Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

28/06/2022

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.

Statement by the Llywydd

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item is questions to the First Minister, and before I call the first question, I will invite the First Minister to make a short statement. 

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. During First Minister's questions last week, I answered a question on the rail strikes. Network Rail has since shared further details about their actions during the strike. They confirmed that no staff had been relocated from Wales. I wrote to the leader of the opposition on 24 June explaining that, and subsequently, with the agreement of Network Rail, I shared the letter with you and the leader of the opposition. I will place a copy in the library for Members. I am happy, of course, for the record to reflect this. Thank you. 

Thank you for that explanation, First Minister. The first question is from Joyce Watson. 

Supporting Victims of Domestic Abuse

1. What is the Welsh Government doing to support victims of domestic abuse? OQ58286

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. Our five-year national strategy, published last month, sets out the Welsh Government's commitments for supporting victims of domestic abuse and other forms of violence. Its six objectives aim to ensure comprehensive support for victims, wherever they live in Wales.

I thank you for your answer, First Minister. Yesterday, I launched a report on support services for children and young people who experience violence and abuse at home. Domestic violence doesn't just affect the adults involved; around one in five children are impacted, and the law recognises them as victims in their own right. But there's an urgent need for tailored support for them because, without early support, it can lead to a lifetime of adverse impacts. So, I commissioned Welsh Women's Aid to audit provisions across Wales, and what we found is a postcode lottery. So, I'd be most grateful if you would read our report and discuss our findings and recommendations with Cabinet colleagues. The Minister for Social Justice spoke at the launch and has been very supportive. Julie Morgan and Lynne Neagle, Jeremy Miles and Jayne Bryant have all engaged with the project too. So, it would be good to have the Welsh Government's input at every single level. 

Well, Llywydd, I congratulate Joyce Watson on her use of the facility that the Commission makes available to Members to be able to carry out research in issues of local and, in her case, of national significance. I have my copy of the report with me, so, of course, I'm very keen that it should be widely read. It will certainly be discussed by Cabinet colleagues. It includes a series of conclusions from the research and, very importantly, a series of practical actions that it suggests the Welsh Government and others could take to make sure that children who are victims of domestic abuse receive the help and the support that they need. 

During the passage of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, I moved amendments calling for the national strategy to include provision of at least one perpetrator programme, noting that Choose2Change was the only then current Respect-accredited programme in Wales. Questioning your predecessor First Minister in 2016, I referred to this and stated that the then Minister, although not accepting the need to include reference to perpetrator programmes, committed the Welsh Government then to gathering further evidence on taking forward pre-custodial perpetrator programmes. I asked him what action his Government was taking to facilitate that. He responded:

'these are issues being taken forward by the ministerial advisory group and, of course, via the strategy.'

So, what specific action has your Government therefore taken since, where your second violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence national strategy, published last month, six years later, refers only to the Welsh Government's intention to build on the work already done in this area by increasing our collective focus on these individuals?

13:35

Llywydd, I think the Member makes some important points, and he's right to say that the renewed strategy seeks to build on the progress that has already been made; it would not be possible to build on progress if progress had not already happened during the first five years. I referred in my answer to Joyce Watson to the six objectives of the renewed five-year national strategy. The third of those objectives deals directly with the matters that the Member has raised this afternoon. So, of course the strategy has a focus on perpetrators of domestic violence, of course the strategy intends that those people should face up to the responsibilities for their own actions, but it also sets out ways in which practical programmes can be mobilised to help people who wish to reform and to place their lives on a different and better basis.

Prif Weinidog, I also commend the work of Joyce Watson—the tireless work she's done in this field since her election in 2007. And I'm sure she'll be pleased that I've also read the report, so that's two of us, Prif Weinidog, who have read it, and I'm sure many others have also. We have made some very important steps with regard to victim care, with the establishment of the victims commissioner in 2019 and the domestic abuse commissioner in the same year. However, a mother of a murdered child asked me recently why haven't we got a Welsh victims commissioner, somebody much closer to us. So, do you think, Prif Weinidog, that we should have a Welsh victims commissioner that is answerable to this place rather than the Home Office? Diolch yn fawr.

Llywydd, as a Government, we've worked closely with the victims commissioner, Vera Baird QC. I think she has done a very effective job. She has shown a real interest in what happens in Wales. And I think that that system has so far served us well. Of course, we are always open to ways in which the system can be improved, but I think that this is one of those aspects where—. And I would pay particular tribute to the current postholder, because of the energy and the commitment and the interest that she shows in devolved as well as non-devolved areas. I think that we've had a good service from that commissioner, and, at the moment, I think our views are that we should continue to make the most of the service that we receive.

Good afternoon, First Minister. It was excellent to hear you on the radio this morning too. And may I also thank Joyce Watson for the work that she has done in this field?

Can I just bring the focus back to children and child protection? They are, as you've said, and as Joyce has said as well, other victims of domestic abuse that we need to have at the forefront of our minds. I want to pay tribute to all of those who are working to protect children—our midwives, our health visitors, our schoolteachers, those working in education, and our social workers as well. As you know, I have a degree of experience in working in social work, and I really just wanted to ask you how the Welsh Government is making sure that our social workers here in Wales are having the resources that they need to support them, and that we as a Senedd are responsible for monitoring and supporting them in the work that they do? Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Llywydd, I thank Jane Dodds. Of course, I agree with everything that she said about the work that people do on the front line, particularly those working in the challenging and difficult area of looking after children.

I think the point that Jane Dodds made is an important one, Llywydd. This is the responsibility of all public servants who come into contact with children who show evidence of themselves having been affected by the experience of domestic violence. On the objectives that I referred to of the national strategy, the fifth of the six objectives focuses on the training needs of the workforce, to make sure that people who we ask to do these difficult jobs have the training that they need, have the resources that they need, and, in line with the fourth objective of the plan, to enable them to move their activity upstream, as we would say, so that they are able to focus more on early intervention and prevention, rather than having to arrive as an ambulance service, trying to rescue children from the experiences that will already have affected them. 

13:40
School Transport

2. First Minister, how does the Welsh Government ensure that the cost of public transport does not adversely affect the attendance of primary and secondary pupils? OQ58258

I thank Heledd Fychan. Llywydd, primary pupils who live further than 2 miles from school and secondary pupils under the age of 16 who live further than 3 miles from school receive free school transport. An initial review of the learner travel Measure was published on 31 March, and a more detailed review will now follow.

Thank you. With the cost-of-living crisis placing additional pressures on parents and carers, more people are contacting my office with regard to the impact of the cost of transport on attendance. This was emphasised further when Ruben Kelman, a Member of the Youth Parliament for Cardiff North, contacted me a week ago, sharing the results of a survey at Llanishen High School, where parents were asked about their experience of school transport. Frighteningly, 39 per cent of parents noted that their child had had to miss school because they weren't able to afford the cost of the bus. The majority of these pupils were living just under that threshold of 3 miles, which is the threshold for free transport. It was noted that one pupil had lost nine days this year and had lost 15 the previous year because her family weren't able to afford the cost of the bus. These were the words of one parent:

'Over the last few months, I have analysed what bills can be delayed in paying, so my daughter can attend school. It's soul destroying. Please help us parents.' 

So,  First Minister, how is the Welsh Government going to help parents and carers who can't afford public transport? 

Well, I thank Heledd Fychan for those important points. As she herself said, we can see the cost of living increasing almost every week. Last week, the Office for National Statistics published their monthly figures, which demonstrated that the cost of living has gone up 9.1 per cent. in May, but that transport costs had increased by 13.8 per cent in that same period. So, we can see, of course, the impact that that has on people the length and breadth of Wales. I have seen the report, published following the work done at the school in Llanishen, and, of course, it's important to hear what respondents to that research said. There's more than one way to resolve the problems that were raised. It's important that we do more to help people who live within the catchment to walk or cycle or to have a safe route to school. We, as a Government, will invest more than £200,000 in those programmes over the next three years. 

But, at the end of the day, I have to tell the Member and other Members that we only have one pot of money as a Government. When we agree our priorities, we do have to pursue those priorities. And our priority, in the agreement with Plaid Cymru, is to use the new funding that we have in order to provide free school meals to all primary aged children. Now, when we have such priorities and only one pot of money available, well, we will have to pursue those things that we have agreed on first. 

First Minister, whilst it is correct for us to understand this important issue with regard to primary and secondary school pupils, we also have to be aware that post-16 learners also rely heavily on public transport to attend colleges and universities, and apprentices have to pay travel costs not only to college, but also to their place of work. I am sure you are aware that there are increasing concerns for post-16 learners where local authorities have discretionary travel arrangements, because discretionary travel arrangements have been affected as a result of local authorities facing tough financial decisions. As you have stated, a commitment has been given to review and consult on the learner travel guidance this year, but this has been delayed. First Minister, firstly, what assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the rise in transport costs on post-16 learners and how could this assessment feed into the learner travel Measure? And, secondly, can you provide an update on when the review of the learner travel Measure will be taking place? Thank you.

13:45

I thank Joel James for those questions. The more detailed review of the learner travel Measure is happening at the moment, in the sense that the detailed planning for the review is being carried out over the next few weeks, and we've agreed with our local authority colleagues that the work with them on that review will follow in the autumn term. A strand in that review will be a more detailed focus on the needs of young people in post-16 education. We are reviewing with our local authority colleagues the impact of rising fuel costs on their ability to carry out their duties to provide school and college transport. It's a complex matter.

We received a letter the end of last week from the chair of the Welsh Local Government Association, Councillor Andrew Morgan. He sets out in his letter that, where local authorities are having to retender these services—sometimes because contracts have been handed back because firms aren't able to carry on trading under current conditions—the new tenders are coming in anywhere between 30 per cent to 40 per cent higher than the tenders that they are replacing. But all local authorities are in a different position, Llywydd. Some have relatively new contracts, some are relying on contracts that have been struck a long time ago, some contracts have annual renewable mechanisms in them, others don't have that at all. What the WLGA proposes is that they should collect further and more detailed information about the impact that school transport services are having to absorb from the rising cost of petrol and other transport measures, and then we will have further discussions with them as to what, if anything, the Welsh Government is able to do to assist.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, two weeks ago, the Government announced that it was temporarily suspending its Ukrainian refugee scheme of being the supersponsor for refugees coming to Wales, a scheme that we welcomed when it was officially brought before the Welsh people to show what we could be doing in this part of the UK to help refugees coming out of Ukraine. Yesterday we saw again the horrors of the war there, where a shopping mall was hit by a military missile, with no military target in sight, and civilians suffering atrocious casualties. In your comments last week about the Ukrainian sponsorship scheme, you said that the Welsh Government had anticipated an initial 1,000 refugees coming, but, to date, 4,000 had registered. What is the Government doing to undertake to support the refugees that are already with us and, importantly, those refugees that have registered to come to Wales under the scheme?

I thank Andrew Davies for that question, Llywydd, and he's right to point to the continuing horrors of events in Ukraine. The Welsh Government has had to suspend temporarily our supersponsorship platform because of the outstanding success that the platform has been. We have had a far larger take-up of the potential offer to come to Wales, and we have already had far more people arrive in Wales than the 1,000 that we said originally that we would accommodate. The vast bulk of those people are in our welcome centres, and those welcome centres I think offer an outstanding service. The Minister for Social Justice and I were in Llangrannog on Monday of last week where there are 300 people from Ukraine—200 adults and 100 children—receiving the most amazing welcome and the most appreciated opportunity to regroup, to feel, as they said to me, a sense of healing having arrived from a place of such difficulties to a place where they now felt safe and looked after.

The real focus of our efforts over the coming weeks has to be on moving people beyond the welcome centres and into the homes of those many families in Wales who continue to be willing to offer a place in their homes so that people can continue to rebuild their lives. That is not happening as quickly as we need it to happen. There are reasons for that, because offers of help have to be checked, police checks have to be carried out, social services departments have to visit and so on, and that isn’t a process that you can hurry if you’re going to get the matches between the people who are in the welcome centre and the people offering accommodation right, so that we don’t see the level of breakdown in those arrangements that is being reported in some other parts of the country. That will be our focus over the coming weeks. As soon as we have a balance between people being able to leave the welcome centres and go to families and the number of people wishing to come to Wales, then we’ll be in a position to reopen the supersponsorship route.

13:50

Thank you for that response, First Minister. I’m in agreement with you that the centres offer that initial support, that initial sense of safety and sanctuary after coming from such turmoil as there is in Ukraine. But what’s really important is to understand how the Government are now identifying the additional resources that will be required to cater for people beyond the initial welcome centres, because I think you, like me, would agree that these centres are only temporary staging posts before a permanent settlement can be put in place for families that come to Wales.

I did point this out in my letter to you on 11 March of this year that I had concerns around the resources that Welsh Government had put in place to support the scheme. Could you give us some clarity, please, First Minister, as to where you believe you will identify the additional resources, in particular the housing resources, that will be required? [Interruption.] I can hear the Government shaking their heads and sniggering. It is a fact—[Interruption.] I can’t believe that you are—. You are sniggering, because you are taking a serious situation and believing it can be developed into a political point. There is an issue that there are people stuck in transit in places that were only temporary for them, rather than the housing stock that the Welsh Government should identify. I want to know where that housing stock is coming from. Can the First Minister provide that answer?

Llywydd, of course we want people to move on from the welcome centres as soon as it is safe for them to do so. There will be a variety of destinations for people leaving those centres. The bulk of them, I believe, will go to those families who have so generously offered to look after someone fleeing from the horrors of Ukraine, but there are other routes that are being explored. We are looking with a number of local authorities to bring more houses that will otherwise be unoccupied back into use. We are working with our local authority colleagues to make sure that, where there are opportunities in the private rented sector, people will know about those, and some of those matches could be made as well.

The point that my colleagues were trying to convey to the leader of the opposition is this: we are having to do all of this using our own resources. People coming from Ukraine have been short-changed by the UK Government. The money is simply not there in the system for public services to be able to absorb, as public services in Wales absolutely want to do, the people coming from Ukraine in the way that we would wish to see them welcomed. There is no money at all for people who come through the family scheme, and even for people who come through other routes, the level of funding is not secure—it’s for one year only. We have no certainty on what happens beyond that. So, £20 million-worth of Welsh Government money found from other sources has been put together to support the additional actions that we are taking. We don’t get a single penny from the UK Government for the welcome centres. All of that is funded from Welsh Government resources, and that £20 million is being spent very fast, because of the number of people who wish to take advantage of the opportunity to come here in Wales. There is no great stock of housing standing waiting to be used. We are still finding places for people from Syria and from Afghanistan, we still have 1,000 people every month presenting as homeless into local authority services in Wales, and we know that we have people who are on housing waiting lists waiting themselves to be rehoused. There are no easy answers—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon?

