Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd
Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd21/09/2020
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|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Adrian Crompton||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales|
|Ian Hughes||Archwilio Cymru|
|Manon Antoniazzi||Prif Weithredwr a Chlerc y Senedd|
|Chief Executive and Clerk of the Senedd|
|Matthew Mortlock||Archwilio Cymru|
|Mike Usher||Archwilio Cymru|
|Nia Morgan||Cyfarwyddwr Cyllid, Comisiwn y Senedd|
|Director of Finance, Senedd Commission|
|Nick Raynor||Archwilio Cymru|
|Nick Selwyn||Archwilio Cymru|
|Suzy Davies MS||Comisiynydd y Senedd sydd â chyfrifoldeb dros y Gyllideb a Llywodraethu|
|Senedd Commissioner with responsibility for Budget and Governance|
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 y cyfarfod am 09:51.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:51.
Welcome to this morning's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. We've received one apology from Vikki Howells and no substitutions. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at this point? No. Okay. We've sorted out the translation.
So to go straight into the substantive issues of today's meeting, item 2, and papers to note. The Welsh Government have written to me with an update covering the initiatives to improve repeat prescribing, reduce waste and improve medicines storage. I know that Jenny Rathbone wanted to ask a question about this paper. So, Jenny, would you like to do that at this point?
Yes. I wasn't awfully reassured by Dr Goodall's letter or indeed the Government declaration on this that it was linking us to, because I don't think it deals with any of the way in which we're eliminating unnecessary prescribing. Not only do constituents complain to me that if they've got three or four items on their prescription, and they tell the pharmacist they don't want items three and four, the pharmacist will nevertheless put them into the package, and when that's pointed out to them again they then simply put them in the bin, and they're even more likely to do that with COVID. So, I think that's one thing that is about how pharmacies use their loaf. But I think there's also a general problem of—. There was obviously a fest of unnecessary prescribing that went on prior to lockdown for reasons that are understandable. But we know that polypharmacy is one of the major causes of falls that get people into hospital, so I hope that Audit Wales can have a real focus on this as to what the strategy is for eliminating unnecessary prescribing, because it's one of the ways in which we can save money when we're having to spend lots of extra money on other things.
It's probably an opportune time to ask the audit office if they'd like to—. Would you like to comment, Adrian, or one of your team?
Thanks, Jenny. Yes, it's a very good point, and my reading of the response from Dr Goodall is that it's reassuring to see that they're reiterating and refreshing guidance, but the key point, as you pointed out, Jenny, is how that actually gets implemented on the ground. So, yes, we'll do some follow-up work to check our understanding on that and we can report back to the committee in due course.
The only other issue then is for the committee to receive the copy of the patient safety notice, which is referred to in the letter. I think that's expected before the end of the year, so we'll await that, but also, Adrian, if you can deal with that in the meantime, then we can consider it for the future. Okay.
The next item is the management of the follow-up of out-patients and a letter from the Welsh Government, 28 July. So, they've provided an update on the implementation of the 10 recommendations contained in the committee's report, which was published in August—August 2019, that is. All of the actions, implementations have been completed. The letter sets out the considerable progress that's been made with both the management of follow-up out-patients and the out-patient transformation programme as part of planned care. Obviously, COVID-19 has impacted upon the deliverability of some of their actions. Angela Burns, did you want to comment on this?
Yes. Thank you, Chair. I thought it a was very interesting set of statistics that was furnished to us by the director general. I wanted to know whether or not, as an audit committee, we could ask for an update over the last few months, because, of course, with COVID-19 a lot of these statistics now are just not accurate. There's been a lot of out-patients that haven't been able to go ahead and I think it would be worth keeping a watching brief on.
I also want to ask the audit office if they were content that the data that was furnished to the director general, in order for this document to be able to come to us, was, in their view, as accurate as it could be, because of course we also know that we've had some real issues with data collection, and the veracity of the data that has been collected in the last couple of years, including last year. And some of the information here doesn't necessarily chime in with evidence that I've heard during my last few years on the Health and Social Care Committee.
Adrian, did you want to come in?
Yes, sure. I won't comment on the accuracy of the data in a call like this, Angela, but it's certainly something we can pick up with the Welsh Government. Certainly, from our perspective, we'd be interested in getting updated figures, just as you are. So, I think if we liaise with the clerk of the committee, then either we can access that and provide it to the committee or you can write separately. One of the things that would interest me as well is to get underneath the figures a little to see if and how those figures are varying between regions rather than at a national level.
Just one other comment from us while I've got you, Nick. A couple of the recommendations are said to have been accepted and implemented, but they look as though there's a little bit of work still to be done before they are actually implemented—recommendations 7 and 8, for instance. So, just to assure the committee we'll be keeping an eye on that and we can update you accordingly in due course.
Great. Jenny, did you want to comment?
Yes. Thank you. I just want to say that, certainly from the Cardiff and Vale perspective, there has been a huge improvement in the way we manage out-patients. The complaints I used to have about not having had timely follow-ups after an intervention have gone away, because there's just been a massive improvement, because of so much more of these out-patient follow-ups being done online and, therefore, they can be done so much more efficiently. And, equally, it would be worth noting that the Cardiff and Vale pilot into managing the emergency department better, by not having people just turn up, is now being adopted by the English NHS. So, I think these are things we have to celebrate that have really fast-forwarded the changes that should have been happening anyway.
In regard to out-of-hours and the point that Jenny's just made—I'm not sure I've picked this up on the right paper to note—but I note that the final paragraph talks about the systemic take-up of the new system, in terms of Cardiff and Vale, in terms of the triage. So, my comment around that would be that I would be very interested to know from Welsh Government what impact that has had in terms of accident and emergency, other than just fewer people turning up at A&E, because, as we all know, we don't have a full evaluation yet of those who may be suffering unintended consequences from that. So, I'd be interested in asking Welsh Government what evaluation there has been of the systems that may be working in an emergency situation, but may well have other consequences and impacts.
