Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in a hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on the agenda.
Before we move to the first item, I'd like to announce the result of the Member Bill ballot held today. I'm pleased to announce that Sam Rowlands may seek the Senedd's agreement on his proposal for an outdoor education Wales Bill.
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Economy, and I call Llyr Gruffydd.
1. What are the Welsh Government's plans to encourage economic growth in north Wales? OQ58364
Diolch for the question. We are actively working with our regional partners, including Ambition North Wales, to maximise opportunities for the region. The collaboratively produced regional economic framework for north Wales was published last December. This sets out our shared priorities for the region and will form the basis of an agreed delivery plan.
Well, thank you for that response.
The new census results are highlighting how many local authorities across north Wales are actually experiencing a decrease in population. We’re also seeing the population aged over 65 in Wales increasing and the population of people aged 15 to 25 actually fell during the census period. Now, yesterday, the First Minister effectively denied the existence of a clear trend of losing many young people from our communities across Wales, and not only people moving out of Wales, but moving from rural into urban communities, from north to south Wales. What risk do you think that poses to economic growth in my region of north Wales, and what’s the Government doing to try and tackle that problem?
Well, I don't think it's fair to say that the First Minister denied that that factual trend is taking place. It was more about the narrative and the tone of what we are trying to do in recognising that that's taking place. In fact, it was part of the refreshed economic mission that I set out in October last year. It forms the work that was done in advance in recognising that this isn’t just a challenge for public services. In my previous role, we were talking lots about the reality that health and care systems will be under more pressure because of the good news story that more of us can expect to live for longer. Actually, the additional challenge that we have in Wales is that our older population is growing at a faster rate than the working-age population itself. That’s also an economic imperative as well.
So, we have challenges about what we do to attract people to come back to Wales if they’ve gone to other parts of the world to work and study. It’s also about how we attract people who aren’t from Wales to want to be part of our future. And we see that as a potential net gain for Wales as well. We think that will only happen if there are attractive options for the world of work and, indeed, the quality of life people can have in Wales as well. And actually, the pandemic has accelerated a range of those trends—the ability to work remotely in different parts of the world, and the fact that people are more interested in their quality of life, where Wales has an awful lot to offer. This is all about how we have more people wanting to plan their future here. Wales is a really good place in which to plan your business and to grow your business, and that should help us with the challenge we do have when it comes to demographics and the impact on the economy.
The Minister, I'm sure, will have seen the recent announcement from Rolls-Royce that Deeside is one of six locations shortlisted for the first small nuclear reactor factory. Now, the reality is that nuclear power will have a role to play in ending our reliance on fossil fuels, and the Minister and Members will know that we do have a highly skilled workforce in the north-east of Wales required for such bids. And I say that with pride as a Member who previously has worked in the manufacturing and engineering industry in Deeside alongside colleagues in that sector, and I am proud to be able to say that. Minister, this is a chance to increase economic growth not just in Alyn and Deeside, but right across north Wales. Therefore, can I ask you, Minister, what the Welsh Government can do to support such a bid?
Yes, I take on board the preamble stuff about the reality that nuclear will be a part of our future energy mix. If you look at what the alternative is, Germany, for example, having moved away from nuclear, is now having to restart and reinvest in coal and that has real and significant unavoidable consequences for the whole planet and not just Germany itself. So, we are very clear that we want to see investment that will benefit the local economy, and, of course, you're right that north Wales, across the board, has significant strengths in advanced manufacturing and engineering. And if that investment were to be made in Deeside, and we would like it to be, there would be significant numbers of jobs, not just within Deeside, but what it would mean for the future. So, we'll continue to be positively engaged around Trawsfynydd, around Wylfa, and around Rolls-Royce's potential ambitions and what that could mean for Wales. My officials continue to meet with Rolls-Royce; there is good constructive engagement. And we look forward and hope that Deeside will, ultimately, be the starting point of SNR production, and, indeed, as the First Minister said yesterday, a future for radioisotope production in Traws as well.
Can I also support Jack Sargeant's calls there for that continued support, and thank you, Minister, for your commitment to that for north Wales? As you say, it will be a significant economic improvement for us in the region.
Last week, Minister, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Wales Business Council, who I'm sure you know are a group who bring together around 31 business representative organisations from the private sector here in Wales. They highlighted to me in particular the importance of attracting highly skilled jobs into my region in north Wales—of course, the type of thing that Jack Sargeant's just raised with you there. They also welcome, Minister, your continued engagement with the private sector and that continued relationship. I wonder how you'd describe that relationship, Minister, and, if you were to have some personal improvements in that relationship with the private sector over the summer recess, which areas would you want to improve on?
I actually think that we're in a very good position in our relationship with a range of stakeholders. I'm meeting trade union groups next week. I met with Community, a largely steel-based trade union, to talk about the future of the sector yesterday. And I met with the Federation of Small Businesses, the Confederation of British Industry and Chambers Wales this week as well. Actually, it's one of the points, on coming in to this post, that was made by business organisations themselves, that they felt that the nature of the relationship with the Welsh Government and wider stakeholders was stronger than it had ever been before, because of the way we had had to work together during the pandemic, because of the regular nature and exchange of information, and the ability to build on 20 years of trust in devolution, and the very concentrated pressures of the last two years. Where we've been honest and where we've disagreed as well as where we've agreed, we've always managed to improve the strength of our relationship. But I don't think our relationship is the point that I would say that we need to see improving, and we actually need some more certainty in an environment in which we're going to make choices. That's both on trade with our European partners and on investment choices. We talked earlier in Jack Sargeant's question about nuclear; we need not just ambition but actual choices to be made, and we definitely need certainty for our steel sector, which will be a crucial part of how we're able to take advantage of renewable energy, around our coastline in particular, and a range of other opportunities in advanced engineering and manufacturing.
2. What work is Welsh Government doing to support the economy in Newport by bringing employment to the city? OQ58348
The Welsh Government will continue to work collaboratively with partners, such as the capital region, and, indeed, Newport City Council, to bring forward economic benefits to the area.
Minister, thankfully, Newport enjoys many advantages in terms of economic development. I think its geographical position between the powerhouses of Bristol and Cardiff, and its communication advantages in terms of the rail system and the motorway, for example, are very important strengths. And being part of the capital region, and also the western gateway, cross-border, are very important indeed. I wonder if you could tell the Chamber, tell me, how Welsh Government will continue to work with those regional groupings to develop that work and make sure that it really does produce the sorts of dividends we all want to see for Newport and the surrounding area.
I think one of the key aspects is the fact that, this side of the local authority elections, there is stability and continued leadership from Jane Mudd and her team, and that's important for us—about having trusted and stable partners. It's also their work as part of the wider capital region. We do see a future for high-quality jobs within the city, and there's a vision, again, that the council and the region have to be a part of delivering together with the Government. That partnership is really important. And, indeed, the economic framework for the region recognises opportunities within Newport, from digital technology, including the cyber sector, fintech and AI, life sciences, and of course the compound semiconductor cluster. I would like to see—again, thinking about a previous question—some certainty in the way that that cluster will be able to develop. So, a UK decision on Nexperia within the next 45 days would be most welcome, so that there's certainty about investment. That would also help us with choices across the western gateway area, where elected leaders here in the Welsh Government, and local authorities within the region, need to work with colleagues across the gateway because there is definitely a synergy of economic interest, and we look forward to playing a constructive part in that, with you, with your constituency colleague and neighbour, and, indeed, with the council and our colleagues in Westminster.
Minister, I recently visited Newport docks to discuss the potential of a bid by Associated British Ports for a free port to be established in south Wales. As you know, in May, it was announced that the UK and Welsh Governments had come to an agreement to collaborate and deliver a new free port in Wales, backed by £26 million in UK Government funding to support the regeneration of communities by attracting new businesses and jobs and investment. Having met Michael Gove to discuss levelling-up in the United Kingdom, I explored the possibility of Associated British Ports making a bid for a free port based in Newport. Believe it or not, I actually did. For such a bid to succeed, it will require all stakeholders, namely ABP, local authorities and the Welsh Government, to work closely together in developing the best possible case for a south Wales free port. Minister, will you commit to working closely in partnership with these stakeholders to progress a bid, and what discussions have you already perhaps had with ministerial colleagues about bringing these new jobs and opportunities to Newport that you just spoke of? Thank you.
Of course I'm aware of the announcement on free ports. I was the Welsh Government Minister who made that announcement with Michael Gove in his then role at the time. And that's because, from the noise that existed before, where the previous Secretary of State had regularly said a free port can't go ahead and it's the Welsh Government's fault, we eventually got the decision-making department in the UK Government talking directly to us. And we were able to move fairly rapidly then to have agreement on a joint prospectus for bids, where the Welsh Government and the UK Government will be co-decision makers. That includes things that are important to us like, if your remember, our agenda on fair work and environmental protection. So, that's important.
The challenge, though, is that, having secured agreement on funding parity for a free port, which was a previous sticking point, we now have a different Minister in post, in Greg Clark. And this is no point of aspersion about Mr Clark, but the reality is I don't think we're going to make all the progress we might otherwise have done, because I would be surprised if the UK Government were able to make decisions on this until the leadership contest within the Conservative Party is finished. In the interim, though, Welsh Government officials will continue to work with the UK Government to make progress on the work of what the prospectus would be like. That will mean talking with a range of stakeholders, a range of interested parties in the industry, but also trade union colleagues, and then we should be able to move, as soon as UK Government have the stability to match our own in the Welsh Government and they can make choices about the bidding prospectus.
I won't, of course, be involved in putting together individual bids, as I will be a decision maker in determining the bids coming from a range of areas in the country and I know there will be backers for different bids right across the geographic chamber.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Tom Giffard.
Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi, Dirprwy Lywydd, and good afternoon to you, Deputy Minister. With the World Wrestling Entertainment Clash at the Castle event at the Principality Stadium just a few months away, I wanted to ask you about the state of professional wrestling in Wales. In April 2021, the all-party parliamentary group on wrestling in Westminster, chaired by the Pontypridd MP, Alex Davies-Jones, published their report into professional wrestling in Britain. The report found that the industry was not clearly defined as either sport or theatre, and therefore found huge problems in its lack of regulation as a result. It said health and safety standards were worryingly low in independent wrestling, and that insufficient protections and checks were in place for people who were fulfilling roles as coaches, particularly as it relates to minors due to its problematic classification between sport and theatre. We also saw, in June 2020, the Speaking Out movement, with a shockingly high number of young women who had been involved in professional wrestling sharing their stories about being abused by fellow wrestlers or coaches. So, the industry for too long at the independent level has been an unregulated wild west when it comes to safety and safeguarding, and the report makes a number of recommendations as to how to tackle them. I appreciate not all the recommendations will be devolved in the Welsh context, but much of it is. So, what steps have you taken, Deputy Minister, in the 15 months since that shocking report was published, to ensure that young people who choose to pursue a passion for professional wrestling are safe when they do so?
Well, thank you for that question, Tom. And can I, first of all, just welcome the event of WWE coming here later this year? It's a huge event and it will be a massive boost to our economy. But you make a very good point, don't you, about the difference between sport and theatre, which, of course, covers—. I cover, in my portfolio, both of those areas. And I tend to look at WWE, in particular, as entertainment rather than sport. We don't see wrestling on that scale in the same way that we see sport. But you make a valid point about the report. I've not had any reports back to me from that report in terms of any particular concerns that we've had raised by professional wrestling in Wales. But I'm happy to look into that further and to come back to you with some views and recommendations that we might want to consider here in Wales. But I've had no concerns raised with me around those areas.
Okay. I'm grateful to you, Deputy Minister. Moving to a completely different arena, this time, a virtual one, I want to ask you about esports.
