Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's meeting, and these are set out on your agenda.
The first item is questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and the first question is from Peredur Owen Griffiths.
1. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government about plans to introduce a health and social care levy for Wales from April 2023? OQ57187
The UK Government didn't engage with the Welsh Government ahead of the announcement. At a finance Ministers quadrilateral ahead of the spending review, I pressed the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for more details. Subsequently, my officials have met with HM Treasury officials to understand the technicalities of how the funding will flow.
Diolch yn fawr. Much of the conversation about the health and social care levy in England has focused on older adults. NSPCC Cymru is concerned that children could be overlooked if we don't ensure that their needs are part of the conversation here in Wales. Data has shown that, on the UK level, the number of looked-after children is growing faster than the child population. At the same time, there continues to be a year-on-year increase in the number of children entering care in Wales, which is placing an increased demand on already stretched services. To combat this, Welsh Government will need to focus on additional investment in early help for families, including parental support for new and expectant parents. Does the Minister agree that there should be parity of funding between children and adults needing social care when the new levy comes into force?
Thank you very much for raising that issue. I've been having some discussion with colleagues in terms of the budget for next year, but, within this year, we've already recognised that we have a real need to further invest in children's services and particularly so because we're concerned about the number of children who are being taken into care. So, that's why, on 14 September, I allocated £40 million to aid the implementation of the social care recovery framework, and that will obviously support children's services.
But we've also provided £20 million this financial year to manage the demand for placements and to secure better placements for those children and young people who need them, whilst activity is taking place to increase the range of accommodation and in-patient options that will meet the needs of those who have the highest need. We do have a very ambitious programme of reform for the development of children's services. That’s in both the short and medium terms in order to help relieve the pressures on children’s services by taking action to develop what we started in the previous Senedd term to prevent families from being broken up, to reduce the number of children being taken into care and to provide care for children who are in care much closer to home where appropriate.
We’ve committed to delivering on our priorities for children’s services, awarding £3.5 million to regional partnership boards to pump prime the delivery of regional residential accommodation for care-experienced children with complex needs. But, as I say, we're looking forward in terms of additional funding for health and social care and currently having those discussions with colleagues, but I want to provide reassurance that we do recognise the importance of children’s social services and also children’s mental health as well.
Good afternoon, Minister. Minister, I'm sure you will agree that social care is in crisis—a crisis that has spread beyond the care sector and is having a very real impact on our NHS and services. However, we won’t solve the issues in healthcare by diverting more money to the NHS. The health and social care levy will bring in the much-needed funds to ensure that our social care staff earn a decent wage—a wage that’ll make social care a desirable profession and help to address the recruitment problems facing the sector. Minister, will you ensure that funding from the social care levy is provided to local government so that we can ensure that the care sector is properly funded? Thank you.
That is an interesting and important question, because we absolutely recognise that pressures in social care have a direct impact on NHS services and we're seeing some of that happening at the moment. It's interesting as well because, in terms of the national insurance contributions, the UK Government has suggested it will be putting the vast majority of that into health services rather than social services in the first instance. However, as I say, I'm having discussions with colleagues about the budget that we'll be publishing on 20 December, and I just want to reassure colleagues of the importance that we place on social services. We've already stated that we would look to give local government the best possible settlement because, of course, those services are mostly delivered through local government, although there is usually a contribution made from the health main expenditure group as well.
2. What consideration does the Minister give to tackling poverty when allocating funding to the social justice portfolio? OQ57198
Tackling poverty is at the heart of this Government’s agenda, as outlined in the programme for government. Yesterday, we announced a £51 million-package to support vulnerable households facing the cost-of-living crisis through the winter months.
Thank you for that response, Minister.
Recent analysis from the End Child Poverty coalition found that Wales has the highest child poverty rate of any UK nation. This is despite two decades of strategies, plans and Senedd inquiries, and the Children's Commissioner for Wales has called child poverty the Welsh Government's biggest challenge, yet it doesn't receive a mention in the five-year programme for government. Those on low incomes have taken a great financial cut when furloughed or made redundant, with 54,000 food bank parcels going to children in Wales between April 2020 and March 2021. That's a parcel every 10 minutes. While the £51 million of support announced as part of the household support fund is welcomed, does the finance Minister have any radical or longer term funding plans to tackle the root cause of the persistent child poverty issue here in Wales? I would hope the Minister would agree with me that the fact that so many children are living in poverty in Wales today is nothing short of a national disgrace.
Thank you for raising this really important issue, and I'm sure that we share a great deal of concern about those children who are growing up in poverty in Wales. Clearly, it shouldn't be happening; it is distressing. But it's happening all too often. The Resolution Foundation has found that those families that now are facing the cut of the £20 universal credit will be losing £1,040 a year, which is a huge amount of money, and it's actually affecting a huge number of families across Wales. One in five households will be losing that funding, and I think that is just going to push more children into poverty.
But, from the Welsh Government's perspective, we do have our child poverty strategy, and that sets out our objectives for tackling child poverty through a continued focus on what we know works well. During 2019-20, the First Minister undertook a child poverty review, and that identified areas that clearly work and where we would want to invest further. And I know that you have a significant interest in free school meals, and that's an area where we know that we can make a difference to families. Part of the funding I announced yesterday will be used to support and bolster food banks and community food partnerships and community hubs, to provide a wider range of support to individuals from those settings, including income maximisation, because we know that lots of individuals and families still aren't accessing all the support to which they are entitled. So, that work will be undertaken through those projects.
Also, we provided funding yesterday to establish a further 25 Big Bocs Bwyd projects across Wales to reduce food poverty, help improve nutritional intake, improve well-being, reduce food waste and increase food literacy. And the review that we've done of the existing Big Bocs Bwyd scheme has shown that it's been incredibly positive for those families who have been supported through it.
So, we certainly have lots of plans already in train and lots of further investment that we will look to make in this important area.
Minister, as we approach winter, the subject of fuel poverty is on our minds and on the minds of many of my constituents in south-east Wales. The Equality and Social Justice Committee recently called on the Welsh Government to publish revised plans to tackle fuel poverty to ensure that they are indeed in place by April 2022. What discussions have you had with the Minister for Social Justice about revising your plan on fuel poverty and to publicise the schemes that are already in place to assist those vulnerable people with their fuel bills in this upcoming winter?
Yes, the price of energy is of serious concern over the course of the coming winter, which is why yesterday we introduced a £51 million-scheme to create a household support fund, and part of that will be £38 million invested in our winter fuel support scheme. What that means in practice is that eligible households who are on low incomes will be able to claim a £100 cash payment to provide support towards their winter energy bills. The point you make about publicising this support is really important, which is why we're working closely with local government, and I'm really grateful for the work that they're doing. So, each local authority will write to people within their area who they know will be eligible for this support, to make them aware of it. And also, to those who think that they might be eligible but haven't yet heard from their local authority, by the end of December, I would recommend that they also look on the local authority's website, where they'll be able to self-apply for that support. But we expect to reach around 350,000 households with that £100 payment, to help with the increased cost of energy over the winter.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Sam Rowlands.
Diolch, Llywydd, and good afternoon, Minister. First of all, I'd like to thank you for your recent correspondence in providing an update on the next consultation around corporate joint committees. I'd like to focus my questioning on that today. First of all, Minister, do you agree with the previous Cabinet secretary for local government and public services that corporate joint committees, and I'll quote,
'are essentially reorganisation of councils through the back door'?
I think corporate joint committees are something else entirely, because this is something that is being led by local authorities. They offer opportunities to streamline existing collaboration agreements, and also provide the clarity and consistency that principal councils have been seeking in many areas, especially the areas for which they'll be responsible—for aligning economic development, for example, transport and land use and planning approaches, in order to develop successful regional economies and encourage local growth. So, I wonder if you might be misquoting Julie James in that, because she's very much of the view that this is an important step forward, which is being taken with local authorities.
Thanks, Minister. And just to be clear, I wasn't quoting Julie James there; it was the previous Minister to Julie, whose quote came through the local government committee. But thank you for your answer.
A huge concern that I have with corporate joint committees, and one that seems to be shared by many councillors and council leaders across the country, is their democratic nature, or perhaps lack of, and the potential impact of powers being taken away from councils and those democratically elected to make decisions and representations on behalf of their communities. In your letter to the Local Government and Housing Committee on 29 October, you stated that CJCs aim to bring more coherence to and strip out some of the complexity of regional governance arrangements, strengthening local democratic accountability. But that does seem at odds to the chief executive of Cardiff Council, who stated that they could, and I'll quote,
'diminish democratic accountability'.
Indeed, a councillor on Swansea Council stated that,
'If you want to be a turkey, vote for these new committees'.
So, Minister, what assurances can you give to councils across Wales that these corporate joint committees won't take powers and democracy away from councils and those locally elected to represent their communities?
I think democratic accountability is absolutely critical, and people need to have faith in the new structures that are being put in place. And that's why it's important that the leaders of each constituent council will be the members of the CJCs, and they will obviously then be accountable to their constituent councils for the decisions that they make as part of their CJC. And the CJCs will also be required to put in place the appropriate overview and scrutiny arrangements, in consultation and in agreement with its constituent councils, and that, of course, will be a really important part of the accountability of the CJC. And of course, each will have its own governance and audit sub-committees, which will have the same functions as those of one in a local authority, including to review and scrutinise the financial affairs, the risk management and the internal control of a CJC. So, I do think that we have put in place robust measures to ensure that there is democratic accountability.
Thanks, Minister. Your answer certainly answered partially in terms of the leaders having that voting responsibility on those corporate joint committees, but, of course, like in my region, you've got six councils, therefore six leaders, and you've probably got nearly 400 councillors across that region who are locally elected. And I think this is an area that's perhaps not being appreciated at the moment, in terms of that local democratic accountability. Of course, the whole point of devolution coming here into Wales is not to stop here at Cardiff, but to bring power to local people, who are best placed to represent local people in those councils as well. It's clear for many that the Welsh Government's aim in introducing these joint committees seems to be to take power away from those local councils and locally elected people. In terms of reversing that, Minister, there is an opportunity here for powers to come from Cardiff down to corporate joint committees. So, which powers, which levers, do you expect to release from Cardiff here down to those corporate joint committees to allow people locally to make decisions in their areas?
Thank you for raising that. It is important that councillors feel that they are able to scrutinise the leaders who are representing on the CJCs. And those arrangements obviously will be in place, and public accountability is also really important. And the CJC will be required to encourage participation in its decision making by members of the public, ensuring that individuals are able to contribute to the shaping of the services that they and their families rely on, and which will obviously have an important impact on their daily lives. But this point about subsidiarity is really important, and Welsh Government is open to devolving further powers to CJCs. Now, we don't have a fixed view on which powers should be devolved. We're very much of the view that this should be an issue that is pursued from the CJCs up. So, it will be for CJCs to make the case for the further devolution of powers and responsibilities to them and then for them to have individual discussions with the relevant portfolio Minister, but we are very open to those discussions.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. In light of COP26 last week, I want to talk abut the role of local government in helping Wales to meet its commitments in terms of cutting carbon emissions, and your role as Minister for local government in that regard. I understand that 16 local authorities have now declared a climate emergency. That's a starting point in a longer process, but it is disappointing that there are six authorities that have yet to do that. But making a declaration is the easy thing to do; it's the action that's important in light of that. And there are different local authorities at different stages of that journey—some are more bold and are dealing with the issue in a more meaningful and ambitious way than others perhaps. But my first question to you is: what are you doing to encourage, to support and even to enforce, in some scenarios, local authorities in Wales to help in achieving our aims and reducing emissions?
So, we've worked with local authorities to ask each of them to develop a plan for reducing emissions and for addressing the needs around decarbonisation. And each of those has now been submitted, and we've been looking at those plans, exploring where the strengths are, but also where there are potential gaps or areas of weakness, so that local authorities can learn from one another and have that element of peer challenge in this particular area. We also have a decarbonisation group, which is specifically looking at what local authorities can do, and the Welsh Local Government Association plays an important part on that. And, of course, you'll have seen our recent 'Net Zero Wales' plan, and I think that's really ambitious, in terms of the responsibilities that it puts on local government to play its part in getting the public sector in Wales to net zero by 2030. So, there's a lot of work going on in this area, and, I have to say, a lot of commitment in this area. The partnership council for Wales, which I chair, has that decarbonisation group under it, which I referred to, and decarbonisation is a standing item on each one of those meetings.
Thank you for that. You referred to the WLGA, and they, of course, have called on the Government to provide the tools and resources to local authorities to baseline and to measure progress at a local level against climate change targets, so that they can do that in an accurate and consistent way across Wales. Now, that, of course, could be the foundation for the creation of local net zero targets—so, disaggregating the net zero targets across local authorities in Wales. And I'd like to hear if you agree that that would provide an incentive to local authorities, particularly those who are a little behind, to respond with more commitment to the nature and climate emergency, and is that something that you and the Minister for Climate Change have considered?
