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.
Good afternoon and 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 proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on your agenda.
The first item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Jayne Bryant.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Local Places for Nature scheme? OQ57125
Llywydd, Local Places for Nature is an excellent example of Government and community groups working together to create and improve green spaces, making a real difference close to where people live. Hundreds of local schemes have already been completed, with many more to follow.
Diolch, Prif Weinidog. I recently visited the Rabbit Hill Community Woodland in my constituency and the wonderful volunteers working on the project. The wood sits adjacent to the Duffryn estate and had sadly slipped into disuse following years of neglect. However, in 2017 it received funding from the Create your Space campaign, which was backed by both the Welsh Government and the National Lottery Community Fund. The impact this fund is having is profound, and it's so nice to see the wood being returned as a place that the community can both enjoy and be proud of. Campaigns such as Create your Space and Local Places for Nature are invaluable, but more can always be done to improve our natural environment. How is the Welsh Government planning to build on these schemes to ensure that everyone in Wales can enjoy the benefits of green spaces?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Jayne Bryant for what she said about the current schemes and for the excellent example from her own constituency. Over the first year of the Local Places for Nature scheme, a scheme designed to bring nature to people's doorsteps, 82 new community orchards were established, 520 new gardens were opened, and over 73,000 bulbs were planted. And that's just one part of what this scheme has provided, and we are committed to go on with the scheme, working with our partners, for example in Keep Wales Tidy, to go on making that difference close to where people live.
The climate emergency committee, Llywydd, tells us that 60 per cent of the changes that are needed to be taken to reduce carbon emissions will rely on individuals choosing to act differently. This scheme is designed to bring that difference close to where people live, and alongside COP26, of course, we will have COP Cymru here in Wales. Each week, there will be an event bringing many, many people together, looking at what more we can do. The first one, to be held on 6 November, later this week, in mid Wales, will be focused on nature-based solutions, and that will allow us to do exactly what Jayne Bryant asked, to find even more ways in which we can make this scheme reconnect people to nature-based solutions in their own areas, contributing to Wales's effort on that great climate change mission on which we are all embarked.
First Minister, I welcome the Local Places for Nature scheme, and I look forward to increasing access to and enjoyment of nature and our rural areas for a wider Welsh audience. I remember as a child having the countryside code taught to me in school, and I am sure you did, as did many others in this Chamber. It provided advice on how to make sure that our enjoyment of the countryside did not impact on wildlife and livestock, and helped teach people to respect, protect and enjoy rural landscapes. In July of this year, the Country Land and Business Association launched its countryside code educational pack, which brought a fresh approach to teaching the code. First Minister, with the increase in visitors to our countryside, what plans does your Government have to work with organisations such as the CLA to update and relaunch the much-loved countryside code to a new generation? Diolch.
I think we may have lost the connection to the First Minister. I'm going to call for a short technical break, to see—. [Interruption.] First Minister, are you able to hear us clearly? I think the answer to that is 'no'. So, we'll take a short technical break and we'll see if we can resume the connection quite quickly.
Plenary was suspended at 13:35.
The Senedd reconvened at 13:37, with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Okay, we're resuming. If I can just confirm with the First Minister whether he was able to hear the question from Samuel Kurtz, or does he need it repeated?
Llywydd, I heard the bulk of Mr Kurtz's question—enough, I hope, to be able to agree with him that the increased numbers of visitors to the Welsh countryside does bring with it a different obligation on people to make sure that they do so in a way that is respectful of what is required of them. I thank the CLA for the work that they have done in refreshing the countryside code. Teaching these things in our schools is very important, and, as we know, we have a very receptive audience indeed amongst our school population.
Llywydd, alongside the net-zero plan that the Welsh Government published last week, we published a companion document, illustrating over 100 actions that different individuals and organisations have committed themselves to. I was particularly struck by what pupils at Ysgol Mynyddygarreg said. In their pledge, they said,
'We will change our little habits together.'
And in a question that is about the little things we can do, the local things that we can do, I think that tells us that we've got a genuinely receptive population amongst our young people to the sorts of points that the Member was making.
2. What action is the Welsh Government taking to achieve a net-zero Wales? OQ57124
I thank Joyce Watson for that question. Llywydd, our actions are set out in the Net Zero Wales plan, which we published last week. The plan shows the range of matters for which this Senedd has responsibility, setting out actions in transport, housing, the rural economy and renewable energy amongst others.
Diolch, Prif Weinidog. Buildings account for just under a quarter of UK greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from fossil fuel heating. So, tackling climate change really does begin at home. Your Government is leading the way, with today's announcement of funding for greener social homes, and the new fossil fuel-busting standard to which 20,000 new social homes for rent will be built over the next five years. All that is absolutely fantastic news. But are you able to update the Senedd on where you are with private developers as far as getting them to adopt exactly the same standards?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Joyce Watson for that, and for the welcome that she offered to the £150 million-worth of additional investment, which my colleague Lee Waters has been able to announce today, to improve the energy efficiency of existing social homes in Wales. But Joyce Watson is right that we have, as well, to persuade both private rented properties and home owners to take the actions, which each one of us needs to take in our own lives, if we are to reach the goal of a net-zero Wales by 2050. Some of those decisions will be difficult and challenging decisions, but, back in September, we set out the new standards that will be required from any private house building that has any element of Welsh Government grant associated with it. At the same time, we took action to make sure that new private housing, as well as public housing, cannot be built in future in Wales on land that is liable to flooding. And I know that these are challenging things that we are asking of the sector, but unless we are prepared to take those challenging decisions now, we will not be on the path to the future that we need to be, and that is what the plan of last week is designed to do. It's designed to make sure that, here in Wales, we are able to meet that targets that we have set for ourselves, to make the contributions in the whole range of areas in our own lives. Housing is certainly one of them. Today's announcement is part of that. The challenges we set down for private home ownership have to be part of that same picture.
First Minister, in the Welsh Government's 'All Wales Plan 2021-25 Working Together to Reach Net Zero' it was revealed that your pledge campaign has secured only 118 pledges from the public sector in the last 23 months. So, despite your Welsh Government declaring this climate emergency in 2019, only 16 local authorities have followed suit, and only nine local authorities are included on the list of pledge campaign respondents. Now, we all know that engagement brings about action, and this pledge campaign has certainly not succeeded as yet. Now, prior to recess, I was really pleased, with other Members here, to attend the Climate Cymru event on the steps of the Senedd to hear from some of the 10,000 diverse Welsh voices who wish to see action from your Welsh Government and our public bodies across Wales. So, First Minister, will you acknowledge these voices by committing to bring forward the deadline for the new engagement plan so that the failure of the current campaign can actually been seen now to spark some action, and that any failures can be addressed now, sooner rather than much later? Diolch.
Llywydd, I'm afraid the Member's contribution is not only ungenerous, but it's largely nonsensical as well. I've had an opportunity—I wonder whether she has—to actually read the document to which she refers. It's actually a hugely heartening document, Llywydd. It sets out pledges from right across Wales, from individuals right through to our largest organisations in the public sector and in business as well. It gives you a real sense of the commitment that there is here in Wales to this very challenging but utterly necessary agenda. I applaud the actions of our local authorities in Wales. Local authorities of all political persuasion are taking action to make sure that they can play their part. There's a real compelling account in the plan from Carmarthenshire, for example, celebrating the actions they have already taken and demonstrating what more they will commit to doing in the rest of this decade. The One Planet Cardiff plan of Cardiff city council is a consultation on how the council can be carbon neutral by 2030 in a green, sustainable city. Rather than carping from the sidelines, the Member would be much better off celebrating the actions that people in all parts of Wales are taking, including our local authorities; they are making real efforts to get us to where we need to be. She only sits on the sidelines and criticises others.
Questions now from the party leaders. On behalf of the Conservatives, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, yesterday, you said that hope is needed to tackle climate change and that people need confidence and trust to make changes in their own lives, and yet this debate generally motivates the usual collection of think tanks, celebrities, politicians and pressure groups. Of course, in reality, much of what is needed will rely on people and families changing their behaviours—how they travel, what they eat and the energy consumption and efficiency of their homes. We can't get that shift in culture just by a top-down approach; we do need a national conversation that recognises that this problem needs local and individual solutions. The point I'm making is that we need to take people with us on this journey, so can you tell us how you intend to engage with people directly on this issue? What assurances can you give that the Welsh Government will help with any costs that families may face in adopting more climate-friendly actions?
I thank the leader of the opposition for that point. It's a point I agree with. I think I said in answer to an earlier question that the Climate Change Committee tell us that about 60 per cent of the actions needed to reach net zero in Wales by 2050 will rely not on the things that Governments do, or even on what great corporations do, but on what each of us do in our individual lives. COP Cymru will be a real opportunity to have the sort of conversation that he refers to, and climate change Week in Wales at the end of this month will be a further chance for us to bring those voices from right across Wales who are very determined to make their contribution around that virtual table together.
He's right; this cannot be simply a top-down set of actions, nor, indeed, a top-down-led conversation. They have to be conversations led in every part of Wales by all the sorts of organisations that are prepared to play a part in it. I quoted a moment ago, Llywydd, the 'little habits together' changes that children in Mynydd-y-Garreg spoke of; in the same document, Llansaint Women's Institute commit themselves to being recycling warriors in their own community. We should take some heart, Llywydd, I think; these are huge challenges and it is easy for people to feel that it's all beyond them and that there is nothing that they themselves can do, but our recycling targets in Wales and the success we've had together, through the actions of local groups and local authorities, I think tell us that when we take those actions, the small things we can do individually add up with things that our friends or neighbours and others in our communities can do, and together, we really can make that difference.
Yes, First Minister, and as nations come together at COP26, we have a crucial opportunity to make some serious progress in tackling climate change. Of course, it requires nations working together, and I hope that the Welsh Government and all Governments across the UK will do just that—build consensus and seek to work with partners internationally to make the progress needed to start addressing climate change. The message is clear: we need to secure global net zero by the middle of the century and we need to reduce emissions by 2030 to keep 1.5 degrees of warming in reach.
Among other things, tomorrow at the summit, there is a focus on finance and on how to mobilise public and private finance flows at scale for mitigation and adaptation. First Minister, can you tell us how much funding the Welsh Government has currently earmarked for the development of infrastructure needed to transition to a greener and more climate-resilient economy? And can you also tell us what the Welsh Government has done so far to source private finance to help fund technology and innovation on this front?
Let me begin by again agreeing with what Paul Davies said about the importance of countries working together. My day at this conference began by sharing a platform with the Prime Minister, with the First Minister of Scotland, and the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. That was a deliberate decision amongst us all to appear together to emphasise not just the work we are doing within the individual components of the United Kingdom but the way in which those actions add up to something that makes a real difference at a UK level.
In the audience at that event there were world leaders from up to 40 other countries around the globe, and it was an opportunity both to meet a number of those leaders but also, by sharing a platform together, to demonstrate to them that the local actions we take in Wales, which contribute to the actions that the United Kingdom is able to take, are then onwardly connected to the actions that are needed across the globe.
I'm afraid the Member will have to wait until the Welsh Government's budget is laid next month to see how we will plan to invest in the necessary infrastructure to help the actions that are needed in transport, in renewable energy, in housing and so on across Wales. We will set out the successor to the Wales infrastructure investment programme, the 10-year investment programme that we are just ending. We will have another decade ahead of us, and we'll set that out alongside the budget in December.
I agree with the point that Paul Davies made about the importance of private investment in all of this. In fact, private investment will dwarf the investment that is made by public authorities. What we have to do in Wales is to use public investment to crowd in the investment that will come from private investors. We are certainly doing that in Wales, for example in the renewable energy field, where the actions we take as a Welsh Government—in making sure that there is an adequate planning regime, a consenting regime, that we play our part in the necessary infrastructure—bring into Wales the investment that then comes from private companies who invest in Wales to create the renewable energy of the future. And the success we've had in that field, I think, demonstrates that here in Wales we are using our public resources to make conditions in Wales the conditions that allow that additional and far more extensive investment that private companies will have to provide if we are to reach the goals that we have set for ourselves.
First Minister, earlier this year, the Climate Change Committee said that current plans in Wales were simply not sufficient. Indeed, of the 61 risks identified by the committee in its risk assessment of the impact of climate change in the UK, it was worrying to see that 26 of the risks have increased in urgency since the last report back in 2016. Only one in Wales, just one, has decreased in terms of its urgency score since the previous assessment. This week, as you gather with other world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow, I hope you'll take the opportunity to learn from other nations and incorporate new thinking into your Government's policies. Therefore, First Minister, can you spell out for us today what action has been taken since the report from the Climate Change Committee in June? Given the need to accelerate progress and ensure the people of Wales are able to afford to switch to more climate friendly actions, what lessons have you already learnt from COP26 on how we can tackle some of these problems here in Wales? What impact will COP26 have on your Government's policies going forward?
The Welsh Government's response to the committee's investigations is of course set out in our net zero plan published last week. Just for a moment, it's important, because, in the way that Paul Davies said, I want to come away from COP giving people in Wales confidence and hope that, by acting together, this problem does not lie beyond us. And what the plan shows is that we are confident now we will have reached our target in the first carbon budget round to 2020, that we are on track to achieve or to succeed the target we have set for 2025, but that the next five years, the years of this Senedd term, have to be years in which we take those additional actions that will put us on track for the target we've laid down for 2030. Paul Davies is right, Llywydd; there is more to do and more urgent action that needs to be taken. We've taken some of the easier steps already, and it's the more challenging yards that lie ahead of us.
Of course, being in COP is an opportunity to learn from others, and that's exactly what I'm trying to do here. I've had, for example, conversations today with leaders from Bangladesh and from Tanzania. For both of those countries, climate change is not something that they worry about for the future; it's happening there now. Rises in sea levels mean that parts of their communities are seeing today the impact of climate change in their daily lives. Part of my being here, and part of what we will get through other Welsh Ministers, but also third sector and other Welsh organisations that have come to Glasgow, will be a wider repertoire of ideas, looking at things that have been attempted in other parts of the world, sometimes learning of things that need to be done differently and sometimes learning of those successes. Being here is an enormous opportunity for us not simply to tell other people about things that we are doing in Wales, but to learn from them so that we have that wider repertoire of actions that we can take in Wales to allow us to meet the goals we've set ourselves, not just during this Senedd term but on the path that lies beyond it.
Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
First Minister, COP26 is the last chance for world leaders to take action in order to safeguard the future of our planet. Westminster holds many of the powers to make a difference, but there's nothing precluding the Welsh Government from taking action now and insisting that full powers for the economy and energy are brought home here to Wales. Liz Saville Roberts has a Bill before the Westminster Parliament at the moment that would lead to the devolution of the Crown Estate to Wales. In this Parliament, Plaid Cymru has called on a number of occasions for those powers, and you are on the record yourself supporting that demand. So, during your time in Glasgow, will you be raising with Boris Johnson the need for a package of new powers for Wales as a matter of urgency? Can you tell us more about your assessment of the length and breadth of the additional powers required here in Wales?
May I thank Adam Price, Llywydd, for that question? I am supportive of the purpose of the Bill that Liz Saville Roberts has presented to give greater options and to put those options in our hands so that we can deal with issues here in Wales. The CCC said that approximately 40 per cent of the issues that count towards our objectives for 2050 still remain here in Wales, whereas 60 per cent remain in the hands of the United Kingdom Government.
In the context of this conference here in Glasgow, we have published a number of documents that illustrate the powers that we would like to have to help us to do more to contribute to the United Kingdom effort as a whole. There will be an opportunity to build on the outcome of this conference post the conference so that we can do more, not just on our own but in collaboration with others. That is something that I have already learned in less than one day up here in Glasgow: I've learned of the possibilities that can be forthcoming when you share ideas with other nations, both within the United Kingdom and outwith it.
Thanks to our wealth of natural resources, Wales has an opportunity to be at the forefront of the green industrial revolution and to be a world leader in the climate energy response. It was heartening to see that, I think, in the three years to 2018, there was a 20 per cent cut in emissions, but between 2018 and 2019 it was concerning to see that that reduction stalled. The committee on climate change, in its latest assessment of progress in Wales, gave the stark assessment that the lack of a cohesive, economy-wide strategy for 2050, at both UK and Welsh Government levels means that Wales is not currently on track for the 80 per cent target, let alone net zero. How confident are you, Prif Weinidog, that the new Net Zero Wales plan that you referred to will, in the committee’s next assessment, represent the cohesive strategy that has so far been lacking?
