Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon. We will now start the meeting. The first item on this afternoon's agenda is questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and the first question is from Altaf Hussain.
1. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in local government on the future of council tax? OQ58421
Through our established partnership arrangements, I've involved local government at every stage in developing plans to create a fairer council tax. I met with all 22 leaders in June, ahead of launching our phase 1 consultation, and I will convene regular discussions as we move forward.
Minister, many people are worried about the cost of living. Many now fear that your consultation on the future of council tax will mean that more households will pay a lot more in tax as the last revaluation did. Council tax, along with mortgage or rents and energy costs are now the biggest outgoings a family will face and next year are also predicted to bring financial hardship to many. Has the Minister considered—[Inaudible.]
The first thing to say about our proposals in respect of the reform of council tax is that they are not going to happen immediately or require a revaluation of all of our properties across Wales in order to give us the building blocks for the revaluation. We have had some work done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which has looked at the potential implications, and we think that there will be more people who gain, by either having a reduction in their council tax or by having their council tax stay the same, than there are in terms of people who would see an increase. We are thinking about transitional arrangements for those people who may see an increase and that's part of our consultation as well. But, at the moment, this really is about testing our ideas and gaining as many consultation responses as we can. We've had 900 so far, so it's been incredibly popular, but we want to hear from as many people with as many perspectives as possible.
In terms of the immediate challenges of the cost-of-living crisis, I do want to draw everybody's attention to our council tax reduction scheme. We know that there are people across Wales who aren't getting the support that they are entitled to through that scheme. And people can go to either their council website or the Welsh Government's website to find out more and see how they can apply for that support because, as I say, it's not being taken up by everybody who is entitled to it.
Plaid Cymru has long argued the case that council tax is in need of reform. It's outdated, it's regressive, and the IFS recognises this. The proposals jointly agreed by Plaid Cymru and Welsh Government are the first step in changing the council tax system to one that is fairer and more progressive whilst still supporting the services delivered by local authorities. But, with the cost-of-living crisis taking hold and knowing that council tax arrears is already a significant problem and likely to worsen, what conversations has the Minister had with relevant stakeholders relating to a potential debt bonfire, forgiving those in arrears? I know that would go a long way in helping so many in Wales today.
I do recognise as well that this is an important area of joint working between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government. I'm very grateful to Cefin Campbell in particular for the work that he's done in helping shape the ideas for a council tax that will rebalance the tax burden on households and fund the services that everybody benefits from, and that connects people to their communities and also has built in regular updates to keep it fair into the future.
I think the most important thing that we can do to support people at the moment is to ensure that everybody who is entitled to support through the council tax reduction scheme is able to get that support—and, as I say, there are lots of people who aren't—and also to work with local authorities in terms of the approach that they have to arrears. So, we've taken a person-centred approach to that. The local authorities themselves have come up with a set of guidelines and a toolkit to help them take that person-centred approach and to explore with the individual if there's more that they could be doing.
Quite simply, a bonfire of debt is unaffordable at the moment, unless, of course, Plaid Cymru want to pinpoint areas that we can move money from within the Welsh Government budget to support that. I'm always open to those discussions and those ideas, but, at the moment, I think it's about making sure that we have as many people accessing the support as they can, potentially reducing their bills to nil, and also supporting those who are in debt to have a manageable programme of paying back those debts to the council.
The reform agenda that's currently on to adjust and make a little bit more progressive the current tax system we have is welcome, and in fact it's long overdue, but it's why I'm also having letters from my constituents, because there will always be winners and losers, and I've got some constituents worried that they'll be on the losing side of this, but it is long overdue. But, could I ask the Minister, longer term, is the Welsh Government still, with other parties as well, interested in those discussions around a land reform tax, a fundamental change to the system, in the longer term, of course, or some sort of hybrid model? We know that's it had experimentation worldwide on this, but a Welsh version of this, surely, more progressive, more equitable, and also something that is a tax on the wealth of the landowners, as opposed to a tax on investing in the added value of that land, so it's not a disincentive to entrepreneurism. Is that still on the agenda?
Huw Irranca-Davies is entirely right that reform is long overdue. It's something that the IFS also noted in its report. It said that council tax is out of date, regressive and distortionary, and we recognise all of that. The IFS did recognise that we are the only part of the United Kingdom that has ever revalued its council tax base, but, nonetheless, we are still very out of date. And the work that we're doing will take us this whole Senedd term, I think, in terms of delivering our council tax reforms, but that doesn't mean that we're not thinking about more radical and fundamental reforms for the future as well. So, in parallel to the work that we're delivering on the revaluation, and the other work attached to that, looking at our support and our exemptions and premiums, and so on, we're also continuing the work on the land value tax, to explore what that might mean for Wales, how it might operate, and also, particularly, with an interest in the first instance, perhaps, in how it might operate in the field of non-domestic rates. So, I think there's a lot of potential there, but, just to reassure those colleagues who do have a strong interest in that, it's very much still part of our explorations.
2. What discussions has the Minister had with HM Treasury regarding the UK Government's levelling-up fund? OQ58438
The UK Government has bypassed the Welsh Government and the Senedd on this fund, which fails to address persistent regional inequalities across the UK. I have repeatedly raised with a succession of Chancellors and Treasury Ministers the disruption and the substantial loss of overall funding impacting communities, businesses and charities in Wales.
And it's causing a real problem; the change of leadership in the Treasury and in the Government has left a lot of uncertainty, although there was already uncertainty there. We've currently got a Government that is pushing the accelerator and the brake on the economy at the same time, and burning out the engine—no wonder they have not got attention to levelling-up. Perhaps they have got attention to levelling-up—levelling-up for bankers, but not levelling-up for our communities. [Interruption.] You might not like it, but it's the truth. Caerphilly County Borough Council has been able to access some of the funding, but the problem is it comes with very tight deadlines, and that increases the amount of risk and uncertainty involved in the delivery of the funding. They've got to spend that money this financial year, but the advice and the delivery of the funds are very uncertain. So, would the Minister do her best to raise this with the UK Government? Caerphilly council are doing their part, and surely now it's time for the UK Government to do their part.
I'd be more than happy to continue to make these arguments in regard to both the levelling-up fund and the shared prosperity fund to the UK Government. We do have our next meeting of the inter-ministerial standing committee, which is what the quadrilaterals used to be, where all the Ministers for finance from the UK get together, and we've asked specifically for a discussion on replacement European Union funding. The short deadlines are a real concern. Of course, with European funding, you'd have a number of years over which to profile the spend, and the short deadlines for both applications and delivery, I think, are really concerning. Also, the size of the fund is a real worry as well. I know that Caerphilly has bid for more than £66 million of funding from the second round of the levelling-up fund, but the fund itself is only worth £800 million across Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, so it will do very little to level up, and we fear that there may be a good number of disappointed local authorities in terms of the bids that they've put forward. But we will absolutely continue to press the UK Government—I do so with my colleague Vaughan Gething, who leads on this—to have a more timely approach and also just to increase the level of funding that is available through these funds.
The UK Government's levelling-up agenda has brought great benefits to mid Wales, with the last autumn budget seeing a total of £22 million being invested in Powys for elements of social care, tourism and housing, most of which are truly needed in my community. Does the Minister agree with me that funding like this from the Conservative UK Government is a huge boost for rural communities, money which would never have been received from the EU or the Welsh Government under old bureaucratic funding systems, because the UK Conservative Government are interested in levelling up, as you are only interested in levelling down?
Well, I was wondering where to even start with that contribution, because we know that the methodology alone results in the fact that Wales will receive £1 billion less in replacement funding from the United Kingdom as compared to what we would have had from the European Union. So, Wales is being absolutely ripped off on this point. And if you think that £20 million in one area of Wales is a great success from the fund, it's absolutely ridiculous, because the amount of funding that is now coming to Wales is so much smaller than it could have been, and we'll be able to do much less across Wales.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Peter Fox.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, I know things got a little passionate in the Chamber yesterday, so I do just want to bring the focus back onto how we can help the Welsh economy and Welsh businesses to move forward. In your statement yesterday, you suggested that you didn't support the idea of investment zones, although I appreciate that you'll be having more conversations with UK Government counterparts about these. I believe that these zones have the potential to drive forward business growth and high-skilled jobs in the areas that need them most. Rather than displacing economic activity, if designed in the right way, they could be an opportunity for us to spread investment and aspiration across the country. They also have the potential of complementing some of the other growth deals, city deals, potential free ports as well. Now, I know that our experience with enterprise zones has been mixed across Wales, but there is therefore scope for more ambitious plans to kick-start developing. As Ben Francis, the policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses Cymru, said,
'Wales cannot afford to be left behind in the mission of boosting regional competitiveness.'
Will you give assurances, Minister, that you do intend on taking an open-minded approach to the potential for investment zones to be established in Wales, and, if you are against investment zones, then what is the Welsh strategy? How do Ministers intend to use their levers to deliver the levels of economic growth that are needed to overcome the present challenges and to deliver a brighter future for our communities?
Well, we are very sceptical about the benefits that investment zones could bring, precisely because we disagree with your analysis in the sense that we believe that investment zones do have the propensity to draw investment away from some areas, and so displacing economic activity from the areas that it's most needed in. And that was one of our concerns over the free ports as well.
We are open, of course, to having discussions with the UK Government to hear them out on this issue to see exactly what their proposal is. I do think it's a shame that they didn't have discussions with us ahead of the announcement, bearing in mind that if they want to deliver this policy in Wales, they're going to need Welsh Government to work with them in the sense that non-domestic rates are devolved to Wales, land transaction tax is devolved to Wales, planning is devolved to Wales. So, they will need all of those tools to deliver those investment zones. Of course we'll have the conversations, but I think our starting point is that we're sceptical about the benefits that they can bring.
Thank you for that, Minister. I think what the UK Government has proven, through its discussions and movement on free ports with Welsh Government, is that they are happy to talk and work with you. So, I'm sure that can happen with the other zones as well.
Presiding Officer, we've heard a lot about the energy crisis over recent months, and I very much welcome the UK Government's energy bill relief scheme. This is something that obviously offers certainty to businesses and provides valuable support at a difficult time. But an issue that hasn't been spoken about much is the cost-of-doing-business crisis, that business overheads have increased, squeezing margins and placing more pressure on businesses. Such issues are being felt right across the economy, with the latest business barometer from Lloyds Bank showing that Welsh firms reported lower confidence in their own business prospects month on month, down 37 points at 4 per cent. Businesses then have suggested that they will require additional financial support in addition to support for energy costs to help them through this period.
Minister, what discussions have you held with businesses and business bodies about the help that they need, and how will this feed into your budget this autumn? For example, what consideration have you given to introducing a discretionary scheme in partnership with councils, similar to what was put in place during the pandemic? And finally, what conversations have you had with your UK counterparts about ways in which self-employed people can be given tailored support, recognising the particular concerns they currently have?
Well, just to, I suppose, finish the picture on the last question, because you did mention free ports, I should have added as well that any discussions and any agreement that we might come to, of course, would be in the same vein as our approach to free ports, where we were not willing to accept any dilution in our environmental standards or our approach to fair work. So, those things will be absolutely fundamental in any discussions that take place following the announcement by the UK Government.
But I share your concerns about the impact of the energy crisis, and the wider, now, economic turmoil, on businesses across Wales. The UK Government's announcement will go some way to supporting businesses, but I just think that giving a guarantee for six months just doesn't go, by any means, far enough, and there's a lot of uncertainty in terms of what comes after that six-month period.
Ahead of the Chancellor's mini statement, I did write to him asking for some urgent action to address the significant gaps in support for businesses, amongst other sectors, and obviously there was really nothing forthcoming for business, beyond that announcement on the energy cap from the UK Government. I think they reannounced something on the freezing of the multiplier, which was already built into their plans and our plans, so that was obviously disappointing.
Of course, we'll continue to have discussions. The representative from the CBI was at a social partners meeting on the cost-of-living crisis just this morning, with myself, the First Minister, Minister for Social Justice and others, and that was a really, really important and useful meeting. I know that my colleague Vaughan Gething meets very frequently with representatives of business as well. And of course, support for business will be right at the front of our discussions again when we meet as a group of Ministers in our next inter-ministerial group.
