Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

03/11/2021

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:29 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in Senedd proceedings, 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 set out on your agenda. 

13:30
1. Questions to the Minister for Economy

The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Economy, and the first question is from John Griffiths.

Technology Industries

1. What progress has the Welsh Government made in developing policies to create sustainable highly skilled, well-paid jobs in technology industries in south-east Wales? OQ57091

Thank you for the question. We are doing everything possible to retain and create highly skilled and well-paid jobs across Wales. On 21 October, I held an economic summit to discuss with stakeholders how we can work together to pursue a progressive economic policy that focuses on better jobs, narrowing the skills divide and tackling poverty.

Minister, I think it's fair to say that the world-over experience shows that it's very difficult and a lengthy process to transition from an economy characterised by heavy industry to one that's highly skilled and well paid in terms of new technologies and new opportunities. But thankfully, I think in south-east Wales we have many examples now of those new industries, whether it's cyber security or the microchip industry or more generally. And I was very pleased to visit, with you, recently Indigo Telecom Group in Magor, where I think we saw an example of a company that's grown impressively in terms of those new jobs and has ambitious plans for further expansion. 

I recently visited Newport market, which is undergoing a complete refurbishment to create offices, a work hub, as well as a food and drink quarter, and they have cyber security tenants for their new offices and work hub as well as other new industries. So, I think we are seeing very encouraging signs, Minister, and I wonder if you could just offer assurances, as I'm sure you will, that Welsh Government will continue to support these new industries with all the help and assistance that's necessary to establish them, develop and grow them, and make sure that they provide these first-class opportunities for local people.

Yes, I think this is an area where there is room for informed optimism. Of course, on 18 October, I set out the new approach to taking forward the mission. On 21 October, I visited Indigo with you. And actually, Indigo Telecom are a good example of exactly that sort of business. But you're right to point out the compound semiconductor cluster in south-east Wales as well. You're also right to point to the work in Newport market—a significant redevelopment. And I had the opportunity to visit that with the two Janes—Jane Mudd, the leader of Newport City Council, and your neighbour, Jayne Bryant, as well—to see how exactly we're doing that and taking it forward. That's a good example of working together with local authorities as key partners in economic development, together with higher education, which is involved in all of the industry we just talked about, and, of course, further education and the importance of the skills agenda. So, you can expect to see us doing all we can with the budgets we have to further the skills of people to make sure that those jobs don't just come here, but they stay and grow in Wales too.

Minister, I'd just like to echo what my honourable colleague John Griffiths has just said, that south-east Wales has got a lot of potential, particularly in technology. I recently visited Forth in Chepstow, which is an innovative biomarking tracking platform, which helps people navigate their way to better health. This company is one of a number of technology businesses—another is Creo Medical—based in south-east Wales, attracted to the region by pleasant surroundings and good motorway and rail links to the midlands and the south-west of England. We all know that Silicon Valley in California is a global hub for technological innovation and is one of the wealthiest regions in the world. What consideration would you, Minister, now having done the visit to Newport East, across the region, and I'm sure to many parts of Wales, given the current situation—? What would you feel about creating a technology hub in south-east Wales that can be marketed as a base for innovation and skills, providing a vibrant community for enterprise and helping, ultimately, to transform the Welsh economy?

Well, of course, we do have clusters of advanced technology and advanced manufacturing in different parts of Wales, and in the south-east we've already got a cluster that is based around compound semiconductors, and I mentioned that in response to John Griffiths. We've also got an emerging fintech cluster in the southern part of Wales as well, recognised by the UK Government as well as a potential significant growth area. And it does point out what we can do if the Welsh Government works alongside businesses, as we have done, and works alongside further and higher education, to provide the skills that people will need as well. And life science is, again, another area where we're seeing significant growth—you mentioned examples in your own contribution. That is partly because there is excellent opportunity available within the UK, but, in particular in Wales, the design of our healthcare system is something that is very attractive, in having whole-health organisations, primary and secondary care, in the same organisation. That's been a really important factor in people choosing to invest here, together with the way we have design decisions that bring partners together, much more in co-operation and collaboration than in competition. So, I look forward to seeing that realised in the way that we've deliberately constructed a system to take advantage of that, with consistent policies over the last 20 years.

13:35
Employment Opportunities for Young People

2. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote employment opportunities for young people in Mid and West Wales? OQ57096

Thank you for the question. We've extended our employer incentive scheme to support businesses in recruiting apprentices until the end of February next year. This scheme will continue alongside our ambitious young person's guarantee, and I will update the Chamber on progress with the young person's guarantee in an oral statement scheduled for 16 November.

Thank you for your reply, Minister.

Over the past decade, the Jobs Growth Wales programme has helped more than 19,000 young people step into the world of work, to get a good job and to start building a future. And now, Jobs Growth Wales+ will create those life-changing opportunities for young people who are not in education, employment or training. And it's just the first part of Welsh Labour's young person's guarantee, of course—our promise and commitment to every young person in Wales. So, ahead of the roll-out next year, Minister, what support is in place to help providers adapt existing apprenticeships and traineeships to deliver that new programme?

Thank you for the question. It's an important point about recognising that we have got the new Jobs Growth Wales+ programme starting in April next year, building on the success of the previous Jobs Growth Wales programme, together with ReAct+, again strengthening the offer we already have available. So, we are working with providers, so they'll understand what we are looking to do, and actually further education providers are in particular very enthusiastic about working alongside us. Our biggest challenge in many ways is not just making sure we have a single point of access to help people navigate through the system, but also the level of certainty that we can or can't have about both funding and strategy as well. And it's why the employability review we're undertaking is so important, and that will be launched in the spring to get ready for the start of the roll-out of Jobs Growth Wales+, and really accelerating with the offer that we have made to young people in Wales, to ensure there really is an opportunity for job, education, or indeed self-employment and work in the future.

Minister, I recently visited the Hafren, an entertainment venue and theatre based in Newtown, and they outlined a specific issue that is facing their industry at the moment. I'd be grateful if you could outline what the Welsh Government is doing to encourage younger people to take up opportunities in the creative industry—theatre staging and technicians in particular. And what they outlined to me is that, during the close-down of the the live theatre industry during the lockdown period, many theatre technicians went to work in film and television production, with that, of course, leaving a gap in the theatre industry, with a lack of young talent coming through into live theatre. So, I wonder if, Minister, I could ask you to consider how the Welsh Government could support this particular gap in this industry and what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure the future of this particular industry.

You're right to point out that there has been a real boom in film and tv production following the easing of restrictions. Wales is recognised as a place where there's a good environment to do so, not just our natural environment, but the support of the Government working alongside industry, and those are both important factors. I also recognise some of the challenges around what that's done in terms of a labour shortage for the demand that exists across a range of sectors, including on the stage. It's an area that the Deputy Minister, Dawn Bowden, is leading on, in terms of the creative industries, and we talk regularly about the challenges and making sure that the skills that are needed for the future workforce in the creative sector are ones where we can appropriately plan for them and provide the skills, training and opportunities for people to go into an industry that has grown significantly already in Wales and we are confident has a bright and positive future. You can expect to hear more about this from either me or the Deputy Minister as we continue to work through the challenges of the UK budget settlement and our own budget settlement here in Wales.

13:40

Good afternoon, Minister. Following on from my esteemed colleagues in Mid and West Wales, I wanted to focus in on relating young people to green jobs. I think we're all concerned about the employment opportunities currently on offer to young people in Mid and West Wales. So, in Canada, for instance, the Government supports science and technology internships in the green industries to support young people to have the skills needed for the green jobs of the future. And, closer to our home, in Mid and West Wales, in Talgarth, Black Mountains College has launched a vocational NVQ aimed at preparing young people for the green jobs of the future. So, I wondered if I could just ask you what ideas the Welsh Government is taking from those jobs initiatives abroad and how the Government is working with colleges, like Black Mountains College, to expand the provision of education and skills to both meet the challenge of the climate emergency and improve the employment opportunities for young people. Thank you. Diolch.  

Thank you for the question. And, interestingly, we have good relationships with Canada, the example you mentioned—internationally—and we do look regularly to see what effective practice exists within the UK, Europe, and beyond, when developing policy and programmes, and in particular in this area, where there is a real challenge for us, but also a real opportunity, as the Member has recognised. And officials do meet regularly with colleges, including representatives from Black Mountains College, to explore those opportunities, and I think we're in a good place in Wales in the way that we've been able to work together. The biggest barrier to us being able to take up those opportunities is certainty on what we can do here in Wales. That's both budget certainty and the policy certainty we can provide, and actually to move away from an unnecessarily competitive and unhelpful dialogue with the UK Government, but greater certainty about what each Government is going to do in respect of the devolution settlement, and making real progress forward, because there are opportunities that have real gain for students and citizens here in Wales. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservatives spokesperson first—Tom Giffard. These questions are to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport. Tom Giffard. 

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Deputy Minister, I wanted to start by asking questions about the parts of your portfolio that have perhaps been most severely affected during the COVID pandemic, and those are the tourism and hospitality sectors. These industries have seen prolonged closures, greater social distancing, having to operate at reduced capacity, and, as a result, a greater loss of revenue than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. Thankfully, the improved public health position, thanks to the UK-wide vaccine roll-out, has meant a number of these restrictions have since been lifted. But, after the health Minister's statement yesterday, which said the Welsh Government intended to extend COVID passes further into hospitality venues, such as cinemas, theatres and concert halls, this showed us that this part of the industry probably will have more to deal with, going forward. But the wider industry may have more to worry about too. The First Minister last Friday alluded to the idea that further restrictions are set to come, impacting hospitality and tourism businesses even further, but, yet, he never said what those would be. So, while the expectation is that these businesses prepare for this, how can they prepare if they don't know what the restrictions will be? So, can I invite you, Deputy Minister, to make that clear on the record now, so that these businesses can properly do that? And will you also confirm that any restrictions or change in the rules that will impact hospitality and tourism businesses will be accompanied by the financial support that these businesses will need? 

Can I thank Tom Giffard for that comment? As the Member knows, we are still facing a very challenging situation around COVID. We are still seeing significant levels of infections, and we know that a number of premises, events, hospitality organisations and venues are very high-risk venues, because primarily they tend to be indoors. Now, the First Minister did signal at the last COVID review that if the situation does not improve—and that would be taken in the round; it is not just about the number of cases, but the impact on the NHS and on communities as a whole—he would have to consider whether we extended the COVID pass into other areas. He already announced that the COVID pass will be extended to theatres, cinemas and concert halls.

To deal specifically with the point about hospitality, I think it's important to understand that what the extension of any COVID pass into those areas is aimed at doing is ensuring that those venues can remain open. He will remember, last year, we faced a very, very difficult winter, and at very short notice, all hospitality—pubs, restaurants and hospitality venues—was closed down for a considerable number of weeks, and that's what we want to avoid this year. So, the extension of COVID passes needs to be seen in that context, and needs to be seen as something that will aid keeping those venues open rather than being seen as a restriction to the operation of those venues.


The other thing I would say in terms of ongoing support is I continue to have regular discussions with my colleague the Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething, about what relevant support can be put in place if this situation continues, and restrictions continue, and if the impact on those businesses continues indefinitely, or certainly for the foreseeable future. So, those are discussions that are ongoing, and we keep that under constant review.

13:45

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that answer. I just wanted to turn to sport and major events. During our previous exchange in the Chamber some four months ago, I raised concerns about the confusion surrounding the legislation on some of the pilot schemes on sport and major events at the time, where there were different rules for different settings. And you in your answer claimed the guidance was clear and the confusion surrounding the regulations was down to the individual venues and businesses.

Since that time, the Welsh Government report 'Pilot Events: Report on Findings' has been released, and it highlighted that there were major problems around confusion about rules, about whether there had been different rules for different venues around social distancing adherence and mask compliance. But even now these restrictions have been eased, it's clear a lot of these issues still remain. So, recent sporting events, such as last week's Wales versus New Zealand game, showed that mask adherence by spectators was patchy at best, and many constituents that have contacted me said there was very little enforcement of that either.

So, enforcement of the rules has also been at best problematic. COVID passes were enforced for this fixture, but many who attended told me they were never asked for theirs. Now, I understand that they would be carried out by spot checks, but what percentage of spectators did you expect would be asked for one, and did last weekend's game meet those targets? The continued poor enforcement of your own rules leads me to also ask: what lessons were actually learnt from that initial pilot, and why do these issues remain today? Surely, don't you agree, Minister, that instead of introducing a slew of new rules at the next review, we just need to better enforce the existing ones? 

In terms of the New Zealand and Wales game last Saturday, you're quite right, COVID passes were used, and, actually, the feedback that we received is that the implementation of the pass at that game went remarkably well, and fans were extremely compliant, with about 90 per cent of the audience being in the stadium at least 30 minutes before the game kicked off. 

Now, as you quite rightly pointed out, it was never the intention that 100 per cent of attendees at this would be using, or would have their COVID pass checked because that would have been operationally impossible to do safely with the size of the expected crowd, and the limited space in the stadium footprint. But as many checks as possible were implemented, and it was deemed to be relatively successful. 

Now, in terms of face coverings, of course, it's an outdoor event, so face coverings were not required, although fans were asked to wear face coverings in the concourse areas and going through turnstiles and so on. And there was general compliance with that as well. But as it was a largely outdoor event, then that wasn't a requirement. And what I would say is: with all of our—[Inaudible.]—events, we are continually reviewing and revising how the measures are implemented, and how they're monitored, and how they are enforced. For many events, the enforcement is down to the venue itself. In other settings, the enforcement is down to the local authority. 

But, as I say, generally speaking, we have had positive feedback from that experience, and it's something that we intend to continue monitoring as we go forward. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that answer. I'm interested though, you mentioned about COVID passes being enforced by spot checks. I asked for the percentage of spectators that went to that game that would be expected to have their COVID passes checked, and I didn't appear to hear an answer. So, presumably, if you're going to introduce a rule like that, you would have an expectation as to how many people in attendance at that event would have that checked. So, I'd be grateful if you could pick that up in your next answer. 