13:55

Of course there is failure in the system, and it comes from a decade of failure to invest in these matters by your Government—people who supported them over that period. But the idea that there is a large and easily accessible stock of housing just waiting to be brought on stream—it isn't like that, and that's why the offers from families will be the backbone of the way in which we are able to move people beyond the welcome centre and on to the next step in their journey here in Wales. 

First Minister, the point I'm making to you is that you took the plaudits, and rightly took the plaudits, that you identified yourself as a supersponsor Government for refugees coming from the horrors that we are seeing in Ukraine, and we all want to play our part. But you have to identify the resources to marry up to the demand. Now, you have indicated, in your own words, that at the moment there are 4,000 individuals who have been identified as wanting to come to Wales. That is something to be celebrated, that they want to come to Wales. If you've identified £20 million for the 1,000 refugees that the initial assessment was allocated for, that means that you have to find an additional £60 million to cater for the additional 3,000, plus the housing requirement as well to move people out of the initial welcome centres. That is what I'm trying to find out from you at the moment, First Minister: where this resource is coming from from your additional resources that have been made available from the UK Government. And also, where are you going to find the housing stock to put people into quality accommodation so that they can rebuild their lives, which is important because that's part of the resettlement process that we want to see? These were known factors when you made the offer; it is a fact now that you've suspended the scheme, so it is not unreasonable to ask where you are going to take the scheme with the resources that you require, or will the scheme remain permanently in suspension? 

Well, I think I've already answered most of those points already, Llywydd. I've explained to the leader of the opposition that, as soon as we're able to achieve a balance between outflow from the welcome centres, we will be able to reopen them to welcome more people here to Wales. I've set out for him where, in a very challenging set of circumstances, more permanent housing is being found for people who've come from Ukraine, and I'm hugely grateful to our local authority colleagues, our colleagues in the housing association movement and others who are helping us to do just that. The Welsh Government has no money from the UK Government to help with the actions that we are taking—none. So, I'll just be clear with him about that. There is not a penny piece that comes to us for us to do the work that we are carrying out, and we continue to work collectively across the Government to make sure that we are able to find the investments that we need.

Let me make this point clear, Llywydd: none of what we do here in Wales is about plaudits. That is an offensive idea. I'll tell him that. [Interruption.] Let me tell him that, because I want to make it clear to him: nothing at all that we do is about seeking plaudits from anyone. When I spoke to a seven-year-old child in Llangrannog last week, he was struggling in the few words that he had to explain to me what it was like to have arrived in Wales, and he pointed upwards and he said, 'No rockets in sky.' A seven-year-old child, who had been through so much. Those are the reasons that people in Wales have responded with the generosity that they have to this problem, and nothing else. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Michael Gove said last year, after your prompting, First Minister, that the Westminster Government wanted to reset the relationship with the devolved nations. We now know what they meant by that, of course—they want it to be a relationship where they are in control and we are subservient, where their Parliament is supreme and ours is subordinate. In announcing, without a word to you as a Government or to us as a Parliament their intention to repeal the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017 passed by this Senedd, they've shown their contempt not just for workers, not just for Wales, but our entire democracy. This is not just one more in a long list of power grabs; it's a turning point. It's devolution's breaking point, potentially. It rolls back the rights of citizens, but also denies those very citizens the right to decide their own future. Now, you've said, First Minister, that you will resist Westminster in its attempt to undermine our democracy, but the urgent question now is: how?

14:00

First of all, Llywydd, let me say this, that it was deeply, deeply disrespectful of the UK Government—disrespectful to devolution, disrespectful to this Senedd—yesterday to have smuggled out, in an explanatory memorandum, not even in the statement that they made, their intention to attempt to repeal pieces of legislation that were passed through this legislature. Not a word in advance, not a letter to say that this is what they intended to do, and, if it hadn't been for the eagle eyes of people looking to see what they were intending to do, then we wouldn't know about it today, would we? 

I look at the Conservative benches. There's nothing they're not willing to defend, is there, if it comes out of Westminster? They're willing to defend a UK Government stating its intention without the simple respect of making those who will be affected know their intentions in that way. They had their opportunity, Llywydd. That piece of legislation passed through the Senedd. They could have referred it to the Supreme Court if they felt that it was in any way beyond the power and the authority of this Senedd. They chose not to do so. The reason that they revive it now—it's part of their vindictive approach to trade unions, and it's part of their disrespect agenda when it comes to devolution. 

How can we in Wales—at least those of us who care about our democracy in this Senedd—respond now in a way that makes Westminster rethink and retreat? A letter isn't going to work; that's been tried before. We can no more look to the Supreme Court for protection than progressives in the US can, because they have already ruled that Westminster has an unlimited power to legislate, even in devolved areas. Now, we have a very simple answer to this situation, which would remove Westminster's right to run roughshod over our democracy permanently, not just in the brief interludes of a Labour Government every 20 years, and that's independence. Now, isn't that an idea whose time has come? Now, the First Minister may not want to come that far, but could you accept that one way to send a clear message to Westminster that will make them sit up and listen is for you to say that your unionism is not unlimited, and for Wrexham's march for independence on Saturday to become the biggest ever, a march in defence of Welsh democracy, swelled not just by the ranks of my party's supporters, but your party's supporters as well? 

Well, Llywydd, I just don't see the purpose of continually re-litigating this issue in front of the Senedd. It was in front of the people of Wales a year ago, and it could not have been in front of them in starker terms. I stood next to the leader of Plaid Cymru in debates in which he attempted to persuade people that independence—breaking away from the United Kingdom—was the best way to secure Wales's future. I made a different case—I make it still—that the way to ensure that people in Wales continue to exercise the level of control over our own affairs is to make sure that devolution is entrenched, that it cannot be rolled back in the way that it is currently. And there is a way to do that, Llywydd, and it'll come at the next general election, and that cannot come soon enough. 

We don't have a Government at Westminster, Llywydd. We have a set of headless chickens who run around trying to save their own skins. It's time for them to clear out for people to have a chance to choose a different and a better Government, and, when that different and better Government comes, we will be able to make sure that the incursions that we have seen on the powers of this place, on the finance that we should have had, that was promised we would have and that has never arrived—to entrench those things. And that will be the way to make sure that people in Wales have what I think they demonstrated in May of last year that they wanted. They want to have powerful devolution. They want to have a Senedd able to do the job that we were elected to do. But they want, as well, to be part of a successful United Kingdom.

14:05

I have to say to the First Minister, and with regret, that I’m not hearing resistance from him; I’m hearing resignation. What if Labour loses the next Westminster general election, and the one after that? What if Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister well into the 2030s, as has been recently reported? What do we do then? Now, you've consistently said that the United Kingdom must be a voluntary union. Do you agree that there needs to be a clear and legally secure route for the nations of the UK to choose their constitutional future, Scotland and Wales? And isn’t one of the options to us, in response to the decision by the UK Government to nullify our democracy—and surely that is a change that we have to recognise; the context is changing—to request the power for a referendum on the future of our democracy, a section 109 request in our circumstances, based on whichever model or models emerge from the constitutional commission that you've set up?

In Scotland, they hate referenda—the UK Government says—but, in Wales, they say that they like them. Why don’t we give them one? And if it’s framed as Wales versus Westminster, it’s surely a referendum that we can win.

Well, Llywydd, I've always argued—and I’ve got into trouble for it from time to time—that if the people of any constituent part of the United Kingdom vote for a referendum on their future, then they should be allowed to hold that referendum. I think that that would be the case in Wales as well. If a party that stands for that at an election wins a majority of votes in Wales, then of course that referendum should happen. But that hasn’t happened here in Wales, and, until it does, I think that the case that the Member makes is fatally weakened.

Down Syndrome Act 2022

3. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government about the Down Syndrome Act 2022? OQ58281

I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. Early discussions with the UK Government established that its Down Syndrome Act will provide people with Down's syndrome in England with the same level of support and protection already enjoyed by people in Wales.

Thank you, First Minister, for that response. Last week, I met with two constituents, who are also parents of Down syndrome children, who run a local charity that supports young people with Down syndrome from across much of south Wales. It was highlighted that, despite improvements in things like childcare, education and employment, young people with Down syndrome still face barriers to inclusion. In particular, our meeting focused on the lack of a joined-up approach within the post-16 education provision.

Training placements for such individuals are often few and far between, whilst many placements run for just two years, with many of these young people requiring longer and more flexible learning options to meet their needs. The constituent also pointed out that, in England, such courses often have the possibility of employment attached, whilst, in Wales, courses are focused more around just life skills. Now, in England, the Down Syndrome Act, as you’ll recognise, introduced by Dr Liam Fox, will require a range of public bodies and education providers to take into account guidance published by the Government on steps that can be taken to meet the needs of people with Down syndrome.

First Minister, will the Welsh Government consider how the provisions of the Act could be introduced in Wales to ensure that existing barriers to inclusion are removed, as well as raising public awareness and greater acceptance of people with Down syndrome in society? Finally, First Minister, would you or one of your ministerial colleagues commit to meeting with reps from this area to discuss how services for people in Wales with Down syndrome can continue to be improved?

I thank Peter Fox for those points, Llywydd. He's right to say that the Act passed by the UK Parliament is an Act for England only. What it requires is for public authorities to take account of guidance—guidance that, as yet, has not been published. But of course—I certainly give him this commitment—when the guidance is published, we will look to see whether there is anything that we can draw on here in Wales. The reason that we concluded, in those discussions with the UK Government, that there was no case for Wales being included in that Bill was because the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 already require public bodies in Wales to do what the UK Act now requires to be done in England. And the learning disability plan, which my colleague Julie Morgan introduced here in an oral statement on the floor of the Senedd on 24 May, has both education and employment as one of its six core themes.

Does that mean that there is not more to be done? Of course not, and I absolutely recognise the point that Peter Fox made about the continuing difficulties that are in the path of young people with Down's syndrome. I will discuss with my colleague whether a meeting of the sort that you describe would be worthwhile. I myself have met very regularly with organisations that represent people with learning disabilities, and, as a Government, our commitment to making sure that they have the sorts of futures that we would want to see for them, where their needs are safeguarded but their prospects are improved, that is absolutely the spirit in which our learning disability action plan has been constructed.

14:10
Cancer Services Action Plan

4. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's cancer services action plan? OQ58285

Llywydd, work to produce the action plan is being carried out by the Wales cancer network. That work will continue through the summer. The Minister expects to receive a draft of the plan in September.

Thank you very much for that response. I have just sponsored an event celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Cancer Research UK, and, while celebrating the work that has been done through research to improve survival rates, there was a warning that we're in danger of seeing the progress coming to an end now. The impact of the pandemic has meant that people are waiting 16 times longer than they were pre COVID for some diagnostic tests, and the lack of a national cancer action plan that I and others have been calling for for so long means that we're in a vulnerable position. The Government, as we've heard, say that there is a new action plan on the way. I heard a suggestion earlier that it could have been published this summer or in September. We've had a confirmation that a draft will be given to the Minister by September. Does the First Minister agree with me and Cancer Research UK that we need to take urgent action now?

'We need a sense of urgency'.

That's what the chief executive of Cancer Research UK said today, because I'm afraid we haven't seen that sense of urgency from the Welsh Government recently.

Wel, Llywydd, it's important to give the Wales cancer network, who are working on this plan, the time that they have requested, and we're not talking about more than a matter of weeks before we reach the beginning of September, so I think we are trying to act with urgency, and that's important. I agree that the impact of the pandemic on cancer services has been very great, but people are working hard. As I've explained to the Senedd previously, England has a plan, Scotland has a strategy, we have a statement. We're all trying to achieve the same thing. The name on the proposals is different, but the intention is the same, and we are working hard with the people who lead services on the ground to do everything that we can to move this agenda forward.

The concern that I have, First Minister, as indeed do cancer charities themselves, is about the pace at which the new diagnostic hubs or clinics are being rolled out. Can you tell me what the role of the diagnostics board will be in ensuring health boards develop these service models and hubs at a faster pace?

14:15

Well, Llywydd, all health boards—apart from Cardiff, which will begin later this year—now have rapid diagnostic centres. So, I'm not quite sure what problem the Member sees with pace, when they're already happening in six out of seven health boards in Wales. There are three of them operating in north Wales, where Rhun ap Iorwerth will have a direct interest; one in each of the three district general hospitals now has a rapid diagnostic centre. And Llywydd, it's important to remember what those rapid diagnostic centres were for: people who present with symptoms to their GP do not always have classically and the directly symptoms that link to a possibility of cancer. They present with what are called by the profession 'vague symptoms' and up until now, there hasn't always been a direct route for a GP to make sure that someone who they think may be in that position, but where the symptoms aren't definitive, to make sure that that person can get the assessment that they need. That is what the new centres are for, and they are a significant addition to the landscape that we have here in Wales.

Llywydd, I've said already that the impact of COVID on cancer services in Wales has been real, but in the last year—and health works on financial years in the way that it counts these things—referrals were 17 per cent higher than the year before the pandemic began, and 22 per cent more people received treatment for cancer than in the year before the pandemic hit. So, despite the real pressures that the system is under, it has responded, I think, with real determination and with considerable success.

Access to NHS Dentists in North Wales

5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve access to NHS dentists in North Wales? OQ58262

Additional investment, contract reform, progressive lifting of COVID restrictions and the opening of the north Wales dental academy are amongst the actions being taken to improve access to NHS dentistry in the Member’s region.

Thank you, First Minister. I certainly welcome the action being taken to address some of these issues, but nevertheless, I am inundated, actually, with constituents contacting me regarding their difficulties in accessing NHS dentists in north Wales. A number of constituents have been in touch from Wrexham who've been told they're going to have to wait up to two years before they can see a dentist. I've had residents in touch from the Vale of Clwyd who've said that they've been told they will have to wait three years before they can access dentistry. And I think part of the frustration here, First Minister, is that these are people who are paying their taxes, paying their national insurance, but not receiving the service those taxes are supposed to fund, and essentially, residents are therefore having to pay twice, because they're paying through their taxes and then having to access these services through private dental care instead. And it seems to me at the moment that dentists, whilst seemingly happy to offer the private care, don't perhaps seem happy with the NHS contracts that you've put in place, because they're simply not offering their services through NHS work.

