Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

12/07/2022

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

Good afternoon. 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 to today's Plenary meeting.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Vikki Howells. 

Work in Cynon Valley

1. How is the Welsh Government supporting more people in Cynon Valley to access work? OQ58336

Llywydd, I thank Vikki Howells for that question. In September, we will extend the most generous childcare offer in the United Kingdom to those in education and training. That will support more women in the Cynon Valley in particular to access work, alongside all the other labour market interventions of the Welsh Government.

Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. It's also really positive to see the range of possible interventions under ReAct+ to support people into work. How will Welsh Government ensure this aligns with the opportunities created in a green economy as we transition to net zero, so that people in Cynon Valley can train and retrain for the jobs that we need now and in the future?

Well, Llywydd, we will bring forward the Welsh Government's net-zero skills plan later this year. In doing that, we will be working closely with the Cardiff capital region and its regional skills partnership to make sure that we have as close a sense as possible of exactly the sort of skills that Vikki Howells refers to, and the need that exists for those skills in the Cynon Valley in particular. The Member makes an important point, Llywydd, about retraining people, and the Welsh Government's personal learning accounts programme has, I think, been a very significant success, because it allows people who are employed already to upskill, to reskill and to make sure that they are there for the jobs of the future. We will invest £54 million over three years now in that programme. An extra £10 million was allocated to the programme earlier this year, particularly to meet skill shortage areas. Four million pounds of that £10 million was directed to support training in green energy, hybrid and electric vehicles, and net-zero construction, exactly the sort of areas that Vikki Howells has drawn attention to this afternoon. And I know that she will be pleased that Coleg y Cymoedd has received £2.3 million for personal learning accounts in the last academic year to make sure that those people in the Cynon Valley looking to retrain for jobs of the future will have access to exactly the sorts of skills and education facilities that will allow them to do that. 

First Minister, as you know, people who struggle to access employment can sometimes suffer from issues associated with low self-confidence, and repeatedly being turned down for jobs, without even knowing the reasons why in some cases, can be so detrimental to some people that they simply just give up trying, even though they're often more than qualified to do a wide range of jobs. One of the ways of overcoming low self-confidence in the workplace can be through the use of mentoring schemes, pairing those looking to access employment with people who work in relevant fields. Mentors can help people realise their full potential, and are in a better position to be able to evaluate why their mentees struggle with accessing work. With this in mind, First Minister, what initiatives are the Welsh Government taking to help encourage mentoring schemes in the Cynon Valley and elsewhere? Thank you.

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that, and he'll be pleased to know that there are a range of specialist advisers and mentors operating within the Cynon Valley, exactly to do what Joel James has said, to help those people facing complex barriers to getting into work, to navigate their way from where they are today to the jobs that are there for them in the future. The careers service is operating out of Aberdare. As of September, it will be in Pontypridd as well, helping people who live in the lower Cynon valley to get the help that they need. The service is also currently working out of the Dare Valley Country Park. And that is, I think, a very good example of a response to exactly the issues that Joel James has mentioned, Llywydd. There are people who have the commitment, who have the skills sometimes, to get the job that they would need, but they lack the confidence. And particularly if they've had the sorts of experiences that the Member pointed to—applying for jobs and not getting them, not being given feedback on why that is the case—then you do need some extra help there, on the ground, to repair that lack of confidence and to give people new ideas and support along that journey, to make sure that, in an era of very close to full employment in Wales, where there are many employers looking for people to take up job chances that they are struggling to fill, we are able to bring those two things together.

13:35
Nuclear Power Stations

2. How does the Government reconcile the work of Cwmni Egino on the development of nuclear power stations with the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? OQ58372

Llywydd, Cwmni Egino has been established to redevelop the former Trawsfynydd power station site. As stipulated in the company's remit letter, the requirements of the well-being of future generations Act will be integral to its assessment of all potential projects.

Thank you for that response, First Minister. Now, if the first people to leave the African continent 80,000 years ago had mined for uranium and developed nuclear energy, then we would be continuing to deal with the waste today, because thorium-230, which is found in the tailings of uranium works, has a half life of 80,000 years. Plutonium-239, possibly the most dangerous element to humanity, has a half life of 24,000 years. Mankind will have developed into a new species and we will be continuing to pay for the maintenance work in making nuclear waste produced today safe. If we're producing this waste, isn't it our responsibility to deal with it, rather than leaving 140 tonnes of radioactive waste, the largest store in the world, to stand in Sellafield in Cumbria? And would you be happy to have a nuclear power station and waste centre here in Cardiff?

Llywydd, the points that the Member raised are important. Of course, any possibilities for the future for the nuclear power industry will have to deal with the problems that arise with nuclear waste. But that isn't going to be a new problem for Trawsfynydd, is it? We've had a nuclear industry in Trawsfynydd for many years, so that problem has arisen previously—we're not creating a new problem through the possibilities that Cwmni Egino is discussing now in relation to that site. And there is more than one possibility that arises in the context of Trawsfynydd as well. I'm eager to see the plan to create the only medical isotope facility in the UK being established in Trawsfynydd. So, I'm not sure whether the Member is just against everything we're trying to do in Trawsfynydd in principle, or whether he is suggesting, as I see things, that the important thing is to think about the possibilities and about the people who live locally and to be careful as we move ahead with our ideas, but to work on the practical things that arise when you try to recreate possibilities on a site that has been used for nuclear power over many years already.

On a much lighter note of optimism, I would like to agree with the core aims of Cwmni Egino, to help exploit the economic benefits of small modular reactors and associated technologies at Trawsfynydd. Now, you may be aware, First Minister, that I have been sceptical about the progress on this. It was announced on 30 September 2020, and yet, practical milestone targets were not immediately set. And then we had to wait a further 18 months before a long-term chief executive, Alan Raymant, was appointed. However, I'm sure, First Minister, that you will join with me in applauding his aim of making Trawsfynydd the first small modular reactor site in the UK. As the chief executive has said himself, this is boosted by having both the UK and Welsh Governments backing nuclear in north-west Wales. Costs and funding are key, and have been the Achilles's heel of previous projects in Wales. The UK Government has introduced the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Act 2022 and Great British Nuclear, which can help with finance, but can you outline, First Minister, what financial incentives the Welsh Government and Cwmni Egino are considering making available to help ensure that an SMR certainly gets off the ground in Trawsfynydd? Diolch. 

13:40

Well, Llywydd, I too am glad that work is going ahead to try to make use of the Trawsfynydd site, and to exploit new technologies that may be useful to us in the future. None of that is to set to one side the important points that Mabon ap Gwynfor raised about the legacy of nuclear waste and making sure that, as we plan for the future, we take all of that properly into account. Small nuclear reactors have a different set of possibilities claimed for them. They're not a technology that is ready to be deployed today, and they may not be a technology ready to be deployed for some time, and Trawsfynydd, in any case, is a site where the work that needs to be done to deal with previous nuclear activity there has to be completed before new uses for that site can be confirmed. And that's what Cwmni Egino is focused on at the moment, making sure it's working with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to create circumstances in which future uses for that site can be properly brought forward, and, as I said in my original answer, those are not confined to the SMR field. I am particularly keen to see the work go forward on the medical isotopes possibility. The UK has no medical isotopes facility of our own. It didn't matter while we were in the European Union; it matters a great deal to us now. Using the expertise that is available and the opportunities that the site offers to do more in that area, and to give the UK resilience in that field, is a real opportunity for that part of Wales.

I agree, of course, with what Janet Finch-Saunders said about the fact that problems in the past of cost and funding have been endemic in this field. The Japanese company Hitachi, who worked to bring the second site in Anglesey into being, spent £2 billion before its board decided it couldn't go on investing with no prospect of that development coming to fruition. So, she's right to say that the UK Government has a record that isn't encouraging to any investor in this field, and when we finally get a UK Government capable of making decisions of this sort, then I hope we will get a better deal out of them than we have hitherto. 

First Minister, nuclear is a small part of our energy-generation prospect in Wales. With our natural resources, we can offer great potential to generate renewable energy from wind, wave and tide. With that in mind, First Minister, would you agree with me how very disappointing it was to see only four projects from Wales finding success in the latest UK Government Contracts for Difference funding round, and, of those four, only one successful tidal stream project? 

Well, Llywydd, I very much agree with all parts of Joyce Watson's supplementary question. I entirely agree myself that the major contributor to Wales's energy future should be renewable energy and making use of all the fantastic natural resources that Wales has at our disposal. And it was disappointing, earlier this month, when the UK Government announced the outcome of its Contracts for Difference round 4, that Wales had only four projects confirmed in that bidding round. Twenty-four for Scotland, far, far more for England, and only four here in Wales. And as Joyce Watson says, of the four that were approved, only one was in marine technology, the other three were in established technologies. We welcomed the fact that the UK Government was going to provide some additional funding in this space, but £20 million was never going to be enough to do the things that we need to see here in Wales. I'm glad, of course, that one tidal stream project was successful, up at Morlais, but we know that there were other projects in that innovative space that would create the renewable energy of the future. We will work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, following the announcement, to see why those other projects were not funded in the way we would want to have seen and to urge the UK Government to invest more in this space, because we will get far more back for that investment and far more quickly than some of the failed projects that they've invested in with no return in the past.

13:45
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Could I comment on the First Minister's tie? Looking very loud today, with a knot at the top of it, which isn't usual for the First Minister, in fairness. Perhaps it's the end-of-term feeling that he has. [Laughter.]

I'd just like to ask the First Minister, if I may, on NHS waiting times. If we were standing here this time last year, the two-year-wait figure for people in the Welsh NHS would have been 7,600. Today that two-year figure stands at nearly 70,000 people waiting. We need to give people hope that they can progress off a waiting list and through the NHS back into some sort of normality in their lives. People aren't on waiting lists because they choose to be there, they're waiting for medical procedures, First Minister. So, can you give that hope as we go into the summer recess that these numbers will start to come down and we won't be standing here this time next year talking in similar terms?

I thank the leader of the opposition. I'll offer you a brief explanation of my tie, which is that it is a tie knitted for me by a very elderly lady who came to this country immediately after the second world war as a refugee from Ukraine. This knot is a Ukranian design that she knitted and sent in recognition of the work that, right across Wales, is going on to welcome people from Ukraine, as he discussed with me only a couple of weeks ago, here to Wales. On our last session before the break, Llywydd, I thought I would wear it in recognition of her wish to demonstrate that. So, thank you for that.

On NHS waiting times, I think there are reasons why people can begin to see improvement. In the last figures that were available, our ambulance times improved, waiting times in emergency departments improved, the times that people were waiting for therapies were down by 10.5 per cent compared to the previous month, and long waits were starting to improve. Look, it's a start of a long journey here, because the NHS continues to deal every day both with the legacy of the pandemic period but also with the impact of coronavirus here in Wales today. We have 1,900 staff who would otherwise be in work in the NHS today who are not in work because they themselves are ill with coronavirus. One in 20 people in Wales in last week's Office for National Statistics survey are ill in that way. We went, on Friday, above 1,000 people again in an NHS bed ill with coronavirus. The number of people in intensive care with coronavirus rose again last week. And on top of the 1,900 people who are ill with coronavirus, over another 600 people are not in work because they are self-isolating having been in contact with somebody. So, that's 2,500 people who could be in work today, providing those treatments, getting those waiting times down, who aren't there because coronavirus is still here in Wales. So, the system is working as hard as it can to increase the supply of treatments, to make good the backlog, but the difficulties in its path are very significant and haven't gone away. 

13:50

Thank you for the explanation on the tie, First Minister. It's always good to have a bit of good news in this Chamber. But there is another way, because as we've seen in England with two-year waits, those figures peaked at 23,000 waiting two years or more out of a population of 57 million; they now stand at 12,000, or just over 12,000. I accept the pressures on the NHS and staff in particular after what has been a very challenging two to two and a half years, and the continued incidences of COVID and the effect that has on the workforce, but, clearly, if one part of the United Kingdom with a very large population can pull those two-year waits down, yet regrettably here in Wales, where we have a population of 3 million, we're seeing just under 70,000 people waiting, why hasn't the Welsh Government adopted the surgical hub model that the Royal College of Surgeons have talked about, which clearly has worked in England, where there are 91 centres? More are required, I accept that, but the figures don't lie, First Minister. Their numbers are coming down, ours are going up. As I said, we need to offer people hope. So, can you give us a map out of the despair that many people feel at the moment of being stuck on this waiting list that just seems to go in one direction?

Well, Llywydd, it doesn't just go in one direction, as I explained in my original answer, and the plan is already there and published. It's published by the health Minister, showing milestones over the period ahead as to how we will reduce those waiting times, and our map matches the ambitions that have been set for England as well.

The NHS in all parts of the United Kingdom has had a torrid time and goes on having a torrid time everywhere. I'm not going to trade figures with him. More than twice the population of Wales is now on a waiting list in England. I remember, when I was the health Minister, answering questions here on the day when, for the first time, the number of people on a waiting list in England went above the population of Wales. Now, it's more than twice that level. That's not a criticism of the English NHS, because it faces exactly the same sorts of struggles and difficulties as we face here. The numbers of long waits are coming down in Wales, as they are in England. We want them to come down faster, of course we do.

Let me tell you this, though, Llywydd: what will never bring waiting lists down in England or in Wales are some of the fantasy ideas that we see your party's politicians parading in London. How will it bring waiting times down in the NHS anywhere in the United Kingdom if your current Chancellor of the Exchequer has his way and reduces the budget of the health department by 20 per cent, because that's what he said he intends to do if he is elected? A 20 per cent reduction in the number of doctors, a 20 per cent reduction in the number of nurses, a 20 per cent reduction in the number of social workers, a 20 per cent reduction in the number of teachers—where will that lead services in Wales or in any other part of the United Kingdom? And yet, that seems to be the only debate that your party has to offer when it comes to selecting the latest in a long line of defenestrated Prime Ministers that your party has offered us in the last six years.

First Minister, if you want to debate the Conservative leadership contest, I'll happily provide you with a membership form and you can come to the hustings. I will also—[Interruption.] I will also quite happily sit on any tv platform and debate with you on the merits of that. And I can hear the front bench shouting. The figures I've put to the First Minister, that 68,500 people are waiting two years or more in Wales—that is a fact. That's your own figure, the front bench. In England it is 12,500, out of a population of 57 million. I acknowledge the pressures on the NHS, but I can understand why the First Minister doesn't want to debate the figures when his figures here are so horrendous. Now, he offered no plans, no solutions and he hasn't offered a road out for many of these people who are stuck on the waiting times, other than to talk about the waiting times in England, which has a population, as I've said, of 57 million people. To have the equivalent waiting times here in Wales, you would need to have 13 million people plus on the waiting lists in England. Now, First Minister, you need to do better than that. You have the levers to actually offer hope, which is where I started my line of questioning to you on these waiting times. You have not offered any hope or solutions this afternoon, so for one last time I ask you again: will we be debating these numbers this time next year, because your Government has failed to deal with them and address them, or will you offer some solutions so people going into the summer can have confidence that they won’t be facing such a bleak winter on a waiting list all over again?

13:55

Llywydd, it was the leader of the opposition who opened his first question by referring to waiting times in England, not me; he was the person who introduced that in his original question. And I’ll tell him this: if you want to ask people outside this Chamber whether they would prefer to be living under a Labour Government here in Wales or the shambles of his party in England, he’ll get the answer, and it won’t take people long to give it to him either. I don’t need the membership application form—[Interruption.]—I don’t need the membership application form in order to find out what people in your party think of one another, because I can read it in any newspaper any single day. Ferrets in a sack are unlikely to come up with a plan for the NHS anywhere in the United Kingdom. The planned programme, the programme for planned operations in the Welsh NHS, has been published. It has a year-by-year set of—[Interruption.] Llywydd, I'm not going to indulge him on that.

I think the First Minister can respond to the question now before we move on.

Let me just tell the Member again: if he hasn’t had the chance to read it because he’s been too busy reading manifestos of people seeking to lead his party, we can supply him with a copy. It sets out a year-by-year sequence of ways in which waiting times in Wales will be addressed to the same timetable as his party has set for England. That’s our ambition and we wish we could do more and we could do it faster. 