But, to me, it's clear that the sports and major events industry as well as the hospitality and tourism industry in your portfolio have had to contend with restrictions on their day-to-day operations over the last 18 months, and they've faced a lot of upheaval as a result of the Welsh Government's decision making. For hospitality, they've dealt with longer closures than elsewhere in the UK. The 2m rule was in place, for example, for longer in Wales, and self-isolation requirements have also affected staff shortages, and that has been different too. Whereas the sporting and major events industry has dealt with its own restrictions like COVID passes, which we've discussed, masks in seats and had their venues closed for longer. All of these yet again going further than other parts of the UK. So, therefore, it's clear you've taken a very different approach in Wales to elsewhere in the UK, and it is these industries in your portfolio that have had to deal with the greatest impact as a result of these decisions. 

As I'm sure you'd agree, Deputy Minister, it would be wholly inappropriate to lump all of these decisions and therefore the accountability into a public inquiry with England. So, Deputy Minister, in light of the impact on your portfolio specifically, do you agree with me it's time for a Welsh COVID inquiry?

13:50

Thank you, Llywydd. Over half term, museums across Wales took part in the Welsh museums festival. It's an opportunity to discuss the crucial role of museums of all sizes and shapes and the positive impact that they have in so many different ways, including on our economy. However, as a recent report by the British Museums Association shows, over the last decade, spending of local authorities on museums and galleries in Wales has fallen by 31 per cent, reflecting just how much local authority budgets have been cut in terms of what they're able to invest in non-statutory services.

If this trend continues, then there is a very real possibility that museums in Wales will close and that we will have to further reduce the services or opening hours, having a negative impact on local economies, our tourism offer, as well as the well-being of users and all the wonderful far-reaching projects that they deliver as a sector. What steps are being taken by the Welsh Government to safeguard local museums after a decade of austerity?

I thank Heledd Fychan for that question and I think her final point there was a very relevant one. You know, what we have seen in the museum sector, as in other sectors of my portfolio, is the impact of 10 years of Tory austerity, which has filtered through to local authorities and to the organisations that they have to fund.

However, what I also agree with her on is the fact that our museums are hugely important to our communities, they're important to our education service, they're important for people's mental health and well-being, and all the other aspects of the programme for government that we have published. The work of museums feeds into all of that. So, we clearly have an interest in making sure that they continue and that they thrive and that they provide the service that they have done over many years. One of the things that we're looking at is helping them to develop, for instance, their digital offer, which makes museums far more accessible to more people than have previously been. That was something that we picked up through the pandemic. 

But what you will also be aware of, of course, is that we're currently in the process of assessing what the comprehensive spending review in the UK budget meant for Wales and how that will impact on all of the bodies that we have to finance from the Welsh budget. And those discussions will be ongoing and continuing with the national museums and the trade unions within the sector to ensure that those bodies are adequately funded to do all the things that we've set out in our programme for government.

Thank you, Deputy Minister. But, the challenges facing local museums are nothing new, and for a number of years now we've heard words from Ministers but haven't seen action. Indeed, due to the concerns about the sector, the Welsh Government commissioned a review of local museums in 2015. The review noted that local museums didn't have the resources or capacity, and the Minister at the time, Ken Skates, committed that his officials would look at the opportunities provided by the well-being of future generations Act to support and develop museums. So, why has the Welsh Government still not implemented the recommendations of its own report in full? Can you provide a timetable in terms of when they will be implemented or tell us why a decision was taken not to implement these?

13:55

The tailored review that you talk about, of course, did come with a number of recommendations, and a considerable amount of Welsh Government funding and support that went alongside that. We continue to have those discussions with the museum, and with the trade unions in the museum, about ensuring that the recommendations of that tailored review are fully implemented.

It has been problematic because of some of the issues within the museum that you'll be aware of. We've not had a president in the museum for some time. We have now been advertising for a—sorry, it's not a president in the museum; that was in the library, so I do apologise. We've had the issues of the tailored review that we've been applying funding to, and we've had the ongoing discussions with the museum about how those aspects of the review will be implemented.

I'm talking specifically, Minister, about local museums and the review in 2015 that was conducted, rather than the Simon Thurley review of National Museum Wales. There were 10 recommendations in the local museum review that are yet to be implemented, despite the sector writing on numerous occasions and despite pleas by organisations such as the Museums Association and National Museum Wales, which are desperately wanting to support the sector.

Wales was the first nation in the UK to publish a strategy for museums as a whole. It was a strategy that was welcomed by the sector. Now, this came to an end in 2015, having been established in 2010, and although work has been ongoing on the new strategy since 2018, Wales does not have a strategy for museums now. When will this strategy be completed? What resources will be available to enable the sector as a whole to play its full part in terms of the seven well-being aims of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, including the economic contribution of the sector?

As I said in response to an earlier question, Heledd, I'm not in a position yet to tell you about funding because that is where we are currently at, in terms of looking at how all of our organisations are funded and what funding is to be allocated to each of those sectors.

In terms of the museums review, I would want to be reviewing where we are with that now, because we have talked previously about the wider cultural strategy, and I think all of that will fit into that as well, but I do take the point that there is a bespoke piece of work that has been done. I need to review where we are at with that, and I will make sure that you're updated when I review that and have a look at that following this discussion today.

Rail Freight

3. What assessment has the Government made of the contribution of rail freight to the Welsh economy? OQ57116

Thank you for the question. Rail freight is a critical part of Wales's transport system and supply chain. We will continue to encourage more freight to be moved by rail and support interventions that shift freight from road to rail, together with future innovations to help make the sector more sustainable. This is a transport infrastructure-led area that falls within the portfolio led by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change.

Thank you, Minister. Most goods have to be transported by lorries and vans along our roads in north Wales, and that's true for the most part in all of rural Wales. There's virtually no freight carried on the tracks of mid and north Wales. If we want to see fewer carbon emissions from vehicles, then we do have to carry more goods via rail.

Now, the Welsh Government's freight strategy in 2008 suggested that we should invest in more inter-modal exchanges, but not one has been developed across the railways of mid and north Wales. Having an inter-modal exchange alongside the north Wales and mid Wales line would enhance the economy and environment in Gwynedd, Môn, Powys and Ceredigion, so will you consider investing in such a development as soon as possible?

Well, as I said, this is an area that is led by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change. Despite the fact that rail infrastructure is largely not devolved, we have, however, made rail facilities grants available to help develop some parts of the rail infrastructure. I’m sure the Deputy Minister for Climate Change will take a keen interest in your point and be happy to write to you if there are further matters to add to the answer I’ve already given.

14:00

Thank you to the Member for submitting a really important question in relation to rail freight and the Welsh economy. Minister, the Conwy valley railway line in my region runs from Llandudno down to Blaenau Ffestiniog, actually, in the Member’s constituency, and continues to be a really important transport route for many people. I’ve been really pleased to see Network Rail invest millions in recent years in the line to secure its future, which may, of course, present an opportunity for freight usage in the future. Indeed, I’ve had a number of meetings recently with Breedon Aggregates, who have themselves invested in a significant project at Llandudno Junction for a new rail head to better enable freight travel, which, as you acknowledged, certainly supports economic growth whilst also helping our planet by reducing those emissions on the road.

I acknowledge what you say, Minister, in terms of where the transport side of things lie in terms of ministerial portfolios, but, in terms of supporting companies and businesses in Wales, what support would you be looking to give companies like Breedon in their endeavours to make better use of the opportunities that freight has to offer?

Well, when it comes to looking at the economic development opportunities that come, then, yes, we’re always interested in working with companies and other partners. But I’m pleased you mentioned Network Rail in your answer, because, outside the core Valleys lines network, rail infrastructure is not devolved, and it is for Network Rail and the UK Government to invest in that, and it’s an area where they’ve conspicuously not done so over a significant period of time. There’s a broader point here—rather than picking a fight on areas that are plainly devolved, we'd be much better off if the UK Government would invest in areas that it is solely responsible for. We’d be happy to work with them to do so and to make sure that we do then realise the economic development opportunities that come from it.

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Thank you, Minister. It is good to see you after six years, really. My question is—[Laughter.] It was the fourth Senedd, and it's the sixth Senedd. [Laughter.]

The Economy of South Wales West

4. What action is the Welsh Government taking to develop the economy of South Wales West? OQ57085

Thank you for the question, and it's good to see you after an enforced absence, and a return to this place. We're taking widespread action to invest in business. I set out an updated approach to moving the Welsh economy forward in the statement I gave to the Chamber on 19 October. We want to invest in people and infrastructure and support a fairer, greener and more prosperous economy in South Wales West and, of course, across the whole country, working with our partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Thank you very much, Minister. Minister, I’m sure, if we want the people of South Wales West to experience the advantages of a growing economy over the next few years, we need to see a strategy focused not just on job creation, but jobs with bigger pay packets, rewarding the skills and commitment of the local people. Can the Minister set out how many new jobs he aims to support over the next four years? And what proportion will be better paid? Thank you.

Well, you’re right to focus on not just improving the number of people in work, but the quality of work that people have, including their pay. And as the Member will know, one of the key factors in that is investing in the skills of the workforce, investing in our people, and that’s one of the big challenges that we face here, and it’s one of my significant frustrations about the lack of a respectful and joined-up approach with the United Kingdom Government. The recent announcements made on levelling-up funding—the announcement made up until the announcement today was about £120 million in 10 projects, projects that are in the majority based in Conservative UK parliamentary constituencies that don’t actually meet any definition of levelling-up funding, funding that actually does not match the previous promises that have been made. It leaves Wales £0.25 billion short in just this first year at least, and that is money that would otherwise have been spent on innovation in supporting higher education, otherwise would have been spent supporting our skills agenda, otherwise spent on supporting the economy. And that’s the challenge here. I think that this place and our country should be treated with a deal more respect. And the promises that were made about not losing out on a single penny that have been very clearly broken in the Chancellor's recent statement—I'd like to hear some Welsh Conservatives standing up for Wales and saying, 'We want our money back.'

14:05
The Economy of Mid Wales

5. How is the Welsh Government supporting the economy of mid Wales to recover from the pandemic? OQ57089

Our economic resilience and reconstruction mission sets out our approach to the economy, supporting individuals, businesses and communities to succeed and flourish. The chief regional officers and their teams have been established and are more focused and engaging in a regional model of economic development. We're also, of course, working with partners on the mid Wales growth deal.

Thank you, Minister. Of course, I hope you'll, like me, very much welcome the news of £15.5 million to restore the Montgomery canal, which was announced in the UK Government's budget last week. This will be a huge benefit to the people of mid Wales in terms of thousands of extra—[Interruption.] Sorry, Presiding Officer, I can't hear.

Okay. Allow the Member to carry on without interruption, please.

Thank you. Minister, this will be a huge opportunity for mid Wales, I hope you would agree, as thousands of extra canal boats come into mid Wales, thousands of extra visitors visiting Welshpool, and also with that ultimate aim of the restoration to the canal to Newtown as well. I very much hope, Minister, that, through the mid Wales growth deal, additional funding can be levered in as well. I know this will be a key project within the mid Wales growth deal, which I know is a partnership between yourself and the UK Government, but very much I welcome—. There'll be additional private investment, no doubt, but I would like your support in principle, Minister, for additional support through the mid Wales growth deal to support those final elements of the mid Wales canal project, which I'm sure you'll very much agree with me will be of huge benefit to mid Wales.

Well, I can see why the canal project that's been supported in the UK Government's budget announcement is good news for people living in that area, and we are working constructively with the two local authorities—Ceredigion and Powys—and the UK Government on the mid Wales growth deal. But it just doesn't get away from the reality that the £120 million announced for 10 projects is skewed towards Conservative UK constituencies. It does not match any realistic definition of need and levelling up. And the money—[Interruption.] The money that you referred to in one particular project does not—[Interruption.]—does not equal the money that we were promised. The £375 million that Wales was due to be getting—even if all of that money is spent within this one year, the £120 million, it is over £0.25 billion short. And I know the Member wants me to welcome the £0.25 billion cut that his Government has actually imposed, and more cuts to come in years to come, but I believe Wales should be treated with more respect. I believe that Conservatives in this place should decide will they stand up for Wales, will they stand up for the money that has been lost, that has been taken away by their Chancellor, or will they simply be the advertising agency of the UK Government while it takes money away from Wales.

The Green Economy in South Wales East

6. What is the Government doing to support the green economy in South Wales East? OQ57088

I outlined in my statement yesterday to the Chamber the Welsh Government’s vision for the green economy and confirmed its fundamental role in the progress of our economic resilience and reconstruction mission.

Diolch yn fawr. During Plaid Cymru's debate last month on the energy sector and the climate emergency, there was a response from your Government that hinted at a positive change when it comes to ensuring that the wealth generated by renewable energy is retained in Welsh communities. There was a reference to, and I quote, 'a deep dive' the following day, to see what barriers can be overcome to increase renewable energy capacity owned by public bodies and community groups across Wales. We really need to see progress in terms of community ownership, as this has been shown to be key, in numerous international examples, in shifting public attitudes towards renewable energy generation. Three weeks on from the so-called deep dive, what update can you give on the efforts to ensure the profits and benefits of energy projects in Wales remain in Wales?

Well, that's work that I'll be undertaking with the Ministers in the department for climate change. As the Member will know, we're really interested in making sure that our obligations to the future of the planet are met, but there is real economic gain to be generated from this as well. And I take on board the Member's point about community engagement and ownership of some of the energy projects moving forward. So, I won't be able to give you an answer today, but I can say that I'll continue to work with Ministers in the climate change department, not just to deliver a better way to generate power that is renewable and doesn't compromise the future of the planet, but, actually, can deliver a real economic dividend for local communities.