Thank you for that, Minister. I'm still slightly concerned because there does not seem to be a clear strategy from Wales's Government of how they are going to specifically support businesses moving forward at a very difficult time. I know you're already reviewing the future of non-domestic rates in Wales, and I look forward to seeing your suggestions in due course, but we also know that, currently, rates here in Wales are higher than in other parts of the UK, whilst the Welsh multiplier is already at a record high. But add in the concerns about the impact that the current high level of inflation will have on business rates on top of the existing concerns and it's clear to see why the sector is calling for urgent help to ease the pressure on them. In fairness, I do want to welcome the business rate relief scheme that the Welsh Government has previously announced, particularly during COVID, but clearly we need a new approach to business taxation that incentivises rather than disincentivises growth and job creation.
In the short term, Minister, do you agree with calls made by the Welsh Retail Consortium for you to use your upcoming budget to, at the very least, freeze business rates in order to support retailers during these difficult times? And in the longer term, would you consider looking at more innovative ways to encourage business growth, such as a tapered approach to business rates for start-ups and relief schemes for those businesses looking to expand to additional premises and take on new employees and apprentices? Thank you.
So, on the issue of non-domestic rates, I'm pleased that the consultation that we recently published has been warmly welcomed, and I'm looking forward to reading the responses to that consultation. In regard to what we might be planning now for our budget, which we will be publishing in the middle of December, of course you'll have heard the statement from the Chancellor on Monday that there's no intention now to bring forward a budget until the spring. So, we are working on the basis that our budget will be fixed, basically, from that which we agreed in our three-year spending plans last year. So, we're not looking to situations where we will have additional funding to allocate, and it's on that basis that I do ask colleagues, and others from outside the Senedd, that, when they are asking for additional funding for areas, particularly those that would cost hundreds of millions of pounds, such as that that you've just described, we do need to identify where in our existing plans we would move that money from. Because I just want to be really clear that our plans at the moment are based on our budget being fixed and there not being additional funding forthcoming for announcement in our draft budget. So, I think that is an important context for all of us. The only main move that we see at the moment would be repayment of the national insurance contributions funding, which, obviously, employers now will not be needing to pay, so that was included in the spending review, and that will need, I think, to go back to Westminster.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I raised with you yesterday, Minister, the need for the Government to now use the powers that you have to protect the basic rate of income tax in Wales, in order to protect the key services that many vulnerable people will be reliant on during the difficult period ahead of us. You didn't answer my question then, but you did say, and you have consistently said, that the Conservatives' plans in Westminster are regressive and unfair. 'It embeds unfairness' were the words of the First Minister, and he is quite right, of course. But that is just as true of the cut in the basic rate too, isn't it? Because millionaires will benefit from this, and anyone who earns more than £50,000 will get at least five times more benefit from a penny off the basic rate as compared to someone who's, say, on £20,000 per annum. And most of our pensioners, and anyone who doesn't earn enough to pay income tax, the poorest in society, won't see any direct benefit from this. But, of course, they will be the first to feel the impacts of the loss of services that will come as a result of it. So, if you're not willing to commit to retaining the basic rate at 20p in Wales, will you at least confirm that you agree that using a cut in the basic rate of income tax isn't sufficiently targeted to help the most vulnerable in our society?
Llyr Gruffydd is right that I didn't answer his question yesterday, and I realised it immediately after I finished speaking. But I was pleased to be able to answer the same question, which was raised by his colleague the Chair of the Finance Committee during the same session. And I can only repeat what I said yesterday, in the sense that Welsh Government has an established process for dealing with setting Welsh rates of income tax. We announce our plans, we bring them to the Senedd, we debate them and we vote on them here, and that's normally done alongside our final budget. So, I'm not in a position to say anything more today. Obviously, there will be discussions and considerations to be had in advance of that, but, certainly, this will be something that we come to as a Senedd to debate and vote on in due course. But I don't think that the announcement by the UK Government on Friday necessitates an early decision on the part of the Welsh Government, although I do appreciate the points that have been made.
Well, surely you will have considered this issue. The cut in the basic rate was going to happen from 2024 under Rishi Sunak's proposals, of course. So, hadn't you already started to consider or assess whether the time had come to use your powers in terms of Welsh income tax rates? Has there been any modelling done or is modelling happening to inform that debate? Because, on the one hand, you're constantly complaining of the shortage of funding to maintain services—and you've done that again earlier this afternoon—but, on the other hand, you appear reticent not to increase the tax in this context but to keep it at its current level, something that would produce some £200 million to help safeguard health, care and education services in Wales from the cuts that you're complaining about. Isn't there a major contradiction that you're reticent on the one hand to look in earnest at the tax levels in Wales within the powers that you hold, whilst you're also complaining that there isn't enough money in the coffers?
Well, we consider all of our tax levers at all points across the rates and bands that we're able to set in Welsh rates of income tax, land transaction tax and landfill disposals tax, whilst also looking at the local taxes that we have here in Wales as well. So, all of these things are constantly under review. Of course we do the modelling to understand what the impact would be of different choices. There was a really important piece of work undertaken by the Finance Committee previously that looked at the implications of raising what was at the time the additional rate, and that, I think, was quite helpful in terms of getting to grips with what is a very new thing for us, of course. We've only had Welsh rates of income tax here in Wales since 2019, and we're starting to understand what the options might be for the future. Of course, we consider all of these things at all times, but what I'm not going to do is make any announcements outside of our normal budget process.
3. What consideration did the Minister give to the sufficiency of childcare places when setting the Welsh Government's budget for 2022-23? OQ58454
Yes. The provision of adequate childcare support is one of our key policies to support families. The most recent final budget included increases of £100 million to cover the capital and revenue programmes for both childcare and Flying Start for the current three-year budget period.
Thank you very much for your response, Minister. We all know how important childcare is to families, particularly families struggling at the moment, and how important it is for our parents and our carers to get back to work. So, I just wondered if you might consider extending the provision of childcare so that all children aged nine months and over could receive that free childcare. Thank you—diolch yn fawr iawn.
Llywydd, I'll ask my colleague, the Minister with responsibility for childcare and the provision of childcare, to perhaps provide a written answer to that, because those are not discussions I've had directly with the Minister, and I think that would be a policy choice for her to make. So, apologies that I can't give a more detailed answer.
4. What are the Minister's spending priorities for Preseli Pembrokeshire for the next 12 months? OQ58431
My priorities are set out in our programme for government and our 2022-23 budget; preparations for the 2023-24 budget are currently under way. Despite the challenging fiscal context, we will ensure our spending priorities have the greatest possible impact for a stronger, fairer and greener Wales.
Thank you for that response, Minister. Now, in the foreword of the Welsh Government's infrastructure investment strategy, you said that
'It is essential that the role which infrastructure plays is maximised, and that we have the infrastructure in place to support the Wales we want to hand on to future generations.'
And I very much agree with that statement.
Now, one infrastructure project that I have been campaigning for for several years now is a footbridge on the A487 through lower town Fishguard, and yet little progress has been made, despite continued commitments from successive Welsh Government Ministers to look at the issue. Minister, it's vital that pedestrian safety is a priority for this Government, so can you tell us what discussions you've had with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change about these types of projects, and, given your comments in the infrastructure investment strategy, will you confirm that funding will be made available so that pedestrian safety schemes like this are able to go ahead in the future?
I'm grateful for the question and I'll certainly discuss the specific case that you raise with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, but pedestrian safety and Safe Routes in Communities schemes are clearly important to us, as are our active travel schemes, which, of course, support pedestrians and cyclists and other users as well. So, you'll have seen our investment in active travel in particular has increased very much over recent years, and it's something that we continue to be very much committed to. We are disappointed overall at the level of capital funding that we have available to us. It does fall in each of the three years of the spending review period. I was very sorry not to see additional capital funding announced at the mini budget last week; that would have been an opportunity, really, to inject some infrastructure investment into our communities. But it's something that we continue to call for. But I will discuss the particular case whilst we continue to make the case for additional capital funding.
5. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve local government performance in delivering local services? OQ58435
The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 put in place a new performance regime to drive improvement in local authorities across Wales. Alongside this I have agreed £800,000 funding for the Welsh Local Government Association improvement programme to support corporate improvement within councils.
Thank you for your initial response, Minister. As I’m sure you’ll recognise, councils are often at the front line with many pressures that communities are currently facing, which, of course, have a knock-on effect to pressures within councils. I’m sure you would have taken note of the BBC article over the weekend, where the WLGA and council leaders were highlighting some of the pressures that they're facing. Now, some of these, of course, are financial, but some of these pressures also present themselves in other ways, whether it be through difficulties around recruitment at times or around housing pressures—we're seeing a significant increase in demand in those areas. But all of this is whilst local authorities are having to deal with a new legislative programme, often causing more pressure and demand on officer time. And I’m sure, Minister, you would agree that there needs to be a clear balance between need and capacities for local authorities to deliver, and I know there is some concern within local authorities that the amount of new legislation that they're having to deliver is causing significant pressure in them delivering their vital services. So, in light of this, Minister, is there any immediate action that you'll be taking within the legislative programme to make sure our councils do have the capacity to deliver the services that we all rely on?
One of the commitments in our programme for government is to reduce the administrative burden on local authorities, so we've already started that piece of work by approaching all local authorities, both leaders, chief executives and those within the Society of Welsh Treasurers and others in order to understand what they see as the particular administrative burden. So, we'll be looking forward to the report, which I understand is due—. It will probably be a couple of months at least off yet, but when that's forthcoming, it will help us pinpoint those areas where we can make some pragmatic and practical changes to help reduce that administrative burden.
We have provided local authorities with some funding to help with the establishment of the corporate joint committees—I think it was £100,000 per CJC—in order to help with some of those costs, in terms of implementing that piece of legislation. But, again, if there are particular areas of concern where there might be ways in which Welsh Government can support local authorities, perhaps through providing expertise or finding a way that things are only done once, obviously I'd be keen to understand what those specific problems are and we can have a look at what we can do to help.
Minister, around £45 billion of tax reductions for people and businesses by 2027 could have paid for public sector increases of 19 per cent, improving services, filling vacancies, and growing the economy here in Wales where nearly a third of people are employed in the public sector. Minister, the mini budget from the UK Government does little to help the public sector, including councils, cope with inflationary pressures and workforce recruitment to deliver local services where they are needed more than ever now. Minister, what plans do you have to help with recruitment and these pressures that local government are facing, so that they can continue to work in partnership with Welsh Government? Thank you.
Thank you very much for raising that and, of course, the statement last Friday, I think that one of the biggest impacts of it will be the fact that there was absolutely nothing there to support public services. You’ll have heard me say yesterday that our Welsh Government budget is now, across these three years, worth up to £4 billion less than it was when we set our spending plans, and obviously that has a knock-on impact then for local government and the difficult choices that they're going to be having to make over the autumn and the winter, but then also into the next financial year as well. So, we'll continue to press the UK Government to find additional funding to support public services. There will be public services and local authorities across the border making the same arguments to the UK Government, and I think that the sooner they wake up and recognise that they have to support public services the better, and we'll be able to provide that additional investment then to support our local authorities and health and other public services in Wales.
6. How will the establishment of corporate joint committees improve public transport in Denbighshire? OQ58429
Corporate joint committees have a duty to develop regional transport plans. These will drive how local authorities in each region collaboratively deliver safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport services, including in Denbighshire.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Where there is direction for bus services in Denbighshire, there is a lack of guidance for taxi services, which, as you know, are licensed by local authorities and provide regulatory frameworks for companies to adhere to. I was contacted by a local taxi operator from Rhyl, who was concerned about the lack of strategy from the Welsh Government for private hire firms in the event of the formation of corporate joint committees. And of course, as we are aware, the vast majority of taxi operators and drivers are private businesses that need to future plan and have many self-employed workers that are subject to a heavily regulated sector, which results in many overheads—for example, the cars needing two MOTs per year, and lots of servicing, which is quite right, but in those situations you need to have the clear guidance in place in order for businesses to be efficient. So, what guidance can you provide today, Minister, to taxi operators in Denbighshire who are anxious to know what the future holds in the event of CJCs coming into effect, so we can keep the people of Denbighshire moving?
Perhaps if the Member would like to share that correspondence with me, I'll be able to take a look at it in some more greater detail and then respond to you in writing once we've had a chance to explore the concerns further.