So, I wonder, First Minister, what assessment have you made so far of this uptake of those NHS contracts by dentists, and what discussions are you having with the British Dental Association to make sure that there are enough dentists for my residents who live in north Wales?

I'm grateful for the opportunity to set out the facts in relation to the dental contract, because we rehearsed this significantly on the floor of the Senedd at the end of March, when the leader of the opposition told me that not a single practice in the Hywel Dda area was prepared to sign up for the new contract and that there would be a collapse of dental services within a few weeks. In fact, in the Hywel Dda health board, 92 per cent of NHS dentistry is now being provided by practices who have signed up to the new contract. That rises to 96 per cent in north Wales and to 99 per cent in Swansea bay. So, let us lay this to rest this afternoon. The idea that dentists as a whole in Wales were not prepared to sign up to the new contract voluntarily—they had the choice; if they wanted to, they could, if they didn't want to, they didn't have to—they have done so overwhelmingly in every part of Wales, and that is very good news for the Member's constituents, because part of the new contract is that by taking dentists off the treadmill of the old unit of dental activity approach, they will be able to see new patients, new NHS patients, in all parts of Wales.

Now, as to the recruitment of new dentists, I have no doubt that when he replies to the people who inundate his inbox, the Member will be explaining that Brexit, the end of free movement, the end of mutual recognition of professional qualifications—. The Members are very keen over there always to quote to me what the profession says. I'm just telling them what the British Dental Association and others have said. In north Wales particularly, where the large corporate bodies had taken over practices, what they have found is that people who they were able to recruit from other parts of the European Union have returned to other parts of the European Union. Now, when they seek to recruit dentists who previously were able to come to them without any barriers at all, they have to go through the sponsorship route, with all its complexities and uncertainties. And part of the difficulties experienced by people in north Wales are directly attributable to the way in which Brexit has made it more difficult to recruit and retain people who, up until the time that they were advised by members of the Conservative Party that everything would be better in their lives, if only they took the risk that they were invited to take, they find that those services have been compromised as a result.

The body that funds people for training here in Wales is developing the approach to the workforce, which I myself have always believed was the best one for this profession, and that is diversification. It is not a matter simply of recruiting and training dentists themselves; you need a cadre of dental nurses, of therapists, and the new cadre of dental assistants able to carry out those parts of dental work, and leaving those most highly trained and most professionally qualified parts of the workforce to do the things that only a dentist can do.

I had a question last week from Sam Kurtz that I thought very well set out the progress that has been made in GP practices to do exactly that: to diversity the profession and to use the—[Interruption.] Yes, the very first question that I had last week, I thought he set out the case very well. Now we need to see the same approach adopted by dentists, so that we can make the very best use of their qualifications and ability, and that is by using other people who can be just as successfully part of that wider clinical team, allowing them, therefore, to see more of Sam Rowlands's constituents.

14:20
Young Entrepreneurs

6. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to support and encourage young entrepreneurs in Denbighshire? OQ58275

Llywydd, last week, the Minister for Economy announced further investment to support 1,200 young people to start their own businesses. In addition to direct financial help, the scheme also provides one-to-one advice and guidance, for example, through the Achieve programme, available to young people in Denbighshire.

I appreciate that answer, First Minister. I recently visited the Blue Lion pub situated in Cwm, near Dyserth in Denbighshire, which has been taken on by new owners earlier this month. The pub, reportedly being the second oldest free house in Wales, has been reopened by young entrepreneurs, Jonathan White, aged 27, and Megan Banks, aged 25, who have worked locally in the food and hospitality industry for a number of years and have now taken the leap into managing their own establishment, contributing to the local economy and providing jobs for others. I'd like to congratulate both Jonathan and Megan for taking on this endeavour, and wish them and their team at the Blue Lion every success, and to ask you, First Minister, with approximately 4,800 young people in Denbighshire unemployed as of December 2021, and one fifth of people in Denbighshire living in workless households, what is the Welsh Government doing to encourage more young people in Denbighshire to follow in the footsteps of my constituents in pursuing and sustaining their own businesses?

Well, I thank the Member for that question. I wouldn't like to get into a contest with him on pub visiting, but I visited a pub in Burry Port recently, which had equally been taken over by two young people, and making an enormous success of it. So, I congratulate his constituents for the work that they are doing and all those young people in Wales who have that initiative and that drive to make sure that, where they have contributions that they want to make, they find ways of doing it. And that was exactly the point of the statement that Vaughan Gething made last week, to make sure that those young people in Denbighshire and in other parts of Wales who have an idea, who have an ambition, that they will now have £2,000 available to them, via the Welsh Government, to support them in that. And in some ways even more importantly, Llywydd, they will have pre and post-starter advice: business planning, financial management, peer support, mentorship. I'm very glad to say that, of the people who we have recruited to help with the scheme, 25 per cent are Welsh speaking and 46 per cent of them are women. We want young people in Wales, wherever they live and whatever their backgrounds, to feel that if they have that business idea that they want to promote, they know that there will be help and advice available to them.

Self-employment and entrepreneurship have played a larger part in the development of the UK economy in the last decade. A great deal of that is strong growth, it draws disproportionately on people with university degrees, but we also know that not every job in that part of the economy is the sort of job that we would want it to be. We know that there is insecurity and there is exploitation as well. Our scheme is designed to make sure that we do the best that we can in the area of self-employment and that young people in Wales are supported in doing so.

14:25
Fuel Poverty

7. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government about tackling fuel poverty in Mid and West Wales? OQ58268

Llywydd, thank you to Cefin Campbell for the question. Welsh Ministers take every opportunity to raise these matters with the UK Government. Cost-of-living measures, including fuel poverty, were discussed at last week's meeting of the Finance: Interministerial Standing Committee and they are on the agenda once again for tomorrow's meeting of the Interministerial Standing Committee.

Thank you very much, First Minister. It is good to hear that this issue is on the agenda, because, as you know, fuel costs have increased in all parts of Wales, but particularly in rural areas. When travelling from Carmarthenshire to Cardiff this morning, it was clear that the price of petrol and diesel was 5p or 6p per litre more in the west as compared to here in the capital city.

People in Wales, some 80 per cent of them, use a car to travel to work. In rural areas such as those that I represent, people travel some 25 per cent further for work, and that, of course, has a huge impact on them—people like carers, farmers and small businesses who are suffering greatly at the moment. So, you will know that parts of England and Scotland already benefit from the rural fuel duty relief scheme, which doesn't currently exist in Wales. So, what pressure are you as a Government placing on Westminster in order for this scheme to be introduced here in Wales to support rural communities?

Llywydd, thank you to Cefin Campbell for that question. I remember, back in 2015 when the scheme was being created, making those points at that time. Communities in England and communities in Scotland can use the rural fuel duty relief scheme, but nobody in Wales can use that same system. So, I can tell the Member, tomorrow, when we have the opportunity to raise those points—and other points, of course—we will raise the issue with regard to that rural fuel duty relief scheme, once again, with Ministers at Westminster, and ask them, if people in Devon, for example, can benefit from the scheme, why can't people in Dyfed or Powys, when the situation is almost the same.

14:30
Access to GP Services

8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve access to GPs in the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board area? OQ58266

The Welsh Government’s policy is to improve access to primary care services by using, to the full, the talents and capabilities of all members of the clinical team. In this way, the time of GPs can be released to respond to the needs of more complex cases.

Thank you, First Minister. Data from StatsWales shows that the number of patients registered with GPs across the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is steadily increasing, from 606,000 patients in 2016 to over 619,500 in January 2022. At the same time, a quarter of all GPs working in Wales are aged over 60 and therefore nearing retirement. This is the highest percentage of any country in the United Kingdom. If this trend continues, the stress and pressures on general practice can only increase. Only this morning, it's been reported that St Brides medical practice, a GP surgery with nearly 7,000 patients, is set to close before the end of the week. A lead GP at the practice revealed on social media that she was resigning her contract as she was unable to recruit enough people—salaried GPs and GP partners—to safely run the practice. So, First Minister, what action are you going to be taking to increase the number of GPs qualifying each year in Wales from the current figure of 160, to ensure my region of south-east Wales has enough GPs to meet increasing demand? Thank you. 

The St Brides practice gave notice a considerable time before this week, and the neighbouring GP practices, accepting patients who previously would have been looked after by St Brides, have all confirmed that they have the capacity and the workforce to deliver care safely to the agreed cohort of patients. We have 183 GPs in training in Wales this year, not 160, and the number has been healthy, at that level or higher, in each of the last three years. 

I know that the Member will have welcomed the announcement yesterday by the Welsh Government of £27 million to be invested in the Newport East health and well-being centre. Of course, it is a project that has been powerfully supported by John Griffiths as the local Member. That practice will be based in Ringland. It will bring together GP practices. It will have the Ringland dental surgery there under the same roof. It will have local authority services available to patients as part of that well-being development, and it seems to me to be a very practical and contemporary example of the way in which the Welsh Government goes on investing in those services in the Member's own region. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The business statement and announcement is next, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Lesley Griffiths. 

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 14:33:26
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. Today's agenda has been reordered so that debates and voting time will follow the oral statements. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically. 

Trefnydd, can I ask for a statement from the Minister for health on Welsh Government efforts to tackle escalating cancer waiting times in the Aneurin Bevan health board? I make this request because recent data showed an increase in people waiting more than eight weeks for key tests most commonly used to diagnose cancer. This shocking statistic falls below the suspected cancer pathway performance target, which aims for 75 per cent of patients to start treatment within 62 days. In my own area, the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, only 56.9 per cent of patients start their first treatment for cancer within the Welsh Government's target, compared to 67.9 per cent in April 2021. Access to treatment as quickly as possible is absolutely vital to raise a cancer sufferer's chances of survival. Minister, it's essential that a robust and urgent package of support, including a full cancer strategy, and workforce strategy, is implemented as soon as possible. 

Thank you. You will have heard the First Minister clarify the reasons why we have the rapid diagnostic centres, and how many are already up and functioning to help with the very difficult situation that you have just presented. 

14:35

I'd like to ask for a debate in Government time about how the UK Government's assault on human rights will impact on people in Wales, as well as Welsh policy and legislation. I welcome the written statement from the Counsel General last week. He said that there'd been very little engagement with the Welsh Government about the UK Government's plans to dilute the influence of the European convention on human rights. We know that the UK Government wants to make it easier for themselves when they carry out cruel and shameful policies like shipping off asylum seekers to Rwanda, to make it easier for them to ignore what is morally right in order to achieve what is politically expedient. We need a debate, Trefnydd, please, to scrutinise how this will impact on Welsh legislation and Government programmes, given the Cwnsler Cyffredinol has said that human rights is fundamental to the devolution settlement. I want to know how the Welsh Government plans to protect the rights of Welsh citizens if the UK Government does plough ahead without the Senedd's consent. I would welcome a debate, please, so that we can discuss these hugely important matters. Thank you.

Thank you. As you say, the Counsel General did publish a written statement last week. He is working very closely to make sure that we are fully aware of the UK Government's plans, and I'm sure that, when there is further information to come forward, he will update Members.

I would like to request a Welsh Government statement on pollution. In Swansea East, the River Tawe suffers from sewage being regularly released from the Trebanos pumping station. Further into the constituency, we have plastic being burned off wire and the pollution attached to that. We have pesticides polluting soil and rivers. Finally, we have nitrogen oxides from cars along the main roads. I'm sure this is replicated across Wales. A Government statement on the problems that exist and what actions are going to be taken will be most welcome.

Thank you. I do understand that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water have been investigating high-spilling combined overflows in the River Tawe as part of their storm overflow assessment framework investigations, and that they are investing significant funding—I think it's over £100 million—to upgrade their wastewater management network. Also, Natural Resources Wales and Swansea Council have been working on reducing domestic misconnections, which is where households or businesses incorrectly connect their sewage systems to the main sewer network. That's, obviously, in collaboration with Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water as well.

Could I have two statements, please, Trefnydd? One is on long COVID. It's estimated that, in the UK, around 30 per cent of those who contracted COVID-19 now suffer with long COVID. In fact, I've been actually approached in my office recently by a number of people who are very concerned because they can't find services. In my own health board, Betsi Cadwaladr, they've promised to provide a range of support and clinical interventions, individually tailored to patient needs. However, when you go on the website, it's warning that they have a waiting list due to large numbers of referrals. So, could you arrange for the Minister for Health and Social Services to provide a statement on what access to long COVID treatment is available in each health board separately?

My number two is: during the fabulous Llanrwst Show on Saturday, which saw thousands of people there, I was actually pleased to meet up, as always, with our farmers and the Farmers Union of Wales. However, they did raise serious concerns with me and other colleagues here today about the operational costs of farms and the fact that energy prices—[Interruption.] Can I just ask my question, Member?

Fertiliser, fuel and, of course, fodder prices are increasing, and they're very worried that, over the winter, there may be a tremendous fodder shortage. So, what support and what dialogue is coming from this Welsh Government for our farmers, who are very clearly worried—[Interruption.] It sounds like I have an echo—about this? Thank you.

Thank you. Regarding your first question, around long COVID, you'll be aware that there are long COVID clinics, and resources have been made available to health boards in relation to this. Unfortunately, I can't find it in my file, but I was reading this morning that the Minister for Health and Social Services has ensured there was a six-month review around long COVID clinics, and over 80 per cent of people felt they'd gained great benefit from that.

I'm very well aware, obviously, of the concerns within the farming and agricultural sector around operational costs. Fuel, food and fertilisers have increased in price hugely over the past few months. With my portfolio hat on, I have met with my counterparts from right across the UK. Victoria Prentis is the Minister of State who is leading the cost-of-living crisis within our portfolio. Unfortunately, we have asked to meet her much more regularly than we have. I think we've only met twice. But I do continue to have—. Because it is the UK Government that has the levers to do something in this area. However, you'll be aware that I have opened some windows around schemes, particularly around nutrient management, for instance, which will help our farmers in the short term.  

14:40

I also would like to hear a statement from you as rural affairs Minister, so that we can really get to grips with some of the issues that we've already heard about in relation to, particularly, animal feed. The Welsh Government really needs to be proactive. I hear what you're saying in terms of it being a UK Government thing, and they primarily have the levers to effect real change, but just look at what's happening in Ireland. The Irish Government, in March, announced a €12 million crop-growing scheme, and it's a return to a wartime tillage programme, which was last utilised during the second world war. So, that's the scale of the crisis that Welsh farming is facing, and not just in an economic sense, but more so in relation to animal welfare. And we need that plan now, because, when that crisis hits in winter, it will be too late. So, we really need to see the Welsh Government being proactive.

