was just going to say that Dean will probably be best placed to answer that one.
Thank you. On the original question about numbers, I think it's clear that we haven't got enough procurement professionals across public sector Wales. A fact that I always keep in the back of my mind is that Northern Ireland's got about 600 procurement professionals across Northern Ireland, and we've got about 300, but what we're doing is trying to increase that capacity through the ways that Paul has already described. But, equally, what we're trying to do is to make sure that managers at a level are aware of procurement and the importance in the decision making as well. So, we're putting out e-learning modules to take that forward, and also a very exciting apprenticeship scheme that we're going to take forward as well within Welsh Government, which I think will be great.
On budgets, basically, through good procurement, you know, an e-procurement programme, we managed to save a considerable amount of money from previous years, and we're using that money to take forward these learning developments, basically. So, it's all within that budget.
Okay, thanks. Jenny Rathbone. You need to unmute. The most used expression of this Assembly term. [Laughter.]
Originally, you told us we didn't have to unmute; it would be done centrally. Just looking at some of these 32 agreements, some of them are relatively low value—for example, driver licence checks, £200,000. Clearly, that is going to be something that a small company would be able to bid for because it's a relatively small amount of business. Overall, how do you think reducing the number of frameworks is making it easier for small companies to bid for Welsh public procurement?
I think that's a fair challenge. It's more than just about the reduction in frameworks then leading to greater opportunities for SMEs; there's a whole package of work that we're trying to do to make sure that local players and local supply chains can do more. We probably have to be a bit careful; with some of the frameworks, even though they're relatively small sums of money, there may well be a very important efficiency saving by doing it once at a national level for Wales, either because somebody's got the expertise in particular, or just because too many fragmented versions of that approach would just lead to fairly significant inefficiency.
And there's work that we're doing on disposals and new contracts there where we're basically trying to ginger up a national service. You know, that's of value to Wales plc and we're trying to do stuff on that side. But the approach has been to work with local authorities, in particular in the context of what we're doing regionally, to come up with a set of frameworks that allow us to engage more effectively at the local level and give a bit more discretion to people within the policy ambit to do the things that work best for them locally.
Paul, on the categories of spend in the NPS frameworks, is there more to say on that front?
I think, just to reflect, Andrew, it's not always quite as simple as just looking at the value and saying, 'Well, that's smaller and that will go local'. Some of our larger contracts there—you'll see on there temporary workers and supply agencies—we basically re-engineered the whole approach to that to really ensure that we can engage with Welsh SMEs, as a big player in that particular market. So, what we've now got is a new agreement where, of the 26 suppliers, 18 of those are Welsh small-to-medium enterprises, and a good number are picking up some very good work through that particular agreement. And, of the rest, they've all got a significant footprint in Wales.
Also, if we just consider, for instance, our stationery agreement, you might say, 'Well, how is that helping the local Welsh economy?' There's a company called Lyreco who are running that and they're a big international firm. But it's one of the things around the Better Jobs programme, that, to really make that effective, you need these larger national contracts to effectively then bring the Welsh sort of enterprises into the supply chains. So, under the particular stationery agreement, we support Elite Paper Solutions, the Cymru copier recycling scheme, and that's created some 90 jobs across Wales and that's continuing to grow.
And, just finally, furniture—I wanted to reference that one. Again, it looks on paper like a big national agreement, but it's been carefully lotted and zoned, as it were. And what we've also done there is include a particular clause in that so that only what we call 'sheltered workshops' can bid for the work, and those are organisations who have 30 per cent or more of their staff who have registered disabilities. So, we've now got Ministry of Furniture Ltd in Baglan, and the Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind, obviously based up in Merthyr Tydfil. They've both won places on that particular agreement, and we're going to work very, very positively with our customer base to ensure that they're given every possible opportunity. And just to add to that, as part of that particular procurement model, we really stressed to all of the potential suppliers, 'You will be working with Welsh social enterprises'. So, it's not quite as simple as looking at the value; an awful lot of work goes into all of those national agreements to ensure that they can deliver that local economic well-being.
