Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30, with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary meeting. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's meeting, and those are set out on your agenda.
The first item is questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and the first question is from Peter Fox.
1. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy about the impact of the Welsh Government’s draft Non-Domestic Rating (Amendment of Definition of Domestic Property) (Wales) Order 2022 on the tourism industry? OQ57912
I held a round-table meeting with the Minister for Economy, Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language on 7 February to discuss the outcome of the consultation on local taxes for second homes and self-catering accommodation.
Thank you very much, Minister, for that response. Llywydd, as the Minister is, I'm sure, already aware, the Welsh Government's proposed changes to raise the occupancy criteria to be classed as a business by 160 per cent has caused quite a stir within the tourism industry. At a time when the sector is still recovering from the financial impacts of the pandemic, such a change has caused concern amongst many accommodation providers who are nervous about the current fragility of bookings that they're experiencing and whether they will be able to reach the new threshold. Now, a recent report by the Wales Tourism Alliance, UKHospitality, and the Professional Association of Self Caterers UK has highlighted that the majority of respondents to the Welsh Government's original consultation supported aligning the rules in Wales to those proposed by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in England, which is a threshold of 105 days compared to the current threshold of 70. Yet, the Government has decided to pursue a threshold of 182 days, seemingly ignoring the views obtained through the original consultation, with very little reasoning provided to sector representatives as to why this is the case. Minister, why has the Welsh Government decided to pursue proposals that a large proportion of the tourism sector in Wales do not agree with? And will you urgently meet with sector representatives to ensure that any future proposals are fit for purpose? Diolch.
I thank Peter Fox for raising this issue this afternoon. I know we will have more of an opportunity to get into some of the detail in the debate that is also scheduled for Plenary today. But it is the case, as Peter Fox recognises, that we did consult on our proposals to changes to local taxes, and we had around 1,000 responses to that consultation, which was an excellent response. And the views that were collected through that consultation, including, I have to say, representations from the wider tourism industry, did clearly support a change to the criteria for self-catering accommodation to be classified as non-domestic. And there was a wide range, it is true to say, as to where people thought we should best pin those levels in terms of the number of nights that accommodation should be advertised for, and then that accommodation should actually be let for, to be considered a business and then to be considered as a business in respect of business rate relief.
We are of the view that self-catering properties should be let on a frequent enough basis to make a real contribution to the local economy and that those that aren't should be subject to council tax. And I have met with the Wales Tourism Alliance—I had an excellent meeting with them very recently—and they did share with me a collation of the 1,500 responses that they've had, which I am considering alongside the work that we're doing on the technical consultation at the moment. But we have had some excellent discussions with the industry throughout the formulation of this piece of work, and, of course, I should add that it's a joint piece of work that we are doing with Plaid Cymru.
2. What consideration did the Minister give to supporting the introduction of community wealth-building strategies when allocating the budgets of local authorities in South Wales West? OQ57934
The economy Minister announced a £1 million backing local firms fund to support the local economy across Wales to deliver more of the products and services required by the public sector. Together with a significantly increased local government settlement, this helps to create more and better jobs closer to home.
Diolch, Weinidog. Our communities have all suffered due to the economic effects of COVID, and this has been compounded of course by the cost-of-living crisis, which is hitting our most disadvantaged areas the hardest. As well as mitigating these crises now, we also need to be ensuring that our communities are resilient enough to be able to weather any future economic storms. So now more than ever our local authorities should prioritise ambitious community wealth-building strategies, utilising procurement spend by local anchors for community benefit. Promises have been made by local authorities, such as by Neath Port Talbot in my region to regenerate its Valleys communities, but the reality on the ground shows those strategies have simply failed to deliver. Gwynedd Council's Keeping the Benefit Local strategy, which considers how best to keep money spent by the council in the local area, is certainly a model to be encouraged in South Wales West. Over the past four years, the amount of council spending staying inside the county increased from £56 million to £78 million, a rise of 39 per cent. Does the Minister agree that the Welsh Government needs to show more leadership on this, and ensure that funding and support are available to local authorities to devise and implement effective community wealth-building strategies, which will create sustainable, resilient communities, to achieve much-needed social and economic transformation?
I'm grateful to Sioned for raising an important issue, especially in the context of having those resilient communities as we move into a very difficult period. And we are absolutely committed, as a Welsh Government, to strengthening the foundational economy here in Wales. We have engaged with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, CLES, to work across five clusters of public services boards, to examine the community wealth-building potential offered through progressive procurement. And, as a result, PSB members have identified procurement priorities, such as increasing engagement with local and third sector suppliers—for example, on housing retrofit, procurement of local food, and also on decarbonisation of supply chains. And the engagement of CLES has also helped to raise awareness of the other pillars of community wealth building, such as how we use our assets and buildings, and also the importance of local workforce strategies, and how they can all work together to support those local well-being priorities. So, absolutely, this is a key focus of my colleague the Minister for Economy. I think we've got good work to build on, in terms of the work that we've done with CLES, the work the public services boards have been doing, and also there are some great examples in terms of what's happening in individual local authorities. The Vale of Glamorgan foundational economy challenge fund, for example, has succeeded in engaging with more than 1,000 new businesses, through events with Business Wales, Sell2Wales, and others, to help understand some of those tendering problems that were preventing small businesses from tendering for their work. So, I think that's been a useful piece of work, and we can certainly explore how we would share the learning from that to other local authorities across Wales.
Now, as we plan for our economic renewal, there are huge opportunities for communities to be engaged in what this looks like and for local authorities to act as the leaders and facilitators. There are examples of this in England, in Preston, where there is an ambitious wealth-building strategy. What strategy does the Minister envisage for Wales to harness the benefit of local procurement, land use, community assets, and the variety of anchor institutions that exist throughout Wales, such as housing associations and third sector bodies? Thank you.
I'm very grateful to Altaf Hussain for raising the Preston model—it's something that Welsh Government has been very interested in as we've been developing our own work on the foundational economy. And it's certainly a model that we did explore in terms of those anchor institutions—the role that the NHS has to play, the role that local authorities have to play, higher education institutions. All of those institutions that aren't going anywhere have a really important role to play in terms of the foundational economy work. And that's something that we have learned very much from the Preston model, and also the work from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. We have, as a result of some of that thinking, supported the NHS in Wales through our foundational economy programme, to embed social value within their contract-award decisions. And in the last financial year, this resulted in over £28 million being won by businesses in Wales. So, we're absolutely using what we learned through the Preston model, but then putting, obviously, our own Welsh stamp and own Welsh emphasis on that.
Questions now from party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Sam Rowlands.
Diolch, Llywydd, and good afternoon, Minister. As an avid council enthusiast, I'm sure the Minister is as equally thrilled as I am to see the local government elections next week. And, firstly, Minister, with the election cycle coming to an end, I'm sure you'd like to join me in thanking all those councillors who have been carrying out that role these last five years. It's been a challenging time for all those elected members, working with their officers and officials in delivering those really essential services over this five-year period. Councillors, as we know, are the unsung heroes oftentimes in our communities.
But, moving on, Minister, how would you assess the role that the Welsh Government has played over the last five years in allowing our councils to deliver on their priorities? Thank you.
Yes, thank you absolutely for giving me that opportunity to put on record my thanks, and Welsh Government's thanks, to councillors of all political parties and none, who have served their communities over the past years, and especially to those who are choosing to stand down this time. I think that I want to put particular thanks on record to those, and also, just from a personal perspective, a huge thank you to those local government leaders who we've been working so closely with over the period that I've been in post, but certainly long before that as well, because they've done an incredible job. I think you referred to the work that's been done over the past five years, and, if anybody needs to know the value of local government, you only have to look at the response that local councillors made over the course of the pandemic, going above and beyond every day to meet the needs of people in their communities. There's no party politics in that. It is absolutely about putting on record our thanks for that.
I think that Welsh Government has tried to work constructively and collaboratively with local government over the past five years, and I think that we've developed excellent relationships with local government. We've sought to have discussions early on so that we can bottom out problems before they become real issues, and I do think that we have that mature relationship with them now, and there's a keenness on our part to support local government to realise their ambitions. And you can see some of that through the support that we've been giving through the city regions approaches, but also through the work that we've been doing with the corporate joint committees and trying to support them to become successful, although we are still at an early stage with that work, as you appreciate.
Thank you, Minister, and you do mention some of those regional bodies that have been set up, I think, from your point of view, to help those councils deliver on their priorities. But I do hear from councils and councillors some of the frustration about the layers of bureaucracy and the layers of governance and boards and bodies being put in place, and public services boards, regional partnership boards, regional leadership boards, and the corporate joint committees that you mentioned. And there's a number of these boards and bodies that have been set up over recent years, which actually take time and energy away from many of those front-line services delivering what residents need on the ground. So, I'm just wondering what plans you might have, or action you'll be thinking about delivering over the next term, in working with councils, to remove some of that bureaucracy and remove some of those layers, which can, at times, take up a huge amount of time and energy. You mentioned the council leaders, and it's often those council leaders who sit on all those bodies and boards away from the ranch, as it were, hearing those on-the-ground issues that they need to support and deliver on. So, what action will you be taking to cut some of that bureaucracy out of the way? Thanks.
I think we've all got a shared interest in ensuring that the strategic partnership landscape across Wales is fit for purpose and is enabling rather than hindering delivery for communities. I think regional partnership boards in particular do have a special focus, but there's nothing to stop members of PSBs choosing to merge to match the local health board and, therefore, the RPB footprint, for example. So, there are options for the regional partnership boards to take.
We've been very much of the view that any changes of this sort should be from the ground up, but I have committed to meeting with all the chairs of the RPBs to discuss their experiences, and perhaps this will be an opportunity to hear from them what they think the best fit, if you like, for serving local communities is. But I absolutely don't want to see duplication. I don't want to see onerous work on individuals. So, there is work to be done, and it's part of our commitment with Plaid Cymru to look at our strategic partnership landscape to make sure that it is working in the optimum way. But I welcome ideas from all parts of the Chamber.
Thanks, Minister, and it is really welcome to hear that that work will be undertaken to understand the effectiveness of all those boards and bodies, and the importance, of course, of our locally elected councillors delivering on the ground for their residents. But, over the last 20 years or so, we have, of course, also seen this historic underfunding of councils, which has forced councillors to increase council tax—around a 200 per cent increase over the 20 years—with our hardworking residents bearing the brunt of these costs. I would say that now is the time to provide a plan to deliver stronger and safer communities, empowering local people, because they know what's best for their area, as I say, to deliver on the ground, tackling the issues that blight our communities. And, of course, I would say it's only the Welsh Conservatives who have the ability to deliver in our local communities. So, Minister, would you share my enthusiasm that a vote for Welsh Conservatives next week at the council elections will empower local councils whilst delivering stronger and safer communities?
I always like to answer a direct question with a direct answer. So, no, I do not agree with the Member on that. I am surprised that, in the week of local government elections, or just before that week of local government elections, the Conservative Member would want to raise what he describes as historic underfunding of local government in Wales, because, of course, this is nothing if it's not a remnant of the period of austerity, which we went to. It's absolutely the case that Welsh Government is only able to provide the funding to local government that we receive from the UK Government, and although we have had an improved settlement this year, we've always sought to prioritise local government within the funding that we have. But we have been through 10 years of austerity and that's being felt still by local authorities, of course it is, but also by households right across Wales, as we move into the cost-of-living crisis.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. In February, your Government announced that 53,000 care workers in Wales would receive a bonus payment of around £1,000. Now, any additional funding for workers in that sector is to be welcomed, of course, but one-off bonus payments aren't the answer. They don't get to grips with the real problem. What is needed is for workers in the care sector to be recognised as they deserve in their wages on a monthly basis, month after month, year after year, and treated with parity with those working in the health sector. This bonus payment was a headline; it was a sticking plaster. So, what funding is available and in place to reward, stabilise and grow the care workforce in the long term, as is required?
Well, Welsh Government was very pleased to deliver very early on our manifesto commitment to deliver a real living wage for people working in the social care sector, and, of course, that work is being led by the Minister with responsibility for social services, but we were very pleased to be able to deliver that. But to bridge workers in that sector to that, of course, we did announce the recent bonus, or recent payment, I should say, to people working in that sector as registered professionals, social care workers—it's specifically those in care homes, domicillary care and personal assistants who are paid through direct payments—to ensure that they have the benefit of that before the real living wage payment kicks in. But we tried to make sure that there was very early action on that in terms of delivering on that particular pledge.
The Government has made a mess of the attempt to introduce bonus payments time after time, it has to be said, over the past few years. I said, a moment ago, that of course any additional payment is to be welcomed by those who receive it, but another major problem is that many aren't receiving it: kitchen workers and cleaners in care homes, as constituents of mine and the Unison union have drawn attention to—people who work in day centres for adults too. It's a long list, and for them all they see is their role being undermined. Now, the payment creates a two-tier system within the workforce, and it's hard to think of a clearer way to tell some people, 'Sorry, you're not being appreciated.' Now, as you are such firm believers as a Government that it's through one-off bonus payments that you show your appreciation, will we have a commitment to pay that bonus of £1,000 to the whole care workforce?