Thank you for raising that suggestion. It's something that I will look very closely at, because I think it's important that in this area, as in so many, we actually move at the pace of the fastest, not the slowest, and we haven't got time to wait in terms of tackling the climate change issue. So, absolutely, I will take that suggestion on board. I think that we have provided local authorities with a useful set of tools. We have a decarbonisation dashboard, for example, where local authorities can explore the impacts of various choices that they can make in terms of seeking to meet their decarbonisation targets, such as what would the impact be if they moved to more electric vehicles, for example—they can work out what the carbon impact would be. Carbon impact assessments, I think, are very important, and this is something that we've been seeking to develop over the recent years through our budget process, and it's something that we're continuing to put a strong focus on. It's certainly something that local government will be interested in as well.
I'm pleased that you've mentioned the budgetary process, because that's my next destination, and I wanted to ask about the broader budget of the Government and your role as Minister for finance. As one who's been part of scrutinising Government budgets quite closely over recent years, one criticism that's come up relatively regularly is that it's difficult to read across from Government expenditure to measurable outcomes in terms of carbon reduction. Now, how can you look at a budget line on a spreadsheet and be confident that that expenditure is having the impact that you want it to have? It's possible to look at specific projects, that's easily done, but, in order to measure the success of the Welsh Government in driving the broader change that we want to see across government and the public sector, we need to understand how every penny contributes to that aim of net zero. So, with a view to the budget you're working on now, which will be published in a little over a month, how will you ensure transparency and, in light of that, accountability for you as a Government around that particular issue? And also, do you agree that the next budget needs to be the most climate and nature friendly in the history of devolution?
Thank you for raising, again, an important question. In terms of our carbon impact assessment work, I would say we're on a journey with that; we're seeking to improve the way in which we undertake those carbon impact assessments. We had some work done, by I believe it was Cardiff University, for us, in the first instance, where we looked at the health main expenditure group and looked at how we could measure carbon through that, which was a really interesting piece of work. They drew it to our attention that, actually, about half of the Welsh Government's budget is exposed to pay—so, essentially paying salaries and so on—so what happens beyond that in terms of carbon impact assessment is really much more about the choices that we allow people to make and trying to make it easier for people to make choices that have a positive impact on decarbonisation and so on. So, we'll continue with the approach that we're undertaking on carbon impact assessments, and transparency is important. I'm not saying that we've got it perfect yet, but we are still seeking to make important steps on that journey. And, of course this budget has to recognise the seriousness of the climate and nature emergency that we face, and that work is ongoing at the moment, with a view to publication on 20 December.
3. What consideration has the Minister given to providing additional funding to the economy portfolio to support tourism? OQ57195
The support we've given the tourism industry in Wales throughout the pandemic is the most generous in the UK, with related businesses benefiting from £50 million from the Wales investment tourism fund and £56 million from the economic resilience fund.
Diolch. For constituencies such as Bridgend, tourism has played an integral part in our local economy and history—visitors from constituencies beyond our boundaries come all year round to enjoy our beaches, hospitality and tourism attractions, and European Union investment has been crucial to much of that success, something that is now under threat, with the UK Government refusing to replace that vital funding. With the UK Government trampling over devolution and seeking to make decisions in Whitehall rather than Wales, moving further away from the people who understand the wants and needs of the communities who live there, can the Minister confirm that she is working to stand up for communities such as Bridgend and parts of Porthcawl, rather than only see Tory strongholds benefit from any future investments?
Absolutely. Thank you very much for raising that and setting on record the way in which the UK Government has sought to sprinkle very little amounts of funding, actually, across their own constituency areas, and it does mean that Bridgend, actually, has fared particularly badly from the UK Government's approach. It was de-prioritised for funding by the Conservatives in Westminster, despite previously benefiting from the maximum level of EU support. And this has been demonstrated by the county receiving just £785,000 from the £47 million community renewal funding awarded to Welsh local authorities. And let's remember, that is just £47 million instead of £375 million, which we would have had had the UK Government committed and kept its promise that we would receive not a penny less by leaving the European Union.
And looking further ahead as well, the long-term spending profiles of the shared prosperity fund amount to a UK-wide £400 million in 2022-23, £700 million in 2023-24, and £1.5 billion in 2024-25. And that's UK-wide. So, clearly, the UK Government has no intention whatsoever to match the annual £375 million Wales would have benefited from in EU funding had we remained members of the EU, despite the Conservative promises that we wouldn't be a penny worse off.
As the Minister knows, a number of organisations in the cultural sector, such as theatres and local music venues, still haven't been able to operate at full capacity because of the safety measures that they've put in place to safeguard people from COVID. And although the number of attendees is lower, they need more staff in order to implement those safety measures, including implementing the COVID pass. Does the Government have any intention to enhance the financial support to these sectors as part of their COVID recovery in order to safeguard the future of a sector that is so important to the Welsh economy?
Well, we have been engaging throughout the pandemic with the visitor economy forum and the hospitality stakeholder group, and some of the businesses that you've described will be represented by those groups. Obviously, things are continuing to be challenging for that sector. We've tried to make the COVID pass as simple as possible, but I do recognise that it is an additional job that we are requiring of businesses. But let's be really clear that the purpose of the COVID pass is to keep businesses open, and that's the best thing that we can do to support businesses of all types, just to keep them open. And that's one of the things that we've been seeking to do through the introduction of the COVID pass.
We're also looking through our lens to the future in terms of recovery for the sector, and we've been working on the plan, which was announced by my colleague the Deputy Minister very recently in terms of the tourism and hospitality recovery plan. And that, of course, focused on reconstruction and resilience for the sector. There have been some innovative new funding opportunities for the sector as well, such as the Brilliant Basics capital fund. That's recently been relaunched with a capital fund of £2.4 million to deliver some of those small-scale tourism infrastructure improvements across Wales. And we've also funded projects through our tourism attractor destination scheme. So, there are several sources of funding that we are able to deploy to support the sector.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the responsibilities of the proposed corporate joint committees? OQ57205
The four corporate joint committees established on 1 April 2021 will exercise functions in relation to strategic land use planning and regional transport planning. They will also have a power to improve the economic well-being of their area.
Thank you for that response. I listened carefully to your responses to some previous questions in this area, and you did touch on the question of passing responsibilities down from the Welsh Government to the CJCs, but I didn't necessarily hear your view in terms of those concerns among local authorities that the Government, over time, will add more and more responsibilities that currently lie with local authorities to the CJCs—that is, that they move up the chain, rather than down the chain. Now, at the time of passing the legislation, assurances were given that that wouldn't happen, and I would ask you today whether you can give the same assurances as we've heard from your predecessor that shifting of responsibilities from local authorities to the CJCs won't happen unless local authorities desire that.
Absolutely. There will be no shifting of responsibilities unless those requests came from local authorities themselves. I absolutely see this more about devolving power from the Welsh Government to the CJCs than anything else. As of yet, we haven't had requests for large areas of new responsibility to be devolved, because this is very much an early days scenario that we're seeing in terms of the CJCs. It's important that they're able to get up and running and find their feet before we really start to have those conversations about future responsibilities.
Minister, corporate joint committees, like my colleague Sam Rowlands has said, are basically Government reorganisation by the back door. They were rejected by the WLGA leaders group because they create unnecessary layers of costly bureaucracy and they take decision making further away from local communities, which undermines the whole process of devolution of powers to our local communities and councils. The one established in mid Wales is going to have a say over strategic planning. Minister, local communities and the directly elected councillors should and must be able to have a say over strategic planning and the future development plans for their communities. So, Minister, will you do all you can to ensure that local communities will have a voice on CJCs and that they will not be pushed further away from decision making that affects their communities? Diolch, Llywydd.
I would just repeat what I said in answer to Sam Rowlands earlier about the importance of public accountability and the fact that a CJC will be required to encourage participation in its decision making by members of the public, ensuring that they are able to contribute to the shaping of the services, which is absolutely important, and I know that CJCs will want to do that work in any case. I think that there is a very strong argument that some functions are better delivered on that regional footprint. The work to improve the economic prosperity of an area is one obvious example, as is transport planning, which clearly should be done on that larger footprint. So, I think that the areas for which the CJCs are responsible are the right ones, and I think that they will make a real difference in terms of being more coherent and allowing decisions to be taken that benefit people in those areas.
5. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Health and Social Services regarding the financial pressures on local authorities' children and adult social services? OQ57179
In September, we announced £40 million of additional funding to implement the social care recovery framework. I've also announced an additional £20 million for local authorities so far this year to manage the demand for children's services, and I'm open to further allocations this financial year.
Thank you, Minister, for your answer. In Powys, and indeed across Wales, there are considerable pressures, of course, on both children and adult social services, not only with an increased referral rate, but also with the presentation of more complex cases as well. When I raised this issue with the relevant cabinet member of Powys County Council, they pointed out that referrals had doubled compared to pre-pandemic times, for all the reasons that I'm sure will be familiar. What that discussion with that cabinet member was about was in regard to how is there a solution, how do we come about the solution. It is with additional funding, because there needs to be a retention of existing staff that are currently leaving and there needs to be higher pay for those staff as well. These are some of the issues being talked about. The solution also is not just one-off grants, of course, because if that is the case then those local authorities can't then offer a higher wage packet or can't retain more staff. So, I wonder, Minister, if you could comment on what I've said and outline any additional further support that you'll be providing to local authorities to tackle this specific issue.
Thank you very much. I don't think that I would disagree with what you've said in terms of the severe pressure on social services, and particularly in regard to children's services. I want to reassure you that my officials are currently working with local government to identify where those pressure points are and where additional funding in this financial year can be of use, bearing in mind that point you made about the number of children coming forward with referrals increasing, but also the complexity for all the reasons that we would understand in terms of the last couple of years that they've been through. So, that additional funding is already there this year, but I'm more than happy to look for more should it be required. Those discussions are ongoing at the moment.
And then of course, retaining staff within the social care sector is absolutely paramount. Clearly, they have had a really, really hard couple of years as well in terms of the work that they've been doing, supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society, and our commitment to pay the real living wage is a really important one, as are other ways to look at recognising and supporting social care workers. For example, they are sometimes asked to pay for some things that they need for their job; we need to look at that to see if there's more that we can be doing in those areas. The Minister for Health and Social Services and the Deputy Minister for Social Services meet every week now with the Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson and leader to explore what more we can be doing to support the social care sector.
6. What assessment has the Minister made of the arrangements for next year's local elections to ensure that they are run effectively? OQ57188
Returning officers and the Electoral Commission have the statutory responsibilities to ensure all elections run effectively. The Welsh Government is working with both returning officers and the commission to support the implementation of changes to the legislative framework for local elections and the delivery of our electoral innovations programme.
Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. Effectively run elections are the cornerstone of any good democracy, and it's important that voters feel that voting is accessible to them. On polling day for the Senedd earlier this year, understandably because of COVID regulations, we had to vote in a different way. But one side effect of that were long queues at many polling stations, some up to two hours, and I know of one polling station in Cardiff West that was still taking votes at 11.30 at night. Naturally, some people turned away.
Last week, we discussed voting inclusion, the inclusion of as many voters as we can in this Senedd. Having to queue for so long, especially if there's adverse weather, especially if it's late at night, will mean that voting isn't accessible for all people, really, but especially the elderly, especially people with young children, especially people living with disabilities. With the possibility of COVID regulations still being in place at next year's May elections, what discussions have you had with local authorities to ensure that voting is as accessible as possible and that we don't see a repeat of the long queues that we saw in the May Senedd elections? Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you for raising this, and clearly it's an important issue that will need to be addressed as we move towards the local government elections next May. We're working closely to try and improve the uptake of postal votes, which is a simple way that people can avoid the queues, but also to try and ensure that more postal votes are done correctly the first time. So, we're looking at the design of those postal ballots because we know that there are errors made and people need to feel confident that they've done the form correctly and they haven't been confused by it. The forms do ask for a lot of information, so we've done some analysis, and around half of all invalid postal votes involve an issue with the elector's date of birth, so that's the primary focus of our work in terms of amending those forms to try and design out those kind of issues.
So, that's part of it, but clearly, there will be long discussions with electoral returning officers as we start to get into the detailed planning, and part of that will obviously be those discussions about avoiding those long queues to which you referred.
Can I thank Rhys ab Owen for tabling this important question, and also declare my interest as a serving councillor on Bridgend County Borough Council? I note with interest the Welsh Government plans to pilot new measures such as early voting in certain wards in Bridgend council ahead of next year's local government elections, the justification for which being that this will happen in the wards that had the lowest historical turnouts. However, in Bridgend County Borough Council, the vision doesn't quite match the reality, as I note that Coychurch, which was the ward with the joint highest turnout at the last election in the whole of the county, is one of the areas included in this early voting pilot, which completely contradicts the stated intention. So, is it not therefore apparent, Minister, that these so-called pilots are being introduced not to benefit increased voter participation in these elections, but instead being conducted to enhance the electoral prospects of the Labour Party?
I suggest that the Conservative Member doesn't judge this Government by his own Government's standards. We are very interested in supporting everybody who has the right to vote to get out there and do it, and they will obviously vote for who they choose. We've taken action right across Wales, including in constituencies that are currently represented by Conservative Members, to introduce new democratic engagement officers. So, they're across Wales, and they mean that now, for the first time, we've got a network of officers who are responsible for identifying barriers to registration, and they're working collaboratively with local partners to overcome them. We've also set up the local authority registration officer network to bring those individuals funded through the programme together to share knowledge and ideas as to how to get as many people as possible registered to vote, and to make it as easy as possible to cast that vote. That's happening right across Wales.
