Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon, and welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber, and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. And some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are set out on your agenda.
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Vikki Howells.
1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the shared prosperity fund's potential to address economic inequality in Wales? OQ57939
Llywydd, the fund fails to address economic inequality because of a series of fundamental flaws. It breaks a key Conservative promise that Wales would not be a penny worse off. It allocates its reduced amounts through a formula that deliberately under-represents concentrated inequality and it removes decision making from Wales to Whitehall.
I thank you, First Minister, for that answer. Under the recently released and long-awaited details of the shared prosperity fund, it is clear that Wales is set to lose more than £1 billion over the next three years. Funding will also be top-sliced to support the delivery of UK Government pet projects, and there will be duplication of existing provision within Wales. What is the Welsh Government's assessment of the impact of this duplication, and do you consider that this approach will mean that deep-seated economic inequalities aren't addressed?
Well, Llywydd, Vikki Howells makes an important supplementary point about the way in which the reduced amounts that will come to Wales are, in any case, being top-sliced by the UK Government for its own projects, which it will seek to run here in Wales. So, the Multiply programme will be the most obvious example of that—over £100 million that should be in the hands of Welsh decision-makers instead being decided by UK Government Ministers in Wales. The Multiply programme—let me explain to the leader of the opposition—the Multiply programme is not in the hands of local government leaders at all. It is a scheme devised by the UK Government; made in Whitehall; no reference to Wales whatsoever; not a single sentence from any UK Minister before it was announced; no sense at all that it understands the Welsh context in which it will seek to operate. If you look at the menu of choices that local authorities are said to have to operate within, they are entirely—entirely—Anglocentric. They reflect only the landscape that there is in Wales. Not a singe reference to the adult learning network here in Wales, not a single reference to further education provision in Wales, not a single reference to the Hwb platform, which provides the majority of resources that will be necessary for any effective programme here in Wales. The objection, Llywydd, is not, of course, to money being spent in numeracy; it is money being ineffectively spent, money that will now risk duplication of provision here in Wales, that will be spent in ways that bear no relationship to the context in which it is being spent, and which will, I'm afraid, simply mean that that money, which could have been used much more effectively, could have been used in ways that work with the grain of the landscape here in Wales instead of entirely ignoring it, will simply not deliver the outcomes that it would have delivered had it been spent in ways that respected the devolution settlement and respected the way in which decisions ought to be made here in Wales.
First Minister, as you are aware, the Finance Committee of the Senedd will be looking at the shared prosperity fund, and, as Chair of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee, I want to make it clear that my committee will also be investigating these new funding arrangements and the impact of the arrangements on Wales, once the Finance Committee has reported on this issue. Now, you and your colleagues have stated clearly that you believe that Wales is £1 billion worse off as a result of these recent announcements. So, can you tell us how the Welsh Government has reached that figure of £1 billion, and will you publish an analysis and breakdown of how you've worked out that figure?
Well, of course, Llywydd, we are happy to explain how we've got to those figures, and we are happy to publish the figures too, because they are clear—they are clear—and there is no doubt whatsoever about these figures. We will lose £0.75 billion because of the system used by the UK Government to replace the structural funds. And we will lose £243 million from the funds that would have come to Wales from European Union programmes in the rural sphere too. So, we have the figures, we have that analysis and we're happy to publish it just to demonstrate what the UK Government have done in cutting the funding and what they said here, on the floor of the Assembly, which was an—
—absolute guarantee that Wales would not be a penny worse off. Well, £1 billion is not the whole of it, Llywydd; it's just part of the way that we will be losing out.
It's good old-fashioned pork-barrel politics, isn't it? We heard recently that Ynys Môn would be getting some £16 million from the so-called shared prosperity funds. And whilst any funding is to be welcomed, of course—and I'll work with partners to make sure that projects on Anglesey will benefit as best as possible—there's no escaping the fact that this is a fraction of the funding available under EU structural funds, and falls way short of the UK Government's promise that we wouldn't lose a penny after Brexit, which the Conservatives clearly don't mind one bit. Now, it's a mess, but my question relates to the fact that this is an unstrategic mess. Does the First Minister agree that there's no joined-up thinking here from UK Government, no long-term plan? And can he tell me what pressure Welsh Ministers can try to bring to bear on their UK counterparts to try to make subsequent funding rounds at least a little bit more strategic in nature?
Llywydd, I agree entirely with what the Member said. This was a fund announced in 2017, in a Conservative Party manifesto. It took until the start of this month—April 2022—before we've had any substantive discussions with UK Ministers about the way in which they intend those funds to be used in Wales. And all of that compressed into two weeks because of their determination to rush out an announcement in advance of local government elections, for exactly the sorts of purposes that Rhun ap Iorwerth has identified. Now, in those two weeks, we were able to secure some concessions from the UK Government, so that at least the way in which funds will be used in Wales will reflect the regional footprints that we've used for other UK and Welsh Government joint initiatives in Wales—the city deal footprints. And we've secured some agreements about how a wider set of interests can be brought round the table to help determine how bids can be made in Wales. Let's be clear, there are no decisions being made in Wales. Local authorities are invited to put together proposals, which will end up on the desk of a Whitehall Minister and they will make the decisions.
We had a series of discussions, Llywydd, with UK Ministers about the formula to be used for the distribution of these funds. Just on the point that Rhun ap Iorwerth began with, the formula that the Welsh Government proposed would have led to more money being spent in Bridgend, for example, or the Vale of Glamorgan, for example, both of which have Conservative Members of Parliament. So, the formula that we proposed was not a partisan one; it was one that sought to align funding with where need is greatest. We weren't able to persuade the UK Government of that—they have other objects in mind—and the result is that, as Rhun ap Iorwerth said, we will have a series of rushed bids. Local authorities have to put everything together—the whole process. They have to go out for bids, they have to assess those bids, they have to demonstrate the outputs that they will achieve, they have to demonstrate the governance arrangements that will be in place, they have to demonstrate how they will be able to consult, and all of that before 1 August. The chances that there will be coherence in that funding, the chances that that funding will be used to the best possible effect—. It's not just that we're getting less money, it's being less well spent. I think that's the fundamental objection to it.
2. How is the Government ensuring local authorities have enough financial support to fulfil their duties and obligations? OQ57945
I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. We do so by prioritising local government services in the Welsh Government budget. Local authorities will receive £5.1 billion from the Welsh Government in core revenue funding and non-domestic rates for investment in key services in this financial year, plus an additional £1.8 billion in specific revenue and capital grants.
Diolch yn fawr. From speaking to council leaders in my region, it's fair to say that many were pleasantly surprised by the latest financial settlement. It must therefore be disappointing, from your perspective, to see your party colleagues in Caerphilly county borough sitting on a reserve of £180 million, an increase of £40 million between the financial years of 2019 and 2021. This is £22 million more than the much larger Cardiff Council has in its reserves. Whilst this cash is hoarded, we see leisure facilities closing, street lights have been turned off and day-care centre provision for profoundly disabled adults being slashed. Cash is not the only solution to these problems, but, in almost all cases, it would help alleviate the situation and restore some services. First Minister, do you get frustrated when you provide adequate financial settlements for your party colleagues in local government only for them to sit on these piles of cash, like some council version of Scrooge?
Well, Llywydd, there are a series of reasons why councils hold cash in reserve. A great deal of that money will be earmarked reserves. In other words, it's not money available to the council just to spend. It's there because they have a twenty-first century schools programme, for example, and that money is allocated already to make sure that that programme can go ahead. There is money that, because the UK Government provides settlements to us so late in the year, we end up having to pass to local authorities later in the year as well, and, rather than using it in an ineffective way along the lines of the shared prosperity fund, they hold it so that they can plan to make the best use of that expenditure. So, there are reasons why local authorities hold money in reserve, and that is true of local authorities of all political persuasions in many different parts of Wales.
I see that the Finance Committee, of which the Member is, of course, the Chair, is looking for a review of reserves held by local government, and, of course, we're happy to make sure that local government only holds the reserves it needs for the proper sorts of purposes. What I don't think is sensible, Llywydd, and I've looked at the Plaid Cymru manifesto for the Caerphilly area, and was lucky enough to be in Caerphilly yesterday—. I see that the manifesto commits a Plaid Cymru-run Caerphilly council to freezing the council tax next year—a really irresponsible course of action as it seems to me—and then to dip into reserves for recurrent expenditure on youth services. Again, not a course of action that I thought any Chair of a Finance Committee would be willing to recommend to his colleagues.
Of course, one of the key duties and obligations that councils will be taking on now is the free school meals, part of the co-operation agreement, of course, First Minister, you have with Plaid Cymru over the next few years. But, of course, the revenue funding for that has only been committed for a couple of years from Welsh Government, and, as you'll know, First Minister, your colleagues in Plaid Cymru have suggested that perhaps taxing tourists and taxing tourism businesses should be a way to expand free school meals in the future. So, would you confirm, First Minister, whether it's Welsh Government policy or not to look at taxing tourists and tourism business to fund free school meals?
Llywydd, the Welsh Government's policy is that set out in the co-operation agreement between my party and Plaid Cymru, and that is to make sure that, during the period of that agreement, we are able to provide a free school meal for every child in primary-aged classes in Wales. I'm very proud of that commitment, and it will be a commitment that requires a great deal of effort on behalf of our local government colleagues to make sure that it can be delivered. And the funding set out in the Welsh Government's budget, which is for the full three years of the comprehensive spending review, guarantees that the funding will be there to deliver that commitment.
It really is very, very disappointing to see Plaid Cymru using First Minister's questions for their local election campaign. It's beneath the dignity of this Chamber to do that. Peredur Owen Griffiths is there reading out a question that was clearly written by the leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Caerphilly County Borough Council. He can do better than that. I know he's better than that. But now he's drawn me into this, let's just clarify what's going on in Caerphilly. Their reserves are being used to build and rebuild twenty-first century schools, they're being used to build council houses and they're being used to ensure that we hit net zero by 2030, and also to say a world-class town reshaping programme that is being seen in Caerphilly, Bargoed and beyond. That is why Caerphilly are keeping reserves. And using capital to spend on revenue, we know, is a mistake and will lead to austerity. What Plaid Cymru are doing in Caerphilly is acting like Conservatives. The only true vote you're going to get is by voting Labour in Caerphilly. The First Minister was there with me yesterday, will he support that view?
Llywydd, it was a great pleasure to be out on the streets of Caerphilly County Borough Council with Hefin David yesterday. It's a cruel thrust that he makes at Plaid Cymru Members. But what I would say to him, from the conversations that I was having and I could hear him having with people on the doorstep yesterday, is that the thing that matters most to people in Caerphilly are those investments that he mentioned. Time after time, when you're having conversations with people, it's the fact that they have young people in their families who struggle to get the housing that they need. The council house building programme of Caerphilly County Borough Council and other Labour-controlled councils around Wales is one of the things that offers hope to those families, and we heard that loud and clear on the doorstep yesterday.
Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Dare I stray into local government issues, First Minister, especially as there's something happening next Thursday? But I will ask you the question about the agricultural Bill. This is a Bill that has not seen the light of day yet. We were promised it in the spring of this year; we even got promised it in initial form before the last Senedd elections. The Minister sitting next to you informed the committee that scrutinises these matters just before the Easter recess that it's now going to be delayed until Christmas at the earliest. Could you tell me why the Bill has been delayed again?
The Bill will be introduced in the autumn, Llywydd, and as early in the autumn as we can make that happen. Part of the reason why the Bill is delayed is because of some of the reasons that the Member has himself alluded to on the floor of the Senedd, and quite properly. I remember him asking me a question not that many weeks ago about the way in which we have to rethink some of our ambitions for agriculture in Wales in the context of the war in Ukraine and what that means about food security in places like the United Kingdom. So, we are taking the opportunity to make sure that the Bill we bring forward is a Bill that brings together those two key strands—sustainable food production by the agriculture sector here in Wales and then those other public goods that we know farmers and land managers are capable of producing—and that we bring those two things together in a balanced way in the Bill that we will put in front of the Senedd.
Thank you for that explanation, First Minister, because when I questioned the Minister around the food crisis that I see evolving now the Ukraine situation is escalating and the damage it is doing to the supply of food on to the market, the Minister said that there was no crisis and that there was no need to bring the processors, the food producers and the retailers together in the very questioning that you alluded to that I arranged with you some weeks ago in First Minister's questions. So, it is surprising to find now—and I welcome this—that there's a change of heart in the Government to look at using the agricultural Bill to actually enhance the food security element of that Bill, and that is something to be welcomed. But could I also ask on the legislative front as well, because you alluded to manifesto commitments not being kept—? You said about the 2017 Conservative manifesto. Well, your leadership manifesto talked about the clean air Act in 2018 and it being a critical part of your mandate should you become the leader and then the First Minister of Wales. We're now in 2022. We know that 1,400 premature deaths happen a year in Wales because of dirty air. We have not seen even a draft of a clean air Bill come from the Government and we cannot see anything on the horizon emanating out of Cathays Park when it comes to the clean air Act. So, what is the timeline for you hitting this manifesto commitment, because your own time in office, First Minister, is ticking by, by your self-imposed retirement?
Llywydd, can I first of all be clear with the leader of the opposition—there is no crisis in food supply in Wales? There are pressures in global food markets because of the war in Ukraine, and we see some temporary measures that supermarkets are having to take in order to protect certain—and it's a small number—goods, so that there can be a fair distribution of them. But there is no crisis in the food sector and my colleague Lesley Griffiths meets a whole range of relevant interests on a very regular basis. Llywydd, we will publish the clean air White Paper this year. We are on track to make sure that we legislate during this Senedd term and I look forward, as I've said to him before, to the positive support from the Conservative Party here in making sure that that legislation is as good as we can make it.
First Minister, there is a crisis. Fertiliser, which you need to grow crops, is now £900 to £1,000 a tonne; it is normally about £300 to £350 a tonne. Wheat, the key component of making bread, is north of £300 a tonne; it normally trades at £140 to £150 a tonne. Beef is at £440 a kilo; it normally trades at £340 to £360. I could go on; I like to think I've got my hand on the pulse on this one. And there is a growing storm happening, and if the Government doesn't respond, we will reap a very meagre harvest indeed, and that will play out on the shelves of this country. We need to see Government action when it comes to this particular agenda item. We're not seeing it at the moment; we're seeing delay in bringing this Bill forward. As I said, I welcome the delay if it is about making the Bill more food security-conscious, but from what the Minister has said in her previous statements, that doesn't seem to be the case. So, can you confirm today that food production will be an important element of the Bill and that food production will be a public good that can be supported from the public purse?
Llywydd, sustainable food production has always been a fundamental pillar of the future that we see for agriculture here in Wales, and there are many, many advantages that Welsh farmers have in that sustainable food production area. There are many headwinds that the agriculture sector faces in Wales. We've rehearsed the impact of the war in Ukraine, but it also faces the headwinds created by trade deals struck by the UK Government in Australia, for example, which we know will not create a level playing field for upland farmers here in Wales.