And back to Andrew's point as to why, on some, we might say, 'Go to a UK national approach' well, we've looked at the models that we've got and if we say, 'That can't really bring any more benefit to Wales if we do it', then we're quite content for that to be run on a UK national basis. And, of course, when you talk about local and regional models, again you can bring a little bit more focus. And an awful of work has gone in to deciding on the programme— assessment, very careful assessment undertaken by local government—taking into account all of those key things that Andrew talked about, but also how we can really deliver the well-being of future generations through the programme, both national and regional.
Marcella, did you want to come back on that?
I just wanted to make a strategic point there as well. We're looking at the procurement process, but procurement actually can mean different things to different people, and it's really, again, looking at the outcome we want to achieve and how best to achieve it, and the steps that we need to take. And I think, again, we recognise the importance of what I would call 'a golden thread' between national, regional and local. So, it's about this collaborative approach. It's just as much about ways of working as new mechanisms that we need to put in place. And I think that's another important lesson that we've learned, certainly through the review process, but also certainly actively through the COVID crisis as well.
Thanks, Marcella. Apologies, Jenny, by the way, about the mute. I realise that's a hangover from the days when we were in the Chamber and the mikes did used to operate automatically, so I'll stop saying that and confusing everyone.
Okay, fine, thank you. I can come back now, yes? Okay, for my last question, I want to come back to this question of food, because Paul Griffiths has already highlighted the work of Caerphilly County Borough Council, and that's excellent—the work they've done with Woosnam Dairies et cetera—but we are well behind places like Oldham in terms of procuring fresh food for our schools. I don't want to go into school meals, because obviously at the moment they are interrupted, but I want some indication of how these weekly meetings you've got with Cardiff and Caerphilly are addressing what we're already seeing, anecdotally, in my constituency, in the middle of Cardiff, which is a shortage of vegetables, even at this time of so-called seasonal abundance. So, goodness knows what it's going to look like when we come to the winter. And you can't just magic these things up; they obviously have to be grown. So, I just wondered what work you're doing on mitigating the crisis that looks almost inevitable at the moment.
I don't know whether Paul could come back on the discussion with Caerphilly and Cardiff. There's a lot of work going on at the moment on resilience and contingencies, which we picked up on a little while ago. As for Oldham and surrounding areas, part of the reason we're working with CLES is to, as I said earlier, try and get under the headline of things to see what opportunities there are to stimulate more production at a local level, and fruit and veg would certainly come into that category, but there will be a number of other things too.
And, in other fora, you and I have talked in the past about what we do about the horticulture sector generally in Wales, where I think there are some opportunities, probably particularly in southern Wales, but it's a question of fitting that in around quite a lot of other stuff that's going on at the moment. But where there is learning to be done—just as a last point from me—from other areas, we are keen to do that. The team have really driven hard across Welsh Government and indeed working with partners all across the Welsh public service. If there are examples out there where we can learn from other people and pick up their ideas—that, partly, is why we're working with CLES—we should do that, because we're all about doing things better and finding new ways of going at things.
Okay. Well, that's reassuring.
Just to go back to Paul, then, obviously, Cardiff and Caerphilly—. I understand the reasons why you're working with them as county boroughs that have got track records on procurement. But, clearly, it's difficult to see how you're going to—. How does that translate into the way in which you're strengthening resilience in, say, north Wales? How are you choosing who the leads are in regional procurement arrangements?
I think it's fair to say, in terms of the regional programme, firstly, quite clearly, this is a local government approach, so they would be best placed to describe the particular approach, but they've effectively established—so, this is just from the basis of my presence at WLGA heads of procurement meetings—. They've established three regions. We've got the south-east, south-west and the north. That was a process, in terms of developing that particular programme, that quite rightly was based on rigorous and robust analysis, as you'd expect. We had the question about, 'How have you reached your particular way forward for a number of categories?' So, we can take it as a given that was done in a very rigorous fashion.
It's probably fair to say that the south-east are a little bit more advanced in terms of their programme, hence Caerphilly have had food now since April this year. They've got a very good, strong food procurement team, and they're actually now using this regional programme to grow the numbers in that particular team. So, again, that's back to that capability and capacity point raised earlier.
In the south-west, I was at a meeting with colleagues from south-west Wales, and also joined by the WLGA and also Cardiff council representation—Steve Robinson, the chair of the WLGA heads of procurement group. So, they're now considering their approach to food. They're quite well evolved, though, in terms of their use of those more local suppliers—Castell Howell is one, and there are a number of others in the particular region. So, that work is ongoing.