Well, Llywydd, can I just say that we are confident that we will achieve the 2020 target? We measure these things over five years because the target is very vulnerable to single-year distortions. The leader of Plaid Cymru is right that there was rapid progress in the first part of the first five-year programme, less so in the second half. But that is just in the nature, I think, of the way that this particular subject operates. We are on track, we believe, to hit and exceed the second carbon budget—the budget that will be declared after the end of this Senedd term. But as I said in an earlier answer, there is more we have to do in these five years to make sure that the people who sit in the Senedd after this five-year period can be equally confident of reaching a target we have set for 2030. Unless we’re prepared to do more in this Senedd term, we won’t be on track to do that, and that’s why our plan commits us to those practical actions.
And as I said in an earlier answer, Llywydd, these things are challenging, and they’re challenging for every Member of the Senedd, because while we can agree, in principle and in prospect, that we must do more to persuade people, for example, not to use their cars, when it comes to specific examples in particular constituencies, Members will be under pressure to take a different view of that. We’re, all of us, going to have to be prepared to grapple with those challenging decisions in every aspect of our lives, and together, to do the things that will make that difference. Our plan, we believe, sets us on that track. But without that determination, not just in Government, but across the political spectrum and beyond that as well, then that journey will be very difficult indeed to accomplish.
One example of where Wales has huge potential is in producing green hydrogen by using our massive tidal power—largely latent tidal power capacity, but very, very significant on an Europe and indeed global scale—off both our northern and southern coasts. In grasping that opportunity, is it the Welsh Government’s policy to reject blue or grey hydrogen, which uses fossil fuel to produce the gas, and focus exclusively on green hydrogen, using 100 per cent renewables? Shouldn’t we reject the attempt by the fossil fuel industry to greenwash its impact in the same way that we did also with fracking?
Well, I thank Adam Price for that final question, Llywydd. He’s right to describe tidal power as a nascent technology. It was deeply disappointing to me in the comprehensive spending review that we heard nothing from the UK Government about how it is to help to solve the single greatest barrier to liberating the contribution that can be made from tidal power by creating a pathway to commercial exploitation. Here in Wales, we are making significant investments in the developmental side of those new technologies. But, inevitably, the power that they produce in the early stages is more expensive than more mature technologies. We have to find a pathway to market for tidal energy, and the UK Government has to play its part in that by supporting the price of that electricity during the period that it is developing that pathway. We heard nothing on that, and that really does not help us to make that nascent industry a real industry here in Wales.
In answer to the Member's question on hydrogen, there’s very little indeed to be said in favour of grey hydrogen. The UK Government has a twin-track approach for blue and green hydrogen. We don't agree with that. Our plan is clear: that what we want is to rely on green hydrogen only, certainly by 2050. There is, I think, a different debate about whether in the short run there is some part that blue hydrogen can play, provided it is clear that it is on a pathway to green hydrogen exclusively, and I think we are at least open to that debate. But the Welsh Government's position is different to the UK Government's position on this. It's not a twin-track approach; it's a track to the use of green hydrogen only.
And I entirely agree with the final point that Adam Price made: we cannot allow the fossil fuel industry to greenwash its actions. Fossil fuels will become a thing of the past during the lifetime of many Members of this Senedd. That journey is inevitable and we need to commit ourselves to it wholeheartedly.
3. How is the Welsh Government encouraging the recovery of rural towns in Mid and West Wales? OQ57126
Well, may I thank Cefin Campbell for that question, Llywydd? The Welsh Government takes a strength-based approach to the recovery of towns in mid and west Wales. Working with local authorities, third sector organisations and others, we look to shape a future based on the many assets that these communities already possess.
Thank you very for that response, First Minister, and I'm sure you would agree that the impact of COVID-19 and Brexit has been very damaging for our rural towns. What we see is a picture of decline in our main market towns across the region: shops, banks, pubs and post offices all closing; our town centres being empty and the footfall falling; public services cut and a number of areas having difficulty in recruiting GPs and dentists. With the emphasis on us to use private vehicles less, the use of public transport in and out of these towns is more of a lottery than it is of a service. Our young people are leaving our rural areas, and a recent survey suggested that they were very pessimistic about finding jobs in their localities. So, traditionally, our rural towns have made an important contribution in job creation, the provision of services and being centres for business, shopping and so on and so forth. And the phosphates review is also a cause of great concern. So, what are the Government's plans in terms of regenerating our rural towns, and are you willing to give this priority during the next few years?
Well, Llywydd, we do give priority to supporting rural towns to overcome the impact of coronavirus and face the challenges that are to come. We use a number of the powers that we already have. There is funding available through the LEADER programme, and that invests in rural towns—Llanybydder is the latest one to use the funding available through the LEADER programme. And through the RDP, £10 million is being invested in the economy of rural areas. And also, there are a great number of possibilities coming from the Transforming Towns programme, for example. We are working with Carmarthenshire County Council, although I know the Member is very well aware of what's happening in Carmarthenshire with the 10 Towns initiative. And we have put money into programmes in Ceredigion and in Llandeilo, for example, to create new possibilities in the centre of those towns, to attract businesses in and to give people more shopping options and so on. And so, those are just a few examples of what we want to do in collaboration and in partnership with others who reside in the rural areas. On the whole, I am confident that there will be a successful future for the towns that are so important to those people who reside in those areas.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the use of renewable energy? OQ57086
Llywydd, we must end our reliance on fossil fuels and shift to clean, renewable energy if we are to meet our climate change goals. Net Zero Wales sets out the actions we will take over the next five years to accelerate the energy transition here in Wales.
Can I thank the First Minister for his answer, and take the opportunity to mention the new Blue Eden project proposed for Swansea bay by the Bridgend-based firm DST Innovations? As you'll be aware, First Minister, this project has the potential to be very exciting for the people of Swansea, providing clean, green marine energy, and boosting the local economy too. Crucially, unlike the last proposal of a green scheme in Swansea, this will be predominantly privately funded too, and therefore it's likely to be better value for the tax payer as well. We know how important it is for the future of our planet that Wales transitions to this cleaner, greener energy. So, can I ask what steps the Welsh Government is taking to ensure projects like this come to fruition?
Well, Llywydd, I too welcome the DST initiative to revive the idea of marine energy in Swansea. The original Swansea bay tidal lagoon, despite being powerfully endorsed by the former Cabinet Member that the Conservative Party set up to advise them on that, was abandoned by the Conservative Party, and there was nothing at all in last week's budget to give us any sense that the Government was prepared once again to support such innovative and future-orientated schemes of the sort that Swansea has always wanted to take forward. I welcome the latest initiative; I'm glad the Welsh Government has been able to support its development.
We go on, though, Llywydd, supporting a whole range of other possibilities from the HyNet North West cluster that will help with hydrogen production in the way that Adam Price asked in the north of Wales, to the investment that is being made through the Swansea city deal in the Pembroke Dock marina, the infrastructure investments in Pembroke Dock itself, the Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence and the marine energy test area that we will have through the Pembrokeshire demonstration zone. Those are real investments being made jointly by the Welsh Government and the UK Government in that instance. They have the real potential to make Wales a global leader in the production of energy from the sea. We are determined to play our part in it; our local authorities are doing the same. To return to a point I made earlier, Llywydd, none of this will succeed unless the UK Government is provided to work with us on the pathway to genuine commercialisation of these innovative schemes, so that in future, Wales will be able to point the way to provide the renewable energy that is needed not just here in Wales, but right across the globe.
5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the contribution that transport will need to make to secure a carbon-neutral Wales? OQ57112
I thank Alun Davies for that, Llywydd. The way we travel will have to change if we are to secure a carbon-neutral Wales. Significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from transport will be needed, secured by reducing demand and encouraging modal shift, supporting the switch to low-carbon technologies and through energy efficiency measures.
I'm very grateful to the First Minister for that response. And I have to say it's great to see the First Minister in Glasgow today, ensuring that Wales is represented at COP26, and that the contribution that Wales can make in a carbon-neutral future is part of these global discussions, and we can also learn from others, of course. It's great to see the First Minister's leadership on that, but does he agree with me that, to make a real difference in transport, we need to see both an investment in the infrastructure and then a greater integration of all services? So, does he also agree with me that this will only be achieved when bus services are regulated according to public need and not private greed, and that rail infrastructure is fully devolved to provide the resources to develop new services, and not the current situation, where a lack of investment in Welsh rail infrastructure is a positive policy of the United Kingdom Government?
Well, Llywydd, thank you to Alun Davies. It's a great privilege to be here in Glasgow and to be able to contribute a Welsh perspective to the debates here and to learn from others. I've seen a great deal since I'm here about the transport of the future. I'm very glad to see that there will be 16 new electric buses in Newport, 36 new electric buses in Cardiff, and I again had the privilege, just recently, to be taken out on one of the new buses that Cardiff Bus will be able to use.
But I completely agree with what Alun Davies said, Llywydd. We have to have a bus service that is regulated in the public interest. That is why we will bring forward legislation during this Senedd term to reassert the public interest. The public invests a huge amount of money in subsidising bus transport here in Wales. Do we get a proper return for the investment that we made? I don't believe that we do. We will roll back the changes made by the Thatcher Government of the 1980s in a belief that the market will always provide the best solution. We know that's not the case. We will take action here in Wales.
Last week's budget was also deeply disappointing in its refusal to recognise the need for infrastructure investment in the rail industry, not simply in the direct responsibilities that the UK Government has, which it continues shamefully to neglect, as far as Wales is concerned, but in the money we ourselves will have. At the end of the spending review period, we will have 11 per cent less to spend on capital investment in Wales than we do in the current financial year. Whatever happened, Llywydd, to an investment-led recovery?
Finally, question 6. Sioned Williams.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Government's anti-racism efforts in South Wales West? OQ57100
Can I thank the Member for that, Llywydd? The Welsh Government's anti-racist efforts are set out in our race equality action plan. Over 330 responses were received when consultation on the plan closed in the summer. These responses are currently being independently analysed and the results will be used to strengthen the plan still further.
Diolch, Brif Weinidog. Two weeks ago, I co-presented an anti-racism motion here in the Senedd and made the argument that all our institutions, including the police, need to be proactive in their anti-racism efforts. However, it has recently come to light that South Wales Police tried to recruit Lowri Davies, a Swansea University student and Black Lives Matter activist, as an informant, by ominously calling her, completely out of the blue, and driving her around Swansea the next day for 90 minutes, seemingly in order to gain information about BLM and other anti-racist and left-wing groups. She described the approach as like
'grooming to entice me into being an informant'.
The freedom to protest peacefully is a fundamental democratic right, and we owe all of the rights that we enjoy today—economic, social and otherwise—to groups campaigning against racism and for equality, past and present. Does the First Minister therefore agree with me that this type of behaviour from the police is unacceptable in a democracy, and will he write to South Wales Police and the UK Government expressing these concerns? Diolch.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I read the Member's powerful contribution to the debate two weeks ago, and, of course, I am aware of the very concerning reports of what happened in the case of Lowri Davies. I can assure the Member that these points have already been raised directly with South Wales Police. I'm assured that an investigation is under way into what is said to have taken place. For now, I think the right thing for me to do is to await the outcome of that investigation, and then to think of whatever further steps might be needed when we're able to see for ourselves what that investigation reveals.
Thank you, First Minister.
We'll move, therefore, to our next item, the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement. Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to this week's business: the order of the statements by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language and the Minister for Economy has been reversed, and I've scheduled a debate on a supplementary legislative consent memorandum on the Environment Bill, subject to the Senedd agreeing a suspension of Standing Orders. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister of health on the threshold for a public inquiry into cases concerning the care and treatment offered by health boards in Wales? I know the answer will probably be, 'Go and Google it, Natasha', but the reason why is something different. I've actually been in correspondence with the health Minister and the Aneurin Bevan University Local Health Board regarding one of my constituents, whose name is Celia Jones, on the circumstances regarding the passing of her partner, who sadly died at the Royal Gwent Hospital in 2017. Celia Jones was and remains dissatisfied and distressed by the way the health board investigated her serious concerns about the treatment Mr Boulton was getting at the time. She made a complaint to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, as anyone would do, who upheld the vast majority of her concerns and who made a series of recommendations. The Aneurin Bevan health board say that they have implemented these recommendations, but my request for details about what action was taken has actually been met with a flat refusal to enter into any further discourse as they regard the matter as a closed case. Only a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Brian's passing will satisfy Celia, but the Minister says the threshold is high and has not been met. Please can we have a statement therefore from the Minister on why this should be the case, when serious failings in care and treatment such as this have had such tragic consequences? Thank you so much, Minister.
Thank you. Well, you've clearly been in correspondence with the Minister for Health and Social Services. I would think it's more appropriate for you to continue to do that rather than to have a statement.
You will be aware, Llywydd, of the enthusiastic campaign of Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion and the excellent work done by Ben Lake in Westminster in standing up for the rights of women born in the 1950s, who have had their pension rights taken away from them. Trefnydd, you too will be aware, from all of the correspondence that you've received and what you've heard in surgeries, just how many people are affected by this. We all in this Chamber know of a woman who has been impacted by the disgraceful decisions taken by the Department for Work and Pensions. Back in September, the Counsel General stated the Welsh Government's support for these women, and did so clearly. There will be a protest on the steps of the Senedd on Friday involving the WASPI women, and they would be very grateful to get the support of the Welsh Government and a clear statement from the Welsh Government as to how they can support them. So, what practical support is available for these women who are suffering? And many of them have already died without receiving a penny of the moneys owed to them. Thank you.
Diolch. You're quite right; I have had several constituents contact me around this issue, and I know the Minister for Social Justice has been working with UK Government Ministers to make sure that they understand Welsh Government's concerns. I will certainly ask the Minister for Social Justice if she can update Members, if there is indeed anything to update us on, ahead of the protest on Friday.
Could I ask for two debates, please, in Government time? First of all, a debate on the Environment Bill. Your statement outlines that there is a provision for a supplementary LCM this afternoon. There are a number of different issues that are being covered by this legislation, and this Parliament has not had an opportunity to discuss many or any of them. We've discussed the LCMs and the process, but what we have not discussed are the issues themselves. LCMs are, of course, a means of delivering some changes to our statute book, but I do not believe that LCMs were designed for the weight of legislation that is now being enacted without any opportunity for scrutiny by this Senedd.
The second debate I would like to ask for is on the UK Government's budget last week, and specifically the levelling-up funds, which have demonstrated pork-barrel politics at their very worst, bordering on fraud and bordering on corrupt. What we have seen is Tory Ministers using public funds to support and to sustain Tory constituencies, and what we are not seeing is any use of the principle of need for the allocation of funds. It's probably one of the most appalling decisions that I've seen during my time here in this Parliament, and I believe that this Parliament should be debating these matters.
Thank you. In relation to your first call, for a statement on the UK Government's Environment Bill, as you say, we've got a further—well, this is a supplementary—LCM this afternoon. This is about an amendment that we had asked for; the UK Government told us it wasn't possible, and then, right at the last minute, they've now put that amendment forward.
In relation to your second point, certainly, having looked at the levelling-up fund myself, it does appear that it is Tory constituencies that are certainly benefiting; I think it's about 60 per cent. Whether that's on purpose or not I think remains to be seen, but I think you're quite right, we certainly do need to have a debate in this Chamber around that, and I will certainly ask the Minister for finance to do so.
Trefnydd, can I call for two statements from yourself, please, as rural affairs Minister? Firstly, this week marks the start of COP26, and I note the absence of a statement from yourself regarding the positive role that agriculture can play in the fight against climate change. I'm sure you'll agree with me that it is our agricultural communities that are the natural custodians of our environment, and so the long-term sustainable support and involvement of the industry is critical in tackling climate change. Therefore, and with this in mind, can I request that you make a statement on the steps you are taking to support the agricultural community in their own attempts to protect and restore the planet via sustainable food production and agri-environmental schemes?
And, secondly, given the outbreak of avian influenza H5N1 in poultry and wild birds in Wales, can you give a statement on the outbreak and what steps you are undertaking to support the poultry industry and wild birds in Wales? I note that the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop, has announced temporary disease control zones of 3 km and 10 km around the infected poultry farm in Wrexham, but I think this Chamber, Welsh poultry farmers and wild bird enthusiasts would appreciate a statement from yourself on the outbreak and what further work is being undertaken to protect and support wild birds and poultry here in Wales. Diolch.
