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 by video-conference at 13:29 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome, everyone, to the Plenary meeting. Before we begin, I need to set out a few points. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's meeting, and these are set out on your agenda. I wish to remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply, of course, to this meeting.
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Darren Millar.
1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the adequacy of flood defences in Clwyd West? OQ57361
Llywydd, flood defence adequacy is assessed by Natural Resources Wales and local authorities in Wales. They then plan, promote and deliver schemes to reduce flood risk in their areas. The Welsh Government sets national policy and provides funding, including £5.24 million for schemes in Clwyd West in this financial year.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I am delighted that money is indeed being awarded to improve flood defences in Clwyd West. One of those areas that is down for improvement very soon is the coastal strip between Towyn and Kinmel Bay, which of course is extremely important as far as the visitor season is concerned, and where those coastal sea defences are protecting many thousands of properties and businesses. One of the concerns that has been raised with me about the plans, which have now been published, for the improvement of the sea defences in this area is that the plans simply aren't attractive enough for either the locals or the visitors who will be wanting to use the coastal path and the coastal belt as part of their local amenity for facilities. In addition to that, obviously, there's been a suspension of technical advice note 15 in terms of the implementation of the new technical advice note, which will afford a greater level of protection for homes and businesses in the future. What assurances can you give me, on behalf of the Welsh Government, that the people of Towyn and Kinmel Bay will get a decent level of flood protection in spite of the fact that the new technical advice note has not been implemented, and what assurances can you provide in relation to how attractive these flood defences can be, given the concerns about the fact that these are in a tourism resort area?
Llywydd, I thank Darren Millar for those questions. I know what a close interest he takes in flood and coastal erosion issues in his constituency, and I know that, in his own personal history, he has direct experience of what it is to be flooded, so I know he brings a great deal of passion and expertise to these issues. I'm very glad that the Welsh Government has been able to review the outline business case for the Llanddulais-Kinmel Bay coastal scheme. We've been able to award Conwy council £450,000-worth in funding for the full business case and the detailed design. I hope that that will be an opportunity to take into account the points that the Member has made about, as well as the urgent need to protect people's homes, the coast being a national asset here in Wales—it brings many visitors—and that that work needs to be done sympathetically in order to make sure that those very important economic aspects are sustained into the future. I thank the Member for what he said about TAN 15, Llywydd. The implementation date has been put back by 18 months so that we can make sure that the basis on which that advice will be founded—the maps and so on—is in the best possible order. But the purpose of TAN 15 is to make sure that houses are not built in future in places that put them at direct risk of flooding. There is no standing back at all inside the Welsh Government from the underlying purpose of TAN 15 and the revised advice note that will be published. We want to get it as good as we possibly can. The delay will allow us to work further with local authorities on the detailed information that lies behind the policy, and then it will need to do what Darren Millar says, in making sure that it protects those communities that otherwise would be at risk.
I need to check whether I can be heard at this point. Can anybody—? Yes, I can be heard. Diolch. My problem is that I can’t hear you. That is not a licence to do whatever you want, but I will call the next question. Question 2, Rhys ab Owen.
2. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Cardiff Council regarding recycling rates in Cardiff? OQ57356
Thank you to Rhys ab Owen for the question. Ministers and officials have had direct discussions with Cardiff Council on their recycling performance, and those discussions are ongoing.
Thank you, First Minister. It is disappointing that recycling rates in Cardiff are amongst the worst in Wales. Of the three local authorities that failed to deliver the target of 64 per cent in the Waste (Wales) Measure 2010, Cardiff is the worst by far, at 55.8 per cent. And I’m sure that the closure of recycling centres in Wedal Road and Waungron Road in recent years has had a detrimental but expected impact on recycling rates. But it’s not just that the recycling rates are low, it’s not clear what kind of recycling is happening. It’s environmentally and economically important that waste is used here in Wales for different purposes rather than being exported, particularly, far too often, to deprived nations. So, how can we increase recycling rates in Cardiff and ensure that Welsh waste is recycled and repurposed here in Wales? Thank you.
Thank you for those supplementary questions. Cardiff Council is working hard to do more to get their recycling rates to the place where we would all want to see them. There will be a new strategy before the cabinet in Cardiff Council this week and, as I’m sure the Member knows, they are going to pilot a number of new approaches in Cardiff West, which I represent. In Radyr and Llandaff, in January, there will be a new system in place to try and put measures in place to improve the recycling rates in the city. Officials have worked hard with Cardiff Council to see what is behind these figures, and there are things that are particularly pertinent to Cardiff—the number of HMOs, for example, is challenging for Cardiff Council, but there is a new plan in place, and I am confident that that will have a positive impact on the figures.
And I know, Llywydd, that the Minister Julie James has responded to questions on the floor of the Assembly and has provided detailed information as to where recyclate goes. More than half of it is dealt with here in Wales, and around 30 per cent goes over the border to England, and there are some things that go abroad. But we do have plans to cut back the amount that is exported and to do more with all the things that we want to recycle here in Wales.
I'm going to call Joel James now.
Thank you, Llywydd. Cardiff Council, as the previous Member has explained, has fallen consistently short when meeting the recycling targets set out by the Welsh Government, and the council's predicted that it will have to invest in secondary recycling in order to meet them. Perversely, they do not have the budget to implement secondary recycling, and the council predicts that the estimated fine they will incur, because they are not meeting their recycling targets, will be in excess of £10 million by 2025. As the First Minister will no doubt agree, it is in everyone's interests to see Cardiff Council meet these recycling targets, and for the council to be able to invest in secondary recycling. Indeed, they could even generate revenue for themselves by making this investment and having access to high-quality recycling markets that this investment will open. Therefore, can the First Minister explain what funding is available to councils like Cardiff that allow them to make these improvements, and what investment has the Welsh Government made in obtaining access to these high-quality recycling markets that the Welsh economy could benefit from?
Well, I agree with the Member that there are opportunities for Cardiff as a local authority in doing what I know the local authority itself wants to do, and that is to diversify the policies that it has in place and to provide better services for its own residents, and indeed, potentially, to be able to provide services for others as well. I think I ought to explain, Llywydd, that a fining system is set out in our regulations. Ministers have discretion in this limited way: Ministers can decide either to fine in full or not to fine at all—there is no intermediate position available in our regulations, and nor do Ministers have discretion over the quantum of fining. That is determined by a formula that, again, the regulations set out. So, there is nothing inevitable about local authorities being fined, and, in the past, Ministers have always made judgments on the basis as to whether or not local authorities have credible plans in place to put themselves where the vast majority of local authorities are in Wales, and that is in compliance with the target.
Since devolution, Llywydd, the Welsh Government has invested £1 billion in household recycling, and a great deal of that money goes to local authorities to support them in creating the conditions in which the very good figures that we see in Wales exceed our target on a Wales-wide basis, with a number of local authorities exceeding the 70 per cent target that lies beyond us and wouldn't have been possible without a very significant investment. Cardiff has benefited from it, but it's a system that has to be fair to all local authorities and make sure that the progress—the very, very significant progress that all local authorities, including Cardiff, have made—can be sustained into the future.
As you can tell from some frantic changes of headphones on my part, I'm struggling with hearing everything that's going on at the moment, and that's a very dangerous position for a Llywydd to be in. So, I'm going to need to call a short technical break, and we'll resume as quickly as my issue can be resolved. So, a short technical break.
Plenary was suspended at 13:42.
The Senedd reconvened at 13:52, with the Llywydd in the Chair.
We are ready to restart. Apologies for that technical break. I now call on the leader of the Welsh Conservatives to pose questions to the First Minister—Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Today, First Minister, the first real-world study on vaccines against the omicron infection has been published. It's important to note that this data is from the first three weeks of the outbreak, so it might change, but it is the first serious study of its kind. The findings show that the virus variant is 29 per cent milder, that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine is 30 per cent effective at reducing transmission, and, importantly, that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine is 70 per cent effective at reducing hospitalisation.
First Minister, I appreciate that this data has only just been published this morning, but can I have your reaction to this study, and that of your advisers? And what impact will this information have on potential plans for imposing restrictions on Friday, and ultimately averting the complete lockdown of Wales?
Llywydd, I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for that. I'm aware of the study. As he says, it's the first study of its kind, but it is inevitably—as I think that he himself suggested—therefore preliminary. It tells us something about the early period. It doesn't tell us yet about what happens as the omicron variant takes hold and as more information emerges on the progress of the disease. It's also a study in a South African context, which is different in many ways to our own. So, encouraging in its way, but not to be relied upon as a strong basis for policy decision making. And there is a sense in which the issues that it reports—the severity of the illness and the extent to which it escapes the current vaccines—are second-order questions. Because if the transmissibility of the virus is of the rate that we are currently seeing in Scotland and in London, then, even if it is milder, and even if there is a slightly better efficacy of the vaccine, there still will be a very, very large number of people falling ill, and a percentage of those people will fall seriously ill, and those large numbers will drive people into needing the help of the NHS. So, a preliminary study, not to be over-relied on, and, even if its grounds for some preliminary optimism are true, it won’t save us from the onslaught that this new variant is likely to create across the United Kingdom and in Wales as well.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister, and it was good to get some optimism from that report that came out this morning.
Obviously, another strand of work that the Welsh Government is undertaking is the roll-out of the booster campaign, and the health Minister has been doing a press conference this morning, talking about everyone will have an offer by the end of December, not necessarily have their appointment by the end of December. How far into the new year will people be expected to receive those offers before they get the booster? Because that’s a really important consideration. There’s one thing getting the offer; there’s another thing getting the booster.
Well, of course, the leader of the opposition is absolutely right in that. Our offer is the same as it is anywhere in the United Kingdom—it is to make sure that, by the end of this month, everybody’s had an offer. The offer will extend into the new year to the shortest possible extent. But that is not entirely in the hands of the Government, because there are two things in play here. There is the rate at which we can step up the supply of vaccination—and a huge amount is being done to make sure that we have vaccination centres open more hours, vaccination centres with more lanes, vaccination centres with walk-in capacity as well as appointment capacity, just to give some examples. But, as well as the supply side, there is the demand side—the extent to which people come forward to take up the appointments that they are offered. And if people don't come forward in the numbers we need to see, or if people ask for their appointments to be rearranged, then that will push that date further into the new year. So, if there's a single message that I would want to get across in today's session—I hope that many Senedd Members will help in this, in passing that message on as well—it is that there is nothing more important that any person can do than to keep that appointment that they will be offered. Because the more people who keep the appointment, the faster we will get through the numbers, and the fewer the number of days we will need in the new year to complete the programme.
We’ve had these preliminary results this morning, First Minister, from the survey in South Africa. We’ve also got the booster campaign, which I’ve just questioned you on, and the roll-out of that booster campaign, but also, in the press conference that the health Minister took this morning, she highlighted the impact on services—general health services—whether they be primary, or elective surgery. But one thing Chris Whitty addressed the UK Cabinet over this morning was the impact on the NHS workforce of potential infection rates. Have you got any modelling that would show what that might translate, in Welsh terms, to in NHS staff here in Wales who, potentially, could, obviously, be off work for some considerable period of time, with infection rates as Chris Whitty has been highlighting this morning to the UK Cabinet? And if you have that information, are you able to share it with us, so that we can understand the impact on NHS services across Wales?
Well, I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for that, because that’s a really important point. At the most difficult part of this spectrum, we could see largely elevated numbers of people needing help from health and social care services meeting a service where there are fewer people available to provide the help that is needed, because those members of staff will be exposed to the impact of the omicron variant alongside everybody else. Now, the good news is that, in those populations, we already have very high coverage with the booster vaccine. So, that will protect that workforce. But if we see a very large wave, affecting very large numbers of people, then people who work in our health and social care system will be swept up in it as well. Even today, 11 per cent of our GP workforce are not in work because of the delta variant of coronavirus. So, if you extrapolate that and imagine the impact of an omicron wave of the sort that Chris Whitty will have been describing to the UK Cabinet, then you can see that the impact is potentially very significant. Now, all of that is being modelled through the work that we do with Swansea University and with our local health boards, and action is being taken—as I say, particularly by prioritising those staff for the booster campaign—to protect as many of those people as possible. Some changes to the self-isolation requirements to see whether people can be safely back in the workplace again as quickly as possible will also be part of that whole consideration. But, every single one of us can do things to protect ourselves, and by protecting ourselves we protect other people, and that includes the people we will be relying upon to see us through if the wave of omicron hits us as some of the models suggest it might.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. There is some optimistic news in the emerging evidence that Andrew R.T. Davies referred to, but it also finds that two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine provide zero protection against the omicron variant, although the same caveats apply to that evidence—a small sample, preliminary findings, et cetera. It does find that, even in the case of AstraZeneca, a booster jab would increase the level of protection to 71 per cent. Obviously, getting the booster jab for everyone by the end of the month, I think, is a very important goal, but is there some consideration being given, in the light of this evidence, to giving priority to those who received the AstraZeneca vaccination?
Well, Llywydd, Adam Price is quite right that the evidence on the efficacy of the two doses is not great for Pfizer or AstaZeneca—even Pfizer, in that study, is around 30 per cent protection—which is why the booster programme is so absolutely essential. Because two doses of AstraZeneca don't protect you; two doses of AstraZeneca and a booster takes that protection up to over 70 per cent. Now, we will continue to follow the advice of the JCVI in Wales about how we prioritise calling people forward for vaccination with the booster. There is some congruence between the JCVI list of priorities and people who got AZ in the first two rounds of vaccination. So, these things have some consistency with one another. We will work our way down the age ranges, and you get to a point in people's 30s where we were actually using Pfizer rather than AZ for most people. So, I think sticking with the JCVI advice, calling people forward in order of clinical vulnerability, is the right thing to do, and to a significant, not a perfect extent, but to a significant extent that will address the issue that Adam Price has just raised with me.
First Minister, it's been reported that the Scottish Government may today be announcing some changes in social distancing around household mixing, but in the form of advice rather than regulations. I was wondering whether that is a policy option that is under consideration by the Welsh Government. And previously you said, in considering going up the alert status levels, you would focus on leading indicators like case numbers, rather than lagging indicators like deaths and hospitalisations. I was wondering, given the suggestion that maybe the hospitalisations are not tracking case numbers quite as closely as they have done with previous waves, based on the South African data, whether you plan to take a kind of more holistic view, looking at leading and lagging indicators in deciding what would be the most proportionate response.