14:10

Promoting the green agenda is one of the biggest tasks for all Governments in this century. That's why I would like to put firmly on the record the impressive track record of Monmouthshire County Council, which was one of the first local authorities to sign up to the climate change declaration. But, whilst promoting the green agenda, it's vital that the green economy, and, in particular, local businesses and projects, are not neglected, Minister. We've seen in Monmouthshire the immense benefits that can be achieved in this field, most notably around building our own solar farm on council grounds. With that in mind, can you outline specific steps of what the Welsh Government is doing to promote the green economy in Monmouthshire? Thank you.

Well, I can't give, off the top of my head, steps in the green economy in Monmouthshire, but I'm happy to write to you, and I'm sure that the former leader of Monmouthshire council will be delighted to hear you praise their record in the past. But I can say that, when it comes to promoting renewable sources of energy and the economic benefits, it had a significant range of positives, not just in Monmouthshire, of course—today, you will have seen the reports about the solar farm that is helping to power significant resources into Morriston Hospital as well. So, the Welsh Government, in a range of areas, is practically promoting renewable sources of energy and economic return and gain, and I'd be more than happy to give him an update, which I'm sure he's aware of, about such projects within the Monmouthshire constituency.FootnoteLink

The UK Government's Budget

7. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact the UK Government’s budget will have on its economic programme in Blaenau Gwent? OQ57118

Thank you for the question. We'll continue to analyse the recent announcement made and discuss what the Chancellor's pronouncements mean in more detail. However, it cannot be ignored that the budget fails to meet the enormous challenges we face as we continue our economic recovery from the pandemic.

I'm grateful to you for that, Minister. I'd be grateful if the Welsh Government could publish a quarterly analysis of UK spending in Wales on some of these matters, because it's clear to me that the greatest investment being made in this country by the United Kingdom Government is that in press releases, various forms of PR and marketing, and not in the substance of supporting people in need. What we saw last week was an exercise in the most corrupt pork-barrel politics that this country has seen in decades. What we saw was money being taken away from the poorest parts of this country and poured into Tory constituencies in order to buy votes. It is not how we have done things in this place—and you'll learn that. It's not how we've done things in this place. What we've always done is ensure that we meet need on the basis of need, and what we don't meet is greed on the basis of votes.

Well, the reason why there is so much chuntering from the Conservative seats in this place is because the Member correctly identifies the pork-barrel politics that went through announcements in the Chancellor's statement. And you only need to look at the facts. It is a fact that the £375 million Wales would otherwise have got has not been delivered, despite repeated promises it would be. Conservative Members here want to stand up for the UK Government and not stand up for Wales. There are huge sums of money that have been denied to Wales. And actually, when you look at the forecast for the shared prosperity funds that have been given, it says, next year, there'll be £400 million across the UK. If Wales was in the European Union and still had access to those funds, it would be £375 million just for Wales alone. We have been misled, we have been short changed, and the Tories need to decide will you stand up for Wales or are you simply here to try and defend the indefensible from the UK Government.

I for one welcome the UK Government budget, which has provided Wales with the biggest ever increase in funding since the start of devolution. It shows that the UK Government is committed to the people of Wales, and it shows that it's committed to the development of our nation. From the levelling-up fund through to the community ownership fund, where the Queen's Ballroom in Tredegar, Blaenau Gwent, has received £90,000. So, I hope the Member for Blaenau Gwent and the Minister will join me in recognising the good work of the UK Government in its extremely generous budget and investing in Wales once again.

Minister, could you please outline what plans you have to complement the levelling-up funding across Wales to make the best success of the UK Government's investment in the big financial package that it's given to Wales? Thank you.

14:15

That is extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary, and it was factually simply wrong to say this is a generous settlement. What we have seen are cuts to Wales from the levelling-up funding. It's undeniably the case. The money is being cut, but the Conservatives here want to celebrate that. That is just extraordinary, and more than that, the reality is that the recent budget does not replace the money taken away during austerity. In real terms, we will do not much more than flatline on revenue, but in capital terms, we've seen a real-terms cut over the last period in the spending review. That is what Laura Jones and the Conservatives want to celebrate. It is appalling, and I really do say to Conservatives in this place: whose side are you on? Are you on the side of the people of Wales who are having money cut from them, from the businesses that won't have the support they would otherwise have? Are you on the side of those people who need training, the skills, the apprenticeships, the money that previously supported them? Are you on the side of innovation and research, which have been cut because of the way that the UK Government have refused to engage with us and the cuts to the funding that would be otherwise available? At this point in time, you're on entirely the wrong side. Do your job and stand up for Wales.

The Construction Industry

8. What discussions has the Minister had with the construction industry about the future skills required for its workforce? OQ57095

I held an introductory meeting with the Construction Industry Training Board in June. I'll be holding regular meetings with them, together with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, to discuss all aspects of the industry’s training and skills requirements.

As you met the CITB in June, you'll be fully aware of the skills deficit they highlighted in their report in March, about the sorts of skills that we need for the public buildings we're going to be building in the future, so people like energy assessors, retrofit co-ordinators, insulation and heat pump installers. The three major constructors involved in works in my constituency at the moment, Bouygues, Willmott Dixon and ISG, are all keen to tell me about the amount of local labour and suppliers that they have working on their projects. But, as most of the subcontractors are either sole traders or small companies involving maybe a dozen employees, how are we going to ensure that they are fit to take on the work that we're going to be requiring of all constructors involved in any buildings that involve public money and that the work isn't going to be brought in from outside?

There is a key challenge about a broader point, not just in construction, but it's a good example of how, with the optimised retrofit programme that was announced by the climate change department here, a really welcome step forward to make sure the value of that is retained as far as possible, as locally as possible. That's why it's important that I continue to work with the Ministers for climate change and to actually understand, when we're letting those contracts, the terms that we can insist on to actually make sure that we do get local return on that, and to make sure that the skills that the industry need are actually being provided. It's why I'm very pleased with the recent conversation I had with regional skills partnerships, and the one we'll have with the sector itself. I have another date in the diary in the next couple of months with the construction industry itself to try to make sure that we are definitely pointing in the right direction, and make sure they understand what we want and what we expect from the public money we would invest, but also that they're investing back in their own businesses and in local communities.

2. Questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services

The next item is questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the first question is from Delyth Jewell.

COVID-19 Rates in South Wales East

1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of COVID-19 rates in South Wales East? OQ57110

Thank you. The current rates of COVID-19 in South Wales East are a cause for concern, with a very high number of cases. We continue to monitor the situation closely and to take all appropriate measures. Continued public support is vital to the success of our efforts.

Thank you for that, Minister.

COVID-19 rates, as you've been saying, in the south-east have been worryingly high recently. One of the likely reasons for this is the number of inaccurate results given to residents by a laboratory in Wolverhampton. An estimated 4,000 Welsh residents were affected, and the majority were in Gwent and Cwm Taf. Minister, as you'll know, this was serious, because if people were told that they had tested negative but actually had the virus, they would have been going about their lives, infecting other people without realising it. You said in a statement, Minister, on 15 October, that you would work with the UK Health Security Agency and NHS test and trace on any actions their investigations into the incident would highlight. But, since then, there hasn't been a further update to Members. So, I'd ask you if the Welsh Government can provide more detail about how many of the affected residents were in fact living in either Gwent or the south-east Valleys, what the latest assessment is of how this colossal mix-up has impacted the modelling and the projections of COVID rates in Wales. And finally, Minister, when will Public Health Wales's assessment of the latest situation be completed and published, please?

14:20

Diolch yn fawr, Delyth. You are absolutely right that we believe that the incident at the Immensa lab and the fact that there were so many tests that came from Wales—. We estimate that about 4,000 people in Wales were wrongly told that their tests were negative. If you extrapolate from that and look at it—imagine, 4,000 people wandering around thinking that they're clear when, in fact, they could be infecting other people—clearly that was bound to have an impact on our rates. And that is, we believe, one of the reasons for these incredibly high rates in parts of east Wales.

We are still waiting for that report from the UK Government, but are still requesting that of them because we do need to know what went wrong so that we can learn and make sure it doesn't happen again. And, of course, we do have our own lab here in Wales, and we need to keep an eye on that. Of course, the majority of Welsh tests go to that lab in Newport, but at times when there are extremely high levels of requests for tests, then some of those get diverted, and that's exactly what happened in relation to the Immensa lab near Wolverhampton. So, all of those people who were affected, those 4,000 cases, have been contacted if they were within a specific window—prior to that they would have been out of the period in which they were required to isolate—and they have been requested to re-test. So, we think that the situation has now been contained, but obviously the consequences we are continuing to pay for.

Minister, analysis of the age profile of people with coronavirus shows that 39 per cent of cases are aged under 19 and that 27 per cent are aged between 10 and 19. A constituent has contacted me who has a family member attending Crickhowell High School and also Monmouth Comprehensive School. The requirement to wear face masks has been retained in both classrooms and corridors at Crickhowell high, but are not required at Monmouth comprehensive. My constituent makes the point that COVID cases are nearly double in Monmouth comprehensive than they are at Crickhowell. Have you, Minister, undertaken any studies of the difference in COVID rates between different schools in neighbouring localities, and what consideration have you given to making the wearing of face masks compulsory in secondary schools? Thank you.

Well, thanks very much for that question. You are absolutely right that the rates amongst younger people are particularly high. The rates in Gwent, for example, in the 10-19 age group, are around 2,300 per 100,000. I mean, you think about the levels there, and that was in the week ending 17 October. So, clearly, we were quite pleased to see half term coming, because hopefully that's given us a degree of relief. The education Minister is obviously keeping a very close eye on the situation within our schools. That is why, in the last 21-day review, we tightened up the guidance and provided a new schools toolkit. What we're trying to do is to be proportionate. And, of course, there are examples where perhaps some schools should be tightening up that are not, but you do have to remember that the Children's Commissioner for Wales, for example, was very clear that, actually, wearing a mask is not necessarily beneficial to the children. So, we've got to get the balance right here. So, if the incidences are low, and there are some schools where the incidences are low, then perhaps it would be slightly over the top to ask them to wear face masks. But, that toolkit should give people a bit more of a sense of when they should be requesting that pupils wear those face coverings.

Hospital Discharge for Patients

2. What measures will the Welsh Government take to improve the speed of hospital discharge for patients in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board area? OQ57087

The Welsh Government has provided significant additional funding to support improved patient flow and discharge processes, including in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg region. We are also working to address current capacity and workforce issues in social care to support quicker discharges, including through the real living wage for care workers.

14:25

Minister, thank you for that answer, and the question I'm asking about my own health board area you could equally replicate across Wales, where there isn't one answer, but it is a question of getting the right resources across those range of factors that will help to speed up discharge. And, of course, there's the importance of this for patients within hospital and freeing up important beds, but also for getting people home, so that they can be supported in independent living at the place that they want to be as rapidly as possible as well. Could you just give me the assurance that you will continue to work with Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend local authorities as well as the health board to make sure that the resources are in the right place at the right time, and that also the support is there for the voluntary sector, such as Care and Repair Cymru and others, and the home support teams that are doing such great interdisciplinary work?

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that very important question. I think we all know what a difficult time this is for health and social care, and how damaging it is for people to stay in hospital longer than is necessary. So, we are continuing to work very closely with health and social care partners to support effective discharge processes and we have provided significant additional funding. The integrated care fund and the transformation fund have assisted regional partnership boards with developing new integrated ways of working. In Cwm Taf Morgannwg, for example, the 'stay well at home' project has continued to develop, which prevents unnecessary hospital admissions and ensures that there's timely discharge for those people who require admission. The ICF also funds health and social care discharge co-ordinators in Cwm Taf Morgannwg, who also help with timely discharges. In addition, the Member mentioned Care and Repair Cymru; we provided over £0.5 million in 2021-22 to Care and Repair Cymru to deliver the 'hospital to a healthier home' service, which facilitates safer and quicker discharges for vulnerable older patients. And within the Cwm Taf Morgannwg region, the service is delivered in the Princess of Wales, Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals. So, I agree with the Member that it's absolutely essential we work closely with the local authorities and with the health board at this very difficult time for the services to provide maximum integration.

Minister, if your Government had delivered a more integrated health and social care system over the past 20 years, perhaps discharge planning would have been more efficient and better for patient care. We know that some patients stay longer in hospital because of the time it can take for an assessment of their needs. Has the Minister considered using other professionals, such as community-based physios and occupational therapists in addition to the social care workforce, and how about pre-op home assessments for these patients? If the Minister would like to know more about it, I would be happy to discuss it with her. Thank you.

Thank you very much, and thank you for the offer to discuss it further; I'd be very happy to do so. I just want to make the point, basically, that this problem that we have in Wales about delayed discharges and problems with the social care system is a problem that is there throughout the UK. I heard on Radio 4 this morning about the major problems that are being experienced in England, so this is not unique to Wales. What we've got to do is try to find a solution to it, and we are working flat out to try to do that. The Minister for Health and Social Services and I are meeting weekly with representatives from the health boards and from the local authorities to try to find a way to tackle these damaging delayed discharges. And so, we are doing all we can, but it is a problem that is throughout the UK.

Deputy Minister, my question follows on from Mr Hussain's question and we're very lucky to have his expertise in this Senedd. My question is that, next week, the cross-party group on dementia is to publish a report on hospital care, and one recommendation is to have specific slots to allow those suffering from dementia to leave hospital. The reason for having those slots is to ensure that care homes, carers and families have an opportunity to discuss that release from hospital and to contribute to that process. Another recommendation is to ensure that there are teams available to support people to leave hospitals and that those teams ensure that all the paperwork, the drugs and transport are all in place when an individual leaves hospital. As you know, it's crucial that we have this close collaboration between the health and care sector. So, will you, and the Minister for health and the Deputy Minister for mental health, look in detail at this report and the recommendations it makes and act on them? Thank you.