Thank you. So, I absolutely agree with you—the agricultural sector, and certainly farmers themselves, would say they are part of the solution to the climate emergency and contribute a significant amount to ensuring that happens. You will be aware I recently made a statement around our proposed sustainable farm scheme, and I will certainly update at the most appropriate time.
In relation to the AI outbreak in Clwyd South constituency, you may have heard the chief veterinary officer this morning on the radio outlining the steps we are taking. This is something, sadly, that we face every winter; I think it's just come a little bit earlier than we anticipated this time. There are temporary disease control and prevention zones being worked on at the moment. What we do as a Government is we ensure that we contact everyone that keeps birds and poultry in Wales. We have a register, and I would encourage anybody, even if they only keep one bird, two birds, three birds, to make sure they are registered, because it's very easy for us to send information out on the press of an e-mail. So, it's really important that we all make sure that our constituents are registered on that poultry-keeping register.
Will you as agricultural Minister, or even the economy Minister, bring a statement before us on the steps that you are taking to tackle the increasing habit of large multinational companies buying our agricultural land in Wales in order to use it to plant trees and thereby offset the carbon emissions of those companies, so that they can continue with the polluting practices of their companies? Switzerland has placed clear conditions on agricultural land since the 1950s that mean that that land can only be used for agricultural purposes in Switzerland. We need to ensure that agricultural land in Wales remains in food production, and that family farms in Wales continue as farms that support the foundational economy and the circular economy. Thank you.
Thank you. It would actually be for the Minister for Climate Change, if such a statement came forward. There is a piece of work being undertaken, as you know, by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change around tree planting, and this is clearly an issue that's been raised as part of that review. I think it's very difficult to tell people who they can sell their farmland to, and certainly the discussions I've had with farmers around this is that they don't want to be told who they can sell their land to, and I would absolutely agree. However, I think it is really important—. And you'll be aware of the sustainable farming scheme that we're bringing forward—that's all about rewarding active farmers, and I think there is that discussion to be had between our farmers and land managers, and certainly tenant farmers, who—they are the active farmers, aren't they? So, there is a piece of work being done. I don't think it would be appropriate at the moment to have a statement, but I'm sure the Deputy Minister for Climate Change or, indeed, the Minister for Climate Change will update us.
I'm asking for one statement and one Government debate. I'm requesting a statement on procurement to increase the amount bought from locally based companies. The Welsh Government, and the Welsh Government funded public sector are major purchasers of goods and services. If you add universities, the third sector and social landlords, it becomes a very large purchaser. I'm asking for a statement to include an overall procurement strategy, including work with other bodies, and progress on reducing the size of contracts. Too many contracts are of such a size that local firms cannot bid.
I'm asking for a debate led by the Welsh Government on the Welsh Government's economic strategy. Since the founding of the Welsh Development Agency, there's been a strategy of attracting inward investment. I have heard Ministers say that we offer more than anywhere else. If you have to do that, they do not want to come and are liable to leave with few providing the number of jobs initially promised. I'd like to see a debate on an economic strategy based on developing local ideas and companies, summed up as, 'More Admiral insurance and fewer LGs and Bosch'.
Thank you for those two requests. In relation to local procurement, Welsh public sector procurement expenditure accounts for £6.7 billion, of which around 52 per cent is spent directly with businesses based in Wales. And while we've seen an increase in the past eight, nine years or so—a significant increase—I think we can do better, and certainly across Government we are looking at what we can do to support Welsh businesses in relation to procurement. We have a Wales procurement policy statement, which we published in March 2021, and we have a ministerial group that's looking at what we can do to increase that.
In relation to the Welsh economic strategy to encourage start-ups, you'll be aware that the Welsh Government does provide extensive support to start-up businesses. We have Business Wales, which is our bilingual business support service, both for microbusinesses and SMEs, and that of course includes social enterprises. We are seeing a really positive number of new start-ups, even in this tough time at the moment. You'll be aware that last week I held Blas Cymru, Taste Wales, in the Celtic Manor, and it was a real pleasure to be able to launch over 200 new products, food and drink products from across Wales, over the past year, and many of them were from companies that were new start-ups. So, there is a lot of support out there already, and I would encourage any business or entrepreneur to ensure that they do contact Business Wales in the first instance.
Trefnydd, I'd welcome a Welsh Government statement providing an update on the plans to tackle what seems to be a growing skills shortage in Wales at the moment. I've recently had the pleasure of meeting a number of small businesses from across north Wales with the Federation of Small Businesses, two of those being the Fifth Wheel Company in Rhuallt and also the White House hotel and spa, which I would highly recommend.
A common theme when meeting with these businesses and employers is that they are struggling to find people with the right skills to employ, and this is despite their jobs being well paid and there being the potential for a long and successful career in those jobs. I have noted the Welsh Government statement on a COVID commitment to employability and skills, but as this was a statement in July last year, it was well over a year ago and, of course, the world has moved on quite a lot since then. So, I think the time would be right for an updated statement on the Welsh Government's plans to tackle the skills shortage, and what they would do to encourage rapid skills development throughout the country. Thank you.
Thank you. I am aware of quite a few sectors' concerns around skills shortages in specific areas, and I think it is really important that certainly our further education institutions ensure that they are able to put modules into different courses at different times, and very rapidly. So, for instance, I remember when I was a skills Minister that it was really important that we had electricians who were able to install solar panels. The world has completely moved on since then, so I know this is something that the Minister obviously takes a close interest in, and ensures that discussions around skills—. Just last week, as I mentioned in an earlier answer to Mike Hedges, we had Blas Cymru. So, I spoke to a lot of hospitality businesses, a lot of food and drink businesses, who, again, want skills in very specific areas. So, it is really important that the Minister works very closely with our further education and higher education institutions to ensure that we have those skills available for all our sectors in Wales.
Trefnydd, could I call for a statement from your colleague the Minister for health on the use of COVID passes in Wales? A number of constituents have contacted me about issues that they have experienced when trying to access paper passes. In particular, they have not been able to speak to an advisor to request a pass, as the phone number listed on the Welsh Government website has not been working. In fact, my office tried calling the helpline yesterday and struggled to speak to somebody, with the call cutting them off. Obviously, this is an important issue, as it may prevent some people from being able to access social activities and hospitality services. And so, an update from the Minister at the earliest opportunity about this issue would be much appreciated.
And finally, could I ask for an urgent statement regarding Welsh Government response times to correspondence from backbench Members? Whilst I appreciate that officials have experienced a high workload in recent times, I am finding that it's taking a long time to get responses on important issues raised with me by constituents. This restricts the ability of Members to respond to issues in a timely manner, and causes frustration amongst constituents who need help. It would be helpful if all Members could access departments directly, to get answers to more mundane issues, such as traffic issues on trunk roads, for example. Could I ask you to work with Government officials to look into ways of modernising the processes here, so that Members are able to fulfil their duties more efficiently? Diolch.
Thank you. In relation to your first request, on COVID passes, you raise a very specific point and, I have to say, I have contacted that helpline myself and not come across any problems. So, I don't think it's appropriate for a statement, because I think that's something that needs looking at straight away, so I will certainly make sure that the Minister's officials look at that today.
In relation to your second point, I have to say, as a Minister, it frustrates me, and I know the huge workload that officials have in correspondence. But I am very happy to work with the central office in Welsh Government to see if we can stick to, I think it's 17 days turn around. But you will appreciate—and you did say yourself—that particularly the health department has had a massive increase in the amount of correspondence that the Minister and the two Deputy Ministers have had. So, I do sympathise, but I do appreciate the frustration too, but I will certainly see what can be done.
Trefnydd, this time of year is an exciting one for children and adults alike. While the sight and sound of fireworks in November is not exactly a new phenomenon, the period in which fireworks are set off has become elongated in recent years. What used to be one night of anxiety for people and animals who are afraid of loud noises has become considerably longer. With public displays also being limited due to COVID, it appears that there could be more private garden displays this year—more than ever. The RSPCA briefing earlier this week, as part of their Bang Out of Order campaign, made it clear the devastating impact this can have on animals. We also know that some people, particularly those who served in the armed forces, can be traumatised by a succession of loud bangs. The issue is largely a reserved matter—for now at least—and the Tory Government has been typically passive, despite strong evidence for proactive action coming from the Westminster Petitions Committee. There is more that we can do in Wales, however. Will this Government take up the recommendations of the RSPCA and encourage retailers to stock quieter or quiet fireworks, compel public displays to be advertised well in advance, so people can take precautions to mitigate risks to them and their animals, as well as launch a public awareness campaign about the adverse impact of fireworks? Diolch.
Thank you. This is certainly something that's raised on an annual basis. I've been very pleased to see that some supermarkets are not selling fireworks this year—I think because of the concerns that you've raised in your question. I think, unfortunately, we will see a reduction in the number of planned firework events, so it's interesting to see that some of the retail outlets have taken that decision. I'm well aware of the work that the RSPCA have been doing, and I absolutely support that, and certainly I know, when I was the Minister with responsibility for this, I had many discussions with UK Government Ministers to see what could be done, and I know the Minister for Climate Change is continuing to have those discussions. We certainly looked at what we could have in relation to silent fireworks, and while I do appreciate, as you say, it is an exciting time, and as the mother of a child who has a bonfire birthday, I'm very well aware of that, but I do think we need to think about particularly pets and animals. And for those of us with dogs who just tremble the whole time, I really do think this is something where we need to make some progress.
Minister, could I ask for a statement on support for the hospitality sector during the winter months? Pubs are the cultural hub of our communities, providing good home-cooked food, good local ales and that warm Welsh welcome when we have visitors to our pubs. But with the First Minister floating the idea of extending vaccine passes to the hospitality sector if COVID rates don't go down in the next three weeks, a lot of those businesses are very anxious about losing trade during the winter months. So, could we please have a statement to outline what support will be given to those businesses if the vaccine pass is extended to the hospitality sector? Diolch, Llywydd.
We've provided a great deal of support for the hospitality sector, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be a vote next week on the next stage of the regulations.
I thank the Trefnydd.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services, an update on COVID-19, and I call on the Minister to make the statement. Eluned Morgan. There you are, Minister.
Thank you, Llywydd, for this opportunity to update Members on the situation with COVID.
Thank you for the opportunity to update Members on the COVID situation, during what is already proving to be a very challenging autumn. Now, in my last update I was able to report cases decreasing and plateauing, indicating we were potentially passing the peak of this wave. In the last three weeks, the situation in Wales deteriorated, recording our highest ever case rates during October—over 700 cases per 100,000. We know that mistakes at a private laboratory in England resulted in thousands of people wrongly being given negative test results, which may have contributed to this rise. We have also identified around 2,000 cases of a new variant in Wales, which we are closely monitoring.
It's clear that the pandemic is far from over and we must continue our efforts to follow the measures we've put in place to keep us, our families and our communities safe. The problem isn't simply the rising number of cases; it's the pressures they create on our NHS and social care services. We have urgent and emergency pressures related to non-COVID issues comparable to what we normally see in the depths of winter, and the rising number of COVID-19 cases is leading to greater occupancy of hospital beds and intensive care units. All of our health boards are facing this increased demand for services.
We've planned, and we've worked with our health and care partners, to develop our health and social care winter plan for 2021-22, which was published on 21 October. At the heart of this plan is a focus on patient safety and well-being. Through preventive activities to try and keep people well, we want to reduce the need for urgent and emergency care, which will, in turn, reduce pressures on the NHS. The plan calls for each region to develop an integrated health and social care winter plan through the mechanisms of the regional partnership boards. This supports a joined-up approach to winter planning, covering what is delivered by local authorities and what is delivered by health boards. Regional partnership boards are now working on addressing the seven priorities in the winter plan. The aim is to protect those in greatest need while also protecting essential services, our dedicated workforce and the public. I expect to see the plans developed by the regional partnership boards later this month, and we will review them to ensure that they are robust.
A hundred and forty million pounds has been allocated to health boards and NHS trusts through the recovery fund to support delivery of safe services over the remainder of the year, which will include a very difficult winter period, and this is to treat the backlog of patients that has been built up over the past 18 months. This is on top of the £100 million that we allocated in May. A further £48 million has been allocated to support social care in Wales. A total of £9.8 million has been distributed across all RPBs—regional partnership boards—to support the delivery of the winter plan.
Now, I’d like to move on to the outcome of the 21-day review, which the First Minister announced last week. We're very aware of the harms that could be caused by the COVID restrictions that we were forced to put in place previously, and none of us wants to return to those measures. However, given the seriousness of the situation we’re in, we had to consider very carefully whether we needed to return to some stricter measures.
We have agreed that the best option now is to strengthen some of the current measures we already have in place. These include vaccination, and specifically a speed-up of the roll-out of booster vaccinations, and vaccines for those between 12 and 15 years of age. We have already offered boosters to all eligible care homes residents and staff. As always, I want to thank everyone involved in our incredible vaccination programme for all the work that they've done. Vaccination and boosters continue to be our best defence against the virus. Without this programme, the public health situation would be significantly worse. Vaccines have weakened the link between infection and serious illness and continue to do so.
We know that part of the rise in numbers is being driven by high infections in young people. This week we are publishing a toolkit to support headteachers in dealing with the high number of cases in their schools and to quickly introduce additional protections. We are also increasing our efforts to encourage staff and secondary school students to take up the opportunity of a twice weekly lateral flow test. Regular testing, together with the protective measures, will help keep coronavirus out of our schools.
In my last update, I explained the reasoning behind the introduction of a COVID pass. Having been in place for three weeks, we will now seek to extend its use to theatres, cinemas and concert halls. These are settings where large numbers of people gather indoors for long periods, often without face coverings.
Finally, we are reintroducing the requirement for people to self-isolate if someone in their household has symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status. This is because infections between close contacts have also been partly responsible for the large rise in cases. Household contacts will now need to self-isolate until they receive a negative PCR test. This system is in place in Scotland, where the case rates peaked in September and are now much lower than in Wales.
Llywydd, we all want to keep Wales safe and open, but if the public health situation continues to deteriorate, at the next review we will be considering raising the alert level and reintroducing restrictions. The next three weeks are therefore critical. I call on everyone to please follow the measures in place, as well as remembering those basic principles which can protect you and others—hand washing, social distancing, wearing face coverings and following the testing regime. Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough, please get your vaccination and booster when you are called for it. It saves lives. This is a fast-moving public health situation, and, in the same way as it deteriorated quickly, we can also turn this around and improve our situation here in Wales. Everyone is working hard to protect themselves and their loved ones. Let’s continue to do this together. Thank you.
Minister, can I thank you for the update today you've given us on COVID-19? Now, you say in your statement, Minister, that there is a rising number of COVID cases leading to greater occupancy of hospital beds and ICUs, and I would agree with you that is a cause for concern. The Government cut 224 beds in the NHS during the first year of the pandemic, so I'd suggest that bed capacity needs to increase not decrease. So, if you agree with that assessment, can you inform the Chamber today what you are doing to reverse this cut and increase bed capacity?
You also say in your statement that vaccines continue to be the best defence against the virus. I firmly agree with you in that regard, and I think it's welcome news, isn't it, that the vaccine programme has been a great success across the UK and indeed here in Wales. I think we should thank, again, all our key workers who have tirelessly worked to roll out this life-saving vaccine, or vaccines, I should say. Many people in Wales are now eligible for a third jab, but they need some reassurance in this regard. The guidance in Wales says that you will be contacted by the health board when you are eligible for a booster vaccine, but evidence is showing from different parts of Wales that that is not the case and health boards—not just one, but numerous health boards—are not yet contacting people who are eligible in that regard. Now, if you're in England, you can get a booster dose from a walk-in site if it's been at least six months since your second dose and that you're over 50 or over 16 with a health condition that puts you at higher risk from COVID-19. So, can I ask, will the Welsh Government be adopting the same approach and, if so, when? Certainly, my suggestion would be that the Government should take that approach with urgency as well.
Now, evidence also is suggesting that more people are ignoring restrictions. I think that is concerning. I think, whether you agree with the restrictions or not, you should follow the restrictions. So, my question is not in that regard, but I think there is a concern here. There was a CoMix survey last week that showed that mask wearing in Wales has decreased sharply over the last month compared with England and Scotland. So, how are restrictions such as mask wearing and working from home going to be enforced if data is suggesting that people are ignoring the restrictions? So, I'd be interested in your conversations in Cabinet around this. Clearly, when you're considering further restrictions, there's got to be a discussion about the Welsh public's appetite for the willingness to follow restrictions. So, I'd be grateful if you could give some further detail in that regard as well.
