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 a hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in Senedd proceedings, wherever they may be, will be treated equitably. 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 Plenary meeting, and those are noted on your agenda. I would also remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber and to those joining virtually.
The first item is questions to the Minister for Climate Change, and the first question is from Darren Millar.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on investment in flood defences in Clwyd West? OQ56764
This financial year, we are investing £3.55 million in flood and coastal projects in Clwyd West. This includes schemes at different stages of development, from business case through to construction. An interactive map showing all our investment this year through the flood and coastal programme is published on our website.
Thank you for that response, Minister. And can I be the first to thank the Welsh Government for the new programme of works that it's hoping to initiate in the Towyn, Kinmel Bay and Llanddulas areas in my constituency, which have been at risk of flooding for many years, and, of course, which were the scene in 1990 of the most devastating floods in living memory across Wales? One of the concerns in terms of the schemes that may now be taken forward in that coastal belt is the visual impact of any changes to the flood defences. You'll be aware that tourism is very important to the local economy in this particular part of my constituency. So, I wonder what work the Welsh Government will allow to be done to make sure that the improved flood defences also actually improve the amenity for local residents along the promenade and are attractive to residents and visitors alike.
Thank you for that very important point actually, Darren Millar. Because this is about more than flood defence; these are often some of the most beautiful parts of our coastlines and river edges, and so on. So, I completely agree that it also has to enhance the local environment. You'll be very well aware that, under 'Planning Policy Wales', we talk constantly and consistently about the need for sustainable communities. And that of course includes the visual amenity of tourist areas, or actually just all areas, because the residents who live there must be able to live, thrive and be happy there, as well as be protected from floods. So, I completely agree that that's a very important part of the work that we must do, to make sure that, whilst the flood defences protect against floods, they also fit very well into the natural landscape.
2. What are the Welsh Government's proposals for the use of innovative technology to improve air quality in Wales? OQ56760
Thank you. Our clean air plan sets out ambitious measures to improve air quality. This includes implementation of new and cleaner technologies across a range of sectors. We're also committed to enhancing our air quality monitoring network and are considering new and emerging technologies as part of this work.
Thank you, Minister. Earlier in the year, Cardiff Bus and Stagecoach announced that it was retrofitting 49 of its most polluting buses with exhaust clean-up technology, to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions by 97 per cent, thanks to funding from the Welsh Government. However, in England, they are now one step ahead and have started to introduce air-filtering devices, which can remove as much as 65g of pollutants from the air over a 100-day period, which equates to the cleaning of 3.5 million cubic litres of air—enough to fill 1,288 Olympic-sized swimming pools, I'm led to believe. This has been rolled out in cities such as Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton, and I'm keen to know if the Welsh Government will commit to funding similar initiatives in Wales.
Thank you. There's no doubt that decarbonising our bus stock is a huge challenge for us at the pace at which we need to do it in order to meet our net-zero emissions targets. I recently saw and got to sit behind the wheel of, in fact—a childhood dream come true—one of the new Newport electric buses. It's an incredibly impressive piece of kit—significantly more expensive than its petrol equivalent, it must be said. So, there is going to be a gap to be filled in the period. So, as Joel James rightly points out, some areas are ahead of the others.
In terms of Welsh Government funding a wholesale increase, we are looking, as part of our bus strategy, at how our relationship with the bus industry needs to change, and how that's funded. But I would note what the Welsh Affairs Select Committee said earlier today about the shortfall in funding that the Welsh Government gets because of transport consequentials, because of the way High Speed 2 is treated as an England-and-Wales project, when, in fact, as the Conservative-dominated committee notes, it is in fact an England-only project—we don't get the knock-on consequences for Wales that we need to fund all of our aspirations in transport. So, we need to scratch our head and figure out how that gap can be filled, and it's one that we want to fill, but it would help if the Conservative Government gave us a little bit more money.
I welcome Joel's question because it does point out that there are things that we can get on right now, either with technological solutions, or other solutions, that don't require legislation. We can get on with improvements to air quality right now, and I'd be interested in the Minister's thoughts on what other things we can do.
But the Minister will understand that there was some disappointment that the air quality Bill didn't feature within the first programme of the sixth Senedd Government. We understand there are difficult balancing acts to do, but there is a letter winging its way to the Minister, if it hasn't arrived already, from me as the Chair of the cross-party group on the air quality Bill, and the vice-chairs as well, asking for a meeting where we can discuss how we progress with other measures, but also, how we can secure, at the earliest possible opportunity in this Senedd term, at the next possible opportunity, that clean air Bill as well, because there is huge cross-party support to deliver on it.
Well, I always look forward to receiving letters from Huw Irranca-Davies and this one will be no exception. [Laughter.] I agree with him it's a very important Bill, and it's one we're very keen to proceed with as soon as we possibly can. He alludes to the fact that there is a tension between the available time we have dealing with coronavirus regulations and Brexit regulations, and our ambitious programme for government, and we are working our way through that.
He's absolutely right, though, to focus on what can be done in the meantime, because legislation by necessity will take a number of years to get through, and we don't have a number of years to tackle the air quality crisis. So, I'm very keen to work with him and the cross-party group to identify what can be done in the meantime. And I must add, just having hot-footed it along with him from the cross-party group on active travel, which I congratulate him again for chairing so ably, the investment this year of £75 million for active travel—the highest per head investment of any country in the UK—is a very good example of what can do to shift people out of cars onto sustainable forms of transport, which, as well as improving their health and reducing congestion, also improves air quality. And we need to look at more things we can do while we wait to legislate, and to make the legislation as ambitious as we possibly can.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Natasha Asghar.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, in 2019, the Federation of Small Businesses Wales released a report called '"Are we there yet?" A Roadmap to Better Infrastructure for Wales'. It was based around a significant survey of work from the small and medium-sized enterprise sector looking at the role of infrastructure. The survey found that 86 per cent put investment in road infrastructure as quite or very important, making this the most important transport priority for them. Given that the road network is a key concern for the FSB members, and in the absence of further details, the freeze on new roads whilst a review takes place is worrying. So, Deputy Minister, can you advise whether your roads review panel will contain representatives of businesses in Wales, and not just academics with an interest in transport and climate change? And how are you engaging with small businesses to ensure their voice has an impact on decisions made here in Wales? Thanks.
Well, I think all businesses need to have an effective integrated transport system, and that includes sustainable transport as well as road transport. We've been very clear that this roads review is not saying we're never going to build any roads again. It is saying that the challenge that all of us face, businesses especially, of an unstable environment and an unstable economy from the climate emergency, requires a new approach. And we need to methodically understand how much carbon headroom we have to spend on road schemes, which, as we know, generate additional journeys and additional traffic, and how we go ahead with our investment decisions in the years ahead, and what more we can spend on maintaining the roads we have and improving public transport so people have a real alternative. And I would have hoped, given all that she said about the importance of being bold and making decisions to tackle head-on the net zero challenge, she would have been supportive of that rather than trying to whip up opposition where really none ought to exist.
Thank you, Minister, for not answering the question. I was actually asking about participation in the actual plan that's going ahead, not actually what you answered.
But, anyway, next question: can I, please, ask the Minister for more detail about tackling the problems of air quality and congestion? How are issues of congestion and air quality going to be taken into account in the road building review? And will the panel adopt an evidence-based approach taken from experiences and studies of such improvements and projects, like the recent bypass for Llandeilo, Caernarfon and Porthmadog?
I think, yes, absolutely, and to apologise for not directly answering every part of her first question, let me address it now. We will absolutely be looking at air quality and what to do in situations where there is a real problem with air quality. Now, at the moment, the often default response to that is to build a bypass, and simply going on building bypasses not only diverts funding away from more sustainable forms of transport, but also cumulatively adds to the problem of a car-centric and car-dependent society. So, in the medium to long-term, that does not help the solution. Clearly, the move to electric cars, to decarbonised cars, at a tailpipe end will help areas of traffic congestion from the air quality point of view, and there are other things we can look at too. So, the panel has been explicitly asked to look at that, and it will absolutely be formed of experts. Again, we're not going for a representative body of every stakeholder; we're going for a focused team of experts who understand the evidence, understand the challenges of delivery. So, for example, I very much hope that we have a local authority representative as part of that group to understand what needs to be done at a local level.
Okay. Thank you very much. The signal that public transport is a priority is welcome, and genuinely welcome. However, the timescales involved in infrastructure strategy, including public transport improvements, are long and cannot address immediate problems. How will you take into account the time lag here, bearing in mind the need to ensure gaps in infrastructure needs are filled in the interim? Will this form part of the review process? And will you undertake to progress studies into projects, such as the Chepstow bypass and a motorway junction on the M48 where the Severn tollbooths used to be, to relieve congestion on the M4? Thanks.
There isn't really a meeting of minds here on this one. Despite attempts by both of us to persuade the other one, I don't think we're going to. I don't think endless bypasses and motorway studies are going to help with the problem of congestion in the medium term and indeed, especially not with the problem of air quality or of carbon reduction. So, we flatly disagree, as we've discussed before, on the best approach for this. Now, she can keep raising this at every possible opportunity, and we can keep having the same arguments, or we can try and work on some solutions that achieve our joint goals of making Wales better. But simply repeating the same hackneyed lines is not going to get us very far.
The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Delyth Jewell.
Thank you, Llywydd. Minister, community energy has a crucial role to play in ensuring that we deliver net zero. It has a role in ensuring public consent, increasing participation and incorporating behavioural change. A recent report that looks at the state of the sector calls on the Government to show its support to the movement by ensuring that the Welsh Government and the UK Government have stable policies in place, as well as by providing access to funding and resources, and also providing enhanced opportunities to help groups to sell their energy at a local level. With all of this in mind, Minister, can you, outline how the Welsh Government will aim towards supporting the community energy sector during the sixth Senedd?
Diolch yn fawr. Thank you very much for that question, Delyth. It's something very close to all of our hearts, I think. One of the things we need to be able to do across Wales is not just generate mega amounts of electricity renewably, but also we need to have community buy-in and community energy projects that thrive across Wales. I will be approaching the UK Government around its scheme, which has been very underperforming unfortunately. We have a number of local community energy networks set up, all raring to go, and, unfortunately, the UK part of that has not been as forthcoming as we'd like. I've already had some conversations about how we can, as the Welsh Government, build on the energy in the community—forgive the pun—to embrace these schemes, and to see whether we can step in and build on the work that was done around a hope from the UK Government, which has, sadly, not come to pass.
There are a number of other things we want to do in the field of renewable energy, and, at the risk of making my Deputy Minister's workload too great, we are seriously considering having a similar exercise done on renewable community energy, as we've just done on trees, to figure out the barriers, obstacles and solutions to getting this to be a thriving sector in Wales. And as always, Delyth, we don't have all the good ideas; we know the good ideas are out there. This will be an exercise in ensuring that we harness the good ideas and build on what we know has been a big effort already. As I say, I will be approaching both the UK Government and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets to see what we can do to help the scheme that I know is faltering.
Okay, well, I welcome that and thank you, Minister, and I welcome the pun as well.
Turning to a different area about nature targets, the Senedd, a fortnight ago, voted in favour of Plaid Cymru's motion and declared a nature emergency, and that motion had called on the Welsh Government to introduce legally binding nature recovery targets. This represented an important step and it's not just about—as we have discussed so many times—addressing the nature emergency, but also the climate emergency because of how they are intertwined.
With the Conference of the Parties 26 happening in October within a month of the Senedd returning from recess and a global framework to address biodiversity loss on the way, Wales now has a really important part to play in developing the legal architecture to tackle the nature emergency. So, could I ask if the Welsh Government is indeed planning to develop nature recovery targets and, if this is the case, could you outline a time frame during which we could expect to see those targets or the framework being published please?
We absolutely are, Delyth. We're part of a global network of nations working on this and what we're looking to do is make sure that we fit nicely inside the global framework in an ambitious, but nevertheless achievable way. We don't want this to be a council of despair either. It's a very hard balance to strike. So, what we're doing is we're working with the global community. We'll get some learning from COP26 as well and that will enable us to swiftly put our own targets in place. As you know, as we've rehearsed on many occasions, I'm very keen on having the targets, but we have to be absolutely certain that they don't have unintended consequences where we overlook things that don't have specific targets associated with them and so on. So, we'll be wanting to work very carefully across the Senedd floor and with the sector to make sure that the targets are both stretching, but also realistic and have as few unintended consequences as we can manage. And we think that's best placed in that global environment. We sit in a plan, don't we? So, we have the global one, we have the UK one and we'll have the Wales one, and I'm very keen that Wales takes a global role in that, so that we show what small nations that are very dedicated to this can actually do.
So, in terms of the time frame, that will slightly depend on the legislative programme. We've rehearsed a number of times the problems we've got with capacity, but we're looking to put an environment protection Act in place as well; we're looking to see if there are other opportunities to add the legislation on targets and so on to a Bill that might already be programmed in, and if not, to work with the Llywydd and the Commission staff to see where we can find some space in the programme to fit it in. So, what we'll do is we'll make sure that the regime is in place without the statutory backing at first if we can't find the programme, but we will put it on a statutory basis as soon as we can. I'm trying not to overpromise the statutory thing, given that I know the problems, but the regime itself and the consensus that the Government should be acting to make sure that happens will definitely be there.
Thank you, Minister. Actually, that ties in with the final question I was going to put to you about the concern about the environmental governance gaps that have been created since the UK has departed from the EU. On this governance gap, there is a real fear, which I know that you're aware of, that it could really lead to environmental harm continuing and there are limited options for redress for Governments and for public bodies because, as it stands, the environmental watchdog is little more than a complaints inbox.
So, you've talked in your previous answer, Minister, about the constraints, as you put it, that are in the legislative programme, but there was dismay that although the Government had voted in favour of a robust and independent environmental governance body, that wasn't actually in the programme for government, or it wasn't gone into much detail at least, and it wasn't in the legislative programme. So, could you confirm, in conjunction with what you just said in your previous answer, that that legislation will indeed be prioritised as quickly as possible and as practicable please?
Delyth, I'm very happy to confirm that. So, obviously, we have an interim programme right across the five years of the Senedd term in our head. That's not what's presented to the Senedd because that's been firmed up at that point. But I can assure you that I've been sharpening my elbows against my colleagues to make sure that the environment protection Bill is right up there. We have to obviously make sure that we're in a position to present it to the Senedd in good order, but we absolutely are prioritising that, I can assure you.