14:30

Thank you very much; diolch yn fawr iawn for the information about this report. It sounds an extremely interesting report and I think we would all be very interested in reading it and seeing if we could follow up any of the suggestions. I absolutely agree that people with dementia, when they are leaving hospital or at any point really, need to have the space and the time and the integrated team to plan carefully for them. So, thank you very much indeed for the work you have been doing on this report. I really look forward to reading it.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservatives' spokesperson first of all—Gareth Davies.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Deputy Minister. Deputy Minister, we have a crisis in social care, don't we, and I think that's a fact—a crisis brought about by a lack of staff. We are simply unable to recruit sufficient numbers of people to work in the care sector, because quite frankly the pay and conditions aren't attractive. Deputy Minister, you know my views on care workers' pay and the fact that we should get on with the pay increase. However, things have changed since the last time we discussed this. The UK Government have introduced the social care fund and last week's budget will mean billions of pounds extra for Wales each year. When will care home workers see a real living wage, Deputy Minister? I know you've mentioned previously that it's £9.50, but the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have been calling for a £10 minimum wage for care home workers and social care staff. So, is there any progress in that coming to fruition?

Thank you very much for the question. We accept that there are real problems in social care and it is very difficult to recruit at the moment. The reason it is so difficult to recruit is because, for some care workers, there are more attractive jobs in the retail sector or in the hospitality sector, which have recently opened up. It is very difficult to attract people into the social care field at the moment. But we are committed to delivering the real living wage. The updated real living wage will be announced on 15 November, although I think we need to wait to see exactly how much it will be. We want this to be introduced as soon as it possibly can in this term. We are looking towards the Welsh Government budget, which will be in December, when we will be able to make some more announcements about how we're going to move forward, in particular following the announcement of the plans for social care in England.

Thank you very much for that answer, Deputy Minister. Any delay in improving the pay and conditions of staff will continue to have an impact on recruitment. This impact is being felt by our NHS and local health boards, which are rightly taking notice and taking action. Some health boards are now looking to directly employ care staff. However, rather than helping to address the problem, the care sector believe this is simply leading to the poaching of staff by the NHS, which offers better pay and conditions. Deputy Minister, we are supposed to be integrating health and care, not setting them up to compete with one another. How will your Government ensure that these pilot schemes by local health boards are not creating shortages in the care sector? Thank you.

This is obviously a danger that can happen. As you know, we've set up the social care fair work forum, which has recently produced their report about how we will deliver the real living wage and that is being considered by officials at the moment. I hope we'll be able to announce something on that soon. So, that is imminent. But of course, it's not just the pay, it's the terms and the conditions and all the other things. As you say, the NHS staff have much improved conditions compared to social care staff. So, I think we have to make every effort to boost the social care profession. At least through all this pandemic, I think people are now aware of what social care is, and I think there is an appreciation of what social care workers do, and we are determined to uphold the standing of the profession. One of the things we have done is registration of the profession; all domiciliary care workers are now registered, which increases the standing of the profession, and we are moving on to residential care workers now, to do the same there. I think that what we've got to do is increase the standing of the profession, show that we value the work of the social care workers. We did make two payments to them during the period of the pandemic, and I know that they were very grateful in terms of the recognition of what they contribute. I think that's what we've got to do.

14:35

Thank you again, Deputy Minister, for that answer. Just to change tack slightly, and expand a bit more on the integration of health and social care, of course, the best way to address these issues would be to complete the integration of health and care. The creation of a chief social care officer for Wales was supposed to accelerate the integration efforts, as you mentioned in the health committee recently. Mr Heaney has been in post since before the summer. As we enter the winter months, can you update this Chamber on how the role is assisting efforts to bring social care and our NHS into a single, integrated health and care service? Thank you.

Thank you very much. I think, so far, it's been very successful. Mr Heaney has been doing a listening exercise. He's been around many different aspects of the social care system, he's listened to what people feel about their working conditions, about what they want to do, about integration with health, how the two can work together. And I think, by having him in this position, people do feel that social care is being recognised. We have a chief medical officer, and now we have a chief social care officer. The chief social care officer is working very closely with the chief medical officer, and I think it is a very promising beginning to having a chief social care officer. So, I would say that there's been a lot of progress made since he took up his post.

Diolch, Llywydd. Gweinidog, unless your head is buried in the sand, you will be aware that COP26 is under way in Glasgow this week. Air pollution is a significant aspect of the climate emergency here in Wales, because it accounts for 1,400 deaths and costs the Welsh NHS £1 billion a year. Within my region, a row of houses has just been demolished as we speak, because they are no longer fit for human habitation, due to air pollution. The First Minister has cited clean air as an area he hoped to work on with other parties, and that this would be a priority for the Government. Despite this, when the Counsel General announced his legislative programme, it was not included. For a Government that lauds its green credentials, in this case, we have a strategic approach but with no urgency. Is the Minister worried, like me, that any further dithering and delay on the clean air Bill will have a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of thousands of people in Wales? In the week of COP26, do you agree with me that it's time for deeds not words, specifically ensuring that there is sufficient investment to help those suffering from the consequences of air pollution?

Diolch yn fawr, Peredur. I can assure you that sometimes in recent weeks I've been dying to bury my head in the sand, but that is not the case. In terms of air pollution, certainly, we are very aware—and you'd have heard me responding in the debate yesterday on climate change—of how air pollution is something that we see as being linked to climate change. Therefore, it is important that we address that issue. We have to understand that climate change is not just something, in relation to the NHS, where we have to change the way we build our hospitals and renew our hospitals, make sure they're insulated, put in new LED light bulbs, and all of those other things that we are intending to do. Also, we have to recognise that there is a consequence, a health consequence, to climate change, and you rightly point to air pollution being one of those. I can assure you that, when it comes to a clean air Bill, this is something that the Welsh Government is taking very seriously. We're in the process currently of determining which Bills go as priorities, and I'm sure there will be an announcement on that in the very near future. 

14:40

Thank you for that answer. 

On the subject of COP26, I noted your tweet about the Prime Minister sitting next to Sir David Attenborough without a face mask and seemingly asleep. The words you used to describe Johnson in your tweet were, and I quote, 'a national disgrace'. I have no argument with that, but what I do have a problem with is your Government's faith in Westminster delivering a non-partisan, all-encompassing, UK-wide COVID inquiry, when the man responsible for it is, in your words, 'a national disgrace'. Or does your trust in the Tory Government in Westminster only extend when it's convenient?

Thanks very much. You'll be aware that the context of that photo was that it was Boris Johnson sitting alongside our national treasure, David Attenborough, who was alert, awake and paying attention, unlike our Prime Minister, who was asleep. I think it is important, of course, for us to understand that there are times when we need to work very, very closely with the UK Government, and, actually, climate change is a good example where we do need to understand we're all interlinked, not just with the United Kingdom but with the rest of the planet. Certainly, when it comes to COVID, we need to understand that we can't draw a line around Wales and think that it's all about how we managed to contain the virus or not within our boundary within Wales. We know, for example, that the delta variant was brought in from India. Even if we wanted to shut the borders with India, we wouldn't have been able to do that, and that is the dominant variant in Wales. So, to think that we could have our own independent inquiry—it would be extremely difficult for us not to look at those kinds of issues and understand the interconnectedness, which is why the First Minister has made it absolutely clear that his preferred option is to have a UK inquiry with a very clear mandate within that for Wales. I've heard him bring that request up with the Prime Minister personally on more than one occasion, and it is really important that the Prime Minister now, Boris Johnson, follows through and undertakes to honour the kind of commitments that the First Minister was asking him to undertake in relation to that inquiry. 

Diolch. I recently met with Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, and I met with them again today; they're in the Senedd today, and they have many, many unanswered questions. They have little faith that a UK-wide inquiry will provide all the answers they crave in order to give them closure after the death of a close relative. One of the major questions they have is around hospital-onset COVID-19 deaths. One campaigner told me that her father died from COVID after being sent home from hospital following treatment for a gallbladder infection. During his hospital stay, he was exposed to 13 patients, three on his bay, and 14 staff on his ward. Yet he was sent home without retesting and the family was not advised of his exposure and potential risk of COVID-19. Do you not think that there are lessons to be learnt from a full public inquiry into the Welsh approach to tackling coronavirus, and do you not think it's important that we learn lessons from this? Shouldn't you be agreeing with what Vaughan Gething said a few minutes ago—that it's time to do your job and stand up for Wales?

Well, frankly, I'm not sure if I could work harder in my job than I am at the moment, but I can tell you that we know we have got lessons to learn in relation to COVID and the way that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our communities. Of course we've got lessons to learn, because this is a novel virus; nobody knew about it. We're still learning about it. There's a new sub-variant of delta, the AY4.2. We're still learning. It's still changing. Of course, we've got things to learn. We will learn those lessons, and we are learning those lessons. After every COVID death in hospital there is an assessment to see what we could have learnt from that. But we're not waiting for the inquiry for that to happen; there are inquiries constantly going on so that we're learning as we go along. And I think we have got to be, of course, sensitive to the fact that there are literally thousands of people now mourning in Wales loved ones who've contracted the virus, and it's particularly sad if they've contracted the virus in hospital.

I've been listening to lots of podcasts over the half-term period, international podcasts that talked about the possibility of ring-fencing vulnerable people, and particularly in care homes, for example, and what these podcasts were saying is that, actually, nobody managed to do that. You couldn't close off vulnerable people, because they are part of a society, and people work in hospitals, there are comings and goings, and it's very, very difficult to isolate people from people who work in hospitals who need to go home at night to their loved ones as well. So, of course it's difficult, and of course we've also got to be sensitive to the fact that there are people who want to go and visit loved ones in hospital. Getting that balance right is really, really difficult, and of course there will be lessons to be learnt, and we are learning those lessons, but we've probably still got more lessons to learn as we go on, because this pandemic is not over.

14:45
COVID-19 Rates

Thank you, Llywydd. You'll be pleased to know that I'm ready this time. Following on from my colleague Delyth Jewell's question earlier—

3. What assessment has the Minister undertaken of COVID-19 rates? OQ57115

Thank you very much. The current rates of COVID-19 across Wales are the highest in the UK. We continue to monitor the situation closely and to take all appropriate measures. Continued public support is vital to the success of our efforts.

Thank you very much for that, Minister. Well, very many people are contacting my office, and have done so over the past week or two, concerned that they can't access the booster jab. They have large distances to travel to visit a surgery offering the booster jab, and many people are reliant on public transport. Of course, you will understand that they are therefore reluctant to travel on a bus because of the risks attached to that, so what happens is that they don't go at all and can't get that booster vaccination, and are therefore vulnerable to infection. Will you therefore ensure that health boards make sure that the booster jab is available and within reach to every community, particularly the most rural? Thank you.

Thank you very much for that. It's very important that people who have an invitation to go for the booster do take the opportunity to do so. I'm pleased to say that the rates are among the highest in the UK in terms of the boosters at present, but we have a long way to go, of course.

We're very aware that the situation is very different to the first round because during the first vaccination round we were using AstraZeneca, and that was easier to deal with in local communities. With Pfizer, we have gone for centres that are larger, and so that means that, in certain rural locations, it's more difficult for people to reach them. That's why I think it's important that there is an opportunity for people to get there. I know that in the Hywel Dda area, for example, there is an opportunity for people to phone ahead to arrange transport to reach those centres, so I think it's worth looking into seeing whether that service is available in Betsi Cadwaladr, and I'm happy to ask them, if they don't offer that, to look into whether they could consider that. But given that it is an area where you need a lot of people going to a large centre, I do think that people will have to travel further this time, I'm afraid.

Minister, while COVID-19 rates do remain high, the latest Public Health Wales data shows the latest seven-day average is actually falling to 546 cases per 100,000 people. The First Minister said in his recent press conference that the idea of further restrictions would follow if cases remained high. So, I'm curious to get an understanding of exactly how high these would need to be for further restrictions to follow in the forthcoming three-week review. Previously, the Welsh Government has set targets, if you like—local lockdowns at 50 cases per 100,000, and a national lockdown at 500 cases per 100,000. I appreciate that the UK-wide vaccine roll-out success has weakened the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths, so that figure may not be cases but it may be hospitalisations, deaths, or something else entirely. But, if the Welsh Government is following the science, there must be a number at which these further restrictions would be enacted. So, is the Minister able to reveal that specific figure to us in the Chamber today at which further restrictions would be imposed?

14:50

Thanks. I think you'll find that what we've been doing is using the measure, where we determine what we do in terms of lockdown or not, of whether the NHS is going to be overwhelmed. That has been our measuring stick. Clearly, in the first wave, when we didn't have access to vaccines, we saw a higher number of those hospitalisations happening. We're not in that situation anymore thanks to our fantastic vaccination programme. So, we are in a situation where, thankfully, at last, our rates do seem to be coming down. We don't know what's around the corner. We know that this new variant, this AY.4.2, is probably slightly more infectious even than the delta, so we still have yet to learn to what extent that is going to spread, and we haven't seen that spread perhaps within our schools yet. We've got to see if the waning of the vaccination happens quicker than our ability to get the booster into people's arms. All of these things are factors that we will need to put in. So, it'll never be a precise figure where we determine. What we said in that 21-day review is that if cases continue to increase, then we will have to look at working our way up those levels. Hopefully we won't be in that situation, and hopefully those figures will come down.

Autoimmune Diseases

4. How is the Welsh Government supporting people with autoimmune diseases? OQ57098

Thank you very much. There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases and the Welsh Government’s support for these conditions is set out in a range of delivery plans, strategies and through the development of quality statements.

Diolch. During Lupus Awareness Month last month, the Rare Autoimmune Rheumatic Disease Alliance published the experience of a person diagnosed with lupus during childhood, who stated that, in England, 'Regular monitoring and open communication' kept her lupus and her own stress about her health well under control. She also stated, however, that when she moved to Wales she couldn't find a lupus specialist team nor was she allowed to remain under the care of the team in England. She added her nephritis came back, being referred to see a nephrologist was difficult even though she had kidney damage, and she doesn't have a telephone advice line or lupus nurse to contact about issues that arise at short notice. Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales also published a new report last week, stating, 

'there are no specialist Lupus Centres of Excellence in Wales, and most patients have their referral requests to centres in England refused.'