Thank you very much, Llywydd. The first census results have been published; they’re headline figures so far. The population is reducing in many areas—Ceredigion seeing the greatest decrease at almost 6 per cent. There is a suggestion that the population is also growing older, which emphasises the need to keep hold of our young people, and that means making them want to stay here in Wales. Now, does the First Minister agree that the Welsh Government’s plan for young people needs to look at far more than simply jobs, it needs to include all aspects of the needs of young people—housing, environment, resources, vibrant communities—and that’s how you encourage young people to decide to live and prosper here in Wales?

Thank you for that question, of course, and I have seen the census results that have been published. There is a lot more information to draw out of those figures over the coming months. One of the reasons why I and Adam Price stood together in a press conference last week to set out the plan that we have on homes for people in rural areas was to try and create possibilities for the future for young people who want to live in the communities where they were born, and to stay there and to work there and to raise their children and, of course, to have somewhere to live. And through everything that we’re doing, we do want to create opportunities where people who want to remain in local communities can do so successfully. The figures show that it’s important for us to do more than that in order to attract people to Wales to be part of our future here, and that will be an important thing for us in the future as well.

Without doubt, we want to attract the best brains to Wales, as well as keeping our own talent here. The current financial pressures, the highest inflation for 40 years, is having a great impact on young people. You only need to look at recent NUS research to see that more students than ever are reliant on foodbanks or are borrowing beyond their means. The wage level for apprentices is a problem—as low as £4.81 an hour; finding accommodation for students is in crisis in many areas; and the amount that students pay has increased over three years from some £4,768 to over £6,000. We need to provide more financial support to young people, and we need to control unsustainable rents too, because, as well as having an impact on their mental health, financial hardship does prevent them from reaching their academic potential. So, how does the First Minister intend to take action in these areas to prevent the brain drain, because financial factors are very real factors in locking people out of education and thereby preventing them from reaching their full potential?

14:00

Well, Llywydd, Wales has the most generous form of student support anywhere in the United Kingdom, and I didn't hear any recognition of that in what the Member just had to say. Of course the current crisis in the cost of living affects young people and people in universities, as well as anybody else, and the Welsh Government takes a series of measures in the field of mental health, for example, to make sure that there are additional services for young people, who have faced difficult times in the last couple of years and are now looking to re-establish themselves for the future.

I take a fundamentally different view, I suspect, to the Member on this issue of a brain drain. The pattern we see in Wales is that we do see people leaving Wales as they complete their education, and we see them come back to Wales as well a decade or so later. I think that is a good thing. I somehow doubt that he and his party take the same view. I think that young people who are brought up in Wales should have every possibility in front of them, that they should think of the world as somewhere where they can see their futures. And we know that they will reach a point in their lives where they will want to come back to Wales, where they will want to bring up families here in Wales, and they will bring back to Wales all the experiences that they have gained elsewhere. I think that is to our advantage, not a disadvantage. I don't think trying to set up a system in which our aim is to keep young people here in Wales, rather than allowing them to see themselves as wider citizens of the world, will be the best way in which to secure our future.

I wasn't looking for division here today; I was looking for consensus, frankly. Having a daughter in Paris currently, a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, having lived in Italy myself, having spent time living in London myself—. We're not about closing the doors for our young people and telling them not to leave, but the truth of the matter is that too many do not come back to Wales. And those that do, well, listen, we want them to reach their potential for their own sake and for the sake of our economy too, whilst attracting the best to Wales, as I said. 

Now, in March, the capital region in Cardiff boasted about the relatively low graduate pay levels in Cardiff compared with other parts of the UK. They said that graduates in Cardiff are paid around 20 per cent less, £6,000 less a year, than those in Glasgow. I'm not sure if they expect us to be somehow proud of that, but it was insulting to our young talent—come to Cardiff, our graduates are cheap. They're going through enough of a hard time as it is, having been through COVID and now facing the cost-of-living crisis. Welsh graduates must be valued as more than cheap labour if the Welsh brain drain is to be reversed. And there is a brain drain, and if you're relaxed about losing our talent, talent that may well and quite often does not come back, you really need to think again. Does the First Minister think that promoting a low-wage economy is the best way to boost the aspirations of young people in Wales, because we on these benches don't?

Well, Llywydd, I'll try to be consensual as well, because, of course, I completely agree with him that selling Wales as a low-wage economy was a failed policy of the Thatcher era, and we don't look to recreate that today. The Cardiff capital region actually produced a list of cities where graduate salaries are different—places where Wales offers more than some cities and places where Cardiff offers less. That is just the fact of the matter. And I don't think that we should read from that that they were looking to attract people here because we're a cheap place to live. The picture of the capital region is that Wales is a great place to come and live, not simply because we offer graduate-level jobs and opportunities for people to make careers, but because we offer so much more than that as well.

Now, we will differ on the fundamental issue as to whether or not it is good for Wales that our young people have experiences elsewhere, and I don't think that he is factually correct, either, to say that we don't do well in attracting people back into Wales at the point in their lives when they wish to return and they wish to make that contribution to our economy. I want Wales to be somewhere outward-looking and confident as a nation—a place where people want to come, want to settle, want to live and want to work for all the reasons that make this place so special. And I think that it is possible to succeed in doing that, and I don't think the talk of brain drains and people leaving and all that actually helps us—[Interruption.] It doesn't help us when it is portrayed as though Wales is somehow somewhere were people fail to have that sort of future, because that is not the sort of Wales we either have or wish to have in the future.

14:05

What support is the Welsh—[Laughter.] I'm sorry. Alun Davies was being very silly there; he made me laugh.

Yes. [Laughter.] And quite deliberately so, NoContextSenedd. 

Increased Energy Costs

3. What support is the Welsh Government providing to businesses to absorb increased energy costs? OQ58368

Llywydd, I had very deliberately not referred to the Member for Ynys Môn's own plans to be part of a brain drain. So—[Laughter.] Just to be sure; I had made sure that I didn't do that.

Businesses in Wales are facing extremely high energy prices, which, unlike domestic bills, are not capped. The Minister for Economy met with the Wales business council earlier today to discuss these matters. We continue to lobby the UK Government to take further action on both domestic and business energy prices.

I appreciate that answer, First Minister. On 24 June, I visited the Aber Hotel in Abertridwr in my constituency, and they are a family-run local business that has given up three of its rooms to provide a foodbank for the community of Abertridwr. They are a vital business and part of a network and web of businesses across the northern parts of my constituency that provide vital lifestyle and employment to people in that part of the constituency. Just a couple of months ago, they had an increase in energy costs from SSE Energy Supply Limited that hiked what was an average £650 a month electricity bill to more than £4,100 a month. That incredible increase in costs makes it very difficult to sustain family-owned businesses like the Aber Hotel. And we agree that the UK Government needs to take significant steps here. I've been looking at the Welsh Government's Transforming Towns placemaking grants and we are looking to bring those to places like Senghenydd, Abertridwr and Bargoed too. But what more can the Welsh Government do, perhaps in partnership with the UK Government, to support those businesses that are facing these difficult times?

I thank Hefin David for that question. I'm aware of the company that he mentioned and the work that they do. Companies like that, Llywydd, faced with the astonishing rise in energy prices, will be following what is going on in Westminster very carefully and I'm sure that their anxiety will be growing as the contest to reduce the amount of resource available to help companies and the whole of the economy is the only contest that seems to be being conducted. 

What we do here in Wales, Llywydd, is to use the powers that we have; they're not the main powers, they, inevitably, lie with the UK Government. We have specialist resource efficiency advisers working with Business Wales who are working with companies to offer those practical solutions that can help them to mitigate—and it would only be to mitigate, to understand—the impact of energy rises of the sort that Hefin David has mentioned. But they work with companies to reduce vehicle use, to increase water and energy efficiency, to provide insulation and LED lighting, to make sure that there is efficient use of fridges and freezers and so on. The work that we do as a Government also sustains the purchasing power of consumers. One of the most challenging things happening to small businesses of the sort that Hefin David has mentioned is the drawing back by customers of discretionary spend. Faced with bills of their own, people are not buying things in a way that allows those businesses to go on being sustained. Of course we help with other costs as well—more than 85,000 properties in Wales this year will receive help with their business rates. It will cost the Welsh Government £116 million—that's £20 million more than the consequential we receive from the UK Government—in order to be able to do that.

In the longer run, Llywydd, the question that Joyce Watson asked earlier this afternoon has the key: we have to be able to secure renewable energy sources that don't leave us vulnerable to the sort of global shocks that have led to the increase in energy prices, and to be able to do it in a way that offers certainty to small businesses that they won't face this sort of shock to their business model again in the future.

14:10

First Minister, research suggests that nearly two thirds of businesses in the UK spend between 5 per cent and 20 per cent of their total outlay on energy. This represents a significant proportion of their total running costs, meaning that large price rises will have a dramatic effect on their ability to operate at a profit. Small businesses are less well placed to swallow increases in energy costs due to tight margins and restricted cash flow and so are more likely to have to pass these increases on to consumers.

In Scotland, First Minister, Business Energy Scotland provides free and impartial support to help small and medium-sized businesses to save energy, carbon and money. Funded by the Scottish Government, it provides expertise and unsecured interest-free loans to help pay for energy and carbon saving upgrades, as well as offering cashback grants of up to £20,000. First Minister, therefore, will you look at Business Energy Scotland, which claims already to have found over £200 million of savings for Scottish organisations, to see if a similar scheme could and would work here in Wales? Thank you.

Well, Llywydd, I think I said in my last answer that we already have, through Business Wales, which is a Welsh Government-funded source of impartial advice to businesses here in Wales, specialist resource efficiency advisers. They already do the things that the Member has pointed to happening elsewhere. We don't need to reinvent things when we're already doing them. And the availability of interest-free loans and other forms of assistance for businesses that wish to take some of those practical actions that can mitigate the impact of rapidly rising energy costs are part of the landscape here in Wales as well.

Deposit-return Scheme

4. Will the First Minister provide an update on the deposit-return scheme? OQ58360

Llywydd, our aim has been to develop the scheme as a partnership with the UK and Northern Ireland Governments. The absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland and the turmoil in Westminster are both affecting the timetable for publication of the final scheme design. That now seems likely to be further delayed into the autumn.

Minister, I've reviewed your answer to the questions that Joel James asked you back in May, and I don't ask my question to debate whether glass bottles should be or not be included in the scheme; the reality is that the four nations of the UK are now likely to take a different approach. And that being the case, I'm keen to explore how the Welsh Government would limit any competitive disadvantage or put mitigation measures in place to support small brewing businesses in Wales in particular. I note, from your answer to Joel, you mentioned that the Government could talk to the industry about the level of the annual registration fee, but, under the current options at the moment, small brewers would be required to buy new equipment to print labels and employ additional staff to facilitate additional processes. And I'm told the cost of that equipment would effectively mean that those businesses would not be able to continue to operate. So, can I ask you for an assurance that support and mitigation would be put in place for Welsh businesses, so they are not competitively disadvantaged? And I'd be grateful if you could set out your assessment of if the deposit-return scheme in Conwy was successful.

14:15

I thank the Member for those questions, Llywydd. We are indeed proposing measures to limit the impact on smaller businesses, and that does include the annual registration fee. We will look at mandatory labelling requirements, we will look at how online take-back obligations might be designed to see whether that can mitigate some of the impacts on the firms, but the principle is straightforward. It's the one I remember outlining to Mr James: the polluter must pay. What we're talking about are new obligations on those people who produce waste of this sort to make sure that we are able to deal with it more effectively in the future.

The deposit-return scheme is something we have, as I said, worked with the UK Government and with Northern Ireland on. The intention to include glass bottles in it was there in our common scheme until right at the end, when the UK Government decided to withdraw from what had been proposed. Scotland will go ahead with glass bottle inclusion, so there will be different schemes in different parts of the United Kingdom, and we will look to work with the sector to help them with that.

The pilot in Conwy, Llywydd, took place a year ago—it was in July of last year. Feedback from those participating in the pilot was positive, and the system that was used there, a unique serialisation code added to a drink bottle, means that the system has the potential to use existing kerbside collection alongside retail return points. So, I was very glad that the pilot took place in the way that it did. We've learnt from it, and we've particularly learnt that there is a genuine appetite amongst the public to make sure that we can do better in this area, and not only do we manage to recycle more of the materials that we use, but that we also have a positive impact on the littering that otherwise disfigures beautiful places like Conwy when these things that could be properly recycled are just abandoned, creating that environmental damage.

The Long-term Rental Sector

5. What is the Government doing to protect the long-term rental sector in the face of growth in the short-term rental sector? OQ58338

Llywydd, we are ensuring that there are strong mechanisms for the long-term and short-term rental sectors. The measures include introducing a statutory licensing scheme for all holiday lets and ensuring that business rate relief is focused on those holiday properties that are rented for the majority of the year.

Now, on top of houses being sold as holiday homes or lets, I've become aware recently of the practice of long-term tenants being evicted so that their homes can be turned into short-term holiday accommodation. Constituents tell me that it's happening across our coastal communities.

The actions of one landlord are particularly worrying. Through historic privilege, the Bodorgan estate is a very important landlord, perhaps our best known landlord from when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on Anglesey. The estate owns many houses, but I've spoken to tenants who say they have been told to leave so that their homes can be turned into holiday lets. Now, in Scotland, it was intensive grazing that led to the infamous highland clearances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. On Anglesey, in the twenty-first century, it's tourism, but the principle is the same. From the scale of what I'm hearing, I fear losing large swathes of permanent population.

Through our co-operation agreement, a number of measures have been announced to start addressing the situation, including those plans for a licensing system before a home can be turned into a short-term let. Does the First Minister agree that there can be no delay, and what action could he take now to try to stop these evictions already under way?

14:20

Well, Llywydd, there are 10 different strands in the package of measures that we announced together on 4 July, and those are measures that we will be taking forward with the urgency that is required in order to make a difference in rebalancing, as I said, the short and long-term rented sectors. I'm concerned at what the Member has said this afternoon, and I'll be interested to know if there's any further evidence that he has. People cannot simply be evicted by being asked to leave; there are rules and legal requirements that landlords have to abide by in all sectors, and I will be genuinely interested to find out more of the particular examples that Rhun ap Iorwerth has outlined.

Llywydd, there is no—as far as I am aware—evidence of wholesale retreat from long-term renting in Wales. I think the last figures I saw were that there were over 207,000 properties registered with Rent Smart Wales as long-term properties for rent, and because we're now five years on from Rent Smart Wales, and landlords are having to reregister, there were 810 landlords registered with Rent Smart Wales in June alone. But, what the programme of action that we have agreed will do will make sure that there's greater parity between long and short-term obligations. If you're a long-term renter, you have to register with Rent Smart Wales; you have to demonstrate that you have a series of things in place—insurance arrangements, safety arrangements and so on. Our licensing scheme for short-term rentals will drive up standards in that part of the market as well and will make those obligations, as I say, on a greater parity with one another. And, other things that are part of a package of measures we put together, making sure that short-term rental businesses are genuinely businesses, renting out their properties for the majority of the year, will also lead to greater parity between those two aspects, the short and the longer term rental markets. They will make a difference, and if there are other things we need to do to attend to the sorts of issues that Rhun ap Iorwerth has raised this afternoon, then of course that package of measures can be extended further.

Cross-border Health Provision

6. Will the First Minister provide an update on cross-border health provision for patients between England and north Wales? OQ58373

Llywydd, patient flows between north Wales and England are managed between the health bodies on either side of the border. The principles for providing cross-border health care provision are set out in the cross-border statement of values and principles agreed between the NHS in Wales and the NHS in England.

In light of previous problems with funding cross-border health services—and I'm thinking particularly of problems that arose with the Countess of Chester Hospital some years ago and more recently with Gobowen hospital—are you confident that the funding for cross-border healthcare in hospitals such as Walton is adequate to ensure that patients from Wales aren't treated as second-class citizens? Because my understanding is that they can't be treated within 26 weeks because of financial reasons.