There isn't a crisis in food in our shops. There are some very significant issues that have to be addressed—in fertiliser, I entirely agree with what the Member said on that—and those things can only be properly addressed on a four-nation basis. It's why my colleague Lesley Griffiths has such regular meetings with the Secretary of State, George Eustice and counterparts in Scotland and when there is an administration in Northern Ireland as well. I believe that there is a meeting of that sort scheduled for tomorrow and many of the issues that the leader of the opposition has highlighted will be discussed there on that four-nation basis.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch yn fawr. Wales has consistently had poor cancer survival rates compared to other similarly developed countries. Why is that?
Well, one-year survival rates and five-year survival rates from cancer in Wales have improved consistently in recent years. They may still not be where other countries are able to achieve things through their health system, but the system in Wales has been gaining ground in survival rates over a number of years. There are many reasons why survival rates are not where we would wish them to be in Wales. That includes our industrial heritage and its impact on the health of people, it includes, particularly, late presentation. It is very difficult to obtain the survival rates that we would like to see when so many cancers in Wales only become apparent when they have already developed to a point where the techniques of intervention that would be available at early stages have already been passed by. There are other reasons as well that could be adduced by people who make this their lifetime study.
Which is the reason, of course, why we in Wales, more even than any other country, needs a focus in our cancer strategy on early diagnosis. This month a groundbreaking study in The Lancet found that over 30 per cent of cancers in Wales were diagnosed as a result of admission to A&E. Wales had the third highest figure among the 14 nations and regions studied. For liver cancer, we are one of only two health systems where the majority of liver cancers are identified through emergency admission, whereas in Alberta in Canada, for example, the corresponding figure is less than a third. This means that many more cases of cancer in Wales are only diagnosed once a person's health has deteriorated to a point where they might need to be rushed into hospital. Do you accept that higher levels of emergency presentation are one of the reasons for the lower relative cancer survival in Wales?
Well, I think that is absolutely the case, Llywydd. It was the point I was trying to make when I said that one of the reasons why we have survival rates of the sort we do is because people present with their cancer late. And people who end up having their cancer diagnosed because they come into an emergency department—and as The Lancet article demonstrates, they're not presenting at the emergency department because of their cancer condition—they've arrived there for some other reason and then the investigations that are carried out reveal the fact that they are suffering from cancer.
We have some very stoical parts of the Welsh population who don't want to bother the doctor and who live with things that they think are just chronic conditions that are part, for example, of the process of getting older. The thrust of the system in Wales is to try to persuade people to present early and then to make sure that we equip our GP population to be able to identify those very early signs—not easy to do. We know that for many cancers, the signs that would lead you to identify a cancer are signs that would also make you think that another more common condition is what you're seeing in front of you. So, it's not an easy thing for our GPs to be able to do, but it's why we invest so much in making sure that they are as well equipped as they can be and that the system rewards them for the work that they undertake in trying to get diagnosis as early in someone's suffering from that condition as possible.
All the cancer charities in Wales would agree with you that we need a new urgent focus on early diagnosis and detection, but they say that needs to be put at the heart of a new comprehensive cancer strategy for Wales, in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. Now, I heard you say previously that the various existing documents that exist, and you could argue that you can add to that the programme for planned care, which you're publishing today, which raises the 62-day target from 75 per cent to 80 per cent—all of this, you would say, maybe amounts to a strategy. But surely the fact that that target, even before the pandemic, most health boards weren't achieving, the fact that the cancer mortality gap within Wales between deprived and affluent areas is worse now than it was 20 years ago, the fact that people with cancer in Wales are being forced to go private, as the recent Health and Social Care Committee report on waiting times testified, taken together suggests, does it not, even if you maintain, against everything that every cancer charity in Wales is saying, that we do have a cancer strategy, that the strategy is failing and it needs urgently to be replaced if we are to avoid, in the future, thousands of preventable and premature deaths amongst cancer patients in Wales.
Well, Llywydd, my view of the way in which we make those deaths preventable is not by taking up more time in further strategising. We have all of that in place. Where I want the energy of the system to be focused is on delivering the treatments that the existing strategy already tells us need to be there. I don't think it's sensible to suggest that people in Wales are in large numbers having to take private treatment: 11,300 people in Wales last month alone received the good news that they were not suffering from cancer, having been referred by their GP because cancer was suspected. We know that around one out of every 100 people who are referred actually turn out to suffer from cancer, and, therefore, last month, as I say, 11,300 people received the good news that, having been referred, and hopefully early referred, they weren't suffering from cancer at all. Now, what I want the system to do is to focus on the things it's already dedicated to doing: early identification, rapid referral, quick diagnosis and then, for that small number of people who turn out to be suffering from the condition, that they move into the treatment phase as early as possible in the condition. That is the way, I think, that we will be able to avoid deaths that otherwise would take place, and I think that is where the energy of the system should be directed, not in further getting people away from doing the job of treating patients and writing more plans and strategies.
3. How is the Welsh Government supporting families in Newport East with rising household bills? OQ57943
Llywydd, Newport East families will be supported by the Welsh Government's £380 million package designed to help families across Wales with rising household bills. We will continue to do all we can within our powers to protect the most vulnerable, and we need a UK Government willing to do likewise.
First Minister, this morning, as chair of the Senedd's cross-party group on poverty, I chaired a joint meeting with our counterparts in the UK and Scottish Parliaments, and we heard from organisations and charities right across the UK on the scale of the current cost-of-living crisis and growing poverty. Clearly, these organisations are very worried indeed, as I think we all are. First Minister, COVID aggravated the existing inequality in Wales and the UK, and now we have these rising household energy costs and food bills, along with much else. I know that the response you referred to, First Minister, is reaching 75 per cent of our households in Wales and that it's proportionately targeted at those in most need, as it should be, with almost twice as much going to households in the bottom half of income distribution compared to those in the top half, and three times as much to those in the bottom fifth compared to those in the top fifth. This is very welcome, First Minister. Could you reassure me today that Welsh Government will continue to follow the principles of social justice in supporting communities in Newport East and across Wales and continue to press UK Government to move away from their traditional regressive approach and adopt a fair set of policies for the future, given the scale of this crisis?
Well, Llywydd, I thank John Griffiths for that. I think it was the Institute for Fiscal Studies that concluded that the package of help that the UK Government is providing in England contains little direct targeting of resources on the poorest or those most in need. And John Griffiths is right, Llywydd, that the package of help provided here in Wales, which is the most extensive package of help available in any of the four UK nations, is targeted so that most of the help goes to those people at the bottom end of the income distribution. And, of course, that is entirely what we will continue to do.
I've had discussions this week with my colleague Jane Hutt about the £200 winter fuel payment and how we can extend that for the winter that will begin later this year. I was very pleased to see, Llywydd, that the £150 that is being paid not simply to those people who pay council tax but to those people who are exempt from council tax because they qualify for council tax benefit—that's something that doesn't happen across our border—that those payments are already being made: 138,000 households have already received that £150 in Wales; £6 million put into the hands of residents of Cardiff alone since the start of this month. That, I think, is just a clear demonstration of the way in which we want the £380 million that the Welsh Government has been able to secure to go into the pockets of those who need it the most and to do it as rapidly as possible. We rely on our colleagues in local government to help us to make sure that happens, and I'd like to congratulate Newport county borough council, Llywydd, for the £100,000 that it has found from its own budget to support foodbanks in the city—again, a service we wish was not needed but will become an even more necessary part of the landscape as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.
Just quickly, First Minister, it's Newport City Council, not borough council. First Minister, at the moment our constituents are all facing a worldwide cost-of-living crisis, where bills are only expected to rise in the coming months. The UK Government has been working hard to ensure that more support than ever is reaching the pockets of our hard-working people of Wales. You had the audacity in a previous question to stand here and say that you're unhappy with the UK Government and how it's been spending its money helping the people of Wales on a local level. With respect, that is rich, First Minister. Just think of all the millions that you wasted on an M4 relief road, the much-needed relief road that was scrapped, and whilst you were waiting, deciding whether you wanted it or not, the millions that you wasted that could have gone back to the pockets of the hard-working people of Wales—. Instead of helping the people of Wales, all you can concentrate on at the moment is spending millions more pounds on more politicians for here in the bay and a tourism tax. Is this really all your Government has to offer the people of Wales at a time when everyone is struggling? To me, it seems your priorities are all wrong.
Well, it's pretty desperate stuff, Llywydd, isn't it? I look forward to seeing the Member back on her feet in two weeks' time, when she can comment on the audacity of people in Wales who will be going to the ballot paper to cast their verdict on her Government. Let's see what she has to say about it then.
4. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government regarding the shared prosperity fund? OQ57938
Llywydd, the shared prosperity fund was announced in 2017, but meaningful discussions with the UK Government opened only at the start of this month. It remains the Welsh Government's position that we cannot endorse an approach that removes both funding and decision making from Wales.
Thank you, First Minister. Obviously, you've already said that Wales could lose out by over £1 billion as a consequence of the implementation of the shared prosperity fund. That's £1 billion that could have been used to grow the Welsh economy and to support some of the most disadvantaged communities in Wales, including in my constituency. It doesn't feel like levelling up. Is this, therefore, another example of EU funding not being replaced in full, and yet another example of the UK Government breaking its promise that Wales will not be a penny worse off after Brexit?
Llywydd, I promised earlier that I'd assist Paul Davies further with figures that demonstrate the extent to which Wales has lost out as a result of the decisions made by his Government. I'll give him a preview of it now. Last year, the shortfall between what we would have received had we remained in the European Union and what we got from the UK Government was £328 million. It's £286 million in the current financial year, it'll be £222 million in the following financial year, and it'll be £32 million in 2024-25 when the UK Government claims that it will have got the shared prosperity fund to its maximum. That doesn't include, of course, the top-slicing of that money, the £101 million that will be taken away for the UK Government's Multiply scheme, and it doesn't include the £243 million that we will lose in rural funding. Nor does it include, Llywydd, all the other schemes that citizens of Wales were previously able to participate in and which will be denied to them in the future. So, it doesn’t include what we will lose because the Erasmus+ programme was not replaced by the UK Government to the extent that Erasmus+ operated in Wales; it doesn't include the money that will be lost to Welsh higher education institutions, because participation in the Horizon programme has not been secured; and it doesn't include the fact that we will lose the €100 million that Wales had at our disposal when we had an interterritorial co-operation programme with the Republic of Ireland, a programme that was particularly useful in Paul Davies's own constituency. We won't have that either, yet another part that we were promised would be replaced. We weren't, you remember, to be a penny worse off. Well, that's €100 million on that programme alone that people in Wales will not have at their disposal, which demonstrates exactly the truth of what Ken Skates said in his supplementary question.
Good afternoon, First Minister. Local government has shown exceptional leadership in Wales as a key economic driver, able to identify needs and build relationships with partners. What discussion has the Welsh Government had with local authorities on the spending of their allocations under the shared prosperity fund? And does he share my excitement that we're recognising the important role that local authorities play in leading economic renewal based on local needs? Thank you.
Well, Llywydd, I do definitely agree with what the Member said about the importance of local authorities. I'm glad that we were able to secure, in our discussions with the UK Government, belated as they were, a recognition that this reduced amount of money is best spent in Wales where local authorities co-operate on a regional basis and on the footprints that we have previously agreed with the UK Government. So, I think that's a step forward as well.
I'm pleased to say that, through our discussions, both with the Welsh Local Government Association and through the work that my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies does in leading committees in this area, that we are securing agreements with our local authority colleagues that the approach in Wales will not result in the elimination from the decision-making process of the voices that previously had been around the table at the programme monitoring committee. So, that is businesses, third sector organisations and universities. Previously, the funds that are said to be replaced by the shared prosperity fund would have been available to those sectors as well: the Business Wales scheme is funded in that way and is very important to businesses in Wales; £103 million secured previously for the third sector in Wales, and over £400 million used by higher education institutions in Wales from exactly those funds.
Now, the importance of local government is a point well made, but those other sectors are also very important in making sure that the funds that will come to Wales are spent to best effect, and I'm glad that, as a result of the discussions we have had with our local government colleagues, there are assurances that those voices will continue to be influential in the way bids and then funding proposals for the shared prosperity fund in Wales are developed.
5. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact of the UK Government's shared prosperity fund on Mid and West Wales? OQ57944
Thank you very much to Cefin Campbell for the question. Llywydd, the UK Government has failed to honour the commitment to replace EU funding in full. Neither has it honoured its commitment that no devolved power would be lost to Wales. Communities in Mid and West Wales will have less of a say and there will be less funding available. Those places that are most in need will not receive adequate support.
Thank you very much. It's clear that you've had a few opportunities to rehearse an answer to this question already, but we need to emphasise, of course, that the European funding had been given to the most disadvantaged areas in Wales, and Mid and West Wales had benefited significantly over the years from funding from various European sources—for example, £2.8 million to develop Llanelli town centre and millions for the development of ports in Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock. So, despite the pledges, as we've heard, that not a penny less would be given to us here in Wales, your analysis does suggest clearly that some £1 billion is to be lost in those most disadvantaged areas of Wales.
So, with decisions being taken in London, there are two questions that merge here. What conversations have you had with Westminster in order to ensure that the Welsh Government and this Senedd have a stronger voice in that decision-making process? And what assessment have you made in terms of filling those financial gaps where deprived communities and organisations, often third sector organisations, have lost out because of the deficiencies in this spending by the Tories?
Well, Llywydd, thank you very much to Cefin Campbell for those supplementary questions. May I say this to him? When I speak to the Government in Westminster, I am not content just to have a voice in the decisions that they're going to be making. That doesn't reflect devolution here in Wales, the powers of the Senedd, or the fact that it is the Government here in Wales that is responsible for the subjects that we're talking about. What I want to see is collaboration together to make those decisions; not just having a voice, but powers here for us to use.
Now, I am willing to continue to have those conversations with the United Kingdom Government, but at the end of the day, before they had announced everything about the fund, we hadn't agreed on how that could be implemented and put in place. It just isn't adequate and sufficient for this Senedd to be just a part of the things, one of the bodies that the UK Government just hears what we have to say. That doesn't reflect what has happened over the period of devolution as a whole.
On the other point, about filling the gaps, it's important for me to state clearly, Llywydd, that we don't have the money as a Government to fill every gap that the decisions in Westminster are going to create. We're doing everything that we can do to use the programmes that we already have, to work with local authorities and so on, but when Wales is to lose out to the tune of more than £1 billion, it's impossible to think that the Government here in Wales can just find the money at that level.
6. How is the Welsh Government working to provide high-quality care for children and young people in specialist residential homes? OQ57940
Llywydd, such care is best provided as a public service and as close to home as possible. To that end, we have provided £3.5 million in revenue funding to regional partnership boards to develop specialist residential services for children with complex needs, and we've complemented that revenue funding by over £14 million in capital funding as well.
Diolch, Prif Weinidog. Children and young people who are in residential care need as much love, compassion and support as possible, and I'm proud that the Welsh Government is committed to that. In Newport, we're starting to see the benefits of the Perthyn project, an ambitious long-term programme that intends to bring children back to the city, where they're from, so that they can receive better standards of care closer to familiar surroundings. Within the city, three purpose-built homes have been set up by Newport City Council. In these homes, there are no offices or locked doors, and the ultimate aim is to create a friendly, home-like, comfortable atmosphere for the children. Some of the young people who have returned to Newport have been able to move back to live with their families after getting the right transitional support in the homes. Prif Weinidog, can you join me in congratulating Newport City Council, under the leadership of Jane Mudd, on this, and in particular Paul Cockeram, who was the cabinet member responsible and whose personal mission and determination to drive down the numbers of out-of-county placements by bringing these young people back to good-quality, compassionate homes has been exceptional?