I thank the leader of Plaid Cymru for both of those points. I've had a series of opportunities in the last few days to hear from the First Minister of Scotland and to get some insight into the way in which the Scottish Government's Cabinet will be discussing these matters today. I think the approach of guidance, strong guidance, is available to us and will be something that we will wish to conisder as a Cabinet during this week.
Over the course of the pandemic, people in Wales have demonstrated, I believe, that they are very keen to hear the advice that they get through the chief medical officer, from our chief scientist, and as it's relayed by Ministers, and providing them with good advice is certainly part of the repertoire that we have for trying to help people to keep themselves safe. We will always take a rounded set of indicators into account when coming to our decisions, and that does include both hospitalisation and mortality—[Inaudible.]
I think I'm going to need to cut across you, First Minister. I'm sorry, but there seems to be a problem with your sound at the moment. Let me take a quick pause. Let me ask you to try again, and if not, we'll have to—. Just try again, First Minister.
No. We do have a problem. We'll have to take another technical break to resume the First Minister's sound. A technical break, then, again. Apologies for this, Members.
Plenary was suspended at 14:06.
The Senedd reconvened at 14:08, with the Llywydd in the Chair.
So, we return now to the First Minister's response to Adam Price's question. First Minister.
Diolch, Llywydd. I was simply reiterating a point that I'd made earlier to Andrew R.T. Davies, that even if hospitalisation rates were to be lower with omicron, if the raw numbers of people falling ill with it are sharply escalated, that will by itself result in large numbers of people needing hospitalisation.
COVID is an airborne disease, of course, and we know good ventilation and air purification are very effective in combating infection. Is there more, First Minister, we could be doing on this front? Belgium has installed carbon dioxide monitors in schools and, indeed, workplaces to see if ventilation needs to be improved. Ireland this week has announced a further €60 million investment in air purification devices in schools, using a mixture of high-efficiency particulate air and ultraviolet light. Given the estimated 3,500 children who continue to suffer the symptoms of long COVID in Wales, isn't this an investment in our children's health, as well as everyone else's, that we should also be making?
Well, I thank Adam Price for that important point. Of course, we have carbon dioxide monitors now available here in Wales and being deployed in schools, but there is more that can be done on ventilation. It is a very important part of the way in which we can keep one another safe. The chief medical officer and the chief nursing officer wrote out to the health service in Wales only in the last few days relaying further advice on the hierarchy of actions that can be taken to make sure that people who work and people who are being treated in our hospitals and other closed settings of that sort are kept as safe as possible, and ventilation was one of the issues that they emphasised in the letter that they have set out. We continue to review the evidence from other parts of the world on actions that can be effective in assisting in schools and in other settings—workplaces, for example, as well as hospitals and care homes—to assist in improving ventilation and monitoring the quality of air. And where there are ideas or practical solutions that we find elsewhere, we'll certainly be open to learning from them and seeing what we can do to support their implementation.
3. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government regarding waiving the patents of COVID vaccines? OQ57377
Llywydd, the Welsh Government supports plans to relax intellectual property rights so that patented vaccines can be made available to low-income countries to help mitigate pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have conveyed that view directly to the UK Government as responsibility for intellectual property rights remains a reserved matter.
Thank you. First, I'd like to refer Members and the public to my declared shares that I still have in AstraZeneca, although not for much longer. I'm disappointed that neither AstraZeneca nor Pfizer have responded to my request for an explanation as to why, in the middle of a global pandemic, these multinational drug companies haven't waived their patents on these life-saving vaccines. There is, of course, a precedent to this, for waiving the patents on HIV drugs when Nelson Mandela exposed their failure to do that, which caused a global outcry. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health is taking Moderna to court. Are you aware of any plans by the UK Government to take AstraZeneca to court to force them to do the right thing, given that no-one will be safe from COVID until enough people have been vaccinated across the world to suppress COVID to manageable levels?
Well, Llywydd, I'm not aware of any such actions by the UK Government, and I will be very surprised indeed if they were prepared to take any, because they continue to block proposals for waiving intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization. I know that Jenny Rathbone will be very well aware that it's a year—more than a year now—since South Africa and India proposed a temporary waiver for intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines and took that proposition to the World Trade Organization. In May of this year, the United States declared themselves in favour of such a waiver, and well over 100 countries have now put their weight behind that. A relatively small number of countries around the world continues to block those discussions, and the UK Government is one of them. The WTO last met at the end of October, and I'm afraid that the reports were that negotiations on a waiver are deadlocked and direction-less because of that handful of countries. That is why I have written to the Prime Minister urging him to remove the United Kingdom from that position; that we should support the position put forward by South Africa and India, but by the United States as well, because that would unlock the position where we wouldn't be reliant upon the goodwill of individual pharmaceutical companies, but there would be a concerted across-the-globe position where intellectual property rights would not be a barrier to getting the rest of the world vaccinated. I'm reminded of what the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said only a few days ago: that the well-resourced west is playing Russian roulette with COVID-19, and that while we don't make the effort we need to make to make sure that everybody is vaccinated, somewhere in the world, a variant is brewing that may be one that completely escapes vaccine protection, that will be more serious than the versions we currently are dealing with. It's in everybody's interest, exactly in the way that Jenny Rathbone said, to make sure that the whole of the world's population has the protection of vaccination, and a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights would be one important step in helping to secure that outcome.
I do know, as well, responding to some of the—. Can you hear me, Llywydd? My visual has disappeared.
We can hear you, Russell, although I can't see you at this point. Ah, yes, you're back on the screen. Carry on.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, I'm aware that the UK has donated the majority of any vaccines that are surplus to the UK, of course, to COVAX to support developing countries, but I understand something different to you, First Minister, in terms of World Trade Organization members' developing views on a proposed waiver of some of the provisions of the trade-related aspect of intellectual property rights agreement to tackle COVID-19. The UK Government, as I understand it, is actively engaging positively in that. But can I ask, First Minister, do you foresee any negative issues regarding waiving the patents of vaccinations, what are the unintended consequences of that, and how can these issues be overcome?
First of all, can I say that in my letter to the Foreign Secretary on this matter earlier in the year, and more recently to the Prime Minister, I was at pains to say how strongly the Welsh Government supports the actions that the UK Government has led in relation to the COVAX programme and the efforts that the UK Government has made to lead action across the world in that regard? So, I want to acknowledge that and to repeat it this afternoon.
What are the downsides of a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights? Well, I think the main one is that while I think it is a necessary thing to do, by itself it is not a sufficient thing to do, because there will be countries that simply lack the infrastructure to use the intellectual property that will then be available to them. Sometimes the intellectual property side is described as having the recipe. Well, if you don't have a cooker, you don't have the pots and pans and you don't have everything else you need, you can't turn the recipe into a usable product. That is why, in the very modest way that the Welsh Government has been able to offer assistance, our assistance in places like Namibia and Uganda, for example, has focused on making sure that we assist those places to put into place those infrastructure things that allow countries to make use of vaccines as vaccines become available, because if you don't have trained nurses, or you don't have vaccine centres, or you don't have personal protective equipment, then even if you have the vaccine, you can't make those vaccines work for your local population. If there is an argument about a downside to a patent waiver, I think that is the only one that I would place much credence on. It's that, by itself, if you don't have everything else you need to make a vaccine programme effective, having intellectual property rights on vaccines waived doesn't guarantee that you've got everything you need on the ground to deliver such a programme.
First Minister, Boris Johnson has told people living in the UK that two vaccines are no longer enough to protect against the omicron variant. In Africa, 70 per cent of front-line health workers haven't had one dose. That, as we've been discussing, is in large part because of the intransigence of Governments like the UK and Switzerland, blocking attempts to waive patents on vaccines, when, as you've said, First Minister, even the President of big pharma-friendly USA, Joe Biden, is in favour of a waiver. Do you believe it's the case, First Minister, that the UK Government's policy of blocking this attempt to vaccinate the world not only cruelly and unnecessarily endangers lives abroad, but also puts lives in danger here in the UK from dangerous variants that are likely to develop in countries less able to obtain vaccines?
I entirely agree with the substantive point that Delyth Jewell is making. None of us is safe until all of us are safe. And that's the case for making sure that rich countries like the United Kingdom play our part—our full part—in assisting the rest of the world. It isn't simply a matter of generosity, it is a matter of enlightened self-interest. But until we can get the rest of the world in that position, then exactly as Delyth Jewell said, and as I quoted earlier from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, somewhere in the world another variant will be brewing and, next time, we might not be so fortunate that the defences we've built up so far will be as effective in responding to that variant as we've been able to mobilise defences against the alpha variant, the delta variant and now the next great effort to deal with the omicron variant. The whole of the world needs to be protected in order that each one of us can be protected.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on hospitality businesses in Wales? OQ57352
I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. The direct impact of the new variant on Welsh hospitality businesses has, to date, been minimal. Indirect impact through changed customer behaviour is harder to assess. Given high levels of uncertainty, the Welsh Government will monitor developments closely and respond swiftly should that be required.
Thank you. Of course, you know that tourism is the backbone of the economy in Aberconwy, as it is in other constituencies. The queen of Welsh resorts, Llandudno, also has the potential—and this is according to a recent report I've been reading—to see the number of day visitors increase from 2.88 million in 2018 to 4.8 million in 2045, overnight trips increase by 120,000, and the economic impact rise from £388 million in 2018 to over £0.5 billion by 2045. Our hospitality industry has really shouldered a lot of the previous variants. Now, our local businesses are suffering lots and lots of cancellations. One entrepreneur has lost bookings worth £25,000 and is having to consider laying off all eight members of their staff, and this is repeated in the numerous e-mails I've received. So, whilst they're still awaiting access to the £35 million fund that you've designed to help SMEs relaunch, develop, decarbonise and grow, is there any possibility, First Minister—and I have to ask—of your considering introducing another round of COVID-19 business support grants to help our businesses deal with what is likely to be a very problematic time for them?
I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for that, Llywydd, and I absolutely recognise the difficulties that hospitality are facing at this time. She will know that the Welsh Government has not changed any rules as far as COVID in Wales is concerned this week, but the news of the omicron variant is changing people's behaviour, and there's no doubt at all that that is having an impact upon business in the hospitality industry. I've had a series of discussions with UK Government colleagues over the weekend about what the Treasury might be prepared to do to support businesses affected in this way, because, as I know she will understand, this is an impact across the United Kingdom. Hospitality and tourism businesses everywhere are seeing this. 'Will we consider' is what the Member asked, and the answer to that is 'yes', of course we will consider what we might be able to do from our own resources. Then, we would definitely hope that the UK Government would be prepared to recognise the impact that the new variant is having more widely on those parts of the economy most directly affected.
I thank her for reading out the information on the potential future for Llandudno, a most fantastic resort. I know that she too will be interested in how we can create a future of that sort for somewhere like Llandudno in a way that encourages sustainable tourism. In parts of north Wales over this last summer where we saw very healthy visitor numbers, we also saw understandable concerns that if you don't grow numbers in the right way, you end up undermining the things that bring people to those areas in the first place. Those were very encouraging numbers that the Member shared with us earlier, and now the conversation will need to be about how we grow the industry in a way that gives it that sustainable ability to go on being attractive to people well into the future.
First Minister, I wanted to ask you about air quality. I know last week you actually responded to the Conservative leader by talking about the clean air Act, and I just wondered if you could put a very clear timetable, if that's okay, on your programme around introducing a clean air Act. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you to the Member for that question. We do have a timetable. It starts with the plan, through to the White Paper and all the way up to the final Act.
While I know and have seen the timetable for that process—the plan early next year, the White Paper, the consultation, the arrival of a Bill on the floor of the Senedd later in the term—I don't have it in front of me, and I'm very happy to write to the Member setting out that timetable.FootnoteLink But I can give her an assurance, absolutely, that a timetable of that sort quite definitely has been worked on and we are on track to deliver it. During this Senedd term, in the way that we said at the Senedd elections, we will put a clean air Bill in front of the Senedd.
5. How will the Welsh Government help tackle structural health, social and economic disadvantage in areas of acute and multiple deprivation? OQ57355
The Welsh Government mobilises actions across our responsibilities to tackle the structural determinants of health, social and economic disadvantage. To quote the Member in a recent Senedd debate, however, we're always having to do this whilst swimming against a UK Government
'that sweeps away the vulnerable and the low paid'.
Thank you, First Minister. I recognise that swimming against the tide, but there is so much more we can do with a Welsh Government programme as well that actively invests in these communities. I know that places like Caerau, great communities like Caerau in my constituency, were the first to see Flying Start investment. We had the investment in childcare for working families in places like the Nantyffyllon institute, the miners' institute, and pandemic support for school meals in the holidays, the Caerau Primary School investment, and so much more. But can I ask this Government for an assurance that as the years go by, we will sustain that level of investment in these people and these places that not only need it, but deserve it, so that everybody has the same opportunity in every part of Wales? They are valued places, valued people, and if we need to focus the investment there, then that should be the case.
I'm absolutely able to give the Member that assurance. His own constituency is I think a fine example of the investments made by successive Labour Governments here in Wales to tackle structural disadvantage. Huw Irranca-Davies mentioned Flying Start, Llywydd; what a contrast between the way in which we have sustained and continued to invest in Flying Start in Wales while the parallel programme in England, which did such good work during the period of the last Labour Government in the UK, has simply been abandoned by the Conservatives in the last decade.
And it's more than just Flying Start; it is, as Huw Irranca-Davies has said, the way in which we have invested in childcare facilities for working families in places like Nantyffyllon. I know it was my predecessor, Carwyn Jones, as First Minister, who opened Caerau Primary School a new building for the young people of that area. And our investment in dealing with structural inequalities, Llywydd, has gone beyond what you might think of as the standard mainstream services as well. I know that Natural Resources Wales's largest investment in community woodland in Wales is in the Llynfi woodland in the Member's constituency—a new woodland grown on a former coal site.