Another example is that, back in 2018, I'm sure you'll recall, the Irish Government introduced a fodder import scheme to make sure that there was plenty of food for their animals. There have been calls particularly for greater flexibility around Glastir to allow our farmers to get more fodder into the ground. I'd really like to know what your thinking is around that, because that is very much in your gift. That's not a UK Government thing. So, we need to know what the plan is, because if there is no plan, then there will be a crisis when winter hits. 

In light of the increase that we're seeing in COVID cases, there is now growing concern that we are seeing more waste, in terms of the increasing use of face masks, and I would like to know what you, as a Government, are going to do to educate people on how to dispose of those masks in a responsible way. We remember how we saw them in our environment, all over the place, during the height of the pandemic. Now, of course, with mask use being normalised more for the longer term, I think there's a piece of work that needs to be done in order to ensure that that problem is tackled. So, I'd also ask for a statement to explain how the Government is going to tackle that issue. Thank you.  

Thank you. I think we have been very proactive. You'll be aware that back in March, I think, I announced an additional £237 million over the next three years, specifically around schemes to help our farmers become much more productive and competitive. I mentioned the nutrient management scheme; I think the window is still open for that. I've announced a variety of schemes and there are more to come. There's the sustainable farming scheme, and I have committed to publishing the outline scheme ahead of the summer shows, so that we can have that engagement. These are all things that will help our farmers with the cost-of-living crisis. But, I'm sorry, it does remain with the UK Government, who do hold the majority of those levers, to make sure that that support is provided. I agree with what you're saying, that it could be an animal health and welfare issue as well, and that is something that we've looked at very closely, as we've looked at what schemes we bring forward. We're constantly looking at what flexibility we can have. 

In relation to your question around face masks, I think you're absolutely right. Nothing infuriated me more—you'd go into the supermarket car park and there would be disposable masks all over the floor. I know that the Minister for Climate Change—. I think there was a social media campaign to encourage more people to think much more carefully about how they dispose of those masks. 

Could I ask for a statement, Minister, from the health Minister on the care provided to teenage cancer patients? I was contacted last week by the family of a teenager, an 18-year-old young woman in Blaenau Gwent, who is undergoing some very distressing treatment for cancer at the moment. It is clear, from the treatment that she has received, that there is a structural issue within the national health service, where young people undergoing some very, very significant and difficult treatment do not have access to the care they require. She has been taken to A&E units in different parts of south Wales, where she has not received the treatment she has required. There seems to be a break in the linkage between Velindre and individual hospitals, and the consequence is that the treatment, which is distressing enough, is further distressed and compounded by these matters for her and her family. We all know—those of us who are parents will understand—that there's nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a child in this situation. I've contacted the health Minister and asked for a meeting on this specific issue, but I do believe that the Government should also bring forward a statement on this matter so that we can all be reassured, in whichever constituency we represent, that young people receiving this treatment will have the treatment they require at times and in places they require to have it.

14:45

Thank you. Well, it is absolutely paramount that a patient receives the right treatment in the right place at the right time, and you've clearly outlined a very distressing case. You say that you've asked the Minister for Health and Social Services for a meeting, and I think, probably following that meeting, if the Minister feels that she should make a wider statement to Members, she will do so.

Diolch, Llywydd. Trefnydd, can I ask for a statement from either the Minister for Climate Change or the Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport as to how sporting facilities are protected during the planning process? As the Wimbledon tennis tournament begins, it's the time of year that people often start to pick up their rackets and get involved in tennis. However, in Porthcawl, a new planning development, which will see 900 extra houses being built, will see the town lose its only tennis court as a new road is being built through the middle of it. Whilst the council have promised that new tennis facilities will be built, they've not specified where this will be or how long this will take, which could mean the town could be without tennis courts for years, which would be a bitter blow to local tennis stars of the future there. So, I ask for statement, please, from either the Minister for Climate Change or the Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport to see how they work alongside the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to ensure that sporting facilities are protected or, indeed, enhanced in the planning process.

Thank you. You refer to something that's obviously in the gift of the local authority, and I would suggest you write to the local authority. You seem to be a bit unbelieving of the timescale they've given to you, and I would advise you to write to the local authority in the first instance.

3. Statement by the Minister for Social Justice: Basic Income for Care Leavers Pilot

The next item is the statement by the Minister for Social Justice on the basic income for care leavers pilot. I call on the Minister to make the statement—Jane Hutt.

Diolch, Llywydd. In February this year, I announced the Welsh Government’s intention to develop and deliver a basic income pilot for care leavers in Wales. Today, I'm pleased to confirm that the pilot will begin on 1 July 2022 and run for a total of three years. During this time, we will test the stated benefits of basic income, such as improving health and financial well-being, and strengthening the opportunities and life chances of individuals. Basic income is a direct investment in these young people and their futures.

Over 500 young people leaving care who turn 18 between 1 July 2022 and 30 June 2023 will be eligible to receive 24 monthly payments at a value of £1,600 per month pre tax, starting the month after their eighteenth birthday. This means, for example, that if a young person leaving care turns 18 in July this year, they will receive a payment of £1,280 in August and will continue to receive this payment on a monthly basis until July 2024, subject to any changes in the basic rate of income tax. In line with feedback and advice from our local authority partners, participants in the pilot can choose whether to receive this payment either monthly or twice monthly. This is in alignment with the current universal credit system. Participation in the pilot is non-compulsory and, for those that do participate, will be unconditional. Any participation in additional support or evaluation will be on a voluntary basis.

Since my announcement in February, we have considered a range of options for each element of delivery. Following engagement with care-experienced young people and the practitioners who work with them, it's clear the most effective and appropriate approach to delivery will be to separate responsibility for different aspects of the pilot to different agencies. I will outline the approach we will take today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

In line with their corporate parenting responsibilities, Welsh local authorities will play a critical role in delivering the basic income for care leavers in Wales pilot. They will act as a first point of contact for the recipients of the basic income and will be responsible for guiding the young people in their care through the pilot. They will escalate issues and highlight any implementation challenges of the scheme to the Welsh Government, and provide a link to recipients for researchers and national policy leads for the purposes of evaluation and monitoring. The Welsh Government will provide the national policy direction for all aspects of the pilot and provide guidance to support equitable delivery across Wales. We will be the central point of contact for all those involved with managing, delivering and evaluating the pilot, and we'll respond to feedback accordingly, with updates to policy, delivery and guidance as necessary.

Payments to participants will be made through an external provider procured under an existing procurement framework. Using a single payment provider ensures a consistent and efficient system that provides the same service to all recipients of the basic income. It will also provide a single point of contact for all participants in relation to payments of basic income. The pilot is not only about supplying money to recipients; it's vital that, before choosing to participate, care leavers are supported to make informed decisions about their finances and their futures. We know local authorities already provide a range of support to care-experienced young people as part of their statutory obligations as a corporate parent. The care leavers we've been engaging with were clear that all young people eligible to take part in the pilot should be offered access to consistent, independent, quality-assured financial advice and support throughout their engagement in the pilot. We've therefore developed a package of financial advice and support for care leavers who are taking part in this pilot that expands the Welsh Government's single advice fund grant agreement, currently held by Citizens Advice Cymru. The service will provide direct advice to young people and also second-tier advice support to local authority professionals working with young people. This will include advice at all stages, from working through a pre-pilot better-off calculation to budgeting advice or financial crisis support. Care leavers will be able to access impartial advice tailored to their individual circumstances, and a single lead organisation will ensure consistency of service delivery throughout Wales. In addition to the individual financial advice provided to recipients of the basic income, we're working with other organisations, such as Voices from Care Cymru and the UK Government Money and Pensions Service, to deliver more holistic advice around money management, education, training and well-being. Recipients will be signposted to these opportunities via their young persons advisers and other support services.

Capturing the voice and experience of the young people taking part in this pilot will be critical to its success. We will work with them throughout to contribute to our dynamic evaluation and ensure lived experiences are central to its outcomes. The evaluation will consider the impact of the pilot in terms of improvements in the experiences of individual care and how being part of the pilot has affected young people's lives. Regular feedback from recipients will ensure an evaluation that provides emergent themes on participant experiences and supports improvement to the pilot as it's rolled out.

Through this pilot, we want to build on the existing support offered to care-experienced children in Wales and ensure young people who take part get all they need to give them the best possible chance to make their way in life and make the transition out of care better, easier and more positive. The focus will be to create independence from services rather than dependence on services as they enter adulthood. We will work with stakeholders, recipients and our evaluation team to monitor the progress of the pilot and make changes where necessary, and I'll pleased to continue to share our experiences and outcomes as this important work develops. Diolch.

14:50

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you, Minister, for your statement, and can I also thank you for your briefing this morning? I found it very useful in terms of understanding your viewpoint. Indeed, I acknowledge completely your view of investing in care leavers and trying to provide opportunities for them that others might take for granted, and I accept that this comes from a position of genuinely wanting to help. I further believe that every Member here would recognise that care leavers are a particularly vulnerable group that need additional support. The Welsh Conservatives recognise this and that care leavers face unique challenges and difficulties, and we want to do everything to ensure that they have the best care and every opportunity available to them. However, Minister, my concern with this UBI trial is that this Government is changing the narrative of universal basic income by conflating it with providing specific help for care leavers in the hope that, after two years, you will have data that justifies the roll-out of a UBI. This approach is inherently flawed, because you will not actually be able to extrapolate any data from such a specific and, might I add, vulnerable group to apply it to a full cross-section of society. Moreover, by using care leavers as your measurement group, I believe that you are diminishing the opportunity for rigorous scrutiny of UBI, because any adverse comments will be met with a counter-argument that the person making them is against care leavers, which is not only very unlikely to be true, but it will, overall, prevent many people from engaging with the scrutiny process out of a fear of a backlash.

Moreover, on the grounds of helping care leavers, we believe that giving them every opportunity to make the best of their lives is right, and we recognise the trauma and very difficult circumstances some of them have faced. However, we also have to be mindful that within this group there are some extremely vulnerable people with complex needs, and giving them £1,600 a month in theory may help them in the short term, in reality it could make the situation worse for them in the long term. Firstly, this vulnerable group of teenagers, some of whom come from challenging backgrounds, could become, without the right help and support, targets for people looking to coerce, abuse and exploit them because of the extra money. How will you prevent this? Secondly, as you have mentioned previously, we know that there are people within this group, although they are a very small proportion, that have drug dependency issues, and having such a large amount of money given to them, again without the right help and support, could worsen existing issues. And thirdly, the Welsh Government is ultimately creating a cliff edge for care leavers who will simply have their money stopped after two years. So, in reality, you are taking some of the most vulnerable people, creating a dependency on an additional income that they are very unlikely to receive ever again and then leaving them to fend for themselves after two years.

Minister, you mentioned this massive package of support that I have highlighted that they will need, but, in reality, this is not the case and the maths don't add up. You're providing £20 million over two years, which will only leave £800,000 to provide the support package, which is woeful at best, and, as mentioned this morning, you are relying almost entirely on the voluntary sector to provide that support. We have heard about the possibilities of people using this money to support higher education. While university degrees take, on average, three years, what you will be doing is not giving them the same opportunities that other people have had when their families have supported them, because you're only helping out part of the way, which I believe is irresponsible. With this in mind, Minister, what assessment have you done to evaluate the actual support needed for care leavers to maximise the use of this money, and what help and support are you offering to voluntary and third sector organisations to help them meet the support needs of those undertaking this trial? What assessment has this Government made of the needs of this group once the trial has ended, and how do you envisage they will be supported after it? With this being a voluntary programme for care leavers to sign up to, what specific help and support is the Welsh Government offering to those eligible to actually sign up and access this trial? And finally, in terms of universal basic income, how do you expect this data to be extrapolated to provide sufficient evidence that UBI will help the full cross-section of Welsh society? Thank you.

14:55

Thank you very much, Joel James. I was grateful we had some positive comments at the start of your questions today. I think you recognised that this pilot could offer great opportunities for our care leavers, and this is a basic income pilot.

I just want to start by answering your questions about why we're focusing this pilot on care leavers. We're, as a Welsh Government, committed to supporting those who are living in poverty, ensuring they receive adequate financial support so that everyone in Wales can live happy and healthy lives. Care leavers have a right—this is about a right for care leavers to be fully supported, as we do through their care experience, as they develop into independent young adults. We know that too many young people leaving care do face significant barriers to achieving that successful transition into adulthood. So, basic income is a direct investment in a cohort of young people who we want to support so that they can thrive while they secure their basic needs.

Care-experienced young people are a group, as I've said, we've already consistently chosen to invest in—a top-up for the child trust fund, additional council tax exemptions, the establishment of the St David's Day fund. But it is recognised that, compared with their peers—. This is where you've got to answer the question, I have to say, as well: why not invest in these care-experienced young people who have been disproportionately disadvantaged and who are statistically more likely to experience issues such as homelessness, addiction and mental health? So, this is about actually building on the support, enabling our young people leaving care to take part in this pilot. And given the support, they could have the best possible chance for this transition into better, easier and more positive experiences.

This is a decision, this is a choice that we have made, a priority that we have in our budget. Indeed, it was in our manifesto and programme for government that we would pilot basic income. So, just to clarify on the funding, we've allocated £20 million to the delivery of this pilot over the course of three years. It comprises the payments themselves, administration costs and research and evaluation costs. Clearly, it depends on the take-up and participation rates; it's not compulsory, this pilot, but just in terms of the need for additional financial advice and support, that's going to be provided for those eligible to take part in the pilot—that's what care-experienced young people said. Approximately £2 million has been allocated for this service for the full period of the pilot, over three to four years. So, that's pre pilot through to post pilot as well. So, the funding is there to fund the organisations that actually have responsibility, as we do Voices from Care Cymru and all those who currently support our young people. But also, as I've said, it's the role of local authorities to support them as well.

As a point of principle, I would say—and taking this as a rights-based approach—all of those who meet the eligibility criteria will be entitled to sign up to the pilot if they choose to do so, and it should be treated no differently from any other form of income. Just in terms of their needs and their life experiences, of course there will be existing ongoing support from young people's advisors. Safeguarding procedures would be followed as standard as well, if there was any concern about perceived risk. But this is about actually having a package of support that's going to be available.

Now, it's interesting to look at trials across the world of basic income. For example, one of the longest running basic income schemes in North Carolina has followed children who were aged nine to 13 in 1992. These children grew into adulthood, and lower prevalence of substance misuse disorders were observed in those receiving the income. We've looked at these trials, we've looked at the outcomes. That scheme also demonstrated a 22 per cent decrease in reported criminal activity among 16 and 17-year-olds, particularly in terms of substance misuse and minor crimes.