How do you therefore respond to their calls on the Welsh Government to improve care for patients living with lupus and rare autoimmune rheumatic conditions, and to the Rare Autoimmune Rheumatic Disease Alliance's call for a properly commissioned specialist centre for rare autoimmune rheumatic diseases in Wales supporting local hospitals to deliver better care?

Thank you very much. I'm aware that many people who suffer with autoimmune diseases suffer from immense pain as well, and so it is important that we pay attention to this. We have, however, engaged with the medical professional community and they've consistently advised that there is no requirement for lupus centres of excellence. But, what we have done and we're in the process of doing is we're recruiting national clinical lead roles for the development of a musculoskeletal framework and the development of pain services, and we have appointed a national clinical lead for inflammatory bowel disease, and they will be leading service change. So, what I'm hoping will happen is that, when those clinical leads will be appointed, they will engage with the third sector and with the Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales and lupus campaign.

Social Care Workers' Wages

5. Will the Welsh Government provide an update on plans to ensure social care workers receive the real living wage? OQ57108

We have asked the social care fair work forum for its advice in delivering our commitment to introduce the real living wage to social care workers. I received the forum's advice last week and will consider this advice carefully before I provide a further update. 

14:55

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your answer. Last month, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council cabinet announced they'd work with independent social care providers to help them access funding under the Welsh Government's social care recovery fund. This is so that they can provide the real living wage for the social care staff that they employ. Whilst looking forward to further announcements regarding Welsh Government's plans to ensure all social care staff receive the real living wage, what discussions are you having with partners in local government in the meantime to encourage them to take similar proactive steps and ensure that our invaluable social care staff receive the fair wages they deserve? 

Thank you very much for that question, and I'd like to congratulate RCT on the steps they're taking, and the other local authorities who are taking similar steps. But, progress across Wales is patchy, which is why we are taking a national line. We are working very closely with local government about delivering the real living wage. The Minister for Health and Social Services and I meet every week in the care action committee with representatives from the Welsh Local Government Association, as well as representatives from health and others. The leader of the WLGA, Andrew Morgan, and the social services lead, Huw David, are both there, as well as WLGA officials. In addition, the WLGA and the Association of Directors of Social Services are members of the social care fair work forum, which has just provided this advice. So, I can assure you that we are closely bound in with all the local authorities in Wales, and we are looking forward very much to the time when social care workers in Wales receive, at the very least, the real living wage, which is what they deserve. 

Can I declare an interest as a member of Monmouthshire County Council? It was remiss of me not to declare the same in my last input. Can I thank Vikki Howells for bringing this question? Deputy Minister, I welcome the commitment to pay social care workers, who have diligently worked above and beyond throughout the pandemic, the real living wage. Welsh Conservatives have been calling for this as an absolute minimum for a number of years now, and I'm really proud to say that, under Conservative leadership, Monmouthshire County Council started paying the real living wage in 2014 and has continued to do so ever since. According to recent estimates, ensuring the real living wage would cost about £19 million in the first year. Unfortunately, the Welsh Government's proven track record has shown that making policy commitments are generally followed by shifting them onto local authorities to cover the cost. So, Minister, will the Welsh Government be covering the cost, or will local authorities be expected to do so? Thank you. 

Thank you for that question. We are committed in our programme of government to ensuring that every social care worker has the real living wage, and that will be an expensive exercise. If the money is needed for it to be achieved, the Welsh Government will provide that money, but we don't yet have an estimate about how much that will be, because we are studying what the social care work forum is going to say. And there are very complex issues to look at, such as how you define a social care worker, how you deal with differentials. So, it is a complex situation, but I thank the Member for his support for this policy initiative. 

NHS Dentists

6. Will the Minister make a statement on the accessibility of NHS dentists in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire? OQ57114

We continue to implement a safe, phased re-establishment of NHS dental services in the face of the pandemic. Practices are prioritising care according to need and are treating urgent cases and people who are experiencing problems first. In addition, measures are in place for dental practices providing NHS care to see new patients each week.

Thank you, Minister. Access to NHS dentistry has been a perennial problem, and the last 18 months has only exacerbated the problem due to COVID. Like many colleagues, it is an issue that I receive a regular amount of casework on, and it is an issue that causes a great deal of frustration and concern for many of my constituents. Like everything, to better understand how to tackle a problem, we need to have a greater understanding of it. Therefore, I was concerned to learn that the Welsh Government have no current method of ascertaining exactly how many people require dentistry treatment. Without this detailed information as to what type of appointments are needed, it is very difficult to make provisions to adequately address this problem. Will you set out what actions your Government are taking to better map the needs of dental patients throughout Wales, and what provisions do you have in place to recruit more dentists? Diolch.

15:00

Thanks very much. I'm pleased to say that we are making steady progress in terms of recovery of dental services, but it is difficult, because we're still only up to about 40 to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, which is a very low number. There are good reasons for that, I'm afraid, and that is because, clearly, we need to put in place infection control measures. There needs to be physical distancing. There needs to be enhanced PPE. And clearly that means that fewer patients can be seen within each clinical session. Having said that, over 30,000 people are being seen each week, and what we're asking health boards to do now is to prioritise people who are perhaps in more urgent care. When it comes to recruitment, you're absolutely right there is a difficulty in terms of recruitment for dentists. We have looked at the study of Bangor University. One of the things that they are suggesting is that, actually, dental technicians, for example, can do a lot of the work that dentists are able to do, and we're looking at having a new form of contract to look at how we are going to change the way we provide dental services in Wales. The problem is that this is a difficult year to introduce that—that reset and recovery that we would like to see. But prudent healthcare, using a whole-team approach, so not necessarily using dentists all the time; making sure that we look at prevention—those are the kinds of things that we have in mind, that we've got a programme ready to run. It's just that it's very, very difficult to roll out that programme at this point in time in the pandemic.

Healthcare in South Wales East

7. What assessment has the Minister made of the availability of healthcare within South Wales East? OQ57099

Like all parts of the NHS in Wales, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is currently under extreme pressure dealing with record numbers of COVID cases. Despite the current context, they are also continuing to provide essential and key services, and, where possible, addressing the backlog that has built up during the pandemic.

Thank you, Minister. The Welsh Government's flagship Grange hospital in Cwmbran recorded the worst A&E waits in September, seeing only 38 per cent of patients in four hours last month, when 95 per cent was the target. In the same week, reports found that staff were frightened to come to work in the brand-new Grange hospital. Yesterday, health Minister, you admitted that when your predecessor Vaughan Gething opened the hospital four months early in the face of concerns from the clinicians, that the recruitment that perhaps should have been done had not been done in time, leading to the chronic understaffing that we're now seeing. So, Minister, could you please outline the measures you'll be taking to increase the recruitment of hospital staff in the Grange; what plans your Government has to increase the community health service provision within the local community; and a timeline of when we can expect to see these changes? Thank you.

Thanks very much. Well, I was given an initial report of the Royal College of Physicians much earlier during the summer. I was very concerned about the situation. I think, to say, in Aneurin Bevan's defence, the visits happened soon after the Grange was opened, when the organisation was still coming to grips with those new environments. I'm pleased to say that the health board has put an immediate plan into action, so the recruitment that we were very keen to see has already started. There is going to be a review of medical staffing. Their board is going to focus on staff well-being and engagement, and clearly there is a need to improve patient flow at the Grange in order to address those accident and emergency issues that you're seeing at the front door. So, I am confident that measures are being put in place. Some of it can be switched on quicker than others, but I am pleased to see that the health board is taking this very seriously.

Bowel Cancer Screening

8. Will the Minister make a statement on bowel cancer screening in Wales? OQ57097

Bowel Screening Wales offers screening every two years to men and women aged between 60 and 74. From October, that age range was extended to 58 and 59-year-olds. Over the next few years, the age range will extend down to those aged 50, and the test sensitivity will be increased.

Diolch, Minister. Firstly, before talking about bowel cancer, I'd like to take this opportunity to remember our colleagues who have sadly lost their lives to this horrible disease in recent years. Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Wales, and that is despite it being very treatable if it's detected and treated early. Nine out of 10 people do survive bowel cancer if it's detected and treated early. And, as you've already pre-empted what I was going to say next, the Welsh Government has moved into a new phase of optimising the bowel screening programme setting out the national endoscopy action plan, and inviting men and women aged 58 to 59 to undertake that screening, and moving further into the next phase of people aged 50.

Bowel screening is crucial in that preventative approach and identifying those who may be at risk of developing bowel cancer. Will you, Minister, agree with me that it's hugely important that people take part in that bowel screening if and when they are invited to do so?

15:05

I absolutely agree with you and I think it's a very cruel form of cancer, this, of course, and I think that we should remember those people who have lost their lives to this very cruel cancer. 

I am pleased to say that, actually, we are consistently overachieving the targets that we'd set in terms of the uptake rates for people invited to have that cancer screening. So, it stands at about 65 per cent, whereas our target was about 60 per cent, so I'm pleased to see that happening; it's always good to see a rise beyond that, but I think we need to underline that screening is a vital part of that early diagnosis, and the sooner you catch cancer, the better it is because we can treat it quicker.

3. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: The Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language on the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill, and I call on the Minister to make the statement—Jeremy Miles.

Thank you, Llywydd. I am pleased to introduce the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill for the Senedd’s consideration. I do so on behalf of this Government and on behalf of the many contributors who have helped shape its development during extensive consultation and engagement.

The Bill establishes a new commission for tertiary education and research and dissolves the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. As the national steward for tertiary education and research, the commission will be responsible for its funding, oversight and its quality. The commission will take a system-wide view, supporting learners throughout their lives to have the knowledge and skills to succeed, and securing providers that are strong, independent and diverse and that make significant contributions to national well-being and prosperity.

For the first time in Welsh legislation, we will bring the following sectors together in one place: Wales's higher and further education, school sixth forms maintained by local authorities, apprenticeships, adult community learning, as well as responsibility for research and innovation. In the Bill, we set out nine strategic duties for the commission. Together, they provide the long-term strategic planning framework for what this valuable and varied sector needs to deliver, as we recover, renew and reform.

The Bill places duties on the commission to: promote lifelong learning; to promote equality of opportunity; continuous improvement in tertiary education and research; to encourage participation in tertiary education; to contribute to a sustainable and innovative economy; to promote collaboration and coherence in tertiary education and research; to promote tertiary education through the medium of Welsh; to promote a civic mission and a global outlook.

Now, I don't claim a new radicalism in the purpose of these nine duties, on the contrary, they draw on our rich history of widening access to quality education, Welsh internationalism and civic mission. However, it is radical to give them purpose in law, as the lodestar for the new commission and for our tertiary education sector as a whole. They provide a clarity of purpose, ensuring a relentless focus on the success and well-being of learners, of all ages, across all settings and in all communities.

The Welsh Government will be required to prepare and publish a statement setting out the national strategic priorities for tertiary education, research and innovation, which, in conjunction with the strategic duties, will guide the commission’s own strategic plan and how it functions and allocates funding. The commission, working with the sector, will then shape the system through investment, by connecting providers and sharing information, enabling it to take a strategic view and ensure learners grow as engaged, enterprising and educated citizens of Wales.

The Bill sets out the governance of the commission. Crucially, the board will include representation of learners, but also the tertiary education workforce and the commission’s own staff as associate members, reflecting our commitment to social partnership.

Much of the primary legislation in relation to higher and further education in Wales is decades old; it pre-dates democratic devolution, higher education expansion, significant recent changes in economic and career patterns and the revolution in technology that continues to influence the way we learn, live and work, and, of course, before we could have possibly imagined the sort of challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Llywydd, it is time to grasp the opportunity to change. If we are serious, as this Government is, about narrowing educational inequalities, expanding opportunities and raising standards, then we must break down barriers, secure easier learner pathways and continue to invest in research and innovation.

If we take apprenticeships as an example, our ambition for a system responsive to the needs of learners, the economy and employers is hampered by current legislation. Frankly, we are too dependent on Westminster legislation from over a decade ago, which does not cater to the distinct needs of our economy or society. Therefore, for the first time in Wales, this Bill provides a stand-alone power for the commission to fund apprenticeships in the same way as other tertiary education. The Bill reforms the process for the design and oversight of our apprenticeship frameworks, creating the opportunity for a more responsive and collaborative system.

Turning to governance, our institutions have argued for more flexibility and less bureaucracy; it's a reasonable ask. In turn, the Bill requires the commission to create a new registration model for tertiary education. The new model will be a flexible mechanism for accountable, but proportionate, oversight of the sector. None of what we value most highly in our respected institutions will be lost, but much of the bureaucracy will.

The Bill enables the commission to fund registered providers for research and innovation activities, as well as other organisations collaborating with them. We'll move to a fully integrated sector-wide planning and funding system, with more effective targeting of resources. This is made possible by having a clear, co-ordinated and coherent system.

The Bill enables the commission to ensure that Welsh tertiary education continues to be of the highest quality, and to create a consistent quality-based approach through shared principles and collaboration.

We also need to secure continuous investment in workforce professional development. For this reason, we are empowering the commission to give advice and assistance to providers regarding quality improvement, including the learning and development of the workforce.

The learner engagement code requires providers to address how they will involve learners in decisions on all aspects related to their learning, interests and concerns. What’s more, by including learner representatives on its board, the commission will practise what it preaches. 

The establishment of the commission will, for the first time, provide Wales with a national steward to oversee the whole of the tertiary education sector. The arrangements we are putting in place through this Bill will help shape a diverse and dynamic sector that supports learners throughout their lives, delivering for communities, employers and the nation as a whole. I look forward to the contributions and collective efforts of Senedd Members in taking this significant Bill on its parliamentary journey.

15:10

Minister, thank you for your statement and the formal introduction of this Bill. The Bill presents us with an opportunity in Wales to mould tertiary education to fit the specific needs here in Wales, and to ensure our learners in Wales receive the quality of tertiary education they deserve and the support they require on their educational journeys.

