Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

18/10/2022

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the First Minister

Welcome, all, to this Plenary meeting. The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Janet Finch-Saunders.

Building Safety

1. Will the First Minister fast-track legislation on building safety in Wales? OQ58574

Llywydd, the reform of building safety legislation has already started through the Welsh clauses in the Building Safety Act 2022. Consultation is currently taking place on further legislative changes, and primary legislation in this field is planned for this Senedd term.

Thank you. I recently met with the Welsh Cladiators, and they are very much in despair at what they consider to be a lack of progress made in Wales. Of course, First Minister, you'll know that there are approximately 163 buildings across Wales where residents are still living in fear. Now, I appreciate £375 million has been made available to tackle some building safety aspects, but some leasehold management companies are currently liable to pay for these works. Now, apparently, this is a direct contradiction to the Welsh Government policy. Now, in April, the UK Government Building Safety Act received Royal Assent, and, for example, section 122 and Schedule 8 contain protections for tenants in respect of costs connected with relevant defects and impose liabilities on landlords. Such protections of leaseholders are not available in Wales because we have not passed the building safety (Wales) Bill. So, will you allow leaseholders the same protections—obviously, when any legislation comes forward—as they have in England, by replicating sections 116 to 125 of the Building Safety Act? Thank you.

I thank the Member for that question. She will know that the Building Safety Act 2020 does already contain several provisions to add to the protection of leaseholders here in Wales. So, we were able to secure those additional protections through the 2022 Act. The UK Government brought forward a whole series of very late amendments to the Act—to the Bill, as it was then—which we were not able to take advantage of, despite very significant efforts by the Minister involved to get Welsh powers in those additional areas. It does mean that, when our own legislation comes forward, we will look to make sure that we have in place that future system that we need for building safety here in Wales.

It's important, Llywydd, to separate two issues. There are things that we are doing in the here and now for people who are already affected in those high-rise buildings. Janet Finch-Saunders was quite right, Llywydd, to point to the £275 million set aside to help people in those circumstances. Members here will know that we had asked for expressions of interest for people who wanted the surveys to be carried out so we could identify the best way in which that help could be provided. There were 261 expressions of interest, and 163 of those require more intensive surveys in order to identify where the faults lie. I'm pleased to be able to say that we expect all urgent surveys now to be completed within the next two weeks, provided we have access to those buildings. And one of the reasons why there have been delays in getting some of those additional, more intrusive surveys completed is because we have experienced difficulties in allowing surveyors to get access to the buildings in order for that work to be carried out. We do expect in all urgent cases that that can be resolved within the next two weeks, and then we will move on to complete the surveys in those buildings where the issues are currently regarded as less severe. And then, in the legislation that we will bring in front of the Senedd, we will create a future regime with clear lines of accountability, stronger and more coherent regulation, and an enforcement and sanctions regime that make sure that, in future, those who are responsible for the problem also bear the costs of putting things right.

First Minister, this Senedd has the capacity to pass emergency legislation and legislation passed quickly. Now, an example of emergency legislation was the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014, and emergency procedures for the single-use plastic Bill. The argument for the use of the legislative consent motion process for buildings safety was that it would be quicker than legislating here in the Senedd. However, more than five and a half years since Grenfell, many people, living just a stone's throw from this building, are still living in fear in their homes. Why doesn't this Government, therefore, use the processes that the Senedd has to bring this nightmare to an end for thousands upon thousands of people? 

13:35

Llywydd, it is important, as I explained, to keep the two issues separate. When we're talking about legislation, we're not talking about what we are doing for people in the current situation; that is responded to through the funding that we have allocated and put on the table and the system that is currently ongoing. That doesn't depend on a change to the law. We are changing the legislation for the future, to create a new system to help people to avoid the problems that some people are currently facing. We have drawn down powers, as I said. I know that Plaid Cymru opposes every time we do that. So we have drawn down powers to Wales, when we had an opportunity to do that. We are going to legislate during this term, and, in the meantime, for those people who are suffering today, because of the problems that have arisen already, we are dealing with those issues with the funding and with the work that is currently being done. 

The Financial Markets

2. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact on Wales of the recent turmoil in the financial markets? OQ58590

Llywydd, I thank Ken Skates for that question. The recent turmoil in UK financial markets, for which the UK Government’s fiscal statement was the catalyst, has increased the cost of borrowing for Government, businesses and ordinary citizens. It will damage growth, worsen the public finances and make life harder for borrowers, including homebuyers.

Thank you, First Minister. Of course, the fourth Chancellor in as many months has now buried Trussonomics and u-turned on pretty much the entire mini-budget, but, as you outlined, the effects of steering the economy like a bumper car will have devastating consequences: higher taxes, higher inflation, high mortgage rates. Is it fair that the people of Wales and the people of the UK are being treated like experimental guinea pigs by the Conservatives? 

Well, Llywydd, of course, it's not fair that we have all been subjected to the failed experiment—a failed experiment that took less than a month to collapse in front of us. And the reason it's particularly unfair is that the experiment was doomed to failure from the outset. It didn't need to come in contact with the reality of the markets for people to have understood that. An economic approach based on the failed theories of trickle-down economics, depending upon uncosted borrowing, was always going to fail. Now, in that failed experiment, as I said, Llywydd, people across the United Kingdom will now pay the price. I'll give just one example: because of the increase in the mortgage rate that we now see as a result of what has happened, by 2024, people across the United Kingdom will have paid out £26 billion in additional interest payments—£26 billion taken out of the pockets of families right across the United Kingdom. Now, it's not more than a couple of weeks ago that the Prime Minister was trying to portray those people who didn't agree with her failed ideas as anti-growth. That was never ever the case, of course, but what's now guaranteed is that the recession the Bank of England says we are already in will be deeper and longer than it otherwise would have been, because that £26 billion, Llywydd, would have been available for people to spend in shops, to use in hospitality, to do the things that keeps the economy going. That £26 billion by itself will now no longer be there to support the economy back into growth, and, here in Wales, this time next year, the average person with a mortgage will be paying £2,300 more in a year than they would be had interest rates stayed where they were in the current quarter. That is the scale of the failed experiment, and that's only one example of it. 

13:40

As the First Minister is aware, liability-driven investments use the equity in pension funds to borrow money. This borrowed money is then used to buy gilts, which in turn deliver fixed-rate interest over a set period. The major risk, however, is that if interest rates rapidly rise on gilts, as they have now, then pension funds have to acquire larger amounts of collateral to cover the money that they've borrowed, which leads them to sell their assets, including gilts. This is problematic when there is no buyer, as was the recent case when the United States issued an eye-watering $0.25 trillion for sale just over a week ago, which attracted investors who would normally have bought from the UK market. As the First Minister may remember, in his first budget in 1997, and despite warnings from the pension industry, Gordon Brown removed pension dividend tax credits from pension funds, the consequences of which are still felt today—[Interruption.]

We're going to have to listen in some quiet, so the First Minister can hear the question.

Thank you, Llywydd. This drastically impacted the finances of many pension funds and has ultimately led to the over-reliant use of LDIs by desperate pension schemes aiming to make up the shortfalls that they've continually suffered since then. In the frantic attempt to raise revenue, this financial legacy of the last UK Labour Government has seen pension funds seek riskier and riskier borrowing—[Interruption.]

Let the Member come to his question, and I'm sure he's going to very, very quickly.

Yes, last sentence, Llywydd—riskier borrowing strategies, some of them leveraging up to four times the collateral they hold. First Minister, in the wake of this disastrous Labour policy that still has repercussions to this day, what financial assessment has the Welsh Government made of the security of pension funds in Wales that use LDIs? Thank you.

Well, Llywydd, the Member deserved better from more senior Members of his group who ought to have advised him, before he stood up, not to offer a contribution of that sort on the floor of the Senedd. 'It's all the fault of Gordon Brown and the United States of America.' Well, even in a week in which the most extraordinary explanations have been offered, I don't think anybody has attempted to persuade us of that. I thank the Member for his explanation of the way that the gilt market works and its impact on pension liabilities. I think I probably had understood already that if you have a market in which nobody is prepared to buy, then the value of the goods that you're trying to sell inevitably goes down, and, when that happens, the person who is forced to sell faces a very bleak position. It's why the Bank of England, of course, was forced to intervene, spending billions and billions more that we will now have to pay for in the future. The catalyst for that was nothing said by Gordon Brown in 1997, nor was it anything to do with actions taken in the United States. It was the direct and predictable consequence of the recklessness with which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and the person who sacked him for agreeing with her embarked upon then.

The in-tray on the desk under which the Prime Minister is now hiding was substantial, but rather than face the economic challenges with seriousness, Truss favoured this fantasy of trickle-down economics with tax cuts for the rich. She has been forced to reverse nearly every measure, but the damage to the economy is here to stay. As a direct result, as we've heard, my constituents face soaring mortgage bills, extreme energy bills from April and further austerity. Prif Weinidog, the Welsh Government has said that it can't protect people and services from the full force of the UK Government's actions. I understand that, but many of my constituents would like to know what action the Welsh Government will be taking to try to protect them over the coming months. Assuming that either the Prime Minister in name only or the real Prime Minister, Jeremy Hunt, get round to calling you eventually, what message will you be giving them, Prif Weinidog, on behalf of the people of Wales?

It's an important point that the Member makes, and I want to repeat it again this afternoon, as I did last week, because these are absolutely serious times in the lives of citizens in Wales. The Welsh Government's budget is already worth, in purchasing power, £600 million less than it was in November of last year at the time of the comprehensive spending review, and the Chancellor has said that he has no intention at all of making up for that erosion in the budgets available to protect citizens and public services in Wales. And now we know that there are cuts on top of that on the way.

While the Welsh Government will use every capacity that we have, every pound that we are able to mobilise, every partnership that we are able to rely on, to do what we can to protect people in Wales from the impact of those cuts, there will be a limit beyond which we simply cannot go. And people will see directly and inevitably, not simply because their mortgages now cost astronomically more, not just because the energy protection that they were promised last week would last for two years is now only to last for six months, not only because the benefits on which they rely may be cut while bankers' bonuses are unrestricted, but they will see it as well in the services that they have been able to rely on up until now that simply will not be there in the same way, if we have to cut our budget on the scale that some commentators are predicting.

Llywydd, the biggest cut we've ever had to make in a single year came when George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer. We had to cut 3 per cent of our budget, and we did it after 10 years in which our budget had grown every single year, year on year on year, real-terms growth, and then we had to cut by 3 per cent. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, last week, were saying that there would be a 15 per cent—a 15 per cent—cut in public expenditure, and this now not after a decade of growth, but after a decade of austerity as well. Nobody can pretend that people in Wales can be sheltered from the full onslaught of that, and that’s the message that I will be conveying whenever we have an opportunity—as my colleague Rebecca Evans did in her conversation with the latest Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the sixth one she’s had to deal with during the time she has been the finance Minister here in the Welsh Government.

