Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd23/02/2021
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon and welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. A Plenary meeting held by video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on your agenda. I would also remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting.
The first item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Vilkki Howells.
1. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve access to emergency mental health care? OQ56338
Llywydd, on 21 December, the Minister for mental health, Eluned Morgan, published 'Beyond the Call', the Welsh Government review of urgent access to mental health services. Cabinet agreement has since been secured to implementation of the report’s recommendations across the range of ministerial responsibilities.
Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. I'm particularly concerned about our children and young people accessing the appropriate care in terms of the pressures placed on them during the pandemic. So, it's welcome that the Welsh Government has prioritised them with the recent £9.4 million for the schools in-reach pilot and children and mental health adolescent services. However, the pandemic has also highlighted the all too real health inequalities faced by far too many communities across Wales, including in my own constituency of Cynon Valley. How is the Welsh Government tackling this in service provision?
Llywydd, I thank Vikki Howells for that supplementary question. It gives me an opportunity, hearing her mention health inequalities, to remind colleagues here that this week is the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Julian Tudor Hart's paper in The Lancet on the inverse care law, a paper that has had a genuinely global impact far beyond Wales. It was sent to me, Llywydd, again this week by our former colleague Dr Brian Gibbons, reminding me of the continued relevance of that 50-year-old seminal piece of work. And, of course, Vikki Howells is right, as was Dr Gibbons, that the pandemic has exposed those fault lines in our society all over again. And in emergency mental health services, Llywydd, we know that those people who have the least access to mainstream services often have to gain and obtain health services through emergency routes. It's why the 'Beyond the Call' review was so important, to make sure that those routes are as clear and as easy as possible for people to read.
Members who've had a chance to have a look at it will know that it tracks the 950 calls every day that come into emergency and out-of-normal-hours services across Wales from people with a mental health need of one sort or another. It looks to see what happens to those people, and only three out of 10 of them, Llywydd, turn out to need simply an NHS response; there are other aspects of their lives that need attention as well. So, the report's focus is on collaboration, on timeliness, on crisis planning for people who are known to have a pre-existing condition, on a missing person protocol, particularly important for young people, as Vikki Howells focused on in her supplementary question, and a single point of entry to help those who need help to get it in a crisis. And I'm very pleased to say that we've now got pilots, 111 pilots, in Swansea Bay, Hywel Dda and Aneurin Bevan health boards, all designed to put that aspect of the report into practice, so that we can do better in the way that Vikki Howells asked in her original question, to make sure that emergency mental health care is available to people at that point of need.
First Minister, do you agree with me that priority needs to be given to capital investment in modern acute facilities? It's still the case that some are old fashioned, inappropriate, too large, with adolescents, for instance, in adult facilities, and anyone suffering acute mental distress and/or psychosis can find their trauma is increased by grossly inappropriate facilities sometimes, including being held in prison cells whilst placements are sought. This is unacceptable in the modern age.
Llywydd, I do absolutely agree with David Melding that people should get the help they need in the right setting. It's completely unacceptable that someone who has primarily a mental health need or condition should end up in a criminal justice context. I know that David Melding will be pleased that one of the 'Beyond the Call' recommendations that has been implemented is that we should have conveyance pilots—that people who are in acute mental distress should not be taken to where they can get help in the back of a police car. And we have three of those pilots going on at the moment with St John Ambulance Cymru—in Swansea Bay, Cwm Taf Morgannwg, and here in Cardiff and the Vale. And it's precisely in order to address the sorts of circumstances that David Melding has referenced—that those people should get the help they need in a way that is sensitive to the distress that they are experiencing, and not in places or by means that add to that distress. And that will need further investment. I'm very pleased to say that we still hope that the Tonna in-patient perinatal mental health service will open to patients in April of this year, and that will be in physical conditions that meet the standards of the twenty-first century.
First Minister, I've raised this matter of the mental health effects of the lockdown policy since it was evident that the three weeks to flatten the curve was nothing of the sort. We won't know the full effects of lockdown policy in terms of suicide, mental health crises, cancers and waiting times for a long time yet. That said, your Government seems to be investing heavily in mental health services, with £10 million additional funding to deal with the effects of lockdown. Can you tell the Chamber how this sum was calculated, please, and how, specifically, it will benefit those unfortunate enough to need access to emergency mental health services? Thank you.
I thank the Member for her question. Of course, we have recognised throughout that there is more than one sort of harm that comes from coronavirus, and the impact on people's mental health and well-being is certainly one of the things to which we have always attempted to pay close attention. I know the Member will be pleased that the British Medical Journal recently reported on evidence that there has not been a rise in suicide rates in the early part of the pandemic. But I agree with what Mandy Jones said that these are early days, and that the impact of the pandemic will go on for many months, and longer than that, to come. But it was at least encouraging that the worst feared impacts in those early days did not appear to have materialised.
The additional investment in mental health is actually £43 million in the draft budget. That comes on top of the fact that mental health is the single largest budget line within the health service here in Wales. That £43 million has to do an awful lot, Llywydd, of course: it has to strengthen services in the community; it has to make sure that young people do not, as David Melding alluded, end up in age-inappropriate settings if they need in-patient treatment; it has to make sure that we go on improving services for people with dementia and the need for mental health services later on in life. But it will have been calculated in the normal ways, in partnership with the health service, the third sector and those who do so much to help provide services for people in Wales with a mental health condition.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the reopening of schools? OQ56303
Llywydd, opening up education remains the Welsh Government’s main priority. Our youngest learners started to return to schools this week. As announced on Friday, if the public health situation continues to improve, more children will return to their classrooms from 15 March, in a safe and flexible way.
Thank you, First Minister, for your answer. I certainly welcome that schools have reopened as of yesterday for younger children. A concern raised with me is that school uniform seems to be classed as a non-essential item and is unable to be purchased. Shoe shops are closed, meaning that children cannot be measured to get approximate-sized shoes. So, what advice can you provide to parents in supporting them to obtain school uniforms and shoes before their children return to school? And what consideration has been given to relaxing the wearing of school uniforms in schools, given the fact that children grow out of clothes and shoes so quickly and schools are closed for such long periods of time?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Russell George for those points, which are all points that I think are absolutely right ones to raise in this context. The instruction of the Welsh Government to schools is that they must take a flexible approach to uniforms in these extraordinary periods. No child should be sent home from school in Wales because they're unable to obtain a uniform in the extraordinary circumstances of recent weeks, and I'm sure that schools will exercise good sense in the way that they approach this matter.
We're in discussions with the retail sector to see if there's anything we can do to help meet emergency needs when children don't have shoes, in the way that the Member explained, and I know that schools themselves will look to assist where there are genuine difficulties of that sort. The system just needs to react to the circumstances in the way that shows some flexibility and simple good sense in order to make sure that families do not find themselves facing additional difficulties on the journey back into education.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, in response to Russell George's question, you said that education and reopening of education was your No. 1 priority, and I think we'd all subscribe to that. But, regrettably, Ministers have confirmed that some year groups going back to school will not return to school until after the Easter break. So, if you're in years 7, 8, 9 or 10, you will not be returning until after the Easter break, under the current conditions that your Government has outlined. How can you allow, if there's any headroom going through the month of March, for schoolchildren to remain out of school and be opening up other parts of the economy by lifting the restrictions? Has education slipped down your priority list? Or, if it still your No. 1 priority, will you make sure that any headroom that develops through the month of March sees schoolchildren return across all year groups in Wales?
Well, Llywydd, returning children and young people to face-to-face learning is the top priority of this Government, but we will do so in a way that is consistent with the science and the advice that we have. Members here will have seen the TAC report, published on 5 February, which sets out that advice and which echoes the advice that has been provided by SAGE. And that advice is simple: that if we were to return all children to school on a single day in Wales, that would raise the R number in Wales between 10 per cent and 50 per cent. We are, therefore, very specifically recommended not to do that. What we are recommended to do is to return children to school in tranches, to pause between those tranches, so that we can properly gather the evidence of the impact of that return on the circulation of the virus here in Wales. So, it is not as simple as saying, 'If you have the headroom, return all children to school' because to do so in that way would involve very significant risks of its own.
We will return the foundation phase this week. We will pause and we will review the evidence that emerges from that return. Provided the evidence is positive, all primary-aged children will return to school on 15 March, together with examination students in secondary school. We will then pause, as the scientific advice requires us to do, to review the impact of that, and, provided that goes well, then we will return other students to school, where we want them to be. If, in the meantime, that means we are able to offer any further easements in other areas, to allow our economy or our daily lives to begin—to begin—the journey back to normality, then, of course, we would want to do that.
First Minister, it is a matter of regret that certain cohorts of children will not be going back to school until after Easter, and that is the choice that you are taking, despite saying it is your No. 1 priority to get schoolchildren back to face-to face learning as quickly as possible. I was very specific in the way I asked the question about using the headroom that is available through the month of March to allow this to happen in a more timely manner. Regrettably, you chose not to engage with that, and it is a fact that the Government will be leaving a significant cohort of pupils out of school. That is a choice that the Government is taking.
If we look at choices and priorities, the Federation of Small Businesses have talked about radio silence coming from the Government today when it comes to interacting with business over the conditions that the Government would expect to see before opening up swathes of the economy. It is unfortunate that such a substantial business organisation has referred to radio silence coming from the Welsh Government and a lack of a road map being put in place so business can understand what would be expected of them from the Government before they reopen. Can you use this Plenary opportunity to put on the record what conditions you expect to be in place before parts of the economy are reopened and business can plan accordingly? Will you confirm whether you will be bringing forward a road map that has clear gateways and conditions to travel through so that businesses know when they will be able to reopen and begin trading? Because that would be the best recovery any business can expect to have—by trading under normal conditions.
Let me just help the Member a second time in relation to schools. We will return students to schools as fast as it is safe to do so. The advice we have is that it would not be safe to do what he is suggesting. If it is the policy of the Conservative Party in Wales to return children to conditions that are not safe for them or for their staff, then let him say so. This Government will not do that; we will follow the science, whatever happens elsewhere. The science is that you must return children in tranches and you must pause between each one. I set out the road map of the Welsh Government in December; we updated it again on Friday of last week. I hope the Member has had a chance to consider that. He wouldn't need to ask me for one if he had taken the trouble to do so. That sets out the way in which we will lift the restrictions that currently are necessary for businesses and in our personal lives. It's clear from what he's said today that businesses in Wales would know where they were if he were to be in charge, because they wouldn't be going back at all, because it would be clear that he wouldn't be able to do that and do what he has just said in relation to education. The Welsh Government will not follow his advice on that. If we are in a position to begin the reopening of businesses in Wales earlier than he would be able to do so, then that is what we will do. We will do it in partnership, of course, with business organisations, as we always do, and we will be discussing those possibilities with them during the three weeks that we now have before the next review has to conclude.
First Minister, you've taken your usual condescending tone. You might be the professor in the Bay, but you're the professor without a plan out of lockdown and that's a real problem for the economy and for schoolchildren the length and breadth of Wales. What you can do with the powers that are available to you is put some support in for businesses by extending the business rate relief scheme. Will you at least in this third question engage positively and commit today to extending the business rate relief scheme that has been extended in other parts of the UK and would be a relief to many businesses facing business rate demands? Because in the absence of any coherent plan to bring the economy out of lockdown and with the evidence provided by the Federation of Small Businesses that there's radio silence coming from the Welsh Government, try and pull one lever at least to help the economy regain its confidence.
Llywydd, 64,000 businesses in Wales have already received rate relief as a result of the decisions of this Welsh Government. I understand how important that is to businesses, but we will wait until Wednesday of next week, 3 March, to see the Chancellor's budget, so that we are clear about how much money we have as a Government for all the different purposes that we have to discharge in the next financial year. If the Chancellor makes provision for rate relief, then we will be able to provide rate relief here in Wales. I'm not prepared to commit to using the money we have next year until I am clear on the quantum of funding that will be available not just for businesses, but to support the health service during this pandemic, to support local authorities in the work that they do, to make sure that third sector organisations, the arts, all those many things that we have to attend to—until I know how much money is available to the Welsh Government next year, I'm not prepared to come to a conclusion on any one aspect of it. To do so would be simply irresponsible. Once we know, on Wednesday of next week, whether Wales is to have money taken away from us next year again, as we have on so many occasions during the 10 years that his Government has imposed austerity on Wales, or whether we have the money that we need to attend to the calls of businesses and others—once we know, this Government will make allocations to those key sectors during the month of March. I hope very much that we will be in a position to do as the leader of the Conservatives here has suggested, and to offer further help to businesses in Wales, but we won't be in a position to do that until we know what his Government in Westminster has got in store for us.
Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
First Minister, how many care workers in Wales currently receive less than the real living wage?
I'm quite sure the Member will be able to give me an answer to that question. I'm well aware that publicly provided social care in most parts of Wales does provide the real living wage, and in the private sector, where most residential care is provided, there are employers who are yet to do so. We are using our grant in aid to the sector to encourage the provision of the real living wage, and we hope that we will be able to make significant progress as a result of the additional money that we provide.
According to the Resolution Foundation, First Minister, more than half of all care workers in Wales currently receive less than the real living wage—poverty wages, in other words. That was unacceptable before the pandemic and it's certainly unacceptable now. That's not just my view; it's also the view expressed recently by your party's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, who has called for the Government in England to commit to a care worker minimum wage of £10 an hour. Are you prepared to match that commitment to a £10 an hour minimum wage for all care workers here in Wales?
I certainly agree with the Member that it's unacceptable that people who have done so much at the front line during the pandemic are not paid at a level that recognises the value and importance of the work that they do. Of course, if my party at Westminster succeeds in persuading the UK Government to make such a payment, there will be money that will come to Wales to allow us to fund such a commitment. But I always have to ask myself where the money will come from. Week by week, he asks me to spend money that he hasn't got and I haven't got, and I'm keeping a running total of his many, many unfunded commitments that he constantly tries to press upon me. The Welsh Government is using the money we have in a way that would promote the payment of the real living wage in the social care sector. That is a business investment, in my view, for those private organisations that fail to do so at the moment. In the money that we provide, we are doing everything we can to make sure that that is made their priority. If more money comes our way, we'll be able to do even more.
First Minister, the Scottish Government has already committed last year to ensuring that all care workers in Scotland receive the real living wage. Why aren't you prepared to make that commitment here in Wales? The unions are calling for it, the care sector is calling for it, the Bevan Foundation is calling for it. Yes, you're absolutely right, it would be a priority to deliver for a Plaid Cymru Government. The Labour Party is committed to supporting it in England and Scotland. They just put an amendment there this week to go further than the current commitment of the Scottish Government. Why won't you commit to doing it as a Government, to making the same commitment, where you have the power to make such a difference to tens of thousands of care workers' lives, and the people who depend upon them?
The only priority the leader of Plaid Cymru has is to make fine-sounding speeches in which he promises anybody that he will be able to solve their problems. So, this is a priority for him—well, that's good to know. Last week, it was a priority for him to spend money on free school meals. The week before that, it was a priority for him to provide childcare for all families with a child above the age of one. The week before that it was to spend £6 billion on investment, which he hasn't got. Priorities, Llywydd, mean not just simply saying things that he thinks people will want to hear. It means having to make decisions that match the harsh realities of budgets with the ambitions that we have. This Government had a real ambition to improve conditions in the social care workforce. It's why we decided that it would be a registered profession. We have a real ambition to make sure that people are properly paid in it, and we will find the money to match our priorities. Simply adding, week after week, to totally uncosted wish lists, which is all he ever has to offer me, really is a remarkable performance of voodoo economics that he conjures up here on a weekly basis, and he's done it again today.