It's fantastic to see that for the first time in Welsh legislation we will bring together in one place Wales's higher education, further education, local authority maintained sixth forms, apprenticeships, adult community learning as well as a responsibility for research and innovation, and we do welcome that from these benches.

But, the tertiary education sector is still recovering—sorry, my throat's going—after 18 months of serious disruption. Education providers are finding themselves exhausted as they try to keep schools and colleges open because of high levels of staff absence. So, I do have to question the timing of this, and perhaps ask, 'Why now?'—why, when we're at a critical point of this pandemic and embarking on a new curriculum? And I’d appreciate the Minister’s reassurance on that.

ColegauCymru have previously raised several concerns over the delivery of the tertiary education and research Bill, with an emphasis on the absence of learner protection plans and a learner engagement code. So, I’m pleased to see that these are now included within the Bill.

It would be also great to hear more about the appointments to the board—the experience and neutrality and that sort of thing—the requirements to be on it. We welcome the introduction, of course, of the learner representatives on the board, and I think that’s a fantastic idea. I was just wondering how this is going to look in practice. Will these members be appointed, elected, employed? Will these be paid positions, where they’d be expected to be present at every meeting? The levels of accountability, of course, upon these individuals will be significant, given the position they hold and the financial responsibility of this board. So, just a little bit more information on that would be fantastic.

Gone are the days where having a certain key skill or qualifications offered a job guarantee now, but, when it comes to 16-19 FE provisions, funding and quality assurance needs a single approach, one of progression of the learner and their outcomes, at the heart of this Bill. The challenge is not through the protection of the current provision, but rather the creation of effective pathways for progression. One way in which we believe we can tackle this problem would be to implement better curriculum planning for the 14-19 age group and develop holistic routes for progression of learners. Minister, could you, please, outline whether you’ve looked into these concerns and how you intend to work to create a more joined-up approach for school to FE transition? Thank you.

In addition, while we welcome the inclusion of sixth-form colleges in this Bill, it's still unclear from the Bill how the proposed reforms of post-16 education will complement and enhance the new curriculum and ensure continuity and engagement between pre-16 and post-16 education providers, especially when considering the setbacks education providers have experienced during this pandemic. So, I’d be grateful, Minister, if you could outline what measures you’ll be taking to ensure that seamless connection between the two.

COVID will also have a lasting impact on the lives of learners across Wales for several years. Three factors that I feel need addressing are the impact on young people who have been displaced from direct employment and work experience; a better understanding of how people in the 2020-21 cohort have transitioned from school into all forms of post-16 education; and how support will be provided to middle and lower attainers who have faced greater difficulties with progression into FE. So, Minister, could you outline what plans you intend to put in place to support people who fall within these groups?

A recent report by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre, the EPPI, also highlighted concerns about grade inflation in 2020 and 2021, which has led to higher competition for universities, while participation in vocational learning has fallen.

And finally, we welcome the changes for apprenticeships, of course, and I think that more control is necessary here. We need to have a much bigger focus on apprenticeships, in fact, and the potential that they have to provide the jobs of the future, including green jobs and high-skilled jobs. We must ensure that the sector is diversified to enhance opportunities and introduce more rigorous targets to expand the apprenticeship programme for more people, making it more reactive to the needs of our local communities, businesses and our economy. I’d be grateful if the Minister would outline what provisions have been considered for the 14-16 age group, as some colleges work with them on initiatives such as the junior apprenticeships.

Minister, we cannot stress enough the importance of lifelong learning in this day and age. Lifelong learning is an important part of post-16 and adult education, and an emphasis needs to be made to highlight its importance going forward.

Finally, the challenges people have faced over the pandemic have motivated many people to learn new skills and gain new qualifications, which has led to better employment prospects. So, it is clear that the appetite is there. It also plays into contributing to a sustainable and innovative economy as the employment market adapts and changes around us. But we need to ensure that we make lifelong learning and retraining opportunities accessible, feasible, and cost effective for people to access them, and that they provide equality of opportunity. They need to fit around people’s daily lives. Minister, what discussions have you had with FE and HE sectors to work out how this could be delivered and in an accessible way? Thank you.  

15:15

Well, I thank the Member for her questions and the constructive tone with which she engages with the range of issues, and I think the range of questions that she asks demonstrates the breadth of the Bill and the scale both of the challenge and the opportunity, I think, which we are seeking to make sure our sectors are best placed to engage with.

On the important question of timing, I absolutely understand the context for the question that the Member puts, but I do think that it's the confluence and the context in which we find ourselves that actually makes the need for the Bill more urgent, really—so, she mentioned COVID, obviously, importantly, but it's the week of COP, and we understand the transformative impact that climate change is having on our society, on our economy; our new relationship with the European Union; the need that she refers to in her own question to enhance lifelong learning provision as people remain in work for longer, but may need to adapt their skills more frequently during their working life and to manage periods out of work; and the digital challenge as well. All of those are coming together at the same point in time. Any one of them is a significant challenge. So, I think it's the confluence of those that offers opportunities as well as challenges, which, I think, makes the timing absolutely right for this Bill.

She raises an important point about the composition of the board. The board's appointment will follow the public appointments route in the usual way, and a range of skills will be needed on the board from a range of backgrounds, both education but also industry and beyond. So, the initial appointments will be made in terms of the chair, the deputy chair, the chief executive for the first appointment, and the board, by Welsh Government through the public appointments process, and I hope that will give her some reassurance. In terms of the associate members, which are the ones I referred to in my speech, that will be a matter for the commission itself.

I think she raised an important set of points about the relationship between schools and the post-16 sector, and, of course, sixth forms are at the heart of that Venn diagram in many ways. And I think that's why it is important that the Bill brings sixth forms within the compass of the commission, albeit indirectly in a sense, because I think that will lead to a more coherent set of arrangements. And I think she makes a very important point about ensuring that pre-16 education and post 16 is a sort of seamless journey in that sense, and I think this Bill is intended to bring some coherence at the point. I think that the relationship with sixth forms plays an important role in ensuring that continuity and that continuum of learning in the way that she describes.

There are a number of points that she made in relation to the impact of COVID, as I think she—. We are monitoring the progress of the cohorts that have been most directly affected in a very periodic way, and we've published some information already about attainment, about courses that people are going into, the performance and so on, just because we recognise, as I know that she does, the particular impact on that cohort. And that information will, I think, be an asset in the work that the commission can do.

She spoke about the importance of making sure that everyone has access to the opportunities that the Bill will enhance, and including those most directly impacted by COVID, and I couldn't agree more with her. One of the key duties on the commission is the duty of equality of opportunity, and that is to ensure that all learners from whatever background are able to flourish to their fullest extent in all parts of the tertiary sector, and I know that she will share that ambition.

In relation to apprenticeships, this Bill will, I think, transform the ability of our apprenticeship system to be responsive in the way that her question encourages it to be. There is a very significant investment programme that we have as a Government in relation to apprenticeships, and I think being nimble, being able to react to the needs of the economy in a way that is straightforward, is at the heart of that, and the Bill will support that.

Finally, she makes a set of important points in relation to lifelong learning. Again, one of the key duties on the commission is to promote that. There was a piece of work that we anticipate receiving imminently from the Wales Centre for Public Policy, which will help us understand better what the opportunities are in terms of lifelong learning, and she will have identified in the Bill that the funding mechanism for FE includes a mechanism that enables that progressively to be expanded to make a reality of that lifelong provision.

15:20

Thank you, Minister, for the statement.

There's much about this Bill that we welcome, but a number of concerns have been raised by stakeholders about the Bill, which vary from uncertainty about the new commission and its relationship with Government and learning providers, planning and funding, the well-being and voice of learners, securing quality and academic freedom. Now, given the number and diversity of these concerns conveyed by stakeholders, it would be relevant to ask some questions on the consultation process. NUS Cymru, for example, is of the view that a very real opportunity was missed here to incorporate a very real partnership with learners across the post-16 sector, and that this is reflected in the wording of the strategic framework of the Bill, where there's an absence—there isn't a great deal of reference to the learner voice—and, for example, there's a lack of recognition of the way that there is diversity in terms of access to advocacy and representation between the HE and FE sectors. There would have been an opportunity here, for example, to give a legal basis to that, and that recognition and support for that would be a condition of being a registered body. Therefore, does the Minister believe that the Bill, as it currently stands, does give adequate consideration to the learner voice?

Now, I'm sure that we could all agree that academic freedom is crucial to higher education in the UK and internationally. It's an important principle that we should welcome, support, fund and promote here in Wales. The outcomes of not securing such freedoms are very broad ranging. Academic freedom affects the investment universities can secure for Wales through its activities. It can limit their abilities to create partnerships, domestically and internationally, and it can place Wales at a disadvantage therefore. We need better recognition and safeguards for academic freedoms within the Bill, but stakeholders have referred to areas where there is a lack of protection. These include unintended gaps in transferring current protections in the funding legislation, the powers that Welsh Ministers have, rather than the commission, and the number of regulatory powers and other new powers contained within the Bill. In this regard, I would like the Minister to outline how the Bill before us today does safeguard academic freedoms, the ability of academic institutions to form these key partnerships, and what this will mean for Welsh students at a domestic level and on a global platform.

The stated aims of this legislation include respect for education institutions, while bringing regulation and funding under the new commission on tertiary education and research. However, the Bill doesn't eradicate Welsh Government powers to abolish higher education corporations against their will, and it extends powers to change their statutory responsibilities. We're not necessarily against these aspects of the Bill, because universities do have to behave in a way that responds to the needs of our economy, not as businesses. But, given that the institutions affected by the Bill do receive public funds, could I ask the Minister how the Bill ensures that our universities do respond strategically to the skills needs of the Welsh economy, as well as research, rather than behaving as commercial entities competing against each other?

In terms of the Welsh language, it was explained during the consultation process that stakeholders agreed that the new commission should be placed under a specific duty to give due regard to the Welsh language in exercising its functions, and should be subject to the Welsh-language standards. In this regard, it was noted that the commission would deal with a number of areas that would have a direct impact on the ability of the PCET sector to develop the ability of learners to study through the medium of Welsh or bilingually, which will go some way towards delivering the Welsh Government's aim of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. Historically, the offer of Welsh-medium and bilingual provision within PCET has been limited and patchy because of a number of factors, including the limited availability of qualifications, the limited availability of resources in terms of physical resources and staff able to teach and assess through the medium of Welsh, and the perceived lack of demand by employers and learners. So, could the Minister outline how he believes the Bill responds to these issues, and, specifically, how the Bill will respond to the absence of qualifications and the limited resources available, in terms of physical resources and staff able to teach and assess through the medium of Welsh? So, I’d like to hear more about the details on how the Bill will help us on the way to that target of a million Welsh speakers. Thank you very much.

15:30

I thank the Member for her questions and for the welcome that she’s given to the Bill, and the questions that deal with very important areas, many of them having been raised, as she mentioned, by stakeholders during the process—the extended process of consulting since the draft Bill was introduced.

In terms of the learner voice, I think that there is new emphasis in the Bill on that in the wake of what we’ve heard from stakeholders. So, from my perspective, the learner journey, and ensuring that that’s a smooth one through the system, is vital to this, and the focus is on the learner—that’s the main focus of the commission in terms of how the Bill is structured. That’s vital, I think. The engagement code and the learner protection code, those two elements are very important in terms of giving a voice on the one hand, but also providing safety and security for the learner in circumstances, maybe, if a course comes to an end or the learner wants to move between courses, and the detail that can be provided in those codes can provide a lot of support and security for learners in that context. We’ve looked at what's happening over the border and the code that we have here is much more broad ranging than that. I also think that the representation on the board of the commission is important in terms of the learner voice. That’s at the core of the new system. But the Bill has been introduced and there will be an extended period now of scrutiny and further conversations with stakeholders, and I’m very happy to hear more if learners and their representatives have ideas about how we can strengthen the approaches that the Member raised today.

I agree entirely on the subject of academic freedom. That’s on the face of the Bill as a requirement. There are also restrictions on what the Government can do in terms of requirements of the commission, that have at their core the idea of academic freedom as well. So, there’s more than one example in the Bill where that is on the face of the Bill.

The Member asked about how the Bill will expand the freedom of institutions to co-operate, which is a different version of academic freedom. I think that the Bill allows that at its core. That is, at present we have a funding system that relies on boundaries. That is, higher education is funded by the Government—further education by the Government and higher education by HEFCW, so that creates inconsistencies in the system, which isn’t strategic and doesn’t allow those links and that co-operation and collaboration that I know the Member wants to see. So, in moving away from that to have a transparent funding system that is based on a strategy, I think that’s going to allow our institutions to collaborate in a variety of creative ways.

The Member raised an important point about higher education corporations. And we thought, as we designed this part of the Bill, how to proceed with this question—to be honest, there was a discussion about the best way to go on this. Ultimately, we stuck to what’s already in the law. There are minor technical changes stemming from the fact that there's a commission, that there's a new body, but the substance of this hasn’t changed. The reason for that is that we need some kind of backstop under some circumstances—it's in some sort of emergency scenario that that might arise, of course. But there is a risk that, if the powers don’t exist, the institution would not be in a position to ask the Government to intervene, but also that we would need a parliamentary Act in order to change the situation. So, it’s just a practical matter. But, again, I’m happy to hear if people think that that needs to be strengthened, the ways of ensuring that. Public law, of course, applies here, so there would be significant restrictions that would arise in that context anyway. But, as I said, I’d be happy to hear further suggestions.

In terms of the Welsh language, the point that the Member makes is vital. It’s a discussion that I’ve had with CollegesWales, higher education colleges and our universities, and I think this is an important opportunity to ensure a contribution from the sector towards the aim that we all share. There's a different relationship that people have with the Welsh language after they leave school, I think. The dynamics may be a little different, so I think we have an opportunity here, and in a variety of ways I think that the Bill does make a contribution towards that. On the face of the Bill, it is a duty that the commission drives demand for post-16 education through the medium of Welsh, but I think there are a variety of ways that that can happen. The explanatory memorandum, quite a part of that is given over to explaining what kinds of things the commission could do, but I'd be happy to discuss that in more detail with the committee, for example, if that's of interest because I think that there's a lot that we can do in that context. 