13:45
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, on the weekend, there were a series of incidences where ambulances could not turn up to critical incidents. Ben Symons, a 22-year-old, was laying on a football pitch in Cefn Cribwr with a serious back injury. His mother said at the time that there was a disgraceful wait involved, five hours, and that the system is broken. Do you agree with his mother?

Llywydd, I agree that the Welsh ambulance service is under enormous pressure. It’ll be under far greater pressure when his party has finished cutting the budget of the health service, as Jeremy Hunt has said he intends to do. Yes, you can groan and you can moan, but the responsibility lies where it lies, and people out there understand that too. Yes, the system is under huge pressure; we know it’s under huge pressure. I spoke to someone who was at the game where that incident took place, and they told me that when the ambulance driver arrived, they explained the other calls that they had been on already that day, including a number of calls to 999 that didn’t need an ambulance to be there at all. So, the system is under enormous pressure from legitimate demand and demand that should have gone to a different part of the system.

But, when he asks me his next question, let him just reflect for a moment on what will happen to ambulance services in Wales when we face the cuts. Cuts to the health service: unbelievable. [Interruption.] But cuts to the health—[Interruption.] Yes, look. I know, I know. You think that by making a lot of noise that you distract people from your responsibility. Believe me, you absolutely do not.

I, unlike you, First Minister, have never voted to cut a health budget. You have, First Minister. Your party has been running the health service here, which the ambulance service is an important part of, for the last 23 years. [Interruption.]

Another incident happened in Merthyr Tydfil, where a patient was left on the floor after a 15-hour wait—a 15-hour wait—where the individual's daughter said—and I'll quote her words; they're not my words, they're her words:

'In Wales we're like a third-world country when it comes to our healthcare...I'm sure Aneurin Bevan would be turning in his grave.'

They're not my words, they're from someone whose father was rolling around on a floor for 15 hours. You have been responsible for the health service here in Wales for 23 years. You voted to cut the health budget here in Wales. You can throw your pen down, First Minister, but you are responsible. What are you going to do about it?

13:50

Llywydd, I understand the pressure that the Conservative Party is under. I understand how difficult it must be for the leader of the opposition to come here and ask questions today. But don't let him believe that by shouting at me he will persuade anybody outside this Chamber that his responsibility—I've not heard ever a single word from him assuming responsibility for the actions of his Government. Let's hear it from him next time— 

Yes, he supported Liz Truss. We know that. He is partly responsible for the mess we're in. Just shouting at me about the difficulties that are there in the ambulance service, which I acknowledge, and we are working very hard with people who work in the ambulance service to get that service where it needs to be. There's no solution to that by shouting at me as though all the right in this argument belonged to him, which we certainly know it doesn't, and everybody else is at fault. I completely refute, on behalf of those people who work so hard every day in our health service in Wales, that it is accurately described in the way that he did, whoever he may be quoting. Our health service does miracles every single day in the lives of people here in Wales, and it does it because we have dedicated people, doctors, nurses and others, who will have heard him describe the service that they provide in the way that he did. If he thinks that helps at all to improve the service, to make people come in and drive those ambulances and staff those accident and emergency departments, I tell him now, it absolutely does not.

First Minister, I used a direct quote from Mr Keith Morris's daughter. Pressure is when you see someone you love rolling around on the floor in pain and the service that you are looking to for help hasn't arrived for 15 hours. That's pressure, First Minister.

You are the First Minister, you haven't said once in response to my two questions the solution that the Government is proposing to take this pressure out of the ambulance service and allow them to get on with the job that they do, which is a fantastic job when it works correctly.

Now, this is happening time and time again. I could have cited—[Interruption.] I hear sedentary voices. I accept that there are pressures across the United Kingdom, but the issue here in Wales is particularly acute. What I want to leave this Chamber understanding is what the road map from the Welsh Government is, as we go further into the winter months, to alleviate these problems, so that Aneurin Bevan will not be turning in his grave, and that our Government, which is responsible for the health service, has a solution to the problems that Mr Morris's and other families are facing day in, day out.

Llywydd, the prescription of the Welsh Government is to invest more money in the ambulance service, to have more staff working in the ambulance service, to have a wider range of people able to provide those services and for ambulances to know that, when they arrive at hospitals, the hospital will be in a position to receive that patient so that the ambulance can get back on the road again and attend in a timely way to other people who are waiting. That is the prescription of the Welsh Government.

What do people who work in the service—? And as I say, they'll have heard the way that the Member has described the service they provide this afternoon. What do they face? They—[Interruption.] He has chosen to use that language this afternoon, he didn't—[Interruption.] And you have chosen to use that language here this afternoon. What do those people face? They face cuts to their pay because of the policy of your Government, and now they face cuts to the budgets that the health service itself will have at its disposal. It is shocking. It is absolutely shocking to me that you think that you can turn up here this afternoon, with the mess that your party has made of the budgets of this country, of the reputation of this country around the world, and that you promise those people that there will be more to come—[Interruption.] And you think you can turn up here this afternoon and claim some sort of moral high ground. What sort of world do you belong in?

13:55

Can we—? [Interruption.] Can we—? Can we take a moment here? I understand that the arguments and the feelings run high on these issues from a variety of perspectives, I understand some of the shouting taking place, but I won't have people pointing in anger, and gesticulating in anger, at other people. Can we just take a moment to calm down? I'm hoping that Adam Price will contribute to that when I call him to ask his questions.

You can be sure of it.

First Minister, Liz Truss's u-turns this week were so numerous and so breathtakingly rapid that they became a political pirouette. But she wasn't the only one, was she? Three weeks ago, Keir Starmer said that Labour wouldn't reverse the cut to the basic rate of income tax, it would be the wrong thing to do. Now, this morning, the shadow Chancellor said that Labour supported the policy to bin it. So, in supporting the Tory u-turn, Labour has performed its own. But she also went on to say that Labour wouldn't raise taxes in response to the current crisis, which begs the question, doesn't it, as to where a Labour Government will get all the resources necessary to defend public services, to do something about the crisis in the NHS here in Wales, through the Barnett formula consequential, and to pay public sector workers a decent wage. Labour, in 1997, they said they were going to keep to the Tory spending plans for the first two years, and were rightly criticised for doing so. How is keeping to the Tories' tax plans any better?

Well, Llywydd, the next Labour Government will inherit the difficulties that have been created in the last three weeks. The last three weeks have changed the context in which decisions have to be made. I heard the shadow Chancellor explain that very cogently on the radio this morning. Something that was right three weeks ago can no longer be sustained, given the turmoil and the billions and billions of pounds that have been spent that are no longer available to an incoming Government. I also heard the shadow Chancellor explain how a Labour Government will raise money through a windfall tax on the excessive profits of energy companies, rather than doing as the current Government is doing, with its now truncated offer of help to people with energy bills—they will take money from everybody else and pass it to energy companies to sustain those extraordinary profits—and that she will act to deal with non-domiciliary taxpayers as well, to make sure that they too pay their fair share to the Exchequer, so that public services can be invested in in a way that only a Labour Government will ever promise and deliver in doing so.

But the tone was fiscal conservatism, wasn't it? That's not the kind of progressive politics that we want to see from a change of Government in Westminster.

Now, in response to the Chancellor's statement, the Minister for Finance and Local Government here called on the UK Government to use its tax levers more equitably. But is that an approach that you as a Government are also prepared to powerfully consider? That's the phrase you used, First Minister, in considering whether to maintain the 20p basic rate. Now, I accept the context for that has changed, but you could, in these renewed conditions of austerity that we're about to face, look at using your other income tax levers and raise the higher and additional rates, consistent with the principle that broader shoulders should be asked to carry the highest burden. Spain, a socialist Government, has introduced a solidarity tax; Germany already has one. In these difficult times, is this not a principle that we must now consider embracing here in Wales?

I agree with the principle, Llywydd, of course, that those who have the most should contribute the most. We will do, as I explained last week—. Last week, the Member was urging me to raise income tax rates here in Wales, and we'd be looking very foolish today if we'd followed his advice then, because, as I explained to him, we will make our decisions when we have the full facts available to us, and the facts on income tax changed very significantly during the week. We will present our budget to the Senedd using the established processes that this Senedd has. By the time we come to lay the budget, we will have moved past 31 October, with whatever horrors lie in store for us then as well. And in that process, we will continue to consider all the levers that we have available to us here in Wales, but we'll come to a decision on the best way to use those levers when we have the full context available to us, rather than making decisions as we go along, only to find that the ground under us has altered in the meantime.

14:00

That's precisely what the Labour Party did in Westminster, isn't it? What could a solidarity tax do? It could help us meet the reasonable demands of public sector workers to improve the Welsh Government's pay offer, which even a Labour-affiliated union has called derisory—the miracle workers, First Minister, that you just referred to in the NHS. It could help us relieve some of the pressure on local services on which we have depended so much during the pandemic. It could help us expand free school meals in secondary school. It could help us provide the subsidy to public transport that even the Labour majority on the climate change committee have proposed. It could do these things in different proportions and to different degrees, depending on your Government's ambition. But I put to you again, First Minister—socialist First Minister: isn't this principle of solidarity something that your Government should embrace? 

Llywydd, I have already agreed with the leader of Plaid Cymru that progressive taxation is the way in which we should fund public services. What I can't possibly agree with him on is that raising taxes in the way that he suggested in his first question—. Because he asked me in his first question, you'll remember, whether we should raise the two additional rates of taxation that we are able to modify here in Wales—not the basic rate, but the other two higher rates. They bring in less than tens of millions of pounds if you raise them. There's no chance at all that they would begin to cover that long list of purposes for which he said those funds could then be applied. It's just—

'Pie in the sky' would be the kindest way to describe it. You can use those levers, and they bring in very, very modest amounts of money. And that assumes—which is quite heroic, really—that the people who are now being asked to pay more tax in Wales than they would be asked to pay across the border don't organise their affairs in a way that immunises them from that effect. Let's just assume for a moment—and not many economists would—that people simply stay where they are and pay the extra money. It brings in, in the context that we are talking about, a handful of millions of pounds, and there is no way at all that it would stretch probably even to the first of that very long list of purposes that the leader of Plaid Cymru has suggested you would cover from them this afternoon.

Energy Costs

3. What support is the Government providing to help businesses in Meirionnydd in light of energy costs? OQ58594

The Welsh Government has a series of programmes to support businesses in Meirionnydd. The extraordinary rise in energy costs needs a long-term set of solutions, which only the UK Government can provide.