We're also ensuring that the four EU environmental principles, which I'm sure you're aware are precautionary, prevention, rectification at source and polluter pays, are principles that are absolutely embedded in our policy formation and application now. Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones has been appointed, as you know, to advise me on relevant concerns arising from her interim role, and we're very keen to make sure that we get as much of what will be a statutory regime in place prior to the statute as possible. That has two benefits: first of all, it doesn't wait on the statute, and secondly, it allows us to test various things that we can then reflect in the statute when we've understood what they look like in practice. But I can assure you that we are as anxious as you are to get this onto the statute book, it's just the frustration of the resource from Brexit and COVID still, I'm afraid, reverberating through the system. But, with any luck, we're coming to the end of that now and we can start to accelerate back into normal Senedd mode.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on fire safety in high-rise flats in Cardiff? OQ56782
I issued a written statement earlier today that sets out the first phase of the Welsh building safety fund, providing grant funding for surveys. Every building is different and the fire safety survey will identify measures and actions required to make blocks of flats safe in the event of a fire.
Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. I was very pleased to see the statement earlier on. I know this is a matter that I and others across the parties have raised on several occasions this term. This is because we—as I'm sure that you do, also—receive on a daily basis contact from people who are trapped in their homes. This has had serious impacts on their finance and health. And I note from previous responses from you and from the Trefnydd that you are working on this, but as you appreciate, what residents specifically need is the detail about any financial and any remediation support from Welsh Government. There is a demonstration in Cardiff this Saturday to highlight their plight; can they receive any more answers before Saturday? Diolch.
Well, as I say, I put the statement out earlier today and, just to be clear, what that says is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution—all Members of the Senedd will have heard me saying this before. So, each block of flats will need a bespoke solution for their particular issues, and they're very different depending on how the flats were constructed, when they were constructed and the materials and all the rest of it. So, this isn't just about cladding, this is about a whole series of things, including compartmentalisation, fire escape issues, fire systems, the stuff that holds the cladding on the wall; there's a whole range of these things. And so, what we're doing is we're funding each building to get a survey done that will produce a building passport, which will tell us exactly what the state of the building is, and off which we can then do the next phase, which is to figure out how we're going to sort it out.
I will say that I have now written to Robert Jenrick a very large number of times and I'm very disappointed indeed to say that we have still not heard anything at all about the consequential, as a result of his announcements, for Wales. So, if any Member of the Senedd wants to join with me in calling on the UK Government to tell us at a very early stage—I mean, why has it taken this long—so that we know how much money will be available, that would be very helpful. But nevertheless, despite the fact that we don't know that, we are forging ahead with what we can do, trying to put the systems in place so that once we get the guaranteed funding from the UK Government, we can do something with it.
I will say at this point, Llywydd, that, obviously, consequentials that come to the Welsh Government are not automatically spent on the thing that made the consequential arise in the first place, so I am not saying anything at all about usurping a budget process, but I need to be put into a position, as the Minister responsible, to be able to make bids against budgets and I cannot do that until I know the consequential is coming. So, I appeal, really, to Members of the Senedd to get the UK Government to understand that they need to tell us where the funding is coming from because, otherwise, we are constantly stuck in this situation.
I hear what you say, Minister. Obviously, the first batch of consequentials did not get spent and it's the right of the Welsh Government to spend it as they see fit, but it didn't get spent in the same way that it was spent by the UK Government in England on remediation work. The statement that you issued actually came out at 1.30 p.m. just as we were coming into this Chamber for question time. I haven't had the pleasure of reading that statement yet, so the question I ask you might be contained in that statement, but I hope that you can appreciate the lateness of the statement coming out just before questions.
You replied to me in a written question that your officials were working on a plan or a programme of support that might be made available and that you were hoping to make an announcement shortly. Does that plan involve any capital expenditure that might be made available to home owners, and will all home owners be included in any plan that is coming forward from your department? Obviously, social housing has been included in moneys made available by Welsh Government so far for remediation work, but private home owners have not received any support at all from Welsh Government. So, will any plan that comes from Welsh Government include all home owners that are affected by this terrible, terrible position they find themselves in?
Absolutely, Andrew R.T. Davies, and I understand the written statement came out; sorry, these things are very complicated and I wish we could go faster. The speed is no indication of the priority; it's an indication of the complexity of being able to get these things right, as I've emphasised. I've been meeting, myself, as you know, with a number of residents associations and so on, trying to understand what each individual building is experiencing.
So, what we've done today is we've announced that we will fund the work necessary to find out what is wrong with each building, including the invasive procedures necessary to find exactly what's happening. We will fund that for the buildings so that they will have a building passport that tells them what the issues are, off the back of which we can design the system that allows us to fund the remediation works.
I can't answer the rest of your questions in detail, I'm afraid, because of the issue with these consequentials. I, frankly, just do not have any clue what the budget might look like. So, I will tell you that I am making budget bids inside the Welsh Government for the money that we may or may not have available, but the truth is that without the consequentials we will not have the money necessary to do all of the work in the way that we would like. So, I'm doing the best that I can in the circumstances, but why on earth it's taking this long to tell the Welsh Government what the consequential funding as a result of Robert Jenrick's announcements of several billion pounds earlier in the year will be, I do not know. If you can use your good offices to find out, I'd be very grateful.
It's my ambition that home owners—leaseholders, mostly—should not have to pay for things that are not their fault. But, until I understand the nature and the extent of the damage that there is, and how much money that is, it's impossible for me to promise that.
Thank you for your statement, which I've briefly scanned. Some of my questions you've answered already. I'd just like to ask about the moral hazard of developers being able to walk away from their defective buildings, because, obviously, the Grenfell disaster exposed the regulatory failure to stop people putting firelighters on high-rise buildings.
If, and when, you get to have a discussion with Robert Jenrick, will this be a topic of conversation? It seems to me that just as landlords have responsibilities around the fire safety of buildings, so do developers in ensuring that these places are safe to live in, as well as local authorities ensuring that they meet the latest standards. So, I just wondered whether you could say a little bit about how you think your meeting with developers that you plan to have later in the year is going to ensure that all developers are acting responsibly, in line with their obligations.
Well, the bottom line, Jenny, is that we absolutely have no way to make sure that they're acting in line with their moral obligations; there's no legal method by which the Welsh Government can do that. As you know, I've asked all of the developers who are involved in the high-rises in Wales to meet with me. To be fair, a number of them have, and a number of them have put some money into rectification of some of the defects in some of the buildings.
Some of the developers haven't met me at all. I've put a final call out for people to meet me, and we're going to have a round-table of those who are happy to work with us in the autumn. At that point, I have asked for advice on whether I can name and shame the ones that will not come forward, so I'm in the process of getting that advice.
But, the legal complexities here are immense. Almost all of these buildings were built by what are called SPVs—special purpose vehicles. They're not the holding company—the name on the top. They're a special purpose vehicle formed for the purpose of building the building, which is then dissolved. So, actually, there is no corporate entity that you can hold legally responsible.
The UK Government, to be fair, has proposed to extend the limitation period—it hasn't done it yet; it's in the legislation currently going through Parliament—to 15 years from six, which will certainly help. Unfortunately, here in Wales, nearly all of the buildings that are here in Cardiff Bay and in Swansea, which are the two big cities most affected, were built, actually, around the millennium, which those of us who are a little older will be amazed to discover is 21 years ago and not 15 years ago—it seems like last Tuesday to some of us.
Unfortunately, that will not help those buildings, because they are going to be outside the period anyway, so that's an issue. We have asked for that to be extended to 25 years, but the UK Government has gone for 15, for various reasons. The 15 years only kicks in when the Bill is passed and it is not yet passed, so some buildings that might fit in now will not fit in by the time the Bill goes through. In addition, even if they do fit inside the limitation period, they still have to find the corporate entity that's responsible, and if they were built by an SPV, that would be very difficult. So, there's no silver bullet for this.
To be fair to some of the developers, they have put substantial sums of money into rectifying some of the buildings, but it has to be said that not all of them are in that position. We continue to work with the developers to try and put as much pressure on them as we can to do that. We've sought advice about what other levers we can use in terms of Welsh Government money, funding and so on, to try and bring them to the table.
4. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to address the concerns raised with the Minister by leaders of the WLGA in relation to Natural Resources Wales? OQ56769
Diolch, Heledd. I've recently met with the NRW leadership team, alongside the Deputy Minister, Lee Waters, and I am committed to working very closely with NRW and all our partners across Wales to ensure we can effectively meet the significant challenges of climate change, including responding to serious flooding incidents.
Thank you very much, Minister. I should declare here that I am a councillor in RCT too. You will be aware, I'm sure, that the Welsh Government has given funding to a number of local authorities, including RCT, to spend on temporary flood defences for homes, such as the flood gates and so on, and the project is being administered by Natural Resources Wales. Although a number of homes have benefited from that, there is inconsistency in terms of how decisions are made in terms of which homes qualify and which don't. For example, on one street in Pontypridd, 30 houses were flooded in February 2020, but only 13 have been offered gates. NRW say that the rest of the homes aren't at as great a risk of flooding. It's very difficult to explain to people why they don't qualify for these flood gates, given that they had been flooded at exactly the same time. So, can I ask you, therefore, because I've not been able to get answers to this: will the Minister intervene in this issue and ask for an update in terms of how Government funding is spent and how decisions are made in terms of which homes qualify and which homes don't? I'm sure many people would agree that every home that has suffered from flooding should be given the same offer.
Thank you for that, Heledd. If you want to write in to me with details of the houses that have been left out, I'm more than happy to look into it for you.
Good afternoon, Ministers. Can I just start by declaring an interest, as I'm a Denbighshire councillor? Minister, my constituency, the Vale of Clwyd, was hit hard by storm Ciara last year and storm Christoph this year. While we can do little about the weather, we can take steps to mitigate its impact. Unfortunately, like many local authorities, Denbighshire has found NRW to be less than helpful at times and a barrier at others. Whether it's culverts not being cleared in a timely manner, river gauges not being repaired, or a whole litany of seemingly minor issues, they add up to my constituents being devastated by floodwaters. Even when it came to learning the lessons of last year's flooding, Denbighshire councillors and officials were met with hostility. Minister, will you now heed the warning that NRW is not up to the task and agree to Welsh Conservative proposals to create a national flood agency for Wales? Thank you.
Thank you for that, Gareth. There's nothing like keeping it apolitical when dealing with serious issues like flooding, is there? We are, as you know, already in the process of reviewing the flood management arrangements. We've already welcomed a number of section 19 reports from local authorities in terms of flood protection, and we are working with NRW, Welsh Government officials and local authorities to make sure that we have the right level of flood protection, from the right agency, in the right place at the right time. I don't want to say anything against our local authority partners, who I know worked very hard throughout the winter this time, and throughout the winter preceding, in order to protect people from flooding, and to deal with the immediate aftermath of floods. But, it has to be said that, in doing a review, a review is done of all partners, and very seldom have I seen a review where one partner has done absolutely 100 per cent excellently and the other partner is entirely at fault. So, it behoves us all, in an apolitical manner here, to understand what went wrong and to put the systems in place to make sure that we learn those lessons and that this winter we have the very best protection from flooding. That's exactly what this Government is doing.
Minister, as you know, I've made my views clear in this Chamber when discussing NRW and the flooding events of 2020. That said, I'd like to thank the Welsh Government for the support provided to all flood risk management authorities since the floods to improve flood protection and prevention across Rhondda, putting right culverts and drainage systems in Pentre, Treorchy, Ynyshir and Blaenllechau, and plans for a flood wall in Britannia. We've discussed both in the Chamber and in outside meetings about the need for a working group to learn the lessons of February 2020. What discussions has the Minister had with the flood risk management authorities regarding the working group?
Thank you very much, Buffy. We've had an extensive set of discussions around this. As I said, we are looking now to have a lessons-learnt review, and to address a series of recommendations to improve the level of flood protection provided to the community. We have put record levels of funding into flood risk management. In 2020-21, NRW's revenue funding was increased by £1.25 million to £21 million, sustained in 2021-22, alongside a further £17 million in capital funding. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to express my gratitude to the action of many staff in NRW who worked above and beyond the call of duty during the flooding. I think it's easy to forget the people on the ground who actually worked really hard in very difficult circumstances, alongside local authority officers, officers from fire and rescue authorities and others, who really did put themselves on the line to do that. I really do think that's lost in some of these conversations. We are very happy, of course, to look again at the remaining—you know I'm already doing that. NRW is asked to do an enormous number of things for the Welsh Government, and many of the staff are doing those extremely well. I do accept entirely that we haven't got the balance of responsibilities for flood protection right at the moment, and we're working very hard to put that right in the future.
5. What assessment has the Minister made of the cuts that the UK Government has made to the discretionary housing payment budget? OQ56771
Thank you, Carolyn. We have written to the UK Government to express our great disappointment at the cuts made to discretionary housing payments. This, combined with the freezing of local housing allowance rates, and stopping the £20 a week universal credit top-up after September, will push more people and families into even greater hardship.
Thank you, Minister, for the answer. I agree that the cuts to the DHP budget could have not come at a worse time for tenants across Wales, who are already facing the perfect storm of potential job cuts, a cut to the universal credit boost, rent arrears and the end of the eviction ban. And this is on top of the bedroom tax, the two-child limit and accumulation of Tory UK policies increasing poverty, and on top of cuts to public service funding. I understand, through discussions with colleagues in local government, that the Welsh Labour Government has put in place a number of positive measures in the form of funding to local authorities, including a top-up of the discretionary housing payment budget, and support for people in work who have been impacted by the pandemic as well. Could the Minister provide me with an overview of the funding in place to mitigate the impact that the cuts to the DHP could have on tenants in Wales? Diolch.
Diolch, Carolyn. In the spring budget, as everyone knows, the UK Government announced it was cutting discretionary housing payment funding by 22 per cent, from £180 million to £140 million. The Government had, to be fair, boosted DHP funding from £139.5 million to £180 million in 2020-21 amid the pandemic. But I think it is worth noting that this year's funding is now lower than the discretionary housing budget was in 2017-18 or 2018-19. So, the cut has not taken us back to where we were before, it's taken us backwards several years. I do really think that it's time for the UK Government to rethink this strategy. It is clearly not the time for cuts when rent arrears and household debt continue to be a major issue, and the risk of households facing eviction and homelessness continues to be significant. There was a telling report very recently that showed that the wealthiest households had made significant gains in savings and net wealth during the pandemic, while the bottom third of households had become significantly poorer. I do think the UK Government needs to understand the divisions it's causing in society by making some of the really quite petty cuts that it's making in these areas.