Now, clearly, if people are being asked to isolate, we do need some clarity as well. In your statement today you referred to PCR testing. Can I ask, Minister, do the household have to keep taking regular PCR tests until the infected individual is recovered and has tested negative? The reason I ask that question is to understand the logic here. I appreciate you said this is being done in Scotland, so I'm sure you can explain the logic. But, if somebody tests positive and then the household have to obtain a PCR test, if that result comes back in one or two days and that person can then go back out again and leave the household, then clearly that person in the household is still infectious. So, I wonder if you could explain the logic in that regard.
Can you also let us know whether this is a legal requirement or is it guidance? I think that's quite important. I've had people specifically ask this question myself. And in that regard as well, it might be useful if you could inform the Chamber in regard to all the additional requirements that were announced on Friday. Can you clarify whether these are guidance or these are legal requirements? I think that's quite important, if you are able to set that out.
I feel that the COVID pass needs some further clarity, Minister, given that we're now being asked to vote on its extension next week. I won't rehearse the arguments from my position; those have already been debated. But in order to be classed as fully vaccinated here in the UK, we need to have two jabs. In Israel, you need proof of two vaccinations plus a booster after six months of receiving your second dose or you're not considered to be fully vaccinated. Does the Welsh Government have plans to update the system to provide the booster vaccine for proof of the vaccine pass system?
I've also been contacted with regard to the use of the COVID pass. Some have described the process as confusing and feel that a step-by-step guide is needed. I appreciate there are people of all ages and abilities that will be trying to obtain a COVID pass. Can I ask whether the Welsh Government is doing anything to improve the functionality of the COVID pass system, particularly to help the elderly and vulnerable with access to COVID passes? And I say that in regard to some of the information that's required, such as passport details, driving licence details, mobile phone, because there are some groups of people that don't have any of those items, and there is clearly an obvious discrimination issue in that regard. So, I'd be grateful if you could perhaps outline what you're doing to ensure that there's no unintentional discrimination between people who don't have any of those particular documentations.
Thanks very much, Russell, for many, many questions there. I'm not sure I'll get through them all but I'll give them a go. First of all, on the beds in Wales, and the number of beds in hospitals, my understanding is that the number of beds that have been quoted did not include, for example, the field hospital beds and, of course, doesn't take into account the fact that the situation is different compared to the past, because we have to take into account the social distancing that needs to be taken into consideration because of COVID. On top of that, you need to understand that the average length of stay is significantly reduced compared to what has happened in the past, and there is a rolling closure of wards for cleaning purposes. So, all of those things mean that the situation is different compared to the past. But I do think that it's important for us to remember that, actually, keeping people out of hospital is what should be our intention, and getting them out of hospital as soon as we can because of the kind of infections that you can catch in hospital, and because, frankly, you're more likely to get the kind of rehabilitation that you need in your community.
On boosters, I'm pleased to say that we're doing very well in Wales, and we're following the same priorities as we did in the first round, and that is making sure that we actually do it in line with the vulnerability of people. So, we have people over the age of 50 within those categories of one to nine, but we're working through them in a very systematic way so that, obviously, care home residents have been some of the first to have been offered. I'm pleased to say that about 68 per cent of care home residents have already had their booster jabs, as have about 54 per cent of care home workers and NHS workers. So, these are the first categories that we're looking at. We're not going to be opening it up to a free-for-all in the way that they have in England. We'll be more systematic than that, following the kind of advice that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation gave in the first round.
When it comes to face coverings, I am very saddened to see that people are not taking this seriously. This is certainly not a common situation throughout Wales. The majority, I think, are still abiding by our laws. And let's underline that—it is actually a law to wear a face covering in certain public places in Wales, and we did, of course, have many robust discussions within Cabinet about this, in particular about how we enforce it. And I'm pleased to say that Ministers Lesley Griffiths and Vaughan Gething have been meeting with supermarkets to talk to them about their responsibility of enforcing face coverings. It is a legal requirement and we expect them to enforce that.
In terms of household isolation, this is something now that we are strongly advising people to do. If somebody in your house has COVID, then we're asking you to self-isolate. And if children, for example, have a PCR test and it comes back negative, there is still an expectation on them to take a lateral flow test for seven days, so that we shore up that potential of them developing it later, so that we are clearer about trying to keep it out of our schools.
In relation to COVID passes, I must say that what we've seen is that they have been quite successful. Certainly, when it comes to the rugby on the weekend, the kind of spot-check implementation that we saw did seem to work quite effectively. People got to the stadium about half an hour before they usually would. So, the Welsh Rugby Union certainly seemed quite satisfied with the way things worked out there.
The situation is still very, very serious in Wales. There is grave concern out there still. Yes, things are moving in the right direction, hopefully, but we are moving there from a frighteningly high peak in terms of the number of cases. And—let's be quite open about this—we're among the worst in the world in terms of numbers of cases. So many have been in touch with me expressing concerns that the basics aren't being done properly anymore. We heard the Minister say that she was confident that most people are still adhering to the requirement to wear face coverings, but that's not the experience that many people have. In the last few days I've had people working in pharmacies, in shops, restaurants, people who are concerned about what they see in their daily lives on public transport. We need to do something different now in order to reinforce that message and to ensure that the legislation is being implemented, because it is clear that the legislation, in and of itself, isn't enough. So, I would be grateful to understand from the Minister what kind of innovative thinking is being done around that communication. My professional background is communications; perhaps I'm more interested than most in that, but it is crucial. I asked four people who were closest to me on the train this morning, just as a point of interest:
'Why have you decided today not to wear a mask?' 'Oh, I don't know, there are not many people on this train.'
That's what one person said.
'I'll put one on if you'd like me to.'
Well, that's not what's important here. The message has been lost. That was the case with the four people on the train, as with so many others.
We are agreed, certainly, on the importance of vaccination. I'm very grateful to all of the teams implementing the booster vaccination programme. I am concerned that there are people who have had to wait longer than six months since their last vaccination and have not only not had the booster but haven't heard anything either. Again, we need to get that clear communication in place. I hope that you are right that we are ahead in terms of our booster vaccination programme, but people need to know where they are in the process so that they can have confidence that they will be protected when the time comes. And the same is true of children between the ages of 12 and 15. We are behind in that age group, and parents are seeking assurances that things are to gather pace. And just one question as to the pace of things. You admitted in the statement that we need to move forward more quickly with the booster programme. Details on what the plans to accelerate things are would be very useful indeed.
In terms of COVID passes, the last time we discussed this, I and Plaid Cymru made the case for stronger measures—vaccination passports, perhaps. That's not what was supported by the Senedd, which settled for the COVID passes ultimately—something that the First Minister at the time admitted was a compromise. But that's what we have in place in Wales at the moment, so in that context I'm sure myself and the group will support the extension of those passes, because it's clear that we need to do more. I certainly don't want to see another lockdown; I don't think anyone wants to see another lockdown. So, we must put measures in place to keep people safe as they go about their daily lives in as normal a way as possible. And in considering where we can extend those COVID passes further, it's worth pausing for thought and considering the fact that passes had been in place in the stadium on Saturday, but not in pubs around the stadium, which were full of people not wearing masks and not having to show any proof of their safety in being there.
Can I appeal to the Government to communicate clearly how they will support any businesses or organisations that have to implement COVID passes? May I also ask specifically today what work has been done to seek new ways of avoiding the problems that can arise from the fact that lateral flow tests are being self registered by individuals? The First Minister said in response to a question from Adam Price some weeks ago now:
'if it becomes possible, through technology, to move lateral flow devices beyond self-certification'—
and that was our great concern—
'then I agree that that would certainly be an important step forward.'
Is there any update on that? It is true to say that we are at a crossroads now; people are becoming concerned about another COVID Christmas and now is the time to see the Government doing things to keep things tight—not just for the sake of Christmas, but it is a reminder of the need to take action.
Thank you very much, Rhun. We are doing a lot now to try and reinforce the system—that is what our discussion was during recent weeks, particularly with Transport for Wales. So, those discussions have been ongoing with Transport for Wales to ensure that they see it as part of their responsibility to police this. As I said, we have also reached out to some of the shops, particularly the major shops. But, the fact is, we have to bring the public with us and we need to ensure that the the public understands that this is a responsibility on them as well; it is legislation. And, of course, there is a communication programme, which is very broad-ranging, which is already in place. Of course, we will do our best to ensure that people do hear those messages.
In terms of the vaccination booster programme, as I explained, what we're trying to do is ensure that people accept the call to have the booster in the correct order. We understand that that, sometimes, is longer than six months after the last injection. But, unfortunately, we were ready to give the booster sooner than we had the opportunity to start the process, because we had to wait for the JCVI—that's why we're in the situation where we were ready. But, of course, capacity is something that we have to work on, and we have to remember that there are still people in certain communities who still haven't had the first vaccine and we don't want to leave anyone behind. So, the vaccination system is quite complex, and so the messages are more complex still, but I do accept what you say in terms of the fact that people need to know when they are likely to receive this. They need some kind of expectation management—that's very important.
In terms of 12 to 15-year-olds, I think that about 45 per cent by now have been vaccinated. There are some restrictions in terms of why we haven't been able to go further with that, partly because many children have suffered from COVID and they can't have the vaccine within 28 days of having had COVID. So, we have to leave some time to pass. We will be reinforcing those messages.
In terms of the COVID passes, we made it clear that it was a compromise; we have to get this balance right. This is not a perfect science and I am pleased to hear that you will be supporting us in terms of, hopefully, going further with the COVID passes. In terms of going further into other areas—in terms of pubs—when I saw the crowds in Cardiff at the weekend, I was also somewhat concerned about what the pubs would look like. What we've said is if the situation doesn't improve, then we will have to consider passes in pubs and so forth, but we have to ensure that we work with the sector to ensure that whatever we do introduce is practical.
In terms of the technology, I'm not aware that the technology has improved yet, but I am very concerned about what Christmas will look like if we see the kind of scenes that we saw in Cardiff on the weekend everywhere in Wales, in terms of people mixing when COVID is still peaking.
First of all, could I ask the Minister to pass on my thanks to Transport for Wales and transport police in south Wales for a very effective response to my raising concerns about the decreasing use of face masks on local journeys by rail from Ogmore into Cardiff? They've implemented a series of measures and they're showing some progress now, actually, with transport users, but we'll keep an eye on it as the weeks go by.
Simplicity and clarity of message are key, as we've always known throughout this pandemic. So, on that basis, Minister, could I ask you something that my constituents have asked? It builds on what Rhun has just said. Are you giving active consideration, if it is necessary, to the expansion of the use of COVID passes to other hospitality and licensed venues, and retail outlets, but also to expanding once again, as we had before, the use of face masks in close-contact indoor settings?
The reason this has been put to me by businesspeople as well as constituents—local residents—is because they feel that that would help with clarity for people. It's not unmanageable or unreasonable, and, do you know, if it keeps us having the hope of a decent Christmas, not only for socialising but for workers in our health and social care settings as well, then it's worthy of consideration.
Diolch yn fawr, Huw. I will try to make sure that I pass on your thanks to Transport for Wales, and thank you for raising it directly with them. We're obviously continuing those conversations with Transport for Wales, but, clearly, it does make a difference when people do raise these issues with them.
You're absolutely right about clarity of message. It is difficult to maintain that clarity when things are changing all of the time, and people forget: 'Now, are we in that phase or that phase? What level are we at?'—all of those things. It does get quite complex, so we are very aware that we do need to try to keep those messages as simple as possible, which is why the overall message remains the same and has remained the same the whole time, which is, 'Keep your distance, wash your hands and try to remain outdoors'—all of the things that we know are better. So, those are the kinds of broad messages that we have to continue with.
When it comes to whether we will expand further, we've made it very clear that if the rates continue to go up, then we will have to introduce this in hospitality. Obviously, we're hoping that that won't happen, because the rates are starting to come down, but this has given us so many surprises. What I'm very reluctant to do is to go into the Christmas period with rates so high without any kind of forward plan. This is why we thought it was really important to give that kind of forward warning to hospitality, in case we're in a situation where we do have to introduce these passes quickly.
In terms of face masks with close contact, well, I think some of that should be in place already, Huw, so, clearly, we need to get some better messaging on close contact. I'll look at that again.
Thank you very much, Minister, for your statement this afternoon, as well as for allowing Dr Atherton to brief members of the health committee at lunchtime today, which we're really grateful for. Minister, it's quite clear that we will never be able to stop the spread of COVID. After all, we have the toughest control measures in the UK, but have the highest infection and death rates. We have to focus efforts on protecting the vulnerable. With that in mind, Minister, what additional protections are you introducing to protect those in the care sector? Do you plan to update the guidance to care homes, and do you agree with me that the best way to protect the vulnerable is to ensure that all care home staff and residents are fully vaccinated? Therefore, how do you plan to incentivise staff to take up the COVID and flu vaccines? And, finally, could you possibly answer my colleague Russell George’s question on whether the changes announced on Friday, with the changes to PCR tests, are actually guidance or legal requirements? I think that’s very important for this Senedd and the Welsh public to know that. Thank you.
Thanks very much, Gareth. We clearly have to be very careful about protecting the vulnerable at this stage. The best way to protect the vulnerable is to make sure that they have been vaccinated, and that’s why we’re very keen to make sure that we prioritise the booster vaccination for those vulnerable people, for those people in care homes and, as I say, we’re doing remarkably well with our targets on that—already, 68 per cent have received their vaccination.
I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts recently in relation to health and what we can learn about the virus and what we’ve learnt internationally. One of the things that we’ve learnt internationally is that you can’t seal off care homes and think that they work independently from society. They are a part of communities. They have people going in and out of them as part of communities. The care workers are a part of communities. So, you can’t seal them off, and that is the international experience. And, therefore, what we’ve done is to make sure our guidance is very clear that people do need to take lateral flow tests if they are going to go visit people within care homes.
When it comes to care staff, actually, the rates of care staff are incredibly high—they’re in their 90s—and the small numbers who haven’t, some of them are, perhaps, new into this sector or just leaving the sector. There is a lot of movement within that sector, and that would go to explain why some people—. And, of course, there are some who, clinically, are not able to. So, we have had very active campaigns to make sure that we can get as many people in care homes as possible vaccinated.
In relation to the question on PCR tests and what happens if somebody in your household—. This would be guidance rather than a legal requirement.
A number of people living in the South Wales Central region have been in touch with me who have family members who have autism and who are refusing to have a vaccine for all sorts of reasons, including being too concerned about visiting a vaccination centre because of inexperienced staff not dealing sensitively with their needs. Many too either can't or won't take a lateral flow test. And they're concerned about the impact of expanding the COVID pass to include more settings. In England, it's possible for those with autism to still get a COVID pass on the basis of a medical exemption. Can you confirm whether this is also the case in Wales, as the guidelines for this are not clear on the Welsh Government website in relation to the COVID passes? Confirming this would be a source of great relief to people with autism, and their families.
Thank you very much for that question. I'm willing to look into that to see whether there's anything that we can do in this area.
Thank you, Minister. Well, I'm expressing the views of constituents here, and many others, in saying that they've totally lost track of your strategy in dealing with coronavirus, I'm sorry to say. You introduced the COVID pass and, in the debate in this place some weeks ago, all the debate centred around the need for a COVID pass because of nightclubs, and that young people were going to nightclubs. But at that time the evidence showed that the infection was spreading in our schools, and it's been rampant in our schools for over two months. It's taken two and a half months for you to come to this Chamber and to say that you are going to take action in schools. So, I'm grateful for your contribution in mentioning schools today, but people have lost confidence, and therefore it's crucially important that you communicate clearly with parents as to what the expectations on them are when children are found to be COVID positive, or teachers and staff in schools.
You mentioned that the WRU were happy with the COVID passes. That might be the case, but tens of thousands of people came off buses and trains and went into pubs, were singing and shouting, and none of them were wearing a face mask. I was here in Cardiff and I didn't see a single face mask, which suggests that you perhaps haven't learnt the lessons since last year's six nations, and shows why we need an independent inquiry into COVID here in Wales. So, will you commit to extending the passes to be a meaningful passport?