I thank the First Minister for that response. I do accept that there is significant blame here on Westminster, and that they must step up and compensate those companies and ensure their survival. I have just a few examples. In Dolgellau, we've seen Caffi'r Sgwar closing, the steakhouse closing, the deli closing. The Brondanw Arms in Llanfrothen has closed. Caffi Derfel in Penrhyndeudraeth has closed. Those are just some examples of the businesses in my constituency that have closed over the past few weeks, and there are others considering closure between now and the new year.

These businesses are closing because of energy costs. One business said that they had received a bill now of £7,000 per month up to £70,000 a month for energy. It's entirely unsustainable. But if you think of Brondanw in Llanfrothen, for example, a stone's throw from the Maentwrog and Ffestiniog hydro plant, these produce many gigawatts per year, and that energy is leaving the community, not for community benefit, but for the benefit of others. So, given that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, through Magnox, own the hydro plant in Maentwrog, do you agree with me that this resource should be transferred to the community, as a community holding, so that the community can benefit from these hydro plants?

14:05

I agree with what the Member said about the importance of sustainable energy being available. Through creating a system for the future that depends on renewable and sustainable energy, we could see a future where energy costs can be affordable for businesses and for local people too. We have an ambition as a Government to increase the percentage of sustainable energy held by local people. We have increased the number of programmes and there are examples across Wales where that has already happened. The more we can do to that end, the more I think that people will be able to see the importance of that policy, but also the things that the policy can do in terms of their lives.

GP Out-of-hours Care

4. What support does the Welsh Government provide for GP out-of-hours care? OQ58586

Thank you very much for that question. The Welsh Government sets the policy framework and provides funding for GP services out of hours. Health boards are responsible for delivery of the service in their areas.

On the pressure on the ambulance service, which was mentioned by the leader of the opposition, it's not as simple as just providing more staff in the ambulance service—more ambulance drivers, for example, or paramedics. It isn’t going to solve the problem, partly due to the fact that, further down the line, social care is facing a crisis, which the First Minister acknowledges, and which the UK Government is showing no signs of addressing. In fact, they've taken steps back from that.

One of the key issues that we’ve seen in my constituency, and the experience that someone who works for me has had, being an army reservist working for the ambulance trust, is that very often the pressures come on to the ambulance service through the lack of support from out-of-hours GP care. We were recently contacted by a family of a constituent in Senghenydd who waited over 24 hours for an ambulance after initially calling his GP only to be told to call 999 because the surgery was closing. We feel that this is an opportunity to relook at GPs’ out-of-hours care. He did eventually receive appropriate treatment, but it could have been avoided by an out-of-hours GP visit, which would then have negated the need for the ambulance to be called, which then could have been redirected to other services. Again, I know being in Government is not as simple as saying, ‘We will provide more GP out-of-hours care’, but would the First Minister look more deeply at this, and think about those things that are in that chain of events that lead to pressure on the ambulance service?

Llywydd, I think Hefin David makes an important point—that trying to tackle the pressures in the system by focusing only on one aspect of it will not produce the improvements that we need to see. Many of the pressures on the ambulance service do indeed come because other parts of the system itself are under strain. I’ve tried to explain in my earlier answers that one of the reasons why ambulances don’t get to people as quickly as we would like them to is because they are waiting to discharge patients into hospitals who themselves cannot discharge patients into social care. I agree with Hefin David that the out-of-hours service has a very important part to play in that. It’s why we’re providing more investment—£20 million more investment in the current financial year—to increase capacity in urgent primary care centres and same-day emergency care. We’re diversifying the workforce. It’s not just a matter of out-of-hours doctors—there are other staff that work in that service. We’re expanding the service, with nine urgent primary care centres now open, two of them in the Aneurin Bevan health board area. They see 5,000 patients a month at the moment, and that’s 15 per cent of the capacity in the system for out-of-hours services overall. And we’re recruiting more staff. Aneurin Bevan, the area that Hefin David will know best, Llywydd, recently advertised for more salaried GPs. They’ve appointed four, there may be four more on the way from that recruitment exercise, and those new salaried GPs are all having out-of-hours sessions included within their job plans. Thirty-three thousand people use the out-of-hours service every month in Wales; 94 per cent of those are treated in their own homes either by a home visit, by the advice that they get, or by attending an out-of-hours centre and being sent home. So, only 6 per cent of all the calls that are seen by the out-of-hours service translate into onward pressure into the hospital system. The out-of-hours service does a very important job. We need it to do more as part of the overall effort to improve the way the interrelated parts of the health service can function effectively together. 

14:10

I'd like to thank my colleague Hefin David for raising this question. I took everything you said on board, First Minister, in your response to him just now. The doctors and dentists remuneration board, an independent body set up to advise Governments on the pay of doctors and dentists, reported in July this year and advised that salaried GPs should receive a 4.5 per cent increase to their pay, backdated to April 2022. A large number of the GPs who provide out-of-hours care for patients in Wales are salaried GPs, as opposed to GP partners. I'm hearing reports from the British Medical Association Cymru Wales that some salaried GPs in Aneurin Bevan—and, in fact, all across Welsh health boards—are still yet to receive their fully backdated pay uplift. So, First Minister, as we are now three months on from the DDRB's report, can you confirm that all salaried GPs working in Aneurin Bevan—and, in fact, across all Welsh health boards—have now received their full pay uplift and that it has been backdated to April? Thank you. 

I can confirm that the Welsh Government accepted the recommendations of the DDRB, and that all people who work in the Welsh NHS covered by those recommendations will know that they will receive the uplifts that the board proposed. I'm not in a position to know the precise pay arrangements for every health board and for every person who works for them, but I'm sure that if the Member were to take up her concerns with the health board, they will be able to provide her with an answer. 

NHS National Screening Programmes

5. Will the First Minister provide an update on NHS population-based national screening programmes across Wales? OQ58554

Population screening is a core public health responsibility. Public Health Wales provide cancer screening services. It oversees improvements to programmes, including the recent extension in the age cohort eligible for bowel screening in Wales.

Can I thank the First Minister for that response? We have an excellent screening programme in Wales. I welcome the reduction in the age for screening for bowel cancer. I believe in the importance of screening, but it is unfortunate that people cannot get time off work to attend screening. Will the First Minister support all directly and indirectly employed Welsh Government staff being allowed time to attend screening appointments? 

I'm very happy to confirm to the Member that all people who are directly employed by the Welsh Government are entitled to time off to attend screening appointments. I would have thought it would be entirely in the interests of any employer to make sure that they support their staff in doing so. The most important asset that any employer has will be the people who work for that service or that business, and the very effective screening services that we have here in Wales will help to keep those staff members fit, well and capable of being in work. So, I think it is not simply in the interest of the individual but it's in the interest of the business as well. 

If I could, maybe, just referring to what Mike Hedges said about the age extension of bowel screening, just give one illustration of the effectiveness of those programmes. If someone with bowel cancer has that cancer detected as a by-product of emergency intervention in their lives because of other things that have gone wrong, five out of 10 of those people will survive. If someone is diagnosed by their GP as having bowel cancer, seven out of 10 of those people will survive. If your bowel cancer is diagnosed as a result of screening, nine out of 10 people will survive, and that just demonstrates, doesn't it, the real significance of those screening services. And we want to improve the uptake of bowel screening and other screening services. So, it's absolutely in the interests of individuals, but it's equally in the interests of people who employ them as well to make sure that, when you see figures of survival of that sort, people should be released where they need to be released for a screening service to which they've been invited.

14:15

Thank you, First Minister, for these figures. First Minister, shamefully, we lag behind other nations in offering them a bowel cancer screening service to people aged 50 and over. This is a national disgrace. People living in Scotland and in England are offered bowel cancer screening, and have done for years. It is quite unbelievable that you've not extended the screening programme to that age group. What is the challenge in Wales that appears specific to Wales, and will you commit to bringing forward an extension of the services to people who have turned 50? Thank you.

Well, Llywydd, I'm afraid I don't recognise the description offered by the Member. As you heard Mike Hedges say, the age range of people eligible for bowel screening in Wales is being extended, and there is a very purposeful plan to go on reducing that age and, at the same time, to make the test itself more effective in diagnosis. Bowel cancer screening in Wales, particularly since the new test, the faecal immunochemical test, was introduced in January 2019, is a success story. We are persuading more people to take it up than ever before. The results they get are more accurate than they ever have been, and as a result of lowering the age range, an additional 172,000 people will be invited for screening between October, this month, and September of next year. I think that is a success story, and it's a tribute to those very dedicated people who have worked so hard to make it a success.

The NHS Estate

6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that Conwy and Denbighshire have an NHS estate that is fit for purpose? OQ58568

Llywydd, we go on investing in the NHS estate in all parts of Wales, including Conwy and Denbighshire, despite the continuous reductions in capital budgets provided by the UK Government.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. When you were health Minister back in 2013, you promised the people of north Denbighshire and, indeed, north-east Conwy in my constituency, that there would be a new community hospital, which would be built in Rhyl, to replace the closed beds at the Royal Alexandra in Rhyl and, indeed, the Prestatyn community hospital. We're more than nine years on from your announcement, and we still don't have a north Denbighshire community hospital. When can people in north Denbighshire and in north-east Conwy expect to see your promise, as health Minister, now that you're First Minister, delivered?

Well, Llywydd, I was pleased to approve the strategic outline case that the health board put forward when I was health Minister. It said that the new facility could be provided at a cost of £22 million. By the time that my colleague Vaughan Gething approved the outline business case in 2018, the cost had risen to £40 million. The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board papers reporting the full business case say that it's now risen to £64 million pounds, and that was at the end of 2020, so we can be absolutely confident that it's well above £64 million. So, the cost of the scheme has gone up by more than three times the original cost estimate. And, you know, it's inescapable that a scheme that escalates in costs in that way has to go through very rigorous scrutiny by the Welsh Government, and we do continue to look at the latest iteration of the case that the board has provided. As costs go up in the way that I've just reported, so available capital to the Welsh Government declines. In the current year, our capital budget is 17.5 per cent below where it was in the last financial year; it will decline by a further 2.9 per cent in the next financial year. It will go down from that lower base by 1.2 per cent in the next financial year, and it will go down again in the year after that. So, costs go up on the one hand, and the money available to meet those costs goes down on the other. That is not an easy position from which to take forward many necessary schemes of investment in the Welsh NHS.

14:20
Energy-intensive Industries

7. What is the Welsh Government doing to provide extra support to energy-intensive industries? OQ58595

Llywydd, successive UK Conservative Governments have failed to create a level playing field for energy-intensive industries. The latest Chancellor needs to do that now. The Welsh Government delivers our support through investing in skills, energy efficiency, research, innovation, decarbonisation and a renewable energy future for Wales.

Thank you for that response, First Minister.