In Wales, the Welsh Government is providing an additional £4.1 million to local authorities this year to top up discretionary housing payments, to help those on benefits who have struggled to pay their rent. As you know, I recently announced the tenancy hardship grant, which is a new measure worth £10 million, to support people in the private rented sector who struggle to pay their rent, and last year, I announced £50 million of funding for urgent capital projects, to provide high-quality temporary and permanent homes to help enable move-on from temporary accommodation. And last but not least, I was very pleased to increase the housing support grant this year by £40 million—an increase of almost 32 per cent. We set a challenging new-build target as well. But I will say, Llywydd, that it's not the Welsh Government's responsibility to step in where the UK Government has failed, with hard-won money from the Welsh budget, to shore up our people when the UK Government has seriously failed them. I am appalled that they have chosen to do so.
Just continuing the theme of evictions, in Mid and West Wales, there were 77,000 social housing tenancies in arrears in March 2019, and, as we know, the pressure of lost income and loss of employment has likely pushed many more into rent arrears. You'll be aware, Minister, that the evictions ban introduced in December 2020 came to an end, although I do welcome the fact that landlords still have to give tenants six months' notice before evicting tenants. But Shelter Cymru have warned that huge numbers of people could be pushed into homelessness as a result, saying that the evictions ban has actually saved lives. Could I just ask what action the Government is taking to prevent evictions from social housing as a result of COVID-related rent arrears? Thank you. Diolch.
Thank you very much for that very important question. I'm pleased to say that when we negotiated a five-year rent agreement with social housing providers across Wales, both councils and registered social landlords, we negotiated a 'no eviction into homelessness' pledge from them, as a result of the rental increase, and that has helped. So, we will have no evictions from social housing into homelessness in Wales. That does not mean people cannot be evicted from the specific flat they're in if there are issues around domestic abuse or anti-social behaviour, but it means that the housing needs of those people need to be addressed before they are evicted and moved on to other premises. I'm really pleased that we were able to do that. I'm very happy to work with private rented sector landlords to take their housing into social rent so that we can improve both the quality of the stock and the experience of the tenants, and provide the private sector landlord with a good, reliable, stable income through the five to 10 years that we take the house over. I recommend that scheme as well to many of our really good private rented sector landlords who'd be very happy to help.
6. What assessment has the Minister made of the contribution that a Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would make towards meeting the Welsh Government’s environmental targets? OQ56774
Renewable generation in Wales already provides on average half of our electricity. Marine energy, including tidal lagoons, could play a part in delivering the energy ambition we set out in the Wales national marine plan.
Thank you for that response.
It's been three years since the UK Government once again turned its back on Wales by refusing to invest in the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, and it's two years since the Swansea bay city region submitted a revised vision, the Dragon Energy Island project, to Welsh Government. Despite that particular report suggesting that by July 2021 construction could begin on the lagoon, that time has arrived and Swansea bay remains untouched. People in Swansea and South Wales West are desperate to see this project come to fruition and start delivering the environmental and economic benefits we know are there. I appreciate that the Welsh Government has recently undertaken some soft market testing as a part of the Welsh tidal lagoon challenge, but can you outline the next steps in that process and when do you envisage being able to make a statement to this Chamber on progress? Diolch.
Thank you for that very fair question. I think Sioned Williams is right to point out that there was cross-party support in this Chamber for a Swansea tidal lagoon, and the UK Government, despite lots of noises, let us down. I also noted in the report of the Welsh affairs select committee this morning the cross-party support for the electrification of the railway line to Swansea, which we haven't forgotten about, and I'm very pleased to see Conservatives on that committees standing up to their own Government. I'd encourage all parties to continue with our support for getting lagoons into Wales.
I met with the Under-Secretary of State at the Wales Office before the election to have some conversations about how we could work jointly to support the Swansea Dragon Energy Island bid, and conversations are ongoing at an official level with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Wales Office and the Welsh Government about working that up to the next stage where it can be considered by the UK Government, because I think it is important. That process taught us that if that project's going to go ahead, it needs to be done in collaboration between the two different Governments.
More broadly, we are supporting, again in collaboration with the UK Government through the Swansea bay city deal, a £60 million green energy package in Pembrokeshire, which is under way and will make a difference. And we are very keen—Julie James and I had meetings this week—on looking at a marine energy challenge fund. There was a manifesto commitment for that. We're now working that through to look at the whole range of marine technologies, including tidal, because the power of the sea is something we must harness to tackle climate change, and we want as many different interventions to contribute to that as possible.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's housing priorities for North Wales? OQ56779
Social housing remains mine and this Government’s priority for the whole of Wales. This reflects our commitment to deliver 20,000 new low-carbon homes for social rent this Government term. The North Wales region has been allocated £50.4 million from the social housing grant for 2021-22, to build much needed social homes.
Thank you, Minister, for your response. As you will be aware, your assessment of need for housing in north Wales states that there should be around 1,600 homes built every year in the region for the next 20 years. Currently, that development number is around 1,200 homes a year. So, there's quite a significant gap between what is needed and what's being built. As you'll also appreciate, private developers are often very successful in meeting the demands of local people and providing affordable housing. And, indeed, many of those private developers are small businesses making a big difference in their local economy. We have, though, in recent years seen a steady decrease in the number of dwellings being developed by those private developers. So, with that in mind, what action are you taking to encourage private developers to build more houses in north Wales?
Yes, thank you for that. It's actually a very important point, because we've got a number of issues in the small and medium enterprise house building market around cash flow, pipeline and so on. And again, Lee Waters and myself were very prominent in the construction forum in the last Senedd—I think you came with a different hat on a couple of times—to make sure that we put a pipeline in place for construction companies in general, and house builders were one of the lines of work that was coming off the construction project, to try to help with cash flow and a number of other issues.
We have a number of other issues as well, including the self-build scheme, pre-planning approval schemes and so on that are designed to help the SME market with some of the issues around needing to hold big cash reserves while they get planning, and so on. And we're also encouraging registered social landlords to work with their local SMEs as directly contracted contractors to help them with cash flow issues as well. We're more than happy to help the market take the role we'd like them to have across the piece and, indeed, without them we cannot build the 20,000 low-carbon social homes, so we're very keen to ensure that our providers stay viable and solid and to work with them to ensure that they have the support and the pipeline of work they need.
And finally question 8, Altaf Hussain.
8. What assessment has the Minister made of the Welsh Government's carbon output? OQ56763
Everyone has a part to play in tackling the climate emergency, including the Welsh Government. In line with our recently published public sector reporting guide, we will comprehensively baseline, tackle and monitor our own emissions, building on the plans we already have made regarding our fleet, estate use and homeworking.
Minister, the programme for government is clear in its intentions to deal with the environmental challenge and many areas of Government policy that need to respond. I know that you'll be heavily involved in the discussions about how we achieve those decarbonisation targets, which are, of course, very complex. Many organisations will already be assessing their carbon output, and the Carbon Trust has engaged in this work. If you expect others to act, then it is important for the Welsh Government to lead as an institution with understanding and publishing its own carbon footprint. Will you commit to this?
Indeed. As I said in my initial answer, we're already working alongside other public sector organisations. We recently published the public sector reporting guide, which supports all public sector organisations, including the Welsh Government and, indeed, the Commission actually, to gather relevant information and report their CGH emissions. This will not only give a clear baseline to work from but bring consistency of reporting processes from all public sector bodies, allowing a more targeted intervention programme across the piece. The initial data from that will be reported to Welsh Government this autumn, and there will be subsequent reports every summer, allowing an annual review of progress.
I thank the Minister and the Deputy Minister.
Questions to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language next, and the first question is from Mabon ap Gwynfor.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh language communities housing scheme? OQ56784
As my friend and colleague the Minister for Climate Change set out in her oral statement on 6 July, she and I will bring forward a Welsh language communities housing plan for consultation in the autumn.
Thank you, Minister. The most recent statistics by revenue Cymru show that 44 per cent of the homes sold in Dwyfor Meirionnydd last year were sold at the higher rate. Now there are many definitions of what that means, but I've spoken to estate agents and lawyers in the area and it's clear that the vast majority of those homes were sold as second homes. The statistics for the previous year were very similar too. It is clear therefore that there is a crisis in our communities and we need to see urgent action. It's a concern therefore that this committee will not meet until the autumn and we don't know when it will report back with recommendations, never mind actually implementing those recommendations. Do you accept that there is a crisis in our Welsh-speaking communities, and that we need to take further urgent steps to respond as soon as possible, and what is the timetable for your committee? Thank you.
I thank Mabon ap Gwynfor for that further question. I certainly accept that it is a crisis for the reasons that he says. The figures that he revealed are a cause of concern for many of us, I would say. The task for us as a Government working with the other parties is to ensure that we have answers that are effective and legal and which are quick, and we have a programme of work based on what the climate change Minister has stated in the Chamber, and included in our response to the report by Dr Simon Brooks, which shows the range of interventions that we intend to make, and many of those have been taken immediately over the summer weeks, including collaboration with areas of Wales which are ready to work with us on testing some of these elements, and that's very important in this context.
In terms of the work of the committee, I'm not sure which committee you're referring to. My intention is to have a consultation in the autumn—the plan that I outlined earlier—but there are a variety of things. We mention in the letter to Dr Brooks that we intend to accept his recommendation in terms of establishing a commission on this, but we're also clear that the other steps are not dependent on the establishment of a commission. In other ways, they'll proceed anyway.
The Welsh research paper on second-home ownership published yesterday states, and I quote:
'There is only limited robust evidence however, that addresses the impact of second homes on community sustainability and cohesion, including for example on Welsh language and culture'.
Given that the Welsh language community housing plan is scheduled for consultation this autumn, as you mentioned, Minister, are the Welsh Government looking at undertaking any further research to collect more evidence to ensure decisions made are robust, fair and long-standing, rather than knee-jerk and reactionary?
Well, I wouldn’t accept that this is happening in a way that’s reactionary. I think that there is an obvious problem here for communities where Welsh is the main language and I think that problem is obvious to many of us, and certainly we do need data and we do certainly need to look carefully at the definitions that we use in this area, and those are important so that we have the right answers or solutions, but that work can happen as we take forward this work programme. As I’ve said, as Dr Brooks has said clearly in his report, various elements are interwoven and are co-dependent and we have to look at all of them to ensure that we obtain the right solutions.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of education in North Wales? OQ56780
In 2021-22, schools in north Wales will have received a total allocation of over £12 million through the local authority education grant for additional learning needs, minority ethnic and Gypsy, Roma, Travellers, elective home education, well-being, recruit, recover and raise standards and non-maintained settings.
Thank you, Minister, for your response, and as you will be aware, Minister, an important part of education provision is outdoor learning, which can be fantastic for learners of all abilities and ages, and which can benefit them in so many different ways and indeed of course, north Wales has some of the best outdoor education centres in the country. However, throughout COVID-19, the access to those centres and that activity hasn't been possible in the usual way, and has unfortunately hampered the education of some learners as a result. I do welcome your recent announcement around overnight stays at residential outdoor centres, that they're allowed for primary school children, and there's some funding made available too. But Minister, I'd like to ask what else will you be looking to do to accelerate the use of outdoor education centres and outdoor learning as a whole as we move out of the pandemic?
I thank Sam Rowlands for that very important question. I certainly do acknowledge the important role that outdoor learning plays in providing our learners with a wide range of experiences, and that will become even more important in the context of the new curriculum that we are introducing. I'm also conscious that outdoor education providers—and a number of Members have written to me specifically in relation to this, so I'd like to acknowledge that—have been impacted very significantly by the restrictions, as he acknowledges. The residential outdoor education fund is intended to be a contribution to some of those costs that centres will have incurred as a consequence—it's a £2 million fund to seek to address that. As he rightly says, changes have been made to facilitate trips by primary school children, and the First Minister has announced today we'll be saying more about this in the Chamber later, with further relaxations allowing up to 30 children from organisations to attend residential centres over the summer holidays. So, what we see there is a progressive relaxation, which I hope will be welcomed by the sector.
Diolch, Gweinidog. The Organisaston for Economic Co-operation and Development has said
'Providing access to quality education in rural areas is crucial to meet the needs of rural youth, and also to attract young families to settle in these regions.'
I was proud that, under Kirsty Williams's leadership, Wales introduced its first ever rural schools strategy and action plan, setting out how we can support our small and rural schools to deliver excellence for our children and young people within the context, of course, of the new Curriculum for Wales. Minister, I'm concerned that Powys County Council have brought forward plans to close 11 rural schools on the basis of both financial constraints and capacity to deliver the new Curriculum for Wales. Could you clarify two things for me, please, Minister? Firstly, where responsibility lies for proposing school closures, and whether small, rural schools can deliver the new Curriculum for Wales. Diolch yn fawr iawn, thank you.
I thank Jane Dodds for that very important question. As she said, my predecessor published the first ever rural education action plan in 2018, bringing together all the interventions and initiatives in relation to small and rural schools from across the 'Our national mission' strategy into one coherent action plan focused particularly on the circumstances that rural schools face.
In relation to reorganisation that involves rural schools, we also in the same year strengthened the school organisation code, so that when local authorities, who are the drivers of the decisions in this context, consider bringing forward proposals involving the closure of a rural school, they first need to check whether that school is on a list, and if it is, there are further procedural requirements that apply in that context. There'll be a presumption against the closure of a school. That doesn't mean, of course, that the school cannot, as it were, be closed, but it will involve establishing that the case for closure must be very strong, and not taken until viable alternatives have been explored.
I certainly believe that rural schools are able to deliver the curriculum, and I want to be in a position over the course of the next year to ensure that rural schools, like all other schools in Wales, are able to take advantage, for example, of the national network, which will enable schools to work together to develop resources in order to ensure the successful implementation of the curriculum in all parts of Wales.
Questions now from party spokespeople. Conservative spokeswoman—Laura Jones.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, firstly can I start by thanking you for your written statement last week? I really welcome the fact that you listened to my concerns, our party's concerns, and those, most importantly, of the educational sector, and have now yourself taken the decision to remove masks and bubbles in schools across Wales from September, with local authorities being able to adapt if absolutely necessary in a reactive way going forward. That is the right way to do things, so I thank you for that change, Minister.
The fact remains that children in Wales have lost out on the most learning of any UK nation—124 days between March 2020 and March 2021. So, Minister, can you assure this Senedd that we will not see the ridiculous situation of whole schools closing, whole year groups going off time and time again, if we are in a situation, which I hope we're not, that hospitalisations rise again? And what measures and mitigations do you have in place and are you looking at to ensure that in-school learning, from next term onwards, is a top priority, as our children cannot afford to miss any more face-to-face learning?
I thank Laura Anne Jones for that question. In terms of change, what we have done throughout, at every stage, is to make sure in our guidance to schools—as in our guidance to all other parts of Welsh life, if you like—that our guidance reflects our current and best understanding of the changing nature of the pandemic, and it has changed at different stages throughout. And in order to meet the expectation correctly from schools to have a set of planning assumptions for September, as she said, I wrote to headteachers last week, in the way that she described.