But the other thing that I'm always really struck by in the Ogmore constituency, Llywydd, is the way in which action by public services is matched by outstanding community effort as well—the Skyline project, and I know the Member is a passionate supporter of that great development, and the Caerau Development Trust that he discussed with me recently, its astonishing breadth of activity and the sense of community enterprise that it brings. It's great to see, Llywydd, by the way, that the trust's community centre is being used by police community support officers. And that's another investment that the constituency will see from a Labour Government.
Of course when you are dealing with deeply ingrained structural inequalities, there is more that needs to be done. But our ability to mobilise the power of Government, alongside the commitment of local communities, is the way in which I think we can see progress, and in the Member's own constituency in the examples he has cited this afternoon, I think you see that absolutely in action.
6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve the lives of those living with motor neurone disease? OQ57374
Llywydd, I thank Peter Fox for the question. The Welsh Government continues to work with the neurological conditions implementation group to improve services for all those with neurological conditions, including motor neurone disease. We are also working closely with local authorities to determine what more can be done to improve the lives of people living with this cruel disease.
Thank you, First Minister. Members of the Senedd sent a very clear message last month during my debate, where they overwhelmingly voted to end the current unfair adaptation process where MND sufferers have become entrapped in inescapable homes because they're unable to access the necessary support in time. MND sufferers are clear that the current system needs replacing with a non-means-tested, fast-tracked one, and I welcome the fact that the health Minister and, indeed, the Welsh Government support this too. But now we need to see a tangible outcome for MND sufferers following that unanimous support, I believe. And, to that end, First Minister, will the Government agree to ask, indeed urge, local authorities to enact their discretionary powers to apply a fast-tracked process for housing adaptations for people living with MND in Wales, as every month that goes by without that fast-tracked process, people with MND will continue to suffer? Thank you, First Minister.
Llywydd, I thank Peter Fox for that. His predecessor, as the Member of the Senedd for the Monmouthshire constituency, Nick Ramsay, was also a passionate advocate of the needs of people who suffer from motor neurone disease. On the specific issue of physical adaptations, three of the four programmes that the Welsh Government now supports are non-means-tested in nature. The large-scale adaptations for the disabled facilities grant are means-tested, but they are not always the form of adaptation that is most suited to people suffering from MND given the progressive nature of that disease and the unpredictable pattern that it follows for individuals.
But the Enable programme, where the Welsh Government recently increased the funding that we give to local authorities on the basis that it should be free for the small and medium adaptations that the Enable programme supports, should be free to the user, has been welcomed by almost all local authorities. Monmouthshire is one of those authorities that has changed its procedures to make sure that people won't be charged for those, nor are people charged for the physical adaptations grant and the rapid response adaptation programme. So, I hope that, by supporting those programmes with significant annual sums of money, it will allow local authorities to have a fast-track approach to people who are living with motor neurone disease in Wales. Our figures suggest that there are about 200 people with the condition in Wales at any one time. That means, for any local authority, you ought to be able to have a direct and personal approach to the needs of that individual. The numbers are small enough to have a personal plan for that individual and then to fast-track the adaptations that can make such a difference for them.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of the 111 service in north Wales? OQ57392
The NHS 111 Wales service launched in north Wales for all urgent healthcare issues in June 2021. We are investing additional resources into both telephony and online elements of the service, to build resilience for the winter period and beyond, and we continue to attract high-quality staff.
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. I have to say, there are serious concerns being expressed to me that the service is unable to cope with the volume of demand. The sense among nursing professionals is that the service is being overrun, with patients having to wait hours for a basic response. I've been told, for example, that, in the past few weeks, calls have gone unanswered, and one caller had to wait 600 minutes to be triaged. Now, some of these cases need to urgently be sent to the emergency department, but due to the backlog, of course, they're being lost and delayed, to the point where some are giving up. There are no paediatric specialists on the 111 service in the north, so cases involving children, when they finally do get through, are just being referred straight to the emergency department. Similarly, the 111 mental health hub doesn't have sufficient psychiatric specialism to deal with current demand. So, will you, First Minister, accept that the 111 service, which has now, as you say, replaced the GP out-of-hours service in north Wales, isn't delivering as it should, because that's the view expressed to me by very concerned health professionals with years of experience in the field?
Llywydd, I would always want to listen to concerns raised by such voices. I did make a direct inquiry of the health board, knowing that this question would be asked of me today, and was told that concerns of that sort hadn't been raised either by the people responsible for the service or by people delivering it, although the system everywhere in Wales is under huge pressure, and we're about to ask the people we rely on to provide the 111 service, in some instances, to be part of the new booster vaccination system. So, it is not a surprise—it cannot be a surprise—to anybody to find that the system is not always able to provide as timely a response to people as it would were we in calmer territory. I asked the health board as well whether it was receiving complaints from the public about the quality of the service, and they told me that complaints were running at less than one in every 1,000 users of the service. So, this is not for a minute to discount the important points that the Member has raised—and I'll make sure that they are conveyed to the health board—but I think there's probably more than one account of the way in which the service is trying to provide a quality response to the needs of people in north Wales, despite the very real demands that we are placing on the health service in the face of the global pandemic.
8. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the education maintenance allowance? OQ57390
Llywydd, our commitment to the continuation of the education maintenance allowance is set out in our programme for government. Feedback from learners emphasises the importance of this support in helping them to continue their studies. EMA scheme rules are reviewed each year prior to opening the scheme to applications.
Thank you for that response, First Minister.
In the first instance, I think it's important to reiterate actually what the First Minister has said in recognising that actually keeping EMA in place in Wales is providing much needed support for learners, and I welcome the commitment to protect EMA in the programme for government. But I was wondering whether or not the Government will be reviewing EMA, specifically the amount that's paid to students and the process of applying. Currently, the amount paid to learners is the same amount now as it was when I was in receipt of it, and it has remained at the same amount, which is £30 a week, since its introduction in 2004. Essentially, we haven't seen an increase in just shy of 20 years, so it hasn't accounted for inflation at all. If I could turn the First Minister's attention to Bridgend College, for just a moment, to illustrate a further point, in Bridgend College they usually have between 700 and 800 full-time further education learners who claim EMA. However, there are concerns that there are many more students who need access. As we know, EMA is means-tested, and many have raised with me that the forms are complex and difficult to understand. So, I would hope that, as the Government reviews EMA, these specific issues will be considered, moving forward.
Llywydd, I'd like to thank Luke Fletcher for those supplementary questions.
We do, of course, keep the scheme under review. In the last year, prior to the pandemic—so, the last year you think would be a fair comparison—then, over 20,200 students were supported by the EMA scheme, at a cost of nearly £18 million. And, on top of that, the Welsh Government provides £6 million in the financial contingency fund, which further education colleges are able to use, precisely in order to give some additional flexibility over and above the means-tested nature of the EMA itself. I've seen the Bevan Foundation report, of course, about the fact that were we to uplift the EMA to maintain its real-terms value we'd need to go to £45. That would cost another £8.2 million a year, and if we were to raise the thresholds, to take account of the point that Mr Fletcher was making about some young people not being able to access it, that would take the additional investment required to over £10 million. And, I'm afraid, in all of these things, choices have to be made. The programme for government, including all the agreements that we have in the co-operation agreement between his party and mine, have identified the top priorities for investment as being free school meals, childcare and that range of other commitments that we've entered into together. And while we will, of course, keep under review the EMA, the current commitment is to sustain it into this Senedd term, and unless our settlements become significantly more generous than were set out in the comprehensive spending review, that's probably going to have to be where our ambition rests.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of mental health care in Dwyfor Meirionnydd? OQ57383
I thank the Member for his question. Supporting mental health is a priority for this Government, as set out in our 'Together for Mental Health' delivery plan. We are supporting mental health services in north Wales through the targeted intervention framework and through a substantial package of strategic support.
I thank the First Minister for that answer. A constituent, David Graves, has been waiting for an independent external review into the treatment and care of his mother on the Hergest ward for over three years now. Donna Ockenden, the author of the Ockenden report, was asked to hold the review by the health board in July 2018, but the health board didn't follow up on that request. Donna Ockenden has offered to hold the review once again. I know that because she told me personally some weeks ago. In 2018, the current health Minister wrote to the then health Minister insisting that the board contact Donna Ockenden to hold this independent external review. Now that the Holden report has been published, shouldn't I enable my constituent to close this sad chapter of his life by enabling Donna Ockenden to carry out this independent external review? Will you, First Minister, join with me in calling on the health board to contact Donna Ockenden in order to commission her to do this important work?
I'd like to thank Mabon ap Gwynfor for those points. Of course, I am aware of the case of David Graves, and I sympathise with him on everything that has happened and the experiences that he's had. I've seen nothing from Donna Ockenden, if I'm honest. So, if she has made any suggestions, as I understand it, she hasn't raised that with the Government. So, I'm not in a position to support something without seeing exactly what she is suggesting. If anything has come to hand, I'm happy to look at what she intends to do.
And finally, question 10, James Evans.
Am I unmuted? I think so.
Yes, you are.
Thank you. Diolch, Llywydd.
10. Will the First Minister provide an update on the discussions between the Welsh Government and the UK Government on the appointment on a veterans commissioner for Wales? OQ57360
Llywydd, the appointment of a veterans commissioner for Wales is an initiative of the UK Government, announced without any prior discussion or notification with the Welsh Government. Nevertheless, this week the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership is meeting the Minister for Defence People and Veterans to discuss this proposed appointment.
Diolch, First Minister. Brecon and Radnorshire is a proud military community, and I recently mentioned in the Chamber the important role the military plays, both socially and economically, in my constituency. I regularly speak with veterans who tell me there is a need for this focused role in our political system to deal with the issues and challenges that veterans face. The Deputy Minister and I have had very positive discussions on this issue. First Minister, could you commit that, if the issues that exist between the UK Government and the Welsh Government on this matter can be overcome, your Government will constructively work with the UK Government on appointing a veterans commissioner for Wales? Diolch, Llywydd.
Llywydd, I was very pleased recently to spend an evening at the Brecon barracks and to meet with some very senior, committed staff there. Llywydd, there are no issues that lie between the Welsh Government and the UK Government on this matter; it is entirely a UK Government initiative, proposed by them, announced by them, funded by them. Of course we will work with the UK Government on it, but it is just very important to be clear where the initiative comes from and where the initiative lies. I hope that the appointment will be a success and that it will deliver good things for veterans in Wales. But the responsibility for ensuring that lies with the Government that has initiated it and seeks to take it forward. The meeting between the Minister in the Welsh Government and the Minister for Defence People and Veterans is designed to make sure that, where we have a part to play, we're made aware of that, and we'll certainly do that constructively.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and annoucement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three sitting weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Trefnydd, I've been contacted by a member of the Welsh Jewish community with regard to access to the Cadw website. It appears that people who are attempting to access the website from Israel appear to be blocked from doing so. Now, using a virtual private network, I tried to take a look at this myself, and it seemed to me that the Cadw website was perfectly accessible from France, the United States, Spain and many other countries, yet not from an Israeli internet provider address. Now, it's my understanding that this has been raised with Cadw as far back as September but, as yet, no action has been taken to address the problem. I'd be very grateful if we could have the Minister responsible for Cadw take an urgent look at this to try and address it, and provide an explanation to the Senedd as to what's happened.
Yes, I will certainly ask the Minister with responsibility for Cadw, Dawn Bowden, to look into this and report to Members as soon as she possibly can.
On Sunday evening, Trefnydd, Boris Johnson's broadcast was on Welsh tv screens saying that everyone would receive a third vaccination by the end of the year. Now, at the time, this was an England-only announcement, and this isn't the first time for the Prime Minister to have made a statement broadcast on Welsh tv screens that was not relevant to us. The one in May was much worse, when Mr Johnson announced that the advice had changed from stay at home to a slogan that was far more ambiguous. This announcement didn't apply in Wales. The advice here was that we should continue to stay at home, but there was no explanation at the time that the announcement was not relevant to Wales. I think it's clear, therefore, that we need changes in broadcasting rules to prevent inaccurate information being broadcast here and causing confusion, if not risks. I'm pleased therefore that the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government includes a commitment to consider establishing a shadow broadcasting and communications authority for Wales, as this body could recommend such a change. Could the Government, therefore, timetable a statement on this at some point in the new year, in order to provide details on the next steps?
Thank you. I think it's very important, when the Prime Minister does make these announcements, that he makes it very clear that, on that particular occasion, he's speaking on behalf of the people of England, and that's why it was very good to see our First Minister addressing the people of Wales in a similar vein on Monday evening. The point you raise, as you say, it is within the co-operation agreement between Delyth Jewell's party and my own, and I'm sure, as we work through the 46 policies, a statement will be brought before the Senedd.
Minister, may I ask for a statement from the education Minister on the Government's proposed changes for teaching science in schools in Wales? From 2025, it's been said that physics, chemistry and biology will no longer be offered as separate subjects. Instead, pupils will study for one integrated science award that combines all three subjects together. This has led to concerns being expressed that science is being, and I quote, 'dumbed down', and teachers have a lot of anxiety about the new curriculum. The separate science subjects of physics, chemistry and biology have been part of the curriculum for many, many years, but it seems that the Welsh Government plans to reduce the opportunity to study these specific sciences for pupils in Wales are prevalent. So, can we have a statement from the Minister early next year on how he intends to ensure that science standards of education are maintained, and that his proposal will not mean future Welsh scientists, such as Dr Lyn Evans, who led experiments at the large hadron collider, become increasingly rare? Thank you.
As part of the announcements that have been made, science is certainly not being dumbed down. The Welsh Government has put a significant amount of work and resources into promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects across all ages. As you are aware, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language makes many statements in the Chamber, and certainly on the curriculum itself, and I'm sure he will be able to update Members if any further information is required.
Trefnydd, I'd like a written statement, please, on the provision of 20 mph zones in semi-rural areas, as well as ensuring that drivers adhere to that speed limit. Recently, I've met with representatives and residents of Gwaelod-y-garth in north-west Cardiff, and they are fighting for greater safety for pedestrians, particularly older people and children, who have to walk through the village to catch the bus to the secondary school. There is no pavement in many parts of the village, and, for obvious reasons, they want a 20 mph zone through the village in order to make it safer. But, as you know, Trefnydd, it's one thing to get that speed limit in place; it's another to ensure that as many people as possible adhere to the speed limit, and that's a cause of concern in areas where there are these 20 mph zones in north-west Cardiff, in Creigiau. So, can we have a written statement on these issues, please?