I recently met with John Jackson, who runs Esports Wales, who mentioned the esports Wales team will soon be competing in the Commonwealth Esports Championships, which, like the Commonwealth Games, are in Birmingham next month. I'm sure you'll be aware, Deputy Minister, of the huge economic and social benefits that esports provide. But one of the things that became very clear during the conversation we had was that these don't seem, like professional wrestling, to fit very neatly in your Government structures. They mentioned they're often passed between pillar and post, between Creative Wales and Sport Wales, when looking for funding. And, for an organisation that's run by volunteers, we should be setting up structures and removing as much bureaucracy as possible for those organisations to access the funding they need to continue the good work that they do. So, how is the Welsh Government supporting esports in Wales? And how are you making it easier for those organisations to access grant funding when they need it?
Well, most of the funding for esports is through Creative Wales and that does continue. I'm also aware that we have a number of colleges, for instance, that develop esports games. I've got one in my own constituency. I actually sat down and played one particular sport—don't even ask me what it was—with JakeyBoyPro at Merthyr College, who was—[Interruption.] I know. Listen, I had so many brownie points from my kids you wouldn't believe, when I went back and said I'd played esports with JakeyBoyPro. But the point I'm making is there is a huge crossover: sport, entertainment, and, actually, education as well, because of the development of esports games. But, in terms of esport, we do have the crossover between Sport Wales and funding for the development of the professional aspect of that sport and the development of the creation of games. So, there isn't a single channel of funding, as there isn't for a lot of things that we do in my portfolio; there is a significant amount of crossover. But there is substantial funding available both on the development and on the professional aspect of esports.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. And as this is my last question to you before our summer recess, can I wish you and your officials a very happy, and, hopefully, peaceful recess as well? And it's also the last number of questions to you before two key events: first of all team Wales in the Commonwealth Games, which I'm sure you'll join me in backing, and, second of all, whilst we won't be at the world cup in Qatar, because of the delay in it, we'll obviously be starting our preparations for that tournament later on in the year. But all of the athletes that I've spoken to mention the importance of good facilities in their areas to help them progress throughout their careers, and, unfortunately, in Wales, it's quite a patchy picture. The chief executive of the Football Association of Wales, as you'll know, has previously said, and I quote:
'our grass-roots facilities are absolutely disgraceful here. I'm really shocked by how bad the facilities are here. So, if you want to talk about accessibility, Wales is a shocker when it comes to facilities.'
End quote. So, as we know, with Wales participating in the world cup in Qatar, the FAW have announced an investment of £4 million in the grass-roots game, with the aim of improving facilities. But, given that they've previously said that up to £150 million of investment is needed to improve our facilities here in Wales, and the fact we want to capitalise on our qualification to the world cup, what further support can the Welsh Government provide to ensure that Wales is not just seen as a footballing nation now, but harnesses the potential of growth for the future?
Well, can I thank Tom for those points, which are hugely important, and can I also add our best wishes to team Wales in Birmingham next month—or this month, actually; at the end of this month? I've had the huge pleasure of being involved in the kit distribution to our athletes. I've actually got my commonwealth badge, which is made of Clogau gold, would you believe. The kit distribution, the—what do they call it—the baton relay and so on—. So, we went to Holyhead to receive the baton relay. I don't think I saw you there, Rhun, did I? But, we saw the baton relay coming in from Ireland through to Holyhead, and then I had the pleasure of seeing the baton relay coming through my own constituency, starting in Aberfan, as well. So, good luck to team Wales, and obviously good luck to the team in Qatar in November—the world cup team in Qatar.
The issue of facilities is one that's come up time and time again, and I'm very aware of the views of the chief executive of the FAW. We are in regular contact with the FAW about how we can capitalise on the legacy that Wales being in the world cup is going to deliver for us. What I would say is our starting point is that we have put in the highest amount of capital investment in facilities that we have ever put through Sport Wales. So, over the next three years, we're seeing £24 million being invested in sports facilities across Wales.
But I think we also need to remember that sports facilitates are not just about the money that goes in through Sport Wales. We have to think about the amount of money that goes into multi-centre sporting facilities in our schools, for instance. So, if we look at the amount of investment that we've had in the twenty-first century schools programme and the current incarnation of that—again, in my own constituency, we have state-of-the-art sports facilities in many of those schools, and those all have to be added in to what we are delivering in terms of community sporting facilities.
I do agree with the chief executive of the FAW that we still have a long way to go in terms of all of those facilities, and I know that the FAW is working alongside other national governing bodies to develop and deliver sporting facilities that can be multi-use as well. So, if we are investing in new 3G pitches, for example, we shouldn't just be investing in football pitches, These should be multi-surface pitches that can accommodate rugby, hockey and other sports, and I know that the FAW are working with national governing bodies on that.
In terms of the £4 million invested by the FAW, or going to be invested by the FAW, that of course is to be welcomed, and that is money that is available to them because of the qualification, and it is the amount that they are able to deliver through the prize money that they have from qualifying for the world cup. We will continue to work with them and with other national governing bodies to see how we can develop those grass-roots facilities and how we can ensure that that legacy of our qualification for the world cup is followed through and delivers the community facilities that we so badly need.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Given that this is the last economy spokesperson's questions before the summer recess and that many of us will be engaging with the hospitality sector in one way or another, I thought we'd take a look at that sector.
The picture for hospitality continues to be fairly uncertain. As I'm sure the Minister is aware, not only have we had the shortages in staff, but the cost of living continues to take its toll. A recent report by Barclays Bank estimated that the cost-of-living crisis and staff shortages threaten £36 billion-worth of growth in the hospitality and leisure sector. Now, I do believe that the shortage is happening for several reasons, but if we could focus on one particular aspect of it for just a moment, industry representatives have called for Welsh Government to help address the skills shortage within the sector. Could the Minister outline what work the Government has done so far on this particular point?
Yes, we've run a joint campaign with the sector for both recruitment and on looking at future skills needs. It's a regular point that's been raised with me, and, of course, the sector is quite diverse. You can go from high-end eating venues, for example, as part of the sector, to what would be a traditional venue within a locality and not at the same end. So, we recognise that this is also interlinked with other areas as well. There's an obvious interlinking between hospitality and tourism and the events strategy that we've just published today as well. I'd be more than happy to provide an update to the Chamber on the work we're doing in hospitality to deal with skills and the results of the joint campaign we've run with them throughout this year.
Thank you for that answer, Minister, and I'd very much appreciate an update on that front. Of course, as I mentioned, there are several reasons for the shortage of staff in hospitality. From experience, wages in hospitality need to improve, their work-life balance element needs to improve, security of work, and, as well, workplace conditions need to improve, as we've seen in the recent Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs committee report on hospitality. Now, the sector has a desire to professionalise careers within it, but it believes that the Government has a role to play in helping them to achieve this. I think it's important to emphasise that, overall, the hospitality sector is a great sector to work in. I had a good time working in the sector myself. I'm still in contact with many of the friends I made in the sector, and of course there are a number of transferrable skills. Most useful for me has been public speaking. I've said it countless times already, but if you can work on a bar on a rugby day in Cardiff and be called all sorts of things then I think you can definitely get up in the Chamber and be heckled by Members. But, on a serious note, there is a need for a culture change in the sector, so I would be interested to hear from the Minister where he thinks the Government can come in on this.
Well, I think it's actually about working alongside the sector to try to design it in exactly the same way we have done with the retail sector, where we've actually got a strategy. That may not be what they want to do, but to understand what they're asking and to be honest with them about what we can do together with them. As I say, we've been promoting careers—not just seasonal work, but careers—in hospitality, together with the sector, and, you're right, there is an impression that the work isn't as well remunerated as it could be, and there is a challenge around work-life balance. I've got a brother who is a chef. I have always been very happy to eat his food, but, in the time that I've worked in and around the sector, there is a challenge about that balance. That's been accelerated again by the pandemic, and it's one of the reasons why there has been a challenge recruiting into it. People have thought again about what they want. Most of us want to be able to go out and enjoy the hospitality sector as customers, but we actually need to have people in the sector working to a high standard for us to be able to enjoy. And part of the message, I think, here is about all of us and our constituents actually looking at people who work in that sector not as people who should be having anything thrown at them, verbally or otherwise, when at work, but actually to show some kindness. The whole world is struggling with staff shortages, so we should be kind and decent to the people who have shown up and are working so that we can actually enjoy a significant part of our life too. But I'm more than happy to commit again, not just in the meetings I've had, but to work with the sector and my officials to look at the challenges over wages, what the message is from the sector, the challenge over work-life balance, the points about certainty and what we can do to have a thriving hospitality sector, because, as I say, it underpins a range of other sectors within the wider economy.
3. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s work to promote Welsh trade and investment globally following the Cymru men’s football team's qualification for the 2022 World Cup? OQ58345
Thank you. We are actively working with a number of partners in the UK, Qatar and elsewhere in the world to maximise trade and investment opportunities for Wales from the 2022 FIFA men's world cup.
At last week's Wales international cross-party group, concerns were raised that progress has been slow in putting together the much-needed team Cymru to maximise the opportunities presented by Cymru being part of the world cup. It was stated by many attendees that it was unclear who is leading and how organisations and businesses will be involved and supported to be involved, that no key and high-level objectives have yet been set, and that it is unclear what investment is being made by both the Welsh Government and the UK Government to ensure opportunities are not missed. Worryingly, reference was made to the GREAT campaign and how Cymru would be able to benefit from this, which would go against everything that the Football Association of Wales has done in developing awareness about our distinct identity as a nation. With every day that passes, we miss crucial opportunities for Wales if we don't get this right. As Laura McAllister rightly warned, it would be unforgivable to let this opportunity pass us by. What assurances can the Minister provide to alleviate the concerns raised, and when will we receive an update about the team, resource and objectives put in place, and will these be in place prior to the recess?
Yes, in terms of the work that we're doing, of course, it's a relatively recent timescale. Work has been done and anticipated in advance, but until the fantastic occasion at the Cardiff City Stadium when we sealed qualification, we couldn't be certain about where we'd be, and the FAW in particular were keen not to be visibly acting as if we'd already qualified before we had. Actually, in the trade mission, the in-person trade mission, I led to Qatar, it was really helpful to have direct contacts in the UK embassy there, and they've been really clear that they want to be part of supporting all UK nations who qualify, and that's been really helpful. So, we have links there on the ground, but also the GREAT campaign that you mention is both an opportunity and a risk. I would want to see UK Government funds benefitting Wales as they're spent, and the GREAT campaign can't be simply England in another name. England have qualified in their own right, and I look forward to being there to see Wales beat them at the end of our group phase, but we have to be clear that the GREAT campaign is supposed to be about all the constituent parts of Britain, and so that's one of our challenges. So, we are engaging with the UK Government around that.
We're really clear that we don't want to get drawn into something that subsumes our identity, and the projection and the opportunity that this presents, into a wider campaign that doesn't meet our own objectives. That's about the work we want to do within the region itself, but it's also about the ability to project Wales on a world stage, following the WWE event in September here in Cardiff. That's largely because of the ability to have a focus on Wales in a very large market where there's more opportunity for Wales to gain. The fact that our first game is against the USA in the group stage is, actually, a really important opportunity for us. So, it's not just about physically in the region, it's about the world stage too.
I can confirm that the First Minister has asked me to lead work across the Government on delivering and developing a plan with our stakeholders, the FAW and wider. So, I'll be more than happy to update the Chamber on the work of that group, and the increased pace in the work that we're going to need to do over the summer and, indeed, in the few months leading up to our entry onto the world stage in the finals for the first time in 64 years.
I thank Heledd Fychan for bringing forward her question. The world cup is an ideal opportunity to promote Wales on the global stage, but let's look at that global stage a little wider. The Welsh Government has 21 international offices and all have a remit to attract inward investment. However, it is questionable how effective these have been in securing new opportunities for Welsh businesses; for example, the majority of these offices only have one or two members of staff and I think we only have about a £750,000 network budget. If you square that up, it's about £35,000 per global office.