Hospitality and those small, independent breweries and restaurants that operate within that industry are facing some of the most challenging circumstances. Many are not expecting to make it much further beyond winter. For example, the owner of Ristorante Vecchio in Bridgend told The Glamorgan Gazette how his energy bills have increased to £8,000 a month. Energy prices are simply unaffordable, and, following on from Mabon's question, the cost of energy is one part of this, of course, but this is also about ensuring that we transition to green energy solutions as soon as we can, which would help with both the rising costs and the drive towards net zero. Breweries like Boss Brewery in Swansea have spent their reserves surviving the last couple of years. There's very little, if any, money for capital investment in green technology. Therefore, I would ask the Government what consideration it has given to potential grant funding to cover green energy initiatives for independent businesses, such as solar and voltage optimisation, which could be installed on the sites of these businesses, helping to insulate them from price hikes.

Well, Llywydd, I agree with what Luke Fletcher has said about the long-term importance of having a different system of energy supply. That will have a particular set of advantages to those energy-intensive industries. I thank him for drawing attention to the fact that, in our discussions of energy-intensive industries we tend to have the debate dominated by the very large companies—the Tatas and the Celsas of this world. And I was pleased, Llywydd, to see that the new Prime Minister had had a meeting at the very end of September with the chief executive of Tata in India. I wrote to the previous Prime Minister, following meetings that the economy Minister and I had had with senior figures in Tata, asking him to come forward with a UK plan for investment in that industry. He replied to me to say that that would fall to his successor. Well, I've written again. I've had no reply, but I've written again, and I was glad to see that that meeting had taken place, because resource-intensive energy industries are at a particular disadvantage in the United Kingdom, especially in comparison with competitors elsewhere.

The Welsh Government's part in this is inevitably at a different part of the spectrum, but we do work through the Development Bank of Wales, through Business Wales as well, to provide advice and sometimes direct financial support to industries that are interested in fuel switching, in efficiency measures, and being part of that wider move from fossil fuels to renewable energy, on which the future of Wales, I think, depends.

Borrowing Powers

8. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the UK financial crisis on its current plans for the use of its borrowing powers? OQ58592

Llywydd, the Welsh Government’s borrowing powers remain unchanged since 2016. Our annual and aggregate borrowing limits should be updated now in line with subsequent inflation, as recommended by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In the meantime, the revenue cost of borrowing has risen sharply, caused by the damage inflicted by the Prime Minister.

Thank you, First Minister. In terms of borrowing powers, I wanted to ask for your reflections on the Institute of Welsh Affairs's latest publication, 'Fiscal Firepower: Effective Policy-Making in Wales', which calls for reform of the Welsh Government's borrowing powers. In addition, in view of the Prime Minister's well publicised refusal to engage with you as First Minister of Wales, and the revolving-door policy seemingly in place at the Treasury, how is your administration trying to engage with the UK Government to ensure that we have the financial powers that we need to fund the public services on which we all rely?

14:25

Well, Llywydd, I was glad that there was a telephone call from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to our finance Minister earlier this week, explaining the series of changes that the Chancellor has made to the things that we were being told would happen only last week. And I'm told that the Finance: Interministerial Standing Committee—the meeting of finance Ministers—planned for 20 October, is going to go ahead. So, I think that is a good sign of a more positive approach to engagement by the new team at the Treasury. Where we're able to, we will, of course, go on making the case that we've made for some time. I was responsible for the negotiation of the fiscal framework with the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke. Since then, the cash in the Welsh Government's budget has gone up by 40 per cent, but all the figures that were negotiated in 2016 have remained fixed where they were then. So, they were designed to enable the Welsh Government to handle better the fiscal responsibilities that they have—it's the annual borrowing limit, it's the aggregate borrowing limit, it's the amount of money we can put into and take out of the Welsh reserve. These are absolutely practical things designed to make best use of public money, and yet, we are stuck with figures that were right over five years ago, but certainly, are not right for the budget that we have today.

The IWA's publication draws attention to all of that and suggests a different basis for Welsh Government borrowing. Our ability to borrow is capped on an annual basis and on an aggregate basis by the UK Government. The IWA paper suggests a prudential borrowing approach for the Welsh Government, which would mean that we would be in the same place as Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council—it doesn't have an artificial limit on the amount of capital that it can borrow; it has to demonstrate that its borrowing is affordable and prudent, and then it's allowed to borrow what it can afford. It just doesn't seem sensible that that ability is there for local authorities but denied to the Welsh Government, and we go on making the case for reform, and we'll do it with the latest set of Ministers at the Treasury.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Member
Lesley Griffiths 14:28:21
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. There are three changes to this week's business. Immediately after this business statement, the Minister for Finance and Local Government will make a statement on the Welsh Government response to the Chancellor's statement on the medium-term fiscal plan. Secondly, the Marine, Fisheries and Aquaculture (Financial Assistance) Scheme (Wales) Regulations 2022 have been withdrawn and the debate postponed. Finally, subject to a motion to suspend Standing Orders, tomorrow we will debate a legislative consent motion on the energy prices Bill. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically. 

Trefnydd, can I call for a statement from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on the Welsh Government's roads review? As you will know, there's a moratorium on many capital projects across Wales at the moment, including two on the A494 in my own constituency. One is a piece of work to address the concerns about highway safety on the Maes Gamedd bends in Gwyddelwern, and the other is on the Lôn Fawr junction in Ruthin. These are causing lots of accidents, many of which could be avoided. There seems no reason whatsoever as to why they should be paused in a way that is a concern about climate change—these are about safety, and they need to be done and need to be actioned. When can we have a statement so that we can know that some of these schemes, which have been held up for far too long—in the case of Maes Gamedd, well over a decade—so that they can be unplugged, action taken to address them, so that people can travel safely on our roads?

14:30

Thank you. The Deputy Minister for Climate Change is currently looking very closely at the roads review, which is under consideration by the Welsh Government. He will be bringing forward a statement, probably, now, in the next half of this current term.

I'm sure the Trefnydd will be aware at this point of the despicable actions of Royal Mail bosses, who have sunk so low in threatening job losses in an attempt to break strikers. I can tell you that posties at the Bridgend delivery office are holding fast, and these actions by Royal Mail show how desperate they are to not come to a fair resolution with their workers, who were out on the streets at the height of lockdown, not only delivering our mail, but delivering massive profits for Royal Mail. I'd like to ask if the Welsh Government will issue a statement in support of Royal Mail strikers and condemn the actions of Royal Mail bosses in the strongest terms.

Thank you. I think we've all attended picket lines with, as you say, our very hard-working postmen and women, who delivered such an important service over the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly. And I know the Minister is in close contact with her counterparts in the UK Government.

Minister, we're aware that the United Kingdom Government has routinely misled people about the future of European Union funding streams, and we're aware of the mistruths that have been told over a number of years to Ministers here, to Members here, and to the people of Wales. But we're also seeing the incompetence of the United Kingdom Government over recent months endanger the Horizon programme. And it would be useful if the Government could provide us with a statement on the future of the Horizon programme and other programmes that provide important funding for universities and for others in terms of delivering research and other support programmes. It's essential to have that as part of any programme to support investment in Wales.

Can I also ask for a statement on policing in Wales? I met with the chief constable of Gwent Police yesterday, and we discussed the pressures facing the police forces at the moment. Now, we on this side of the Chamber recognise that many of these pressures are caused by repeated spending cuts imposed upon the police by the Tories in London. But, for the ordinary constable on the beat, these are real issues facing all of our communities. It is right and proper that we provide the police with all the facilities and all the resources they require, and it would be useful if we could have a debate on policing in Wales, to bring these issues to the attention of the UK Government.

Thank you. In relation to the Horizon Europe funding, the Welsh Government, as you know, has consistently pushed for participation in programmes such as Horizon Europe, and we certainly have not seen the promises that were made by the UK Government in relation to EU funding and the fact that we would not lose a penny if we left the European Union. I know that the Minister for Economy is working very closely with our stakeholders here to maximise funding around Horizon Europe.

And in relation to policing, obviously, it is a reserved matter, and we've certainly seen the significant cuts to policing over the years. The Minister for Social Justice regularly does meet with the four police and crime commissioners and the four chief constables, and we have tried to plug gaps, if you like, that the Home Office have made, with police community support officers.

Minister, I recently met with some of the fantastic staff at the Welsh Refugee Council in Newport, alongside several asylum seekers. It was an incredibly informative meeting, and we discussed a range of issues that the organisation, asylum seekers and refugees face. One in particular that stuck with me was the welcome ticket scheme, which gives all refugees unlimited travel on trains and buses until the end of March next year. It's a fantastic initiative, and it has my full backing. However, after talking to the refugee council, it's clear the scheme could be drastically improved.

Refugees have to either show a biometric residence permit, a letter from the Home Office, or passport, to be allowed onto a bus or a train in Wales. These are extremely important documents, I'm sure you can agree, that the refugees are having to carry around with them and show every single time that they want to get on to public transport. Anecdotally, I've heard some parents are in fact too worried about their children losing these documents—as one would. And to make matters worse, some Transport for Wales and bus services do not even recognise the welcome ticket. Specifically, there is a misunderstanding of the various types of status on biometric residence permits. It's extremely embarrassing, and it's putting a lot of people off from using the scheme. Surely, the Welsh Government can work with its partners to roll out a special card that would be universally recognised by train and bus drivers, instead of forcing them to carry important papers. Minister, sadly, asylum seekers are not eligible for the welcome ticket. Asylum seekers live on a mere £40 a week and often wait years for their application to be processed, which I understand is not a devolved matter, yet, by extending the scheme to include asylum seekers, it would enable them to attend English lessons, community-based integration and allow them to start volunteering. I appreciate there may need to be some cross-Government work on this, but I'd be very grateful for a statement from the Minister for Social Justice outlining how the Welsh Government plans to address the concerns I have just raised surrounding the welcome ticket here in Wales. Thank you. 

14:35

Well, as with any new scheme, I think you do have teething issues and things can always be improved. I certainly shared a very pleasant train journey home to Wrexham a couple of months ago with a refugee who was very, very grateful for the scheme and was simply travelling to Holyhead and back, just to leave Cardiff and sample the scenery across our beautiful country. Obviously, asylum seekers and asylum is a reserved matter, and I think it's fair to say that the Welsh Government, in providing this scheme, has done something that I think is very much appreciated. I don't think it's worthy of a statement at the moment, but I do take on board the issues that you've raised that could improve the scheme, and I'll certainly make sure the Minister for Social Justice hears what you said. 

Trefnydd, last week, it was announced that the Minister for Climate Change had approved a planning appeal that means the life of Craig yr Hesg quarry in my region, as well as the area quarried, will be extended. This is despite significant local objections and the fact that Rhondda Cynon Taf council's planning committee had rejected both applications. I would, therefore, like to request a statement from the Minister for Climate Change on this decision, and also clarity on whether there will be a review of the Welsh Government's position on the quarrying of aggregates, as a result of the commitment to tackle the climate emergency, as well as the much-needed and much-anticipated clean air Act. 