In terms of the north, we're bringing together north Wales colleagues. We've always had a group called the north Wales procurement forum, which we facilitate, and we're running a session towards the end of September just to talk more about the collaborative approach and how they're going to deliver through the regions. But it I think, from the data that I've seen, there is a lot of procurement, particularly around the fresh produce, currently being done on a local basis up in north Wales.
Back to the point about fruit and veg, it is a concern, and quite right that you should raise that. Of course, we've seen in the media, and you've probably got far more knowledge than I on this particular matter, but we've had problems in terms of just getting people out into the fields to pick crops, which has had a significant impact—so, specific discussion around that during the meetings with Cardiff council and Caerphilly. As you probably understand, the focus has really been on COVID and post-COVID recovery, but I'm sure that colleagues in Caerphilly—and it's something that we can come back to the committee on; we can provide a little bit more commentary after this particular session.
Okay. We're heading to the last 15 minutes or so now, so we need to make some progress. And Gareth Bennett.
Yes. Thanks. There are a couple of questions to do with funding and staffing. Dean gave us some information on this with one of his answers, so we have touched on it.
Now, your evidence paper points to NPS staff numbers reducing, but with these posts to be reallocated to wider procurement transformation work. What does this now mean in practice for the anticipated size and staffing budget for the new procurement policy and delivery service and the shift in balance of your resource commitment across its different functions?
That is a good question, because it's about where do we deploy what is a fairly precious—it is a precious—resource in terms of the number of people we've got available. I don't—. Colleagues will correct me; I don't think we're talking about huge numbers here anyway. NPS is not a very large function in and of itself, so pairing back that function as the number of frameworks reduces won't release vast numbers of people.
The other thing to say is that, in designing the new national service, which we're absolutely determined to do in partnership with others—so, a great deal of effort has gone in and continues to go in to doing this with partners—we're not saying, 'This is the thing, take it and like it', we're saying, 'What do you need?' and 'We'll help you deliver the things that you need to do at the local and regional level.' So, just on that point, how much of a new service is advisory versus how much is it doing implementation of that work? That's one of the questions that we need to work our way through. But I think, probably, as we develop our plans, this is another one where we should keep you and the committee up to date. I don't know whether, Paul, you want to say anything more in terms of numbers, or, Marcella, in terms of the overview.
I don't mind coming in as well, Chair, if that's okay.
NPS is basically one of five branches within the commercial directorate and there has been a reduction of numbers over time, mainly because of the lack of procurement skills across public sector Wales, as we've already talked about. For NPS in particular, they've gone down in heyday from about 40, I think, Paul, but the number is down to around 19 and there's a 20 per cent vacancy factor in there. But what I'm doing with Marcella and Paul is looking at the overall directorate and making sure we get the right efficiencies across the totality of the directorate to make sure that we're putting resources in the right place. As a Welsh Government, we're looking at a gateway process to make sure that we get people through—[Inaudible.]—the profession and actually fill those vacancies as well within procurement, but there is a shortage of resources across Welsh Government and the wider public sector.
Yes. Thanks for that, both of you. Now, the auditor general's 2017 report on the NPS noted that the level of expenditure through NPS-managed contracts meant that supplier rebate charges did not cover NPS costs. While expenditure has increased in recent years, the value of the NPS-managed contracts is less than the £390 million spend across all contracts in 2019-20. Will you still be looking to recoup certain costs for the new service through a supplier rebate and would that be at the same level of rebate as applied to date?
I think we are considering supplier rebates in the mix. We haven't reached a complete decision about that and my hunch is that they wouldn't be at a very different level, Mr Bennett. I think we'd probably—. I think a lot of experience has taught us broadly what we can reasonably expect through the rebate.
I think the question of the funding model is a really good one, because relying on a system that operates generated by or funded by savings elsewhere in the system is, as we know from experience, not straightforward, and I also think there's an opportunity to do what Dean was describing earlier on. So, Dean was saying we have made savings on procurement work through increased use of EU procurement and we've ploughed the benefit of that into our capacity-raising, our capability-raising, work, and I think there is an argument for doing more of that in future, so, if you have a supplier rebate, using that to develop the capability of the public sector as a whole in respect of procurement and securing best value, Marcella's point about this. We're talking about procurement today, but actually procurement covers a whole range of things in terms of how we secure best value for the money that the public sector spends. I don't know whether Dean or Paul want to correct me or update the committee on either of those points.