Well, I very much thank Jayne Bryant for that question, and I strongly welcome the Project Perthyn initiative taking place in Newport. It is an absolute public policy priority for this Government to see more children looked after closer to their homes and the communities where they grew up. Too many children in Wales are looked after outside Wales; too many children in Wales are looked after outside the county that has parental responsibility for them. And Newport council, working with other local authorities in Gwent, has I think been a leading example of the way in which, provided we invest in the right sort of facilities, with properly trained staff, it is absolutely possible for those children to be looked after successfully closer to their families and closer to their homes, with better long-term prospects for those children themselves and a better return on the investment that the taxpayer makes in looking after them.
I absolutely pay tribute to Councillor Paul Cockeram, Llywydd. He's somebody who I have known for over a decade and whose work not simply in the field of children's services, but using some of the same ideas in adult services, means that, in Newport, I know the local authority has been able to bring some former privately run residential homes back into the direct service of the local authority, which is financially a more effective way of using the local authority's resources and making sure that the care provided is provided as a public service.
7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve access to NHS dentistry services? OQ57911
Llywydd, additional investment, contract reform and new COVID-related guidance are amongst the measures being taken this month to increase safe access to NHS dental services.
Thank you, First Minister. I've been contacted—no doubt, many of us here have—by a number of constituents who are struggling to access NHS dentistry services. Certainly, in my constituency, one example was where I was recently contacted by a parent whose children were last seen by a dentist at Easter 2019. They had only been able to be seen by a hygienist since then, as the constituent was insistent on their children being seen in some way by the practice. Another constituent was told that their practice was no longer taking on adult NHS patients, and I know of a local dentist near me where they will not take on new people. However, if you contribute to Denplan, there is suddenly, miraculously lots of capacity.
As I understand it, dentistry services are still in an amber phase of recovery and so patients are still being seen according to clinical need, but I feel that the longer people go without having a regular check-up, the more people's dental health will deteriorate, meaning that there will be more demand for complex treatment hampering the recovery of services. First Minister, what plans does the Welsh Government have to ensure that there is a resumption of regular scheduled check-ups, and how is the Government working with providers to expand the capacity of services, which is clearly needed to tackle the ever-growing waiting list for appointments and treatment? Thank you.
Llywydd, I thank Peter Fox for those supplementary questions. There is no dispute that dentistry has been even more significantly affected by COVID conditions than other parts of the health service, because of the nature of aerosol-generating procedures, as he will know, that are inherent in the way that dentists have to go about their profession. Now, I was able to speak yesterday with the new Chief Dental Officer for Wales, Andrew Dickenson, and to discuss with him exactly some of the points that the Member has raised: how can we create a pathway in which we can see a resumption of NHS dental services at a level that was available prior to the COVID pandemic, and how can we build on that further?
So, as well as the additional money that the Minister for Health and Social Services has made available for dentistry in this financial year, and as well as the contract reform that we discussed on the floor of the Senedd some weeks ago, and I'm pleased to say there are promising indications of the number of dental practices that are signing up for the new contract, I also talked to the new chief dental officer about a change in the way that he believes we should be streaming patients into dentistry. So, the proposal is that every patient going to a dentist would provide a respiratory history in advance of their appointment. For people who have histories of respiratory illnesses, some of the COVID protections that are currently in place will continue to be necessary, but for people who have non-respiratory histories, some of the restrictions on the way that dentists operate because of COVID are capable of being lifted, and lifted safely. And that will mean that dentists will be able to see more patients in a session than they have been able to while they've been operating under the amber conditions that Peter Fox referred to.
So, I wanted at least to give him that assurance that there are very active plans being developed under the leadership of the new chief dental officer to find ways in which safely we can restore NHS dentistry to operating conditions, where it's safe to do so, for patients where it's safe to do so, closer to those obtained before the pandemic began.
And finally, question 8, Heledd Fychan.
8. What assessment has the First Minister made of the UK Government's ability to lead the inquiry into COVID-19 in Wales? OQ57921
Llywydd, the UK Government will not lead the inquiry. That will be the responsibility of its independent chair, Baroness Heather Hallett. Baroness Hallett is a highly respected former senior judge. She has extensive experience of dealing with high-profile, sensitive and complex inquiries, including within a devolved context.
You were clear when the news came that Boris Johnson had received a fine for breaking the law that he should resign as Prime Minister, and I agree with you 100 per cent. As he has refused to do that and so many other people in Downing Street have also been fined for breaking the rules, isn't it time to rethink, because they have commissioned this independent inquiry that is relevant to Wales? It's clear from all of the statements by everyone who lost loved ones during the pandemic how discontent they are that those who made the rules had been breaking them, and that they have lost all faith in the UK Government and this inquiry. Why do you continue to put your trust in Boris Johnson in terms of this inquiry into COVID-19? I don't trust him.
I'm afraid the Member simply misses the point. There are many legitimate criticisms that are there to be made of the UK Government, but the claim that the UK Government is to be responsible for the public inquiry is simply not one of them. As I explained in my initial answer, responsibility for the inquiry has moved into the hands of the independent judge who has been appointed to lead it. And under the Inquiries Act 2005, that means that all the key decisions about the inquiry now lie not in the hands of Downing Street at all, but in the hands of the inquiry itself, which will be entirely independent, both of the UK Government and of the Welsh Government, and of the other Governments of the UK whose work it will scrutinise.
I'm pleased to see that there are already strong signs that the inquiry led by Judge Heather Hallett will be committed to ensuring that the inquiry is conducted in a way that is accessible to people in Wales, and provides them with the answers that they want. The very first place that the inquiry visited, as part of its engagement with the public on its terms of reference, was to make a visit to Wales and to hold sessions here in Wales, the first part of the United Kingdom in which it carried out such conversations. I'm pleased to say that if you go to the website of the inquiry, you'll find that it's already available in the Welsh language as well as in English.
All of this says to me that the independence of the inquiry is being exercised in a way that is determined to give confidence to people in Wales that their voice will be heard, that their concerns will be addressed, that it will conduct its work in a way that provides the best answers it can to the questions that are legitimately there for it to investigate, and that it will do it now entirely on the basis of its own authority, and without interference from any Government, of any part of the United Kingdom.
Thank you, First Minister.
The business statement and announcement is next, so I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch, Llywydd. I've made the following changes to this week's business. Firstly, I've withdrawn the statement on an update on COVID-19, and secondly, subject to a suspension of Standing Orders, we will debate the Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Eligibility) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2022 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) (Amendment) (No. 9) Regulations 2022. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Thank you, Trefnydd, for your statement. Can I call for two statements from the Minister for Health and Social Services please? The first is a very much needed update on the citizen voice watchdog, and the implementation of the new role of that organisation. Many people in north Wales, as Members in this Chamber will know, have been very impressed with the work of the north Wales community health council over the years, and one thing that I'm personally passionate about is I think that the new citizen voice watchdog ought to be located in north Wales, not in Cardiff, or any other part of the country. North Wales doesn't have many of the headquarters of the different bodies that have been established by the Welsh Government, and I do think that this would really put an important stake in the ground for the region.
The second statement that I want to hear from the Welsh Government is in relation to an update on mental health services in north Wales. Y Byd ar Bedwar, the programme that was broadcast on S4C last night, had some shocking revelations. There were members of staff from the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, at the Hergest unit, who said that they were scared to come into work, that they were frightened from speaking out due to potential repercussions about services, that they felt there was a lack of support from management, that there were staffing issues on those wards, and that the working environment was toxic. In addition to that, there were patients alleging that they were denied the in-patient treatment that they needed. And, of course, this comes on top of a report last week that emerged about the suspension of a member of staff in your own constituency's hospital, at Wrexham Maelor, allegedly in relation to WhatsApp messages that were circulated of a patient with dementia who had soiled a bed.
This clearly does not suggest that the issues in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's mental health services have been resolved. Many people have contacted me who had concerns and relatives who were impacted by the Tawel Fan scandal to say that they feel grossly let down by the Welsh Government and the Betsi Cadwaladr health board that theses sorts of things are still going on. When will the culture in our mental health services in north Wales change? People need to know, and they need to know what action the Welsh Government's health Minister is going to take in order to turn this situation around.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Thank you. In relation to your first question around the citizen voice watchdog, as far as I'm aware—and the Minister for Health and Social Services is in the Chamber to hear your question—no decision has been made about where it's going to be placed. I agree with you; as the Minister with responsibility for north Wales it's really good to see organisations based in north Wales—the Development Bank of Wales, for instance, which, again, is in my own constituency. But it's really good to see headquarters, and I think we need that right across Wales. I'm sure the Minister, when she comes to that decision, will think about that point as well.
In relation to the programme, I didn't see the programme myself last night, but I know the Minister for Health and Social Services and her Deputy Minister for mental health did. You raise two points within that programme. Certainly, the incident you referred to in the Maelor hospital last week is subject to a police investigation. The health board are fully engaged in that investigation, so it's really not appropriate to comment further at this time. On the wider issue that you raise around mental health, obviously, the health board is in targeted intervention for its mental health services. Again, I know the Minister for Health and Social Services and the Deputy Minister for mental health meet regularly with the health board, as do their officials. There are clear and agreed actions in place, and, again, from my own discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Services, from a Minister for north Wales point of view, I know she is looking at the timeline and whether she needs to bring that forward, to see the improvements that we all want to see.
I would like to request a written statement from the Minister for Finance and Local Government on support for school transport providers. I've recently been contacted by Pencoed Travel and Cresta Coaches, who have raised concerns regarding the rise in fuel costs. Since their contracts were originally tendered, in June of last year, Pencoed Travel's fuel costs, for example, have risen by 40 per cent. Both Cresta Coaches and Pencoed Travel have contacted Bridgend County Borough Council, requesting help with covering these rapidly increasing costs, but to no avail. BCBC stated that they are waiting for Welsh Government advice before they seek to resolve the issue, as they believe that this is a matter for Welsh Government and not them. However, I am aware of other local authorities that are offering a resolution. I'd be grateful for some clarity on who is responsible for resolving this issue.
Thank you. I do think you raise a very important point, because, clearly, we are seeing this escalation in the costs of fuel, which will have an impact on the services to which you refer. I know the Minister for education and the Minister for local government are aware of this. I think the Minister for Finance and Local Government will be having further discussions, and, if guidance is required, that can be given at the appropriate time.
Good afternoon, Minister. I wonder if I could request two statements, please, Trefnydd. The first statement is from the Minister for Health and Social Services on what steps the Minister is taking in relation to international GP trainees. The Welsh Government supports around 160 trainee GPs a year, and I understand that NHS Wales has indicated that 80 trainees—half that cohort—will not be eligible to remain in the UK when their training concludes this year, because they will not have yet been here long enough to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Could the Minister make a statement on what steps she is taking in the short term to retain these GPs in Wales, and, more long term, at the support that could be provided by the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership to help individual GP practices retain these GPs?
The second statement is from the Minister for Climate Change in relation to building safety. Earlier this month, the UK Government announced that a number of large-scale housing developers had made financial commitments to help put right building safety failures, many of whom operate in England and Wales, but are only making contributions to remediation work in England. There are also a number of statutory protections that have been afforded to leaseholders in England, through the Building Safety Bill, that have not been extended to Wales. Can the Minister update the Senedd, and, crucially, leaseholders, about the Welsh Government's own legislative plans? Diolch.
Thank you. In relation to the second statement that you're requesting, around building safety, I know the Minister for Climate Change was deeply disappointed that the UK Government decided to go ahead with the building safety levy on an England-only basis, for instance. I know there were calls from both Wales and Scotland for it to be a UK-wide measure. In relation to our own legislation that we've proposed, we know that a fundamental and comprehensive change to the culture and legislative framework in Wales is required. We will be having a White Paper consultation, to be published later this year, and the reforms will include the introduction of a new category of accountable persons, changes to registration and licensing and establishment of a new joint inspection team, and that will start in this financial year.
I think the point you raise around international GP trainees is a really important one. We want to retain as many GP trainees as possible. We've really sold Wales as a fantastic place to come, to learn, to train, to live, to work, and so it's really important that we do all we can to retain those. I know the Minister is having discussions with her UK Government counterparts in relation to that.
Yesterday, the Deputy Minister for mental health and public health and I attended a wonderful event in the Senedd, the City Hospice Forever Flowers launch, which enables people to sponsor a sunflower to commemorate somebody who's died of cancer, and then it will be displayed in Cardiff castle in the first two weeks in August, both an uplifting idea as well as a very effective way of fundraising. One of the really excellent speakers at this event described the excellent care he and his wife got from the City Hospice and the way in which they didn't have to tell their story over and over again. In contrast, every time they had a different NHS expert involved they had to recount all the latest updates. So, just as pregnant women and, indeed, those receiving continuing care at home have their own notes with them, I wondered if we could have a statement from the health Minister as to what progress we can make on ensuring that patients have their own electronic notes, and, in the case of cancer patients in particular, enabling them to ensure that everybody knows exactly what level of treatment they're getting from different specialists so that everybody is up to date with what they're getting, rather than always asking people to recount the painful history of their treatment.
Secondly, I just wanted to ask about the Istanbul convention on combating domestic violence. On 8 June it will be 10 years since the UK Government signed the Council of Europe Istanbul convention, but, 10 years later, we still haven't ratified it. It was 2015 when we legislated our Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. I know that the UK Government was behind the curve in not having legislated until last year on this matter, but what now is stopping the UK Government from ratifying this very important convention? I wonder if we can have a statement to update us on what the barriers are and what the Welsh Government might be able to do to get rid of them.
Thank you. It's very good to hear about the event you attended yesterday and the sunflowers. I think we can learn a great deal from our hospices, not just in the way that you referred in relation to patient experience, but also around fundraising. Just last week, my local hospice, Nightingale House in Wrexham, asked us to send photographs of forget-me-nots to do something very similar. I think we can learn a lot from them. The Minister does make regular statements around the services that are provided by hospices, and I will see if she is able to add what you refer to to one of those statements.
In relation to the Istanbul convention, it is one of the key priorities in protecting victims of domestic violence right across the globe, and as a Government we are very much committed to seeing the UK Government ratify this as soon as possible. As you say, it's taken a long time. I know my colleague, who is here and has heard your question, wrote to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Victoria Atkins, about six months ago, really sharing her disappointment at the plight of migrant women, for instance, who are victims of domestic abuse. It wasn't recognised on the face of their Bill that's now an Act. I will ask the Minister, if she has anything further that she can inform us about, to write to Members.