Such a decision would not be appropriate for a statement in the Chamber. 

Trefnydd, can I please request a statement on the Welsh Government's reaction to the comments made by the UK Government's health secretary, Thérèse Coffey, that she had handed out prescription antibiotics to a friend? In a week where the Tory Government's incompetence with the economy is, quite rightly, grabbing the headlines, it was also incredibly worrying to hear the UK health Minister's reckless comments regarding easing the distribution of antibiotics. In reaction to Thérèse Coffey's comments, the BMA stated: 

'Sharing prescribed medications, particularly antibiotics, is not only potentially dangerous, but also against the law, and we would ask our Health Secretary to instead support us in encouraging good and safe prescribing practices.

'Antibiotics are a precious resource and should be prescribed only when absolutely necessary. Overusing antibiotics risks making them less effective, and makes some infections increasingly difficult to treat, which can then actually increase pressure on the health service as patients remain unwell.'

So, I'd welcome a statement distancing the Welsh Government from the comments made by the UK health Secretary, and an update on what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that antibiotics are not overprescribed and used unnecessarily. 

Thank you. Well, they were certainly extraordinary comments, I think it's fair to say, and I think you make a very good point about, if we weren't seeing other areas of incompetence in the UK Government grabbing the headlines, that surely would have had far more of a focus on it. It is a really important issue, and I know the Minister for Health and Social Services would absolutely want to distance herself from those comments, and, certainly, within my own portfolio, antimicrobial resistance is vitally important in animal health and welfare too. 

The G7 identified AMR as a major threat to global health, along with pandemics such as COVID-19 and, of course, the climate change emergency also. Welsh Government is fully committed to the actions, ambitions and goals identified in the UK five-year action plan for AMR 2019 to 2024, and these ambitions include a reduction in antimicrobial use in humans by 15 per cent by 2024. I know that the Minister for Health and Social Services absolutely expects health boards and Velindre University NHS Trust to adhere to the principles of safe antibiotic use. 

Enough is enough. Residents in Trefnant and Tremeirchion have had enough, Trefnydd. The bridge was destroyed during storm Christoph in 2021, and on Saturday residents of Trefnant and Tremeirchion protested at why the bridge is taking so long to be fixed. I have raised this issue with you and Denbighshire County Council on several occasions, and the blame seems to be being passed from one place to the other. Would the Minister or the Deputy Minister be able to explain when the bridge will be rebuilt for the benefit of residents and the local businesses, and to join the two villages together once again?

14:40

Just to tell you exactly where it sits at the moment, and that is with the local authority. Welsh Government has not received a formal application for funding to replace Llannerch bridge. I have seen media coverage myself that has included statements by the council to say that they are building a robust business case to submit to the Welsh Government for it to be assessed. Once that robust business case has been received by Welsh Government, then obviously the next step will be discussions with the local authority to see where that will go from there. But, absolutely, it is with the local authority at the moment.

I would like an urgent statement from the economy Minister after news that AMG Alpoco in Holyhead has let its staff know that 28 jobs are to be lost there by the end of November. The letter given to staff yesterday says that increased costs, including energy costs, are behind the decision by the company to restructure. This amounts to more than half the workforce at the Holyhead plant. Needless to say, this is devastating for all those that could be affected. Could I ask that the economy Minister gives us a written statement with some urgency, or at least a response to us as local representatives, explaining the urgent measures that Welsh Government can take to contact the company to see what measures might be able to be put in place to help them and hopefully to get to a place where the company can reconsider its plans? I do have a question on this—on the costs facing businesses—in questions tomorrow, but I did consider this to be of utmost urgency and would like a statement as soon as possible. Thank you.

Well, we won't be able to have a statement before your questions tomorrow, so I am pleased that you are raising that directly tomorrow with the Minister for Economy. I do know he has been having regular meetings with business groups such as the Confederation of British Industry, for instance, to discuss the crisis that there clearly is around energy. You will have heard me say in my business announcement that we will be bringing forward an LCM tomorrow on the Energy Prices Bill that the UK Government is bringing forward as emergency legislation. I know, again, the Minister has been having discussions directly with them in relation to this. 

Minister, last week, Bridgend council concluded its public consultation into the planned expansion of Bridgend College in the town centre. This exciting plan includes a main building with a 200 seat auditorium, providing a base for departments covering performing arts, catering, visual arts, business, cosmetology, hair and beauty, additional learning needs and independent living skills. A further building contains classrooms and teaching spaces for much-needed courses in social care and health and well-being, for example. This is a major infrastructure project and demonstrates the value that further education colleges bring as key anchor institutions in developing our economies and communities. All this needs to be connected in a strategic way to include transportation links and developments that existing businesses have. Can the Minister schedule a debate on the importance of the anchor institutions in sustaining and developing our economy?

Well, it certainly does sound a very exciting plan by Bridgend county council. Obviously, the provision for transport all has to be taken into consideration when planning applications are done, but I don't think it's suitable for a statement.

14:45

Trefnydd, I'm in no doubt that you'd agree that hosting Eurovision 2023 in Liverpool is fantastic news for the whole of Wales, but particularly for north Wales. So, I'd be very grateful for a statement from the Government on how the Welsh Government plans to promote north Wales and the whole of Wales at next year's event. It is a wonderful opportunity, given how closely we work with stakeholders and partners on a cross-border basis, and might I suggest that the Minister for north Wales attends to promote north Wales at Eurovision 2023, along with excellent officials from the economy, major events and tourism teams?

The education Minister wants to come with me as well. I think you make a really important point. The links between north Wales, and particularly north-east Wales, and the north-west of England are very important, and we know that people do travel to Liverpool and, indeed, Manchester, and probably further afield, to see arts and culture events. Clearly, the Eurovision contest coming to Liverpool is very important. I will certainly ask the Deputy Minister for economy, who has responsibility for culture and arts, to update Members. I don't think she's had the opportunity to have discussions yet, but I'm sure she will be doing.

Today is UK Anti-slavery Day, falling within Anti-slavery Week, and I call for a Welsh Government statement on this important issue. Anti-slavery Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, and to encourage governments, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals to do what they can to address the problem. I thank the 17 Members here who have so far signed the statement of opinion I have tabled regarding this, and I encourage other Members to add their names also.

This recognises that over 40 million people in the world today, and an estimated 136,000 people across the UK, are experiencing modern slavery. This also highlights the new British standard on modern slavery, published by the British Standards Institution—the first of its kind in the world—and encourages the Welsh Government to help raise awareness of the standard and publicise its free availability to all Welsh businesses and organisations. The standard provides organisations with guidance for addressing the risk of modern slavery, including prevention, identification, response, remediation, mitigation and reporting. Speaking at the launch of the Conwy Citizens Advice Tackling Modern Slavery in Ever Changing Times project in March last year, I stated that, sadly, modern slavery is a reality in our country and, in order to tackle this crime, we need partnerships between the statutory agencies and the third sector, protecting the vulnerable, educating all members of the community, supporting survivors, and working towards making Wales a safer place where criminals are not able to exploit others. I call for a Welsh Government statement accordingly.

Thank you. The Member raises a very important point of the horrific things that we've seen with modern slavery here in Wales, and I know the Minister for Social Justice would be very happy to bring forward a written statement, and she's also very keen to publicise the standard amongst organisations here in Wales.

3. Statement by the Minister for Finance and Local Government: Welsh Government's response to the Chancellor's statement on the medium-term fiscal plan

The next item, therefore, is the statement by the Minister for finance on the Welsh Government's response to the Chancellor's statement on the medium-term fiscal plan. I call on the Minister to make her statement—Rebecca Evans.

Diolch, Llywydd. Yesterday, the latest Chancellor reversed many of the flawed and reckless decisions that were made by his predecessor and the Prime Minister in the mini-budget less than a month ago and which were a central pillar of the new Prime Minister's so-called programme for growth. The new Chancellor's statement yesterday was made ahead of his medium-term fiscal plan on 31 October, in which he signalled he would be announcing further measures to reduce public spending in a plan costed by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The UK is now in a far worse situation financially and economically than it was before the ill-fated mini-budget. This is inexcusable. As a result of its own actions and decisions, the UK Government has created mayhem in the financial markets, which has led to soaring mortgage and Government borrowing costs, and the Bank of England has been forced to take extraordinary measures to prevent a collapse in pension funds. 

All this while household budgets have been squeezed even further and a gaping hole has been created in public finances. The new Chancellor may have undone most of the tax-cutting measures brought in on 23 September, which as we know were designed to benefit the richest, but he cannot undo the damage the mini-budget has unleashed. Let me be clear that people in Wales will be paying for the UK Government’s failures with higher taxes in the future, higher energy bills and cuts to our public services.

There are a small few who have done very well as a result of the financial market turmoil that followed the disastrous mini-budget, and a small number of people will continue to benefit. The removal of the cap on bankers’ bonuses was one of the very few measures that survived the new Chancellor’s cull. Unfortunately, the people who are benefiting from the chaos created by the mini-budget are not my constituents, who have only seen their problems multiply and are left struggling to pay their mortgages, heat their homes and feed their families.

This is a UK Government that has said that its No. 1 focus is growth, yet yesterday’s statement will do nothing to improve the economic prospects of our country. I fail to see how any of the measures announced by the Chancellor will do anything other than shrink the economy and deepen the recession. This is the very opposite of a so-called plan for growth. While the Chancellor stated the UK Government’s priority in making the difficult decisions that lie ahead will always be the most vulnerable, he has, so far, offered nothing to support them. Instead, he has prematurely cut off energy support for tens of millions of households, adding to the worry about how people will pay their bills.

The UK Government has repeatedly failed to take opportunities to improve our energy security for the future and address the climate emergency. If this Government is serious about stimulating economic growth, it must be more ambitious on investment. The Chancellor must provide the capital stimulus to invest in green energy and decarbonisation. It should not seek to cut capital spending when we are facing year-on-year cuts to our capital budget through this spending review period.

The chaos that surrounds the UK Government’s mishandling of the economy has served as an unwelcome distraction and it masks the real issues that people are facing. The UK Government needs to refocus its efforts to help those most in need. The Chancellor must take the opportunity on 31 October to provide further targeted support to help households and businesses that are struggling most in the current crisis, including people on benefits. The UK Government holds the key fiscal levers to make a real difference to the cost-of-living crisis. It must use its tax levers more equitably, including taxing the windfall gains in the energy sector.