7. What discussions has the Minister had with her UK Government counterparts regarding cost-of-living support for local authorities? OQ58420
I have written to the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury setting out that cost of living and the energy crisis must be the foremost priority. There was nothing for cost-of-living support for local authorities in last week’s mini budget.
Diolch, Minister. Over the summer recess, I worked with the team at Canolfan Pentre to set up a top-up shop to support residents across Rhondda through the cost-of-living crisis. It's been heartwarming to hear that the support provided by the Welsh Government via local authorities is making a real difference to families when they visit the shop. We've heard stories in the media of children pretending to eat out of empty lunch boxes because they didn't want their friends to know there's no food at home. The new Tory Prime Minister, through the mini budget, believes the answer is to cut tax for millionaires, not to scrap bankers' bonuses, and to let energy companies keep their extortionate profits. The mini budget also does nothing for local authorities. They now have £200 million less to spend next year. It will be impossible to keep the same level of service without intervention. Will the Minister please continue to make representations to the UK Government, alongside the WLGA, for support for local authorities in Wales?
Absolutely. [Inaudible.]—the WLGA also does an excellent job in terms of trying to impress upon the UK Government the significant and very real challenges that local authorities are facing, and those challenges of course then feed into their communities and the real-world everyday lives of the people who they serve in those communities. The budget was absolutely devastating for ordinary people, and it just pushed more money to those people who just don't need it at the moment. It's a cost-of-living crisis. It was an immoral budget and I think most of us were surprised by the budget. I mean, the Conservatives behind me are moaning and groaning because they seem to think it was a good budget. They must be the only ones. I mean, we will have all seen the intervention by the Bank of England this lunch time, actually stepping in to protect the UK from its own Government. I mean, how that can be supported by the benches behind me I have no idea. And, of course, the verdict of the International Monetary Fund. Obviously, that's clearly extremely serious. It's almost unprecedented for it to make an intervention of that kind in the affairs of a G7 nation. They're absolutely extraordinary times, and it's just a shame that it is just so serious.
What you forgot to mention, finance Minister, is the £50 billion-worth of support that the UK Government announced on Wednesday of last week that local authorities will be able to benefit from, from the energy price cap. What efforts are you making available to local authorities so that they can draw down this money? And would you agree with me the best way that the UK Government can pay this money to local authorities is directly to local authorities and not, obviously, handing it over to the Welsh Government, who might end up top-slicing that money?
I'm not sure where the Conservative leader thinks that this money is coming from. There's not £50 billion being handed down by the UK Government to anyone. It's £50 billion that the UK Government is offsetting in terms of providing additional funding to the energy companies, which don't need it, which is going to be borrowed and it's going to be low-income workers who are going to be paying for that for a long time. So, it's not a case that local authorities will be drawing down any money; there is no additional money. A price cap isn't additional money.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's relationship with the Welsh Local Government Association decarbonisation strategy panel? OQ58443
The panel was established by the partnership council for Wales to steer local government work on climate change. Our relationship is one of partnership.
Thank you, Minister. As you are aware, the Welsh Local Government Association decarbonisation strategy panel has the monumental task of helping to ensure that all local authorities in Wales meet net-zero carbon by 2030. I understand that climate change is a standing item on the partnership council for Wales, which you chair. With this in mind, I would be very interested to know, since the publication of the framework for action in October 2021, what programmes of work have been developed both regionally and nationally, what targets have been set to ensure progress, and what additional challenges you have identified in meeting this target, given the extraordinary rise in wholesale energy prices. Thank you.
I'm very grateful for the question, and I've really been pleased with the work of the panel, which actually continued right the way through the pandemic and was able to keep on delivering, because we obviously have a commitment for public sector organisations to meet the net-zero 2030 ambition, and we're doing that through the panel by providing technical and financial support for renewable energy and energy efficiency, of course, and that goes through our energy service.
The energy service itself saw £28 million invested in 43 energy efficiency projects across 25 organisations. They include health boards, local authorities, national parks and colleges, and they have a range of projects, for example, from LED street lamp installations to low-carbon heat solutions. And there is a range of activity that is obviously going on in that particular space.
I think that the panel has made significant progress since it was established, because it has also supported local authorities to develop their own commitments for the Net Zero Wales plan, which we published last autumn. So, demonstrating how each local authority will make its own commitment towards that drive. And it's also overseeing a programme of work that supports the delivery of those commitments and is providing strategic direction, then, to the WLGA climate change support programme, which we fund via Welsh Government to the tune of around £300,000 a year for five years. So, I'm really pleased with the work of the panel. It's really important work and, of course, if the energy crisis tells us anything, it's about the importance of investing in renewable energy.
9. What support is the Welsh Government providing to local authorities in Mid and West Wales as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies? OQ58456
I prioritised funding for local government in the Welsh budget so that every authority in Wales received an increase in funding of more than 8.2 per cent. Our cost-of-living measures, over £1.5 billion this year alone, support people in every part of Wales directly and through local authorities and other partners.
Thank you very much. I've already called publicly on councils in my region to open warm banks to help people to cope with the worst effects of the high cost of paying for energy over the winter. So, of course, I welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has already provided £1 million to support local authorities to establish warm banks, while being amazed that we need this kind of provision in the twenty-first century. But could the Minister say more about how these funds will be distributed? And does the Minister share my concern that the £1 million across 22 local authorities might not go far enough to tackle the scale of the challenge that the people of Wales will face over the winter? And as councils across my region consider support measures in order to help people to keep warm, for example, extending the opening hours of libraries and youth clubs and providing warm packages to people who can't travel to public areas, what further financial support can the Welsh Government provide to local government to ensure that they can help people on the ground?
I’m grateful for that question. I do think that the £1 million that has been announced is really important in terms of helping to support some of these warm banks, with things that local authorities will seek to do, but also other organisations—churches, third sector organisations, other faith venues and so on. Obviously, we will monitor the application of that fund to understand take-up, but I think that it won’t just be that fund, however, that is supporting warm banks; it will be things that local charities, that community councils and others will be doing from their own resources as well. But I share the Member’s disbelief, really, that we’re talking about creating places for people to just go and stay warm this winter because it’ll be too expensive for them to say warm at home. Obviously, we’ll monitor the uptake of that and I’ll perhaps ask my colleague the Minister for Social Justice to provide an update to colleagues about the fund and how it can be accessed.
Finally, question 10, Joyce Watson.
10. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on Wales of the UK Government's fiscal statement? OQ58452
The tax changes announced in the fiscal statement favour the rich and will worsen inequality. The statement provides no additional help to fund public services at a time when costs are rising sharply.
I thank you for that answer, Minister. I had to call it a fiscal statement because that’s what the UK Government have called it, rather than a mini budget, seemingly in order to prevent scrutiny from the Office for Budget Responsibility. But it was a budget, and it is anything but responsible. By unleashing the economically illiterate splurge of tax cuts for the rich, unlimited bankers’ bonuses and protection for the unearned profits of big energy, the Tories—and I hear them over there defending it—are gambling with all our futures. It’s reckless, and it’s unfair. There was a time they used to hide the unfairness; they’re not doing that any more, of course. Your department will be busy working through the figures, I know, but do you agree with me that the Chancellor’s decision not to uprate funding for public services, which are already severely stretched by inflation, is deeply irresponsible and immoral? And that being the case, beyond what we are already doing here in Wales to protect people from that immorality, what more can you do to safeguard those services for the people of Wales?
I’m very grateful for that question. I can hear the Conservatives chuntering away behind me; I do admire the way in which the leader of the opposition is doubling down in his support for the UK Government, even though the markets—and everybody—are obviously making a response to it that is very different to that of the leader of the Conservatives. I have to say, I heard him saying that the OBR is only legally required to do two forecasts a year, but the OBR has offered to do a forecast; it said it would do it at any point after the introduction of the new Prime Minister, but they decided not to take up that offer. And we know why: because they knew what it would show. The fact that they haven’t done any distributional impact assessment of their work shows that they’re too embarrassed to show what the impact would be.
But of course, Wales has done that work. Wales Fiscal Analysis found that that 90 per cent of the gains made on Friday go to the top 50 per cent of the income distribution here in Wales, and 40 per cent of those gains go to the top 10 per cent, in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. It’s an absolutely disgusting budget and I’m amazed that there is a single Conservative who continues to support it.
I thank the Minister.
I’m afraid we’re going to have to take a short technical break. It isn’t because the Minister for rural affairs spilled water all over her technical appliances, but it is because of a problem we’re having with microphones this afternoon. It’ll be a short suspension of the meeting, and we’ll reconvene as quickly as possible.
Plenary was suspended at 14:19.
The Senedd reconvened at 14:32, with the Llywydd in the Chair.
Okay, we're ready to reconvene and we'll move to questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, and the first question is from Mark Isherwood.
1. What engagement has the Minister had with cabinet colleagues regarding animal health and welfare? OQ58436
Animal health and welfare has clear links across Government, including public health, climate change, economy, and biodiversity. I frequently discuss these cross-cutting areas with Cabinet colleagues. Statements have been issued on our animal welfare plan for Wales and TB strategy, and I have held further discussions on border controls. Ukrainian pet travel has also been an important point of discussion this year.
Diolch. The First Minister's statement on ministerial responsibilities last week stated that you'll take responsibility now for the protection and management of wildlife, although cross-cutting responsibilities with the Minister for Climate Change still include biodiversity and the nature recovery plan.
Speaking at the launch of Gylfinir Cymru's 'A Wales Action Plan for the Recovery of Curlew' last November as the Wales species champion for the curlew, I stated that the review of the wider biodiversity and ecosystem benefits of curlew recovery and applicability to Wales, commissioned by Natural Resources Wales, states that a literature review of 62 scientific papers provided a diverse array of evidence showing that curlew recovery would benefit multiple species, both directly and indirectly, and furthermore underpins our understanding of the curlew as an indicator species.
The Minister for Climate Change pledged at the launch to work with Gylfinir Cymru to ensure that the Welsh Government can finance the action plan and get it up and running. However, although she has committed funding to the nature networks programme, that only covers its protected sites, when the majority of curlew do not nest on protected sites, range widely and therefore need a landscape-scale approach. We now only have nine breeding seasons left to save this iconic indicator species from its projected extinction as a breeding population in Wales. This is now on your watch. How will you therefore work with the Gylfinr Cymru coalition to deliver the emergency intervention required?
Thank you. I'll be very happy to work with the organisation, if they would like to write to me, to seek a meeting. I'm very well aware of the urgency required in relation to the curlew, having obviously been responsible in the previous term of Government. So, if you have a contact there, please do ask them to write to me, or if they hear this, and I will be very happy to meet with them.
Question 2[OQ58441] is withdrawn, so question 3, Peter Fox.
3. How is the Welsh Government supporting the development of the fishing sector? OQ58449
Thank you. We are developing the fishing sector in a variety of ways, including the introduction of a financial assistance scheme. I laid a statutory instrument yesterday to establish this. We provide ongoing support for the development of new markets, both domestic and internationally, and are committed to implementing the joint fisheries statement.
Thank you for that, Minister. That's reassuring. The fishing and angling sector is an important part of the economy in rural Wales. River fishing alone contributes around £20 million a year to the economy, and supports around 700 jobs. On top of that, the additional tourism that our waters pull in provides benefit for local areas.
Fishing is also a popular hobby for many people, getting them outdoors and providing opportunities for socialising. But the sector is under real pressure, such as the recent fishing ban across Wales due to the drought—that's put immense pressure on them. Now, whilst there have been some welcome initiatives to promote the Welsh fishing sector, such as the Fishing in Wales website, former world champion angler Hywel Morgan has recently suggested that there is scope to do more to attract fishers from across the world—for example, using the game fairs and other set-piece shows to grow the sport to new audiences. Minister, how are you working with your Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the fishing and angling sector is front and centre of the Government's strategy to boost tourism and develop the rural economy? And what support are you providing businesses to promote sustainable tourism within the sector to help improve local environments, whilst also growing the angling business? And I'm conscious of your first answer.