I call for a single statement on funding to rescue the curlew from imminent country-level extinction. Last Thursday, 21 April, was World Curlew Day, shining a light on the dangers that curlews face as a result of shifting factors, primarily loss of quality habitat and increasing predation. Last Thursday was also the feast day of St Beuno, the patron saint of curlews in the traditional Welsh calendar. Curlews and their ethereal call are iconic in Wales, central to culture, history and belief. When I became Wales's species champion for the curlew, however, I warned here that we had only 15 years left to prevent their extinction as a breeding population in Wales, and six of those years have now gone and been lost. Well, on World Curlew Day last Thursday, Mick Green—Welsh Ornithological Society and member of Gylfinir Cymru/Curlew Cymru—also wrote to the Minister for Climate Change personally and publicly asking her to live up to her promise given at the launch of the Wales action plan for the recovery of curlew last November, where she pledged to work with Gylfinir Cymru to ensure that we can finance it and get it up and running—quote—an action plan with multiple and multi-species benefits. Mr Green continued, 'We now only have nine breeding seasons left to save this iconic species from its projected extinction. Please instruct your officials to work with Gylfinir Cymru to find an urgent way of getting funding directly to Curlew Action.' He concluded, 'Please, on World Curlew Day, can you ensure me that direct funding will be available to save the curlew from extinction and that Welsh Government ensures its own projects do not further jeopardise this species?' The time for talk is over. If we don't act, they're gone. I call for a statement accordingly.
Thank you. Certainly, the Welsh Government is continuing to do all it can in relation to preserving and ensuring that the curlew does survive. I was very fortunate to be on a farm only probably three weeks ago where I heard one, so the work that we have been doing within the agricultural sector is clearly beginning to work. I know the Minister is looking at all the schemes she has within the biodiversity part of her portfolio to ensure that funding is going to the correct places to make sure that—. We do have a nature crisis as well as a climate crisis. So, I will certainly ask the Minister to update us if there is anything new that she is able to tell us from within the schemes she has.
Can I ask for two statements, please? The first: may I ask for a statement on any plans that the Government has to improve democratic accountability in our health boards? You will be aware that there were significant changes in health boards around 10 years ago. We saw, for example, the Dryll y Car care home in Llanaber closing, losing eight beds for elderly mental health patients. As a result, there aren't sufficient beds available for people with elderly mental health needs in Dwyfor Meirionnydd and they've had to go to Hergest, and we are all aware of the situation there. Now, if local government or this Government or this Senedd were to make such a decision, there would be a scrutiny committee scrutinising the decision in order to see if anything could have been done differently. But there is no scrutiny of our health boards. The community health council does laudable work, but they don't have the ability or the teeth to do what's necessary. So, I want to hear of any plans that the Government has to ensure the ability to scrutinise our health boards more effectively.
Secondly, can I ask for a statement from the Minister for local government on what steps you're going to take in order to tackle what appears to be a crisis in our community, town and city councils? Look at Gwynedd, for example. There are 139 wards for community councils, and only eight of them, I think, have an election. This is true across Wales. In Ogmore, for example, there are two wards without a single candidate for the community council elections. This is not sustainable. There have been changes within town and community councils over recent years, and clearly they haven't worked. So, what steps will you take in order to ensure that this level of local government is viable?
Thank you. I think that the second point that you raised, around the local government and community council elections that we have in Wales next week, is a really important one. I think that it's really disappointing to see so many seats go without an election, and so many candidates not coming forward in the way that we would want. I think that, as a Government, we have done an incredible amount of work to try and increase awareness about how important it is that people are able to make a choice at the ballot box, and I know that this a continuing piece of work that the Minister for Finance and Local Government is undertaking.
In relation to scrutiny of health boards, of course, anybody who goes on one of the health boards goes through the public appointments process, which is very scrupulous. Obviously, the Minister for Health and social Services is responsible for appointing Chairs through the process as well, and through that Chair, is then able to scrutinise the health board as a whole. I am not aware of any further work that is going on, but again, if the Minister knows of anything, she could write to you.
I'd like to bring to the Trefnydd's attention the fact that there's an event taking place called 'Next steps for waste, recycling and the circular economy in Wales' run by an organisation that calls itself the Policy Forum for Wales Online Conference. In fact, it's nothing of the kind. It's a Bracknell-based company. It charges the Welsh public sector £210, plus VAT, per person to attend. All of that money is taken outside of Wales, and the directors are taking millions out of the company. Two of the keynote speakers advertised—and I'm sure that they are doing this in the greatest of faith; I don't think that they are aware of how they are being exploited—are Bettina Gilbert, head of programme delivery for WRAP, and Dr Andy Rees, head of the waste strategy, resource efficiency and circular economy division, Welsh Government. Now, I know that Welsh Government Ministers are boycotting this. It was a decision that the First Minister told me about last term. Would there be a possibility that this Chamber could scrutinise the Welsh Government on whether any further engagement is happening from Welsh Government? And would she take steps to discourage our public sector from engaging with what can only be described as a bunch of cowboys?
I am aware that you did raise this with the First Minister previously. I think that it was probably about three years ago now. Of course, we welcome all forms of debate on public policy matters in Wales. But, as you say, as Ministers, we consider very carefully events that we speak at—whether we accept invitations to speak at commercially organised, fee-charging events. We have to take a lot of decisions around those, taking a lot of things into consideration. Our officials are the same. They have to consider invitations as well on that basis, if there is a fee-charging event. They need to assure themselves that there is a clear public benefit about them participating. Again, you may be aware that the previous Permanent Secretary wrote around that, following the First Minister's answer to you. I think that it's really important that, obviously, if an official takes part in an event—if a civil servant takes part in an event—there is no perceived breach of political impartiality. But certainly, as Ministers, we take those decisions based on the impact that it would have.
Minister, I have always been proud of Bridgend as an exciting and vibrant place to live. But, it has become clear that the town centre is struggling, with so many empty shops and premises giving a sense of abandonment. Many businesses have struggled to get back on their feet since the pandemic. Many have reverted to online sales, but the town centre remains important to keep that sense of community. Will the Minister schedule a debate for us to consider the Government's strategy for town-centre renewal, and for the Government to publish what investment has gone into our town centres since the pandemic to ignite their revival? Thank you, Minister.
Thank you. Well, I don't think that it's too long since we did have a statement around regeneration of our town centres, and it's really important that the Welsh Government continues to work with local authorities to ensure that our town centres are as vibrant as they possibly can be. I do think, as you say, that the pandemic brought on far more businesses in a position of struggling than had been the case, but I do think we had seen a change in people's behaviour in relation to shopping ahead of the pandemic and a lot of our shops going online. But it is really important, as you say, for that sense of community. We are seeing our town centres change and becoming much more residential, I think; certainly in my own constituency, I'm seeing flats go above shops in a way that perhaps we hadn't done before. But I don't think it's too long since we did have a statement.
And finally, Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you. I'd like to request a statement from the Minister for Climate Change on the planning appeal process in Wales. Only last week, our local authority granted conditional approval for 49 homes to be built behind Ysgol y Gogarth. This was a very controversial planning application, with democratically elected members at all levels opposing this, and the planning office themselves opposing this. On a further application placed before the committee last week, there was a u-turn by the officers, in which they decided to support it, and one of the reasons cited was that they were very concerned about the costs associated with any appeal process. I've been asked since, and indeed by constituents over the years, as to why it is that developers who can afford barristers and things have an appeal process for when an application is refused, yet there is no appeal process for applications such as this, which, in my opinion, if you look at 'Planning Policy Wales', actually breaches some of the actual PPW guidance. And so I have raised with the Minister previously whether we could have a fairer system, so that the appeal process works both ways—not only just for the developer, but indeed for the communities and, in fact, the democratically elected members, so that the true voices of the community are able to have a second go at this, because I know there are a lot of aggrieved constituents on many planning applications where planning officers feel obliged to allow an application to go through because they fear the costs of any appeal process. Thank you.
Thank you. It's not that long since planning policy here in Wales was updated; I think it's been in the past couple of years. I'm not aware of any plans to bring forward an appeal process in the way the Member suggests. I would advise her perhaps to write directly to the Minister, asking that specific question.
I thank the Trefnydd.
Item 3 this afternoon has been withdrawn.
Therefore, item 4 is a statement by the Minister for Social Justice—an update on Ukraine. I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt.
Dirprwy Lywydd, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update to Members today about our ongoing work to support people from Ukraine who are fleeing the devastating conflict in their country. The war and violence in Ukraine shows little sign of abating, and, just over a week ago, Putin launched a new large-scale assault on the Donbas region. And meanwhile, there's been little progress in establishing humanitarian corridors to enable people to leave the country or move to safer areas away from the fighting.
More than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the end of February, when Putin's troops began the invasion, and this is around 10 per cent of the population. The latest data from the UK Government shows just over 107,000 visas have been issued to people fleeing the violence, and more than half of these have been issued to people from Ukraine applying to come to the UK via the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme. They also show that 21,600 people from Ukraine have so far arrived in the UK. Of these, the overwhelming majority—some 15,000 people—have come via the Ukraine family scheme route to live with members of their extended family in the UK.
To date, 1,500 visas have been issued to people via the Homes for Ukraine scheme who have a sponsor in Wales. A total of 390 of these are via the Welsh Government supersponsor route. The number of visas being approved continues to increase every day. However, not everyone is travelling as soon as visas are issued, and this may be for a number of reasons. It may be because their permission-to-travel documents are not yet available or because they are not available for everyone in their party. People may also have arranged to travel at a slightly later date, but we know that families who have not had their visas and documents approved at the same time are frustrated by the bureaucracy they face. I continue to raise these issues in my meetings with the UK Government to help improve the system and to make it as safe as possible for people travelling to the UK.
The Welsh Government's supersponsor route was set up to reduce the complexity and bureaucracy for people who wanted to come to Wales and to reduce the risk of being exposed to such exploitation. Everyone who is sponsored by us will be contacted directly by us to help make their arrival in Wales as easy as possible. We've set up arrival hubs at all the major ports and stations to help people from Ukraine with their onward journeys to their host accommodation or welfare centre. And I want to put on record once again my thanks to local authorities, the NHS, the third sector and voluntary links. Together, we've worked tirelessly to ensure the support people from Ukraine need is available throughout Wales.
I also want to thank the businesses, organisations and many individual sponsors who have offered to help, opening their homes and offering practical support with donations of clothing and other goods, offers of jobs and of translation help. We continue to be overwhelmed by the public response to this humanitarian crisis, especially at a time when we are facing our own cost-of-living crisis. There are a great many ways people can help, from offering to sponsor someone from Ukraine, to donating money or goods, or volunteering to help. As a Government we've donated £1 million to the Nation of Sanctuary Croeso fund, and £4 million to the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine appeal.
The first people are now being accommodated in our network of welcome centres, where they're receiving wraparound support to help them settle into life in Wales. This includes health checks, support with language skills if needed, help opening a bank account and accessing benefits, education for children and support finding a job. Everyone arriving in Wales, whether at welcome centres or living with an individual sponsor, will have access to health services. This includes mental health and trauma specialists.
Deputy Llywydd, since I last updated Members, we've issued further guidance, updated guidance, to local authorities and to individual sponsors, to help support them with their many responsibilities. The updated guidance to sponsors covers further advice and information about accommodation, including the voluntary use of model tenancy and licensing agreements, what checks need to be carried out, advice about modern slavery and the range of support available from the voluntary sector. We've also issued detailed safeguarding guidance for local authorities and other public bodies, and guidance to childcare providers.
I have regular meetings with the Scottish Government Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Neil Gray, and UK Government refugees Minister, Lord Harrington. These are important opportunities to press for improvements to the visa process to reduce delays. Together with my Scottish counterpart, we continue to call for the UK Government to fund the Ukraine family scheme, and to make funding available for public services, so everyone arriving from Ukraine is properly supported. It's only right that the same level of funding that was available for the Afghan resettlement scheme is available to support people from Ukraine. The Counsel General has also been meeting the UK law officers to discuss a range of issues, including the International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes committed in Ukraine.
So, Deputy Llywydd, I will close this statement today by repeating that help, advice and support is available via our free helpline for sponsors and people coming from Ukraine. Sponsors in Wales can call the free helpline on 0808 175 1508 for advice. For Ukrainian nationals and their families, if they're outside the UK, they can call free on +44 808 164 8810, or if they are in the UK, they can call 0808 164 8810. There is a warm welcome waiting in Wales, which is a nation of sanctuary. Diolch.
I thank you very much for the statement. I'm just trying to reconcile—there are so many figures flying around from different people and different places. If I make some mistakes in consequence, no doubt you'll pick me up on those. But your written statement update about the Homes for Ukraine scheme on 21 April said the latest figures published by the UK Government then showed that 1,500 visas had been issued to date where the sponsor was from Wales, 1,100 sponsored by individuals in Wales and 390 sponsored by the Welsh Government as a supersponsor. Yesterday, the Home Secretary stated that 40,000 visas had been issued under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but your party's shadow Home Office Minister stated that only 6,600 Ukrainians had actually arrived in the UK, although you refer to the latest data showing that 21,600 people from Ukraine have so far arrived in the UK. Is it therefore your understanding that that difference is because the 21,600 includes all schemes, including the family scheme? And what is your understanding of how many people have actually arrived in Wales, not just received or been awarded visas?
Responding to claims that families who need to travel together cannot do so because just one family member, often a child, will have their visas delayed, the Home Secretary stated yesterday that the refugees Minister, the honourable Member Lord Harrington, went to the region just 10 days ago to find out why and what more could be done to bring families that have been granted their visas over. First and foremost, as we've heard repeatedly from the Ukrainian Government, she said, and from Governments in the region as well, those families want to stay in the region, which I find a bit confusing. I presume that that also means people who perhaps didn't apply for a visa in the first place, but I don't know. So, I thank you again for your call to me yesterday. During this, you stated that you were in regular contact with the UK Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, which, again, you referred to in your statement today, and that more visas were being approved but there were still delays and you were pressing for simpler forms and more support for families.
Well, following my introduction of Link International to you a few weeks ago, I'm pleased that the charity, under its Ukrainian link programme, is now working with north Wales's local authorities in collaboration with other statutory agencies and Welsh Government and bringing together community and faith groups and third sector organisations to support Ukrainians arriving in north Wales. When I attended their north Wales Ukrainian response Zoom meeting yesterday, we heard that, although 256 visas had been issued for north Wales, applications had only been received for 60 Ukrainians in 30 host homes and 150 in the region's welcome centre. What, therefore, is your understanding of the reason for the gap between the number of visas issued, the number of applications received and numbers then arriving? And do you have any evidence regarding this that you're able to share with us, or do your comments in your statement otherwise cover that, indicating that you're still trying to get to the bottom of it yourself in your engagement with the UK Government?
Further, what discussions are you having with Lord Harrington regarding this and the ways to address this? And again, you made some reference to that, but I wonder if there are any further specific points that you could share with us.
During yesterday's north Wales Ukrainian response Zoom meeting, we also heard from an anti-human trafficking organisation in Romania that over 5 million Ukrainians are estimated to have now left Ukraine, with approximately half going to Poland and 700,000 directly to Romania, plus more arriving in Romania via adjoining Moldova. We also heard from them that the most vulnerable people are displaced people and therefore the focus is now on safeguarding. During our call yesterday, you told me that the four UK Governments are now working together on safeguarding. How, therefore, are you engaging with anti-human trafficking organisations such as the one we heard from yesterday, working on the ground with Ukrainian refugees in the countries that they have crossed into?
Finally, I received an e-mail from a constituent last week asking for assistance for Ukrainians and their UK hosts in Flintshire. This states, and I'm quoting:
'The Homes for Ukraine scheme is classifying Ukrainians as guests. The guidance is clear. Asking a newborn 53 questions for security reasons is clearly stating how above and beyond this all is. Now having a local authority claiming to apply foster care checks and full privacy waivers from UK hosts and their Ukrainian guests, for GP documentation, for social media and search engine history, including storage, for 10 years, is a disaster. I urge you to stop this immediately, where hosts have been feeling threatened and overrun with not being approved as hosts if they do not comply'.