I fear the Chancellor’s statement yesterday signalled a new era of austerity. Even before any prospective spending cuts with the Chancellor’s planned efficiency exercise, inflation has already significantly eroded our devolved budget settlement. Over the current three-year spending period, our budget will be worth up to £4 billion less in real terms than it was when it was set last year. Next year alone it will be worth £1.5 billion less. Decisions taken on where to wield the axe on public spending in Whitehall will have a material impact for our budget in Wales. As we, local authorities and other partners look again at our spending plans for next year, we are being forced into an incredibly difficult set of choices. While we cannot offer protection from the full force of the UK Government’s actions, the Welsh Government will do everything it can to help households, services and businesses through this ever-deepening crisis of the UK Government’s making. This financial year we are investing £1.6 billion in schemes that provide direct support to people, such as the £200 winter fuel support payment, and a wide range of programmes and schemes that put money back in people’s pockets—schemes like the council tax reduction scheme, free school meals and pupil development grant access, which helps families with the costs of sending their children to school.

Looking ahead, we will publish the Welsh Government’s budget on 13 December and, in doing so, we will provide a considered and careful response to the crisis, taking into account the full fiscal forecast provided by the OBR to give as much certainty as possible for our public services and partners. While our resources are limited and yesterday’s announcement will do nothing to alleviate the already challenging funding position facing the Welsh Government, our priority will be to shield the most vulnerable and create a stronger, fairer and greener Wales that safeguards the well-being of our future generations. We will know more on Halloween when the Chancellor's medium-term fiscal plan and the independent OBR forecast are published, but I'm afraid that we must now prepare ourselves for a further instalment of this horror show as a result of the UK Government's inept stewardship of the economy and public finances.

14:55

Thank you, Minister. Firstly, I want to acknowledge that the past few weeks have not been good, to say the least. And I think we are all disappointed that we find ourselves—[Interruption.]

I'm really interested and keen to hear what the Member has to say, so can we have a bit more quiet and hear the content of what's being said?

Thank you, Llywydd. As I said, I think we're all disappointed that we find ourselves in this position. I welcome the new Chancellor to his position. He is somebody who has a wide range of knowledge of the workings of Government and has the experience needed to put the country back on track. These are not normal times and, whilst recent events haven't been helpful, to pretend that we could fully insulate ourselves from numerous global shocks that have challenged us in so many ways is a fallacy. But, Llywydd, as I said earlier, I'm acutely aware that the past few weeks have been, to put it very lightly, disappointing. Whilst publicly I may have defended some of the previously announced proposals, I did so believing that the UK Government had modelled the impacts of its plans, and the Government should have published all of the information that it had when it made its original announcement, alongside detailed proposals as to its longer term financial plans. The fact that it wasn't made available was a mistake. It should not have happened, and I welcome that the Chancellor has committed to following a doctrine of fiscal responsibility, like many chancellors before him.

Llywydd, whilst I still believe economic growth is the best way out of this crisis, ultimately, what we need now is stability, and the new Chancellor must deliver this, and the reaction to his statement yesterday has seemingly helped to calm the markets a little. I also believe that the announcement of the new economic advisory council will provide further stability and direction to UK fiscal policy. I was pleased to hear that the Minister had spoken to the chief secretary, and I hope, in future conversations, that the Minister will raise the possibility for the Welsh Government to work with the council to re-establish that important cross-governmental working, as well as trying to get a Welsh perspective on the council to reflect our shared interests and Wales's particular economic outlook. I hope that certainty can be provided about what the budgetary outlook will be following the financial statement later this month.

I also agree with the Minister about the continuing need to support people, especially those who are struggling the most during these difficult times, and the UK Government has to do everything it can, like it had previously done during COVID, and beyond, to provide the help that people need. Now, I'm reassured from the Chancellor's comments that his focus will always be on those who are most in need, but I know that we must also do our bit to ensure that the Government remains focused on helping the most vulnerable, and that's why, today, the Welsh Conservative group have written to the Chancellor calling for benefits to be uprated in line with inflation.

But, I must say, when the Minister talks about how the Chancellor's announcements will shrink the economy, I do have to question whether Welsh Government policy is simply to believe the opposite of what the UK Government does. A few weeks ago, they were arguing against the growth plan and calling for it to be scrapped. Now they are seemingly suggesting that the reversal of the same plan is anti-growth, so what do they believe? Presiding Officer, what we are still waiting to hear—and statement after statement, I ask for this—is what are the Government's plans to deliver the growth and prosperity that our economy needs in Wales? If the growth plan is the wrong sort of economic growth and a reversal of the plan is anti-growth, then what exactly is the Welsh Government doing to realise the full potential of our economy? The First Minister in an interview recently said that a growing economy needs investment in infrastructure and investment in human capital, and I agree, but how does that reconcile when we have some of the highest business rates in the UK, a ban on new road infrastructure, a tourism tax that the industry on the whole does not like, a lack of house building across the country, and Welsh people earning less per year than in the rest of the UK? How can these things be the way to achieve growth? Presiding Officer, the past couple weeks have been difficult and testing, but what they have shown is that, to combat the difficulties that we face, we need to create the conditions for growth. Thank you.

15:00

Thank you to the Conservative spokesperson for those comments this afternoon, and I agree with him, it's not been a good few weeks, to say the least, and it is certainly disappointing. I think that he's done the best he can there to send a strong message to his colleagues in Westminster in terms of the Welsh Conservatives' assessment of the recent shambles that we've seen in Westminster.

But I do welcome the letter that the Conservatives will be sending the latest Chancellor regarding benefits—[Interruption.] It's gone, that's great. So, hopefully, this Chancellor will stick around long enough for you to have a response, because I didn't get one from the last one. But I do think that is to be welcomed in terms of your support for raising benefits in line with inflation, and that's certainly to be welcomed.

There were lots of comments there in respect of growth and how the Welsh Government sees growth. Well, the growth commission that was established by the London School of Economics was created in order to identify ways of improving the UK's lacklustre growth performance, and that commission itself highlighted the vital importance of continuing to invest in the education system and in adaptable skills and lifelong learning. It also stressed the key role of infrastructure as a vital component in sustainable growth, and it argued for higher, not lower levels of investment in infrastructure across the UK. That's entirely consistent with what the First Minister and my other colleagues are always talking about in terms of how we understand growth. It is investing in people, it is investing in skills and it's investing in infrastructure. We want to see, particularly, investment in green infrastructure to take us towards net zero and to help address the climate and nature emergencies.

It's also worth bearing in mind as well that analysis for the UK Government's own National Infrastructure Commission has demonstrated the vital role of maintaining investment in infrastructure in order to meet the challenges of improving the economic performance of lagging areas and also achieving net zero and delivering climate resilience and a better environment. So, again, even that infrastructure commission is very much seeing things as we are in Welsh Government.

The UK Government's vision for growth just seemed to be about cutting tax for the very richest, as if that was going to be the incentive that they needed, and then there's really nothing left of the UK Government's vision for growth in the existing plan, apart from the ongoing commitment, as I understand it, to the investment zones. Yet we have very little detail as to what those investment zones might look like. We look forward to further discussions with the UK Government on that.

The Member also referred to the discussion I had with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. That was yesterday, and I did that alongside my counterpart in Scotland. That was a very useful, I think, first conversation, but what we really need is a chief secretary who really does see it as part of his core responsibilities to have that relationship with the Welsh Government and with the other devolved Governments on a day-to-day basis, and somebody who is going to take a real interest in Wales, so that they can really grapple with the things that we're trying to make progress on with the UK Government.

This, as the First Minister said, will be my sixth Chief Secretary to the Treasury and that's a problem, in the sense that you have to go back to the beginning every time you work with a new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, because lots of the issues that we're trying to progress with them are really detailed and complex. The issues around replacement EU funding and the formula that the UK Government used to determine that funding, which leaves us £1 billion worse off, we need to have detailed discussions about that. We need to continue those discussions that we're starting to have around fiscal flexibilities for Wales. So, it is disappointing when you have to just go back to zero time after time with these discussions. So, I'm hoping that building good, new, strong relationships with the latest CST will start to take us down that road as well. I look forward to continuing that relationship.

Thank you for your statement, Minister. I have to say that this mess shows once again the extent to which we here in Wales are just at the mercy of the whims of Westminster Ministers. It underlines again how the current devolution settlement leaves us effectively fiscally impotent when it comes to protecting our interests, and protecting the people who are vulnerable amongst us, from damaging UK Government decisions.

You recently described being part of the union and having the UK Government there as some sort of insurance policy for Wales, but surely now you have to accept that it's felt a bit more like a millstone around our necks in recent weeks. And if recent events don't make the case for independence, well, surely it does make the case for greater fiscal independence for Wales: more powers to protect our people from the tsunami that we're already experiencing and no doubt will intensify in the coming months.

Now, you stay in the statement that the UK Government holds the key financial levers to make a real difference to this cost-of-living crisis, and it needs to use those tax levers more equitably. Well, why allow the Tories to do their worst, instead of demanding powers for you to do your best for the people of Wales? We know, in Scotland, they can reform that income tax bands. It's a way of better reflecting people's ability to pay. That's the very least that we could expect, I think, here in Wales. But, take it to the other extreme, if the UK Government isn't introducing a windfall tax on energy companies, then why can't we have powers here to do something about it, instead of just complaining in a written or an oral statement?

That said, new powers, yes, okay, that's one thing, but we also need to use the powers that we already have to maximum effect to protect the most vulnerable people from what's ahead. The First Minister was coy again earlier, so I'll ask whether you'll confirm that varying the Welsh rates of income tax is actively being considered by this Government. And will you join Plaid Cymru in accepting that it's looking as if it is going to be necessary to act in that way in order, again, to mitigate some of the devastating Westminster cuts that are looming?

You're right to criticise the shortening of the energy support package to six months, because it does leave a cliff edge and people not knowing what will happen at the end of that period. I understand that you have spoken, as you said, with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but what plans do you have to actually speak with the Chancellor himself, to set out not only the case for greater fiscal powers for Wales, but to make sure that he understands the implications of his recent announcements for Wales, and also to make sure, before the statement at the end of this month, that he understands what implications there might be there for us here in Wales?

On energy specifically, will you make the case for those properties that are off grid, particularly, because it is something that is of huge concern? I know that Ben Lake, my Plaid Cymru colleague at Westminster, raised the need for support in relation to oil and people who are off grid. The Chancellor didn't rule it out. So, in your discussions with the Chancellor, will you please reiterate the need to extend support to those who aren't currently able to access it in the same way as most people?

Now, yesterday, your written statement said that the Chancellor offered nothing to comfort the most vulnerable. Well, we could levy the same criticism at your statement today. There's nothing new there; a few vague references to previously announced support schemes. I was hoping that you'd be actually coming here today with something a bit more concrete to tell us. And you do say that the UK Government needs to refocus its efforts to help those most in need. Well, surely that's just as true for the Welsh Government as well, and is it not time for you to be preparing an emergency budget here in Wales to refocus and to reallocate resources to help the most in need, as you say, and to do so for this financial year, of course, and not wait until next year?