So, just to be clear, the £1,000 payment that we're talking about here is not a bonus payment. We were able to pay two bonus payments to people working in the social care sector during the course of the pandemic. The first was a £500 payment and then a second payment of £735. We were clear that those were bonus payments, they were thank you payments for the work that had been undertaken by people working in those sectors, working under incredible stress, working in very, very difficult and fraught situations, and that was a payment to say thank you for that work.
What we have today and what we're talking about today is the £1,000 payment, which is, as I've described, that bridging payment between the point at which we were able to announce the real living wage and the delivery of it through the budget for this and forthcoming years. So, they are two very different payments, and that's why the same groups of people aren't captured by them. This payment that we're talking about at the moment isn't a bonus payment in the same way that previous payments were. So, I think we are talking about two different payments. I don't want to give the impression at all that the work of everybody in these settings isn't absolutely valued, but we are talking about two different payments with different purposes.
3. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of uncontested seats in Welsh local government elections? OQ57910
While we don't centrally collect information on the number of uncontested seats in Welsh local government elections, I'm aware the Electoral Reform Society states that there are 74 uncontested seats across Wales.
Thank you for your response there, Minister. I'm really concerned at seeing that number of uncontested seats, with 28 of those being in Gwynedd and 19 in Pembrokeshire. It's really disappointing that that's taking place, removing the ability for what I would see as proper democracy to take place via a vote. I'm sure, Minister, you saw the BBC news article earlier this month that did highlight, regretfully, that online abuse has forced many councillors to quit or no longer want to stand, along with potential candidates who simply don't want to be on the receiving end of that bullying. An example of this was from Huw George, who is a baptist minister in Pembrokeshire, who said he's always welcomed the scrutiny of political decisions but personal attacks on both his use of the Welsh language and on his faith are, of course, completely unacceptable. So, Minister, would you agree with me that this needs addressing? Our councillors and candidates should not be receiving this horrid personal abuse. Would you also, in the same breath, join me in thanking those people who are putting themselves up for election next week and wish them all the best in standing for those elections?
Absolutely. I think that anybody who puts themselves forward for public service through election is doing something incredibly brave, and it is important that people have that opportunity to make that contribution to their communities and are able to do so in a way that doesn't subject them or find them subjected to abuse. The abuse that people in public life receive is appalling. I think that probably you'd be a very lucky person in this Chamber if you hadn't come across some awful treatment, usually through social media, but also in other ways. So, we have to do everything that we can to make sure that people who stand for election and people who are elected aren't subject to that abuse. It's partly about coming together across parties to call it out when we see it and to stand together in that sense, but it's also about doing things such as using our legislation in the way that we have to ensure now that candidates no longer have to have their home addresses published in public and so on. So, there are certain important safeguards that we can put in place, but in this discussion I'm really wary that we don't want to put people off public service as well. There is this abuse that all of us face, but actually it's an incredible privilege to do these jobs, and I think that we always need to keep our eye on that as well when we're talking about the negative side and the darker side of the experiences people have.
We would all like to see more contested seats. I certainly would. I haven't got an election at home in Pembrokeshire either, where there are 19 uncontested seats. And Sam Rowlands is right to point out that the attacks, the public attacks, on individuals already in office are deterring people from standing. And we've only seen, at the weekend, what Angela Rayner suffered at the hands of a Tory MP and the reporting in the Sunday Mirror. So, my question is this, Minister—. I hope that all parties, whichever party it is, when they are putting out statements about candidates or elected people, are mindful of the damage that they can be doing. There have been other such cases, of course, by Plaid Cymru very recently in Grangetown. So, you know, we cannot ask on the one hand people to stand and then attack those who are standing on the other hand. We have a personal responsibility, and I just ask you, Minister, if you'll make that crystal clear.
Absolutely. We do all have a personal responsibility to show leadership in this area and to undertake constructive and robust debate. You can have a robust debate without resorting to those personal attacks, and I do think that it puts off people from politics when they're observing these kinds of things happening. That's one of the reasons I'm so pleased to see that the Welsh Local Government Association has shown some real leadership in these elections with their fair and respectful election campaign pledge. They've facilitated that, and I think that that should give an important springboard to the new councillors who will be coming in following the election. And I think that there's important work to be done in terms of those early periods, when people are getting settled into the role of councillors, so that they understand the code of conduct, what's expected of them in terms of the way in which they conduct themselves in debates and so forth. So, lots of work for us to do there, but also to make sure that people have the support that they need when they do find themselves, unfortunately, on the receiving end of unpleasantness.
Good afternoon, Minister. I do echo and endorse the comments made by Sam Rowlands and thank him for raising this issue, and also those comments by Joyce Watson as well. The same also applies to our town and community councils across Wales. There are 735 community and town councils in Wales, covering approximately 94 per cent of the land area and 70 per cent of the population of Wales. There's a huge untapped potential here, especially in rural areas, to better shape and deliver place-based services in dialogue with communities. I wonder if I could ask you what your vision, long term, short term, is for those town and community councils and the steps that you're taking to ensure their success? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
I'd absolutely like to join Jane Dodds in recognising the important role of town and community councillors in serving and shaping their local communities, and I've had some really good meetings with One Voice Wales to understand what the sector believes that its potential is. And I know that we have town and community councils of all shapes and sizes and of all kinds of experience and levels of ambition, and I think that it's important that we look to those town and community councils that are making really, really impactful choices within their communities and to explore how we can use One Voice Wales and others to help other town and community councils to look to that level of ambition. I think that we've got some amazing case studies that we can look to right across Wales.
But, again, being a town and community councillor is another way you can make an incredible contribution to your community. Again, you're very accessible, so this is one of the things that we need to ensure, that people don't feel that that fact that you're usually well known in your community is something that should necessarily be a barrier. Because another one of those things that was mentioned in the article to which Sam Rowlands referred was the sense that councillors and town and community councillors feel that they need to be on duty 24/7, they need to drop everything at 10 o'clock on a Friday night to go and deal with the immediate issue that they've been telephoned about. So, that kind of support for a work-life balance for those councillors, particularly at town and community level, I think is really important as well.
4. What discussions has the Minister had with HM Treasury to ensure that the Welsh Government has the finance it needs to support the people of Islwyn through the cost-of-living crisis? OQ57922
I have raised the cost-of-living crisis with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury several times, however, the UK Government support still does not go far enough. We will continue to assist those most vulnerable through this crisis and push the UK Government to recognise the impacts facing Wales.
Thank you, Minister. People in my constituency of Islwyn and across Wales are facing a truly unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that in 2022-23 we will see the biggest fall in living standards since records began. We know that the poorest in society will be impacted the most, particularly those on benefits in constituencies like mine. Minister, I welcome what the Welsh Government has done so far, in partnership with local authorities, to try and address the challenges individuals and their families face, including the £150 payment for all households in tax bands A to D, an extension of the winter fuel support scheme worth £200 for eligible households, and the £25 million for local authorities to provide discretionary support. But we know that the problem is deeper than this. We know that the UK Government have the levers to provide that vital support, but as their inaction at the recent spring statement showed, the Tories simply do not care about the financial challenges that the most vulnerable face. Minister, as individuals and families face this unprecedented squeeze on their household finances, what can be done to get the UK Government to act responsibly and support the most vulnerable in our communities?
Rhianon Passmore is absolutely right that the recent spring statement was an absolute scandal in terms of not being able to address the cost-of-living crisis that is now facing individuals and families right across Wales. It's only now that families will start seeing their fuel bills go up. We know that energy company chief executive officers predict that, without UK Government intervention, up to 40 per cent of households will go into fuel poverty in this year, and, of course, on top of all that, we are seeing the largest tax rises in 30 years from the UK Government, and those will start to be biting this month as well. So, I think that things are going to get more difficult.
We will do everything that we can within our powers and resources to support the most vulnerable through this period, but it does need serious action from the UK Government. We've come up with some practical steps that the UK Government could take, for example, we've repeatedly urged them to increase the generosity of the Warm Homes discount. They could fund that through an increase in general taxation rather than the levy on other household energy users, because we know that that social levy actually hits hardest those families that can't afford it. We also would like to see a social tariff introduced, so that the people who are on those very low incomes are able to access energy at a reduced cost. And, of course, the UK Government could also introduce a windfall levy on the excess profits that have been made by energy companies and use that revenue then to support the poorest households. So, there's plenty yet that the UK Government can do to support families in Wales and across the rest of the UK.
Minister, I'm sure that you'll recognise, and from the answers that you've given so far, you definitely do recognise the importance of keeping people in employment to support them through the cost-of-living crisis. So, just to clarify, in addition to the UK Government's £9 billion package to help families in the UK with their fuel bills, including a £150 council tax rebate for households in property bands A to D, they—as in the UK Government—have also protected 25,900 jobs in Caerphilly through the furlough scheme and provided support for 5,700 self-employed individuals worth £51.6 million. Caerphilly will also benefit from over £1.3 million in UK Government community renewal fund investment. So, Minister, do you agree with me that the hardship currently being faced by families in Islwyn would be far greater without the huge sums of money being provided by the UK Conservative Government? Thank you.
Our package of support that we're able to offer people living in Wales is almost double that which we've received in consequentials from the UK Government. So, you will get the £150 payment in households in bands A to D in Wales, but you'll also get it in all of the other remaining bands if you are somebody who is in receipt of the council tax reduction scheme, recognising that there will be people beyond those bands A to D who are struggling and will be needing some extra assistance with their bills. We've also, earlier on this year, provided a £200 payment to those households on the lowest incomes. We did that without any extra support from the UK Government and it's not something that was available to people across the border in England, and we've committed to providing that additional £200 again later on this year, but we're looking to expand the number of households that will benefit from that. And just to be clear, this is not money that will have to be paid back to the Welsh Government. Unlike the UK Government's lending scheme, we will actually be providing that as a grant to households and we look forward to doing so later on this year because we recognise that the cost-of-living crisis will be with us for some time—it's not just a one-off event.
5. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy regarding the provision of financial support for the tourism sector in North Wales? OQ57916
I regularly engage with the Minister for Economy on a range of issues, including tourism. We have delivered a budget allocation of over £16.9 million per year to support tourism throughout Wales over the next three-year period, including eight projects in north Wales through the brilliant basics 2020-21 fund.
Diolch. Well, self-catering accommodation is key to a tourism sector in north Wales. Questioning you last month, I highlighted concerns raised with me by actual legitimate Welsh holiday let businesses that your local taxation proposals would devastate them, quoting business owners who told me, 'I fear we'll end up bankrupt', and, 'How could council tax be charged on cottages that have planning permission that states they can never be residential?' You referred in your response to the technical consultation open to response, but businesses then told me, 'The consultation is not really a consultation on the decision to increase holiday let thresholds. This is hardly a chance for us as genuine businesses to have our say.'
How do you therefore respond to their question: can the Welsh Government really be serious about their occupancy limits given the evidence submitted in the report produced by Wales Tourism Alliance, UKHospitality Cymru and the Professional Association of Self Caterers UK, which found that less than 1 per cent of the respondents to the Welsh Government's consultation—just nine people—suggested the occupancy threshold proposed by the Welsh Government, while the industry's own larger consultation, with 1,500 replies in just four days, showed that a significant majority of businesses cannot meet this new threshold, that it will reduce local owners' ability to earn an income and cause a decline in secondary jobs in hospitality, retail, house maintenance and cleaning, and that it will not safeguard the Welsh language as these businesses will be lost to wealthier outsiders?
Well, the proposals were subject to a 12-week consultation. So, there was, I would argue, ample opportunity for businesses and representative bodies to engage with that consultation, and, indeed, they did. We had over 1,000 responses to that consultation, many of which supported the increase in the number of nights that a property must be offered for or actually let. So, we did have strong responses to that consultation. Since then, I've also met, as I said to Peter Fox, with the Wales Tourism Alliance, and we did discuss in detail that specific point you made about the issue regarding planning conditions on certain properties, and that's something that I did commit at that meeting to exploring further, and that's something that I'm currently in the process of taking some advice on.
6. What is the Minister's assessment of the local government settlement provided to Wrexham County Borough Council for the current financial year? OQ57937
I prioritised funding for local government when setting the Welsh budget. In 2022-23, Wrexham County Borough Council will receive a 9.4 per cent increase in its core settlement allocation.