One of the challenges that schools have faced is the large cohorts that have been asked to self-isolate as a consequence of cases or clusters in schools. And I think all parts of the education system recognise that that is not a desirable outcome. What we want to have in place, and what will be in place from the new school term, is that the test, trace, protect system will be leading on identification of contacts and providing advice and so on, and schools will have the assurance of being able to rely on specific advice that the TTP system provides. I've obviously heard from teachers that there are challenges around identifying, when they are leading on that, who the individual contacts are. And so, from September, that will be led by the TTP system.
She talks about making sure that the arrangements from September prioritise learners' progression. That has been our priority throughout. And I want to pay a tribute, in these last questions before the summer recess, to our teaching and educational staff for the incredible efforts they have made over the last 15, 16 months to ensure, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, that our learners' progression and learning can continue. And the very purpose of the renew and reform plan, which I spoke about in the Chamber some weeks ago, and the funding that goes with that, is to continue to support schools to do that throughout the next academic year.
Thank you, Minister. And now moving on to a more pressing concern that I have before the summer recess, and that is that last week—. We agree, as you kindly referenced last week, that this has been a really tough year for teachers and heads and that we want them to have a full summer off. And it's to this end that I remain concerned about contact tracing, Minister. Because we don't want a situation where heads and teachers have to spend the first six days of their holidays contact tracing. So, who is going to take over this role, if it needs to be done? It can't fall to heads, Minister. So, are you putting measures in place, maybe so that local authorities take on this role from Friday or the end of term onwards so that heads and staff can actually have that full summer off?
So, the contact tracing over the summer will be, as my answer to her previous question I think tried at least to identify, led by the TTP system. We recognise the fact that there are limitations in a school setting, which heads always face, in terms of competing pressures. And that's exactly why, from September, I've given the guidance to heads to plan on the basis of no contact groups in school and that contact tracing will be driven by the TTP system.
So, Minister, just to confirm, just quickly on that one, are you saying that teachers and heads will not be continuing doing that contact tracing? And, if I could just move on to my third and final question, it is fair to say that local authorities have been prioritising education now at the expense of other services, particularly during this pandemic, due to the common understanding of its importance. But this is not sustainable, Minister. We need to ensure that local authorities and schools are well equipped to deal with the fallout of this pandemic and that they are able to address any new expectations put upon them. Minister, in Scotland, per pupil funding is currently at £7,300; in England and Wales, per pupil funding is just over £6,000 per pupil. But, in England, they have committed to increase that funding in real terms by 9 per cent by 2023. In order to get our schools the funding they so desperately need, what will this Welsh Government be doing to ensure that our children are not disadvantaged compared to the rest of Britain? How is this Welsh Government looking to match that level of investment in our children's future that we're seeing in other parts of the UK? Will you match the funding that pupils in Scotland will receive per head, which equates to £1,200 more per pupil than here, or will you be looking to match England's commitment in real-terms investment by 2023? What we cannot have, Minister, is that pupil per head funding is significantly lower here than in other parts of our nation.
I'll direct Laura Anne Jones to the recent work by the Education Policy Institute, which compares the investment across the nations of the UK in the response to COVID specifically in order to support our schools and learners in the work that they are doing. And I think I'm right in saying that the most current analysis shows that the level of intervention in Wales is higher than any other part of the UK, and that the way in which the money is being allocated and spent in Wales is more progressive in the sense of supporting those learners that need the greatest level of support.
The principles behind that are the same as those which I set out in the renew and reform plan. Those remain the principles. We think that is the best way of supporting our learners. It has significant amounts of funding attached to it. She will be aware that, at the point when the Government in England was committing its £1.4 billion, the pro-rata equivalent in Wales was significantly higher than the investment that has been committed by the UK Government in England, and I certainly welcome that additional funding in Wales.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Siân Gwenllian.
Thank you, Llywydd. I'd like to begin with issues arising from your statement yesterday on Cymraeg 2050. A situation where your Government is failing to meet targets on children at seven years old learning through the medium of Welsh is entirely unacceptable. So, I do look forward to hearing more about your plans to introduce a Welsh-language education Act. This is desperately needed, and we need clear statutory targets that must be adhered to. In the meantime, of course, we need to take urgent action to increase the workforce able to teach through the medium of Welsh. According to your own report as a Government, there's a shortage of over 300 primary teachers, and over 500 secondary teachers able to teach through the medium of Welsh. The situation is very concerning indeed. So, how are you going to support, strengthen and enhance the Welsh-medium teaching workforce?
Well, in the context of the first question in terms of the target that Siân Gwenllian mentioned, I think the target you're referring to is year 2 children who are assessed through the medium of Welsh as a first language, and the target was 24 per cent. The actual attainment was 22.8 per cent, which is a little short of the target of 24 per cent. Although we haven't met that target by this year, there are very encouraging signs that, I'm sure, she will welcome in terms of the younger cohort, where 23.8 per cent of reception class children are being taught through the medium of Welsh. So, that's a very encouraging sign for the future, and one of the things that is very clear, as I'm sure she's aware, is that the investment in the cylchoedd meithrin and the Mudiad Meithrin means that we can increase the numbers going through the Welsh-medium education system. The transfer from one to the other is about 90 per cent, so that is very encouraging. She will have seen commitments in the work programme to expand the numbers of cylchoedd, and we exceeded the target in the last Senedd in terms of new numbers of cylchoedd. So, that's very positive as well.
In terms of the workforce, certainly we need to increase the numbers coming in to teach through the medium of Welsh, or to learn through the medium of Welsh, and that challenge is known to us all. There are successful interventions that have seen progress, but we need to go further than that.
And in terms of the strategic plans that local governments are providing for the next decade, that is, over the next 10 years, we will be working with stakeholders such as the Education Workforce Council, CYDAG and the commissioner and so forth to try and ensure that we also have a plan to recruit enough staff over the same period.
May I remind you that we've heard this before? Your predecessor talked about a 10-year plan to increase the number of Welsh-medium teachers, but we're still waiting to see that plan, and to see it implemented. So, I very much hope that this will be a priority of yours.
Like me, you will have been shocked by the ugly racism that's faced three black England football players since Saturday's match. The 'Show Us You Care' report by Race Alliance Wales looks at the cumulative impact of racism on young people in the Welsh education system, and the findings are shocking and very worrying. They show that there is a very real problem in our secondary schools, but that racism and racist bullying happens in the primary sector too. There is no doubt that racism exists within our education system in Wales, and that we must face up to that and tackle it.
In their report, Race Alliance Wales have made a number of suggestions as to how to address this problem, including better mechanisms for reporting racist incidents and the need to recruit and support educators from different ethnic backgrounds. Now, given this report, can you outline how your Government intends to tackle racism in schools? And will you implement the recommendations that have been made by Race Alliance Wales?
I thank the Member for raising this important subject. I'm intending next term to publish a strategy on what we're doing to ensure that school life is more inclusive and representative—that is, that we look, for example, at recruitment, and what more we can do to ensure that the education workforce does reflect the social differences and so forth. We've also ensured that we—. We have stated that we intend to accept the recommendations of the group of Professor Charlotte Williams on the curriculum and so forth, because the scheme that they have shows clearly what more we can do, and we intend to take specific steps on that.
Thank you, and I'm sure you will look at this report that I've referenced, 'Show Us You Care'.
Now, in turning finally to the Welsh baccalaureate, I understand that the results of the Welsh bac won't be available until the day after A-level results are announced. Now, this is going to cause a number of problems, because receiving those results late could significantly delay the process of providing those results to universities, or it could mean that universities will have to process the results in two phases, with the Welsh bac results following the day after other results. Now, either way, it's going to be a problem for Welsh universities and will place Welsh students at a disadvantage. Can you confirm what the actual situation is? Will the Welsh bac results be ready to be sent to providers at the same time as all the other qualifications? And, if that can't happen, can you outline how the Welsh Government will help to ease the possible pressures that this could actually cause students and universities?
Could I just first pay tribute to the workforce that has been working on defining a system for this year that reflects the work that our learners have been investing in and doing over the last year, to ensure that they achieve qualifications that they can be confident in and that are consistent across the system? That has been very important work, and I want to pay tribute to them for doing that, and we have a system that will be fair for learners and fair for the system more broadly.
In terms of provision of results and so forth, I will write to the Member specifically on the Welsh bac. Work has progressed to ensure that our universities here, and beyond Wales, do understand exactly what the system that we have here in Wales is. Collaboration has been happening on that basis, but I will share those details with her.
3. What provisions are available for children and young people in Cardiff Central from the Welsh Government's renew and reform plan over the summer holidays? OQ56786
We are supporting all children and young people to take part in the Summer of Fun. All local authorities will provide a range of play, sporting and cultural activities to help rebuild their social and emotional skills in both Welsh and English.
That's very welcome. And Cardiff Council's organised a Summer of Smiles, centred on the lawn outside city hall, which I'm sure will be absolutely wonderful, and there are many other things that are going on, which are laudable, not least the 'learn to cycle safely' courses, which the Deputy Minister for Climate Change might like to know have sold out completely.
But many communities of people are going nowhere in the summer holidays, and many are either reluctant to let their children go into the city centre or don't have the money to go there. So, it's very important that there are things available locally for people to do. And in the context of some of the really serious county lines activities that have happened in Pentwyn in my constituency, I wondered if you can tell us how much you think the school holiday enrichment programme should be carrying the load here. There's a wonderful programme going on at St Teilo's Church in Wales High School, where I declare I'm a governor. For five out of the six weeks, three days a week, there will be activities in that school, and there will be similar sports activities going on in Ysgol Bro Edern, the Welsh-medium secondary school. But apart from that, there are a mere three primary schools in my constituency that have signed up to SHEP, which is no more than we had in 2019, despite the fact that we're in the middle of recovering from a pandemic. So, I wondered if you could give us some indication of your expectations for all schools to be more community-focused throughout the year, but particularly this year, because they are often the last available community resource, and given that the leisure centre in Pentwyn is closed and not reopening any time soon.
I absolutely welcome Jenny Rathbone's support for the school holiday enrichment programme. I think, across Wales, we have about 140 SHEP schemes running this summer, with places for approximately 8,000 to attend, which I think is testament to the fantastic work that they are doing.
In relation to expectations in the way that Jenny Rathbone was asking, I think we want to see all schools playing greater roles in their communities, and I think opening sites to a range of different uses throughout the year would be a significant contribution to that. I think we are seeing more schools doing that. SHEP is a good example of how school sites are being used in that broader way, but also for holiday activity clubs, youth services and other support programmes, and we'll want to be looking to build on that as we develop our approach to community-focused schools, which we have in our party's manifesto and which I know she supports very strongly as well.
In the renew and reform plan, £5 million has been allocated to support activities of a Summer of Fun, aimed at the health and well-being of children and young people, getting them active and to socialise. This is a particularly important aspect of the renew and reform plan because it addresses the issues linked with obesity and how it contributes to low self-confidence and low self-esteem in children, especially during their teenage years, which undoubtedly has an impact on their health and well-being and their engagement with learning.
According to Public Health Wales, there are approximately 1 million children and young people in Wales, and, as the Minister will be aware, childhood obesity in Wales is calculated at just under 27 per cent, which is over 4 per cent higher than in England and in Scotland. Given the £5 million that has been allocated and the 1 million children in Wales, the renew and reform plan ultimately means that approximately only £5 per child or young person will be spent on these activities. This sum of money will consequently mean that the provisions provided by the Summer of Fun could be inadequate to cover all those children who would benefit enormously from this programme. I believe that, as a nation, we should be committing more to addressing childhood obesity, therefore, can the Minister commit to providing more funding to the Summer of Fun programme?
Well, I thank Joel James for that question. The Summer of Fun is only one of the interventions, of course, which is being made by the Welsh Government through the renew and reform plan to achieve that objective, and it sits alongside the additional funding that supports the significantly expanded school holiday enrichment programme that we've just been talking about. And that provides, as I was saying, approximately 8,000 places across Wales for this summer through the SHEP programme alone. But it's one of a range of interventions. On the point that he makes about childhood obesity, part of our network of healthy schools is looking at the moment at extending its provision into an active education offer, working with Sport Wales and with the Arts Council of Wales to develop additional school day sports facilities and cultural activities, which I think is driving at exactly the point that he raises in his question—supporting the health of our learners—alongside developments such as the daily active offer, which is part of that strategy, which also supports better learning amongst our learners about their own health. And that drives at exactly the same sorts of objectives that he's asking about.
4. What steps will the Minister take to minimise lost school time during the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56772
There are a range of measures in place to both support learning and minimise lost time. We have committed over £150 million in additional investments to support learners and practitioners. And I also wrote to schools last Friday outlining measures to seek to minimise the numbers of those pupils self-isolating.
Thank you for that, Minister. I think, as we heard earlier, there's obviously widespread concern regarding the amount of school time lost because of the pandemic. Obviously, that's widely shared across Wales—parents, teachers and the whole school teams, as well as, I think, Senedd Members and Welsh Government. It is very alarming that all that time has been lost, and I think we did see a patchy performance in schools in terms of learning at home and, indeed, more school time lost in some schools than others. Part of that, obviously, is due to the pattern of the pandemic, but there may be other factors as well.
I'm just wondering, Minister, given that experience, given that we could see further waves in the autumn and beyond, what lessons have been learnt so that if we do have to have a return to learning at home to some extent, will that be much more consistent and top quality right across Wales. And looking at the longer term—and I know Welsh Government is looking at the length of the summer holidays—what is the latest Government thinking on those long summer holidays, particularly given that I think quite a number of schools in Wales at the moment will have summer holidays of some 7.5 weeks, if teacher training and INSET days are added to the summer holidays themselves?
On that last point, in relation to INSET dates and so on, obviously, we expect schools to look carefully at when those are scheduled and to provide parents with as much notice as possible of that. On the Member's broader point in relation to the experience of the last year, clearly, schools have adapted at speed to be able to provide support to learners in a home setting, and to provide support to their parents and carers in doing that as well. And I think, over the course of the last year, the quality of resources and the consistency has improved, as you would expect, very significantly. There are things, I think, that can be learned for future pedagogy generally in terms of blended learning there, and I hope we'll be able to make sure that those innovations are captured where they've been able to bring additional flexibilities and additional assets to schools.
I just want to be clear, though, that the intention in the arrangements that I've advised heads of last week is to recognise, essentially, that bubbles have played an important part in reducing contacts between learners, but, as we've moved through the pandemic, we've learnt that they can be a blunt tool, effectively. And so, that is what lies behind the recommendation that contact groups will no longer be part of school life, and the very point of that is in order to minimise the number of learners self-isolating unnecessarily, if I can put it like that, by asking our colleagues in the test, trace and protect system to provide specific advice to schools in relation to those matters.