This pilot will be evaluated very clearly in terms of the responsibilities, but also it is going to be, in terms of evaluation—. We're going to be looking, as we move through this, in terms of support for these young people as the pilot concludes. They will have the backing, the support and the ongoing input in terms of not just financial advice and support, signposting well-being, education, work and broader financial advice. Many of these young people will be accessing other schemes, like the young person's guarantee. I mean, if you have chosen, or otherwise I hope you will, to look at some of the statements that have been made by young people today, young people in care who said to us—and these include young people who've been in care—that this gives them hope, this shows that this Welsh Government, and, I hope, this Senedd, believes in these young people and believes that they should have these opportunities we're providing. 

15:00

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. This pilot is very welcome, especially for those of us in the Siambr who have campaigned or are campaigning for a universal basic income. Granted, this isn't a universal basic income, but it is a basic income, and it still will provide us with valuable data and direction in our journey to a universal one.

We've talked about our reasons for supporting UBI in the past. Part of that reasoning is to tackle the rampant levels of poverty here in Wales. Again, this pilot will give us valuable data and the ability to measure against that objective, given that it is open to some of the most economically vulnerable members of society.

It's disappointing to note the unwillingness of the UK Government to co-operate on this. Taxing the payment is one thing, but the way in which they will be counting it against universal credit is unfair. Using gross rather than net, assessing people for money they won't actually receive is just bizarre and completely unfair in my view. But the unwillingness to co-operate on a progressive policy doesn't surprise me—just another example of the disdain Westminster shows for devolved Governments, further evidenced by the news last night, of course, on scrapping the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017.

Now, young people leaving care are often already particularly vulnerable to exploitation, as Joel rightly pointed out. There are concerns, which have been raised by Barnardo's Cymru, that this basic income pilot, by providing a large lump-sum payment, which is widely known about, will leave care leavers open to becoming magnets to exploitation by rogue landlords, other young people and criminals, for example. Safeguarding is key. There are likely to be unintended consequences that arise and become clear as the pilot is running, as this pilot will be effecting the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. It's important that the Government and the young person's advisers keep on top of this and that Welsh Government makes adjustments where necessary.

Given that care leavers can voluntarily join, I'd be interested to know if the Government will approach those who decided not to take part in this pilot to find out why they came to that decision not to join. And, of course, basic income leaves those with no extra costs relatively better off under a lump-sum payment than those who face additional costs, such as disability-related costs or childcare. Given that young people taking part in this pilot will likely have their benefits effected as a result, how will Welsh Government ensure that those with extra disability-related costs, or those who fall pregnant, for example, during the pilot, are not at a disadvantage to others in the scheme? And further on from that, when the Government evaluates the pilot, how will it take into account the effects of the pilot on those participants with intersectional issues?

An important point for us to also consider is what happens at the end of the pilot. It is welcome that Welsh Government will maintain contact with participants, especially given that once the pilot ends, the money ends, and £1,200, give or take, is a substantial amount of money to have lost, and that, of course, is the figure after tax. Joel made that point, and I think it is a fair point to make.

Finally, given the issues that Scottish Government found in their research into basic income pilots, as well as the fact that certain groups in society miss out through flat-rate lump-sum payments, what other anti-poverty schemes has the Welsh Government considered evaluating in the future? Does the Minister think there might be greater merit to universal basic services, for example?

15:05

Diolch yn fawr, Luke Fletcher, and thank you very much for welcoming the basic income pilot for care leavers in Wales. I'm very glad you drew attention to the fact that the UK Government Department for Work and Pensions has declined—I would say, 'refused', but they declined to engage with us. They have declined to disregard this income payment that we're making. They declined to actually engage with us to see if this basic income pilot for care leavers could actually benefit care leavers across the whole of the United Kingdom. But that's what it will do, because, again, we've learnt a lot from Scotland as well, in terms of the piloting that they've undertaken and, of course, we've looked across the world.

But I would say, and I will share a letter that I've written to the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, who I have—. I did write to her and asked to discuss this pilot with her last year. She declined and also decided that the basic income payment would be counted as unearned income and offset and, of course, then be subject to tax and benefits consideration. And, actually, one of the greatest concerns I've got at the moment, and I'll share my letter to the Secretary of State with you, is that although it's declared as unearned income, it will be taxed, but as far as eligibility for universal credit is concerned, they say they're going to assess it on the gross value before tax, which means it's going to be unfairly assessed. I'm giving her the opportunity to rectify that, and I will share that, my call to her, and I hope colleagues from the Welsh Conservatives will back me in that as I share that letter with you.

It is very important, in terms of young people deciding whether they will take part in this pilot, that they make an informed choice to do so. And your point about finding out if young people decide not to—well, it is of course their choice. The first cohort, if you like, has been approached, and they’re very much aware of what’s happening because of the recognition and engagement we’ve had with young people through Voices from Care over the period of the last year or so. They’ve actively been engaging with young people and all the local authorities involved in terms of—. And I’ve been working also with the Deputy Minister for Social Services, who’s working with young people. We’ve met young people—they will have the choice as to whether they take part, and that will be about their circumstances and, indeed, looking at other earnings they might have, and their position in life in terms of jobs, education and opportunities. But in terms of evaluation, we will look at these kinds of factors because we need to learn from the young people, those who do take part throughout the evaluation, about the impact it’s having on them and how they are engaging and what more support we can provide.

I have already mentioned in response to Joel James the fact that we would expect any existing safeguarding measures and support already in place, because they have an ongoing duty of care, local authorities, to care leavers, to be followed and made available to basic income participants. But also, I’ve given you some examples where pilots across the world have shown that people who may have been vulnerable, not just in terms of things like becoming homeless, not being able to access jobs, or training and education—actually, the pilots across the world have shown that young people have benefitted, and that those on pilots, UBI pilots, have benefitted from the basic income, which gives them a whole measure of security in their lives in terms of options that lie ahead.

Disability-related issues—it’s very important this pilot is available, and we think it’s up to 500 young people, diverse young people across Wales with protected characteristics, and they will be eligible for other benefits. So, again, with advice and guidance and the ongoing support they’ll get from Citizen’s Advice as well as their care leaver advisers and social workers, they will be able to assess the benefits they’re entitled to. But it’s unconditional. They’ll be getting their £1,600—taxed, unfortunately—every month regardless. So, hopefully it will build on those entitlements.

I think the evaluation will be critical in terms of seeing this as an insightful and multifaceted evaluation. We need to look at the longer term impacts, and of course some of that will take some time into the future in terms of what this has meant for the care-experienced young people who are going to benefit. But we’re applying a mixture of qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods, engaging with young people themselves to get that baseline data, which is going to ensure that we can assess the impact of basic income appropriately.

I think this in itself will show the important impact of the basic income pilot, because it just does go back to the fact that this provides those young people with the opportunities that they haven’t had, and they might not have had in their lives, and which they haven’t seen, and haven’t been possible for them to have. So, the young people that, certainly, the First Minister and Julie Morgan and I met on Friday just said, ‘Now we’ve got hope. Now we’ve got a future.’

15:10

I have six Members who wish to speak, and less than five minutes left. 

I’ll ask Members to be succinct in their questions and the Minister to be succinct in her answers so I can get everybody in, please. Jack Sargeant.

Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’m grateful to the Minister for providing today’s statement. She will know this is of particular importance to me, as I was the Member who brought forward the successful motion in the previous Senedd to trial a universal basic income in Wales, and also the Member who chaired the cross-party Petitions Committee inquiry on the topic. I’m proud to stand here today, and proud of the fact that we are launching the basic income pilot in Wales, and I am proud to have played some small role within that.

If I could speak to the committee’s findings first, Minister, there were two points that stood out. Firstly, the need for responsible, reliable adult advice, guidance and support, and, secondly, the importance of the evaluation process. You have covered that in your statement, but I wonder if you can just give some more assurances to these young people.

And finally, if I can look to my role as a Member—and I commend the leadership of yourself and the First Minister in particular on the basic income pilot, but do you agree with me that, whilst we do have differences with the UK Government, they should not stand in the way of the Welsh Government achieving their ambitions? I note that you wrote to the Minister in the UK Government. Will you commit to having those continued conversations with the Minister?

And just finally, Deputy Presiding Officer—

15:15

No, you've had over a minute, so—. I've got five other Members wishing to speak. 

Well, can I just thank Jack Sargeant, and particularly thank him for his chairing of the Petitions Committee and the recommendations that came from that committee? We've accepted them all in full or in part, and I think particularly those recommendations—. Guaranteed unconditional pay to the individual—unconditional—but also that care leavers should include care leavers from as diverse as possible a range of backgrounds, and that we should actually work with the UK Government. So, I have already given—. I will share my letter to the Secretary of State. I hope that she will respond positively and that we can overcome particularly the barrier that has appeared in terms of access to and eligibility for universal credit. But still, it would be good if they could reconsider taxing this basic income pilot. It will be a pilot that will be important to the UK Government. We are investing in these young people, and that investment will mean that they may then have less need for public services, such as the services that have to come forward in terms of homelessness, substance misuse and, indeed, unemployment, because we hope these young people will then progress in their lives in jobs, employment, education.  

Thank you very much to you, Minister, and to the other Minister as well, the Deputy Minister, and to the people in your department who have worked so hard on this. I could speak for hours on this, and I realise I've only got one minute, so I'll speak very, very quickly. I'm fully in support of this pilot, as you will know. I met with a group of care-experienced young people a couple of weeks ago, and I would invite all of the Conservatives who don't believe in this to go and meet with care-experienced young people and hear their views. I would also invite the Labour Party in Westminster to adopt this as a policy, as have Plaid Cymru, ourselves, the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Greens.

May I respond to you by saying I look forward to seeing whether we can get sufficient evidence to inform future expansions of this pilot and get more permanent schemes in place in Wales? And to the Conservatives I say: look at the evidence—the evidence all around the world that says that basic income actually improves lives, actually improves well-being. It's not about people just frittering money away. In 2009, 20 homeless people were given £3,000. They didn't fritter it away; they spent £800 of that on dictionaries, on learning and on finding accommodation. So, please, look at the evidence, Conservatives, and listen to the voices of children in care. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you. 

Diolch yn fawr, Jane Dodds. Well, I can't say anything more in response to Jane except to thank her for her support and also just to, again, look at the importance of the global evidence about basic income pilots. And I hope that the Conservatives will at least recognise that this is an opportunity for our care leavers, to give them hope, to open doors, to open opportunities for them. 

Thank you, Minister, for the statement. I'm not trying to make any political points here. I have some grave concerns about this. As a corporate parent for 25 years through the local government sector, I do believe there is far more that local authorities can do. I know you described the packages of support that you were expecting from local authorities, but I genuinely believe local authorities should extend their parental responsibilities over the age of 18 and use the resources that you're looking to spend in this way to focus on real career paths and learning opportunities, with the creation of jobs—actual long-term jobs and careers. I'm really anxious about the drop-off at the end of the two years. There will be some people who manage this very well; there'll be others who are real casualties. And I'm really worried that there will be a lot of casualties as a result of this experiment. I hope it proves me wrong, because these are a very vulnerable, precious young group of people, and we should be treading very carefully in how we do this. But I think it should fall to local authorities to put in those packages of support as corporate parents and an extended corporate parental role. Thank you.  

Well, thank you very much, Peter Fox. I hope that this basic income pilot will prove you wrong. Our local authorities are all behind this. I've met with the social workers, our young people's advisers, as Julie Morgan has, and the First Minister and myself last week. They see this as an opportunity to actually deliver on their responsibilities as corporate parents to young people leaving care. It's a real opportunity for them, and with the backing that we've got, the funding that we're putting in for the support package right the way through the pilot, and indeed the networking, I would like to say that I think care leavers in Wales would like to hear that you do want to look for the positives in this pilot. It would be great if that came from every part of this Chamber today.

15:20

Minister, can I thank you for this statement today? I think it demonstrates once again the determination of the Welsh Government to level up the life chances of looked-after children. Two brief questions. The first regards all of the advice that you outlined that will be available to care leavers regarding financial matters. Could you just assure Members that the young persons' advisers will remain the first point of contact for care leavers, and that they will be able to trust those advisers to offer the most relevant signposting, and that they won't have to offer an entire list of advisory services that care leavers should go to to get financial advice? It's absolutely essential that care leavers, with their advisers, choose the best avenue to pursue in gaining advice and support on financial matters.

And secondly, Minister, upon completion of this pilot, should, through the evaluation, the benefits be seen as without doubt to be proven overwhelmingly to be in the interests of young people in having universal basic income for care leavers, will you commit the Government to look at maintaining this particular fund for care leavers in the future, regardless of what happens in terms of the pilot being taken up or otherwise by the UK Government? And may I also—

Diolch yn fawr, Ken Skates. The service will provide direct advice to young people—that £2 million package that I've already responded to questions about, the package of support, financial advice and guidance, alongside the young people's advisers as well, which are perhaps wider aspects of advice and guidance needed, but particularly one to one. But also, it's independent, and I think that's what important—that this package will be independent, as you say, Ken Skates. It's got to be independent, so they feel that they can trust it, alongside their local authority guidance. And it will be pre pilot and all the way through the pilot as well. It's going to be important that that is from experienced advisers, particularly in relation to finance. 

Yes, the evaluation is going to take us through the two years and beyond to see the impact of basic income on these young people's lives. We hope that the pilot will prove that this is the right decision that we've made in terms of our care leavers in Wales, and that then—. It will be for Governments, and indeed other political parties as well, I'm sure, in terms of looking forward to the future in terms of taking this forward as an investment in our young people. I know I haven't got time to go over this again, but it is really important that we do see this as an investment. This is about their financial lives, their futures, and I think looking at it from the perspective of how this will set them off to be fully contributing citizens, paying their taxes and enabling them to contribute to society in the way they want to—running businesses, going into further education and higher education and jobs—that's what we want for our care leavers in Wales. 

Diolch, Weinidog. I fully support the pilot as a step towards a permanent universal basic income. On 4 May, during social justice spokespersons' questions, I raised with you that young people leaving care often access semi-independent accommodation, such as flats in a complex, where a young person has their own independent space but has access to significant support to help make the transition to living independently. However, of course, this kind of accommodation is expensive to run and, as such, the rent can be high. But, previously, for many young people leaving care, rent would have been paid directly to landlords of this type of accommodation via housing benefit. I asked if Welsh Government was going to ensure that participants in the basic income pilot were financially supported to access the best possible support and accommodation and were not financially disincentivised from accessing supported housing. You responded by saying that you'd look at this particular point. So, I was wondering, Minister, if you could outline if this issue has been evaluated by Welsh Government, given what you've said about the DWP, and if you could make it clear that those on the basic income pilot will be able to continue to access supported accommodation.