Thank you. You're quite right, it's a very popular hobby for many people, and one of the things that we're doing to support it is obviously trying to improve the quality of our rivers, going forward. As you know, Natural Resources Wales do have a duty to maintain, to improve and develop inland and migratory fisheries. So, obviously, we support Natural Resources Wales, and the Minister for Climate Change, obviously, is responsible for NRW. I don't recall having any specific discussions with the Minister responsible for tourism in relation to this area, but I think, from my portfolio point of view, we need to ensure that, the decline that we have seen with some iconic species, we reverse as quickly as possible.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Darren Millar.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, in your capacity as Minister for north Wales, what discussions have you held with the tourism industry in the region regarding your Government's proposals for a tourism levy?
I haven't held any specific discussions with any areas of the tourism industry in north Wales. I have to say, over the summer, a few of the organisations and businesses that I did meet—I spent time in each local authority area, and they chose who I met with—some people did raise the visitor levy with me. I haven't had any specific discussions, but, obviously, I passed on concerns, and also, I have to say, I did meet with businesses who did approve of what we are proposing to do.
Minister, many people will find it absolutely astonishing, given the importance of the tourism and hospitality industry in north Wales, that you haven't met specifically with businesses in order to discuss this important potential tax on them. Go North Wales represents 15,000 businesses across north Wales, and you'll know that they have expressed a lot of concern. Will you agree to join me at a meeting with Go North Wales, and other representatives of the tourism industry, in order that you can hear from them first hand about the potential adverse impact of this punitive and unnecessary tax on tourists who stay overnight in Wales, and the impact that it could have on jobs and livelihoods in the region?
They haven't approached me for a meeting. Obviously, businesses perhaps have discussed it with the relevant Minister rather than with me, who's got the overall responsibility for north Wales. As I say, some businesses did raise it with me—both for and against it—and I said I will take their comments back to the Minister for Finance and Local Government. I'd be very happy if Go North Wales want to meet with me, if they approach me; I'd be very happy to do that. I have north Wales days if you like, where I do visits—they tend to be on a Thursday—when I concentrate on specific areas. I'm up in north Wales doing just that tomorrow, so if they do want to approach me to discuss it, I'd be very happy to do so.
You keep saying that you're not the relevant Minister. You are their relevant Minister; you're the Minister for north Wales, and people expect you to be standing up for north Wales around the Cabinet table and engaging with businesses in north Wales when such an important issue arises in their inbox. There are thousands, many thousands, tens of thousands of jobs reliant on the tourism industry and the tourism trade in the region. And let me be clear to you and the Cabinet colleagues who sit around the table: you cannot support a tourism tax and be for the economy in north Wales; you cannot support a tourism tax and support businesses in north Wales; you cannot be for a tourism tax and support jobs in north Wales. I'm afraid that it's the same old story from this Labour Party: pro-tax, anti-growth; pro-tax, anti-business; and pro-tax—and I'm afraid to say so—anti-north Wales. That's what we get from this Government, and it's about time that that story changed. I'm grateful for the opportunity that you have said that you will take to meet with representatives of the tourism industry in north Wales to listen to their views.
One final question, if I may. One of the things that the tourism industry says is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for them in the coming years is the potential of the Clwydian range and Dee valley area of outstanding natural beauty being designated as a national park—something, of course, that I've been raising for more than a decade as something that the Government could do to boost the tourism industry in the region. You're the Minister directly responsible for moving that particular issue forward, yet we've heard very little about the progress that is being made. What assurances can you give us that that is going to be delivered within this Government's term, and can you tell us where you're up to with it?
Thank you. I'll pick up on that point first. As you say, it's just come back into my portfolio last week. I have asked for a meeting with Natural Resources Wales. On the work that the Minister for Climate Change had undertaken with NRW, I know that significant resources have been given in relation to ensuring that we do have that national park. Obviously, it was a manifesto commitment of my party; it's now a programme for government commitment. It's something that the First Minister is very keen to see in this term of Government, and we expect to see it in this term of Government. And I have asked for a meeting, which hasn't taken place as yet, but it is in my diary, I think, within the next three or four weeks. So, I will be very happy to update Members when I've had that meeting.
In relation to your first point, I cannot meet with every business to discuss every policy of every Cabinet colleague across the portfolio, and I'm sure that you will appreciate that. However, as north Wales Minister, as I say, I spend days dedicated to north Wales, and if any business wants to write to me, obviously they are very welcome to do that. And I did discuss the visitor levy with several businesses over the summer. For instance, I visited Dylan's in Llandudno to discuss their apprenticeship scheme, and took the opportunity proactively to ask their views.
You seem to think it's a really bad thing. I disagree. We have tourism taxes. Where I went on holiday this year, there was a tourism tax. Did I think twice about it? No, I didn't. I didn't have to think 'Well, I'm not going to go there because they've got a tourism tax.' If those taxes are spent wisely, it will absolutely boost tourism in north Wales, so I profoundly disagree with you on what you were saying, particularly about the Labour Party and the way that we treat businesses. Of course we're pro north Wales; you wouldn't expect me to say anything else, would you? I'm from north Wales and I'm very proud to be from north Wales, and this is not the bad thing that you seem to portray it to be.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor.
Thank you very much. I want to start with a question on TB, Llywydd. The latest statistics on—
I'm sorry, Presiding Officer, I'm having issues; I've got a horrendous crackle on my feed and I cannot hear.
I wonder if that's to do with the water that was spilt earlier on in the meeting. [Laughter.]
It could be.
Perhaps it's possible to change the ear piece.
Sorry. Or can I listen somewhere else?
Yes. Why don't you move?
Mabon will pause and repeat now.
Yes. No problem.
I don't think it's the earpiece, because that wasn't on the stand.
Take your time.
No, that's okay.
Mabon ap Gwynfor to start again.
If we can just check that everything's working.
Excellent. Thank you very much.
I wanted to start with TB. The latest statistics on the number of infections in Wales are to be welcomed. The absolute numbers are reducing and we've see infections halving in number over the past 12 years here. But, the less encouraging news is that infections have started to appear in new areas of Wales, such as north Conwy and Denbighshire, and there are concerns that it's coming into Pennal in south Meirionnydd. You will know as well as anyone else of the huge damage that TB does not only to the livestock but also to the mental health of everyone related to the livestock, be it a farmer or a farrier.
If we are to prevent TB, then we must prevent it from spreading. Measures must be taken to prevent it from getting to new areas and limiting it where it already exists. The key to that is education and support. So, it's concerning to hear that the numbers using the Cymorth TB Cymru support service are very low, whilst in England there's great praise for the TB Advisory Service, with high numbers of users. I know that the Minister is aware of TBAS, so what lessons has she learned from the TBAS programme, what good practice will she adopt from it, and what steps is the Minister taking in order to identify why the numbers using Cymorth TB Cymru are so low, and how will we see an increase in the rates of use?
Thank you. Yes, we certainly would not want to see a drop in people approaching this service. You may be aware, I've recently established a technical advisory group to help with holistic support for the TB programme, and I've appointed Professor Glyn Hewinson, who I'm sure is known to you, to lead this work. It's a holistic approach to our TB programme, to the support we offer. You'll be aware that, every year, I do a statement here in the Chamber to update Members. As you say, we've seen a promising drop in some of the statistics, which is not the whole picture, and I appreciate that. We are seeing some stubborn areas and hotspots. Obviously, you refer to an area that had been quite low and is seeing an increase now, which we certainly don't want to see. I've asked the group to consider, for instance, the current TB testing regime to see if there's anything further that we can do. You'll be aware we had a consultation earlier this year, but I think I will ask Glyn to have a look at what we can do. Maybe the type of services we're giving are not what people want. So, we need to make sure it is absolutely what they want, because if it doesn't work for the farmers who require those services, then clearly it's not going to work for anybody.
I thank the Minister for that response. I want to turn my attention now to the issue of tree planting on farms. The Minister will be aware of the case of Tyn y Mynydd farm in Anglesey and the fact that the Government's forestry department bought good arable land there for the purposes of tree planting. Now, good agricultural land is rare in Wales, and the Government has taken steps to protect the best lands. Only around 7 per cent of Welsh land is considered the best and most versatile land—BMV land—and this land is graded as 1, 2 and 3a land. This land is so important that planning guidance from Government mentions the need to safeguard it for the purposes of agriculture. Indeed, the Minister for environment prevented the development of a solar farm in Denbighshire recently because it was BMV land.
So, consider my shock in going on the Welsh Government's mapping portal and seeing that the land at Tyn y Mynydd in Anglesey is graded as 2 and 3a, which is the most fertile land and land which needs to be protected. Seeing a Government department ignoring the Government's own guidance sets a dangerous precedent. If Government data is correct, then we must see plans for Tyn y Mynydd changing and the land should be rented back to a young local farmer. We must also strengthen guidance in order to safeguard the best agricultural land in Wales. Does the Minister for agriculture agree with me that it's entirely unacceptable that some of the best land of Wales, which is to be protected for the purposes of agriculture, has been purchased by the Government for the purposes of forestry, and does she agree that the plans should be changed forthwith?
Well, this is certainly something I've been looking into since I was made aware of this. Obviously, we do need to plant more trees; we know that, and I'm sure you will agree with that. Net Zero Wales did set out a target of planting 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030, and we're looking to do that as part of our national forest for Wales. Obviously, as part of the sustainable farming scheme, we are looking to farmers to help us with the 10 per cent across all farmland. But, I am looking into the issue that you have just described, and I'd be very happy to write to you after further consideration.
4. What is the Government doing to promote food security? OQ58445
Thank you. The food system operates at a UK-wide level, and the Welsh Government works with the UK Government and other devolved administrations to identify risks, and engages with stakeholders to manage them. In Wales, we promote security through investment in the food manufacturing industry, supporting agriculture and providing significant support to a wide variety of community projects.
Thank you for the answer.
The rising cost of essential items is something that we're all too familiar with. The current rate of inflation, at about 9.9 per cent, is causing people in Wales dire financial problems. In agriculture, the rate of inflation is running at a staggering 23.5 per cent annually, but I think in certain places that that is even higher. This is causing many farmers to question their future in the industry. As one hill farmer in my region said, 'Farmers may hold on and produce food at a loss for one year, but they won't do it for two years. We need long-term security, as this is a worrying time'. Minister, I know that there is still time to shape the proposed sustainable farming scheme until the end of October. I'd like reassurances from the Government that there is recognition that the challenges that face agriculture have changed dramatically in recent months. I'd also like an undertaking that farming will have a sustainable future in Wales, at a time when the need for increased food security has taken on a greater urgency.
Thank you. I don't disagree with anything that you say. I think you're right; the figure I've heard from some farmers is 30 per cent, so I think you're quite right to say that, probably, 23.5 per cent is low. It is a very uncertain and worrying time for our farmers, and I absolutely recognise that. I have tried to provide some certainty for them with the continuation of the basic payment scheme, for instance. I haven't reduced it in the way that they have in England—year on year, actually, in England. I will be making a statement about BPS—normally, at the winter fair, I do a statement there.
Obviously, the whole sustainable farming scheme is just that: it's to make our agricultural sector as secure and as sustainable as possible. Obviously, you'll be aware that, over the last two days, I've started the process for the Agriculture (Wales) Bill here in the Senedd. Again, that's about keeping our farmers on the land, because, as you say, they cannot produce food at a loss and, of course, we rely on them to feed us. But, it is very hard to be able to provide the certainty that I know they need when I don't know what my budget is going to be next year. So, it is really difficult for me to be able to talk about the support they would get, in the way that they did when we were in the European Union, now we've left the European Union and we're not able to rely on that figure every year, even though the UK Government said we would be able to if we left the European Union.
But, everything that we're doing in relation to the sustainable farming scheme is to ensure that our farmers are kept on the land, and I'm glad you said that there's still an opportunity. Yesterday, I said that it'd be really helpful for every farmer, and for us as Members to encourage our constituents, to help us with that co-design of the scheme, going forward.
The Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill, which will enshrine the principle of socially responsible procurement into law, establishes that procurement should be about more than simply who provides the cheapest product, but also the best. One way you can achieve this is through localised food supply chains, which, of course, provides opportunities for growth for local producers, as well as the fact that it's generally better for the environment and reduces the need to import food. Another way that you could achieve that aim, of course, is by backing Peter Fox's food Bill. But, the Welsh Government could do more to support producers to be ready to access opportunities to supply more of their produce within their local areas, such as scaling up businesses or accessing funding that they need to purchase equipment. So, with that in mind, Minister, how are you looking to help ensure that local producers are ready and willing to take advantage of such opportunities?