Good afternoon, Minister. One of the most devastating impacts of the pandemic—of course, aside from the tragic loss of life—has been the damage done to the educational and emotional development of our schoolchildren. In my constituency, the Vale of Clwyd, we have seen entire schools close as a result of a few cases of COVID-19, often at times as a result of asymptomatic transmission picked up by testing whole year groups that have been sent home to isolate. Not only is this disruptive to the child's education, but also unnecessary. I'm glad you have finally changed the guidance, but, Minister, how will you ensure that children in the Vale of Clwyd catch up on all the schooling they've lost out on as a result of the Welsh Government's previous policies? Thank you very much.
Well, I think the Member's question is incredibly unfair in the way that he ends it. We've been facing the most extraordinary circumstances in our school system, as in all other parts of Wales and across the UK—indeed, internationally—and I actually want to pay tribute to the teaching and educational workforce for the work they have done to minimise that disruption, against very, very serious odds, and I think they've developed incredibly innovative and flexible ways of supporting our learners in very difficult circumstances.
He talks about 'catching up' in his question. That is not the language that we use in the way that we describe the task that lies ahead. What we do not want is a deficit model where children are told they have fallen behind. What we want to do is to encourage our students to re-engage with those skills that enable them to be effective learners—about motivation, confidence, and a sense of being able to learn and engage with each other. Those are the principles we want to have guiding our recovery in Wales, and those are the principles that underpin the renew and reform plan and funding that I've announced.
Picking up on that precise point, Minister, I worry about how often we all use the term 'lost' when we're talking about learning or experiences for young people because of the pandemic. There's a danger that if young people keep hearing this word 'lost' in relation to themselves, they'll think that they're broken or that something has gone that can't be recovered, and I think what this generation of young people is is resilient. They have gone through a lot, but it's our job and the job of society to make sure that they're supported now and that they can recover a sense of joy in learning and in life—so, making sure that assessments are conducted in a way that motivates children to grow, not to worry about lower expectations or how much there is to make up. So, what work, building on what you've just said, Minister, is going on in Government to ensure that children and young people recover from the past year and that no-one, in lessons or outside the classroom, will feel the weight of this 'lost' label on their back?
That is entirely the principle that underpins the renew and reform plan that we announced a few weeks ago, and I completely echo what Delyth Jewell says. We do not want learners to feel that loss is how we define the last year. We want to recognise the challenges that learners have faced, but to work with them and support them in how they move forward. That is the principle that underpins how we want to do that, and I think that's very much what's happening at a school level. One of the flexibilities, if you like, in that programme, is that it allows school leaders to make those judgments about how best to deploy that funding. We know there are particular cohorts that need particular support in the coming years—so, early years learners, those post-16 learners, disadvantaged learners—and all need different kinds of support, and the renew and reform plan enables schools to make those judgments, reflecting the needs of their particular cohorts.
5. What are the Welsh Government's plans for incentivising colleges to retain agricultural and environmental courses? OQ56767
A range of agricultural and environmental courses are available across a network of colleges in Wales. A collaborative, sector-wide approach is necessary to ensure provision across all land-based and related courses supports the changing demands and local economies, and that these embrace the diversification challenges of the sector.
I thank the Minister for that response. I've raised this question as I believe that, as we move forward in Wales on our recovery from the pandemic and on our commitment to become net-zero carbon by 2050, we, now more than ever, need to make sure we have the skilled people needed to feed our nation, manage our forestry, biodiversity and wider environment, and that needs all of our agriculture colleges to offer the courses needed and to be encouraged and incentivised, where needed, to do so. We heard yesterday from the deputy climate Minister about the plans to plant more trees, so it's important we have people who can do that. In my constituency, it's with great sadness that Coleg Gwent at its Usk campus has decided to pull back from agricultural and environment courses, including forestry. Young people in my constituency are already going to Herefordshire colleges to get the skills they need. This can't be right. Minister, can you do all you can to make sure these vital courses are provided across all of Wales, and work with FE providers, such as Coleg Gwent, to retain and, importantly, to market their offer? Thank you.
Well, I think the Member identifies a very important issue here in that the challenge that he's describing is happening against a landscape of rapid change in many ways, whether that's technological change or scientific change, whether it's the impact on the rural economy of, perhaps, workforce shortages, funding questions as a consequence of leaving the European Union and not having that funding replaced in the way that is was promised, or perhaps challenges from international trade. It's a very changing landscape and I think it's important that post-16 provision is cognisant and reflects that.
I'm aware that all colleges are completing or have engaged with Arad Research in setting up staff focus groups before the summer recess in order to feed into a sector-wide analysis about provision in this space, and I think it's really important that that set of discussions does reflect that technological and other change and that need for diversification. I'm looking forward to seeing the report that results from that process later on this year.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on educational attainment in Wales? OQ56758
As we stated in the new programme for government, we are committed to eliminating inequality at every level of society, which includes implementing policies in education that will give everyone the best life chances. We recognise that this requires radical action, innovative thinking and strong co-ordination and collaboration.
Can I thank the Minister for that response? Educational attainment is the key to economic development. Successful parts of the world have economies built on highly qualified individuals, not on driving companies to bring branch factories for a short time. What is Welsh Government doing to continue to improve educational attainment in our schools and universities in order to improve our economy?
Well, the entire reformed programme for government is intended to deliver those outcomes. So, in a school setting, the curriculum reforms that we're introducing are designed to enable our young people to take full advantage of the opportunities that the world around them presents, both economically and more broadly than that. The Member will know that in the first year, we'll be introducing legislation to reform post-compulsory education to ensure that we have a further education and higher education sector that does all it can to create that learner pathway that is collaborative and flexible, which reflects the needs of our society and a sustainable economy, which depends on innovation and has an international focus. That's the kind of vision we have for our education system in Wales, and that's the entire underpinning of our reform programme.
7. What steps will the Welsh Government take to increase the emphasis on sport and physical education in the curriculum? OQ56790
The new Curriculum for Wales includes health and well-being as one of the six areas of learning and experience. This is fundamental to enable successful learning, and developing physical health is specified within the statutory 'what matters' code.
Thank you, Minister, for your answer. I raised yesterday in the business statement that we're seeing a rise in young people accessing mental health support across Wales. As you and I know, sport plays a very key role in helping young people's physical and mental health. It installs discipline, teaches teamwork and helps people to live active and healthy lives. So, Minister, will you look, in the future, at making more funding available for sport in schools and prioritise efforts to focus on allowing sport to play a bigger role in the curriculum, and work with external organisations so that they can come in to get more sport in schools?
Well, I thank the Member for that question. Physical education, of course, is one of our foundation subjects in the current curriculum, but obviously I appreciate that the pandemic has had an impact on learners' access to aspects of that for various periods of time. The new curriculum, as his question implies, will offer much greater flexibility, in fact, in the area of learning and experience that I mentioned in my first answer. The point of that is to help learners to understand the factors that affect their physical health and well-being, and that includes mental well-being as well.
The reforms gives us a bit more flexibility, really, to look at how we provide sporting opportunities in a school setting, including an enhanced school day and opening up school facilities for community use for that purpose. I mentioned in reply to an earlier question the work we're doing in relation to active education pilots, which the Member might find interesting, which involves working with Sport Wales as well as the Arts Council of Wales to provide a range of sporting and cultural activity to supplement the school day in the way that I think he would wish to see.
Finally, question 8, Tom Giffard.
8. Will the Minister provide an update on the role of regional education consortia? OQ56783
Regional consortia play a central role in supporting schools to improve and deliver the new curriculum, including through professional learning and direct engagement. I am meeting with the consortia this week to discuss how they can continue to best support schools as we renew and reform education in Wales.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Unfortunately, as you'll be aware, Education through Regional Working, or the ERW regional education consortium, is in a bit of a mess. Senior councillors from member authorities have been scathing in the press about the organisation, with Swansea Labour Councillor Jennifer Rayner describing working with ERW over the last few years as being extremely difficult, and Neath Port Talbot Labour Councillor Rob Jones—in your own constituency, Minister—even going so far as to say,
'I have a belief that more and more people are realising that the education consortiums, as they stand, are currently not fit for purpose in delivering education improvements.'
To compound things further, we now know Neath Port Talbot has withdrawn from the consortium, and Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Swansea councils have all issued withdrawal notices to state their intention to withdraw from this consortium too, meaning that four out of the six councils involved have either withdrawn or say they will do so.
So, can the Minister inform the Senedd how the relationships between ERW and its member councils collapsed so disastrously? Does the Minister agree with his colleague in Neath Port Talbot that the consortia are currently not fit for purpose? Can he update us on any future plans for regional consortia in these areas?
Well, I think, given the scale of the challenges faced by all in the education system as we renew and reform after the pandemic, regional, collaborative and co-ordinated working has to be a key feature of how we support schools across Wales. I think that kind of working will be at its most effective when it is voluntary and driven by local authorities with a clear shared vision of its benefits; that's not the only way of doing it, but I think it's the best way of doing it. So, I want to encourage that, wherever possible, and encourage the local authorities in the ERW region, of course, to continue together to work in that spirit.
I'm obviously aware of ongoing discussions and changes to regional working in the ERW region. I think that principle of collaborative working is very important, and I would wish to see that continue. My officials are continuing to engage with all of the six local authorities in south-west and mid Wales in order to understand their plans, and to ensure they'll continue to be able to deliver on our expectations, as a Government, in their support for education reform.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is a statement by the First Minister on the coronavirus control plan. First Minister.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. In this statement, I want to deal with four significant issues arising from the coronavirus crisis, and they are interlocking. In the first place, I will set out the Government’s assessment of the situation in Wales in terms of public health. I will then outline the changes to public health regulations in Wales that the Government intends to introduce from Saturday next, 17 July. The third strand of the statement deals with changes that lie beyond next Saturday. I will detail the components of an alert level 0 that will be introduced, if the public health position were to allow such changes, on Saturday 7 August. Finally, I want to confirm the Government’s plans to amend the requirements in terms of self-isolation in Wales for international travellers and in domestic contexts.
Llywydd, I make this latest statement on the public health emergency here in Wales at a point of enormous uncertainty and complexity. Coronavirus cases are rising across the whole of Wales. In a short number of weeks, three small clusters of cases of the new delta variant have multiplied rapidly. Yesterday alone, over 1,000 new cases of coronavirus were reported across Wales. This fast-moving variant is in every part of our country and spreading quickly. It is the dominant form of the virus in Wales, just as it has become the dominant form in the United Kingdom and in many other countries in Europe. There can be no doubt that we are experiencing the anticipated third wave of this pandemic, with the rate in Wales rising overnight to 145 cases per 100,000 people.
In a moment, I will set out some reasons for greater optimism in dealing with this third wave than either of its predecessors, but I want to leave Members in no doubt at all that community prevalence on this scale brings with it a set of real dangers that no responsible Government or Senedd should ignore. Our technical advisory group now says that the prevalence of infection in Wales will remain extremely high for at least the rest of this summer. That level of circulation of the virus will increase the risk of new variants emerging; increase the risk of the virus re-entering hospitals, care homes and other closed settings; it will increase the risk that the virus will move from younger to older people, repeating the pattern of both waves 1 and 2; it will increase the number of people suffering from long COVID; it will increase workforce absences, including in our key public services, and it will place greater strain on our test, trace, protect service and the genomic sequencing service, making the identification of new variants more difficult.
What, then, Llywydd, are the countervailing factors? Well, first and foremost, vaccination, and particularly our high rates of vaccination in Wales, is changing our relationship with the virus, and doing so faster than any other UK nation. Today, more than 73 per cent of all adults in Wales have received two doses of the vaccine. The figure in England and Scotland is 66 per cent, and it is 65 per cent in Northern Ireland. The rising tide of cases has not translated into higher rates of serious illnesses, hospital admissions and deaths in the same way that it did during the first wave or in the winter, and that is because of vaccination. I want to put on record again my thanks to all those people who have worked so hard to plan and run this highly successful programme.
The second way in which the position is more promising in this third wave is the way we have lived, and that has left some positive legacy. The Office for National Statistics's weekly estimate states that, of all the four home nations, Wales has the highest level of acquired immunity, and that now stands at 92 per cent of the whole population. Thirdly, we have the defence of the TTP system. In the week ending 3 July, 95 per cent of index cases eligible for follow-up were contacted within 24 hours, and 93 per cent of their contacts were traced.
Llywydd, that is the context in which the Cabinet has completed our three-weekly review of coronavirus restrictions. Our assessment is that, taking all these factors—negative and positive together—we can now proceed to a full level 1 set of regulations. This means that, from 17 July, from Saturday, up to six people will be able to meet indoors in private homes and holiday accommodation; organised indoor events for up to 1,000 people seated or 200 people standing will be able to take place, following a risk assessment; and that ice rinks will be able to re-open. And we believe we can go a step further as we move to the new alert level 0, and that we will be able to introduce alert level 0 levels of restrictions for outdoor events and gatherings, also from 17 July. We will therefore remove the limits on the number of people who can gather outdoors. Outdoor premises and events will have more flexibility around physical distancing. This will continue, though, to be one of the mitigations to be considered in carrying out and implementing risk assessments. We are able to do this because of our long-standing conclusion that the risk of transmission outdoors is much lower than indoors, and because we need to take advantage of the summer period. At the same time, from 17 July, the regulations will also change to allow up to 30 people from organisations such as the Urdd, Brownies or Scouts to attend residential centres over the summer holidays.
Llywydd, today we are also publishing an updated version of our coronavirus control plan, which sets out more broadly how we can move beyond the current alert level 1 to a new alert level 0. The Cabinet's intention is that Wales should move to alert level 0 on 7 August, provided the public health position in three weeks' time still allows us to do so. I emphasise today, as I always do, the importance of that proviso. In a position where public health challenges remain so volatile, we will assess and reassess the position on 7 August, but with the intention that Wales should move to alert level 0, provided the public health position remains as it is today.
At alert level 0, we have focused on retaining those restrictions that help people to keep safe, but have the smallest detrimental effect on their wider physical and emotional health. At level 0, therefore, there will be no legal limits on the number of people who can meet others, including in private homes, public places or at events, and at alert level 0, all businesses and premises will be open.
Llywydd, life will have returned, very substantially, to how it was before the coronavirus pandemic began, but here in Wales, we will not abandon all those measures that have done so much to keep us all safe. At alert level 0, and from 7 August, therefore, people should continue to work from home wherever possible. Where a return to the workplace is necessary, we will continue to ensure that COVID risk assessments will be a legal requirement for businesses, employers and event organisers. It will be a legal requirement that these assessments are drawn up with the involvement of employees, and the mitigating measures set out in those risk assessments must be implemented. In Wales, as well, Llywydd, at alert level 0, face coverings will continue to be a legal requirement on public transport, in health and care settings and in all indoor public places, with the exception of education settings and hospitality. The aim of the Government will be gradually to ease these requirements as the risk of coronavirus decreases.