Okay, I think, then—. Thanks, Adrian, for offering to see if you can source the data, but I think it's probably worth me writing to the Welsh Government and asking to be kept up to date, pointing out Angela's point that the figures now, because of COVID-19—it's a rapidly changing situation. So, I'll ask to be kept in the loop, and make your point as well, Rhianon. Happy if I do that? Any other comments on this paper? No. Okay.
The next item to note, radiology services, and we didn't undertake an inquiry into this, but I've corresponded with the Welsh Government on the action they've taken following the auditor general's report in November 2018. They're expecting the national imaging programme and strategy board to ratify a final report of progress against the recommendations in October 2020 and will then submit the report to the committee. Adrian, did you want to come in on this?
No, nothing specific in this.
So, are Members happy to note that letter? And that should be received in October.
Okay, and then primary care out of hours, a letter from the Welsh Government. The committee noted the Welsh Government's response in October 2019 to our inquiry into out-of-hours services, following that I requested an update on progress made against the recommendations. The Welsh Government have advised that a great deal of progress has been made against the recommendations of the report and a comprehensive update is attached to the letter.
A couple of points to note from this: the continued roll-out of the 111 is apparently progressing well, with five out of seven LHBs soon to have fully implemented the service, with 111 also spanning all Wales for COVID-related queries. This is another area where obviously the COVID pandemic has had an impact. This was an area of particular interest to us during the inquiry. Out-of-hours services seem to have responded well and adapted to the pressures. Adrian, did you want to say anything on this paper?
Nothing specific, Chair. It's an area where we've done a lot of work in the past and we've got a watching brief on it, but nothing specific on this particular piece of correspondence.
Okay. So, are Members happy to note that? Rhianon.
So, the comments that I have just made, which I referred to Jenny's earlier comments, are pertinent to the final paragraph in Andrew Goodall's letter here. So, they would be for this letter, the comments that I've just made in regard to proper evaluation of impacts before we start rolling out wholesale systems.
Okay, we can do that.
Right. The next item is our scrutiny of the accounts. I was going to suggest a technical break, but I think Manon Antoniazzi is now with this, so that looks good. So, so long as we can hear you as well, Manon, then we should be able to proceed. So, item 3, and 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 Manon?
Yes, thank you. I'm Manon Antoniazzi and I'm Clerk and Chief Executive of the Senedd.
Suzy Davies, Commissioner and Member of the Senedd.
Nia Morgan, director of finance, Senedd Commission.
Good, okay. That all sounds like it's operating well, so well done to the technical team for sorting out any issues. So, we've got a number of questions for you, and I'll kick off with the first one. What impact did lockdown on 23 March have on the end of the financial year and the production of these accounts before us?
Thank you, Chairman. In terms of the publication, the lockdown had very little impact on the year end and the production of the accounts, so there were no delays. Audit Wales were again able to provide the audit committee with a clean audit report and no issues were brought to their attention, no adjusted items, no recommendations.
I think this was achievable due to significant testing of working practices during the interim audit that we had in March, the effective operation of our ICT systems and the investment that we had made in those, and, of course, the good working relationship that we have with Audit Wales enabled us to achieve early resolution of key accounting issues. I think, looking back, we can appreciate that it was quite an achievement and I would like to pay tribute to the staff of the finance team who were very resilient and adaptable and, indeed, everybody pulled together because they had to draw on the work of everybody else as well. But from a technical point of view, we haven't had to adapt our processes very much.
Were there any areas that you would have seen as weaknesses that, in future, you'd want to deal with?
To be honest, it all worked pretty much like clockwork. I'd be interested in Audit Wales's view, but obviously, in terms of the feedback they gave us, it was a satisfactory experience.
Okay, thanks. I'm going to bring in Gareth Bennett now.
Thanks, Chair. How has the organisation's response to the pandemic resulted in additional costs and savings, and how do you see net costs changing as we see more business and staff return to the estate?
Thank you. In terms of our costs so far, the committee will be aware that the Finance Committee asked all directly funded bodies to provide it with information on the financial implications of the pandemic, and we shared a copy of the Commission's response with you. That letter included information up until the end of June. We're in the middle of updating this information to the end of September and, obviously, we will share that with you, if that is useful.
I'll hand over to Nia in a minute, but, in summary, the letter focuses on four areas of impact: first of all, on our project fund, where large items of one-off expenditure were delayed or reprioritised. There was the annual leave accrual, because some staff were not able to take annual leave, and then the Commission service budget, which saw some areas of additional expenditure and some areas of savings, and, likewise, the remuneration board's determination, which saw both expenditure and savings. Obviously, we've been monitoring these changes very closely as we've gone along; we've probably yet to see the impact of them.
And, looking to the future, the second part of your question, as Members and staff return to work more on the estate, the nature of the costs will vary in the short term. For Members, we can expect to see an increase, obviously, in travel costs, and in cleaning costs and personal protective equipment costs for their constituency offices. For us on the Commission side, there will be an increase in equipment costs as staff adjust to dual working from home and office. And executive board are considering those requirements as they're identified by our staff work streams going forward and new challenges arise.
There will be medium and longer term costs to consider. That's going to be very interesting—to consider what lessons we can learn from this period that will become part of our day-to-day working from now on. We do have a work stream that is specifically set up to look at those longer term lessons, and I'm sure that we'll be reporting back to you on that in subsequent meetings.
Nia, I don't know if you want to go into any more detail about the letter that we sent, or, Gareth, if you have any further questions on the detail.
Manon mentioned the letter we provided to you in July; it had costs and information up to the end of June. Some of the items included in the letter were specific details around additional operational costs, such as additional laptops for individuals who only had desktops in the office, costs associated with homeworking allowances that Members have paid to their staff, and a considerable level of detail. So, if there are any questions arising from that letter, we'd be happy to respond to those, and, as Manon mentioned, we're looking to update a version of that letter for costs as at 30 September, and making estimates looking forward as well during this financial year, which we're monitoring quite closely.
Jenny Rathbone has a supplementary.
I would have thought, given that we're still meeting as a hybrid Senedd, and the staff reflect that in where they're working from, surely the costs of additional payments to staff for homeworking is well covered by the reduction in travel costs for Members, given that we've only got 20 Members attending in person. And what are your predictions, going forward, around the number of people who can do some of their work some of the time from home on a permanent basis? Because, obviously, many other organisations are looking to the benefits of that.