And you also mentioned self-isolation—one final question: when you expect people to isolate, what financial support will you provide for them and their families as they have to stop working for perhaps up to a fortnight? Thank you.
Thank you very much, Mabon. Just in terms of infection in schools: the infection framework has been in place for some time. The extent to which people were using that depended on the rates within their communities. Of course, we've tightened up our perspective and our position in terms of trying to have people within the same household to have a test if somebody else within the household is suffering from COVID. One of the reasons that I was eager to keep children in schools was the fact that they'd lost so much school already, and they're paying a very high price, those children. But, evidently, when the levels are so high, we needed to tighten up the system.
In terms of the escalation of this to passports: I think we have to strike a balance, and we have to consider that balance. It is a political call. So, the final question asked me about people with autism. Now, they wouldn't be able to have a passport. So, you have to be very careful about what you're asking here, if you go down the path of passports only.
And in terms of—we've already talked about the need to tighten up the rules on our trains and so on, and ensure that people intervene when people don't wear masks and so forth.
I thank the Minister, and that concludes that item. We will now take a short break to make some changeovers in the Chamber. A short break.
Plenary was suspended at 15:23.
The Senedd reconvened at 15:33 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.
Welcome back. The next item is a statement by the Minister for Climate Change, net-zero strategy. And I call on the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. The challenge presented to Wales by the climate emergency is not simply to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and protect communities against the impact of more intense weather, as significant a challenge as these represent. The challenge is to make the transition to net zero into a set of opportunities to make Wales stronger, greener and fairer. Between 2018 and 2021, our legal targets for decarbonisation, agreed by the Senedd, were brought forward by over a decade. This means we need to achieve greater emissions reduction in the next 10 years than we have in the last 30 years.
Whilst it is easy to agree on the need for decisions to be made, there remain both practical obstacles and, in some cases, outright opposition to taking some of the specific steps to shift our economy onto a net-zero trajectory. The case we have to make is that, whilst there are short to medium-term challenges, the benefits to Wales in making the transition will far outweigh any disbenefits along the way.
Such a transition will not be delivered by relying purely on technology and free markets to provide all of the solutions for us. Our net-zero plan for carbon budget 2 is designed to help mobilise collective action and deliver a planned approach that reflects our duties under the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015—a just transition, in which workers are supported to gain the skills and opportunities to play a leading role, prioritising nature-based solutions to make ecosystems more resilient, developing shorter and more circular supply chains that reduce our consumption of natural resources, avoiding waste and retaining more value in local economies.
The plan covers Wales's territorial emissions, and therefore action from UK Government is needed in those areas for which they are responsible. We regret the lack of engagement we have had from the UK Government in the development of their net-zero plan and the lack of measures in last week’s spending review to support action on climate. By setting out clearly our expectations of UK Government action in our plan, we believe we are providing a constructive challenge, which I hope the Senedd will endorse.
The net-zero plan we published last week is the product of engagement and consultation that has taken place over the last three years, from formal policy consultations and Senedd scrutiny to initiatives like the Blaenau Gwent climate assembly. The evidence gathered to inform the Wales 2050 calculator indicate that delivering on our ambition will achieve a 44 per cent emissions reduction by 2025, outperforming the 37 per cent target recommended by the Climate Change Committee. The plan is not, however, the final word. Further ideas and action will be needed to achieve further emissions reduction, both in this Senedd term and to lay the foundations for achieving Wales's 2030 target. Globally, emissions are still rising, and every additional reduction in emissions we can achieve will make a difference.
Our plan is more than a set of proposed investments and regulations. It sets out the ways in which we will work collectively with industry, with other public bodies and with communities to deliver upon and further strengthen our ambitions. This approach can be illustrated by the approach we are taking to two of the most significant challenges to delivering net zero in Wales.
The first is the approach we are taking to eliminating emissions from Wales's homes. We could see the market was not delivering the right technologies at the necessary scale to meet the challenge of housing decarbonisation and climate adaptation in Wales. Our approach has been to use Welsh Government investment in social housing as a means to shift the wider housing market through our optimised retrofit programme. A further £50 million of investment into this scheme has been made available in this year, in addition to the £20 million I announced last winter, to test ways of decarbonising existing social homes, developing proof of concepts that can be rolled out beyond social housing.
Today, I can announce that £50 million of this annual funding will be extended for the next three years, reflecting the Welsh Government’s firm commitment to this issue and giving industry the certainty that will enable it to plan for the future, developing the skills and supply chains that will enable the successful decarbonisation of Welsh homes. The success of this scheme does come in part from the Government investment, but, critically, it also comes from the commitment of social landlords, of small and medium-sized enterprises and of third sector organisations, who shape our plans and deliver on the ground. By working with those partners and drawing on their expertise we can develop the right approaches for the diverse range of housing types in Wales.
The funding we provide will require applicants to demonstrate how they have adopted a Wales-first approach to supply chain establishment and growth. This includes making use of Welsh timber in support of our aim to grow a sustainable, high-value, high-skilled timber industry. We intend to support energy-positive homes, in which tenants’ homes generate enough energy for their own needs and surpluses to be sold to the grid, boosting household income and putting money directly into tenants’ pockets. This approach shows that, where Government works collectively with businesses, other public bodies and communities, even the most complex decarbonisation challenges can be addressed in a way that delivers benefits to social justice and local economic benefits, as well as emissions reductions.
A second policy challenge is the need to virtually eliminate fossil fuels from energy generation. The Welsh Government is the only Government in the UK, and one of the only Governments in the world, to have in place a policy position to oppose the extraction of fossil fuels. We have committed not to permit any new petroleum licences for exploration or production in Wales. Our coal policy states our intention to bring a managed end to the extraction of coal in Wales as soon as feasibly possible. We will oppose new fossil-fuelled power stations in Wales and any other replacement power plant that emits greenhouse gases in its operations. This robust stance in policy and regulation is an important Welsh Government contribution to moving away from the use of fossil fuels in our energy system, and I hope that other Governments in the UK and around the world can take courage from Wales's lead.
Our net-zero plan includes our aim to have in place detailed local energy plans across the whole of Wales, and to be the first country to have a fully co-ordinated and integrated approach to developing energy networks that do not rely on fossil fuels. Our planned approach is designed to bring together public bodies, regulators, infrastructure operators, businesses and third sector organisations around a shared agenda that we can deliver collectively. As well as helping to ensure investments in our energy infrastructure are efficient and maximise local benefit, the process of producing these plans delivers far more than Welsh Government could achieve by regulation alone.
As we welcome world leaders to the UK for COP26, we can be confident that Wales has the determination and ingenuity to deliver change that benefits not only the natural world, but also delivers equality and social justice. I'll be travelling to COP26 later this week to showcase climate action in Wales and to learn from others too. I hope this statement today provides the Senedd with an opportunity to welcome the measures we have committed to take, to urge us to go further and faster where there are opportunities to do so, and to join with us in calling on all public bodies, businesses and communities in Wales to join with us in delivering social justice through our transition to a net-zero Wales. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.
Conservatives' spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, our Prime Minister, certainly had his finger on the pulse when he stated, and I quote:
'Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It's one minute to midnight on that...clock and we need to act now.'
Now, that message also applies to this Government, especially in light of some of the concerns and failings, actually, of the net-zero Wales carbon budget 2021-25. Now, I do welcome the announcement in relation to the optimised retrofit programme and the benefit that this will bring to social housing. But I have to ask you, Minister: what about the 900,000 owner-occupier homes in Wales? Your key delivery mechanism, the Warm Homes programme, between 2011 and 2023 is only expected to reach 79,000 homes. So, would you revise the eligibility criteria for Arbed and Nest so to help even more homes to become even more energy efficient?
Now, you rightly highlight the need for action on energy generation. So, to be clear, the UK Government has brought forward its commitment to remove unabated coal from the UK's energy mix by a whole year to 2024. So, whilst I welcome the continued moratorium on any future large-scale energy-from-waste developments, I'm asking, really, why does policy 19 not stop small-scale schemes also, with an exception for dangerous waste? Policy 22 looks to increase renewable energy developments in Wales by pointing us towards 'Future Wales'. That document has 10 pre-assessed areas for wind energy, where there is a presumption in favour of large-scale wind energy development. So, why did you not, as the Welsh Government and as the Minister, pre-assess some areas for hydro energy? And can you clarify how these projects will contact to the grid, if pursued? I think we all know the problems that we have here in Wales with the grid.
Why are you making Wales wait until the end of 2022 for you to set out a plan for innovation in new renewable energy technology? And it is fair to say that it's quite poor form that, two years on from the publication of the Welsh national marine plan, you are still yet to set a target in policy 24 to identify potential strategic resource areas for marine renewable energy by 2023.
Why has it taken four years to create strategic resource areas? And will you be making a commitment to creating a marine development plan, which, as the RSPB have called for, for quite some time now, would be a statutory document that guides development into specific locations? Now, according to policy 27, you aim to maximise Welsh benefit from commercially operated infrastructure projects in Wales. So, if the Welsh Government is serious about nuclear energy, how can it be that your own development company, Cwmni Egino, announced over a year ago—I hope I've pronounced that all right—and allocated £2.5 million, still does not have a formal business plan?
Policy 30 reiterates your long-term ambition to enable around 30 per cent of Welsh workers to work remotely. Now, if that is truly a Wales target, why is £100,000 of the £500,000 being invested still in six flexible working sites by 2025 going to locations in the Valleys only?
So, moving on, I support the aim of policy 31 to increase trip mode share of active travel, and whilst I see there is an aim to create a commuter cycleway between Cardiff and Newport, why can we not be starting schemes in north and mid Wales too? In Aberconwy, we could have an active travel route stretching from Llandudno Junction to Betws-y-Coed. However, after two decades of work, we're still only at Welsh transport appraisal guidance stage 2 for a major section of this. So, why don't you work in your capacity as the Minister to simplify the nightmare that is reaching the point of shovel-ready active travel schemes?
And finally, we welcome the aim of policy 32, as I've said, to increase trip mode share of public transport. However, will you clarify why only £50 million is allocated to the north Wales metro, while south Wales is to receive £1 billion? Together, we all need to work and see every sector and area of Wales move faster on climate change, but, Minister, I'd be really grateful if you could answer those observations and questions. Thank you. Diolch.
Diolch, Janet. Thank you, Janet. I do admire, Janet, your attempt to champion the Prime Minister in his pronouncements on greening the world. If only he put his money where his mouth is. We know that in the last budget, the Chancellor didn't even mention the word 'climate'. We know that they've decreased the ability of people to go on rail, whilst increasing the ability of people to go on planes, and we know that he himself left Glasgow to go back to London on a plane. So, this is all about your actions, as well as what you say out loud. I don't think that Boris Johnson is, unfortunately, doing Britain proud at all at the moment in terms of what he's proposing to the world.
I also have to say that the refusal to put a moratorium on coal and the refusal to engage with us in changing the remit of the Coal Authority, so that it no longer has a duty to promote coal extraction in the United Kingdom, and even in Wales, which we have been asking them to do for a very long time, is not really indicative of the sort of action we'd like to see. However, I didn't want to strike a note of that kind of dissension.
What we are saying here in our net-zero plan is that, together, across Wales, we can bring things to bear that really will make a difference. So, I think that Janet actually mentioned herself a number of things that I would like to highlight in that regard. So, on coal, we obviously do have a policy here of no further extraction of coal across Wales. She mentioned energy from waste—'waste to energy', as it used to be called when I was in the industry. We absolutely oppose new incinerators and so on; however, some waste will need to be incinerated—she mentioned herself some forms of clinical waste and so on. So, it is important to make sure that we get the right kind of incineration and that we generate renewable energy where waste does need to be incinerated for particular types.
However, I will raise at this point the remarks that Boris Johnson made about recycling, where he seemed to disparage the idea that recycling was a good thing. What he wasn't able to see as part of that was, of course, it's not just about the separation and collection of recycling; it's about what you do with the recyclate. The whole point of recycling is that you put it back into use as the product that it was made. We have enough plastic already in the world to keep us going in plastic products for as far into the future as mankind can foresee. What we need to do is be very good at recycling it and getting the reprocessers here in Wales to recycle it for us into products that can be recycled over and over again, because in Wales we know that people want to come on that journey with us, where you reuse, of course, first, and then recycle second. So, I do think it's important to make sure that we don't disparage individual efforts to do the right thing in making really quite ill-advised pronouncements, I would say, about some of the things that we need to do in the world.
We have some big things to do, as well. She was right to highlight wind energy and the issues with the grid. Again, I think the UK Government could benefit from a proper conversation with both us and the Scottish Government about the way that the national grid currently runs, because it's not a national grid, it's a grid run by four big producers and it's not done in the way that we would like, futureproofed, it's done on the basis of being driven by contractual arrangements. We've had some really useful conversations with grid producers and with Ofgem so far, and I hope very much that we will be able to get the grid into a good place where we can plan for the future, so that communities right across Wales can, for example, have the kind of EV charging points that we'd like to see and, frankly, the broadband backhaul that we'd like to see as well, because the grid is fit for purpose, as well as of course needing upgrading in north and south Wales. So, I completely agree with that.
In terms of the working from home things that she mentioned, of course we have targets for that. My colleague Lee Waters has emphasised on a number of occasions that this doesn't mean that everybody works from home all the time, but that you work from home when you can or that you work locally to you, if your home isn't suitable, in small local hubs. But, of course, what will be very important for that is broadband. As my colleague Lee Waters says, broadband is not devolved to Wales but we have stepped into the gap the UK Government made when it failed to put geographical coverage as part of its provision for broadband across Wales, whereas the Welsh Government has stepped up to that.
So, what we have done is a suite of measures in this plan that set out where we are now, that set out our proposals for the future and set out what we'd like our communities to do. Optimised retrofit is a very good example of that. Excuse me, I'm very much struggling with this cough, I'm afraid, Dirprwy Lywydd. The optimised retrofit is a very good example of that. So, rather than announcing air-source heat pumps for all, we know that each house will be different. Some houses will be suitable for air-source heat pumps, and we will have schemes in order to allow those houses to transition to that. But what we're doing is running a programme to figure out what each type of house in Wales requires to bring it up to the highest possible EPC rating that it can achieve. It's not a one size fits all, it's not a cheap pronouncement, but a hard slog alongside our registered social landlords and council partners to figure out what works and then sort out how we can make people transition to that. And of course, at that point, we will then be able to put grant schemes in place that allow our private sector landlords and our owner-occupier tenancies to come along that journey with us. But, rather than just announcing a grant scheme that will not work, we are doing the hard yards with our partners to make sure that, for Wales, we will have a net-zero plan that actually is robust and will actually deliver the benefits that we want.
Minister, if you're struggling with your cough and you're finding it difficult to speak because of it sometimes, please feel free to be very succinct in your answers. [Laughter.]
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Delyth Jewell.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you, Minister; I really hope that your throat is okay.
We live in a time of crisis, and the challenge that we face is known to us all. I welcome this strategy today as a starting point, as was the declaration of a climate emergency and a nature emergency; that was also a starting point, offering an opportunity to lay some foundations. However, as with the previous statements that I've mentioned, there are areas where I would like to see some more clarity.
Some have suggested that there is a lack of ambition at the core of this strategy, or a lack of innovation. Could the Minister please state how many of the policies in the plan are new, and how many have been carried over from previous plans? People need to understand plans also in order to take action, but recent research shows that only 24 per cent of businesses say that they understand enough about the environmental policies of the Government. So, how will the Government improve that situation?
Secondly, I would like to see more clarity about how you will measure progress. There is a delay, or a time lag, of about two years in respect of the emissions data, so it's not always entirely clear what impact the various policies in the first low-carbon plan have had. So, may I ask, in the absence of reliable or up-to-date data, how will the Government measure whether it's meeting these important targets? How has this consideration affected the plan placed before us today? Also, shouldn't we be aiming to improve the monitoring systems that we have to give us a clearer picture of how the scheme is developing?
Minister, I'd like to also ask about the UK Government. You've said previously that your department had little warning before the UK Government published the net-zero plan. As I understand, it was a matter of only hours. Could you tell us how this has affected how the strategy will interplay with the UK strategy? It might be useful for us to know your assessment of the extent to which the success of your strategy is dependent on action from the UK Government.