Finally, Llywydd, I turn to two further changes to self-isolation requirements. I much regret the decision of the UK Government to remove the requirement for doubly vaccinated travellers returning from amber list countries to self-isolate. The risk of reimportation of coronavirus from other parts of the world, and especially new variants, has not gone away. The removal of a defence against that risk, and especially at a time when the virus is in such rapid circulation, is very difficult to understand. But, because the vast majority of international travel to and from Wales is via England, it is, as our chief medical officer says, untenable for us not to do the same thing. We will therefore remove the requirement for all adults who have had two NHS COVID vaccines, and for under 18 year-olds, to self-isolate on their return from amber list countries, and we will remove those requirements from 19 July. However, Llywydd, we continue to advise against all but essential travel abroad, and we continue to strongly recommend people to holiday at home this summer.
I turn now to the position in relation to domestic self-isolation. Here, the Cabinet has decided that, during the next three-week cycle, which begins on 7 August, we will remove the requirement for people who have been fully vaccinated to self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive. There is still work to be done before these changes can come into force, for example in adjusting our TTP system and putting in place arrangements for those who work in health and care settings. Self-isolation will continue to play a very important role in breaking the chain of transmission for anyone who has symptoms of the virus, anyone who tests positive and anyone who has not had two doses of the vaccine.
Llywydd, coronavirus has not gone away. Whatever the coming weeks and months hold, the simple measures that have helped to keep us all safe throughout the pandemic will continue to protect us all: keeping your distance, meeting outdoors, being in well-ventilated places, avoiding crowded places where possible, wearing a face covering where it's not, and good hand hygiene.
If we follow these simple steps, we can work together to keep coronavirus under control and prevent this third wave from growing too high. All of the evidence suggests that new variants, which may not respond to the vaccines, are more likely to emerge when cases of coronavirus are at high levels. It remains vital that we continue to work together to keep each other safe and to keep Wales safe as well. Thank you very much.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon, and, indeed, for the briefing that the health Minister offered leaders of the opposition parties this morning, as well, which, obviously, has informed our thinking in relation to this statement. You are the First Minister, and I am the leader of the largest opposition group, the people of Wales spoke, and, to be fair, they endorsed the approach that the Welsh Government have taken. I have disagreed with that approach on many occasions, but democracy is a wonderful thing; the largest party forms the Government and sets the tone and sets the direction.
You are quite right to identify that we are still in the middle of many challenging periods of time that we're going to face with the COVID crisis at the moment, in particular around new variants. I personally would have liked to have seen greater speed and greater urgency in bringing some of these measures forward, but I appreciate the difficult decisions that the Cabinet have had to take based on the scientific evidence that they've had before them. That's what will inform the questions that I will put to you today, if I may, First Minister.
You highlight in your statement three restrictions that will remain in place after 7 August. I will deal with it as if it's a plan so we get to level 0, because I appreciate there are still considerations to be taken. Will there be any other restrictions that will be in place when we get to level 0, or are those the only three restrictions that we can expect to remain in place if the conditions are met on that assessment by the Cabinet for their release on 7 August?
When it comes to face masks, what tests will you be using to move away from the mandatory direction that will be put in place to keep face masks in place for use in many settings here in Wales? Because I'm sure we'd all like to move, if it was safe to do so, to an environment that was pre COVID and face masks were not the normality that we currently see. So, what tests will you put in place to make sure that we can have confidence that we will move into that area where face masks won't be mandatory?
When it comes to self-isolation, we can see the effects that are currently happening with self-isolation, in particular the effects it's having on business and services as we remove restrictions. You talk in the statement about TTP provision and the improvements needed and changes needed in TTP provision. Can you highlight what changes are required so we can move to an environment where self-isolation doesn't have so much of an effect on the economy and on our services?
Risk assessments will be a legal requirement. Will these be sector by sector, or will there be a uniform approach? I think that's important to understand, because I'm sure, as Members, we will get quite a bit of correspondence from people within our regions and constituencies on how these risk assessments are going to be undertaken. So, will they be sector by sector, or will it be a uniform approach, with a standard template that businesses and operators will have to comply with?
We are seeing rising infection rates; what's the modelling and what does that show as the effect on the NHS, going forward, as we go into the summer? I'm sure the First Minister does have access to that modelling, and I think it's important for us to understand with these restrictions being lifted what effect we are expecting to see on the NHS, because ultimately these restrictions were put in place to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.
Finally, First Minister, if we do see spikes—and I think invariably we will see spikes, regrettably—will you deal with the spikes via local restrictions or national restrictions, and will those national restrictions ultimately involve the draconian measures we have seen of previous lockdown procedures in Wales—the first and second lockdown—or are we in a zone where, with the success of the vaccination programme and the immunisation that has gone on across Wales and the immunity levels that we see, we will not be looking backwards and thinking we'll be seeing lockdown one and lockdown two repeated in the autumn? Thank you, First Minister.
I thank the leader of the opposition for those very constructive questions. I'll do my best to answer them all briefly. Provided that the public health situation remains as it is, then the restrictions that I've outlined this afternoon, as set out in the coronavirus control plan, are the restrictions that we envisage. I don't envisage more than that, but that does depend on the public health situation remaining as favourable as it is today.
On face coverings, we will use the same set of tests that we have set out in previous iterations of the coronavirus control plan, and that means that we don't rely on a single measure, we rely on a rounded set of measures that include prevalence in the community, positivity rates, the extent to which illness is converting into impact on hospitalisation and so on. So, it'll be a rounded set of measures, which all together tell us whether the virus is sufficiently suppressed to allow us to move beyond mandation of face coverings. I said in my statement that, while face coverings will remain mandatory in indoor settings, we are removing their mandation in hospitality, we're removing their mandation in education settings, and we would like to remove their mandation in further indoor settings, as the coronavirus position allows.
In relation to self-isolation, I don't think, Llywydd, that I said that the TTP system needed to improve. I did say that it needed to amend itself. It is going to move from a system in which the call you get from a TTP worker is one that tells you that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive and therefore you now are required to self-isolate to what is called a 'warn and inform' system. So, the script for all our workers in TTP will have to alter. They will still provide the best possible advice to people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive. They will explore with the individual their own circumstances, because people who have been doubly vaccinated but who have significant underlying health conditions may wish to continue to take some measures to protect themselves if they have come into contact with someone who definitely is suffering from the virus.
The move to a 'warn and inform' system will take a small number of weeks. Scripts have to be changed, people have to be retrained to do it, and we want to be in a position where the TTP service has access to the record of somebody's vaccination. It cannot simply be a self-certification system. It cannot be that the TTP system asks you, 'Have you been doubly vaccinated?' and all that happens is that you say 'yes', and then it says, 'And was it more than two weeks ago?' and you say 'yes' again and that's the only check in the system. For this to have the public confidence that we want it to have, there has to be more to it than that, and that has to be planned into the system as well. That will just take a short number of weeks.
Risk assessments are mandatory now, Llywydd. They are mandatory under our coronavirus regulations, and they're mandatory under Health and Safety Executive regulations as well, and we'll continue to do them in the way we have up until now, which is not a simple, uniform, same-everywhere assessment. Inevitably, the factors that affect the safety of workers and users of any workplace vary according to the nature of the workplace itself.
The leader of the opposition asked me what the model shows. And what the model shows, Llywydd, is that the impact on the health service is incredibly sensitive to shifts in at least two of the factors at play—incredibly sensitive to the extent to which the vaccination does provide a defence against the virus. And a shift of just 2 per cent or 3 per cent in the effectiveness of the virus is the difference between large numbers of people needing or not needing hospitalisation.
And the second variable is the extent to which people do continue to observe all those small but sensible actions that we ask people to take in their own lives. If people continue, as people in Wales have, to do their best to look after themselves and others, that will suppress the number of people needing hospitalisation. If people act as though coronavirus has gone away, and is no risk to themselves or others, then that will drive more numbers into the hospital sector. At the better end of that spectrum, then the impact on the NHS is manageable, despite the fact that the NHS is so busy with everything else it's trying to do. If the dial gets set at the other end of that spectrum, then we will be back where we were in the winter, with very large numbers of people needing to be cared for in a hospital, with all the impact that that would make on the ability of the NHS to go on doing all of those other things.
The issue of spikes—we've relied on national measures ever since the turn of this year, and I think that has served us well in terms of simplicity of communication, and the ability of people to follow what is asked of them. And at the moment, I think that will be the primary way we will deal with things. We have had local measures. We've had local measures in Rhondda Cynon Taf and in Merthyr; we've had local measures in parts of north Wales. But they're supplementary to that national approach, rather than a substitute for it.
And the final question that Andrew R.T. Davies asked me was whether the vaccination will alter the measures that we would need to take. Well, provided the vaccine remains as effective as it is, against the Kent variant and the delta variant, then the answer would definitely be, 'Yes, we will have a far stronger defence.' Were we to be in the very unhappy position of a further variant emerging, where the vaccine was not an effective defence against it, well, inevitably, we would have to calibrate other measures, to take account of the fact that the vaccine isn't providing the defence that it currently does. But our hope must be that the vaccine goes on being effective, and the booster campaign that we have planned for the autumn will certainly help in that way.
Thank you, First Minister. I was going to start by thanking you for making this statement in the Senedd—all of the statements of the previous year should have been made in the Senedd—but I read now that some of this was released on social media. But we are closer to have had the statement made in the Senedd, where it should have been made.
Thank you for sharing your assessment of the current public health situation, and for outlining the steps that will be taken immediately in terms of relaxing restrictions, and what will emerge next. The context of course—and we can't ignore the context here in Wales—are the incredible steps being taken by Boris Johnson for England, and the pressures on Wales, and the pressures on you, to set a similar timetable. And I'm pleased, once again, that we in Wales are refusing to follow that agenda over the border. I read the comments of Ravi Gupta, of Cambridge University, who said that the world is looking at England with disbelief, while numbers are increasing and restrictions are being relaxed in England from next week.
I am pleased, however, that we are moving towards lifting some restrictions—it's the right thing to do; that's what we all want to see, after all. It's a good thing to move towards normality. But I agree with the choice that the Government has made in terms of being cautious and waiting a few weeks with some fundamental issues, as the number of cases increases. And I'm particularly pleased that the Government has agreed with us in Plaid Cymru, and the trade unions, that it should be mandatory for people to continue wearing face coverings. It's important that we limit the number of people who can be infected because of the reasons that you outlined in terms of the development of long COVID and the possibilities of new variants emerging.
I'm pleased, if I may comment on what we heard from the leader of the Conservative Party—. I'm pleased that you weren't pushing for an immediate lifting of mandation on masks, as some members of the Conservative Party have been calling for that and asking for it to be made a matter of public choice, which would be fine if masks only protected ourselves. But their primary purpose, of course, is to protect those around us. So, to say that we should be led by our own individual choices is rather a selfish way in a collective pandemic to look at the best way to approach things.
Just a couple of fundamental questions. If you make the wrong call on 7 August, people might well be looking at us in disbelief. So, could you tell us how you will make that call that, in your words, the public health position in three weeks' time in Wales does allow us to move on to that next stage? How do you measure the impact of what's been announced today for 17 July, and what plans do you have in place now to measure, if things don't go as planned after 7 August? There will be an exit wave of sorts. You will need to measure whether it is in the parameters that you're comfortable with. Tell us a little bit, if you could, about how you're planning to make that assessment in a few weeks' time.
And just a couple of more detailed questions. You haven't referred to green list countries. If you could just outline your approach towards green list countries. Many, many people are looking for an opportunity to have a holiday and they will want to do so in the most responsible way. So, if you could comment on green list countries.
Also, I'd appreciate your thoughts on the giving of the contract for PCR tests on people returning. I know you don't want people to leave at all, but when they do return, the contract is being held by a private company, Corporate Travel Management. Is that the best approach—£170 a pop for PCR tests? Surely, it should be looked at, how to bring that cost down.
And, also, if I could have a little bit of detail on nightclubs, which is something that there's been a lot of talk about. I'm not particularly in the stage of my life where it's a personal interest for myself, but I know it is to many others. There was no reference to that, and nightclubs have been held as the area where perhaps we would be able to move last towards lifting restrictions. So, I'll leave it there. Diolch.
Thank you, Rhun ap Iorwerth, and I appreciate what he said, and the support for what I've said this afternoon. And I do recognise the fact that Plaid Cymru has been supportive of how we have proceeded and dealt with things here in Wales. And I thank him again this afternoon for that.
To turn to the specific questions, well I agree entirely with what Rhun ap Iorwerth said, Llywydd, that a simplistic reliance on personal responsibility simply doesn't measure up to the way in which this crisis has been addressed here in Wales, and needs to be addressed in future. Of course, we do all have personal responsibility; that is certainly the case. But it's more than that, isn't it? Our responsibility is not just to ourselves; it is to other people. And much of the discussion in the Cabinet today, when we came to talking about measures that would still need to be in place at alert level 0, we were thinking about those people whose lives would be made more difficult and more anxious if they feel that places they might need to visit will not be as safe for them in the future as they have been hitherto. And that's why we think that we should go on wearing masks. As Rhun ap Iorwerth said, they do offer you protection as well, but just as importantly, they offer every one of us protection from those small acts that each individual can take that add up to something far more significant.
As to how we will assess the impact of what we have done today, we'll continue to do it, Llywydd, in the way we have throughout. It's why we have a three-week gap between the measures that we will move to on Saturday of this week, and where we might go on 7 August, because that will give us an opportunity to assess the impact of moving to level 1 and the further opening of outdoor activity. And we will assess it against the number of people who fall ill, the extent to which that has an impact on the health service, the impact that that has on our economy, and we will have further modelling at each point, which tells us whether or not the level of circulation of virus in the community is peaking and diminishing, or is it simply pushing the peak further into the future. All of those things will be taken into account, and we will assess them at every step of the way. And it is perfectly possible, as the Plaid Cymru spokesperson has said, Llywydd, that you can get this wrong. Holland reopened on an England basis three weeks ago, and has just had to re-impose all those restrictions. The Prime Minister of Holland said, 'An error of judgment was made and today we are sorry for it.' So, it is possible to get this wrong. Israel, where there are even higher levels of vaccination, removed the need for people to wear masks, and have had to re-impose it two weeks after they took that set of actions. So, I'm not saying at all that even the careful steps we are taking today could not have unintended consequences, and it's why we will keep it so carefully under review.