3. What specific actions has the Welsh Government taken to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in the workplace? OQ56335
To provide just two specific actions, the Working Wales service has been used by over 6,500 women across Wales during lockdown, and the business start-up grant has attracted 60 per cent of its applications from women. All of this and more is drawn together in today's publication of our economic resilience and construction mission.
Thank you for the response. We know that women have been, sadly, disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with women making up 80 per cent of childcare, care and leisure services, 75 per cent in administrative and secretarial, and 60 per cent working in sales and customer services—sectors that have been hit hard. We've just talked about childcare, but I think one of the most essential changes that you could make would be that women seeking employment and/or training have access to childcare, as well as those who are in the current scheme, so that they can feel empowered to go out to work again. We are awaiting judgment as to whether the UK Government have acted illegally in reducing the self-employment income support scheme payments for women who have taken maternity leave. I would like to know here today whether the Welsh Government have taken any action to support new mothers in Wales, who will have taken an unfair financial hit by this failure. What risks were flagged in your build back better scheme? We know that school closures have affected women, who are doing a lot of the childcare and the schooling. How will the Welsh Government ensure that Wales will not only build back better, but build back equal?
Let me begin by agreeing with the sentiments that Bethan Sayed was expressing at the very end of her supplementary question. I've never myself used the mantra 'build back better'; I always say 'build back fairer', because if it isn't fairer, it's not going to be better. She's right to point out the disproportionate impact that the last 12 months has had on women in Wales, as it has on young people, as it has on people from BAME communities. The Welsh Government lobbies the UK Government all the time when it taken actions of which we disapprove and that do not fit with our wish to create a more equal Wales, as the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 requires us to do. When we publish our spending decisions and the decisions that we have made during lockdown, we accompany them with an equality impact assessment, because we try to see all those decisions through the lens of the equality impact that those decisions have on people. We publish those equality impacts alongside the decisions that we make.
I'm very glad indeed that we have a fertile debate here in Wales all the time about how we can do more and do better to make sure that the decisions that we make during the pandemic, and especially as we come out of it, are focused on those people whose needs are the greatest, where the adverse impact has been the most profound, and where we can use the powers that we have to make a real difference. In that sense, my starting point and the starting point of the Member are the same. We might come to different conclusions about the practical implementation of some of those things, but I don't for a minute dissent from the underlying thrust of what she's said this afternoon.
I think that's the same for all of us, First Minister. Let's just have a quick look at that disproportionate effect. We've got 72 per cent of working mothers working fewer hours and cutting their earnings due to lack of child care, and during lockdown mothers were doing 35 per cent of uninterrupted work hours that the average father did. I'm sure that those figures from the Chwarae Teg 'State of the Nation' report didn't really surprise you. But what about the fact that women in Wales are twice as likely as men to be key workers, because if you look at those figures together, it's clear that a serious proportion of women key workers stepped back from work because of other COVID-driven demands on them? Regardless of the school hub provision, where attendance was lower than anticipated and I'm sure you'll be asking 'why?' yourself, in due course, it's women who have had to—and I mean 'had to'—put their employers second. As most of those key workers will be public sector workers—obviously, there are private sector workers as well—what levers are at your disposal to ensure that their pay and promotion prospects are not compromised by their COVID-period work record?
I agree that the final point is an important one. I'm afraid I don't think we all do start from the same place. If we did, we wouldn't have a Government that is still not prepared to guarantee that the £20 additional each week for people claiming universal credit is going to be continued beyond the end of March, would we? That's a decision that will fall very disproportionately indeed on women and the work that they do in families. Nor is the furlough scheme based on the sort of principles that the Member has just outlined. Seven in 10 requests for furlough turned down for working mothers—that's what the TUC found in the report that they have recently published. So, I'm afraid it's not as easy as saying, 'We all want to do the right thing', because not everybody seems to me to be in that position. I agree, however, with the final thing that Suzy Davies said, that there will be things that we may be able to do as people return to work, beyond coronavirus and certainly in the public services, that where people have gaps in their employment because they have had to deal with the many different demands that coronavirus has placed on them, they should not be disadvantaged into the long term because of the way in which they have had to make decisions to deal with the many pressures that devolve on them during a crisis.
First Minister, as you've said so often, it is women in the workplace who have been disproportionately at the front end of exposure to the pandemic. They work in retail and care and health and other public-facing roles disproportionately, and in low-paid or casual roles where sometimes the unionised voice for the workforce can be regrettably weaker, yet the pressure can be greater to turn up for work at all costs, including personal health and well-being, and the domestic pressures to put food on the table and pay the bills is also acute.
So, First Minister, as the vaccine roll-out progresses and we can hopefully anticipate more return in the weeks and months ahead to many workplaces, including non-essential retail and personal services and hospitality, where women are over-represented once again in customer-facing roles, then what more can we do than we did last year to ensure that employers put in place every measure possible to protect their staff and customers at work and that the UK Government and Welsh Government have the right measures in place to support those who have to withdraw from the workplace for COVID-related reasons, and not least that the UK Government does not cut that £20 a week from universal credit, because that will hammer women at work and at home too?
Well, Llywydd, I'm sure that Huw Irranca-Davies will recognise the actions that the Welsh Government has already taken to protect workforces where women are disproportionately represented, so our decision early on to make PPE available free in the social care sector was a really important guarantee that those workers knew they would have the protection that that has provided. As you know, it's charged to care homes across our border, where we made the decision from the beginning that the protection of those workers was our top priority and getting them the protection they needed and getting it to them free was an investment by us in the well-being of that workforce, as is the continued scheme that we have to make sure that people are paid sick pay fully in the social care sector, so that they don't feel, as Huw Irranca said, obliged to come back to work when they know that it's not right for them to do so. And in the retail sphere where, again, women are disproportionately part of the workforce, we announced in January that workplaces would have to carry out new risk assessments with higher standards to make sure that workplaces are safe against the new variant of the disease. And we were supported in doing so by employers here in Wales. And those higher standards—making sure that workplaces are properly protected and everything is done to make sure that workers and people who use those settings are kept safe—will continue to be at the forefront of everything that we do as a Government during the rest of this calendar year, when coronavirus is still going to be part of our lives.
And I'll say again, because I so much agree with Huw Irranca-Davies: the thought that up to a third of working families in Wales could find themselves with £1,000 less to meet the needs of their families—people who use that money to do simple things like keep the lights on and keep food on the table—the thought that this Government has kept those families waiting, not knowing what their position would be, it's genuine cruelty. Imagine living in those conditions and knowing that, in just a few weeks' time, you wouldn't have that extra support. I think it's shameful, and I really, really hope that, on 3 March, the Chancellor will finally make good the distress that that has caused to those families.
4. What financial support has the Welsh Government provided for taxi drivers to help them through the pandemic? OQ56337
I thank Jenny Rathbone for that, Llywydd. During the pandemic, taxi drivers have been able to obtain financial support from the economic recovery fund, including four rounds of discretionary grants. A further £1.1 million has been allocated for free personal protective equipment and cleaning products for drivers to help them protect themselves and passengers from COVID-19.
Thank you, First Minister. I'd like to pay tribute to the Unite union for having highlighted the extent to which taxi drivers were suffering from being unable to qualify for the UK Government grants. And also to pay tribute to the Welsh Government for reaching out to taxi drivers and enabling them to get some targeted compensation for the disappearance of most of their customers as a result of the pandemic restrictions. I think it's an excellent example of how the Government has used its limited resources to fill gaps in support to small businesses and freelancers that's not available elsewhere. But I also want to pay tribute to the taxi drivers themselves, because as a result of these really quite small sums of money that you've made available to them, they decided to reciprocate by raising over £10,000 in Cardiff for three local foodbanks, and it was quite humbling to witness the handing over of a cheque at the Al-Ikhlas centre in Adamsdown, which has been providing weekly food parcels to people in desperate need for over a year. So, I think—
Can you come to your question, now, Jenny Rathbone?
Yes, thank you. So, looking to the future and our need to ensure that we have a clean, decarbonised public transport system, what financial support could be made available to taxi drivers to enable them to upgrade their vehicles to the clean air standards that we're going to be requiring in the future, so that they'll be able to continue serving the communities that they obviously have such regard for?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Jenny Rathbone. I want to join her in paying tribute to the work of taxi drivers here in Cardiff, who've worked so hard to be able to support those foodbanks. She and I—and I'm sure many other Members in the Senedd today—have significant numbers of taxi drivers who live in our constituencies, and the pandemic hit them really hard—really hard. I'm very glad that our discretionary funds particularly have had an impact on the sector. Cardiff Council, as of Friday last week, had approved over 2,700 discretionary grants to those with the stated occupation of 'taxi driver', worth over £5 million. And the latest round—the £30 million announced on the fifth of this month—will provide a further £2,000 grant for self-employed taxi drivers.
The modernisation of the fleet is a real challenge for them. It's why we have been very glad to develop a number of green taxi pilot schemes in the Cardiff capital region, in Pembrokeshire and in Denbighshire, to allow drivers to use zero-emission vehicles on a free try-before-you-buy basis. Fifty taxis are being purchased, with 30 days for a taxi drivers to use them free of charge, in the hope that that will stimulate demand within the sector for the sort of transport that Jenny Rathbone has very long championed. We're looking, as a Government, at options for grants, leasing arrangements and so on, so that we can stimulate the appetite for that sort of provision. We'll be there to support the sector in that, as well.
5. What is the Welsh Government doing to encourage more women and girls to study and follow careers in science, technology, engineering and maths? OQ56339
Llywydd, the Welsh Government actively supports all girls and young women in Wales to study STEM subjects and pursue careers in STEM. We provide annual funding to STEM organisations within the education sector. This year, the Welsh Government will support the International Women’s Day event on gender equality in STEM subjects, to be held here in Wales.
Thank you, First Minister. Throughout the pandemic, we've seen some remarkable work and achievements of scientists and engineers. From producing vaccines in record time to testing systems, identifying new variants, producing data analysis and the development of new medicines and protective equipment, the pandemic has highlighted the vital role of STEM.
Amongst those achievements have been some amazing women leading: Dr Moore, who led the effort to establish COVID testing in Wales; Dr Hayhurst, who is the lead scientist on a new form of rapid testing; and, of course, Dr Gillian Richardson, who leads our fantastic COVID vaccination programme in Wales, which is the quickest of all the UK nations. These women are leading in their fields, but, sadly, we all know that women and girls are far less likely to pursue STEM subjects in school, and, as such, do not follow on into these careers.
The pandemic has elevated our scientists and engineers onto a public platform, and highlighted how important their work is for all of us. How can we use this last year to promote STEM subjects to our young women and girls, and make sure that we get more Dr Moores, Dr Hayhursts and Dr Richardsons in the future?
I thank Jayne Bryant for that and agree with her about the outstanding quality of individuals we have here in Wales as role models for young women thinking of careers in STEM subjects. There's been some good progress in recent times; more girls than boys now study biology, physics and chemistry in Wales at GCSE level, and over half of our nearly 20,000 STEM apprenticeships in Wales are now taken up by young women rather than young men. So, there are some breakthroughs that are happening.
Role models are really important in that. The women in STEM board that we have here in Wales—it met last October and was attended by our colleagues Jane Hutt and Kirsty Williams to make clear the Welsh Government's support for the leadership of women in those subjects here in Wales and in those jobs that Jayne Bryant highlighted, and the way in which they can inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
I know that Jayne Bryant will be interested that, at the start of March, Careers Wales is holding an event very close to her part of the world, designed specifically to try to attract young women into the jobs in semiconductor professions and so on that are clustered around the south-east of Wales, and where persuading young women to think of those jobs as their futures is absolutely part of the way in which that event is being organised.
First Minister, I'm 42 now and had a couple of friends—strong-willed ladies—who broke the mould all those many, many moons ago, when I was younger, and had glittering careers as engineers in a very, very male-dominated environment; it was virtually unheard of when I was younger. The situation, as has been outlined just now, has got an awful lot of better, but it still has a long way to go to be how it should be.
These are vital areas that we need our future generations of all genders to excel at now, making it particularly more accessible for women, obviously, and women to be encouraged to sign up to. As you've outlined, the take-up for apprenticeships has got better, but it still has a long way to go. Career advice in schools tends to guide women towards apprenticeships that are in sectors where pay is less than those dominated by men. But what is the Welsh Government doing to tackle the gender imbalance in career advice in schools? And how are you working with the Fair Work Commission to stop the perpetuation of gender inequality and to meet the equality objectives that your Government has set? Thank you.
Well, Llywydd, the event that I referred to in answering Jayne Bryant's question is an event that will be run by the careers service, so I would be very disappointed if it were the case that the careers service is actively continuing stereotypical directions for young men or young women in the workplace, and I'm sure that that is not the intention of the service.
It's an uphill battle, as the Member will know. I agree with her that there's far more that needs to be done. I have a young grandson, and you have to work really hard to make sure that you don't end up just buying things that are pushed at us all as being the right things for young boys to have, rather than offering a more rounded idea of what life could be like. And that is certainly true for young women who have got all of those things pushed at them by the commercial world and so on. So, the Welsh Government puts its shoulder to the wheel in the opposite direction, using the services that we have, and the many people who are there in private businesses as well as in the public service who want to make sure that that wider range of opportunities is positively promoted to young women and girls entering the workplace. We do it in a world that still has some pretty deep-seated conventional attitudes and so on, but that just means that that work is all the more necessary.
Question 6, Helen Mary Jones.
I'm not hearing Helen Mary's question.
I'm sorry, Llywydd, I think my microphone was in the incorrect position.
Yes, it was on top of your head. [Laughter.]
Clearly the incorrect position. I do apologise. [Laughter.]
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the vaccination roll-out in Mid and West Wales? OQ56315
Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. Vaccines are currently being administered in 260 sites in the health boards that cover Mid and West Wales. We remain on track in all parts of Wales to deliver the milestone set out in our national vaccination strategy. In the coming days, we will exceed 1 million doses of vaccine delivered here in Wales.
I thank the First Minister for his answer and I know that we are all very impressed by the amazing work that's gone into delivering the vaccination programme. But the First Minister will be aware that the families and friends of people with learning disabilities living in residential settings continue to be very concerned about the fact that those people they care about so much have not yet been prioritised. I've personally lost count of the number of representations I've received—from Llanelli to Powys, from Pembrokeshire to Pen Llŷn—from families who are concerned, and given that Mencap estimate that there are only about 3,500 people in that category of learning disabled people who live in residential settings.
I was encouraged the hear the health Minister, Vaughan Gething, on ITV saying last night that there may be guidance available in a day or two to enable the Welsh Government to provide those vaccines. Now, if this is able to go ahead, can I ask the First Minister if he and the health Minister will place a priority on learning disabled people within priority group 6? The local health board tells me that that priority group is very large indeed, and I'm sure it would be a huge reassurance to those families and friends if the First Minister and his health Minister were able to prioritise learning disabled people within priority 6, if indeed they are to be included in that priority.