I just wondered, Minister, what assessment you've made of the effectiveness of our overseas offices in driving forward trade for Welsh businesses. What consideration have you given to providing additional resources to help expand the capacity of those offices? It's so important that we promote Wales on that global stage and do it effectively, and not piecemeal. It is really important that we make progress, and I just wondered what specific plans the Government has to boost the role of the international office in Doha, Qatar, in light of the upcoming world cup in that country. Thank you.
Well, it's helpful that I've visited the region twice now, and our office in Doha is working through a range of areas. Whilst we don't have huge numbers of staff in our offices, it's a matter of fact that seven of the countries that have qualified for the men's world cup finals have Welsh Government offices within them. I think we punch above our weight where those offices are based, partly because, on the ground, away from the headline politics of some of the continuing differences that we will have with the political direction of the UK Government, there are very good relationships between the embassy and the Department for International Trade teams in each of those countries. I saw that for myself when I was in the United Arab Emirates and, indeed, in Qatar as well.
I think part of our challenge is one of the points that you made at the end: how effective can we be in taking advantage of the opportunity that exists? To date, I can honestly tell you that I've been really impressed with the range of contacts that we've managed to deliver and what that means for Welsh businesses. You don't need to take my word for it; if you talk to food and drink businesses in the middle east region, they're very positive and complimentary about the work the Welsh Government has done alongside them to open up new markets. If you talk to those businesses that have gone on trade missions, they again will say that the work that our offices do is real and significant.
I should, as my colleague has entered the Chamber, recognise that much of that comes from the international strategy that Eluned Morgan put together when she was in a previous ministerial role. I do think we'll see a real benefit from that, not just in the coming months, but in the much longer term as well.
Question 4 [OQ58351] has been withdrawn, so question 5, Rhys ab Owen.
5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the economic impact of Brexit on Wales? OQ58339
The Welsh economy broadly tracks that of the UK quite closely. The UK Government's Office for Budget Responsibility's current estimate is that Brexit has so far reduced UK gross domestic product by about 1.5 per cent, with a further reduction of 2.5 per cent still to come. The European Union will continue to be the UK's closest and most important trading partner, and our ambition should be to have the closest possible, frictionless trade with the EU.
Diolch yn fawr, Gweinidog. Brexit is not working for Wales. It has cost us and the UK billions in lost trade and lost tax revenue; GDP is down, investment is down and goods trade is down. With the highest inflation since the mid 1970s, with the cost-of-living crisis biting the people in our communities, the current position of the Welsh Government and Labour in Westminster is not tenable. Gweinidog, we're in the season of leadership contests now. There will be one soon here. Will you make an early pitch, Gweinidog, that Wales will be rejoining the single market?
There is no vacancy in the First Minister's office, and there won't be for the foreseeable future. Look, when it comes to the reality of our position, I have indicated there's been a reduction in trade, and Wales has a greater amount of trade compared to other nations within Britain with the EU, so it's a bigger challenge for us. And I am engaged in some of the contradictory and unhelpful policy agendas within the UK Government on borders and our continued trade, and it's important. I want to see our current position work as well as possible. I would have preferred it—and it's a matter of public record—if we had not left the European Union, but people in Wales, as within the rest of the UK, voted to leave, and we have to try to address that with the least amount of harm possible, and where there are opportunities to try to take those, it will require some honesty from us about what that would mean. Whilst we have articles of faith at a UK Government level on what we can't do, that does create a real challenge for us, but I hope that there will be an attack of common sense and economic common sense around what sort of relationship we should have with the European Union, because that in itself would unlock some of the challenges that we know that we face today.
Minister, the Welsh Centre for Public Policy report 'Brexit and Wales'
'recommends that the Welsh Government guides businesses through the new regulations; encourages retraining and job creation in the customs sector to meet increased demand; maintains emergency funding for sectors affected by border delays; and continually monitors the impacts on Welsh ports.'
Does the Minister accept these recommendations' function, and if so, what progress can he report? Thank you.
We've always recognised that having left the European Union, the ability to trade would still be there, but there would be additional barriers to it. The challenge in the form of having left the European Union is that there are more barriers than would otherwise have needed to be the case. What we're still trying to do is to encourage businesses to continue that trade, to continue to want to be exporters. That's why we have a £4 million programme to support exports in the economy. I was delighted to see BBC Wales recently reporting on exporting success stories, including one within my own constituency. The challenge, though, is that it has put off a number of businesses from exporting.
I recently met with small businesses within my own constituency and the Federation of Small Businesses, and there was very direct and honest engagement around some of the challenges they are facing in both bringing goods in and in exporting as well. I had a similar position explained to me by both Chambers Wales and the Confederation of British Industry Wales as well, so there are definitely additional costs that have been introduced. Our challenge is how we'll continue to support businesses, both to raise awareness of what they will need to do and the extra costs that may bring, but still to encourage them to want to be successful exporting businesses, because that should still help to grow the Welsh economy and good-quality jobs.
Good afternoon, Minister. Can I continue the theme of leaving the European Union? Just looking at the Conservatives' undercooked Brexit of a meal, I wanted to focus on the UK Government-introduced controls around the high-risk imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products. Some industry representatives have warned that these controls would significantly increase costs on UK food companies, possibly to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Those costs will obviously be passed on to the consumers. Could you provide an update for us, please, Minister, on what representations you have been making to the UK Government about militating against those costs to businesses, to prevent the cost being passed on to our already hard-pressed households? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Well, the First Minister has indicated several times in this Chamber the recent evidence on the direct impact that Brexit has had on food costs in any event, the challenges for both import and export for food and drink businesses in the UK in particular, and it's been a regular feature in the conversations around borders and trade that I have had most recently in a rather frustrating conversation with Michael Ellis, the Cabinet Office Minister, and that's about the reality of where we're going with the programme. It means that businesses who want to export from Wales to the island of Ireland, for example, have checks in place on the goods, whereas, actually, goods coming the other way don't at present. That may mean that those goods are cheaper, but it puts our own businesses at a disadvantage.
And one of the challenges that we have is that, having left the European Union, we no longer get the advantage we previously had of having early sight of risks to biosecurity. That means we're more vulnerable, particularly as the destination checks currently taking place are taking place in less than 5 per cent of those goods that are coming in. That means that there is a risk for us in any event. And when we were within the European Union, we still had the ability to introduce additional checks as members as well. So, we're carrying a number of risks, both to biosecurity and, indeed, there's a competitive disadvantage for food and drink businesses in particular in the current arrangements. And I would hope, as I say, that common sense will ultimately prevail to make sure that Welsh businesses are able to export and import on a much more level playing field with colleagues in European countries.
Minister, I agree very much with the premise of the question that Brexit has been enormously damaging to the Welsh economy. I also agree, for the record, and I presume the Minister does, although I won't put him in the situation of asking him this, that he disagrees with leaving the single market and the current position of the UK Labour Party. But it's important, I think, that we recognise, we understand and we describe the economic damage being wrought on this country, our communities and our people by Brexit and by decisions being taken by the United Kingdom Government. Will the Minister give an undertaking that the Welsh Government will publish, at least twice a year, but I'd prefer every term, an analysis of the damage being wrought on the Welsh economy by Brexit, and how the Welsh Government is responding to that damage? Because we need to understand the dimensions of the problems we are facing at the moment if we are to articulate ways of addressing them.
I don't think I could agree with the way in which the point is phrased, because it comes at it from a certain point of view. But I think something about how regularly we update the Chamber and members of the wider public on the realities of our changed trading position is a fair one. It's why I referenced, in responding to Rhys ab Owen at the start, the OBR's own assessment—so, not a Welsh Government body, but a body created by the UK Government. It's their assessment that us leaving the European Union on the terms on which we left have shrunk the UK economy, with more to come. And I think, as well as presenting that, we'd also want to try to explain what we are doing to try to support the economy in that. I'll happily give some thought to how we do that, because it comes up on a relatively regular basis in a range of different forms: the statements I've had to give on borders, the work we're having to do on that; there's more about the challenges and the changed funding arrangements, and how likely it is we'll be able to be associated with Horizon as well, which will have a significant impact. So, I will give some thought to how we can usefully do that, and that may well help not just the Chamber, but Members in their relevant scrutiny committees as well.
6. What are the Welsh Government's economic priorities for Preseli Pembrokeshire for the next 12 months? OQ58334
Thank you. Our priorities continue to be to support new and existing businesses through Business Wales services and the regional team. We have provided extensive support through the pandemic and the post-Brexit trading world. We are committed to delivering a greener, more equal and prosperous economy for all parts of Wales.
Thank you for that response, Minister. It's vital that the Welsh Government works with local authorities, and indeed stakeholders, to identify skills and capacity deficits in local areas in order to meet shifting market demands. You may be aware that EDF Renewables UK, DP Energy and Pembrokeshire College have collaborated to deliver a course called Destination Renewables, which prepares students for future jobs in the renewable energy sector. Minister, what is the Welsh Government doing to support this type of collaboration in Pembrokeshire, so that it can help build a workforce that meets future skills needs? And what investment is the Welsh Government making in sectors like renewable energy, so that we can start to develop Wales's expertise in this particular sector?
Well, the example you've given is an example of what we need to see more of, with industry working together with the institutions that we fund—the college, for example, the funding it will receive through Welsh Government—but it also, I think, points to the point on needing more clarity and certainty for investors to make those choices. When I've recently been in Pembrokeshire, talking to one of the businesses with a significant interest in our renewables future, they have made this point. It's a regular part of the conversations we have. I met the Crown Estate, together with Julie James the Minister for Climate Change, and again making the point that a greater level of certainty and a forward-looking programme would allow greater investor confidence to make longer term investments that will benefit infrastructure in our ports and the jobs that come from it on the manufacture side as well. You'll see it from the point of view of the skills that we think we're going to need and how we're going to be able to help people to do more of that when we get to the net-zero skills plan that we're expecting to publish this autumn. I think you've asked me questions on that in the past. So, these things are all connected. If we get this right, then there really is a significant economic return to be made for Wales, not just the wider benefit of having cleaner, greener power. I look forward to updating the Member and the Chamber on that work.
Question 7 [OQ58342] is withdrawn. Question 8, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
8. What assessment has the Minister made of the importance of re-establishing a marina in Holyhead to the town's economy? OQ58343
Diolch. The Welsh Government is a long-standing partner, alongside Ynys Môn county council, the port authority and other partners, in seeking a sustainable economic future for Holyhead. We collectively commissioned a wide-ranging study into the potential economic benefits of Holyhead Gateway, as well as awarding funding following the 2018 storm.
It's over four years now since storm Emma devastated the marina in Holyhead. The marina's owners did set about a plan to rebuild immediately, and although it was inevitable that that was going to take some time, the plans are being frustrated by the fact that there's another development that's long been in the pipeline for the waterfront in Holyhead that also includes plans for a marina. I think that that developer, Conygar, if it wants to show that it is interested in doing what's right for Holyhead, should be doing everything to facilitate and bring forward the re-establishment of a marina as quickly as possible—whoever does that. Can I appeal to the Government to be clear in its support for the marina, in particular? Can I ask the Minister to consider what practical and financial support it can give? And, in light of that current frustration, is the Welsh Government ready to play a part in bringing the different parties together, working with local stakeholders, including myself, the local authority and so on, to find a resolution as soon as possible?
I think the broad answer to the question is 'yes'. We want to be able to play a part. Often, the Welsh Government convening conversations can mean everyone comes to the table, and that can be helpful. We want to see stakeholders as joined up as possible on the opportunities that exist. If the Member wants to write to me, that would be helpful. I am meeting the leader of the council over the summer and it will be helpful to have a proposal to discuss with our north Wales team and how that may fit into the wider regional plan. I think this isn't just for the island itself—actually, there's a potential impact on a wider basis too.