Well, thank you, Minister. It's really heartening to hear you, Jane Dodds, Joyce Watson and Sam Rowlands paying tribute to councillors and to councils who have acted heroically during the course of the pandemic and faced criticism often that is unwarranted. The Welsh Local Government Association, of course, welcomed this year's settlement for councils as the best in decades, and it comes at a time when there is unprecedented joint working between the Welsh Government and Wrexham council on projects such as the Wrexham Gateway, the City of Culture bid and, of course, the Newbridge road repair scheme in my own constituency. You announced recently £2.8 million for that scheme. How important is this sort of joint working between the Welsh Government and local councils, and, Minister, would you assure my constituents that the Welsh Government is absolutely committed to helping Wrexham council and other local authorities navigate through what will be a very difficult period as we emerge from the COVID pandemic and face, together, the cost-of-living crisis?
Absolutely, I would give your constituents that reassurance that Welsh Government will always seek to work very closely with local authorities on our areas of shared responsibility and shared interest, and particularly now to work together to support people through that cost-of-living crisis.
I think that we've developed, through the crisis of COVID, excellent mechanisms, excellent relationships and excellent ways to communicate that will, I think, put us in good stead to meet the other challenges that we'll now face, one of which being the cost-of-living crisis, but then also the issues around the plight that people fleeing Ukraine will be facing. We've established some really good mechanisms to work with local authorities to make sure that people do have a warm welcome when they come to Wales, and they have the services and support that are needed to wrap around them to make sure that they are welcomed and that they feel safe when they do come here to Wales.
So, I think the relationships we have have been excellent. I hope that they will continue in that vein, but we still yet face many challenges that we'll need to work on together. And alongside the immediate challenges, we have what I would think of as immediate and longer term challenges in respect of issues such as climate change and our need to work on decarbonisation together. So, after the local government elections, I look forward to meeting again with leaders and meeting again with new leaders. I know that we will certainly have some, because there are a couple of leaders who are standing down, so I look forward to meeting with new leaders and old to work out how we can continue to address these challenges together.
7. How does the Minister work with council leaders to ensure that decisions they take are in the public interest? OQ57908
Local authorities are independent, democratically accountable bodies that are responsible for scrutinising their own decisions. From May, each principal council will have a duty to encourage local people to participate in their decision making. This will provide councils with a fuller understanding of the public interest in their area.
I thank the Minister for the answer. One such poor decision, I'm afraid, that would not have been taken in the public interest would be a recent one by Swansea Council in the area we both represent, Minister. You and I both attended the wonderful opening of the Swansea Arena, which was delivered by the Welsh Government, the UK Government and local council working together. It shows what can be achieved when everybody works together. However, that positive atmosphere was totally soured the following day when it was revealed that Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart named rooms in the new arena after Labour councillors. That was a move that was described as 'tin-eared', 'cronyism' and 'totally out of touch with the people of Swansea', and, thankfully, thanks to the pressure of the people of Swansea and its Conservative councillors, the leader later backtracked and decided to launch a consultation on the naming of the arena. But this whole debacle does raise serious questions about the current council's leadership and their ability to take decisions in the public interest. So, can I ask, Minister: what assessment have you made of the ability of the current leadership of Swansea Council to prioritise the interests of the people Swansea over the interests of the Labour Party?
Llywydd, again I have to answer a straight question with a straight answer, and I think that the leader of Swansea Council absolutely puts first the people of Swansea in the work that he does. I think that he is ambitious for the people of Swansea and he has a strong vision for Swansea, as we saw that at the opening of the new arena. I will leave it there before I go further than the Llywydd allows me, but I think that you understand the point I make.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on Isle of Anglesey County Council's budget? OQ57935
I prioritised funding for local government when setting the Welsh budget. In 2022-23, the Isle of Anglesey will receive £114.6 million through the local government settlement, an increase of 9.2 per cent. This good settlement allows the council to set a budget to maintain and invest in services.
It's good to see some kind of loosening in terms of the budgets this year, but councils under the leadership of all parties will have faced major budgetary challenges over the past few years. But despite that, the situation in Anglesey has been transformed. In 2017-18 the Wales Audit Office criticised the council on Anglesey quite severely for how vulnerable its financial situation was and how fragile its situation was. But by now they've acknowledged the excellent work that has been done to transform the situation to place the council in a sufficiently strong position in terms of its budget. Now, it's important that we do appreciate and value the work of our councillors in all parts of Wales. So, does the Minister agree with me that this transformation has been possible because of the clear vision and stability of the leadership of Plaid Cymru and its partners on that council?
I think we've seen improved financial situations in councils across Wales, to be fair, and that is in part in relation to and as a result of the past three years, certainly, in terms of the budgets that Welsh Government has been able to provide to local authorities in terms of prioritising local government alongside the health service. It doesn't mean, of course, that we're not facing some difficult periods ahead. Years 2 and 3 of the spending review look particularly difficult, which is one of the reasons why, in the last financial year, I was pleased to try and find additional capital funding, particularly for local authorities, so that they could carry it through to plans for years 2 and 3 if that's what they wished to do, or spend it sooner if they wanted. I think that authorities across Wales are in a much better position than they were, but there will still be some difficult choices ahead.
9. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the UK Government's apprenticeships levy on the finances of local authorities? OQ57928
The apprenticeship levy was imposed on local authorities by the UK Government. Welsh Ministers were not consulted, and the UK Government did not consider its impact or the consequences on the devolution settlement.
Thank you for the answer, Minister. I would like to see apprenticeship programmes being used to fill the current gaps in local authority recruitment. Councils are struggling to fill positions such as highway officers, planners and drainage experts. These are technical positions that require training and expertise as well as a strong knowledge of the local area. However, the apprenticeship levy brought in by the Tory UK Government in 2017 is a financial barrier and has a disproportionate affect in Wales and the public sector here. Around 700 employers in Wales pay the 0.5 per cent levy, including all public sector employers, the NHS, local government and the police. Despite the additional financial burden the levy places on Welsh public sector employers, there is no noticeable additional funding available in Wales as a result of the levy. For instance, Flintshire County Council—I must declare I'm still a Flintshire councillor for a week—will incur an additional cost of £617,840 this year. What representations has the Minister made to the UK Government about the financial impact of the apprenticeship levy on the public sector here in Wales? Thank you.
We did make strong representations to the UK Government at the time when the UK Government was considering introducing the levy, making that point that it does essentially represent an additional tax burden for the public sector here in Wales, and effectively it reduces the funding available to them to fulfil their duties. As the revenues from the levy have replaced existing apprenticeship funding in England, the levy doesn't actually provide any new significant money for us here in Wales. That was absolutely a smoke and mirrors job on the part of the UK Government.
That said, it doesn't mean that we're not very much committed to apprenticeships. The economy Minister has made some announcements in regard to our commitment for those all-age apprenticeships, which will be really important. I share the concerns, really, around the specialisms that some local authorities are really struggling with. I had a really good meeting with the leader of the WLGA and others just a couple of days ago, looking particularly in that instance at the challenges around the statutory inspection services, environmental health, and so on. These are skills that we've really, really relied on throughout the course of the pandemic, yet they are still in short supply, and things that we need to be exploring how we develop in future. I've got the same conversations going on around procurement—public procurement is another area where we need to be investing in the skills of people for the future, and particularly trying to ensure that we get them into our public services and keep them when they're there. I think that there are areas of particular pressure in regard to the skills that local authorities have, but I just want to reassure colleagues that it is something that we're working with local government on to seek to address.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is questions to the Minister for rural affairs and north Wales, and the first question is from Carolyn Thomas.
1. What plans does the Welsh Government have to legally recognise animal sentience in the devolved policy-making process? OQ57929
The UK Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has completed its parliamentary journey and is awaiting Royal Assent. The Welsh Government has set out its priorities in 'Our Animal Welfare Plan for Wales 2021-26' and will determine our own direction on sentience, recognising that animals are sentient beings.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Brexit has left the UK lacking when it comes to legislation to protect animal welfare, and action must be taken as a matter of urgency. RSPCA research has shown that approximately 73 per cent of its inspectors believe that animal cruelty is committed because people do not understand that animals are sentient, with feelings and emotions. With emergency lines receiving over 1 million calls annually, it's clear that greater understanding of animal welfare is needed right across the UK. Would the Minister be willing to work alongside the Minister for education to promote educational programmes aimed at improving people's understanding of animal sentience and how it is relevant to us in our everyday lives, particularly as the introduction of Wales's new curriculum provides an opportunity for teachers to inform students about empathy and compassion? Diolch.
Thank you very much. I certainly share your concern, and the statistics you came forward with are certainly a matter for concern and very worrying. During the previous term of Government, I did meet with the former Minister for Education whilst she was looking at the new curriculum to see if it was possible to perhaps include something in the curriculum in the way you suggest. I also wanted to see if we could do more about responsible pet ownership, because I thought that was very important, with children and young people. As you say, the curriculum will be introduced later this year, and I will certainly ask my officials to follow up on this with the Minister for education to see if there is anything further that can be done.
The RSPCA was just one of many animal welfare organisations that celebrated when the Conservative UK Government's Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill passed through the House of Lords on 7 April. This legislation will now require all UK Government policy to be scrutinised by a newly formed animal sentience committee. While it is clear that the UK Government is once again leading the way in recognising animal sentience in law, the Welsh Government make no mention of this issue in either their animal welfare plan for Wales nor any other recently published documents. This does raise serious concerns amongst organisations such as RSPCA Cymru, who outlined that, without action, a scrutiny deficit for animals in Wales may develop. Given this, will the Minister commit to following the UK Government in establishing an animal sentience committee to ensure that a scrutiny deficit does not occur and that animals in Wales are afforded the same protection as those in England? Diolch.
I certainly don't just intend to follow what the UK Government are doing or have done. I think you've made a really important point—that it's about actions. I think if you look at the plan that we've brought forward for this term of Government, you will see it's all about actions. It's no good having a strategy and legislation, it's about the implementation of that. You'll see within our plan the things that we will be bringing forward in the next five years. We did follow the Bill very closely, as we always do with any new legislation that comes in from the UK Government, and obviously whilst its provisions didn't apply to Wales, I think animal health and welfare is an area that we've really worked very closely on with the UK Government.
2. What action is the Welsh Government taking to increase the amount of Welsh food that is processed in Wales? OQ57915
The Welsh Government invests heavily in food processors by providing grant support through the food business investment and rural business investment schemes. We have also provided technical support through Project Helix, and soft support such as engagement in trade events and through our business clusters and networks.
That's excellent news, Minister, because COVID, Brexit and the war in Ukraine have all weakened the security of our food supply lines. Notoriously, Welsh milk had to be poured down the drain during the lockdown because the west London processor refused to come and collect it. And obviously, the rise and rise of petrol prices makes it much more expensive to process food outside our country. You've listed a lot of interesting initiatives; are you able to give any sense of the quantity of food that is now not having to travel across lines as a result of the work of Food Innovation Wales and other people?
You named three immediate challenges that our food and drink sector have had to face, and are continuing to face. Obviously, we're still dealing with the fallout of leaving the European Union, the COVID pandemic is not over, and, obviously, the Ukraine war is also adding another layer of difficulty. I mentioned all of the initiatives that we have. I can't give you the actual quantity of food, but what I will say is I think one of the things that I recognised when I first came into this portfolio was that we needed to build the capacity around food processing, and dairy particularly. I was very pleased in the first week of the Easter recess to visit the new Mona Dairy that will be opening on Anglesey, I think in June, and they told me that if it hadn't been for the £3 million that they received from Welsh Government in a grant, it probably wouldn't have taken place. They've put significant funding in themselves, so it's great to hear those sorts of stories, and see how a small amount of money—£3 million within a budget like my own is a relatively small amount—helps with the processing, because as you say, one thing we don't want to see again is that very—. I think it was very emotive to see that milk being poured away, and I know how much distress it did cause to our farmers.
I thank the Member for Cardiff Central for raising what is an important and timely topic, and I agree that more Welsh food needs to be processed in Wales, particularly given the disruption to supply chains that we've seen in recent years. It is then regrettable that, as Professor Terry Marsden has previously put it, there has been a decline in and hollowing out of the food infrastructures in Wales. For example, the Farmers' Union of Wales recently pointed out that Wales has lost around 90 per cent of its slaughterhouses over the past three decades. Now, back in June 2019, the then Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee made a series of recommendations to the Welsh Government about food processing. This included undertaking a mapping exercise to determine the strength of the sector, as well as establishing an industry-led group to consider policy interventions to increase capacity, and to add value to supply chains. Minister, what progress has the Government made in implementing these recommendations to strengthen the food processing sector? Diolch.
Thank you. For me, one of the biggest initiatives is Project HELIX. I don't know if the Member is aware of Project HELIX but, for me, that has been the scheme that has really moved things on in a way that I think is very, very positive for the sector. It provides innovation, it provides technical support for food manufacturing and for our processing businesses, and I know this has been very welcomed. As I said, I've been really keen to try and improve capacity, and I gave one example in the dairy sector, but I've been equally as keen to do it with other parts of the processing sector as well.
So, we have a variety of schemes. You'll be aware we've got three food innovation centres across Wales, one in Llangefni, one in Ceredigion and one here in Cardiff. And again, those three centres have really supported the processing part of the food and drink sector over the past few years, particularly during COVID.