Well, we are doing a great deal to ensure that's the case. I absolutely agree with you that it shouldn't always be about the cheapest; there is a social value, and you'll be aware, as you say, of what we are doing in relation to procurement to ensure that happens. I don't disagree with a lot that's in Peter Fox's food Bill, as he knows. I think a lot of that we can do without legislation, and we are currently doing. Again, some of Peter's suggestions you will see in the agriculture Bill, because I think that the two go hand in hand, along with our community food strategy, which is part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, and I'm having discussions with Cefin Campbell, the designated Member, to see what more we can do there. There are also the free school meals—again, part of the co-operation agreement—where we are using local food producers far more than we certainly did before. I'm very pleased with the investment and the support that we as a Government give to our food and drink manufacturers, and we've had our money returned, I think, many times. We're the only part of the UK that increased the exports significantly, and, again, the foundational food sector here in Wales is worth over £8.5 billion, so we absolutely support our Welsh food and drink producers.
5. What plans does the Welsh Government have to increase the supply of locally sourced foods? OQ58450
Thank you. The Welsh Government provides substantial investment and support for the food industry. Our food trade programme is securing new Welsh product orders in retailers, and new public procurement guidance will prioritise wider socioeconomic benefits. Our free school meals policy will also open opportunities for local suppliers and producers.
I thank you for that answer. Of course, there are two sides to producing food—it's supply and demand. I think we're coming fast-forward to Christmas, and people will be buying locally sourced food, and I think that there's a real opportunity here, perhaps more than ever, to focus people's minds on buying local—those people, of course, who have any money left to buy anything whatsoever after this budget. I would like to ask you, Minister, whether you can work with local suppliers to be able to sell their goods to the local market. We've seen a lot of this during lockdown, and there was really good practice that was adopted by local suppliers in terms of food hampers and suchlike. I think we have the potential to be in another market crisis, so I just would like to ask whether you're thinking along those lines, to carry on the very good practice and promote it, from two years ago, and to apply that now.
Thank you. I think you make a very important point. Certainly during the first lockdown and then the subsequent lockdown, but then during the pandemic, really, I think many people for the first time bought from their local butchers, their local market, and, as you say, a lot of our food and drink producers found new ways of selling their produce locally.
It’s the season of food festivals—after the summer agricultural shows, I think we go into food festival time. I was in my own constituency on Saturday at the Wrexham Feast, and it was great to see so many local producers there. Llangollen Food Festival is coming up, along with Brecon, and I'm sure everybody's now going to shout out their local food festivals. That is a really good opportunity, and I'm really pleased as a Government we are able to support these local food festivals, because that's, perhaps, where somebody will go along for the first time and meet local producers that perhaps they haven't seen before, and then continue to do that. So, I think there is a massive opportunity, and I'm really happy to be able to support as many food festivals as possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian war and, of course, our climate crisis have made it absolutely clear that we have to reduce our reliance on imported food. The £8.5 billion Welsh food and farming sector, of course, can help us to do that, and we need to give thanks to our Welsh farmers, who play a massive part in producing climate-friendly and good-quality local produce. Now, we welcome the Agriculture (Wales) Bill, but it does have a significant and fundamental flaw. Whilst you quite rightly stated that the production of food should be the first objective, that is actually out of sync with potentially forcing our farmers now to have 10 per cent tree cover on their land through the sustainable farming scheme, and by, of course, that awful measure of expanding the nitrate vulnerable zones from 2.4 per cent to 100 per cent of Welsh farmland. Now, rather than championing my farmers in Aberconwy in producing local climate-friendly food, what they are witnessing is a Welsh Government—and they tell me this—that is coming at their businesses with a guillotine, cutting their production ability and their chances of survival. So, will you ensure that the production of food is not just a legislative objective and that it does become a reality, and will you also review some of the regulatory burdens you have imposed prior to the emergencies that I have just described now, so that our farmers stand at least a good chance of producing and providing us with that local food we all so badly need?
So, I don't think there is a flaw. I think it's a complementary agenda. So, it is really important that our farmers produce food sustainably, and they do that, and they will be rewarded for that; it's absolutely right. The 10 per cent tree cover that we're asking for on every farm is to share the load across Wales. If farmers don't want to plant trees, they don't have to plant trees, but, for me, they are obviously the people we would go to to ask in the first place, but, if they don't want to do it, they don't have to do it; they don't have to be part of the scheme.
There are no such things as NVZs any more. We brought in the agri-pollution water quality regulations; NVZs have gone. We have our net zero ambitions. We have our climate targets to meet, and I'm afraid—. We are seeing the impact of climate change now. And we know that our future generation of farmers are going to be farming in very, very difficult and different circumstances to now. We can see the weather changing; you only have to look at this summer, don't you, and at what they have to contend with.
I should say one of the things that we could do to support our farmers—and I would call on every Member in this Chamber, and that includes members of your group—is to lobby the UK Government to make sure we don't lose a penny of the agricultural budget, as we were promised.
6. What discussions is the Minister having with the Minister for Economy regarding the future of the former Anglesey Aluminium site in Holyhead? OQ58451
Thank you. I have had regular conversations with the Minister for Economy regarding the former Anglesey Aluminium site in Holyhead. I'm sure the Member's aware that details of the sale of the site have recently been made public, and that it is good news for north Wales.
Absolutely, and thank you, Minister, for your response. It was certainly welcome to hear you're liaising with the Minister for Economy on such an important site, and I'm sure agree with me that it's great news to see Stena Line investing in the port to boost its operations, which is a clear endorsement of the fantastic opportunities that the port of Holyhead has to offer. We also know, Minister, that Stena is at the forefront of seeking to deliver a free port in Holyhead, which would be so beneficial to north Wales, and, of course, is supported fully by the Anglesey free port bidding consortium, chaired by Virginia Crosbie. In light of this, Minister, how will you work with the Minister for Economy and Stena Line to ensure that this fantastic opportunity for a free port is maximised to the full, which will boost our economy in north Wales, support communities and create jobs?
Thank you. I know the Minister for Economy has had discussions with the UK Government around free ports. I think it was a difficult start, I think it's fair to say, but, as you know, I think it was 1 September when we did launch our free port programme in Wales with the UK Government. I think it's really important for us to reimagine the role of ports in the future of the Welsh economy. Holyhead is such an important port, and, as you say, for the island of Anglesey, it is absolutely vital. I think what we're looking at is how we can simplify customs procedures; we've certainly seen an increase in bureaucracy since we left the European Union. We need to look at relief on customs duties, tax benefits and also development flexibility. So, we're now inviting applications for Wales's first free port. That's been set out in the published prospectus, and I'm sure you're aware of the objectives that we have. We've also successfully argued that a Welsh free port will need to operate in a manner that aligns with our policies here in Wales on fair work and social partnership.
It's quite right, as I've argued, that we try to exploit the potential of a free port, but what I've called for is honesty about what the risks might be and the need to militate against that. It was disappointing that the Conservatives, including the local MP, were willing to accept £8 million rather than £25 million for a free port on Anglesey, and I'm pleased now that, working together, we were able to make sure that the full amount of funding, as is going to free ports in England, is potentially able to come to Holyhead. It's also important that the council now is the lead player in making sure that a strong, safe, secure bid is put together. Will the Minister say how she is intending to work now with the council to make sure that Anglesey is in a strong enough position to make a good bid, but also to look after the welfare of workers and environmental regulations?
Thank you. In relation to the last point of your question, I said in my earlier answer to Sam Rowlands that I think it is absolutely vital the UK Government recognise that this needs to align with our policies around fair work and social partnership, so I hope that reassures you. I did have a conversation with the leader of Anglesey council at the Anglesey show, around the opportunities that this could bring for Holyhead, but, as I say, the Minister for Economy will be obviously leading on this and will continue to have discussions with the local authority as well.
7. What measures is the Welsh Government taking to improve welfare standards for goldfish? OQ58444
Thank you. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 places a duty of care on owners and keepers to meet their animals' welfare needs. I've asked the Wales animal health and welfare framework group to give me a view on giving animals, specifically goldfish, as prizes.
Thank you, Minister. As you are aware, it is still, unfortunately, common practice for goldfish to be given as prizes in Wales at showgrounds, fetes and other events, in what are dubbed as 'spur-of-the-moment games'. Very often, due to lack of preparation on the new owner's part, fish given away as prizes often suffer quite badly. They can sadly experience shock and oxygen starvation, and they can even die from changes in their water temperature, which leads to many of them dying before they even arrive at their new would-be homes. Furthermore, people who are given goldfish as prizes do not normally have an aquarium already set up at home, so may keep their fish in unsuitable environments, and some may even get illegally dumped in local waterways. Nine of Wales's 22 councils have already taken direct action at preventing pets, usually goldfish, from being given out as prizes, and this follows on from an RSPCA campaign last year, where about 9,000 residents asked their local authorities to ban this practice. I believe, in England, 27 councils have taken action in implementing restrictions or outright bans. However, in Wales, national legislation remains the best option to end this practice completely, and with this in mind, Minister, will you provide an update on the Welsh Government's view of a national ban on animals being given as prizes? Thank you.
Yes. Thank you. You're quite right: local authorities do have the power to ban the practice of giving animals as prizes on their land. I'm not quite sure how many you thought out of the 22. I think it's five; I'm not quite sure if you said nine, but my understanding is it's five at the moment, but it may have increased and you may be correct. As I say, I have asked the Wales animal health and welfare framework group to consider this matter. I did ask—. It's probably about three years now, but you can imagine, with the COVID pandemic and everything that's happened, this had slipped down the agenda. But I know a paper looking at what we could do has now been issued to members, so, as soon as I have their views, I'll be very happy to update Members.
8. What progress has been made towards restricting the use of cages for farmed animals? OQ58455
Thank you. We have committed to restrict the use of cages for farmed animals. We are working collaboratively with other administrations to examine the use of enriched cages for laying hens, farrowing crates for pigs, and breeding cages for game birds.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. I'm particularly concerned about the use of cages for the breeding of gaming birds. Partridges normally mate with a partner for life in the wild, but, in commercial breeding cages, they are forced together, sometimes wearing saddles and beak covers to protect from maiming. This practice is cruel and unnecessary, all in the name of sport. In 2021, polling commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports found that 72 per cent of people in Wales opposed the use of cages for breeding game birds. How is the Welsh Government working with the UK and Scottish Governments to examine the evidence around the use of cages for breeding game birds, and what progress has been made regarding this since the publication of the animal welfare plan for Wales this year? Thank you.
Thank you. So, we are working with other administrations—you mentioned the UK and Scottish Governments—to look at how and where cages are used, alongside the welfare impacts of existing and whether there are alternative systems also. The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007 set down detailed conditions in which farmed animals must be kept, and we also have a code of practice for the welfare of game birds reared for sporting purposes. That provides practical guidance, explaining what a person needs to do to meet the standards of care that the law absolutely requires. The use of management devices or practices that do not allow birds to fully express their range of normal behaviours should not be considered as routine and keepers should work towards management systems not requiring such devices.
We've had a review of our code of practices for the welfare of game birds, but at the moment that's been on hold because we have so much work that we need to examine from the other Governments. So, once we've had a look at the evidence around that, we can look to see if that code of practice needs changing. We wouldn't change it without consultation—because I think that's really important—with our stakeholders.
Minister, as chairman of the cross-party group on shooting and conservation, you'll be aware that I've sent you letters previously around avian influenza and the difficulties that caused for the importation of eggs to hatcheries here in the United Kingdom. Therefore, game shoots in Wales are looking to develop their own breeding programmes so that they're no longer reliant on the import of eggs. Therefore, what work are you doing to ensure that these businesses are aware of the changes that you'll be making, so that they can invest their money wisely?
Thank you. Well, certainly, with avian influenza, we've had a really difficult year. It normally starts about October and by March we see some improvement, but, unfortunately, last week alone I think we had three new cases across the UK. So, we haven't had any break at all. So, you're quite right to raise avian influenza. As I say, we wouldn't do anything without consulting with our stakeholders, and obviously they would form part of the stakeholders, but there's a huge amount of evidence that I've asked officials to look at coming from the other devolved administrations and the UK Government.