So, I wonder if you could tell us whether the process for host applicants and their Ukrainian guests, is, as described by my constituent, determined by the UK Government, by the Welsh Government or by individual local authorities? And how will you ensure that the need for safeguarding, which is critical, of course, is balanced against the need to support legitimate hosts in their genuine desire to provide sanctuary for Ukrainian refugees in their homes?
Thank you very much, Mark, and thank you for those important questions, which is very much, as we spoke yesterday, about how the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the supersponsor scheme, is now bedding in in terms of delivery and implementation. There is no doubt there is a delay, a clear delay, recognised by the Minister, Lord Richard Harrington, who I met on Wednesday last week, alongside the Scottish Government Minister, Neil Gray. There is a clear delay in arrivals, a delay between, actually, the approval of visas and actually then being able to get the approval to travel. So, that approval to travel is required in order to be able to then take the next step in order to be able to come to either one of our welcome centres in terms of the Homes for Ukraine supersponsor route, or, indeed, to then be able to travel to meet the sponsor family, the household, so many who are anxiously waiting and communicating with those who they've been matched with and made contact with.
It is right in terms of the figures, and yesterday, obviously, there was a debate and a statement in the House of Commons, but we get our figures, which are shared on a four-nation basis, on a Thursday, and that's when I gave my written statement. So, of the 1,500 visas allocated, 390 are supersponsored, which would be people who could come to our welcome centres, and the rest would be through not just the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but there are also many coming through the Ukraine family scheme. And I think the numbers that you're enquiring about actually relate to the family scheme as well. In fact, as of 20 April, the Ukraine family scheme had received visa applications for 41,200, and then issued 32,500. One of the problems we've got in Wales is that we're not actually given the numbers of people who have come through the family scheme. That's a huge disadvantage. They can't, actually, the UK Government, admit they cannot give us those figures. And we really do need them because, of course, the most successful route through for Ukrainian refugees has been through the family scheme. They were so many of the ones who came here, who managed to come here so early on when they fled the Russian invasion. But it is the family scheme. We have no figures for Wales; they're the overall UK numbers.
So, it is a real problem in terms of the gap between not only application, the whole household or family getting the visas—. I mean, I'm not the only one, I'm sure, in the Senedd today, who has cases in my constituency of people where one person hasn't got a visa. There may be even—. I have a case where the whole family, apart from the father, have got visas, but not the father. In other cases it might be a child who hasn't got the visa. These are real issues. And I did speak to the refugees Minister about his visit to Poland. He also told me about the situation there, the frustration and, of course, the horror that people have experienced. Coming and getting even to Poland has been—you know, it's the trauma and leaving behind their menfolk. Some of them are in temporary accommodation, but still the overwhelming bureaucracy and barriers to getting from there to us here, to our nation of sanctuary, I have to say, is real, and many will have heard that. And, indeed, our contact centre have heard those accounts as well, and we have to deal with them. So, I am raising those issues with the UK Government. Tomorrow I'm meeting with the Scottish Minister as well, and we work as much as possible on a four-nations basis to grasp these issues.
Just very quickly, I'm very grateful again for the update from Link International in north Wales. I've been meeting with them regularly, along with other third sector links across Wales like that, and also there are increasingly now Ukrainian groups who are meeting together. In fact, we are looking to ways in which we can support the voices of Ukraine, the people who are coming into our welcome centres and also to sponsored homes, because they want to work together, they want to volunteer, they want to co-ordinate their experiences, lessons learned and also share the experience that they have had of the warm welcome in Wales that they've had from their sponsor families, but also some of the difficulties as well, and, of course, you do raise a couple of really important issues: the anti-human trafficking work, which is so important, and I've learnt about the work they've done in north Wales—. Of course, we're very closely linked, I can assure you, to those organisations, and I just want to say that this is very linked to what we're doing in terms of safeguarding and the checks.
So, the local authorities have a critical role to play in making sure that we can not just support the people arriving, but also make sure that they are safeguarded. So, we've published separate guidance on safeguarding and modern slavery for local authorities and sponsors. You'll see it on the sanctuary website. We provided advice to welcome centre and contact centre staff and, in fact, there's a third version of safeguarding and modern slavery guidance due to be published next week, and I'll make sure that you have this.
It is vital that local authorities do conduct these local checks. We meet with local authorities' chief executives, at the moment, regularly, and it is up to local authorities themselves to undertake these checks regarding property standards, but, crucially, safeguarding. We have to recognise that, actually, we have got experiences that I can recount to you where there are serious issues that would not have been uncovered unless we had those checks, so I do want to assure people, our Senedd Members today, that the Disclosure and Barring Service process that is happening alongside these checks is vitally important. Of course, the majority of the welcome from households and sponsors is wonderful and it's great that they're working closely together with local authorities and many of these support groups as well, but it's vital that we do undertake these.
Now, we are developing our own guidance, but very much working on a four-nation basis, developing policy and guidance, working through operational issues and, of course, that does include officials working very closely with the Home Office and department for levelling up and housing and representatives from local resilience fora, the third sector and local authority leaders.
I thank the Minister for the statement. Last Saturday morning, I was at an event in Resolven to mark the support of the community for Ukraine. The event was on the local primary school yard at Ynysfach school, and people of all ages had turned out to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Money was raised for the support fund of the local branch of the Women's Institute who had baked lovely cakes, and a number of residents asked me about the sponsorship scheme, and a number of them stated their wish to be part of that scheme.
Whilst we see the devastation in Ukraine increasing on a daily basis, the war intensifying and the human cost as a result of the illegal and inhumane assault by Putin, the willingness and efforts of the people of Wales to try to extend a welcome to those who have fled for their lives does offer us hope in a very dark time.
The Welsh Government plans to ensure more certainty, more security and more support for refugees from Ukraine through the supersponsorship scheme are entirely in contrast with the lack of organisation and the inefficiency that is characteristic of the UK Government's response. The number of visas that have been awarded to refugees from Ukraine under the scheme is still very disappointingly low. It's appalling that, almost a month after we discussed the visa situation in the Siambr with you last time, Minister, we're still facing the same barriers, the same frustration, in trying to extend a welcome and a home to people who have lost everything, who have had to leave their property, their communities, their nation and, very often, those they love.
We've read press reports over the past few days from staff working on the support line of the UK Government for visas, saying that the scheme is designed to fail, that staff haven't received adequate training and that any suggestion to improve the system is ignored. You mentioned the promise by the UK Government that the visa process would be accelerated in your last written statement, but press reports on a daily basis tell us about people waiting for weeks to hear about their cases, and hundreds have been lost entirely. So, what is the most recent information that the Welsh Government has received about the visa process? Is the Westminster Government going to keep to its word and improve that process?
Also, can you confirm that funding is being provided by the UK Government to support every aspect of the visa scheme? Is every family that sponsors a family directly receiving payments in the same way as those who sponsor refugees through the Homes for Ukraine scheme? Is the Welsh Government scheme to be a supersponsor receiving financial support, and adequate support by the UK Government? And, if so, what impact is the lack of funding having on the visa schemes?
I've asked you in the Siambr previously about how Welsh Government could support our universities to create and co-ordinate a scheme for students and academics who are fleeing Ukraine. I wrote to you a few weeks ago about the case of a student who wanted to come to Swansea University to continue her studies, but she received a response that she had to make an application like everyone else from a foreign country, and there was no specific support or special consideration given to her situation. Could you give us an update on any plans to change this, bearing in mind the benefit for these individuals and for our organisations and institutions as a nation of having them be a part of our academic community? Thank you.
Diolch, Sioned. Diolch. It's great to hear of that welcome that was given today that you witnessed, and the fact that the community and the school yard, that parents, the community, want to engage and have engaged in such a positive way. Approximately 10,000 individuals in Wales have registered their interest in participating in the Homes for Ukraine scheme since the register opened on 14 March and 800 households have now submitted applications. That aims to support a combined 1,800 Ukrainians in Wales, and still that option is open in terms of the route through the Ukraine family scheme—the route through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The Ukraine family scheme, of course, as I said, has already perhaps been the most successful way to get a visa, through the Ukraine family scheme, and it's important just to recognise that that Ukraine family scheme is not funded at all. There is no funding available for those extended families all over Wales—and we know them—who have not got any funding, compared with the funding that is given for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, because the Homes for Ukraine scheme is funded and it's important that we recognise that the supersponsor scheme is not funded to the same extent as the Homes for Ukraine funding is supported. I think that's where we need to get the support of the Senedd today in my discussions and my negotiations with the UK Government, because it's vital that those who are supporting their families get proper funding and support, and indeed the supersponsor route.
Just to remind people, the UK Government has made £10,500 per person available for local authorities to provide services, because it's public services that they need to support Ukrainians arriving in their area under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It's not the same, as I said in my statement—the funding that we're getting for the Ukrainian refugee schemes is not at the same level as we had for the Afghan refugee scheme. It doesn't include the £850 payment for English and Welsh language tuition or the £2,600 payment for health services. They were made available under the recent Afghan resettlement scheme. So, even the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme isn't funded at that level, but the fact is that in terms of the supersponsor scheme we are not getting that funding.
We need the £350 per month payment that is being made available under the Homes for Ukraine scheme to be made available to the Welsh Government for every Ukrainian family that's accommodated under the supersponsor programme. And I just want to say something in support of the supersponsor programme, because it is involving a commitment for us in Wales to support 1,000 people. It skips the need to identify a UK-based individual sponsor. It means they're sponsored directly by the Welsh Government; it makes it easier for people from Ukraine who don't have family ties to seek safety here in Wales. But also, importantly, it skips the delay and safeguarding concerns that we have seen arising associated with Ukrainians needing to identify UK-based sponsors. It ensures that proper welcome services can be put in place. And we are funding this, the Welsh Government is funding this, in terms of access to the public services that are needed in the welcome centres—translation services available, health services available, children starting lessons, advice to people on how they find their way in a new country, help with money and welfare benefits, and advice about finding work.
I will, again, look at the issues around the access to university, because it's crucial in terms of education. We're particularly concerned about ensuring children and young people have the right access to school, and we've issued guidance on school admission applications for children, which is on our sanctuary website. But we also have had very positive responses from universities and further education, so I will provide an update on that as well.
But it is crucial that we do get this message over that there are—. And I'm sure, as you said, there are many delays, unacceptable delays, between getting the visa, the whole family or household getting the visa, and then approval to travel. So, we are looking at issues like transport as well, but it is the UK Government who have got to take responsibility for making this a simpler process in order to get people, refugees, to flee the horror of their experience and their lives in Ukraine at the moment.
Thank you, Minister. I welcome your statement today. My constituent, Amy, has recently shared a video of the arrival of her Ukrainian guests at Bristol Airport, which has actually now had over 3.2 million views on social media, and she did this to show the people of Ukraine and people across the world that Wales truly is a nation of sanctuary. It's very sad, actually, that Amy's guest was meant to travel with her friend and their eight-year-old son, and decided not to come because they were actually worried about the reception that they would get here, but that is why Amy has shared this video, and I am really proud of how far it has gone, and I think it has done a lot of good.
Amy and other sponsors continue to go above and beyond to ensure that their guests arrive here safely. However, she and many others have shared with me their experience with the UK Government's sponsorship scheme. There is a misconception that the UK Government is linking sponsors with Ukraine nationals. This is not the case. People are relying on Facebook groups to do this. Ukrainian people are posting their personal information and circumstances, and then sponsors are replying in the comments offering their homes. Whilst there are many well-meaning people offering help, this unregulated and unmonitored process raises a number of potential safeguarding concerns for people fleeing Ukraine, as well as sponsors. I have heard a number of absolutely horrific, nightmare stories already.
There is also a misconception that arrangements will be made for them to travel here. Again, this is not the case. My constituent called on friends living in Poland to drive to the Ukrainian border to collect a mother and child, then drive them to the airport so that they could get the flight to the UK. My constituent used her savings to pay for the cost of the flights to get them here because all of the free ones are now gone.
There is also no tracking process to see if they arrive here. The Home Office approves the visa application and that is it. So, what if they arrived here and then went missing? Who would know? Who is checking?
You will need to ask your question now.
My question then to the Minister—. I just want to say a huge thank you, because you really have engaged with all of the issues and queries that I've put to you. You truly are listening to the sponsors and the guests. And my question is, to the Minister: please, can you continue to work with the UK Government and local authorities to address these safeguarding issues that I'm very concerned about? And, ideally, I do believe that we need funding specifically for community co-ordinators, so that they can wrap around all these services with the Ukrainian guests and they can become independent as soon as possible.
Diolch yn fawr, Sarah Murphy, and can we also thank Amy for the work that she's done and what she's shared? Hopefully, people will have a look at that video and congratulate her. So, please give our congratulationsto her for her commitment, her support and, indeed, for sharing these crucial experiences that we need to learn from.
I think you've raised points that I've commented on before, particularly in relation to improving and speeding up the approval of visas, and making sure that the communication with those who are fleeing and often, now, are over the border in countries waiting—sometimes in temporary accommodation, being sponsored, being funded for their travel and, indeed, their accommodation by sponsors from Wales who want to give that warm welcome—we would again ensure that we look at those issues. I'll be raising those issues with the Minister for Refugees again at our next meeting, about the dangers that exist where there are informal sponsorship arrangements and matching, which is dangerous. Until a local authority—which has to do the checks of proper, formal sponsors for Homes for Ukraine—until they get engaged, then we know that there are some dangerous situations already happening. So, I would say that the safeguarding information that we provide is crucial.
Just finally I'll say we've got significant concerns about the lack of safeguards in place through the UK Government's Homes for Ukraine scheme. It does provide greater opportunities, but there are some who, I'm afraid, have got intent to prey upon the vulnerability of refugees who need to find sanctuary. We know the vast majority of Homes for Ukraine sponsors are so supportive and well intentioned, but we do have to make sure that we are checking and we are supporting and stopping criminals from engaging in this. So, I would say that's why we're so keen to support not just the links that you've described today, but also the supersponsor route, because that will quicken up the visa access and also safeguard those who are fleeing that horror and the violent experiences that we hear about and we want to address. We have the means to do it here in Wales.
Good afternoon, Minister. Can I thank you and your officials once again for your hard work on this programme, and also for keeping me updated? I'm very grateful.
As you know, there is a resident, Sarah, in my region, who, with a team in Poland, has worked in applying for over 400 visas for Ukrainian people who have fled to Poland. This was in response to the slow, complicated and over-bureaucratic process to match willing hosts here in Wales with desperate Ukrainian refugees. But visas should not be required. These are desperate people fleeing war. Many refugees would be here, right now, if it were not for the insistence of the UK Government on the requirement for visas. It is shameful.
My question is whether you could kindly update us on how local authorities are able to carry out safeguarding checks. We've heard a lot this afternoon in relation to that, and I'm interested particularly in their capacity, and whether this can be increased, and has been increased, to allow them to carry out the checks quickly, safely and efficiently. Diolch.