In terms of qualifications, Qualifications Wales is looking at what we can do differently in terms of vocational qualifications, for example, through the medium of Welsh. There is a great deficit in that context. Some have already been created that are 'made in Wales' as it were, but there is further work that we have to do on that, I think, with Qualifications Wales. 

15:35

I'd particularly like to congratulate you on the emphasis you've given to the stand-alone powers to fund apprenticeships in the same way as any other part of tertiary education, because I think this really is an important step forward in the parity of esteem that we need to have between applied technical skills and academic and so-called intellectual skills, although, in reality, obviously there's much of both of these mixed up. But we need to ensure that BTECs and A-levels are given exactly the same status, and that vocational and academic skills are given parity of esteem. 

I just wanted to pick up on how you think this Bill will improve the accountability and proportionate oversight of tertiary education without some of the bureaucracy, because traditionally the academic governance has been conducted by the Senedd, and there's always been a tension between the academic freedom and the sustainable businesses that they need to be. But, equally, the financial and efficient and effective management by the university council isn't necessarily as good as it might be in some cases. How is this Bill, and the powers that the Welsh Government will have to intervene if they don't think that governing bodies are doing the job effectively, how is that going to be improved by these new arrangements, because, clearly, it's a very, very important issue for a sector that's hugely important to our economy and our well-being?

I think the Member makes an important point. I think there is a difference in approach in higher education and further education for reasons that I know that she will understand. And I think that illuminates a larger point that, whereas we want a single sector, there are a diversity of players within that sector, and I think that balance is the right balance to strike. 

I refer to the point about academic freedom that Sioned Williams made, but there is a mechanism, of course, for registration in the Bill, and there's a range of ways in which the commission can engage with institutions who are not in compliance with their registration conditions. And it's a sort of gradually escalating set of interventions really about advice and engagement, and then there's the possibility of a direction and then more stringent enforcement activity for the most egregious, and one would hope and expect, unlikely scenario. So, the Bill sets out a sort of escalating range of interventions, which, in the worst situations, the commission could avail itself of. But, the register is the mechanism for delivering that oversight. 

Diolch, Llywydd. And I think, in response to the question, 'When should this be done, why now?', well, Professor Ellen Hazelkorn's report was published in March 2016. So, if not now, then why not yesterday, previous to that? But, of course, there has been a global pandemic in the meantime, and I think this might have been done earlier. 

I was listening to your response to Sioned Williams, and I haven't got my translation equipment, so I hope my understanding of Welsh was sufficient. But, you talked about the inconsistency, I think, of the fact that further education was responsible to Welsh Government and higher education to HEFCW. But what will happen with the new body is there'll be a huge range of demands for financial and other support from a range of bodies that do similar things at different levels, and may be competing with each other. How can that be resolved within one body? How will the transparency be provided and how will that be scrutinised to ensure that everyone in the new pot is treated fairly?

15:40

I thank Hefin David for that really important question. The basic thesis underpinning the Bill is that it effectively will lead to more transparency in this way. And I think we're inspired a little bit by the experience in New Zealand of this when they established their equivalent commission, and it operates on a similar basis in the sense of Government setting the overall strategy and then the commission having its own strategic plan reflecting those requirements and so on.

HEFCW already operates on a basis that is transparent in the way it allocates funding. It's publicly available, the criteria are established and the sums are dispersed in a way that is very public, and I think that is something that is easier to deliver in that sort of arm's-length environment. So, I actually think that the bringing together of the further education, adult learning and apprenticeship funding streams in that kind of arm's-length way will actually enhance the transparency in the way that, perhaps, HEFCW currently does for HE. The key advantage that the proposals in the Bill bring about is that the funding is allocated on the basis of that public strategy, if you like, so there's a strategy that is devised, that is consulted upon and that is transparent, and the boundaries, if you like, between institutions—or the historic boundaries at that point between the sources of funding—are not the guide to how that money is allocated. So, I think those two routes will significantly enhance the transparency across the post-16 sector. 

4. Topical Questions

The next item is the topical question, and today's question is to be asked by Mabon ap Gwynfor, and to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change. Mabon ap Gwynfor.

The Llanbedr Bypass

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's decision to cancel the Llanbedr bypass in Gwynedd? TQ576

Is the Minister ready to answer?

Is the Deputy Minister ready to answer the question just asked? Lee Waters, it seems you may be on the phone to somebody else, but you're also here in the Chamber. Are you available to answer the question just asked by Mabon ap Gwynfor? It's on the order paper.

Apologies. I've already provided, Llywydd, a written statement to Members with the decision on the Llanbedr access road. The chair's report was included and set out the recommendations, which I've accepted, and the Welsh Government will not support any further work on the current Llanbedr access road scheme.

Thank you very much, Deputy Minister. Well, the Valleys taskforce, which was chaired by yourself some years ago, recommended the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road, in a project that, in total, will have cost over £1 billion, enabling tens of thousands of vehicles to travel at 70 mph on that road every year. Now, amongst the arguments put forward for that dualling was the fact that it was possible to link with motorways in the midlands, causing more vehicle transport. By coincidence, the work to dual Dowlais Top to Hirwaun started a month before you announced your moratorium on roads, which, of course, meant that this very expensive plan would not come under the remit of that moratorium.

So, we have one plan here, the Llanbedr scheme, which costs £14 million, with half of it paid by the EU, for 1 mile of road to serve the population of Llanbedr and the Meirionydd coast, and there's another proposal, costing £0.5 billion, namely the Dowlais Top to Hirwaun stretch, which was paid through a new PFI programme for 11 miles of road in the Heads of the Valleys. Which plan do you think will be most damaging to the environment?

And finally, if we are to accept recommendation 10 of the report, which is to build a link road with a speed limit that is far reduced, which according to the report would be very expensive indeed, then how will that be funded, and will you compensate the council and fund the cost with the loss of £7.5 million in European funding that isn't going to be available because of this? Thank you.

15:45

I can see that the benefit of time is not making Mabon ap Gwynfor any more amenable to the arguments put forward by the independent panel. I understand his disappointment, because there is often strong local attachment to these schemes. I heard people saying yesterday that this is a scheme that's been an ambition locally for 70 years. We often see this happening where local authorities, when faced with transport challenges, simply dig out the schemes they've had on the blocks for generations.

But we are in a climate emergency, and I do feel a slight despair, listening to the nightly news every night with the strength of the science, the strength of the frustration at the talks in Glasgow, a recognition by all parties that we need to do things differently, statements in this Senedd, statements by Mabon ap Gwynfor and the local Member of Parliament themselves, recognising the scale and ambition for the climate emergency, from his party for us to have a target of net zero by 2030 rather than 2050. These things are not compatible with continuing to build more road capacity. It's just not compatible. The UK Climate Change Committee make it clear that, in order to reach net zero by 2050, we have to reduce the number of car journeys. Hitting net zero 20 years before that, we don't know how to do that, despite being told that we ought to by Plaid Cymru, and it's certainly not compatible with him pushing for us to build road schemes. 

We've set up an independent review. It's a shame that Llanbedr has been looked at in isolation, because I think if taken as a whole, shifting our road spend to maintenance and alternatives would be seen as a whole, rather than just one scheme that allows local people to say that Llanbedr had been unfairly targeted, which is not the case. We did that at the behest of the local authority because of the European funding deadlines, and this is the report from the independent panel. It's not my recommendation, it's their recommendation, which I've accepted.

His points, I thought, were slightly unfortunate, really, about the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road. The Heads of the Valleys road, as I recall, was approved by Ieuan Wyn Jones when he was the Minister for transport, and we've also made an exception for a scheme for a Llandeilo bypass, which again was a request of Plaid Cymru. We are certainly not just picking on rural Wales. We have cancelled the M4 bypass around Newport. So, we're certainly not taking a view that is somehow geographically biased, we are trying very difficultly to shift the way we deal with transport spend. 

Llanbedr clearly has some congestion problems, particularly at some times of year, and then there's the separate issue of access to the new business units and the aspiration to have a spaceport. The report by Lynn Sloman is very comprehensive and deals with both of those things, and we are committed to using the contribution the Welsh Government was going to make to this project to work with the local authority to do a genuine Welsh transport appraisal guidance appraisal that doesn't start with the assumption that we build a road, which is what has happened in this case, and, indeed, has happened in other cases too, but to look on a mode-neutral basis to see what sustainable measures we could put in place. That is a sincere commitment, and I discussed that with the leader of the local authority. 

Then on the separate issue of access to open up the land for development, again, the report makes it clear that they think that the existing roads enable some of that to happen and, if further is required, that is something that can be identified through the joint work we'll be doing with the local authority. So, I understand the Member's frustration; I can't quite marry it with what he also says we need to be doing on net zero. He's wrong to suggest, as is the MP, that rural Wales or Gwynedd in particular is being picked on here. This is an approach we'll be taking right across Wales because the science demands we do it, and the climate emergency that both he and I, and Gwynedd Council, have signed up to also demands we do it. 

Deputy Minister, the decision to scrap the Llanbedr access road scheme has been met with dismay by residents in the locality. It's no secret; I know my colleague from Plaid Cymru has just said the same. I was actually contacted by a resident from the area before I came to the Chamber, and they showed their utter disgust by telling me how upset they are by the decision. The latest decision to do this was only given the go-ahead in March. It's left people fearful about other road projects that would have been of huge benefit to people's lives and our economy. The fact that they're not going to take shape is a concern for people. 

I understand that the climate is a big concern of yours. However, traffic in this area has proven to be an absolute nightmare for so many people, and they saw this access road as a way out of motoring misery. So, Deputy Minister, I understand that the climate is an issue that every single party is worried about. You mention every week again and again how it's your biggest focus at the moment. So, I want to know what exactly is the alternative package of measures that you are going to be introducing to address traffic in the area now. You've already performed a u-turn on the Llandeilo bypass, will you be reconsidering your decision on Llanbedr as well? Thank you.

15:50

Llywydd, Natasha Asghar says that she understands the climate is a concern of mine. I thought it was a concern of hers too, because I've been hearing speeches she's been making week after week telling me how we're not being bold enough and fast enough, and certainly Janet Finch-Saunders as well. I heard Janet Finch-Saunders say at the demonstration with the ice sculpture before heading off to COP that there was no reason for delaying any action because there was cross-party support for doing what was necessary to tackle climate change.

Well, here we are, doing what is necessary to tackle climate change, and we're getting opposition after opposition from parties who've signed up to a climate emergency. Transport accounts for 17 per cent of all our carbon emissions. Therefore, transport cannot be immune from measures to reduce emissions. That means stopping doing what we've always been doing and doing things differently. If we're going to give people realistic alternatives to the car, we have to invest more in public transport. Investing more in public transport means investing less in the approach that we've been taking—the predict-and-provide approach. Transport forecasts say more people are going to drive, therefore we build roads. That's what we've been doing for 70 years, and time after time it results in more people still building more roads, and so the logic continues. 

She may not be willing to face up to the intellectual contradictions of her own argument, but I, in a position of responsibility, do not have that luxury. If we're going to meet the net-zero plan that we've published, we have to reduce car mileage by 10 per cent in the next five years. We cannot do that if we do not put in place alternatives for people with public transport. We can't put alternatives in place if we keep spending money on roads, which generate more traffic.

In terms of what the alternative package of measures is, that is something that we're going to need to work out with the local authority. Lynn Sloman, in her report—I'm not sure if Natasha Asghar has had the opportunity to read it yet, but I'd recommend it—sets out a series of options that are possible, but these are things we want to do together with the local authority.

I thank the Deputy Minister. We will now take a short break to allow some change-overs in the Chamber.

Plenary was suspended at 15:52.

16:00

The Senedd reconvened at 16:02, with Joyce Watson in the Chair.

5. 90-second Statements

I'd like to call Tom Giffard, who's going to make a 90-second statement on the International Day Against Violence and Bullying at School, including cyber bullying. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Each year, every first Thursday of November is the International Day Against Violence and Bullying at School, including cyber bullying. Around 20 per cent of students report being bullied, but only half have reported incidents to an adult. Formal education can and should play a key role in providing children and young people with the knowledge and skills to identify online violence and protect themselves from its different forms, whether perpetrated by peers or adults.

Nowadays, violence goes beyond school walls and also takes place on screens, on which teenagers spend a daily average of seven hours chatting and posting on social media, but they're more exposed than ever online. Online violence, including cyber bullying, has a negative effect on academic achievement, mental health and the quality of life of students. Children who are frequently bullied are twice as likely to miss out on school, and have a higher tendency to leave formal education after finishing secondary school. 

This day calls on global awareness of the problem of online violence and cyber bullying, its consequences and the need to put an end to it. It calls on the attention of students, parents, members of the educational community, education authorities, and a range of sectors and partners, including the tech industry, to encourage everyone to take part in preventing online violence for the safety and well-being of children.     

I'd now like to call the Llywydd, Elin Jones, to give a 90-second statement on the sixtieth anniversary of the Books Council of Wales. 

This week, we celebrate the 60th birthday of the Books Council of Wales. It is remarkable how a small, fragile body that was set up in 1961 has developed into a powerful organisation with broad-ranging responsibilities for publishing in both Welsh and English. Because of its wide range of responsibilities, there is no other body like it in the other countries of the UK. It promotes reading, it supports authors, and it is responsible for maintaining and developing the publishing industry.

It also distributes grants to publishers, ensuring a diverse range of high-quality books and magazines. Its distribution centre supplies books on a daily basis to booksellers, and the use of gwales.com means that it can reach readers and book buyers all over the world.

The 60-year history is chronicled in two newly published volumes: O Hedyn i Ddalen, and Two Rivers from a Common Spring.