Nothing from me, Andrew.
No, I think that, Andrew, that was a really good summary, and I look back at the original business case about the rebate and NPS being self-funding: I don't think that was ever doable, given the opt-in, opt-out clause within those frameworks. I think, going forward, we have now more streamlined national frameworks with regionalisation and I think partners have now bought into it. So, going forward, I'm more optimistic than where we probably were in the past in that original business case to get more support in the profession on board, and, as I said, really invest into the profession. Thank you.
Yes, and, as Andrew said, you did make that point earlier, and you made the point about the need to educate managers about basic procurement issues. Last question: how will the regional procurement arrangements being organised through the WLGA be funded, and what assessment have you made of any administration costs that may now fall to local organisations where there will no longer be national or regional agreements, thinking particularly of smaller public bodies?
That's a very fair point. We're acutely conscious of the impacts on different players across Wales. I suppose, ultimately, the funding for the regional arrangements would be a matter for WLGA colleagues and partners out in the local authorities themselves. And just to re-emphasise, one of the benefits through the coronavirus pandemic has been that joint working with local authorities across a whole range of issues, not just on the procurement side. I think that has been very valuable for all of us. So, they will be thinking about how they fund things—supplier levies or the like—and we are trying to work with other bits of the public and the voluntary sector, WCVA and other colleagues, on where there might be opportunities to help with administration costs and things of that sort, how people might arrange themselves in order to head off the worst of the costs associated with the administration of these arrangements. But I don't think I have anything much more than that to add. Paul, is that fair of the other things that we're doing?
I think that's a very fair assessment, Andrew. Thank you.
Okay. Thanks very much.
Thanks, Gareth. Okay, moving on to Job Support Wales and Angela Burns.
Yes, thank you very much indeed, Chair. Just a couple of quick questions on Job Support Wales and what's happened there. I note from your evidence paper that you had produced a review, which is not yet released due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and, looking at the scope of the review, they're exactly the kind of questions I'd like to see answers on. Can you tell us when do you expect that review to come out? I appreciate we'll probably get some kind of ministerial statement to accompany it, but will the whole review in its entirety be published? I'm particularly keen for us to understand and learn lessons from why there were two abortive attempts, basically, to make this work, and what went wrong on both times, what the legal challenges were.
So, I think, as you rightly say, there will be a ministerial statement shortly, and I don't want to pre-empt what Ministers will want to say about this. The release of the report in due course: no problem at all with that; I'm just very conscious we've got a live component of procurement under way off the back of that exercise, so I wouldn't want to get to a position where we were prejudicing another exercise through premature release of the report. Indeed, one of the—. I think the final recommendation in the report is that our internal audit service is to come back and verify that everything that the review said should be done has indeed been done. I'm pretty confident, talking to the teams, plural, involved in the work, that everything has been followed up but we just wanted to make sure that that was done. I hope then, in due course, we'll be able to publish in full. If not, and we need to get to a point in the not-too-distant future where you as a committee would like to see that prior to release more generally, then I'm sure that's something that we can work on too. But, as I say, I don't want to prejudice a live procurement exercise by releasing findings from an earlier one that might in some way, shape or form prejudice the outcome of this one.
You made a fair point about what's gone on with two previous exercises. The committee and I have talked over the last two or three years about appetite for risk. What we were trying to achieve for Wales is quite specific. Innovative procurement carries risks. It's important that we try and get the best option for Wales, both in respect of, in this context, young people and adults, and even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic—and you will recall at the tail end of July that the economy Minister published his sort of COVID commitment, which was a package of additional money in respect of schools and employment support of about £40 million to try and help us get through these coming months.