And finally, Minister, I'd like to ask about the Crown Estate. I'm sure Members in the Chamber and online will agree that, if we're to maximise our chances of reaching net zero, we have to have our own resources under our control. The Crown Estate's control of our sea bed and large tracts of land as well means that Wales doesn't have oversight of those resources. Some estimates show the UK Government could raise up to £9 billion over the next decade from auctioning sea-bed plots to windfarm developers. Powers over the Crown Estate are devolved to Scotland, but the millions of pounds of revenue brought in by the estate in Wales go to the Treasury and the monarch. That can't be right, Minister. So, I know the First Minister today has expressed an openness to the idea of seeking the devolution of these powers, so could you, Minister, tell us how much of a priority that will be for the Government please? And if it's not going to be a priority, how much do you estimate that these plans will be hampered as a result?195
I hope I've given you enough of a break for your throat. [Laughter.]
Diolch, Delyth. Yes, so, just in terms of how many are new and how many are not, the plan is a snapshot in time that fulfills a statutory requirement. We expect existing policies and proposals to be updated to increase their impact, and we expect new ideas to emerge as our understanding of the evidence improves. So, it's not a be-all and end-all thing against which we'll test everything; it's a living, breathing document, and we're going to go out after COP—. We're going to COP to get a lot of new ideas, we hope. I know many people are going to COP virtually, as well as in person, to get those new ideas, and we'll have Wales Climate Week at the end of November to try to pull all of those ideas together and get the vibrancy of COP, but then we'll have a whole series of events next year, where we go out to new engagement and we test some of the things that we've got to say. So, this isn't meant to be a thing that we measure it against; this is a rolling, iterative programme of things that we're going to do. So, I think it's important to understand that.
So, the full plan will not be updated on a regular basis; we'll update bits of it as we go along. So, you'd expect to see the transport bit updated when there's a new development in electric buses, for example; you'd expect to see the housing bit updated if there's a new progressive way of doing photovoltaics in Wales, as I really hope there will be, as I saw something really exciting when we launched the plan last Thursday that I'm hoping we'll be able to invest in. So, you'll expect to see bits of it surge ahead as we get to grips with that. And part of that will be engagement. One of the big programmes we've got for next week is behaviour change and engagement, and we expect to see the plan evolve as we engage with our communities and we evolve new ways of engaging people in what we need to do. And I don't mean individuals only there; I mean industrial clusters, business clusters, communities of interest, geographic communities, and so on. So, there is a whole engagement plan to go with that.
In terms of data, we're working very hard to make sure that the data is the best that we can get, that we understand what it looks like. We'll absolutely upgrade that every five years, as we're required to do, but we'll do that as often and as iteratively as we can, given where we are with the data collection. And you're right, there is a lag in it, so we need to develop as many good ways of making sure we've got the best data we can get. We absolutely do not want to be congratulating ourselves that we've done well off the back of data that's not telling us that. That's not what this is about. So, we absolutely do want to do that.
And then the last thing I think you said was the thing about the Crown Estate. I agree, we would like very much for it to be devolved. We're certainly going to talk to them about that. But, in the meantime, I have engaged with the Crown Estate. I've had a couple of meetings with them already. They're very anxious to talk to us, and we're engaging with them to make sure that we have them on board. We understand what we need to do to enter into arrangements with the Crown Estate to be able to put floating wind, for example, and tidal flow and various other things out onto land currently owned by the Crown Estate around Wales, and to liaise with them, with the grid and with Ofgem to make sure that we've got the connections into Wales. Because the other thing we absolutely do not want is to find that Welsh waters are hosting floating wind, for example, but the connections are going across to Devon because the connection to the grid here isn't good enough. To be fair, I've had a very good set of meetings with the Crown Estate, as have my officials, in engagement on how to do that. So, we're doing the sub-optimal thing while we work on the optimal thing that I completely agree with you about.
Have I taken the Deputy Presiding Officer by surprise in my succinctness?
No, Huw Irranca-Davies has not been unmuted yet.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Diolch and good afternoon, Minister. I fully welcome the statement today, particularly on the back of the launch of the Wales net-zero strategy. As you've said, it's a live document, but it shows a really high level of ambition, and it will drive some really serious changes in the way that we live and that we work and that we travel. It carries implications for all of us, but they are things that can be practically achieved if we have a will to do it and we get the seriousness of what is going on in COP at this very moment and the challenge ahead of us. Can I ask one simple question, Minister? This has come from a young constituent of mine. These changes that we need are huge and they're urgent, and we all need to be part of that change. As Wales's First Minister joins COP26 today to show the ambition of Wales to tackle climate change, what changes will the Welsh Government and its own agencies demand of themselves to show this real high-level commitment and leadership to achieve net zero?
Thank you, Huw. That's an excellent question, and it's always true that the young people ask us the most difficult questions. I'm afraid there's not a really simple answer, but I can give you a sort of combination answer, and it's this: it's to challenge ourselves every single time we make a decision across all of the Welsh estate, all of the Welsh Government's actions: 'Is this thing that we're doing not only not going to harm our environment, but is it going to enhance our environment and lower our emissions?' So, the way that we ask our agencies—NRW, for example, and the way they manage our woodland estate: 'Is that optimal? Is there a better way to do it?'
We've already embarked on that. We've already done the deep dive into trees, we've already started to review our policy on forestry and the way that we plant and harvest our renewable resource in trees, and the way that we plan our national forest, for example. Another example is we've already changed the way that we own and manage land in the Welsh Government's ownership, so we now no longer manage the land for its maximum financial value; we manage it for its maximum public value. Those are things that we're spreading out into all our procurement arrangements across the Welsh estate.
Those things might sound a bit dry, but they are the things that drive the difference in how we do things. For example, if we're bringing a piece of development land forward and it has trees that have grown on it because it's been undeveloped for a little while, then we expect the development to replace those trees—if not on site, then on other suitable land in Wales. We need to make sure that we absolutely replace like-for-like land that is used for development with other land.
You'll know that overnight, for example, the first outcome of the roads review has taken place. We're going to work with communities in Gwynedd to make sure that we bring forward economic development plans that are not based on tarmacking a large part of the countryside, but that are based on green jobs, green development and green infrastructure. These things are hard to do, they make people cross at first, but we absolutely have to do them if we're going to have the impact on the climate that we want.
Thank you, Minister. Thank you very much for all of the work that you've done. I'd like to pay tribute to you and the Welsh Government in your work and in publishing your second carbon budget in the weeks running up to the COP summit in Glasgow. I want to also say that I will both be an ally to you when you're pushing forward with this ambitious green agenda, but also holding you to account as well if I feel that you are moving too slowly. It's really imperative that we work together here, that we don't criticise each other, that we look at how we can learn from—as you've said—other countries and other schemes in order to move forward this agenda as quickly as possible. I also want to say that I agree with this approach to not building more roads. I support this approach to not building roads, because fundamentally, if we're serious about achieving a net-zero Wales, then we must start to shift people off the roads and to using public transport. So, it is such a shame, isn't it, that the Conservative Westminster Government are intent on ploughing ahead—
Can we have a question now, please?
I want to ask the Minister about micro hydro projects. We have lost the funding to these in Wales and I wondered if you might consider restarting the hydropower grant scheme so that we can ensure that Wales meets its commitments to reach net zero. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you, Jane. I appreciate the sentiments, and I absolutely want to work alongside everybody in the Senedd, but also actually want to have our feet held to the fire; we absolutely do need to go as fast as we can, and it's very important that the Government is urged to go faster where that's appropriate. I very much look forward to working with you with that set of criteria in mind.
In terms of micro hydro, I had a very good meeting with a hydro group in Wales very recently. We've invited them to sit on one of the round-tables that my colleague Lee Waters is conducting as part of his deep dive into renewable energy, and part of the outcome of the deep dive will be to look at how we put grants in place for community and micro projects across Wales. So, I expect that to be part of the outcome of the deep dive, and we absolutely are ensuring that hydro is a big part of that.
I also thank the Minister for her statement. First, can I request that the science is explained? It is net zero rather than zero because we exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon is oxidised to form carbon dioxide. We know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas because, despite being substantially further away from the sun than Mercury, Venus is hotter. The difference is that Venus has an atmosphere made up mainly from carbon dioxide. I have four requested actions: reduce Welsh Government Ministers' travel using virtual visits and meetings to set an example; ban the extraction of peat and the use of peat in Wales; set annual net tree planting targets at local authority level; and set an expectation that those in administrative positions in Welsh Government-funded bodies work from home or a local hub over half the time, with exception reports produced for the Welsh Government. Finally, I hope the next COP meeting is a virtual meeting with zero travel.
Diolch, Mike. I can very succinctly go through those. I'm very happy to say that we are very actively working on reducing Welsh Government travel and doing virtual meetings where at all possible. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to see something on the ground, but most of the meetings that we do are virtual.
In terms of peat restoration, we have a plan for that. There's a biodiversity plan for that, and I'm hoping to bring forward a specific item on peat and peatland restoration to the Senedd. It'll be in the new year now, I think. I'm looking actively to work on that.
On tree planting, part of the tree deep dive outcomes will be reported back to the Senedd shortly, and I'm very keen to be looking at different ways of ensuring that we have targets across the piece. In particular, Mike, I know you'll be interested in us making sure that we have the right kinds of green infrastructure for development projects, and in particular for housing and industrial development projects in Wales to include the right kinds of green infrastructure—trees where that's appropriate, but actually grassland and pollinator plants, for example, along highway verges and other places where that's appropriate as well, bearing in mind that they sequester carbon as well.
In terms of working from home, my colleague Lee Waters has been working on the working from home strategy for some time. I'm sure he was listening to the 50 per cent target. We are actively considering how we can encourage more public sector workers from right across Wales—and indeed the private sector, too, but the public sector is where we have a more direct influence—to work from home for the majority of their time.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. I broadly welcome the Welsh Government's net-zero plan and would like to put on record my support for the continued ambition to deliver net zero in both Wales and the UK by 2050. One of the key factors in delivering on this plan, as I'm sure the Minister will be in agreement with, is how the aims contained within it will be funded. This is a particularly important point given that the Government's best estimate is that meeting net zero will lead to additional costs of between £10 billion and £16 billion in total over the period to 2050. I'm not trying to score any cheap political points here, Minister, and I hope you'll be able to respond in a similar manner, but I would be interested to understand how your climate change department is working with the Welsh Treasury as well as the UK Treasury to better understand the financial implications of achieving net zero, and how to fund it.
Secondly, the plan notes that councils in Wales will play an important role in cutting emissions. Noting that I'm still a sitting councillor in Monmouthshire, I would appreciate further information about what additional long-term support may be provided to councils to help them achieve this.
The final point that I'd like to raise, Minister, is how Wales can attract more private investment to achieve net zero. It is my understanding from what has been reported that the proposed Blue Eden project in Swansea, which will include the tidal lagoon, will not require taxpayers' money, and it's these sorts of cutting-edge projects that we should be encouraging. What steps is the Government taking to attract private sector investment into green initiatives in Wales? And I do hope you feel better soon, Minister. Diolch.
Diolch, Peter. I hope I feel better soon, too. Thank you for that. You've absolutely put your finger on the pulse of that, of course. We absolutely have to use public sector funding as leverage to lever in private sector funding across Wales. You referenced the Swansea project; that's a very good example. So far, I think it's fair to say, the Swansea project doesn't need any public funding. However, we're in discussion with Swansea and a number of other local authorities about which parts of the projects may indeed require public subsidy. For example, depending on what the energy generation looks like, I'm sure that they will be looking for contract for difference from the UK Government. We already know that they will require some additional public expenditure for infrastructure cost. However, the project is a good one. It's primarily funded by private investors so far. It would be really great to see it come to fruition in my colleague Mike Hedges's constituency—I think it is primarily located there. It relies on a company that thinks it can produce something that's both affordable and credible in terms of generation of power via solar, as I understand it, and battery storage on land. It's a good alliance of private sector companies with the council as a partner—so, the public sector partner underpinning it—and it's certainly something that we're keeping an eye on as it goes forward.
We have a number of other arrangements of that sort. For example, the innovative housing programme is a really good one. One of the things we do with the innovative housing programme is we encourage private sector developers and investors to come forward, with public funding that de-risks the initial commercialisation of a project. They do a proof of concept that then allows them to scale it up and attract private investment. So, one of the things I was delighted to be able to do through the innovative housing project, for example, was do the proof of concept we have in my colleague Rebecca Evans's constituency of an all-timber Welsh house. She and I have visited the project a number of times. If you haven't visited, I would recommend it to you, just to prove the fact that you could build an entire house out of Welsh wood. Now that company has proof of concept and, of course, it can start to look for private sector investors to develop the concept further. So, absolutely, using de-risking public funding to lever in private sector funding is where we need to go, because you're absolutely right in identifying that this is an agenda that we simply cannot do on public funding alone; we absolutely have to get every community in Wales, including private sector funders, on board with it.
I'd like to declare that I'm a councillor on Rhondda Cynon Taf council before asking this question. In response to the statement, I wanted to ask about the dualling of the A4119 from Coed-Ely to Ynysmaerdy, a project that was announced last week as one of those looking to receive £11.4 million through the levelling-up fund of the British Government. Obviously, this stems from a bid that was made by a council controlled by the Labour Party. Indeed, the Welsh Government has contributed to the development of the project in the past through the local transport fund. How does this fit with the Welsh Government's review of investment in new roads? Indeed, is this scheme part of that review? If not, why not? And, if so, what is the view of the Minister in terms of the fact that the Welsh Government's policy is being undermined by the British Government in this way?
Thank you very much for that question, Heledd. I'm not entirely certain how it aligns with the net-zero plan, but I think the answer to your question is that the roads review has within its sights all projects that are funded by local transport grants and Welsh public funding. However, the roads review will look to see whether a road is so far advanced that it cannot usefully be brought into the review because of the advancement of contracts and diggers in the ground, or whatever the colloquial phrase used is—that it is so advanced that there is no point in reviewing it. That is a matter for the review itself and not for Welsh Government Ministers. They are independent in that regard, and I'm sure that when they announce the set of roads that they've reviewed, they'll be able to say which roads are in and which roads are out.
In terms of the funding of devolved areas inside Wales, the levelling up fund is, I'm afraid, an absolute cacophony of UK Government funding right across devolved areas for reasons that we're not entirely sure about. What we are sure about—and my colleague Rebecca Evans I know will be updating the Senedd on this during the budget discussions—is that we are not getting anything like the amount of money we would have got if the 'not a penny less of EU funding' promise had been made good. We're getting very considerably less, and the UK Government is also not using our well-developed regional investment arrangements. My colleague Huw Irranca-Davies worked very hard in the last Senedd on getting a consensus view across Wales on what regional developments needed to take place, and this so-called levelling-up fund has ridden a coach and horses through all of that for what I think is, and my friend Alun Davies earlier on in today's proceedings called, 'pork-barrel politics', and I have to say I entirely agree with him.
I do welcome this statement from the Minister, so I thank the Minister for that. It's absolutely right that our minds are focused on the changes that we all have to make to reach net zero, but I do believe it's going to take some bold and tough decisions to reach the true net zero, and I'd like this to be reflected in everything we do as Governments and everything we do in society. One of the key areas I see is public sector pension investments, and I'd be very keen to encourage the Minister, her officials, and Members from across the Chamber to read my piece for the Welsh Fabians, which has been published today on this. Now, Minister, I do recognise that we don't have the competence to do this, but I do believe there are other ways of achieving this. For example, we could include public sector pension fund investments in our carbon neutral public sector targets in 2030. Now, this would provide, in my opinion, the impetus to the campaign and send signals to public sector investment funds to create products that don't invest in oil and gas. So, therefore, do I have your support, Minister, and the influence of your ministry for climate change—the Welsh Government's ministry for climate change—to help strengthen this campaign as we take it forward?
Diolch, Jack. I think the very simple answer to that is 'yes'. I think we absolutely need to make sure that the public sector across Wales, including its pension funds, de-invest from deforestation and oil and gas exploration as fast as possible. I'm not yet aware of the full detail of the deforestation announcements that have been made from COP26, but I fervently hope that they do include things like the investment of pension funds from the public sector and so on, and I will certainly be working alongside my colleague, Rebecca Evans, to put pressure on the UK Government to make sure that we do invest UK pension funds in the right way. You are absolutely right in identifying it as being outside of our competence, but nevertheless we are happy to bring our influence to bear in that regard.
