Y Cyfarfod Llawn
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 in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using 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 meeting, and these are set out on your agenda. I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber as to those joining virtually.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Economy, and the first question is from Heledd Fychan.
1. Will the Minister make a statement responding to the pledges outlined in the cultural manifesto for recovery by What Next? Cymru? OQ56564
Can I thank Heledd Fychan for my first ministerial question? Thank you very much. The Welsh Government is committed to creating a cultural strategy setting out our priorities and ambitions for the arts, culture and sport. This will sit alongside the statements of priorities already created for Creative Wales, Visit Wales and the historic environment.
I thank the Deputy Minister for her answer, and I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your new role, and I look forward to working with you constructively as the party's spokesperson on culture.
A central element of the What Next? Cymru campaign was the need to strengthen the cultural dimension across the Welsh Government, and I very much welcome the fact that there will be a cultural strategy. But they wanted to see responsibility for culture and creativity being given to a full member of the Cabinet and ensuring that all Government departments support, fund and demand a strong cultural element in their work. With you, unfortunately, a Deputy Minister as opposed to a Minister, how do you intend to ensure a more central role for the arts and culture in the Government of the sixth Senedd, as compared to the fourth Senedd and fifth Senedd, and tackle the underinvestment that has been seen for over a decade? Will you and the Minister for Economy work closely together to ensure that?
Thank you, again, for that supplementary question. What I would say in terms of the position of the Minister with responsibility for culture, I think it's more important that the Minister delivers on what is being asked rather than the position in the hierarchy of Government. And I'm very clear about my role in that and my role with the Minister for Economy in making sure that the cultural sector plays a key part in economic recovery. And as part of developing the cultural strategy, the Welsh Government is going to be engaging with a whole range of stakeholders, including What Next? Cymru. We've got a meeting with them scheduled shortly. In fact, I met with a representative from What Next? Cymru in my constituency just prior to the election, and she went through the cultural manifesto with me. You and I have got a meeting scheduled at the end of the month, and I'm also meeting with the Conservative spokesperson on culture and sport, and I hope that everybody will be contributing to the work that we'll be doing around that area.
And I think that it's important to set out that, throughout the pandemic, the cultural sector has worked hard to produce opportunities for people to engage with culture and heritage, particularly through digital services, and I want to ensure that that continues and that we have a sustainable development for the sector. We will continue to invest in projects to deliver new and improved cultural organisations, increasing access to our collections and cultural assets from across Wales, including digitising the National Museum Wales collections of contemporary art and the creation of a new football museum and developing Theatr Clwyd. We're also looking to create a memorandum of understanding with the Arts Council of Wales, to ensure alignment between the creative sectors and the arts sector. Through the freelancer and public sector pledges, we're working with the sector to ensure a more co-ordinated approach, moving forward. Events are also a vital part of the visitor economy, and we fully recognise the importance of those to the sector.
So, to answer your question directly, a key part of my work is to work with the economy Minister in making sure that the cultural sector is adequately funded and is part of the key elements of the economic recovery in Wales, and they will play a key part in that.
Minister, there is no denying that Wales's cultural sector has taken a hammering as a result of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Many theatres dropped the final curtain for the last time 15 months ago and, sadly, far too many will never see the footlights switched back on. Music venues and comedy spots also face an uncertain future. I welcome the easing of restrictions, but, for many venues, the damage done may be too great.
Minister, we need an arts revival to bolster the sector. Will you join me in congratulating the Rhyl Little Theatre in my constituency, the Vale of Clwyd, who, through a crowdfunding scheme, raised moneys to improve their facilities so that they can continue to provide a first-class setting for budding artists? Do you also agree that venues like the Rhyl Little Theatre are vital to ensuring not only the success of future performing artists, but also to the revival of Wales's cultural arts economy?
Yes, and can I thank the Member for that question also and agree with him? And I will certainly offer my congratulations to the facility in his constituency and region, in the Vale of Clwyd. These small organisations are a key element of the cultural sector and we need to support them, and we want them to thrive in the post-pandemic world as well. The cultural recovery fund, of course, has been a significant assistance to a number of the organisations in that sector, and I hope that will continue. And, as I said in response to Heledd Fychan's question, these organisations will be an integral part of the post-COVID recovery.
The creative sectors across Wales and the UK have undoubtedly been devastated and traumatised by the ongoing COVID pandemic, as has already been referenced. The Welsh Labour Government is to be commended on its election pledge to establish a national music service to make sure that a lack of money is no barrier in Wales to young people learning to play an instrument or study voice. Members will know that I have campaigned across the fifth Senedd for such a commitment. So, it has never been more critical for Wales and our creatives, and for the survival of a creative Wales, that this occurs alongside a vibrant cultural strategy. Deputy Minister, can you clarify the importance of a national music service within the Welsh Government's culture strategy, going forward, and how will you advance that?
Well, can I thank Rhianon Passmore for that supplementary question? And I think it is, at this point, worth just saying a little bit about the work that the last Government did on the cultural strategy. My predecessor, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, commissioned strategies across his portfolio, and that included the cultural priorities strategy, and that work was significantly progressed, involving a steering group of key stakeholders, and I believe Heledd Fychan was a member of that key stakeholder group. But the manifesto pledge particularly on establishing the national music service is a key commitment that is being processed through joint working between myself and the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, and work has already commenced on developing a range of options to create a sustainable pathway for music education in Wales, working with a range of stakeholders.
The focus is to develop a way forward that builds on the excellent work already being delivered across music education organisations, and ensure that children and young people's well-being is enhanced through access to music. The Welsh Government education directorate has made funding of £1.5 million available for 2021-22 to support music education and music services, and can I thank the Member particularly for her work in this area? She's been a great champion of the national music service, and her support for this initiative has been greatly welcomed, and I look forward to continue working with her, and other Members across the Chamber, and stakeholders, to ensure that this service is developed and delivered.
2. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government's priorities for the future of the Welsh economy? OQ56533
Yes, thank you. A new programme for government will be laid before the Senedd within the coming weeks. This will outline how we plan to take forward our economic resilience and reconstruction mission for Wales and reiterate our commitment to develop a new young person’s guarantee, giving everyone under the age of 25 the offer of work, education or training.
Thank you for that response, Minister. One of the things that has been devastating in Wales in recent months as a result of the pandemic is the impact on our coastal communities, in particular our seaside towns. We've seen university studies that have demonstrated that communities like Colwyn Bay, Towyn and Kinmel Bay, and other parts of the north Wales coast, in terms of the towns there, are amongst those that have been worst hit by COVID. I was wondering what consideration the Welsh Government has given to the establishment of a seaside towns fund, specifically to ameliorate the impacts of COVID on those communities and to help them rebound from the pandemic economically.
Well, I'm still open to ideas about how we successfully see the economy of Wales and all its parts rebound. I had the pleasure to be in the Llŷn peninsula visiting a range of seaside towns with my family during half term, and I can see that there are lots of people returning to those areas and, broadly, being very respectful of the need to behave sensibly. We do need to understand what's returning, the amount of support we still need to provide, and we're still in an emergency position, so there are still not the old normal trading provisions, and that's what we're going to need to work through with a range of stakeholders in the future. But, of course, our 'town centre first' approach, I think, will be important for seaside towns as well, as we look to drive more footfall into our towns to make sure that they do have as bright and prosperous a future as possible, and that will, of course, require us to work not just with local partners, local authorities, but also to see how we can, if possible, work rather more constructively with the UK Government.
Minister, the economy of north-east Wales is driven by manufacturing. On Friday, I had the pleasure and the opportunity to meet with eXcent UK and hear about their plans for growth based on employing well-paid, highly skilled, local engineers. Their message was clear: given the right support, the advanced manufacturing sector in north Wales can compete for work globally and provide jobs for future generations. Now, I believe employers like this can—
We seem to have lost the connection to Jack Sargeant. I'll call John Griffiths, and I'll come back to Jack Sargeant, if the technology allows us. John Griffiths to ask his supplementary question.
Diolch, Llywydd. The steel industry continues to be a real strength for Wales and is, of course, a strategic industry, so important to manufacturing and construction, for example. I would like the Minister's reassurance, which I'm sure will be forthcoming, that it will be a continuing priority for Welsh Government to support the steel industry in Wales, and to make sure that we have the high-tech, value added, sustainable steel industry that will really support our economy into the future, and, also, that Welsh Government will continue to be in close dialogue with UK Government and Liberty Steel, because that's an important employer in my constituency and we need to ensure that it has a strong future also.
Thank you for the question. I can reiterate that this Government places a high value on the future of the steel industry as it moves to transition to become a decarbonised steel industry. One of my first external ministerial engagements was the UK Steel Council, engaging with the UK Government and other Governments within the United Kingdom, together with the industry, represented by UK Steel, and the trade union side as well, and there was a recognition of the high value that steel provides, and I welcome the change in tone from the UK Government. If we were having this conversation just a few years ago, we would have been talking in rather more critical terms about the view of the UK Government. The current view from the UK Government is it sees a real value in sustaining the steel industry across the United Kingdom, and I recognise the Member's interest with Liberty, but also other providers and manufacturers here in Wales, and I look forward to continuing to meet those individual employers, as well as meeting them collectively. And I also have in my diary a meeting date with the trade union side to understand how we take forward the steel industry, not if we do so here in Wales.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, can I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your new appointment, and say from the outset that I look forward to working constructively with you, where I can, to protect, support and transform our economy as we move out of this pandemic?
Now, Minister, the Welsh Government has laid claim to offering the most comprehensive package of business support in the UK throughout the COVID pandemic, and whilst many businesses have been given support to stay afloat, there have also been businesses and, indeed, individuals that missed out completely. Some have felt that they've slipped through the gaps in business support packages and others have felt that local authorities have used their discretion not to pass on financial support. Therefore, given some of the evidence, on what basis do you believe the Welsh Government has provided businesses in Wales with the most comprehensive support package in the UK? In light of the persistent impact of COVID-19 on businesses and jobs, what will be your first action in your new post to secure a strong labour market recovery?
It's a matter of fact, not opinion, that we have provided £2.3 billion of support for business and the economy here in Wales, following a consequential of £1.9 billion from the UK Government. The additional £400 million is a choice that we have made to further support businesses here in Wales. The Member will know that, for example, small business rate relief is carrying on for a full year here in Wales; it's one quarter of full relief in England, before being reduced successively after that.
The Member will also have heard in this Chamber the First Minister highlighting the example of different hospitality businesses and what they would receive over the border. For a 10-employee business since December in Wales, you could have received £52,500; the equivalent business in England would have received £26,000. It is plainly and undeniably a more generous scheme here in Wales.
I'm looking forward to building on the conversations I've already had with business organisations about how we provide greater certainty in our trading environment in the future. Not all of those are matters within the hands of the Welsh Government. I attended the partnership council today between the UK Government and the European Commission and the uncertainty is a key factor in the relationship that we have. But I'm looking forward to the next stage of business support to look at both what we need to do to support those businesses that can't trade normally, as well as investing in the future and especially the ability to invest in improving skills within the workforce and indeed within leadership and management.
Minister, I put it to you that the only way that we can judge whether you are providing the most generous support package is if we see actual figures for the businesses you've supported. The First Minister has recently confirmed to the Member for Blaenau Gwent some weeks ago that the Welsh Government intends to publish a breakdown of the level of support provided to businesses affected by COVID-19 by sector, by geography and by strand within the economic recovery programme. This data is absolutely vital in understanding where support has been given and perhaps where it has not. In the spirit of openness and transparency, that information must be made available as soon as possible. Minister, can you categorically confirm when that data will be published? Given the First Minister's recent comments about recalibrating business support going forward, can you tell us, and indeed businesses across Wales, what the Welsh Government's plans are to support businesses going forward?
There are two particular parts to that question. The first is the publication of business support already provided. We've already published some of that information on previous support we provided earlier in the pandemic. I won't give an indication now, because I need to check, but I'm happy to make sure that all Members are aware when we will, not if we will, publish that. So, there is entire openness and transparency, because there is certainly no attempt to hide the amounts that have been provided. That's part of the conditions upon which the support has been provided. Every business receiving support knows that we will publish the amounts that have been provided.
On your latter point about how we'll support businesses going forward, I expect to come back to this place to outline the next stages of business support. And in recalibrating what we're doing, that has to take account of the position we find ourselves in, both with the path of easements that are being unlocked—and we're in a good position, having announced the phased move to go fully into alert level 1 over the next few weeks. That still means there will be some restrictions in place. We then need to think about the next stage of support for businesses, as I indicated in my first answer, because we're still in an emergency situation—we're not back to the old normal. Social distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing and those base measures are still with us, as well as restrictions on the numbers of people that can attend a variety of businesses. Alongside that, I want to look at investing in the future—to invest in the further recovery—and I think we'll be able to do that over the next few months, but crucially when the UK Government provide a future comprehensive spending review and we have more certainty on our ability to invest on a multi-year basis.