Two points, I suppose: (1) the exercises were stopped so that the risks to the public purse were minimised and we didn't end up in a position where we were successfully challenged in the courts; and the second—absolutely vital, and the committee have heard me say this before and seen us do this, so they've seen this in action—review what's happened, as you say, in order to ensure that lessons are learned, that anything that needs to be done is followed up swiftly. So, there are a suite of actions; they're being pursued. And we did check as part of that whether this was going to have a bearing on other procurement exercises going on across Welsh Government, and the answer to that was 'no'. This was very specific and discrete to the area concerned, so there isn't a sort of wider ripple effect from this. But in due course, yes, absolutely, the report, the review, will be published, and if we get to a place where, because we're still live with the procurement exercises, it's not safe to publish, but the committee would like some reassurance about that, then I'm happy to do what I've just described.
Thank you. I think that would be really helpful. I mean, I think we all cleave to the notion that nothing ventured, nothing gained—you have to sometimes speculate in order to understand whether the course of action you're proposing is successful or not. The skill is pulling back rapidly without expiring—you know, using up too much time and money if something's not working. So, we just need to be reassured that, given it was fairly disastrous twice to have not been able to proceed with it, we really have learnt the lessons and that they are being implemented. I read that the Welsh Government, in previous committee meetings, said it wants be an exemplar, and I understand that ambition and, of course, we'd want to see that because I think Wales has led in a lot of areas, so it's very important that we get to really follow that through and make sure that we can move forward very cleanly. And in terms of that exemplar, can you just give us further detail on what the Government commercial standards actually cover, because I couldn't see a huge amount on that? The digital procurement team have undergone an assessment against these standards. What do they have to measure to and how are Welsh Government, in total, measuring up against these Government commercial standards?
Well, I think, if I may, I'll bring, on that point, Paul and Marcella in in a moment. We have done some work, as you indicate, on the digital side recently. And just getting back to Job Support Wales, I completely agree that you, as a committee, need reassurance that we are following up on these actions and learning lessons—I think that's fair. I wouldn't characterise the outcome in quite the way that you did. Provision is still there for young people and for adults in terms of our support for employment and skills. Grant-based work is not affected by this outcome. We've got an extension to the contract in respect of youth provision that will see us through certainly into next year, and, we hope, the year after. And one procurement exercise is already under way for one of the missing components, and another will be launched shortly. So, in terms of impact on the ground right now, we may not be quite where we wanted to be, but I suppose the other thing I would add is EU exit impacts and coronavirus have also changed the operating environment that we're in. So, the scale of challenge we were facing when we went out to tender originally has changed quite significantly, hence the package published by the economy Minister at the end of July. So, we're in a new operating environment in a new world, and I suppose you could say one of the advantages is that we've now got the opportunity to frame the next stage in light of what we now understand the new challenges to be. But I'll ask, on the Government commercial standards, colleagues to come in on that.
I'll come in on that.
So, the Welsh Government's digital team and procurement team were assessed against the standards and then they were peer reviewed or peer assessed by the DVLA digital procurement team to validate the findings. It covers a broad range of commercial activities, and only those activities carried out by the digital team were assessed. The results—this was back in 2019—ranged from 'good' for pre-procurements and contracting—[Inaudible.]—managing categories, markets and supplier relationships, development and systems and information development—. The digital team are currently undertaking their second GCS assessment, which isn't complete yet. Initial scores, though, indicate that there's an improvement in line with the action plan that was implemented following the first baseline assessment. The other thing to say is that some areas of the assessment, which are examined, are outside the direct control of the procurement team. It doesn't distinguish between business staff and procurement staff activities. The areas we've seen improvements in are in those with direct control of the team. So, I think that just goes back to another point we've been making several times around the wider knowledge of procurement and in terms of buying and all sorts of things.
Can I just ask you to confirm: the March 2020 update report said that the Welsh Government corporate procurement was also beginning the process of being measured against these standards—has that started? Was that able to start despite COVID?
I don't know. Paul, do you have the answer to that? I don't think so.
I'd say, because of COVID, that work was put on pause.
Okay. I just wanted to clarify that because, as I say, that was in the update report to this committee in March 2020. And I think, Mr Slade, you've already alluded to this because you've mentioned specific cohorts, but could you just confirm whether or not the arrangements for the existing employment support contracts are going to be able to carry on? Have you a timescale? What time constraints are in play for the implementation of any new arrangements? My understanding—I obviously wasn't at the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, but I understood that officials there gave evidence saying that some cohorts, as part of any future procurement plans, might be separated out. Is that still the intention? I wasn't sure if I was picking that up from your previous commentary. And how would that translate in practice?