That is a very interesting question, Jenny, and it's what I was alluding to earlier when I talked about the lessons that we're drawing together in the work stream that's looking at the future and how to embed some of that. The savings in travel are on the determination side of the budget, and, as you know, although we do have one control total that we report on, we have agreed to internally regard those budgets as separate. Obviously, there's no travel saving in terms of Commission staff, because we wouldn't be paying their travelling expenses anyway. But, by and large, there is a balance. We're content, at the moment, where that balance lies. There will be extra costs, I think, to homeworking, because we're all assessing what we need to work long term from home. There will be additional equipment needed—desks and chairs, display screen equipment assessments and so on, as well as IT equipment that we may need to be duplicating on in future. So, it's not a cheap solution, but there will be compensating benefits in terms of agility and flexibility of working methods that we can offer staff. And, of course, there are some big environmental benefits as well, which we are looking forward to realising and exploring.
Gareth Bennett. Sorry, Suzy, did you want to come in?
Yes, just briefly to add a little bit to that last point from the perspective of Members, if you like, I don't think it's quite fair to say that there are only 20 of us in the building at any given time, because, certainly last week, Jenny, we were on something of a rota to make sure that as many of us had an opportunity to take part in the Chamber in real life, if you like, as possible. This experience of living through COVID and what we can learn for the longer term is an important one; it's one that the Commissioners themselves are very interested in as well, not least from a sustainability and carbon footprint point of view, which is I think is something of importance to you, but for our own work-life balances as well. I don't know how the rest of you have felt about this, but it's been a strain on some days, and on other days it's actually been a relief. So, there's a lot to learn, not just for the Commission staff, but from our point of view as well, and that, in itself, will have an impact of what the remuneration board may be talking about in due course—because other people, as Manon mentioned, are responsible for the funding that we get. I think, if we're talking about lessons learned, it's from both perspectives, not just Commission staff—it's for Members and their staff as well.
Good. Thanks, Suzy. Gareth, back to you.
Thanks for those comments, Suzy. I agree, as Jenny's line of questioning was suggesting, there are benefits to homeworking. In fact, none of my staff are back at the Assembly—neither am I; we're all working from home. But, of course, as Manon's answer suggested, the long-term consequences we don't yet know, because, of course, we're only just back. So, what complications will arise—we're not totally aware of all those things yet.
We talked there a bit about the costs and the savings—of course, we don't totally know what they're going to be yet. Is there anything you wanted to add, or anyone else wanted to add, about the security issues? Because we've now got people using Assembly equipment at home, are there any security issues that have arisen or are likely to arise? Does anyone want to say anything about that?
I would just say that you've put your finger on something that we've certainly had to pay attention to in terms of protecting public assets. There haven't been any particular issues that I'm aware of at the moment, but, as you'd expect, all requests for new and additional equipment are centrally logged with the ICT team, if that's ICT equipment, or with the Commission's health and safety team in respect of specialised chairs and other equipment. Members Business Support, on the other hand, then, are maintaining records of additional items that are purchased directly out of Members' office costs. And each ICT asset is allocated and recorded on the ICT inventory log and allocated a unique asset number, so that all users of Commission assets are reminded of their responsibility and the safeguarding of these assets. And, in fact, an internal audit review on the security of Commission assets is scheduled for later in the autumn, which will review the robustness and effectiveness of the procedures that have been put in place.
Thanks. Final question from me: can you expand on the reasons for the underspend of over £1.1 million in staff salaries and related costs, and also the overspend of over £0.5 million in non-staff costs, and £147,000 capital spending?
Well, again, I'll hand over to Nia after prefacing this question. As you will know, Gareth, we have a single control total on this budget and it is managed extremely closely so that we make savings wherever possible and then, where it's possible to bring expenditure forward or where we need to respond at short notice to unexpected developments, as we've seen over the last six months, we have the flexibility to do so and then provide complete transparency to you at the end of the year.
So, the budget for 2019-20 was agreed back in November 2018, and that was before we had finalised the details of the voluntary exit scheme. So, then, the impact of that was felt during 2019-20 and so the resulting level of vacancies was high. If you remember, the core rationale for the voluntary exit scheme was for us to look at various ways of restructuring teams to a larger or greater degree so that we could adapt the skills that were needed, create more agility in the organisation.
It is very difficult, a year ahead of time, when we didn't know exactly who was going to be leaving, to make a very accurate estimation of how much gap there was going to be between people leaving and then replacements arriving instead. So, that is why the expenditure on staff was less than expected in that year, and then that enabled the Commission to reprioritise the funds to the project fund and invest in non-staff costs, items for the estate and ICT priority items. Nia, do you want to spend a little bit more time talking about those?
Yes. So, we generally, for each year within the budget, anticipate a particular level of staff underspend and we've built that in, on the recommendation of Finance Committee to build in a moderate level of staff vacancies. But, as Manon mentioned, the VES then created a greater degree of staff vacancies, and the reason that's a significant figure of just over £1 million was the time taken to replace the vacancies created by the VES.
The VES was never intended to save money; it was to allow the Commission to look at the staff complement and reskill in those areas that were required. So, it was the time that we took to reappoint staff, not rushing into it—it was taking a measured approach that created that greater degree of underspend on vacancies, that created that underspend on staffing. And, as Manon mentioned, rather than leaving those funds underutilised, we looked to see the next items of priority expenditure that were not staffing, which were non-staff costs and capital costs, which is why you'll see that overspend or greater level of spending in those areas.
Another point to note on the overall financial picture is that we tend to come in with a 0.5 per cent underspend on our budget, but this year it was greater. We had a higher level of underspend—it was around 1.2 per cent—and that was as a result of COVID. There were a number of items of expenditure that we anticipated for March that didn't take place. So, that was another aspect of the budget.
So, we generally tend to see varying degrees of underspend and overspend on particular lines within the annual report and accounts, because, as Manon mentioned, we don't have to bring in each individual line within budget; we are allowed these underspends and overspends, as long as we remain within the overall total of the Commission budget.