Minister, whatever changes you actually make in the future in terms of business support, they must be made clearly and businesses must be engaged and understand the Welsh Government's direction of travel, so I look forward to further statements from you in due course. I think the publication of data is also crucial in actually understanding the Welsh Government's approach and to learn lessons for the future. So, I hope very much that you will listen to the First Minister. The First Minister's made it absolutely clear that he wants that information published, so I look forward to that information being published in due course.
You'll also be aware of the recent Public Health Wales report that showed that young workers aged 16 to 24 were much more likely to be employed in shut-down sectors, compared to other age groups. That same report also showed that younger workers felt more uncertain about the future, especially when Government schemes come to an end and what that might mean in terms of job prospects. Your party's Senedd manifesto promised a young person's guarantee that guarantees everyone under the age of 25 an offer of work, education, training or self-employment. Minister, what is your message to young workers in Wales today about their fears over job prospects in the future? And can you spell out exactly when the young person's guarantee is going to be brought forward so that Wales can move forward from the pandemic with an economy that works and supports young people? Because that's what it says in your manifesto.
That's exactly what we will do. I look forward to providing a statement to Members and the public on how we are taking forward the youth guarantee. I note what the Member had to say about the withdrawal of support for industry. As the furlough scheme starts to phase out, businesses will make choices in advance of that and there is a risk that, as the UK Government support is phased down, some businesses will choose not to continue with the same headcount currently available. That's a challenge and it's a particular challenge for younger workers. We know they've been particularly affected in sectors of the economy where they're more likely to be employed. I'd say to any young workers or young people looking to go into the world of work that we do understand that this is an uncertain time and that's exactly why we are going to provide a youth guarantee to make sure that there is no lost generation as a result of the pandemic. I look forward to providing a statement and answering questions here in this Chamber as we look to do that—not just the initial announcement, but how we take forward that work, including, crucially, working with businesses, our advisory services and young people themselves to understand how we'll have the most successful and practical offer available in Wales.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Llywydd. I'd like to begin by saying congratulations to the Minister on his new post. I haven't had a chance to say it to him in person yet, but I'm sure that he's as excited as I am to have a constructive relationship going forward.
Since the establishment of devolution in 1999 and full law-making powers in 2011, no Welsh Government has undertaken legislation aimed specifically at addressing the Welsh economy and business. With the democratic institutions in Wales by now well established, we think now is the right time. Small and medium-sized enterprises need clear and long-term proposals to help them provide a strong footing for economic development in Wales. So, I'd like to ask the Minister: what legislative options will the Welsh Government consider over the next Senedd term that would help underpin the measures and the architecture needed to support economic development in Wales that can ensure that our business advice and support services have longevity and stability and are able to react in supporting businesses when crises arise, as has been the case through COVID-19?
Thank you for the kind words of introduction. I look forward to working with him across the Chamber, in the Chamber and outside it as well.
In terms of your point about legislation, I think the challenge is whether legislation will make a difference. That's the real test, surely; not just that we have the powers, but that the powers to legislate can be used in a meaningful way. If you look at the way that this place has reacted to events in the past, for example, when the previous Deputy First Minister from your own party was in post, in response to the 2007-08 crisis, at that time, the significant response of the Welsh Government led by Rhodri Morgan at the time was with the ReAct and ProAct schemes that didn't require a change in legislation. It was actually about how the powers already here and budgets were used in a creative way that involved stakeholders from the world of business—the Confederation of British Industry in particular, and also the Wales Trades Union Congress. We came together in an agreed way to protect as much work as possible. Through the COVID pandemic, we've been able to do something similar, using our powers, working with stakeholders and with our approach on social partnership. We are going to legislate the social partnership for the future. I also think it's important to recognise that social partnership and procurement legislation, because improving the amount of procurement spend that is retained in Wales will make a real difference. That's not the same as legislating to essentially try to legislate for jobs; it's how we get the greatest return on money and improve relationships.
You mentioned business support; it's one of my key concerns and why I mentioned wanting to have a more constructive relationship with the UK Government in answer to Paul Davies. Business Wales is a single brand for business support, a single door to go through at present. That has been largely funded by the former European Union funds that are coming to an end. The replacement funds, if they're administered in the way that the UK Government is currently indicating, could undermine our ability to carry on funding that service as effectively as we have been and a range of other areas. So, there is work to be done here, with the responsibilities we have, and if the Member has key proposals that would mean that legislation can be effective, I'll happily talk to him about those. But, our relationship, our powers and the existence of this place, and the responsibilities that the people of Wales have chosen to give us, are a key factor in how we work with the UK Government, I hope, rather than a more confrontational approach, which is the current path we're headed on.
I thank you for that answer, Minister, and I'm encouraged to hear about the social partnership Act. As he knows, Plaid Cymru has been very supportive of that throughout the process, and I'm looking forward to working with him on that point and, as well, to working on, potentially, looking at some legislative options going forward.
If I can turn to a confidence issue that we are seeing with SMEs at the moment, it was good to have the opportunity to meet with the Federation of Small Businesses Cymru last week and to discuss how the Senedd and Welsh Government can work together over the next five years to support small businesses. Their recent support, 'What We Value', outlines how SMEs can be the key to rebuilding Wales's economy and communities. Small businesses, as well as contributing to community resilience and provision of vital services, are vital employers. SMEs are 99.4 per cent of businesses in Wales, contributing 62.4 per cent of private sector employment and 37.9 per cent of turnover. As with so many other sectors, SMEs have been hit hard by the pandemic and they needed significant Government support.
Looking forward, there are significantly differing views about the outlook for business and the wider economy in Wales over the next five years. Although 63 per cent of small business owners are very or fairly optimistic about their own enterprise, optimism falls away when a wider perspective of the economy is taken into account. Optimism, in fact, falls to 57 per cent when considering the relevant sector or industry, while even fewer small business owners are optimistic about the small business sector in Wales or the Welsh economy over the next five years. How does the Minister, therefore, intend to engage with SMEs to reduce this confidence gap and provide the necessary clarity on practical long-term goals to help SMEs contribute to the economic recovery in Wales?
The Member highlights one of the conundra: that when people are asked about their business, they're confident, but when they're asked more generally, they have less confidence. It's exactly the same in a number of other areas: where people have personal experience, they feel they have more control, and less confidence when they think about a broader perspective. So, some of this is, actually, about matching up what people are seeing on the ground. When I've met a range of business organisations, including the FSB, I've had an initial conversation about what we can do and I look forward to continuing to work with them, because I think the only way to generate that confidence is in the conversations that we have, but also in the decisions that we make, and whether those businesses can, actually, provide a future for themselves that is both about maintaining businesses that exist and helping some businesses to grow. Some businesses will always be small businesses; others can grow to medium and larger sized ones. We do need to be more successful in Wales in seeing more medium and larger sized businesses developing here in Wales, together with the point about business start-up. We recognise that we do need to have a greater rate of business start-up as well, so I'm looking forward to working with them on what I think is a positive agenda, where we recognise that we're in broadly the same place in understanding the challenges that we have, and then the need to understand how we successfully work together, with the convening power of Government and the levers that are currently available to us.
Thank you, Minister. The reality is in Wales, of course, that the one institution that can give the confidence to SMEs is the Government. We know that the SMEs themselves bring the drive and entrepreneurship; they're a vital resource for their drive, their passion and their expertise in their relative fields. However, to secure this drive and investment, SMEs need certainty. Long-term business plans created prior to the pandemic have likely been scrapped, or at least need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and it's understandable why. Is the Welsh Government prepared to go further than their current support and be ready to invest in Welsh SMEs to provide that certainty, instil that confidence in the sector and create the conditions necessary for growth that will drive the Welsh economy forward?
There is a range of factors, as I indicated to Paul Davies, where the Welsh Government certainly has a role in creating those conditions, and others where we need to work alongside the UK Government. The continuing trading relationships with the European Union are a key factor for us. If we were talking about ports, we'd have a particular challenge about ports in Pembrokeshire and in Holyhead, and the changed relationship, with the way that trade is being diverted. We have some of those challenges to work through, where there's a mix of reserved responsibilities and responsibilities we have here.
So, that's part of the mix. It's also, then, the choices we can make here. That's why we're not just talking about the youth guarantee, but we want to about skills and about business support. Having clarity on our ability to deliver those will be hugely important, to help those smaller businesses to invest in the skills of their workforces, their leaders and their managers. It's one of the key factors in helping businesses to grow and, obviously, we have a successful base to build on, with a successful apprenticeship programme, a key commitment to do more on that, and how we work alongside small businesses to understand how we best meet their needs.
The other key factor, though, in terms of confidence for small businesses is, actually, the behaviour of customers. And you will recall the retail consortium talking about the fact that customer behaviour is still a changing matter, where we're still understanding how customers will behave. It's both about those people who want to return to an office environment and how long for, what that means for businesses where their model is that they rely on those people, as well as on the retailer on the high street, whether we're going to see numbers coming through in sufficient number, that those businesses have a more confident outlook on their own future. And part of the challenge and the honesty is that we want to provide certainty in a world that is still slightly uncertain. I say 'slightly uncertain', and I hope, over the coming weeks, we'll develop more certainty about that as we carry on with the measures that my colleague Eluned Morgan will no doubt talk about in a short period of time, on rolling out our vaccination programme and the protection that should give. So, the continuing route out of the pandemic is a key factor in providing the conditions for certainty for businesses and the wider public to make their own choices.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on the use of fire-and-rehire practices by companies in receipt of Welsh Government funding? OQ56538
I want to be clear, as the First Minister was yesterday, that the Welsh Government condemns the use of fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic and employment practice. The threat of redundancy to impose inferior pay, terms and conditions on workers does not accord our fair work and social partnership values, and is inconsistent with the ethos of the economic contract.
I think many of us in the Chamber will welcome that clarity. And, Minister, unfortunately, the repugnant use of fire and rehire is growing. Only a month ago, 140 MPs and Lords joined a campaign, led by the TUC and around 20 major unions in this country, including Unite, GMB, community, the FSB—most of the major unions—to stop employers raiding wages, cutting sick pay terms and conditions and undermining workers' rights at work. They called on the UK Government to use the Queen's Speech in May to stop this practice of fire and rehire, but those calls were ignored.
Now, employment law, of course, is not devolved to Wales, but we do have some powerful tools to hand, including the social partnership approach and ethical procurement, which turned the spotlight previously on companies who had used construction blacklists to absolutely beggar the lives of workers within the construction industry. So, Minister, what more can we do to stamp out the use of hire and fire in Wales, where companies are in receipt of public funds, and is there anything we could look at in the social partnership legislation going forward, too?
Yes, and I recognise the point the Member makes. I remember as a backbencher raising issues about the construction workers' blacklist and the direct impact that had on the lives of workers in Wales and beyond. So, we are going to look to use the levers, both practical that we have and influential, to try to move employers in Wales to a position where they understand the view of the Welsh Government and what that means for their engagement with us. So, the economic contract, it's very clear about committing to fair work principles, and if people want continuing support, they're going to need to take account of that. And this goes back to the point about, even though we don't have the legislative powers, we have practical levers that should help to move us forward. And I do look forward to making progress on procurement and social partnership, because that will involve us taking forward the fair work agenda, and Members will have the opportunity to scrutinise the approach in legislation about those fair work principles and what it will mean. So, I look forward to Members getting involved and engaging in that to make sure we have the best piece of legislation that should then make a practical difference about how the Welsh Government engages in financial, loan support and practical support for companies and businesses, and I believe that will really improve the world of work here in Wales.
Let me first of all congratulate you, Minister, on your appointment. I don't think I've had an opportunity to do that yet, so congratulations to you.
Of course, this item was raised yesterday in FMQs, and it is an important issue. We had some positive contributions from Mr Hedges and Mr Davies, my colleague here, and the First Minister obviously responded yesterday, but this was before further commitments and proposals made by UK Government in Parliament yesterday afternoon. And I'm sure you were encouraged to hear the UK Government's continued commitment to stamp out these unscrupulous practices. And, indeed, yesterday, the First Minister referred to the hope that the UK Government would take account of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service's review and lead to legislative action, which the UK Government yesterday confirmed their commitment to the employment Bill, and also to the single enforcement body as well. I'm sure you'd welcome that action by the UK Government. So, in light of that, and in light of the statements yesterday by the UK Government, what further discussions will you be having with the UK Government to continue this good work in seeing this legislation over the line?