Well, I have not heard that, Llywydd. I do acknowledge the fact that, in the past, there have been problems that have arisen, but now we have a new system in place and senior officials in the NHS in Wales and across the border in England come together. They met last Friday, and they work through any problems, down to the level of individuals, if problems do arise. I had some feedback from Friday's meeting, and according to what I've heard, nobody raised the point of funding having been a problem in the existing system, in Liverpool or in any other hospital on the border.

14:25
Improving Orthopaedic Care

7. Will the First Minister provide an update on service transformation to improve orthopaedic care across the NHS? OQ58350

Llywydd, the national orthopaedic board has undertaken a review of the orthopaedic services across Wales. The board has used the information from this review to propose a blueprint for the future of orthopaedic services. The strategy and the blueprint were circulated widely last week.

Diolch, First Minister, and before I just ask the rest of my supplementary, I'd just like to welcome some of the young carers in the gallery who I met earlier, and the truly inspirational work that they do, supporting their families.

First Minister, last week I heard first-hand, along with a number of my colleagues from across the Senedd, from Cymru Versus Arthritis and the Royal College of Surgeons about the transformational changes needed to improve patient outcomes in Wales. As you said, the national orthopaedic blueprint for services in Wales was published last week. The report was requested by the Welsh Government and it doesn't make easy reading. It highlights that elective orthopaedic and trauma services in Wales are in a perilous state of near collapse and that a failure to rapidly progress the recommendations of this report will inevitably lead to the conclusion that Wales cannot deliver safe elective orthopaedic care. It does recommend transformational service changes for orthopaedics in Wales.

I'm not here to blame anybody, First Minister; I'm here to find solutions to the problem, to solve it for people who are in life-debilitating pain. So, clearly things need to change. Your Government asked for this report, so will you today commit to implementing all the recommendations of the report and outline a timetable for their delivery, to work alongside the planned-care recovery plan, to give people in pain some light at the end of the tunnel? Diolch, Llywydd.

Well, Llywydd, we were glad to have the report, of course, having commissioned it, and we will want to consider very carefully its recommendations. There's to be an orthopaedic summit in August that the Minister will lead, and that will bring people, not just from the Welsh Government, but from the wider clinical community, around the table to consider the recommendations and to draw up a plan for implementation.

There are a series of things in the report that we think we will be able to move on in the short term: immediate actions in relation to high-volume and low-complexity procedures, for example, the formation of a day-case delivery network, and the work that is going on to create greater capacity, protected capacity for orthopaedic surgery at the Royal Glamorgan as a surgical hub for Cwm Taf Morgannwg, at Neath Port Talbot Hospital for expanded and protected capacity there, and work that's happened in the past at Prince Philip Hospital to make sure that planned surgery can be carried out in that way. Now, when the Minister met with the Royal College of Surgeons last week, there was a recognition that what we need to do in Wales is focus in the immediate future on better use of existing capacity and facilities, so that we can work on the proposals that the blueprint and the strategy provide.

Improving Air Quality

8. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve air quality in the Monmouth constituency? OQ58365

Llywydd, studies in Chepstow and the surrounding area have been undertaken, and consideration is being given by Monmouthshire council to sustainable transport opportunities. The forthcoming clean air Bill will include proposals to improve air quality across Wales, including the Monmouth constituency.

Thank you, First Minister, for the response, and I thank you for acknowledging the issues around Chepstow. That's one of my main issues, because air pollution on the A48, and particularly the route on Hardwick Hill, which you will be aware of, is one of the most polluted stretches of roads in Wales. Residents have been pushing for a bypass for some years to help alleviate the issue. As I'm sure you're already aware, First Minister, the Welsh transport appraisal guidance process for this project and other measures is currently under way, and Monmouthshire County Council and partners, indeed with Welsh Government, have spent almost £500,000 there—£300,012 was contributed by Welsh Government. It's disappointing then to hear that the current new council administration are looking at pulling away from further work on this scheme, regardless of how much it's needed. Now, I understand it's the policy of your Government to consider new road building where to do so would improve air quality. First Minister, will the Government continue working with partners to progress the Chepstow bypass to reduce air pollution in congested areas, and how is the Government delivering on the recommendations of the Burns commission to improve access to public transport and active travel in the area to provide viable greener transport for the immediate future? Thank you. 

14:30

I thank the Member for that, Llywydd, and acknowledge the work that was done by the previous Conservative administration of Monmouth council, which brought forward three possible solutions to the acknowledged difficulties that are faced in parts of Chepstow. The current county council have split those three potential solutions and are currently consulting on the first two—an active travel plan in and around Chepstow and, part 2, a transport hub interchange at Chepstow railway station. I think it is right that, before the bypass option is further considered, we exhaust the potential of parts 1 and 2 to make their contribution to resolving the issues of air quality that are faced in that part of Wales. That doesn't mean that the bypass proposal does not have merit, but before we decide on the bypass, we want to make sure that those other things have been properly consulted upon and every impact that can be extracted from them is put in place. 

As far as the Burns commission is concerned, we continue to work on all those things that lie within the hands of the Welsh Government. Members will be aware of the actions that have been taken, for example, to work with Newport borough council to increase the fleet of electric buses that is available in that city, both for reasons of air quality and to improve public transport as an alternative to the car. The fundamental proposal of the Burns commission, as I know Peter Fox will recall, was for investment under the union connectivity review. We will have to wait now until we have a Government at Westminster capable of responding to the proposals that the union connectivity review received. I remain—. Well, I don't want to use the word 'optimistic', Llywydd, but I remain firmly of the view that it is a major test of the UK Government that it finds the money to go alongside the proposals that its own review brought forward, particularly in the part of Wales represented by the Member for Monmouth. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

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

Diolch, Llywydd. There is one change to this week's business. The motion to agree the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2022 has been withdrawn from today's agenda. Draft business for the next three sitting weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically. 

Thank you, Trefnydd, for your statement. Can I ask for a written statement please from the Minister for Health and Social Services on the impact of tourism on health services, particularly in north Wales? As you will know, north Wales is a beautiful place for people to visit, and we have many thousands of people who come to enjoy everything that we've got to offer on our doorstep, but one of the things it does give pressure to is our health service, because, of course, some people will require unplanned care during their visit. We know that we have a health board that is in under pressure, particularly at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, which is smack bang in the middle of the heart of the tourism belt in north Wales, and I wonder whether this is something that could be properly considered by the Welsh Government in terms of whether enough resources are being given to our health boards to be able to cope with the significant numbers of visitors that we get. As I say, we want to welcome them, but we also need to make sure they have a good experience, particularly if they fall ill. 

Thank you very much. Just last Thursday, the Minister for Health and Social Services attended the Cabinet sub-committee for north Wales, which I chaired, and representatives—the chair and chief executive—from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board were present. It was actually a topic that we did discuss, and it was certainly raised by the chief executive with the Minister. I don't think there's a need for a written statement currently, because, certainly, from the discussions that were had, it was clear from the health board that this is something that they take into consideration.

14:35

The chaos in Westminster isn't just something we can witness as spectators—it will have profound impacts on how Government operates in Wales. I would request a debate straight after recess so that we can decide how to protect devolution and the interests of the people of Wales. By then, there'll be a new UK Prime Minister, and I want there to be a plan so that the First Minister can make demands of that Prime Minister, like stopping attacks on human rights, withdrawing the threat to Welsh legislation, and that Westminster should give us the billions they owe Wales for HS2 and promised European Union replacement funds that haven't materialised. Can we demand a new Wales Act, devolving rail infrastructure, the Crown Estate, broadcasting, anything that needs protecting from these wreckers in Westminster? We cannot allow our fate to be decided by default or indifference; we need to make these demands, and I'd like a debate, please, so that we can make those decisions as a Senedd.

Thank you. I certainly don't disagree with your comments around the chaos that we are seeing in Westminster. Clearly, it's been a very paralysed Government, and continues to be so. But I do want to reassure you that, as Ministers—and obviously, the First Minister directly with the Prime Minister—we continue to engage with the UK Government, to make sure that issues that are of very high importance here and also to the people of Wales are considered at every opportunity. As you say, by the time we come back after the summer recess, there will be a new Prime Minister. I'm sure the First Minister will seek an urgent meeting, and, if there is an update, I will ensure that happens.

I want to ask for a Government statement on the census, the first part being about the population changes in Wales. Population change is a good proxy for relative affluence, as the more successful areas have a higher population growth rate, while the poorer areas have a relative or actual population decrease. I'd like the statement to include how the Welsh Government is going to promote growth in the areas with population loss. The second part of the statement would be on Welsh language growth and decline by council areas. I predict that Monmouthshire will have its largest ever Welsh-speaking population, but that Ynys Môn will continue to show a decline in both actual and percentage of Welsh speakers. I'd like the statement to discuss the number of areas with over 70 per cent Welsh speakers.

I would also like to ask for a statement on knotweed and the responsibility for its eradication. One of my constituents had this reply from Natural Resources Wales: 'Landowners have the responsibility to contain the spread of knotweed on their own land. If it has got to the point where it is spreading onto neighbouring land, the neighbour has the ability to contact their council and local police force on 101 to get them to enforce a notice on the landlord, to force them to contain the spread'. The council denies it has the powers. Can a clear statement on responsibility be made?

Thank you. Just in relation to your question around knotweed, I know the Welsh Government has recently published an updated information sheet, which is aimed at community and voluntary groups, with advice on taking action on land they manage where there is Japanese knotweed. So, we are very well aware of the problems that it causes, and its occurrence throughout Wales. And as you say, the responsibility for it always lies with the landowner. The Welsh Government does continue to work with partners, and that includes Natural Resources Wales, and obviously all our local authorities, third sector, et cetera, to be able to control and eradicate it here in Wales.

In response to the census, the Minister for Finance and Local Government did publish a written statement welcoming the first results from the 2021 census, and I know the results were also laid before the Senedd. The Minister is looking forward to the publication of further data in October this year, and that will include more detail about the population in specific areas of Wales, and important new topics such as gender identity, sexual orientation, veterans of the UK armed forces, as well as information about how many people speak Welsh.

Minister, last week, Swansea Council confirmed that a new initiative has been launched so people know leisure operators at Caswell beach have the skills and experience to provide safe and fun activities, delivered to the highest standard. This partnership with the RNLI and the Welsh Surfing Federation is a great idea, and with the growth in the number of people taking up water activities such as surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking, this charter will hopefully give people confidence about the skills of those who run activities at the beach. As you plan Government business for after the recess, would you agree to a debate in Government time for the Senedd to reflect on this year's summer period, what has worked well, and what we can do to further enhance our tourism offer, and, in particular, how these sorts of initiatives can improve both the safety and enjoyment of our beaches for all those who use them? Thank you. 

14:40

Thank you. It's certainly good to hear about such an initiative from Swansea with the RNLI, and I think it's a really good opportunity to remind people of the importance of water safety, particularly in hot weather. Unfortunately, we see far too many accidents and fatalities at this time of year. So, it's certainly, I think, very well worth highlighting in the Chamber today, and it's important that we do learn what has worked and make sure that we share best practice. 

I'd like to ask for a written statement on the steps that the Welsh Government is considering to take to help care workers in the wake of a big increase in fuel costs. I discussed the issue with officials in Unison yesterday. Care workers in rural areas, in particular, have to drive distances between the houses of the people they care for, and the money they receive is not enough to pay for the fuel in their cars and maintenance costs. The truth is that they are subsidising their employers, and have to cut funding from their family budgets to do that. I know that the main levers are in the hands of the UK Government in terms of reducing prices and allowing greater claims on a tax-free basis, but I'd like to ask what the Welsh Government is considering as actions, from direct payments to trying to encourage paying these workers on a weekly basis, or allowing investment from employers in pool cars, electric cars perhaps. We're talking about a situation here where austerity is really biting, and we're talking about workers who are caring and very key. 

Thank you. I think you raise a very important point. I'm aware that the Deputy Minister for social care is aware of the concern around this, and obviously the cost of fuel is something, as you say, where the levers are with the UK Government. I'm sure the Minister will continue to have discussions with local authorities, but also with UK Government counterparts. 

I wonder if we can have a written statement on what contribution the Welsh Government could make to a just global transition. Bangladesh has been absolutely devastated in the last few weeks by really appalling floods in Sylhet, where at least 100 people have been killed and, according to the United Nations, 7 million people have been displaced. Most of the Bangladeshi diaspora in Cardiff come from Sylhet, and I know that some have lost family members who've been drowned. There's been very little coverage of this in the press, either drowned out by the tragedy in Ukraine or by the psychodrama going on in Downing Street. There's a wonderful photograph, which tells several thousand words, which I've just tweeted. It describes, 'We are not on the same boat #ClimateInequality' and 'We'll be dead by COP27'. This is just a huge reminder of the injustice of the poor, who are suffering the inequalities of the impact of the climate emergency created by the rich countries of the world. It is our obligation, surely, to assist the countries of the south, who are affected most by the climate crisis. We have a fantastic Wales for Africa programme. Could we have a statement from the Minister for Social Justice about how we could consider widening our international work to take account of the appalling injustices being created by the climate emergency in the poorest parts of the world? 

Thank you. Jenny Rathbone, I think, raises a very important point. As you say, this is not something that has been very widely covered in the media. The flooding in Bangladesh is very concerning, and our thoughts are with the nation, and, as you say, with the Bangladeshi community here in Wales, who must be very worried about friends and family who've been affected by this catastrophic climate event.

The budgets for our international sustainable development have increased over the past couple of years, but these remain very much focused on our sustainable development work in Africa, and, as you say, we have a fantastic Wales for Africa programme here. I know that, at the current time, there are no plans to widen that Wales for Africa programme to include other nations outside of the continent.

On the broader point you raised around the challenge of tackling the climate emergency, requiring everybody to work together across geographic and sectoral boundaries, I know you are very well aware, as part of our global responsibility here in Wales, we were a founding member of the Under2 Coalition. It's been incredible to see how that coalition has grown over the years; it now brings together 260 Governments, and they represent 1.75 billion people, 50 per cent of the global economy. We continue to provide funding to the Climate Group's Future Fund, and the key role of that group is how they can empower developing and emerging regions to accelerate emission reduction, for instance, in a just way, to leave no-one and no place behind.

14:45

Minister, I recently met with the Road Haulage Association, also known as the RHA, alongside Welsh Government officials, some civil servants, and alongside other groups and organisations, to talk about the huge skills shortage in the industry and the challenges that they're facing with recruitment and retention, as well as simply the lack of respect that they receive in their trade. I knew things were bad, but believe me when I say I really didn't realise how bleak the situation was at present. Between February and April this year, there were a whopping 1.3 million vacancies in the logistics industry, and that number is only getting bigger day by day. The average age in the industry is 49, with many set to retire in the coming months and years ahead, and it's vital that we all do what we can to plug the shortfall. We need to encourage people from across Wales to get involved in the industry. Working in haulage or logistics doesn't simply mean being a heavy goods vehicle driver. There are a vast array of jobs and opportunities in the sector, and everything needs to be done to raise awareness of this, and we all have responsibility. There are several routes to get young people into the industry, Minister, such as apprenticeships and traineeships, but in England there are two more great routes, which are skills bootcamps and T-levels. According to the RHA, the skills bootcamps have been a huge success, with courses being oversubscribed, and the T-levels are a fantastic way to put logistics on the curriculum. T-levels are an alternative to A-levels and help students get into skilled employment. Each T-level involves an in-depth industry placement, giving students invaluable experience and the content of them to meet the needs of the industry. So, I'd like to request a statement about what the Welsh Government is doing to encourage more people to pursue a career in logistics and haulage, and what discussions has the Government had here in Wales about introducing T-levels right here for the people of Wales. Thanks.

Thank you. I know the Minister for Education and Welsh Language has had specific discussions around T-levels with the UK Government, but I think it's fair to say the UK Government haven't been particularly helpful in this area. 

You mentioned the logistics sector. You can translate that into many other different sectors who are really struggling with the number of skills shortages, and, I have to say, leaving the European Union has not helped in any way.