I would like to declare at the beginning of this question that I am a Rhondda Cynon Taf councillor.
7. What support is made available by the Welsh Government to local authorities to deliver non-statutory services? OQ57201
The Welsh Government provides support to local authorities to deliver statutory and non-statutory services through the annual core settlement funding and through specific grants.
Thank you, Minister. One sector that receives non-statutory funding from local authorities is local museums. I'd therefore like to ask what steps are being taken by the Welsh Government to safeguard local museums specifically, which are mainly funded by local authorities, but have seen swingeing cuts of 31 per cent over 10 years, as they are not statutory services. Is there more that the Government can do in terms of providing specific funding to support them to survive?
I think the most important thing that we can do to protect non-statutory services is to give local government the best possible settlement through the revenue support grant and through the other specific grants that the Welsh Government provides. Around 80 per cent of the RSG is non-hypothecated, so it's important that local authorities do have that freedom to invest in line with their local priorities. But as I say, we'll be publishing the Welsh Government's budget on 20 December, and we've already set out that we would look to prioritise funding for health and social services, and for giving local government the best possible settlement. I think that, in doing so, that's the way in which we can best put these non-statutory but incredibly valuable services on the best footing.
Question 8, Hefin David.
And for the third time today—
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the establishment of corporate joint committees in Welsh local government? OQ57203
Thank you very much for the question. I welcome the progress in each of the regions, including in south-east Wales, in establishing their corporate joint committees. I am committed to working closely with local government to support the establishment of their CJCs and the transition from the current regional arrangements.
I feel the need to speak up for corporate joint committees given some of the issues that have raised in the Chamber this afternoon. I've been involved in working with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Caerphilly County Borough Council, Stagecoach and Transport for Wales in order to try and secure improved bus links to the new Grange University Hospital near Cwmbran, and the route that is proposed, and hopefully we can get off the ground, will cover three county borough areas. It's my belief that a corporate joint committee approach involving that kind of transport provision would iron out some of the problems that have been encountered historically, and I feel CJCs have an important role to play in that case, with regard to delivering that. Will that be included in any provisions in the future bus Bill, and does the Minister agree that CJCs can provide that level of support?
That's a really good question, and it does give me the opportunity just to say that, obviously, CJCs will be responsible for developing regional transport plans, but these will obviously be considering issues relating to transport in and from each CJC area, and include policies for implementing the Wales transport strategy.
The point about buses is really important, because, obviously, the system for the planning and delivery of bus services needs to be efficient and effective, and we want all parts of the system to work together to achieve the type of bus service that we want. It's about one network, one timetable and one ticket. It seems simple, but, actually, it will require a lot of work. I think the fact that we could do some work on a regional basis will be really, really important. Obviously, there would need to be clarity over the roles and how local, regional and national authorities can integrate to ensure local accountability and a national perspective on the future of bus services, but I do want to reassure Hefin David that work is under way with local authorities to consider where those functions best sit to achieve this. Potentially there could be an important role for CJCs, given their transport function and the clear overview that they will have of the importance of networks within their areas.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is questions to the Minister for rural affairs and north Wales, and the first question is from Mike Hedges.
1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of using pesticides in Wales? OQ57175
Thank you. This issue falls within the Minister for Climate Change's portfolio. However, I can confirm that all pesticides authorised in the UK undergo extensive scientific and technical assessment, and meet strict regulatory standards to ensure they pose no threat to human or animal health and the environment.
Glyphosate is used to kill weeds. I, along with many others, have concerns about the effect of glyphosate on humans, animals and the environment. It's a non-selective systemic herbicide that kills a wide range of plants by entering plants through leaves and using the plant's circulatory system to reach its crown and roots. Does the Minister share my concern, and does the Government intend to legislate regarding the use of glyphosate?
I'm obviously aware of the concerns regarding the use of glyphosate. At the end of 2017, the EU reapproved it for a further five years, and I'm aware that discussions are beginning now between the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency. But, obviously, since January of this year, a new independent pesticides regulatory regime has begun to operate in Great Britain, and that's got a continued, rigorous and comprehensive risk assessment process for pesticides. So, now Welsh Ministers will continue to take relevant pesticide decisions for Wales, and Great Britain as a whole will undertake its own independent assessments of the evidence on the chemical. Obviously, Welsh Ministers will be very much involved in those discussions.
Minister, the UK national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides aims to minimise the risks and the impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment, whilst ensuring that pests and pesticide resistance are managed effectively. Many farmers and land managers currently use pesticides to control and protect their crops from harm from invertebrates, disease and weeds. One of the aims of the UK national action plan focuses on research and development, so can you outline what work has been done directly here in Wales on R&D into pesticides, so we can reduce our reliance on them and help secure the food supply chain?
Thank you. As I said, this doesn't actually sit in my portfolio—it sits in the climate change ministry—but I'm aware a joint UK consultation on a draft version of a revised national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides was launched at the end of last year. I know the Minister's officials are working very closely with their counterparts across the UK so that they can amend the draft plan, whilst reflecting, obviously, on the responses that have been submitted in the consultation.
2. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy regarding infrastructure investment in north Wales? OQ57186
Diolch. I've held several discussions with the Minister for Economy on a range of issues across north Wales, and tomorrow I'll be chairing the north Wales Cabinet committee, which the Minister will be attending. We continue to work very closely with our public sector partners to ensure the best possible economic infrastructure investments across all parts of Wales, as outlined in our programme for government.
With that in mind, the decision of the United Kingdom Government, of course, not to support Wrexham council's bid to the levelling-up fund to renew the Racecourse is a blow to the club and to football more widely, and, indeed, to the region more widely. You will be aware, I know, that Wrexham football club already draws crowds of over 10,000 for home games. The Racecourse is full on Saturdays, and we need to develop the Racecouse, not just for the club, but, as I said, to ensure a regional and national resource that will be able to attract international games on every level in future. That, of course, is particularly relevant today, because there are thousands of people from the north who had to travel down once again to Cardiff to watch the national team play. Government after Government, of course, here in Cardiff, have spoken about this from the point of view of the Racecourse, but have never delivered. I am eager for us to ensure the development proceeds, despite the decision of the Westminster Government, so will you as a Minister commit to ensure funding from the Welsh Government to develop this part of the town, and of course to contribute to the growth of the region more widely?
Thank you. As you say, there were far more losers, I think, than winners in Wales as a result of the UK Government's announcement around the levelling-up fund. Only six local authorities were successful in their bids, and £172 million-worth of bids were refused funding. That obviously included the Racecourse ground in my own constituency of Wrexham, and three town centres in Bangor, Barmouth and Bala. I think you make a really important point, and it struck me again last night; when I was a young girl, I would never have been able to come down to Cardiff to watch international football matches. All my attendances at international football matches were at the Racecourse, and I think we are missing a young group of people whose parents are unable to bring them down. Certainly, as you say, the Racecourse attracts crowds of just under 10,000 every other week. There is definitely a will within the football club and with the town to see those extra facilities brought to the Racecourse. You'll be aware that Welsh Government is a partner in the Wrexham gateway project, working with Glyndŵr University and Wrexham County Borough Council, and I will certainly do all I can, both with my MS hat on, and as the Minister for north Wales, to ensure that that project goes smoothly. It certainly appears to be. I appreciate it is a long-term project.
Fortunately, the Wrexham gateway bid is going to the levelling-up fund round 2, and of course the Clwyd South bid was successful in round 1.
Earlier this year I visited the site of the landslide between Newbridge and Cefn Mawr, caused by storm Christoph, with the B5605 there closed. When I wrote to the Welsh Government about this damage to key infrastructure, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change's response in July stated that Wrexham council's funding application to the Welsh Government was
'unsuccessful because repair works would not reduce the risk of flooding to properties and would only benefit the highway'.
Wrexham council's environment and transport lead then wrote, 'We anticipate a repair cost of circa £1 million and are concerned that without some support the council will be unable to fund these storm-related damages.' But, as an affected constituent wrote this month, 'Many in these villages do not have cars, needing transport that involves walking miles to the nearest bus stops or having to hire costly taxis.' Earlier this month, the council confirmed they had secured Welsh Government funding for advice from geotechnical consultants, and will be submitting a business case for Welsh Government funding. How, therefore, do you respond to their statement that the biggest obstacle will be securing funding this financial year to enable them to plan and carry out the works as soon as possible?
My understanding, when I last had a discussion around this issue with the deputy leader of Wrexham County Borough Council, was that they believed the ball was firmly in their court, and they were processing their application. So, I don't recognise that.
I've had a response regarding that as well and been told that it's being followed up, with officers meeting with Wrexham officials as well. Diolch.
Improvements along the A55 in Gwynedd received 50 per cent EU funding to do the work. This is just one example of how north Wales's infrastructure gained from being a net beneficiary of European funding. We were promised we would be no worse off after Brexit, yet just one north Wales local authority—Wrexham—benefited from the replacement fund, the levelling-up fund, and that was for the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Flintshire council submitted a high-priority regional funding bid for infrastructure projects, including the Deeside parkway station, which would improve access for north Wales residents to 400 businesses and 5,000 jobs at Deeside industrial park, a park-and-ride at Penyffordd station, and improvements for freight at Castle Cement to enable a planned increase in services on the Wrexham-Bidston line to two trains per hour. None of this was funded. Minister, do you agree with me that the UK Government is selling north Wales short by not providing the same amount of funding and investment in infrastructure that we would have had if we had been part of the European Union?
Yes, absolutely, I would agree with the Member. Clearly, the UK Government's actions are a levelling down for Wales as a whole, and certainly north Wales, not a levelling up, and we are certainly having less say over less money. I think that's completely unacceptable and absolutely not what we were promised. So, I think you're right to raise concerns regarding future investment for north Wales. I think this has probably set a precedent for what's to come in the way the UK Government are using the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and its failure to replace European funding in full. There just doesn't seem to be any substance behind its levelling-up agenda.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson first of all—Samuel Kurtz.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, in yesterday's bovine TB eradication strategy statement, you stated that one of the reasons you're stopping the trap and test of badgers is, in your words, because it proved unpopular with farmers. However, it could be argued that one of the reasons that contributed to the programme failing was that a list of participating farms was made public in 2018 in a perceived data breach, resulting in those participating farmers being harassed and bullied. Additionally, NFU Cymru president John Davies stated:
'Welsh Government appears to be unique in its thinking that this disease can be eradicated without proactively dealing with diseased animals in both cattle and wildlife populations.'
With concerns expressed by farmers over the Welsh Government's ability to handle sensitive data and to have an adequate approach to beating the disease without a holistic and proactive eradication strategy, what confidence can farmers have in your Government in winning the battle against bovine TB?
Thank you. One of the reasons I stated as to why I was stopping the trap and test was that it was very resource-intensive and it hadn't given us the amount of data that I thought it would do. I think the funding that I previously had given to the test and trap scheme would be better used in badger vaccination. So, that's why I announced £100,000 yesterday. I absolutely recognise what you're saying about the breach in data that took place—I'm trying to remember if it was three or four years ago, but it was a few years ago, and obviously, we apologised. But I do want our farming sector and the community to have faith in this TB eradication programme. As we discussed at length yesterday, I think it's working. It's time to refresh it now, as it's been four years since we brought it forward, and I very much hope that people will take part in the consultation.
Well, Minister, that will be disappointing, as NFU Cymru believe that it's a row-back, having this trap and test removed.
But moving away from TB and focusing on financial support, last week, the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence from the farming unions, who were asked about their concerns regarding rural development programme funding being unspent by the end of the programme. NFU Cymru expressed their disappointment that, despite the programme concluding last year, as of August of this year, a third of the original budget had still not been spent. Minister, do you share these concerns and agree with me that RDP funding must be spent effectively and in a transparent manner? What reassurances can you give farmers that your underspend won't have any impact on any future funding agreements?
I do agree with you that it should be spent in full; I don't share concerns that it won't be. I remain confident that the RDP will be fully spent by the end of 2023, which is when it has to be spent by. I'm sure that you will appreciate that there have been considerable challenges for some projects due to the impact of the pandemic and the ongoing effect of us leaving the European Union. I recently announced Glastir agri-environment contract extensions for two years, through the RDP, which I think was very much welcome. Because I did want to provide certainty to those environmental projects that we didn't lose the gains that we have had through them, ahead of the transition to the sustainable farming scheme. The current project-level commitment stands at £764.7 million and that represents 91.2 per cent commitment of funds against a total programme value of over £838 million.
Thank you. You mentioned those environmental projects, and on the topic of effective and transparent RDP payments, figures released by the Welsh Government have confirmed that a growing proportion of the Welsh Government's Glastir woodland creation fund is being used to finance tree-planting projects on Welsh farmland purchased by foreign businesses, with no benefit to Wales or our communities and contrary to our own attempts to tackle climate change. Given that large businesses from outside of Wales are accessing Glastir grants, yet local farmers such as David Mills from Powys are being penalised and fined thousands of pounds for doing the right thing in planting trees, will you disclose to the Siambr how much taxpayers' money, allocated via the Glastir woodland creation fund, has been given to multimillion-pound businesses to plant trees in Wales?