I think there is—. It's often the case that there are positive signals given, as in this case—and I welcome the Member to the Chamber and to questions; I look forward to working with him in this role, as indeed moving on from his time as the leader of Conwy County Borough Council. Look, I welcome the fact that if the single enforcement body is going to be effective, that will be a good thing. That would help not just in this area, but a range of others too. An employment Bill that helps to move things forward—that, again, would be a good thing, and depending on the measures, there could be support from the Welsh Government for those measures. The challenge though is that the ACAS report did set out that there were legislative options available, and today, the Prime Minister has confirmed again that whilst he believes that hire and fire can be an unscrupulous practice, there is no commitment at present to specific legislative proposals. And the danger is, in asking ACAS to review the guidance, that won't necessarily change what happens as a matter of practice. Because employment law, as Huw Irranca-Davies said, is not devolved, if it's not unlawful, then even matters of good practice don't necessarily stop those employers that even now have gone ahead making really difficult choices that are, in plain sight, all about driving down terms and conditions. So, there are some points that we can welcome and I'm happy to do so, there are other points where we still think the UK Government needs to go further, including legislation to outlaw unscrupulous hire-and-fire practices.
Minister, can I also congratulate you on your appointment? I look forward to working with you in both our new roles.
4. What is the Welsh Government doing to support town centre businesses in the Monmouth constituency? OQ56566
I welcome Peter Fox to his new role, and, again, I have seen him in his former role; now he is a bright young man here in the Senedd.
Since April 2020, Monmouthshire businesses have received over £50 million in grant support, safeguarding over 1,300 jobs. This is in addition to the year-long non-domestic business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality, and the Member will of course be aware that similar businesses in England will not enjoy the same relief over the same period of time.
Thank you for the response, Minister. Minister, data shows that Wales's town centres have experienced the deepest decline in footfall out of the UK nations, and this is being felt in my constituency, as with many others represented here today. Short-term incentives need to be considered to help our struggling towns at a time when they most need it—things that could easily be delivered to support consumer spend and footfall. Simple but effective incentives such as Welsh Government-funded free parking in town centres, perhaps together with a street voucher scheme similar to that which is being operated in Northern Ireland, would be a really good start, and I believe the latter was something that featured in the Scottish Labour manifesto, so something that should be acceptable. These incentives would have a massively beneficial effect on our high streets and town centres at a time where they are in desperate need of our support. So, can I ask you, Minister, that you and the Government give these things some serious consideration? Thank you.
I'll be happy to consider all ideas, as well as the approach we're already taking. And the Member will know, from his time when he was still the leader of Monmouthshire, the over £0.5 million in Transforming Towns placemaking grant that's been made to Monmouthshire County Council for this year. So, there are practical steps that are being taken to help support businesses in the here and now, as well as, of course, the approach that we've indicated we're going to take in a town-centre-first approach, and the way we look at future developments and the choices that go across Government. So, in my former role, I was very keen to continue investing in community pharmacy for a variety of reasons, but I certainly had in mind that maintaining a community pharmacy on a high street is important from a footfall point of view for a range of other businesses too, and how we drive more—. So, to make them more accessible from a healthcare point of view also has an impact on the economic future for town centres as well. So, I look forward to working with him, and I'd be more than happy, if he wants to write to me with a range of initiatives we may be able to take, to openly engage with him, not just for Monmouthshire, but of course for every citizen across the country.
Can I welcome the Minister and the Deputy Minister to their new roles? I really look forward to working with them. I recently met up with constituents in Caswell Bay to view Surfs Up, a newly built changing places facility. Changing places are larger, accessible toilets with equipment such as hoists, curtains and adult-sized—[Interruption.] Oh, I'm sorry I've done that. [Laughter.] Sorry.
I realised my mistake.
—you need to ask the question on the order paper. Don't worry, it wasn't just your mistake, I failed to notice it as well. [Laughter.]
We've all done it.
Just go back to the question on the order paper.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on accessible tourism in Wales? OQ56552
Yes, I'd be very happy to do so—[Laughter.]—and welcome the Member to the Chamber. Our strategy, 'Welcome to Wales: Priorities for the Visitor Economy 2020-2025', published in January, emphasises accessibility and inclusivity in all our activities. We will continue to engage and work closely with Disability Wales to support the delivery of our work, and I look forward to the Member's supplementary. [Laughter.]
I think he's got a small idea of what it might be. I recently met with constituents in Caswell Bay to view Surfs Up, a newly built changing places facility. Changing places are larger, accessible toilets with equipment such as hoists, curtains, adult-sized changing benches and space for carers. These help make tourism in Wales inclusive to everybody, as disabled toilets have proven to not be enough on their own. Whilst this has been a welcome change, I was shocked to find that this is one of the first places on Gower, a very popular tourism destination, to have such a facility. Now, the provision has been made compulsory in certain new buildings in England by the UK Government; therefore, what will the Welsh Government do to ensure that tourism is accessible to all?
Thank you for the question. I'm familiar with the Caswell Bay project that the Member references, because the Welsh Government provided £68,000 of the £85,000 project cost to enable the change he refers to. And there's more, of course, within Caswell Bay in particular, but we are looking at how we make it easier for people to understand how they can have genuinely accessible engagement in holidays, and the Visit Wales website allows visitors to filter for accommodation that has provision for disabled visitors and has a number of areas where you can look at accessibility. Again, I'm more than happy to look at how we may be able to consider how we actually provide not just duties, because, again, I know the Member, being still a current councillor, but in your former role and indeed the two previous council leaders who have spoken—there's a regular concern that if we impose duties without resources for them, then it creates an additional pressure that means the fulfilment of those is rather more difficult. So, I'm happy to consider duties, what that might mean, together with the Minister for Social Justice and to understand how we may then make a practical difference to make sure there are more accessible venues for families with a person who needs that access requirement to ensure that they enjoy holidays, as, indeed, the rest of us can do as well.
6. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government's economic priorities for businesses in Pembrokeshire over the next 12 months? OQ56544
Yes. Our economic resilience and reconstruction mission sets out our plan for the economy and will be vital to support individuals, businesses and communities to succeed, flourish and recover. We continue to support new and existing businesses in Pembrokeshire through Business Wales and our regional team. We have provided extensive support through the pandemic and the post-Brexit reality that I'm afraid has already seen an impact on Pembrokeshire businesses. We have, though, provided over £109 million in support through the economic resilience fund to Pembrokeshire businesses.
Of course, the next 12 months are crucial in developing new business opportunities, and you have committed today to creating secure and lasting jobs across Wales, and creating the conditions for businesses to grow. Now, in my own constituency, it's great to see the port of Milford Haven move forward in its plans to strengthen its Milford waterfront proposition with construction beginning on the 100-bed Tŷ hotel, which will have a positive impact on the local community and provide local jobs. Minister, I hope you will join me in welcoming the progress made on the project, and could you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to support and maximise the opportunities from developments like this in Pembrokeshire?
We have a constructive relationship with not just the council, but with a range of stakeholders in Pembrokeshire, and, in fact, the development you speak of is something I know that Joyce Watson the regional Member for Mid and West Wales has mentioned to me in the past as well. So, I'm very keen to look at what we can do to work alongside businesses in Pembrokeshire and beyond to see that there is a realistic and positive future, and I do come back to the point that our challenge in our trading relationship within the United Kingdom, but crucially with the island of Ireland, is a key factor in an area like Milford Haven and the progress that we want to see it make in the future. So, I'm happy to work constructively, as I said, on all sides to see that vision realised.
7. What plans does the Welsh Government have to stimulate the growth of everyday food production businesses in Wales? OQ56543
Thank you for the question. We have a comprehensive programme to support businesses through Brexit and COVID disruption. That includes technical advice, financial support and promotional work. This support and leadership will help to sustain the sector through challenging times to stay on the long-term path of success and growth that it has achieved in recent years.
Thank you. This week we've been reminded about the fragility of our post-Brexit trading relationships and the possible implications for our food security. This goes well beyond a spat about sausages and chicken nuggets, and yet the UK continues to import most of its vegetables and fruit, particularly in the winter months, from mainland Europe. Two years ago, the Welsh Government invested over £400,000 in three controlled-environment agriculture projects through the foundational economy challenge fund. What has been the outcome of that investment in Wrexham, Treherbert and Cwmbran? And, given that most of us won't want to eat salads coming from Australia, what plans does the Government now have to mainstream controlled-environment agriculture across Wales so that we can enjoy more local, locally produced and grown products and be less vulnerable to the disrupted relationship that we now face with our partners in mainland Europe?
The Member is quite right to highlight the key challenges of the customs reality that faces a range of goods going in and out of Great Britain and the island of Ireland. I've mentioned several times before the impact that is having on our ports, but it's going to have a significant and continuing impact on producers themselves. And this is an area where Wales has done particularly well. We had a target of increasing the value of our food and drink sector to £7 billion in sales terms by 2020; we got to nearly £7.5 billion. So, a successful sector that is now facing the reality of the new arrangements in place.
On the point the Member makes about controlled-environment agriculture pilots, we've only just received the results of those pilots and we're still evaluating the results at present. The initial results are encouraging, but it's too early to say if we'll roll that initiative out more widely, but I'll make sure that Members are informed. And of course, my colleague, Lesley Griffiths, will take a keen interest in the outcome of the pilots and the choices we make here within the Government.
And finally question 8, Vikki Howells.
8. How does the Welsh Government intend to strengthen the economy of the south Wales Valleys during this Senedd term? OQ56537
Thank you for the question. We are currently considering how best to further develop economic, social and environmental action within this area, particularly in the Heads of the Valleys area. Over £19 million has already been approved for projects benefiting our south Wales Valleys towns through the Transforming Towns programme, which includes an allocation of over £1.5 million for each local authority.
Thank you, Minister, and welcome to your new role.
The Valleys taskforce was a very welcome intervention by the Welsh Government during the fifth Senedd term, and delivered many tangible benefits to my constituency of Cynon Valley, including £1.5 million for the Dare Valley Country Park, the creation of a remote-working hub in Mountain Ash, and a very exciting zero-waste food project in Aberdare. What plans do you have, Minister, to build on the work of the Valleys taskforce across the area? And will you commit to working closely with those Members of the Senedd who represent Valleys communities so that you can best shape your response?
Yes, I'm happy to say that we're very positive about a range of areas in the Valleys taskforce work. I've recently spoken with the leader of RCT about continuing our work on the empty homes scheme, where bringing those homes back into beneficial use has proven to be more effective and cheaper than building new properties. So, we're looking to see what's worked already in the legacy report and the programme for action as the Valleys taskforce was wound up, and I'm happy to confirm and agree to the commitment to meet with Valleys representatives to have a conversation about how we are taking that forward to make sure we continue to invest in the future of the Valleys.
I thank the Minister. We will now suspend proceedings briefly to allow for some changeovers in the Siambr.
Plenary was suspended at 14:19.
The Senedd reconvened at 14:28, with the Llywydd in the Chair.
The next item is questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the first question is from Delyth Jewell.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on respite support for unpaid carers in South Wales East? OQ56572
We recognise the vital importance of respite and taking a break for maintaining the mental health and well-being of unpaid carers. On Monday, at the start of national Carers Week, I announced £3 million of new funding in 2021-22 to support emergency respite provision and development of a short-breaks fund.
Thank you, Minister. As you've noted, it is Carers Week, and I welcome your respite support package for unpaid carers, but I'm afraid that that doesn't tally with the delay in reopening day-care services. These services are one of the principal means of respite for unpaid carers, and some councils have yet to fully reopen them. I understand that Caerphilly have said that they will open facilities only on a phased basis, and they've requested advice from the Welsh Government about what process to follow to allow them to do this safely. Now, neighbouring councils like Newport have already provided day services, so I'd firstly like to know why the same guidance isn't being given to all councils. But, moreover, Minister, I'd like to stress—and I know that you'll appreciate this—the deeply draining toll that this is all taking on hundreds of families, families of people with learning disabilities or complex needs, many of whom have already had the vaccine and who rely on these services to cope and to see their friends. And their families need this respite—their role is physically and emotionally demanding. If some councils can offer this respite, how is it that some other councils are waiting on Welsh Government guidance? I just fear that the needs of carers and the harm being done to these families is getting lost somewhere.
I thank Delyth Jewell for that very important question, and I am very aware of the strain that carers have been under during this really difficult time. And I'm certainly aware of those people who are caring for people with a learning disability or people with Alzheimer's, that there is a great stress. And so I'm absolutely in sympathy with her in the point that she's trying to make.
We have been encouraging local authorities to reopen day centres, and in fact I'm aware of the situation in Caerphilly, and we have been in discussion—the officials have been in discussion with Caerphilly council—in order to try to hurry up the process. I'm also aware that the provision of day services that have opened are spasmodic—are scattered throughout Wales. And so we are well aware of this situation, we know how important it is, and we're working hard to try to get day services up and running, as they should now be able to do so.
Minister, there are more than 22,000 young carers aged between 14 and 25 in Wales. The pressure faced by these young people because of their caring duties can have a negative impact on their own physical health, mental health, education and employment opportunities. The pressure on these young people has been increased by the pandemic—there's no doubt about it. Looking after a family member or friend is highly rewarding, but also incredibly demanding. Just knowing that you're able to escape for a break is a great incentive, particularly where you are confident the person you care for will be looked after in your absence. You did mention the £3 million that you provided to local authorities earlier in Wales, but I would like to know how you will monitor this and the actual progress that that £3 million is going to be spent on the rightful purpose.