15:25

Diolch. That's a very important question, and I can say 'yes'; I can say 'yes' to all the points. Also, there will be the opportunity to look at whether they want their rent paid direct, as well as looking at their needs in terms of supported housing opportunities, both current and in the future.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I really welcome this pilot and the statement today, focusing as it does on care leavers with the basic income. It will add, despite some of the doubters today, to that pool of international evidence, both in terms of basic income pilots but also on support for care leavers themselves towards an independent life as well.

Just to build on the points that were made by my colleague Ken Skates, and touched on by others as well, when it comes to the evaluation of this, there are two interesting potentials. Well, there are three: one is that it doesn’t work, and we say, 'Well, that’s it. We're not interested in it.' But there are two others that may be more fruitful. One is the broadening and widening of this into a basic income that is genuinely more universal; the other one is the continuation of this.

Now, I assume that it'll be for parties to look at this, and the success of this, and to say whether they want to put this into manifestos going forward on a wider scale. But what about the continuity of this for care leavers themselves? Is that something that we could indeed make a decision on before that point?

Well, we've identified and we've agreed in our budget the £20 million. It is actually—. I wanted to say that one of the points that I haven't been able to highlight is that this is one of the most generous payments in the whole of the world that we're making. We're making it, actually, partly because, when we heard that the UK Government was going to tax it, we knew that we had to make it of a sufficient amount to make it actually worthwhile for young people to consider this option.

We do believe that our investment in this, and the evaluation—a dynamic, continuous process for the life of the pilot—will prove whether this is going to make a substantive difference to those young people’s lives. So, I'm very happy to come back and report. I think that many will want to meet the young people; I'm sure they will be very keen to do so, to tell you about the impact of this and the difference that it has made to their lives. And then, actually, to start costing what this means in terms of investing in these young people—investing so that other public services may not be needed in their lives, in terms of housing, and the impact of perhaps those difficulties that many young people in care often do face, in terms of homelessness, substance misuse.

But we're looking at this as—. These young people who've spoken to us, you can see, if you read their stories, that they know what they want to spend this money on. It’s to make their lives resilient. It’s about making sure that they have got the opportunities, and saying, ‘We have now got hope, and we want to prove that we can use this money and move forward in our lives in a positive, proactive way.’ That’s what this is all about.

4. Statement by the Minister for Climate Change: Building Safety

Item 4 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Climate Change on building safety. I call on the Minister, Julie James.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, for the opportunity to update Members on our action to tackle what is a complex and sensitive issue. Members will know that I am committed to addressing building safety in Wales and continue to take forward our building remediation programme, alongside a significant programme of reform, to establish a fit-for-purpose building safety regime in Wales.

At the heart of our approach to remediation is the principle that developers should contribute towards the costs of fixing these problems, and leaseholders should not be made to pay for fire safety issues that are not of their own making. Since the opening of the Welsh building safety fund we have received 258 expressions of interest from responsible persons who know or suspect that their building may have fire safety defects. 

We have completed digital surveys for all of these and have identified 161 buildings that require further, intrusive survey work. This will involve our surveyors undertaking a detailed investigation of both internal and external fire safety issues, such as cladding and compartmentation. The work has begun and will continue over the summer.

While we continue to receive expressions of interest, I understand there are still some responsible persons who have not engaged and are still passing on costs to leaseholders. This is extremely disappointing, and I urge any leaseholder in this situation, who know or suspect that their building is affected by fire safety issues, to contact my officials, who can support them in taking forward an expression of interest.

I have spoken to many leaseholders and continue to meet residents in buildings affected by fire safety issues across Wales. I am very well aware of the impact of increased insurance costs, higher service charges, and the difficulties people are experiencing in remortgaging or selling their homes. I have written to all managing agents in Wales to make clear that I have set aside £375 million to cover the costs of remediating buildings, and I've repeatedly stated publicly that leaseholders should not foot the bill for fire safety defects.

I am also taking action on developers.  I was very disappointed that the UK Government chose to pursue its building safety pledges on an England-only basis, despite a number of meetings in which the devolved Governments made it clear that a UK-wide approach was the best for leaseholders. I am pleased to say, however, that we have moved the UK Government on this point and have also moved swiftly to implement a comparable approach here in Wales.

I have written to developers and invited them to meet with me. I am pleased to say that a number of developers have already agreed to meet and discuss their plans. I've also published a list of developers who have chosen not to engage, and I am exploring what further action this Government might take with developers who continue not to engage.

I do understand, though, for some residents in affected buildings, these changes will just not come soon enough. To support those in or facing the most urgent financial hardship, the leaseholder support scheme opened yesterday for applications. This new scheme will provide tailored, independent advice to leaseholders in affected homes. The package of support is targeted at leaseholders who are owner-occupiers, and those who have become displaced residents. However, we will be monitoring applications and reviewing eligibility criteria to ensure those who need support the most have access to the scheme.

All leaseholders who are eligible for this scheme will receive advice from an independent financial adviser, with the costs fully covered by the Welsh Government. The advice will support them in making the right choice for them, recognising that the circumstances will be different for each household. If the sale of their property is the right route, the Welsh Government will enable them to sell their property at a fair market value. Full guidance on the scheme, including the eligibility criteria, is now available on the Welsh Government website.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the external partners and sector experts who have assisted us in developing this scheme at pace. Their support and hard work have been critical to establishing the right qualifying criteria and the support processes.

Alongside this programme of support and remediation of buildings, we continue to take forward work on the cultural changes and legislative reforms needed to prevent this situation arising again. We have worked with the UK Government to ensure relevant elements of the Building Safety Act 2022 will apply here in Wales. The Act will allow us to reform the building control system, to help prevent a recurrence of a tragedy such as Grenfell. The Act also introduces a number of important provisions aimed at improving the rights of home buyers, including extending rights of action and the creation of the new homes ombudsman.

I want to ensure our building safety reforms are practical and accessible for people.  We will continue to undertake a series of measures to engage directly with leaseholders and tenants to gain a broad range of residents' views. This work will help to further strengthen the resident's voice so that it remains at the heart of our policy development.

Unfortunately, there are no quick or easy fixes, and I cannot compromise on achieving the right, sustainable solution. Anything else leaves the door open to further issues arising. It is important that these matters are resolved once and for all. We must do this properly to get it right now and for the future. 

I welcome the continued commitment from Plaid Cymru to this agenda and look forward to working in partnership with their designated Member on our collective aim, to ensure our buildings are as safe as possible from the outset. Diolch. 

15:30

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Of course, it's hard to realise, Minister, isn't it, that five years on from the Grenfell tragedy, residents in Wales are still facing the financial burden of cladding and other fire safety risks, because, I think, sometimes, the agenda has just been mentioning cladding, and you've rightly pointed out that there are other aspects of some buildings that are a risk in terms of fire safety.

We now see people at risk of bankruptcy and potentially losing their homes. As you know, leaseholders have seen their service and insurance charges increase significantly. Only yesterday, I was e-mailed by someone outside of my constituency, who raised with me her concerns as a leaseholder owning an apartment, bought from Redrow, located in Cardiff. Residents there have recently witnessed service costs increase from £3,000 to nearly £7,800 annually, with reports indicating that building insurance premiums are increasing exponentially by up to 1,000 per cent.

In contrast, if we look at the work the UK Government is doing, a package of measures to protect leaseholders from the financial costs of cladding remediation and other aspects have been introduced. As part of the measures announced, the UK Government put into law its own guarantee that no leaseholders living in medium or high-rise buildings would have to pay for the removal of this cladding. Furthermore, developers and the UK Government have reached an agreement to fund building safety repairs. Over 35 of the UK's biggest developers have pledged to remediate buildings they have built within the last 30 years. So, you can understand—. And it's a bit annoying when you politicise this by mentioning Plaid Cymru, because, at the end of the day, I honestly do believe that nobody has held you more to account on this than the Welsh Conservatives. So, our residents in Wales do need tangible funding options.

Going back to your statement, you mentioned 258 expressions of interest from responsible persons who know or suspect their building may have fire safety defects, and that 161 buildings require further intrusive survey work. So, my first question is: how assured are you that you're really getting through to all those people affected? I understand that there are some responsible persons who have not engaged and still passing costs onto leaseholders. This is extremely disappointing, you say, and you urge any leaseholders in this situation who know or suspect their building is affected by fire safety issues to contact your officials. I suppose my biggest question there is: what will you do if they don't?

Obviously, we're very grateful to see that you have put £375 million to cover the costs of remediating buildings, and that you've repeatedly stated publicly that leaseholders should not foot the bill for fire safety defects. But when I've seen other people concerned, who live in some of these properties, they really do feel on their own in terms of how do they know they're going to be included in your schemes if the people responsible for their buildings—maybe the management companies—don't actually approach you. So, you can understand the concerns there.

Just basically, really, I see that the leaseholder support scheme opened yesterday for applications. Will you keep us updated on that, Minister? And I'll reiterate this again: the Welsh Conservatives are on your side when it comes to these developers, who have left these residents, these poor home owners in such a tragic position. So, I would say again: this shouldn't be politicised; I'm convinced that we have support from across all parties in this Chamber, but we really do need to make sure that not one householder is left behind when it comes to making sure that their homes are safe to live in. Diolch.

15:35

Thank you, Janet. I think I actually answered all your questions in my statement. But just to reiterate, if anyone thinks that their management company, or the management arrangements for their building—because there's a huge range of complex ways of managing these buildings—haven't been included, then just get in touch directly with us. It's easy enough to do—you can e-mail me directly if you need to. So, it's straightforward to do. We will check that the building is included currently in the expressions of interest, to put people's minds at rest if it is included and they don't know that, and that has happened. Or, if they're not included, then we will go the extra mile to get in touch with the management arrangements for that building, and make sure that every effort is made to make those people apply. But in the end, I can't make them, and that's one of the problems.

So, one of the issues about the way that these buildings is managed is one of the things we need to address, and one of the things we're currently waiting on is working with the UK Government on the wider leasehold reform package that needs to come in the wake of all of these. I was disappointed that wasn't in the Queen's Speech, but we're reassured that it's coming, and our officials are working together to do that, because we have extremely similar problems across England and Wales. It's very different in Scotland, where they have a different system.

So, I very much hope that the UK Government will work with us on that. We were disappointed that they left us out of the original plans, but, in fairness, they have now decided to work with us, and I'm very grateful for that. And in addition, we've been doing a number of things ourselves. So, I was already meeting with the developers before the UK Government started. When the UK Government started to meet with developers, then, obviously, they have much bigger pockets than us, and so, developers unfortunately lost interest in talking to us. However, they have regained that interest, and I'm very glad for that. And we have a range of developers saying that they will sign the pledge for Wales as well; Redrow is one of those. Actually, the contract isn't quite finalised with the UK Government yet, so, when it is, it will be extended to Wales by those developers who have already said on the record they will. And I have a range of meetings with developers anyway, going forward, in Wales, to try and see what we can do.

On the insurance point, just briefly, we have discussed this with the UK Government. We need a scheme very similar to the Flood Re scheme, and so, actually, I'm afraid, only the UK Government can do that. We just do not have the heft to be able to do that. So, we've been pushing them to do that, and I am hopeful that, in the next inter-ministerial group, we will be able to discuss how and when they will be able to bring the insurers to the table. And, frankly, Janet, anything you can do to assist us to get the UK Government to do that, I'd be very, very grateful for.

15:40

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. I am grateful for the update. And I'm sure any support for leaseholders is greatly welcomed. I also appreciate the need to get this right. It was cutting corners, it was greed with malpractice that led to this tragic situation in the first place, and it was successive Westminster Governments of all political colours that ignored building safety warnings, whilst developers chose profit over people. To give just an example: the dangerous refurbishment of Grenfell, commissioned by the UK's richest council, cost only £10 million. In contrast, the public inquiry into that disaster has already cost £150 million, and is due to pass the £1 billion mark by the end.

We have seen, following Grenfell, a complete merry-go-round of buck passing, and the complexity of such developments has made real accountability nearly near impossible. It's certainly far too difficult. We must ensure that such a tragedy, and the opportunity of passing the buck, as we've seen so often, never happens again. Michael Gove has said that he would use powers to pursue managing agents and developers that don't comply. Will you? And, when do you foresee that the leaseholder protections within the Building Safety Act 2022 will be implemented in Wales?  

The question you get, and the question I get, and every Member here who's spoken to leaseholders, is, 'When will this nightmare come to an end?' They feel in a limbo, and they cannot see, despite the statements by Welsh Government, despite what's being said in Westminster, the end of this nightmare. Can you provide any form of timetable to these leaseholders on when the remediation work will be completed in Wales?

I was fairly pleased to read that you've contacted all of the management agents in Wales and that you've given them a guarantee that you will cover the work. However, we do still hear from leaseholders about management agents still spending a huge amount of their money. Did you receive a positive response from most of the agents? And what can we do to ensure that no more money demands are placed on leaseholders during this period? 

You have cross-party support here, Minister, with regard to the cascade principle: we all agree that the leaseholder should be the final one, and we all agree that the first people that should be paying are the developers themselves. Following your discussions with them, do you foresee the Welsh Government saving some of the £375 million that you have committed to this work? And, as far as the developers that haven't engaged, I am pleased that you have named them, and I hope that that will shame them into action. If it doesn't, I do hope that Welsh Government makes sure that they don't receive a penny more of public sector contracts and they don't receive a penny more of work here in Wales. We don't want people who've shown a complete disregard to building safety, and then a complete disregard to mental anguish and financial hardship, to be involved in the construction industry here in Wales. 

It's good to hear about the leaseholder support scheme that opened yesterday. What do you plan to do with some of the flats that you do eventually buy from the leaseholders? And I'll finish with this, Dirprwy Lywydd: this scandal has, once again—and this is probably where I differ from my friend on the opposite benches—this scandal has, once again, shone a light on the unfairness of leaseholds. I hope, in considering future reforms, that the Welsh Government brings to an end this feudal relic.