Well, Llywydd, I thank Helen Mary Jones for that important supplementary question, and I think there is some good news coming for those families who are absolutely understandably concerned. I've seen the advice that the Minister will consider today on this matter in relation to prioritisation of group 6. Helen Mary Jones will know that the broad category of number 6 is underlying health conditions, and within that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation identifies people with severe and profound learning disabilities. But the advice that I've seen going to the Minister advocates an inclusive approach, where the approach is less on gatekeeping than on ensuring that nobody entitled to vaccination is missed out.
So, the proposal is to use GP registers of people with a learning disability as the basis of identifying eligible individuals, and that that should be supplemented by professional judgment and wider local knowledge, held, for example, by third sector organisations or by local authorities. And the advice goes beyond simple identification to creating the right conditions for people with a learning disability to be able to come forward comfortably, to feel at ease in receiving vaccination and thus to maximise take-up. So, the Minister will be considering that advice today, but I hope the Member is reassured that the approach that it takes is not one in which we take 'severe and profound' as a definition designed to minimise the number of people who can come through in that group, but to take a more inclusive approach, making sure that nobody who is entitled misses out. That is the approach we will want to take in Wales.
And, Llywydd, maybe I should just say that the fact that we have GP registers of people with a learning disability, of course, is due to a very early decision made in the very first term of devolution, when David Melding brought forward a proposition for an annual health check for people with learning disabilities, supported around the Chamber at the time, and, as a result, we have these registers and are able now to use them, put them to good work, to make sure that people with learning disabilities are able to be vaccinated in line with that group 6 priority.
First Minister, that's really good news on the learning disability issue. Are you able to offer equally good news for unpaid carers? Because my inbox, and I'm sure every other Senedd Member's inbox, is absolutely full of people who are unpaid carers, desperate to have a vaccine, because if they get sick, the people who need their help—the elderly relative or the disabled child, whoever it may be—don't have anyone else to look after them. I note with the JCVI that they do talk about the whole caring situation, and they do have an addendum, and it says:
'Other groups at higher risk, including those who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill, should also be offered vaccination alongside these groups.'
There's a number of instances where either you or the health Minister has said, 'Yes, the decision's coming; it's going to happen', and then it's been put off while you're waiting to see what the JCVI say. They already say that, so are you able to offer the same kind of hope to those unpaid carers who are so desperate and so worried over this issue?
Well, I don't recognise what the Member says about decisions made and then delayed. We have said all along we will follow the JCVI advice and that includes including unpaid carers within priority group 6. Alongside the advice we will publish on people with learning disabilities, we will publish this week the definitions that we will use to make sure that unpaid carers are able to come forward and be vaccinated as part of that group. It cannot be, as the Member will understand, a simple self-certification, otherwise anybody would be able to walk through the door and get vaccinated on their own say-so. All four Governments in the UK are agreed that we cannot do that. We therefore do have to use definitions to make sure that the right people are prioritised, and we're trying to do that on an aligned basis across the UK to make sure that those definitions are common between us. We'll publish the detailed guidance on that this week. I'm very keen indeed, of course, that people who are unpaid carers get the vaccination as fast as possible because of the enormously valuable work they do and the vulnerability of those people who rely on their care.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for children and young people learning at home? OQ56340
Llywydd, getting children and young people back into school remains our top priority. The range of measures to support remote learning include additional support for practitioners, significant investment in devices, support for learners with additional needs and the £29 million Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards programme.
Thank you, First Minister, and it was absolutely fantastic to see our youngest children going back to school yesterday, and unlike Andrew R.T. Davies and, it seems, Boris Johnson, I think it's really important that Governments should follow their own scientific advice, which means that our children in Wales will be learning at home for a longer period, as we manage that return to school safely. With this in mind, and given the recognition that there's been from the Education Policy Institute about the pace—and very welcome pace—with which Welsh Government has got digital support out there to families, what further investment is planned to ensure that all children and young people can learn at home for the period that we now hope will be as short as possible?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Lynne Neagle for that, and thank her for the work that she and her committee have carried out in support of returning children and young people to face-to-face learning as quickly but as safely as we need to. I've seen her letter to the education Minister of earlier this month, which, I think, sets out very fairly indeed the balance that has to be there between the urgency of the need to get those young people back into education, but always doing so in line with the best scientific advice to keep them and those who look after them in that setting safe from this deadly disease.
I thank the Member for what she has said about investment in the Hwb edtech programme. We're very lucky, Llywydd, I think, that when coronavirus hit, we'd already had nearly £100 million-worth of investment in Hwb. It genuinely is a global-leading set of resources that we've been able to mobilise for young people here in Wales. And, as Lynne Neagle will know, earlier this month, the education Minister decided to invest a further £15 million in education technology in schools next year, and that is very much focused on ensuring that there are devices available for young people who need them, but also that there is connectivity for digitally excluded learners. And the £15 million that we were able to announce just a few days ago now means we can be sure that we can support those learners right through to the end of this academic year.
Finally, question 8, Llyr Gruffydd.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the use of the Welsh language in Berwyn prison in Wrexham? OQ56309
Thank you very much, Llywydd. The Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and the Welsh Language wrote to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Ministry for Justice on 16 February to express concern about the allegations made about the experiences of Welsh speakers at Berwyn prison, and to seek clarity on the timescale for implementing changes to improve the situation.
You will be aware that Berwyn prison has been harshly criticised by the independent monitoring board last year for failing to provide for Welsh-speaking prisoners, and had denied certain rights to those prisoners because they were Welsh speaking. Now, six months later, the prison has confirmed, in correspondence with me, that they don't even know how many of their own staff are able to communicate through the medium of Welsh, so how can they claim that they are securing the necessary provision, I'm not sure. And there's been a serious allegation too—and I'm sure you'll be aware of this—that one prisoner had suffered an attack because of the coverage given to his case in the media in relation to the Welsh language.
Now, this whole situation highlights a fundamental failure in meeting the rights of Welsh speakers. I know that prisons are not devolved, but elements to do with the Welsh language are, and this is happening in Wales. There are still more Welsh speakers in prisons outside Wales than there are in Berwyn prison, which proves to me that the original pledge that Berwyn would help to meet the needs of Wales was completely misleading. So, I would encourage you in the strongest possible terms to ensure that this situation changes. The fundamental question is: why are we still seeing Welsh speakers being treated as second-class citizens here in Wales?
Llywydd, I'd like to thank Llyr Gruffydd for those supplementary questions. It is entirely unacceptable to me if people in Berwyn are not being treated according to the laws that we have in place here in Wales. And I have seen the annual report of the independent monitoring board in the Berwyn, which does raise concerns about the use of the Welsh language within the prison. That's why Eluned Morgan has written to the UK Government seeking assurances that the Welsh language scheme at Berwyn is being implemented. Now, I'm sure that Llyr Gruffydd will be aware that the Welsh Language Commissioner has a meeting on the 2 March with representatives of Berwyn prison to discuss this very issue. The authorities at Berwyn prison have outlined steps that they're taking to ensure that rights to use the Welsh language are supported, and we now need to see those steps being taken. We don't just want to see them on paper, but we want to see them having an impact on the lives of those in the prison, as Llyr Gruffydd has suggested this afternoon.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. The draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Organiser, could I seek a statement please from the planning Minister in relation to guidance that has come out from Natural Resources Wales to planning authorities in Wales regarding phosphates and the calculations that planning authorities need to use in determining applications when it comes to phosphates on land and in building projects? I'm led to believe that many applications now are being held up because local authorities do not have the expertise to deal with this particular guidance, and NRW are unable to provide real detailed guidance to help local authorities determine applications. This is having a big impact economically because, obviously, the planning process is at the heart of many economic developments. And for NRW to have issued such guidance without the help and support that planning authorities, and in particular planning officers, would need is almost reckless, I would suggest. So, could we have a statement from the planning Minister as to what her thoughts are around this guidance being issued by NRW, but, more importantly, what assistance she would expect to see from NRW to planning authorities to help them determine applications across Wales?
Thank you to Andrew R.T. Davies for raising the issue of planning guidance and phosphates on land and building projects. I might, on this occasion, suggest that he raises this specific issue with the Minister through correspondence, given that it is a detailed matter, and I think a detailed response through correspondence might be more appropriate on this occasion rather than seeking a statement on the floor of the Senedd, especially since we only have now four weeks of term left in which to accommodate the requests that colleagues are coming forward with. But I know that the Minister will be keen to provide a detailed response in writing.
I'd like to ask for a statement about vaccinating people with learning disabilities and unpaid carers. I wrote to the First Minister and health Minister two weeks ago, setting out the evidence base for prioritising people with learning disabilities living in care homes for vaccination. I haven't received a reply to the letter, although the First Minister did just confirm in Plenary that a decision is imminent, given that the health Minister has received updated advice. Now, it is a real shame, Trefnydd, that he couldn't make the decision in advance of his statement on vaccinations today, which would have allowed Members an opportunity to scrutinise the circumstances surrounding these events. I'd like to know, for example, why it was necessary for the Welsh Government to wait for the advice, which has presumably come from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, when it could unilaterally move police medics up to group 2 without receiving new advice. I'd also like to know why this group of people with learning disabilities was allowed to fall through the gap initially, meaning that it took a dedicated campaign for the correct decision to be made.
A similar issue exists for unpaid carers. I've spoken to staff in both the Aneurin Bevan health board and Cwm Taf, and they're both waiting to have guidance about how to identify unpaid carers so that they can work with GPs to make sure that they get the priority. This surely goes to the heart of why we need a register of unpaid carers in Wales. It speaks to how unappreciated these people are that the Government doesn't have an easy way of finding out who they are. Something is so wrong with how we treat these selfless, brave people. So, I hope the Trefnydd can press upon the health Minister the need for these issues to be scrutinised in the Senedd in the interests of transparency, so that we can be assured that lessons will be learned.
Thank you to Delyth Jewell for raising this, and, of course, the First Minister responded to both of these issues, about people with learning disabilities and unpaid carers, in his contribution during First Minister's questions this afternoon. We have put on the business statement for the coming weeks a statement every single week on vaccinations from the Minister for Health and Social Services, in order to provide that opportunity for colleagues—to provide that robust scrutiny on the various issues affecting their constituents in relation to vaccination, and that's the next item of business this afternoon. But there will be further opportunities to have that detailed discussion too.
Trefnydd, I wonder if we can find time for a debate before we break for the election in May on the remarkable history and enduring legacy of Robert Owen, son of Newtown and of Wales, and, indeed, of the world? Textile manufacturer, philanthropist, social reformer, and of course one of the founders of the co-operative movement and of utopian socialism too. And to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, what is the point of a map without utopia on it? On 14 May this year, we will mark the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the birth of this visionary individual, Robert Owen, who championed working people, who sought to improve their working and living conditions, and whose work led to the development not only of the co-operative movement, but of the trade union movement. He supported free co-educational establishments and legislation on child labour. So, as nations and parliaments around the world celebrate the global legacy of this our son of Wales, should we not also find the opportunity to mark his legacy here at home, here in this Senedd, our Parliament of Wales, and, as we look to the sixth Senedd term, consider how we further his ambitions for a fairer and more just society and economy in which all have an equal say and an equal stake?
And on a related theme, Trefnydd, we are at the start of Fairtrade Fortnight in Wales. It's a celebration of the Fairtrade movement worldwide, and something that goes to the very heart of the co-operative movement, and indeed something at the heart of the Co-operative Party in Wales. And Members here—of the Co-operative Party and other groups—will be taking part in online events, highlighting the work done across the world to promote worker-run and worker-owned fair-trade production. So, could we have at least a statement from Welsh Government on support for the Fairtrade movement, which could also highlight the Fairtrade Fortnight events in Wales, including climate change chats with Jennifer, a Fairtrade coffee farmer from Uganda, Fairtrade recipe and cooking events, educational events, poetry readings, and more? Surely it's important now more than ever, with the added challenge of the global pandemic, as well as climate change, that we reassert our support in Wales for the Fairtrade movement. So, I hope, Trefnydd, we can have a statement on this during Fairtrade Fortnight, if not a full debate here in our Senedd.
Thank you to Huw Irranca-Davies for raising both of those issues this afternoon. I'm really pleased to say that the Welsh Government is exploring working with the Arts Council of Wales to celebrate the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Robert Owen. An artist in residence was appointed in August to engage with the local community in Newtown, and now the artist has produced a report, with several recommendations, which are currently under review. So, I'm sure that we'll be able to say more on those plans in due course. Of course, co-operation is at the heart of everything the Welsh Government does, and I'm really pleased that my colleague Lee Waters will be making a statement on the foundational economy this afternoon. I think that's one of those areas where you can really see our co-operative approaches coming to life and being delivered through the choices that we're making.
And, absolutely, we reiterate our support for the Fairtrade movement. I know, in normal times, when we're not meeting on Zoom, in years previously we've all really enjoyed meeting farmers from Uganda who've come to the Senedd and talked to us about their experiences and what a difference it makes to them when we all commit to fair trade. So, I think it's very much at the heart of our delivery and living up to our Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, of being a globally responsible Wales, to ensure that we do take the opportunities to support fair trade when they are presented.
Trefnydd, can I call for two statements today? The first is a request for a statement on the impact of people taking abortion medication at home. You'll be aware that the Welsh Government, the health Minister, announced that he was changing the rules regarding the ability to take abortion medication at home at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. But the problem is that between 1 April, when the arrangements changed, and 31 December last year, they saw a doubling of the numbers of call-outs to 999 for the ambulance service and a doubling of the number of ambulances that had to be dispatched to women who had taken abortion medication at home. I'm very concerned about that, because I know that the Welsh Government has just completed a consultation period about the possibility of these arrangements becoming permanent. But there are people who are very concerned about the increased call-outs to the ambulance service, the lack of medical supervision that these women experience and, of course, the fact that there are no safeguards to ensure that these women are not being coerced by partners.
The second statement that I'd like to see is a statement on big cats in the Welsh countryside from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. You'll be aware that in north-east Wales there's been a spate of sightings of big cats in the Welsh countryside in recent months. Many members of the farming community in particular are concerned about the impact that these may have on their livestock in the future, yet we are without any statement from the Welsh Government at the moment as to what investigations are being undertaken into these sightings. Can I ask for an urgent statement on that from the Welsh Government Minister for rural affairs as soon as possible? Thank you.
Thank you. On the first issue that Darren Millar raised, which was the issue of abortion medication to be taken at home, as he says, the consultation ended, I believe, today, in terms of whether or not to make those arrangements permanent. I know that the Minister will be listening very carefully to representations that he's made this afternoon, but also those representations that have been made through that consultation process, with a view to coming to an informed decision on the way forward there.
In relation to big cats in the Welsh countryside and the concern that that raises amongst the farming community, particularly in the area that he represents, I know that the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs will have been listening very carefully to that request for further information and a further statement on that.
We are seriously lacking in charging points for electric vehicles in the Rhondda. The map of Wales shows that there is nothing in the Rhondda Fach or in the Rhondda Fawr, and the nearest charging points, depending on where you live in the Rhondda, are Hirwaun, Aberdare or just outside Llantrisant. Now, it's no wonder that only 0.17 per cent of vehicles used in Wales are currently electric. A recent consultation and electric vehicle strategy have recently been announced by your Government, with a vague target of ensuring that
'by 2025, all users of electric cars and vans in Wales are confident that they can access electric vehicle charging infrastructure when and where they need it.'