Questions now from party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Samuel Kurtz.
Diolch, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Minister. The total number of Welsh shellfish and general fish vessels landing in Wales has seen a continuous reduction since 2018, a period in which you've presided over the industry and witnessed this decline. To reverse this sad trend, the significance of stakeholder engagement shouldn't be underestimated, especially when it comes to understanding why this industry is facing a downward spiral. The importance of hearing first-hand from industry specialists is well recognised. Therefore, I was concerned to hear that last month's engagement event with industry stakeholders failed to materialise. Given this, Minister, will you give a clear commitment to conduct future meetings with fisheries and aquaculture stakeholders, and can you outline what action the Welsh Government is taking to ensure that this long-standing Welsh industry is protected for future generations?
I did recently meet with stakeholders from both fisheries and aquaculture—I think it was probably the beginning of this year—because I wanted to engage with them about future stakeholder engagement. I think it's really important that we get the architecture right. I know my officials have continued to engage with them. We're looking at what we can do to make the fisheries industry far more robust. Another area I'm really keen on is to bring new entrants into fisheries in a way that we've done with the agriculture sector, and also to try and encourage more women to go, and I was very pleased to speak at the inaugural meeting of Women in Fisheries.FootnoteLink
Thank you, Minister, and I notice that you make no reference to the meeting in March and I would ask that the stakeholder engagement with fisheries and aquaculture stakeholders is continued with some urgency.
But moving on to the Glastir woodland creation scheme, in November of last year, I raised the issue of this, with money being paid to recipients based outside of Wales. Between November 2019 and November 2020, the number of such applicants increased from 3 per cent to 8 per cent, with the total proportion of land involved in these applications rising from 10 per cent to 16 per cent. Well over £1 million leaves Wales to businesses outside of Wales in a move that shows complete disregard for our rural communities.
There have been numerous examples of such businesses buying Welsh land highlighted in the press and here in the Chamber. There's no new agricultural land being created, Minister, and this trend is not sustainable. Therefore, can you provide an update on the current situation surrounding Glastir woodland creation funds and what measures your Government have put in place to safeguard our rural communities, culture and language by reducing the amount of Welsh public money finding its way into the bank accounts of international and multinational companies?
Well, it is a matter of fact that some land in Wales is owned by English landlords. For all Glastir schemes that we have where a payment has been made or committed, of the £251.1 million spent, £4.4 million was made to addresses outside of Wales. So, I don't know if you're trying to create a picture that a significant amount of funding is going out, but that is the fact of what it is. So, that's less than 2 per cent—less than 2 per cent of the money paid out under Glastir schemes goes to beneficiaries with addresses outside of Wales.
Now, do I want farmland now to be sold to people outside of Wales? No, of course I don't. However, I cannot tell farmers who to sell their land to and I don't think that you or your party would want me to do so. I am very concerned about practices that I am hearing about where people are being cold called to sell their land. I think it's fair to say that some of the farms that are being cold called are perhaps in a bit of a vulnerable position and people are playing on that. And we don't want to hear about anybody in a vulnerable position receiving phone calls like that.
So, as I say, I can't tell farmers who to sell their land to. It is also of concern that we are hearing, again, anecdotally mainly—and I have asked for concrete evidence around this—that we've got large companies coming into Wales and buying up land in order to plant trees to offset their carbon emissions. So, officials are working very closely, and I'm working very closely, with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change in relation to that area, but if anybody has any evidence of that practice, I would be very keen to hear about it.
Thank you, Minister. It's not purely anecdotal, there are given clear examples of these businesses, predominantly London-based businesses, buying Welsh agricultural land for green-washing afforestation, which does play into the hands of the need for increasing our food security here. And yesterday, your colleague the First Minister made some interesting comments about the forthcoming agriculture Bill, particularly around its content and your future ambitions for this important industry.
We were pleased on these benches that the further delay to the agriculture Bill is down to you and your team looking at it again, given the horrific conflict in Ukraine and its impact on food security. However, on multiple occasions, you've consistently told these benches that the production of food is not a public good, because, as you've said, food is a marketable commodity, and therefore, by Welsh Government standards, falls outside the remit of this important classification. Can you help me better understand, then, Minister, that if this is the policy of the Welsh Government, to not support something with a marketable value, then why do early suggestions show that the agriculture Bill will see Welsh Government support carbon sequestration despite there being a fast-growing carbon capture market? Doesn't this fly in the face of the 'public money for public goods' mantra of this Labour Government?
I'm glad you thought the First Minister made some interesting comments. I thought your leader actually made some interesting comments. He actually said that I stated in committee that the agriculture Bill would not be introduced before Christmas. I do hope, Llywydd, he takes the opportunity to apologise for misleading the Chamber, because at the time I said I hadn't, and I certainly went back and looked at the Record of my committee appearance, and I said that I couldn't give a time, but it certainly wouldn't be this month, as in April, the month we're in now. So, I do hope the leader of the opposition takes the opportunity to put the record right.
In relation to the further delay, I have asked my officials to look at the challenges that Jenny Rathbone raised. There are a number of challenges that have meant the agricultural Bill isn't as ready as early as I would have liked, and I think the rest of the Welsh Government would have liked. The First Minister spoke about the impact of trade deals. He spoke about the impact of leaving the European Union. And as we know, we've also got the Ukraine war, and the food supply is very important. I've always made it very clear that food cannot be a public good because it has a market. So, if you look at the definition of public goods, they don't have a market. So, the carbon capture that you refer to is a public good. However, what we've done, as we've been developing the Bill—and it's obviously been in process now for probably four and a half, five years—is look at what we can do in relation to sustainable food production. And that theme flows through and has flowed through the consultations. When we had the first consultation, back in, I think it was 2017, 2018, I was really keen to make sure the word 'food' was in it. And if you look at the UK Government's proposals, the word 'food' wasn't in there. We were very, very keen to do that. The sustainable farming scheme, which will obviously go alongside the agriculture Bill, is being developed now. And it is really important that we continue to work with everyone, really, including our farming unions. And they're very keen for me to look at how we can have a carbon calculator, for instance, and a group of—and I'm sure you're aware of this because I know the young farmers are one of the signees to the letter they wrote to me, to look at what we can do. So, work with us on this—I'm very keen to hear your views around the agriculture Bill—we'll be sharing a draft—and I know we're meeting opposition spokespeople next week, and perhaps we can have a further discussion.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I want to focus on Sam Kurtz's first question, if I may.
Official figures on the Welsh fleet landings suggest that the Welsh fishing fleet is now at a dangerously low ebb, and if the current trajectory continues, it's in danger of disappearing soon. Overall, Welsh vessel landings have fallen from a high of 11,300 in 2017 to nearly a quarter of that, just over 3,000 last year. That's a huge drop of nearly 75 per cent in the number of Welsh vessel landings. Indeed, when compared to landings of the other nations of the UK, Wales's fleet landings for all species is a tiny fraction of landings in Scotland—a mere 1 per cent of Scottish landings. We're in danger of losing a sector culturally and economically important in rural Wales. So, we need a clear plan in order to ensure a viable future for the industry. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there is one currently, let alone a co-produced plan with the industry. The Wales marine fisheries advisory group has been under review since the end of 2020. And while, from your answer earlier, we understand that you had an unofficial meeting recently, no formal fisheries stakeholder engagement has taken place since 11 March 2021, over a year ago. Given that the joint fisheries statement and development of fisheries management plans are moving at pace, when do you expect to announce the details of the new enhanced engagement structure in Wales, and when do you expect the first meeting to take place?
Thank you. I quite agree with what you're saying about the Welsh fishing industry, and our concerns about it, and it is so important for our coastal communities. They were two formal meetings I held, actually. Sorry, I didn't answer the question about the March meeting, and I wasn't aware it had been cancelled—I thought officials had met. And those meetings will continue, and I'm due to meet with the stakeholders again—I think it's next month, May. In relation to the Wales marine fisheries advisory group, as you say, I took the opportunity—it was following the end of the tenure of the previous chair, who I think had been in post for about 10 years—to review the group. And I did conclude that we do need to move to a different approach, going forward, and not expect one sole group to undertake all that we did expect of that one group. So, I will be announcing what we're going to do in relation to stakeholder engagement, probably before the end of this term that we're in now, before the summer.
Thank you very much, Minister. I'm sure that response will give hope to some in the sector at least.
As we know, the sector is integral for our food security. As we've noted, it has huge potential. However, like other sectors, it too is suffering the consequences of the multiple crises facing society today. The fishing fleet is having to make fewer trips per week, or have to focus on the near shore as they have to regularly maintain set gear in the hope of enough catch to cover the costs. All ancillaries have also risen in cost dramatically—steel, ropes, nets and bait, for example. Energy costs for storing fish and shellfish is also a significant issue. Direct sales have been affected due to the implications of the rising cost of living, resulting in restaurants cancelling, or at best significantly reducing standing orders. Packaging and transport courier costs are also impacting the sector, as these increased costs cannot be passed on to the consumer without reducing consumer demand further.
The EU is making provisions with an European maritime, fisheries and aquaculture fund programme to support the EU fishing fleet, together with an EU temporary crisis framework that sets out a much broader package of financial support for member states. Northern Ireland is due to make statements on a support package for the Northern Irish fishing fleet soon, and a joint appeal, co-signed by the UK national fishing organisation, has also been made to the UK fisheries Minister.
So, Minister, what support is the Welsh Government providing to the Welsh fishing fleet to ensure it survives this current crisis?
Thank you. Well, you mentioned the marine and fisheries future funding replacement, and the proposals for all four countries are currently under development. Officials have embarked on further engagement with our stakeholders to ensure co-production of the scheme, which will support various commitments that we already have in our new programme for government.
The investment through the EMFAF replacement scheme will contribute to the Welsh national marine plan, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, as well as the principles and commitments of the JFS, which you'll be aware of, the joint fisheries statement, and fisheries management plans. The UK spending review and budget allocated £6.2 million over the next three financial years to the Welsh Government for marine and fisheries, and that will enable us to make a very positive change to that sector, working with the stakeholders.
3. How is the Welsh Government co-operating with UK Government departments and agencies to protect animal welfare by preventing the illegal importation of dogs through Welsh ports? OQ57924
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of illegal puppy smuggling through Welsh ports on animal welfare in Wales? OQ57907
Llywydd, I understand that you've given your permission for questions 3 and 5 to be grouped.
The Welsh Government has been working closely with the UK Government departments on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. The Bill intends to introduce a series of measures that will discourage the illegal importation of dogs before they reach Welsh ports, measures that have been designed following close consultation with agencies and stakeholders.
Thank you so much, Minister. The UK Conservative Government is seeking views from the public and industry on plans to safeguard the welfare of imported puppies and dogs. The Dogs Trust points out that, currently, only, and I quote,
'a "document and identity" check on imported pets is required by the rules of PETS, this is conducted by ferry and Eurotunnel staff with no expertise in animal welfare. This does not include a requirement to visualise the imported pet.'
Do you agree, Minister, that legislation must introduce a visual check of all animals entering the country via the pet travel scheme, and that the focus of enforcement for the pet travel legislation must be shifted from carriers to Government agencies, with a requrirement for there to be sufficient out-of-hours and weekend cover at ports by these agencies? Thank you.
I certainly think the UK Government's plan to tackle puppy smuggling doesn't go far enough. I think it will leave the door open for organised criminals to continue to profit from this vile practice. At the moment, as you infer, there's no requirement for ferry or for Eurotunnel staff to see the dogs that are being imported. The Government's got to introduce, I think, visual checks at the border, because I really don't think, without those checks, we'd have any chance of ending this cruel trade.
Minister, unfortunately, the abhorrent act of puppy smuggling is on the increase due to the extremely high prices that dogs can sell for. One of the major issues causing puppy smuggling is that dogs can be purchased via the internet and collected from someone's home, which opens the opportunity for smuggled puppies to be presented to buyers as having been bred in a healthy environment with high standards of welfare, when, in fact, they've been bred on puppy farms, smuggled in appalling conditions, and simply presented to buyers. This is not only extremely traumatic for the animal in question, but there are wider consequences. These smuggled puppies often need considerable veterinary care, which comes at great expense, and in many cases animals have died not long after being purchased or have lifelong health conditions and in many instances psychological and behavioural issues. This has the knock-on effect that some people are unable to afford to keep these animals and they end up in rehoming centres or simply discarded.
In light of the significant suffering of puppies caught up in the illegal import trade and the potential disease risks that they pose, it is clear, as has already been mentioned, that existing importation regulations do not provide adequate protection for dogs. Moreover, there needs to be much tighter control of selling of dogs from unlicensed breeders, particularly using the internet. I am certain there would be cross-party support for any proposals for better and more substantial regulation to help stop both the illegal smuggling of all animals and their sale online. So, Minister, in your professional opinion, what possible amendments could be made to existing legislation, both at a devolved level and a UK Government level, that tackles the selling of animals online, and what discussions have you had with the UK Government regarding this? Thank you.