So, I'm trying to remember when we had a statement—I think it was a written statement—on 20 mph zones from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, but I don't think that was too long ago. So, I'm not aware of any further guidance or regulations that have come into force in relation to the 20 mph zones, but, if there are, I will ask the Deputy Minister to do a written statement.
I call for a Welsh Government statement on the provision of support for the families of veterans with mental health conditions. Last week, the Forces in Mind Trust published their new report, developing a model of the Restorative Approaches Veterans and Family Service. This followed a three-year evaluation study, carried out by the Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre at Cardiff University, of a new service, the Restorative Approaches Veterans and Family Service, or RAVFS, that utilises restorative engagement to help ex-service personnel and their families improve their relationships, communication and family functioning. This innovative new service is provided by Welsh children's charity TGP Cymru, and was developed in collaboration with Veterans' NHS Wales. As the Forces in Mind Trust state,
'there is currently a gap in provision of support for the families of veterans with mental health conditions.'
Their policy statement on relationships outlines that while support is available for veterans, their families are often left behind. They recommend more integrated support for families in veterans mental health services, and increased involvement of the family in the transition from military to family life. The findings from this study suggest that services such as the RAVFS could help provide this missing support and call for a wider roll-out, perhaps to the Veterans NHS Wales population, across all Welsh local health boards. I call for a statement accordingly.
Thank you. I think Mark Isherwood raises an important point, and you'll be aware that Welsh Government provides a good deal of services right across our public services for our veterans, to whom we obviously owe a debt of gratitude. I know that the Deputy Minister for mental health services is aware of the report. Perhaps when she has considered it she could have a conversation with the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, to see if anything further can be done.
Trefnydd, I'm sure many of my fellow Members will be aware, but the child and adolescent mental health services waiting lists for people to have neurodevelopmental assessments such as ADHD and autism can be appallingly long, with very many people within the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board boundaries contacting me for support, having been waiting for over two years for such an assessment. This means that we have young people in their teenage years who will be finishing their education before getting that assessment, which will mean that they will miss out entirely on crucial support at a crucial time in their lives. Can we have an update in the new term from the Minister for Health and Social Services, or her deputies, on the position in terms of CAMHS in South Wales Central and what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure assessments in a reasonable time for children and young people? Two years is not reasonable, and this is having an impact not only on children and young people and their families now, but also on their futures.
Thank you. Well, I agree; two years is a long time in anybody's life, but certainly in a young person's life, but you will be aware of the significant pressures on our NHS, not just in your region but right across Wales and indeed the UK. I know there is a significant amount of work being undertaken by the Minister for Health and Social Services, along with the health boards, in relation to CAMHS, with funding put forward too.
We now have a co-operation agreement setting out reforms that sound ambitious. The move to a national care service is an interesting idea, and I would like you to schedule time for the Deputy Minister for social care to outline what a national care service means, the outcomes we expect people to experience, and the role of local government, which for years has battled hard to provide good-quality services at a time of even tighter budget constraints. Can the Minister confirm that services commissioned by local government will be the most modern, or are we facing a major reorganisation of what local government is responsible for?
Thank you, and you are correct, a national care service is part of the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Labour Government. I think it will have huge benefits for people in need of care, and obviously support the dedicated workforce that we have in the sector.
You'll be aware that we recently announced £42 million of funding for social care. That will be used to expand community social care services, it will facilitate hospital patient discharges into care settings and support the well-being of our social care service users, and it will also have the benefit of reducing hospital readmissions and ease pressures on bed capacity. We know that increased demand for social care increases during the winter, and again in September we allocated £48 million to support social care recovery in Wales.
We are currently looking at how we take forward the national care service. We've been informed by the advice of the social care fair work forum in our considerations, and some local authorities are already working with the independent sector to uplift salaries, and I think that's also to be greatly encouraged.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
We'll move now to our next item, item 3, a statement by the Minister for Social Justice on shaping Wales's future, laying national milestones, revised national indicators and publishing a 'Future Trends' report. I call on the Minister to make the statement. Jane Hutt.
Diolch, Llywydd. Through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and its seven well-being goals, we have a framework for Wales's future: a Wales that is economically, socially and environmentally just, and a Wales we would want our children and grandchildren to inherit from us.
Each one of us has a role to play in protecting and improving our nation. An important element of that is considering how we collectively lay the foundations now for the better Wales we want in the future. For the Welsh Government, our shaping Wales's future programme of work is about moving us closer to a better Wales for everyone. We are setting national milestones against the backdrop of our ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the commitment by the Welsh Government to deliver a stronger, fairer and greener Wales.
In February, we committed to a road map for setting Wales's first national milestones, updating the national indicators and the publication of the 'Future Trends' report. I am delighted to be speaking today as we deliver all three and publish our consultation response and independent analysis.
The Government’s ambition is for the national milestones to drive collaborative action and act as a key measure of the pace and scale of change needed in a number of key areas. At their heart they are geared towards driving significant progress in tackling poverty and inequality, and they reflect our determination to do this. Following our programme of engagement with stakeholders and as a result of the responses to our formal consultation process, we have refined our national milestones and national indicator set, which we have laid today.
Dirprwy Lywydd, we are committing to an elimination of the pay gap for gender, disability and ethnicity by 2050. Fair work and social justice are at the heart of our vision of a Wales that recognises that equality, diversity and inclusion at work are vital to a society that enables people to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstances. We are setting a target for 75 per cent of working age adults in Wales to be qualified to level 3 or higher by 2050. We know that people with higher level qualifications and skills are more likely to be in sustained employment, with larger earning and wage gains, particularly for those individuals from disadvantaged areas. Because of this we are also aiming to decrease the percentage of working age adults with no qualifications to 5 per cent or below in every local authority in Wales by 2050.
Tackling significant inequalities of this kind between different areas of Wales is a fundamental ambition of this Government and we will measure long-term progress through the national milestones. Our national milestone focused on ensuring that at least 90 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds will be in education, employment or training by 2050 will measure the actions taken to support young people during a critical time in their lives. We know that periods of economic inactivity early in a person's working life has a detrimental impact, and that young people have been especially vulnerable to employment changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We want everyone in Wales to have the opportunity to participate in good-quality, sustainable work regardless of their age or where they live. This is why we are committing to eradicate the gap between the employment rate in Wales and the UK by 2050, with a focus on fair work and raising labour market participation of under-represented groups.
As a Government, we must always act to safeguard the health and well-being of the people of Wales and our ambition is to remove barriers to children having the healthiest possible start to their lives. We also know that good habits as children often develop into making better healthy choices as adults. This is why we are setting a target to increase the percentage of children with two or more healthy behaviours to 94 per cent by 2035 and more than 99 per cent by 2050.
Thinking of our wider global responsibility, we are committing to Wales using only its fair share of the world's resources by 2050. This is an important element of our vision of building a sustainable and resilient Wales and of our continuing response to the climate and nature emergency, protecting our most precious and natural resources. We are pledging to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in Wales by 2050 and this national milestone echoes the existing targets in our Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and is aimed at encouraging and empowering everyone in Wales to play their part in driving emissions down, as we know societal and behavioural changes will be crucial to achieving our goals. We will also continue to explore how this important target could potentially be reached even quicker.
We are also reiterating our commitment to the safeguarding and growth of the Welsh language by setting a national milestone to support a million Welsh speakers by 2050. The Welsh language is an integral part of our Welsh identity and culture and we are committed to doing everything we can to see it flourish and to protect it.
Alongside the national milestones, I have also laid before the Senedd an updated set of national indicators that measure Wales's progress towards the well-being goals. As a result of the consultation feedback we received, these include new measures on justice, travel, housing costs and digital inclusion—all matters that we have been told play a larger role in shaping our national well-being than they did before the pandemic. This expanded national indicator set will continue to help us measure progress towards the seven well-being goals and our journey towards becoming a fairer, greener, more successful Wales.
Today also marks the publication of the latest edition of the 'Future Trends' report. The report brings together, in one accessible place, authoritative information on the key social, economic, environmental and cultural trends that are likely to affect Wales's future well-being. The setting of the national milestones, updating our national indicators and a renewed look at the future trends shaping Wales can ensure that the well-being goals remain relevant to people's lives now and the challenges we face today and in the future. We will provide the first update on the progress towards the national milestones in the well-being of Wales report next year, and continue the conversation on national milestones in 2022 with the development of the second set of milestones.
For national milestones to succeed it is crucial that every public body considers how they can best actively contribute to them. They are an important part of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and they lay the foundations for success. Dirprwy Lywydd, I am very pleased to be presenting these national milestones to the Senedd; milestones that place social justice, tackling poverty and tackling inequality at their heart. I am proud that, together, we are creating a more just, equal and prosperous Wales.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Conservative spokesperson, Joel James.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you, Minister, for your statement today. I would like to start by providing a few comments about the first wave of milestones in the hope of focusing on the rationale behind them and in the hope of discovering why the Minister considers these milestones ambitious, given the 30-year timescale.
Firstly, Minister, with regard to the gender pay gap, which you are aiming to eliminate by 2050, the data that is frequently used—and it has even been used in the 'Well-being of Wales: 2021' report—is a measurement based on median full-time hourly earnings. This simple measurement collates the salaries of men and women and divides them by 37 to give an hourly rate. It then adds hourly pay data that is only available for a small number of businesses. By including this data, you then arrive at the median or middle value of the data set.
But, the problem with using this data is that it doesn't reflect the complexity of pay relationships across the employed sector of society. For instance, it does not take into consideration experience, levels of qualification, additional benefit entitlements, pension relationships, and it does not take into consideration the profitability of businesses or even industry standards when comparing pay between company executives.
Furthermore, it doesn't consider gender behaviour. For example, are men more likely to travel further distances than women to access work, and are therefore able to access higher paying roles? What about geographical variance? Do those living on the border between England and Wales travel into England for work and therefore access higher average salaries? Are women more likely to change jobs than men and, as a result, experience more entry-level salaries? The list can go on. But, what we do know is that women are more likely to work fewer hours, to support families, and that taking time out to have children substantially increases the gender gaps. But, what consideration is given as to whether or not this is reflected by men in the family, such as working longer hours, or by changing jobs for higher salaries to support their families? Ultimately, we need to know how this is taken into consideration.
The problem with using this milestone, based upon such crude data, is that the Government and the future generations commissioner are conditioning society—particularly women in society—to think that they are inherently underpaid to do the same job as men. Yet, you have no substantive evidence that understands the complexity of gender pay, from what I can see, to actually back that up. I'm concerned that, in your continued promotion of the gender pay gap without the necessary data to support it, you are actually causing more harm than good, by creating a division that isn't there.
From your very crude analysis, you have reported that women are paid 1.5 per cent more, on average, than men for part-time work, which indicates that there isn't an institutional underpayment of women in the workplace. But, as previously highlighted, there are far more complex factors at play, which need to be understood. Thus, given the continued variance in the data, you may already be hitting your milestone targets, but until you have accurately measured gender pay differences that reflect the complexity of gender in the workplace, you will never know, which ultimately means that including this milestone is pointless.
In my mind, a more meaningful milestone target would be just to have an employment rate of 60 per cent for disabled people. Now, that would be an ambitious milestone. For the avoidance of doubt, I want to point out—and I do want it on the record—that I believe passionately that everyone should have equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, sex, race, disability or religion. I make these comments because I unfortunately see the potential for this Government to start designing future legislation to meet its targets, which it hasn't properly understood.
Secondly, to expand on this argument I want to very briefly touch upon a point mentioned in the 'Well-being of Wales: 2021' report, under the gender section, concerning education. It's reported that from foundation phase to key stage 3, a higher proportion of girls than boys achieve the expected outcomes. Girls also continue to achieve better educational outcomes at GCSE, and a higher proportion of them, aged 16 to 18, remain in full-time education when compared to boys. This is also the case for those aged 18 to 24.
What concerns me, and I suspect concerns a great many others, is whether or not improving girls' education is coming at the expense of boys' education. In reality, if there was a gender balance, you should always get a slightly higher proportion of girls or boys attaining higher grades in any given year, but over a set period, this would average out. However, the fact that you are reporting this trend means that teaching methods seem to have potentially changed to favour girls against boys. I would personally be interested in seeing an elimination of this educational attainment gap in the second wave of future generations milestones.
Thirdly and finally, I think that it is a very worthwhile target to aim to reduce the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training. I believe that empowering young people with a work ethic is essential in helping them to maximise their potential. As we know, studies have shown that time spent as a NEET can have a detrimental effect on physical and mental health, and it increases the likelihood of unemployment, low wages or low-quality work later on in life. But the target you have set for 2050 is to reduce the number of NEETs to only 10 per cent for 16 to 24-year-olds, and given that this is a 30-year target, this is pretty unambitious, especially given that the current number of NEETs in England is already 10.6 per cent. Minister, having a target of 10 per cent is not really a milestone, it is? It is fairly meaningless, given that the current situation in Wales, as of 2020, is that 13.9 per cent of people aged 16 to 24—
You need to conclude now.
—are NEETs. Again, given the sampling data does not accurately consider the complexity of the data, such as the relative mobility of young people and those attending further education, colleges or independent schools, the percentage of 16 to 24-year-olds who are NEET in reality could already be much lower and, in theory, it could already be met. It implies that the Government is bereft of ideas, sets targets that it predicts it can easily meet so it can’t be criticised for failing, and is ultimately only paying lip service to improving the lives of individuals across the country.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. And with that in mind, I would also like to take the opportunity to wish the Minister a very happy birthday, as I believe it’s tomorrow. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Joel, and thank you for your good wishes. I just think it’s very important if we just set in context why we are developing these national milestones. They're set out as our expectations of progress against the national indicators, and they do help us to understand the current scale and pace of change, and whether we’re on track. I think what’s most important about the point we’ve reached today, where I’m making this statement, is it comes as a result of extensive consultation, consultation with a good response. I think all of those have been published today—you’ve seen the consultation responses. That consultation sets out proposals for these nine national milestones that we’re considering today, which assist Welsh Ministers, but all public bodies, in assessing progress towards the well-being goals.