The organisation has always been led robustly, and further stability came when the National Assembly, in its first term, made the far-reaching decision to directly fund the books council and replace a funding regime that was rigid and complex.

Aberystwyth is the home of the books council, but its influence and value can be felt between the covers held by children and people across Wales, as they learn and wonder while reading books about Wales and from Wales, in both Welsh and English. Without the guidance and activity of the books council over a period of 60 years, our nation's literary heritage would be much, much poorer.

16:05

I'd now like to call Peter Fox, who's going to make a 90-second statement on the RSPCA's Bang Out of Order campaign on the impact of fireworks on the welfare of animals. 

Thank you, Chair. This Friday is bonfire night, a time when people come together to celebrate, attend firework displays, or host their own private events with family and friends. After such a difficult 18 months or so, this year's events will take on extra significance. However, fireworks and bonfires bring a number of risks, and can be particularly dangerous to animals and wildlife, and this is why I want to highlight the RSPCA's Bang Out of Order campaign.

RSPCA statistics show that 62 per cent of dog owners and 54 per cent of cat owners say their pets become distressed during the firework season, with the RSPCA receiving around 400 calls per year on this issue. Companion animals are not the only ones affected—livestock, horses and wildlife can be startled or frightened by fireworks, and I've seen this on my own farm on many occasions, and it's very distressing. As such, the RSPCA are calling for a number of steps to be taken to help alleviate some of these issues. Councils can make people more aware of local displays that are being held, and encourage the use of quieter fireworks. People can make neighbours more aware of private events, and work to accommodate the needs of people living nearby. There are also suggestions that rules around the purchasing of fireworks could be tightened to reduce their wider use. Of course, some of the measures that could be taken relate to powers held by the UK Government, and I would hope that the Welsh and UK Governments are collaborating on this. 

Chair, I wish everyone a happy and safe bonfire night, and again urge everyone to be considerate of others when hosting or attending events. Thank you. 

I now call on Jayne Bryant, who will make a 90-second statement marking 35 years of Childline. 

This week, Childline is marking its 35th birthday. Since being founded in 1986, Childline has provided counselling to some 5.5 million children in the UK. Today, a child contacts Childline on average every 25 seconds. This means that, during this 90-second statement, four children are likely to have been in touch with Childline in some way.

During the first year of COVID, Childline delivered an average of 17,000 counselling sessions a month. It's a stark reminder of the impact of this pandemic on children and young people that so many asked for help. It is, however, a wonderful testament to Childline that it provided so much support during this critical time.

As you'd expect, Childline has evolved over time to remain as accessible as possible. Originally, all counselling sessions were delivered by phone. Now, children can contact Childline by text, email or online chat, too. Unsurprisingly, all this comes at a cost. The crucial support Childline provides isn't cheap. It costs £4 for a trained volunteer to answer a request for help. The NSPCC, of which Childline is a part, relies on fundraising for 90 per cent of its income. The dedicated volunteers, who have worked tirelessly to support children and young people throughout this time, are remarkable. Huge thanks go to them for their invaluable work. Every young person that they speak to has their own story. 

And finally, if you're a child or a young person in need of help, you can contact Childline about worries or problems you're having. You can call any time, day or night, 0800 1111.

16:10
6. Debate on petition P-05-912 Supporting Families with Sudden and Unexpected Death in Children and Young Adults

The next item is item 6, the debate on the petition P-05-912, 'Supporting Families with Sudden and Unexpected Death in Children and Young Adults'. I call on the Chair of the Petitions Committee to move the motion. Jack Sargeant.  

Motion NDM7814 Jack Sargeant

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the petition P-05-912 'Supporting Families with Sudden and Unexpected Death in Children and Young Adults’ which received 5,682 signatures.

Motion moved.

Thank you, acting Llywydd. On behalf of the Petitions Committee, thank you for the opportunity to introduce this important debate. This is the first debate brought forward by the committee in the sixth Senedd, and the first debate for me as Chair of the Petitions Committee. 

Members, as a new committee and Chair—and I say with pride that I believe it's the youngest committee Chair in our Senedd's history—I have been reflecting on the opportunity our petitions process offers. Petitioning the Senedd provides a way for the people of Wales to raise their voice and have their say. It’s a way to highlight the important and challenging issues, seek answers and find solutions. It’s a way to make a positive difference. And debates like this one today ensure that those petitions that have captured the imagination of thousands of people across Wales are heard and discussed on the floor of their Parliament. It’s the way we as elected Members consider the strength of their ideas, their merits, and the barriers to implementing them.

The petition we are discussing today, 'Supporting Families with Sudden and Unexpected Death in Children and Young Adults’, was originally due to be debated in March 2020 and led by our wonderful previous Chair, Janet Finch-Saunders, but was sadly postponed due to the pandemic. Llywydd, the petition was submitted by Rhian Mannings. In her petition, Rhian calls for the Welsh Government 

'to provide support for a service...to ensure families who unexpectedly lose their child or young adult aged 25 years and under get the support they require.'

I want to begin by paying tribute to Rhian, who is here today, for her inspirational leadership and the commitment to improving the support for people and families facing the loss of a child or young person. Out of the most tragic of circumstances imaginable, Rhian has dedicated herself to improving the support received by others. I am sure that these sentiments will echo throughout the debate in our Chamber today. 

During our meeting a few weeks ago, I met Nadine, who turned to 2 Wish Upon A Star for help. Now, Nadine said something about loss and dealing with it that struck me powerfully. It was raw, but it was a situation I recognise only too well, and I'm sure many of us, sadly, will recognise it too. She said, acting Llywydd, and I quote: 'My family have a shitometer, reflecting that every day is shit. Some days are the shittiest when triggers come fast and furious. These are not necessarily the anniversaries.' And acting Presiding Officer, I can say, in the run-up to losing my dad in a tragic and sudden, unexpected event, the anniversary of four years this Sunday, anniversaries are tough and I'm struggling perhaps more than I ever have. However, it does not have to be that anniversary. The triggers can be anything, any day, and it could be because of anything. 

Many of us will know that Rhian lost her son George and her husband Paul, tragically in the space of just five days in 2012. In both cases, she recounts a lack of support available to support her and her family with these most harrowing of circumstances. It is impossible, I think, for most of us to fully comprehend what it is like to face a situation like this. Tragically, there are many other people and families watching today, both here in the Senedd and outside, on Senedd.tv online, that have also experienced loss and grief at a level that most people will never have to face.

However, out of these circumstances, Rhian established the 2 Wish Upon a Star charity—a charity that provides vital help and support to others. 2 Wish supports families and staff through the unexpected loss of a child or young adult by providing memory boxes, counselling and a number of immediate support services. Longer term support can include complementary therapy, play therapy, focus support groups, residential weekends and monthly events. The offer of support is made by front-line healthcare workers at the point of or in the hours following the tragic death. Once verbal consent from the family has been gained, the healthcare worker will contact 2 Wish with information regarding the death and the family. 2 Wish will make the first contact within the first 24 to 48 hours of the referral being made. However, at present, not all families are immediately or directly offered support, and Rhian seeks to ensure that a pathway for bereaved families must ensure that a proactive offer of support is made. Acting Presiding Officer, families must be asked, and, of course, they may decline that offer.

Without an offer of support, families who have just lost a child are left on their own to cope. Some are given information leaflets about services, which places the onus on families to reach out and find support available and the appropriate support available for their need. They face answerphone messages, long waiting times and the possibility that the organisations listed on those pieces of paper might be unable to support them. Rhian herself describes how this causes feelings of isolation, loneliness and low self worth. 2 Wish works with every hospital, mortuary, coroner's office and police force in Wales. They have strong relationships with the Wales Air Ambulance, organ donation teams, and are involved in the child death review with Public Health Wales. Referrals by these organisations are, sadly, made daily. It provides support to staff who deal with sudden death in young people, and provides training around the offer of support and how to support suddenly bereaved families. It also offers immediate and ongoing support to professionals who are struggling following the death of a child. Members of the Petitions Committee have received testimonials of their work from every police force in Wales. These petitions clearly express how reliant they are on the services, both to support members of the public, and, importantly, their own officers. My own police force, North Wales Police, told the committee that the support of 2 Wish has enabled them to revitalise and streamline the support provided in response to tragic events.

When the Petitions Committee considered this petition for the first time, the Welsh Government had established a bereavement support working group to help develop and deliver improved support arrangements. Bereavement support, as Members will know, has three components, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: provision of information and signposting; formal opportunities to reflect upon grief, in individual or group sessions; and specialist interventions, possibly including psychological support and counselling. The Government has also commissioned a study of bereavement services. It has highlighted that several organisations indicated challenges in meeting the demand for their services. This is a clear issue, considering the vital importance for services to be able to respond quickly to support the people at their very time of need.

Services such as those provided by 2 Wish already provide support to significant numbers of families each year in Wales. The number of referrals to the services has increased every single year since the charity was established in 2014. These referrals have been generated through their own dedication and dedicated working with the NHS, police forces, GPs and mental health services. However, they do cite examples of significant numbers of families not signposted to their support. The petition calls for every family facing the most difficult of circumstances to be offered support. No family, professional or individual should be left to cope on their own. As the petition goes on to explain:

'Families require support immediately after such loss. They need to have a point of contact if they have questions and a friendly ear to listen. You never get over the loss of your child and families need to know there is long term support in place for to help them through the grieving process.'

So many bereavement services, including those of 2 Wish, are provided by charities, and the committee has received concerns about the lack of funding from the public sector for the services that these organisations provide. Despite referring people to the services, no health boards in Wales currently provide any funding to 2 Wish. We as a committee believe that this is something that could and should be addressed by the Welsh Government. There is a question of long-term sustainability when we are relying on fundraising and charitable donations alone to pay for such vital services.

In conclusion, the committee acknowledges the steps taken by the Welsh Government for the establishment of the bereavement support working group and the associated study of existing services. We note the development and consultation on the draft national framework for bereavement care. We hope that these will deliver lasting improvements to the support available to everyone affected by the loss of a child or young person.

However, through this debate today, we are seeking further commitments about the Welsh Government's approach moving forward. Does the Government intend to work towards ensuring that all professionals follow an immediate support pathway at the time of death? The petitioner has proposed that this should be done in a way that takes responsibility away from the bereaved family or individual and places it upon the organisation to proactively offer and arrange that support. I hope that the Minister—who I know is very keen to support this charity, and I praise the Minister for the work she's done both before her post and in her post to date—will be able to refer to this in her response to today's debate.

The petitioner has also called for improved training for healthcare workers who may need to support bereaved families and for those professionals so that they themselves have somewhere to turn for support. 

Finally, Llywydd, what approach does the Welsh Government intend to take to ensure that these critical support services are available for everyone who needs them and are adequately funded for this purpose? Can we continue with a situation in which support signposted by the NHS, by every single police force in Wales and others is provided in large part through charitable funding? Providing support to people dealing with sudden bereavement is something we should all aspire to. Acting Presiding Officer, this is an area where Wales can set an example to other nations, and I want us all today, as Members of the Senedd, to light a candle, a candle that will give people heat and light in the darkest and coldest of circumstances.

I very much look forward to hearing the contributions of Members here in the Chamber, and, of course, the Deputy Minister's response. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

16:20

I'd now like to call Joel James, a member of the committee, to speak. 

Thank you, Chair. I'd like to start by adding my support to the comments that my colleague Jack Sargeant has made in opening this debate and also thank all those individuals and families who've campaigned tirelessly over the years to bring this issue to light and for it to get the coverage it needs. 

Throughout the course of bringing this petition to debate, many people have shared their own personal and often painful experiences, and, though this will have been very difficult for them, they have done so in the hope that lessons can be learned and that families who ultimately do suffer the sudden loss of a child or young person can get the help and support that they need. Sadly, this isn't always the case. I have no doubt that we can all agree that grief affects everyone differently and that it can sometimes be months or even years before the true ramifications and consequences of someone's experience really hits home.

Grief can also potentially be the start of a cycle of behaviour that can lead to far more destructive patterns of behaviour, and it's not uncommon for families who've suffered a traumatic and sudden bereavement to end up breaking down completely and for there to be, sadly, further unfortunate consequences. With this in mind, immediate support is crucial in helping families overcome the first moments of grief, particularly with the loss of a child or young person, when the loss seems so unfair. But we must be mindful, even if the support in the early days and weeks is available and good, that there still needs to be sufficient follow-up to ensure that people do not end up going down the wrong path.

The lengths that Rhian Mannings and others have gone to to establish the 2 Wish charity are truly incredible, especially given the circumstances that they have found themselves in, as my colleague Jack Sargeant has already highlighted. To be able to offer immediate support within hours of a sudden death and to then offer a wraparound service to suit everyone's needs is unique and something that we should be proud to support. Many organisations across the United Kingdom are desperately trying to get a service like that offered by 2 Wish, and having Welsh Government support to be able to formalise it and fund the service would be a massive step for helping bereaved families.

What the presented petition, and, ultimately, this debate, represent is a cultural change within the health service to recognise the need for consistent support for families and for staff to have appropriate training to respond more intuitively to the needs of families after the sudden death of a child or loved one.

Unfortunately, we know that good practice is not consistent across organisations, but we need to aim to ensure that it is. Too often, people can experience psychiatric illness or mental health issues after a bereavement, due to not receiving the support that they need. This, of course, has bigger implications further down the road, when they need to access mental health services that are already under considerable pressure. 

I think we also need to acknowledge the benefits of a learning culture, so that when things go wrong there is proper analysis of why and we understand how we can prevent it from happening again. Charities like 2 Wish have undoubtedly proven that we are able to do things better, but we must not become complacent on this issue. We need to appreciate the benefits of supporting families, parents and even friends of those who have suffered the sudden death of a child or young person, and to formally recognise its place within the health service by securing its appropriate and long-term funding. It is only right that this important debate is taking place, and I offer my wholehearted support for it. Thank you.  

16:25

I call Buffy Williams, who's also a committee member.