Trefnydd, I've been contacted this morning by a family living in Pontypridd who are hosting a newly arrived family from Ukraine. Whilst all is going well, they have been told that it will be a number of weeks before their guests will receive any of the financial support they are entitled to beyond the initial £200. Whilst the host family have offered to buy what they need, the guests are naturally keen to be financially independent as quickly as possible and have approached the local foodbank for support now that their initial money has run out. Would it, therefore, be possible for the Minister for Social Justice to update Members via a written statement on any discussions that are taking place with the UK Government in relation to the delays in processing applications for financial support and how the Welsh Government is working with foodbanks to ensure that they are in a position to support any Ukrainian families turning to them for support? Thank you.

Thank you. You raise a very important point on refugees who are now here in Wales from Ukraine. I know the Minister just this morning was in a meeting around this issue. I will certainly ask her, if over the summer recess there is anything to update Members on, for her to do a written statement.

Just on your specific question around foodbanks, I know my own foodbank in Wrexham just last Friday helped several families who were here from Ukraine, and the Minister herself visited Wrexham foodbank about a month ago specifically to see what could be done to support them. I think I'm right in saying that there is some guidance that has been given to foodbanks, but I will check that out, and, as I say, I will ask the Minister to update us if necessary.

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

3. Statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government: A Fairer Council Tax

Item 3 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government: a fairer council tax. I call on the Minister, Rebecca Evans.

14:50

Diolch. Our programme for government and co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru commit to making reforms to council tax to make it fairer and more progressive. In December, I announced that I would be consulting this year on an ambitious package of reforms as the starting point on a journey towards meeting those aims. Our published work last year concluded that to meet those aims in the shorter term, we would need to consider a revaluation to allow us to change the bands and tax rates. It also highlighted the need for us to improve our national support scheme and examine the framework for discounts and exemptions. In parallel to this work, we will continue to work on alternative ways to raise local taxes that may share the burden more fairly in future, such as a local land value tax.

I am taking a phased approach to designing a new system because I am keen that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to this work. The consultation I have launched today sets out a road map. It represents phase 1 of a multistage conversation, seeking views in an open and collaborative way. I will take into account everything we learn from this phase, and I hope to be in a position to launch a consultation on detailed proposals in phase 2 next year. The consultation I am launching today aims for a fair and progressive system that rebalances the tax burden on households, funds services that benefit everyone, is a tax that connects people with communities, and has regular updates built in it to keep it fair in future.

I have worked closely with the Plaid Cymru designated Member, Cefin Campbell MS, on this shared priority. I have continued to meet local government leaders to gather views from across Wales. I have established governance arrangements, through which we are engaging with partners who are key to delivering what we set out to achieve. These include practitioners in local authorities, the Valuation Office Agency and the Valuation Tribunal for Wales. We have continued working with respected expert institutions in this field, including the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

There are a great deal of positives about the council tax system that we shouldn't lose sight of. It has stood the test of time since the 1990s and it represents local democracy in action. Overall, it is a very efficient and stable tax, raising £2 billion every year for essential services like schools and social care—services that we can't do without. It also has low administrative costs, is well understood by taxpayers, and its underlying basis, property value, is a good broad indicator of people's wealth relative to one another. However, I do recognise that it is not perfect. The system we currently have places a higher tax burden proportionately on people with lower levels of wealth. As Members will know, all properties in Wales liable for council tax are placed in one of nine bands, based on property values from April 2003. This means the tax is nearly 20 years out of date, and what we pay no longer reflects our circumstances. The amount of council tax charged for band I properties is three and a half times as much as band A, yet homes in the top band could be worth more than nine times as much as those in the bottom band. It is this Government’s view that a revaluation should take place, and we should aim to implement a new structure for council tax based on up-to-date values. If we were to do this, the consultation seeks views on doing so from April 2025.

While house prices in Wales have grown significantly since 2003, I want to be clear this does not mean that everyone's council tax will increase. The system we design will remain a relative one. Previous research suggests up to 75 per cent of households would either be unaffected or would see their bills reduce. I also want to be clear that the purpose of revaluation is not to increase the total amount raised from taxpayers, but to redistribute the burden to ensure the fairness and integrity of the system. This exercise would open up an opportunity to add bands to the top or bottom ends of the scale, which might help create tax rates that are more progressive. There will be further points when we can consider how best to redesign the system. From 2025 onwards, and for the first time in the history of council tax, we want to deliver rolling revaluations to avoid the distortions in bills that we know can occur when updates are postponed over many years. We want to introduce a cycle of revaluations to not only provide clarity for taxpayers and delivery bodies, but to ensure the council tax burden is redistributed fairly on a regular basis. 

Moving on to our system of council tax support for low-income households, from today I am seeking views on improving our national council tax reduction scheme. I am proud that we have continued to maintain entitlements to reductions for around 270,000 vulnerable and low-income households. As the cost-of-living crisis worsens, support of this kind is even more vital to thousands of struggling households. But take-up of the scheme could be improved. The regulations are complex, and we are prevented from making in-year changes where needed. As the roll-out of universal credit scales up, it introduces further complexity into the way that people apply for support and the way their entitlement is calculated. I am keen to generate views from practitioners and others about how we can simplify or modernise the scheme to make it as easy as possible to access.

Another key element of the consultation focuses on council tax discounts and exemptions. Many of the current arrangements have been in existence since 1993. Some help to recognise household circumstances and people's ability to pay, and some make practical sense from a tax-collection perspective. I want to ensure our decisions are fair and fit for a modern system. It needs to be easy for practitioners to administer and clear for people to understand. I look forward to hearing ideas about this through our consultation. The consultation I have launched today seeks views on a path to ambitious change. This is why these reforms need to be part of a national, civic conversation with the people of Wales. I'd like to reassure Members and the public today that if we undertake the reforms that we are seeking views on, we would consider targeted transitional arrangements for those who may need time to adapt to any changes.

Finally, I want to be very clear: individuals will see no immediate changes to their bills as a result of the consultation I am publishing today. We have a great deal of work to do before reforms can be introduced. These reforms will be significant undertakings that will need legislative time and the support of Members from across this Senedd. I welcome all comments on phase 1 of our consultation, and I will keep Members informed of developments.

14:55

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and can I thank you, Minister, for bringing forward today's statement on a fairer council tax, one that I've been looking forward to and I'm sure many of us have been looking forward to as well? Can I also welcome your balance of comments in terms of recognising some of the positive elements of council tax as it currently stands? I think you said that there are a great deal of positives about the council tax system that we should not lose sight of, that it has stood the test of time since the 1990s and represents local democracy in action, which I'm sure we'd both want to continue seeing take place. I also acknowledge where you've pointed out some improvements in the system that could and should take place as well.

In responding to your statement today, Minister, I'd like to also welcome the fact that you're going out to consultation on the future of council tax here in Wales. As we know, council tax impacts every household up and down Wales, and it's vitally important that we encourage as many people as possible to engage with any process of change, including one around council tax. It's even more important when we know many people are facing uncertainty with the future cost of living that we're all looking at at the moment. But, one concern I have with consultations, Minister, which I'm sure you may share from time to time, is that we often don't receive a big enough response, with many parts of our community missed out. So, in light of this, I wonder what assurances you can give that this consultation will ensure people from all walks of life are included and listened to. 

Secondly, Minister, as we know from your statement today, the council tax proposal will see a complete revaluation of all 1.5 million properties in Wales, with the aim of ensuring valuations are up to date and people are paying the appropriate amount of council tax. Certainly, we'd want to see as up-to-date information as possible. I agree with that. Of course, this revaluation will be the first since 2003 in Wales, which was controversial at the time, because one in three households received a higher bill than they were used to paying. It's vitally important that any change leads to a fair transition for council tax payers and will not force anyone to fall off a financial cliff edge. So, in addition to this, it's crucial that those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, who may not have significant income in proportion to their house value, are properly considered as well. So, Minister, how will you ensure that any revaluation won't see the same mistakes of 2003, and that hard-working families and those on fixed incomes won't be hit with those higher bills? 

And finally, Minister, I note from today's statement that you're now using the term 'a fairer council tax', which I'm sure we'll all be positive about, but you were previously talking about council tax reform, perhaps a stronger statement previously. And I wonder if this is because Welsh Government now believe that your proposals are not sufficient enough reform to be calling it true reform. Minister, I can certainly accept that the current system for council tax does need some review. However, I'm not sure that your current proposals are real reform. So, in light of your consultation, I'm wondering whether you foresee any alternatives to a revaluation, and a few extra bands being proposed as well. For example, in the consultation, we could see suggestions such as a proportional property tax, which I know some Members in this Chamber would support, or a local income tax, for example, or even perhaps a council tax linked to the energy efficiency of your home to help incentivise people to make their houses more energy efficient.

So, in light of this, what assessment have you made of genuine alternatives that may be raised from the consultation, and if so, would you commit to explore these further so that consultation can be as open as possible? And I'm sure, Minister, you'll know on this side of the benches, we have some great ideas for reform—you may not always agree with those—and I am, of course, happy to work with you in considering these, and look forward to that continued engagement. Thank you very much.

15:00

I'm very grateful to Sam Rowlands for his contribution this afternoon, and his keenness to work collaboratively on what is such an important agenda in terms of making council tax fairer. I suppose the reason why we've referred to our consultation as making council tax fairer, rather than council tax reform in itself, is because 'fairer' is the outcome that we want from this, and the 'reform', if you like, is the how we get there. 

I'll start where you ended, really, in terms of looking at other ways in which we can achieve an improvement in fairness of council tax. Of course, over the last Senedd term, we undertook a great deal of research that looked at exactly that, really, in terms of different options for reform. We engaged experts in the field through the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Bangor University, Cardiff University and others, and looked at a number of ways in which we could take this agenda forward. One was the local income tax to which you referred, and we discounted that because it didn't have some of the benefits that Sam Rowlands began his contribution talking about, in the sense that council tax is based on property, which is a fixed asset, it's simple to understand, it's difficult to hide your property and so on. So, I think there are definitely some benefits through a property-based system. 

We also looked at a potential land value tax, and Bangor University undertook some research for us on that. We're committed to continuing to look at that idea, not only as a replacement for council tax but also for non-domestic rates, although I think that it's well recognised it's more difficult to do so for non-domestic rates. But we're continuing that work, exploring what a potential longer term programme of reform could look like, in parallel with the work that we're undertaking in the immediate term in terms of the council tax reform agenda. 

We've also been very mindful of the revaluation and the impact of it. As Sam Rowlands says, there are around 1.5 million domestic dwellings in Wales that are currently liable for council tax, and each is placed into one of those nine bands. A revaluation will provide an update to everybody's tax band, but I think it's important for people who are taking an interest in this already to recognise that just because the value of your property has gone up since the last revaluation, it doesn't necessarily mean that your council tax will go up, because the overall take from council tax is not to be increased; that's not the purpose of this exercise—it's about redistributing that more fairly across the bands. 

I think, again, Sam Rowlands is right in terms of recognising the impact of transitional arrangements. I think it is fair to say that at the last revaluation, when it came into force in 2005, we did introduce the idea of transitional arrangements probably too late. We're doing this right from the outset now to explore what those transitional arrangements should look like, because that was one of the lessons that we learned certainly from the last revaluation exercise. 

I think the fact that we are considering additions to bands and we're undertaking the revaluation exercise is important, but I don't think that we should lose sight of the importance of the work that we're doing in terms of reviewing our disregards and exemptions, because they will be critical in ensuring that we provide the right level of support to those who need it, alongside the review of our council tax reduction scheme, because we're keen that we continue to support those households that do need that support.

In terms of the previous revaluation, Sam Rowlands gave us the figures in terms of how properties were previously affected. We know from the work that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has done that if we were to revalue keeping the nine current bands, around a quarter would move up bands, a quarter would move down bands and around half would stay the same. But that research was undertaken prior to the pandemic, so we've asked the IFS to do another piece of research to update that so that we do get a better understanding of the implications in this particular regard.

15:05

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd, and may I thank the Minister for her statement? It's good to see in it a number of the main elements of Plaid Cymru's council tax reform plans, which we set out in our manifesto, particularly around revaluation; increasing the number of bands, particularly at the higher end of home valuations; and ensuring that council tax is more proportionate to the value of property.

The motive for reform is clear. The current system is dated; to all intents and purposes, it's a legacy of the Thatcher era. This is the most regressive tax on these isles, which levies almost four times as much on the poor as those who are richer, so it's about time that we redistributed that burden more fairly across society and ensure that those who have the broadest shoulders carry a little more of that weight.

Just to pick up on some of the points already made, it's good to see the emphasis on improving the national support scheme and looking at the framework for the discounts and exemptions, because many people will be concerned, particularly older people, that the value of their property doesn't necessarily reflect their ability to pay. So, the first question from me is: what assurance can you give to those people that their circumstances will be fully taken into account as part of this consultation? Also, of course, on the other hand, what's your message to local authorities where there is depopulation and a population that's growing older, which is a factor that could have a significant impact on the tax gathered in those areas? Whilst accepting that this is an exercise that will be revenue neutral, as you said, we also need to ensure that individual local authorities don't lose out when it comes to ensuring the revenue to maintain key services that we all want to see.

People complain that the current system is unfair, and that's quite right, and people also see clear differences in council tax rates across Wales, and the system is inconsistent. I've previously referred in this Chamber to villages such as Ystradowen and Cwmllynfell, around 100 yards from each other but there are hundreds of pounds of difference in terms of their council tax bills. So, one is aware that there are inconsistencies and some unfairness. To what extent do you anticipate that this process will possibly tackle some of those issues, whilst protecting the integrity of local authorities in raising the revenue that they need? There's no getting away from the fact that there are tensions in terms of the divergence between certain parts of the country and others.

Of course, the policy and the proposed change are more timely than ever as we face a cost-of-living crisis. The council tax bill, of course, is one of the most significant bills faced by households every year, and these reforms could be a radical step in helping many households to cope better with what they are currently facing, and we know that council tax payments have been one of the greatest issues in terms of household debt. 

You mentioned targeted transitional arrangements, and you've responded to issues around that already, but how will you deal with council tax debt, particularly in moving from one system to another? In the longer term, to what extent can any new plans or new approach to council tax avoid situations where these debts do build up to such an extent in the first instance?

15:10

I'm very grateful to Llyr Gruffydd for his comments today, and just through Llyr I'd like to thank Cefin Campbell for the excellent work, which we've done, I think, together, on this particular area of our co-operation agreement, and for his really constructive approach and the ideas and challenge that he's brought to the work so far. I know there's a lot more for us to be doing on this, because, as I say, this is just stage 1 of our consultations, which is why it's so important that we do look across a broad range of issues, which Llyr Gruffydd has described today, the first being the council tax reduction scheme and exploring what our plans are for improving that. I think that making the wider council tax scheme more progressive might reduce the demand for support through our council tax reduction scheme, but we still expect that there will be the continued need to support low-income households with their council tax bills, which is one of the reasons why we're exploring what changes we might need to make to the scheme in the future.

Our aim, of course, is to support those who need it, and we have to take into account the wider conditions, such as the roll-out of universal credit, which has had a big impact on council tax and the eligibility for support, and also, of course, changes to the wider economy. We want to take the opportunity to improve the design of the scheme to make it easier to administer and obviously simpler for people to access the support to which they're entitled in the first instance. Our council tax reduction scheme is currently supporting 270,000 households with their bills and over 210,000 pay no council tax at all because of the support that we're able to invest in it. Around 20 per cent of households, that means, receive some help with their bills, but we know that the landscape here is continuing to change, so we need to explore this as part of our consultation. There are some specific questions on this in the consultation, which will help us understand the best way forward. 

Then, also, there was a reference to discounts and exemptions. The current landscape there is extremely complex, and the discounts and exemptions have grown incrementally since the inception of council tax in 1993, so I think that the review that we're doing of these is more than timely, I think, in terms of understanding what changes we might wish to make. I think it's probably too early at the moment to say what those changes might be. We have to undertake the work. We have to listen to people through the consultation. But we have established an expert-led working group of officials and local authority practitioners to help consider this specific aspect and to consider the review of the existing arrangements. Around 37 per cent of dwellings are currently subject to one or more discounts, and 4 per cent of dwellings are exempt, so that's a total of almost 600,000 of our 1.5 million properties, so obviously there is lots of work for us to do to make sure that the exemptions are the right ones and the discounts are the right ones in the future. Some of these changes will require primary legislation; for example, were we to make any changes to the one-adult discount, that would require primary legislation, for example.