But this vehicle technology exists now. We can't wait until 2025. Why can't they be installed in public car parks now, for example? People want to make the switch to electric vehicles and we're in the middle of a climate crisis. People want to be able to make their own contribution to that. Given that there are plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars, don't you think there should be much, much more urgency on this? So, can we have a statement from the Government to explain when we can see movement on this and what your plans are to see some sort of swift legislation? Clearly, it may not be possible within this Senedd term, but is it something that you would be supportive of in the next Senedd term, when Plaid Cymru is running the Government?
Thank you to Leanne Wood for raising the issue this afternoon. I do know that the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales is considering how best to update colleagues on the transport strategy, which, of course, includes a section on vehicles and ensuring that we move to a more sustainable picture in Wales in terms of vehicles, specifically relating to electric vehicles and ensuring that people have access to those charging points that they need in order to make that transition. So, I do know that he's considering how best to provide that update in the time that we have left. But in the meantime, before he is able to do that, I will ask him to provide a written update on this specific issue to Leanne Wood to address those concerns that she's raised this afternoon.FootnoteLink
Will the Government make a statement condemning the appalling behaviour of the European Commission in banning the import of live bivalve molluscs from the UK? Although they say they are implementing restrictions on all non-European countries, it was agreed that they would not do this in the negotiations that took place prior to Brexit. Even the chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries, Pierre Karleskind, condemned the move, saying he was on Britain's side in this matter. As he says, the waters around the coast of the UK have not suddenly become polluted because of Brexit. This move will, of course, open up the possibility of tit-for-tat measures by the British Government, so will the Welsh Government back, in particular, the Welsh fishing community, which is very dependent upon this trade, by voicing its condemnation of this disgraceful act?
I do know that the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs is involved in the discussions on this particular issue and I will ask her to provide an update to colleagues on where we are in relation to the export issues that David Rowlands has just described.
Can I ask for two statements and a general debate, if I could, please? The first statement follows on from the previous question, in fact. In terms of our experience of Brexit so far, no matter where you stood on the question itself, I think it's fair to say that it's been pretty much a disaster for these last two months. We haven't just seen the fishing industry affected, we've seen most of our major manufacturers and industries affected by the very poor deal that was agreed before Christmas, and the consequences of being a third country now are having a real implication for our economy and for people and their jobs and livelihoods. Is it possible for the Government to bring forward a statement on the impact of Brexit and the damage that Brexit is doing to our economy so that we can discuss these matters before dissolution?
The second statement I'd like to ask for, Minister, is on the governance of the United Kingdom. The Counsel General gave some very striking evidence to the external affairs committee yesterday, where he described the deterioration in relationships between the Governments of the United Kingdom. It is important, I think, that we have a debate on these matters so that we can understand fully what the difficulties are, and also, then, understand the measures that may be taken by this Senedd in terms of addressing them.
The final issue, Minister, is a general debate on the organisation of business in this Senedd. We will be, at the end of next month, losing a number of highly experienced and respected Members, and I think it is a very good practice to debate not only our Standing Orders, but how we organise ourselves at the end of a Senedd to learn the lessons from what has happened over the previous years. I would certainly be interested to hear particularly from those Members who have said that they do not intend to return in the next Senedd to understand from their experience how they believe the way we manage ourselves and manage business can be improved in the sixth Senedd. Thank you.
That's an interesting idea that I'll certainly pursue in the first instance with the Llywydd in terms of understanding how we as an organisation can learn from the experiences of those colleagues who made the decision not to return next time, or not to seek re-election, certainly, to be returned. I think that will be an interesting piece of work. On the Business Committee, we've been looking at our Standing Orders, and we'll be bringing forward a range of potential changes for colleagues to have the opportunity to debate and vote on in the coming weeks. Obviously, that will then need to have accompanying guidance issued for colleagues as well. But I'll take that point up with the Llywydd straight away.
In terms of those really important strategic issues that you've talked about—the governance of the UK and also the impact, overall, of Brexit—I'll make sure that I have a discussion with the Counsel General and Minister for European Transition in the first instance to explore what's the best way to have those discussions and provide those updates.
Trefnydd, can I request a statement from the health Minister about the vaccination of adults with learning disabilities in residential settings? I heard what the First Minister said in response to an earlier question about the prioritisation of people with learning disabilities, because people with learning disabilities are more likely to be at serious risk of complications should they catch COVID-19. I've been contacted by a number of organisations in my constituency who are very worried that residents will have to be transported at different times for their individual vaccinations. I appreciate that the health Minister is already looking at the prioritisation issue, which I very much welcome, but given the distress this could cause, I'd be grateful if the Welsh Government could provide some clarity on the administering of vaccines to people with learning disabilities in care settings and outline what steps are being taken to ensure that residents in care facilities are able to receive their vaccines in the comfort of their own setting, rather than each resident having to travel for their vaccine appointment. I appreciate that, in response to Delyth Jewell, you said that there would be an opportunity to ask questions during the next agenda item, but I think a clear statement on this issue from the Government is important and would be very helpful.
Secondly, could I also request a statement on support for care homes generally during the pandemic? Care Forum Wales has made it clear that, without vital financial support, some care homes across Wales are at risk of closure. During the pandemic, costs have gone up as care homes have had to increase staffing and implement additional infection control measures, therefore it's vital that the Welsh Government commits to a funding model that provides those settings with stability to protect those residents living in care settings and to protect future provision and ensure that the whole sector is sustainable for the future. Therefore I'd be very grateful if the Welsh Government could make time to provide a statement on its support for the sector and its plans to safeguard care homes in Wales before the end of the Senedd term.
On the first issue relating to vaccinations for people with a learning disability, clearly this is an extremely important issue and all of us will care very deeply in ensuring that the people who are affected should get their vaccine as quickly as possible and in as convenient and as problem-free a way as possible. I'm sure that, when the Minister does provide his update to colleagues on this issue, he will seek to address those specific points that Paul Davies and others today have described in their contributions so far.
We did have the opportunity last week to have a statement on the future of social care from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, and that sets out the approach that the Welsh Government is taking in terms of working with the sector to try to ensure that it does have a really positive and sustainable future. Also, I do know that the Minister for Health and Social Services is considering how best to update the Senedd on the work of the inter-ministerial group on paying for care. So, there will be a further opportunity I think before the end of term—time allowing—for us to have some further discussions on that important issue, too.
I appreciate that we're going to be looking at an inquiry into the Welsh Government's COVID response in the next Senedd, Trefnydd, but I wonder whether it would be possible to have a statement from the education Minister, or maybe even the local government Minister, actually, before April on any early findings of an evaluation of the school or hub provision for vulnerable children and children of key workers. I'm sure we'll both have constituents, Trefnydd, who have complained about the initial criteria set by Swansea council, for example, who then changed their minds. But there has been inconsistency across Wales on criteria and a level of uncertainty about exactly what learners are doing when they attend these hubs or their schools. I think we really need to know why attendance turned out to be so low in the end, and in particular why only 4 per cent of vulnerable children made use of the provision. Thanks
Thank you for raising the issue this afternoon. I do know that the Minister for Education will obviously have been listening very carefully to that request for a deeper analysis, if you like, of the way in which the hub provision has been used and the pupils who have benefited from it, and a better understanding of why those who haven't engaged with that didn't do so. I know that she'll give that particular request some serious thought.
Finally, Nick Ramsay.
Two issues, if I may, Trefnydd. Firstly, can I echo the sentiments of Huw Irranca-Davies in his issues earlier regarding Fairtrade Fortnight? Normally, I would be attending the local launch of Fairtrade Fortnight in my local constituency town of Abergavenny, but understandably, this year that's not possible due to the pandemic, so it has been substituted with online events. I think we should still recognise the localism of fair trade and promote that, so I wonder if we could have a statement, as Huw called for, on how we can better support fair trade and recognise the important role it can play, not just across the world, but locally as we build back better and build back fairer.
Secondly and finally, my usual call at this time of the year for a statement on the effect of flooding on the trunk road network. The usual heavy flooding closed the A4042 at Llanellen recently, during the heavy rain. I know that some remedial work has been done and the economy and transport Minister announced this not so long ago, but concerns remain about access to the new Grange University Hospital at this time of year. So, I wonder if we could have an update from the Minister on what is being done to make sure that at this time of the year, that road and other key roads in the trunk road network are passable and certainly fit for ambulances and emergency vehicles.
I recognise the support that Nick Ramsay has always given to the fair-trade movement, and I'm pleased again to reiterate the Welsh Government's support for fair trade and our recognition of the difference that it can make to the lives of so many people.
In terms of the request for a statement on flooding, Nick Ramsay specifically has an interest in the trunk road network, and how we can keep that moving. I would invite him to write to the Minister in relation to the specific roads and the specific areas where he has a local concern, but I can say that the Welsh Government has already met its commitment to invest in flood defences and by the end of this Senedd term, we will have invested over £390 million in flood and coastal erosion risk management. That's reduced the risk to over 47,000 properties here in Wales and I think that that does speak to the level of investment that we are putting in, but also the level of risk that there is to property. It's clearly an area where we in Wales will need to continue focusing our efforts in future.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on COVID-19 vaccinations. I call on the Minister to make that statement. Vaughan Gething.
On 11 January, I published our vaccination strategy for Wales. A huge amount has happened in just over six weeks. Our programme has gone from strength to strength. Later this week, I'll publish an update to the strategy, to both reflect on progress and to provide some further detail on our current and upcoming priorities.
More than 860,000 people in Wales, all of whom are amongst the groups of people most likely to suffer serious harm from coronavirus, have now received their first dose of the vaccine. Second doses, which are important for longer-term protection in particular, are also being rolled out, with almost 50,000 people having had theirs already. This is an incredible effort from team Wales. My thanks go to all those involved from our NHS Wales, public and private sector partners, the military support, and the many volunteers who have stepped up. My thanks also go to the hundreds of thousands of people that have taken up their offer of the vaccine and in doing so have played their part in our national effort to keep Wales safe. The evidence is still emerging, but confidence is building that the vaccine programme is a critical factor in our journey out of lockdown and on to a brighter future.
Members, I hope, will have seen the really encouraging research that emerged from Scotland and England yesterday. There is a long way to go still, but the impressive start to our vaccine programme has brought with it hope for all of us. Members will have seen the announcements from the UK Government over recent days about speeding up vaccine roll-out. We have always said that our vaccination programme can go faster, but is subject to increased predictable vaccine supply. Late yesterday evening, we received confirmation that we should expect to see some of our vaccine supplies earlier than originally expected. So, we are now urgently working through plans to match delivery capacity to that supply profile. We want to ensure that as many people as possible can be vaccinated as soon as those earlier supplies allow.
As I say, we've said for some time that we could move faster with more supply. I expect that here in Wales we will be able to match the pace of England in rolling out the vaccination programme, and people should have high confidence in our ability to do so given the success of the Wales programme to date. I will have more to say in the coming days once my officials and our NHS have had time to work through last night’s information. Thank you, Llywydd.
Minister, thank you very much for your statement today. It is clearly good news. I don't use the word 'phenomenal' very often, but I do think that the vaccine roll-out in both the whole of the UK, in all our four nations, and in Wales has been absolutely phenomenal. I'm really pleased to hear you say that you believe that you'll be able to keep pace with the speed of the vaccine programme in England, and I just want to, like you, say an enormous, heartfelt 'thank you' to everybody involved in this programme. I think it is a real testament to humankind's ability to fight back against a virus that is very keen to try to cause us as much damage as it possibly can, and I congratulate all involved.
I've got just a couple of questions in three areas. The first is about the second dose. There doesn't seem to be consistency in provision of dates for second jabs. Some people are offered an appointment on receipt of the first jab, others are told they will be contacted, and it seems to be different not just between health boards, but within health boards. I wonder if you could offer some clarity on that. And what happens if somebody misses their second dose because they can't get to the appointment, and it's beyond that little time window that we've been given? Is there a problem? Do they have to start again? These are questions that have been raised with me by a number of people, and if you have any clarity you can offer there, I'd be very grateful.
My second area of questioning is about fairness. We have a very clear priority system, and we also have, sometimes, doses that are not used up at the end of the day, and therefore the organisations handing these out are trying to find people to come in and take up those doses. That's great. However, Dyfed-Powys police officers have been telling me that they have received an e-mail from within their force saying that they're not allowed to receive the vaccine if they are not in the appropriate JCVI group, even if they're called at a session where there are spare doses going. I wonder if you can look into this, because I've also had a few reports from other forces that have different views, and I just wonder if we can have some clarity, because I know that police officers feel that they are on the front line, and they do not feel that they're being treated with fairness. They're not asking for priority here—they just want to be fair, and if I can walk by a centre and be offered a spare dose, why can't a police officer?
Finally, I do have to just return to the question of carers, because it is a confusing situation. Yesterday, you said that unpaid carers and people with learning disabilities could be put into priority group 6 for vaccines, but on 2 February you were quoted by BBC Wales as saying that unpaid carers would be in priority group 6, in line with the JCVI advice. Now, this uncertainty is causing concern and worry for people who are vulnerable or looking after vulnerable people. I see that both NHS England and Scotland are already outlining guidance on vaccinating unpaid carers in group 6. NHS England wrote to local trusts on how to identify them on 20 February, and NHS Scotland have revised their guidance in the last 24 hours. You'll be aware that the green book on immunisation against infectious diseases states that vaccination of unpaid carers in priority group 6 should include
'Those who are eligible for a carer’s allowance, or those who are the sole or primary carer of an elderly or disabled person who is at increased risk of COVID-19 mortality'.
It also clarifies that
'those clinically vulnerable to COVID include children with severe neuro-disabilities, those who are designated Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV), adults who have underlying health conditions, and those who need care because of advanced age.'
So, carers are saying to me that the JCVI are already very clearly saying that, if you're in receipt of a carer's allowance, you are allowed to go into category 6. They are saying that when they go and ask the health board, their local GP, 'Can I have that vaccination?', they are told, 'No, we've got to wait for guidance, you have to wait for decisions from the Welsh Government'. I know that the First Minister mentioned that there would be something coming through during First Minister's questions today, but carers, to be frank, are feeling that they were promised one thing, now the goalposts have changed again. Are you able to offer any clarity today to carers—unpaid carers who perform such a vital role in our society—and actually offer them a real, consistent and clear message as to when they will be able to have their vaccine? I would really appreciate if you could shed any light on that subject. Thank you very much, Minister.
Thank you. I'll start with that final question because unpaid carers will be dealt with in group 6. I've answered lots of questions on that, and I'm really happy to restate the position to try to deal with some of the understandable concern that some people will have. So, we have had to work through—and we've done this deliberately with national carers organisations—how we define unpaid carers in such a way that we can get those people invited. And one of the examples I've given is that I regularly take my mother her shopping, so I deliver it to her house, but I wouldn't say that that act means that I would get through into priority group 6. I will be in priority group 6, but that's because I have an underlying chronic kidney condition. So, that's the reason why I'll get an invite for priority group 6. So, we've been working through with carers organisations to try to agree an approach that makes sense.