I welcome the ambition that's been referred to here this afternoon. Let us hope that it doesn't suffer the same fate as the ambition that your Government had of eradicating child poverty in Wales. Time will tell, of course. Forgive my cynicism; every time I hear the Government here announcing things on climate change and talking about difficult decisions and the need for everyone to pull their weight, what I hear is the call on farmers to constantly cut emissions, to do more, and calls on rural communities to do more, whilst you don't touch upon the millionaires and multinationals and heavy industry that are doing most damage to our climate. I would like to hear more about the pressure that you're putting on multinationals and the very wealthy to pull their weight in this regard.
Yes, there are very difficult decisions to be made. How do you reconcile your statement yesterday on the Llanbedr link road with your plan to dual the A465 at the Heads of the Valleys? I note that this work started just a month before the moratorium, thereby enabling you to continue the dualling of this huge road, which will allow vehicles to travel at 70 mph. Yes, there are difficult decisions to be made. Are you willing to take that decision to prevent that work and cease it to ensure that that doesn't develop, for the benefit of communities in Wales?
Can you conclude now, please?
A final question, therefore. If we do want to see the alleviation of climate change and real things happening in our rural communities, then that has to go hand in hand with investment in public transport for our communities, and, more than that, in public services in our communities. It's fine for you to ask some octogenarian in Llanbedr to ride a bike some four miles to the nearest surgery in Harlech, but that doesn't meet the fundamental problems that there aren't such services available in our communities. So, will you work with the Minister for Economy and ensure that community services are provided in our rural communities? Thank you.
Diolch, Mabon. I don't share your cynicism, I'm afraid, and I'm very sorry to hear you express it in that way. I understand the disappointment of the people in Gwynedd about the Llanbedr bypass. We had a decent meeting with Gwynedd Council yesterday and we will absolutely be sure to be working very closely with them alongside my colleagues, the Minister for Economy and the Minister for local government, to ensure that this isn't about cost saving, this is about doing economic development in a green way, bringing green jobs to the area and making sure—exactly as you say—that public services and public transport are funded, rather than the road. The road would've cost several million pounds. We are very, very happy to work with Gwynedd Council to see how we can invest that money in local greening services to make sure that we do have a public transport infrastructure that works for the people of Gwynedd.
The idea that we're somehow leaving out the millionaires and the high emitters I just reject altogether. Of course we expect people to do what's necessary; it's pointless me saying to the vast majority of people who live in the Valleys of Wales that they should stop taking their private jets to Glasgow, for example, as I'm pretty sure that none of them have ever been on a private jet to Glasgow, so that's not going to cut their emissions very much. It's horses for courses here. Of course, if you're a frequent flyer, you should very seriously consider not flying or flying so frequently, but for the vast majority of people in Wales, they are not frequent flyers, or flyers at all. Very large numbers of people don't even own a car. So, this is about making sure that we have the right platforms in place for everyone to be able to do their piece, and the right policies in place to make sure that we have the just transition that I know, Mabon, that you want, as well as myself. So, I'm very happy to pledge to work with you on a plan to make sure that we bring the better public services and public transport to all of the people of Wales, including in our rural communities, of course.
And finally, Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. Unlike Delyth Jewell, I found that the net-zero plan was absolutely packed with new facts, analyses and firm commitments, so I thank you very much for the rigour of the work that has gone into that very large report.
I welcome the opportunity to hold the Government's feet to the fire, as well as being open to new ideas and actions. I do think that we are letting the private sector off the hook when it comes to decarbonising our housing. I was disturbed to read not only that Rent Smart Wales reports that there are 109,000 private sector rented homes that are below energy rating C, and there are certainly a lot of them in my constituency. But not only that, I read in your report that there are 60,000 private rented homes without any EPC at all, so I wonder if you can tell us what Rent Smart Wales is doing to rectify that anomaly in the system, because we clearly need to know if they are even compliant with the energy rating E.
And finally, I hope.
—I want to turn to part L, which is that Lord Deben was very, very strong on this when he spoke to the climate change committee in September. He said that he feels very strongly about the need for the Welsh Government to use the powers that it has on this, which is that by not moving quicker towards net-zero obligations in new homes, we are simply letting house builders off the hook. Because they are, as he says, handing the purchaser of these new homes the bill instead of doing it themselves in the first place at a very much lower price, and that does not need to increase the cost of the house itself—
The Member must ask the second and final question.
So, what are we doing to raise the bar higher in relation to new housing, because every new house that's built that's not zero carbon has to be retrofitted? And as you explain very clearly in the net-zero plan, that is a really complicated business.
Yes, diolch, Jenny. Just on the part L, we will be bringing forward part L regulation amendments in the new year. The whole point of them will be, of course, to bring private sector housing up to the standards that new social build housing enjoys, and I look forward to negotiating that set of regulations through the Senedd. I'm sure that everybody who has contributed to today's debate feels very strongly, as you do, about what those regulations should say and what private sector housing in Wales should look like. So, we will be doing that in the new year, I assure you. I've also had a similar conversation myself with Lord Deben.
On the PRS, that's a much more difficult problem because we have to negotiate making sure that people's housing is not removed from the PRS and lost to the PRS. It houses some of the most vulnerable families in Wales.
Much of the PRS that's in very poor condition is in the centre of cities—in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Wrexham and so on—and it tends to be the larger houses that house multigenerational families. So, what we will want to be doing is putting a grants scheme in place that allows and encourages those landlords to give those properties over to the local council, if they're stockholding councils, or the local RSL in return for the local housing allowance and rent supply, so that the RSL can bring the house up to standard. Otherwise, we fear that if we put the obligation onto the private rented sector landlords themselves, they will simply remove themselves from the sector, so we will have an unintended consequence.
So, we will be working very carefully with the National Residential Landlords Association to understand what that might look like, and understand what those incentives look like, to make sure that we both bring the houses up to standard and retain them in the private rented sector, which is, after all, a very important sector for people who are at the most vulnerable end of the housing market.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Economy: a greener economy. I call on the Minister, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Last month, I delivered an oral statement on how we plan to move the Welsh economy forward. I set out the action that we will take to build a stronger, fairer and greener Welsh economy. All of the issues that we discussed that day hinge upon our success in confronting the existential threat that climate change represents. Just as the reach of the threat is enormous, so too is the opportunity to create a brighter future for Wales with the economic security that comes with taking urgent action today.
The net-zero Wales plan published last week demonstrates how far-reaching action across Government will bring about a Wales that gives to our planet more than we take. The Climate Change Committee has been clear that Wales can meet its ambition for net zero by 2050, if everyone plays their part. The industry and business chapter of our plan outlines a vision focused on sustainability, fair work and the industries and services of the future.
The plan makes clear that by 2025, we expect to see a decrease in energy usage in industry of 4 per cent as a result of energy efficiencies. By the same date, we also want to see an increase in electrification in industrial processes by an average of 3 per cent, as well as growing hydrogen as a fuel by an average of 3 per cent.
We know that in Wales the stakes are high, as we have lived through the sharp end of de-industrialisation. Our geography, topography and heavy carbon infrastructure have long been regarded as vulnerabilities. However, we now have an opportunity to turn this challenge on its head by promoting Wales as a home and a test bed for economic renewal.
Just last month, I was delighted to announce an investment that is putting this promise into practice, as the smart energy company, Thermify, confirmed its new facility in Pencoed. This is inward investment that has been attracted by leading Welsh innovation backed by this Government. Thermify uses Raspberry Pi processors produced in Pencoed and will be collaborating closely with the SPECIFIC centre—that's Swansea University’s leading energy tech research hub.
This makes Wales home to a groundbreaking low-carbon heating system designed to provide homes with affordable heating and hot water. From research to application, our support has brought together Welsh and global innovation to deliver the high-tech and low-carbon industry that will help to shape the future. This is what Welsh innovation with global impact looks like, and I want to see more home-grown responses to shared global challenges.
The UK Government can help to unlock another urgent opportunity by providing the funding needed to make our coal tips safe. A fully funded, 10-year joint programme would allow us to work on the jobs, the tech, the engineering and the skills required to make Wales a leader in industrial remediation.
The United States has already started to take this approach to cleaning up its dangerous industrial legacy in states like West Virginia. Their plans to revitalise industrial communities mean that new federal funding is being directed to create jobs and projects, in a model that, thus far, the UK Government refuses to even entertain for Wales's valley communities.
Deputy Presiding Officer, the Climate Change Committee's Wales progress report made it clear that a coherent UK industrial strategy is needed to allow Welsh industry and business to maximise their contribution to net zero. Our plan includes important asks of the UK Government, reinforcing the need for long-term and consistent policy, support for innovation, and global leadership in action. From clarity for business on regulation and funding to action on fuel switching and carbon pricing, our calls demand a coherent framework that all of us can use to plan against. With the right framework, business and industry in Wales would finally have the certainty they need to accelerate their own ambition. For instance, ring-fenced UK funding for early-stage marine projects could end the rolling uncertainty that leaves projects on the shelf as investors still lack the confidence needed to move at pace.
Similarly, Wales needs to get its fair share of the revenue raised by the emissions trading scheme, reflecting the greater task our economy faces, given our reliance upon energy-intensive industries. UK Ministers should also work with Ofgem to ensure that network investments target more deprived communities to boost local economic development here in Wales.
During my oral statement on 19 October, I made it clear that the UK Government must act urgently to bring forward its deal to support a just transition for our steel sector. We will work with all partners to explore the best possible joint approach, but that can only come alongside an agreed deal that is offered by the UK Government.
Our programme for government has commitments on fair work, the foundational economy and support for co-operatives and social enterprise in Wales, and that also complements our net-zero ambitions. When we increase the number of and the support for green reps at work, more businesses can draw on the expertise of the workforce to find new ways of reducing emissions. Our foundational economy delivery plan is fundamentally about using existing and new economic activity to shorten supply chains and thereby help to reduce emissions.
Dirprwy Lywydd, Wales is a global leader in recycling—an achievement that we should all be proud of and an achievement that we can build on to accelerate our transition towards a circular economy. The pandemic and Brexit have challenged the resilience of our supply chains, but our world-class recycling gives us an opportunity to create yet more value from the resources that we collect. It also means that we can use recycled material to substitute for carbon-intensive processes and the extraction of raw materials. We’ll therefore be bringing forward new business recycling regulations to deliver further carbon reduction and to secure high-quality material to turn into new products. We’ll also expand our support to manufacturers to use recycled content. Capital Valley Plastics in Torfaen are a good example—they transform plastic film into new damp-proof courses for use in buildings, demonstrating how Welsh businesses can lead the way in remanufacturing from the recycling collected here in Wales.
We’ll also continue to work together to understand the needs of employers in relation to net-zero skills and to understand how we can support workers to take advantage of these changes. Our employability and skills strategy, which will be published in early 2022, will ensure that our system is fit for purpose in meeting the skills that a net-zero future demands.
Wales's business community, including our small and medium-sized enterprises, will need to incorporate energy and resource efficiency alongside new technology and new ways of working to remain competitive. So, we’ll strengthen the approach of Business Wales with enhanced information and support designed to help businesses meet these challenges. And we'll also be using our refreshed economic contract to strengthen our something-for-something approach, challenging those we support to ensure that Welsh public money is used to contribute to our journey to net zero. We will deepen the requirements with clear indicators and minimum standards that must be met to achieve a contract.
This is a snapshot of the broader plans in Net Zero Wales, and I look forward to working with all of you across this Chamber to deliver on our collective ambition to meet this era-defining emergency.
Conservative spokesperson, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon? Of course, I share the Minister's commitment to developing a greener economy, and he will have heard me call for action on this front on several occasions. We need to build momentum from the ground up to deliver the behavioural and cultural change needed to develop a green economy, and at the heart of that is a need to better understand, plan and develop our skills base, and I'm pleased that today's statement recognises just that. Now, the Minister will be aware that I've called for a net-zero skills audit to take place so that we can identify the gaps in skills, knowledge and resources, and so perhaps the Minister will confirm today that a net-zero skills audit is in the pipeline and tell us more about the progress of that audit and the Welsh Government's plans to ensure that we have the skills we need in our workforce to develop a green economy for the future.
Today's statement refers to support for businesses across Wales, and I'm keen to understand more about exactly how the Welsh Government is mobilising private finance to support clean and resilient growth in Wales, and so perhaps the Minister can confirm exactly how that is taking place. I've had many discussions with businesses and business organisations about developing a greener economy, and they've made it clear to me that the Welsh Government's direction of travel can seem impractical for businesses, many of whom have little specialist resources. Therefore, it's crucial that the Welsh Government develops specialist business support in this area and explains to businesses, particularly small businesses, exactly what they can do and how they can do it. Therefore, I hope the Minister will take the opportunity today to tell us exactly how it will support businesses to develop greener practices, how it will engage with businesses much more directly on this agenda, and also how it will help make a greener economy something much more relevant and accessible to our smaller businesses.
Now, I'm disappointed to see that there's no mention of the need to deliver better green infrastructure across Wales. Much more needs to be done to engage with businesses in relation to electric vehicles, for example. Wales has just 3.8 per cent of the UK's total charging points, putting Wales tenth out of the 12 nations and regions of the UK, and businesses have made it clear to me that there is a lack of knowledge about commercial vehicle options, concerns about the range of vehicles, and, above all, real concerns that suitable charging infrastructure isn't in place here in Wales. I'm sure the Minister will agree that, until those issues are addressed, businesses are less likely to make a significant shift, and yet we know that there are already plans in place to phase out diesel and petrol engines within the next decade. Therefore, perhaps in responding to this statement, the Minister will tell us more about how the Welsh Government is accelerating the provision of electric vehicle infrastructure here in Wales.
Now, the statement refers to the resilience of our supply chains, but it's important that this is supported by genuine engagement with businesses, with banks, with local authorities and, indeed, with industry representatives. Therefore, perhaps the Minister can tell us what discussions he's had with the banking sector and local authorities on the ways in which they can help support businesses across Wales and help deliver greener, more sustainable supply chains.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I want to ask the Minister about action taken to change consumer behaviour and what steps the Welsh Government is considering taking, or already taking, in this area. We can learn a lot from other countries across the world. For example, Sweden have a strategy for sustainable consumption that aims to help people make climate-smart choices. It's vital that Wales is learning from other countries and so I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what strategies the Welsh Government is considering to change consumer behaviour and what lessons are being learnt from other countries on this specific issue.
The Minister will undoubtedly be aware of the growth in e-commerce in recent years, and that too has a carbon footprint, as more vehicles are on the road delivering goods and more cardboard is being used. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how the Welsh Government is monitoring the carbon footprint of e-commerce in Wales and tell us what discussions are being had with the distribution industry about how it can support efforts to tackle climate change.
Now, today's statement also refers to decarbonising our steel sector, and I'm pleased to see the UK Government commit to this agenda by providing £315 million to the industrial energy transformation fund and £250 million to the clean steel fund. However, the Welsh Government also has levers at its disposal to help support the sector, and we've previously talked about investing in innovative solutions. Therefore, perhaps the Minister will confirm how much the Welsh Government has provided for research and innovation to the sector to explore breakthrough technologies that could help the sector produce steel in a much more carbon-neutral way.
So, in closing, Dirprwy Lywydd, can I thank the Minister for his statement today, and again commit to working constructively with him on this agenda to make our economy more sustainable, resilient and greener for the future? Thank you.
Thank you for the series of questions. I'll do my best not to try the Deputy Presiding Officer's patience by giving long answers to the significant number of questions; I'll try and be as succinct as possible. Next year, I expect, when we're announcing what we're doing on skills, you'll have a significant section on what a net-zero skills plan looks like. I had an opportunity to meet with regional skills partnerships today, and it's part of what we're looking for, but, actually, we do need to have some more clarity—or we'll have to return to this time and time again, I'm afraid—on what the future funding landscape for skills investment looks like, because replacement European Union funds—. The budget was not clear on what will happen with broader levelling-up funds, because those funds, of course, funded about a third of our apprenticeship programmes, so there is a need to understand the funding available. But we're committed to working alongside businesses, as well as providers, to understand what we'll need to do. So, that is both looking at current provision, looking at where gaps, but also where opportunities, exist as well.