Thank you. The Member raises a very important point. You'll be aware of legislation I brought in at the tail end of last year to ensure that people really think about where they buy their puppies and kittens from, or any dog, to make sure that they meet with the breeder and they see that the breeder is a legal one. We're working very closely with local authorities around the enforcement of this.
At the moment, my officials are working closely with both the UK Government and the Scottish Government on changes to commercial imports of pet animals, and the aim of that is to deliver it within the new kept animals Bill. One thing we want to see is the minimum age of imported dogs increased—so, to go from 15 weeks to six months. We want to ban the importation of dogs with non-exempted mutilations, prohibit the importation and non-commercial movement of a bitch that is more than 42 days pregnant—provisions that are to be supported by a really robust enforcement system. As I say, we're now in the third year of a three-year programme, working with our local authorities to ensure that enforcement is far more robust, and that does include both civil and criminal sanctions.
Whilst we can make regulations about the buying and selling of dogs, unless there is a paper trail—or more correctly today, an electronic trail—it will always be open to abuse. Does the Minister agree with me that a good first step would be to bring back dog licences and keep a record of dogs, their buyers and their sellers?
You and I are both old enough, Mike, to remember dog licences. I think there are quite a few people in the Chamber who probably don't remember them. I remember, when I first came into post, asking why we wouldn't have dog licences back. But I have been persuaded that there are a lot more things that we can do. There are more important and more worthwhile things to make sure that we have a better system—so, compulsory microchipping, for instance; the border controls that we have on imports, and you've just heard me say in previous answers how we can improve that; regulation on the sales of puppies and kittens that we introduced last year, which I know you were very keen to see brought forward; and those enhancements to strengthen enforcement within our local authorities.
Dog licensing was actually abolished in 1988, and I did think, when I looked back at the system and the briefing I had, it was probably quite unmanageable and it was very expensive. So, I do hope that the range of measures that we have brought in do increase the traceability of dogs and puppies, particularly the ones I outlined.
4. What assessment has the Government made of the impact on animal welfare of the inability of people on low incomes to pay for pet food and veterinary fees? OQ57920
We acknowledge the issue raised in relation to costs associated with responsible pet ownership for those on low incomes. Officials regularly discuss this issue with our third sector partners, both to monitor the situation and see if more can be done to publicise the support they offer.
Thank you, Minister. Recently, I visited a foodbank in my region that is increasingly receiving requests from individuals and families that they support for pet food. The manager shared with me that many were thinking of getting rid of their pets because they were concerned that they couldn't afford to feed them because of the cost-of-living crisis, and neither would they be able to pay veterinary fees. As anyone who's owned a pet will know, they are often considered by their owners to be an integral part of the family, and, for those living alone, providing comfort and company, which can be invaluable. How will the Welsh Government therefore ensure that the cost-of-living crisis doesn't impact on animal health and well-being? I don't think that enough is being done at the moment.
Well, unfortunately, you do raise a significant area of concern. Through our Animal Welfare Network Wales and Companion Animal Welfare Group Wales, officials continue to have discussions with third sector organisations such as PDSA, the Dogs Trust and Cats Protection, to monitor the current situation. I am aware, obviously, of many vets who also participate in those discussions and do a great deal.
I think that it is really important that we continue to highlight the cost of pets. It is a lifelong commitment for the life of that pet. As you say, they are absolutely members of our families. To be faced with the cost-of-living crisis, I can well imagine that foodbanks are receiving requests in the way that you refer to.
You will be aware of our Paws, Prevent, Protect social media campaign, and that's an area where we also continue to highlight the reminder to people of the lifetime costs associated with owning a pet, particularly puppies. I will refer back again to our animal welfare plan, and I think that the partnership that brought that plan forward is really key to the success of ensuring that we do reiterate to people about the cost, but also about how we can help.
6. How does the Minister work with the Minister for Economy to ensure north Wales benefits from equal economic outcomes to the rest of Wales? OQ57909
I have regular scheduled meetings with the Minister for Economy to discuss a wide range of economic opportunities across a number of key sectors, including those within the north Wales growth deal.
Thank you, Minister, and I welcome the fact that you have those conversations with the Minister for Economy. I'm sure that you agree with me that it's really important that north Wales does receive its fair share compared to other parts of Wales. But, we do continue to see a divide between north and south Wales, which is sad to see. An example of that is GVA. We see, for example, that Ynys Môn has around half of the GVA per head of down here in Cardiff. We see a health board that unfortunately continues to lag behind, especially in really important areas such as A&E waiting times. We see underinvestment, in my view, in transport. An example of that is the north Wales metro, which is earmarked for £50 million, versus south Wales, which has £750 million earmarked down here. Many people I speak to in north Wales, Minister, do feel that there is a gap between what is invested in south Wales versus what is invested and the opportunities in north Wales. So, Minister, why do people in north Wales feel that there is that gap, and what is the Welsh Government going to do to change that?
So, as a north Wales representative myself, I hear it too. I don't recognise some of the divides that I'm told that are there. However, perception is everything in politics, and certainly there is that perceived divide. But I think that you can prove many times that, indeed, it's not the case. Sometimes, I think it's a bit 'apples and pears'. You're not comparing like for like. What is important, if we go back to the first part of your question, is that north Wales gets its fair share—that all our constituencies in north Wales get their fair share. I think that that is really important. I think one area that we are going to be let down about is the shared prosperity fund. That funding should have come to us, for us to decide as a Government how it is shared across Wales. So, it is really important that we do get our fair share. As the Minister for north Wales, I am constantly ensuring that discussions are going on. I think that, in relation to energy, for instance—and I know that you are very well aware of the Conwy energy plans—that's an area where we absolutely can lead the way, and we will be having the divide the other way.
Minister, you may have seen my article for the Welsh Fabians today about the future of the north Wales economy, and if you haven't, I'm sure that you will read it with interest in due course. But sadly, the article comes at a time when we once again have been let down by the UK Conservative Government. Minister, will you use your role as Minister for North Wales to speak to the UK Tory Ministers and remind them that north Wales does exist, and that when they miss us out for funding—like the shared prosperity fund, like the community renewal fund—it reinforces that message, doesn't it, Minister, that the Tories do not care about north Wales?
Yes, I absolutely agree with Jack Sargeant's analysis of the Tories and their view of north Wales. I haven't had the opportunity to read your article, but I certainly will do so. And I go back to what the First Minister was saying yesterday and the many questions he had around the shared prosperity fund—the UK Government has failed to meet its pledge to fully replace that EU funding, deducting existing EU receipts before allocating money through the SPF. I think it's really important that the UK Government, even at this very late stage, start to engage with us much more if they want us to play our part in helping them ensure that local authorities get their fair share, and I will certainly be very happy to do that.
7. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the war in Ukraine on the agriculture sector in mid and west Wales? OQ57931
Diolch. We are closely monitoring the impacts of the war in Ukraine on all the agricultural sectors, particularly the rate of inflation of input costs. The UK agricultural market monitoring group is meeting regularly to assess the position, and I will continue to maintain dialogue with all our stakeholders as the situation develops.
Thank you very much, Minister. Well, as you will know, there is no doubt that this is a very serious and difficult situation for farmers, with prices for products, energy and fuel increasing, and this on top of the cuts to the agriculture budgets from the Conservative Government and the trade deals that are going to be very damaging to the sector. And the disastrous scenes in Ukraine are placing additional pressures on our farmers. We're familiar with the historic status of Ukraine as the bread basket of Europe, with Russia and Ukraine responsible for 30 per cent of global wheat production and some 30 per cent of maize in Britain—two vital ingredients in animal feed. And we heard yesterday that the price of fertiliser has increased around four times to about £1,000 per tonne, and the implications of this on the cost of producing food are very significant, and the reality is that every ounce of food that we can't produce in these nations is likely to come out of the mouths of the poorest people in the world. So, Minister, as farmers face these difficulties, what assessment have you made of the impact of the war on the agricultural sector in mid and west Wales?
Thank you. I don't disagree with anything you say around the very serious situation in relation to the war in Ukraine, and this evening I'm meeting with my counterparts from the UK Government and Scotland to discuss, particularly, fuel prices, because we know that there is a significant increase in those input costs faced by our agricultural producers in recent months, and that's only been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine. You mentioned that 30 per cent of wheat comes here from Ukraine; in some of the African countries it's 100 per cent. And the issue I raised with the UK Government was that we're a very globally responsible country here in Wales and we should be thinking about how we can help countries that do have 100 per cent of some ingredients from Ukraine.
We are working very closely to monitor the position. I mentioned the group that does that. That's an internal technical group between the four Governments that advises us as Ministers in relation to these issues, and I'm in regular contact with many of our stakeholders, who certainly tell me that the prices of the commodities you refer to are having a severe impact. I visited a farm in the first week of Easter recess, and the farmer had bought a large load of fertiliser—I think it was two or three weeks before—and he said, 'I don't know whether to sell it or spread it,' because it had gone up so much in cost. So, I think it is an area for concern that is going to have an impact further down the line. But those discussions will continue. As I say, I have a meeting this evening, because I think we need to keep a very close eye on it.
Minister, the war in Ukraine has really highlighted just how fragile the global supply chains are around the world, and, as my colleague the leader of the opposition mentioned yesterday, farmers are facing huge pressures with regard to rising costs of red diesel, fertiliser prices, and feed to actually feed their animals. Minister, this is a huge problem. The first job of any good Government is to feed its population. So, can you assure me, Minister, that food production will be the main key driving factor of your agricultural Bill and the future support for farmers, so that we can weather all the world events that are thrown our way to ensure that we can make sure that the people of Wales are fed? Diolch, Llywydd.
You will have heard me say in an earlier answer to Samuel Kurtz that sustainable food production is absolutely part of the sustainable farming scheme and the agricultural Bill. I am very aware of all the issues that you've raised and I think it's really important that we do work together as different Governments across the UK, because, obviously, food security, food supply, is absolutely integral across the UK. So, as I say, I have a meeting later this evening.
Laura Anne Jones is not here to ask her question 8.
Question 8 [OQ57918] not asked.
So, question 9, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
9. Will the Minister make a statement on the seafood industry in Ynys Môn? OQ57936
Thank you. The seafood industry is an important sector in Ynys Môn. We support the industry in a number of ways, including the introduction of fisheries management legislation, supported attendance at international events and facilitated funding applications.
Thank you very much. The Minister is aware that I've asked for a meeting with her for some time to discuss the need for investment in the seafood sector in Ynys Môn. I'm pleased that, since I tabled this question, a time has been agreed upon so that we can meet, and I look forward to meeting the Minister and her officials. There are numerous opportunities, I am clear on that, to develop this sector. There is great expertise in fish farming on land in Ynys Môn through recirculatory aquaculture systems, and there is huge potential to develop the sector. I want to discuss that. I want to discuss supporting business such as the lobster sellers, The Lobster Pot, to reach new markets, how to put the mussel industry back on its feet after it was destroyed by Brexit. So, does the Minister share that ambition that I have to try and give renewed momentum to the sector in Ynys Môn and in the rest of Wales, and can she give me a pledge that she will make it her own personal business to try and push for that momentum?
Yes, absolutely, and I look forward to hearing your ideas at our meeting. I don't know if you're aware, but Seafood Expo Global is currently taking place out in Barcelona, and I know there is very good representation from Ynys Môn businesses there. In Dubai Expo 2020, which was held earlier this year, again I think there was good representation—certainly good representation from the seafood sector here in Wales. I do think there was one business from Ynys Môn that was represented there. So, it's really good that we continue to support businesses to be able to export, despite all the challenges that are going on, but I'll certainly be very interested to hear any ideas, and my officials will too.
And finally, question 10, Vikki Howells.
10. Will the Minister provide an update on Welsh Government priorities for the food and drink sector in Wales? OQ57932
Thank you. I laid out my priorities for the food and drink sector in my industry vision. They are to continue supporting a strong, vibrant industry with improving productivity, fair work provision, increasingly adopting industry accreditation and improving sustainability. I also seek strong networks between and within supply chains, adding value to primary production, retail and the service sector.
I thank you, Minister, for that answer, and of course the food and drink sector is incredibly important to the Welsh economy, contributing £17.3 billion in gross sales annually. It's really important, then, that our skills policy aligns with the needs of the sector so that it can thrive and support good quality jobs. So, could you tell us what discussions you've had with colleagues across Government to ensure that this is the case?
Thank you. You're quite right: it's a very important sector and, alongside the gross sales you referred to, it also employs 0.25 million people here in Wales. I have to say, my colleagues in Welsh Government are very supportive; they see the food sector as a priority sector. We have many funded projects: we've got Food Skills Cymru, personal learning accounts that have been funded through our further education colleges to upskill people in all areas of the industry, whether that be business management or leadership or trade negotiations, food technology, health and safety. There's a really good number of case studies on the Food Skills Cymru website, and I'd encourage Members to have a look at that. Apprenticeships, as you know, have also been undergoing a review here in Wales, and I've been very keen to promote as many food sector apprenticeships as possible. I'd like to really see an increase in the number of apprentices that we have in this field.