I think the points about debt and arrears were also really well made. We've introduced the council tax protocol for Wales, which is a way in which we can try and build that good practice in the collection of council tax amongst local government. It was made in collaboration with local government and has been jointly endorsed by the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association and signed up to by all of those 22 authorities. But we have begun, now, a review and evaluation of some of the key actions that we took in the last Senedd term to try and ensure that people are able to deal with debt and have the support that they need. So, that's an important part of the consultation, and, again, there are questions in relation to debt and arrears. 

Finally, I think the points about local authorities and the impact on them are really, really important, because, of course, the nature of the tax base differs across Wales, and our consultation does recognise that and considers it. So, we will be analysing the impacts of a revaluation on local authorities once we have that further information, which I referred to, about the IFS updating the figures, which they did before the pandemic, and that will help us have a much more granular look across Wales at what the implications might be. But it is the case, I think, that the reforms outlined would inevitably change the nature of the tax base in each area, and so the consultation then proposes that funding for authorities through the revenue support grant would be reallocated according to the latest tax base. I think that's the fairest way to do it. But, again, we need to consider what transitional arrangements might be needed for local government in this respect.

So, another important area of the consultation where we're keen to hear from local government and others, and I think I didn't respond to the point that Sam Rowlands made earlier about the importance of consulting widely, so local government will obviously have a strong view on that particular element of the consultation, but then Llyr Gruffydd referred to potentially older people, so older people's organisations will want to contribute as well, and there'll be people across the spectrum who will have an interest in this, obviously, because council tax affects us all.

But I want to make it clear that people don't have to answer all of the questions, so if a resident has a strong view and wants to share it with us they don't feel obliged to answer the questions about local government and so on—just engage with us at the level at which people want to, so that we can hear as many diverse voices as we can.

15:15

I thank the Minister for her statement. We know we need more regular revaluations. Every 20 years is not acceptable. We know two other things: a local income tax is preferred by the rich because it will save them money via tax reduction schemes. But we also know that, under the current system, those with the least ability to pay spend a greater portion of their wealth on council tax. Someone living in a property worth £100,000 pays around five times as much council tax relative to the property value as someone living in a property worth £1 million. A £420,000 house only pays twice as much as a £120,000 house. To me, this is unfair, because payment is not proportional to the value of the property and value of property is a good indicator of personal wealth.

My recommendation is that an additional band is added at the bottom and at least two higher bands are added at the top, followed by adjustments on the multipliers being used to ensure fairness. Questions are: should single people on band G and above have a single person's discount? Who benefits from the student discount, students or landlords? And finally, should the bands be split in two, therefore making it much closer to the value of the property?

I'm very grateful to Mike Hedges for those contributions and for his ongoing engagement on the issue of council tax, and I share his concern about the importance of more regular revaluations. I think that it has been far too long since the last revaluation. Painful though I understand them to be, I think it is more important that we do it more regularly, and then the changes won't be so extreme in some cases. So, I think that that kind of regular revaluation is important and that's something that we're consulting on in our consultation that is launched today—so, keen to have those views formally expressed through the consultation as well.

And then, looking to the future, we can consider what technology might be available to us. Can we do rolling revaluations? What would we do with information as it comes through in terms of house sales? How can we be sure that we're not picking up a spike in house sales at that moment in time? So, there are lots and lots of different things for us to be considering in terms of the regularity of revaluations. But that's absolutely our intention, to make revaluation much more frequent.

I think Mike Hedges described perfectly how council tax is a regressive tax; it's not a progressive tax, as we would normally want a tax to be. It very much means that people who have the least and who are least able to contribute are ending up being asked to contribute a larger share. So, this is one of the things that our approach to making council tax fairer is aiming to deal with as well—rebalancing the council tax that local authorities collect.

And I've heard Mike's arguments in terms of the way in which he would like to see the additional bands, and potentially the splitting of the bands to have that much more nuanced size of band as well, so, obviously, we'll be considering that as part of our overall consultation. I think we also need to consider as part of that the appeals system and to what extent we create a system where we get the balance right in terms of not creating too much confusion or likelihood of appeals, but having appeals where they are genuinely, in a sense, ones that are likely or potentially to be changing the band that people are in. So, lots for us to consider. I think the contributions so far have been really helpful and I think have started to kick off our consultation very well.

15:20

The benefits of a land value tax are quite clear—it could replace a regressive council tax system, which has no relation to household income, with a system that creates a far greater equality in the distribution of wealth, lowering housing costs for many households across Wales. A land value tax would also help to end land speculation, encourage more efficient allocation of land and provide a sustainable and enhanced source of local government finance. I understand one of the main impediments to the introduction of an LVT is the lack of cadastral mapping. A cadastral database would not only be beneficial for the purpose of taxation, but also in regards to planning and agriculture. So, I was wondering if any progress has been made by the Welsh Government in establishing a cadastral database for Wales? Thank you.

I'm grateful for that contribution, and just want to reassure Carolyn Thomas that we are very much continuing to work on the idea of a local land value tax. The main underlying objective for local tax is to raise that stable revenue for local services in the fairest possible way. And where we can have other advantages, such as the better use of land, I think we should definitely be looking to squeeze as much value out of these things as we possibly can.

The Welsh Government has published the research by Bangor University, and that assesses the feasibility of a land value tax as a possible replacement for council tax and non-domestic rates. And they did conclude that a local land value tax in Wales could raise sufficient revenue to replace the current local taxes, and also that the distribution of liability could be substantially more progressive. So, I think the research has been very positive in that sense, but it does underline that we have to undertake some further work to assess more fully whether or not a land value tax would be evidently better than our existing arrangements, or the arrangements that we will put in place following the work of reform, which is current.

So, within the scope of the research, Bangor University was able to construct a preliminary statistical model to estimate a set of land values. We have never attempted that kind of work in Wales before, and it did enable Bangor then to determine potential tax rates at which a local land value tax would need to be levied to raise revenues broadly equal to the current system. So, it's really exciting work. But I think one of the key lessons that we learned from it was that it's much more challenging to estimate the land values for non-domestic uses than it is for domestic property. So, we're currently continuing the work exploring this, but the point about having that cadastral database is absolutely key. We couldn't introduce a land value tax without one. 

I know that elsewhere in Welsh Government there's important work going on in terms of DataMapWales, and that is very much about collecting information across Wales in a useable format. And I do have some really interesting discussions with the Welsh Revenue Authority as well, because they're taking a lead on many of the exciting ways in which we're thinking about the potential ways to use digital and data, and so this is another area where we're doing some interesting work. Because having that kind of database would help us with lots of other policies, in fact. It would help us potentially in future with local rates of land transaction tax. So, we would need that kind of database. So, work is definitely ongoing. I'm more than happy to update Carolyn at any opportunity we have.

4. Statement by the Minister for Economy: Young Person’s Guarantee—Ensuring a better future for our young people

Item 4 is next, and that's a statement by the Minister for Economy: a young person's guarantee, ensuring a better future for our young people. And I call on the Minister, Vaughan Gething.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. We launched our ambitious young person's guarantee in November last year, with the aim of supporting 16 to 24-year-olds to access work, education, training or business start-up support. We made this commitment so that no-one would be left behind, and have committed £1.4 billion a year to support young people across Wales. And the need for the young person's guarantee is as strong as ever. Against a backdrop of extreme economic volatility, the chances of a recession have increased, and there is still a need to help avoid a lost, disengaged generation as a result of the pandemic. That's why we are providing support for over 300,000 young people within the first two years of this Government term.

There is wide-ranging evidence that the disruption that the pandemic has caused has particularly affected young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The young person's guarantee will help us to prevent inequalities widening further, as a new generation moves towards the labour market. By focusing on people who are under-represented, on those young people who face disadvantage and inequality in accessing work, we will be creating a more equal Wales and a stronger economy. Fourteen per cent of young people aged 16 to 24 are not in education, employment or training. That rate is too high, and our support is wedded to the long-term ambition to reduce this rate to at least 10 per cent. This means reaching and maintaining an additional 13,600 young people through programmes like the young person's guarantee over the coming decades. This is part of the route to a stronger and fairer Welsh economy, where people are supported to fulfil their potential. And we're taking wide-ranging action, tailored to the needs of people facing barriers to work.

Since the young person's guarantee has launched, we have enhanced how young people gain access to high-quality advice and guidance services. Where once there was a confusing range of options, opportunities and advice systems, the Working Wales service now provides a single route to support, coupled with careers advice and guidance. The Working Wales job-matching service also helps young people to find the right employment opportunity. Since 1 November last year, 4,729 young people have accessed this service, of which 2,249 were NEET.

Last month, I also launched our new young person's start-up grant, offering up to £2,000 to help young people to start their own business. This help is backed by one-to-one business advice and mentoring—practical help for young entrepreneurs taking those first exciting steps in starting a business. I'm pleased to say that we have improved access to our apprenticeship programme and other work-focused support. For instance, I have recently launched two new programmes: Jobs Growth Wales+, which will help to support 5,000 16 to 18-year-olds each year who are struggling to gain access to training. The new ReAct+ programme will also support up to 5,400 young people each year, providing practical help with childcare and transport costs. We've also taken steps to extend support into our communities to help young people to start their employment and career journey, including providing community mentors through the Communities for Work Plus programme. Already, 1,700 people have accessed the programme for support since November last year.

The education offer of course remains a key part of the young person's guarantee. During the current academic year, we've invested £98.9 million in sixth forms, £271.8 million in further education, with an additional £4.7 million on personal learning accounts for young people. In order to help young people to find the right course, we've also established a new user-friendly course search platform called 'courses in Wales', with user-friendly information on over 13,500 courses.

However, there is, of course, still more to do. The young person's guarantee is not and will not be a static offer. We're listening to young people to build on our progress and learn lessons as we move forward into what are still deeply uncertain times. We will continue holding a series of national conversations and developing a youth advisory board to bring the voices of young people directly into the design of the young person's guarantee. Stakeholders like Children in Wales have been appointed as our national conversation facilitators and they will continue to help us to hold conversations with young people through a series of co-ordinated events until September this year. Evidence already gathered from early conversations with young people is helping to inform our next steps. That's why we've created a summer of opportunities for young people that focus on key topics, such as health and well-being, employability and life skills, equipping them with the confidence to progress onto their next steps.

Further education will also provide new employment and enterprise bureaux that will support learners with work search, work experience and encouragement to become self-employed throughout the next academic year. We also plan to enhance the self-employment offer by providing further outreach and an enhanced package of support to young people, including a financial grant.

The renew and reform project will work to support learners with their education and well-being. This includes the Careers Wales-led tailored work experience programme aimed at re-engaging year 10 and 11 learners. Working together with both the young person's guarantee and the youth engagement and progression framework, we should do our best to ensure that young people make a positive transition into education, employment or training when they leave school.

We intend to test some new ways of working via our generation Z pilots, helping young victims of modern slavery; delivering workshops on the social model of disability and commitments within our anti-racist plan; as well as taking the young person's guarantee into the secure estate. This will be underpinned by system-wide improvements to data and tracking systems for those young people who are not in education, employment or training.

Dirprwy Lywydd, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales will also fund the Reaching Wider programme to engage with primary and secondary schools, and adults aged 21 and over who don't have higher education qualifications.

We will continue to ensure that the young person's guarantee evolves and continues to address these challenging and changing economic times, as we strive to support the people who will determine the long-term success of the Welsh economy.

15:30

Can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon? As I've said on previous occasions, I broadly welcome the Welsh Government's intention to provide everyone under 25 in Wales with the offer of work, education, training or self-employment, and today's statement provides us with a useful update on some of the work that has been done in this area.

There's been some welcome progress in supporting young people who want to set up their own business, and today's statement refers to the young person's start-up grant, which offers up to £2,000 to help young people start their own business. The Minister will know that I've called for targeted support for young people who want to start their own business, so I'm pleased to see this funding, and I hope this funding will make a real difference in due course. 

Of course, it's absolutely crucial that there is as much collaboration as possible with the HE and FE sectors, and whilst today's statement gives us a little bit of information in this area, I'd be grateful if the Minister could expand on the points highlighted in this statement, and tell us a bit more about the Welsh Government's plans to foster further collaboration in the future. 

Today's statement reinforces the importance of supporting young people to gain the skills and experiences they need to succeed, and we need to ensure that young people from all backgrounds are able to access opportunities. The Minister made it clear at the start of this Senedd that there would be a national conversation with young people to ensure their views were central to the delivery of the programme, and I'm pleased to hear from today's statement that that is taking place over the summer. So, perhaps the Minister can tell us a bit more about how that engagement will continue to take place after September, so that they continue to play a part in shaping this programme.

It's important that nobody is left behind, and that young people with additional learning needs, for example, also have access to opportunities. Therefore, I hope the Minister will tell us more about how the Government is working to ensure young people with disabilities are accessing employment and learning opportunities under the young person's guarantee, as well as ensuring that young people from all backgrounds are accessing opportunities, particularly via the generation Z pilots.

Now, today's statement also refers to the ReAct+ programme, which builds on the current ReAct programme and helps empower people seeking work in Wales with a direct application process, financial support and free careers advice. It's great to hear that up to 5,400 young people each year are being supported with practical costs like childcare and transport costs, and perhaps the Minister can tell us what plans he has to build on this really important work. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, the young person's guarantee has the power to help raise aspirations, and the delivery of high-quality apprenticeships is also important. As the National Training Federation for Wales has said, more than a quarter of Welsh businesses rate apprenticeships higher than any other qualification, and we know that they play a vital role in developing a future pipeline of talent, and offer apprentices the chance to gain valuable experience whilst continuing their studies. The Minister has rightly invested in apprenticeships in the past, and perhaps he can tell us a bit more about any plans to increase the number of apprenticeships available, and also tell us how the Welsh Government is promoting apprenticeships to businesses and organisations in all parts of Wales, so that young people have access to these opportunities in whatever part of Wales they live.

As the young person's guarantee starts to really develop, the Welsh Government must ensure that there are robust milestones in place to ensure that it's delivering what it's meant to, and to ensure that any funding allocated to the programme is being used effectively and delivering value for money. Therefore, I'd be grateful if the Minister could explain just how the Welsh Government will be assessing the young person's guarantee, so that we can be confident that not only does it have the resources that it needs, but that those resources are being used to maximum effect.

And finally, the Welsh Government can learn lessons from other administrations across the UK, such as the Scottish Government's young person's guarantee, who have also been pushing ahead with the delivery of a similar programme there. And so, perhaps the Minister could tell us whether he has reached out to Scottish Ministers to hear more about the work that has been done in Scotland on the young person's guarantee, and if there's been any useful feedback from those discussions that could help shape the future delivery of the programme here in Wales.

So, in closing, can I thank the Minister again for his statement today and reaffirm my commitment to constructively working with him on this agenda, so that all young people in Wales have access to education, employment and training opportunities? Thank you.

15:35

I thank the Member for his series of questions, and the constructive nature of the tone and content of them. On the start-up grant, it's worth mentioning that, today, the application window's gone live on the Big Ideas Wales website. So, if there are young people who are watching these proceedings, there may well not be, but, if there are, then they can go onto the Big Ideas Wales website to find more information about how to not just apply for that support, but, crucially, the pre-start-up and post-start-up advice, support and mentoring that is part of that offer.

There were a number of questions about the engagement of young people. I'm very pleased to have more questions on this, to expand a bit further. So, in the events we're running up to into September, we've got a range of work that's going to take place over this summer. But, as I indicated in the statement initially, we've already made some changes and reflected on some challenges for us with our initial engagement. We've had 10 different events as part of the start of that national conversation, including direct engagement with a range of people who have greater challenges.