And finally, in relation to next year's budget, you've said it twice now, in the last written statement yesterday and your oral statement today, that the Welsh Government's budget will be introduced on 13 December. My understanding was that the original agreement was that it would be no later than 13 December, and that that date was chosen, or specified, because it was in relation to the expected UK Government fiscal announcement in November. Given that that has now been brought closer to today, surely you're in a position to publish your draft budget earlier. That would allow greater scrutiny from this Senedd, and it would also give a longer lead-in time for those public service providers in Wales who are going to have to make every single penny work as hard as possible.

15:05

I'm very grateful for all of those remarks. I'll just start where we started the last time that we discussed the UK Government's mini-budget, and that is it's my view that it's not the UK that's the problem, it's the UK Government that's the problem, and we do have the opportunity to change that. I think that the current Prime Minister's position is completely untenable, in my view, especially since the carnage that has ensued has been of her making, just as much as it was of the Chancellor, whom she removed from post.

But I think that the broader points are really important in terms of having that wider conversation about the powers that are available to us here in Wales, and what an improved set of powers might look like. I think that that is a discussion that is ongoing. It's very live. The Institute of Welsh Affairs is doing some really interesting work at the moment in that kind of space, to try and draw other people and other voices into that conversation, which I think is really to be welcomed.

In terms of the Welsh rates of income tax, I think that the First Minister wasn't being coy today. I think that he was just setting it out honestly, in the sense that we have been really clear that we have got an established process in relation to Welsh rates of income tax, which goes on every single year. That is to consider Welsh rates of income tax, and to consider the role that Welsh rates of income tax have to play in funding public services here in Wales, and then we announce those decisions alongside the draft budget.

Just to continue the discussion that was ongoing between the First Minister and the leader of Plaid Cymru earlier on today, in respect of Welsh rates of income tax, I know that there was some interest in the amount that could be raised through higher rates and additional rates, in particular. Well, we'll start with the basic rate, and this is the figure that gets quoted quite frequently within the Chamber: that would raise around £220 million. But then the higher rate—and this is if you raised it by one penny—would raise around £30 million, and then just £4 million if you were to raise the additional rate. So, I think that that just helps to give some useful context, really, for the kinds of decisions that we will have to make, and the kinds of choices available to us. But just being completely honest: no decisions have been taken. I do think that the UK Government's u-turn on income tax has now changed the context for those decisions, but we will be having those discussions as we move towards the publication of the draft budget on 13 December.

It is my intention to stay with the date of 13 December, because it does respect the protocol that we have with the Finance Committee. But also, I think that I have to tell people that this is going to be the most difficult budget that we will have set since devolution, in the sense that we are looking already at a budget that is worth £1.5 billion less next year. That's before any cuts that are announced either on 31 October or in a forthcoming spring statement. So, this is going to be a budget where we are looking again at our programme for government, we are looking again at our priorities and so on. It could potentially be a budget where we are forced to cut main expenditure groups or programmes and so on. So, I think that that is a good reason why we need time to do that work as a Government.

It's often the case that we are asked to allow greater time for scrutiny than we have even to prepare a budget. I just want to describe the sheer amount of work that goes in to developing a budget, in terms of those commissions that go out to every single one of my colleagues. We have a round of bilaterals with each single one of my ministerial colleagues. All of their departments will be looking at all of their programmes and trying to look to see what could be done differently, where the pressures are, and so on. So, these things do take weeks and weeks and weeks to do, and when we are looking at a budget that is about cutting rather than allocating, it just makes the job even harder. So, I just wanted to say to colleagues that this is the reason why we need time to undertake this work. [Interruption.] And yes, I agree that the scrutiny role is really important as well, but the timetable that we do set out does respect that scrutiny role. 

So, in terms of the other points raised: yes, I will certainly take forward the specific points that you wanted raised with the UK Government around off-grid support, for example, and I share the concerns about the announcement of the energy cap being removed as of April. I think that that will only cause a lot of worry now for households in Wales who need a greater degree of certainty to plan for the period ahead.

The UK Government has said that it is instituting a review of the energy support, and we have been really clear that that review has to start and conclude very quickly. The UK Government, in the meeting yesterday, was quite open that we can be involved fully in that review and have input into that review. It's Treasury led, but I think they were—. Potentially because it was our first meeting, they started off in a very collegiate way, wanting to be open and transparent. So, I thought that it seemed like a good place where we could potentially work together to start off with, and that would be a chance for us to set out exactly what our constituents will be feeling as a result of the situation at the moment, and also the lack of ability for businesses and public services to plan ahead in this space as well.

15:15

Thank you, Minister, for your statement this afternoon. I’ll start by welcoming the remarks of the Conservative spokesperson, actually. I know how difficult these contributions can be, but you did seem to be struggling towards contrition. I hope that he’s able to complete the journey over the coming weeks.

We know that the failure of the UK Government to manage the overall economy is going to have real-terms consequences, and the Minister has outlined the devastating consequences for our public services as a part of that. However, I’d like to address other matters this afternoon. We also know that the UK budget, if you like, has a £40 billion Brexit hole in the middle of it, and whatever else we do in terms of economic decision making, unless we’re able to trade freely with our closest neighbours we’re always going to have an economy that’s underperforming. I would hope that the Welsh Government will begin to look seriously now at how we start the journey towards rejoining the customs union and the single market to ensure that we’re able to restart economic activity in the country, but also, Minister, that you lead a debate on taxation.

You’ve answered, I thought, very fully the questions raised by Plaid Cymru this afternoon, but there does need to be a debate in Wales, in this place, about levels of taxation. We cannot deliver the services that we want to deliver and create the country we want to live in without the taxation income that’s required in order to do that. Our levels of taxation, whatever penny here or penny there, are significantly below the levels in other comparable economies, and that means that our public sphere is always going to be underinvested in relative terms. I hope that we can begin that debate.

As a part of that debate—and I won’t press the patience of the Presiding Officer any further—there needs to be a debate on the financial powers available to this place. The First Minister was very clear in answer to a question from the Member for the Cynon Valley earlier that the borrowing powers available to the Welsh Government are far from adequate—in fact, they’re entirely unsatisfactory and inadequate. But we need to look at borrowing powers amongst a suite of other powers available to this place and to the Welsh Government to ensure that we do have all the tools available to us that we require in order not just to deliver on our ambitions for the programme for government, but to defend Wales from the incompetence of a Tory Government in London that really doesn’t care at all about us and our country.

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

I’m very grateful for those questions. Alun Davies is absolutely right that there are real-life, real-time consequences for people as a result of the UK Government’s decisions and the chaos that has ensued recently, not least, for example, with the mortgage rate hikes that the First Minister was referring to in his statement earlier on today. I absolutely recognise what’s been said about the Brexit budget hole. I think, for me, COVID and now the cost-of-living crisis are both camouflaging the impact that Brexit is having on the economy. Inevitably, we will see long-term damage to the economy just because of Brexit, let alone all of the other issues in relation to the pandemic and the cost of living. I’ll just say to Alun Davies that we’re probably on the same page on a lot of this particular issue, so I’m sure we’ll have further discussions about that in due course.

I agree as well that we do need to have a wider debate on taxation. Even since I’ve been in this post, I’ve seen a real sea change, really, in the level of interest that there is about the Welsh Government’s tax-raising powers, but the power that tax can play more generally, both in terms of driving certain behaviours, but also raising public finances. I think that the work that the Institute of Welsh Affairs, which I’ve referred to, has been doing is really helpful in this space as well. The IWA’s report actually looks at borrowing powers, and I think it makes the case for prudential borrowing, which again is something that we’d very much support. Just thinking about the impact, though, since the fallout from the mini-budget, if we look at what the impact has been on borrowing for Government, £100 million of borrowing last year would have cost us £4.6 million a year to service, whereas £100 million borrowed now would cost us £6.8 million a year to service. That's an increase of nearly 50 per cent. And over the borrowing term, we would now pay £69 million in interest compared to just £16 million in interest last year. So, that again is one of those real-life examples of the impact that the chaos has had on budgets. 

15:20

Diolch. When I was a councillor having to deal with 10 years of austerity and cuts, we often used to think what's the point in having Government setting policy and Parliament setting policy when we didn't have the budget or resources to actually deliver them. Now the situation has got much worse under the chaos and inflationary pressures brought on by the UK Government. Cardiff's gap is £53 million that they're having to face. Conwy, Wrexham and Flintshire are looking at a £26 million funding gap, so they're going to have to make really tough decisions. They said if they stopped collecting all the waste, cut all the public transport, if they stopped cutting grass at play areas and closed swimming pools, they still would not have enough to fill the gap. It is dire. The health energy pressure is £90 million to £100 million, I learnt last week. Without cutting health services to fund that gap, when nurses need a pay rise, we have huge waiting lists, and earlier we heard about ambulance waiting times—. How are we going to fill that gap? I just don't know at all. I know you understand, but I don't think the UK Government and Jeremy Hunt understand. And the problem is that cuts like these pit people against each other as well, in different services, which is totally wrong, when, fundamentally, we need more investment in public services. 

Thank you. So, Minister, what representations will you be making back to the UK Government that we do need investment in public services? Thirty per cent of people in Wales are employed in public services, and you need them to help the private sector grow. Thank you. 

Thank you very much for raising that and also giving a really stark picture of the challenges facing local authorities, particularly the ones that you've referred to in north Wales. I've had the opportunity to meet recently with the finance sub-group of the partnership council for Wales, and also with the Welsh Local Government Association executive committee, to talk about budget pressures. We now have a fortnightly series of meetings with local authority leaders, and in those meetings we're able to discuss issues such as budget pressures as well. I really do find those meetings extremely helpful in terms of being able to hear exactly what's happening in local authorities, and the size of the funding gaps that they're identifying. 

I think that this year is extremely challenging, but looking ahead to next year and the year after, I think that those years are the ones probably most keeping leaders up at night at the moment. This is exactly the same challenge that we're facing in terms of the impact of inflation, which is why the UK Government absolutely has to change tack in terms of these threats to cut public services, because, as you suggest, these are jobs, these are services that we all rely on in our communities. Local authorities aren't spending huge amounts of money doing things that don't matter; they're providing education, they're providing social services, they're dealing with waste, and so on.

I think that these messages are really important, and they do need to get back to the UK Government that there needs to be investment in our public services, rather than looking to cut public services at this particular time, with all the implications that that will have for jobs, and then that awful cycle when people lose their jobs and they start to become more dependent on services, and those services themselves are cut, and so on. It's a spiral that we don't want to get ourselves into. 

4. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Taith—Delivering Wales's innovative international learning exchange programme

Item 4 this afternoon is the statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language on Taith—delivering Wales's innovative international learning exchange programme. I call on the Minister, Jeremy Miles. 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm delighted to be able to provide an update to the Senedd today on the progress of putting in place our innovative international educational exchange programme, Taith.