I think it's exactly the point you were making a few minutes ago. The cohorts here are adults and young people, and in the context of young people our experience over many years has taught us that the needs of those who are not in education, employment or training in that youth bracket up to 18 are different from those later on in the marketplace.
The adult-based work is grant-based and isn't really affected by the outcome of these procurement exercises. We're carrying on with that. There are two tranches, I think, from memory. There might be a third. We can write and confirm this, because my relevant Job Support Wales expert is not on the call, but I think the work we're doing on apprenticeships, which is not directly part of this but is linked, is out to procurement at the moment. We're hoping that that will be up and running from next year, and then the work on traineeships the year after, so 2022, and we're pretty confident about the position in terms of extending existing contracts in light of circumstances to get us to that point so that there won't be a break in provision.
That's what we were trying to make sure we had clarity on. So, would we be able to confirm that or firm up on that particular commitment from the Minister, perhaps? Would we be able to have a note on that?
Yes, I think in the aftermath of the ministerial statement—so, once that's out—we can write with some more details around where next on JSW and on what I think we're calling Jobs Growth Wales plus now in respect of—[Inaudible.]
Okay, we're actually at the end of our allotted time, but I'm happy to let this run on for another 10 minutes or so if our witnesses are up for that. We've got three more Members who wish to speak, so if you could be succinct in your questions, I'd like to get through to Vikki as well, because I know you've not had a chance to ask your questions yet, and if the witnesses could be succinct in their answers too. So, Rhianon Passmore. Unmute, please.
Chair, can you move on to the next question, because I've lost it on the iPad? It's going to come back in a minute. Thanks.
Sure. Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Chair. Witnesses, you've gone into some detail already on your role as a group in the procurement of PPE in Wales. Can I check, before I just ask a few more questions on that, what role, if any, your group had in the procurement of tests, particularly with the Roche deal, until that deal was stalled, please? I don't know if that's grammatically correct or—
No, I know—. I think that work was being taken forward by NHS colleagues, and the test, track and protect programme is being run out of a different part of Welsh Government—only to say that, as we've emphasised throughout this session, this is a team effort across the organisation as a whole. So, even where you've got different parts of the Welsh Government leading, we're all working to support that activity. So, right now I've got a couple of people from my group across in the TTP team, but the formal lead is through the health and social services group for that work.
Okay, thank you. I know that this has already been raised a little bit, but in terms of any lessons learnt in terms of procurement on a national scale and the advice that you've been giving to the public sector, is there anything else that you would like to add to what you've already said in terms of how you would respond to future spikes, if we see them, particularly about procurement of PPE and assisting with procurement of tests nationally, although I take your point that that isn't what you lead on?
We're learning all the time. There's a clear connection to what happens at the UK level. The PPE experience is quite interesting in terms of what came through UK supply lines and what we got ourselves, and at various points I think we were supplying into England at stages. So, I mean, it has been, as you would hope and expect, a UK-wide team effort and approach.
I think most of the lessons learned have been picked out by colleagues. We have learned a lot; it has improved networks and relationships and trust in the system. You know, 'forged in battle' is probably a term that might be appropriate to a lot of what we're doing. We've got procedures in place that Paul set out and all the work that's gone on with NHS colleagues in terms of preparations for the winter. The trouble with all of this is that there are lots and lots of moving parts and the disease is clearly no respecter of protocol or, for that matter, models, necessarily. So, we're going to have to do what we can to stay live throughout this, always flexible, and be ready to adapt. And we have this rather interesting parallel challenge of leaving the European Union going on at the same time, which adds complexity and risk to the whole operation.
Yes, certainly. I'm aware of time, so I'll move on to just this one final question I have, please, on free school meals. In the paper that you provided, you said that there had been a contract that was nearly in place that would have provided or supplied free school meals nationally, but that, presumably, quite late in the day, there were issues raised in terms of the supplier and their failure to meet obligations of contracts in England. Could you please clarify how late in the process those alarm bells were raised, and how close it came that that contract actually would have been signed without those alarm bells being raised? Is there any possibility that the contract could have been signed without you seeing that?