9. How is the Welsh Government supporting the promotion and marketing of food and drink from Wales as part of the opportunities presented by the Cymru men's football team qualifying for the World Cup? OQ58440
Thank you. Welsh Government food division is working with our international offices and sports division to showcase the best of Welsh food and drink at two key events—a Welsh themed business network VIP dinner on 25 October, and a wider cultural event on 21 November. Both will be hosted by the ambassador to Qatar.
Thank you very much for that response, Minister. Of course, yesterday, we had a statement with some of this information from the Minister for Economy. What I would like to ask is how will you measure the success of these events in terms of the legacy of this investment following the world cup.
Thank you. Well, what we normally do when we have such events—and I appreciate that this is the first time we've had anything like this—is that we would set a target. So, for instance, when we have Blas Cymru, I set a target of what new business, mainly, comes from Blas Cymru. So, obviously, this will be a smaller event for us—whilst I appreciate it's a massive global event—for us, I think it is absolutely the ideal platform to promote our Welsh food and drink industry to a very high-profile audience in Qatar. I'm really pleased that the first event is ahead of the world cup, because I think it's good to showcase that produce before. We're going to have a top Welsh chef there cooking Welsh lamb and really showcasing our food. But we will set targets to have a look at—. Obviously, we're putting money into it and we need to make sure that we encourage and hopefully support our Welsh food and drink industry to make sure they see increased business from such an event.
10. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the effect of agricultural pollution on Welsh rivers? OQ58423
Thank you. The assessment of water quality and the impacts of pollution, including from agricultural sources, is carried out by Natural Resources Wales to support the delivery of regulatory requirements, development of river basin management plans and to identify potential interventions where improvements are required.
Thank you, Minister. The Environment Agency modelling suggests that the sources of pollution in the Wye come predominantly from agriculture. Phosphorous pollution is known to cause the process of eutrophication in rivers, a highly problematic issue that causes excessive growth of algae, which smothers and blocks out light for other aquatic plants and animals. NRW said that
'phosphorus breaches are widespread within Welsh SAC rivers with over 60% of waterbodies failing against the challenging targets set.'
Does the Minister now agree with me that such targets need to be a legal requirement, not just a target?
Thank you. Well, the First Minister issued a written statement on 1 August, and that really set out a detailed programme of work and actions agreed at the summit he held at the Royal Welsh Show in July to tackle phosphorus pollution in Wales's special areas of conservation rivers. There is no single measure, I think, that will solve this crisis. There’s no quick fix and I think what the First Minister wanted to portray from that summit was that we need a team Wales approach, where we have the Government, the regulators and all relevant sectors working together over the immediate and medium term to realise those long-term results we want to see to improve the water quality in our rivers.
I thank the Minister for that item.
And now a business statement update, and I call on the Trefnydd, again Lesley Griffiths, to provide that update.
To update us.
Diolch, Llywydd, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity to update Members on the business statement. It's my intention to amend the oral question schedule on next week's business statement, so that questions to the Minister for Economy will be pushed back from 12 October to 19 October, and questions to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language brought forward from 19 October to 12 October. Unfortunately, this change was not agreed in time to be reflected on yesterday's business statement, and I apologise for that. I would also like to take this opportunity to advise Members that the Minister for Economy will make a statement on economic regional development next week, 4 October, which has been brought forward from 11 October. Diolch.
I thank the Trefnydd for that update.
Item 3, there are no topical questions today.
We move, therefore, to item 4, the 90-second statements, and the first today is from Samuel Kurtz.
Diolch, Llywydd. Today is World School Milk Day, and I'm incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to champion this day and the School and Nursery Milk Alliance on the floor of this Siambr. Did you know that a 189 ml carton of semi-skimmed milk can provide 42 per cent of a seven to 10-year-old's recommend daily calcium intake, and 24 per cent of their recommended protein intake? It also provides 100 per cent of their recommended B12 intake, an important vitamin for several reasons, not least its role in keeping the nervous system healthy. Here in Wales we produce some of the very highest quality dairy products, with Welsh milk being no exception. So, for Welsh learners to get the very best out of their education, let's use World School Milk Day to ensure our pupils are powered by the very best milk—llaeth Cymreig.
Diolch. Peter Fox.
Diolch, Llywydd. The last few weeks have seen our country united in grief for our late sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. The period was also deeply sad in my constituency after the loss of the past deputy leader of Monmouthshire County Council, Councillor Bob Greenland. And I just wanted to pay a tribute to this great man, a giant in the local government family. Often, people like Bob, who have done so much to enhance our communities, get forgotten because local government isn't always recognised as it should be. It's people like Bob who have shaped our lives. He was a man of great love, kindness, integrity, fortitude, professionalism and courage.
My relationship with Bob started during the 2004 council elections when he fought the Devauden seat on Monmouthshire County Council. He was one of those rare people that stand out in our political world. His 18 years in council demonstrated that. In 2008 Bob became my deputy leader and remained deputy leader for 14 years, up until last May’s election. Some of his achievements include the regeneration of Abergavenny town centre, as well as the delivery of the new state-of-the-art Monmouthshire livestock centre near Raglan, and the new state-of-the-art leisure centre in Monmouth town. I have to be absolutely honest, hand on heart, those things wouldn't have happened without Bob's persistence and his influence, and they were all down to him.
Over the last few years, as Bob battled against his illness and put up fight after fight throughout all of that, he carried on working. Through all of that suffering he did not bemoan his situation. Bob Greenland was a gentleman, a lovely man, remarkable in so many ways, and a person I am so proud to have known and worked with. The hole he has left in society will never be filled in the same way, and he will always be remembered and missed. Thank you.
We move now to item 5, the motion to approve the official languages scheme for the sixth Senedd and to note the annual report on the official languages scheme for 2021-22. I call on Commissioner Rhun ap Iorwerth to move the motion.
Motion NDM8078 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Approves the Senedd Commission's Official Languages Scheme, in accordance with paragraph 8(11)(d) of Schedule 2 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, laid before the Senedd on 21 September 2022; and
2. Notes the Annual Report on the Senedd Commission's Official Languages Scheme for the period 2021-22, in accordance with paragraph 8(8) of Schedule 2 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, laid before the Senedd on 30 June 2022.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I'm pleased to present the two documents laid before the Senedd today, namely the annual report on the Senedd official languages scheme for 2021-22, and the official languages scheme for the sixth Senedd.
Let me turn first to the annual report. Members will be familiar with the procedure of holding an annual debate on our work during the year. In accordance with the requirements of the National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Act 2012, the Senedd Commission must report annually on its work in providing bilingual services, and any complaints or cases of failure to comply that have been observed. As usual, the report was published in conjunction with the annual report and accounts of the Senedd Commission, and the annual reports on diversity and inclusion and sustainability, in June.
This year, the work of the official languages team has mainly focused on the process of preparing the official languages scheme for the sixth Senedd—I will turn to that scheme later on—and drawing to a close the scheme for the fifth Senedd.
During the course of the year, we welcomed a large number of new Senedd Members, and the team worked with those Members to ensure that they were aware of the requirements of the scheme, and also to ensure that they could work in their official language or languages of choice by default. I would like to thank all Members and their support staff for their support as we implement the requirements of the scheme, and for providing feedback, which is so important, on our bilingual services.
In discussing bilingual services, it's also important to note that the number of learners who are having lessons from the tutoring team has increased; that's always great to see, whether those be re-elected Members re-engaging with their lessons, or those who are completely new learners. It is nice to see the Members who are learning using their skills during proceedings, and the way in which their fellow Members across the Chamber celebrate their successes as they contribute, perhaps for the first time, publicly in Welsh. It's not easy to give it a go and that support is vital in order to encourage Members to keep on learning, on the one hand, but more importantly, certainly, to use their Welsh.
Members will be aware of the statistical information that now forms part of the annual reports. This information is important. It allows us to monitor several areas, including the number of posts advertised at courtesy level, or that have a requirement for skills at a higher level, which forms part of our ongoing language planning processes. We also monitor the percentage of Welsh-medium contributions made in Plenary meetings like this, or in committee meetings. Gathering information of this kind helps us to monitor the effectiveness of the support available to Members, to assist them in using their preferred language when preparing for and taking part in proceedings. We will continue to monitor and to look for ways to nurture confidence in using the Welsh language, and to understand and remove barriers that exist from time to time, in order to ensure that the generally positive pattern continues.
And of course, this is equally important in making people who come into contact with the Senedd feel comfortable in using Welsh—witnesses in committees and so forth. I've previously mentioned that I believe that working online as a result of the pandemic has removed some of those barriers, in some ways, that translation happens naturally and flows better in some ways, without the need to put on or remove headphones. We need to learn from that, I think, for face-to-face and hybrid meetings as well.
Before I turn to the new scheme, it's worth highlighting the fact that no complaints were received this year about our bilingual services, and that there have been very few cases of failing to comply with the scheme—perhaps reflecting the fact that the principles of the scheme are embedded properly in the processes and everyday work of the organisation. Of course, when such cases arise, we will ensure that we take action to rectify that situation and record and share any lessons learned in order to avoid similar cases from arising in the future. And we are always learning.
I will now move on to the official languages scheme for the sixth Senedd. Those who are familiar with the official languages scheme for the fifth Senedd will immediately see that we have made a relatively significant change to the format of the scheme for the sixth Senedd. This is in response to comments made by Members and staff regarding the length of the document, possibly, and from time to time what was seen perhaps as the vague nature of some elements of the service standards. In drafting the scheme for the sixth Senedd, therefore, there was a deliberate attempt made to shorten the narrative and to draw up more specific service standards and to make them as clear as possible. It is our hope that this will create a document that is more relevant and easier to use for all our stakeholders.
We have also combined the language skills strategy, which was previously a separate document, with the scheme itself. In discussions with stakeholders and users over the period of the fifth Senedd, there was a feeling that the strategy was an integral part of the official languages scheme and that it would therefore be more sensible to combine the two documents into one. We'll see whether you agree with that. This will not only ensure, I think, that we bear the requirements of the strategy in mind when developing and providing bilingual services in the future, but it will also make it easier for Members to hold us to account on the content during these annual debates, and that's very important, of course.
In accordance with the requirements of the Act, the scheme for the sixth Senedd also identifies those areas of work that the Senedd Commission will focus on over the period of the sixth Senedd, and will do so in the form of themes. These themes include objectives that will inform our work and that will ensure that we continue to provide a first-class bilingual service. We are trying to improve and strengthen services all the time. For example, we will review the recruitment systems in terms of language skills requirements that were implemented in the fifth Senedd. In truth, our feeling is that refining and maintaining our standards is the main purpose of the themes, so as to ensure that we maintain our reputation as a truly bilingual organisation that is leading the way in this field. We are always looking, of course, for opportunities to learn from others, but we are very eager to share our experiences and expertise, too.
Having now familiarised ourselves with the new normal following the pandemic, we will also, as I mentioned earlier, introduce a theme that will identify how we will learn from our experiences during the pandemic, specifically in terms of the use of our official languages during proceedings, but also more generally in terms of the challenges and opportunities that have arisen in terms of providing bilingual services.
As you know, before a new official languages scheme can be introduced, the Senedd Commission is required to consult on the content and consider any comments received. That consultation was undertaken in many forms, including face-to-face and online discussions, the submission of comments in electronic form, and formal consultation on our website, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped us through that process to draw up the scheme in its current form. Every comment was valuable and useful. I would like to give special thanks to the Members and their support staff for their time and comments, and also to the culture committee for taking the time to consider a draft of the scheme. We also received comments from external organisations, and had input from the trade union side and from staff at the Senedd Commission. And of course I’m extremely grateful to the team that pulled it all together.
In closing for the time being, I would like to echo what I said in the preface to the new scheme, namely that we as a Senedd serve a diverse nation, a nation that comprises a full range of linguistic ability, a nation that is multicultural. The people of Wales expect us to set the highest possible standards across all of our services, and let me say this: the Welsh Parliament is an institution for all, and the Welsh language is a language for all, and this scheme, I'm confident, sets a framework for providing bilingual services that support everyone, that encourage them to express their identity, and to make use of their language skills regardless of the level of those skills. I'm looking forward to the contributions. Thank you very much.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Thank you to the Llywydd for introducing this item, and for the important work that she does in promoting the use of the language in this Chamber and across the Senedd estate. And thank you to the Member for Anglesey for opening the debate. It's important that we lead by example here in the Senedd, not only in delivering the ambitious targets of 'Cymraeg 2050', which we will receive an update on next week, but also to play our part in safeguarding the Welsh language for generations to come.