They were interesting comments, I would say, on eliminating the pay gap—interesting comments that, in terms of the responses from the consultation, suggest that support for the intention and focus of this national milestone was very high, with 95.4 per cent of responses in agreement with the overall response. I think if you look at the outcome of the consultations, the responses that came from the third sector, for example—a large proportion were from the third sector, about a third of the responses, the public sector, as well as individuals, higher education, trade unions, a whole range of other stakeholders came forward to respond to the consultation. But I will say that, just in terms of the particular issues on the pay gap, this is very important in terms of the elimination of the pay gap, and it’s important that it’s about ethnicity as well as disability. You focused on gender issues. I think it’s also recognising that we’re working to secure more robust and reliable data on the pay gap, and particularly for all protected characteristics, because I know, as you said, that you want to ensure that this is about achieving a fair and just response to this milestone in terms of eliminating pay gaps, which we know is critically important. We will always revisit milestones as data becomes available, particularly in relation to the protected characteristics.
This is about a shared endeavour. Yes, for many, it may seem that 2050 seems far away, but it is such an issue in terms of the pay gap being so entrenched that we can’t resolve it overnight. We don’t have all the policy levers, such as employment law, which is reserved, and also there are very many wider socioeconomic factors in terms of the achievement of milestones. I’m sure you will be very pleased to hear that we’re implementing an equality data unit, and working with other analysts to look at improving the evidence in terms of the data that’s required. But I would say, particularly regarding the public sector equality duty, reviewing that, working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the UK Government EHRC, is crucially important. You have focused on gender. In April 2021, the gender pay gap in Wales, based on median full-time hourly earnings, was 5 per cent, unchanged from 2020. For part-time employees in Wales, the gender pay gap was 0 per cent, and of the 11 UK countries and regions where men earn more than women, Wales has the second smallest pay gap. But we have a big pay gap in terms of disability, and I'm sure you would recognise that. We also have to to address the ethnicity pay gap as well.
I'm glad you've focused, as well, on the milestone that at least 90 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds will be in education, employment or training by 2050. This is also where we do need to look at the prospects for not just the Welsh Government's employability plan, published in 2018, but also recognising that the employability of our young people will be hugely enhanced by the young person's guarantee across all protected characteristics as well. But what is important is that we're looking at the annual population survey series, and that's broken down by age and disability, and to look at this in terms of gender, age, disability, ethnicity. We have to look at the equality issues, as well, in terms of achieving this. We will look to, I'm sure, next year's 'Well-being of Wales' report, because that will of course start to identify whether we are making progress and how we are making progress—and that's for the whole of Wales; all our public bodies—on these national milestones.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. The desire to forge a Wales that is economically, socially and environmentally just, the vision that the Minister has stated drives the framework underpinned by the milestones and the indicators announced today, is something that I'm sure Members of all parties can agree on. But the future, of course, is an uncertain thing, with the ongoing pandemic and the effects of climate change, for example, just two factors that are changing how we see that future and our ability to shape it.
If the aim of the national milestones is to lay a course for the progress of Wales, using the measures that will ensure the policies made by the Government are all heading towards that stronger, fairer, greener Wales, then we must see them not only guide policy but also be clearly evident in outcomes. The aim of the national milestones should be to show the people of Wales what progress needs to be made towards the well-being goals and what is being achieved, and also be a communication tool that allows that progress to be clearly evident in our everyday lives.
When so many of the Government's policies are delivered by local authorities, it is perhaps the local picture rather than the national one that often has most meaning. The national milestone for creating 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, for example, reiterated today, is so often undermined by poor planning and a lack of ambition at the local level when it comes to Welsh education provision. The Minister has acknowledged the significant inequalities between the different areas of Wales, and there are also differences in delivery that contribute to this. Might local data sets within the indicators allow people to compare and contrast performance in their own areas and let them judge whether the national efforts to shape the Wales many of us want to see are actually resulting in change for their local communities? Could the Minister tell us how the local picture is, or could be, reflected in the indicators and the wider Shaping Wales' Future programme of work?
I welcome the commitment on the net-zero target, which is of course contained in the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, and would urge the work to accelerate that target that she mentioned to be given full priority, including the devolution of further powers that could enable us to reach it faster, because this is perhaps the most important target of our times. I also welcome the attempt to address the issue of the gender pay gap and inequality in employment. However, as one of the well-being goals is a more equal Wales and women's well-being stretches beyond economic inclusion, could the Minister please outline how women's safety and the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy will be included within the 'Future Trends' report, future policy, and this approach for shaping Wales's future?
The disability employment gap in Wales has been stuck at around 30 per cent for over a decade. Meanwhile, disabled employees tend to earn less than non-disabled people, and this has been stable for a number of years. I'm glad to hear the Minister reference this today in her statement and her answer to Joel James, because we know that disabled people face significantly higher living costs due to their impairment or condition, which makes this goal of eliminating the disability pay gap all the more pressing. Given that the disability pay gap was only added to the Welsh national well-being indicators in 2019, what does the Government plan to do to eliminate this pervasive issue in line with the national well-being goals?
In December 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that considerations for disabled people were not being integrated into transport strategy and policy in Wales. I'm therefore glad to hear that as a result of consultation feedback, new measures on travel have now been included. Currently, the transport system in Wales is not of a high enough standard for the needs of the people of Wales, nor for net-zero targets, which is why it is important that it is now being included as an indicator. However, any indicator regarding travel should also take into account accessibility and reliability for disabled people, as this will be key to ensuring economic and social inclusions. Can I therefore finally ask the Minister to assure us that this is the case? Diolch.
Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams. Thank you for the support for this very ambitious programme, to ensure that we do take this forward in terms of the vision that we have for a fairer, more just and greener Wales. Because this is about our future generations. In fact, today's statement is very significant. It's the first ever national milestones that we are reporting on today, that we're stating today, that will lead us, the whole of Wales. I think your point about these being national milestones, to bring some consistency at a local level, where we do see the fact that we need to engage through our public bodies that have the well-being duties through—indeed, also, through the work they do through their public services boards with their partners, because it's not just one public body that is going to make the difference.
Setting those national milestones for Wales, alongside the national indicators, does provide a robust mechanism to assist Ministers, particularly monitoring national progress. That is crucially important in terms of all of the milestones and their objectives to achieve our seven well-being goals. But it is vital that those public bodies have that clear trajectory to 2050, and unite with a very uniting vision to work towards. Of course, it is also important that we are able to build on this in terms of our co-operation agreement, because the programme for government contains a great deal of policy areas that will help us succeed in reaching these critical milestones. Some of these commitments are now reflected in these national milestones, of course, set before, in various ways, our co-operation agreement, but now we can build on them, I know, in terms of the way forward.
I think it is very important that you raise some particular issues. The issues around net zero are crucially important in terms of the way forward, and the fact that we are enabling that to be something where we are going to just address this to be something that is actually built on as a result of our consultations. The consultations that came through for the national milestones are very clear in terms of also, I'd say, Wales using only its fair share of the world's resources by 2050. This is a crucial milestone to be linked to our net-zero ambition. In terms of delivering on that, we have to look at that in terms of the opportunities that we have. This is clear. It's the most recent advice of our expert advisers, the Climate Change Committee, and specifically designed to reflect a highest possible ambition, but actually taking this further with the evidence that we will seek and the evidence that we need to gain. Every five years, we, of course, are already required to publish further delivery plans that effectively describe in detail how our net-zero goal will be achieved. It's so important we have that in statute, isn't it, that we can actually address this and take this forward.
And I'm very glad also that you have focused on the disability pay gap as well. I have responded to some of the issues relating to the gender pay gap, but, if you look at the disability pay gap, with that Office for National Statistics analysis showing the disability pay gap in Wales was 9.9 per cent in 2018, that means that disabled people in Wales earned on average 9.9 per cent less per hour than non-disabled people. It's smaller, actually, the pay gap, smaller than for the UK as a whole, and, actually, was the fifth smallest of the 12 countries and regions of the UK. But we have a long way to go in terms of closing that pay gap, and, clearly, that's where the work that we're doing in terms of the disability rights taskforce, which is now meeting—. And, of course, one of the points that I made in my statement about the national milestones is that they have been also developed in light of the pandemic, in light of the understanding of the deepening inequalities that the most disadvantaged have experienced. And that's why linking inequality, tackling inequality, in terms of the impact of it on how that influences our national milestones, is so important.
And I'm also glad that you have recognised that there are some opportunities with the new indicators. There was extensive consultation leading to the outcome today—extensive consultation with our stakeholders. I've already described how people got involved. I think what was very important is that, for example, we also used the children's rights advisory group; we had a session with a panel of young people. They all engaged with this, as well as public webinars and public services board co-ordinators.
But, in terms of the new indicators, particularly in relation to travel, the percentage of journeys by walking, cycling or public transport, it's not currently covered, transport, in terms of the national indicators. So, this is a gap that we need to fill, but it's about how do we move to more sustainable modes of travel in terms of decarbonisation and physical health. But then, of course, we need to look at issues like accessibility in terms of transport, breaking down those particular barriers, which will be addressed in our disability taskforce, because what's key to all of this, and underpinning what you've said, is that this is about well-being goals that are about a more equal Wales, as well as a healthier Wales, a resilient Wales, and a prosperous Wales.
And that's where coming forward with new national indicators has been so important. So, as a result of this, this should have more national coherence in terms of taking forward and being held to account as a result of the national milestones linked to the indicators. It will lay responsibility on our local authorities, our public services boards, but also all those who are engaging on delivering the opportunities that the well-being of future generations legislation provides.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement today. I think the publication of these milestones is a really exciting step, in providing a sense of focus and a yardstick against which we can measure progress. So, I've got some questions around those milestones. Firstly, I welcome the commitment to a target for 75 per cent of working-age adults to be qualified to level 3 or higher by 2050. How will we also ensure, though, that there's a focus on those level 2 apprenticeships, which can often prove to be the gateway to level 3 and higher-level qualifications?
Secondly, I also welcome the intention to decrease the percentage of working-age adults with no qualifications to 5 per cent or below by 2050. I'd be keen to know if this would include any focus on increasing the provision of community-based adult basic skills classes. It's been proven that courses in these settings are really crucial to engage with those furthest from the labour market, so they have a key role to play, I believe, in achieving this milestone.
And, lastly, it's also positive to see the target to increase the percentage of children with two or more healthy behaviours to 94 per cent by 2035, and all by 2050. Minister, in this context, will there be a particular focus on teenage girls, as research consistently shows that this is the group most likely to cease participation in organised sports, often due to peer pressure and low self-esteem? Thank you.
Thank you very much, Vikki Howells. Yes, there are really important opportunities, in terms of these national milestones, to ensure that we do have a much more level playing field in terms of access to qualifications and employment. Seventy-five per cent of working-age adults will be qualified to level 3 or higher by 2050, because we know that with higher-level qualifications you're much more likely to be in sustained employment, with larger earnings and wage gains as well. But we know that we've got to reach out to those who are furthest from the opportunity for those skills and qualifications and gateways into higher-skilled jobs.
And I think, if you look at just some of the qualifications levels, going back to the previous questions about making sure that there's more consistency, that we can focus and target not just geographically but also on those who need perhaps the bigger boost and input, and particularly relating to the points that you made—. Because we do have to make sure that this is every local authority—percentage of working-age adults with no qualifications 5 per cent or below; this is a real focus on the local authorities. There is a considerable variation. The highest proportions in terms of those with no qualifications are often in the south Wales Valleys. And in terms of national averages, that's what we need to seek, in terms of moving forward. And we will see the proportion with no qualifications—nearly five times higher for adults living in the 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods. So, the employability strategy that we're publishing in the spring of this year is going to be much more focused on tackling inequalities, providing support through personal learning accounts and, I think, our young person's guarantee, which is going to be crucial for the under-25s, as you know, and you have expressed support in terms of those issues.
I think it is also very important that you raise the increase of the percentage of children with two or more healthy behaviours to 94 per cent. And this is interesting, because I've mentioned there was a children's rights panel—Young Wales brought young people together. And as a result of the consultation, the national indicator has been reframed positively to allow focus on the young people who don't undertake any or only one healthy behaviour. It's actually also really important to see that there are actions that can be taken to reach out to those young people, particularly young women. So, it's issues around actions we already have under way, in terms of 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales', for example, putting a much greater range of issues to help shift population dietary behaviours. Physical activity, of course, is crucially important to that. But it's about ensuring that we're having investment into our school holiday enrichment programme, into the street games that we've invested in, the community sport fund, and also looking at this from the young person's perspective, and that's why the Young Wales panel was so important. Thank you.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. Neither of us is likely to be around to be scrutinised by 2050, so—. Even your 2035 target for improving the healthy behaviours of young people is 13 years away. So, I'd like to ask you to expand a little bit on how we're going to get nine out of 10 children adopting two or more healthy behaviours. I appreciate that free school meals for all primary school pupils and extending childcare to two-year-olds are good places to start. But Meilyr Rowlands's report on peer-on-peer sexual harassment, published by Estyn last week, makes very uncomfortable reading, and there's clearly a huge amount of work to be done to tame the harmful aspects of new technology, not least engaging with parents and discouraging them from giving these tools to online pornography to be made available to young people.
Equally, if we're going to get at least three quarters of working-age adults in Wales qualified to level 3, how is that going to inform the parity we need to attach to technical skills, as opposed to academic skills, particularly in relation to how schools promote the importance of both those skills? And how is this going to inform the measures we use to assess the effectiveness or value added by schools, rather than it being a little bit more random than that, in relation to the numbers of deprived children a particular school may have? So, I think, obviously—
You need to conclude now.
—it's the beginning of the debate, but, I think, if you can say a bit more on how we're going to really improve the health and well-being of young people that would be helpful.