I'll need to check, but I think not. I think from memory of relatively recent discussions—I think I had a conversation with the head of our food division a couple of weeks ago now; the weeks are all blurring into each other at the moment—the contractor, the supplier, had passed all the usual things we would expect up to that point. So, a reputable supplier, who worked with us on our frameworks and so on, had given us reasonable assurance upfront about what they could and couldn't deliver. I think when we got into the detailed pre-contract discussions, it became evident that they were starting to have concerns about their ability to do pan-Wales from day one. I think that was the thing. My recollection is that they were saying, 'Well, we could do certain parts of Wales. We'd have other bits that would have to come on stream later', and that would clearly have been a problem.
As it happened, there were, in parallel, discussions anyway going on at local authority level, so we had a reasonable level of confidence about what could be done by local authorities themselves, and, in light of that, we had a few further checks and decided we didn't want to take the risk with the national provider, or a provider at national level, and local authorities have very successfully gone on and done that at a local level. Marcella, is there anything to add to that? Is that a fair—?
That's absolutely fair, yes. That was the timing as well.
Thank you, Chair. It wouldn't be an evidence session without some questions on Brexit, would it? [Laughter.] So, I'll try and condense the questions that I've got. Against the background of the COVID-19 response, what progress has been made with the development of a common framework for public procurement across the UK and the related governance arrangements to ensure that any procurement chapters in any trade agreements protect Wales's interests?
So, the answer I'm going to give you today is a little bit different from the one I might have given you a few weeks ago, not least in light of the publication last week of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. We've used the term 'complexity' quite a bit through this session—it add as a whole deal of additional complexity to what's going on that needs to be worked through. So, a lot of work has gone into the common framework, the concordat on procurement. Colleagues have worked very hard on that, internally with partners here in Wales and then across into UK Government, and that work has gone pretty well, I think it's fair to say. We're now waiting to hear what the approach will be in respect of common frameworks in light of the publication of the Bill, which basically sets a new regimen for management of the internal market, which, on the face of it, seems to undermine some of the work that has gone on common frameworks, although UK Government Ministers are at pains to say that that work is not wasted and we're going to need some frameworks in some areas. I think we would certainly regard the procurement framework as a priority one because of its general importance.
You ask also about tariffs and trade and the procurement side in international negotiations. We didn't end up getting UK Government to accept that we should go with the common tariff arrangements, as applied by the EU, which would have picked up a number of our concerns, but to be fair to the Department for International Trade and Ministers and colleagues at official level there, they listened quite carefully to some of our concerns. So, the Schedule that was published, I think in May, from memory, did include certain protections for sensitive sectors, which would include, not least in the Welsh context, agriculture. We've also had some concerns about the refinery sector and not having undue measures put in place that would cause problems in respect of work that was going on, at least pro tem, in places like Milford, and I think that the Department for International Trade responded to those. So, the UK has made its position on that known.
As part of the discussions around the internal market Bill, the UK Government published, it must have been last week, in parallel with the Bill, a sort of statement about what we expect to do on state aid, and that also has a bearing on some of the things that we are doing—the subsidy regime, where the intention is to, I think, respect World Trade Organization rules on that at an international level—and then respect any agreements that are made through the free trade arrangements and process that's going on in parallel. But I've used the phrase 'moving parts' in the last five minutes; I don't recall a period like it where you have so much stuff up in the air very late in the day in the run-up to what will be the single biggest change in our trading relationships in the last, I don't know, 40, 50 years. So, it is very challenging to manage all this.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Vikki. Rhianon, were you happy to write with your—?
I was going to say, Chair, to write with that, and I was conscious also that we're running out of time, and that was a very important last segment of questioning. It would be really good if we can revisit that one more time. Thank you.
Happy to write to the committee on any of these points with what we know at the time we write the letter.
Okay, great. Can I thank our witnesses, Andrew Slade, Dean Medcraft, Marcella Maxwell and Paul, for being with us today? Apologies about confusion over the timings at the start, but we got there in the end. So, thanks for being with us, and we'll send you—
Marcella and Paul held the fort admirably, so thank you.
They did very well. I'll send you a transcript of the proceedings for you to check before it's finalised, but thanks for being with us.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, committee. Diolch yn fawr.
Diolch yn fawr.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 6 a 7 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 6 and 7 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I move a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to exclude the public from the meeting for items 6 and 7 of today's meeting. Happy? Good. Okay.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:44.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:44.