Diolch, Jane, and thank you also for introducing me to Sarah, who is yet another—like Amy—amazing Welsh citizen playing that crucial part in making those links, not just in Wales, with all the volunteers and sponsor families, but in Ukraine and in Europe. Thank you for enabling us. They're now linking, Sarah's linking up with the north Wales links, with all of the groups who are active in Wales together. I do think that the point that's been made—. I think Sarah made the point about how we can now co-ordinate, perhaps, better at a regional level. We are looking at that, and particularly in terms of Ukrainian links as well for those who've come. There are many who've come who now want to volunteer, want to get into work and jobs, who actually want to support each other, and there is of course Voices for Ukraine, an already existing organisation that we are linked into.
It's crucial that we give support as well as guidance to local authorities in terms of their safeguarding role. Those checks are important. It's about safeguarding, data sharing, accommodation, wraparound support in terms of actually accessing third sector services as well. But, can I also please remind people of our contact centre? I've given the numbers, you've seen it on the written statement today, and the advice given at our welcome centres as well. We are actually supporting our social workers, our housing officers, in local authorities. They're used to, of course, arranging checks, particularly DBS checks, but it's more work, it's additional work that they're having to take on board. Again, I go back to the fact that we haven't got the funding that we should have from the UK Government to make sure that we can support our local authorities. Yes, in terms of Homes for Ukraine, they are getting support for public services, but that has not been applied to the family scheme, as I said, as well, and we have a shortfall of funding to support us in providing those services for the supersponsor scheme. So, today's statement is important, to put on record the needs that we have and for me, again, to discuss this and make sure that the UK Government is aware of what's happening on the ground in our nation of sanctuary.
And finally, Heledd Fychan.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, similarly, sharing experiences from constituents of mine, in terms of not receiving visas for last members in the family, hence the delay in coming here, and also receiving calls from across the region about difficulties in securing school places for those coming to Wales, with not all local authorities being consistent in terms of ensuring that they're responding to queries about school admissions, nor confirming arrangements in terms of transport. And I wondered how we can ensure consistency across every local authority in applying the guidelines that are set out clearly by Welsh Government.
Similarly, I think it would be remiss of me not to raise today something that came up during the recess period, of course, from the UK Government, in terms of Rwanda immigration plans. I know the focus is on Ukraine, but, similarly, as a nation of sanctuary, I know we are condemning that approach, with Mark Drakeford describing the plans as cruel and inhumane and not the way to treat people seeking safety and sanctuary. Therefore, during your discussions with the UK Government, have you had any conversations around this specifically, and is there scope for us to support potential legal action, working with other Governments—such as the Scottish Government—to stop these cruel plans, when they stand in such contradiction to the remarkable public support for those fleeing Ukraine?
Diolch yn fawr, Heledd Fychan. And, again, I'm grateful for the examples that you're giving in terms of constituents and sponsor families, and the ones who they want to sponsor—the refugees—having these barriers and difficulties; that's more evidence that is important for me. But we need to address it, the UK Government needs to address it. We have responsibility for ensuring that children can have access to schools—that is our responsibility. And we've issued guidance, as you know, on school admission applications for children. Obviously, we need to look at the admission arrangements for the school, in terms of the school admissions code, but I think that—. And there will be some issues about vacancies in local schools, we know that, so local authorities have to look at all those issues and look at keeping learners safe. But, again, this is for the local authorities and the guidance is there very clearly on the sanctuary website, but I'm very happy to receive any examples of where these issues are difficult.
Now, I absolutely understand why you have raised the issue, what I feel are the horrors of the announcement that came through during this time of crisis about the situation of Rwanda, being among the 25 poorest countries in the world, from one of the richest countries, our country, being put in this position. I just have to say that the UN Refugee Agency completely supports the view that the measures in the Bill—this comes from the Nationality and Borders Bill—are off-shoring asylum seeker processing, at odds with the refugee convention, to which the UK is a signatory. It's a callous approach and it undermines our standing in the world. We are a nation of sanctuary.
I thank the Minister.
Item 5 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: planned care recovery plan. I call on the Minister, Eluned Morgan.
Dirprwy Lywydd, thank you for the opportunity to outline how we plan to transform and modernise the way the NHS provides planned care here in Wales. I am today publishing a plan that will help to reduce the long waiting times that have unfortunately built up during the pandemic. It will ensure that people get the right treatment the first time and make sure that they are cared for as close to home as possible, with fewer visits to hospital.
The pandemic has had a massive impact on our health and care services. It has stretched the NHS to its limits, not just here in Wales but across the UK. The NHS has been fantastic in the way it has responded to the pandemic. It's provided incredible care under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and, on top of that, it's delivered the life-saving COVID-19 vaccination programme. We've seen the very best of the NHS and its staff during the pandemic. They've worked tirelessly to keep as many services going as possible. They are the reason we came out on our doorsteps to clap every week at the start of the pandemic.
But the pandemic has brought many changes to the NHS. At the very beginning of the pandemic, we made the difficult decision to cancel planned appointments and treatments to enable staff to focus on caring for all those very sick people with COVID-19. Each subsequent wave of infections has meant that the NHS has had to focus on COVID-19 instead of being able to provide the full and normal mixture of out-patient appointments and planned operations. Services have also had to adapt to the great many infection control procedures and practices, all necessary measures to help keep patients and staff safe. These have also limited how many people can be seen and can receive treatment at any one time.
As we start to move beyond the emergency response to the pandemic, the NHS is providing more planned care than at any point during the pandemic. But, even today, there are almost 1,400 COVID-19 related patients in hospital beds, although only around 16 per cent of these are being actively treated for COVID. At this level, these pandemic pressures continue to affect the amount and type of planned care that the NHS can provide.
Before the pandemic, waiting times were steadily falling across Wales. Today, unfortunately, too many people are waiting far too long for treatment, and this is the same situation in every part of the United Kingdom. There are nearly 700,000 open pathways, with many people waiting for more than 52 weeks. These numbers will keep on growing as people rightly continue to come forward to see their GP. It will take a full Senedd term and a lot of hard work to recover from the impact of the pandemic. This is now my priority and it is the health service’s priority.
The planned care recovery plan is backed by an additional £170 million a year of Welsh Government funding. It will reset and transform planned care services and it's been developed with clinicians. It sets out a wide range of actions to redesign services and, in many cases, redesign what people can expect from the NHS when they are referred by their GP or another healthcare professional for planned treatment. For those who are already waiting, we'll ensure there is support in place. For those coming into the system, we will help them to manage their own condition and, wherever appropriate, we'll provide more treatment alternatives so that surgery isn't the only option available. We'll also do more to address inequalities in care.
I am today making four commitments to people, to help them access the advice and services they need in a timely manner. We'll increase the capacity of the health services. There will be better access to doctors, nurses, dentists and other healthcare professionals closer to home, so people receive the right care from the right person. We'll prioritise diagnosis and treatment. There'll be faster access to treatments and diagnostic procedures. We'll prioritise people with suspected cancer and other urgent conditions and we'll prioritise children. Clinicians will work with people to make sure treatment options are the best for them.
We will transform the way that we provide planned care. There will be more care and support available from a wider range of local services and professionals to help people to stay well and to stay at home. We will set up dedicated surgical facilities and will separate planned care from urgent and emergency care, where we can. We will provide better information and support to people, especially those waiting for treatment.
I've also set some very clear and ambitious targets to reduce waiting times. By the end of 2022, this year, no-one will wait longer than a year for their first out-patient appointment. By the spring of 2024, we will have increased the speed of diagnostic tests and reporting to eight weeks and to 14 weeks for therapy interventions. By the spring of 2025, no-one will wait more than a year for an operation in most specialties. By 2026, 80 per cent of people who receive a cancer diagnosis should start first definitive treatment within 62 days from the first point when cancer was suspected. We will make sure that those with the greatest need are seen first. But, let me be clear, the task in front of us is huge.
Our NHS faces unrelenting pressures as a result of the pandemic and winter pressures. Our NHS staff are tired from working under enormous pressure over the last two years. In the past 20 years, we've increased the number of staff working in the health service in Wales 54 per cent and more, but we need more. We've already committed to doing that through funding worth £0.25 billion to train more specialists. We will support the NHS as we ask it to deliver this plan. We will continue to recruit highly skilled staff to join the workforce and we will continue to train the next generation of healthcare workers.
Primary care will have a vital role to play in the success of this plan. We have introduced an e-advice service for GPs, to help them to seek early advice from specialist teams to support decision making and to manage patient care. We will also make broader and better use of the skills and expertise of our dedicated nursing staff and allied health professionals to support people while they wait for their appointments and as they recover from surgery. There are no quick-fix solutions to reducing long waiting times. This will take hard work, it will take the support of people throughout Wales and the NHS, and it will take time to see real and lasting results. Together, we will recover from the pandemic. Thank you.
Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I attach myself to the Minister's comments in regard to the NHS workforce and what tremendous work they've done? We can't reiterate that enough, can we, our thanks for all their work over the past two years.
Can I thank the Minister for her statement today, alongside publishing the plan to reduce waiting times, and also thank the Minister, of course, for the technical briefings that she's provided as well? That's very much appreciated. I'll start by very much welcoming this plan. I do really welcome the fact that this plan has got targets. That's absolutely crucial, and that's a positive element to what I've read through today. I am deeply concerned about setting a target that no-one waits more than a year as far away as 2025. That is, of course, going to be of little comfort to those who are waiting, often in pain and discomfort. We're in 2022 now, and they look and see the year 2025—that's going to be difficult for them to accept. I'm also concerned that the target of 80 per cent for cancer diagnosis and treatment within 62 days by 2026 is just not ambitious enough. There are already people, of course, as it stands now, that are turning to private care.
How and when, Minister, will you ensure that Wales's health boards are effectively communicating with the hundreds and thousands of those waiting for support on waiting lists—those whose, perhaps, physical and mental health is deteriorating in that time as well? How are you going to ensure that health boards are communicating effectively with these people who are waiting for information? Because they're being told they have to wait several years before they are treated. How will these targets be monitored? Will there be an annual report? I know, Minister, that you are going to be holding your officials to account on many of these targets that you've brought forward; how are we in this Senedd going to hold you to account? How can we do that? Are you going to have an annual report? Tell us a little bit more about how we can monitor progress.
I do welcome the use of technology to address some of the pressures on the NHS workforce, but it's been four years since the former health Minister proposed similar plans, and since then we've only just seen the outline plans for e-prescriptions, which could really have lifted much of the bureaucratic burden from doctors and pharmacists. Technology is useful, of course it is, but it's not going to address how an already stretched and strained NHS workforce will be coping, nor will it provide a complete vision for a more flexible and engaged NHS. How will your plan be focusing on retention? What targets are you putting in place for recruitment? How do you think virtual appointments will help someone who needs a hip operation who has been waiting for several years in pain, or somebody who has been losing their sight? How will your online services help those who are unable to access the internet? How will you ensure that face-to-face appointments with doctors are an option?
Being fair, Minister, there are some very positive, high ambitions within your plan. I don't doubt that for a moment. There are some challenging targets that you have put in your plan, in some aspects. But, on first reading, for me, I would like some reassurance that this plan is more than just a sticking plaster. It doesn't address some of the long-term outstanding problems that we've faced within the Welsh NHS. I'm sure you would agree that we want to build back better, don't we, in Wales, after the pandemic. We don't want to just get back to where we were before the pandemic started, we want to be in a better position. So, how is your plan going to do that? Just give us some reassurance that it's not just a sticking plaster on current problems.
Yes, COVID, of course, has impacted on our services. I know you started your statement today, Minister, by saying that you've published your plan to help reduce the long waiting times that have unfortunately built up during the pandemic. That is factually correct. But, what it is also important to say is that we were in a very difficult position before the pandemic started. The number of people on the waiting lists had doubled even before the pandemic hit Wales. We had double the number of people waiting for over a year than in the whole of England in March 2020. That's a pretty staggering statistic considering the size of Wales compared to England's population.
The Member needs to conclude now, because we have quite a few speakers.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'll run through quickly, then.
Can I ask, Minister, about COVID-lite regional hubs? I've gone on about this—I know I've gone on about this, and my predecessor in this position did as well. Tell us when they're going to happen. Tell us when they're going to be in position, because I would really like to know the answer to that today, Minister.
And finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, we've got one in five people in Wales on a waiting list, and a quarter of those are waiting for more than a year for treatment. We've got average waiting times that are 10 times higher than those in England. We've got the worst A&E waiting time records that we've ever seen in Wales, and we've got the second-worst figures just announced on ambulance response times ever. These are all significant records that are being broken in the wrong direction. So, can I ask you, Minister, when the Labour Government will get a grip on some of these issues and stop breaking all the wrong targets and make sure that your plan is actually delivering for the people of Wales?
Thank you, Russell, for your contribution. I'm pleased that you agree that it was important to have targets. You're absolutely right that our targets are clear that nobody should wait more than a year by 2025, but there is an interim target, and that is that we should eliminate the number waiting for longer than two years in most specialities by March 2023. So, that's a way you can hold us to account this time next year, and I ask you to hold me to account in the sense that I'll be holding my officials to account, and we'll be holding health boards to account. I think it's absolutely clear. We've built these targets alongside the health boards. They are telling us that they can hit these targets. It's really important now that we hold their feet to the fire on that.
You asked about a communication strategy. You'll know that there has been a very active communication strategy already, particularly with those who are waiting the longest. Your committee has written a very interesting report, and you'll know from that that the Living Well programme gives advice to people in terms of how they can live well while they're waiting for their operations. Obviously we'll be interested to see if and when other health boards will pick up on that. I will be requiring monthly briefings from my team, but I'm sure that they will be monitoring in real time what's been going on. If there are facilities that are not being used—in particular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. full-time, all of the time—I'll want to know why, and I'm sure you'll be interested to know why as well. There is a target you can hold me to at the end of this year, in fact, as well, where we're saying that people should have their first appointment by the end of this year. We know that many—around 50 per cent, if not more—are waiting for that first initial appointment. So, hopefully, that will help us out.
When it comes to e-prescribing, you know my frustrations, Russell, in relation to this. You'll know that I've put money on the table, but I can assure you that I'm on it. I had a meeting just yesterday to go through how we can speed up the process, because, as you know, I'm not satisfied with waiting for three years for that to happen, and I do think that that could potentially make a big difference in terms of people's time.
You're quite right to focus on not just recruitment, because I think we do have pipelines of recruitment ongoing. We have about 78 per cent more nurses in training than we've had before. We've got about 97 per cent more midwives in training than we've had before. The real issue for me is retention—how do we keep people in the system. In order to do that, we need to incentivise, we need to make sure that there are opportunities for them to make more money, perhaps, through working longer hours. So, all of those things are opportunities for them.
You're quite right to ask what help can a virtual consultation give. What it can do is the preparation work. Obviously, it's not going to help for the operation itself, but there's a lot of pre-op work that can be done virtually, and I think it's really important that that is done. But also, I think we've got to get people to understand that surgery is not always the only option and always the best option. I'm looking at your colleague behind who is an expert in this area, so I'm always very aware of the way I'm speaking when I have such an expert in the Chamber. I was speaking to somebody just this week who was told initially that he may need surgery on his shoulder, and now, actually, some intensive physio has corrected the problem. I think we do need to get people to understand that there are alternatives to surgery.