9. What benefits will the establishment of a community bank for Wales bring to mid and west Wales? OQ58353
Thank you. The vision for the community bank, now being taken forward by our partners the Monmouthshire Building Society, is that it will be a full-service bank headquartered in Wales and will provide bilingual products and banking services through a range of channels, including phone, digital and physical outlets.
Thank you very much for that answer. Last month, Barclays bank announced that it was closing branches across the region, including Welshpool, Newtown and Lampeter. This has become a very common pattern over recent years. Indeed, there are about 40 per cent fewer branches that now exist in the region I represent than there were nine years ago. The impact of this is very great on our rural communities, including the elderly people, small businesses and organisations and farmers in the area. The situation is now so critical that several market towns in the region, among them Llanidloes, Tregaron and Llandovery, have now gained the status of 'no-bank towns'. And online banking, of course, is difficult because there is a lack of reliable broadband. You've noted your intention to establish a community bank for Wales; could I ask you: are the rural communities of Wales going to have fair play in these new plans?
The vision for the community bank is one that's got support on all sides of the Chamber, and that in itself is relatively unusual. The challenge, though, I think, is in having not just the vision, but then being able to do something where we're able to provide real-life banking services that people will want and will use, and also that we're able to have a programme of opening the physical branches that matches the actual capability. I think there's a danger that every Member will say, 'I would like to have a community bank branch in my constituency or my region'. I've certainly had representations on my own side from a range of people, from Jack Sargeant, Joyce Watson and a range of others. We want to see the bank be successful, and we want to see those services increase. The reason why we're at this point is exactly the point the Member's articulated: traditional banks have been moving away from a range of communities, both in towns and cities as well as in rural parts of Wales. This is our attempt to make sure we have a viable banking product that will try to fill in some of that gap. I am looking forward to providing a further update, together with the Monmouthshire Building Society, on how that work is practically progressing. But I do take on board the points the Member makes.
And the last question to the Minister today, question 10, Delyth Jewell.
10. How is the Minister working to ensure that the Welsh Government's commitment to global responsibility is incorporated into its trade policy? OQ58361
Rather than viewing trade policy solely in economic terms, our approach relies on using a well-being of future generations lens to consider the full impact that trade policy could have on Wales. This includes ensuring that our approach aligns with our national well-being goal of being a globally responsible nation.
Thank you for that, Minister. The Welsh Government's commitment to global responsibility is a welcome move, especially in terms of biodiversity, climate change, sustainable economic development and employment rights when it comes to trade policy. There are, however, other less tangible impacts of global trade on the lives of people across the world. These international trade deals affect cultures, traditions, identities and languages in every country involved, often in negative or exploitative ways. Our conscience has to stretch as far as the limits of those supply chains, or else that commitment to global responsibility won't be fully met. So, Minister, how is the Welsh Government ensuring that its trade policy is globally responsible when it comes to the impact on culture, languages and ways of life for citizens in other nations?
We do try to take a rounded approach to the way in which we promote and support Welsh businesses as exporters and, indeed, importers as well. It's part of the reason why we've been concerned about some of the impact of some of the trade deals that have already been agreed, for example their impact on the rural economy here. You'll have heard the First Minister saying that one of the challenges would be a potential influx of other goods, which could mean that rural Wales is no longer part of what we understand it could and should be.
When it comes to our impact on trade in other parts of the world, we again try to take account of that in the sorts of trade deals that we do and what we do in terms of our support as a Government. You'll recall, for example, that some parts of the petrochemical industry would rather we carried on going to some of the international events; we've chosen not to do that, because we're switching much more of our support into advanced manufacture, engineering and, indeed, in wanting to secure more opportunities in the renewables sector, both here in Wales and further afield. So, rather than the broad point, I think it might be more helpful to think about some of those individual questions about who we do business with as countries and nations, but also the sorts of firms we're looking to support in making sure that they're able to grow the economy here and in other parts of the world.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the first question is from Sam Rowlands.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I note the Minister's just getting to her place there.
1. How does the Minister take the voice of patients into account to inform decisions on priorities for the health service in north Wales? OQ58358
Diolch yn fawr. Decisions on priorities for the health service in north Wales are for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. They take into account the needs of their local population, and that's informed by the work of the regional partnership boards, which include citizen panels. Welsh Government officials meet regularly with representatives from all community health councils in Wales, including North Wales Community Health Council.
Thank you, Minister, for your response and also for outlining your interactions with patients through the community health councils, as you mentioned, and how important their voice is. A crucial place for this voice in the future, of course, is the newly appointed citizen voice board, and as you'll know, this board has the opportunity to stand up for the people of north Wales—Wales as a whole, but north Wales especially—considering the number of issues at Betsi Cadwaladr health board that patients are dealing with at the moment. But my understanding, Minister, is that just one of the newly appointed board members actually lives in north Wales, with, actually, them not being from the area, having worked and lived elsewhere for the vast majority of their time. I also understand, Minister, that six of the board members went to the same university, where the current chair of the board was vice-chancellor. You can perhaps understand why some of my residents are concerned that perhaps there isn't proper representation, a broad representation across Wales, and, in particular, in north Wales. So, Minister, do you believe that if we are to have a true representation and to maximise the potential of this new board, and, ultimately, take the voice of patients seriously, it needs to be rooted in north Wales with strong north Wales representatives who live, work and understand north Wales and all its nuances? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thanks very much. Let's just be clear that the board is not supposed to be a geographic representation. If we started that, then it would be very difficult to get representation from the whole of Wales. [Interruption.] I will carry on. I've had the pleasure of speaking to Dr Rajan Madhok. He is somebody who retired to Wales four years ago. He's had an incredibly sparkling career. He's been a medical doctor of public health, he's been a director of a primary care trust, he's been the chairman of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, he's been on the General Medical Council, and he's had experience working in Shetland. I didn't know there was a qualification period to become Welsh. Is that something the Tories are advocating now? Let's just be absolutely clear that this man will be an incredible representative. And do you know what's more? I spoke to him in Welsh.
2. Will the Minister provide an update on the position of dental services provided through the NHS in Arfon? OQ58352
With the north Wales dental academy being established in autumn 2022, and with 96 per cent of NHS dentistry funding in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board going to practices engaged in contract reform, I expect to see significant improvements in patient access in north Wales in the near future.
I'm very pleased to hear that, because many constituents in Arfon are contacting me about the lack of provision. There's an increasing number who can't register with an NHS dentist, including children, and there is no space with dentists across north Wales. The emergency service is also under pressure, with one patient claiming to have tried to contact the emergency number over 200 times in one day, and others claiming that they've been hanging on the telephone for three hours before being answered. I could go on and on, listing more and more of these problems that are being reported to me. I am pleased that there is some light at the end of the tunnel for these patients now, but can you give us a timeline on the development of the academy in Bangor and when you think we will see substantial change in the situation in my constituency?
Thank you very much. The situation is a very difficult one in terms of dentistry across Wales. Of course, we're still in a situation where COVID has affected services. We were down to 50 per cent until very recently, we're now back up to about 80 per cent, and, of course, a lot of people want to see a dentist after waiting for so long.
In terms of the new academy, I'm very pleased that the new academy will open in Bangor in the autumn of this year, and once it's fully established, we would expect to see access for 12,000 to 15,000 people. That will be open six days a week. So, that will make a significant difference.
But in the short term, the health board has created more access for people who find themselves in an urgent situation, and they have created access for those who find themselves without a dentist in the case of an emergency.
Of course, this isn't new. Before the pandemic, constituents were contacting me about the lack of NHS dentists in Arfon. As one stated in 2019,
'Both my daughter and myself have been without a dentist now for well over a year. Please is there anything you can do to resolve this problem regarding the lack of NHS dentists in Bangor and further afield?'
I wrote to you last August on behalf of a constituent who stated,
'I'm writing to draw your attention to the drastic lack of NHS dentistry in north-west Wales. Over the last few years, I've been a member of four different dental practices, all in or around my home in the city of Bangor. All four have either closed or stopped treating NHS patients.'
In your reply, you stated that
'Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board are well advanced in their plans to establish a new north Wales dental academy in Bangor, which will provide an opportunity for the health board to significantly increase dental provision, improving access to NHS dental services',
which you referred to in your initial reply, and that you were making good progress with the recovery of dental services. But half a year on, the leader of the opposition raised with the First Minister the case of a teacher in Bangor, who found it impossible to find a new NHS dentist—
You need to ask your question now, please.
—when his current dentist stopped carrying out NHS treatments and there was a minimum two-year waiting list. People are in pain now. It's great that relief is coming down the road, but what are you doing about it for the people who need it now?
Thanks very much. I'm spending a heck of a lot of time on this, I've got to tell you. We have a new chief dental officer, and I think he's really trying to grasp the situation, and he understands the severity of the situation. It's not a situation that's unique to Wales, it's an issue that is a challenge across the whole of the United Kingdom. We are actually further ahead than they are in England in terms of the new contract and we hope that that will provide 112,000 new opportunities for patient access, and I think that will be significant. In north Wales, in terms of the contract, 96 per cent of the practices have signed up to that new contract. So, it will be a change in the way that dentists approach this issue, but we do hope that that will make a difference. And, of course, we're really focused now also on training up more dental therapists and that's what the Bangor academy is all about.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. Minister, like you, I was listening to the exchange between the leader of the opposition and the First Minister yesterday in regard to waiting times and that's a line of questioning I want to continue today. Can you confirm that the number of people waiting longer than two years for NHS treatment in Wales has increased by nearly 900 per cent in the past year?
What I can tell you is the number of people waiting for two years actually reduced in the latest figures that came out just a few weeks ago. They reduced by 3.4 per cent. So, I think that shows that, actually, we're heading in the right direction. Obviously, we'll have more figures coming out next week, which will demonstrate to us whether that change has continued. Obviously, we've got to take account of the fact that COVID is not over, and the very fact that we still have almost 2,000 people off sick because of COVID or COVID-related issues means that, actually, the challenge is still there. And so, of course, we've got to plan. The difficulty, of course, is that if you keep on getting these waves, we're going to be knocked back. But I was actually very heartened by the fact that, for the first time, we saw those figures coming down in the last month.
Thanks for the answer, Minister, and whilst, of course, it's good news that that waiting time for a one-month period is coming down, but the long-term sustained trajectory is in the wrong direction of course. So, if we look back at 12 months ago, the figure was 7,600 and now it's 68,000. So, those are the figures over the last 12 months. And the numbers have, sadly, sky-rocketed in that period. Despite what you say, the numbers have sky-rocketed. And, of course, I also agree with you: there is the issue of COVID and the pandemic—that has affected NHS services right across the UK and right across the world. But what we have seen here is a much worse position, and I would say that that's as a result of mismanagement from the Government and that's why we're seeing massive underperformance here in Wales. Because a number of people in Wales, many of whom are sadly waiting in pain on a waiting list that is five times—five times—higher than the whole of England, and that's taking into account the much larger population in England—. We have got five times the figure of people waiting on our waiting list here than in England. On top of that, the average waiting time here is 10 weeks longer than that of England. And one in four Welsh patients are waiting over a year for treatment; that, in England, is one in 20. Now, I appreciate, Minister—
You need to ask the question, please.
I appreciate, Minister, your personal commitment, and I appreciate you've only been in post for 12 months, and I appreciate you've been dealt a poor hand. But can I ask you for your assessment of why the Welsh Government is looking at this much worse position than that in any other part of the UK? And surely you've got to recognise failures to understand where improvements need to be made.