Now, what England have done is they're looking to identify people through general practice lists. That was an approach we considered but, ultimately, I've decided not to do that because that would essentially mean that looking at GPs lists—the extra requirements we'd then have for GPs, and you can anticipate the extra number of calls that GPs would get. I don't think that would be a sensible and efficient way to take unpaid carers through. So, I'm expecting imminently to be able to confirm some guidance for unpaid carers and for health boards to deliver that, and it is literally a matter of a number of days, and I expect that guidance will be published, and that should then give the clarity in public for everyone who is asking for it, but I'm making it really clear: unpaid carers are in group 6, and it's how we make sure that they're invited for their appointment rather than if, and that's a really important point to make.
On your point about fairness about spare end-of-day vaccine, well, I know you said that if you could be offered an end-of-day vaccine, why can't a police officer? That's because I suspect you're just a day or two older than 50, so you're within priority groups up to one to nine, Angela, whereas police officers, many of them won't be. What we have done, though, is been really clear in the guidance we've given out internally, and I think Gill Richardson, the senior responsible officer for the vaccine programme has said so in public as well, and sent a note out more broadly to say we're now in a position where groups 5 to 9 are a big chunk of the population, and we would expect health boards to be able to manage that group and, certainly, at this point in going through groups 5 to 9, to have spare groups of people at the end of the day that can be called on, because, actually, for people over the age of 50, lots of those people will be mobile and able to attend at very short notice.
If it isn't possible to do that then, yes, we do think it's appropriate to offer other people that end-of-day vaccine to make sure that doses aren't wasted. I don't think we're going to find high numbers, but if for the sake of dealing with six potential vaccines, whether that's a firefighter or a police officer or somebody else, then the Welsh Government certainly isn't saying, 'You cannot have that vaccine—it must be thrown away'. That clearly doesn't make sense, and that isn't the position we're adopting. And, as I say, we've sent a note out to clarify that within the system as well. So, the challenge of the message that you refer to I don't think reflects our stated position, and it should not represent practice. And I hope that helps to resolve that issue, not just in Dyfed Powys but more generally; I've heard the same sort of urban myth and concern being spoken about elsewhere as well.
On the second doses, I'm happy to confirm that we do expect that late doses can still be provided. So, we all understand that there are different reasons in life why a second dose appointment may be missed; someone may be ill, there may be a good reason why they can't attend on the stated time. That second dose can be rearranged, and my understanding is that it doesn't mean that there is no value in the person having to start again from dose 1 and going through dose 2. Actually, there's good data on the inter-dose interval being longer being a good thing in terms of the level of protection and the longevity of it. So, if someone gets their second dose in week 13 instead of week 11 or 12, that in itself shouldn't be a problem for their protection long term. Equally, if you miss your second appointment and need to rearrange it, it doesn't mean you are somehow being told to go back, do not pass 'Go' and collect £200—it isn't that sort of approach that we're taking.
And then on the consistency, a number of appointments have actually been rearranged to bring doses forward, particularly for those people receiving the Pfizer jab. I expect there will be a consistent approach in that everyone will be directly told when their appointment is. Some people have been given an indication for their second date at the point of the first vaccination. More and more, though, we're expecting to advise people, after they've had their first dose, when that second dose will be. I think the most important thing is to make sure that people aren't left behind. I agree with you: this has been a phenomenal effort in Wales. It's a pleasure to be leading other UK nations, but every one of the four UK nations can take some real pride in the way that our collective NHSes have delivered the programme.
Diolch. Thank you for the statement and, again, I would want to thank everybody involved in the quite remarkable vaccination efforts in all parts of Wales. The first issue I want to raise is on communication. The First Minister said, a week ago, on the Radio 4 Today programme, that people aged over 50 were imminently about to receive their invitations for their vaccine. He said, and I quote, that
'People aged over 50 will already be booked in for their appointments next week... and those people will be getting their vaccine from Monday onwards.'
We know that's not the case. We haven't reached the 50-somethings in large numbers yet. Priority groups will be done in turn. Now, I'm sure the First Minister wasn't trying to mislead, but it did cause a lot of confusion, so please can we be careful with communication?
I want to turn to the possible broadening of vaccination priority categories. Again, I have regularly called for bringing into the prioritisation lists those working in key roles, in schools, in public transport, the police, other emergency services and so on. Your Government has consistently said, 'No, we'll stick with the JCVI advice', but can I urge you to consider a different approach? There's nothing wrong at all in the JCVI priority list; the older you are and the more fragile your health is, you are more at risk as an individual—I think that's clear enough. But there's another risk factor, and that's how much you're exposed to the virus. Say you have two 45-year-olds, both healthy, not in the top nine priority groups. The one who goes in to clean a school or teach or assist in classes full of pupils and other staff faces more of a risk of being exposed to the virus than the 45-year-old working, say, in an administrative job and working from home. To me, it makes absolute sense that the former should be prioritised somewhat over the latter.
Also, can I encourage again a very early change in the rules on vaccinating people with learning disabilities? We're hearing positive noises. We're talking about people who may be vulnerable not just physically but also vulnerable in terms of being able to cope with contracting COVID; just get them through the vaccination system, please.
And with unpaid carers too, there's still confusion on this. Yes, we know that unpaid carers in general are now in group 6, but we're desperate to have those clear national guidelines so people know where they stand.
And finally, I've been in contact with a care home owner today. He described a hole in the wall of protecting care homes, with 6,000 unvaccinated care workers, and that's certainly a worry, but the point he wanted to make with me was that three of his staff have been told they can't have their vaccine for a number of weeks—that's something I'm going to be taking up with the health board—but he's concerned about a number of staff who don't want to receive the vaccine because they have believed some of the anti-vaccine mantra so prevalent in parts of social media. I know this is something that you're concerned about as well. I asked you last week during a briefing session what work Welsh Government is doing to share a counter-narrative debunking those myths, so I wonder if you could update us on work being done in that arena. Thank you.
I'll deal with the last point first, because there is a real concern about the level of misinformation and dishonesty in trying to dissuade people from having the vaccine and a range of scare stories that are being promoted. And I should say that I'm grateful for the way that Members across the political spectrum have looked to be really consistent in urging people to take the vaccine. You'll have seen not just the celebrities who have gone out and encouraged people from black and Asian origin groups to have the vaccine, but also you saw politicians from across the political divide doing the same thing as well. You wouldn't normally have Diane Abbott and James Cleverly endorsing the same message, but it very much has happened.
The sewer of misinformation that is available is a real concern for all of us, and in particular as we go through the age groups, the concerns that have been given are a real threat to all of us. So, we know that employers in each of those areas are reinforcing those messages, and we know that, locally, our general practitioners and others are doing it and to the point of vaccination, those conversations take place. But it's really about the amount of information we're able to get out earlier, and some of that is because it's the organic spread of this, whether it's through WhatsApp or Facebook or other social media platforms, it's being able to combat that in those areas as well. You'll see that this is a challenge, not just in the Government, about who the message comes from, because while some people will believe what I have to say when I say that I've spoken to our chief medical officer and this is the advice, but there are many others who need to hear that directly from others. So, it's a multiplicity of voices, especially those people who are from those communities of concern, other care workers talking about their experiences and in particular independent medics, as opposed to others. And you'll see that we're promoting that on Welsh Government platforms and others, and I hope that Members do find it easy enough to find sources of information if you're getting concerns about this. If Members do have concerns about where that information is, then please do contact me and I'll happily make sure that something goes out to Members more generally to point people to reliable sources of information.
On your starting point about the clarity in communications, groups 5 to 9 include all people over the age of 50 and that's the point the First Minister was making. We're working through that in terms of priorities. We're into groups 5 and 6 already, people will be receiving invites and will be going through in turn. I do expect, as I said earlier, to be able to at least match the pace of the roll-out in England, which means that we should be able to do that earlier than the end of April, which is good news for everyone, and then to start with the rest of the adult population.
And that gets me, I guess, into your middle question, which is about broadening vaccine priorities. I know that you say you're not looking to de-prioritise other people, but the reality is that if you broaden vaccination categories, if you add more people in over and above the JCVI prioritisation, then you are de-prioritising other people. And I take on board your point about who these people are. It's either a choice—and we've asked JCVI for advice—of whether there are particular occupations that should be prioritised above age groups or together with other age groups. And then there may be some difficult value questions, because actually, if you work in retail, or if you're a taxi driver, or if you're a post office worker, then you have different risks to other people, and I know that lots of the conversation is about teachers or the police, but if there are other groups with a larger occupational profile in terms of acquiring COVID. So, we may face a challenge—and it depends what the JCVI says—about whether we have key workers as a category or individual workers, and within that, I'll be interested in advice around how specific that advice would be and how quickly our whole programme can move. Now, I need to receive and consider that JCVI advice and I'm expecting that that isn't very far into the future, so this isn't going to be theoretical for much longer. I'll need to make an actual decision and as soon as I have made a decision, I'll be clear about what that is and provide that to the public as well as Members, and of course, we'll have the published advice from the JCVI to work from. So, I understand the case that the Member makes, but I have to say that, without clarity in how that would work and making sure that we protect people at the greatest risk as soon as possible, it's not a position that I think should affect groups 5 to 9, who are still progressing through at some pace.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. I would like to, once again, thank all those who have made this enormous task possible and all those who will move heaven and earth to vaccinate us all in the coming months. I'm pleased to say that, last Thursday, in Margam, they had 100 per cent turnout, which is a tremendous result.
In a few weeks, we will have delivered vaccines to all those in the priority groups and will move on to the remaining population. So, Minister, how will you approach that programme? Will there be a prioritisation list? Have you given any consideration to those who are at greater risk, but not included in the earlier JCVI list, such as asthma sufferers and adults with learning disabilities, particularly those in assisted living, as well as carers, from whom I've had many, many e-mails? Minister, I would also urge you to consider prioritising those in the at-risk professions, such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, prison officers and, of course, our customer-facing retail staff.
Finally, Minister, it is concerning that there are those working in health and care who are refusing to get vaccinated. Whilst that is their right, we cannot allow their choices to put others at risk. So, will you ensure that staff who choose not to get vaccinated are prevented from having face-to-face contact with vulnerable patients until the completion of the vaccination programme? Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.
In respect of the questions about the next phase after we've completed priority groups 5 to 9, I think I've dealt with those at some length in response to both Angela Burns and Rhun ap Iorwerth, including the point about at-risk professions and people with learning disabilities that I've committed to dealing with in the very near future. I certainly hope that I will have dealt with people with learning disabilities and how that advice will be effected prior to answering questions in the Chamber tomorrow. Members will then get an opportunity to ask me questions about a choice that I hope will be made public by then.
On vaccine refusal, I think this is rather more difficult. I understand the point that the Member makes about whether people who have refused a vaccine or not had a vaccine, whether they should be prevented from going into certain patient-facing areas. This is what we get into going back into a debate about whether the vaccine is, essentially, compulsory. That would, essentially, make the vaccine compulsory for front-line members of staff in health and social care. It's an issue we're working through with not just leaders in those areas but trade unions and others about what the ethical interplay is between this, because there isn't a requirement, a legal requirement, for people to take the vaccine. We do, then, need to think through what that means and it's not a straightforward point.
It's also a broader question not just for health and care, but for a range of other professions, where if people are returning to work and social distancing isn't possible, then what does that mean? To give you an example, one of the occupational groups that has had significant mortality from COVID is chefs and kitchen workers. If you remember the time when we were able to eat out, you'd often see people in a kitchen and social distancing wasn't always possible. Yet, actually, if we get back to being able to reopen that part of hospitality, some employers will be thinking through what they're going to do if people are not going to take the vaccine.
It's a difficult question, where people will express a degree of keenness or reluctance to work with others. This is not straightforward in terms of people disclosing the form of treatment they have and haven't had, and the vaccination is very much part of it. So, I recognise the point the Member is making, but I don't think it's quite as simple as, 'You can't undertake duties unless you prove that you've had the vaccine.' I think this is a debate that we're a long way from concluding.
Minister, the vaccine roll-out is proceeding very effectively and efficiently, which we're all very grateful for, but, obviously, we need a very good take-up of the vaccine if we are going to have Wales as protected as we would like it to be. It is good, generally, but there are some gaps, and you've referred already to black and ethnic minorities, for example. I know there's emerging information in terms of some our more deprived communities not taking up the vaccine opportunities in the numbers that we would like. You've already talked about role models, Minister, and communication and messaging. As this information becomes available, in terms of gaps in vaccine take-up, how will you be monitoring that and responding to it, in terms of adapting messaging and communication, and working with those who reach out into these communities and can help to improve the position as we go through this programme?
Thank you for the question. In terms of take-up, we are already seeing evidence of a differential in take-up, both through our most advantaged and least advantaged communities. So, the least well-off 20 per cent of the population have a 5 per cent to 6 per cent differential in take-up compared to our most advantaged population group, and we've seen that in groups 1 to 4. We do though also see a bigger differential between some different groups. So, black Afro-Caribbean and some Asian groups have a much lower take-up. That isn't complete data, but we do know that there is a material difference. So, there's work that's already been done, not just at the round-table that I've joined, but there's a wide range of work being done positively and proactively.
You'll have seen Muslim doctors undertaking a range of work and you'll see leadership in different faith groups as well. And I think we all have a role to play as well in terms of what we can do, and I look forward to joining you and Jayne Bryant for an event this week to talk about vaccine take-up within Newport. We are also deliberately working with a range of people in the faith community and a range of voluntary groups to promote take-up, because this is the best thing people can do for themselves, their family and their community, to get a vaccine that is safe and effective, and one that has gone through a rigorous assessment. So, I think the more we can do to really promote that the better. Health boards themselves, of course, also have outreach workers. Every health board has got outreach workers to work with different communities within their health board area. So, that deliberate and positive outreach, together with the approach of others, and also our ability to interrogate the data to see where there may still be a gap and to think what we may need to do. So, you may well be seeing more direct messages from not just faith leaders, but the potential to use some of those venues as vaccination centres to encourage more people to come forward.
I congratulate everybody who is involved in not only closing the initial first-dose gap with England and Scotland, but also now closing the second-dose gap also. So, credit where it's due. I know I raised that with you previously and you said there would be good news ahead and you were right. So, well done.
But what assurance can you give to the constituent whose daughter is an elite Paralympic F20 world champion shot putter, hoping to go to Tokyo to the Paralympic games this summer, who may need to go to the Europeans in Poland at the end of May to qualify for Tokyo, but who's in vaccination priority group 6, has not yet had a vaccination, and where her mother rightly states it would be a real shame if she missed the opportunity to go to Poland and therefore jeopardise her chances of a gold medal in Tokyo because she's not been vaccinated in time?
And secondly and finally, how do you respond to the Chirk patient who contacted me yesterday, stating that contrary to the Welsh Government's proclamation about getting all of its over-70s vaccinated a day before England, Chirk surgery only completed the last of the first doses for people in this category today—i.e. yesterday; and, people in younger age groups who would already have been vaccinated if they lived in Shropshire, 100 yards away, are facing a two to three-week wait? Chirk's flu vaccine service is consistently excellent, so it plainly isn't their fault. The political borders in this area often don't match other lines, such as the divisions between GP practices, and in this particular instance, the problem is with the supply of vaccines to Chirk surgery, which is in Wales and part of the Welsh NHS system. Thank you.