I thank you for that, again, very important question, because the needs of young carers are absolutely a high priority in the Government's planning, and we know what an enormous amount they do to care for their loved ones. On the £3 million, £1.75 million has already been given to the local authorities to support the existing respite schemes that they do provide already. The other £1.25 million, there is a research project that is looking at the best way of providing short breaks, and looking at what you have to do in order to qualify for those short breaks. For example, do you need to have had a carer's assessment? I think it may be not necessary to have had a carer's assessment. So, we're trying to make respite more flexible and easier for carers, including young carers, to access. So, these respite projects that we're putting forward are going to be available for young carers and carers of all ages, and we're particularly anxious that young carers should benefit from them. So, thank you again for that very important question.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the role that community medical facilities have played during the coronavirus pandemic? OQ56565
Thank you, Joel, for the question.
Community medical facilities have played and continue to play a vital role throughout the pandemic. Officials are continuing to work with health boards to inform planning for booster vaccines and to ensure that access to wider primary care services is balanced to ensure the population is protected from COVID.
Thank you, Minister. And I'd like to take this opportunity to put on record my thanks and appreciation for all those who work within this field and have gone above and beyond to help protect and serve their communities during this terrible pandemic.
As highlighted yesterday in the Chamber, and in a recent briefing by the British Medical Association, some GP surgeries in Wales were in the position to adapt during the pandemic and ensure that they continued to provide safe and effective services to patients. These have not only included the continuation of face-to-face appointments, but also an element of online and blended consultation. However, not all surgeries have been able to adapt, and the Taff Vale practice in Cilfynydd has been closed since the start of the pandemic, leaving many residents in the village without adequate provision and the need to make alternative arrangements elsewhere. The intervention of the health board and community health council has sadly not been able to change the situation, and I would ask if the Minister could intervene on behalf of the residents, liaise with the practice managers, and try to get this surgery back up and running as soon as possible.
Thanks very much, Joel, and I join with you in thanking the tremendous efforts of our NHS workers during the pandemic. I think patients understand that everything needed to change and adapt in light of the pandemic, and, of course, the number of patients physically that were allowed inside premises was quite important in order to minimise the risk to all. I think the roll-out of new technology has been actually quite beneficial in certain circumstances, and certainly some patients have found that the eConsult approach and the triaging on telephones has been quite helpful. But you're absolutely right: it is important that when people need face-to-face consultation, we need to facilitate that as well.
We are hearing about various cases throughout Wales, and we're keeping an eye on that situation. I think we do have to take on board the learning, the positive learning we've had from the pandemic, but I will look specifically at the Taff Vale practice. If there is no opportunity at all to see a GP, then I think that obviously does raise some questions. So, I'll ask my officials specifically to look at that case.
Following on from the question just made, I wonder if she can update us on whether there has been a big take-up of the additional £9.2 million funding for improving both telephone and video responsiveness. Now, we understand that during the pandemic the pressures on our community medical facilities were massive, but what we want to see is them coming out of this and patients being able to get a phone, an e-consultation or a video e-consultation, or simply to have the phone answered as well.
So, it would be good to know in my own area what's been happening with that, and whether there has been a good take-up, but I think every Member here would like to know as well whether their own GP practices and community medical facilities have made use of this, because getting back to some new normality, where people know they can get a response, they can get an appointment, even if that appointment is using the new eConsult messages, and they can have it done promptly. So, what has the take-up been like for that £9.2 million?
Diolch yn fawr iawn. I think the Member was absolutely right to talk about the new normal, because I don't think it's right that we go back to the old ways of working. We need to take advantage of new technology, and I'm pleased to say that there has been a tremendous take-up of that £9.2 million funding that was made available up until March this year. I really welcome the Member's interest in this topic. He'll be aware that we also had some access standards that were announced by the previous Minister for health, and they were about making sure that people knew what the expectation was. So, when they contacted the GP, they knew the standards of delivery that were expected, and there was an incentive there for GPs, and if they reach the standards, then they are given additional payments. Now, we are waiting to hear the results of that, and so, those results will be coming out in June, and if they've reached the standards, then they will be getting that top-up of financial support. So, I will write to Members with the information on access standards, and the achievement of those services around Wales, when that data becomes available at the end of June.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, in my new role, I would like to first of all just say congratulations on your appointment, and I hope to work constructively with you, particularly with regards to the challenges ahead, which we have to face together as a country.
My colleagues and I have very much welcomed the announcement of £1 billion to help the NHS recover from the pandemic, and the first tranche of £100 million announced for new technology and staff. It's been several months now since the publication of the Welsh Government's NHS recovery framework and we're still waiting to see where the other £900 million is due to be spent. Can you tell us today how and where this money is going to be targeted in Welsh primary and secondary care?
Well, thanks very much, and can I also congratulate Russell George once again? I think I congratulated prematurely last time. First of all, I'm sure you, like me, welcome that £1 billion extra that we are going to be putting in specifically to try and tackle the issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. There is, as the Member knows, a significant backlog of work that needs to be tackled, and, let's face it, we're still not out of the COVID pandemic at the moment. So, there are still some severe restrictions on our ability to get back to a normal service.
We have already announced that £100 million. That has been distributed throughout all the health boards in Wales. I have asked the health authorities now to come forward with their proposals for how they think we should be addressing the backlog. So, those proposals are being analysed by my officials at the moment. We'll be drawing up annual plans with them, and, on the back of that, we will be making a request to the finance Minister for the additional funding to be released. So, we've got to get the balance right between being very specific about what it is we're going to do, how we're going to make sure that there's a geographic coverage, but also that we're actually getting to the most difficult and clinical priority cases as soon as we can as well. So, that additional funding, I'm very keen to get spending, as you can imagine, but we have to work in partnership with the health boards and make sure we understand what their priorities are as well.
Thank you, Minister. I appreciate your answer. I suppose it's not just health authorities, but it's other health professionals that you need to work with as well, and many of those I've spoken to over the last couple of weeks just feel disappointed that they haven't yet had that funding allocated and announced. I appreciate the process that you've mentioned and outlined, but I think their concern is that as time ticks on, waiting lists continue to spiral. As I mentioned to you yesterday, Wales is now looking at a waiting list of one in three waiting over a year, compared to one in 11 in England, and this is not just COVID-19 at play here: before the pandemic, the number of those waiting over a year for treatment was triple that of the whole of England.
So, whilst I appreciate what you said, Minister—I understand, to a part, what you said—you'll obviously be aware of your predecessor's commitments as well that it would take a full parliamentary term to clear the backlog of patients. You mentioned in your first response to me that it's going take time to do this, and I think we all acknowledge and understand that. So, can you give any timescales for the NHS providers to know when they will receive this financial support, so that they can plan where to target it? I appreciate the process you've outlined, but can we have some dates potentially attached to that?
Thanks very much. Well, the process is this: the health boards put forward their annual plans, we're not expecting to receive those annual plans until the end of this week, and as soon as that's been done we'll obviously be analysing those. We'll be looking at where we think the priorities should be and then we will be making a submission to the finance Minister to see if it may be possible, perhaps, even to get it into a supplementary budget later this year, so that we can start that process of spending money. We're very aware that if we want to clear the backlog that we need to get things in place, and the best way to do that is to spend the money upfront at the beginning of the year. Also, of course, one of the things that they're anxious to know is whether this is going to be one-off funding or multi-annual funding, and that makes a big difference as to whether and to what extent they're willing to commit. So, all of those conversations are ongoing.
Thank you, Minister. I appreciate that you've given a little bit more detail about the timescale. You referred to having that information back from the health boards by, I think you said, next week. And I suppose the question then is timescales about the process of when you'll be making those commitments, bringing forward those proposals to the finance Minister, and when you believe the finance Minister will be in a position to tell the Chamber how that £900 million is going to be allocated.
I also raised concerns yesterday about the workforce, and how it's vital to have a workforce strategy to underpin the critical shortages in our NHS workforce, so we don't face burnout whilst trying to tackle the mounting treatment backlog, and I know you appreciate and agree with that concern. Now, I know in the Labour Party manifesto that you referred to 12,000 doctors, nurses and allied healthcare professionals, but what it didn't say in the manifesto, so I'm hoping you can tell us this today, it didn't give us much detail about the breakdown of who you were intending to recruit to tackle the backlog. So, I think it is critical for the very safety of patients and, of course, for legal requirements as well under the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 that we have adequate staffing on our wards, of course, as well. I know you'll agree with that.
So, can you outline today, Minister, how many doctors and nurses you will recruit, how long you believe it will take to achieve, and how much of the £900 million you will specifically be spending on recruitment? Now, I appreciate that some of this answer might relate to that information that you're waiting to receive, but if you can give us any insight into that, that would be appreciated, Minister.
Well, I'm sure the Member will be aware that the Welsh Government has already produced a workforce strategy on health, working closely with Health Education and Improvement Wales to identify where the gaps are in relation to where we really need to focus our efforts, and there's been a huge amount of work done with that organisation over recent months. On the 12,000 people that we will be recruiting in terms of training, some of that work is already in place and I'm happy to write to the Member with a further breakdown of precisely where we think those are going to be held.FootnoteLink There's a big difference—. There's no point in saying we're going to appoint x number of new doctors—if you haven't got them in the training process, it's all a bit of a waste of time. So, the first thing to happen is that you've got to get them trained and then make the financial commitment to make sure that they can be given a job at the end of that process.
Obviously, we're very concerned about making sure that we stick to the staffing levels that we've set down in law, of course, and you will be aware that we have done a lot in this Government to ensure that we are doing all we can to produce our own local people. So, the nurse bursary, for example, is something that we kept in the Labour Party in Wales, and I'm afraid that the Westminster Parliament under, I'm afraid, your Government, the Conservative Party, decided to withdraw that support.
The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. Minister, I asked you yesterday in responding to the statement on the coronavirus update what plans were in the pipeline in order to hasten vaccination or provide surge vaccination in high-infection areas, particularly where the delta variant is a cause for concern. I don't feel that I got the response I wanted to that question, so let me put it in this way: if a health board in an area where there is concern—we're talking here about Betsti Cadwaladr University Health Board at the moment—can demonstrate that they have the capacity to do more in terms of vaccination, would you as a Government ensure that they can get an increased supply of vaccines in order to hasten the process?
Thank you very much. Of course, what we've done is given much more freedom to the health boards to have the flexibility that they need to make some of those decisions if they need to make them. We've already given consent to them if they see that they do need to increase their vaccinations and where they vaccinate, and so they have the flexibility to respond in that way. At present, there's no supply problem. I've just come from a meeting with the Minister in London who's responsible for vaccine supply, and we foresee no problem at present. So, we are confident that we are in a situation where, if the health board needs to accelerate that process—. And, of course, we're in a very extraordinary situation in Wales where nearly everyone over 18 has been offered the first vaccine, which means that we can focus on the second vaccine, which is so important to protect people from the new delta variant.
Thank you for that response. I think you're still missing the point somewhat. I'm asking not how we accelerate the second vaccination generally—things are going very well in terms of that—but how we can focus more supply in those areas where we need surge vaccination. And if that request is made by a health board, I hope that you, as a Government, can ensure additional supplies to them. The growth of the delta variant reminds us that this is a pandemic that is still very much with us. We must continue to find ways of responding to it and of protecting lives.
Now, I mentioned to you a fortnight ago the potential of investing in the use of ultraviolet-C light—UVC—in order to disinfect against COVID. I understand that the Irish Government has now agreed to provide and ensure clean air in schools in Ireland through UVC and air filtering. Here in Wales, I know that Carmarthenshire is prepared to pilot this in schools. I know also that Anglesey council are very eager to trial this—a great deal of work has been done there—but they will need the support of Government. So, will you look at approving such pilot schemes urgently, and then ensure that the funding is allocated so that we can look towards using UVC, which isn't new technology but has a new usage that has been very important in terms of the pandemic?
Thank you very much. We've already given funding to hospitals that need more help in terms of ventilation. So, for example, in Llandough hospital, we have invested £830,000 of additional funding to help them with their systems, and, of course, it's important that we do understand the importance of ventilation. Now, as to this idea of UVC, I'm not aware that we've looked into it in any detail yet, but I'm happy to go away and look at that.
It's also important that we consider schools. Now is the time to ensure that schools open their windows and use those opportunities. Things will be very different by the winter, and who knows what situation we will be in at that time. So, it is something that is worth looking at in terms of how we're going to improve the situation, because we have to learn to live with this virus, as you said.
I'm grateful for that positive commitment, and, for information, Anglesey is looking at introducing UVC in rooms where it's difficult to provide adequate ventilation by opening windows.
Finally, this week is Carers Week, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute and to thank carers the length and breadth of Wales who work so hard quietly to care for loved ones and family members, and, through their work, ensure that the NHS can operate and, in so doing, save billions of pounds. Something carers have mentioned to me is that they want one point of contact. Carers have to speak to health boards, different departments within those boards, social services, the third sector even, and that places additional stresses upon them. Can I ask you what steps you, working with the Deputy Minister, can take in order to co-ordinate services and to create one point of contact in order to support those people who truly deserve that support?