Thanks very much. Well, Russell will be aware that the figures have gone up everywhere in the past year; this is not a unique situation—they've sky-rocketed everywhere. And, of course, we're all challenged now, in terms of getting those lists down, and that's why we did publish our planned care proposal back in April, where the targets are very, very clearly set out. I can tell you that I'm having regular meetings with the chairs of the health boards, just to underline the importance of hitting those targets. You will be aware that the way we count our lists is very significantly different from the way they count in England. So, we include the number of people waiting for diagnostic treatment and therapies—that's a significant number of people. So, you're comparing apples and pears here, and it is important that people understand that. We also include follow-up appointments after diagnostic tests. And if you transfer between one consultant and another, we start a new pathway, so that's counted again. So, yes, sometimes we don't help ourselves, if I'm honest. So, that is difficult, and I've obviously asked if we can look at the way we count, but it's a major, major issue to change the way we count. And to be quite honest, I just think we're being more transparent with the public about the reality of the situation, in a way that I'm afraid your Conservative Government in England is not being transparent.
Well, no, the fact is that in Wales we have 68,000 people waiting for over two years, and in England it's 12,700. That's what the figures say. Now, I do appreciate—
You're not counting half of them, that's why.
—what you've just said. I do appreciate what you've just said, and you're willingness to look at the way you measure those figures, because perhaps it would be the correct piece of work for the Government to undertake, to make that comparison. Because what would those figures then be able to tell us? They would be able to tell us we're still in the same position—that the Welsh Government is in a much worse significant position. Now, what would help, of course, the backlog, and reducing the backlog, would be the roll-out of regional surgical hubs, which we called for back in summer 2020. I've spoken to a number of health bodies and professionals this week, telling us we've still not got them in Wales, we're still waiting for them, and that is the way out, in part, of the position that we're in. And I know, Minister, you've made promises that they're going to be rolled out, but we're yet to see them being delivered. And until this is addressed, we're not going to see and not going to escape the waiting lists that we're currently in. The UK Government started to prepare for the post-pandemic at a much, much earlier stage. In fact, your predecessor said it would be foolish to do the same here. So, do you regret the words of your predecessor, when he said—and it demonstrates, I think, an attitude of complacency—that it would be foolish to start the planned care out of pandemic before the pandemic was over? And do you not accept as well that, in order to make progress, we've got to see the roll-out of regional surgical hubs at a much quicker pace, and that is part of the way out of this problem that we're in? And can you give us an update on regional surgical hubs?
Well, as you know, I'm very keen to see the development of regional surgical hubs. I am restricted by the amount of capital funding that we've been given by the UK Government—that's what's tying my hands at the moment. And let me tell you that we are already initiating these; you'll have seen yesterday that we are centralising and having one of these surgical hubs, for vascular services, in south Wales. So, it's already happening. There are lots of examples already of this happening in orthopaedic areas and in eye cataract operations. You've seen what's happened in Cardiff; there is another regional centre in Swansea. So, these already exist. Now, how many more can we do? Obviously, we're very interested in seeing how many more, but we are restricted and restrained at the moment by our capital abilities. But let me tell you that we had a discussion with the Royal College of Surgeons recently, and what they were keen for us to do, and what I've been pressing the health boards to do, is to make sure that we use the existing capacity more efficiently, and I think we've still got some headway to make on that.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Diprwy Lywydd. I want to focus on long COVID. Recent figures by the Office for National Statistics suggest that some 60,000 people in Wales could be living with long COVID, and the wave we're currently in makes me concerned that the numbers will increase. Now, many of those suffering are people who acquired the virus whilst working in health and care services. Since the beginning of this month, those who fell ill early during the pandemic are not now paid in full, whilst they are in similar health roles in England and Scotland. Does the Minister agree that health boards should use the discretion that I understand that they have to continue to pay full salaries until they've done everything within their gift to bring these workers who do want to serve within our health services back into post where they can do that?
Thank you very much, and it is true that there are many people who are suffering from long COVID. I was speaking to a mother yesterday who was talking to me about her son who suffers from long COVID, and I think it is important that we do recognise that this is a very difficult situation, particularly for those who have served us all during the pandemic. And that's why we have been very careful in this area, in trying to ensure that we have spoken to the unions before we moved forward, and that everyone understands that there are exceptions that are possible, and that the health board can use their discretion, and I would suggest that they do take that opportunity.
I'm very pleased to hear that, and I do hope that Members here, in representing their constituents, will remind their health boards in their constituencies and regions that they have that discretion.
I'm also pleased to hear the Minister mention long COVID and its impact on children particularly. I am concerned that there is a lack of support for children and young people with long COVID. I've spoken to a number of parents—one who said that they'd had to wait five months for a referral, and had had to go private to a paediatrician, and paid hundreds of pounds per month for a chiropractor to give some comfort to her son. The Long Covid Kids organisation say that it's still difficult to get professional health workers, doctors and so on, to accept that what's in front of them is actually long COVID.
So, can the Minister tell us what research the Welsh Government is willing to commission and invest into long COVID, and its impact on children and young people particularly, and what can be done to ensure that that support is available for children and young people, because they will be left behind because of the time it is happening in their life cycle?
You are quite right, and I think that we have to be very careful. The impact on children is something that's going to affect them for a long time if we don't deal with this issue at an early stage. We will be having an update on the recovery before long, and I've asked to ensure that we do consider children as we look at how that programme proceeds. And you're aware that, as we develop that plan, it is something that we wanted to see changing as we learn more about the virus and about the way in which people are suffering.
The fact that we are still, every six months, having an opportunity to look again at what's happening does give us an opportunity to look at what you've pointed out today.
Question 3 [OQ58355] has been withdrawn. Question 4, Joel James.
4. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours? OQ58340
Thank you very much. Our programme for transforming and modernising planned care, published in April, included a commitment to continue to promote key messages about cancer symptoms and to encourage people to come forward with suspected cancer. We're also happy to support and amplify messages from cancer charities in Wales.
Thank you, Minister. As you are aware, holistic needs assessments are provided to brain cancer patients as a way of them identifying and communicating to their key workers their holistic needs and allowing a suitable care plan to be put into place. The use of a HNA and care plan is essential for a good patient experience. It ensures that patients are supported in all aspects of their treatment and care, and is exceptionally important for brain tumour patients, due to their varied and complex needs. The Brain Tumour Charity's improving brain tumour care survey shows that only 30 per cent of respondents said they were offered a holistic needs assessment, and just 11 per cent of the respondents felt that the resulting care plan from their HNA was working well. With this is mind, Minister, what steps are being taken to ensure that all brain tumour patients in Wales are provided with a HNA and resulting care plan? And will this Government commit to ensuring that all brain tumour patients are offered this crucial form of support as part of their care? Thank you.
Thanks very much, Joel. I think, whenever we're dealing with physical issues where people are really confronting very, very difficult situations, then we do have to consider in particular, perhaps, the mental health impact on people trying to deal with those situations, and so, obviously, where possible, a holistic needs assessment should be made. But I am pleased that we do have some real experts in Wales in brain tumours. Cardiff Neuro-oncology Centre was awarded centre of excellence status by the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, and I'm really pleased also that £9.4 million has been invested in Cardiff University's brain research imaging centre, CUBRIC.
My mother had a brain tumour, which she sadly died from. The GP was treating her for a long period of time, in its early stages, for thyroid problems—having tests done on the thyroid. By the time she went into hospital, it was stage 4. It was only when it spread to other parts of the body that she was referred for a CT scan. I request that GPs are trained to identify the symptoms and then test for brain tumours, and not try and find something simpler.
Thanks very much, Mike, and I'm sorry to hear about your mother. I think what's clear is we've got to be very careful, because, obviously, GPs see countless numbers of people with headaches or issues with balance or vague symptoms, such as fatigue, so it's very difficult, I think, for them to be absolutely clear. And there is already very well recognised professional guidance in place for GPs from NICE to refer adults with progressive loss of central neurological function for urgent investigation. I'm sure you will be aware that the NHS in Wales is now rolling out rapid diagnostic centres to the whole population, and I'm pleased to say that, actually, that is being used and many, many people are now being referred.
5. How is the Minister working with the Minister for Economy to ensure the Welsh Government capitalises on the Cymru men's football team's qualification for the 2022 world cup to improve public health through grass-roots sports participation? OQ58346
Officials are in early discussions with the Football Association of Wales to consider how we can take forward a range of programmes through 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' and our proposed social prescribing framework. These programmes will include a focus on physical and mental health.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. That's a very encouraging response, because the Football Association of Wales recently shared with the Culture, Welsh Language, Communications, Sport and International Relations Committee—there's no way of saying that quickly, sorry—their submission to the Welsh Government regarding how we can grow football in Wales to improve the health of the nation. Their request was a £10 million investment per annum for a decade. And we know that, in Wales, despite our love for rugby, football is emerging as the No. 1 team sport in terms of public interest and participation, with powerchair and walking football becoming increasingly popular too. There is an opportunity, through the world cup, to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to become more active and improve public health. You've outlined some of the things, but is there also going to be an active campaign to make sure that we capitalise on this? Thank you.
Thank you, Heledd, and I entirely agree that the world cup gives us a really good opportunity to capture the power and enthusiasm of football to tackle some of the public health issues that we face. I haven't seen the paper that you refer to, but I will certainly ask to receive a copy of it.
Just to expand a little bit further on the work that's been going on, as I said, senior officials have met with the Football Association of Wales and are developing a set of ideas and proposals to consider further action, and that includes population-wide messages. We're also working closely with Sport Wales, including through investment in our Healthy and Active Fund, and with other national governing bodies, to consider how we can increase physical activity levels across Wales. Officials are also in early discussions with the FAW regarding a programme called Football Fans in Training—FFIT—which is a weight-loss intervention supported through football clubs, which has an evidence base in Scotland and England, and we're looking at whether we can roll out some pilots of that in Wales, harnessing the enthusiasm for football. As Members are aware, we've also got some children and families pilots operating across Wales, and our discussions with the FAW are also considering the potential of scaling up something called Footie Families, which supports children in learning a range of skills, providing opportunities for high-quality movement while inspiring parents. We've also, as part of these discussions, talked to the FAW about our social prescribing framework, which we're going to shortly consult on, as that also provides an opportunity for us to harness some of these issues.
Minister, I'm sure you'll agree with me that sport is extremely important for our young people right across Wales not just in terms of their physical health, but also their mental health. It's great for people to get out there in the fresh air and experience that. It really opens people up as well—the talking about their problems. You're talking about social prescribing, and actually getting GPs to more socially prescribe to make sure that our young people are accessing that to make sure it does help their mental health. But also, that needs to go into schools as well, to make sure that our schools are educating young people about healthy lifestyles to help their mental health. So, can you tell me what work you've done across Government to understand the impacts of mental health and sport on our young people?
Thank you very much for that question, James. This is absolutely a cross-Government issue. As you're aware, our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' plan is a cross-Government plan, with all Ministers making a contribution to what we're trying to do. Clearly, there's a really important role for education, and we are uniquely well placed in Wales with our new curriculum, with our area of learning focused on health and well-being, to really embed that understanding of health in schools so that our young people get the best possible start in life. Also, young people will be a feature of what we're doing through our social prescribing programme. I'm really concerned that that doesn't appear to be just something that is for older people, because we know that it can often be young people who experience the most loneliness.
6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that opportunities for play are available and accessible to all children? OQ58356
Access to high-quality play opportunities is critical for the social, emotional and physical development of all children. I am proud that Wales was the first country to legislate, guaranteeing children's right to play by ensuring local authorities secure sufficient opportunities, via the play sufficiency duty.
Thank you, Minister, for that response. I absolutely recognise what you said about play being absolutely important for physical and mental health. I welcome initiatives such as the Summer of Fun scheme to extend play. However, I've had recent discussions with Scope, and they suggest that equipment is often inaccessible to disabled children and many playgrounds are not designed with full accessibility in mind. In fact, half of the parents with disabled children say there is some accessibility problem with their local playground. Obviously, that means that many young people can't feel included in their play. Wales has a clear commitment to be a play-friendly country, and so dedicated investment is needed to support this ambition. Deputy Minister, I wonder what conversations you've had with your Cabinet colleagues about the steps that can be taken to improve accessibility to playgrounds. And will you consider calls to create an inclusive playground fund to co-produce new and improve existing playgrounds with disabled children and their families? Thank you.