Thank you. On your first point, as you're aware, the time in the first few weeks when there was criticism over the vaccine roll-out programme in Wales was a time when we were building our infrastructure, and I think it's been proven that that was the right thing to do. We built a way to deliver that meant we could move at real pace in a sustained manner. So, that's why we are still at present the leading UK nation when it comes to the proportion of the population for first doses—more than a third of the adult population have already had their first dose. And we are in second place within the UK nations, just behind Northern Ireland, when it comes to the percentage of second doses we've delivered. And that's in particular the material progress we've made over the last week or so on delivering more and more second doses.
In terms of your constituent and her concern that she's in group 6 and has yet to have her vaccine, I expect that we will, as I said, match the pace in England where they think they can complete all groups up to priority group 9 by the middle of April. So, I don't think that your constituent will have to wait very much longer. The additional supply that we've been told will be brought forward will allow us to deliver at a much quicker pace, because every part of our system has said that with more certainty over supply and clarity of early supply, we can go even faster. So, I hope that will give your constituent and many others confidence in the weeks ahead. And when it comes to groups 1 to 4, we pledged that we'd have the offer for everyone in groups 1 to 4, and it was the same in every other UK nation. There will have been some catch-up in terms of the actual delivery.
When it comes to vaccine supply, of course, this does rely on the supplies we're getting through UK procurement. I should say that procuring the vaccine for the whole of the UK is a UK Government responsibility, but it's a responsibility that has broadly been done well. We have had significant volumes of vaccine supply to help us get on with our job of delivering that vaccine. We've had some smoothing out and a dip in the last two weeks in vaccine supply. That was predicted and expected. That's why we've seen a minor dip within that. I think within Wales, within England, within every country, you could have vaccine delivery centres that have a slightly different supply compared to each other, but overall, we're going very fast. I think that trying to look at Wales as somehow being responsible for a problem in vaccine supply is not an accurate way to go about describing the challenges that we have, and in any event, I think the speed of the roll-out in Wales, and in every other UK nation, is something we could all take a deal of pride in.
Minister, you probably enjoyed, as I did, watching Sir Gareth Edwards's video the other day of his visit to the vaccination centre in Bridgend behind the rugby club. He said in the video that it wasn't true that it was always the case that he enjoyed every visit to the Brewery Field in Bridgend. But it was a great message to all my constituents about the desirability of getting the vaccination and responding to it and getting down to do it. I look forward as well, Minister, to the opening of the Maesteg community vaccination centre in the recreation centre on 1 March. That's really welcome.
Minister, could I ask you—? I watched the Prime Minister's press conference yesterday evening, which lauded, as we all do, the incredible speed of the roll-out of the vaccination across all parts of the UK, including here in Wales. But, sometimes, he has a tendency to look a little bit too far in the future and to overpromise and underdeliver. We heard last night that, from the end of May, we might be looking at international flights for tourism and holidays, and that nightclubs would be opening on 21 June on the back of mass testing of people in the queues before they go in.
Could you, Minister, comment on those announcements, which have significantly heightened expectations because of the BBC spread across the UK, that nightclubs will be opening, flights will be running from the end of May and so on? How confident can we be, Minister, this far out, that we do not risk rerunning past mistakes of going too far too fast, particularly by the UK Government, and introducing new strains of the virus from around the world, and that we avoid having a devastating resurgence of this virus and new strains throughout next winter? Let's be cautious, step by step, and in some ways, underpromise but overdeliver.
Thank you for the question. I did see the clip of Sir Gareth Edwards, the greatest living Welshman, talking to the First Minister. I think it was very positive in terms of his own experience and what that meant. I hope that other people have had a chance to watch that, and that it will encourage others to make sure that they too go and get their vaccine and receive a warm welcome in the Brewery Field.
On the Prime Minister's conference yesterday, I think the first point to make is that it's a much better conversation to be having about what we can do in the future, rather than talk about the things we still can't do. We should all have a sense of optimism about the future, but the future is not certain. We have made a deliberate choice to be faithful to the scientific evidence and public health advice that we receive, which is why we have a different approach to school opening in Wales. It is directly in line with the evidence and advice we've had. They've made a different policy choice in England, as they're entitled to do. So, they're storing up to have, if you like, a 'big bang' approach on 8 March. That isn't what our advice says that we should do. It's a choice for English Ministers to do that, and they're entitled to do so, but our risk appetite is different, which is why we're following the advice.
When I think about international travel, it is one of the things that really bothers me about the future and reimportation, because, by May, we won't have completed the adult population with their first dose, let alone the second dose as well. I remember very well last summer's experience where I changed the rules on quarantine and what people could expect to do when a flight from Zante was in mid-air. We did that because the evidence was mounting at that point about reimportation of coronavirus when we had very low coronavirus levels. Remember that we had levels of two to three in 100,000 at one point in the summer, and we're now talking about the rates being much lower when we're just about 80 in 100,000. So, there has to be real caution for the future.
You may or may not have heard the deputy chief medical officer this morning on Radio Wales, making very clear the point that we simply can't predict months and months into the future what the position will be with the spread of coronavirus with a much more virulent strain, in the sense of its ability to transmit, so much, much more likely to spread. To give, somehow, a baked-in roadmap, with dates not data, going into the middle of the summer, I don't think is the right approach. I think we need to manage people's expectations, and understand that most people are cautious, and want to be assured that, coming out of this, we're not going to lurch into the future and then have to lurch back into lockdown, if at all possible.
I just don't think it's realistic that nightclubs are going to be open in the way that is described in June. I'd be delighted to be wrong, but I'm much more interested in keeping Wales safe, in keeping people alive and well, and not having to introduce much more restrictive measures to restrict national life, with all the public health harm that you'd have to avoid in doing so, but also the economic damage you'd do in bringing back sectors of the economy that we hope to open in a sustained fashion. So, we'll continue to take our approach as to how we keep Wales safe in a cautious, evidence-led way.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales on the economic resilience and reconstruction mission. I will now pass the Chair to the Deputy Llywydd, Ann Jones. I call on Ken Skates to make the statement.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
This last year has been incredibly difficult for everyone—for the business having to close to prevent the spread of the virus, for the young person unable to find their first job, or the family struggling to get by because of a drop in household income. It has been one of the most challenging any of us have ever experienced. Whilst the work to combat the virus obviously goes on, it is important to consider how Wales can emerge from the direct impact of the virus and tackle with renewed vigour the deep-seated challenges that Wales faces, and to help our people, businesses and communities to prevail and to prosper. Over the last few months, I've been discussing these important issues with partners, and today we publish our economic resilience and recovery mission. It sets out what many people told me directly—that in Wales we have the talent, the energy and the ideas to rebuild our economy in a better and fairer way. Our mission offers grounded optimism against a backdrop of the most challenging circumstances.
We've responded at pace to minimise the pandemic's impacts on business and workers. Our support package of more than £2 billion is the most generous business support package anywhere in the United Kingdom. For small, medium and large businesses in the hospitality, leisure and tourism sector, and related supply chain, we are now adding a further £30 million of emergency financial support for operating cost grants. Our targeted rates relief scheme has already allowed us to provide more support to thousands of smaller businesses, whilst ensuring that major essential retailers, such as large supermarkets, continue to pay rates. The UK Government has yet to confirm whether it will extend non-domestic rates support in England. I urge them to do so, and to do this as quickly as possible, so that we can have absolute certainty on the funding available for Wales as a result. We are making all of the preparations necessary to support a rapid response for Welsh businesses as soon as the Chancellor provides us with certainty on the funding that is required.
As we look to move forward, we recognise that there are businesses that are integral to the visitor economy, such as events and the late-night economy, that are likely to be hard hit in the longer term, and we’ll actively review our options for providing further support here. Despite our unequalled support, over the next 12 months, unemployment in Wales and across the UK will grow. Too many of our citizens will see their jobs go or the hours they work reduce, and be faced with few job vacancies on offer. This will be worse for young workers, women, people from minority ethnic communities, older workers, disabled people, those with health conditions, and those in low-skill occupations. So, our reconstruction work must support these hardest-hit individuals. The impact of the pandemic, coupled with exiting the European Union, threatens to reverse the progress that we've made in reducing unemployment and economic inactivity in Wales over the last decade. There will be profound implications for the future of work, our communities and our well-being, as well as the physical fabric of our town centres and our transport system.
Our mission sets out our vision for a well-being economy that drives prosperity, is environmentally sound, and helps everybody realise their potential. It should be seen alongside the other important work that we are doing right across Government to build a stronger, fairer and greener future, including obviously our new Wales transport strategy, the manufacturing action plan, which will be published later this week, and our determination to meet our new stretching climate change targets. A prosperous Wales is one in which Wales has a steady focus on resilience with a capacity for transformation, and we'll take action to support a diverse base of outward-looking firms with positive innovation programmes, good productivity levels and an engaged workforce equipped with the skills in a changing world.
A green economy demands high levels of circularity, where resources are kept in use, adding economic value and where waste is avoided. A truly green economy is integral to a low-carbon society, so we will invest in low-carbon and climate resilience infrastructure, renewable energy projects and sustainable homes, in turn, using these as opportunities for business innovation and the chance to create good-quality, grounded jobs of the future here in Wales. An equal society and an equal economy means investing in the productive potential of all people, making sure that nobody is left behind. We'll build ambition, encourage learning for life and support people to make the most of their potential. Our regional approach will support a fair distribution of opportunities and we'll continue to demand, to advocate for and to champion fair work.
First of all, we must strengthen the foundational economy. The crisis has reinforced the vital importance of key workers, and the critical role they play in our well-being and in every sector of our economy. We need to radically rethink the places we live in and the way our homes and our communities work, putting into practice the 'town centre first' principle and developing regional co-working hubs, as part of our transforming towns programme of work. We must realise the potential and the opportunity of putting new footfall back onto our high streets so that they can again become the vibrant hubs for the people who live there. Secondly, we will pursue our COVID commitment so that the impact of the pandemic levels across Wales leaves nobody behind, creating opportunities to retain and upskill. We need to harness an invigorated entrepreneurial culture, renewed enthusiasm for volunteering and an appetite for lifelong and online learning. New technology can, of course, reduce the isolation of some communities, creating opportunities to live, work and learn from all corners of Wales.
Thirdly, we should accelerate adaptation by business for the future. We'll provide support to innovate and diversify, which meets the dual challenges of COVID-19 and EU exit, and make businesses fit and sustainable for the future. The Development Bank of Wales will, therefore, receive an additional £270 million for the expansion of the Wales flexible investment fund to continue investing in general business loans and equity through what we expect to be an extended period of economic reconstruction and adjustment. We'll also speed up business decarbonisation and boost circularity of resource use. Driving digital innovation and tackling digital exclusion are central to our commitment to promote equality and help people realise their potential.
Fourthly, we'll maximise the impact of future major investments as magnet projects to embrace and exploit new and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, pulling in employment, skills, expertise and development to Wales. This will include a strong emphasis on research and development, innovation, regional stimulus plans, clustering of SMEs and development of new skills. Finally, we will fortify our pursuit for social value in our relationships with business. We'll refresh and strengthen the economic contract so that businesses properly embrace and incorporate its values, embedding fair work, low carbon and climate resilience. Valuing deeply the well-being of all Welsh citizens frames our response to this pandemic. The fundamentals of our economy—the people, the communities and the businesses within it—are strong, and together I know that we can succeed.
Can I thank the Minister for his statement today and the advanced copy, as always? I think, from my perspective, Minister, any additional support for Welsh businesses has to be welcomed, so, certainly, from my perspective, I and colleagues welcome the additional support for the Development Bank of Wales. There are large elements of what you said that I can agree with. Clearly, I'm going to focus on some areas that I think that you've missed in your plan and statement today.
What the statement doesn't set out today is clarity for businesses in terms of coming out of the lockdown. That's not just my view, that is the view of the Federation of Small Businesses, business groups. I had an example this morning of a retail business operating a number of outlets in my constituency: 'Can we order stock or not?' They order seasonal stock. So, they believe that their comparison companies in other parts of the UK have got more of a plan of where they're going than they do here in Wales. And they accept that dates change and priorities change, but to have that indicative plan in place.
Minister, you say that the new funding for the Development Bank of Wales will improve the supply for the long term of accessible business finance. That is something that I think is desperately needed, so I agree with that. I think what is disappointing is that the Government's been slow on the implementation of the fourth phase of business support. Businesses are crying out for clarity, for you to provide an aspirational timetable for a route out of this crisis. I think what businesses do need is, they need to hear from you on extending the business rates holiday, providing additional support for the hospitality sector, for example, and by using the underspend from the sector-specific fund to ensure that any unused financial support is allocated quickly and where needed. So, of course, I welcome your comments on that.
You refer to health, well-being, decarbonisation, foundational economy, digital skills, regenerating town centres, green economy, all these areas are right, and I agree with all that you've said in that regard. But what your statement doesn't talk about—and there seems to be a lack of information in your plan, your mission, with regard to supporting the productivity and the competitiveness and job creation. And, if I'm honest, what I was most disappointed in, actually, is there's no mention of entrepreneurship, the support for start-ups, and there's very little detail in the 30-page document. So, how are you going to do this? When we came out of the first lockdown across the UK, there was great entrepreneurial spirit across the UK, and that needs to be enhanced. Those who are bringing forward that entrepreneurial spirit need to be encouraged. So, other parts of the UK have schemes that do that; what are you doing in Wales in terms of encouraging that entrepreneurship here in Wales?
You were quite optimistic, Minister, when I previously referred to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report and setting up an arm's length body: you said that that is something to explore and examine. So, I very much welcomed that at the time. I think we do need an arm's length body to sell Wales to the world, support our indigenous businesses, promote Wales, bring forward that inward investment. I agree with the OECD report in terms of that arm's length agency, and I do think we need cross-party support if we're going to bring back such an agency as well. So, I'd welcome your views on that.
Minister, I'd ask you how you would respond to this morning's analysis from Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, who has said that he is perplexed that the Welsh Government does not consider productivity as a key issue for the economy, given that Wales is the least productive country in the UK without a clear strategy to close the gap. You say, Minister, that you've outlined plans to work with the tourism and hospitality sectors to develop a recovery plan to provide short-term support to develop resilience and profitability over the longer term. Can you set out your thinking on what the recovery plan might include on the short-term support from Welsh Government, and in terms of the long term in providing through that plan?
And finally, your plan, or your mission, sets out plans to repurpose town centres away from the traditional high street as, as you said, we no longer rely on retail alone. How will you balance the support for repurposing town and city centres with supporting the retail sector, so that it can continue to play a key role in the Welsh economy?
Can I thank Russell George for his comments and his questions? As always, Russell has been incredibly constructive, not just today, in terms of the critique that he's offered and the questions that he poses, but also in the many weeks and months prior to the announcement of this mission today when he was able to offer, during a series of discussions, very constructive points to me and my officials. And we're very grateful to him and other Members across the entire Chamber for their contributions to the work that we have concluded today with the publication of the mission.
Dirprwy Lywydd, first of all, in terms of additional support, obviously the £270 million additional investment for the Development Bank of Wales brings the total fund for the Wales flexible investment fund to £500 million, which in turn will lever in a significant sum in private investment, taking the total fund to around about £1 billion of investment in businesses, which is a huge sum of money to be seeing invested in Welsh businesses in the years to come, and it will support and create tens of thousands of jobs. And, of course, I've already announced that there will be the further £30 million of support for hospitality and tourism, and during the course of my statement I also confirmed that we are awaiting word from the Chancellor regarding the business rates holiday in England, which would enable us, then, to progress such a scheme here in Wales with the consequentials that would follow.