As to green list countries, the regime is unchanged. It's the regime we've had ever since green list countries came into being. And, as to nightclubs, then, the reopening of both nightclubs, and what I've learned to refer to as adult entertainment venues, are both now scheduled for 7 August, in line with the other level 0 lifting of restrictions.
First Minister, can I welcome today's announcement, but seek some clarification, following your statement and a post on your social media, regarding the no limits on the number of people and no social distancing when outdoors? Does this mean events, such as the popular Ironman Wales event held in Tenby, and agricultural shows, such as Martletwy show, can be given the green light to go ahead? And, also, will the new regulations be amended to allow both parents to attend a hospital setting with their child, as the current arrangement of only allowing one parent to attend leads to increased anxiety for both the child and parent involved in what is an already stressful and upsetting situation? Diolch.
Thank you for the questions.
As far as outdoor events are concerned, limits on the numbers of people attending have now been lifted, and social distancing becomes one of the measures that an organiser of an event would have to take into account in carrying out a risk assessment and putting in place mitigating measures against the risks of coronavirus. It, therefore, does not mean that it is a free-for-all in which any event can now just go ahead as though coronavirus were not there, Llywydd. It does mean that the Martletwy show, which I've visited and enjoyed myself, in the past, would need to be subject to a risk assessment by its organisers. What they don't have to take into account is a fixed limit set by the Government. They themselves will have to work out what is safe in the context that they find themselves in. That will differ, as you know, in terms of the size of a venue, the access to the venue, the nature of the event itself and so on.
On hospital settings, we published revised guidance on visiting only a couple of weeks ago. Its aim is to encourage hospitals to think carefully about extending the range of people who can visit, but it does, in the end, remain a clinical decision. And, when coronavirus figures are rising in the community, as fast as they are, then, we know that closed settings, like a hospital, will be particularly vulnerable. So, while I know that these are incredibly difficult judgments, and have a really big impact on families concerned, I still think it is right that we leave those decisions in the hands of the people who have to be responsible for the wider safety of patients in that setting, and to rely on their good sense and judgment.
Right now, in Wales, it may feel, with this announcement, that the end of the pandemic is in sight. In fact, I've had a number of messages particularly happy that ice rinks are re-opening. But, in most places in the world, the pandemic is becoming even more deadly. Whilst we've all been enjoying the Euros over the past few weeks and seeing fans back inside stadiums, in Uganda, their national football stadium is being used as a field hospital to treat COVID patients. For my own community of Pontypridd, I know this is particularly concerning, due to the close links established with Uganda through PONT.
I know we discussed and raised this yesterday, but the cases in the country have increased significantly, by 1,000 per cent last month, and we know that, with only 4,000 people out of a population of 45 million having received two doses, this is significant. This deadly lack of vaccines is a story that is being repeated across the world. We know that vaccines are our best hope of getting the pandemic under control, preventing more deaths, but companies and factories that could be making vaccine doses are standing on the sidelines because a monopoly of big pharmaceutical corporations are refusing to share intellectual property rights with other companies. These powerful pharmaceutical companies are putting patent and profits before saving lives by artificially rationing the supply of vaccines and refusing to share their recipes and technology with the rest of the world.
These monopolies are being protected by a handful of rich countries, including the UK. This Senedd must now come together to ensure—. Because there's a cost to Wales if this is not ramped up in terms of global vaccine production. And I would like to ask the First Minister and my fellow Senedd Members to support my statement of opinion on the people's vaccine and that we work cross-party to make sure—. Because we can't control this virus only within Wales. This is a global pandemic and we need to be working globally.
Well, Llywydd, I thank Heledd Fychan for what she said,
and, of course, I agree entirely about the global nature of the challenge. I think it was the leader of the opposition who said here yesterday that nobody is safe from the virus until everybody is safe from the virus, and that does mean right around the world. I'm familiar with the PONT scheme, which people in Pontypridd have done so much to support, and I was put in touch with it by Mick Antoniw, the local Senedd Member, and fantastic work it does too.
On ice rinks, one of the things that I've learnt, I think, during the whole pandemic is that some things are very important to people, even when you don't quite realise it yourself. So, even small things, like the re-opening of an ice rink, will matter a lot to at least some people.
I'm less familiar, Llywydd, with some of the arguments that the Member made about the actions of powerful pharmaceutical companies. Members will have heard what was said and there's a statement of opinion that people can look at if they would like to associate themselves with it.
First Minister, I welcome your announcement today, and I particularly welcome the move into alert level 1, moving to alert level 0 for outdoors. So, it gives things like the Green Man Festival in my constituency the confidence now to go ahead and that gives people a real boost in their mental health as well—they can actually physically go somewhere and have a good time. And I also welcome your announcements around self-isolation, and it just proves what amazing work the vaccination programme has done to keep people safe right across Wales.
But, as you were talking, First Minister, one of your staunch critics in my constituency texted me—he is a landlord—and he wanted me to ask you a couple of questions. He did say that you're finally on the right track, but he wanted me to ask you these couple of questions: when will you look to review the 2m social-distancing rule for indoor hospitality so that our pubs and restaurants can get back to normal? And his final question was: do your announcements mean that the rule of six will be removed for those premises with a beer garden? Diolch, Llywydd.
Llywydd, I'll do my best; I'm not an agony aunt for hospitality venues across Wales. But the 2m rule in hospitality—I can at least help your constituent there, because we haven't had a 2m rule in hospitality for a very long time. What we have had is a rule that says that, where hospitality venues are not able to sustain a 2m rule—and therefore the regulations recognise that that isn't always possible—other mitigating measures must be put in place. So, there is no absolute rule of 2m in hospitality, and many, many venues have worked incredibly hard, Llywydd, to make sure that, when that isn't possible, there are those other mitigating measures: screens in some places, regular cleaning regimes, limited times that people can remain and so on. An imaginative and creative repertoire has been developed in the hospitality industry, and I commend them for it and I hope that the Member's constituent will be able to catch up with that.
Prif Weinidog, the ability of pregnant women to have their partners present during pregnancy assessments, scans and around the birth is something that has been raised throughout the pandemic. It's been a particularly difficult time for many women who ordinarily would have had the support of their partner or nominated person to support them during what can be a very challenging and emotional time. I understand that Welsh Government guidance around this has changed throughout the pandemic, of course, and that partners should now be allowed to attend 12- and 20-week scans. However, only last week I was contacted by a pregnant woman who'd been told that her partner cannot attend a 20-week rescan. I appreciate that, and as you have just explained, health boards must be careful of course to ensure they minimise the risk of COVID within hospital settings, but when pregnant women on the one hand see tens of thousands of sports fans congregating and hugging on their tvs, you can understand that they feel disappointed to find their partners are unable to attend key scans and support them in a COVID-secure environment. They feel left behind. Therefore, will the Welsh Government please give a commitment that this is an area that it will address as we are now easing out of the COVID restrictions? Diolch.
Well, Llywydd, let me say to the Member that I think this has been one of the most difficult issues that we've had to face throughout the whole of the pandemic and I absolutely understand the distress that some families have felt where people have had to go through an experience on their own where they would in any other time have had the support of a partner alongside them. I can't do more than to give an undertaking that we will continue to keep that guidance under review. As Sioned Williams has recognised, it was revised only a couple of weeks ago, but, in the end, a clinician has to weigh up the risks involved, and the risks are different individual to individual, the underlying state of health of the potential mother, and they vary from setting to setting. And no clinician, I believe, looks to exclude somebody from an experience that they know will be very important to them. They do it when they have weighed up the risks and decided that the risks involved to the health of the individual are such that that cannot go ahead, and, when you know what the consequences of those risks could be, I just think we have to have some confidence in our clinicians at the front line who deal with this every single day and do their best to come to the right conclusion in what are always highly charged emotionally and very challenging clinically sets of circumstances.
Finally, Jane Dodds. Oh, not finally Jane Dodds. That was finally, then.
Thank you, First Minister.
Thank you very much.
We will now suspend proceedings to allow changeovers in the Chamber.
Plenary was suspended at 15:53.
The Senedd reconvened at 16:05, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.
No topical questions were accepted.
So, item 5, the 90-second statements. Elin Jones.
Elystan Morgan died last week at the age of 88. He was a Labour Member of Parliament for Ceredigion from 1966 to 1974, a member of the House of Lords since 1981, and a barrister and a judge.
We are all sitting in this Senedd today because of the lifelong contribution of Elystan and others who fought the battle for self-government for Wales. The journey began within Plaid Cymru, and then in 1964 he left to promote the same cause within the Labour Party. He was a socialist by principle and a nationalist by instinct. The well-being of Wales and its people were at the heart of all his politics.
Vaughan Roderick said of Elystan that his greatest success was also his greatest failure, leading the 'yes' campaign in the referendum in 1979. He did so with dignity and passion within the most toxic political environment. And he kept the flame alive.
Elystan was a man rooted in his own community, and that community encompassed his beloved Bow Street, Llandre and Dole. He campaigned for Ceredigion well beyond his time as its representative, on the steps outside the Senedd here in 2006 fighting for services at Bronglais, and in safeguarding the future of IBERS as an international research institution.
A brief statement like this in the Senedd can never pay a proper tribute to Elystan's contribution, but it's true to say that the existence of this Senedd is the greatest tribute possible to Elystan's life. We are grateful for his contribution and send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Every morning, I walk my dog along a very short part of the Offa's Dyke path, and today I want to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Offa's Dyke path. It is a 177-mile long walking trail, opened in the summer of 1971. It links Sedbury cliffs near Chepstow with the coastal town of Prestatyn. In addition to being hugely important for our history and culture, it represents one of the UK's largest nature corridors.
Offa's Dyke is protected by statute law. Despite this, it is under threat. I welcome the fact that Cadw, working with English Heritage and the Offa's Dyke Association, have created a rescue fund to try to buy parts of the dyke that are under threat, and to pay for remedial work such as clearing scrub from it.
With many of us having reacquainted ourselves with nature over lockdown, more must be done to protect our natural environment and landmarks such as the Offa's Dyke path for future generations. I'd like to thank the association and wish them all the best for their work, and I encourage you to use the path—with or without a dog. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
This year, St Edward the Confessor church in Roath celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone in 1921. The church was originally built in 1915, but was destroyed by a fire in 1919, and its rebuilding in 1921 marked a beacon of hope for the community following the horrors of the first world war and the devastation caused by the Spanish flu pandemic.
One hundred years later, as was the case in 1921, the world is in the midst of a global pandemic, but the church's involvement within the community hasn't faltered, as it provides help, support and outreach to those most in need. Its Forget Me Not Cafe does much, even in these trying times, to help tackle social isolation amongst the elderly. Its new wildflower garden brings together a diverse range of volunteers from right across the community, and the church has a proud musical tradition. Indeed, it still provides one of the last few remaining choral evensongs in the Llandaff diocese, which is a fantastic experience and I would urge everyone here to visit.
As many Members will know, the church and parish of Roath have strong links to us here in the Senedd, with its curate, the Rev Ruth Coombs, serving as head of Wales at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and its previous curate being the Rev Dr Rhys Jenkins. I believe I speak for us all when offering my sincerest thanks to the current civic chaplain and vicar, Rev Canon Stewart Lisk, for all the work he has done, and to all those past and present who have served the community of St Edward's.
I'm proud to say that the church still serves as a beacon of hope today, as it did in 1921, and I have no doubt that it will still continue to serve for another 100 years.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, which is now called Mudiad Meithrin, on celebrating its fiftieth anniversary? This is quite the milestone for the most important organisation we have in terms of providing early years education through the medium of Welsh.
Mudiad Meithrin was established 50 years ago to do two things: to represent and give voice to the Welsh-medium nurseries that had started to appear in the 1960s and to campaign for providing a nursery experience through the medium of Welsh to the children of Wales in all parts of the country. The main aim of Mudiad Meithrin today is to see the cylch meithrin as an important experience in its own right, with an emphasis on learning through play, which contributes directly to the target of creating 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050.
Today, Mudiad Meithrin has over 1,000 settings throughout Wales, including cylchoedd meithrin, cylchoedd ti a fi, day nurseries, Welsh for children groups and so on. There are some 22,000 children benefiting from the services of Mudiad Meithrin on a weekly basis, and thousands of adults as parents, trainees and apprentices. And why? Because Mudiad Meithrin knows for a fact that individuals who start to speak Welsh as children are far more likely to be adults who are confident in using the language. Almost 90 per cent of children go from a cylch meithrin to Welsh-medium education, and so many of them come from non-Welsh-speaking households.
So, may I wish Mudiad Meithrin well over the next few years as it makes an important contribution to laying strong linguistic foundations for our children and providing important play and education opportunities for them in the future? A very happy birthday to them. Thank you.
Item 6: a motion to establish a committee under Standing Order 16.1. I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move the motion. Siân Gwenllian.
Motion NDM7765 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 16.1, establishes the Llywydd’s Committee to carry out the functions set out in Standing Order 18B.2.
I formally move.
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 7: motion to elect Members to a committee, and that's the Llywydd's Committee. I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move. Siân Gwenllian.
Motion NDM7769 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3 and 18.B.4:
Elects the following as members of the Llywydd’s Committee:
a) The Deputy Presiding Officer as Chair of the Committee;
b) Peredur Owen Griffiths (chair of the responsible committee under Standing Order 19); and
c) Joyce Watson (Welsh Labour), Janet Finch-Saunders (Welsh Conservatives) and Rhys ab Owen (Plaid Cymru).
I formally move.
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 8: debate on a Member's legislative proposal, a children's residential care Bill. I call on Jane Dodds to move the motion.
Motion NDM7723 Jane Dodds
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Notes a proposal for a Bill on the regulation, monitoring and commissioning of children's residential care, including those who require inpatient mental health care, and services to people with learning disabilities or other neurodiversity in Wales.
2. Notes that the purpose of this Bill would be to:
a) improve the commissioning and delivery of children's residential care placements in Wales, including co-ordination and delivery across local authorities to improve the sufficiency of suitable placements;
b) improve the regulation and monitoring of residential care and fostering placements, including alignment with other services such as education, housing and homelessness, and health;
c) remove the provision for profit-making providers from the residential care sector for children looked after, as well as services for people with learning disabilities and neurodiversity.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'd like to start by making a declaration of interest on this item, as I'm still a registered social worker.
'They said I was going to be there until I was 18 but because it was so expensive…they had to move me back down...they waited until I got my GCSEs, I thought that was fair, but didn't like a decision about my future based on money given they had put me there in the first place.'
This is a quote from a young girl, who, by the age of 16, had already been moved to 10 different places that she was expected to call home. That not only gets to the heart of the motion here today, but draws into question the way in which we provide care for children and young people. And I bring forward this proposal because time is of the essence.