Suzy—[Interruption.] Sorry. Suzy Davies.
Thank you. I just wanted to emphasise this point, I think, that, when we talk about underspends and overspends, we are talking about a global total. The opportunity to actually move some money that became available from one funding stream, if you like, into another—we've got to retain that flexibility.
And if you look at what we actually spent the available cash on, none of that is sexy stuff, it's all nuts and bolts and bits and pieces that keep the estate together and keep the ICT network going in order to make sure that we as Members of the Senedd can carry on doing our work efficiently. This stuff needs to get paid for at some point, and we are always, in any given year, having to either delay spending or bring forward spending in order to accommodate it all. We were just in a fortunate position—I expect you could look at it that way—to bring quite a lot of it forward this time, but none of it is work that could not have been done at some point. So, the fact that we're able to do it in the given year was pretty important, because it would have had to have been done at some point.
Thanks. Gareth, had you finished your questions?
Gratified to hear that we're not spending anything on anything sexy, but—[Laughter.]
Okay. The next question is from Rhianon Passmore.
Thank you, Chair. In regard to the corporate risks around dignity and respect, Brexit, safeguarding, cyber security and the impact of COVID, obviously, from your paper in front of us, we realise that you're obviously meeting weekly at a certain executive level around that, so how has the COVID crisis impacted upon governance and risk management? And, what work—you've mentioned an internal audit in terms of August—has been scheduled for the final quarter and has any of that been completed, or not completed?
Well, we've maintained the usual strong governance during this period, with all the decision-making bodies meeting as usual if not more frequently. We've been having a meeting either of the executive board or the wider leadership team every day during term and at least weekly during the recess. So, we made clear at the outset that we had a clear decision-making matrix so that we could—we needed to—set out how we were going to escalate matters, whether to the Business Committee or the Commission or the Chairs' forum or whatever body of members is the right group to decide on matters going forward. It was good to articulate these things early, because we've all had to put more effort into communication in this strange situation where we're all separate. But no meetings failed to take place, whether of the Commission or the audit and risk committee.
Also, we've continued to maintain the same financial controls and procurement procedures and a particularly sharp focus on ensuring that our data is protected from cyber security threats during this period. So, our investment in Office 365 and the cloud has paid dividends in terms of security, switching to this online way of working.
We've documented and recorded all our decisions made in our business continuity decisions log, and we've already got a lessons learnt process under way. So, there were three audits that couldn't be completed—the official languages scheme, Members' expenses and the value-for-money review of the Research Service, including the library, but all of these are scheduled for completion as soon as it is possible to do so. So, in terms of deliverables, such as the annual report, all those were delivered as planned.
Okay, thank you. You've mentioned cyber security a number of times so far and, obviously, the new way of working and the risks associated with that. In regard to the issue around using Zoom versus Teams, are we any further forward with that? You obviously mentioned language as well a moment ago, and also online fraud. So, how can you assure us that those risks are being mitigated, bearing in mind the issues with Teams versus Zoom in particular in this environment?
We set out, I think, a number of the actions that we've taken to mitigate cyber security in our letter to you earlier this month, following our session in August. As I said in that letter, human error is the biggest weakness when it comes to cyber security and so we've put a big effort into staff training and awareness raising. In terms of the security infrastructure, I mentioned Microsoft cloud and Office 365. That's provided us with security protections and resources that wouldn't be available to us otherwise. We've got dedicated pages on the coronavirus intranet as a reminder to staff, and we've highlighted the increased importance of reporting any phishing e-mails or malicious websites or malware, and so on.
So, as well as that, we've provided additional training in fraud—again, human error can be the biggest weakness there, and we've made sure that there's been training and awareness on specific scams by people who've been taking advantage of the coronavirus situation, and continually stressing that staff need to escalate matters if they're concerned.
On Zoom, I know that colleagues in ICT have been working closely with Zoom and they have been addressing a number of security concerns. So, the situation is continually improving. We have decided to proceed on the basis of risk assessment, so, from that point of view, it hasn't changed since the letter I wrote on 9 September, which is that we use Zoom where meetings are in the public domain, like this one. Obviously, that has the advantage of allowing simultaneous translation to take place. We hope very much that Teams will catch up in terms of offering that bilingual facility soon; it doesn't at the moment. So, where we do need to have meetings with bilingual capability, then we have to undertake a risk assessment as to whether to put that on Zoom and whether there are mitigating factors that can be taken to protect personal data, or whether those can take place on Teams. So, that process of risk assessing on a case-by-case basis hasn't changed.
Okay. And in that regard, I presume there are no timescales because it's an external matter, with Teams.
We're working as proactively as we can.
Okay. Thank you. In regard, then, to management of those risks regarding resources and the emergent priorities around COVID and how we're helping to support scrutiny within this new devolved environment and ecostructure that we're all working within, you've mentioned some of the organisational systems of meeting during this crisis already in the lead-up, but in the lead-up to Brexit and the deadlines that are now imminent, how has all of this, collectively, informed the preparation for the end of the transition period, bearing in mind the additionality of risk around all of those different areas?
Yes, absolutely, and I think the main factor driving the risk to the Senedd as a legislature here is being able to apply sufficient and timely Commission expertise to a potentially high volume of complex business with a very tight turnaround. We have been able to bring in, as you probably know, additional academic expertise, where needed, to supplement what we have in-house. Since August 2018, we've commissioned 25 pieces of work so far using our Brexit academic framework. This represents about 80 days of bought-in expertise from a range of specialists across the UK and Europe. About 200 academics have signed up to help us with coronavirus-related work, and there's no direct cost to us for that.
So, the management of this is being mainstreamed into normal Commission business, under the co-ordination of a dedicated EU transition co-ordinator, who has risk-management experience. For example, the leadership team has a session just this Friday coming to consider EU transition, and we'll go on to provide leadership and collective oversight of activity across service areas. So, in terms of corporate preparedness—I'm not sure whether that was part of your question as well—we are reviewing procurement advice, and our ICT and EFM heads of service are particularly focused on managing the risk to their supply chains. So, obviously, we need to think about the fluctuating cost of equipment and hardware, as well as suppliers being able to physically deliver items.