I had a lovely conversation on Friday with the former Minister Sue Essex, and she was talking about the campaign she had with my father in the 1970s for leasehold reform in Cardiff. Because of campaigns like that across the United Kingdom, leasehold was a dying form of tenure, yet it has returned with vengeance, to the detriment of thousands of people, many of them our neighbours here in Cardiff Bay. It is time for Wales to join the international stage to reject this old-fashioned, unfair practice, like Scotland, Ireland and Australia have done—an end to leasehold in our country, an end to ground rent, and an end to non-resident management companies. Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. Diolch yn fawr, Ddirprwy Lywydd.

15:45

I completely agree with your exposition on the subject. It is slightly more complicated, however. When Sue Essex was doing her piece of work, one of the areas that we were looking at was commonhold and the Scottish system, but actually the building safety scandal has really highlighted some serious defects in the way that commonhold works and the way that the liability is passed on. So, we need to learn the lessons from Scotland about why that system has not been able to produce a simple, unified solution, because it certainly hasn't. The Scottish Government, I can assure you, are in the meetings with us and the UK Government with all the same problems that we have. So, we need to find a system that works for everyone and doesn't have that.

It's a combination of things, isn't it? We do absolutely need to reform leasehold. She's not here anymore, but I just said to Janet Finch-Saunders that one of the things we want to do in this instance actually is work with the UK Government. It's not because I don't want to do it myself, it's actually because most of the developers who build the high-rise buildings in particular work across England and Wales, and frankly they just don't build enough of them here for us to be able to make a significant financial impact on them, so we need the UK Government's broader heft in that instance to bring them to heel. What I don't want to happen is that we put provisions in place here in Wales, like a levy, for example, and all it means is they just build the buildings to 1 ft below that and the levy is ineffective. So, we do have to be a bit careful about the scale of some of this, but otherwise I completely agree with you.

The other thing we need to do is put in place a regime that makes sure that it never happens again, so that there are joint inspection teams and all the rest of it. Use of modern technology, frankly, filming the whole thing and so on, will make sure that we absolutely know what's inside those buildings without having to make a great big hole in your living room wall to have a look, and that we have proper inspection regimes and proper systems of accountability for who is accountable at which stage of the building. So, design, development, occupation—we need different regimes for those. We've been working on that very hard for a long time. We've been consulting with partners and local authorities. It will be different in Wales; we trust our local authority partners, so we'll be making them the inspectors and so on. So, we're well advanced on that work

And then just on the timescale for the remediation phase, we're in the middle of the intrusive surveys. It's easy to say that, standing here, isn't it? But an intrusive survey is intrusive. People really are having big holes cut in their homes. So, we need to do that in conjunction with those residents and to make sure that they're able to live with that. But those should all be complete by the end of the summer, and then we'll go into the remediation phase. I'm absolutely confident that in the early autumn term, for this place, we will have the first buildings going into the remediation phase. What I'm not able to tell you is when we'll have the last one done, because obviously we currently have 161 buildings with expressions of interest. We only have so many builders who can do this work and so on, so I'm afraid I can't put a backstop on it, but I can give you the start. Once the building starts going we'll obviously learn from that, we'll increase the workforce and so on. 

The last point I wanted to make was that I want the developers to pay for it, but I don't want to hold the work up, so we have a scheme in place now that allows us to do it. The developers will have to come to a deal with us about how they pay for that, rather than us go through yet another iteration of arguments about who's going to actually cough up for the builders who are doing the work. So, just to say we're on to that, but we need to make sure that that happens properly and doesn't hold the work up.

I very much welcome the statement. I and my constituents are also disappointed the UK Government chose to pursue its building safety pledges on an England-only basis. Didn't we used to have a lot of LCMs from them? I have two areas of my constituency that have buildings affected. I agree with the principle that developers should contribute towards the cost of fixing these problems—they were the ones who created these problems in the first place. I'd go further and say I believe that the developers should fully fund remediation. Unfortunately, in Swansea East, there are buildings built by Carillion, which has gone out of business. Who is going to fund putting these buildings right? I'm also told that other buildings were built by a single purpose vehicle that now no longer exists. I welcome the £375 million to cover the cost of remediating buildings. You state publicly that leaseholders should not foot the bill for fire safety, which I'm sure they'll be very pleased to hear. How far will that sum go to remedying the fire safety problems? Finally, is this not another reason for bringing in a new set of building controls and an end to leasehold?

15:50

Thank you, Mike. You know I've met with a number of the residents and yourself in the buildings affected in your constituency, and we're very anxious that those residents who've done the right thing are properly looked after in this scheme as well, so that's yet another complexity. You highlight the problem of the multiplicity of different arrangements. There is one building in my own constituency that you're very familiar with where absolutely everybody has gone bankrupt, including the designer, three lots of developers, the insurance companies—it's just an absolute disaster. And that's why we have to have a backstop for those people, because if we were relying on developers to do that, there is no such entity left in order to take that on. That's why the Welsh Government is prepared to put public money into doing it, because for some people there isn't anyone. 

The complexities of the single purpose vehicle building company that bears the name of a large corporation on it but actually, legally, is a separate company is one of the biggest issues that we've had to face. Rhys, I think, mentioned trying to stop people having further contracts and so on, but when you go into the legals of it, they're not the same company, and that's proved a real problem. So, we rely on the UK Government to change some of the law that isn't devolved to Wales around protections in those circumstances, in the Building Safety Act 2022 and other areas, so that we can do that. And we will be looking to improve the way that we enable people to apply and execute planning consent—sorry, I'm talking to two different people now here. Basically, what we're saying is a duplicate of what the English Government is looking at, which is to stop people being able to take advantage of a planning consent they already have if they have unremediated buildings bearing their corporate name. But it's more complicated than just saying, 'This company can't do it', because there is a multiplicity of them.

So, I agree with all of that. I completely agree with the reform of leasehold, but as I said to Rhys, one of the things we have to do now is learn from the Scottish experience, because we had been very attracted to that, but actually they've had a number of problems with that system as well.

Good afternoon, Minister. I'm sorry that you're going to have to address this circle of people again. Thank you for your statement, Minister, and thank you also for meeting with homeowners and myself a few weeks ago—I'm very grateful. There are a few matters that I just wanted to raise. I know from correspondence with you and your officials in the last few weeks that you are due to bring forward a residents engagement strategy. I welcome this, and I know that you are committed to that, because I know that you also appreciate the frustrations that many of the homeowners and leaseholders have, which obviously exacerbate their mental health and the stress that they feel. I know that you are committed to this broad, open homeowner group to engage directly, although I do recognise that it is complex and that there are various layers. So, I wondered if you could just very briefly outline what your plan would entail and what sort of mechanisms or opportunities will be available for those homeowners to engage with you and to be communicated with. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you.

Certainly, Jane. It was a pleasure to meet with you and the group that you brought with you. I've been meeting with a number of groups—with Mike and others—for a very long time now. What we're wanting to ensure is that those groups of people who haven't managed to make their way to us in one form or another are also included. We don't necessarily want the loudest voices to always be the people that we're engaging with, so what we're looking to do is to see if we can get a strategy where we have representatives from the widest range of people that we can get hold of—I'm particularly interested in contacting those who haven't particularly been in contact with us—and to make sure that we have that range of voices. We're also just looking to make sure that we have residents from every type of management arrangement, so that we've got a multitude of voices. We have all kinds of different management arrangements, from co-operatives to really hierarchical management companies and every sort of thing you can think of. So, trying to get a range of voices to make sure that we've got every point of view, I suppose, is what we're after. I particularly want to do that, partly because we want to make sure the remediation goes well, but actually much more importantly, we want to make sure that we understand from their experience what we're trying to fix, so that in designing our new system we're absolutely certain that we've covered off all of the issues that have arisen and made sure that they can't happen again. That's the holy grail, isn't it, to make sure that we bombproof the new system, and that's what I'd be most grateful for the residents' input on, as well as obviously on the remediation phase.

5. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Evaluating and Improving Education and Learning in Wales

Item 5 is next, and that's a statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language on evaluating and improving education and learning in Wales. I call on the Minister, Jeremy Miles.

15:55

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Firstly, I want to take this opportunity to express my continued thanks to the profession for their ongoing commitment to curriculum reform and prioritising the well-being of their learners, despite the many challenges that they faced over the last few years. Wales is on an ambitious path to education reform, to raise standards and aspirations for all, so everyone can reach their potential. At the heart of our reforms, the Curriculum for Wales empowers practitioners to design teaching that engages learners, and supports and challenges them to progress to their full potential. Pupil assessment and public accountability are both critical to raising standards and supporting our reform programme. However, they each have a very different role to play. Assessment is about understanding an individual pupil’s needs, and it should be used in the best interest of pupils, enabling teachers to adjust teaching strategies to support their progress. Accountability involves judgment on overall performance and is critical for public confidence.

The evidence is clear that when assessment and accountability are blurred, there is a detrimental effect on teaching and learning. Schools complain that they are often confused on what is expected of them and that they are pulled in opposing directions. Yesterday, our new school improvement guidance was published to address this issue. It provides a clear framework for evaluation, improvement and accountability. As you would hope and expect, we have placed the learner, their well-being and their progression at the centre of this. The guidance helps makes clear the difference between assessment and accountability, as well as the different roles played by assessment and accountability, so that schools are clear about what is required of them. It also sets out how parents and the wider public will be able to access more up-to-date, detailed and informative information.

National categorisation was suspended in 2020, and the guidance confirmed that it will be replaced by a robust self-evaluation process where good practice is shared and failure is urgently addressed. The OECD have identified a prominent role for self-evaluation as a feature of high-performing school systems. They have previously described how replacing national categorisation with a robust self-evaluation system will provide a much more detailed overview of the actual strengths and areas for improvement of a school compared to the colour-coding system. I am pleased that we were able to draw on their advice in the development of the new self-evaluation process.

Schools’ self-evaluation will be the starting point for all evaluation and improvement work. Schools are encouraged to incorporate peer review into their self-evaluation to further develop a culture of partnership. Regional consortia and local authorities will work with all schools to agree a level of support that schools need and will confirm to schools’ governing bodies the support that they will provide or broker. This approach to school improvement will mean schools will need to continue to be open about where they wish to improve, and have access to high-quality support from consortia, local authorities and other schools tailored to their needs. I want them to collaborate with each other, not to compete to the detriment of their learners. Parents will now be able to access more up-to-date, detailed and informative information by accessing a summary of each school’s improvement priorities, and each school’s development plans will also be available for all to see.

Conversations between a learner, their teachers and their parents and carers are key. I have therefore introduced regulations on the provision of information by headteachers to parents and carers, which include expectations to engage with parents and carers termly, focusing on how learners are progressing, so both home and school can support learners' improvement. Accountability within the school system will continue to be maintained through effective school governance and more regular Estyn inspection of schools. From September, Estyn will inspect schools under their new framework, which supports the new curriculum, with plans to increase the number of inspections from September 2024. The commitment to increase inspections will reduce the gap between reporting on individual schools, as well as ensuring that parents and learners have access to up-to-date independent information about their school.

Effective professional dialogue between practitioners and schools is another key means through which we will raise standards. That is why yesterday I published a direction requiring practitioners to work together within and between schools and settings to develop and maintain a shared understanding of how their learners should progress. These discussions are essential to help learners have a joined-up experience as they move between different schools, and to ensure equity across Wales.

At the start of May, we launched the national resource for evaluation and improvement on Hwb, providing practical guidance and resources for schools to support self-evaluation and improvement. Building on this, I've also published supporting materials for practitioners to aid schools in their planning for next year. This includes practical guides on evaluation and improvement, curriculum design, progression and assessment—accessible on Hwb to any practitioner.

We must make sure our transformational curriculum delivers for the next generation. To achieve this, our professional learning offer must be accessible to all. We continue to work with teachers and others in the education system to finalise our national entitlement for professional learning, ready for the autumn, from which school leaders, teachers and teaching assistants will all benefit. A truly national offer, and one that will be easier to navigate. And in advance of that, I expect our regional consortia to make available the common access arrangements, so that a teaching professional in any part of Wales can have online access to the professional learning content available from the consortia in any other part of Wales.

And in order to support our national entitlement for professional learning, I'm also looking to continue the additional in-service training day in the next academic year, to give school leaders and practitioners the time and space they need to get this right, because I, along with the profession, want to see an education system that offers high standards and aspirations for all.

16:00

I just also want to place on record our thanks to all school staff for their continued resilience and hard work, and learners too. Minister, I want to thank you for your statement today, parts of which we welcome. These have been and are incredibly tough times for learners. How we evaluate the hard work being done by our schools is of paramount importance so that we can all evaluate and see how schools are progressing and reacting post pandemic to new directors, to poor PISA results and to pupils' needs. I must disagree with the Minister's action to get rid of the current school categorisation system—the traffic-light system as it's more commonly known—which has been an easy and simple way for parents, for teachers and local government officials to see how a school is performing. The only problem with that system, Minister, was that the narrative behind why a school had been given a specific colour was not always clear or communicated well enough, or, indeed, what constituted a colour was not the same across Wales. There was no consistency—things that easily could have been changed. Not only was the colour coding a very simple way for parents to see how a school was doing, it also aided local authorities to determine where resources were most needed, and for clusters to know where extra support was needed within their own clusters. And heads have said they already collaborate and don't compete, as your statement implies. 

Bringing in a self-evaluation system, aligned with your new proposed system, is fraught with risks, and also, once again, increases the workload on teachers—something that I can't support. Getting rid of the old system begs the question of why the Welsh Government are intent on moving to a new system, which allows worse results to be buried and means fewer parents will be able to clearly see how Government are failing their children and the young people from Wales from basic skills, to results, to supporting our young people with their mental health and well-being. Why can't there be some sort of marriage between the two ideas? Setting plans and priorities, as we've outlined, are good, but why can't we see how schools are doing too? Why can't there be that simple gauge any more? Why get rid of that? Rather than a system change once again, making the system that was there more effective perhaps would've been a better idea, in my opinion.

It concerns me that the outcome of how schools are doing now won't be clear under the new proposed system, and parents won't be able to see very clearly how a school is performing. Not all parents will want to read pages and pages of documents to see how their schools are doing. How are you, Minister, going to ensure that how schools are doing will be simply and clearly communicated to parents? We seem to be focused on the negatives here, obviously, as well, but what about those schools doing well that have seriously improved? What about those schools and them getting the recognition for their hard work? You know, when they got an 'excellent' from an Estyn report, it was celebrated within the school; how's that going to be replaced?