Thank you very much, Jenny Rathbone. Yes, 2050 feels a long way off, but it's actually what we're doing year on year, and how we are held to account and how we can use the national milestones and national indicators to track progress that is so important. That's why we've got a statutory basis for this. I would urge colleagues and Members to look at the 'Future Trends' report, because that is, again, a statutory duty, published today, and it's actually helping and supporting decision makers in Wales, as it says, to look to the longer term. It is the first statutory—well, the first due under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the first 'Future Trends' report, was published back in May 2017, but it does actually give us a clear indication of the way forward in terms of the future trends that we need to link to in terms of making that important progress. It also highlights what we should be looking at, in terms of those future trends, to enable us to get a grip on progress. And I think you are focusing, absolutely rightly, on our young people and that generation, that we move forward. I've responded to the issues relating to the healthy behaviours of our young people, and we need to engage our young people and our schools, and the new curriculum will, of course, help us move forward on that front.
But I think, in terms of the percentage of working-age adults qualified to level 3 or higher by 2050, this is very much going to be guided by our new employability strategy, and to be looking at the opportunities that our young people have for skills in a changing world. That's actually stepping up our support for basic skills, foundation and digital skills, and helping individuals have the skills for the changing world that we're in, increasing the adaptability of the workforce, but then our young learners, to develop the skills and acquire the new ones. But it is, clearly—. In terms of the responses that we've had to the consultation, this is seen as a strong guide not just for Government, but for our public bodies to find the way forward.
And I've also mentioned the fact that we've changed our milestones, particularly in relation to healthy behaviours, to reflect a more positive approach. And I think the participation of young people is crucially important. It's a focus on developing targets and interventions for the key behaviours in a young person's life, improvements at a behavioural level, but also showing that, in our most deprived areas, we have to ensure that we focus on inequities, and those that have particularly been deepened by the pandemic. But can I say that we are exploring options for research to better understand the drivers that will ensure we can help our young people in being able to adopt those healthy behaviours that will have made such a difference to their lives, but it will have to be the result of intervention to tackle poverty? And, as you say, providing early years intervention in terms of childcare and free school meals are probably two of the key most important decisions that we know and we hope are coming through in terms of our budget and our co-operation agreement.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government on the Welsh Tax Acts etc. (Power to Modify) Bill. I call on the Minister, Rebecca Evans.
Diolch. Yesterday, I laid the Welsh Tax Acts etc. (Power to Modify) Bill, together with the explanatory memorandum, before the Senedd. Tax devolution is important; it provides a significant lever through which we are better able to deliver strategic priorities for Welsh citizens and businesses. The last four years of experience of tax devolution has enabled the Welsh Government to develop a considerable tax capability. We have established a distinct Welsh approach to shaping tax policy and to the delivery of that policy by the Welsh Revenue Authority. Our approach keeps the needs of Welsh citizens, communities and businesses at the forefront.
This Bill provides an additional fiscal lever by permitting Welsh Ministers to make amendments in response to changes made by the UK Government to predecessor UK taxes—that is, to stamp duty land tax and landfill tax—that will affect the Welsh block grant adjustment, and therefore the revenues available for essential public services. At the moment, every time there is a UK fiscal event, we take the risk that there may be a change that impacts on a devolved tax, and we may not have the appropriate mechanism by which to respond at pace. Such changes could have implications for businesses, the property market, and a direct budgetary impact on the Welsh Government’s resources.
This was demonstrated in July 2020 when the UK Government did not tell us in advance that they were cutting stamp duty land tax, despite the clear implications for the housing market in Wales and the UK's economic recovery from the pandemic. Although we can vary rates and thresholds for land transaction tax through regulations, we can't do this for every change.
Amendments to the Welsh tax Acts will also be permitted in order to respond to a number of other external circumstances, such as to ensure that devolved Welsh taxes are not imposed where to do so would be incompatible with any international obligations, for example, where a new trade deal is concluded with another country that has implications for our taxes.
It will also enable Welsh Ministers to make legislative changes to protect against avoidance activity, which can then be stopped with immediate effect. This includes cases where increased clarity in the legislation will put beyond doubt the intended application of the legislative provisions, and potentially benefit taxpayers by stopping the promotion of avoidance opportunities that don't actually exist. Such action has been taken by the UK Government to protect tax regimes and taxpayers in the past, and I want Welsh Ministers to be able to take similar action.
Lastly, this Bill will also allow Welsh Ministers to make changes where a court or tribunal decision identifies an issue that Welsh Ministers consider could benefit from legislative change, or greater clarification of the law. This includes decisions relating to the Welsh tax Acts, UK predecessor taxes, other taxes, or other laws that may affect the devolved taxes.
This Bill allows Welsh Ministers to make regulations that may have retrospective effect. The use of the power retrospectively will be considered on a case-by-case basis as justification for each may differ, depending upon the purpose in question. This will most commonly be limited to cases where the impact of the regulations is to confer a benefit to Welsh taxpayers. For example, the Welsh Government may want Welsh taxpayers to benefit from a reduction in their tax liability from the same date that a change was introduced in England. The Welsh Ministers may choose to achieve that by adopting, or adapting, the same or a different policy.
However, in the case of avoidance activity, Ministers may wish to be able to announce that the scheme will be closed down by future regulations effective from the date of the announcement. In such circumstances, taxpayers could reasonably expect retrospective changes to be introduced that ensure that they pay the right amount of tax.
I recognise that the use of retrospective legislation requires both policy justification and legal safeguard, and should only be used in situations where it is necessary. This is why the Bill places a duty upon the Welsh Ministers to publish a statement on the use of the power to make regulations that have retrospective effect. And a draft of this statement has been shared with the Finance Committee and the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee.
The Bill will provide the Welsh Ministers with an agile tool to protect Welsh revenues raised through devolved taxes, contributing to the drive for stable tax devolution. We have consulted with our stakeholders on the content of the Bill, and I would like to take the opportunity to formally thank all of those who have contributed to developing it. I look forward to the scrutiny process that will now follow and the constructive engagement of organisations who have already contributed and also that of colleagues across the Siambr. Diolch.
The Conservative spokesperson, Peter Fox.
Diolch, Deputy Llywydd, and thank you, Minister. Thank you for the statement and thank you to your officials for their technical briefing yesterday at our joint committee. It was really helpful and really interesting. I do have some sympathy with you; budgetary processes and taxation are very complex things, and this complexity has only increased during recent years.
It's right, then, to ensure that Welsh taxpayers are not left at a disadvantage compared to other taxpayers across the UK when changes are made to the predecessor taxes, as well as to close tax loopholes so that funds can be used to support our public services—it's quite right that we do that. However, as part of your consultation around the Bill, I know stakeholders such as the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales stated that their default position is that tax legislation should be in primary legislation, and particularly in the case where legislation relates to the exercise of tax powers, except in very exceptional circumstances. And this is a principle that I agree with, and I'm sure many in the Chamber—the virtual Chamber—would agree with too.
I think, to reflect the conclusions of the previous Finance Committee, that we need more of a legislative basis to our budget and taxation-setting processes in Wales to support the democratic scrutiny of public expenditure and taxation. It is in this regard that, by using regulations to make changes to taxation, this Bill could—and I stress 'could'—be used to go further than originally intended. Now, I note that there are some strict limits on the use of the powers within the Bill, but there is still some ambiguity as to when the powers may be used. In the original consultation, the Chartered Institute of Taxation stated that
'the circumstances in which power 1 can be used leaves quite a wide discretion'
and that a number of terms used within the section are vague and undefined. However, the Government rejected the idea of a Senedd lock on the use of power 1. Perhaps I could ask you, Minister, why that was the case. Could you also clarify the circumstances—and you've touched on this a bit already—where you envisage needing to use the power to modify Welsh tax Acts? And, ultimately, who in the Welsh Government is responsible for deciding which one of the purpose tests within section 1 has been met when bringing forward regulations through the Bill?
Finally, comments were made during the original consultation that multiple changes via regulatory powers risk making the primary legislation difficult to follow because of the amount of cross-referencing required. If a substantial volume of secondary legislation is needed, would there potentially need to be work to consolidate these to ensure that tax law is as accessible as possible? Thank you, Minister.
I thank Peter Fox for those questions. I am really pleased that the briefing that officials provided has been useful. I'm very much looking forward to the detailed scrutiny process, which will commence on 22 December, as an early Christmas present for us all, in committee. And I know that we'll be looking at many of these aspects in more detail, but I'm very, very pleased to at least set out my initial response to some of those questions this afternoon.
One of the substantive issues that you raised was, essentially, why not use a finance Bill, and I know that this has been an issue of interest to finance committees in the previous Senedd. My position does remain that I don't consider the timing right to introduce an annual budget or a finance Bill through which changes to Welsh tax Acts can be made. A key consideration for the Welsh tax Acts specifically is that the volume of secondary legislation that these Acts have so far generated is not significant at all, and as we develop more devolved taxes then I think that, potentially, there could be a strengthened argument for an annual finance Bill, but I would even contend that if we did have an annual finance Bill, we'd still need the powers that are provided for within this Bill, because they enable Welsh Ministers to respond to external events that might not necessarily coincide with the Welsh Government finance Bill cycle. For example, the UK budget at which changes may occur isn't on a fixed cycle, and it often occurs more than once a year, and there are also other fiscal events at which changes can be announced, for example, the July 2020 stamp duty land tax rates provide, I think, an example of that. And furthermore, the Bill will enable Welsh Government to be far more responsive to wider changes, such as court decisions and avoidance activity, than is the case with either the UK Government's finance Bill approach or the Scottish Government's approach, where changes are often made through a finance Bill only.
In terms of why we are not using existing powers—so, thinking about primary legislation, for example—the Bill aims to provide an additional flexible tool to allow Ministers to respond at pace to external circumstances that impact on our devolved taxes. Primary legislation generally takes around 12 to 18 months to develop and complete that cycle of Senedd scrutiny, so it wouldn't enable us to respond in an agile way if we needed to do so at short notice, for example, to close down tax avoidance activity.
And there was also a question in terms of why, despite consulting in the documentation on the Senedd lock, we subsequently removed that from our proposals. The lock was originally proposed to enable the Senedd to signify its approval of the use of the made affirmative procedure, and the original policy proposed the use of a power that could be used whenever Welsh Ministers considered it expedient in the public interest to do so. The lock was intended to respond to concerns that the power would be unusually broad, but the Bill now, as currently drafted, has much reduced the scope of the power to those four purpose tests, which can only be used when considered necessary or appropriate. And so that does, I think, sufficiently constrain the power so that a Senedd lock, which itself would have been unconventional and may set an unhelpful precedent for future made affirmative powers, wouldn't be appropriate, because we've narrowed things down with this Bill so much.
And then just to complete that, really, just to highlight that the scope of the power is limited to the four specific purposes: firstly, ensuring that landfill disposal tax and land transaction tax are not imposed where to do so would result in non-compliance with any international obligations; to protect against tax avoidance in relation to landfill disposal tax and land transaction tax; to respond to changes to predecessor UK taxes that impact, or could impact, the amount paid into the Welsh consolidated fund; and then to respond to the decisions of courts and tribunals that affect, or may affect, Welsh tax Acts or regulations made under them. So, we've very much, following the consultation, narrowed the scope of the Bill, which I think removes that need now for the Senedd lock, which was in our original consultation. But I very much look forward to exploring these issues in more depth in the weeks ahead.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I thank the Minister for her statement. Just to pick up on some of the previous comments on a finance Bill or an annual budget Bill, I still feel as I did when I chaired the Finance Committee in the previous Senedd that that is something I would certainly want us as a Senedd to move towards. I accept the Minister's comments on how quickly we can get to that point, but it's certainly a discussion that I would want to keep alive. And I also agree with the Minister, whether that happens or not, we still need the powers that the Government are seeking in the Bill before us today.
I've said in the past that I have no problem in principle with these kinds of powers being given to Welsh Ministers. It is entirely reasonable. Having the means to modify legislation at short notice in this way is something that I do think is reasonable, but it has to happen under particular circumstances. Failing to respond may lead to damaging or unfair implications. Under those circumstances, I think it's reasonable that we move in this direction. It is something that other Governments take for granted around the world. So, there is nothing unique in this.
Having said all of that, before we can support legislation that empowers Ministers in this way, we all have to be confident that the necessary restrictions are in place to ensure that the parameters are clear, first of all in terms of under which circumstances the Minister can act, secondly, to what extent the Government can act, and then thirdly of course, that there are strong measures in place to ensure timely parliamentary scrutiny and consent, or as soon as possible once the decision is made. At first sight, the legislation looks quite reasonable on those fronts, but obviously I look forward to scrutinising the proposed legislation over the next few weeks and months.
Just a few questions from me, Minister. There is a risk, of course—and we've perhaps seen this happen in other contexts—that, over time, powers like this can be used by Ministers to go beyond the authority provided to them. So, can you confirm on the record this afternoon that it's only under exceptional circumstances and only when there are no alternative options that you would intend to use the powers provided to Welsh Ministers in this Bill?
And also, in order to balance things slightly, what consideration have you given to including more independent voices or perspectives in the process of deciding to operate these powers? A suggestion has been made that there might be a more formal role for the Llywydd, perhaps, in the process. Cardiff University, in their response to the consultation last year, suggested that we need to ensure diversity in the group that decides when these powers should be used, and I'd be interested to hear how you intend to have some sort of balance within the process. Thank you.
Thank you very much for raising that series of questions, and for your generally warm acceptance of the need for the Bill, but obviously you're looking forward to the scrutiny process ahead. I'm sure that we will continue to return to the question as to whether or not a finance Bill is necessary at this point, but as I say, we will keep that under review as circumstances develop and change in future. Just to provide reassurance, I do think the parameters of the Bill are sufficiently clear, especially now that we've just narrowed it down to those four purposes for which the Bill should be used, which I've just outlined in response to Peter Fox. But we also recognise the real importance of the need for proper scrutiny, which is why we've included some real, I think, significant safeguards within the Bill in terms of the procedure.
The Bill would allow for regulations subject to the draft affirmative procedure to be laid in draft for a minimum of 20 days before they're put to the vote. Obviously, if they're approved, those regulations can be made, and regulations can lay for a longer period than the 20 days before being put to the vote. Under the made affirmative procedure, we would look to have that period for 60 days. And obviously, if the vote is lost or the 60-day period expires, then those regulations cease to have effect from those dates, and we've put in place a view as to what we would do should those regulations fall. The safeguards that we've put around the made affirmative procedure in particular, I think, are important, because they would only be used when Welsh Ministers consider the regulations necessary by reason of urgency and only for the four purposes that I've described. An example, I think, would be a need to urgently respond when the delayed closure of a tax avoidance scheme would result in considerable loss of revenue.