Could I just come in on that as well, because I think this is an important question? I just wanted to reassure Rhianon initially on the cyber protection and fraud that the audit and risk committee, which is separate but also part of the governance system committee, has both those matters—cyber attacks and fraud—as almost standing items on the agenda, because we realise how live those risks are. And so there's a very consistent oversight of those risks from an external point of view, if you like. I'm raising it in response to this particular question because on that committee we have a number of independent advisers who aren't members of the Commission, and they have their own expertise, and they all have expertise in governance and management systems, including finance. That means that, in times such as we've seen now, where we have two known risks, which are Brexit and constitutional change, overlaid by COVID, we've actually got to hand experts that perhaps others aren't so fortunate to have, and because we meet regularly and examine all these risks, nothing gets old. There's enough of a constant oversight of this, as well as at executive board level, for new minds to be brought to problems, if you like. So, we're very lucky in that respect, I think.
Okay. Thank you very much, Chair.
Thanks, Rhianon. Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. So, picking up on what you were saying about procuring expertise, we know that the chief legal adviser left under the voluntary severance scheme. What impact has that had on getting legal advice, and are there any plans at the moment for getting a permanent replacement?
Thank you, Delyth. We've managed to get an interim system that works extremely well. These are not easy skills to find, but we do have a highly skilled individual who provides the advice and does so within the budget set for the previous chief legal adviser. It is an arrangement that we wanted to test; this is part of the opportunity that the voluntary exit scheme gave us to consider whether having this expertise provided in-house or tapping it externally is best value for money. And so, we will between now and the election be reviewing the operation of the system and making a decision about the permanent filling of that post, which we expect to take place after the contract of the current incumbent finishes next spring.
Okay, and, just to check, would the contract come to an end at exactly around the election time, or would it be before the—?
It's a little before, from memory, but I can confirm that, having checked the detail, if you would like.
Diolch. Looking at staff well-being, we've heard already in this session that, obviously, the Commission is having to look again at a number of issues in terms of how we all work. So, what would you say the main challenges are in terms of balancing the management of staff performance and absence rates, and balancing that alongside staff well-being and seeing how people are coping with new arrangements or arrangements that have to be reviewed at the moment?
It's a very important question, Delyth, and it's certainly a balance that we are all trying to manage on a daily basis. The difficulties of the current situation have seen staff report an impact on both their physical and mental well-being. We've been undertaking these short pulse surveys that will lead up to our usual annual survey shortly now, in the autumn. I would say absence has dropped considerably, and the absences that we've seen have largely been attributable to resolvable issues—in other words, the particular difficulties posed by the period of lockdown, such as people who have caring responsibilities, who'll be home schooling or they don't have comfortable arrangements at home to allow them to work. So, there have been specific problems that will either be resolved in the course of time, or we can help resolve.
I think we've had positive results from those pulse surveys, and I think that part of that lower absence rate can be attributed to active support for performance and well-being organisationally. We've put a lot of effort into creating resources to support people who are working from home and try to make sure that people are in touch with each other quasi-socially as well as formally, and that's being managed by line managers throughout the organisation. And those surveys do overwhelmingly report that staff are clear about what's expected of them, and they feel well informed and supported. We've also redeployed staff across the more busy service areas. So, in that sense, there's been a good opportunity for people to expand their range and try out working with different teams, and I think that's going bear fruit in the long run as well.
Diolch. Thank you for that. In terms of the survey headline results, are there any plans yet to put the headline survey results then in the public domain? I understand that the Welsh Government does publish those, and at the moment that isn't true for all of these surveys. So—[Inaudible.]
That's right. The pulse surveys that we've been doing over the summer have all been published internally. They haven't been put up on our websites but they have been publicised internally so that we're all aware of what's going on. I think we promised you last year that we would look at publishing the main annual staff survey and we will do that. At the time, we were expecting to carry it out in the spring. That was slightly overtaken by events because we were—the obvious events—but also we—. The spring saw the highlight of a process that we undertook of assessment for Investors in People. The committee will be aware that the Commission has been awarded gold standard Investors in People for several years running now, and I'm delighted that we were actually awarded platinum status, which is the next level up in April. We didn't want, at that stage, to overload staff with surveys and so we agreed that we would postpone the staff survey until the autumn, so that is about to happen, and we will publish the results of that. We've also changed the way we do that annual survey. We have contracted to work with an external company who is also going to be providing services for the Scottish Parliament. So, that means it will be a useful way of us benchmarking ourselves against another legislature. I'll stop there.
Thank you, that's really useful to know. Finally, in terms of my questions, just on diversity, on the pay gap there is in terms of ethnicity, that people from black, Asian, minority ethnic backgrounds are less well represented, particularly in medium and senior management roles—what steps will you be taking to address that?
It's a really important issue for us and it's one of the things we want to focus on. And a good deal of work has happened already and we're going to be doing a good deal more work. We have an excellent staff network called Reach, which is very dynamic and has been engaging in constructive conversations with us about improving the situation. While the ethnicity pay gap is not good enough, it shows a good trend of improvement from last year. And we've also got the cohort becoming a little more senior in the organisation, which is excellent, and it's something that I would like to accelerate.
Specific actions—we're holding targeted recruitment campaigns to promote diversity and champion under-represented groups, and that is actually not just ethnicity, but all kinds of protected characteristics; we've included BAME and disability statements in adverts; we've looked at the language we use in recruiting and tried to make that better and simpler; we've signed up to the civil service jobs portal; we've developed new recruitment principles; we've been working with Business in the Community, which has a specific expertise in addressing these issues; and we're going to be continually monitoring our progress by undertaking a short mid-year report on equal pay later in this year to review progress and impact; we've signed up to the race charter. I could go on, but I hope that the point is made, that this is something we are taking very seriously, because we will perform at our best if Commission staff reflect the communities of Wales who look to the national Parliament to represent them.
I think, before you go on, Rhianon Passmore had a supplementary question.