The interplay between motivators for providing care for some providers, and the budget and capacity challenges faced by local authorities, mean that too many children are going without the care that they need and deserve. Children and young people in care have said, quite clearly, that they can feel like commodities—a burden on others.
We refer to the care system, but the experience of staff, children and young people suggests something other than care; rather, it can describe a complex, bureaucratic system that has developed over years, which is distracted by its component parts rather than by the needs, voices and hopes of children and young people.
I have proposed legislation here because, as was recognised in Scotland, adding to the complex patchwork of systems and processes only serves to further remove the power of children and young people over their own lives. Legislation was also viewed in Scotland as an opportunity to go back to basics: that we must recognise children’s status as human beings with a distinct set of rights, not simply passive recipients of care.
In Scotland, that included removing the provision for profit making from the sector. In Scotland, all providers must be registered with regulators, and they are scrutinised to identify any presence of profit to ensure that funds are directed to the care and support the young people need, not to private shareholders. My proposal here would remove the ability of private providers to profit from the care of vulnerable children, ensuring that every penny is reinvested in care and staff and not back into the pockets of shareholders.
This is not a judgement about private providers; many, I know, in my experience, are there to establish focussed, dedicated care and support. But, we must recognise the way in which the profit motive of some does impact negatively on the ability to focus solely on care and not battling with a complex, bureaucratic system.
I don’t pose this simply for moral reasons, but because the enormous pressure on local authorities to find placements, coupled with growing pressures on budgets, leaves little room for the laser-sharp focus on the quality of care, and on the voices and needs of children and young people. The lack of an all-Wales approach to commissioning care has resulted in authorities competing with one another, shifting commissioning practices in the favour of private providers.
I caveat this proposal, and so too does the children’s commissioner and other organisations, with the need to ensure that change is not to the detriment of children and young people. The rights of the child must be at the heart of any reform; no big bang and no unnecessary disruption.
In preparing for today’s motion, I heard from a representative organisation, which said, 'We need to stress that when we discuss value, it should begin with the value of the individual child and young person, and not simply in relation to financial stability or the system's capacity. This narrative relates to the care being a product'.
So, any steps to remove profit as a driver in the provision of care need to be done carefully, over time, and must have the needs and wishes of every individual child and young person front and centre as we move forward. But, it must be a fundamental overhaul.
In finishing, I hope our Senedd can send a signal to children and young people in care in Wales, wherever we are, that we hear them and we’re listening. Thank you—diolch yn fawr iawn.
I thank the Member for raising this today and bringing up such important issues that do need to be raised and talked about in the Senedd. Ensuring high standards of care for our most vulnerable children should be something that we could all support in this Chamber.
When you look at the statistics on the impact of living in care on children and young adults, you understand why this is so important. Twenty-four per cent of the adult prison population have been in care, 11 per cent of homeless young people have been care leavers, 70 per cent of sex workers have been in care. You are approximately seven times more likely to die aged between 18 and 21 if you've been in care, compared to other young people of a similar age.
We owe it to these young people to help them break the cycle and make sure that the time they experience in care is positive, safe, in a nurturing environment, as the Member outlined. So, we do need better co-ordination of services to ensure young people are put at the centre of decision making, are close to home and have the right placement for their individual needs so their voices are heard. We should not let organisations, silos and arbitrary administration of boundaries harm the life chances of young people in Wales. I know that Monmouthshire County Council, for example, are doing some good work with their neighbours in Torfaen to ensure residential care is provided close to home. This sort of partnership working should be encouraged as best practice.
That sort of individual-centric approach is important, because no experience of care is the same as any other. For example, 40 per cent of children who come into care will do so for less than six months, but about half of the children in care have two or more episodes. So, Deputy Presiding Officer, it is important that we have the right sort of provision on hand to be able to manage this sort of individual need.
There are more than 7,000 young people being looked after by local authorities in Wales. We need more provision, not less, and that is why I am so confused about this proposal within the Bill to remove for-profit provision. This accounts for 80 per cent of the provision of residential care in Wales. If such a provider were providing a nurturing environment that cares for young people to the standards we have set out for them, and that is confirmed by the appropriate regulators, then why should we let their governance arrangements be a barrier to that? We seem to be punishing an industry because of failure by the regulations and the regulators to work effectively.
If private providers were to be removed, how will these services be replaced when we are short of such placements across Wales? Will there be discussions with partnerships, businesses and young people to make sure this is done in a sensitive and appropriate way? Will there be safeguards to ensure that vulnerable young people don't fall into the gaps? How will you guarantee that private providers will not be pulling out of their homes and investments early, further exacerbating the shortage of placements and perpetuating a crisis of your own making? These are all questions that are vital to be answered before big steps are taken.
It is a shame that this Bill does seem to be letting ideology getting in the way of what is doing best for young people, and it’s hugely disrespectful to the professionalism of those hard-working people in the sector who are doing a difficult and challenging job. The Member’s own briefing document highlights the lack of national framework to support a quality evaluation process. We should be focusing on that, ensuring consistency of approach.
I will wind up now. I can see you staring at me. The Welsh Conservatives have previously called for more focus on prevention rather than intervention, Deputy Presiding Officer. So, while you've raised a number of important issues here today, and I'm thankful to you for raising these, Jane Dodds, we sadly will not be able to agree with this motion and support this motion, because of your 2(c) in this proposal that you've put in here, which we do not agree with. Thank you.
Just to remind Members, it's three minutes in a 30-minute session, not five. I appreciate the difficulties, but we've got to keep to the timings as much as possible. Siân Gwenllian.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to Jane Dodds for bringing this issue forward. I extend my support to her.
It's an issue that's been discussed over many years now, and the Government has accepted the need to commit to take action, with the aim of scrapping for-profit children's residential services. There are two elements to place under the microscope: children in residential care and children in foster care, and the profit element is relevant to both of those. Now, at the moment, the large providers of residential care and foster care provide a large percentage of the provision. Many of these providers are part of a framework that provides some comfort in terms of the quality of provision, but not everyone is even part of the framework, and that is a cause of great concern.
It's also a cause for concern when children are placed a long way from home because there aren't enough settings available locally. On the other hand, private placements are available locally, with children within those placements who are very far from their own homes. According to the statistics of the children's commissioner, 535 children receive residential care in Wales, with 340 of them outside the boundaries of their local authorities. Certainly, there should be a far clearer focus on keeping children closer to home in order to support those important links with their families and communities. Removing that element of generating profit from childcare would support that, and it would remove the need to fill care homes so that they are profitable.
There are other benefits to the proposed legislation too, including providing better pay and career paths to staff, which would, in turn, lead to better care for young people. There is one thing that's entirely clear in my mind: we need a better commissioning system, better planning and services that are not profit driven and competition driven. At the moment, some of the most vulnerable children are being let down by a system that is not fit for purpose.
I'd just like to congratulate Jane this afternoon for being selected to bring forward this legislative proposal. I, myself, a couple of weeks ago, was in a similar situation where it was me, so I can really appreciate the hard work that goes into it behind the scenes. So, well done on that front.
I actually support a lot of what you're trying to achieve, really, because any moves to improve the regulation, monitoring and commissioning of children's care is to be welcomed—that's a fact. But it's also a sad fact that we have seen a 26 per cent increase in the numbers of looked-after children in Wales over the term of the last Senedd. Whilst we must do all we can to prevent children entering the care system in the first place, we do have to ensure that those who need to enter residential care are placed within their home county, or at the very least their home country. It's a tragedy that over 365 children were placed outside Wales last year. However, this is the stark reality.
Services for looked-after children are woefully underfunded, and funding shortfalls will be much worse as we emerge out of the pandemic. The WLGA have stated that local authorities are concerned about the demands that will be placed upon services as we emerge from the lockdown. There is also a backlog of court cases, which impacts upon services for looked-after children. Even if I agreed with your main point that profit-making providers should be removed from the sector, Wales could not afford it. I do, however, disagree with Jane. The private sector provides nearly eight in 10, or 80 per cent, of places in residential children's care; without the private sector, we would have hundreds of children without any care at all.
Our entire health and care system relies upon a good public and private partnership. So, without profit-making entities, we would have no GPs, no pharmacies or vaccines and no care homes. Without profits, we have no investment in services. As long as we have high-quality care, free at the point of delivery, it doesn't matter whether it's provided by a private company or local authority. I, therefore, cannot support the legislation proposal as it's currently formulated this afternoon. Thank you very much.
I call on the Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan.
Diolch. I'd like to start by thanking Jane for her legislative proposal, and to thank all those who've contributed to the debate today. I think we can proud as a Parliament that we take our responsibilities to children looked after by our social services departments so seriously and with such compassion, and I think that's been illustrated by the contributions today. The Bill proposal that Jane Dodds makes is in relation to the regulation, monitoring and commissioning of children's residential and foster care, and in relation to inpatient mental health services, learning disability and other neurodiversity services for children. I'm very grateful for the Member's interest in the care of those children who need our help the most.
The Government is abstaining from voting on this proposal, as per the convention, but I'm pleased to say, however, that we already have a strong legislative framework in place, which will help give effect to what Jane Dodds seeks to achieve. That framework includes the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016, and their associated regulations, codes of practice and guidance. Contained with this legislation are duties in respect of social care's relationship with health, housing, education and others. We have already legislated to regulate the provision of care services. We place clear requirements on who can provide such services, how they are run and how often we require reports.
In relation to commissioning, our social services and well-being Act 2014 places a duty on local authorities to source and make placements for looked-after children. To this end, all of our local authorities are members of the Children's Commissioning Consortium Cymru, known as the 4Cs. This centralised function, developed by local authorities, simplifies and streamlines the commissioning process within the context of quality and improving outcomes for children, and is much valued by the commissioners and providers that use it.
To further strengthen these arrangements, I'm pleased to say we have published our code of practice about market stability reports. This is a new duty on local authorities and health boards within a regional partnership board area to produce sufficiency assessments related to care and support. These reports are designed to promote stable and resilient services for children and adult social care across each region of Wales, particularly with respect to regulated services such as care home accommodation. The reports will also address issues such as trends in supply and demand, sustainability, commissioning practices, and enable better informed decision making about services.
To support individuals with learning disabilities, this month, we are publishing a statutory code of practice on the delivery of autism services to be implemented from September this year. The code is accompanied by guidance to provide clarity on service provision for autistic people and their parents and carers. Important duties are placed on local authorities and health boards in four key areas: assessment and diagnosis, health and social care services, awareness training, and planning, monitoring and stakeholder involvement.
But let me assure you that although we already have much legislation in place, in taking forward our Government commitments this term, we'll be exploring all the legislative options available to us. We will strengthen existing legislation where needed, such as our work to enhance corporate parenting responsibilities across the public sector.
Now, on Jane Dodds's final point in the motion, and the focus of her speech and much of the focus of the debate here today, I'm sure Members will be aware of the Government's manifesto and of its programme for government where it commits very clearly to eliminating private profit from the care of looked-after children during this Senedd term. Eliminating profit making from the care of looked-after children is a high priority for this Government. We believe that public care should mean that children are cared for by local authorities or other not-for-profit providers, where social values and the best interest of and outcomes for children are the overriding motives.
We know from children and young people themselves that they feel exploited by large private organisations that are able to make a profit from their lived experience of being in care, and I'm not criticising those organisations, I've just listened to children—listened to children and listened to what they say. I think it would be useful if Members in the Chamber also listen to what they say, because they make a very powerful case for their feelings about this matter. The children's commissioner and Voices from Care have also campaigned on the issue, and they and the children they represent can be pleased that we are taking action. And I note what Laura said: that we would do this carefully, we would do it over the lifetime of a parliament, which is five years, we would do it in partnership with the voluntary sector, with the not-for-profit sector, we would draw the private sector in to discuss what our plans were. So, it is certainly something that we would undertake very carefully.
The social services and well-being Act contains provisions that are designed to promote the use of social enterprises, co-operatives and user-led services, and we want to see more of this type of provision for looked-after children in Wales. That's one of the reasons why we consulted on our 'Rebalancing care and support' White Paper. Members will recall I provided an overview of the responses to this consultation last week. We are committed to improving the commissioning of care by developing a national framework focused on outcomes and social value. We know we have significant work to do with a wide range of stakeholders and other interests, and we look forward to working with those who want to help us deliver our radical and ambitious plans for social care in Wales. I am determined that we achieve our ambition to remove profit from care, because it is the right thing to do.
And I just want to close with a few words about this Government's approach to children and young people in Wales. I want to assure the Chamber that this Government is working for them. We are clear in our recognition of children and young people as citizens and right holders. We want to improve the experience of childhood and young adult life here and to enable them to live the kinds of lives they want and are capable of. So, thank you, Jane, for bringing this before the Senedd. Diolch.
No Members have indicated that they wish to make an intervention. I call on Jane Dodds to reply to the debate.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. And thank you to everyone who has spoken on this subject.
Thank you very much to you all—those of you who spoke on this issue. Thank you to Laura Anne, to Gareth and to Siân as well. I'm very grateful to you. And I'd also like to thank those organisations that I spoke to who contributed towards my thinking here. Thank you also to the Deputy Minister as well for your response.
I think I just really need to make this one thing clear—two things, really, actually; I'm cheating here. The first is: this is not me saying this. This is children and young people who are asking for this. The second is that I think there may be some confusion, and maybe it's the way we've presented this. This is not about removing the private organisations. This is about saying that the profit that they make needs to go back into caring for the children and young people who I believe they passionately do care for. We don't want that money to go to shareholders. It's very simple. You do not make a profit from vulnerable children.
I've had a career in child protection—27 years of it—and I do recognise the breadth and complexity of the matter that we've discussed here this afternoon. This is a complex issue and time is of the essence, because these are the lives of children and young people. The Children's Commissioner for Wales has been calling for this since 2017, and in her 2020 annual report, stated to date that no significant leadership had been shown by the Welsh Government on this matter. But I'm pleased to hear that it's now being taken forward. Now is the time to take action quickly.
The independent care review—back to Scotland—was clear that children should not have to wait until the end of a traditional government review for change. And I would strongly encourage the Government to adopt that principle. I note that work will be ongoing throughout the summer and autumn, but we must see some short-term action and changes right now, whether that's commissioning, funding or support for local authorities to begin the process of increasing public and third sector provision until a point at which legislation could be brought forward that directs profits into care and not into the pockets of shareholders.
I also recognise concerns from Members about the current provision in the private sector, and the concerns about any substantial change. I wholeheartedly agree that we cannot just tear out that provision. It must be done carefully and sensitively as we move towards a system that puts every penny towards the care and needs of children and young people.
I finish with just this: many young people live in complex situations and have complex histories. And I just want to finish with the words of 13-year-old Phoebe, 'I want to stay until hopefully the sun comes out and gives me a nice life.' Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.