I think another thing that we need to do is make the sector a bit more attractive. I think it's quite often viewed as unsociable hours, for instance. So, I think businesses really need to look at the shift patterns that they use to encourage more people to go into the sector.
I thank the Minister.
The topical questions are next. I've agreed to one question, to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Social Services, and to be asked by Gareth Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. And I thank you for accepting this important topical question this afternoon.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the exclusion of auxiliary care home staff from the care home and home care workers' bonus payments? TQ620
Thank you. The additional payment scheme is aligned to our introduction of the real living wage. It demonstrates our commitment to further improving terms and conditions and career structures for registered care workers. Ancillary staff deliver highly valuable roles, but are not registered care workers, and therefore are not in scope for this scheme.
Thank you for that answer, Deputy Minister. I'm pleased to see that the BBC today is reporting your rejection to pass on the £1,000 bonus for care workers onto all care home staff, including those who work as cleaners and in the kitchens. Top-quality care doesn't just depend on our excellent carers. Without a whole host of supporting roles, care will suffer. And it's a team effort—a team that have been through hell and back during this pandemic, and who suffered the strains of the pandemic and staff shortages. Your decision to exclude that bonus from care home kitchen staff, cleaners and caretakers is discriminatory, as if they didn't also go the extra mile during the pandemic. Were there no strict cleaning and hygiene procedures to follow? Did residents suddenly not need to be fed? Did these auxiliary staff just lay down tools and go home? No, they didn't. The staff believe it's unfair. I believe it's unfair, as do all of us on the Welsh Conservative benches. So, Deputy Minister, with that in mind, will you now agree to reconsider and pay all staff working in our care sector this bonus?
Thank you. I thank Gareth Davies for that question, that supplementary question. Schemes in 2020 and 2021 provided payments of £500 and £735 to a wider of range of workers in the social care sector, including those valuable workers that he's mentioned: the cleaners, the cooks, the gardeners—everybody in the care system. These payments were to recognise the extraordinary commitment of staff during the worst periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's absolutely right that the ancillary staff in the care homes rightly received both these payments. And that was in recognition of the danger that they were in and that they did go the extra mile, and I'm really glad we were able to pay them that.
This is completely different, this new additional payment. It's specifically aligned, as I said, to our introduction of the real living wage for social care workers from this month—the real living wage is being introduced this month—and it's to demonstrate our commitment to make further improvements in the terms and conditions of professional social care jobs and to develop an improved career structure, and we continue to work with the social care fair work forum to these ends. We know that the kitchen staff, cleaners, activity co-ordinators, reception staff, they do a hugely valuable job and they ensure the highest quality of care provision. But they do not require the delivery of personal care that requires registration with Social Care Wales. We are trying to build up social care as a profession, and this is linked to the registration.
Thank you to the Deputy Minister for coming before us to give her response. But the truth is that there are several people who've contacted me and others here over the past few weeks to complain and express their concerns that they have been exempted from this bonus. Indeed, they say now that there are two tiers in the workforce in the care homes and that they, as auxiliary workers, feel that they're on the second tier. Now, the truth is—. To provide effective care services, this is the result of a whole-team effort, as we've heard, from the managers, to the care providers, to the care workers, to the cleaners, to the cooks and everyone else who is part of that process of ensuring that our loved ones are cared for. So, it's entirely incorrect that this Government has differentiated between the workforce and demonstrates a lack of respect and appreciation for this cohort who work so hard. I understand your argument that the intention is to ensure that these care workers are recognised and that it becomes a recognised profession so that people want to enter the profession, and that you want to increase the wage level, but that is also true about the auxiliary workforce. They deserve a better wage, they too deserve better working conditions. So, can I urge you once again to reconsider this decision and ensure that everyone who works in the sector receives this bonus payment to show that everyone is valued?
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Thank you for that contribution. I want to absolutely assure you that there is no lack of respect for all those ancillary workers in the care homes; we absolutely respect what they do and have acknowledged that by the two previous payments that we have made. But, as I said in response to the previous question, this is aimed specifically at registered social care workers, and those groups of workers don't fit into that category. We are trying to build up social care as a profession; we want to have social care recognised in a way that recognises the hugely important job that they do. And, of course, the other ancillary workers, they do an enormously important job, but they're not required to be registered social care workers. So, this is aimed specifically at them. And I'm glad that the Member understands the logic of what we're trying to say, but I would hate anyone to think that we didn't appreciate the huge contribution made by all the other ancillary workers.
I thank the Deputy Minister.
Item 4 is next—the 90-second statements. This week, there is just one statement, and I call on Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. This week marks Global Intergenerational Week, an opportunity to celebrate the connections we have with people of all ages in our everyday lives. The past couple of years have presented acute challenges for both younger and older people, so it's fitting that the theme around this year's global campaign centres on reconnecting, combatting loneliness and isolation, celebrating intergenerational spaces and, of course, solidarity.
To mark this important week, the Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research is launching a national photography competition, and it's doing that alongside the Senedd's cross-party group on intergenerational solidarity, which it's my pleasure to chair. The competition is inviting entries that celebrate moments of connection across generations. It should be a visual celebration of finding kindred spirits, whether they're five or ninety-five. I'd urge anyone of any age who is interested in taking part to visit the website of the Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research. So, this Global Intergenerational Week, I hope that we can all keep in mind how forging connections, challenging ageism and celebrating solidarity between different age groups is vital for the health and well-being of our communities, but, perhaps most importantly, Dirprwy Lywydd, it's a way of bringing joy to millions of people's lives. So, I wish you all a very happy Global Intergenerational Week.
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Lesley Griffiths.
We move on to item 4—no, item 5, the Welsh Conservatives debate on tourism. I call on Tom Giffard to move the motion.
Motion NDM7990 Darren Millar
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Celebrates Wales's strength as a world-class tourist destination.
2. Regrets the devastating impact of COVID restrictions on the tourism industry in Wales.
3. Believes that the Welsh Government's proposed changes to the non-domestic ratings system will undermine many holiday letting businesses.
4. Notes Wales Tourism Alliance data that shows a large majority of businesses will be unable to meet the criteria to qualify as a holiday let business.
5. Calls on the Welsh Government to:
a) abandon damaging proposals for a tourism tax in Wales;
b) acknowledge that the majority of responses to its consultation oppose the proposed non-domestic rates changes for holiday lets;
c) scrap plans to extend the number of days that a property must be let in order to meet the non-domestic rating requirement.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd. I formally open this debate today on tourism in Wales, tabled in the name of my colleague Darren Millar.
Whether it be Porthcawl, Prestatyn, Barry, Llandudno or Tenby, the Welsh Conservatives are the party that truly represents tourism communities here in Wales. Wales has so much to offer for prospective tourists not only from within the UK, but from across the world. And I know that Members across this Chamber and virtually will be only too keen to mention tourism destinations in their local areas in this debate, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to mention some of mine. In my region of South Wales West alone, I can boast the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty, the Gower peninsula; Neath abbey, which was described as the fairest abbey in all of Wales; and Porthcawl, home to the annual Elvis festival. As you shake, rattle and roll across South Wales West, you simply can't help falling in love with the place, but I wouldn't recommend staying at the heartbreak hotel. [Laughter.]
We all know the importance of the tourism industry to Wales. In 2019, there were 154,000 people in Wales working in tourism-related industries, and, according to the Wales Tourism Alliance, pre COVID, one in every seven jobs in Wales was in tourism or dependent on it. But the tourism industry has had a tough time of it over the last two years. Quite often, it was the businesses that operated in this sector that were the first to close and the last to reopen, with a whole host of other restrictions along the way. And I know that many tourism businesses were grateful for some support packages from the Welsh Government, but in particular, it was the UK Government's furlough scheme that kept many afloat, which means we still have such a vibrant tourism sector in Wales today. But the reason we tabled this debate is because many who operate in the tourism sector don't share that same optimism about the future. Specifically, they're worried about a double whammy of additional burdens that the Welsh Government are planning to place on them.
Firstly, I wanted to talk about the proposals from the Welsh Government to change the occupancy threshold for self-catering accommodation from 70 days of occupancy per year to a massive 182 days. And whilst the Welsh Government is seeking to take action on second homes, it's a blunt instrument that'll end up as a hammer blow to the tourism sector instead. And the key reason for that is the Welsh Government has either been unable or unwilling to make a distinction between second homes and self-catering holiday lets. This means that many normal people across Wales who let out flats, houses and cottages to visitors will be completely unable to meet the new threshold and it will price them out completely of ever being able to afford to offer visitor accommodation to people across Wales and internationally. And that isn't a political argument; that's something that'll impact real tourism operators here in Wales.
The Wales Tourism Alliance has helpfully surveyed some of their members, and here are just some of the things they had to say. One said, 'Over the last 20 years, I've never been able to meet the accommodation for 182 days a year, and that won't change in April 2023.' One holiday-let business in Pembrokeshire said, 'I'm seriously considering selling my property. This will not free up a permanent home for a local person, but potentially take affordable holiday accommodation off the market and thereby reduce tourism income into the local economy.' Another—
Will you take an intervention on that?
The point here is, though, that they can't even put their property into the housing market because the planning permissions that were given don't allow for that. So, this is the issue here, where there's an absolute anomaly that needs to be addressed.
No, you're absolutely right, and I think my colleague Mark Isherwood raised that with the Minister earlier, and it's a really important point and I hope the Welsh Government work on that proposal as well, because a lot will see themselves shut out from that.
Well, another operator in Ceredigion said, 'The impact of the 182 rule on my business would mean that I would be unlikely to reach this threshold having reached 22 weeks in 2021, which is a good year, and with 18 weeks booked so far this year, I anticipate maybe a few more weeks, but 26 weeks is unlikely.' On the Llŷn peninsular: 'The building is available 365 days a year, but very few people want to come in the winter, despite us having underfloor heating and wood burners. I consider 2021 to have been a very good year, and in that very good year, I managed to achieve 163 days.'
Someone in Bala, Gwynedd, said, 'We have never achieved this level of occupancy in our five years of trading, with the best year being an average of 152 nights per cottage. The season is short here and winter months are a very hard sell. The failure and closure of our business, and others like us, would be felt far and wide in our rural community. We employ many local trades for maintenance—electricians, plumbers, decorators, gardeners. We spend a small fortune locally each year on cleaning products, spare parts and produce for our welcome baskets.' And these stories go on and on and on.
And just before the Easter recess, I attended a meeting of the cross-party group on tourism, chaired by my colleague Sam Rowlands, and the message to the Welsh Government there was clear too: this is a harebrained scheme that'll only serve to punish tourism businesses, particularly in rural Wales. And I hope the Plaid Cymru Members listen to some of those accounts too. Ceredigion, Llŷn peninsula, Bala, all of those parts of the country are represented by Plaid Senedd Members. People in those industries will notice Plaid's role in that too.
But the sector is not being unreasonable in saying it doesn't want any change. The majority of responses to the Welsh Government's consultation were to raise the occupancy threshold from 70 days to 105 days, in line with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs's threshold between council tax and business rates. This would amount to a 50 per cent rise and was suggested by members of a professional sector that understands booking trends, marketing and customer behaviour. The sector is willing to meet the Government in the middle here, but the Government is simply unwilling to listen.
The other big threat on the horizon from the Welsh Government is the proposed introduction of a tourism tax. We know that this is a Welsh Government that likes to take its ultra-left-wing policy ideas straight from the middle pages of the Morning Star, but this is quite something else. This proposal is totally regressive and it'll impede the very businesses that we should be supporting to come out of the other side of the last couple of years.
I've raised, as have my colleagues, our party's opposition to this tax on numerous occasions in this Chamber and we're always met with the same old tired response from Welsh Government that other countries across the world have implemented this tax, without taking into account any specifically Welsh factors at all. So, they say that the introduction of a tourism tax would have no impact at all on visitor numbers to some of our key tourism locations in Wales. But I thought Ministers might be keen to hear the latest from Venice, one of the world's leading tourism destinations, that has now said it's introducing a tourism tax to dissuade further visitors from attending. Yes, you heard that right; it turns out that extra taxes for visitors mean fewer people want to visit. We also know that, from my questioning of both the First Minister and the finance Minister, there is no assurance at all that such a tax will lead to any additional money being spent on improving tourism offers in these areas. The Government either cannot or will not be able to prevent councils from deleting existing tourism budgets and replacing them with this tax instead.
So, what do we really know about the Government's two proposals here? They'll lead to fewer places to stay, small businesses going out of business, fewer visitors overall and no more money being spent on tourism. I'm shocked they didn't put that on the front page of the manifesto. But the Welsh Government still has time to change course here. Businesses are willing to work with you and meet you in the middle, but they need a Government that is on the side of the tourism sector. What they don't need is a Government looking for a roundabout way to raise more taxes to pay for more politicians in this place. Thank you.