So, I am obviously aware of the case you refer to, and I can't comment because obviously it’s going through a process.
In relation to multinationals buying land in Wales, obviously this is something that is concerning me and I met with the farming unions last week and asked them if they were able to provide evidence. They both raised it with me. And one of the unions did say to me that a lot of it is anecdotal, so I would prefer to have hard facts, and they have committed to doing that, because I think it is important that we do know what land is being bought up.
However, I’m hearing all the time that large parcels of land are being bought up and trees planted. You’ll be aware that we haven’t achieved our tree-planting targets for a long time. So, I’m trying to balance this out, but we do need a step-change increase in woodland creation and I do think that it’s our farmers who are best placed to be able to do that for us.
So, I think there are two separate issues there. I think we need to know who we are selling our land to. Unfortunately, as you say, some of the funding is going to addresses not in Wales. I don’t think it’s as significant as you are implying. And, again, if you have the evidence, please send it to me, but I think we all agree that a lot of it is anecdotal. But just looking at the sustainable farming scheme, within that, I am very keen to be able to help our farmers who want to plant trees, who want to plant hedges and edges and to be able to support them to do so.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Cefin Campbell.
Thank you, Llywydd. As we look beyond COP26, we must now, of course, turn our words into actions to tackle the climate emergency. During the summit, there was an agriculture day and leaders within the farming sector in Wales made ambitious and very firm commitments to help Wales reach its net-zero ambitions.
Of course, we understand that we need a viable agricultural industry in Wales to ensure that we don't see fewer steps being taken to safeguard the natural environment and fewer economic contributions by the sector to the Welsh economy. And we certainly don't want to see negative impacts on the climate by importing farm produce from abroad, as we've heard might be possible, particularly from Australia and New Zealand.
Over the past few weeks, Hybu Cig Cymru published an update to its report, 'Perfecting the Welsh Way', which includes guidance on farming sheep and producing beef in a sustainable manner. NFU UK also published a comprehensive report on how the sector can lead the way towards net zero. And this is very different to the empty rhetoric we've heard from the Tories on climate change. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that the contribution of farmers is crucial to achieving net zero and that they are part of the solution and not of the problem?
Yes, I absolutely agree with you that they're part of the solution and certainly I think—. You mentioned NFU on a UK level, but NFU Cymru I think have been—they set out their strategy before we did. I think they have been very clear that they see themselves as part of the solution and they don't come asking questions—they come with answers. So, I think they have really led the way in relation to that.
I very much welcomed Hybu Cig Cymru's new report, 'Perfecting the Welsh Way'. That again recognises the actions that will be required by Welsh livestock farmers towards achieving the sustainability targets that we've set and they provide guidance for continuous improvement. We too have concerns about the UK trade deals with New Zealand and Australia that have been agreed in principle and officials continue to make representations to the UK Government.
Thank you very much. Of course, the Conservative Government in Westminster hasn't only broken its pledges on climate change for the second year on the trot. We've seen promises broken on funding for agriculture in Wales. Now, the relative cuts to agricultural funding and rural development announced in the comprehensive spending review last month break a manifesto pledge made by the Conservatives not to cut rural funding. The expenditure review, and you'll remember 'not a penny less,' that £300 million on average would be allocated to Wales for agriculture over the next three years. Now, this means £37 million less than the budget allocated in 2019, in the year when the Conservatives in their manifesto pledged that there would be no cuts to the budget for farmers. Now this means that agriculture in Wales over the next years, over the next four years in fact, will see a reduction of £248 million, revealing the emptiness of the rhetoric of the Conservatives and the Brexiteers in their manifesto of 2019.
So, how is this cut going to impact the previous commitment made by the Minister in terms of maintaining basic payment scheme funding for farmers over the next few years, and what steps will she take to ensure that these cuts don't impact or undermine family farms or the rural economy?
You make a very important point, and certainly, the UK Government have clearly let down our farmers and our rural communities here in Wales. As you say, we will lose out on over £106 million of replacement EU funding over the spending review period. That's on top of last year's £137 million that wasn't provided for my budget from the UK Government. That netting away of that funding would not have happened if we'd still been in the European Union. As you probably are aware, and you will have heard the Minister for finance in her questions saying, this rhetoric—and it was rhetoric, wasn't it—around not a penny less is just not coming to fruition, and I know both myself and the Minister for finance have continually complained about the methodology that has been used by the UK Government. And I'm very disappointed that they didn't take a different approach this year following our representations last year.
So, it does leave rural Wales with significantly less funding than if we had remained within the European Union. So, obviously now, we will all have to take this into consideration as a Cabinet ahead of our budget being announced on 20 December.
Thank you. It's clear therefore that supporting Welsh farmers isn't a high priority for the Tories in Westminster.
Now, in moving on and looking more particularly at future farming policy beyond the current funding, one of the concerns expressed by the sector is the capping of payments. To date, the Welsh Government has refused to commit to capping payments that would make the most of the funds provided to small family farms. Now, in addition to the issues in terms of defining what an active farmer means, then ceasing capping payments would open the door for private individuals and large organisations to take funds away from small family farms and rural communities.
Now, from 2023 onwards, as you know, the European Commission is taking major steps to redistribute the financial support more fairly to farmers, and this will mean a clearer definition of an active farmer. Can the Minister alleviate the concerns of the sector today therefore by committing specifically to maintain or reduce the current cap on payments, and to follow the examples of the new cap, which is being recommended by the European Union in order to provide fair play to Welsh farmers?
Well, I'm sure, as you can appreciate, as the sustainable farming scheme is obviously in development, I can't commit here in the Chamber to that, but I do have representations being made to me regularly regarding the capping of payments, and will certainly be looking at that as part of the sustainable farming scheme.
3. What action has the Welsh Government taken to reduce the impact of fireworks on the welfare of animals? OQ57182
Thank you. I am very conscious of the effect fireworks can have on wildlife, domesticated animals and farmed animals. In the absence of a clear commitment by the UK Government to tighten regulations in England and Wales, we have asked the UK Government to consider the possibility of transferring these powers to Welsh Ministers.
I thank the Minister for that answer. With bonfire night having come and gone this year, and new year celebrations on the horizon, we're now in the middle of the so-called fireworks season. This year, however, it's very different to most other years, with the RSPCA saying this year will see an unprecedented amount of unofficial and unplanned events, with 44 per cent of people in Wales now attending an event like this rather than a planned one. And that of course means these events are now, on the whole, taking place closer to those pet-owning homes, increasing the likelihood of extreme anxiety and distress for those animals, and even injury and death in some more extreme cases. I know, Minister, you previously noted earlier this month that we needed to make some progress on this issue, so can I ask what lessons the Welsh Government has learnt from the 5 November celebrations earlier this month, and what future plans ahead of the new year celebrations you have to protect domestic animals?
Well, as I say, this is a matter that sits with the UK Government, and we would certainly like to have those powers devolved, so that we are able to make some really significant steps. I'm very conscious, obviously, of the impact fireworks can have on our animals, so I was very pleased to see—I can think of one supermarket in particular that did not sell fireworks this year, which I do think improved matters. I think you're quite right in what the RSPCA were saying, that there were probably more people who celebrated bonfire night at home, and bought fireworks for private use rather than going to big events, due to the COVID pandemic.
Obviously, animal welfare sits in my portfolio, but, previously, when I was the environment Minister, I had many discussions with Ministers from not just the UK Government but Scotland as well, to see what we could do to look at either banning fireworks, or looking at having silent fireworks, or no-noise fireworks. Because of course, it's a balance, isn't it, between people's enjoyment of these things and the distress it unfortunately does cause. I know that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change is looking to see what can further be done, and I think he's asked for some advice around the limitations of the current UK regulations.
Thank you, Minister, for your answer. And while recognising the fact that, of course, this is a non-devolved issue, this is something that, like many Members of the Senedd, my postbag is always full about at this time of the year. Now, Welsh councils can put in place a suite of actions to mitigate the impact of fireworks, such as voluntary or localised measures, to increase public awareness, encouraging the use of quieter or silent fireworks, and further encouraging the advertising of official displays taking place on council-owned land. What discussions has Welsh Government had with our partners in local government about the actions that they can take?
Thank you. I know Welsh Government officials have circulated the campaign materials that we had from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Whitehall to noise teams in Welsh local authorities, for them to use if they should so wish. And of course, many Welsh local authorities, working in partnership with the emergency services, are extremely active in this area, without need, I think, of encouragement from us. The Minister with responsibility for that, I know his officials have been working collaboratively with BEIS to see what further guidance and regulations can be done. And I know we did circulate bilingual awareness-raising publicity materials to all our Welsh local authorities, so that they could use them on websites and social media. I think it's really important that, as a Government, we continue to work with our key stakeholders, and that obviously includes local authorities, to ensure that message is absolutely communicated right across Wales.
4. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Climate Change regarding the role that farmers can play in tackling climate change? OQ57206
I regularly meet with colleagues to discuss cross-cutting issues, including this one. And COP26, I think, really showed how farmers have a vital role in tackling climate change, by reducing on-farm emissions through a range of approaches, including improved efficiency in livestock and crop production, nutrient management, and increasing sustainability of farm technology and infrastructure.
Thank you very much, Minister, for your initial response there. In recent months, I've had the pleasure, alongside the National Farmers Union, of visiting two very different farms in my region, North Wales—Llyr Jones's farm, Derwydd, on the Conwy-Denbighshire border, and the Rhug estate near Corwen, which I'm sure you'll be familiar with as well. Both, whilst continuing to ensure we have food on our tables to eat, have also diversified into green energy production, which helps to run their farms. These of course, as I'm sure you'd agree, are fantastic examples of farmers here in Wales leading the fight against the current climate emergency, as well as providing renewable energy for their businesses, as well as on to the grid for everybody else to benefit from as well. So, Minister, what further support and incentives can you provide through the Welsh Government to farms, like Derwydd and Rhug, to help tackle the climate and nature emergencies?
Thank you very much. I'm very well aware of both the farms you referred to, and I think we have seen the diversification of our farms, particularly in relation to green energy production. I often visit farms that have one—I've forgotten the word; 'windmill', I want to say, but that's not the word—turbine, and certainly they're not just providing green energy for themselves; as you say, they are connected to the grid. And we are able to not always perhaps financially support, but we're very happy to support with officials' help and guidance in relation to doing that. But, as I said in my earlier answer to Cefin Campbell, I passionately believe, and I know the Deputy Minister, who's just come into the Chamber, met with NFU Cymru at COP26, they absolutely see themselves as part of the solution. And the NFU net-zero pledge by 2040, and the work that they're doing to lead agriculture to a decarbonised future, while supporting others in that food supply chain that you referred to as being obviously so important, is really excellent.
Good afternoon, Minister. May I thank Sam Rowlands for bringing this question forward. Farmers, as we know, have a significant contribution to make to Wales's efforts to tackle the climate and nature crisis, and many have already, in this Siambr, indicated the solutions farmers can bring in achieving net zero. I know as well that the sector is keen to work with Government to shape future agricultural policy to ensure that we can meet our need for food security, a thriving planet, resilient communities, and a successful agriculture and food sector. As we've already heard today, we were all concerned to read last week of a farmer in Powys, in the region I represent, reportedly being fined £15,000 for variation on the plans agreed under the Glastir woodland creation scheme. And I know you've already responded to Sam Kurtz, and I recognise that you are not able to comment on ongoing appeals, but I was hoping that you could shine a light on what the Government has learnt from Glastir and how that learning will be used to inform the Government's future agricultural policy and funding arrangements in the year ahead.
Thank you. Welsh Government must administer all Glastir schemes in accordance with regulations and scheme rules. Rural Payments Wales must undertake at least one in situ visit to check all capital work items are completed, and, then, if claimed works are found to be incomplete or not to be to the required specification, payment may be recovered and an over-declared penalty may also be applied. But, as you said, I've already said I can't comment on specific cases. But it is important that we do learn lessons, and, whilst it's not possible to make changes to the current schemes that we have, my objective is to simplify our future farm support. Obviously, as we bring a sustainable farming scheme and a replacement for the rural development programme forward, it is really important that we work with stakeholders, I think, in co-designing them, so that they are less bureaucratic and simplified. So, my officials do work very closely with farmers and stakeholders to understand what issues they have, and ensure that what's being proposed is practical and workable, and I think we're going to look at how self-monitoring can be used. I think that's another aspect that we could look to improve and to see if that can be used as an effective way of gaining compliance information, and the role of earned recognition for compliance is also being explored.
5. Will the Minister provide an update on the use of snares and glue traps in Wales? OQ57207
Thank you. The programme for government includes a commitment to ban the use of snares in Wales. My intention is it should be contained, along with provisions relating to the use of glue traps, in the agriculture Bill that the Government will bring before the Senedd in our first-year legislative programme.
I'm really pleased to hear that you have an ongoing commitment, because it wasn't mentioned in the original programme for government. So, that's really, really good news. When we're talking about the use of snares and glue traps, we're talking about cruel devices that actually kill indiscriminately. They trap birds and animals, they allow them to stay there suffering cruelly, having a very slow, painful death. Seventy-three per cent of incidents that are seen by the RSPCA concerning glue traps involve the non-target species, like pets and wild animals. I think that the sooner we can end these really cruel practices—and some of those snare traps are commonly seen around areas where there are pheasant shoots and game bird shoots—. So, I am relieved to hear that you intend to introduce the ban, but what I would like to hear is an outline of that timetable.