Thank you very much, and I also want to thank carers for the extraordinary work that they do across the country, in safeguarding our elderly people, and also young people who have serious problems. I do understand that what we need to do is do everything that we can to make the lives of these carers easier. I do understand the point that having to contact a range of different institutions or organisations can make things complicated. I'm happy to have a word with the Deputy Minister to see whether there are any steps we can take in that area. I'm sure that she is far more aware of what's already available, but also to see whether we can simplify the system.
3. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support women in Wales who are experiencing the menopause? OQ56536
Diolch yn fawr, Vikki. The Welsh Government takes women’s health, including menopausal concerns, very seriously and expects all health boards to provide a full range of services to women experiencing the menopause in accordance with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance.
Thank you, Minister, and welcome to your new role. Menopause is, of course, a condition that will affect half the population of Wales at some point in their lives, with symptoms including problems sleeping, issues with concentration, digestive problems and stiff, aching joints. Recent research has shown that seven out of 10 women say that menopause significantly affects their mental well-being, and eight out of 10 women say that the side effects of menopause have had a significant negative impact on their ability to carry out their employment roles effectively. There are almost 100 menopause clinics throughout the UK, yet only three of these are in Wales. Minister, with menopause having such a significant impact on the health, well-being and, indeed, the economy of Wales, what plans does Welsh Government have to improve current service provision and ensure that all women affected by menopause are adequately supported?
Thanks very much, Vikki, and I know I'm at that age now where I have to deal with some of these issues and, certainly, what I do know is that every individual has different symptoms and has to deal with this in their own way. What we've done in Wales is to make sure that every individual—. There's a need to tailor the advice to that particular individual. We have four recognised clinics in Wales that are recognised by the British Menopause Society: one in Llantrisant, one in Caerleon, one in Wrexham, and one in Deeside. And what we try and do is to make sure that we have this entry point through the GP, and that is generally the system that I think makes a lot of sense. And then the idea is that the GPs, who should have been through some training that has been set by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, can stick to the advice given by NICE, and then, if necessary, they will refer on to those clinics that you mentioned. So, that's the system that we have in Wales, but I have asked my officials to conduct a review of the current menopause provision to assess delivery in line with those NICE guidelines, just to make sure that we are doing what we expect people to be delivering.
Firstly, can I congratulate the Minister on her new role, the Deputy Minister for mental health on hers, and you on the continuation of yours, Julie?
As someone who has the delights of menopause that Vikki just outlined to come, sooner rather than later, unfortunately, I do also believe that this is an issue that is vitally important to talk about and address, and not just for women, but for men to understand and talk about as well. As my former colleague, Suzy Davies, quite rightly campaigned for and successfully campaigned for, it's something that we now should all talk about. It's no longer a taboo subject and it now will be included in the delivery of the new curriculum. Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales and their Not Just Hot Flushes campaign estimate that one in 10 menopausal women in the UK leave employment, as Vikki outlined, as a result of unmanageable symptoms, lack of appropriate treatment, employers' lack of understanding, and poor access to services. The impact that menopause can have, as you know, on a workforce can be debilitating, and there should be more treatment available and greater understanding of the issues faced. At present, as you said, there are four clinics available. One of them is an excellent nurse-led clinic in the Aneurin Bevan health board facility, but there is a four-and-a-half month waiting list to access it. It's very successful, so maybe that's also a clinic, nurse-led idea, that you should look into and maybe roll out, because that has been successful. It's just the wait that's a problem on that one.
Will the Minister commit to ensuring that specialist clinics like these are easily accessible across Wales, and that you work with relevant charities and employers organisations to ensure that women going through these struggles related to the menopause get the understanding and the help that they need? Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr. I'd like to pay tribute as well to Suzy Davies for the great work that she did to put this onto the agenda. I was really pleased that one of the last things that the education Minister did was to make that commitment that, in the curriculum, women's health issues are going to be a part of what everybody learns about in school, because you're absolutely right: this is not just an issue for women; men have to understand it as well. And I'm really pleased that a lot of unions in Wales have also championed this cause and made sure there's heightened awareness of this issue throughout Wales.
I was listening to Woman's Hour today on the way in, and it was very interesting, talking about the whole issue of women's health and the need to really focus on it and to make sure that we take this seriously. Certainly, in the Welsh Government, we do take it seriously. We have a women's health reference group that really looks at these things in detail, just to make sure it's getting the attention that these issues deserve, and I look forward to hearing more about that as I continue in this role. But, certainly, we're obviously concerned about accessibility at the moment. The pandemic has pushed everything back. But I think you're absolutely right: there are some nurse experts who can actually help a great deal in these spaces, and I think we have to try and condition people to get people to understand that, actually, an expert can be somebody who's been doing the job and has absolute specialist information about it, who is not necessarily a consultant or a GP, and they can be very, very useful at times.
4. What will the Welsh Government do to promote greater use of social prescribing in GP practices? OQ56570
Thank you, Huw. The principles of social prescribing are consistent with broader Welsh Government policy, such as the primary care model for Wales and 'A Healthier Wales'. Our recently established social prescribing task and finish group is looking to understand how social prescribing could aid Wales in its recovery from COVID-19, and includes, amongst others, representation from the Royal College of General Practitioners.
I really welcome that response, Minister, because I know that when I was a lot, lot younger, decades ago, when I was a sports centre assistant and manager—I know that's hard to believe—I was one of the first to introduce exercise on prescription and GP referral schemes in our centres across England and Wales at the time. But, of course, things have moved on, we've innovated. Social prescribing and getting people into the outdoors, walking and cycling and being part of social contact groups will tackle loneliness and isolation as well. We know that this pays dividends in so many ways, but there are obstacles for GPs—the time, the explanation and so on. So, I wonder, Minister, what you think the taskforce will throw up about the main obstacles to social prescribing. How can we get social prescribing to be in every part of Wales, in every GP surgery, in every primary care facility that there is, so that we can give people the option of doing something quite differently for their mental health and physical well-being as well?
Thank you, Huw, for that supplementary. A key role of the task and finish group is to develop a national framework for social prescribing, which will include general practice. It will also be exploring the barriers to progressing social prescribing in Wales. However, we already know that one of the biggest obstacles that GPs encounter is actually knowing what activities are available to them locally. And there is a commitment within our 'Connected Communities' strategy to embed the use of Dewis, our national well-being directory of services and activities, with both service providers and the communities.
You'll be pleased to know, I'm sure, that all regional partnership boards are taking forward work in this area, including Cwm Taf Morgannwg, who are supporting a number of social prescribing projects, particularly the Connecting Communities project in Bridgend. This project aims to support older adults, people with learning disabilities and carers of vulnerable people to develop support networks within their communities and strengthen the capacity of the third sector to meet needs. At the end of March 2021, some 4,444 people had benefited from the project. There are also community development hubs being developed across Rhondda Cynon Taf, which involves the development of hubs across the borough to develop better public services, efficient, co-ordinated and located close to the point of need. As of 21 March, community co-ordinators had responded to nearly 4,000 requests for assistance, diverting the need away from adult or other statutory service interventions and providing early help for people in the community.
Minister, social prescribing has a unique role to play in prevention as a whole, particularly when it comes to social care. Keeping the body active can prevent falls, and keeping the mind active can stave off the onset of dementia. I welcome the actions taken by Betsi Cadwaladr and the local authorities in north Wales in developing Made in North Wales, which helps co-ordinate social prescribing across the north. How will your Government work with Made in North Wales and the third sector across the region in order to maximise social prescribing opportunities? Thank you.
Thank you for that question. Clearly, a key role of the task and finish group will be to draw on the good practice that is taking place in some parts of Wales and ensure that that good practice is rolled out across Wales. There is input from the health boards into the task and finish group, and I'm really keen that we take forward the need for a national framework so that people in Wales can have a consistent social prescribing offer. I think it is important to recognise too, though, that social prescribing is just one part of what we need to do to ensure early intervention for people who are either in distress or who have extra support needs. But it clearly has a really important part to play.
5. What action will the Welsh Government take to support women's mental health following the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56569
Thank you very much for that question, Jane. In October 2020, we reissued the 'Together for Mental Health' delivery plan 2019-22, which has been strengthened in key areas as a result of the pandemic impact. We understand that women have been impacted by COVID and its socioeconomic impact. Importantly, while the plan retains a key focus in areas such as improving perinatal mental health support, this is within the context of sustained improvements to wider mental health support services.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Can I extend my congratulations to you on your role as well? Llongyfarchiadau. The Welsh Women's Aid 'State of the Sector' report focuses on the situation for women who've been affected by domestic violence. They catalogue a patchwork of support services in this sector, both for women who are making decisions about leaving a relationship and those who've been affected and are survivors. Could I ask the Minister to give an assurance that there will be a continued focus on the mental health of women affected by domestic violence, including those from black and minority ethnic groups, particularly looking at this being a long-term commitment to services to help the recovery of victims, staff and volunteers? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Can I thank Jane Dodds for that important question and for her congratulations?
We have, of course, all been spending more time at home in the past year, and I am acutely aware that for too many people home is not a refuge. That's why the Welsh Government has invested significant funds in this area. The sector has received over £4 million of additional funding to deal with the impact of COVID-19; that's an extra 67 per cent compared with last year. We've also focused our communication campaigns on helping people to stay safe. Our Live Fear Free helpline is a free 24/7 service for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and those close to them, and it has remained open, offering a full service, throughout the pandemic.
In addition to that, we've provided open access to the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence e-learning module to community members, and over 50,000 people have taken that course, which enables people to have a better understanding in order to help and ensure that support is available. In our budget this year, we've committed £42 million to mental health provision, a significant additional and recurrent level of funding for mental health services that will increase health boards' baseline funding in order to support changing mental health needs as a result of COVID.
I'd just like to assure the Member that we are committed to making services accessible and responsive to individual needs, and that includes the needs of women and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. What I do recognise, though, is that responding to the broad range of social issues that are often the cause of poor mental health needs a multi-agency and cross-Government approach, and I am committed to driving that approach forward both with partners and the rest of the Welsh Government.
More than half of the population is expected to be living with a long-standing illness by 2023. That is serious, especially as it has been found that over two thirds of people with a long-term physical health condition also suffer with poor mental health. Professor Adrian Edwards, director of Wales's COVID-19 evidence centre, has warned that the mental health side effects of living with chronic conditions will be a huge problem as Wales emerges from the pandemic, so we do need positive action across the nation.
We have a key opportunity to see the Welsh NHS reach out to residents via GP practices, and I know that many constituents have concerns that are coming in at the moment about a lack of face-to-face consultations, especially when raising mental health issues for the first time. In fact, the Royal College of General Practitioners Cymru have called for a dedicated mental health worker at each GP practice across Wales. Will you work with the Minister and our GPs across Wales to make this become a reality? Diolch.
Thank you, Janet, for that question. I would just to like to assure you that GPs are continuing, as they have done throughout the pandemic, to deliver their services, including their services under the mental health measure. As you'll understand, there have had to be changes to service delivery because of the pandemic, but people who need to be seen face to face are having face-to-face appointments. That said, I know that this is something myself and the health Minister are very much focused on. We're going to be meeting the BMA shortly and will be discussing this, because we have to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks because of the changed models of service delivery.
6. Will the Minister provide an update on proposals to give the COVID-19 vaccine to children? OQ56562
On 4 June, following a rigorous review, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency approved as safe and effective the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children aged 12 to 15. This is just a first step in the process, and like other UK nations, we now await the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Thank you for that answer. We have now vaccinated a greater share of our population than any other country with more than 1 million people, and that extraordinary success means that Wales might be able to start vaccinating children, pending the evidence and advice that you have just mentioned. But leading the world means that we can't follow by example, and extending the vaccine to children will be a new challenge. One of those challenges will be that other people will make those decisions for those children, and that, of course, is right. Parents and guardians will decide whether they receive it or whether they don't. So, what is the Welsh Government doing to prepare for that new challenge as we enter the next crucial stage of the vaccine roll-out?
Thanks very much, Joyce. As you say, we do have to wait for that JCVI advice before moving forward and there are lots of ethical and moral issues that we need to work through. It may be that we want to consider children who are clinically extremely vulnerable or children who live with extremely vulnerable people first; we need to think about how and if we want to do this. Because what we do know is that children, generally, if they contract COVID, don't suffer that much, but they can pass it on. So, we'll wait for that advice, but in the meantime, we are preparing just in case, to an extent. I think, certainly, what we would want to do, if we were to go down that route, would be to make sure that we fine tune our communications, to make sure that we give the advice and the information to parents, as much as they can, so that they can make an informed choice, of course, on behalf of their children. And I think, probably, if we're talking about the older cohort of children—16 to 18-year-olds—that's a slightly different group again, and I think, probably, we'd want them to consider making their own decisions in this space, and we would have to communicate with them in a very different way, maybe directly using social media outlets. So, there's still a lot for us to consider in this space. We've already started discussing these issues, obviously, amongst ourselves, but we can't do anything until we've had that JCVI advice.