I have to say that, in terms of the road map, the First Minister earlier confirmed that the control plan that was produced in December is still our guiding document, and that it was updated, obviously, last week. The First Minister has given a very clear signal for what's being considered as part of the regular three-week review period, and prior to this statement, the health Minister, I think, gave a very convincing argument as to why setting dates at this stage for all forms of activity is very dangerous indeed. We know that new variants are incredibly disruptive in terms of time frames for how we would wish to reopen the economy, and so promising dates that can't necessarily be delivered against, I think, could be very damaging for the economy and for businesses that would expect to be able to reopen, but which, at a very, very short notice, as the health Minister has already said today, perhaps would be left very disappointed indeed.
I think productivity and entrepreneurship actually run right through the mission. I think, within the document, there are various beacons, as we have called them, that would lead to productivity and entrepreneurship improving. In terms of productivity, obviously, the focus is on skills and on magnetising investment and a design to drive up productivity. And in terms of entrepreneurship, the COVID commitment contains direct support for individuals wishing to start their own business—in particular, the barriers fund, which provides grants for people who are furthest from the employment market to start up their business, and to do so with the support, obviously, and the guidance of Business Wales.
I don't think we can use productivity alone as the measure of success or failure of an economy. An economy must serve the purpose of enhancing the well-being of its citizens, and the measure of productivity does not do that in isolation, and that's why we are keen to ensure that the national indicators are used as the measure of success for the economy. But, obviously, today's labour market statistics demonstrate just how valuable a devolved administration can be in keeping a cap on joblessness, and today we saw the unemployment figures published, and in Wales, during the latest period, unemployment has fallen; in the UK it has risen. There is now a gap of around 0.7 per cent between Wales and the UK average. Now, there is a long, long journey ahead of us, but that gap does demonstrate just how valuable our support for businesses has been. We've been able to secure something in the region of, according to the very latest data that I've had through today, about 145,000 jobs in Wales, which would explain, therefore, the gap in unemployment. And we will go on ensuring that support is available for businesses in Wales as we move through this pandemic. We've already completed the fourth round of the economic resilience fund and we intend to use any commitment made to date wherever possible to maximise support for businesses that offer value for money.
Of course, in regard to some of the other points that Russell George made in terms of town centres and city centres and the relationship between our transforming towns initiative and retail, well, retail is really very much at the heart of the transforming towns initiative, because unless town are transformed into more vibrant environments, then retail will continue to struggle. People must want to access their town centres, and in so doing, they will then utilise services that are contained within them. So, retail does, without a doubt, have a bright future within town centres, but that bright future will only be delivered if town centres are attractive places for people to visit, to live in and to work in. That's why the transforming towns initiative is so vitally important in delivering vibrant environments within urban areas.
I'd like to give a broad welcome to the economic resilience and reconstruction mission that the Minister has published today, and be grateful to him for his statement and for the advanced copy as always. The direction of travel echoes very much what Plaid Cymru has been saying, and the Minister is right to say that I'm sure there's broad support for the general direction across much of this Chamber, and I do look forward to studying in more detail, particularly with regard to the targets, what the Minister is setting out.
I think I need to begin to say, though, Dirprwy Lywydd, that I think we need to be a bit more ambitious. Now, we obviously need to be realistic about what we can achieve, but I think it's clear that the aftermath of the COVID crisis does give us an opportunity to do things differently, and I think we should be aiming for a prosperous, not just a more prosperous Wales; a green, not just a greener economy, because greener than what, with some of the challenges that we face in terms of decarbonisation; and an equal or a fair economy, not just more equal. I was struck by what the First Minister said earlier about not talking about building back better, but building back in a fair way. So, I think that just some of that language perhaps needs to be a little bit more ambitious.
I want to begin by asking the Minister a little bit more about the process for developing these ideas. He sets out a goal for a well-being economy, which we would very strongly support, as he knows. But I wonder if the Minister can tell us how the well-being goals within the future generations and well-being Act have been built into the design of this reconstruction mission and something about the process by which that was done, because that does, of course, involve asking people to do things in really quite a different way. If he can tell us a little bit more specifically about the involvement of business in the process, because, obviously, as the Minister himself has said, businesses will be absolutely key in delivering the building of this new economy, and I'm very much hoping to hear from the Minister—they've been there on the ground. If he can also say something about the role of local government in helping to design this mission—if we've learnt anything through this crisis, it's how important that local knowledge is in terms of delivering national priorities.
I'd like to turn, Dirprwy Lywydd, if I may, to targets, and I'm very pleased to say that there are some, and I want to spend some more time looking specifically at those, but I do have some initial thoughts. I was pleased to see that there are equality targets there, and there is a specific target around levelling the playing field between women and men. But I know that the Minister is very well aware that black people and people of colour have been really disproportionately affected by the impact of COVID, which, of course, has compounded long-standing inequalities in that regard in our economy. I hope that as this process goes on, the Minister will be able to work with those communities to develop some targets to help address those inequalities, and I'd also want to say that there have been some positives, of course, perhaps from the working-from-home agenda for disabled workers, and I'd also like to see some specific targets in there about how we can make sure that the gains are not lost, but that it also doesn't lead to disabled workers ending up being more isolated.
With regard to the poverty target, I wonder if the Minister can tell us why we're measuring ourselves against a UK median here. That seems singularly unambitious. We know the gap between the rich and poor across the UK is bad. I'm sure the Minister will probably agree with me that there's a real danger in the next couple of years that it gets worse, rather than better, given the approach in some ways of the UK Government. So, I wonder if the Minister can look at that again.
Now, with regard to productivity, I absolutely heard what the Minister said to Russell George, that we can't use productivity as a measure in isolation, but I hope the Minister would agree with me that the fact that people work very hard in Wales and that productivity stays low is not good for people's well-being. And I wonder if he will consider—I take what he says about a cross-cutting theme on productivity, but that would be true of some of the other areas where he has chosen to set targets—and whether he will consider looking at some specific productivity targets, perhaps in specific sectors.
Now, this will obviously be predominantly for the next Welsh Government to deliver, and we would want to see that Government being more ambitious, and I want to ask the Minister some questions about resourcing. If we're to make some of the major investments that we need to make to create the jobs that the Minister knows are going to be lost, we will need to borrow to invest. And I know the Welsh Government will ask the UK Government for permission to do that, but we need a plan B if that doesn't happen. So, can the Minister assure us today that he will use, if he is in Government after the election, all the Welsh Government's powers in full to borrow to invest? And will he have further discussions with local authorities to see what can be done to utilise their borrowing powers and for the Welsh Government to resource that borrowing? That is certainly something that a Plaid Cymru Government would do.
I wonder if the Minister can tell us, in driving this mission forward, whether there are things that he would be envisaging stopping doing. Because with some of the new plans, if we don't have masses of extra resources and there are elements of activity that are not delivering to these goals, will he examine what he needs to stop doing? And with regard to monitoring and evaluation, can the Minister say very specifically how the targets will be monitored? And one quite small, specific, but important point is how he would be envisaging compliance with the economic contract being monitored. We in Plaid Cymru strongly support the economic contract, but it becomes a piece of paper unless businesses are aware that there will be some form of monitoring of their compliance.
Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, I just want to say that I regard this mission as a valuable step in the right direction, but we on these benches believe it is time for much more ambition. Perhaps we need a leap, rather than a step.
Can I thank Helen Mary Jones for her contribution, and, like Russell George, Helen Mary Jones's really incredibly constructive critique over many months, and also incredibly constructive suggestions over many months as well? I've been very fortunate as a Minister, I think, to have been able to work with excellent opposition spokespeople who have been genuinely and sincerely determined to work together with me and my officials in pursuing the best interests of Wales. And some of the suggestions that Helen Mary Jones has made today obviously are very constructive, they are very worth while in considering them.
I think the point made about ambition, obviously we'd never wish to appear to be arrogant, but there is a huge success story that I think should be recognised in Wales over the last decade or more, in terms of how we've driven down unemployment to record lows. We've created a record number of jobs, a record number of businesses, and perhaps the most startling of all stats concerns economic inactivity, which still is at a rate that we would not wish to see and we will endeavour to bring that down continually, but the reduction in the level of economic inactivity to around the UK level was something many economists did not believe could happen, but we have succeeded in achieving that. So, we are incredibly ambitious, but, as I said, we don't wish to appear at any time arrogant about our ambition as a country or as a Government.
I can assure Members today that, in terms of reflecting on the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the future generations commissioner was part of the Ffenics group, which was led by Chris Nott. That convened employer organisations, key businesses with an interest in building back better, and they were able to provide us with ideas and they were able to critique our mission, and they were proving, in my view, to be invaluable in shaping a strong plan for reconstruction and recovery. And also in terms of some of the other fora in place, we obviously have the council for economic development that was utilised and we have regional working arrangements now in place with local authorities, so we were able to raise the mission at a regional level with our colleagues in local government. And it has to be said that the way that local governments have responded to the beacons has been incredibly positive. They share our belief in the 'town centre first' principle, and in investing wherever and whenever first and foremost within town centres, and I'm sure that they will help to deliver against that beacon in the months and years to come.
Likewise, we've been able to discuss regional stimulus plans as part of the reconstruction and recovery mission. I think that's been very valuable in drawing together local authorities at a regional level. And just in response to something that Russell George mentioned in his questions—I wasn't able in the time to respond directly—that is, the recommendation by the OECD, of course corporate joint committees are the first step in bringing together local authorities on a regional basis to drive economic development and to consolidate capabilities and expertise within bodies at a regional level.
In terms of indicators, targets and the point that was raised about equality, of course we have just announced, in terms of support for people from minority ethnic communities, the barriers fund, which was very much shaped for people who are so far from a jobs market that require additional support in developing businesses in an entrepreneurial way. We also incorporated into the COVID commitment the incentive scheme for employers to take on apprentices aged under 25, with grants of up to £3,000 available for taking on apprentices. We've appointed disability champions across Wales to work with businesses to make sure that businesses are embracing the principles of the economic contract and the need for fair work and opportunities for all.
And in terms of the measurement against the UK median, obviously welfare is something that is reserved for the UK Government and, therefore, that is why we believe that it makes sense to set our target and our ambitions against UK levels. However, I do take the point that Helen Mary Jones raises, and certainly I'll consider whether we can look at other levels that could offer a more appropriate comparison.
I think productivity—again, just to touch on productivity—the measure of productivity within an economy can't be seen in isolation, but it must be set against, obviously, other measures. I've already talked about unemployment and economic inactivity, I've talked about employment level, business growth, and so forth, but it's a fact that as we went into the pandemic, productivity was rising faster in Wales than the UK as a whole. So, again, we had a very positive story to tell about productivity and we wish to make sure that we further boost prospects in terms of productivity by placing a very sharp focus on skills and on research and development, and we wish to see Wales capture as much of the new UK Government R&D road map funding as possible. There will be a significant increase in R&D funding and we want to make sure that it is channelled through to some of those magnet projects that are going to be focused so strongly on the clustering of SMEs, on research, development and innovation. And there are a few examples that I can throw in there: the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, the global centre for rail excellence, the compound semiconductor cluster, the very obvious creative industries cluster. There are opportunities to lever in more research and development, and in so doing, we can use them as magnets for investment rather than having to use a cheque book in order to basically pay for an inward investor to come to Wales, often with only a short-term view of investing in our citizens and our country.
And so, when Helen Mary Jones asks, 'What are you looking at stopping?' well, first of all, we're looking at magnetising through strength, rather than through having an open cheque book. We want to make sure that we build these resilient projects, the magnet projects that will be able to attract investors not just for years to come, but for decades to come, so that we become known as a country with an excellence in certain technical fields, whether it be in artificial intelligence, in advanced manufacturing and materials, particularly in the aerospace sector, or whether it be in compound semiconductors, cyber security, rail and transport research and development. We want to make sure that we grow and cement those specialisms within Welsh communities.
In terms of some of the other work where we are adding value, well, obviously the £270 million of funds for the development bank will see more money utilised for loans and equity purposes, and this is something that economy committees for years, if not decades, have been calling on Government to do, to try to shift away from just utilising grants to more loans and equity-based support, and this is what we're doing with that additional £270 million. That of course will enable some recycling of funding that will further enable growth into the future, and particularly with a focus on microbusiness start-ups and SMEs. The success story of start-ups in recent years really needs to be celebrated, and of course we developed a start-up fund during the pandemic to ensure that we didn't lose those excellent enterprises that innovative and creative people were able to commence prior to COVID-19.
Then, finally, on the point regarding borrowing, obviously this is something that the finance Minister will consider. I know that the finance Minister is keen to consider all creative opportunities to raise funding to invest in our communities and in our businesses. I'm sure that she will have taken a very keen note of what Helen Mary Jones had to say.
Oh, sorry, one more point, Dirprwy Lywydd, and this regards the economic contract. That's a relationship between business and Government; it's a partnership, it's not a one-off agreement. It requires consistent communication and collaboration between Welsh Government officials, also local government officials, and businesses, but as we see that economic contract strengthened and deepened, I'm really keen to see the business community itself embrace the role of peer reviewing one another to ensure that those economic contracts actually mean something. Because, to be honest, it's businesses that can promote the success that they enjoy in terms of utilising the economic contact better than anybody else.
Thank you. We have less than 10 minutes and four speakers, so I'll just put that out there. People need to think about that.
Thank you very much. In 'Our Economic Resilience & Reconstruction Mission' you highlight that nearly half of NHS Wales's food budget is spent outside of Wales, and so that's at least £10 million that we could be recirculating into the Welsh economy. I would guess that the local authorities' catering budget for school meals and for care homes would be of a similar order. So, this is a really important issue, particularly if we're going to do more around school meals. We need to be spending more of that money in Wales. So, it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario here, because until we grow more, we can't buy more. So, I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about how you're going to square that. The farmers will grow anything if they've got a market, so how are we going to ensure that they know about the contracts that we want to offer them?
Can I thank Jenny Rathbone for her question? It's a really important point to make that the foundational economy can be supported through better procurement, through local sourcing of goods and services. We recently launched the foundational economy challenge fund, which has been promoted by Lee Waters. It's been an incredible initiative, it's risen in value quite considerably from the initial intention of investing £1 million to several million pounds, and that's demonstrated through a number of examples how better procurement can lead to more employment opportunities in local communities. The next step is then to learn from some of these initiatives and to make sure that they're mainstreamed across the economy. It can happen. It can happen. We've seen it happen in places like Preston, and what we want to do is make sure that, here in Wales, we do just the same. That's why the challenge fund has been so very important, and that's why we're making the strengthening of the foundational economy one of the five beacons within our mission.
Can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon? I'd also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the generous support you've afforded businesses across Wales in the response to COVID-19, again witnessed by the extra £270 million you announced today. But as we all know, despite the Welsh Government's endeavours, there is and will be a catastrophic consequence for the Welsh economy as a result of lockdown. I'm sure, therefore, that all of us in the Senedd will support you in your cause for greater financial help from the UK Government. The devastation has been so great that only the UK Government has the financial resources to build the UK economies, and that must include Wales.