Thank you. So, it is in the programme for government. That did include that commitment to ban the use of snares in Wales. As I say, I will be looking to bring it forward in the agriculture Bill, which is in our first-year legislative programme. I am loath to give a month; I tend to use seasons when I say that something is coming forward, but I certainly hope to bring it forward in early summer next year.
6. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact that investors purchasing agricultural land to plant trees for use as carbon credits has on family farms? OQ57184
Diolch. We are aware of a small number of woodland-creation projects on land purchased by investors. These projects have not been planted, so it is not yet possible to assess their impact. However, we recognise the concerns and want farmers to play a central role in our woodland creation.
A small number of cases, we hear from the Minister, but we are hearing increasing concerns about this. We heard about that earlier on today. Local families and farmers have no hope of competing. We’ve seen in the past what happens when land is lost, socially, economically, culturally and linguistically. We think about Epynt and Tryweryn and the huge forestry plans of the last century.
The Farmers Union of Wales say that they’ve received reports of this happening in every county in Wales, on an area of land equivalent to possibly 20 family farms. In response to an earlier question, the Minister said that she also shares the concerns, as we heard just now, and that she had invited farming unions to provide her with additional evidence. 'Much of what we hear is anecdotal', she said. She asked another Member to provide more evidence that Welsh Government grants are being paid to speculators. I'm sorry, but it’s the job of Government to do this work of gathering data and gathering evidence. It's the Minister’s job to find that evidence and get to the bottom of this issue. So, will she commit to trying to understand exactly is happening, so that we have robust data as a matter of urgency? Rather than saying that she is concerned about the thing, will she push for changes to the planning system to safeguard against the impact of these tree planting schemes, and consider urgently changing the eligibility criteria for schemes such as Glastir Woodland Creation, so that it’s only those who farm in Wales who can make bids and not speculators who are trying to derive maximum benefit from the situation?
So, you appear to be quite critical of my earlier answer around my meetings with the farming unions last week. It was them that told me that it was anecdotal, and they offered to bring forward the further evidence. You say that there is an increasing number of concerns, and I agree with you—there is certainly a perception out there. Now, whether it is just a perception doesn't matter, because perception is everything in politics.
We need to know the facts around this, and we do have some idea of, obviously, the numbers. However, the issues that were brought to me, particularly by one of the farming unions, I wasn't aware of, so I have asked for evidence. I don't think that that's unusual, for instance. What we do know is that the majority of our Glastir Woodland Creation scheme beneficiaries are our farmers. So, in developing any future schemes, I want to review how to make sure that these work well for our farmers in the way that I just referred to in a previous answer.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the Government's strategy to tackle animal cruelty in South Wales West? OQ57190
Diolch. I launched our animal welfare plan for Wales on 4 November, which builds on our achievements since the devolution of animal welfare powers in 2006. It outlines how we will take forward the animal welfare commitments in our programme for government, and other measures to further improve animal welfare across Wales.
Thank you, Minister. Between August and October 2021, the RSPCA responded to 5,263 cases across Wales, which is an increase of 10.2 per cent on the same period last year. Of these cases, 463 were in the county of Swansea, in my region—the second highest of local authorities in Wales. And Neath Port Talbot, also in my region, had the fifth highest level in Wales, with 298 cases, which is an increase of 90 cases on the previous year. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that more needs to be done to tackle animal cruelty in South Wales West and, indeed, across Wales? And in light of the publication of new regulations on animal welfare, what additional funding has the Government allocated for local authorities to enable them to implement these regulations effectively? Thank you.
Thank you. It’s horrific to hear of the number of cases that the Member refers to, and I do want to pay tribute to the RSPCA and other charities and organisations who do an incredible amount of work in relation to this. My officials have worked very closely with local authority enforcement officers to see what we can do to improve training for them to, obviously, go out and when they’re dealing with these cases, and we’ve brought forward some training over a three-year project, which we’ve wholly funded. I will, obviously, have to look at whether I can continue to fund that when the project comes to an end. We, obviously, also work closely with the RSPCA, and they come forward with requests for support. We look at that on a case-by-case basis.
8. What support is the Welsh Government providing to tenant farmers regarding security of tenure? OQ57181
Thank you. The Welsh Government is committed to protecting both the tenanted and owned sectors of the Welsh agricultural industry. Tenancy agreements are contracts entered into by both landlord and tenant. Welsh Government will continue to work to ensure the legislation underpinning agricultural tenancies is fair to both parties.
I'm pleased to hear that, Minister. As Rhun ap Iorwerth suggested, the history of Wales is full of farmers being forced to leave their land. I'm pleased to see the Deputy Minister, Lee Waters, here, as he has spoken very powerfully about the family of his grandfather being evicted in the Epynt clearance in 1940. The loss of Epynt, the loss of a whole community and, as Rhun ap Iorwerth said, the loss of a language, the loss of a culture, the loss of a religion—the loss of everything that was good about the community.
But this is not just a matter for the history books. This year in Cardiff and in Rhoose, the same thing is happening. It's heartbreaking to hear about Jenkin Rees, a farmer between Radyr and Pentrebane in Cardiff west, of Maes y Llech farm, demonstrating the rich history of Cardiff, being forced to leave the farm he's been farming for decades. And then the Model Farm in Rhoose—a family who were forced to leave Epynt, but the same thing is happening to them again. Even though they have been there for four generations, the same is happening again. They are being forced to leave Model Farm by Legal and General—a major international company forcing this Welsh family to leave their farm. What additional steps can you take, as a Minister and as a Government, to support these tenant farmers to remain on the land and to do what this land has been doing for centuries? Thank you very much.
Thank you. Well, back in, I think it was, 2019, we did consult around tenant farms and, obviously, the tenants on them, and we wanted to look at encouraging longer term lets. Respondents were very supportive of the aim, although I think it’s fair to say that it was also highlighted that it might not bring forward the intended effect that you referred to.
We do have a DEFRA-led tenancy reform industry group, which I know my officials work very closely with, to look at what mechanisms we can bring forward to support our tenant farmers. We’ve also had some new dispute-resolution powers. They were taken forward in the UK Agriculture Act 2020, and I’m certainly looking at what we can do in our own agriculture Bill that I’ll be bringing forward next year.
Minister, first off I’d like to thank you for bringing this question forward, because when I had the portfolio and I spoke with tenant farmers, it was really sad. Now, nearly 30 per cent of agricultural land in Wales is tenanted, with such smallholdings providing a crucial stepping stone for young farmers as they enter this vital industry. Yet the ability of tenants to plan long term for their families and implement sustainable practices is undermined by the rules. The Tenant Farmers Association have said farmers are being stifled in undertaking sustainable practices due to the short-term opportunities that landlords are giving them. In the majority of cases, we know that tenant farmers are unable to plant trees due to restrictive clauses within their agreements. NFU Cymru's 'Growing Together' strategy found that policies that drive tree planting where funding exceeds the levels of support available for agricultural land have the potential to impact on short-term tenancies, and this can be at the risk of termination by a landlord. So, given this incredibly vital sector, again, what can you do to safeguard against these very negative practices that our tenanted farmers are experiencing?
I recognise some of the issues that the Member refers to and I do think that tenant farms are often a stepping stone for our young farmers, who we really want to encourage into the sector. You will have heard my answer earlier around the work that we've done with the UK Government-led tenancy reform industry group. As I say, there are some powers within the UK Agriculture Act that was brought forward last year, and I will certainly look to see what we can do. I've been working with the tenant association here in Wales for their views, and obviously as we go through the process of the agricultural Bill I'll be very happy to see what powers we can bring into that Bill to support this very important part of the agricultural sector.
9. How will the Welsh Government work with the UK Government and producers to promote food and drink from the Vale of Clwyd? OQ57200
Welsh Government continues to work with producers and other external stakeholders in the Vale of Clwyd to promote food and drink using a wide range of business programmes, and recently Blas Cymru, our signature event for Wales. We work with the UK Government on many areas that are advantageous for Welsh businesses.
I really appreciate that answer, Minister, and thank you. The Vale of Clwyd is home to many great food and drink producers and products, and one of the best examples of our great produce is the Denbigh plum, whether it's eaten on its own or as an amazing jam or drunk as a fantastic plum brandy. The Denbigh plum is the pride of Denbigh and the whole of the Vale of Clwyd. Minister, how will your Government help spread the good word about the Denbigh plum to a greater, worldwide audience? Thank you.
I think we did it through Blas Cymru. That's where we bring the world to Wales. Whilst we couldn't do it in the physical form that we've previously been able to do it in 2017 and 2019, when we held Blas Cymru last month, we had, obviously, lots of virtual meetings. Obviously, the Vale of Clwyd Denbigh plum was granted protected designation of origin status in 2019, so we worked very closely with them to make sure they were able to fulfil that. I think high-quality food and tourism are really inextricably linked, so we're working with other protected food name companies to make sure that everyone is aware of the excellent work going on in Wales. I think Blas Cymru is just a credit to our amazing Welsh food and drink, not just in the Vale of Clwyd, but right across Wales. The early feedback we've had is that a substantial number of new contracts were won at Blas Cymru. It really is a pleasure to be the Minister with responsibility for food and drink and sell it to the world.
I thank the Minister.
The next item therefore is the topical questions, and there is one question today, to be answered by the Deupty Minister for Climate Change. The question is to be asked by Jack Sargeant.
1. How is the Welsh Government supporting Arriva Wales bus drivers who are seeking a fair wage? TQ580
Thank you for the question.
We encourage disputes to be resolved in the spirit of social partnership, and I'm pleased that talks are ongoing between Arriva Wales and Unite the Union. Transport officials are keeping in close touch with the talks and I have met with Unite.
I appreciate that answer, Minister. Llywydd, I will start by saying that, like these drivers, I'm a proud member of Unite the Union. These drivers live in the communities they serve, and the last thing they want to do is to be on strike, but they are in this position because Arriva pay different rates for the same job, exactly the same job, just across the border. Frankly, I think that is ridiculous. These drivers drive past each other on the same roads.
The disparity with the north-west has now increased from £1.81 to £2.20. I am clear that these drivers are right, and I support them in their calls for parity and fairness. So, with that in mind, Minister, what can the Welsh Government do to support these drivers? And if I may, and finally, Minister, I must comment and say that it is Tory deregulation, under a Thatcher-led Government, that failed the industry and it's failed our communities, and our colleague Ken Skates was brave enough to say that during his time in the Welsh Government. So, how do we ensure, in the future, that we do have bus operators that serve our communities and the travelling public across Wales?
Thank you for that further comment. Can I just say, at the beginning, that we hope that industrial action can be avoided, so that passengers are not further disrupted? We were pleased that the dispute between Unite and Stagecoach in the south-east of Wales was successfully resolved through negotiations, and, as I say, we're pleased negotiations are ongoing at the moment in the north, and we hope for a similar outcome. Of course, there are different sets of issues at play in both circumstances, and these are primarily commercial matters. But, to seize on what Jack Sargeant said there about the impact of Conservative deregulation since the 1980s, this is a profound factor at play here. Since deregulation, bus drivers' wages have risen at a far slower rate than the average rates for similar occupations. So, there is a direct relationship between the regulation and the rates of pay, and it is our intention to address deregulation and bring in a franchising system. We want to see one ticket, one timetable and one fare across the whole of Wales, and, as part of that, one set of terms of conditions for the workforce. We'll be bringing forward a bus strategy and a bus White Paper in the new year, ahead of bringing in new legislation that we hope will not only improve terms of conditions for the workforce, but make bus a far more viable option for more people, as part of our efforts to tackle climate change.
Thank you to my colleague Jack Sargeant for bringing this topical question to our attention today. Deputy Minister, the current strike action by drivers employed by Arriva Buses Wales is, without a doubt, causing considerable disruption to the lives of people across north Wales, particularly the elderly and vulnerable who do not have access to other forms of transportation. I agree with my colleague Jack that the crux of the issue is pay parity with drivers in the north-west of England, who are paid more per hour than their counterparts in north Wales. There are parallels here with the recent dispute at Stagecoach, caused by drivers in Wales being paid less per hour than those in England, which has been settled amicably with a £1 per hour pay rise. It shows that good can be done on both sides when they negotiate with flexibility and also in good faith. Now, I know that there has been a mention of the Thatcher days, but let's focus on 2021, where we're all right now. So, Deputy Minister, will you join me in urging both sides to seek a just resolution to this dispute as soon as possible, and, if this is not forthcoming in the short term, encourage both parties to use the arbitration services to settle this, so that bus services may be restored to the people of north Wales? Thank you.