I thank Peter Fox very much for that question. I am aware of Scope, and I've had a letter from Scope as well. Welsh Government officials have met with Scope officials already twice this year. I can absolutely assure you of our continuing commitment to provide opportunities for all children and young people to play in safety and to support improved access to play for disabled children. Both the Welsh Government and the play sector in Wales favour inclusive play where able-bodied and disabled children are able to play together, and this is supported by the Children's Play Policy Forum and UK Play Safety Forum, who released a joint position statement this year supporting inclusive play, which, of course, goes beyond accessible playgrounds. Local authorities, as I'm sure the Member will know, are required to ensure that there are sufficient play opportunities for all children in line with the provisions under section 11 of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010, and this includes specific provision for the consideration of the needs of disabled children. So, local authorities should be looking at this already.
Just to give an indication about how much support is being put in by the Welsh Government, since the play sufficiency duty was introduced in November 2012, we've made £33.330 million revenue funding available to local authorities to enable them to meet the requirements—that's since 2012—but, for the financial years 2020-21 and 2021-22, we awarded local authorities a total of £8 million COVID recovery capital funding, which gave authorities the flexibility to purchase large items and refurbish playgrounds and access to playgrounds.
Deputy Minister, when you and I have discussed inclusive play previously, we've agreed that key to improving access to these opportunities is making sure that information is easily available so that parents, guardians, children, young people and families know what inclusive play is available and where it's located. How will Welsh Government work with partners to ensure this sort of information is shared—something that's important all through the year, but especially as we look to the summer holidays?
Thank you very much, Vikki Howells, for that question. I know how diligently you've pursued this issue. A local authority family information service can inform parents and carers about the availability and location of play opportunities, and they'll be also able to signpost parents and carers to the play team, who are best placed to assess their needs. Many local councils in Wales have information about accessibility on the play sections of their websites, and we encourage local authorities to do this as part of their play sufficiency actions. Local authorities should be working collaboratively across a range of key policy areas, and this will enable local authorities to collaborate to support the needs of local people. So, local authorities have a duty to do this, and they have a duty to inform the public. I'm aware that the Member would like there to be something much more specific, so I'll tell her that we will discuss with local authorities about any more that can be done so that people know where the facilities are available, particularly with the Summer of Fun coming up now.
7. What action is the Minister taking to improve the nutritional value of meals served in Welsh hospitals? OQ58333
The all-Wales nutrition and catering standards were published in 2011 to ensure hospital food meets the diverse needs of the hospital population. Work is currently under way to review those standards to ensure they continue to meet the nutritional and dietary requirements of hospital patients in Wales.
Thank you, Minister. On two recent stays in hospital, one at the Princess of Wales and the other at the University Hospital of Wales, I was shocked at the lack of dietary choice available. As a Muslim, I was not offered halal food. I have been informed since then that vegetarians are often not offered food meeting their dietary needs either. The result: in-patients having to rely on family or friends to bring in food during visiting time, which has not been possible in these pandemic years. Minister, I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is unacceptable and will lead to instances where patients are not getting the right balance of nutrition to aid their recovery. Minister, will you ensure that all hospitals in Wales serve meals that fulfil the dietary requirements of patients as well as being nutritionally balanced? Thank you.
Thanks very much, Altaf, and I'm pleased to say that officials are already working with their NHS counterparts to begin that process of reviewing the standards that include hospital food. However, it is a very significant piece of work and something where, obviously, we're very keen, if we can, to make sure that we include local food in that. Now, what I don't have yet is a set timetable for the publication of the refreshed standards, but what I do accept is that it has been a long time since the last standards were issued, and that's why we will take account of the review and, of course, some of the issues that you pointed out will be considered in that review.
The more pressing issue for me this weekend, to be honest, is the incredible heat that's heading our way and is already hitting us. I'm very concerned about the impact on older people. I hope that people who are suffering with cardiovascular issues and with respiratory diseases will be extremely careful. We are looking at a high-impact weather event. We are particularly concerned about what will be happening on Sunday and on Monday. I'd encourage people to drink lots of water, don't be a mad dog or an Englishman and go out in the midday sun, and be aware of the pressure on the NHS. It is already intense: our beds are full; we have 1,000 COVID patients; accident and emergency departments are under strain; ambulances are extremely stretched. We really want to try and avoid any more pressure on the NHS at this time, so please be careful this coming weekend.
8. Will the Deputy Minister provide an update on the provision of mental health services in north Wales? OQ58362
We continue to provide significant and sustained funding to support the provision of mental health services. In addition to its mental health ring-fenced allocation, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will receive an additional £4.9 million of recurrent mental health funding this year to continue to improve mental health support.
On 15 June, in response to a question about the abrupt closure of Denbigh Men's Shed, you said, and I quote,
'I've been in touch with the health board and have been advised that, following a health and safety walk around, risks were noted and felt to be of such a nature that a temporary suspension of this service was required.'
Now, serious questions have been raised about the validity of that decision. Staff involved, apparently, had failed to follow procedure, and I'm told that the suspension actually had no basis and, ultimately, was shown to be invalid. Now, I'm sure you'll join with me, of course, in celebrating the subsequent reopening of Denbigh Men's Shed, despite the harmful upheaval that caused to some of our most fragile and at-risk people, but can I ask: what process does the Government have in place to check whether information provided to you by other bodies, as you prepare to answer these questions, is actually correct and is actually reflective of the reality of the situation on the ground?
Thank you, Llyr, and, yes, I was really pleased that the men's shed is open again, and I saw on Twitter that you had been able to visit them to celebrate that opening. Officials checked with the health board what the position was in relation to the abrupt closure of the men's shed. I had in fact received an e-mail to my MS inbox about it so was able to alert officials, and we were given the assurances that I then gave in the Chamber that there had been health and safety issues highlighted, but that these were being resolved following some urgent action being taken. Obviously, you hope that when you're provided with that information that is correct. If you're saying that's not the case, then I'd advise maybe that you write to me about that.
9. What progress is the Welsh Government making with its preventative healthcare agenda? OQ58347
As part of our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' and tobacco control strategies, we are co-investing, with local health boards, into a number of programmes and interventions that support population health outcomes.
Thank you for that, Minister. I recently ran the Llanishen parkrun, which was celebrating links between parkrun organisers and GP practices to encourage more integrated and supportive local communities, centring on wellness. I note that parkrun organisers, Minister, would very much like to see a consistent approach right across Wales, making these links between those working in the health sector and the parkrun organisers, facilitating communication and joint working. I'd just like to ask what Welsh Government will be doing to strengthen that agenda and take it forward in Wales.
Thank you very much, John, and I know that you are an enthusiastic supporter of parkruns, and I think that they play an enormous role in making sure that we can get people more active and I'm very keen to support them.
Pre pandemic, my officials were in discussion with the UK Government, the Royal College of General Practitioners and parkrun UK around a programme to promote social prescribing of parkrun, and there are already practices in Wales that have been supporting this programme. I've asked my officials to re-establish these links and consider further work on that that could be taken forward across Wales.
Finally, question 10, Mike Hedges.
10. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to prevent heart disease? OQ58332
Individuals can take a range of steps to reduce their chances of developing heart disease, by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly, for example. Our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' and tobacco control strategies are developing a range of measures to support people to make those healthier choices.
Can I thank you for that answer? We know that smoking has reduced, and is continuing to reduce, and many of us are waiting for it to reach zero. Unfortunately, obesity is moving in the opposite direction, and that is causing a large number of people to suffer from things that can cause heart disease. Hardening of the arteries happens 10 times more often in people who are obese than in people who are not obese. So, will the Welsh Government develop an obesity strategy in order to try and get people to their correct weight? That's going to have to involve a lot of social action; rather than giving people a tablet for everything, try and get people exercising, try and get people dieting, and try and get people taking some responsibility for their own health, rather than hoping a doctor will solve everything.
Thank you very much, Mike. You'll be pleased to know that we have a really comprehensive anti-obesity strategy in Wales called 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales'. It's a 10-year strategy that we are breaking up into two-year delivery plans so that we can really focus on making sure that we are delivering in what is a really complex area. It is a hugely challenging area, because we all know when habits are unhealthy, but getting people to change those habits is really complex. So, we have a multifaceted approach in our strategy that involves behaviour change, it involves funding things like the pilots for children and young people; we're investing very significantly in the all-Wales weight management programme to make sure that there are pathways in all parts of Wales, and we're investing in community sports, in the healthy and active fund, and also, vitally, our plan includes, as I said in response to James Evans earlier on, a strong focus on the role of education and making sure that young people learn from an early age how to become more healthy. It is a really challenging agenda, but we are very committed to doing it. We have a new implementation board, which I chair, we've got very senior leaders from across Wales on that board, and we are absolutely determined to drive forward this agenda.
Thank you, Minister and Deputy Ministers.
The next item is the topical questions, and I call on Luke Fletcher to ask his question.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on reports that child poverty rose in Wales during the pandemic despite falling across the rest of the UK nations? TQ657
I thank Luke Fletcher for that question. The key levers for tackling child poverty—powers over the tax and welfare system—sit with the UK Government, but we will continue to do all we can with the powers we have to tackle inequalities and improve outcomes for all children in Wales so that they can fulfil their potential.
Thank you for that response, Minister.
The reality is that child poverty has remained alarmingly high over the past decade. Whilst my colleague Liz Saville Roberts raised with the Prime Minister in Prime Minister's questions today that he should scrap the two-child limit and reinstate the £20 uplift for all families entitled to welfare—by the way, I have to say, it was another poor response from him on this issue—I am keen to learn what Welsh Government can do.
Now, we'll be having a debate later on today on the Welsh Government's spending priorities. I'll be making the case again for expanding the education maintenance allowance. I do accept that there will be conflicting priorities in the Welsh Government's budget, but surely tackling child poverty should be one of the main priorities within the Welsh Government's budget. I would hope that the Welsh Government would reflect this, not just by introducing further support but also agreeing to set child poverty targets so that we can better measure Welsh Government's successes or failures within this field. And on this point as well, the Bevan Foundation is right to say that the fact that poverty targets have not worked in the past is not a reason to dismiss the potential benefits of setting new ones.
Well, thank you very much for those important supplementary questions. I did see that the End Child Poverty alliance made some very clear calls on the UK Government that benefit payments should permanently keep pace with inflation—3.1 per cent, the uplift in April—and also that the two-child limit on child benefit, and, indeed, the benefit cap, should be abolished. And I've called for that. In fact, when I first met with the children's commissoner—the previous children's commissioner—those were the calls, and, indeed, from the Bevan Foundation. But I will say that we're continuing to target support at families with children. Our programme for government commits us to continuing support for our flagship Flying Start programme of early intervention; extending the pupil development grant access, a scheme worth up to £200 per child to support more families with the school uniforms, school kit; and we're so pleased that, as part of the co-operation agreement we've given that commitment to roll out free school meals to all primary school children. I could go on, but I will say that what's important is that we've given a commitment to publish a refreshed child poverty strategy, and committed to working with stakeholders over the summer so that we can publish it this year.
Minister, I'm not interested in a blame game today. What I want to hear today and what my struggling constituents want to hear today is what this Labour Government are going to do about the fact that 36.3 per cent of children in the city of Newport in my region are living in poverty, according to the recent data just released from child poverty charity End Child Poverty. This makes Newport the most impoverished local authority in Wales. Sadly, the picture isn't too much better across Wales, with 34 per cent of children in Wales living in poverty, as was outlined by Luke Fletcher, which makes Wales the worst in the UK—up from 31 per cent before the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has a role to play to get these children out of poverty—this Government, the UK Government and the Labour-run Newport City Council. We all have a responsibility to ensure these children do not get left behind and suffer unnecessarily. I don't want to to and fro today about whose fault is what, and I appreciate your commitment, Minister, but more urgent action needs to be taken, and I want to hear from you today what exactly you are going to do, more than you're already doing, to ensure that we reverse this worrying trend that we're seeing in Newport. Thank you.