When you talk about building back better, I was waiting for your surgical hubs, I was waiting for your question around what we're doing in terms of COVID-lite hubs, and I can tell you that, actually, some of these are already up and running. In Cardiff, for example, we have a cataract theatre where, between Cardiff and Swansea, we'll be seeing 600 people per month. That is already up and running. We are going to be seeing a new trauma and orthopaedic centre being developed in Aneurin Bevan in the Royal Gwent. That's going have £1 million, and that's going to see around 3,650 people regularly. There's going to be a new orthopaedic and spinal surgical unit in Swansea and Hywel Dda. That's going to be a green area, that's going to be separate, so it won't be knocked out by urgent care that comes in through the door. I know that's something that surgeons have been asking for. We're going to try and make sure that we separate these paths out as much as possible. It is quite difficult when all the beds are full. It is important that we try and maintain that flow through the system, but also that we have reserve beds, if we can, for surgery to be able to continue.
Then, just in terms of waiting lists, obviously, the pandemic has knocked all of our plans out. We were actually improving as we went into the pandemic. In 2019 there were only 9,000 people waiting for 36 weeks. And I would ask you, Russell, to stop comparing apples and pears. The way that we count in Wales is very, very different from the way they count in England. First of all, it's not all about the numbers of people. So, when we see 700,000 people—
It is very different.
It's not deliberately so. We want—[Interruption.]
You don't need to answer someone from a sedentary position.
We need to be transparent with the public. We think, for example, that it's important to include things like diagnostics and therapies in our waiting list times because, actually, there are thousands of people who are waiting for those. Those are not included in the English figures, so I would ask you to stop comparing apples and pears.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd, and thank you to the Minister for her statement. The first thing I'll say is that I don't think it's possible for me to ask every question that I'd like to ask today, and to be fair, it's not possible for the Minister to provide all of the responses this afternoon. But today is the start of a process in holding the Government to account on the most important task that the Government is currently facing.
Another important thing to say at the outset, in response to this long-awaited plan, is that the problems that we are talking about now are the same problems as those that existed prior to the pandemic. Yes, they are worse, and the figures are so much worse—the waiting times are longer and the waiting lists are longer—but these are the same problems. As the Royal College of Surgeons said in a statement today:
the pandemic has simply exacerbated the problem that we were already facing.
That's the reality of the situation, and that tells us so much about the failure of one Minister after another to put the health and care services of Wales on the sustainable foundations that we need. What the pandemic has done is to show just how unsustainable things were. If it is the Minister's intention to take us back to how things were prior to the pandemic, well, God help us.
I will go through some of the elements of the statement today. I'm pleased that we have had this statement and that this plan is in place. I agree with much of the narrative that we've heard from the Minister—the need to provide the right treatment in the first instance; the need to provide care as close to home as possible—but there are many questions arising as to how, exactly, some of these pledges are to be delivered.
If we're talking about prioritising increasing capacity within the health service, it is a major concern of mine that we are not talking about increasing capacity within health and care services here, because we have to think of these are two halves of the same walnut. One chief executive of a health board told me during the pandemic, when the Minister was making some funding available to the health service, that he would prefer to see the money going to care services because that's where the problem is. We do have to think about the process of recovery post pandemic as a challenge for health and care services.
In terms of prioritising diagnosis and treatment and introducing some new targets, I welcome the fact that there are targets. I am very disappointed with the level of ambition in terms of cancer targets. To be fair, it does reflect the situation that we are in, but we have never reached that target of 75 per cent to start treatment within 62 days. All that's happening is that's being increased from 75 to 80 per cent, and I can't understand how the Minister will be able to achieve that target either without having a cancer plan, which everyone other than the Welsh Government seems to be calling for.
In terms of the broader targets—
I've received some comments today from Cymru Versus Arthritis, worried about the targets that are in relation to cutting waiting times for most specialities, rather than all. Given how long orthopaedic waiting times are, this is one heck of a get-out clause for Welsh Government: 'We'll sort waiting times except those people who are waiting the longest'. I would appreciate an undertaking to publish targets for all specialities, but recognising that the challenge is greater for some specialities, but, again, it's about knowing where we need to go.
Technology, very briefly—I was going to urge you to talk about technology and the use of technology. I'm pleased to see the commitments to develop the portal so that patients can know where they are within the system. Just a few questions arising as a result of that. When will this portal be ready? Will you be using front-line staff to help develop that proposal? And also, will it allow communication between primary care and secondary care, because we do have to have that seamless communication between the different parts of the health service?
I am aware that my time is swiftly running out, so I'll leave it there, because, as I said, this is the beginning of the process of holding the Government to account. And I've quoted them once, and I will do so again, the Royal College of Surgeons—there are good ideas here, but what isn't clear is how these ideas will be delivered, including on something as fundamental as workforce planning. We've heard of the need to plan the workforce; well, we know that, but what we want to know is how that work is going to be done. There's a huge challenge facing the Government.
Thank you very much, Rhun. Certainly, things have changed since the pandemic hit. The fact that we are all using technology in an entirely different way as compared to how we were using it before the pandemic means that there are possibilities now that weren't in place before the pandemic. We want to take advantage of those opportunities to transform the system going forward. But you're right, what we need is to develop sustainable services in the long term and that's why what we intend to do here is to increase capacity. And you talk about transformation; well, that's what we're trying to do, to transform, but the public needs to come with us on this too, to understand that we do have to do things differently and that the way that we have done things in the past—people just taking it for granted that they would be receiving care in a hospital, for example—will change. We want the care to be taking place closer to the people, we want the diagnostics to happen in the community, and that they'll only attend hospital if they generally have to do so. So, we have a priority in terms of diagnosis and treatment, and that is important, because there are many people waiting for their initial diagnosis. We need to know who is waiting, to find out whether that is going to be a serious problem or not, and that's why we are focusing on that during the first few months.
As you know, major funding has gone into the care service. There will be a need for more, certainly, but as you are aware, for the first time we are paying the real living wage to those people who work in this sector. And that's the greatest challenge, I believe, in terms of care, namely to pay people a fair wage, because it's in that way that we will attract more people into the system. But we are working with Plaid Cymru to come up with a programme on how we will go about looking at care in the longer term.
What we've tried to do here is to put in place measures and targets that are realistic, but that also give people hope, and that is vital. At the moment, people don't know what to expect, but with these targets, I hope that they will get a better idea. And it's really important, and I want to make it clear, particularly with regard to orthopaedics, for example—we have to be aware that we are still in a crisis situation. You only need to go to A&E on a Friday evening, as I did last Friday, just to see the pressure on them, and you can see why people are cancelling operations, because there is so much pressure at the back door. And so having beds is vital if you're going to continue and go forward.
So, in terms of orthopaedics, for example, what we'll be doing is changing the way that we do this, to ensure that there are organisations and services provided where we see a great many cataract procedures done swiftly; the same with orthopaedics, as we intend to develop, for example, a centre in Swansea for that. But it's also important that people understand that the median wait at the moment is 42 weeks. So, even though some people are waiting very long, the median wait is 42 weeks. So, it is important that people do understand that too.
Technology and the way that the systems communicate with each other—once, again, we've been discussing that this week. Again, it's difficult to switch that on overnight, but there are plans in place, and I've tried to apply pressure to see whether we can move more swiftly with regard to those systems.
And in terms of workforce planning, you'll be aware that we have a programme, but what's important is that there is an action plan associated with that programme. That's why we're working with HEIW. And part of what we're going to be putting in place here is to ensure that we are entirely clear in terms of the workforce that we need to have in place. And I'm sure that the committee will be interested in seeing what we intend to do in that field.
Members will be aware that we've already gone beyond the allocated time. I ask all remaining Members—I will call you—to keep your contributions succinct and within the time allocation, and for the Minister to also be succinct in her answers, please. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. I congratulate you on not trying to fix a broken system, but instead to have a whole-system change. So, I fully support the work you outline in your plan.
Cataracts, hips and knees are the biggest issues that I find it very difficult how to advise constituents on, because they're obviously things that need to be done by specialists. I'm aware, for example, that a consultant orthopaedic surgeon up in north Wales has pioneered day-care knee surgery. How well is that pioneering work travelling to ensure that other people are also doing that sort of knee surgery, which involves, obviously, a multidisciplinary team of nurses and others, to ensure that people, including the patient's family, know how to do the exercises to enable all that to happen?
We need to change the way we think about things ourselves. I heard Peter Fox earlier decrying the fact that his constituent's children had only been able to see the hygienist, when, unless they've got special needs, the hygienist is the best person to check a child and give them a routine check.
Similarly, the optometrist providing an enhanced service is surely going to help us ensure that those who most urgently need to see the ophthalmologist will get seen. But it does require the ophthalmologist to look at the images that the optometrist is sending them. I know that this happens in Swansea Bay health board, which is why they have such a low level of waiting times. How are you going to get that sort of good practice embedded across the system so that people, those who really do need urgent cataract treatment, are going to the top of the list?
Thanks very much, Jenny. And, certainly, cataracts is an area that we are very much focused on, because, as you say, there are literally thousands of people waiting. We are trying to make sure that we deal with them in a system of priority, so those who are more likely to lose their sight go to the front of the queue. I actually had an eye test this morning and my optician was thrilled to hear that we're going to be changing the law to make sure that they can do far more than just eye tests. And we hope, through changing the law, we will be able to reduce the waiting lists by around a third. So, there are experts that we are not using to their full capacity at the moment, and that's what we intend to do.
And you're absolutely right to point out, I'm afraid, to Mr Fox that, actually, we are going to be doing things differently. You may not see a dentist in the future. It may be that you'll be seeing someone different who is just as capable of finding out whether you need more expert treatment or not. This is about a really different change, a different approach, and I'm glad to see that you've recognised that. So, we will be doing things differently.
Just in terms of day care, you're absolutely right. I spent a very interesting day in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd last week with the clinical head there—very interesting in terms of what they're doing, day care. [Interruption.] And also the kind of—. What's important for me, if you don't mind stopping chuntering at the side there—. What's important to me is that we—[Interruption.] Can you please stop, Darren?
Minister—. Darren, it is fair. We are already out of time. I want to hear the answers and I want other speakers to be able to give their questions.
I'm more than happy to answer you, Darren. Just let's do it in a formal way.
For me, the important thing is that we look at efficiencies but also the costs. So, Cwm Taf can do hip replacements really cheaply compared to some of the other areas, so we've got to learn from those and some of those are about day care. So, certainly, that would avoid the problem in terms of the beds issue, which is the constraint on the system. So, lots to learn and that's what we'll be driving the system to do in the next few years.
I've got three questions and I'll make them very quick. Minister, you talk about recruitment. Dentists and nurses are extremely hard to recruit, especially in places like Brecon and Radnorshire, so do you think that the NHS degree apprenticeships are something that you would bring in to actually try and get more people into the NHS? I'd like to have a comment on that, please. The additional money going into mental health support is welcome, but I'd like to know what specific areas that money is going into to make sure that it's actually not being swallowed up in bureaucracy and going to the front line to support people who are suffering. And finally, you did mention about developing an orthopaedic surgical hub in Swansea, and I'd just like to know how quickly that's being developed and where we are, as of today, with getting that set up. Diolch, Deputy Llywydd.
Thanks. That's the way to ask questions, James. Thanks very much. [Laughter.] I'll see if I can answer in just as efficient a way. First of all, on dentists, look, we're already on it in terms of apprenticeships. So, Health Education and Improvement Wales, we're asking them to really look at what more we can do in that area, where we're using technicians rather than dentists. On mental health, I know that my colleague Lynne is very keen on making sure that we put the emphasis on prevention, stopping the problem from developing in the first place. That's why we're doing it in schools, making sure that there's early intervention and making sure that we have more things like social prescribing to help us out there. And in terms of orthopaedic hubs, I know that Swansea is very much on it in terms of developing their orthopaedic hub and they will be doing that as a result of the £250 million that we invested last year, and I know that they're very much keen to develop that, I think in the Neath area, because it's away from A&E.
Minister, I think he actually asked about degree nurses, rather than degree apprenticeships in dentistry.
It doesn't matter. [Laughter.] Let's move on—[Inaudible.]
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, as we discussed in this Chamber during endometriosis month, the disease has a devastating impact on sufferers. A constituent of mine has contacted me saying that she was told by her consultant at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital yesterday that the NHS aren't doing any operations at all for women with endometriosis—so, no diagnostic laparoscopies, no excision, no thermal ablation. She was due to have an operation a week before the first lockdown in 2020 and six months ago had a call from the medical secretary asking if she would be prepared to go to the Spire for treatment paid for by the NHS, to which she said, 'Yes, of course.' But yesterday she was told to give up any hope of getting surgery—no timescales at all. She has to have an injection every month to chemically induce the menopause and will be put on hormone replacement therapy, something that she's very concerned about because of all the press reports about the shortages with HRT at present, and also because she received this treatment 15 years ago and was made very ill from this treatment. She told me, 'I feel completely invisible.' How do we ensure that she and others like her do not feel invisible?
Thanks very much. Can I tell you that endometriosis is an area that I have really tried to focus on, because I think it's an area that's been neglected for far too long? And that's one of the reasons why, by the end of this term, I will be producing a women's health plan, because I do think that it's really important that we focus on women's health. There are so many areas where we need to understand. What is diabetes in women? How does that affect women? Asthma in women, autism in women, all of these different areas—we need to have a women's lens put on all of these different conditions. But endometriosis is an area where we already have the women's implementation group, which has been set up for a number of years, and they've actually started to deliver. So, I'm really pleased that we already, now, have experts in terms of endometriosis nurses in every health board. Of course we need more surgeons who are able to deal with this, but this is all part of a plan. We can't switch it on overnight, but those nurses are in place. I've been to hear them and been to presentations with them, explaining and describing how to tell patients to manage pain. I'm really delighted that we've already appointed two national clinical leads for pain management, one in Aneurin Bevan and one in Powys, and I hope that those people living with endometriosis will be able to access those as well. So, there's a lot more work to be done on endometriosis, but I'm very pleased with the progress that we're already making.
Finally, Huw Irranca-Davies.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I will keep my question very brief indeed. First of all, I do welcome the plan, because it does give hope, particularly with the targets, but those now have to be not only achievable but delivered as well. Because a lot of us who believe strongly to our dying day in the NHS know that we've got to give confidence back that the system isn't broken. It's bowed, but we can actually fix this and we can get it back onto its feet. And my two questions related to this are these: first of all—and it reflects on the past 10 years—we put the money into the NHS that we are able to that comes through Barnett consequentials. Rigorous analysis that has been done has shown that, over the average 10 years leading up to the start of the pandemic, the increase was around 1.4 per cent per year compared to 3.7 per cent. It was missing, Dirprwy Lywydd, £37 billion. So, is the quantum sufficient that we now have going forward? And secondly, how are the staff ready to deliver this? After coming out of a pandemic, in all the brutal conditions that staff have encountered, now to do this turnaround—. Can it be done? What support will we give to the staff to do it, and is there enough money in the system now to do it as well? But I welcome the fact that nothing's been ruled out of this. You've thrown the kitchen sink at it.