Well, yes, as I've already said, I'm pleased that negotiations are ongoing. We encourage a spirit of social partnership, and we hope that they'll be able to reach a resolution in north Wales, as they have done in south-east Wales. But I don't think Natasha Asghar can so lightly set aside the issue of deregulation, which was a deliberate policy of the Conservative Government everywhere outside of London. And there is a reason why bus services are better in London than they are in the rest of the country, because London's bus services are regulated and ours are not, which limits our ability to intervene in the market to make sure that there are social services provided, rather than just that that the commercial market determines, and the rates at which the commercial markets decide to pay, which have been less since deregulation than for the workforce as a whole. So, this is a direct result of deregulation and free-market forces, which those benches celebrate at every possible opportunity, and they can't run away from the consequences of that.
This is a wholly indefensible position from a major company running services with public subsidy—that's what we shouldn't forget. Arriva Buses Wales has enjoyed a near monopoly of services in parts of north Wales over the years, and receiving those subsidies, of course, from Welsh Government indirectly. So, I want to hear a stronger intent from Government in terms of some sort of intervention, because the grant is derived from the Government, so surely you're in a position to flex some muscle here, and, if you aren't, then surely tell us that that is your intention to bake those kinds of expectations in. You've spoken in the past about legislation around public procurement, for example. This is the kind of thing that we need to hardwire into future contracts. Now, the offer of 29p an hour as a pay rise compared to the 39p, of course, paid to counterparts in north-west England means that we do have a pay differential of £2.20 an hour, as we heard, for driving the same buses along many of the same roads, but, of course, those workers are all facing the same cost-of-living crisis, and they're key workers. It's easy to forget—our bus drivers are key workers. We've hailed their efforts as heroes during this pandemic; they deserve a better deal. But, of course, this underlines to me that it's time for a bigger shake-up of our bus services. We've been at the mercy of commercial bus companies for too many years. So, do you now agree, Minister, that this underlines the need to take the private profit motive out of public service delivery in Wales and to bring bus services back into public hands?
Well, I'm very interested to hear Janet Finch-Saunders's wholehearted support for Llyr Gruffydd's intervention—[Interruption.]—in the market. 'He who pays the piper calls the tune', says Janet Finch-Saunders, and we certainly know that from her colleagues in Westminster, who are putting themselves for hire at the mercy of private companies. So, to directly address Llyr's point, there is a patchwork of arrangements in Wales because it is a commercial market, a commercial market deliberately set up by the Conservatives under bus privatisation. The drivers from Arriva are generally among the better paid in Wales at the moment, better paid than those in Stagecoach, where there has been a dispute recently, but they're not as well paid as those across the border in Merseyside. So, these are complex commercial matters, but I can absolutely give the commitment that we want to see consistency across Wales, both of service provision, of timetable provision and of terms and conditions for staff. And that is something we very much will be designing into the bus White Paper that we're working on currently and will be introducing in the new year. I hope, given the support we're hearing across the Chamber for action, that support will be reflected when the legislation comes forward.
If it's sensible, yes.
Can I thank Jack Sargeant for tabling this topical question on such an important issue? Like Jack, I am a proud member of Unite the Union, and also attended the picket line on Sunday to stand in solidarity with drivers, who fulfil such an important role in our local communities across north Wales. It simply cannot be fair that workers in Wales are paid less and made to work longer hours than their counterparts just across the border in England, whilst the cost of living in the communities in north-east Wales is rising. House prices have increased there by as much as 40 per cent over the last couple of years. The depot I visited was called the Chester depot, but it is in Wales, paying Welsh wages, and I wonder: is this a deliberate policy to cut costs? Does the Minister agree with me that it's totally unacceptable for a company that receives substantial public funds to behave in such an unethical way? Going forward, looking at reform, we need bus services that operate in the interest of the travelling public, with all profits reinvested in the service delivery, rather than a franchising model that will drive down workers' wages and conditions in the name of profit.
Well, as the point has been made across the Chamber, the Welsh Government, along with Governments across the UK, have saved the private bus industry over the last 18 months, which otherwise would have gone to the wall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and there is an obligation on the bus industry to behave responsibly in recognition that they are, in fact, at the service of the public.
There is a complex set of arrangements at the moment, and, of course, there are different economic forces at play here. And this is not a new thing; this is a historic position that drivers in Merseyside have been generally better paid than drivers in the north. So, there's not a simple answer to this, but it is absolutely our intention that, through franchising, we will have consistency of terms and conditions across Wales. We certainly don't see franchising as a way of watering down workers' rights—on the contrary. But one thing we are very cautious of, and this is a point that Unite made to me when I met them, is that some companies may be suppressing costs to keep costs low at the moment to then give themselves a competitive advantage when the franchises are advertised, and that is something that we need to keep a close eye on and build into our negotiations once we're able to get the legislation through the Senedd.
I thank the Deputy Minister.
The next item is the 90-second statements, and the first of those is from Llyr Gruffydd.
Diolch, Llywydd. My friend Abdul Khan is something of an institution. For the past 17 years, he has been a county councillor in the town of Colwyn Bay in the North Wales region, and this year he has become the first Bangladeshi ever in Wales to chair a county council, when he was appointed chair of Conwy County Borough Council. He is also a successful businessman, a long-standing restaurant owner in the town, who is a very generous host to local community organisations and charities. Donations to food banks are commonplace, NHS staff have been given free meals from his restaurant during the pandemic, and he has been a tireless advocate for community cohesion in his locality. It's no surprise therefore that everyone knows Abdul. He is known by everyone by his first name, and he is at the heart of his community.
Abdul was also the first Bangladeshi mayor in Wales, so he has consistently broken new ground and he's a pioneering spirit, and that's why I wanted to pay tribute to this warm and modest man who has enriched his community so much. In fact, the most difficult thing about this 90-second statement was persuading Abdul to allow me to make it about him. He's a great role model and he's a real community champion. Diolch, Abdul, am dy holl waith.
Ninety-five years ago, Penrhiwceiber's war memorial was completed. The bronze plaque commemorating those who lost their lives in the first world war was sited at the base of a castellated tower that would also serve as the village clock. It was designed by Mountain Ash architect W.H. William, paid for by public subscription, and built with stone from the old Aberdare canal.
It's a striking landmark, literally at the heart of its close-knit Valleys community, with a Welsh dragon weather vane that can be seen at a distance. The clock tower makes the memorial a memorable one. Later, names of the fallen from the second world war were added, and also another unique feature, a memorial to the Korean war. The tower is now grade II listed, but sadly in recent years its condition has deteriorated and the clock no longer works. But, plans are afoot to change this. The clock will be repaired and the street scene improved. The brass panels have already been cleaned, and new lighting fitted. My thanks to RCT council for doing this as part of its ongoing commitment to the armed forces community. The village holds its remembrance service a week after Remembrance Sunday, a third unique feature. So, I will be joining the community at the war memorial this Sunday to pay my respects to those who gave their lives.
And finally today, Rhys ab Owen.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I want to congratulate cymanfa ganu Westminster on its centenary celebrations this year. The gymanfa was established in 1920 by the Prime Minister at the time, David Lloyd George, to commemorate those who lost their lives in the first world war. Of course, they're celebrating the centenary this year because they were unable to meet last year, for obvious reasons.
It was a great privilege to preside at this year’s gymanfa at the beautiful Castle Street chapel in Oxford Circus in London, joining hundreds of London Welsh in song. And Llywydd, a great number of them were Cardis, as with all other London Welsh events, and I was singing next to your fellow Member for Ceredigion, Ben Lake. I don't know who was keeping who in tune. The gymanfa was ably led by the Plaid Cymru councillor, Trystan Lewis—Janet will remember him well, of course. And under his baton, the singing was even more rapturous and the remembrance even more heartfelt when remembering those loved ones who've passed away during the COVID period since the last meeting in 2019, of course.
Whatever the constitutional future of these islands, and only a fool would claim that they know what that might be, one thing is certain, people from Wales will continue to move, to live, to work and worship in London. London Welsh have played a prominent role throughout the centuries, for over 1,000 years indeed, and a number of them have taken the opportunity to promote the Welsh language, our culture and Wales’s status as a nation in that major city. So, congratulations to the Reverend Rob Nicholls and the gymanfa committee, and I look forward to another 100 years of singing Wales’s venerable hymns in England’s capital. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. That brings us to a short break to allow for some changeovers in the Chamber. The bell will be rung before we restart.
Plenary was suspended at 15:19.
The Senedd reconvened at 15:26, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.
Welcome back, and the next item is the motion to amend Standing Orders: membership of the Standards of Conduct Committee. I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move the motion. Darren Millar.
Motion NDM7826 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the report of the Business Committee, ‘Amending Standing Orders: Membership of the Standards of Conduct Committee’, laid in the Table Office on 9 November 2021.
2. Approves the proposals to amend Standing Order 22, as set out in Annex A of the Business Committee’s report.
I move, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Thank you. I don't have any other speakers under this item. So, the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next item is the motion to approve the Senedd Commission's budget for 2022-23. I call on Ken Skates, the Senedd Commissioner, to move the motion.
Motion NDM7830 Ken Skates
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 20.16:
Agrees the budget of the Senedd Commission for 2022-23, as specified in Table 1 of the Senedd Commission Budget 2022-23, laid before the Senedd on 10 November 2021 and that it be incorporated in the Annual Budget Motion under Standing Order 20.26(ii).
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I move the Commission's budget for the 2022-23 financial year, and ask that it is incorporated into the annual budget motion. As you'll have seen in the budget document, the Commission is seeking a total budget of £62.942 million, comprising £41.175 million for Commission services, £17.552 million for the remuneration board's determination, £165,000 for the office of the standards commissioner, and £4.05 million for interest and non-cash items.
Now, the budget represents a 4.36 per cent increase on the current year's budget, excluding of course election costs, which may seem significant, but is absolutely necessary for the Commission to continue to support Members to the exemplary standards that we have come to know and indeed to expect. The pay award from the Commission for the Commission's staff for 2022-23 will be 2.7 per cent, as per agreed as a pay award mechanism based on the average increase in the annual survey of hours and earnings for the last three years, with a cap and a collar of 3 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.
The Commission of course exists to support the Senedd and its Members, and the pressure on Members remains very significant indeed. Given our relatively small number and the complex issues that we are addressing right now, most notably reform and the ongoing impact of Brexit, we need a budget that provides the right level of resource to support Members through this period. That is all without taking into consideration, of course, the fact that we are still negotiating and navigating our way through a worldwide pandemic.
In this context, we have added to our staff base in response to both the pandemic and the forward work programme of the Commission, and specifically our committee teams, to ensure sufficient clerking support whilst we explore these complex issues in more depth. Our move to hybrid working is something of which we can be, I think, exceptionally proud when we reflect on the last 18 months or so. The world is a very different place compared with two years ago, and with working from home still the default position for many, including myself, the benefits of working in our locality continue to accrue. For myself and other Members based outside of Cardiff, to continue to work on this basis requires additional investment in ICT support. Within that context, we have invested in our ICT staff to provide resilience and support for the hybrid model, and we'll need to invest further to support this in the longer term.
This budget is transparent, is set in the context of the long-term financial funding situation in Wales, and is mindful of the Finance Committee's statement of principles. I'd like to thank the Finance Committee for its thorough scrutiny of this budget and its continued commitment to ensuring the fairness and transparency of the Commission requirement, whilst continuing to ask questions, which helps us to drive performance and deliver excellence.
The committee made nine recommendations, which we have addressed in our response. Their first was that the Senedd supports this budget, for which we are grateful. Thank you to all members of the Finance Committee. There were three recommendations on budgetary controls, specifically around cost control and containment in the budget year to try to manage the impact of the increase in national insurance contributions without the need for a supplementary budget, as well as working without the assumption of future-year increases, and finally, proactively communicating with Finance Committee members regarding additional costs that may materialise for 2023-24, once the Commission's priorities for the sixth Senedd begin to take shape.
Two of the recommendations tasked the Commission with looking at estate utilisation and future space requirements, in recognition of the fact that new ways of working are likely to become normal ways of working. The Commission has been asked to understand where there may be resource implications, what those could be, and also to better understand the terms of the lease and our obligations regarding the full replacement of windows in Tŷ Hywel. A further recommendation asks that we continue to monitor the impact of COVID on our budget, both in terms of where we have and may expect to continue to make savings, and, conversely, areas where it has caused greater expenditure to be incurred. Another recommendation is that we identify and progress quick wins to support our aims of having a carbon-neutral strategy delivered. And finally, we were requested to report on our success in engaging with our hard-to-reach cohorts, particularly those in lower socioeconomic groups, which we are, of course, happy to do.
We've accepted these recommendations and we are, as ever, open to suggestions on how to improve our budgeting process. And we're willing to answer any questions that Members may have. In the meantime, I'm happy to put forward this budget on behalf of the Commission and all its members, and reiterate our commitment to working in a way that is open and transparent, delivering the best possible value for money for the people of Wales.
I call on the Chair of the Finance Committee, Peredur Owen Griffiths.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I preface my remarks by thanking the committee members for their work in scrutinising the Senedd Commission's draft budget for 2022-23? I'd also like to thank Ken Skates, the Senedd Commissioner for budget and governance, and Senedd officials for attending the Finance Committee to discuss their proposals. We appreciate the open and constructive manner in which the Commissioner and his officials responded to our questions during the evidence session, and are grateful for the additional information they provided so promptly following that meeting.