The proposed approach within this Bill isn't unprecedented and it won't be unfamiliar to tax practitioners. For example, section 109 of the Finance Act 2003 provides HM Treasury with a bespoke power to make regulations to make immediate but temporary changes to stamp duty land tax legislation, and regulations made under this are subject to provisional affirmative procedure, which is similar to the Senedd's made affirmative procedure, meaning that they must be approved by the House of Commons within 28 sitting days in order to have that permanent effect. So, I think that what we're proposing here isn't unusual or novel in that sense, despite being something that will enable us to respond very quickly to changes. In terms of roles for individuals and parties, I'm sure we'll have the opportunity to explore that in further depth in committee in due course, and on the floor, of course, of the Senedd. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you, Minister.
Item 5 is the statement by the Minister for Economy on supporting the creation of a community bank for Wales. I call on the Minister, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. The UK has one of the least diverse retail banking systems in Europe. It is dominated by a small number of very large banks. These banks operate according to a traditional shareholder value business model that seeks to maximise profits for their owners. Retail high street banks, as we know, are retreating from many of our high streets at an ever-increasing and alarming pace. According to Office for National Statistics data, the number of bank branches in the UK has fallen by 4,390, or 39 per cent, between 2012 and 2021. The consumer magazine Which? estimates that by the end of 2022 only 277 bank and building society branches will remain in Wales.
Our programme for government commitment to support the creation of a community bank for Wales seeks to address this market failure in relation to the gap in provision, effectiveness and access to quality banking services in Wales. Our vision for the community bank for Wales is one that is based on the mutual model, owned by, and run for, the benefit of its members rather than the maximisation of profit for shareholders. It will be a modern, full-service community bank, headquartered in Wales. It will provide access to bilingual products and services through a range of channels including digital, online and in-branch. The bank will facilitate local investment and enhance community wealth building, recirculating savings into loans and preventing capital drain. It will provide a positive impact on communities and high streets, improving access to everyday banking services for all citizens regardless of income or wealth, as well as, of course, small businesses across the whole of Wales.
As a Government, we are however alert to the significant challenges of establishing a community bank. Whilst there are a number of community banks in development across the UK, no community bank has yet been established. Start-up co-operative and mutual banks face increased challenges compared to their shareholder-model banking counterparts. This is particularly the case in respect of securing development and regulatory capital, which make entry and organic growth difficult. In addition, banking sector legislative and regulatory competencies are reserved matters. We are therefore reliant on the alignment and ambition of private sector firms who share our vision and ethos in order to establish and operate a community bank for Wales.
Since our work to support the creation of a community bank for Wales was first explored, traditional high-street banks have further accelerated their retreat from our high streets. Now more than ever, an increasing number of communities across Wales are left without physical access to what we consider should be an essential public service. The impact of this retreat is not universal, with rural communities and those individuals and businesses across Wales who are more reliant upon cash and face-to-face relationship banking being hit the hardest.
Despite the many high-profile community campaigns supported by members across the political colouring of the Senedd, traditional banks have continued to close branches. I welcome the continued cross-party support for the creation of a community bank for Wales and acknowledge that Members' questions are understandably increasingly focused on the delivery timescales, branch roll-out plans, and products and services to be offered by the community bank. Those questions reflect the needs and concerns of communities in Members' constituencies across the breadth of Wales.
Over the past two years the Welsh Government has supported exploratory work undertaken by Cambria Cydfuddiannol Ltd, a co-operative society established to explore the creation of Banc Cambria as the community bank for Wales. This work has been crucial in informing the delivery strategy of Banc Cambria, and consequently the development of its relationship with an existing financial institution. What I am announcing today reaffirms our belief that this approach has a greater potential to deliver a viable and sustainable community bank. This approach also aligns with the recommendations made in the 'Access to Banking' report by the Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in October 2019. We believe that this approach supports collaboration across the sector, reduces the risks and minimises the costs to the public purse, and increases the pace at which the development and safe launch of Banc Cambria can be delivered.
Last week, the First Minister, the Minister for Social Justice and I met with the teams behind Banc Cambria to discuss the progress made, next steps and areas where Welsh Government support can best be deployed to enhance the pace of development and delivery. I am delighted to update and inform Members, and welcome today’s announcement from the Monmouthshire Building Society stating its intent to develop its approach to delivering a community bank in Wales. Delivery of a community bank is a good fit for the Welsh mutual that is headquartered in Newport. They've been serving and supporting members and communities across south and west Wales to save and flourish for over 150 years. As a mutual, they are already a purpose-led organisation, providing communities with access to financial help and support in locations that are convenient for them.
Whilst there is still much work to be done, with key milestones and further decision points ahead for both the Welsh Government, the society and Cambria Cydfuddiannol, we remain committed to providing all appropriate and necessary support in order to help accelerate the establishment and roll-out of Banc Cambria across Wales. It is now appropriate for the Monmouthshire Building Society to lead on the communications and update on the project as it progresses. We acknowledge and agree that the development of robust, secure and compliant systems are paramount for the society, its existing members and future members of Banc Cambria. I will meet the society and Cambria Cydfuddiannol Ltd regularly to keep abreast of progress and understand where our support can add most value. I will, of course, update Members as appropriate following key decision points. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
I thank the Minister for his statement. I'm also grateful to the team at Banc Cambria for the time they've given in recent months to keeping myself and colleagues updated on the development of a community bank for Wales. Having previously worked in the mutual building society sector for more than two decades, I particularly welcome the fact that the bank's partnership with Monmouthshire Building Society has been made public today, thereby allowing the operational requirements to ensure delivery to be put in place.
Speaking here in 2010, I raised with the then First Minister the risk management and capital adequacy requirements and regulation a new bank would have to comply with, which an established bank or building society partner would not. In 2013, Welsh Conservatives called for the establishment of Invest Wales, a network of regional investment banks embedded in local communities, to lend to small business and provide advice and support based on this partnership model. In 2017, I led a debate on banking services here, which called on the Welsh Government to examine the not-for-profit community banking model then being developed in Wales by Responsible Finance, which proposed working with credit unions where credit unions can't, and providing finance and support for people, businesses and social enterprises that cannot access finance from high street banks.
In response to the fifth Assembly's Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, the Federation of Small Businesses questioned whether the community bank solution overlaps with other things that other instruments and institutions that we already have in place in Wales could be actually in a better place to do. And so, given that this is a commercial investment for the Welsh Government, it is crucial that the Welsh Government performs due diligence and rigorous analysis of the business plan for a community bank prior to further investment. Therefore, Minister, what processes have been followed and what due diligence has taken place to date to provide assurance for the people of Wales before the scheme progresses?
Of course, when performing due diligence, it's also vital that the Welsh Government considers the impact that a community bank will have on the credit union sector. The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee report in 2019 made it clear that credit unions have some very serious concerns about the impact that a community bank could have on them. Indeed, the chief executive of Cardiff & Vale Credit Union wrote on behalf of a group of 11 Welsh credit unions to highlight the fact that Banc Cambria's intention to provide personal loans on a co-operative model basis would be in direct competition with credit unions, and that it would directly threaten the future sustainability of the credit union network in Wales. And so, in light of these concerns, what action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that the sustainability of credit unions is not threatened by the development of a community bank? And how will the Welsh Government work with credit unions that are keen to work with them but concerned to ensure that Banc Cambria takes neither their business nor their funding? Given the Post Office partnership with UK banks, Banc Cambria could also have an impact on post office services. What assessment has the Minister therefore made of the effects of Banc Cambria on the post office sector? And what discussions has he had with the Post Office about establishing a community bank in Wales?
The creation of a community bank could have a transformative impact on local communities, particularly rural communities that have lost the presence of a bank on their high street. It's reassuring that Banc Cambria has previously said that rural communities are at the heart of what they're trying to do. Banc Cambria has made it clear that it aims to open at least one branch where the customer base is evidenced as suffering particularly badly from financial exclusion. And the First Minister has already spoken of locating a branch in Buckley, Flintshire. How, therefore, will the locations of the branches be decided, and what assurances can you provide that financially excluded rural communities will be at the top of the priority list? And what assurances can you give us that the Welsh Government has the capacity to take this model forward into all parts of Wales, should it prove, as we hope, to be successful?
It's vital that we have the right skills base to support the sector. In response to the fifth Assembly's Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, the Community Savings Bank Association said that finding people who have the right balance of skills and ethical motivation for wanting to create something in Wales would be harder than finding the money to support a community bank.
Mark, you must conclude now.
Therefore, Minister, what work is being done to identify and deliver the skills needed to support the model for the future? And finally, how is access to the branches for disabled people with both visible and hidden impairments being designed in?
Thank you for the extensive series of questions. If I can start off by saying that I think today is a really big and important day: to have an established financial institution confirming in public that it is looking to develop the proposal in partnership and will be the established institution to take matters forward is a really positive step forward. And as I said in my opening, no community bank of this scale or model has yet been established anywhere in the UK. So, this is a novel policy area where Wales is taking a lead, and I'm really pleased that we have got a mutual financial institution that is ready and prepared to partner with us, in a manner that should be not just to deliver greater community banking services, but will probably end up being transformative for the Monmouthshire Building Society itself. So, this is a really positive day, and many of the questions that Mark Isherwood has asked are questions that we have already had discussions about and I expect we will get more on as we move forward, because—. Your points about, 'Does the community bank overlap with other services?'—well, actually, we're looking to support and establish a community bank because of the flight of traditional banking services from many communities. I know this is a matter that, as I said in my opening, is supported by Members from across the political divide within the Senedd, because all of us have experience of traditional banking services disappearing from communities we represent. It's the same for Members who represent largely urban constituencies, as well as those that are largely rural. So, there is a real challenge here, rather than a problem of there being an overlap, as a broad picture.
But when it comes to how those partnerships will work, including, for example, the partnerships we'd expect to see with the credit union movement, those are things we expect to see more detail on in both an investment proposal, but also there is work that has already been undertaken by Banc Cambria because, of course, they are part of the co-op and mutuals movement, so they have established relationships with a range of credit unions. But it is entirely reasonable for some credit unions to question how it will affect them and their business and not end up being something that squeezes out competition where services are already provided, rather than providing services into communities that we recognise are under-served at present.
On your question about Welsh Government due diligence, we and any other investor will certainly undertake due diligence following an investment proposal. And we're at the point now where Monmouthshire have confirmed that they're going to move to do that, so I will expect from them a proper investment proposal for us to look at, to scrutinise, and they will also, of course, need to assure their own regulator about the proposals that they are looking to make and what it means for their current members, as well as for future ones too. And again, this goes back to one of the points you made in your list of examples, where you've raised similar issues, on the fact that having an established institution should actually mean that we're able to launch a community bank at a greater pace than if we had otherwise tried to start afresh.
I note your points about the Post Office, and, of course, at one point, there was the possibility of a properly established postal bank—those are matters that are in the hands of the UK Government, and, of course, the Post Office has had for some years an established tie-in with the Bank of Ireland. So, again, we're looking at the landscape of where services exist and looking at how we can add to what exists rather than compete with established services that are already providing a decent service to communities across the country.
On, I think, your broader points, I just want to register this about credit unions: we do expect there to be agency or partnership agreements in place. You wouldn't expect those all to be established with today's announcement, but our expectation is that this will genuinely add to the banking and financial services that are available in many of our communities, and I do believe that this is a really positive step forward. I think the significant detail that you're looking for in many of your questions can only be answered when we get into greater detail in the proposals to be brought forward, including, of course, how the new Banc Cambria establishment expects to deliver branches and the criteria that it will use for where it would wish to establish those in the future. But I look forward to updating Mr Isherwood and other Members over the coming months.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. As I'm sure many Members will raise, this statement is, indeed, timely; it almost feels like a daily news story these days that bank branches are shutting up shop in our towns and villages across Wales. Between 2015 and 2019, Wales lost over two fifths of its bank branches—that's 239 branches altogether. In my region of South Wales West, for example, in my home constituency of Ogmore, there's just one bank branch left in the whole constituency and that's in Maesteg.
It's important, I think, to also remember that we aren't just talking about bank branches, we're also talking about ATMs, as well, closing, meaning that trends towards digital banking and a cashless society are beginning to exclude some groups financially, which, of course, will be more acute in rural areas. The reality is that actions taken by the commercial banking sector will likely worsen regional inequality, and that's why Plaid Cymru welcomes the development of Banc Cambria and, in particular, welcomes the fact that Wales will be leading the way in the UK by having the first community bank, a style of bank that is commonplace across the globe. And I would encourage Members to read about how commonplace community banks are in the United States. And, of course, with Banc Cambria, the money invested will be invested in Wales in the interests of those who call Wales home, meaning that there could be huge potential for economic development in some of our more deprived areas.
It's important that Banc Cambria, as I believe Mark Isherwood has already alluded do, is seen as a bank for the whole of Wales, especially when a lot of the high-street banks seem to be in the process of abandoning Wales. So, I was wondering if the Minister could give any indication as to where Banc Cambria will be looking to establish its initial wave of bank branches, as well as where Banc Cambria may be headquartered. I heard Newport mentioned in the statement; it's important, I think, that it's headquartered outside of Cardiff, but, as a Pencoed boy, I'll take this opportunity to pitch and say I wouldn't mind seeing a branch opened in Pencoed, or for Banc Cambria to even be headquartered there. But it's important, of course, that Banc Cambria is present in communities across Wales, from border communities to the Valleys, to y fro Gymraeg and to our seaside towns.
Of course, one consistent issue that we find with banks in Wales is that there is a lack of ability, or an inability, to bank through the medium of Welsh. We've heard of multiple stories—a recent one with HSBC—where Welsh language communities have been let down in this regard. I welcome, as the Minister highlighted in his statement, that services will be available bilingually. But could the Minister give any indication as to whether or not all of Banc Cambria's services will be bilingual, including in-branch services as well as online banking?