The Member mentioned disabled young people; we know that employment outcomes for disabled people are significantly less advantaged than the rest of the population, as they're much less likely to be in work and much less likely to be in good work as well. So, we've deliberately had part of that engagement with disabled young people. We've also looked at a range of people who face barriers, like, for example, homeless young people, and we've been able to work together with local government, actually, on that, with their homeless service co-ordinators. So, there is work with a range of partners across the piece, to try to understand the particular challenges that young people face.

One of the key issues, actually, was that there's still a lack of awareness about where to go for support. So, there are some practical barriers in getting people to engage in the service, but even if they want to engage, we need to make more visible Working Wales's role as a single gateway. So, we've done the right thing in slimming down all of the different front doors, to have one front door for people to get through, but we still need people to understand where and how to go about that, so that work is going to be ongoing. But I think, for example, the work we're doing in further education will be helpful with that, about a new access point where a lot of our young people already are, to get them to the right place for their future aspirations.

When we go through, not just the continued delivery and engagement we'll have with young people in the programme, but your point about from September onwards, we're looking to establish a young person's board around this. We've got a range of stakeholders helping us to do that, and that should help us to make sure that we continue to engage with a group of young people, to understand if the offer is meeting the aims and objectives that we have as a Government, but, crucially, the needs of young people themselves.

I think that won't just be an important point for the direct feedback, but the numbers and the figures that we'll continue to publish and make available to Members and the wider public will be an important part of understanding how successful the young person's guarantee is going to be. Some aspects of that, for example, the apprenticeship figure, there are numbers within that, to see if we manage to reach those apprenticeship start figures. There'll also be figures about whether we're going to be able to see a continued improvement in the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment or training. So, you will see a number of areas where we'll be able to assess and update on how successful the guarantee is being in all of the different programmes of work.

On your point about promoting apprenticeships, we continue to promote apprenticeships both to young people themselves, as opportunities, but also to businesses. Members may not have noticed this, because not every Member will be running a business, but the A Genius Decision campaign has actually had pretty good take-up from businesses, and has helped to raise awareness of the value of taking on an apprentice, because we need to make sure that all businesses are aware they can do that. And literally, I met a medium-sized business yesterday, and they were enquiring about the opportunities for apprentices and interns. So, even in relatively established businesses, of several dozen people, there isn't always the awareness of where to go to help get support to take on new apprentices.

And, when it comes to our engagement with the Scottish Government, we do engage on—. We have different political priorities at various points in time, but official to official we do have engagement, and we have looked at some of what they have done, and, equally, it's my understanding that they're going to look to refocus their work on young people furthest from the labour market in the way that we have done as well. So, there, it's not just a one-way process; they're looking at and looking to improve their own programmes by looking at what we are doing as well.

And, finally, on your point about funding, I talked about ReAct+ and Communities for Work Plus, the work that they're doing to help remove barriers to work, employment, education, training and starting up a business. The challenge in maintaining the funds isn't any lack of goodwill from the finance Minister, it's just the reality of managing with a really difficult budget position, with the reality that we have fewer EU funds, because the replacement funds aren't there. That used to fund significant chunks of all the programmes I've just run through, and the mainstream Business Wales support service as well, and then you have the backdrop of the fact that our Government's budget is worth £600 million less than it was in October last year. So, there are real pressures, but despite that, we have a headline commitment to the young person's guarantee in all its forms, and we will continue to make difficult choices in Government to make sure that we can deliver on our top-six pledges and the rest of the programme for Government as far as we can. But, as I say, I'm more than happy to update the Chamber on the progress we are making.

15:40

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for the statement. Certainly, it's good to see progress being made in this area.

From the outset, I'd like to reiterate Plaid Cymru's support for the young person's guarantee, and our desire, similar to that of the Welsh Conservatives, to work constructively with the Government on this. Especially during this cost-of-living crisis, I think it's important that young people feel that there is an opportunity in Wales, and this, of course, plays a part in ensuring that. Of course, we are currently seeing workers across the country demanding fairer pay and better workplace conditions. Young people often are the most likely to go into uncertain, precarious and low-paid work. So, to that end, I'd be interested in learning more about how the young person's guarantee is working to ensure that young people are aware of their workplace rights and entitlements. Is there, for example, scope to create a 'Know your rights' campaign, for example? 

Now, Chwarae Teg recently published a report titled 'Towards a Gender Equal Wales: Responding to a Transforming Economy'. There were a number of interesting findings on apprenticeships in particular. For example, apprenticeships, despite being a key route into many industries, remain heavily segregated on the basis of gender, and, to date, there have also been no targets placed on providers to help address the gender imbalance in apprenticeships, and progress towards closing these gaps remains slow. There was an acknowledgement of some of these challenges in your statement, but, given the stark gender discrepancies between different apprenticeship choices that have been revealed by Chwarae Teg, how is the young person's guarantee working to tackle these imbalances? And would the Government consider placing requirements on apprenticeship providers to tackle these inequalities?

Of course, an important element to also consider, as we head into the future, is the risks posed by automation. It is estimated that 25 per cent of jobs will change due to automation and 10 per cent of jobs will become fully automated. And this links to the Chwarae Teg report, because women make up 70.2 per cent of the workforce in roles that are at high risk of automation, 50.3 per cent in medium risk and 42.6 per cent at low risk. On top of reducing gender discrepancies in educational course selection, what systems are in place to ensure that women and girls are being given an equitable opportunity to be represented in the next industrial revolution of automation and green industries?

An important element to further consider is those who are self-employed. Self-employment has increased in Wales over the last 10 years and now accounts for nearly one in seven workers across Wales, and it's welcome that the young person's start-up grant is offering up to £2,000, as well as the additional support through the one-to-one mentoring. Given the Bevan Foundation's recent report that found that the average income of a self-employed person is less than two thirds the income of an employee, and also noted that it carries risks of financial insecurity and poverty, what safety nets are in place to support those young people who struggle with being self-employed, especially during such uncertain times, as we recover from the pandemic and are in the midst of an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, beyond, of course, what you've already outlined? Long-term support will be key to their success. 

Finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, the proportion of the population aged over 65 years old in Wales has increased from 18.4 per cent in 2011 to 21.3 per cent in 2021. That's over a fifth of our population now over 65. Meanwhile, the proportion of 15 to 24-year-olds in Wales between 2011 and 2021 has dropped. Given the census results, how will we monitor the effectiveness of the guarantee, not just for improved outcomes for young people, but in terms of the impact on the Welsh economy, for example the retainment of talent in Wales generally and in our rural communities to tackle the brain drain? Diolch.

15:45

Thank you for the series of questions. I think it might be helpful to say that a number of the questions you asked were really about how effective will the support and guidance aspects of the variety of programmes we've put in place be.

On the point about knowing your rights, about understanding what you're entitled to in a workplace on a basic level when it comes to pay, but then you get into other challenges, frankly, as you go up through your time in working life and understand how your pay reflects around other people's, it's part of the reason why this Government is positive about trade union membership. Trade union workplaces are safer, more productive on average, and better paid than non-unionised workforces. I should, of course, note that I'm a former trade union steward myself, as well as a former trade union lawyer. But, there's a serious point here about knowing your rights and what you could and should expect in the workplace as well. But actually, much of the young person's guarantee is with people who are near the labour market or job ready. Some apprentices know what they want to do and they don't struggle with the choices they make. Lots of young people in further education have a career path that's mapped out for them. Lots of the other work we're talking about, though, is persuading people to get nearer to the labour market, to be ready, and that's where lots of the support is there and available. 

Jobs Growth Wales+, for example, is about young people who may not be job ready. It's taking on the best of both Jobs Growth Wales and the traineeships. There's a wage subsidy to help people into doing things as well. Our challenge is we're dealing with more than one cohort of young people in the sense of how job ready they are and the support they'll need. So, different people will need a different range of support. Interestingly, that's been really important from young people's feedback already, that they want more personalised support that understands them, how ready they are, and whether they're actually ready to plan their longer term future or not. There's still a fair amount of uncertainty, and we're still not sure how much that relates to the pandemic or a broader generational difference that you may be closer to than me, but there's a challenge about understanding how the support we want to provide is actually going to be useful for the people we want to work with and for.

That includes your point on the risks of automation. There are opportunities in automation and AI, and lots of things we're doing. In fact, lots of young people coming through their education today have an entirely different view on the way the world already works and how it should work, and that's why lots of the challenges are actually going through education in the way we're trying to help teach young people not just to be able to use technology, but to design and build it. I regularly reflect on the lectures I've had from my colleague the climate change Minister on the importance of coding and making sure it's something that is seen for both boys and girls, because the talent isn't distributed in just one gender and not the other. You'll see that there's a lot of proactive support that we're doing to try to make sure that boys and girls see opportunities in a whole range of careers. It is often about getting women into careers that are still seen as traditionally male-dominated ones. That's part of the reason why that support and advice is important. I'll continue to reflect on the points about what more we can do with providers as well as encouraging people themselves to have a broader view on what they could and should do with the talent that they have.

On your point about self-employment, I do recognise there are risks in self-employment, but then there are also opportunities in doing so as well. That's why the money we're providing in the start-up grant is accompanied by practical support. I recently had a really inspiring but very loud evening with a range of start-up businesses in the Wales StartUp Awards. It was really inspiring seeing lots of people over the last three years who have started their businesses and been successful. In the room, there were lots and lots of people of my age, but the great majority of people were much younger. Lots of young people have been successful entrepreneurs in one of the most difficult periods of time to set up their own business. I'm delighted to say the big winners were non-alcoholic brewers, two women running a firm, and I look forward to sampling more of their produce—it won't stop me from working.

We do have lots of talent. It's about reflecting on that and it's about being able to point out that this is possible, and that's why support is there. We talked before about the challenge of our age profile; we need to be better at persuading people to move to Wales, we need to be better at persuading people they can plan to have their future here, with both the educational and the work opportunities, but a great place to grow your business and to look forward to a future. That's an economic imperative, not just a challenge for public services.

15:50

Thank you very much for your statement and your description of all the varied things that you're doing to try and capture all these young people. Because I agree with you that 13,600 young people who are not in education, employment or training is a really worrying statistic, because everybody needs to make some form of contribution to society, and if you're between 16 and 24 and you're not doing anything, obviously a lot of young people become agoraphobic, mentally ill or get dragged into activities that are harmful, whether they're legal or illegal. So, everything that we can do together to sort them out is really very welcome, particularly as disabled young people have had a really challenging time during the pandemic, because they've found it that much more difficult to continue their learning online, and some of them, including some of my constituents, are feeling they're falling between cracks. So, I'm hoping that we'll be able to pick them up.

I've had recent discussions with the Construction Industry Training Board and Community Housing Cymru about the retrofit skills training programme that we obviously need to have to decarbonise all our homes. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, and I'd welcome your views on how we approach this. Because we can't be training people up if the work isn't there, but equally, if CHC are saying they can't find the people who've got the skills to do the sort of work that's required, it's a very difficult situation. So, I wondered how you're approaching that, and how many people have started, if not completed, retrofit skills training courses, so that we have some idea of the programme that we need to do over a period of years.

I can't give you a figure for your last question, Jenny, about the number of people who have started a course for a retrofit programme, but this is an active not just topic of debate but practical delivery from myself and the climate change Minister. The optimised retrofit programme should mean that we improve the quality of housing stock, make it more sustainable and actually end up giving people a helping hand to a career that will be more useful as we carry on in the future and, frankly, more and more expected. You know, the housing stock of the future is largely built. We'll continue to build new houses, but actually, what we need to do is improve the stock of the housing that we've got. That is something that will be deliberately taken account of in the net-zero skills plan that I'm due to bring back in the autumn, and there'll be plenty of challenge, both within Government as well as outside, about what that's going to look like. Because, as I say, there's a real economic imperative as well as a whole range of things that go right across the programme for government, so you can expect more than one Minister to take an interest. I'm confident that I'll continue to face questions from you, in and outside the Chamber, about the practical progress we're making, and I recognise the importance of the issues.

5. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: 10-year Welsh in Education Strategic Plans

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language on 10-year Welsh in education strategic plans. I call on the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. It's my pleasure to be here today to update Members on the Welsh in education strategic plans, namely the plans of our local authorities to grow Welsh-medium education over the next 10 years.

As a result of new guidance and regulations for the WESPs, local authorities have prepared new, more ambitious plans that provide opportunities to more learners, including those with additional learning needs, to access Welsh-medium education and learning opportunities. We’ve worked together with local authorities to review and revise draft plans, and I’m pleased to tell you that the process of approving the strategic plans has begun. While there is still work to do, working with local authorities, we are expecting to be on track to approve the plans by the end of July. I look forward to seeing all plans being operational from September, and am very confident that every local authority will be in a position to embark on their next 10-year WESP cycle together.

I’m delighted to tell you that all 22 of our local authorities have committed to their ambitious 10-year targets of increasing the provision of Welsh-medium education. These targets match the milestones of our Welsh language strategy, 'Cymraeg 2050: A million Welsh speakers'. Some local authorities have gone the extra mile and have set targets that exceed our expectations. We want 26 per cent of year 1 learners receiving their education through the medium of Welsh by 2026, rising to 30 per cent by 2031. This is a target that I have every confidence in achieving with these WESPs in place.

I’d like to draw attention to some of the commitments set out in these plans. There are exciting developments on the horizon. There is a clear emphasis on increasing the number of primary school settings across Wales with commitments to establish 23 new Welsh-medium primary schools and to expand 25 Welsh-medium primary schools over the next 10 years. The revised plans show that a high percentage of these developments are to be realised during the first five years of the WESPs, and that more often than not, they are made possible with the support of capital funding from the Welsh Government.

Cymraeg, the Welsh language, belongs to us all, and it’s important to recognise that everyone has their own unique journey when it comes to learning and using the language. Working together to produce the WESPs has provided some great opportunities to see just what can be achieved. The Curriculum for Wales, which allows all schools and settings to introduces the teaching of Welsh from the age of three, has provided an opportunity for us to plan differently. It’s wonderful to see so many local authorities taking advantage of these opportunities. One such example is the 10 authorities that have decided to focus on moving their schools along a language continuum by increasing the provision of Welsh available.

Having said that, we must remind ourselves that the WESPs are a planning framework that cannot be implemented without cross-sector support. I know that there has been an army of individuals representing schools, parents, and organisations at all levels who have been actively involved over the last year in developing the WESPs and the draft plans of local authorities. I’d like to thank you all for that work, and also to thank you in advance for the work still ahead of us to support the implementation of the new plans from September. Your commitment is recognised and valued. I wish also to recognise and commend the officers at the local authorities for your commitment and perseverance through one of the most challenging times that we have faced in decades. It has been admirable. Your continued engagement with each other and with us has ensured that plans to grow Welsh-medium education over the next 10 years are as ambitious as they can be. Thank you to you all.

On the political side, I recognise the need to have the support of all cabinets in Wales to realise the ambition of 'Cymraeg 2050', and that's why I will take the opportunity to meet all council leaders during the autumn term to discuss opportunities and challenges related to Welsh-medium education planning. As Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, I’ve also put in place steps to support the effective implementation of the WESPs. These include investment since 2018 of £76 million in dedicated Welsh-medium capital grants, creating over 3,700 additional childcare and school places and 285 places in additional late immersion centres or units; a commitment to investing £2.2 million annually until the end of this Senedd term to support late immersion provisions in all local authorities in Wales; support for Mudiad Meithrin to increase Welsh-medium nursery provisions each year by establishing 150 new provisions by 2026; publishing a 10-year Welsh in education workforce plan with additional funding to deliver it; ensuring free Welsh lessons for the education workforce through the National Centre for Learning Welsh from September this year; consulting on a draft Curriculum for Wales framework for Welsh in English-medium education—the supporting materials will be refined and published in September this year; increasing funding for the e-sgol scheme to £600,000 to extend the e-learning programme to all areas of Wales by 2023.

I've been lucky to have been able to visit a number of the projects that we've invested in. There are so many innovative examples and inspiring stories from Anglesey to Monmouthshire, from late immersion provisions in Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy to innovative projects taking place at Pen y Dre school in Merthyr to increase the use of Welsh in an English-medium school.  