Of course, I understand that the measures laid out in the statement are designed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, and to bring us out of the economic downturn as soon as possible, and I welcome your emphasis on high-tech industries. The strange statistic that average wages in Wales have risen during this lockdown period masks the fact that this is because the lockdown has impacted on lower-wage earners far greater than those in the higher pay brackets. This means, of course, that the worst affected have been the poorest in society. Many of these low-wage earners are from those sectors hardest hit by the lockdown—the hospitality industry, pubs, restaurants, accommodation establishments. I would therefore call upon the Government to prioritise this sector when you're building the economy, not just because of the sector itself but because this sector has the ability to bounce out of the economic downturn far quicker than others.
Can I thank David Rowlands for his contribution and his question? I'd agree with him entirely on the points that he's raised, first of all in terms of the support that can be brought forward by the UK Government. The job retention scheme has been crucial in avoiding catastrophic levels of unemployment to date, and therefore it has to continue for as long as it is needed. Similar schemes on the continent have been utilised for over a decade, and can be reintroduced at very short notice by European Governments. I would wish to see the job retention scheme retained for the long term and introduced whenever necessary, should further events of this nature occur.
In terms of people on lower incomes, it's a fact that people who earn more during the pandemic have been able to save more, and the UK Government, obviously, during the course of the last week, in many statements, has been indicating that it is relying on those people who have been able to save during the pandemic to release their savings to stimulate economic activity. But, of course, we have a very significant number of people who do not enjoy higher levels of income. In turn, we must therefore intervene to support those people who have been hardest hit, and we will go on doing that through direct support for those sectors that are vulnerable. We'll make sure that they are able to grow in a more sustainable way through the beacon activity that I've outlined, through business development grants, through the Development Bank of Wales offering that significant increase in the flexible investment fund, and through, of course, the prospect of collaboration through some of the magnet projects.
Minister, we know that the pandemic has accelerated pre-existing trends that make it very difficult for our town and city centres to thrive. There are far too many empty shops, including large empty shops such as the Debenhams store in Newport at the moment, and we know that we need to continue our efforts to diversify, repurpose and reinvigorate those city-centre buildings. You will know, I'm sure, Minister, that a recent initiative has been announced by the leaders of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea councils to work with the Welsh Government to take forward that reinvigoration and repurposing. In Newport, key to that is the knowledge quarter, which would see the relocation of Coleg Gwent to the city centre, and a new leisure centre. Will you be looking very carefully at how you can support these projects, Minister, which will create jobs, both within construction but also on an ongoing basis, and could provide a very important example of that much-needed partnership between local government, Welsh Government and business?
Can I thank John Griffiths and say that I agree with him entirely? I think there is a crucial role for local authorities to play in promoting the 'town centre first' initiative, and John Griffiths has highlighted one particularly good example of how, at a local authority and a local level, thought is being given to reintroducing activity within the city centre that could lead to increased footfall and a more vibrant community setting. We are keen to explore all options across Wales, and that's why we're driving forward the agenda concerning the remote working hubs, planting within town centres opportunities for people to commute less but work with others across the public, private and third sector in a really innovative, creative way. They've proven already, in some parts of the world where they operate, to drive productivity, to drive creativity and innovation, so we'll be leading on this effort across Wales. We're looking at the early pilot projects that will be able to demonstrate just how successful this can be, and how, through direct intervention, we're able to breathe new life into town centres and city centres across Wales.
I'm grateful to the Minister for the statement he's made this afternoon. I specifically welcome the Government's commitment that the economic impact of the crisis will not result in people and communities being left behind. But what of those communities, Minister, who already feel that they have been left behind? As people in Blaenau Gwent and across the Valleys remember all too well, in the economic crises of the 1980s and earlier, we have often been left alone to shoulder the burden and bear the brunt of these economic issues. I want to ensure that this Government understands that, and that this Government will not simply be investing in every community equally, but will be investing in those communities that have suffered disproportionately as a consequence of the COVID crisis. That means communities like Blaenau Gwent, where not only have we seen the suffering greater amongst people, but the economic impact greater as well. How will our town centres here be supported by the Welsh Government? How will we create a new economic foundation that can bring wealth into these communities, generate wealth, generate incomes and jobs for people who have already suffered enough?
Can I thank Alun Davies for his question and the points that he outlines? He's absolutely right that many communities that have felt left behind through the course of deindustrialisation have felt over the past 12 months left even further behind, as they've suffered even more acutely from the economic impact of coronavirus. But I can assure Alun Davies that at both the Welsh Government and local authority level, through embracing this mission, consideration and support for business development and inward investment will be prioritised for those communities that have felt left behind for far too long, and that includes communities like Blaenau Gwent. I am hopeful that announcements will be made very soon that will demonstrate just how serious we are taking this initiative, working with local authorities.
I think, in the past, there was a 'cities first' approach whereby success followed success, and without direct intervention in other communities, particularly satellite towns, we saw people feel despondent about economic growth, which was seen as something that was being enjoyed more by those people who lived in the most successful and most urban areas of the UK, principally in the south-east of England and in London. Other Governments were already looking at the economic action plan; they are now looking at this mission. I think there is recognition that intervention is required in placemaking in particular, in ensuring that you prioritise finite resource in developing business opportunities in communities that have suffered the scars of deindustrialisation. But we're always open for learning from others, and that is why we introduced the OECD to this work and why we're keen to learn from exemplar projects and exemplar countries across Europe as we strive to drive down levels of poverty and as we try to narrow inequality within Wales and within the communities of Wales.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 5 on our agenda is a statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on the future domestic rural development programme. I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths.
I wish to update Members on the Welsh Government's priorities for the future of rural development in Wales. In partnership with the EU, Wales will invest a total of £834 million in our EU RDP by the end of 2023. This has helped deliver significant value and resilience in our rural communities.
During the period of the present RDP, we have witnessed the extraordinary rise of the Welsh food and drink sector. We exceeded our target, set in 2014, to grow the sector to £7 billion turnover by the end of 2020, reaching £7.4 billion a full year earlier than we had anticipated. Export growth has been a significant driver of this success, increasing £160 million since 2015 to reach £565 million in 2019, built on our reputation for world-class produce with high welfare and environmental standards. A recent independent evaluation showed that our Farming Connect service had played a crucial role in creating the foundations for change, with a substantial impact on improved business and technical skills, and evidence of widespread benefits in terms of biodiversity and on animal health, notably in terms of reduced antibiotic and fertiliser use.
The sustainable management scheme is delivering whole-landscape nature restoration in every part of Wales. This includes connecting and restoring dune habitats, trialling natural flood management to improve our climate resilience whilst creating woodland and wetland habitats, restoring hundreds of hectares of peatlands, and connecting thousands of people to the landscapes in their areas by creating new volunteering and recreational opportunities. The Welsh Government has some of the most sophisticated environmental monitoring capability of any European nation. Their work provides indications of some positive progress made through our agri-environment schemes, including halting the decline in the populations of upland farmland birds and an increase in woodland bird species, a positive recovery in soil acidity, consistent improvements in the condition of blanket bogs, and a growth in the overall land-use carbon sink, which in the decade prior to devolution was, in fact, a source of emissions.
Last year, I was able to repurpose the LEADER scheme to support rural communities in responding to the devastating effects of the pandemic. Those local action groups truly rose to the challenge, from the Conwy farm assistance scheme, a cohort of volunteers practically supporting farmers affected by COVID, through to Menter Môn's Neges project, which I was privileged to see in the summer—a food delivery service to ensure that vulnerable people and front-line workers were fed during the pandemic. It delivered 10,000 meals to NHS staff and 4,000 food parcels to vulnerable people. These efforts are a perfect example of how the rural development plan has helped to build resilience into rural communities. The local knowledge and agility of LEADER groups meant that they were there when their communities needed them. These are just a very small number of examples of the achievements supported by the RDP, and further evaluation will be completed as the present scheme draws to a close.
Today, I am laying agricultural support regulations that make provision to amend retained EU law in Wales to put in place a domestic framework to fund new rural development schemes. This would begin the multiyear transition, ahead of the introduction of the agriculture Bill in the next term of Government.
Before I move on to talk about the priorities for the future of rural development in Wales, I would like to place on record my deep frustration and disappointment shared by many in Wales's rural communities with the way in which UK Government has decided to renege on their commitment to replace the rural development funding that we are losing as a result of our exit from the European Union. Rather than replace the funding in full, they have taken the decision to subtract from replacement funds the amount we are still receiving from the European Union, as well as a proportion of those funds used to deliver the RDP. This has created a £137 million loss to the rural economy of Wales in next financial year alone.
Some have argued that rather than seek to recover these funds from the UK Government through a reversal of this decision, we should instead take funding away from other areas, including our COVID-19 response, in order to fill the gap left by the UK Government's decision. Besides being a perverse suggestion—to restore the losses to the rural economy by creating losses elsewhere—this is a matter where I believe the public would expect the Senedd to speak with one voice in calling on the UK Government to respect the importance of the rural economy to Wales and the UK, and to reverse this damaging decision.
The first in a series of consultations on the delivery of a new rural development programme is planned for summer 2021, to be brought forward by the new Government in the new Senedd, with the aim of launching a new rural development programme in 2024. As we begin that period of engagement, I believe there is a clear set of priorities emerging that reflects the desire amongst the public for a future very different from the past as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the growing severity of the climate and nature emergency. The future of rural development will need to support social justice in the transition to a net-zero economy. The future RDP will need to support skills and employment that enable the greening of rural industries whilst promoting inclusion, fair work and use of the Welsh language.
The future rural economy of Wales also needs to be nature positive, achieving the sustainable management of natural resources. A future RDP will need to support innovation that can deliver greater direct benefits for the resilience of ecosystems and our wider well-being, sharing the benefits of our natural environment more fairly. We need to keep Welsh farmers on the land by further strengthening their reputation for high animal welfare and environmental standards, supporting the whole supply chain to increase the value of the goods they produce and capturing more domestic and international demand for truly sustainable produce. We need to strengthen the vibrancy of our rural towns and villages, including by supporting a circular economy that retains more value locally whilst avoiding waste and pollution, and by taking advantage of the opportunities for remote working to draw more economic activity into rural areas.
We need to see a major growth in our national capacity for land management beyond farming, including fostering a larger domestic timber industry that can supply low-carbon building materials, and supporting the development of our Welsh nature conservation sector with secure and diverse means of generating income. The progress we have seen under the RDP will provide a solid basis for developing a new rural development programme that is focused on supporting a socially just transition to a zero-carbon and zero-waste economy, achieving the sustainable management of natural resources and sharing the benefits of our rich natural heritage more fairly. Diolch.
Thank you for the statement, Minister. To ensure that the future RDP delivers for rural Wales, lessons have to be learnt from the past and the agricultural sector need listening to. Your claim that the progress seen under the RDP—the current one—will provide a solid basis for developing a new rural development programme is not strictly correct.
As this Parliament knows well by now, RDP 2014-2020 has been badly managed, to the extent that £53 million was awarded without ensuring any value for money. So, you cannot achieve that strong basis without agreeing to calls for an independent review of the RDP to be urgently commissioned, to include an analysis of the effectiveness and value for money of RDP projects and measures. So, will you, Minister, please listen? It's the farmers who are telling me this from across Wales. Will you deliver on this, please?
Now, the request is supported by the fact that the latest data shows that as of November, the farm business grants scheme allocation had £453,000 uncommitted, despite huge demand. That scheme was allocated around £10 million less than the enabling natural resources and well-being scheme, which, despite two rounds, has seen zero applications, and only 50 per cent of the total of £835 million has been spent to date.
Clearly, we need an update today as to what is going on with the enabling natural resources and well-being scheme. So, I would be grateful if you could clarify now how you will ensure that, for instance, there is an appropriate, secure electronic system to record, maintain, manage and report statistical information on the programme and its implementation, and why the rural development advisory board is non-statutory. Why won't you consider making the board statutory, so as to ensure that it operates as a programme-monitoring committee, involving our key stakeholders, like the National Farmers' Union Cymru, the Farmers' Union of Wales and the Country Land and Business Association?
There's a real need for such a committee already, because at present you have shown us no plan, hardly any situational analysis, any description of measures, any evaluation plan, a financing plan, an indicator plan, a communication plan, a management and control structure, monitoring and evaluation procedures, nor any information on programme publication and selection criteria. Now, of course, I acknowledge that the first in a series of consultations on the delivery of a new rural development programme will be planned for this summer in 2021, but there are changes and guarantees that we could achieve now. For example, will you honour the £40 million per annum commitment for the domestic RDP and make a full spend under the current EU RDP? Thank you. Diolch.
Thank you, Janet Finch-Saunders, for those lists of observations and comments and questions. You talked about disallowance and allegations against RDP projects, and I am, obviously, aware of those. Appropriate and proportionate checks are taken to ensure that eligible expenditure is reimbursed, and that includes recovery of payments that have been made during the lifetime of a project, and I think that's really important to understand—that there are a variety of stages during the life of a project.
I should also say that the Welsh Government has obligations to the European Commission—they monitor and they oversee all of the RDPs, and we are meeting and we continue to meet those obligations, and that needs to be recognised, and the Commission has repeatedly articulated their satisfaction with our programme. Our record on disallowance is the best in the UK and it's one of the best in Europe, and it really compares very favourably with the European Union. I think their average is about 2.1 per cent, the UK average is about 2.4 per cent, and the disallowance on our spend is 0.14 per cent. So, I hope that you'll join me in recognising that. I think it's a very naïve approach to public finances to suggest value for money is something that only can be assessed at one stage of a project. Every Member here knows that value for money for public spend has to be assessed at every stage of the project going forward.
You talked about the enabling natural resources and well-being grants, and those projects are being developed along with cross-sector co-operative projects at the right scale. It does predominantly support projects that make improvements in residential areas by delivering benefits for people, for businesses, and their community. And again, each project is required to set out the multiple benefits that we're doing.
I do appreciate that for some organisations, moving away from core funding to a more project-and-outcome-based model was faster, perhaps, than was originally expected, and it caused concern. But we are allowing time and funding for organisations to transition and action the exit plan that they were asked to set in place. Officials continue to meet with organisations to talk through the grant, and we've been very clear that what was considered to be core funding in the past can now be built into the future-based grant applications, and I have to say the feedback that's come back via officials and from myself with engagement with stakeholders has been very positive. This is the first window of the ENRaW funding. All large-scale projects have been issued with 'proceed at risk' letters, and they were required to produce those detailed delivery plans you referred to, and those plans were based on their original applications, and perhaps focused more on the operational delivery.
It is absolutely important that we listen to stakeholders, and as I said, going forward to the new Government when they take the future RDP forward—it is really important that we look to learn from the existing RDP, and it's also really important that we take action in the context of our own Welsh Government priorities. And certainly the climate emergency must be at the fore of that. So, it is really important that we talk to a wide range of stakeholders, not just the ones that you referred to, but also that we look around the world at best practice to bring forward new projects and make sure that that targeted investment has the most benefits and impact. I mentioned the climate emergency. Obviously, we have a biodiversity emergency as well. And, of course, we have Brexit to deal with. So, I think it's not business as usual—that's not an option any more—but we must learn from the current RDP.