Very briefly. Firstly, I think that that sounds exemplary, and I very much welcome the actions that are being taken and also the platinum status. In regard to outside of the protected characteristics, I'm also very keen to understand what more we're doing around lower socioeconomic groups, and I've raised this previously. Because I think that is something that we also need to look at, and I just wondered if you've got any further comment around that particular area?
Yes, absolutely, Rhianon, and I remember you raising this last year, and it's been very much in my mind since then. It is more difficult, in the sense that we don't capture that information in the same way that we capture information about other protected characteristics. But the purpose of all the reviewing that we're doing of our recruitment practices is to enrich the mix of people that we have working for the Parliament. That continues. We're accumulating awards for excellence as a workplace, and we hope to capitalise on that to target all kinds of communities that are under-represented at the moment. Our outreach work and engagement work very much has a focus of trying to reach people who we haven't been able to reach before, and as well as informing people about the work of the Senedd, we hope that will also translate into attracting people to work with us in due course as well. But just to reassure you, that is the underlying principle of the review of recruitment that we've been doing, and the new portals that we'll be having and the review of our recruitment brand as well.
Back to you, Delyth. Sorry, Suzy first, if you want to come in briefly.
Just briefly on that. I think it is worth mentioning the Senedd's apprenticeship scheme as well, as one of the main ways, I suppose, of improving our diversity, and that includes the socioeconomic areas that perhaps we've not been so successful in reaching before, because an apprenticeship is, perhaps, something that anyone can feel that they've got access to. I just wanted to reinforce the point as well that this particular area of work is something that's very important to the Commissioners as well. We flag this up quite frequently as an area that we want to see progress on.
Okay. Back to Delyth Jewell.
One very quick supplementary, please. I really welcome what you're saying about us going into outreach and trying to increase diversity. In terms of where the main barriers are, obviously it's really welcome to hear, in terms of the work that's been taken to ensure that people from more diverse backgrounds are applying in the first place. If there are also barriers at interview stage, what work do you think needs to happen internally in terms of looking at the people who are interviewing and the unconscious biases that we can all have? And I know these are not easy, straightforward things to address, but I'm sure that you'd agree that they are absolutely essential.
Well, just to assure you, that is absolutely part of the package of stuff that we're doing—increased training provision for managers on unconscious bias, cultural awareness and so on. We're putting in measures, such as candidate touch points, to understand how people are feeling throughout the process, and increasingly provide any support that people feel they need if they suddenly feel unconfident, and reviewing the applications form, as we understand more about what might be a barrier to moving forward. So, it's a point well made and it's certainly something we have in mind.
That's really welcome. Okay. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.
Okay. Jenny Rathbone. Sorry, it's Angela Burns. My mistake. Angela Burns. I've caused confusion there, haven't I? [Laughter.] Angela.
Thank you, and hello to the witnesses. Thank you very much indeed for sharing the information that you have so far. I've read your report with interest. One of the key areas that I'm very keen to just explore is the area of engagement, and I'd like to just start off with a question about—. I understand and I've seen the new and welcome changes to your key performance indicators on how you would measure engagement and outreach with people within Wales. How do you measure what weight you give internally to engagement as one of your three priority areas as an ambition as the Senedd?
Well, I think we work very closely as a team. We have put a great emphasis on the 'one team' ethos in the last few years of working together, recognising that what staff in each of our three directorates do cannot be divided from what is done in other places. In terms of engagement, there is no clear-cut boundary there between what our communications staff do and what our committee clerks do. Each plays a huge role in publicising the work of Senedd committees, for example. So, it isn't really something that we balance in thought in terms of weight of resources. We look at it as a whole.
We do, obviously, evaluate the engagement work, and the indicators that we have do give a clear picture of the difference that direct engagement can make and where that's more effective, and that was the heart of the new communication strategy that was introduced after our new communication and engagement director was appointed last year. The drive of the strategy is to create the capacity to do more of that work and engage with ever more of the people of Wales.
I know we're looking at last year now, but I think it is notable that, during the lockdown period, although we had to stop quite a lot of our physical engagement activity, we have moved quite strongly online and are following quite carefully the indicators there of how our audiences are increasing, because they are increasing online, and making the most of that opportunity.
Suzy wanted to—
I suppose to answer your question directly, there are three strategic goals for the Commission to aim for. The directorates are much better aligned with those three goals than they have been in previous Commissions, I guess, and not one of those three goals or directorates are more important than the others. They all carry the same weight, which is what your question was about—weight. But the way that's actually then operationalised, if I just made up a word there, is exactly as Manon says—it's a one team effort. But I don't want you to run away with the idea that maybe engagement is the least of three or anything like that, because that absolutely isn't the case.
Back to you, Angela.
No, that was the clarity I was seeking, in that I think that if the Senedd doesn't do the engagement work and promotes the Parliament of Wales, who else is left to do it? Political parties, the Government—I don't really see it as their primary job, but I do see it as one of the key jobs of the Commission. So, the changes and the beefing up, and the change in direction, are really welcome to see.
I noticed that the KPIs have slightly changed and that there's much more depth and scope going into them. Have you been able to leave a breadcrumb trail behind you, though, so that you can still reference today's KPIs with last year's and the year before's and the year before's so we can see if there's an increase and an improvement?
We regard the reporting period that we've just reported now as a new baseline, because, obviously, we don't want to chop and change KPIs very often for that very reason, that we want to be able to track trends from year to year. The KPIs that we had before were a good start, but they basically measured our activity, rather than our impact and output. So, what we have now moves more in that direction, and thank you for your support, recognising the effort that we've put into communications and engagement. We've had to slightly delay the appointment of some key roles within the communications and engagement team because of the lockdown over the last six months, but we hope to move forward very strongly.
So, just talking briefly about the KPIs, Manon, and the statistics shown in the report, for example, there's a very welcome uptick in the number of followers on your main corporate social media channels. If you were to judge that by numbers alone, you would say, 'Wow, that's fantastic; we've just about got to 80,000.' But is there any qualitative research as to not just the breadth of numbers but actually the depth, because is it 80,000 of the lobby groups and the political bubble and the people who are very interested in the intimate workings of the Assembly, or is it 80,000 people who are genuinely just citizens of Wales who use it as a way to track the work of the Senedd? So, it's trying to—. I know, if I look at my followers, they're almost all anoraks, love them, as I do, but, you know, I actually like the follower who actually lives in Pembrokeshire or lives in Carmarthenshire and wants to know what I am doing in Pembrokeshire or in Carmarthenshire. So, it's sort of hiving those followers out into different sections, isn't it? Is there work looking at an analysis of that?