Minister, we've talked about evaluating now, but also, on improving education in Wales, to truly ensure that we improve education and learning in Wales, we must ensure that our learners feel support with regard to their education and their mental health and well-being. With regard to mental health and well-being, the Welsh Government thus far has overpromised and underdelivered. School leaders have been told that they will be given the necessary support and help for their learners, but schools just aren't feeling supported at all, particularly primary schools, from conversations that I've had with school leaders. Our children are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of learning time they've lost and they're not feeling on a par with their peers. And we've already heard today about the negative impact of school transport, or lack of, or other money worries that are all causing a huge rise in pupil absences. Surely, that's what we need to be concentrating on at the moment: getting our children back into schools and making sure that they're feeling supported.

Minister, we need to stop changing systems to try and hide your Government's shortcomings and get back to basics where we're getting our learners back into school and getting the mental health and well-being support to where it's needed. Minister, what immediate action is this Government going to take to get our young people back into school and to ensure that learners feel more supported, not from the September half term, but right now so that our learners feel in the best place to start the new school year in September, with all the mental health and educational support that they need? Thank you.

16:05

I thank the Member for a wide-ranging set of questions. I hope that she will forgive me if I limit my responses to those that are relevant to the statement. But I think that the question from the Member very neatly exemplified the confusion at the heart of the system that this set of changes is intended to eliminate. At various points in her questions, she spoke about performance, she spoke about Estyn reports and she spoke about the categorisation system as though they were one and the same, and that's precisely the challenge that schools have faced. Because although the policy was introduced in a way that was intended to support schools to improve, in practice what it has meant is a focus on the categorisation at the expense of the underlying support that schools need to seek, because there's a disincentive in the system that is created by the simple designation. I actually agree with her that simplicity is desirable in the interests of transparency, but I think a system that is both simple and effective is what is needed, and I think we need to move away from the current arrangements in order to achieve that.

I think it is important to make sure that parents have a means of easily understanding how their child's school is progressing, and I think, very clearly, having a top-line descriptor is an insufficient indicator for parents of the progress of a school and, most importantly, the support available to their learners. A parent wanting to know how their child's school is performing will be able to look at an accessible summary of the school's development plan, will also be able to look, for example, at qualifications data and the range of information that is on the My School website, which describes, in helpful detail, I think, the kinds of things that the Member was asking about in her question, and I think will provide a richer and accessible source of information for parents to understand how their schools are doing. And that's from a school improvement perspective. They will equally have, for those who wish to seek them out and read them, an Estyn report, which, in very simple terms, describes, from an accountability point of view, how that school is doing much more broadly. So, there'll be a wider range of accessible information available to parents, the community and, indeed, to all of us.

She asked about teacher workload: she will, I know, be aware that these are reforms on which we've been consulting for some time, and therefore teachers are very aware of this set of potential changes. Nothing in the guidance requires schools to take any immediate action. And, indeed, she will also know, I'm sure, that categorisation has in fact been paused in Wales for the last two years, and what this guidance does is confirm the continuation of a situation where categorisation doesn't apply. So, I'm very hopeful that that will be, as it has been, well received by the teaching profession as meeting both the needs of learners without imposing an excessive workload on them.

16:10

Thank you, Minister, for the statement. I think there are two things that parents like to hear about children in school: one is that they are developing to their utmost and are supported in doing that; and, secondly, that they are happy at school. And I very warmly welcome the one emphasis in this change, that we are not just looking at academic progress, but also at well-being and the pupil voice, and that is to be warmly welcomed. And also, if you look at the document—44 pages long, even longer in Welsh—in terms of the well-being of teachers and learners, and I think that's the change that's coming as a result of this, and that's what was missing in what was described as the traffic-light system. Yes, it was simple, but it was easy to misinterpret what that meant in terms of your child, in terms of how they were supported and how happy they were in school. And I know, having spoken to a number of teachers who have taught in some schools that have been categorised as either amber or red, that that wasn't the reality; they weren't failing schools. I think simplicity, yes, is to be welcomed, but there is a real risk too, if it's that blunt, that we miss out on the nuances in terms of the individual schools, and that's where I disagree with Laura Anne Jones on this point.

I also welcome your mention of the role of local authorities in this—that there needs to be agreement in terms of what support should be provided to schools in reaching the milestones. Does this mean that schools will then be empowered? Will there be more requirements for local authorities to be supporting those schools in order to deliver against the expectations? I'm thinking particularly in terms of additional learning needs, for example. We've discussed on a number of occasions the lack of access to ALN support through the medium of Welsh, for example, and this is something that primary schools have raised with me, where there isn't provision at the moment. So, will this empower those schools if they do see that they are failing those children in their care, and they feel that they aren't providing that well-being support and development? So, will there be implications if local authorities don't provide what schools believe is necessary in order for them to reach the milestones set out?

The other question I have is in terms of Estyn. I see that they warmly welcome these changes and look forward to seeing their introduction, but are they willing to implement the national framework at a national level in terms of resources and so on? Because there will be a different format if you're carrying out ad hoc visits. Now, if a school is assessed every seven years, then it's quite consistent. But if there is a need for more support for schools, does that mean that there will be more of a resource demand on Estyn, and how will Estyn be supported in that regard?

I warmly welcome the fact that there's to be an additional INSET day for this. One of the things we hear time and time again is about teacher workload, and I welcome, in your response to Laura Anne Jones, that you emphasise too that this will be a process. And I am aware that some teachers do self-evaluate already; it's something that can work well with governors too. But in terms of looking at some of the language, one of the things that has been a cause of concern is this idea of failure. You mentioned 'failures addressed' and so on. Aren't we trying to move away from this idea of failure or success, and trying to ensure—? Unless they are in special measures, of course, isn't the main thing that we support every school to deliver to the best of their ability? I return to that fundamental point: where will the obligations fall if it's not the school's fault that they can't deliver, because the resources aren't available? I think there is a potential for a far more open dialogue in terms of some of the challenges in certain areas as to why pupils don't get the support that they need.

But, mainly, I would emphasise that this is to be welcomed, but we must ensure that this doesn't place additional pressures on teachers, but should be seen as being positive, as you've presented it to us, which, hopefully, will put place an emphasis on the happiness and well-being of children in schools, and that they are supported to deliver to the best of their ability, not just supported to deliver those high grades; perhaps that grade isn't best for the child, in terms of, if they can't get to the A*, and the D is their best possible achievement, they are happy and have been supported to achieve that. Thank you.

16:15

Thank you to Heledd Fychan for those questions and the way that she has welcomed those reforms. I appreciate that. Just on her concluding point, qualifications are still going to be important and a core part of the system, to ensure that learners leave school with the very best possible grades and qualifications for them, but that's not the only measurement. There will be wider measurements than that, including in terms of those regarding well-being and health, as the Member herself mentioned.

What is at the heart of this new vision is, if you will, that the pupils themselves will own the assessment and evaluation process; it's for the benefit of the pupil, not for the accountability of the school. So, with regard to the provision of daily teaching and learning, or over a period, or an impact in terms of a cohort, that's the purpose of the assessment and evaluation. Accountability is a separate question.

But the Member asked how this is going to work in terms of the relationship between the school and the other agencies and bodies. So, of course, the governing body is accountable for the performance of the school, and what we'll see under these new guidelines is that the consortia and the standards improvement services will provide a report to the governors in terms of what they agree to do on a school's behalf, and that document will be available, and a summary of that relationship will also be described, in a way that is accessible, in the summary of the school development plan. So, it will be clear what the relationship is between the school and the school improvement service, and the important word there is that it is a service, so it provides a service to the school; that's the function of these bodies. This allows, I think, school leaders—it empowers them, to use the word that the Member herself used—to make decisions that aren't clouded by thinking that this means that they will be in an amber or a green category. So, it gives them the freedom to make the right decisions without that pressure. That's why these changes are so important.

In terms of Estyn's role in all of this, Estyn will have an accountability role. That will be dependent on their inspections of schools and the thematic reviews. The work that they do in that regard is very important too. The new pattern will begin in two years' time, so we have two years of the current system before the pattern of more frequent visits to schools begins. Estyn is still piloting this new way of undertaking its school visits, so there'll be a period over the next year of reviewing that to ensure that it isn't disproportionate, but the support has now been given to Estyn so they have resources to ensure that this is possible.

With regard to the language used, what we're talking about today does not for one second take the emphasis away from the fact that schools are doing their very best on behalf of every pupil. On occasion, schools themselves acknowledge that they don't hit the target in some ways, and we need to have an open discussion about that. So, I don't want to use language that blames or is accusatory, but it's also important that we do use language that is open and encourages and supports schools to seek the support that they need in whatever particular field it might be. Every school will have a different area of emphasis according to their own performance. I think that that's still a very important element of what we're talking about today.

16:20

Thank you for your statement, Minister. I think there is certainly a lot to welcome in this new approach. I appreciate the need for transparency and openness, but when our schools, our learners and our communities are so varied, with widely different challenges, there were elements of the old system of categorization that could be somewhat reductive, and that was something that I saw and felt myself in my many years in the teaching profession. So, I was particularly interested to read the section of the guidance around learner progression for individuals, groups and schools, going back to the notion of value added, which was a very good way, I felt, of measuring pupil progress and school attainment several years ago. So, the exploration of value added is a useful way of measuring the extent to which attainment gaps have been closed for our eligible for free school meals pupils and our additional learning needs pupils, for example, capturing the individual journeys of learners, focusing on their needs and also levelling the playing field. Minister, would you agree with me that this is perhaps the most accurate way of measuring and locating good teaching, and how will this new approach that we see evident here then aid in the sharing of this type of learner-focused best practice?

Well, I'm always very diffident when I approach questions of teaching and learning with someone who is a teaching professional, so I'll just give that caveat, if I may, and an element of deference, I suppose, about what I'm about to say. But I think that point about the individual learner's journey is fundamental, and, in some ways, is perhaps the most radical part of the whole suite of reforms that we're introducing in different areas because it takes away, doesn't it, that externally accessed time point where a particular level of progress is deemed to have been reached or not, and recognises that each learner is on their own journey and will need different kinds of support and challenge, actually, at different points in their journey. I think that's very exciting. It's also, obviously, quite a challenging step change, isn't it, so I absolutely recognise that, and I know the Member will have been aware of the resources that in the last year in particular have been made available to schools so that there's that shared understanding of how to assess and how to define progression. And, as I was saying in my opening statement, that new obligation on schools to engage outside their clusters, if you like, to make sure there's that moderated system-wide understanding of what progression is, is, I think, a really important part of this.

But whether it's through—. Well, there's a range of data available to measure on a system-wide basis and in the life of an individual student how they're progressing, and I think one of the—. She talked about the attainment gap; I think one of the most transformative aspects, I think, of the new curriculum, will be that it really allows us to engage learners who perhaps in other circumstances might be a bit less engaged than we would wish them to be just because of the creativity at the heart of the curriculum, that you take a subject matter that may be familiar to the individual student and you take them on a journey of engagement and discovery, and I think that really holds the key to helping us to do much more in terms of closing the attainment gap to which she referred.

Well, I certainly defer to the expertise of Vikki Howells and agree with her that the value added by schools is the most important measure, because you could have a brilliant child starting school aged four or five, brilliant at maths—you want to ensure that that progression continues, otherwise they'll be sitting at the back causing trouble, because they'll be bored. And, equally, you want to ensure that we're rewarding the effort that's involved in teaching less able children; it's far harder than teaching more able children. And the old system of the league tables and the coloured system, I think, really rewarded those sorts of schools that were able to coast.

So, I really support this and I just want to make sure that the new approach really does track the value added by each school with each pupil. They're not necessarily going to be published, but that system of self-evaluation is going to really reward schools for the effort they put into every young person, so that it's every child attaining to the best of their ability.

16:25

I thank you for that and I think that's very much at the heart of the reforms. And Estyn will play a really important role, from an accountability inspection perspective, in evaluating the school's own capacity for self-improvement, if you like, in the way it designs the curriculum, and I think that's a supportive part of the landscape.

I just want to go back, in response to what Jenny Rathbone is saying, to that idea of both support and challenge for each individual learner. It is not about getting learners who may be less able academically up to a baseline; it's consistently supporting and challenging each learner—whatever your potential is, that you're fulfilling that; whatever your interests are, that you have an opportunity to pursue those. And it's a very bespoke way of approaching it, which is, I think, exciting—quite challenging, I think, as well, in a sense, across the system. But I think, in my discussion with teachers, in a way, that's why the curriculum still excites so many teaching professionals, because they can see that that holds the key, in a way, to making sure that that value-added journey for each individual learner is made a reality.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you to the Minister for today's statement. As you know, before I was elected to the Senedd, I worked in education for a number of years. It's one of the most challenging jobs I've had, and I take my hat off to all my friends and their colleagues in education working to support our children and young people, day in, day out.

Visiting schools in Rhondda, I've heard some really positive feedback to the changes the Minister has introduced over the sixth Senedd. More specifically, the greater autonomy the Curriculum for Wales provides, and the changes still to come, will ensure we continue to see an improvement to education and learning in Wales. Teaching assistants play a crucial role in supporting the delivery of these changes. Will the Minister provide an update on the work that has been undertaken, following the written statement published in February earlier this year, in relation to the task and finish group on activities to support those assisting teaching?

Yes, I agree very much with Buffy Williams's point about the role, the essential role, that teaching assistants play in our schools today and, certainly, will play in fulfilling the potential of the new curriculum, as well the range of other reforms, by the way, in relation to our additional learning needs reforms and a range of others as well.

I think I mentioned in the statement that I gave in March in relation to the ambition of high aspirations and standards for all, that we will be looking at some of the guidance available about how to make full use of the support that teaching assistants can give in order to help us make sure that each learner, including those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, gets the best possible opportunities in school. So, that work is currently under way.

And in relation to the other set of announcements that I made earlier in the year, as the Member will be aware, there are a range of work streams, if you like, being taken forward in that space. So, one is around making sure that we understand how teaching assistants are employed in different authorities across Wales. There is high level of variability in relation to job specification and deployment, if I can use that term, of teaching assistants, and that will enable us to have a more coherent, more consistent picture across Wales, which will then support our shared ambitions across the system of improving terms and conditions for teaching assistants.

I'm also in a position to say that the national entitlement for professional learning, to which teaching assistants will themselves be entitled, will be launched in advance of the next school year, which I think will be a significant step forward in terms of access to professional learning. In addition to that, the work that we are doing to make sure that the voice of teaching assistants is heard on the governing bodies of schools, the guidance in relation to that is also currently being developed. So, I think we're making steady and good progress in that area. There's obviously much more to do, but as she knows, I've set out a very ambitious agenda in this area, and we're working towards that. 

16:30