I'm very pleased to hear that you have referred to the need for JCVI advice on this, because, of course, some parents are concerned that mandating or requiring the use of the vaccine could be something that individual schools will insist upon around Wales. What assurances can you give to parents that children will not be vaccinated without their permission? And what discussions have you had with your Cabinet colleague for education regarding the role that vaccination will play in terms of being able to lift restrictions in our schools, which, of course, are still requiring many children—even though they're extremely unlikely to get ill, and we've got a growing percentage of the adult population that's been vaccinated—to wear masks every day in school?
Thanks very much, Darren. You'll be aware that we haven't mandated the vaccine to anybody within this nation, and despite that, we've had an incredible uptake amongst the population as a whole. If we can, we certainly want to keep with that route with persuasion. I think that has been extremely successful, and we'd like to continue in that vein, and certainly, when it comes to children, I think that will be very important.
We are very keen, of course, to work with the education authorities, with the education unions about that conversation that is ongoing in terms of masks in schools, so that—. I know the education Minister has been in intense discussions and negotiations on that. Our ambition throughout this crisis has been to try and keep schools open, and we have to, of course, balance the issue of giving the vaccine to children with the need to keep schools open as well. So, that's another factor we need to consider when we are making the very difficult, I think, finely balanced judgment. And, of course, that's really what the JCVI will be considering as well.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on investment in health facilities in Clwyd South? OQ56550
Any potential investment to improve health facilities in Clwyd South would need to be considered by the health board and align with its service and estate strategies. The main scheme close to Clwyd South is the Wrexham Maelor Hospital redevelopment, and this is being progressed with the Welsh Government.
Well, thank you, Minister; that's fantastic to hear. Previous Welsh Labour Governments have invested very heavily in health facilities in Clwyd South, with new facilities in particular in Chirk and Llangollen, and the Minister will be aware of the phenomenal workforce in the health sector in Clwyd South and across Wales. But, unfortunately, there are still some facilities in Clwyd South that are not of the high standard of the workforce that operates from them, in particular in Cefn Mawr and in Hanmer, and I'd be very grateful of the Minister's support in progressing new health facilities for these communities.
Diolch yn fawr, Ken. You'll be aware that Labour proposed in our manifesto that we will be charging onwards with our commitment to development twenty-first century surgeries, which hopefully will go beyond a GP offer, it will reach—making sure that we reach out to care and mental health facilities and lots of other facilities, hopefully working with local authorities as well. That's the kind of model we're hoping to promote, and certainly I know that the health board is aware of that. So, it will be up to the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to determine the priority for its programme in terms of primary and community care estate developments. So, obviously, there's a big decision to make there for them. We know that about a third of our GP premises across Wales need improvement, so there are going to be some very, very difficult choices to be made in the future years. I spoke to the chief operating officer and the chair of Betsi yesterday, and I will be visiting hospitals in your area next week, and I'm very much looking forward to that.
And lastly, question 8, Buffy Williams.
Diolch, Llywydd. I'd also like to congratulate the Minister on her new appointment.
8. Will the Minister provide an update on COVID-19 vaccine uptake rates? OQ56542
Well, thank you very much. Congratulations to Buffy, and welcome to the Senedd.
The take-up so far has been incredibly high, with over 85 per cent of the adult population having taken up their offer of a first dose. But it's vitally important that vaccine take-up levels are maximised, and we're closely monitoring to make sure that there are no barriers to take-up.
Thank you, Minister. In my constituency, Rhondda, the majority of residents are attending their vaccine appointments, which is amazing news, but we have a higher than average number of no-shows, for a variety of reasons. I know Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board are working with residents across our communities to delve into these reasons, trying to find them solutions. So, working with health boards across Wales, what plans does the Welsh Government have to increase vaccine uptake rates in challenging areas?
Thanks very much, and I know, Buffy, you will be a champion for your area, and you will know that it's very important for people in your area to take up that opportunity. The last thing we want to see are those disparities, in particular in perhaps the more challenging places economically. We don't want to see those being emphasised because of a low take-up of the vaccine. So, you're absolutely right, the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board—they're taking very much a community-led and co-production approach to improving access, and I know that a task and finish group has been set up to address the gap in 40 to 49-year-olds in particular. That seems to be a place where there seems to be a problem. And I'm very pleased that a 'vaxi taxi' has been developed in the area to improve also access for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. There's also an opportunity for people to use an online form so that they can change the date and time of their appointments if that's necessary. So, there's some great work being done, but if you could help us with trying to bang the drum in that area to get people to come forward for their vaccines, that would be a huge help.
Thank you, Minister, and the deputies.
The next item is the topical question. The question is to be asked to the Deputy Minister for Social Services, and be posed by Laura Jones.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for this opportunity.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on allegations by whistleblowers that children with autism have been subject to abuse at the Tŷ Coryton home in Cardiff? TQ553
Care Inspectorate Wales was made aware of concerns relating to the service and undertook an inspection as a result. Areas for improvement have been brought to the providers' attention, but not in relation to restrictive practices. Investigations by Cardiff social services on safeguarding concerns are ongoing.
Thank you, Minister, for that statement. Some of our most vulnerable people in our society, children with autism, should be protected and cared for, not made to suffer in such vile circumstances as alleged in this case. There are some serious questions, and this must be now fully investigated by relevant authorities. There are a litany of shocking and troubling allegations against the staff at Tŷ Coryton, some of which I can't repeat, but on one occasion and most seriously, the restraint of a child was so badly managed that it provoked very serious concerns that that child might die. Whistleblowers report that all of these allegations were directly a result of staff interventions and point to a culture of mismanagement provoking challenging behaviour that falls way short of the high standards we expect for staff charged with such an important job. Are these allegations reflective of a systematic problem in Wales? Could other young children be suffering in similar ways? Action needs to be taken now, Minister, to resolve this.
I'm pleased to hear that the Minister will be publishing the long-awaited reducing restrictive practice framework, but this is far too late for these children's and, I fear, others. Can I impress upon her that that needs to be published now to prevent more young children suffering in this way? And can she also tell us what steps she's taking to provide advice and guidance for centres such as Tŷ Coryton, to ensure that they are providing a therapeutic environment as recommended by the British Institute of Learning Disabilities? Will the Minister also make sure that centres like this have the necessary resources that they need to ensure basic human decency and human rights can be maintained, such as providing sanitary items, a claim that was alleged that I found particularly disturbing?
I understand that the care inspectorate are about to publish a review into practices at Tŷ Coryton, but these alleged allegations certainly now call the veracity of that report into question. Is the Minister confident that these reports are conducted with sufficient rigour to highlight issues such as these, to ensure that they are addressed promptly? Will the centre and others owned by Orbis now be re-inspected to ensure that children in their care are properly protected?
Lastly, if there is a systematic issue here, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the culture of reporting exists in the care sector in Wales and to ensure that staff have the support network in place and are comfortable enough with that to raise concerns and these reports are taken seriously and acted on, rather than them having to resort to the media, as in this case? Thank you.
Thank you, Laura Anne Jones, for those comments, and I absolutely agree that the children we're talking about are some of the most vulnerable children who need care and support, and should not suffer. The Welsh Government is committed to those vulnerable children having the best standards of care possible.
As I said in my statement, these allegations are being investigated, so we're not in a position to make any comment yet, because an investigation is ongoing at the moment. But I can reiterate that the Welsh Government will be publishing the reducing restrictive practices framework, and that'll be in July—next month—2021. So, that's coming very soon, and that will promote measures to appropriately reduce restrictive practices in childcare, education, health and social care settings. And we will support work to promote implementation across all those sectors. And the guidance is intended to ensure that those who work with children and adults across services share a common framework of principles and expectations, informed by an approach that actively promotes human rights and person-centred support. There has been a consultation about the restrictive practices, and I'm looking forward to that being published in July 2021.
So, obviously, CIW does report regularly on these settings, including Tŷ Coryton. We do have a culture of encouraging whistleblowers, and I think it's very important that that is reiterated and that allegations that are made are taken very seriously. I can absolutely assure her that these allegations are being looked into very seriously. They're being looked into by Cardiff safeguarding scheme, and CIW is working very closely with the local authority, with the commissioning and safeguarding teams, and the service is now in Children's Commissioning Consortium Cymru's—known as '4Cs'—escalating concerns process. So that is the position at the moment, and Orbis is not admitting any further children to the service at the moment. But I don't think I can really go much further as this is all being investigated at the moment.
According to the reports, whistleblowers state that children were punished for engaging in autistic behaviour and the health and safety of staff and children were absolutely shocking, and young people were mismanaged, so behaved in challenging ways, which led to them being locked away. But this is symptomatic of so much of the casework that I have on behalf of autistic constituents and/or their families, where highly paid people in power, so-called experts, fail to understand their autism, fail to identify their communication, sensory and processing needs in order to communicate with them in an effective, respectful way and pushes them into crisis and then punishes them for not responding in a neurotypical or predominantly neurotypical way, affecting their care, their social care, their health services, access to housing, and many other things. How on earth are we finally going to tackle this endemic and deep-rooted problem raised so often through the cross-party autism group in previous Senedd terms without putting in place statutory duties for local authorities and health boards and giving autism and neurodevelopmental conditions in Wales a statutory identity at last?
Thank you, Mark, for those comments, and certainly the behaviour that he described at the beginning of his contribution, about children being punished for engaging in behaviour that is due to their autism, is certainly not acceptable. And I think that we have all, as constituency MSs, experienced the difficulties that families have in trying to get the best services for their children who are on the autistic spectrum. So, I think we all understand those difficulties. But, as I said in response to Laura, investigations are going on at the moment into this particular situation, and we will be able to see what happens as a result of those investigations.
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
The next item is the 90-second statements, the first of which is from Vikki Howells.
Diolch, Llywydd. Go back just a few weeks and class 143 trains, the Pacers, would have been part of that long list of temporary measures that never went away. The Pacers, described as a byword for commuter discomfort and chronic lateness, were introduced as a temporary replacement for older diesel trains. The Leyland bus body—yes, they really were made from old buses—bench seating and freight wagon chassis, built by British Rail in the 1980s never suggested that passenger comfort was the prime objective. Indeed, the nodding donkeys, as they were known, were an iniquitous part of the rail commuter experience in Wales and elsewhere in the UK since. However, on Saturday 29 May, Pacers made their final journeys on the Transport for Wales network. Transport for Wales have committed, of course, to deliver brand-new trains, providing enhanced capacity and faster, greener journeys. Key also is customer experience on the modern train, providing better facilities, improved accessibility, and a more comfortable ride.
Some Pacer trains will have new leases of life via donation to heritage railways and other community projects. But, as their journey on commuter passenger services comes to an end, it is important to remember the years of service that saw class 143s make the equivalent of over five trips to the moon and back. And if the Pacer could bid us a fond farewell, it would be of course with that unique and ear-piercing brake squeal so familiar to commuters across Wales.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Diolch. Rhianon Passmore.
Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. The constituency of Islwyn, which I represent, is made up of very strong communities of, in the main, working-class men and women, who continue to dream of a better tomorrow, even though our todays have never, ever been more challenging. So, that the Hollywood movie giants Warner Brothers Pictures recently portrayed Islwyn and Wales on the silver screen with the wonderful and iconic film Dream Horse, which premiered in sunny Blackwood—now playing across the UK at cinemas open—is a moment of both joy and excitement. And that positive portrayal of Wales in film, and the story of Jan and Brian Vokes and the syndicate who bred a Welsh Grand National-winning horse on an allotment in Cefn Fforest, has won great reviews. And it also adds to our home-made renaissance in Welsh film and television. So, if you're yet to see it, it is a positive tale of strong community spirit in Islwyn, with an A-list cast, including Oscar-nominated Toni Collette, in Wales, and our own Owen Teale. The production of the film utilised locations throughout south Wales, including Blaenavon.
Wales—well, we are a self-confident nation, and we grow globally when we tell in film and television and arts and literature, music and theatre those positive stories of our people and our communities, as Dream Horse portrays so very effectively. And that ability to utilise Welsh creative talent in front of and behind our cameras is so critical, and vital to our cultural and economic future. Wales, our people, and our hwyl are skilfully writ large in Dream Horse, and it exemplifies our spirit and our international future. So, the Welsh Government and our cultural agencies are right to heavily support and promote productions made in Wales that tell of Wales's story to the world and also promote the Welsh creative sectors post-COVID. Dream Horse powerfully illustrates that Cefn Fforest in Islwyn is a place where dreams still come true, and I do urge all Members to watch this exciting and innovative film. Thank you.
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Lesley Griffiths.
The next item is the Welsh Conservatives debate—motion under Standing Order 17.2 to give instructions to a relevant committee in relation to the all-Wales NVZ.