The short answer, Angela, is, 'yes'. Yes, we do analyse our social media reaction, and it's not just social media as well, because, obviously, not everybody uses that. But that kind of analysis, as well as polling and focus-group work has given us a clearer picture of how best to engage with the public, as well as their feelings towards us. For example, it's shown that clearer, simpler messaging works well, along with a slightly warmer tone of voice, which you might have noticed in the last few months.
We're increasing our social media communications and engagement work during this period, and it has seen a big uptick beyond what you see in last year's report. But this won't be at the cost of face-to-face work, which was ongoing until the coronavirus restrictions came into force, and, as soon as it's safe to do so, we will resume our citizen engagement and community engagement activities. And, meanwhile, we're working out online ways of serving schools, for example, who want tailored engagement, especially as we come to the extension of the franchise at the next election, and we've been working out how to provide a bit of that experience virtually.
And may I ask you how do you judge the value for money of some of the big-ticket items that you talk about here, such as all the stuff that was done to celebrate the 20 years of the Assembly—the citizens' assembly, the GWLAD festival? Because, again, I wonder if some of these initiatives go to the people who are already receptive to, warm towards and understand a little bit about—sorry, I keep calling it 'Assembly'; I beg your pardon, Senedd, but towards the Senedd, rather than people who are less engaged and don't really understand what the Senedd does, what areas of responsibility it has, what the devolution settlement actually means for them in their day-to-day life.
We are very concerned with that. That's a good point—there's engagement and there's engagement. But our evaluation is fairly encouraging. We reached over 2.25 million people with the GWLAD festival this time last year, which is a significant figure for our channels, and we had over 2,000 visits to the estate over the course of the weekend. But, beyond that quantitative picture, we've also mined some insights in terms of surveying the people who did engage with us at that time. A third were attending a Senedd event for the first time, so that suggests that we were having some success at getting at people who hadn't engaged with us before. Over a third said that they felt that their confidence to take part in political events had increased after attending GWLAD, and 42 per cent of those surveyed noted that their interest in the work of the Senedd had increased. So, it's that sort of indicator we're looking at to suggest that we are providing value for money.
And finally, I just—because, again, looking at the information in your set of accounts, you talk about the
'Extent members of the public's confidence / interest / understanding...has increased following their engagement with certain teams'
and, absolutely, I would expect nothing less, but I still don't quite see, and I think what I'm looking to try to find is: is there yet any understanding, qualitative or quantitative, of who you're not getting to? So, for example, there's a huge amount of work around the Youth Parliament. It's great, really dynamic and there's a lot of engagement with schools—they're either coming to you or you've got outreach teams going out—but, of course, beyond the young people, there is a big section of the population, especially if they're not, perhaps, local to the Senedd, who are still really not so sure about what goes on and where our responsibility lies. It's really important we get that message across, I'm sure you'd agree, because that's our raison d'etre as a parliament. So, I just wondered: do you have any work that you're doing to find out who you're not hitting, then you can start planning how to hit them?
Yes, that's, again, an ever-present concern and obviously it isn't helped by the situation of the media in Wales, generally; we sometimes don't have much help in putting that message across. So, it is something that requires a focus of effort on our behalf. We are doing the work is the short answer, and there will be more of it coming. There are going to be a couple of key appointments in that team over the next few months—adverts just going live now—and we hope that that will enable us to build on the work that the current team is doing to get those insights, because we're under no illusions that, if we're just talking within an echo chamber, then that isn't good enough.
Thank you. Sorry, Suzy.
Just quickly on that, I think this an important point, looking forward to the sixth Senedd as well, that engagement is good and it's improving, but what we really are looking for are the people who aren't the usual suspects. Particularly taking your point, Angela, about engagement generally and raising the visibility and status of the Senedd across Wales, we don't want it to be thought of as a particular type of institution of interest only to certain people. So, that's something that the new engagement strategy is very, very alive to. All right, things are going to be thrown off because of COVID this coming year, but I hope to see some fruits of that work, regardless of COVID this year—I certainly hope we do anyway.
Thanks for that clarification, Suzy. Okay, and the last questions are from Jenny Rathbone.
Hello. Just on that last subject there, I'd just like to say I'd like to see your strategy for how you reach the hardest to reach, and I think we probably all know who they are. Just turning now to procurement, you have set a target of 43 per cent of your suppliers being Welsh-based companies. That doesn't feel a terribly challenging target to me, because Welsh-based companies don't mean necessarily Welsh suppliers. So, I think I'd like to unpick a little bit of this. You've provided a bar chart, which is helpful to illustrate the progress you've made. Translation is down at 4 per cent, but that's just 4 per cent of spend, is that right? We can't possibly be sourcing most of our translation services from England—well, I'd be very surprised if we were. Could you just clarify that for me?
I think that's due to the physical location of one of our team.
Just to clarify it is 4 per cent of our spend.
It's 4 per cent of your spend.
There's one of your—. One of your translation teams is based, presumably, in England. What percentage of—?
Sorry, Jenny, to clarify, this is external translation spend, not relating to our staff.
Okay. So, this is fairly minor compared with, obviously, the amount of translation work that's done in house.
Okay. All right. So, just looking at other issues, there's clearly a good deal more we could be doing to ensure, in these difficult times, that we are spending most of the resources that are allocated to the Senedd Commission in Wales for the benefit of people who work in Wales. So, could you just talk me through how you're going to really—? The foundational economy is now quite a significant focus of the Welsh Government, so how are you going to step up to the plate on this issue?