Well, I do have to ask Laura Anne Jones: are you going to join us, are you going to join me, are you going to join those opposition MPs in Westminster today, raising the issues that were raised by the End Child Poverty alliance, and raised, actually, with us on Monday at the cost-of-living summit, which was joined by—[Interruption.] Can I please answer the question, Deputy Presiding Officer?
It is important that Members on all benches allow people to either ask the question or answer the question.
So, can I just say again: will you call on the UK Conservative Government to make sure that benefit payments—which has been called for—permanently keep pace with inflation and also that the two-child limit on child benefit and the benefit cap is abolished? And of course we will play our part. I've already outlined ways in which we are playing our part in terms of our responsibilities, and I'm going to add to that. To respond to your question, Laura Anne Jones, we're also going to extend the childcare offer to parents of two-year-olds and those in training or education, and since November we've provided more than £380 million in additional funding to support households affected by the cost-of-living crisis. It's good to give the figures again today: 166,000 households benefited from that £200 payment under our first winter fuel support scheme; 83 per cent of eligible households in Wales have already received their cost-of-living payment of £150; and in January this year, claims to the discretionary assistance fund reached £3 million for the first time. We continue with those payments and the flexibilities in the discretionary assistance payment.
But I'm also pleased—and it will help your constituents—that we have now funded the Fuel Bank Foundation to distribute approximately 49,000 vouchers—in the summer months needed for cooking, in the winter for heating and cooking—to pre-payment households, the poorest households across Wales at risk of disconnection. So, we play our part, but you might join us in calling for that action from the UK Government.
In one of the richest countries in the world, no child should go hungry. No child should live in a house that is in poverty. Unfortunately, very many do. The expansion of free school meals—which I've asked for over several years, and was then taken up by Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government—is a very positive step, but I have mothers in my constituency who dread the school summer holidays because they have to provide 10 extra meals a week per child. Will the Welsh Government continue its free lunch initiative over all of the school holidays, including this year's summer holidays? And will free breakfasts be available to all schoolchildren during the summer holidays and other holidays? This would make a huge difference to dealing with poverty in my constituency.
Thank you very much, Mike Hedges, and I do remember coming to visit your Faith in Families project, an important project, in Swansea East and seeing what they were doing as a charity supporting the local community, very much engaged in tackling food poverty during the school holidays, as well as during the term. And I was pleased on Monday at the cost-of-living crisis summit, which I chaired with the Minister for Finance and Local Government and the Minister for Climate Change, to announce an extra £3 million of Welsh Government funding to support the development of cross-sector food partnerships, and strengthen existing food partnerships. That is actually for local food networks' co-ordination on the ground, building resilience, working with Public Health Wales, local authorities, Welsh housing associations and advice services to understand and address local needs. I'm sure that this will also include looking at those issues you've raised this afternoon.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is the 90-second statements, and the first is from Heledd Fychan.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. On 11 July each year, we remember Srebrenica and the genocide of 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. The efforts of remembering here in Wales are driven by Abi Carter and the board of Remembering Srebrenica Wales, who work hard to ensure we do not forget the stories of Srebrenica and that we learn the lessons of this brutal genocide. This year's theme for the commemoration is combating denial and challenging hatred. By understanding and confronting this dark side of our collective history, we can ensure that we illuminate darkness with hope.
The children of this war grew up without a childhood, without peace and without family members. As one survivor said,
'I was 10 years old when the war ended, but it was four years earlier that I stopped being a child.'
The efforts of remembering Srebrenica through educational visits, among other things, ensure the memory of this atrocity lives on, teaching a valuable lesson about where hatred can lead. This work continues through the pupils of Treorchy Comprehensive School, who were worthy winners of the Youth Ambassadors award at the commemoration event last week. One survivor poignantly said,
'Despite everything, I hope that I can teach my daughters to grow up without hatred. This will be my success.'
We must never forget this brutal genocide, and we must continue to challenge hate and extremism in all forms.
Wales remembers Srebrenica.
Eighty-five years ago, following the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war, 4,000 Basque children and accompanying adult staff were evacuated to Britain. It was a remarkable display of community grass-roots organisation. Over 200 children came to Wales, where homes known as 'colonies' were set up for refugees, one of which was in Cambria House in Caerleon, where 56 children arrived on 10 July 1937. It turned out to be one of the most successful in the UK. It was a time of high unemployment and poverty, but the people of Caerleon and Newport welcomed the children with open arms. Everyone was involved in fundraising, from the South Wales Miner's Federation and local volunteers, to the children themselves. They formed a formidable Basque football team, produced their own bilingual newspaper, and helped to raise money through traditional Basque dances and songs.
On this notable anniversary, I'm delighted that a delegation of the Basque Government will be at a series of events being held in Caerleon. The weekend of festivities includes football matches, dancers, singers and poets from both Wales and the Basque Country, seminars and talks, and also tours of Caerleon's Roman heritage. It promises to be a wonderful occasion. With war once again clouding over Europe, the parallels with refugees and the hospitality of the Welsh people are sadly very easy to see. The generosity and kindness of the people of Caerleon should be something our country is proud of. I'm so pleased it's being commemorated, and long may that relationship between our people continue to thrive.
'One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.'
These are the words of Malala Yousafzai, a truly inspirational young woman, born on 12 July 1997 in the Swat valley in Pakistan. When she was just 11 years old the Taleban took over her village and closed her school. She decided, even at that young age, that she would not give up her education without a fight. She spoke out publicly on behalf of girls and their right to learn. And she was shot in the head for her efforts. But thanks to the UK Government and a team of medics in Birmingham, Malala survived and continued to speak up for gender equality from her new home here in Britain.
Our daughters and granddaughters thankfully do not face the same challenges that confronted Malala, or confront 130 million girls around the world today, but thanks to inspirational young women like Malala, they can look forward to a brighter, more equal future. So, a happy—if slightly belated—birthday, Malala, and thank you for all you continue to do to make our world a better place. Thank you.
I would like to congratulate Côr CF1 on winning the Choir of the World competition at the Llangollen Eisteddfod last week. In order to win the title, the choir sang songs including an arrangement of 'Dros Gymru'n Gwlad', 'Gwinllan a Roddwyd i'n Gofal', and also a French folk song and a prayer in Russian—an appropriately international repertoire for a festival like this.
CF1 was established in 2002 under the leadership of Eilir Owen Griffiths, and since then, it has gone from strength to strength. Certainly, Dirprwy Lywydd, it is encouraging to see the Pavarotti trophy being kept in Wales for another year. And what a wonderful way for the choir to be able to celebrate its 20-year anniversary.
The Llangollen Eisteddfod remains one of the world's most famous singing competitions, and it is also a platform for Welsh talent on the international stage. So, congratulations to CF1 and to all the choirs who were victorious in their competitions, and it's good to see such a precious trophy being kept again in the land of song.
Thank you. Moving on, in accordance with Standing Order 12.24, unless a Member objects the two motions under items 5 and 6, motions to amend Standing Orders, will be grouped for debate, but with votes taken separately. I see that there are no objections.
I call on a member of the Business Committee to formally move the motion. Siân Gwenllian.
Motion NDM8063 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the report of the Business Committee, ‘Amending Standing Orders: Standing Order 34 and remote participation in Senedd proceedings’, laid in the Table Office on 6 July 2022.
2. Approves the proposals to amend Standing Orders 6, 12 and 17, as set out in Annex A of the Business Committee’s report.
3. Notes the Business Committee’s recommendation that Standing Order 34 should cease to have effect, as scheduled, on 1 August 2022.
Motion NDM8062 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the report of the Business Committee, ‘Amending Standing Orders: Temporary Standing Orders 12.41A-H on Proxy Voting’, laid in the Table Office on 6 July 2022.
2. Approves the proposal to amend Standing Order 12, as set out in Annex A of the Business Committee’s report.
May I say how much I welcome this motion today, not for my sake or that of any of us here as Senedd Members now, but for those who would never consider that it was a possibility for them to become a Member of the Senedd—people with caring responsibilities, for example, not only with children, but perhaps with an elderly parent or a partner who needs their support; disabled people who think that they could never be here regularly because of their conditions, and the fact that the need to be in Cardiff is a barrier to them thinking that they could be a representative of their region or constituency; and those who live far away too?
I'm lucky; I represent South Wales Central. It's not far for me to travel here to the Senedd; it is, in fact, within my region. But, for those who have to travel perhaps 20 hours a week just to be here, that is a barrier for many in considering becoming a Member of the Senedd. So, I welcome this. If we are to have a Senedd that is democratic and representative, and has 96 Members, if that comes to pass, then I want it to be a Senedd that represents the whole of Wales, and I welcome this.
Of course, there will be times when there are benefits to being here in Cardiff. Most of us try to be here, and there are so many benefits when we can come together, in terms of sharing ideas, getting to know each other in committees and so on. But, being here all of the time isn't necessary, and we have shown that it can work through the COVID period.
I am very disappointed to hear some comments from the Tories in the press today, talking about 'representation from the Senedd, not the sofa'. Well, we all have offices within our constituencies and regions; we can represent our constituents there. I also think that we need to bear in mind that the vast majority of us have taken advantage of this at times. Certainly, when one gets a phone call from their child's school to say that they're unwell, for example, the fact that you can be there to collect them and can continue to contribute to the Senedd is extremely important, and it means that you aren't penalised for being a parent, because it is possible for you to participate.
There were so many times when I was a county councillor when I was criticised if I missed one meeting because it wasn't possible to participate in a hybrid manner, as compared to a man who was perhaps retired who could attend all meetings. Did that mean that I was a lesser representative of my community because I missed that one meeting? The fact that I was then able to be there, with my child at home, whilst also representing my community, that made a very real difference, because people do use that against you, if you look at just the record of attendance. That doesn't mean that you are not an effective representative.
Having spoken to people with disabilities too who welcome this change, they've said that this would mean that they could stand, because the greatest barrier is having to be here for every session and having to be here to vote. So, I warmly welcome this. I very much hope that the Conservatives will rethink some of their derogatory comments, in my view, because our democracy isn't open to everyone as things stand. This is an important step forward; it won't remove all barriers, but it is an important step forward and I welcome it.
The proposal is to amend Standing Orders in relation to Standing Order 34 and remote participation in Senedd proceedings. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. I will defer voting under this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The proposal is to amend Standing Orders in relation to proxy voting. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. I will defer voting under this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Next we have the motion to elect a Member to a committee, and I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion formally. Siân Gwenllian.
Motion NNDM8068 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Sarah Murphy (Welsh Labour) as a member of the Health and Social Care Committee in place of Mike Hedges (Welsh Labour).
Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 7 today is a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv) on basic income and the transition to a zero-carbon economy, and I call on Jane Dodds to move the motion.
Motion NDM8028 Jane Dodds, Jack Sargeant, Luke Fletcher, Carolyn Thomas
Supported by Delyth Jewell
To propose that the Senedd:
a) that a significant number of Welsh workers are employed in industries that will undergo significant change as part of Wales's transition to a zero carbon economy;
b) the importance of ensuring a just transition to a zero carbon economy;
c) the Welsh Government’s ongoing basic income (BI) pilot for care leavers.
2. Calls on the Welsh Government to consider how the BI pilot could be extended to workers in these industries to inform Wales’s transition to a zero carbon economy.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you so much to the Business Committee for choosing this motion.
In the last three months, monsoon rains unleashed disastrous flooding in Bangladesh; brutal heat waves seared parts of south Asia and Europe; prolonged drought has left millions on the brink of famine in east Africa; and, close to home, look at what's happening here: we're experiencing extremely high temperatures. This Senedd and the Government have recognised the climate and ecological crisis that we face. So, the case for transitioning our economy and our society to ones that live within the means of our planet's limited resources is, right now, irrefutable.