I have selected the amendment to the motion, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Local Government to formally move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Lesley Griffiths.
Amendment 1—Lesley Griffiths
Delete all and replace with:
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Recognises the world class strength of Welsh tourism and welcomes the significant support provided to the tourism industry and operators by the Welsh Government through the COVID pandemic.
2. Recognises the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s definition of sustainable tourism development: 'Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities'.
3. Recognises that tourism levies are common place across the world, with revenues used to the benefit of local communities, tourists and businesses, which in turn help make tourism sustainable and successful.
4. Welcomes the commitment to introduce local tourism levies which will allow local authorities to raise a tourism levy if they choose to do so.
5. Notes the intention to undertake a major consultation during autumn 2022 as part of a careful process of developing proposals for a levy, which will involve communities, businesses and operators and further notes that the process of translating those proposals into legislation will be subject to detailed scrutiny and approval by the Senedd.
6. Welcomes the Senedd’s decision on 22 March to approve the Council Tax (Long-term Empty Dwellings and Dwellings Occupied Periodically) (Wales) Regulations 2022, introduced as part of the wider commitment to address the issue of second homes and unaffordable housing facing many communities in Wales and to tackle the housing crisis
7. Welcomes the commitment to act on the wide-ranging consultations undertaken to date to ensure genuine self-catered accommodation is distinguished from domestic properties with regard to local taxes and notes that a technical consultation on draft regulations to amend the lettings criteria for self-catering accommodations undertaken as part of taking forward this commitment closed on 12 April; the responses to which are currently being analysed.
Amendment 1 moved.
I think we can all agree that there is an issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to tourism, and that is its impact on local communities. The importance of the tourism industry to Wales is undisputed, but we must avoid the type of extractive tourism that uses Wales as a resource. We all share the ambition of seeing Wales as a top-quality sustainable tourism destination, but this development must happen with and not to the communities it most impacts.
The key word here for me is 'sustainable'. The current iteration of the sector is putting a strain on our natural resources, our landscapes and our local infrastructure and services. In 2021, Eryri, the Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire national park authorities saw increases in illegal camping, littering and human waste on paths and in car parks. If tourism is not managed correctly, it will cause erosion to our paths, we will see more litter and pollution in our landscapes.
Turning to the motion, first, on the non-domestic rates and occupancy threshold increases, in so many communities in Wales, the purchasing of residential homes to use as second homes or Airbnb-style holiday lets is pricing out local people from their own communities and undermining the Welsh language. We come back to that key word, 'sustainable'. For me, for Wales to be a world-class tourism destination, the culture of our local areas will be key to achieving that, so pricing out our locals, in my view, is counter-productive. Let's be frank here: in some of our rural communities, we are seeing gentrification. There are no two ways about it.
On the increase to occupancy, the decision hasn't been made yet as to increasing the occupancy threshold. The consultation has ended, but no final decision has come, and, as Tom Giffard rightly pointed out, the Wales Tourism Alliance, UKHospitality Cymru and PASC UK have acknowledged that an increase should happen. One of their own recommendations in their consultation response recommends that the Welsh Government increases the threshold from 70 days to 105 days. We're not at the end of the road yet, but we must address the loophole that we in Plaid have been highlighting for some time.
On the tourist levy, this isn't a new idea, as Tom Giffard again rightly pointed out. There are countries across the globe that use a tourism levy, for example, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Bulgaria, the Caribbean islands, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. I could go on—
Will you take an intervention?
—but the point is this: the UK is the outlier here. Yes, go on.
Thank you for drawing attention to the list of countries that you mentioned that have introduced a tourism tax. I wonder what you make of Venice now, who have introduced a new tourism tax to dissuade people from coming into Venice, because they know it'll be a deterrent to new visitors.
Thanks for your intervention, Tom, and, again, you are right to point out that Venice is using it to dissuade tourism, but that is the whole point of tax: it's a lever to encourage people to either do something that is going to be positive for the community or to dissuade negative actions. That's the point here about tax, isn't it? We all know that that is the point of a tax.
And, if we're going to use examples, let's use an example of Barcelona. I don't think, actually, there are many people who deny that Barcelona is a world leader when it comes to developing tourism policy. The revenue raised through its tourism levy is reinvested back into the community, improving, by virtue of that investment, the tourist experience. Since the introduction of this tax, the number of hotel guests registered in Barcelona has been steadily increasing.
So, this argument that a levy would be a disaster for Wales even though it works elsewhere leads me to believe that people don't think that Wales can compete with these destinations, that we are somehow sub-par. It's not a mechanism to penalise, but instead it's based on a notion of sustainability and mutual respect between the locality and the visitor. I think it's hard to argue against charging a small amount to visitors that will allow local communities to flourish and be protected, and allow tourists to continue to enjoy everything that Wales has to offer for years to come.
And as a final point that I want to make here, Dirprwy Lywydd, the tourism levy is yet to go to consultation, and any implementation will be a decision for the Senedd itself. In my view, the Tories' opposition to the levy is nothing more than an attempt to deflect from the Chancellor's own failures to support the tourism and hospitality sector. It's not just me saying that; it's businesses in the sector that are also saying this. Let's look at VAT: it was reduced to 12.5 per cent during the pandemic for the hospitality and tourism sector—very welcome indeed. Now, it's shot up to 20 per cent. This is on top of increased national insurance contributions and the exclusion of the use of red diesel for the sector, which in rural areas is widely used. If you want to help the sector, then lobby your Chancellor on these issues because that's what's causing the greatest hurt to the sector right now. That's the greatest threat to the sector right now, not a tourism levy.
The tourism sector in Wales is of significant importance to the Welsh economy and to the people who live and work here in Wales. Tourism plays a huge part in my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, from Ystradgynlais to Llanbadarn Fynydd, the town of books in Hay-on-Wye, the Greenman festival. I could go on, because Brecon and Radnor is the tourism hub of Wales.
Too many people in this place see our tourism sector as a cash cow. I take a far more positive view. Yes, there are difficulties facing our country, but taxing our tourism sector is not the answer. Councils across Wales will be potentially implementing an increase in taxes on genuine holiday lets of up to 300 per cent. This will have a huge impact on the local economy and our business owners here in Wales.
I can see why the Government wants to tackle the issue of second home ownership, and I am sympathetic to your aims. Is it right that someone 500 miles away can purchase a house in rural Radnorshire and use it as a holiday let for a few weeks of the year to avoid paying tax, driving locals away from the area and pushing house prices up? I doubt that many would say that this is acceptable. By taxing genuine tourism businesses, some of which face planning restrictions on occupancy, they will be penalised and forced out of business. The tax policy, however well intentioned, will come with unintended consequences for our business community. What we need to do is tackle the large number of empty homes and vacant homes or the lack of house building. These homes should be prioritised for local people to help solve the housing crisis. But what do we see from this Welsh Labour socialist Government? No plan, just a tax plan.
This policy, as well as a tourism tax being planned by the socialists in front of me, is a recipe for disaster: a double whammy of tax on businesses and people who are providing a vital service and giving people who visit Wales a fantastic experience. I know that many across the floor and my new colleagues to the right will say that we need a tourism tax. They compare us to Europe and say that cities such as Amsterdam and Budapest have a tourism tax. So, why don't we have one here in Wales? We hear the First Minister quite regularly saying, 'In Wales, we will do it our way.' So, why do we have to follow everybody else? We can do it differently. Let's not have a tourism tax. Let's have a genuine conversation about the situation.
We simply don't have the numbers of people visiting the vast numbers of our Welsh destinations as many European locations do. We should be encouraging tourism and promoting Wales as a place that people want to come and visit, to grow our economy, providing jobs and opportunities for everyone. A tourism tax puts our economy at risk. This in turn puts jobs at risk at a time when people need jobs more than ever. The people of Wales and the people in Brecon and Radnorshire need a Government that is supportive, that's tackling the housing crisis and supporting our businesses, not using visitors and employees as a scapegoat to fill the coffers of this Government's failings. The Conservatives support our business community, the Conservatives support tourism, and we will oppose any obscene regulations brought in by this coalition of chaos between Labour and Plaid Cymru. We are the party of business and that is why I encourage everybody in this Chamber to support the Conservative motion today.
I welcome this debate and airing of the proposal, so hopefully the correct information will be known, going forward, about what is being proposed and what stage it is at. There have been some attention-grabbing headlines in the press, and it's being used as a political football. One being shared is that the Welsh Government were proposing that tourists would have to pay £15 a night to stay in Wales. Another, that my mother, who lives just across the border, fearfully shared with me, said that Cheshire residents may have to pay to visit Wales in a new tax plan, as though there's going to be a toll on the border as you enter Wales. So, I had to reassure her as well.
When going out to consult, people need to have the correct information. I've tried to reassure people that there will be a public consultation in the autumn, no fee has been set, and it will be up to individual local authorities to raise a tourism levy if they choose to do so. If there is to be a levy, it should be a reasonable amount. Many countries charge a tourist levy of €2, not £15 a night. It would raise much-needed revenue for local authorities to enable councils and national parks to manage and invest in services and infrastructure that make tourism a success, such as keeping beaches and pavements clean, through to maintaining local parks, toilets and footpaths—the critical infrastructure that supports tourism. It should be supported by all those that rely on it.
If the Conservative UK Government had not driven cuts to public services, which had resulted in closure or offloading of public toilets, play areas, libraries and other facilities during austerity, stretched street cleansing services—
Will you take an intervention?
Sure, my new neighbour.
Do you not agree with me that the reason that the Conservative Government had to take prudent measures to get the public finances back in order is because the Welsh Government and the Labour Government at the time left this country in a poor financial state? As the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said, there was no money left.
Actually, I don't. It was the banking crisis at the time and the way that the finances had been handled across the world, and that's how it was dealt with. Austerity went on for far too long. We're not discussing austerity at the moment, but I did want to bring it in because it does impact on public services. I still have the scars of 14 years of being a councillor, 10 years of year upon year of cuts as restructuring had to take place in councils. We went down from six depots to one depot at Flintshire council where I was cabinet member, and we see now how posts have been deleted over the years. We've got vacancies we can't fill now, and services are stretched. These are the service areas that I mentioned, such as street cleaning, footpath officers, and toilets as well. Over the years, they've been offloaded onto town and community councils or closed, basically. But if we'd had the money in place, we could have kept them open. Another one I have to clarify quite often is that council tax covers 25 per cent to 30 per cent of delivery of these services. Very often, people say, 'What does my council tax go to? What do I pay council tax for?' The rest comes from Government and a small proportion comes from income charging. Thank you.
I would like to refer Members to my own stated declarations of interest.
For years, Welsh Labour has undercut and undersold tourism here in Wales. A major sporting nation, with grand national parks, spectacular coastlines, bustling bars and restaurants in our towns and cities, Wales represents a corner of the United Kingdom like no other. But poor policy direction from Welsh Labour will continue to threaten communities in Wales, and, if unchampioned, the people of Wales could face the slowest recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in the isles. If the past two years have shown anything, it is that the tourism industry and the people who work in these sectors are resilient, and they are themselves committed to building a bigger, better Wales. It has to be said that that's more than what can be said for this sleepy and dreary Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay.
The First Minister and his colleagues have recently been boasting about their commitment to rebuilding the tourism sector. However, as always, actions speak louder than words, and what we are witnessing is an erosive strategy. If the Welsh Government expressed any interest in backing our tourism sector, they would abandon damaging proposals for a tourism tax in Wales. They would acknowledge the majority of responses to its consultation—yes, there's already been a consultation—on a tourism tax, and also opposing the proposed non-domestic rates changes for holiday lets. They need to acknowledge that they've simply failed to lift the industry to levels seen elsewhere across the UK. Perhaps the Minister needs reminding—in fact, I think the Welsh Labour Government needs reminding—that it is lower taxes that attract entrepreneurialism and business investment. This then ensures that the public services that are now so in decline in Wales, as Carolyn has mentioned—. You know, if we have a better private sector, with better business, paying taxes—natural taxes that are already set, not introducing new ones—then there's more money in public services.
You are also pursuing a tourism tax at a time of a return to 20 per cent VAT. All the other countries that have been mentioned, where they have a tourism tax, they do have lower thresholds of VAT. The hospitality industry simply cannot survive all of this. It is an onslaught of epic proportions, and it is a complete misunderstanding of the tourism sector. I have to say, I really like my colleague Luke Fletcher, but his anti-visitor, anti-tourism rhetoric is now actually starting to feed back to businesses in his constituency, and it is now becoming a fact that the industry itself see Plaid Cymru, and sadly now Labour, as being enemies to the tourism industry.