However, we must acknowledge the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which we're still processing. There must be a period for reflection, particularly in terms of supporting families and increasing understanding of what Welsh-medium education offers. We'll continue to closely monitor the longer term implications of the pandemic on the choices of parents and carers regarding Welsh-medium education. But my message is clear: I want Welsh-medium education to be an option for everyone, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to be bilingual citizens in Wales. 

Some will say that the strategic plans are not ambitious enough, but we must remember the journey that we've been on and what we've learnt. We've achieved a lot, but I know there's more that can and needs to be done to ensure better access to Welsh-medium education in areas where it's needed most. There are still too many barriers to Welsh-medium education and too many children missing out on opportunities to be educated through the medium of Welsh and become confident bilingual speakers and more. We've gone as far as we can within the current WESP framework, and further improvements to that framework will be considered as part of scoping work on a Welsh language education Bill. 

Before concluding, I would like to thank everyone once more and underline the importance of working together, to be open together, to support each other. It's a crucial decade, but an exciting opportunity for the Welsh language and for Wales.

16:00

I thank the Minister for introducing this today and giving us sight of the statement beforehand. May I start by welcoming the general direction of today's announcement? As a pupil who benefited from bilingual education, it's good to see that Welsh-medium education for primary school pupils is a priority, because it's important to catch children early if we're to develop the language.

I'd be eager to understand how the 23 new schools will be distributed across the country. Are they focused on settings where there are fewer Welsh speakers? Also, what timetable are we looking at so that these projects can go to tender and be constructed? Will you ensure that this budget increases with inflation? If projects don't happen for a few years, and inflation continues to rise, how can we ensure that this doesn't go over budget? 

You mention expanding 25 other schools. How can we be confident that these expansions will be adequate? You note the aim of having 26 per cent of year 1 pupils receiving their education through the medium of Welsh from 2026. Are we on the right track at the moment to achieve this, or do some of these new schools need to be built in order to attain that target?

I've raised this next issue with you previously. If these new schools are to be built, they will also need to be staffed, of course. Now, taking those 23 new sites and ignoring the 25 expansions, as well as the new requirements of the Curriculum for Wales to increase Welsh-medium provision in English-medium schools, we will need hundreds of new Welsh-speaking teachers. How will this be delivered, and how will we ensure that we have a good range of teachers from diverse backgrounds and with diverse life experience? Has any consideration been given to how to attract mature students into teaching?

My final point relates to the transition from primary to secondary education. Although the growth in Welsh-medium education in primary schools is to be welcomed, it's more difficult to achieve this in secondary education because of the numbers and catchment areas. So, what work is under way to allow smooth transition between a pupil leaving year 6 having being educated through the medium of Welsh and starting in year 7 in an English-medium or bilingual school? We all faced challenges as we transitioned from primary to secondary, and we do need to ensure that any barriers that exist because of language change is reduced and resolved.

So, thank you for the statement once again, Minister. As I previously mentioned, the Welsh language belongs to us all across Wales. Thank you.

16:05

I thank the Member for the questions and for his support for the statement generally, and the questions are very valid. In terms of the location of the new schools, the 23 new Welsh-medium schools will be located in 15 local authorities, but they will stretch from Pembrokeshire to Merthyr to the Vale, so across Wales. And 10 local authorities are also focusing on moving current schools along the linguistic continuum. So, when the plans are published in due course, after they're officially approved, the Member will be able to see in detail what the plans are in every part of Wales, and the picture looks different in every authority. It depends on where they already are on their journey towards increasing provision. Some, in terms of the workforce question, as he asked at the end, will need to recruit additional teachers. He'll see in the plans that there is an analysis of the requirement that will be needed to ensure they succeed in the plans. That is also included in the 10-year workforce plan, and we'll be looking every two years at the current situation, so that we keep track in real time of the success in terms of recruiting larger numbers. But for other local authorities, where the emphasis is on moving schools along the continuum, it's a question of developing the skills of the current workforce for them. So, there is a mixture of needs, and he'll know that the 10-year plan does contribute significantly to the recruitment into that sector.

In terms of timescales, it's a 10-year plan, but we need to see progress in each year, and various objectives across Wales are based on periods of five years, for example, so that we see progress in the first year, for example, and then actions being taken in the longer term within that decade. Every local authority will be expected to present an action plan for the first five years and they will be monitored annually. So, they will be publishing those after publishing the WESPs.

And he asked a very important question about the role of sustainable communities for learning, namely our investment plan in the educational estate generally. I want to consider how we can make the best use of the capital programme to ensure that we support our ambition of 1 million Welsh speakers. I mentioned in the statement the £76 million fund that has been allocated for new schools and school expansion plans, but I also want to see what more we can do to ensure that progress in the strategic plans happens with the broader plans with our partners in local authorities across Wales.  

Thank you, Minister, for your statement this afternoon. I welcome two things specifically, namely your honesty in this statement—your honesty about the political challenges that you faced in terms of ensuring that every local authority does fully commit to these plans, and also your honesty in terms of the ongoing challenges, the very real challenge that we're not just trying to meet demand but we're also generating demand, and what do we mean by real equal access to Welsh-medium education, because the fact that a Welsh-medium school is available doesn't necessarily mean that that is an option when there are new English-medium schools in communities, and that children would have to travel miles away to access Welsh-medium education. That isn't equal access. And neither is it equal access when you have new English-medium schools and Welsh-medium schools that desperately need investment and aren’t getting that investment.

So, there are very real challenges, and we have been discussing this. One of the things that concerns me in terms of the WESPs, and my experience of them as a councillor too, is the fact that you can get the most ambitious plan, the best plan in the world, but it’s about actually delivering those targets. That’s what we haven’t seen to date, and that’s the ongoing concern in terms of seeing reports from some county councils that do state that they’ve not delivered against their targets, and the plans don’t demonstrate exactly how they’re going to do that.

Time and again they say that the demand doesn’t exist, without ever asking why the demand doesn’t exist. Because if additional learning needs aren’t met, if equal access in terms of transport isn’t delivered, if that school isn’t within walking distance of the community, then the demand won’t be there, because it will be an ongoing battle, and I do think we need to go back to those local authorities. I think it’s disgraceful that some local authorities have no intention of creating new Welsh-medium primary schools over the next decade. What are we going to do about that? You’ve just said that it’s 15 local authorities who are committed to this. This is disastrous news for the Welsh language, and I’m greatly saddened about this if we are serious about reaching a million Welsh speakers.

I would like to have some transparency as to where exactly the 23 schools will be. We’ve also seen Carmarthenshire County Council committing that 10 English-medium schools will transition to Welsh-medium provision. That’s to be welcomed, but what about those areas where there isn’t access to Welsh-medium schools, and Welsh-medium secondary schools particularly?

There is so much to welcome, of course, and I don’t want to be entirely critical. Things such as the investment in the cylchoedd meithrin—that is a major step forward. But as has been said to me recently, there is a new nursery being established in Cilfynydd in light of the loss of Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton in that area of Pontypridd. It’ll be full from September onwards, but where is the Welsh-medium primary school so that those children can continue their journey, because there’s a risk that they will be lost to Welsh-medium education if the pathway isn’t fair and equitable?

So, I would like to ask specifically: what are we going to do if these councils don’t meet the targets set? How are we going to not only monitor, but what will the implications be for those authorities who, year on year, don’t deliver against those targets? How will the Welsh Government ensure that they not only collaborate but also provide the necessary and fair investment? Because if we are seriously going to secure the access that I know the Minister wants to see, as do I, in terms of Welsh-medium education being available to all, and truly and meaningfully available, then county councils have to accept that this isn’t optional, and they have to understand what equal access means.

You said at the end of your statement that it’s a crucial decade—that’s certainly the case. You’ve also emphasised the challenges as a result of COVID, but the most real challenges are in those areas where the ambition does not exist. And I think one of the things, having read some of the draft WESPs on council websites, is that not all are truly ambitious. I think we have to challenge that. I’m pleased to see that you are going through them in detail at the moment, and I hope you are challenging those councils. But you’ve said that the WESPs go as far as possible at the moment, but aren’t there ways in which we could strengthen these through legislating and penalising those authorities where the commitment to the Welsh language is rhetoric rather than a true commitment to ensure equal access?

16:10

Well, the easiest thing in the world is to suggest that things are not ambitious enough, but it’s just not true. It’s just not true what the Member said. What’s your definition of ambition if not to recognise that these are the first WESPs since 2014 that are driven by a target calculated by the Government, not by the local authorities? So, if that isn’t a sign of ambition, and the fact that we have set what we think is the objective, and that all local authorities have accepted that objective—. If every authority reaches the lowest part of the range, we’ll be on track to reach the objective in 2050.

So, I don’t agree at all that there is insufficient ambition in these plans. Work has been happening to ensure to ensure that they are ambitious. But the Member is right to say that this is a tool, if you like, for planning, and we need to deliver the objectives in the plans. That's entirely true, of course. I don't accept that we haven't had success so far; success has happened across Wales, but it's not happening in every authority, I do accept that as well. And we need to ensure that the plans that are agreed are also delivered. And we'll be doing everything we can as a Government to ensure that.

I've already mentioned in my answer to Sam Kurtz one of the things that we want to do, namely to ensure how the investment plan can reflect not just the broader plans that councils have but ensure that growth happens in terms of the strategic plans jointly with the broader plans that they have, so that the situation is equitable rather than one being prioritised over the other. But I do accept also that the legislative measures are not available for us to be able to enforce some of these outcomes. That's why we're having discussions with you as a party, as part of the co-operation agreement, to ensure what more we can do in terms of legislation to strengthen the statutory framework that underpins these plans.

You are right to say also that the geographical element can be challenging. The current strategic plans happen on the basis of a local authority area in its entirety, rather than at a community level, a lower level than that. So, what more can we do to strengthen our ability to plan on that basis? But there has been a geographical element in the discussions that have already happened. And certainly I think, when the Member sees the final plans, she'll be able to see that.

You asked the question why all local authorities aren't opening a new school. Well, some local authorities allow 90 per cent and more of their children to go to a Welsh-medium school already. So, it's a question of demographics. So, it's much more complex than that criticism suggests. But it is important to ensure that we do keep a watching brief to ensure that progress does happen, and so I have been clear that we need progress in every year. So, there will be annual monitoring on the basis of the action plans that will be published by the authorities after these WESPs, and they will be available to all of us to scrutinise and to ensure that that progress does happen from year to year.

16:15

Thank you, Minister, for your statement today. I'm proud of the record of achievement that my local authority has for delivering Welsh-medium education in Cynon Valley and the ways in which they've taken advantage of Welsh Government funding to increase provision, with, for example, a £12.5 million expansion of Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun currently under way, and the new £4 million purpose-built meithrin set to open next week at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Aberdâr. All of this is essential if we're serious about meeting our challenging goal of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Last week, I visited a newly formed Ti a Fi group at Cilfynydd, which is also set to open its own meithrin in a few weeks' time. The key issue raised with me there was the challenge of finding qualified Welsh-speaking childcare staff, which I know from our previous interactions Welsh Government are looking to address. As part of this, the specific issue of a lack of continuity between the qualifications required to become a Welsh-speaking childcare worker and the qualifications required to become a Welsh-speaking teaching assistant was raised with me, with both being entirely separate courses with no easy way to move from one to the other. While accepting the fact that there needs to be progression between these courses, will the Minister commit to expanding this interface to see whether more can be done to streamline the process and make it easier for qualified Welsh-speaking childcare assistants to become teaching assistants and vice versa?

I thank Vikki Howells for that question, and it is something that I know she feels passionately about, and we've discussed this issue one-to-one outside this Chamber as well. She is right to say that it is very important to ensure that the provision that we have for the early years allows and encourages parents to choose education in all periods for their children through the medium of Welsh. Significant investment is happening in order to expand the number of Welsh-medium provisions over the term of this Senedd—some 150 extra provisions. But I do accept the challenge that she lays down, that we need to ensure a smooth journey to qualify to teach in whichever period of education, statutory and early years. And one of the questions we're looking at at present is the language continuum in terms of qualifications, and understanding where on that common pathway linguistic qualifications fall, so that we have a clearer understanding of what's available in order to train teachers, to train adults generally, to teach Welsh, and also the qualifications that are available in the school. So, that work is complex, it is innovative in this Welsh context, but it has just started. I'll have more to say about that, hopefully, in due course.  

16:20

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm sure the Minister can guess what I'm about to draw his attention to. I raised with you last week my concerns with the speed at which Bridgend are going in relation to Welsh-medium education. Looking at the Welsh in education strategic plan published by Bridgend County Borough Council, they state that the Welsh Government has set the target of increasing Welsh-medium learners in the borough from 8 per cent to 14 to 18 per cent over the course of 10 years. I would have liked to have seen a higher target. I'm sure he was probably expecting me to say that, but I do think there are some valid concerns amongst campaigners on how serious BCBC will be in reaching its targets. 

You only need to look at the situation now: significant investments in expanding English-medium schools, one school receiving £900,000; my old primary school moving to a new site, but its current site being turned into another English-medium school. Unless areas like Bridgend push harder and faster, then the Government will struggle to hit its targets. I'd be interested to learn from the Minister what incentives are there for local authorities to improve the situation, but, more importantly, what will happen if local authorities don't reach their targets, because, since the very first targets were set, very little has happened in areas like Bridgend.

And you're probably wondering why I'm asking this question in English—it's to make the point that the language is for everybody. My family chose to send me to a Welsh school; I've come from a non-Welsh-speaking family. I want all parents to have that choice, if they so want, to do that. But that can only happen if they're able to access Welsh-medium education in the first instance. 

Well, I agree with the Member's last sentiment, certainly, and that is the underlying principle behind the entire enterprise that we're engaged in in relation to the Welsh in education strategic plans. I note the Member has got his disappointment in early. I think perhaps the other way of looking at this is that each authority, including Bridgend, has agreed to an ambitious plan. But, as I mentioned in my answer to Heledd Fychan earlier, it's incumbent on all authorities—that includes Bridgend, but every other authority as well—to commit to delivering those plans, and we have—. I've described the granular monitoring that will take place year on year to make sure that is happening, both from a staff perspective but also from an investment perspective, and I will be looking at what more we can do with our sustainable communities for learning plan to make sure that we see progress in relation to delivering on the WESPs alongside any authority's broader ambitions in relation to education in their own particular area. 

But I accept—though I have accepted already—that there is a limit to the range of powers that the Government currently has where those plans aren't met. So, I am keen, as I know is he and his party, to look at what more we can do in that area in the event that we don't see the progress we want to see. But I would invite him to embark on the journey over the next 10 years with a sense of optimism, and to make sure that we all work together to see that these plans actually are delivered.  

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer; I apologise.

I simply want to come in on the back of Luke's comments there, because there is a fair degree of confidence that the Minister has expressed in Bridgend, and also in the Rhondda Cynon Taf patch of my constituency as well, in their WESP plans going forward. But I met with Meurig, the award-winning headteacher, the other day, and I think he would really welcome a visit, alongside Huw David, the council leader, as well to talk about the plans and how they pan out, not just in the next 12 months, five years, but the 10 years, so we can really realise that ambition. But I have to say these are all building blocks. It is a journey. It was great over the last year simply to see two new Mudiad Meithrin opening within the borough, funded by Welsh Government, planned with the local Welsh-speaking community, with the local authority as well. But it is a journey. But it would be great to have you down there sometime and discuss with all of us as Members and the local authority how we can achieve these targets. 

I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that question and that invitation, which I'd be happy to accept. Meurig in his comments at the awards on Sunday was very clear about the need for making sure that every single child in Wales that would like to have access to Welsh education has that, and I certainly share that ambition, as I know does Huw Irranca-Davies as well. 

Thank you, Minister.

In accordance with Standing Order 12.24, unless a Member objects, the three motions under items 6, 8 and 9, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 regulations 2022, will be grouped for debate but with separate votes. Item 7 has been withdrawn.

Any objections? [Interruption.] No, do you want to speak to them all together? [Interruption.] Yes. So, you're not objecting to the grouping. No objections to the grouping. 