Finally, six months ago, I asked the Minister for Social Justice if the Welsh Government had given any consideration as to how we could use the Banc Cambria community-based model for other community-led businesses, perhaps in energy or steel, for example, and what support the Government is providing for this. The Minister at the time seemed open to the idea, but wished to focus on establishing Banc Cambria first, which is completely understandable. But now that there has been some movement in the development of Banc Cambria, and the community banking portfolio has been moved to your portfolio, Minister, has any more thought been given to how this model could be utilised elsewhere in the Welsh economy?
Thank you for the questions and comments. I agree with your points about the challenge of it's not just about branch services, but about access to cash services as well—not just ATMs but, in particular, free-to-use ATMS as well. Part of the drive behind this is a recognition that the flight of traditional branches and cash services does mean that there is an increasing divide between those with digital skills, in particular mobile banking, but also those who require cash to go about their normal day-to-day business. So, there's a challenge here, in terms of not acting and what we would otherwise be left with.
I'm proud of the work that we have done successfully over a period of time, with support from a number of parties, on trying to provide financial services through credit unions in particular as well. But I do think that Banc Cambria will fill a particular gap that still exists, and I'm pleased to have the broad support of Plaid Cymru in doing so.
I'd expect more detailed plans for branches to come with that investment proposal, but Banc Cambria indicate that they expect to get up to about 30 branches over their first decade in operation. Now, it is not a fair test to say that Banc Cambria should expect to make up all of the branches that have closed by traditional and long-established branches, and to be able to do so within a short period of time. We're still looking at something that, as I say, is a novel policy intervention, to be able to create a new community bank. And you're right to point out that other parts of the world have a very different network, and that we have, as I said in my opening, not a very diverse banking sector at all. The newer challenger banks that have come along tend to be online banks. So, there's still a gap that we believe Banc Cambria can help to fill.
That detailed investment proposal, when it comes, it won't just be due diligence. We want to look at how they're looking and to set out a plan for how they'll go through where they'd want to establish branches and services. So, I do appreciate that, many of the questions that will come today, I won't be able to give you definitive answers, but to be able to indicate that they do expect to establish new branches over the first decade. They expect to be able to set out more about the products and services that they'll provide. The investment proposal will help to detail and set that out.
The fact that Monmouthshire are doing this already means that we have an institution that is headquartered in Wales. It's headquartered in Newport, and, without looking at the two constituency Members for the city of Newport, I'd have thought that they would want to see Banc Cambria remain established and headquartered within that city. I'm not looking to try to have regions arguing with one another, but the point is that we have an established financial institution that is headquartered and rooted in Wales and has been for a century and a half. That's a good thing, in terms of the sort of fit that we're looking for for someone that is committed to community banking services.
That doesn't mean, of course, that they won't be involved in supporting businesses. I think that they will—in particular, smaller businesses. The challenge will be, if we're looking at larger economic units, about where the capital for that will come. So, it's not that I would say that they're not allowed and won't be permitted to do that; it's really about the need to establish the community banking model first as a proper service that is successful, and it's then about the ambition of the institution and what it can actually achieve.
But, again, I'm not sure that it would be a fair test to say that it must be involved in the sort of scale of finance that you might otherwise see in industries like the steel sector. But it's a matter for the institution to set out a proper investment proposal that the Welsh Government can get behind. And I can say that it's my expectation that Welsh language services won't just be online; there'll be in-branch Welsh language services as well. It's part of the attraction of having a proper partnership with a local institution that understands the need to do that. So, I think it would be a good thing for the language and community banking services, as well as the breadth of what we’re going to be able to do over time. The first step, though, is today’s public announcement about the financial institution. The next step will be a proper investment proposal and the due diligence, and then we hope we’ll get on to actually establishing Banc Cambria branches within this Senedd term.
I have several Members who still wish to speak, so can you please all make sure you keep within your time allocation? And I'm sure the Minister will help us by being succinct in his answers. Jack Sargeant.
Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, you will know, clearly, that I have been trying and working very hard to bring a community bank branch to Buckley in my constituency, and I think it’s worth noting that the undertaking of starting Wales’s first community bank and opening a branch is a bold one and a welcome one. So, I am very grateful to you and your officials, but also very grateful to the First Minister, the Minister for Social Justice and Ken Skates, for his time championing the idea in Government. And I think it’s impressive that we do have true cross-party support for this idea. I think it’s the Senedd at its very best.
Today’s announcement from the Welsh Government and Monmouthshire Building Society brings us a huge step closer to a licensed community bank in Wales, and I think that’s a tremendous achievement in realising the ambition of this idea. Now, whilst Banc Cambria will be the first in Wales, I know that many across the UK will be watching to follow their lead, but the important question for residents in Buckley, Minister, is: when will Banc Cambria branches be opening on our high streets, and how long will that take?
But, Deputy Presiding Office, if you will allow me in closing, I know I’m quite known as the Grinch of the Senedd, but I am in that Christmas spirit today and, as I’ve said before, I do sometimes sing Christmas carols, and I am singing the same one as I’ve sung previously, so all I want for Christmas, Minister, is a bank in Buckley. Diolch yn fawr.
Well, I'm sure the good people at Banc Cambria will have heard you before today, as well as today, and I know that they’ll be taking an interest in today’s debate across the Senedd. Look, we expect to receive an investment proposal over the next calendar year, so during 2022, and we’ll then need to go through our due diligence exercise, as I’ve indicated before. So, I can’t give you an exact timescale for that. But the outline expectation is that before the end of 2023 we might see branches starting to open. We’ll need to see the detail of that and where they’ll be in the investment proposal, and it is a matter for Banc Cambria to bring their proposal forward and to set out how they would look to site new branches and where they would start. I’m sure that there will be other bids, but, as I say, the Member’s been very consistent about Banc Cambria.
It is worth pointing out, when I talked earlier about agency agreements, one of the things that Banc Cambria have already done is to do some work with the Cambrian Credit Union in north Wales, to look at a potential agency agreement that again may help to spread the reach of those services and to do so in a way that is a genuine partnership, rather than a competition with credit union services as well. There is a range of things that come from that, and that’s why I tried to set out that I look forward to coming back with more detail to generate the establishment of a branch, and it will then neatly segue into the social justice and community banking sector in a way that I think the Minister for Social Justice would then become the lead Minister, once it’s properly established.
May I add to the cross-party support that has been echoed throughout the virtual Siambr this afternoon? Thank you so much to the Minister and to your team and to the First Minister as well for all your work in bringing this forward. It is an exciting, innovative development and whilst I’ve got this opportunity, mid Wales is looking to develop its financial sector, and we would also welcome the headquarters for Banc Cambria anywhere in mid Wales. So, please do consider that as well.
It is so important for urban and rural areas, and I would just like to comment on the challenges facing rural areas without their banks. I was very privileged to meet with Banc Cambria in Llanidloes, which lost its last bank in 2017, and in Hay-on-Wye, where I live, the last bank closed in 2018. So, this is a really exciting and innovative development. Banks are essential in rural areas because they support small businesses, they support farmers and agriculture, and they support those who are not able to access the digital networks. So, we do welcome this.
I’m not going to repeatedly ask the questions that have been asked previously, because you have been clear that there are still developments to come, but I would just ask and urge that both Banc Cambria and yourself are able to maintain good communications with the communities that are affected by the loss of their banks and that there is a good consultation process that allows people to input into that. I'd also like to echo Luke Fletcher's position on the Welsh language, and you've already given the reassurances around how Banc Cambria are going to be able to meet those expectations. Thank you so much, Minister. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you, and thank you again for the broad welcome. And the point about consultation and the potential for new branches to be a real catalyst for high-street regeneration as well as community wealth, that's a point that I know Members across the Chamber are really interested in, and how to do that in a way that we understand and that Banc Cambria, when they're developing a proposal, understand how they can do that, and work with communities rather than doing something to communities. I think that's been a perception in some of the flight of the traditional branches of banks, that people have felt that stuff has been done to them without necessarily considering the impact. And it is an issue in urban Wales as well, but we do recognise it's particularly acute in rural Wales. And I'm very grateful to you for thanking the team; it's both the team here within the Welsh Government—some of our officials have worked incredibly hard on what is a complex and not straightforward area—but also the team at Monmouthshire Building Society who have been really committed to making this happen. Without that commitment from them, we wouldn't be here today and we'd still be talking about an idea rather than a proper proposal where we can expect a concrete investment proposal next year. So, I will continue to keep Members informed, and I know that Monmouthshire Building Society, together with Banc Cambria, will continue to do so as well.
Can I first of all say 'thank you' for your statement, Minister? You've referenced the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, as has Mark Isherwood, extensively, but I was privileged to chair that committee, and I think it's fantastic that, on a cross-party basis, we very much supported the work of Banc Cambria and made a series of recommendations, which I hope helped to move issues forward.
With public funding, Minister, can I ask how you and how the Welsh Government are going to ensure that there's a level playing field for all, and particularly for perhaps building societies that are not involved in Banc Cambria?
That's a fair question, and, look, what we're looking at is, we're looking at something that would be a proper investment proposal on a commercial basis. So, it's not as if we're looking to provide preferential lines of credit; it's about finding a partner who can provide a proper detailed commercial investment proposal, provide a return on an investment that the Welsh Government would make. And so, there would be proper due diligence about that, and this wouldn't be, sort of, preferential, 'We're looking after one institution.' And, actually, there was an open call, and Banc Cambria themselves did go out and look for a range of institutions to work with and talk to. Monmouthshire Building Society wanted to do this, were prepared to do this, and recognised it requires the organisation to be committed in a way that some institutions didn't want to be. Now, that's entirely fair. It's for each institution to decide how it wants to manage itself and direct its own energies. I'm really pleased to have Monmouthshire as a trusted partner, working with us now.
And I should say that we really have taken on board the recommendations from the former EIS committee that the Member chaired—I'd probably agree with a great deal more things he said as committee Chair than in his current role. But, no, we really have taken seriously what the committee said, and it's been really useful for us to be able to work from a basis where we know there's cross-party support and we can look to deliver something that should make a difference, where everyone can recognise we're doing something to address a real need. Regardless of how people vote, there's a real need across Wales for us to do something to plug this gap in local banking services.
Thank you, Minister. The community bank of Wales is a really important idea, putting its members and communities first instead of shareholders and profit margins. Along with many of my constituents, I look forward to plans being rolled out, but I note your comments around the challenges in putting the new model in place.
You talked about traditional banks accelerating their retreat from the high street, and I'm sad to note that Barclays bank has been the latest to withdraw from the high street in Aberdare. One idea that constituents asked me to raise with Barclays is the idea of a banking hub where a number of banks can come together in one high-street building to offer their services to the community. Minister, I'd welcome your views on banking hubs, on whether they could be part of the solution to the withdrawal of banking services from the high street. I met with Barclays bosses yesterday and put this idea to them. They told me they're already working with other banks to progress this concept, with the first banking hub set to open in England soon. So, with that in mind, will you commit to working with the sector to try and secure banking hubs in Wales?
Thank you. What we're doing in Wales with the community bank is a novel policy approach that's not been successful anywhere else. Banking hubs are piloting what they might do, and the Member is right to highlight them as part of the answer for the future. So, we're expecting there to be a pilot report on shared banking hubs imminently, and my understanding is that there are two banking hub pilots, one in Lanarkshire and one in Essex, and there's also a community access to cash pilot being taken forward in Hay-on-Wye. So, we will look with real interest at those three different pilots to understand what that might tell us, either about our community bank proposal, or if there are alternative ways of trying to deliver financial inclusion services for communities across Wales. I'm sorry hear that Barclays are proposing to move out of Aberdare. The Member highlights very neatly the exact challenge we're trying to address, and I'd be more than happy to keep her and others updated on what we can do with the current retail banking sector and the possibilities of banking hubs helping to fill some of the gaps they're leaving behind.
I'm grateful to the Minister for his statement this afternoon. You'll be aware, Minister, that I met with Banc Cambria in Abertillery some weeks ago to discuss the potential of locating a branch in the town. Many of our Valleys communities have seen the withdrawal of financial services and have seen some real hardship, both for local businesses and local people, as a consequence of that. Many people will be looking at this as an opportunity of seeing financial services back on the high street as a part of an opportunity to reinvigorate town centres in the Valleys and elsewhere. Would you, Minister, work with Banc Cambria, and Members representing seats in the Valleys, to look at how we can ensure that we have a programme of branches and an opportunity to ensure that financial services are available to people up and down the country wherever they happen to live, whether that's Abertillery, Tredegar, Ebbw Vale, Brynmawr or elsewhere? Thank you.
Indeed, I do understand that there are people who don't live in the Member's constituency, but I praise him for mentioning a number of his constituency towns. Look, there is a real challenge, and the Member highlights it again, about town-centre reinvigoration having a real successful future forward look for our local high streets, and it really does matter for a sense of place in those towns and what people expect about the place where they live. So, I'd be more than happy to carry on the conversation with him as we get the investment proposal around Banc Cambria, as we understand more of the detail about where they're proposing to locate their branches, but crucially how that fits in with our other interventions in any event. Because this isn't just about Banc Cambria resolving all of our ills—and I appreciate the Member didn't say that—but how can it add to what we want to do to make sure there's a real future for Valley towns and others across the country. So, I'd be more than happy to carry on that conversation with the Member at his constructive best.
And lastly, Rhianon Passmore.
Can I also thank the Welsh Government for seeking to address the very difficult problem that is felt in every community throughout Wales, and also extend those thanks to the Monmouthshire Building Society? We know that the UK is served poorly by a number of large banks who ignore customer feedback and continue to adopt a scorched-earth policy to community banking. In the face of almost universal opposition and customer dissatisfaction, they continue to close branches down that have held a very prominent role in our high streets throughout Wales. So, Minister, can you reaffirm that the creation of a community bank for Wales will put people before profit, and will you confirm that the new community bank for Wales will deliver for the many, not the few, on a co-operative mutual model, including with our credit union established partners? And finally, how do I ensure that our new Welsh people's bank and its ATMs establishes on Islwyn high streets for my Valley isolated communities, rooted in industrial co-operation, and who are now very badly denuded by the traditional profit-driven finance model? Thank you.