And before I call James Evans, I think this is the first full debate we've had in the sixth Senedd, so just a reminder of the timings, please—that you have 15 minutes to open and close, and each other speaker has five minutes, and the Minister has eight minutes. Let's keep to the times, because everyone has an opportunity to speak then.
I call on James Evans to move the motion.
Motion NDM7703 Darren Millar, Siân Gwenllian
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Notes the adverse impact of the all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ) on Welsh agriculture.
2. In accordance with Standing Order 17.2, calls on the relevant Senedd committee to urgently review The Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021 and present its recommendations to the Senedd.
Diolch—thank you. And I formally move the motion in the name of Darren Millar.
Across the farming communities in Wales, from the upland areas to the coastal regions and to my own area in the heart of Wales in Brecon and Radnorshire, our agricultural communities and our farmers work tirelessly to feed the nation and ensure the environment is protected and our landscapes managed in a sustainable way. To quote the National Farmers Union, farmers are all too often seen as the problem, when in reality they are the solution to our environmental challenges. The rural landscape is not just for farmers but for us all, for future generations, to encourage diversity, thriving ecosystems and wildlife. It is also vital for our economy to attract tourists, who bring much needed-revenue to local businesses and to our communities.
Our farmers play a huge role, producing food to feed the nation. Farmers are passionate about their land, committed to working towards the best practices, producing top-quality products with the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental protections. However, Welsh Government's agricultural policies over the years have shown contempt for farmers and our rural communities, promising one thing and then delivering another. The recent u-turn to introduce the all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone is an example of such. The data from elsewhere in the world shows this policy to be ineffective and is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Some areas of Wales have recorded no agricultural pollution incidents in 10 years, yet all farmers are being penalised.
Would he give way on that point?
There are no interventions at this point in time because we're hybrid—[Inaudible.]
Whilst one pollution incident is one too many, a blanket policy is hurting the industry at a time when they need support. The financial package of support provided from the Welsh Government is woefully inadequate, putting large cost burdens onto our farmers in order for them to adapt to these changes. Despite assurances—. On no less than between seven and 10 occasions, the Minister assured farmers this blanket approach would not be imposed during the pandemic. And in a blink of an eye, with no consultation with the industry, the Minister decided to plough ahead and break promises again.
All too often, agriculture gets blamed for increased nitrates in our rivers, and yet a Panorama investigation alleged that Welsh Water had been illegally dumping sewage into the River Usk in my constituency. This seems to get ignored. Recent data from Welsh Water itself also suggests that in 2020 raw sewage was dumped into Welsh rivers more than 100,000 times, for almost 900,000 hours, across more than 2,000 water treatment works and sewage outflows. Do we see any real action from Welsh Government over this? No, we don't. Furthermore, Welsh Government's own data suggests that between January and November 2020 the water industry accounted for the most pollution incidents relating to surface water in Wales, with 180 recorded during this period. But who still gets the blame for polluting our rivers? You've got it—it's farmers.
This Government claims climate change is a huge issue, and I don't disagree. Who would? But I'm afraid your track record on actually tackling climate change is questionable at best. You purchased an airport, at huge cost to the taxpayer, endorsing putting toxic fumes into the atmosphere, and then you went and spent millions of taxpayer money on a road to nowhere and refused to build the M4 relief road, ensuring that, every day, thousands of cars queue up in traffic jams along the M4, pumping poisonous toxins and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Yet again, you say one thing and then you do another.
Throughout the pandemic our farmers have fed the nation, ensuring essential supplies are available. And, rightfully so, we clapped our NHS and our carers. And instead of going out and clapping for our farmers, the Welsh Government seemed to think a slap in the face was far more appropriate. Our farmers deserve better than this from the Welsh Government, and from a Minister who, one time, I trusted to support the industry.
An all-Wales NVZ legislation is unacceptable. It has been described as a lazy cut and paste from a 30-year-old EU directive that places more pressure on already hard-pressed farmers who are dealing with COVID-19. It is harming agricultural businesses, livelihoods, and putting a huge mental strain on farmers yet again, and for very questionable benefits. Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Government's own regulator, warned you, and it's proposed in the new water rules, and I quote, that it will have a 'perverse outcome' of making water quality worse, and that they may not have sufficient resources to effectively deliver the regulatory inspection regimes associated with the regulations.
Despite the warnings, and the huge strain on people's mental health and businesses and their well-being, you pushed ahead with the NVZ regardless. We've heard the scathing reviews from all the farming unions in Wales, and I ask the Welsh Government: why do you not trust the vast majority of farmers who are responsible and do not pollute? What we need is a policy that is more flexible, evidence based and that has the support of the industry to address pollution. At a time when the Welsh Government should be working in partnership with our farmers, they slam the door shut on collaboration and instead press ahead with imposing costly plans that are woefully underfunded and could drive a number of farmers out of the industry.
We on the Conservative benches urge the Government and other Members in this Chamber and online to support our motion to have a review of this draconian legislation. Let's listen to the experts and the industry, and let the relevant committee do its work to ensure the best possible legislation is put through this Parliament. So, let's all move forward together and ensure our beautiful country not only maintains but improves our high food and environmental standards, working with our farmers and not against them. Diolch.
Before we move on to the next speaker, can I—? Huw Irranca-Davies reminded me that, in fact, in debates, interventions, at the moment, of course, as we normally would have intervened, are not the process, because there are so many Members who can't do so in the hybrid system. But Members are able to contact the desk here to inform us of their wish to make an intervention and we can call them at the end, before the final speaker. Just to put that clear. I appreciate the Member's desire to intervene—I've been there many times. [Interruption.] Okay.
I have selected the amendment to the motion. I call on the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales and the Trefnydd to move formally the amendment tabled in her name.
Amendment 1—Lesley Griffiths
Delete point 1 and replace with:
Notes the critical importance of reducing agricultural emissions in order to:
a) strengthen the reputation of Welsh farming;
b) protect people and nature in Wales from air pollution;
c) safeguard Wales’ rivers and seas for future generations;
d) deliver Wales’ net zero ambition.
Amendment 1 moved.
Given that the NVZ regulations were rushed through the Senedd shortly before the last election, contrary to the pledge made by the Minister—and we've heard reference to this; she said that she wouldn't introduce regulations during the pandemic—I'm very grateful for this opportunity to recommence this important debate early in this new Senedd term. When I was campaigning in rural areas, particularly across Mid and West Wales, one of the issues that was raised most often, particularly by farmers, was this particular issue, because they were concerned about the impact of these regulations on them, as farmers, on the future of family farms, and, as a result, they were concerned about the very future of rural Wales.
Now, we've heard time and time again from the agricultural unions and others over the past months why these regulations, as they are currently drafted, are not acceptable. For example, the regulations contravene specialist recommendations made by NRW, as the intention is to implement them on an all-Wales basis, rather than to focus on the 8 per cent of areas that face the highest risks. Secondly, the method of calendar farming is likely to create unintended consequences, which will be damaging. You can imagine farmers pouring tonnes of this slurry just before the closing date and immediately after the window opens. And, thirdly, with the weather of Wales, farming by calendar doesn't make any sense. Let me give you an example. I live a field's width from the River Towy and some three weeks ago, where it was possible for farmers, according to the Welsh Government calendar, to spread slurry, the fields were flooded. So, operating by calendar simply doesn't work, given our climate here in Wales. And, finally, there is a lack of financial support provided by Government to assist farmers to cope with these new regulations. The £11 million provided is totally inadequate, and what will happen as a result is that many family farms will decide to leave the industry, and the impact of that on rural Wales will be utterly disastrous.
And we heard, during the debate prior to the election, the Minister arguing that she needed to highlight the importance of aligning Wales with other nations within the UK, but the truth of the matter is that not one other UK nation has decided to introduce regulations over 100 per cent of its territory. In England, they are operating at a level of around 55 per cent. But ironically now, England intends to move away from that plan. So, at the very time when other nations are changing direction, the Welsh Government is moving full pelt in the other direction.
Minister, we shouldn't look back at ideas that were being discussed about 30 years ago for a solution to water pollution. We have to look to the future by embracing technology to make far more accurate choices around land management. As you know, there are examples of innovative projects being carried out as we speak, where farmers and researchers are working together to devise a far more sophisticated way of putting nutrient management plans in place.
You will know that Gelli Aur college farm has recently completed a very successful pilot project, called, Taclo'r Tywi—tackling the Tywi—in a part of Wales that has notoriously been a black spot for river pollution, using weather stations on farms to measure soil temperature, leaf moisture, wind direction and rainfall. Now, this provides real-time data on a phone app within seconds, using a red, amber, green system that will allow farmers to make on-field decisions around slurry spreading, pesticide spraying or harvesting. This is far more scientific than farming by calendar, which is both impractical and outdated.
Minister, your Government has generally been praised by the people of Wales for the way in which you've tackled this pandemic because you followed the science as the basis for your decisions. So, I urge you to turn to the science and the technology currently available in order to secure that crucial balance between sustainable farming and safeguarding the environment. As we support this motion, it's important to note that we're not calling for no action. Every one of us wants to see the environment protected—me particularly, who has fished on the river Tywi for years—
Will you come to your conclusion now, please?
—I am coming to an end, Deputy Presiding Officer—and I know what an impact pollution can have on water quality. No, this is a demand for proportionate action from Government that is targeted with adequate financial support.
So, to conclude, Deputy Presiding Officer, I urge the Government to look again at the recommendations made by Natural Resources Wales to increase the area of the NVZ from 2 per cent to 8 per cent. And this is the very final paragraph: in working together to reach consensus, we can find a solution that will safeguard our environment and ensure a more secure future for our family farms, which are the backbone of the rural economy, for the years to come. Thank you very much.
Can I remind Members, as I said, five minutes? Because all you're doing is taking time off somebody else—it could be somebody from your own party, who may not be able to speak as a consequence of time going on. So, let's try and keep to time if we can, please.
I thank the Welsh Conservatives for tabling this motion. It affords an early opportunity for this Senedd to debate a critical topic, namely the health and future of our country's waterways. The motion asks us to note the adverse impact of a Government policy on Welsh agriculture. I do think somehow that that's pretty rich coming from a party that would sell Welsh farmers down the river for a free trade deal with Australia, and a party that's imposed £137 million UK budget cut on Welsh rural communities.
But I'll put that hypocrisy aside, because the salient point to argue today is that the all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone will have no such adverse impact, and the standards in the regulations are in no way, in my opinion, excessive. Rather, they establish baseline standards for production in Wales that are comparable to the rest of the UK and also Europe. And that alignment will be critical to future trade, especially if Wales is to market brand-Wales produce based on sustainability.
We've heard again today why the regulations are urgently needed. Having represented Mid and West Wales since 2007, I have lost track of the number of incidents of serious river pollution from agriculture in that time. But I was still shocked to read the figures in black and white: nearly 3,000 substantiated agriculture-related pollution incidents in Wales since 2001; an average of 148 a year for the last 20 years; and more than three a week in the last three years alone. That is definitely not acceptable, that is definitely not sustainable, but it is entirely preventable, and it is our moral duty here to do something about that.
The evidence also clearly shows that this is a Wales-wide problem and it requires a bold, clear, national solution. 'The State of Natural Resources Report' for 2020 states that two thirds of our river water bodies failed to achieve good ecological status under the water framework directive classification. Evidence published by NRW in January on our nine river special areas of conservation identifies agriculture as a major contributor to pollutant levels in these nationally important waters that exceed legal limits. More than 60 per cent of protected rivers in Wales exceed phosphate pollution limits, so I think it's a bit disingenuous for Plaid Cymru Members to suggest that we can achieve the crucial environmental benefits they say they want to see just by tinkering around the fringes of this with voluntary and local regulations.
The truth of the matter is that unless we take urgent action to control pollution at source, it'll be too late to recover our river ecosystems. The all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone regulation is a wholly proportionate tool that will help tackle the nature and climate emergency and thereby support sustainable farming both now and in the future.
Thank you, James Evans, Member of this Senedd, for leading on such an important debate and for securing cross-party support in opposition to the devastating Welsh Labour and Lib Dem NVZ regulations. I speak again to place on record my absolute opposition, and the adverse impact that the all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone will have on Welsh agriculture. I also wish to call on the new Senedd committee responsible for agriculture and for water to urgently review these regulations.
As I have stated many times before, the regulatory impact assessment estimates that the upfront capital cost of this scheme could run to £360 million. That is £347 million more than the assistance being offered by the Welsh Government and is £99 million more than the latest total income from farming in Wales. Already, we are aware of some tenant farmers who are in crisis now with their landlords, and we know of banks unwilling to foot the bill, and the UK farming unions are now warning that the dairy industry is facing an extremely challenging year on the back of spiralling production costs and variable milk prices.
So, you will be unsurprised to learn that the extra costs of meeting water regulations are indeed making the situation much worse. In fact, a leading mental health farming charity warned that these regulations were likely to cause immense stress for farmers. Your own explanatory memorandum stated, and I quote:
'The potential negative impact of additional regulatory requirements on mental well-being, particularly where other economic or health challenges already exist, is also recognised.'