16:25
6., 8. & 9. The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Housing Association Tenancies: Fundamental Provisions) Regulations 2022, The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Amendment of Schedule 12) Regulations 2022 and The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Motion NDM8058 Lesley Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Housing Association Tenancies: Fundamental Provisions) Regulations 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 21 June 2022.

Motion NDM8056 Lesley Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Amendment of Schedule 12) Regulations 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 21 June 2022.

Motion NDM8059 Lesley Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5,

1. Approves that the draft The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Amendment) Regulations 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 21 June 2022.

Motions moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. There are three sets of regulations being debated under this motion today. Members will be aware that I had originally also tabled a set of consequential amendments to primary legislation as part of this package of subordinate legislation, but, given the number of reporting points received from the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, I have withdrawn that statutory instrument so that the necessary corrections can be made. I will retable it, hopefully later this week, so that it can be debated as soon as we return in September.

Turning to the three SIs that we are considering today, I will take a few moments to explain as concisely as I can the purpose and effect of each of these, although Members will appreciate that, as is often the case with subordinate legislation, some of the provisions are quite complex and technical, so please indicate if there's anything that's unclear and I will do my best to clarify it.

I will start with the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Housing Association Tenancies: Fundamental Provisions) Regulations 2022. This SI will ensure that housing association tenancies that currently benefit from rent protection will retain that rent protection when converted into occupation contracts.

Next, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Amendment of Schedule 12) Regulations 2022. Schedule 12 sets out arrangements for current tenancies and licences that will convert into occupation contracts when the 2016 Act comes into force. The purpose of Schedule 12 is to ensure that this transition is as seamless as possible and that the parties to existing tenancies and licences are treated fairly when their tenancy or licence converts into an occupation contract, with the correct balance being struck in respect of both parties' rights and obligations. To this end, the amendments being made by this SI include protecting the existing rights of 16 and 17-year-olds who currently hold certain types of tenancy or licence; provisions ensuring, amongst other things, that current tenancies and licences relating to supported accommodation will convert into occupation contracts and that any tenancy or licence relating to supported accommodation that has already been in place for more than six months cannot convert into a standard supported contract; providing for starter tenancies to automatically convert into introductory standard contracts; ensuring that a landlord is only liable to pay compensation in relation to any failure to provide the contract holder with information on the protection of any deposit paid in relation to a converted contract that was, before conversion, an assured shorthold tenancy; ensuring that where a converted contract was, before conversion, an assured shorthold tenancy that included a rent variation term, that term will be carried over into the converted contract and not be supplanted by the rent variation term at section 123 of the 2016 Act; protecting as far as possible the rights of any current holder of an assured agricultural occupancy; and ensuring that for fixed-term tenancies, where the fixed term ends after 1 December and the contract becomes periodic, the six-month no-fault landlord's notice will apply to that contract.

Finally, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Amendment) Regulations 2022. These make a series of amendments to ensure that certain kinds of accommodation related to bail or probation, or to immigration and asylum, are not occupation contracts. This effectively maintains current arrangements for these types of accommodation.

I have noted the points raised by the LJC committee in relation to all three of these SIs, and my officials have made the changes necessary where required. I've also responded to the committee in writing on those points requiring a Government response. Can I pass on my thanks, as ever, to the committee and its support staff for their diligent and comradely approach, which has been much appreciated?

Dirprwy Lywydd, that concludes my opening remarks. I will do my best to respond to any points that Members wish to raise, and I will say a little more about what will be happening next, ahead of implementation of the Act in December, in my closing remarks. Diolch.

I call on the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Huw Irranca-Davies.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you, Minister. We considered this suite of regulations during our meeting yesterday and laid our report straight after.

Thank you, Minister, for your kind comments about the work that we've done and the engagement that you've had with us on this. In respect of your opening remarks, we do love 'technical and complex'. The suite of regulations today is part of the third tranche of subordinate legislation required to support the implementation of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016.

Our technical reporting point across all three regulations concerned a drafting matter related to the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Amendment) Regulations 2022, namely that the provision of the Act that requires regulations to be subject to the affirmative procedure has been omitted from the preamble and the headnote. We note that the Welsh Government response agrees with this point and states that as the error is technical in nature, a corrected version will be used on making.

We noted that each set of regulations was not subject to consultation and we raised these as merits points. The Minister explained, in response, that this was because the amendments again were technical in nature. Specifically, as regards the amendment regulations and the amendment of Schedule 12 regulations, the Minister told us that that this was also due to the fact that none of the amendments they contain make any substantive changes to policy positions set out in primary legislation. Our report also highlighted that several issues addressed by the amendments were raised with the Welsh Government by external stakeholders seeking clarification on the application of the legislation and were discussed with them.

The regulations subject to the debate today are all being made using Henry VIII powers, as they amend primary legislation. In raising this as a merits point for the amendment regulations and the amendment of Schedule 12 regulations, we drew attention to the Stage 1 report of our predecessor committee in the fifth Senedd on the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Bill, which sought clarification on the justification for the inclusion of Henry VIII powers in that Bill. The clarification provided by the Minister at that time is included in the respective reports.

We have also reported on the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2022, and our report raised a significant number of points. Whilst I acknowledge, as the Minister indeed said in her opening remarks, that they have been withdrawn from today’s agenda and will not be voted on today, it may be helpful if the Minister could clarify whether there is any impact on this suite of regulations and the implementation of the 2016 Act as a consequence of the withdrawal. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd.

16:30

The Llywydd took the Chair.

I'll refer Members to my own declaration of interest form in terms of property ownership. Thank you.

I will start by referring to the housing association tenancies fundamental provisions. Now, whilst I note there were no matters of special interest to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, I am pretty disappointed that there has been not too much consultation with our much-valued housing associations. On one hand, I acknowledge that these are only consequential technical amendments, but they will have a direct impact on housing associations.

However, the Minister will be pleased to learn that we do not object to subsection 2A. We will be abstaining on these. In fact, I think it reasonable to expect that where a housing association tenancy is a secure or periodic standard contract, the rent payable to the landlord may be increased from the beginning of any rental period by a written notice specifying the date not later than four weeks.

I can't see how subsection 2B is fair. If we look at housing association properties, in my own constituency, in Aberconwy, Cartrefi Conwy have a wide-ranging portfolio, but some flats and houses are exactly the same. So, therefore, whilst I acknowledge that the effect of subsection 2B would only be temporary, meaning that a notice of increase does not take effect if before the date specified in the notice the contract holder gives notice to end the contract, should the tenant still be resident for a period after the date when the rent should have increased, I believe, on a point of fairness, that the tenant should still be liable for the higher rent, or you're going to have the people who are staying on actually paying more rent than anyone who serves their notice. So, given that there are elements of the housing association tenancies that I agree and disagree with, we will be abstaining on these regs today.

Turning to the two other regs, amendment and amendment to Schedule 12, I am concerned about the amendment to Schedule 8A. Schedule 8A lists those types of standard contracts that can be ended with two months' notice under a landlord's notice or break clause, rather than the six-month notice period that applies in relation to all other standard occupation contracts. I actually believe that landlords should be able to end standard occupation contracts within two months, not six, so we cannot support the amendment to Schedule 8A. So, we will be voting against, but I really do think there is an urgent need for you, Minister, to perhaps more widely—.

I will acknowledge that we had a very good meeting last week with Propertymark and other agents, but we've got some really valued private sector landlords, registered social housing landlords, providing properties, and the last thing I want to see is people in my own constituency and across Wales losing out because private landlords are deciding to go into a more lucrative holiday-let sector, losing out and ending up in temporary accommodation. We have far too many people now in temporary accommodation, and not for just a few weeks, but for several months, and pushing people out of the rented sector is going to just make things worse. I spoke with a stakeholder today, even, with 250 properties in Wales, 100 in England, who is now considering just getting rid of the portfolio in Wales and moving over to England, because he finds that the regulations in Wales now are becoming so top heavy that it's just—. They can go and do it elsewhere in the UK and provide good-quality housing.

So, it is stated in one of the explanatory memoranda that:

'Due the technical nature of these two SIs and the fact that none of amendments they contain make any substantive changes to policy positions set out in the primary legislation, no formal consultation has been undertaken.'

And that worries me: no formal consultation has been undertaken. However, it goes on to explain that:

'Detailed discussions have taken place with relevant stakeholders to explore these matters and have informed the development of the amendments.'

So, Minister, will you advise us here today who you have engaged with and whether you believe that there's more engagement needed across the wider sector? It's this lack of transparency that I'm concerned about, that detailed discussions with some chosen stakeholders have taken place and they've obviously helped influence the regulations. It would be nice to unravel that a little bit and find out why there's been no formal consultation. We have to see complete transparency within this industry as to which stakeholders you met with. Have you done it on an all-Wales basis? Because, clearly, as a north Wales Member—.

So, therefore, Minister, thank you for bringing these regulations forward, but we will be abstaining on item 6 and voting against items 8 and 9. Thank you. Diolch.

16:35

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and I also want to declare an interest that's on the public record too.

This discussion comes at a time when the housing crisis is getting worse and worse, day by day. Renters and landlords alike live in worry for this growing crisis, with landlords fearing many will sell up and stop renting homes due to the new regulations, and tenants facing the threat of eviction. So, let's have a reality check.

At the moment, roughly 500 people a month can be moved into permanent accommodation. With Ukrainian refugees as well, there are around 10,000 people trying to find a permanent home in temporary accommodation at the moment. Indeed, research from the Bevan Foundation recently suggested that a rising number of people in Wales were at risk of homelessness because of a shortage of affordable properties. Data collected from 1,775 rental adverts across Wales indicated that only 24, or just 1.4 per cent, were at a price fully covered by the housing allowance. There were previously thought to be 130,000 landlords, but notwithstanding the response of the First Minister earlier to a question today, Rent Smart Wales say that the real figure is thought to be only 90,000. The private rented sector is so bad, the number of properties available is dropping all the time. That's one of the reasons why we're seeing rents go up so much; it's down to supply and demand.

The journey of the renting homes Act through the Senedd has been marked by delay after delay, while renters have been left to fend for themselves in an increasingly hostile climate. In reaction to the delay in implementation, Shelter Cymru said the delay had been a great surprise with no-fault evictions doubling over the past 12 months, primarily due to house sales. In this regard, the toxic combination of a UK house-price bubble and major rules may be extra impetus to some landlords who are already thinking of getting out of the game, is what we are told.

While we'll be voting in favour of the regulations today, because we're certainly supportive of the Act and want to see it implemented successfully, we also need to be clear that the Act doesn't go far enough. We welcome the commitments in relation to housing in the co-operation agreement and are determined to work collaboratively to deliver for tenants across Wales. We are moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction in Wales, and it's up to the Government to ensure that help reaches those who need it most as soon as practically possible.

The Welsh Government needs to look into the banning of huge requirements for renters, such as huge deposits, or the need for wealthy guarantors, which prevent them from securing accommodation. Further to this, Government should help establish tenancy unions for knowledge and support to help renters, enabling people to know their rights and access them. Most of all, the Welsh Government needs to address supply and affordability issues. We need to build tens of thousands of social homes. While vital work is under way to regulate phosphate levels in rivers, one unintended consequence is that it has effectively brought social housing development in affected areas to a standstill.

Twenty-five social housing schemes designed to provide 666 homes in total are not progressing. They should have taken between 12 and 24 months to complete, but now some housing associations are predicting that the developments will take three to four times as long. Some housing associations warned that it's possible that the schemes may have to be abandoned all together. As costs keep increasing during the delay period, some schemes may become unviable. Across these schemes, £22 million in total has either already been spent or is at risk. In one housing association alone, it's highly likely the first scheme will be aborted this financial year with a spend of nearly £50,000.

In response to this debate, the Minister should clarify how the Government aims to put an end to this deadlock and actually deliver on targets for social housing construction while safeguarding the climate. Further to this, the Minister should outline how tenants will be protected from eviction in the interim until the winter. And finally, I'd like to know how the Welsh Government are responding to the growing trend of landlords selling rental properties, which is inducing a scarcity of available properties and driving up rental costs. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

16:40

Diolch, Llywydd. In conclusion, I would like to thank Members for their support, I hope, in voting for these. I'm very disappointed, but not surprised, that the Tories don't see fit to support amendments designed to protect tenants' rights—no surprise there, really. Although it is disappointing that we can't get consensus on this.

Llywydd, we are now very nearly there in terms of implementation of the renting homes Act. I will shortly be making three further implementation SIs, which, again, are technical in nature, and are being made via the Senedd's negative procedure, so will not be subject to Senedd debate, and I'll publish a further written statement explaining the purpose and effect of these. 

As I mentioned earlier, I will also shortly be relaying the consequential amendments SI with the necessary corrections made to that instrument, hopefully later this week, so that we can debate that last SI in September. And just to confirm that there will be no impact on the implementation date as a result of the withdrawal of the consequential amendments regulations, nor is there any impact on the three that are here today, because they're stand-alone SIs implementing different parts of the renting homes Act.

And then, just addressing some of the issues that Members have raised in particular on these SIs: housing association tenancy regulations are about a relatively small sub-set of tenancies, and the regulations are about preserving the existing arrangements, Janet, and not about changing them. I would have thought you'd welcome that, actually. These particular amendments are about preserving the existing arrangements, and not having the renting homes Act bite on those existing arrangements.

On six-month notices, our principle is that someone not at fault should have at least six months' notice of possession. Schedule 8A sets out some limited exceptions, for example, where there is a service occupancy for employment purposes only. 

In terms of private landlords threatening to leave the sector, this is something that's raised with me every single time we discuss housing. It's just no worse here than it is anywhere else. Interestingly, the UK media are reporting a similar anticipated exodus of private landlords in England as a result of the house price rises there, although, of course, in England it's impossible to know, because they don't actually have an equivalent to Rent Smart Wales. And so, we're actually in a better position here, because we do have contact with all our landlords, and we know where they are.

Just in terms of the stakeholders that we've engaged with, they include the National Residential Landlords Association, Propertymark and Community Housing Cymru, representing associations. My officials attend regular meetings with those bodies, and obviously NRLA and Propertymark are in the PRS. On the consultation point, the regulations focus primarily on preserving and protecting existing rights, so the consultation is on the wider Act.

Rent Smart Wales data does not show landlords leaving the market in significant numbers actually. There is a slight drop, but not more than anticipated by Rent Smart Wales at this time of year. They think that it's to do with some landlords being late in registering, and so on. There are more significant drops in a few tourist hotspots, but we can't be really sure if they've flipped to short-term holiday lets, so we're obviously keeping a close eye on that.

Mabon's contribution was extremely wide-ranging about the housing crisis more generally, rather than on these SIs in particular, and obviously, the whole point of the renting homes Act is to address some of the issues there. Of course, we have a 20,000 low-carbon social homes target to anticipate the supply and demand issue. I'm fully aware of the phosphate issue and there will be a summit on the first day of the Royal Welsh in the summer to see if we can reach a compromise across all of the very difficult issues that affect that. But those are not specific to these SIs, Llywydd, they're just more general points.

In drawing this to a close, I urge Members to support the regulations. They are largely technical in nature. As I say, I will shortly be making the further implementation SIs, which are the commencement proceedings, and therefore the implementation of the Act on 1 December is not affected. Diolch.

16:45

The proposal is to agree the motion under item 6. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, there is objection. Therefore, I will defer voting under this item until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

The proposal is to agree the motion under item 8. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, there is objection. Therefore, I defer voting once again.

Voting deferred until voting time.

The final question is that the proposal is to agree the motion under item 9. Does any Member object? [Objection.] 

Nothing if not consistent, Darren Millar.

So, we will defer voting under item 9 as well.

Voting deferred until voting time.

10. The Corporate Joint Committees (General) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2022

Item 10 is next. These are the Corporate Joint Committees (General) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2022, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Local Government to move the motion—Rebecca Evans.

Motion NDM8052 Lesley Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Corporate Joint Committees (General) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 21 June 2022.

Motion moved.

Member
Rebecca Evans 16:47:02
Minister for Finance and Local Government