On your point about private finance, we already have access to private finance and how that is being deployed. Now, much of private finance provision isn't particularly interested in the environmental impacts of investment; they're rather more interested in growth and return. But we do know that there are people who are more interested in doing so. We also know that the British Business Bank recently announced a specific equity fund as part of the budget. That was a surprise, I think, to them and to us. We'd called for something like that, so it's a welcome step forward in the Chancellor's announcement, and we'd want to see that fund deployed in conjunction with what we're already doing with the Development Bank of Wales, who certainly will be looking to provide investment into helping businesses both to decarbonise, but also to take up opportunities in the way that the world of work is changing. And we're already asking for a constructive meeting between ourselves and the Government and the development bank and the British Business Bank to try to take that forward in as constructive a way as possible.
You asked a number of questions that, I think, come together on procurement, supply chains and also the way in which we're looking for Business Wales to support small and medium businesses in particular. We are certainly looking to do more of that. Again, Business Wales funding is partly reliant on replacement European Union funds. Now, you've heard me make that point before, but it's a simple fact. We're looking, as part of that, to think about not just how we help them to think about opportunities, but also, for those business that do want to have an economic contract or already have one—and there's a range in the small and medium sector who do that—we are very clear that, in the current contract, the journey to decarbonise is part of it; it's one of the four pillars. And in strengthening the contract, you'd expect to see that enhanced as well. It's part of the work on not just the economic contract, but part of that also is the opportunities to shorten supply chains, which I mentioned in the statement. And I also did mention, of course, Business Wales's role.
We're looking, actually, about how businesses understand the imperative from consumers as well, and from their customers. Many of them now expect to see the way in which they're planning for the future. And it isn't just in the e-commerce sector that you referred to, where that's already a clear expectation that a range of those providers are looking at what their own footprint is, it's in a range of more physical goods and services sectors as well.
And on transport, there are conversations that we'll have with colleagues in the climate change ministry about the charging infrastructure. It's also an area we could do with a joint plan across the UK for what charging infrastructure will look like, and it is one of the disappointments that I'm sure the Member will share, that, in the recent budget and spending review, there wasn't a significant investment in infrastructure to help with the decarbonisation journey. You heard Julie James mention that climate wasn't mentioned once in the budget, but, more than that, the capital budget that this Welsh Government has and that this place will have the opportunity to scrutinise and help to direct, is actually going to fall in real terms over the period of the spending review. And for all of us, on all sides of this Chamber, that cannot be a positive statement that helps Wales to make an even more rapid contribution to creating the infrastructure to help us decarbonise the way we live here in Wales.
I will try and finish now on the points about steel, Deputy Presiding Officer. There are some positive steps that the UK Government have made on trying to help and incentivise a move forward. We work alongside those, but also the investment that we have helped to create, together with the funding that Swansea do on the future of metals. But, actually, the bigger challenges on decarbonising steel are both about its competitiveness—and there's an issue there about energy prices in this country compared to European competitors—and, in particular, investment—and these are choices we need to make, but largely the UK Government needs to make—in hydrogen and also the potential for carbon capture. Carbon capture and storage is not a mature technology, so it's not going to help in the here and now, but it's a possibility for the future. There needs to be investment now to see if that's possible. Hydrogen is much nearer to being mature, so increasing the investment in hydrogen production and infrastructure is really important in general, but really crucially important if we're going to decarbonise the steel sector and have a just transition in doing so. We recognise it's a high-value, but also a high-emitting sector of the economy, so it's one of the points that I've regularly raised and will continue to raise with the UK Government, as well as the opportunities to see further decarbonisation in other forms of production. So, I think energy prices don't need to mean that steel has to be a high-emitting sector. We think the sector here is making real strides forward in wanting to decarbonise, but to do so in a way that doesn't cost a significant amount in terms of jobs and employment.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Luke Fletcher.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for your statement this afternoon. If I may say, as a Pencoed boy, I look forward to seeing what the partnership between Thermify and Swansea University will produce. It crucial that we discuss what the Welsh Government can do, particularly during COP26, and as part of what the Government can do, the economy is central, of course.
There is a huge concern that COP26 will just be another talking shop, and I have to say I am one of those who are concerned, which I'm sure isn't a shock to Members who I've worked with since being elected. My colleague Siân Gwenllian regularly tells me I'm far too cynical for my age, but there appears to be a reluctance to come down hard on multinational companies, for example, that place greed and profiteering ahead of the environment and our future generations.
The Carbon Disclosure Project found that in 2017, just 100 firms could account for 71 per cent of global emissions since 1988. Any localised efforts to support green initiatives in Wales will be lost if we do not tackle the issues of these international polluters. For example, large investment firms have been buying Welsh farmland so that they can offset their carbon emissions. At least 12 farms have been sold recently in mid Wales to companies outside of Wales. Not only is this damaging to Welsh culture and the Welsh economy, but it doesn't address the problem. These large firms are able to greenwash while still ultimately pumping huge amounts into the atmosphere. I'd be interested to learn from the economy Minister what sanctions the Welsh Government might consider against multinationals that continue to pollute post COP26 and does the Minister believe that the purchase of Welsh farms by these multinationals is a sustainable practice within the Welsh economy.
Of course, the Minister highlighted that one promising part of the Welsh green economy is hydrogen. The hydrogen development in Wales baseline report highlighted future initiatives that could harness the use of hydrogen power. The Government is yet to respond to the developing hydrogen energy sector in Wales consultation, which the baseline report is part of, or so at least I'm led to believe by the Welsh Government website. When can we expect a response and what other initiatives has the Welsh Government identified that could utilise hydrogen power, specifically green hydrogen? If the Government is serious about preventing climate change, they must act now and they must invest in the hydrogen sector of the economy that will put Wales on the forefront and provide us with a clear advantage as other countries move to greener economies.
Further, efficient transport infrastructure is vital for businesses and the Welsh economy. The FSB found that the cost of zero-emission vehicles, alongside a lack of provision of charging points, is acting as a barrier to behavioural change for businesses. Paul Davies has touched on this already, but could the Minister outline what support will be available for businesses who wish to transition to greener alternatives? And would the Government consider setting out their long-term strategy for the transition to electric and hydrogen for SMEs in Wales?
Of course, the transition to a net-zero economy in Wales without proper Government planning and funding will be more challenging for Wales than other countries in the UK. Wales has a greater share of harder to reduce emissions, as the Minister rightly highlighted. We have more energy-intensive industries, more off-grid homes and small-scale farms, and fewer suitable sites for carbon capture and storage. One in five Welsh workers are in climate-critical sectors that would be impacted by the transition to net zero, and if the Welsh Government does not prepare properly for a just transition, there will be massive economic and societal consequences. We don't want a repeat of the past. But I will repeat, of course, my previous calls and ask if the Welsh Government will establish a just transition commission, similar to Scotland's, that will monitor Government decisions around the transitioning of the economy to a greener and fairer one.
And on steel, if I could, what consideration has the Government given to steel co-operatives and the role that they could play in a greener, fairer economy, similar to what we have seen in the Basque Country?
Finally, the Minister is no doubt aware what my position is when it comes to tackling climate change. For me, tackling the climate emergency through transitioning to a green economy has to also go hand in hand with tackling poverty. The reality is that the current way of measuring economic success is not fit for purpose, if we want to measure the impact of Welsh Government economic policy on people in Wales and the environment. For decades, the economic performance and societal progress of nations has been benchmarked on GDP. Its inadequacy in measuring people's lives, well-being and environment has increasingly been recognised. In light of this, could the Minister outline what discussions have happened within the department on how we can move away from traditional measures, such as GDP, to alternatives and progressive measures?
Thank you for the series of questions and comments. On your point about land use, I think the Welsh Government's pretty clear that we expect land use in Wales to be sustainable and beneficial for local populations and the economy. So, we're looking at how we can incentivise people to make proper use of the land that's available, but to do so in a way that meets the tests that we would set. So, we're certainly not encouraging companies to try to buy land here in Wales to try to avoid and offset their activities in other parts of the UK or the rest of the world.
On your point about hydrogen, I just want to reiterate that, of course, the First Minister made it very clear in questions today that this Government is very clear that we should be investing in green hydrogen, and that's what we want to see. And there are real opportunities within that, not just within the investment—and it is welcome investment in the HyNet process across the north-west of England through the north of Wales, but it is also the opportunity to see what also comes from the potential for offshore energy production as well and what that might mean in terms of increasing our ability for genuine green hydrogen production. Now, that requires some of the points I made in my statement: clarity on the investment framework, the ability to invest against it, and UK Government choices as well as the willingness of this Government to help people to invest in early industries. The danger is otherwise that what will happen is that we'll see what happened with onshore wind, where Denmark in particular managed to invest early and then exported technology, which meant that a lot of the gain was made in Denmark. Now, that's meant that we've got efficient ways of producing onshore wind energy, but actually I'd much rather see an opportunity to be early movers in an industry where we're already seeing some of this taking place in other parts of Europe as well. So, the investment to date in hydrogen is welcome, but I would like to see more of that take place. It's also a crucial issue for the south Wales corridor, as well as going across north Wales, too.
On your points about the challenge of how we use the economic contract and the levers within it, this matters for small, medium and larger businesses. You can't get an economic contract unless you're ready to sign up to demands that are going to be changing. So, you won't see extractive, large companies in Wales that are going to have economic contracts; they're going to need to sign up to the ways of working and to giving back to make sure that it really is something for something, if they want the support that this Government can and is prepared to provide, both to see jobs kept in Wales as well as investment to create new jobs in Wales. And that is one of the positives that a cynical young man like yourself might want to see as a positive, that there is an opportunity to create new jobs for the future that will be good jobs, well-paid jobs that can exist in different parts of Wales. We don't need to see the stripping out of highly paid employment to be replaced by much lower grade employment with lesser wages as well. And it's one of the things where we're really keen to grasp the opportunity as we look to our shared future.
I think I've mentioned the points about working with Ministers in climate change on improving the charging infrastructure. It's a challenge we've recognised, and again there are choices we could make on a more efficient basis if we could work alongside the UK Government in doing so. That would require the sharing of an approach.
I want to make the point again on land use and your point about climate change, and some of the challenges we see. It's why I mentioned coal tip remediation in the statement, because you're seeing a Government that is determined to invest in that in the United States. Again, parts of the United States are scarred and affected by their own industrial legacy as well. They're investing in that. There's a federal Government investing in that, working with the state Government. You could see that here as well, if the UK Government were prepared to look at their responsibility and the legacy that isn't devolved to actually work with us to have a proper plan to both deal with the environmental damage and impact of that legacy, but also to see jobs and again skills that could be exported, because we think that it's inevitable that other parts of the world will have to go through the same process of remediation from coal tip and extraction over the next coming decades.
And on your point about steel co-operatives, we're actually looking rather more at the way in which steel is currently produced and our ability to work alongside the companies that are here already. We have companies in Wales and across the UK. If there are opportunities for co-operatives, I certainly wouldn't turn them down, but I don't think that's a realistic answer for the way the UK industry is currently structured. Our bigger concern is making sure that well-paid employment doesn't disappear; that we don't see a decarbonisation transition that costs lots of jobs in a way that is avoidable if we can see the right sorts of investment choices and action on energy pricing as well.
And on your broader point about indicators as well as GDP, then, yes, I am open to conversations and discussions. We've had some of those with you and some of your colleagues on what a well-being economy looks like and how we measure success, but of course we have a range of those already and what they look like with our future generations Act, how we look to try to understand, this is the footprint of what we think should work, how we should value investment, and how we will then measure our ability to make steps forward on having a genuine well-being economy here in Wales in the future.
Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Llywydd, and I'll extend my thanks to the Minister for his statement. I agree with him about the importance of the steel industry; if we are to move towards a green economy, then that must include localised steel production. I'm sure, Minister, you've read the report overnight of a EU-US trade deal on steel, and it is absolutely vital that UK steel has the same access to that deal. So, I'd be very interested, Minister, in your thoughts, and what this means for the steel sector within Wales.
And just secondly and finally, Deputy Llywydd, the Minister again talks about skills quite heavily in his statement today, and if we are to build the next generation of green technology and products here in Wales, it's clear that we do need the right skills. So, perhaps you could tell us how confident you are that we are training and upskilling the right people to fulfil this need. And can you confirm to the Chamber today that the conversations are not just with employers, but they are with professional bodies, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and also our trade union partners across Wales and the United Kingdom?
Yes, I'll have to deal with your second question first, because that is the nature of the conversations we're having. We're looking at where other support is available, because parts of the UK Government in broader employability support is in a different place to where it was a few years ago. On the plainly devolved responsibilities around skills, yes, we are working with professional bodies as well as employers on needing to understand the sorts of skills we think we're going to need in the future of the economy. It's why I was really pleased to meet regional skills partnerships today to look at the work they're already doing, to understand that from a regional perspective as well as with sectors and the national lens that we have too. And, yes, of course we will continue to engage with trade unions on how we can deliver some of those skills, because of course, one of the things that I was most proud of in my time at the Wales TUC, when I had the opportunity to be the president and the vice president, was the work that we did through the Wales Union Learning Fund on actually encouraging people to get skills for life, but also skills for work. The trade union was often a really important gateway to get people to acknowledge they had skills deficits that they wanted to address, things they wanted to do, from basic literacy and numeracy to going on to deliver higher skills, and the access that provides to opportunities to have not just more enjoyment at work, but access to better paid and better quality work too.
On your point about the steel deal, I heard the announcement too with interest, and the details aren't entirely clear and they're emerging, but I think the initial starting point is that the removal of at least some, if not all, of the tariffs that were imposed by the former President of the United States is good news. I think that set off unhelpful retaliatory measures between Europe and the United States. We need to understand what that means for the UK. The UK is outside the deal at present. In broad decarbonisation terms, it's good news that major economies are saying, 'We want to prioritise and advantage steel that is produced in a cleaner and greener way and to prevent dirty steel being imported'—the phrase that President Biden used—'and prevent the dumping of steel'. Those are definitely things that the steel sector here in Wales is concerned about as far as the UK is concerned. I'd be very keen to see the trade discussions that should take place with the US and the European Union to mirror those terms being available to UK steel production as soon as possible. Because I think we have a comparable story to tell when it comes to US and EU steel production, and I certainly don't want the sector to be disadvantaged here. But if we can get that early access to the same terms, I think it's good news for the steel sector here in the UK, and for jobs in Wales, of course.
Thank you, Minister, for bringing forward today's statement. I certainly welcome the ambition to build a stronger, greener economy here in Wales. A key part of making and seeing that green economy a success is the role that local authorities can play in achieving this. In light of this, I was disappointed to see that local authorities and councils were not mentioned in your statement today, so perhaps you'd want to mention them in response to my points. Indeed, I heard you mention some of the hydrogen opportunities in north Wales, and I note today the excellent announcement by the Mersey Dee Alliance that they've been awarded funding by the UK Government for carbon capture and underground storage infrastructure. I'll quote from the release:
'The implementation of CCUS from 2025 will safeguard the future of thousands of high value manufacturing jobs in the Mersey Dee and
connected economic areas in North Wales'.
They go on to say that it'll create around 6,000 new jobs because of this investment in hydrogen infrastructure. I think it's an excellent example of four councils working together with other organisations to help deliver a thriving, greener economy in north Wales. So, Minister, what discussions have you had with local authorities in relation to a greener economy, and what role do you think they could play in achieving this? Thank you.
Thank you for the question and the points. I've mentioned several times, during not just the statement but questions, the welcome for the further investment in the HyNet project they're looking to deliver across north-west England and through north Wales. I've had regular conversations with both the English authorities as well as the Welsh authorities involved in the Mersey Dee Alliance, and I'm pleased that that appears to be something that is additional and not competitive with the wider work the North Wales Economic Ambition Board is undertaking, where the six local authorities have agreed on a range of priorities to help support and grow the Welsh economy across north Wales. I have a very good relationship with local authorities. I see them as integral to our ambitions for the economy, including greening the economy, and that is part of the work with each of the regional partnerships that exist.
Both the regional skills partnerships and each of the growth deals, and the new corporate joint committees that exist, I think are a practical expression of our willingness and our desire to carry on working on a regional basis. Local authorities are essential partners in doing so. It's why I've commissioned the OECD, as one of my early actions in post, to carry on working on the future for regional economic development, and I certainly think that we'll see more to come in the partnership between the Welsh Government and local authorities. It would of course be better if we were able to have more certainty in the framework as to how we can work together with the funds that have yet to be made clear from the UK Government—the levelling-up funds. But I'm sure we'll have lots of opportunities to talk about those in the future.