A very important point, Jenny, and one on which the Commission maintains a great focus as well. One of the difficulties that we have is that our big spend is in utilities—power and heating, ICT and facilities management—and there are few, if any, Welsh suppliers in these areas. However, we are going to continue to do what we have been doing, which is focus on further engaging with Welsh suppliers to better understand the services they provide and to undertake preliminary market consultations, and we're allocating resource to this. There are some areas with more scope, which we hope to take advantage of, and we'll be looking at these when the contracts are up for renewal—for example, the broadcasting and the catering contracts.
Okay, so you're looking. What specifically are you looking to put into the catering contract that would enable us to see an improved amount of money spent on Welsh businesses as suppliers?
It's difficult to go into detail at this stage. But what can help sometimes is if big contracts are broken down into smaller contracts. That has to be balanced with the value for money aspect as well. So, it's all quite complicated and needs to be—you know, it needs to be thought through carefully, but we will report back to you, obviously, and it is a matter of important focus for us.
I understand it's complicated, and obviously the Welsh Government is itself revising its procurement frameworks. How much do you benefit from, if you like, the increased focus on increasing the amount of procurement we're able to do with Welsh companies?
It's—. Well, any movement in the public sector we keep closely in touch with.
Okay, so you're able to benefit from the strategies that they're employing to break down contracts into smaller units. There's quite a lot of work going on, which we heard about last week in committee.
Okay. So, do you think that your 43 per cent target is sufficiently challenging?
It's actually at the moment looking like a bit of a stretch, Jenny, because, as I say, we're locked into a number of contracts that we won't be able to change between now and the end of the fifth Senedd, and, indeed, our spend with Welsh suppliers, unfortunately, has been impacted by the pandemic as well. For example, CBRE, which is our estate management company—their supply through their Welsh supply chain is down by half because of the circumstances of the lockdown. And it's also put off our new tendering activity as well. But, on a more positive note, we've recently retendered the print room equipment contract, and that was awarded to a Welsh based supplier. So, that isn't a massive contract, but it's a substantial enough one, and, as I say, we are restructuring the governance team to focus more resource on engaging with Welsh suppliers to better understand the services they can provide.
Okay, thank you for that. Moving on to sustainability, but sticking with procurement, obviously you've reduced your energy emissions quite a lot. You said earlier it was very difficult to procure energy from Welsh companies, but there are an increasing number of renewable energy companies—well, renewable energy producers—in Wales, but also there are some wholesale suppliers of renewable energy. Are none of them based in Wales?
We've joined the Cardiff district heating scheme, which we're hopeful will pay dividends in the medium term, so we've certainly got an eye on that, and we've—you will have seen the new sustainability strategy that we published as a suite of our reports before the recess. So, certainly, points like that will be very much in front of mind.
Okay. Just one or two other things. I've read that you've upgraded some of the air-handling units to presumably make them more efficient. I mean, this is quite an important issue in the context of suppressing any spread of coronavirus. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about how you ensure that any use of air conditioning within our buildings is not a mechanism for a single individual who has developed COVID, possibly asymptomatically, to spread it to everybody in the building.
Well, the air conditioning was switched off, certainly, when I was in the building last week for the hybrid meetings, so, it's something that we've borne in mind. I think the detail of that, Jenny, is probably something I'd better write to you about, rather than speculate and get it wrong, but I think the main way we've been avoiding that is switching it off while it doesn't create uncomfortable temperatures for us to do so.
Okay. I mean, it is rarely too uncomfortable to work in this country without air conditioning. So, how will you maximise the use of natural ventilation by people opening the windows, and possibly putting on an extra layer of clothing, rather than boosting—
Yes, that is absolutely to be encouraged. And, of course, the Senedd building was built with that in mind. We're in the suboptimal position of having to retrofit solutions to Tŷ Hywel and that raises questions about the future of the estate. But we're certainly making sure that the windows can be opened and encouraging people to work in that way meanwhile.
Okay. Just looking at water, you said that your water use has gone up in the last financial year because the grey water recapture from rain had to be repaired—
Cleaned out, yes.
—and then refilled, but we've had massive rainfall in the meantime. We're presumably not filling the rainwater tank with water from the mains, are we?
Good. Okay. So, do we use grey water for cleaning services, or do we use mains water for that?
I'm fairly sure it's grey, but I would like to check my facts and report back to you on that, if I may.
Okay. I suppose what I want to hear from you is what the strategy is for making this a zero-carbon operation. You know, we're constantly chasing other organisations to ensure that they're working towards zero carbon; is this something that you think will be achievable in the sixth Assembly, or at least up until 2030, your latest iteration of your strategy?
Well, our goals are set out in that strategy document, and I think that a combination of taking advantage of any technological improvements that emerge over the next few years, but more importantly driving culture change and all of us working in a different way, including working from home, gives us significant potential to tap into.
Including, presumably, reducing air travel. I notice that 20 per cent of travel costs are from air travel in the diagram you printed in your report. That seemed very high, given that we're not even talking about Members of the Senedd who have to travel down by air from distant parts of—Ynys Môn, et cetera.
Well, it's very rare for Senedd Commission staff to travel by air, so I think that may well be attributable to international visits and so forth, but that's certainly something that we can look at.
Okay. Well, for international visits, it's obviously quite difficult to travel by other means. But obviously, there's still quite a challenge in encouraging staff to not travel by car when they're coming to work, from the report you've published.
Yes, I think that's true, and that problem isn't going to get any easier. In common with every other organisation, we're facing the balance between wanting to avoid public transport where possible and then having to rely on cars instead, which is not ideal from an environmental point of view. So, that is a difficult one, but possibly to be offset by more people working at least part of the time from home in future.
Okay. Thank you very much.
Thanks, Jenny, and thanks for clarifying those things, Manon, but if you can get us confirmation of some of the information you promised to Jenny, that'd be great.
Okay. That brings our questioning for today to an end. Can I thank Manon Antoniazzi, Suzy Davies and Nia Morgan for being with us? Thanks for helping us through the first stage of looking at this. I know that you're very busy at the moment with dealing with aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, so your time is much appreciated.
We will send you a transcript of today's proceedings for you to finalise before it's published.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 5, 6, 7, 8 a 9 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42.
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42.
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Great. Okay. With that, thanks to our witnesses and I move Standing Order 17.42 to exclude the public from items 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:11
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:11.