We made nine recommendations to the Commission relating to its proposals. I have received the Commission’s response to our report and I am pleased to see that eight of those recommendations have been accepted in full and one accepted in principle.
The Commission’s draft budget sets out its intended expenditure for 2022-23 and contains proposals for a budget of £62.9 million, an overall increase in Commission-related expenditure of 4.4 per cent from 2021-22. The committee supports this overall request and believes that the Senedd should endorse the draft budget. However, we have made several recommendations to caveat this position.
As Members are aware, the current financial picture is uncertain and challenging. As a result, we do not believe that the Commission should be treated differently to other public sector organisations in terms of the funding it receives. In particular, we are concerned that the budget refers to scenarios that would require supplementary budgets to cover certain costs, including those relating to the recently announced increase in national insurance payments. The committee felt strongly that the Commission should fund such pressures on its budget by making in-year savings and efficiencies, rather than relying on supplementary budgets, which should only be used as a last resort.
We were also concerned that the budget does not reflect the Commission’s goals and objectives for the sixth Senedd, as these have not yet been agreed. Whilst the committee acknowledges that we are in the early stages of a new Parliament, and that some agility in financial planning is necessary, we would like to keep a close eye on the budgetary implications of these objectives, and we ask the Commission to provide an update to the committee once they are known. In addition, we want to remind the Commission that it should adhere to the committee’s statement of principles for all directly funded bodies when formulating future budgets and not assume an increase in funding from one year to the next.
Turning to specific issues, clearly, the COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on the Senedd, its staff and services. The committee recognises the dedication and flexibility of staff in successfully supporting the Senedd throughout the pandemic. We also appreciate the way in which the Commission has provided regular updates on costs and savings relating to COVID to the committee, and recommends that such an approach continues. The committee was pleased to hear details of the Commission’s carbon-neutral strategy for 2021-30, and calls on the changes proposed in that strategy, which are simple and cost-effective, to be implemented at the earliest opportunity, to maximise their benefits.
Members will be aware of a significant project to replace the windows in the Tŷ Hywel building. The project cost of £6 million is substantial and has not been included in the budget for 2022-23, although the Commission indicates that the work could potentially take place in 2023-24 if the associated budget is authorised. The committee acknowledges that the Commission has an obligation to keep its rented premises at an agreed level of upkeep. However, it is not clear whether the Commission is contractually bound to replace the windows as part of its leasehold responsibilities. Before considering any future budgetary proposals relating to this project, the committee requests further details and assurances from the Commission before it can express a view on the project’s affordability.
Finally, the committee was pleased with the Commission’s approach to engagement and outreach work, particularly its aims in reaching new audiences and people that have not historically engaged with the Senedd. These are laudable objectives. However, to ensure that this work continues to provide value for money, we ask the Commission to provide regular reports on its success or otherwise.
Dirprwy Lywydd, budget scrutiny is at the heart of our work. As a committee, we want to be robust and rigorous and ensure that the annual budgets of the public bodies considered as part of our work are proportionate and justified. We believe that the Commission’s budget for the next financial year meets these criteria. However, we will be keeping a close eye on the Commission’s future spending plans during this parliamentary term to ensure that this continues to be the case. Diolch yn fawr.
I'd like to begin, actually, by making clear my delight; it's the first opportunity I've had, actually, to thank Members, and indeed my own group, for appointing me to become one of the Commissioners for the sixth Senedd.
I'd just like to say, Peredur, your contribution there I felt was really appropriate, because, at the end of the day, we as a Commission—and I can say 'we as a Commission'—are not above scrutiny and challenge, and neither should we be. I'm aware that, when you're a Commissioner, you become—I'm sure Joyce would agree—a sounding board for any issues that people wish to raise with you. I know that some Members have had concerns about the late sightings of the draft budget. I have raised these concerns, but this has been explained to me along the way—it's because we were only re-elected, and some elected for the first time, in May. I know that that did impose some restraints. However, I have been assured that engagement with all Members by our Commission, in terms of our budget and its spend, will be far more transparent and far more obvious to all Members as we go forward.
Secondly, it has been noted by some Members that the Commission—yes, as has been rightly pointed out—is seeking a budget increase of 4.39 per cent, whilst the Member allowance budget increase is just 0.004 per cent. And it's already been said, hasn't it, that—. I've been here now 11 years, and, I have to say that, whilst, again, we don't want to see increases in our expenditure, I think there has to be some proportionality and some recognition of the fact that our Members here are very important, and they do need the tools and the wherewithal to do their role. There are also issues that have been raised with me, and I've raised them previously, about the inequality in pay scales between the Senedd Commission and, indeed, our own support staff. I know, before anyone tells me, that that's a remuneration board matter, but, again, I think we as a Commission ought to be far more robust and making that point more strongly.
Elsewhere, Members have also raised concerns around an increase to the broadcast budget—on page 9. That's a significant amount of £100,000, staying at that level after a retendering process. I'm still waiting for a better explanation on that point. So, whether, Ken, you could elaborate more on that. Because we try to look at budgets looking more static, and hence the retendering process, yet our broadcasting seems to go up ordinarily every year, and we should be—. The Finance Committee and the work you've done, the points you make about—. It doesn't matter what financial pressures we're facing, you have to look at where you can make efficiencies in the year.
Other concerns have been raised with me about unallocated and yet earmarked funds—£200,000 in table 10 for engagement is earmarked for larger initiatives, but the Commission is yet to decide how and if to allocate. Questions still remain over the planned estates and facilities management expenditure, costing £600,000 every year, and whether we would still need to allocate £300,000 to future ways of working, as forecast in 2024-25. So, again, Commissioner Ken, I would appreciate those points being addressed in your reply. I note the Finance Committee's recommendations that the Commission prioritises and implements changes associated with its carbon-neutral strategy for 2021-30 that are simple, yet cost effective, and to do so at the earliest opportunity.
On this occasion, the Welsh Conservative group will not be able to support the draft Senedd Commission budget. But, again, I know I speak on behalf of my group in paying tribute to the work of the Commission and its staff, who, without any shadow of a doubt, over the last 20 months of challenge, have made sure that the crucial work of this Senedd and its Chamber could continue, moving to hybrid operations, whilst also keeping staff and members of the public safe on our estate. I look forward to working with all the Commissioners and the Llywydd over the next Senedd term, to ensure that questions like these are able to be raised in this way, and that we can be assured of the necessary and appropriate answers. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.
I am not going to object to the Commission's budget. I do, however, want to make three points. Firstly, I want to reiterate recommendation 2 from the Finance Committee:
'In line with the statement of principles, the Committee recommends that the Commission should fund in-year pressures on the budget it has control over by making in-year savings and efficiencies, rather than through supplementary budgets.'
This is difficult, but it's what other public sector bodies have to do. It can be difficult for the Commission. I would say it's a lot easier for the Commission than Natural Resources Wales or council social services departments to make those savings.
Secondly, the Commission has several layers of management. Other public sector organisations have been delayering and producing flatter and flatter structures. Can I urge the Commission to produce a flatter structure, and, as vacancies become available, move towards a flatter, more efficient and less costly structure?
Finally, on capital expenditure, we saw, a few years ago, approximately £2 million spent on remodelling the ground floor of Tŷ Hywel. This year, we have seen a television replacement programme. The one that has been removed from my Cardiff office is newer than the one I have at home. Of course, no-one asked me if I wanted a larger, newer one. As I only use it to follow Senedd proceedings in my office, the old one was sufficient. Working computers and operating systems still supported by Microsoft are being replaced, or in the case of one in my Cardiff office, disabled. I have previously asked for a service level agreement for individual Members. I'll again ask for a service level agreement, but I keep on being told the Commission is there to support Members. In those immortal words, 'You could have fooled me.' I think that it is important that you tell us what I can expect, because what I get from the Commission is, I think, a fairly poor service for the cost. If you divide what is being spent by 60, I don't think I'm getting anywhere near value for money for that.
Finally, all the money spent on the Commission is money not available for other public services. We're taking money out of direct public services for the Commission, so we must make sure what the Commission does is of benefit. Thank you.
Can I thank Members for their contribution this afternoon? Firstly, I'd like to respond to the Chair of the Finance Committee. Peredur, I am very, very grateful, not just for your supportive comments this afternoon, but also the way that you chaired your committee and scrutinised both myself and Commission staff during the course of setting the budget. Of course, there were nine recommendations stemming from your committee's report. We were happy to accept eight of them, and accept one in principle. That one recommendation that we accepted in principle related to the desire for us to make in-year savings and efficiencies, rather than to bring forward any supplementary budgets, especially in regard to changes to national insurance contributions. Now, we accepted in principle—. And this relates to the point that Mike Hedges was raising. We accepted it in principle, because Members will be aware that we have no contingency budget available to us, and that's in contrast to the Scottish Parliament, where the bureaucracy in Scotland have a £1 million contingency fund available to them. So, to the point that Mike raises, of course, where we can make efficiencies we will do so, but without a contingency fund, if we are unable to make those savings then of course we have no option available to us but to return with supplementary budgets. Peredur also raised the important point about the carbon-neutral strategy and we are bringing forward plans—quick wins, as you might call them—to ensure that we are doing all that's possible to reduce our carbon footprint, and that includes projects such as replacing lights and ensuring that we have the most up to date metering system that can drive efficiencies.
Recommendation 6 of the Finance Committee's report obviously addresses concerns over the windows in Tŷ Hywel and the future use of the building. Now, we accepted this recommendation, and we will fully examine our contractual obligations with the landlord, but we will also consider the future use of Tŷ Hywel in the context of the accommodation strategy that is being drawn up at the moment, and Members, I'm sure, will be pleased to know that we'll be providing an update to the Finance Committee on our accommodation strategy in 2022. Of course, we also need to consider the future of Tŷ Hywel in regard to the Welsh Government's own intentions for its estate and how it sees future ways of working being incorporated into plans for its estate and office buildings, because of course that will then have implications for the entire Senedd, and, in particular, for Tŷ Hywel.
Moving on to Janet Finch-Saunders, can I thank Janet for the work that she has carried out as a Commissioner in helping to shape this budget? I'd also like to thank Peter Fox, as a Member of the Finance Committee, for the scrutiny that he gave during the course of our appearance in front of the Finance Committee. It is disappointing that the Conservative Party will not be supporting the budget, given two highly effective members of that group, either as a committee member of the Finance Committee or as a Commissioner, through collective responsibility, have either recommended approving this budget to the Senedd or, of course, have worked with other Commissioners in formulating the budget.
I can provide more detailed answers in writing to Members regarding the broadcasting budget that Janet Finch-Saunders raised, but in brief, we will be retendering for the broadcasting contract in 2022-23. Until we receive the tender responses, we don't know what the cost will be and whether there will be an increase, but given that we've had a flat cost on that particular requirement for some time, it makes prudent sense to incorporate into our proposals an additional £100,000. But of course, as noted in the Finance Committee scrutiny session, it's likely that the 2023-24 budget will reflect a revised budget amount as we gather data on new spending patterns and requirements post pandemic.
In terms of engagement, of course, there is a reduction of £18,000 in terms of engagement through events that perhaps are going to be curtailed or perhaps even not go ahead as a consequence of the pandemic, but it is absolutely essential that we ensure that we work with communities, hard-to-reach cohorts and the citizens of Wales to deliver awareness of our national Parliament.
And in terms of future ways of working, I think it would be negligent of the Commission not to make provision for potential future ways of working to be the normal ways of working, and the hybrid model of working, whilst it can achieve cost savings and efficiencies, it can also lead to increased costs elsewhere in terms of ICT and ICT support. So, again, our plans for that particular element of the budget make sense and are prudent.
Commissioner, you have exceeded your time, but I know that it's an important issue, so you've got a few more minutes there before we come to an end, okay?
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I was reaching my final point, and that is in relation to the service that Members receive from the Commission and its staff. We strive for excellence, and I'm pleased to be able to indicate to Mike Hedges that there is a service agreement in terms of the speed with which claims are processed. But I must say to Members and to citizens across our country that the work of Commission staff must first and foremost be to protect the public purse and ensure that we provide value for money. And often, that can incur further scrutiny of claims, which can, inevitably, lead to some delays. But we strive for excellence in all of the services that we provide.
Thank you, Commissioner. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I see that there is an objection. I will defer voting on the motion until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The next item is item 7, a motion under Standing Order 26.91 seeking the Senedd's agreement to introduce a Member Bill, the food (Wales) Bill. I call on Peter Fox to move the motion.
Motion NDM7813 Peter Fox
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 26.91:
Agrees that Peter Fox MS may introduce a Bill to give effect to the information included in the Explanatory Memorandum tabled on 27 October 2021 under Standing Order 26.91A.
Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. It's a pleasure to move the motion on the order paper today, tabled in my name. Before I begin, I would like to declare myself as a practising farmer. But, of course, the Bill goes much further than agriculture. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Commission staff who have supported me in bringing this draft Bill together. They have been excellent, as have my own staff.
Knowing where exactly the food on your plate comes from, and wanting to tackle malnutrition in Wales, are priorities that I believe all political parties in this Chamber can support. I believe it’s our collective moral responsibility to support this Bill to underpin our food security and production in Wales for future generations. For too long, we’ve taken for granted our food production and its security in this country. Not enough people have actually posed those morally and ethically difficult questions, such as, 'Where is this food from?', 'Am I supporting the local economy with this food?', 'How can we tackle malnutrition in society?', 'How do we use the food system to tackle climate change?' We now need to see action by all Governments of all colours to deliver a more prosperous future for the people in Wales.