This sixth Senedd has witnessed two important days in the modern history of the Welsh language. Last October, there was the royal opening, the final visit of Queen Elizabeth. As the report notes, bilingualism was an integral part of that event, with contributions and performances making use of both official languages as part of those celebrations. The second also happened to be a royal visit, when the new King visited the Senedd earlier this month to receive our motion of condolence. We heard our King speak to this Chamber in Welsh—a truly bilingual address. This was a historic event, which shows how far the Welsh language has come. It will also give inspiration to many of our constituents.
I'm pleased to be part of a Senedd that is a strong example of a bilingual workplace that is open and supportive, and nurtures development and the use of the Welsh language at the same level as English. The figures are available to demonstrate how the use of the Welsh language has increased in official business conducted by Members of the Senedd. Fourteen per cent of oral questions were asked in Welsh or bilingually in 2021-22, up from 11 per cent in the year before COVID, which is 2018-19. During the same period, 30 per cent of contributions on the floor of the Senedd were made bilingually or in Welsh, as compared to 18 per cent in 2018-19. These are excellent developments, but there is far more still to be done.
It's worth noting that, over the same period of time, the number of written questions submitted through the medium of Welsh had fallen from 10 per cent to 4 per cent, which is a sign perhaps that people are more comfortable in using spoken Welsh rather than written Welsh—something that I personally feel. I note from the report that there are many plans in place to develop the official languages scheme further during this parliamentary term. I would encourage some focus on the written aspect as well as the spoken word, and I would be interested to hear whether there are any targets in place to measure the success of the scheme in ensuing years in this regard.
Dirprwy Lywydd, the success of this scheme is important. As the Conservative Party, the scheme has our support, and I will do everything I can to see it being successful and seeing further development of the Welsh language across the Senedd's activity and in all aspects of our work. Thank you.
Thank you very much for the scheme and for these reports. Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of singing with my choir, CF1, with another choir, for a tv show with Rhys Meirion, Canu Gyda fy Arwr, which will be broadcast early next year. It's not unusual for us to join another choir, but what was unusual in this case was that the choirs were not only singing but also using Makaton, which is a form of British Sign Language. Lleisiau Llawen, trained by Ceri and Sian, and located in Caernarfon, are a well-known choir that give very special opportunities to people with disabilities. It was a pleasure to see members of that choir expressing themselves through song, and the joy on their faces in performing was very emotional indeed. The experience reminded me and highlighted the importance of Plaid Cymru's vision to make Wales a fairer and more inclusive country, a nation where nobody is left behind—that's the Wales that I want to be part of. With that in mind, has any consideration been given to making BSL an official language within the Senedd? If you can't give us that commitment today, what further measures can be taken in order to promote BSL and to encourage people to use it on a daily basis to improve their ability to engage with the Senedd? Thank you.
I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to reply to the debate.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I thank both contributors for their contributions—Sam Kurtz and Peredur Owen Griffiths. Just a few comments from me, therefore, to respond. I thank Sam. Yes, it is important that we do as an organisation show leadership. Certainly, we want to show here, don't we, how naturally bilingualism can operate in one of the most formal situations you can have, in a way. But the element that the Member referred to in terms of oral Welsh is something that I'm very eager to celebrate. In terms of being fluent, people's use of the language varies from one person to another, and we need to support and celebrate the ways in which people use the language.
In terms of measuring success, as I mentioned, there are ways in which we can gather data—as bare as in terms of how Welsh is used in terms of activities of the Senedd. But there is more than that to this issue. We don't just count the number of words; that's not the measure of how naturally bilingualism happens. I think it happens in feedback all the time. I want Members to feel that they can speak to me as as a commissioner—and I'm sure I can speak on behalf of the Presiding Officer and the Deputy Presiding Officer—so that there is a feeling of being able to share our ideas and our concerns about how to expand bilingualism here.
To Peredur Owen Griffiths, thank you for sharing that experience of singing with choir, and referring to the principles of inclusivity and fairness, which are so important to us. Those are values or principles that can be applied to the use of language as well. It's difficult for me to give that commitment that you suggested in terms of creating official language status, but what I will say about BSL is that the Senedd is very eager to work with partners to ensure that as much use as possible is made of BSL, and, certainly, that when people are engaged with the Senedd, in different formal situations, for example job applications and so forth, that inclusivity is shown towards people who do use BSL. Our provision is far from being perfect here as an organisation, but, of course, we're very eager to learn and improve all the time.
So, thank you for the time to be able to discuss these two reports today. The fact that we can discuss reports in this way shows how normalised and natural and comfortable bilingualism is here in the Senedd. There is room for improvement, and there is room for us to pass our expertise on to others, but don't wait until formal consultations to discuss with the Commission your ideas in terms of the use of language. Our door as a Commission is always open.
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? I see no objections. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 6 is next, a debate on petition P-06-1276, 'Extend section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016'. I call on Buffy Williams to move the motion on behalf of the committee.
Motion NDM8077 Jack Sargeant
To propose that the Senedd:
Notes the petition, ‘P-06-1276 Extend section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016’, which received 10,572 signatures.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I'm delighted to open the debate on petition P-06-1276, 'Extend section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016'. The text of the petition reads:
'Nurses across Wales are short of 1,719 highly-skilled life-saving staff members. This means nursing staff give NHS Wales 34,284 extra hours every single week—and it still isn’t enough. Research shows that where there are fewer nurses, patients are 26% more likely to die overall rising to 29% following complicated hospital stays. The Welsh Government should extend Section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 to give the Welsh public the full team of nurses they desperately need.'
Thank you to the Business Committee for agreeing our request to debate this petition, which has received 10,572 signatures. This petition is part of a broader campaign led by the Royal College of Nursing Wales. They argue that extending section 25B—the section of the Act that relates to the calculation of staffing levels in a range of settings—will save lives.
They point to the progress to date, since the Act was passed in 2016. Wales was the first country in Europe to protect patient care by placing nurse staffing levels into legislation. This was a groundbreaking achievement. By introducing the legislation, attention has been drawn to nursing, changed the behaviour of health boards, and made patients safer. Scotland has followed in Wales's footsteps with the introduction of the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019.
The settings covered by section 25B have already been extended. When the law was first passed, section 25B only applied to acute adult medical and surgical wards. On 1 October 2021, it was extended to children’s wards. Campaigners are now arguing that it should apply in all settings where nursing care is provided, starting with community nursing and mental health in-patient wards. I was not a Member when the legislation was introduced, but debate about how far and how fast minimum staffing levels could be extended was a big part of the Bill’s scrutiny journey. It remains a live issue.
In May 2022, RCN Wales published a report on implementation of the legislation. This found that the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 has improved patient care and increased the number of nursing staff on wards covered by section 25B. In the Welsh Government’s letter to the Petitions Committee, the Minister for Health and Social Services describes the premise of the petition's title as flawed and lacking in important legislative context. She also notes the global shortage of nursing staff and the ongoing work to develop more effective workforce planning.
In correspondence to the committee, the RCN argue that today’s debate will allow the Welsh Government an opportunity to outline a timescale for the extension and highlight any barriers and constraints they are currently facing. This would allow the public to have a better understanding of why an extension of section 25B has not yet been possible. I look forward to hearing the arguments on all sides.
Thank you, Buffy, for opening this debate. I would like to begin by saying that the Welsh Conservatives wholeheartedly support the extension of section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 to include community nursing and mental health in-patient settings. We support this extension because it is clear to us that the situation nurses find themselves in is both unacceptable and, in the long term, completely unsustainable for the profession.
Every week, nurses give the Welsh NHS an additional 67,780 hours, equivalent to an extra 1,807 nurses. This essentially means that nurses are being systematically overworked by health boards who are ultimately cutting corners by not employing enough nurses for patient care. Long term, this is detrimental to the mental and physical health of nurses, which then creates a higher risk of patient care being compromised, and has a huge knock-on effect on the family life of nurses as they spend more and more time away from their family, working longer and longer shifts. It creates a negative impression that nursing is a poor career choice.
I was honestly shocked by the number of cases at Welsh health boards where understaffing has led to deep concerns about patient safety, and has even led to injury and death—from a shortage of midwives in Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board's maternity services, where an independent review found that a third of stillbirths could have been prevented with proper care and treatment, to shortages in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's vascular and emergency services, where the Royal College of Surgeons found that there were immediate operational pressures due to consultant availability and nurse staffing within the health board. It is clear that severe staffing pressures are ongoing and are leading to serious deficiencies in care.
Turning to mental health, the Ockenden report into Tawel Fan found that some patients had experienced a loss of dignity, being left in urine-soaked sheets or found wandering the ward unsupervised. Similarly, the Holden report into the Hergest unit in north Wales found that inadequate staffing meant that the needs of patients in the unit were not met, and this resulted in patient dignity and safety being compromised. The Welsh Conservative Group's own research has highlighted unsafe staffing levels in Wales's accident and emergency units, and it is clear that the Welsh NHS workforce is continuing to face burnout after several years of the pandemic, alongside increasing waiting lists and pressures in emergency care. I, like many others, believe that the Welsh Government should provide more support in this area, and focus efforts to increase student places, and ultimately support the larger NHS workforce.
As the Minister will know, Wales is the only nation of the UK that does not publish national statistics for nursing vacancies in Wales, leaving many to believe that there is something to hide. But Members will be interested to know that figures given to me by the Royal College of Nursing Cymru, show that there were 2,900 nursing vacancies in 2021-22, costing the Welsh NHS £133.4 million in emergency nursing—an increase of 41 per cent from the previous financial year. And, as my colleague, Buffy Williams has also mentioned, the RCN found that there were an additional 144 full-time equivalent nurses and 597 full-time healthcare support workers on section 25B wards in November 2020, compared to March 2018, which was before section 25B came into force. This shows that extending the section 25B on nurse staffing levels will have a major positive impact. I think all Members here will agree with me that failing to extend section 25B is highly unacceptable. And I therefore urge all Members here to support the motion. Thank you.
Before I move on, there is a slight noise in the Chamber, which I've asked ICT to look at. Are Members content to continue, or are they being distracted? Yes? Okay. Well, we'll see if we can get that resolved, hopefully. We'll continue. Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I'd like to thank the petitioners, of course, for gathering the names in order to draw attention again to the critical situation that we are facing, in terms of the number of vacancies and the need to extend the legislation on safe nursing levels within our health service. And I will repeat that word: 'safe'. This is about patient safety. Someone from your family maybe—you yourself, perhaps. To quote from petition itself, if there are fewer nurses than there should be,
'patients are 26 per cent more likely to die'.
This is about safety. And, of course, the legislative framework for ensuring safe staffing levels is to be seen in the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016. Extending that is what we're calling for again today. Yes, requiring the Act to reach all parts of the NHS back in 2016 was asking a lot in practical terms. Well, given that we are in 2022, it's time to extend it further—to extend section 25B.
Experiences of the pandemic, of course, only reinforced what we already know about the NHS and the nursing workforce—one that was suffering from staff shortages, low pay, low morale, one that operated in an environment deprived of investment and resources. It's no wonder that one of the biggest challenges we have is the sustainability of the nursing workforce. There are far more nurses leaving the NHS than can be matched by newly qualified nurses or internationally recruited nurses. And regrettably, there's been far too little action by Welsh Government since RCN’s last report in 2019 to address nursing retention issues.
It's up to Welsh Government to lead, to take the lead, on nursing retention through a national retention strategy. RCN Wales have published a retention paper that sets out what's being done elsewhere in the UK and what could be done in Wales. Instead, it seems Welsh Government would rather stick its head in the sand when it comes to the scale of the problem. There are no published national statistics provided by Welsh Government for nursing vacancies. Well, we've tried to help with that; the petition we have in front of us mentions 1,700 vacancies. I was recently given a figure of over 400 vacancies in one health board. So, seeing that, I knew that 1,700 sounded too low, so we conducted our own fresh research in parallel. So did the Royal College of Nursing, and we both came to the same result: approaching 3,000 nursing vacancies in Wales. It's a frightening figure, but the RCN's wider research tells us more: figures earlier this year showed that more than half of Wales's nurses are demoralised due to a staffing crisis. Seventy-eight per cent of nurses felt that patient care was being compromised. These are issues that are not going away; they need to be addressed right now.