But the question is how we support the nearly 220,000 jobs across Wales in industries that will, as a consequence of our transition to net zero, inevitably cease to exist in the future. We cannot be bystanders while workers and communities undergo the most rapid and significant change in decades. The International Institute for Labour Studies has said that we live in times of chronic high unemployment, when new jobs are mostly created on low pay scales, with a distinct lack of benefits and security, stagnating or declining real incomes, and social security systems that are either completely absent or tightly rationed.
Our ambition for workers and our communities must be far-reaching and all-embracing as part of our transition to net zero. It will not be a fair or just transition if workers lose their jobs or go into vulnerable employment. We are being warned that countries that fail to prepare for this economic shift towards more vulnerable work will be increasingly hard hit by the instabilities associated with climate breakdown. We have to deliberately and proactively disrupt that dangerous trend towards precarious work. And a significant change, we are being warned, will come.
We have to ensure that our transition is not just well planned, but is socially just. For this reason, I'm proposing that Welsh Government extend the ongoing basic income pilot to include those employed in high-carbon intensive industries. Many of you will be aware of my support for a universal basic income, unlocking the potential and freedom of people from all walks of life who are held back and prevented from shaping their own futures. A basic income targeted at workers directly impacted by our transition to net zero would ensure that they are protected and empowered to determine their futures. It would serve as a safety net whilst our economy shifts and industries adapt.
I welcome the ongoing work from Welsh Government in their plan for green employment, but this does not address how Wales ensures it is a just transition. The plan lacks clarity on which industries will be supported and what support will be available. Only £1 million has been allocated for this financial year to a Net Zero Wales skills action plan, which does not reflect the urgency nor the scale, when it has been identified that there are around 15 industries across Europe that are likely to undergo significant change.
To finish, a basic income pilot, I believe, will shine a light on the potential of a basic income to support workers not only to transition to a zero-carbon economy, but to help Wales become a fairer, greener, more just society. I hope the Senedd can support those workers and this proposal today. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Rhun ap Iorwerth took the Chair.
I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Jane Dodds for giving us the opportunity once again to debate a basic income in this Senedd, and I'm pleased to be able to co-submit today's motion. As some of the Members will recall from the debate I led calling for Wales to lead the way and announce a trial for universal basic income here in Wales, one of the key attractions to a basic income for me is that ability to help residents manage—that safety net Jane Dodds alluded to. But it's not just a safety net there; it's the ability to allow residents to thrive, to be that springboard in a period of almost unprecedented change.
Colleagues, globally, we do face challenges that cannot be ignored—huge shifts in the way our economies and our societies will work. One of these in particular is the subject of today's debate. And that's the need to restructure our economies to meet the challenge of the climate crisis. Accept it or not, Members—and I hope Members in this Chamber, every single one of us, do accept it—the future of humanity is at risk. If we are to turn our societies carbon neutral, this will not be easy, but I am sure that it does bring great opportunity as well as challenges. Communities like mine, back in Alyn and Deeside, are built around manufacturing, and they should be at the absolute forefront of building the next generation of carbon-neutral products, the pillars of these on energy generation, sustainable transport and the retrofitting of businesses and homes.
I was proud to lead a debate calling for Wales to become the first nation in the world to disinvest in pension funds from fossil fuels, and I spoke then about the way these funds could drive investment in the types of new technologies that we need. Today's motion from Jane Dodds is about how we manage that transition. As a trained research and development engineer, which is something quite unusual for elected politics, far from a political adviser, I have the ability to recognise this huge change in our society, and the changes that we face, and the challenges that we face because of automation, digitalisation and artificial intelligence. Those jobs that we consider high skilled will be done by robots, will be done by machines. But this change is happening whether we like it or not, and whether we resist it or not. And we have to manage that transition.
One of my roles as an engineer was to manage change, and we must learn from examples where Governments have managed change catastrophically badly. And in my community of Alyn and Deeside, we've seen that first-hand. We still feel the pain of that first-hand. We were thrown to the wolves when deindustrialisation happened in the 1980s. It was an unmanaged set of changes by a Thatcherite ideology. It damaged lives and it damaged life chances. As I say, we still feel the pain in Alyn and Deeside. At the last election, the UK Tories claimed that they recognised this, and they claimed and talked about levelling up. But that just simply hasn't happened. And now—we see it, don't we—they are fast abandoning that ship and these promises, and they're even talking about a return to the Thatcherite nightmare that is associated with Alyn and Deeside—the single biggest mass redundancy in Europe.
Acting Presiding Officer, it will fall to more bold forces to manage this change properly, to manage and explore the bold policy solutions like a universal basic income. Our Conservative Members shout, and they have shouted it before, that it can't be done. But didn't they claim that when our beloved NHS was first mooted and then delivered by Welsh Labour? So, colleagues, I do commend this motion to the Senedd today. I do hope colleagues—
Will you give way?
Yes, of course.
You mentioned the NHS there, but as you know, and I want you to confirm this, it was a Conservative health Minister that first proposed the creation of a national health service—Henry Willink in 1941. So, to say that we've always been opposed to the national health service is factually wrong, isn't it?
Well, it's not factually wrong at all, because the person who delivered the health service was Nye Bevan. So, if you look at those facts, Joel James, you will see that. And it's not just the NHS, is it? We've heard these arguments before. It was the same argument when we tried to stop children going down the mines 100 years ago. You didn't accept that then, and you don't accept this now.
Friends, I commend this motion to the Senedd. I do hope our colleagues from across the Chamber support our bold motion put forward, and I hope the bold Welsh Labour Government, under Mark Drakeford, will be supporting this motion today. Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you, Jane, for proposing this debate. I would like to start by saying that I agree that there are significant numbers of Welsh workers who are employed in industries that will undergo significant change as part of the transition to net zero. However, I am not convinced that the transition to a zero-carbon economy in Wales is going to cause either widespread unemployment or have any negative impact on employment at all. If anything, I would argue that these industries will invest more in their staff in order to train them for their decarbonisation transition, and, as such, I am at a loss as to why people would think that it could be an unjust transition for workers as we move to a zero-carbon economy.
Furthermore, we have strong employment laws across the United Kingdom, so even if workers found themselves in a position where they were made unemployed as a result of decarbonisation, they would be compensated as appropriate. This leads me to question what evidence has been presented to suggest that, in Wales, those employed in industries that are decarbonising will actually be unjustly impacted. I believe that during the transition to zero carbon, workers will more than likely see improvements in their working conditions, and probably find better pay in the long term, as the businesses save money through more efficient technologies.
Members will be well aware that the Climate Change Committee, an independent statutory body established under the Climate Act 2008, whose purpose is to advise the UK and devolved governments on adapting, among other things, to the impacts of climate change, reports that, for Wales, and I quote,
'the Net Zero transition will bring real savings, as people use fewer resources and adopt cleaner, more-efficient technologies,'
And so, I would argue that calling on the Welsh Government to give people money in the form of a basic income to help this transition, on the premise that workers will be unjustly impacted, is an irresponsible use of public funds.
Moreover, the idea that a basic income for those employed in decarbonising industries to help them experience a just transition is flawed, because employers will have no incentive to increase wages and return to employees the financial benefits that come from the decarbonisation of their industries. This is likely to disproportionately affect those in lower paid jobs more than higher paying jobs, thereby stunting the trend towards higher minimum wages that would likely be delivered by businesses moving to zero-carbon outputs. We have to be aware that the basic income trial will also be giving money to many people who are already very well compensated for the work, and this will be done at the expense of helping some of the poorest people in Wales.
We have to question where people believe the Welsh Government is going to find the money for this increased basic income trial. They cannot borrow it, and they should certainly not be able to do so.
Will you take an intervention?
Oh, sorry. Yes.
Thank you. With regard to the £1 billion less that we've received, or not received, in Wales, is it not up to you to represent the needs of Wales to your Government in the UK, so that we get what we need?
Sorry, but could you repeat that question again, but into the microphone?
I do apologise, Joel. With regard to the comment that you've just made, that we should have more money in Wales, can you articulate to me why we're not receiving the money that we should have had to Wales, so that we can do more with what we should have?
We've had £8.4 billion during the pandemic.
As Janet has already said, I think we're already adequately funded as it is. [Interruption.]
If we can listen to the response. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you, acting Llywydd. As Janet was highlighting, I think we're already adequately funded as it is. The UK Government is not going to increase the Welsh Government budget to support this costly experiment, and so the Welsh Government would have to cut money out of health, education and other budgets in Wales, which, as we have heard repeatedly in this Chamber, are sectors already in dire need.
Last week, I visited a primary school in Cardiff whose building is in such a state of repair they've had scaffolding erected for over three years. Black mould covers classroom walls, windows can barely be opened to ventilate the school, there are significant damp problems with cracking and falling plaster, lunchtimes are staggered over two hours because 40 per cent of the playground has been lost to scaffolding, there's almost no natural light in classrooms, there's water leaking close to electrical points, and buckets have to be used to catch rainwater. I question how expanding this basic income pilot is a good use of public money when this Government will allow our nation's children to be educated in such appalling conditions.
Might I also remind Members that the basic income is not a devolved matter? We should be encouraging the Government to stop wasting money on these pointless pet projects, and use their time and resources to resolve the issues that they are tasked with, such as trying to resolve the continually falling education standards and dealing with the 700,000 people who are on NHS waiting lists. Acting Llywydd, I see no benefit for the people of Wales in this Government extending their basic income trial and wasting public money in this way. I believe that those workers in industries that are transitioning to zero carbon will not be unjustly impacted. Therefore, I would encourage all Members here to vote against this motion. Thank you.
To start, when tackling the climate crisis, we can't focus solely on decarbonisation of the economy. It is an important part, yes, but we also need wider change in how our economy works and how we go about our day-to-day lives. We need a substantial transformation and reorganisation of the current economic system to effectively tackle climate change and respond to the consequences of the climate crisis. The poorest and the most marginalised nations and populations are the least responsible for the production of greenhouse gases, but are more likely to be exposed to the negative effects of climate change, and have more limited access to the resources needed to respond, cope and recover from the impact of the climate crisis. Inequalities have to be placed at the heart of an effective strategy for tackling climate change. Tackling the climate emergency must mean tackling poverty and inequality as well.
Now, speaking to the motion, a just transition is going to be vital. A number of Members across the Chamber have made this point in the past. We must bring people along with us on the journey to net zero. One in five Welsh workers are in climate-critical sectors, sectors that will be massively affected by the shift to net zero. These are those high-carbon sectors that so many communities in Wales rely on for employment and economic success. That's one of the reasons why I've advocated for a just transition commission since my election, so that there will be a body that monitors decisions made by Welsh Government relating to net zero and that will assess the impact on our communities and ensure that there is a plan in place for those communities, such as retraining opportunities. The Scottish Government has already established a commission of the sort.
The reality is, we can't afford to leave people behind in the same way that people were left behind when the pits closed during the Thatcher era. Jack Sargeant has already highlighted this. There was no monitoring of its effects on communities, there was no plan to deal with the aftermath, and as a result we are still feeling the effects of that period today. The same mistakes can't be made again.
Now, of course, as the motion sets out, one way we can mitigate some of the potential effects of net zero would be through a basic income. Ensuring a floor for people that would aim to stop them falling into poverty will go a long way. And by the way, alongside the Welsh Government's policy and pilot, we don't need to look far for examples of how this would work. We've had a form of basic income for farmers for a number of years now. It's a proven concept for supporting sectors and the workers within those sectors, and I would encourage Members to vote in favour of this motion today. The shift to net zero will be a massive undertaking. It must happen. There is no credible argument to be had against it happening, but we must ensure that communities are protected and supported whilst it happens.
Finally, Cadeirydd, I'd like to thank Jane Dodds for submitting the motion, and I'm very glad that she asked me to co-submit.