But, I’m not here to score petty political points Deputy Llywydd; I'm here because I believe that, together, we can make a difference. And that is why it is time for us as politicians to use the tools at our disposal. Let's step up and deliver the key areas of this Bill.
So, why is the Bill needed? Well, we've witnessed the destructive impact of COVID that has caused havoc for supply chains across the world, and the impact that this has had on the availability of products here in Wales. But, the Bill contains the blueprint for how we can develop the food sector in ways that are sustainable, that enhance Wales's well-being, and create strong networks that will help make our food system more resilient.
Granted, my Bill does not provide the silver bullet for solving all issues facing Welsh society. Instead, it provides a firm framework that will finally solve many of the issues that have been outstanding for too long. Ultimately, at the very heart of the Bill is to ensure the use of local food, creating local jobs, stimulating local economies, together with addressing major well-being and health issues across the length and breadth of Wales. These are points that, again, I believe every politician in this Chamber, here or virtual, would support.
So, to explain a little bit more about my proposed Bill, and how I developed these proposals. Issues relating to food touch upon many aspects of the workings of Government, from public health to communities, the environment and agriculture, as well as, obviously, the economy. It engages with different departments across the Welsh Government, and we have seen numerous plans and strategies from Ministers here in Wales, such as the food and drink action plan, and the food and drink Wales COVID-19 action plan.
But, as I have found out when discussing these proposals with stakeholders from across different sectors, these plans often do not speak to each other. They are often too focused on particular areas, and at times, even conflict with each other in what they are trying to achieve. Whilst I think that there is a lot to welcome, it has been clear from conversations that far more needs to be done if we are to realise the full potential of the food sector in Wales in helping to tackle some of the issues facing our communities.
And, it is important to note that the progress that has been made on some of these issues elsewhere in the UK risks leaving Wales even further behind. The Scottish Government has recently published its Good Food Nation Bill, which requires Scottish Ministers and relevant public authorities to create good food nation plans, as well as considering the need for a statutory body. The UK Government is expected to produce a White Paper to respond to the recommendations of the recent national food strategy report.
My proposals, therefore, have been shaped through many conversations with stakeholders and experts, as well as Members of the Senedd from across all parties. I would very much like to thank everyone for their time and assistance to date. I am also very pleased to have received the general backing from both the Farmers Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union in the broader principles of the Bill. The Landworkers Alliance also believe that an overarching vision for a healthy, resilient and sustainable food system in Wales is needed.
So, in summary, my Bill would do a number of things. Establishing a Wales food commission is a key part of the proposed legislation. The commission would reset the governance of the food system in Wales, and would co-create and oversee the delivery of a Welsh food strategy, alongside Welsh Ministers and other stakeholders. It is not designed to undermine the Minister or the Government, but to support them to achieve their aims.
The make-up of the commission will be further developed in collaboration with stakeholders, including the Welsh Government, as the Bill progresses. I welcome input from Members about how that may look. The Bill will place a duty on Welsh Ministers to co-produce an overarching Welsh food strategy in conjunction with other stakeholders. This will act as the strategic overarching framework that integrates policies relating to the food system across multiple Welsh Government departments.
Whilst the Welsh Government is in the process of updating its food action plan, the Government's consultation document states that it is not a proposal for a holistic food system change. Yet, that is exactly what we need in Wales, and it is what the proposed food strategy will aim to do. The Bill will require local authorities and other public services, such as local health boards, to develop community food plans. This will strengthen public procurement and create better infrastructure to link food producers and consumers.
These would build on the good practice that is already taking place across Wales, such as Monmouthshire County Council's food development action plan, and would encourage other local communities to explore how they can strengthen the link between producers and consumers within their area.
There are also some additional policies, such as requiring Welsh Ministers to report annually on food production in Wales, so we are able to clearly analyse the outcome of the Welsh food strategy, as well as local food plans. It would allow policy makers and other interested stakeholders to make an assessment about how sustainable and robust food production is in Wales.
The Bill could require all supermarkets and other retailers to donate unwanted and unsold food that is fit for human consumption to charities and food banks to help the most vulnerable in society. This is similar to a measure that was introduced in France in 2016. The policy would help Wales's Government to meet its current obligations, such as the target to halve avoidable food waste by 2025 and reduce it by 60 per cent by 2030. I know there is already some good work going on by some supermarkets in this direction, but it’s just not enough.
Finally, the Bill would explore ways to strengthen food labelling requirements. This would be focused on ensuring that Welsh producers, manufacturers and, importantly, the additional side of the hospitality sector would strengthen—their food labelling rules would be strengthened to ensure that food produced in Wales is clearly marked as such.
However, Deputy Llywydd, I would like to stress that these are just proposals. If given leave to formally introduce a Bill, I intend on working closely with a wide range of stakeholders, as well as Members and Ministers from across this Chamber, to ensure that their views and aims are included within the legislation, because it's by working together as one Senedd that we can achieve a more prosperous, a fairer and a more equal Wales.
To close, Deputy Llywydd, I would like to take this opportunity to make an appeal to each Member of the Senedd as individuals, not political parties, not the party whips: we have a moral responsibility to act today. It is easy to overstate the impact of legislation. As I acknowledged earlier, my proposals would be one cog of a much wider machine. There are other aspects of the food system that are outside of our powers, and I do think we need to see more from other Governments to tackle some of those issues, but this Bill would give us the platform we need here in Wales to start implementing the changes we need to see.
We often hear the word ‘progressive’ thrown around in this Chamber. Well, let’s deliver on progressiveness. A Welsh solution for Welsh issues, made for the people of Wales. To quote Professor Kevin Morgan and Simon Wright in their recent op-ed about my Bill, and I quote:
'Common sense, as well as reams of research evidence, tells us we must deliver. Future generations will find it hard to comprehend our failure to do so.'
Deputy Llywydd, I look forward to hearing the views of Members from across the Chamber. Diolch.
I call on the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch. I thank Peter Fox for bringing his proposed Bill today, and I welcome the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Welsh Government. I met with Peter to discuss his proposals and I was impressed by his passion for this agenda, which he has just displayed again. I hope this debate can be part of an ongoing conversation about the ways we can work together to bring about the aspirations he has and which I, and many across this Chamber, share.
I strongly agree with the sentiment behind the proposed Bill. There are huge well-being benefits to be gained from rethinking our attitude towards food and the role it plays in our society. I believe there is much we can do by building on the consensus we do have across the Senedd, and by supporting the creativity and commitment of people across Wales. However, I do want to urge Members to consider the ways in which the aspirations of the Bill can be delivered more quickly and more effectively than by the specific provisions proposed, and to work with us to enable a set of real, practical differences to be made on the ground.
The national food commission and the layers of annual Government strategies proposed by the Bill would risk stifling rather than supporting local entrepreneurs, community organisers and public servants. I believe it would make unnecessary law for topics where action can and already is being taken. There are a wealth of initiatives and vibrant communities of interest in Wales centred on food, and the creative ways in which Welsh local authorities and the voluntary sector responded to the provision of food to the vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think is one example, as are the hundreds of community food-growing projects who sought support through the Local Places for Nature scheme to expand their work as a way of helping people through the terrible impact the virus had, and continues to have, on our communities.
The cluster network of food businesses in Wales is another excellent example of both the passion and collaborative spirit that exists in the food industry here in Wales, as is the strength of Welsh businesses showcased at the Blas Cymru conference held last month, where we attracted investors from right across the globe. Through the foundational economy challenge fund, we supported a project, led by the Carmarthenshire public services board, to develop opportunities for public sector procurement of locally produced and supplied food, supporting local businesses to grow, which I believe could be a helpful guide, where we can support others to follow.
Learning from the successful ways in which our support for food-based initiatives has been delivered, working with businesses and communities as well as public bodies, I believe we need a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down approach. This can build on work that has already been delivered at small-to-medium scale in Wales, and we now need to grow and expend that. That is where I believe our focus should be—on practical problem solving and supporting local action across the country, rather than creating a set of new legal duties and bureaucratic arrangements.
Minister, I wonder if you'd give way on that.
Minister, you will know that the co-operative Senedd group, actually, produced a report on this within the last two years and, indeed, it very much supported that grass-roots, co-operative approach to developing a stronger food network, where, indeed, there were local food networks, where primary producers, as well as co-operative producers, as well grass-roots organisations, could be part of this. But we have a great deal of sympathy, actually, with some of the parts of the legislation put forward, so can I just ask the Minister: if legislation is not the answer, as I suspect you are arguing, how will you make good on that commitment to engage with Peter, with external stakeholders, with others in this Chamber today, but also with the co-operative movement and others who do want to see an absolute transformation within this field?
Thank you, and the Member raises a really important point, and I’ve certainly had a look at that report, and you’ll be very aware, as a Government, we’re already committed to developing a community food strategy, which was in our manifesto, and was partly based on that report, about empowering community-led action, making the food system better connected with citizens, and creating a diverse supply. And it’s now in our programme for government, as you’re aware, and I’m very happy to work with whoever wants to take that strategy forward.
Food will absolutely be a common factor in the community food strategy, and I’ve already started to work with officials, looking at cross-Government initiatives, and it’s really interesting to see just how much budget is spent right across Government. When you look at it, practically every Minister’s portfolio has something that will bring forward into that community food strategy, and I think it will really strengthen our communities, it will improve well-being, it will provide opportunities for both mental and physical health and greening the environment. I’m very happy to commit to continuing to work with any Member who wants to take forward that strategy, to identify ways that we can adopt and develop ideas that were in that report that had been put forward.
I think we’ve got an opportunity also to take forward proposals around reducing food waste from businesses, and Peter referred to that also, through our planned regulations on business waste recycling. There are also opportunities to work with other Governments of the UK and with businesses in Wales on improved food labelling. I think that is absolutely vital.
So, where the Senedd can form a consensus on these issues, there will be many opportunities to put forward those shared priorities into practice—opportunities that I believe the proposed Bill, contrary to its intention, would diminish rather than enhance. So, I would urge Members to work with us on supporting local champions, for instance, to work with each other, with public bodies, with businesses, so everyone can play their role in maximising the benefits that we have to look at the well-being benefits of producing food, because there are many, many there, and distributing food more fairly and properly, valuing the role that food has in our communities.
I am unable to back the Member's Bill as proposed because I do believe its implementation would divert us from the priorities I believe we share, and I do also believe there are a lot of proposals—and Peter will be aware of this—in the Bill that I don't think require new legislation. However, I'm very keen to back him in his determination to identify ways to strengthen food security and improve well-being through encouraging the supply of the high-quality and sustainable food produced here in Wales. Diolch.
I would like to thank my colleague Peter Fox for bringing forward such an important proposal, which I feel should be welcomed across the political divide. It's an excellent proposal for a Bill, and I commend my colleague Peter Fox for bringing forward this. As a Senedd, we have the opportunity to legislate in this important area and strengthen the security of the food supply, improve choice for Welsh consumers and support our rural communities and farmers and local businesses across Wales.
Supporting agriculture is, obviously, at the heart of this Bill, and, as a farmer's daughter, that delights me. At an all-Wales level, we need the security of knowing that food production is sustainable and localised to reduce food miles and cut wastage. With a full national debate on climate change raging right now in the light of COP26, there is greater awareness of these issues amongst the public, and there's a responsibility on Government to ensure that consumers are well informed to enable them to make choices about what food they buy. We need stronger regulations on food labelling so that the public can make a clear choice about where they choose to spend their money. An increasing number of people want to proactively purchase food that has been grown, harvested and packaged locally, with as few miles as possible, so it is important we ensure they have access to this information to make an informed choice. Monmouthshire, my home county, Peter's county, is increasingly the food hotspot in Wales now, with so many quality local suppliers, and we need to capitalise on that, but we need to do more to strengthen local procurement and ensure that small and medium-sized producers have equal access to competitive markets.
Food is a key driver to our tourism economy, tourism being the bread and butter of our economy here in Wales, and we should be doing more to support that. There's a lot of excellent best practice at the grass roots as you said, Minister, but they should be helped from above, they should be helped from the Senedd, to really guide them and then to roll out that best practice across Wales. That is why it's so important that we use this Bill to place a duty on Ministers to produce a food strategy.
As shadow Minister for education, I am, of course, interested in school meals, and it's always so disappointing, what we're seeing on the school menus. It's important that we capitalise on the wonderful local produce that is around us to feed our children in schools, and I do believe that the quality of what we have around us and the lack of food miles is something that children want to see, but also it's important for their nutrition, to tackle obesity and just the wider role that food—good food, good local food—can play.
I'm very proud to be Welsh and I want to see Wales's future secured as a sustainable country that celebrates and eats local produce. I think there's a real opportunity with this Bill to celebrate what we have here. We have much to be proud of and to enjoy in our country, and this Bill would benefit so many different sectors for so many different people. For me, it's an absolutely no-brainer to support this fantastic proposal that Peter's brought forward for us today. Da iawn, Peter.