In the past, the health Minister has commented that section 25B is based on evidence; being grounded in evidence is what gives the Act its credibility, but even though the evidence points clearly to the need to ensure patient safety through safe staffing, she is reluctant to act, still. Just look at the findings of the Tawel Fan report in September 2014; that surely demonstrates the horrific impact on patient care that results when lack of funding, lack of sufficient staff, lack of skills in the workforce, lack of leadership all combine, and the resulting issue isn't addressed. In June 2021, 16 organisations wrote to the First Minister to urge the Government to ensure safe nurse staffing and expand section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 to mental health in-patient wards and community settings. But still, we wait. When will the Welsh Government commit to valuing our nursing workforce in this way?
I understand that the chief nursing officer has written to Health Education and Improvement Wales regarding the all-Wales nurse staffing programme, and indicated that she is not going to publish the principles for mental health or health visiting. Now, that doesn't bode well. It would mean that the work for those workstreams are unlikely to move forward. Can I ask, does the Minister intend to publish the principles for mental health and health visiting, and if not, why not? We know that staffing levels that are too low endanger the well-being—the lives, even—of patients. We know that it exacerbates low morale in the workforce, leading to a loss of experienced, valued staff. We cannot wait any longer. Can we please see a Labour Government willing to do what's right for the nursing workforce and for patients? And again, I thank the petitioners.
We should all be concerned about the possibility of nearly 1,800 vacancies across Wales, because there's no doubt that a shortage of nurses will compromise nursing care; it's inevitable. Buffy Williams has told us that it has led to a change of behaviour by health boards, and I hope, therefore, an improvement and a greater focus on ensuring that staffing levels are up to complement in acute medical and surgical wards, because that's obviously where the most acutely ill patients normally are, and therefore, the ones whose lives can be saved by better nursing.
But I suppose what I want to understand is whether the recent extension to children's wards in October last year has been successful in ensuring that we have a full complement of staff nurses in children's wards, because at the end of the day, this is all about recruitment and retention of nurses, and if we're simply begging Peter to pay Paul, we're not actually resolving the problem. If we want to extend it to community nursing and mental health settings, which sounds ideal, do these nurses actually exist out there, and if not, why not? So, I want to look at the recruitment and retention issues that all health boards are facing, and that's partly because if you're employed as a member of staff as a nurse, there isn't the flexibility that somebody who's also got caring responsibility needs to ensure that they can be only signing up for the work for which they are available, rather than what the NHS wants them to do.
If you've got small children, you are simply not going to be able to drop things overnight, work overnight, work different days when you don't have childcare; it's not possible. And so, that's one of the reasons that main scale nurses are driven into agency working. In the last financial year, 2021-22, NHS Wales spent £133 million on agency nursing, which was a 41 per cent increase on the previous financial year. Now, that would pay for the salaries of nearly 5,000 newly qualified nurses, so there's something wrong going on here, and it would be useful to hear the Minister's view on this, because agency offers better pay compared with the equivalent NHS staff pay. And that is what is leading to the bizarre situation of agency nurses travelling from London or Manchester to fill vacancies at the Heath or at Ysbyty Gwynedd.
So, I understand why the new all-Wales agency framework contract signed last year for 2021-24 is capping the hourly rates to nursing agencies, otherwise, you simply make the problem worse. But if you rely on agency nursing, you're not only spending more money that you could be spending on a permanent workforce, but you are in danger of being in a very dangerous situation where we simply don't have enough staff, and that the ones who are still working for the NHS then become completely exhausted so that they then take early retirement or go and get another job. So, this is a really important issue and, therefore, we should very much thank the petitioners for this.
I think one of the things that we could learn from is the importance of prudent healthcare and whether we are using effectively multidisciplinary teams, headed by highly qualified nurses, but with less well-qualified other people working beneath them to do some of the important caring jobs that I know are done by auxilliary nurses or by breastfeeding advisers, all depending on which setting they're working in. It seems to me that that is one solution for preventing a possible meltdown in the way that we provide nursing care, both in the community and in our hospitals.
I was compelled, really, to contribute to this Petitions Committee report after two visits. The first was to Glangwili General Hospital in my constituency over the summer recess, where I met with staff in what was a very real, very raw and very honest discussion with staff around the levels that they're seeing in terms of nursing levels. We're quite right to talk about nurses leaving the profession, but those who are staying are staying over fear of letting their colleagues down, which I think is really quite heart-wrenching to hear from those on the front line within our hospital services. They're at the end of their tether.
The second visit was with the Royal College of Nursing yesterday, where I got figures for my own health board of Hywel Dda. Hywel Dda agency nurse spend for 2021-22 was £28.9 million, and the registered nurse vacancy rate in 2021-22 was 539.2—approximately 20 per cent—which is the highest in Wales. These are incredible statistics, and they just show why we, as Welsh Conservatives, why we on this side of the Chamber stand in solidarity on this and back extension of 25B wholeheartedly. I think we really need to assess what we are doing to support our nurses, because they are the backbone of our healthcare system, be that in general hospitals, be that in GP practices, where nurse practitioners are developing a larger strategic role. I think it's vitally important that we do all that we can to support them.
I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan.
Thank you very much. I welcome this debate today, and I thank Members for their comments.
As Minister for Health and Social Services, I, of course, appreciate the challenges faced daily by our NHS workforce. We've come through a challenging pandemic, largely due to the incredible efforts of our front-line workers, not least the nursing staff, and we will forever be grateful to them for that.
Now, I'm under no illusion that the pandemic is not over and we don't know what surprises still lie in store for us. The fact is that its residual impacts are generating real pressure across the system. The bleak economic forecasts in the coming winter and beyond will have a compounding effect on that.
Ensuring we have the right workforce skill mix across our health and care system to provide appropriate, holistic, individualised care to the people of Wales is therefore of fundamental importance and on that point I'm sure we all agree. But I'm afraid I'm unable to agree with this petition's assertion that extending section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act is in and of itself going to achieve that. Firstly, the Act requires that an evidence-based workforce planning tool is a necessary component for considering application of section 25B to any particular care situation, and such tools do not currently exist for other situations. So, we're not saying 'never', we're just saying 'not at the moment'. [Interruption.] And any call to apply—if you'd let me finish the sentence, thank you—any call to apply section 25B of the Act across new clinical settings simply ignores that fact. And the fact, for example, when you look at mental health wards, is that they involve more complex care, so they have multidisciplinary teams, so they're more complicated. So, you can't just take what happens on one ward and put it and project it onto another ward. So, we do have to understand that different circumstances require those planning tools to be effective.
Thank you, Minister, for taking the intervention. In terms of workforce planning, we've heard that the vacancy rate is just under 3,000, but that figure comes from the Royal College of Nursing, and opposition parties here have done their own research to get to that figure. But in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland the Government publishes those figures, and I wonder if you would be minded to do that, because that in itself, I would hope, would be helpful in highlighting the issues and helping to address the workforce issues.
Thanks very much. Well, I have asked HEIW to do some work on this, so I'll come on to that in a second, if you don't mind.
The second point that I think is really important to understand is, even if those tools were available for every nursing situation, it's simply inaccurate to suggest that extending section 25B to all of those areas would result in giving Wales 'the full team of nurses', as the petition puts it, and that's simply because, at the moment, those nurses don't exist. So, the nursing staff shortage is an issue that's being experienced globally; it's not just a Welsh issue. The World Health Organization has estimated that nursing and midwifery vacancies currently represent more than 50 per cent of the global shortage of health workers. Now, we know that there are significant registered nursing vacancies already in our health boards and across our care sectors, and this is not an issue that would be directly addressed by any extension to section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act.
Now, we're already doing a huge amount to recruit and to train nurses. The number of commissioned training places has increased by 69 per cent to 2,396 since 2016, so that would take us a long way towards those 3,000 that you have identified. But we need to recognise that the problem is retention, and that's why I have asked HEIW to do more work on retention specifically of nursing staff. I'm delighted that, on Friday, I'll be going to Aberystwyth to open the new centre where we will be training more nurses in Wales, and I think it's really important that we understand also—. And I recognise that we're spending too much money now on agency nurses, so I've asked again for some work to be done on that. How do we bring the cost of agency nurses down? It's not straightforward. If you give our current nurses more money, then the agency staffing costs will go up and we've still got gaps. So, none of it is straightforward, but I've asked some key people to help, come up with some ideas for how we can—
[Inaudible.]—I'd appreciate it if you'd just let me make a short intervention just on agency nurses, if that's possible.
Well, we have had a couple of interventions.
It's just on the matter of agency—
That's a 'no', Darren. Thank you.
Oh, pardon me. Okay. You asked for ideas; I was going to give you one.
Thank you. Well, not while I'm standing on my feet in the middle of a debate. So, I have asked for ideas from the professionals who are helping me with this.
Now, it appears that what those who have signed the petition are saying is that they want the right number of nurses and healthcare staff in the system to meet the care needs of the people of Wales, and that's my aspiration too. But a legislative pledge that cannot be delivered won't secure that, and I can't commit the Welsh Government to that approach. Rather, the steps that will help to ensure that are planning and workforce modelling in an effective way, effective strategies for recruitment and retention of staff, including programmes that are standardised to provide clinical oversight and tutoring to our nursing staff, and also international recruitment. Health Education and Improvement Wales is leading on the development of a sustainable national workforce development plan for nursing, and I hope that this work will lead to solutions and a focus to tackle the fundamental challenges in terms of the workforce. Thank you.
I call on Buffy Williams to reply to the debate.
Firstly, I'd like to thank the petitioners for bringing this petition forward, and I'd also like to thank the Members who've contributed today and the Minister for her reply. Nurses make up around 40 per cent of NHS Wales employees; they are the heart and soul of our national health service. What has been clear in this debate is that, whatever party we belong to and whatever community we represent, we all want to ensure that we have the appropriate number of nurses to ensure the safety and well-being of patients. But how we achieve that, particularly in the face of a global shortage of nurses, is the key challenge. I'd like to thank members of the Royal College of Nursing for attending today's debate; I look forward to seeing them in the Neuadd later this evening to mark the launch of their new report.
I hope today's debate has shed further light on the progress made over the last few years and the challenges that remain, and I know that this is an issue that will continue to be debated long into the future. Diolch.
The proposal is to note the petition. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 7 this afternoon is the Welsh Conservatives debate—gynaecological cancer. I call on Russell George to move the motion.
Motion NDM8082 Darren Millar
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Notes that September is gynaecological cancer awareness month.
2. Expresses its concern that the lowest single cancer pathway performance by tumour site is gynaecological, with less than a third of patients being seen within 62 days.
3. Regrets that one-year and five-year survival rates for cancer of the uterus have dropped significantly over the last decade.
4. Further notes research carried out by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust which highlights that 80 per cent of women who work full time cannot get a convenient cervical screening appointment.
5. Calls on the Welsh Government to:
a) urgently conduct a review into gynaecological cancer waiting times;
b) ensure that workforce plans for cancer specialists have a focus on gynaecological health; and
c) immediately introduce its cancer action plan.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion in the name of my colleague, Darren Millar. In this motion today, we, as Welsh Conservatives, are urging the Welsh Government to ensure that its cancer action plan is published urgently, alongside focusing its cancer workforce plan on gynaecological health, with clear and measurable aims that can be achieved within the next five to 10 years.
Now more than ever, gynaecological cancer services must be given the priority that they deserve. There is little doubt that the pandemic, of course, has accelerated inequalities in healthcare, no more so than in female cancers. Latest cancer survival rates between 2015 and 2019 show that the five-year survival rates had dropped for cancer of the uterus by 4 per cent over the last decade, the only cancer to dip in survival rates over a 10-year period.
The pausing of vital screening services for four months in 2020, alongside restrictions over the past two years, has caused a drop in attendance for cervical screening to its lowest in over a decade. Furthermore, many women who were invited for appointments are finding it difficult to arrange suitable time with their employers, some often taking annual leave in order to attend medical procedures.
Sadly, long waits for cancer treatments are not new. Cancer waiting times have not been met since 2008. Fifty-six per cent received treatment within 62 days in February 2020; that was, of course, prior to the pandemic. Althou