Well, we certainly are trying to throw the kitchen sink at that, and I can tell you that I don't think the system is broken. A system that actually sees 200,000 people a month I don't think is a system that is broken. And I do think that we should appreciate the incredible work that is being done on a weekly basis by the heroes who are in our system, and I think it's really important that we don't talk down the system too much. We know that there are a lot of people waiting, but let's actually also praise the system for the incredible things that they've been able to achieve.
In terms of the budget, what I can tell you is that we are spending around £10 billion a year on the NHS, which makes up more than half of the Welsh budget. So, it is a lot of money, and what I can tell you is that if you look at the amount we're spending on health and care, then we're spending more than England. For me, the important thing now is not about how much we're spending but are we spending it well. We've absolutely got to start making sure that it's not about just chucking money at it; it's absolutely, 'Is it making a difference?' It's got to be about efficiency. And part of what I intend to do is to make sure that we drive efficiency through this programme and make a huge change in terms of really getting the biggest bang for our buck.
I thank the Minister.
Item 6 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Social Justice on the delivery of the programme for government commitment to fund additional police community support officers, and I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt.
Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm pleased to be able to update the Senedd on the delivery of the programme for government commitment to fund 600 police community support officers throughout Wales.
On 24 August 2021, I announced an additional £3.7 million of funding for the extra 100 PCSOs across Wales, and this brought the 2021-22 Welsh Government commitment to over £22 million and met our programme for government commitment.
In a launch event for these additional 100 PCSOs, the First Minister and I visited Neath town centre, along with police and crime commissioner Alun Michael. We met a number of PCSOs and spoke about how they engaged with local people in their communities. It provided an opportunity to understand first-hand what it means to be a PCSO and the important part they play within their communities. And as many of you will know, we've funded PCSOs in Wales for over a decade. It originated as part of the programme for government 2011-16, showing our commitment to supporting safe and strong communities in Wales during a period of austerity. We took the decision to address the massive impact austerity had on policing budgets and to ensure additional officers were in place as quickly as possible. We maintained this commitment through our 2016-21 Government programme, continuing with our support for community safety across Wales.
We do this, of course, despite not having responsibility for policing. That means we have to find the funds for this from within budgets not designed for these purposes. It is, though, a sign of our priorities and how things would be different if policing were devolved, as recommended not just by the Thomas commission, but the Silk commission before it. This is a conversation I'm sure we will return to following our planned publication on the future of justice in the coming weeks. You will recall we held a Senedd debate on the devolution of policing on 9 March, and the Senedd voted in support of this motion.
The success of our funding for PCSOs, and the positive impact they make within their communities, illustrates the value of investing in local policing. It also supported our decision to increase their number by 100 within the current programme for government. PCSOs are crucial to a huge variety of work, protecting people and communities across the length and breadth of Wales. They are at the heart of our neighbourhood policing teams, acting as the link between communities and the police services that protect them. They take a problem-solving approach, developing long-term solutions that minimise adverse impacts on local communities. They are additional ears and eyes on the streets, building relationships and strengthening local intelligence.
As well as tackling issues that arise on the ground, PCSOs are a visible presence in communities, providing confidence and pride in our local areas. They often work with the most vulnerable, providing advice and support to the general public about a wide variety of community safety issues, including protection of property and how to recognise and deal with scams. PCSOs across Wales maintain relationships with the community through various initiatives. 'Cuppa with a Copper' engagements are held on a regular basis, capturing the views of local residents and allowing them to meet with officers in a less formal environment. Other successful initiatives include mental health drop-in sessions, old age pensioner groups, community leader meetings and crime prevention seminars with hospitals and care homes.
PCSOs are also instrumental in engaging with and encouraging young people. Activities range from a diversionary boxing club scheme in Dyfed Powys to delivering the Wales police schools programme. These types of preventative initiatives are a fantastic and effective way to divert young people away from the criminal justice system.
I particularly want to highlight how important PCSOs have been in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last few years have been an unprecedented challenge, putting severe pressure on public services and impacting in fundamental ways on our daily lives. Whilst we've now moved to a predominantly self-regulation approach, at the start of the pandemic, strict public safety rules were brought into place. Finding a constructive way to communicate these rules and ensure they were followed was a challenge of vital importance. Our policing partners, including PCSOs, played an essential role in meeting this challenge and keeping people in Wales safe.
Throughout the pandemic, PCSOs were actively involved in engaging, explaining and encouraging people to comply with the public health rules we put into legislation, delivering vital messaging both on social media and in person. To give just one example, PCSOs held socially distanced meetings in Wrexham to listen to COVID-19 concerns from residents and to provide reassurance and practical safety advice. I'd like to thank our PCSOs for their flexible and pragmatic approach, which has helped to protect lives across Wales during this unprecedented period.
Our commitment to funding PCSOs is just part of our broader approach to working in partnership with policing colleagues in Wales. We work side by side with our four police chiefs and four police and crime commissioners, recognising the key interface between policing and devolved services on matters such as tackling violence against women and girls, housing, mental health and substance misuse. Until such time as the policing and the criminal justice system is fully devolved to Wales, facilitating the delivery of improved outcomes for the people of this country, we will continue to work with the UK Government as effectively as we might under the current, somewhat less than ideal, arrangements.
But the significant investment made by Welsh Government in PCSOs has allowed forces to provide accessible and familiar faces in communities, helping to build trust, confidence and legitimacy with their local police. This is supported at all levels by our strong partnership arrangements. As a result of that strong partnership and our financial commitment, I am pleased to be able to tell you today that by the end of the 2021-22 financial year, the majority of the 100 PCSOs were in post, making an even bigger difference than before to our streets and communities.
I would like to extend my thanks to policing partners for supporting this rapid and welcome bolstering of PCSO numbers. I would also like to thank every PCSO working in Wales for the work that they're doing and the impact that they're having on their communities. I'm sure that Senedd Members will wish to do the same.
Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
Diolch. Well, this is another issue on which we are in agreement. As our Welsh Conservative manifesto stated in 2016, we would:
'Support the role of Police Community Support Officers, and work to realise their potential in tackling crime.'
And, as our 2021 manifesto states, we would:
'Increase funding for Police Community Support Officers each year, and expand the Safer Streets fund'.
Will you therefore now acknowledge that the claim made here by the First Minister on 16 March 2021 that a Welsh Conservative Government would scrap funding for police community support officers was at best ill-informed, and at worst deliberately misleading?
In regard to the safer streets fund, in January, Sarah Atherton MP welcomed the news that the safer streets project in Wrexham was well under way, following the UK Government's awarding of £339,000 to North Wales Police for the project. The safer streets fund is a UK Government initiative that seeks to tackle crime, and the most recent round of funding has a specific focus on tackling violence and crime against women and girls. Last month, the UK Government announced that £150 million of funding will be made available in the fourth round of the safer streets fund, rolling over the next three financial years for police and crime commissioners and local authorities across Wales and England, as well as certain civil society organisations. That's on top of the £70 million already committed by the UK Government to the safer streets fund.
Given that the safer streets fund is clearly central to the work of PCSOs, how would you encourage and support bids for this from Wales and ensure that PCSOs are involved in these bids and in the delivery of the programmes that will hopefully result across our communities? And how will you ensure that this reflects cross-border reality where, for example, the north Wales regional organised crime unit told me that 95 per cent or more of crime in north Wales is local or operates on a cross-border east-west basis?
The safer streets fund builds on existing measures from the UK Government to keep our streets safe, including more than 11,000 police officers recruited across England and Wales as part of the UK Government drive to get 20,000 more police officers on the streets by 2023, meaning that by last October 147 police officers had been recruited in north Wales since September 2019, bringing the total number up to 1,654, virtually on a par with the highest head count on record, not 10 years previously, but 16 years previously, in 2005, and to 139,908 across Wales and England.
More than four in 10 of the new police officer recruits since April 2020 are female. How, therefore, will you ensure that the PCSOs recruited in Wales are also representative of the communities they serve? And what discussions have you had with police forces in Wales about how the PCSOs are assigned and tasked to complement the work of warranted police officers in tackling crime and keeping communities safe?
Finally, why do you state that you funded police and community support officers despite not having responsibility for policing, when the Welsh Government has clear devolved responsibility for community safety, defined as people feeling safe in their local area, and PCSOs act
'As a key liaison point between local communities and policing'?
Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood, and good to have your support for what was our pioneering commitment, I have to say, which takes us way back before your commitments, I have to say. It's good to have your support, Mark—I say that with all goodwill today—but it takes us back to 2011, when we, as a Welsh Government, particularly—. Remember 2011, the start of austerity, cuts to the police forces across the UK, and certainly the impact here in Wales? And we said, 'Yes, it isn't devolved, it's not our responsibility, but we are going to fund this new tranche of PCSOs', and to great effect. I'm sure you agree, from your experience and from my statement, that they have been a tremendous asset in terms of our safer communities, and also our will and our spirit to have that local policing engagement.
I do remember quite clearly, from our political debates, over a year ago now, from our election campaigns, that you had been very clear that you didn't want to fund non-devolved services in your budget. Well, we were very clear in our manifesto that we wanted not only to continue to fund PCSOs, but we were going to increase the numbers of PCSOs, and that is what being in government is about—it's actually delivering on a commitment. It's a priority. It's actually now over £22 million additional that we have been providing in order to make that extra commitment. It's important that we recognise that it is a priority that we have to make that choice in terms of the extra 100 PCSOs that we're supporting. So, this is over £22 million just in terms of this 2021-22 commitment for this financial year.
But I will say that the opportunities for partnership working are very clear, and I do support the safer streets fund. I think, particularly, of our close-working relationship. I chair, as you know, alongside the First Minister, the policing partnership board, and the chief constables are reporting on their developments and the work in their police forces, alongside the police and crime commissioners, and the safer streets fund has been particularly important to raise over the past year when we've been looking at the safety of women and girls in the street, and the ways in which that has influenced the kinds of decisions, the kinds of projects that have come forward. So, I'm really pleased, Mark, that you've referred to the safer streets fund, because although that's not our funding, obviously we can work very closely with our police forces and our local authorities. That's why the devolution of policing is so important, because it is actually about what the feedback from the community is, what the feedback from the local authorities is about safer streets and safer communities, and that we should be influencing those budgets and having control of those budgets as well, in terms of, ultimately, taking responsibility, which we want to do, in terms of policing.
I very much support your point about recruitment. Diversity is key to recruitment. And in terms of the responses that we're getting from police forces in the recruitment that they've been undertaking, I think it's proving to be very positive, and we are also seeing that this is very much reflected in terms of the outcomes in the police force on our streets, in terms of PCSOs and the officers that they're working alongside and with. And, of course, many PCSOs then progress into the police forces, and progress in such a way because of their experience at the heart of their communities.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Peredur Owen Griffiths.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for your statement this afternoon.
Policing is changing rapidly. In recent conversations with senior officers, it's clear that cyber crime, in all its forms, is preoccupying every constabulary throughout the country. New recruits now need to have the IT skills to tackle this growing menace. Having said that, there is still a place for the more traditional forms of policing; patrolling the streets and regular engagement with the community will continue to have a part to play in keeping our streets safe for years to come. This form of policing is particularly reassuring to our older members of our community who speak fondly of seeing bobbies on the beat in years gone by.
Efforts should be made to recruit the new PCSOs from a diverse background to better reflect the communities they operate in. It is a fact that ethnic minorities are under-represented in our police forces. I therefore would like to know more about how the Welsh Government is ensuring that new PCSOs are a microcosm of society at large.
We should not overlook the link between convictions and poverty. This is not to say that poor people commit more crimes, but youth and adult criminal justice systems often punish the poor. Some of our poorest and most vulnerable communities are often over-policed. We know poverty is only going to increase given the cost-of-living crisis, so I'm keen to hear about what poverty reduction initiatives are under consideration to tackle the root cause of why so many young people in deprived communities get into trouble with the police. It has been five years since the closure of Communities First was announced, and we are yet to see an anti-poverty scheme brought in to replace it.
It is a startling anomaly that Wales is still waiting for powers over policing—powers that are already enjoyed by other nations within the UK, and even by Manchester. Wales has had the highest incarceration rate in western Europe, which is compelling evidence that the penal system has failed this country. Behind that statistic many lives have been wrecked, and it has caused untold misery. As I've said previously in the Siambr, the devolution of policing does not just give us the ability to craft a more effective and compassionate justice system; it also has significant material benefits. Devolving justice and policing to Wales would see us receive an additional £25 million to spend on policing and justice—the equivalent of an extra 900 police officers. This would go some way to restoring policing capacity after the drastic cuts made by successive Tory Governments. With that in mind, what is the Government doing to invigorate the campaign to get Westminster to devolve the criminal justice system to Wales? Diolch yn fawr.
Diolch yn fawr, Peredur, and also, as you say, there are so many new skills that our police forces have got to encompass in terms of traditional and new crime, particular cyber crime, which you have highlighted, but also the response, as we've talked about, the local police in the community, community engagement, requires a more traditional on-the-street response and engagement in community groups in the ways that I've described. All over Wales there are such good examples, which they've been so keen to share with us in terms of the impact of the PCSOs as a real force for good—a force for public good and common good.
You make some very important points about the fact that we need more diversity and recognition in our police forces generally. I'm glad that, in our co-operation agreement between the Government and Plaid Cymru, we chose to and we agreed that we should include the criminal justice aspects of the anti-racist action plan. So, we're working on that and I'll be making a statement soon on the way forward with our anti-racist action plan, because there's a recognition that black, Asian and minority ethnic people have over-representation in our criminal justice system, but not enough diversity within the workforce. And I'm pleased that we're working together and looking at that, but very much building on the lived experience of people.
You mentioned, of course, the fact that some of the poorest people are often also at greatest risk, and I recognise that this is something that we need to look at, going back to community safety initiatives and engagement as very important points. But I think, finally, this is about a preventative approach. The PCSOs have developed this preventative, early intervention engagement, which is in terms of deterring offending, but also giving hope and opportunity to, particularly, young people. This is why it should be devolved, as you say, Peredur, because it's all linked to the youth service, it's linked to the schools programme, and it's linked to the ways in which our housing services operate. It all should come together and, when we publish very shortly our justice paper, you will see our commitments in terms of addressing these issues, particularly in terms of making the case very clearly that Lord Thomas made, for the devolution of policing, in that paper.
And finally, Jack Sargeant.
Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Presiding Officer, and can I thank the Minister for updating the Chamber today? Residents in Alyn and Deeside will be pleased that we will be delivering this commitment from the programme for government. It's very timely, because residents in Connah's Quay in particular are frustrated at the moment due to recent incidents of anti-social behaviour. This behaviour means that, sometimes, they don't feel safe in their own communities. Minister, you will be aware that I've spoken a number of times in this Senedd Chamber about the impact of Tory police cuts. I want to set out the reality and set the record straight here. Let's put this very simply, Minister: there are fewer police officers now than there were in 2010. Residents in Alyn and Deeside will be pleased that the Welsh Labour Government are delivering on their promises. The promise that the Tories made back in 2019 during the election campaign, when Boris Johnson came to Deeside, was for an additional 62 police officers specifically for Deeside; this has simply not happened, Minister. I welcome this statement today. I welcome the commitment from the Welsh Labour Government and their continued support of PCSOs, and the work Andy Dunbobbin is doing as north Wales police and crime commissioner. But can I ask you today, Minister, what assessment you have made and the Welsh Government have made of the impact of Tory police cuts on communities like Connah's Quay?