The Welsh tourism industry is largely made up of microbusinesses and small and medium-sized enterprises. The sector is vitally important to rural communities as well as urban economies, enhancing the provision of facilities and amenities, which are accessed by residents and visitors alike. In Wales, 25 per cent of registered businesses are in the visitor economy. They offer significant employment opportunities where alternatives are very limited. Here in Conwy county, tourism is worth £887 million, generated from 9.5 million visitors annually. The impact of COVID has already left its toll on businesses in the Aberconwy area, with losses of revenue ranging from around 60 per cent to 85 per cent.
In addition to supporting around 10,000 jobs in Aberconwy through furlough, the UK Conservative Government is further investing in the local economy, especially tourism, such as £51,000 in the Llandudno bay promenade enhancement, £219,000 in the Conwy culture strategy development, and £850,000 in a tourism innovation hub. Whilst the UK Government is investing in the Welsh tourism sector, I'm afraid the Welsh Labour Government are seeking to punish it. It's common economic sense to abandon the damaging proposals for a tourism tax in Wales. We also need to scrap the proposed 182-day threshold for holiday lets. We should all be working with businesses to see what support they need to keep creating jobs and sharing the best of Wales with the world. UKHospitality Cymru's executive director David Chapman, said:
'This industry needs more TLC and less taxes. After two long years of commercial instability, with enforced closures and restrictions, we are now facing a costs and viability crisis and the last thing that we need is even more taxation.'
Janet, you need to finish now, please.
Okay. Deputy Llywydd, if we are to truly propel the Welsh economy and tourism industry, Wales now needs an administration that supports the tourism sector, not one that constantly seeks to drive it into the ground. Diolch.
I do regret, I have to say, when I see Conservative motions before us. This motion demonstrates that that group has no interest in making a constructive contribution, but rather it discusses the potential tax that may be introduced at some point in the future. There's going to be a consultation, there is no certainty, but there we are, we're wasting time discussing something that we don't know what its future will be.
Will you take an intervention?
I won't take an intervention at this point, I do apologise, with all due respect.
I won't take an intervention in this contribution, sorry, Andrew.
I do despair sometimes at the tactics of the Conservative Party. This motion is referencing the potential of a tourism levy, and is nothing more than a distraction from the failings of your own party down the road, the M4, in distant London. The crocodile tears that we see from the Conservatives deceive no-one. Conservatives run the Isle of Wight, and they are proposing a tourism tax for day-trippers. The Tory-run Bath and North East Somerset Council have repeatedly called for a tourist tax for Bath. You complain that it would make Wales more uncompetitive. Well, Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds introduced a tourism charge last year. By your own logic, this should result in all visitors going to nearby Chipping Norton or Cirencester, but no, Bourton enjoyed a packed Easter again this year.
The principle has already been accepted in any case. Holiday destinations across the UK have varying seasonal charges, for instance in the car parks, with car parking charges more expensive in the visitor season and cheaper in the winter. This is nothing more than a levy on visitors. Why is it that the Conservatives think it's okay for the private sector to practise this policy, but not Government? Entry to York Minster is free to local people, but if I visited, I'd have to pay £12.50. If I wanted to go to one of the historic royal palaces—the Tower of London, for instance—I'd pay £29.90, but it's free for community groups in Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Brent. But no, the Members opposite have no complaints at all about varying pricing schemes when the money goes into private bank accounts. What they don't like is the idea of wealth distribution—someone's money going to pay for someone else's healthcare or education, for instance. At least be honest about it.
Then, of course, there's the complaint that a tourism tax would make it hard for the sector during what it is a difficult time. And it is. But that argument by those Members opposite is nothing more than scaremongering. The hospitality sector is suffering right now, and they're suffering because of the tax hikes and the increased costs imposed on them by the heartless Conservative Government in London, led by a proven liar and a charlatan. These businesses are facing an existential threat today. Lifting the price cap on energy prices will mean that this will be the last season for many businesses. One business in my constituency, for instance, was paying £350 a month for electricity back in 2003. Today, they're paying £4,700 a month, based on 17p a unit, and that contract is going to increase to 50p a unit in November. This is going to be impossible for them. That's on your Government.
Added to that, the hospitality sector can no longer use red diesel, so need to find a much more expensive source of fuel thanks to the Conservative Government. VAT has increased from 12.5 per cent to 20 per cent for the hospitality sector. That's on your Government. National insurance contributions have increased by 1.25 per cent. That's on your Government. And the suppliers are feeling this exact squeeze, pushing the price of beer and food up as well. This is all on the Conservatives, and it's happening now, today. There's no point in you harping on about the potential that the tourism tax might do some damage—
Will you take an intervention?
No, I won't, sorry. These businesses are crying out for help now—[Interruption.]—and the Tories are turning their back.
Mabon, two seconds. I would like to hear the end of the Member's contribution, so can I have some quiet on the benches opposite, please?
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I've written to Rishi Sunak and asked him to reverse the damaging cuts. I wonder if you'll join me and write to Rishi Sunak as well and encourage him to reverse these cuts.
The Tories are right that tourism is an important sector, and it does need our support. We need a sustainable sector, one that benefits each community and ensures that the wealth created is retained in those communities. The consultation on a tourism levy will help to this end. The sector will have an opportunity to share their views and ensure that a new policy is designed around the sector's needs in Wales, a tailor-made Welsh policy responding to Welsh needs. Done properly and co-produced by the sector, a tourism levy could and should benefit the sector and benefit our communities. So, ignore the Tories' motion and support the amendment. Thank you.
I feel like I need to take a breather after that. Okay. First, let me begin by saying Wales has a unique landscape, a unique history and a unique culture. For years, especially during the lockdown, and recently over the Easter break, all of us saw visitors arrive in Wales to enjoy our mountains, our countryside and our beaches. Many come to Wales to visit our castles, our historic houses, as well as our gardens and our industrial heritage sites. They come to enjoy our vibrant culture, our arts festivals, music festivals and our eisteddfodau.
The importance of the tourist industry to Wales cannot be overstated. There were 143,500 people in Wales working in tourism-related industries in 2020, down from 154,000 the previous year. One in seven jobs in Wales is in tourism-related industries, and in some parts of Wales it is the mainstay of the economy. It would be wrong to regard tourism as a second-class service. Tourism is a fiercely competitive market requiring skills, talent and enterprise. Prior to the pandemic, it contributed to 6 per cent of all gross value added, over £3 billion to the Welsh economy. Given these figures, the importance of tourism is clear. It should also be clear that, with Wales's tremendous assets, the potential for growing this sector of the economy should be given a high Government priority.
No-one can deny that the tourism sector suffered significantly from the pandemic, from lockdowns, travel restrictions and the forced closure of hotels, hospitality and visitor attractions. The industry does need support and encouragement to maximise its recovery and exploit the enormous potential for growth that still exists. The last thing they need is for the Welsh Government to hinder their recovery by putting barriers in their way. Instead of marketing Wales positively and encouraging more visitors to come to Wales, the Welsh Government is planning to introduce a damaging tourism tax.
There are significant concerns from within the industry regarding the implementation of such a tax, and many questions do remain. These were highlighted by the all-party parliamentary group on hospitality in May 2019. They asked how would a levy be effectively charged in the absence of a comprehensive register of the supply of accommodation. They went on to point out that the day visitors spend significantly less in comparison to overnight visitors and a further cost on hotel rooms could disincentivise taking overnight trips. This would be bad for the hotel industry and could see a significant reduction in consumer spends within cities.
I'd like to hone in on what my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders mentioned when she was making her contribution, that the UK already has one of the highest taxed hotel sectors compared to countries in the EU. Countries in the EU that have a tourist tax have reduced rates of VAT, with Italy and France on 10 per cent, Germany at 7 per cent, Belgium and the Netherlands at 6 per cent. In comparison, VAT on the hotel sector here in the UK is 20 per cent. I would also like—[Interruption.] I would—[Inaudible.]
I would also like the Minister, when replying—in my role as shadow transport Minister—to rule out the introduction of congestion charges here in Wales, as this causes me concern, not just for visitors but for Welsh residents who simply want to take their family for a short vacation to another part of Wales. Because congestion charges would not only impose a burden on Welsh residents but add an additional burden on tourists coming into Welsh towns and cities, ultimately damaging the prospects of recovery for businesses that rely on tourists to survive.
Deputy Presiding Officer, without a doubt, tourism is a key part of the Welsh economy and ensuring that it's in good health is essential. We have a responsibility here as politicians in the Senedd to support the sector right here, right now. It was a sector of industry particularly hit badly by the pandemic and does not need the imposition of unnecessary barriers in its recovery. I call on the Welsh Government here today to drop any plans for a tourism tax and congestion charges, and instead produce a strategy alongside key stakeholders that will address these problems and will allow this vital sector of our economy to grow and thrive as it so rightly deserves, having suffered so much in the past. Thank you so much.
I call on the Minister for Finance and Local Government, Rebecca Evans.
Diolch. There's absolutely no disagreement that tourism provides an absolutely substantial economic contribution to Wales, with tourism-related expenditure reaching more than £5 billion annually in 2019, pre pandemic, and the Welsh Government of course wants to see a thriving tourism industry and a strong recovery from COVID-19. In recognition of the impact of COVID we've provided unprecedented financial support to the sector. Tourism businesses have been eligible for grants from the £2.6 billion economic resilience fund, which has safeguarded 28,500 jobs across Wales. Many tourism businesses have also benefited from the £108 million cultural recovery fund, supporting cultural events and the individuals working in the sector, and tourism businesses have also benefited from the £730 million that we provided through our retail, leisure and hospitality rates relief schemes. These measures, as well as the non-domestic rates-linked grants and discretionary grants delivered by local authorities, have clearly enabled these sectors to survive.
The tourism industry in Wales is in a strong position to recover and rebuild post pandemic. Over the last five years, Wales has welcomed record numbers of UK visitors. Our tourism industry is mature, it's experienced and it still has the capacity to grow, but it has also told us that growth must serve to sustain, not threaten, the things that matter most. Our ambition is to support sustainable tourism development that addresses the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities, and that's a fundamental principle underpinning our proposal for a tourism levy.
In February I outlined the policy aims and the timeline for the development of tourism levy proposals. Our proposals present an opportunity for investment into those local communities and the services that make tourism successful, and it's only fair that a contribution is provided from visitors. We're at the start of the discussion on how the levy will be used to maintain and support those areas that we visit and enjoy.
Tourism levies, of course, as we've heard, are very commonplace across the world, with most countries in Europe applying them. They're proportionate by design and they represent a small percentage of the overall bill for consumers. There's little evidence that tourism levies have a negative economic impact. They're used to benefit those local areas and communities that choose to use them. The powers will be discretionary, empowering local authorities to make their own judgments and decide what's best for their communities. Of course, I welcome all views and evidence as we continue to work collaboratively with our partners to help shape these proposals. A major consultation will take place later this year, and that will be an opportunity for all views to be heard and considered. Through this process we'll design a tax that's aligned to our core tax principles, and one that works for communities in Wales.
On 2 March I announced the next steps we're taking following the consultation on local taxes for second homes and self-catering accommodation. The steps form part of our plans to ensure property owners make a fair contribution to the communities in which they have homes or run businesses. This in turn is part of our three-pronged approach to addressing the impact that large numbers of second homes and holiday lets can have on communities and the Welsh language. The views conveyed in the consultation, including from the wider tourism sector, clearly support a change to the criteria for self-catering accommodation to be classified as non-domestic. Responses indicated that genuine holiday accommodation businesses would be able to satisfy increased letting thresholds and a wide variety of possible alternatives were suggested. Increasing the thresholds will provide a clearer demonstration that the properties concerned are being let regularly and are making a substantial contribution to the local economy.
Following our consultation, we're of the view that self-catering properties let out on an infrequent basis should be liable for council tax. Increasing letting criteria will ensure that such properties are classified as non-domestic only if they're being used for business purposes for the majority of the year. I therefore announced our intention to amend the criteria from 1 April 2023 and now have launched a technical consultation on the draft legislation. That consultation did close on 2 April and the responses are currently being analysed. And I intend to publish a summary of those and announce the next steps soon.
When the legislation is made, subject to any changes arising from the consultation, it will be accompanied by a regulatory impact assessment, and I do thank the Wales Tourism Alliance and other representatives for providing us with additional information, and we will be taking that into account in the impact assessment.
Will you take an intervention?
Minister, I think the issue that I have, certainly from holiday let businesses in my own constituency, is that 180 days is just not sufficient to be able to fill their accommodation, given the fact that holiday lets are very difficult to let during the winter months. And to have 100 per cent occupancy for 182 days just doesn't seem a realistic proposition at all. I really would like a commitment from you today to give an assurance that this will really, properly be examined, because I think this is the big stumbling block. And many tourism businesses in the holiday let sector simply will have to have their properties transferred to business rates. They won't even be able to let them to residents as housing stock, because planning permission doesn't allow it, and the business will completely fold. I'm asking you really passionately, Minister, to really examine this with your officials, because I think there is a real issue here with this particular issue of 182 days.