So, you actually do recognise the fact that this is going to cause mental ill health, and we've just had questions on mental health. It just doesn't make sense. Already I know of numerous farming families in Wales who invest every single penny back into their business, and now some of those are even contemplating closure. They are truly desperate.
This would also be devastating for our Welsh language. Forty-three per cent of agricultural workers speak Welsh, compared to 19 per cent of the general population. The 'Iaith y Pridd' report recommended that the Welsh Government operate by ensuring that policies support industries on our family farms. Questions do still have to be raised as to whether the regulations are in line with section 4 of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and in particular the goal to have a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language.
We must also ask you, Minister: why are you not even acting in the best interests of our environment? Many of our suckler cow herds, which make a vital contribution to biodiversity by managing some of our most important habitats, are now set to be lost, and NRW has warned that the new rules will have the perverse outcome of making water quality worse, thereby dispelling a lot of the points that Joyce Watson made. The NVZ is being introduced at a time when even NRW's executive director for evidence, policy and permitting has spoken of a steady decline in pollution incidents in the last two years. That is a clear downward trend that has been observed over the last three years, and in fact, huge areas of Wales have seen zero incidents in the last decade.
As I have said before, the voluntary approach should and must have been given a real chance. The 'blue flag' farming approach was not backed by Welsh Government when farmers actually applied for funding through the rural development programme sustainable management scheme. Despite project results and water standards being shared in letters with the Minister and the First Minister in March 2020, including recommendations for next steps, and a response being issued by officials stating that detailed consideration would be given to the water standard, NFU Cymru have sadly not received any reply. And prior to supporting the regulations, the Minister had not responded to the progress report and the 45 separate recommendations sent by the Wales land management forum sub-group on agricultural pollution in April 2018.
It just does appear to me, and obviously some of our new Members, that Welsh Government is actually dismissing agricultural experts and is placing the future of the environment, the Welsh language, mental health and actual farming at risk in Wales. Plaid Cymru and Welsh Conservatives are putting our political differences aside to do the right thing and to back this motion. I ask: will Welsh Labour and the new Welsh Liberal Democrat elected Member do the same, or are you going to betray rural Wales once again? Thank you. Diolch.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you for the opportunity to make this speech.
Everyone wants an affordable, proportionate and environmentally sustainable and targeted approach to water pollution. Farmers particularly want this, but this legislation does not do that. It is not targeted, as the majority of farms across Wales have not recorded agricultural pollution. According to some experts, this is not suitable for 90 per cent of Welsh farming land. It is not proportionate and affordable, because farmers, again, cannot afford another demand for more expense to build storage, putting them in debt, as well as the extra bureaucratic pressures. Finally, this is not the right time to do this. We are hopefully emerging from COVID and farmers are now faced with a UK Conservative Government that has just sold them down the river on a trade deal with Australia. May I add that I applaud the First Minister for speaking against this? I hope the Welsh Conservatives listening this afternoon will use their voices to persuade their colleagues in Westminster to support British farmers, not let them down.
I have heard many farmers say that their cattle will have to go if these regulations are fully implemented. The consequences for biodiversity in Wales will be catastrophic if this happens. Cattle are much better than sheep for encouraging wildlife on grassland. The longer the grass cattle can cope with, the better; sheep can't. And it allows butterflies to complete their life-cycle and flowers to set seed. For wildlife, late-cut hay or haylage is ideal. Curlews want long grass, not land heavily grazed by sheep.
There is undoubtedly irresponsible spreading of slurry and poultry manure near watercourses, causing river pollution incidents. The gradual leaching of nitrate and phosphate into groundwater is a long-term problem, but there are other solutions. One is, for instance, to give Natural Resources Wales more money and powers to actually police pollution incidents and prosecute offenders. And by all means, there should be discussions with the bigger dairy farms about slurry-spreading best practice, and help financially with any improvements that don't put them further into debt.
To use a phrase that's been used this afternoon, this legislation is about using a hammer to crack a nut, and it's not something I can support. A sign of good government is to reflect, review and rethink. Look at the evidence again and let's have the targeted, effective and proportionate approach we all want to water pollution. I hope this Government will take this opportunity to do just that. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Can I thank my colleague James for presenting the motion as he did and thank my colleagues across the Chamber for the support today? As others have mentioned, the NVZ blanket approach announced by the Welsh Government at the end of January 2021 has been met with disbelief and anger. To consider it to be an effective regulatory system that delivers for our environment and the Welsh economy is sadly misguided and an out-of-touch position for the Government to take. It's clear that the farming unions and, indeed, thousands of farmers across Wales view this approach in the same way. Their view and, indeed, my own is that the claimed benefits to water quality from this approach will be relatively insignificant and certainly dwarfed by the negative economic impacts that will result.
Each day, we are hearing of farming businesses considering calling it a day due to the additional investments needed to comply and the additional burden of heavy-handed regulations that are to be imposed. These things are just seen as a step too far and, in the majority of business minds, totally unnecessary. And that's not just rhetoric; that is fact. I talk to farmers regularly and this is a real consideration. Now is the time where the Welsh Government should, as a priority, be looking to ensure food security and not hitting farming businesses with this big metaphorical stick. We mustn't forget that farmers are the custodians of our wonderful countryside, and the mainstay of our local economy. They make Wales what it is. The Government should work with them and not against them.
Putting into law one of the most ineffective pieces of EU legislation was a massive mistake. We know that in 2018, the expert group chaired by NRW put forward 45 recommendations built on strong advice and guidance, focusing on voluntary approaches, investment, support and smart regulation, all aimed at improving water quality. But this was dismissed by the Welsh Government, even though supported by NRW, the Government's own regulator. No-one disagrees with the need for regulation, but it has to be proportionate and evidence based. The industry recognises the need to address issues when identified and will act voluntarily to deal with these things, but the Wales-wide NVZ approach is not the way forward as the wider economic and food-related consequences have not been considered properly.
Members, this new Senedd has a real opportunity ahead of it to rethink, to take stock. It doesn't have to carry on what happened before; this is a new Senedd with new people, new thoughts and new aspirations. I, too, support the motion to call on a relevant committee to urgently review this situation. I know there would be tremendous support from the industry, and other political parties, as we've seen here today, to find a better and more productive way forward that focuses on preserving family businesses whilst addressing water quality and striving for a sustainable rural economy, cemented in a desire to maintain high-quality food and water security. I urge you all to support this motion. Diolch yn fawr.
I'm very pleased that Plaid Cymru co-submitted this debate this afternoon and that this is a joint motion from the opposition parties, which does show how strongly feelings run on this issue. But from my perspective, of course, this is a motion laid in a positive sense and it begins a process of compromise. That's what the motion does. The Welsh Government, if I may say so, has responded constructively with their amendment, and I am surprised at the aggressive contributions we've heard so far. References to Cardiff Airport and trade deals with Australia miss the point. We don't need to pick a fight today; we need to start the process of finding a better solution to the problems of the NVZs.
Prior to the election, when myself and Plaid Cymru presented the motion to annul the new regulations, I said that I and my party would be willing to work with Government to look at alternative solutions to the problem of river pollution, if the Government were willing to step back. Now, the Government rejected that option at that time, and although it does appear that the Government is willing to refer this issue to the relevant committee of the Senedd, everyone needs to understand that supporting this motion or the amendment today wouldn't prevent the regulations from being implemented. We would all welcome the opportunity for a cross-party committee to evaluate the regulations in a way that hasn't happened so far, and to bring regulations forward so that the Government can consider those, but, of course, there would be no requirement on the Government to act on those recommendations. But as the Government amendment does allow referring this issue to a committee, I do assume from that that the Government would be open to changing the regulations or even to scrap them, if the case becomes clear in the work of the committee.
So, I want to hear three things from the Minister in her response to the debate this afternoon. I want the Minister to confirm that she and her officials would initially look seriously at any recommendations made by a committee; secondly, that she commits to do everything that she can to amend the regulations in light of those recommendations; and third, that she confirms that annulling the regulations is a possible option, following the work of the committee. Clearly, a strong case would need to be made for that, and I would assume that we would need to identify an alternative approach to tackling water pollution, but I want to hear from the Minister this afternoon that the option of scrapping these regulations is on the table, because that's the only thing that can prove to me that the Government is truly willing to consider this issue and that it is worth referring it to a committee of the Senedd.
You'll all recall that Plaid Cymru never argued for not taking action to protect water quality, and we would have supported the Government regulations had we believed that they would have worked. But there are so many weaknesses and unanswered questions that we now need to take a step back. You only need to look, as we've heard from others, at the results of the NVZ approach across Britain and other areas to see that it's not a silver bullet that will resolve all problems overnight. We also know, of course, that there will be negative environmental impacts by losing much of the cattle grazing, and we will probably see more sheep introduced to our uplands, which will lead to further environmental decline. Dairy processors in Wales have been in touch with me to express their concerns about the viability of the sector. One has suggested that they have an analysis demonstrating that up to a third of all dairy farms will cease production, and one company is already planning to move its operations elsewhere because they anticipate the detrimental impact that these regulations will have on the viability of the dairy sector.
The capital cost is something we've already heard about: up to £360 million, and that is more than the total income of agriculture in Wales in a year. That's how disproportionate these requirements are. And the Government, in introducing these regulations, has placed a bill of tens of millions of pounds on our local authorities, which will have to invest around £36 million on the 1,000 council-held holdings we have in Wales.
So, yes, introduce regulations, by all means, but target them where Natural Resources Wales says they are needed, and build on the voluntary plans, such as the blue flag and, as we heard from Cefin Campbell, Taclo'r Tywi in Golden Grove, and develop a risk matrix, as has happened in England, where we can communicate daily with farmers as to how appropriate it would be to spread slurry, enabling us to use new technology and using real-time communication in a far more dynamic and sophisticated way than these primal regulations that just follow a calendar and will ultimately lead to more problems than they will solve.
I've taken part in past debates on the introduction of the Welsh Government's NVZ approach, so I'm largely going to use my time today to highlight the plight and example of one particular farming family and how these regulations will affect them. But for the purpose of clarity, I will repeat my long-standing views that these regulations should never have been introduced; they are unnecessary, disproportionate and devastating to the farming industry.
The Conservative motion has been put forward by my colleague James Evans, and as Llyr has pointed out, this motion today will not cancel those regulations, but I very much hope that there'll be support in this Chamber this afternoon for the start of a process that could ultimately lead to the scrapping and repealing of these appalling regulations.
I'd like to highlight the plight of one tenant farming family in my own constituency: Brian Jones, his wife, Susan, and son, Andrew. As farmers to Coed y Parc in Caersws, a 105-acre all-grassland farm, which is the home to an 85-strong closed dairy herd, they've been farming there since 1973 on a lifetime tenancy agreement. Brian Jones has put some comments together and I'm going to read what he's said.
These are his words: 'I've been milking cows my entire life, starting from when I was just 12 years old, and will mark my sixty-sixth year on dairy farming this year. It's what we do as a family. It's our life. We have never had a pollution incident here.' I'll say that again. 'From someone who's been farming on that farm for 66 years'—I hope Joyce Watson is listening as well—'we have never had a pollution incident here.' He goes on to say: 'NRW, through their own assessment, have confirmed there is no pollution here, but we still need to comply with these new regulations and carry out work at an eye-watering cost in the region of £70,000.' 'Who is going to pay for that?', Mr Jones asks. Perhaps Joyce Watson, who also represents him, could write to him and let him know, given Joyce's comments this afternoon.
He went on to say: 'The landlords have refused and the bank won't lend us the money to carry out the work on a property we don't own. I'm at my wit's end and fear that, in three years' time, we could well see the end of our family farming life here. I have no objection to a polluter-pays policy, but this is going to cripple the industry if nothing has changed. The Welsh Government must consider the financial implications of these regulations on small and medium-sized farm businesses and tenant farmers as a matter of urgency.'
I've heard views this afternoon, and I heard Joyce Watson's comments about hypocrisy, and I agree with Joyce: there is plenty of hypocrisy here from the Welsh Government. I was very pleased to hear Jane Dodds's views this afternoon—most of them, not all of them. It sounds like Jane is going to support this motion as well today, which I very much welcome. A lot of what Jane said was very well put together, I thought. But what Jane did say, talking about us as Welsh Conservatives, is that we have to use our voices to persuade our colleagues in Westminster on X, Y and Z. Well, I say this gently to Jane: it is a great shame that Jane could not use her voice to persuade the only Liberal Democrat Member here to vote against the repealing of the regulations at the back end of the last Senedd.
These views are not simply politically motivated; it's not simply a politically motivated debate this afternoon, as some Members may want to suggest. This is real life. So, I hope that the Government and Members will support our motion, and I firmly hope that this takes us down a road to the process of repealing these terrible, terrible regulations. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
I call on the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, Lesley Griffiths.