In March 2021, the Welsh Government announced it would put in place a £65 million replacement for the Erasmus+ programme, and made that commitment part of our programme for government. I am pleased to inform the Chamber today that that promise is rapidly coming to fruition, and the first learners are already starting to feel the benefits.  

We in Wales loved the Erasmus+ programme a great deal. As an outward-looking nation, the values of international co-operation and exchange imbued in Erasmus are in harmony with our approach here in Wales, and the loss of that programme was keenly felt. That is why the Welsh Government's response was decisive and ambitious. It sent a clear message to learners and educators at home, and to partners across the world, that Wales is open, Wales is outward-looking as a nation and Wales embraces the benefits of cultural and educational exchange.

The Taith programme that we have now developed reflects that ambition and those values. It is reciprocal. The programme supports learners and their staff across all kinds of education providers—formal and non-formal. The response from providers across Wales so far has been fantastic, and I will give you the details of the first pathway now.

Before I do, I want to recognise the work of the Taith team, delivering the programme in double-quick time; to have learners benefiting from Taith already is a credit to their tireless commitment. A lot of learners and staff will be benefiting from Taith this year, with over £13 million available to all sectors for this year’s projects.

Pathway 1, which focuses on the mobility of individuals, was launched in February this year and closed in May. Forty-six organisations were successful in their applications, with over 100 education providers involved. Those projects are going to bring opportunities to over 5,000 staff and learners in Wales. They are going to have life-changing learning experiences across the world. Projects have partnered with 75 countries, including 28 in Europe, as we seek to ensure our partnerships there endure despite the loss of Erasmus.

I would like to draw Members' attention in particular to the fantastic response we've had from youth and adult education providers. Organisations in those sectors have really stepped up to the challenge of ensuring that the opportunities to travel and learn are extended to their learners as well. Learning from other cultures can benefit us all, but for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds or from under-represented groups, these experiences can have profound impacts. I'm pleased to say that, so far, by building a programme in partnership with the sectors in Wales, the demand for Taith from youth and adult education has outstripped even the demand for Erasmus, and that is a success we intend to build on in future.

Speaking of the future, I announced on 5 October that Taith’s pathway 2 is now open for applications.

This pathway is designed to provide even more support for projects that have a more strategic focus. For example, the themes for this year’s call are: developments in education; diversity and inclusion; and climate change. Applications close on 1 December, so there is still time to get applications developed and submitted. Two million pounds is available for these projects in the youth, schools, adult education, further education and vocational education sectors.

We are all aware of the challenges that face us in the coming years, domestically and internationally.

I firmly believe that education has a key role to play in our response to those challenges.

With its ambitious approach to international projects with a strategic focus, Taith will facilitate learners and educators taking an active role in working with and learning from international partners on issues that affect us all, such as climate change. To solve global issues, we need a global approach, and Taith will help us to deliver that.

Taith has already had an impact overseas too, and has been carrying the message that Wales is an outward-looking and international nation across the world. Both myself and the First Minister have reflected how frequently Taith is raised in our discussions with international counterparts, and how enthusiastically it has been received.

We have only just started, and already it is opening doors overseas.

I am looking forward to discussing how Taith can help open even more doors in Europe when I visit Brussels to speak to MEPs and others next week. And although Taith carries a brilliant message to our international partners, it is just one part of our ambitious international education offer.

Our international education programme, delivered by British Council Wales, continues to provide distinct projects that provide knowledge and skills for our young people to contribute to a global society. For example, we recently made a long-term commitment to continue Welsh schools' and colleges' opportunities to engage with the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s unique Global Teaching Labs initiative. This programme enables primary and secondary schools and further education colleges across Wales to draw on STEM expertise from instructors from the world’s top science university through short, high-impact teaching placements and cultural immersion experiences.

And for higher and further education, the third phase of the Global Wales project is now under way. This project will help to grow and diversify the international student population in Wales, and will promote the benefits of collaboration and grow our links with key markets in Europe, India, North America, and Vietnam.

I am sure that Members will share my enthusiasm for the progress that Taith has made and the success it has already enjoyed in its first year. This will encourage education providers in their local areas to get involved with the programme if they are not already. We are developing an international education exchange programme for all learners in all of Wales. Some great work has been done already and there is more to come. I look forward to updating Members on further progress again next year.

15:30

Thank you for your statement, Minister. Learning exchange programmes are wonderful opportunities for young people. But putting aside the fact that you've spent millions and millions—£65 million, in fact—reinventing the wheel and creating a scheme that only differs slightly from the UK Government's offer, I do have some practical questions that I'd like to ask.

As you've laid out, each phase has a different focus. Pathway 2 has three themes—developments in education, diversity and inclusion, and climate change. As the funding is on a year-on-year basis, I foresee that this might pose a difficulty for students who are planning to study abroad, but don't know if their subject will then fit into the following year's themes. So, Minister, how will this work for university students picking degrees where they study a year abroad, and will this cause more students to opt out and use the Turing scheme instead, with its stable objectives, and would this result in any financial waste? Also, as you know, the Taith scheme can be applied for alongside the Turing scheme, however, this would require organisations to fill out two different application processes. This, obviously, can be time-consuming and costly. Minister, what mechanisms are you putting in place to ensure that, for applicants applying for both Taith and Turing, the processes are as seamless and efficient as possible? Thank you.

The programme's flexible, it won't be wasteful, and it is significantly superior to Turing.

Thank you for your statement, Minister. One of Taith’s stated aims, as you mentioned, is to improve access to international opportunities and the mobility it offers to all learners and students, including those with disabilities, additional learning needs, under-represented groups, and those from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds. So, I'd like to ask how all of this is being measured so far. Are these numbers being monitored and measured within the different educational settings, in terms of higher education, further education, schools and youth services? And, if so, what is the ratio in terms of those who have benefited from the Taith opportunities—are those targets being met in that regard?

In creating an international learning exchange for Wales, it's true that a strong message was sent to international partners about our nation that our education institutions and Wales continues to be outward-looking and internationally focused, although Brexit pulled us out of a number of the valuable programmes that helped us to be so, and that we as a nation understand the value of fostering and sustaining international partnerships in the wider education community. There are, however, concerns that higher costs, resulting from the current economic situation, and the current imbalance in the programme, in terms of the 10:3 ratio of internal and external mobility, are going to impact upon institutions’ ability to forge viable and productive partnerships. What consideration is being given to the impact of this? Is this something that is being monitored? And is there a need to increase the internal and external rates to ensure that mobility? And, finally, in terms of those higher education students who come from Wales, is that number being monitored, and what is the ratio there?

Finally, the Taith website contains the following statement:

'Studying, volunteering or taking a work placement abroad broadens people’s horizons, expands their skills, and brings benefits to communities and organisations here in Wales.'

So, can you tell us, Minister, in what way the programme offers opportunities to highly vocational students, who are not studying for a degree or studying at a school or college? Are you content that there is no gap in the provision of opportunities to all kinds of apprentices too? Thank you. 

15:35

Well, I thank the Member for those very important questions. On the first point that she made in terms of investment, I think that, when you look at the pressures on families now, the opportunities that can transform and broaden the horizons of young people become even more important now than they were previously. In terms of the emphasis on ensuring that it is inclusive, in the broader sense that the Member mentioned, that's an important element. One of the elements of the second pathway, particularly, is focused on ensuring that the provision is diverse and entirely inclusive. But that theme extends through the fundamental purposes of Taith, and ensures that it's available to all kinds of learners, not just those in higher education, but also in further education and those involved with youth work. So, we will be measuring the reach of the scheme to ensure that it does deliver against that objective. 

In terms of the point that the Member made on the 30 per cent relying on mobility into Wales, that recognises that that element, very often, requires funding from the nation where the learners or staff are moving from, and, therefore, it's not a requirement of all partnerships to ensure that that is an element. And, therefore, that 30 per cent ratio does acknowledge that there are often other sources available in that element of the scheme. 

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm grateful to the Minister also for his statement this afternoon. I very much welcome this from the Welsh Government, and I'm sure that you'll find a very warm welcome in Brussels as well. This is something that's been brought up with me a number of times, when I've been visiting Brussels over recent months, and there is an overwhelming welcome from the EU institutions that Wales remains fully engaged, and ensures that our young people have the same opportunity to travel and to visit and to study overseas and across our continent, in the way that their parents did, and we can't take that away from people.

But can you also assure me that this opportunity extends to everybody across all the different settings and across different geographies and demographics? I'm particularly interested in what the Minister had to say about further education and about youth services, because I want to ensure that everybody, every young person I represent in Blaenau Gwent, has the same opportunity to participate in these schemes, and the same opportunity to enjoy the international travel and study, and to learn in the same way as we did some years ago. 

I thank Alun Davies for that important set of questions. I share with him the ambition to make sure that all parts of our education system and all communities are able to benefit from this very ambitious scheme. One of the most exciting elements in it, I feel, has been the relationships that have been developed and established between schools and schools in other countries. Dirprwy Lywydd, may I ask if the Members opposite would extend the same courtesy they receive from other Members during this debate? 

So, schools in Wales have been establishing mobilities to Belgium, to Bangladesh, to Canada and to Colombia and creating that network at a school level, where, previously, the focus would have been at a higher education level principally.

He asked me to confirm the availability to all parts of the education sector. I think there were fewer applications from the further education sector than perhaps I would have liked to have seen in the first call, and so, we've just opened up a second Pathway 1, which is specific to FE and VET sectors, to give them a second opportunity to be able to apply. I'm very much looking forward to seeing positive engagement from colleges in the second call; I'm confident that we will see that. We've had positive discussions both with ColegauCymru and the Taith team to make sure that they're engaging with colleges right across Wales to support them in their applications. I'm sure that all Members will feel that it's really important to make sure that all learners in all sectors have the best possible opportunities.

15:40
5. The Regulated Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) (Amendment) and (Coronavirus) (Revocation) Regulations 2022

Item 5 today is the Regulated Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) (Amendment) and (Coronavirus) (Revocation) Regulations 2022. I call on the Deputy Minister for Social Services to move the motion—Julie Morgan.

Motion NDM8099 Lesley Griffiths

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

1. Approves that the draft The Regulated Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) (Amendment) and (Coronavirus) (Revocation) Regulations 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 27 September 2022.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion.

The purpose of these regulations is twofold. Firstly, to revoke the limited coronavirus-related amendments made to requirements on providers of certain regulated services, which came into force in June 2020. These aimed to streamline the establishment and support provision of emergency social care for adults, should this be needed, due to the spread of coronavirus. They also simplified pre-employment checks for new adult residential and domiciliary care workers, recognising that it may not be reasonably practical to obtain all information in the specified form in pandemic conditions. These exceptions and easements were accompanied by guidance to assist their interpretation, explain how they could work in practice, and reinforce that all other requirements on providers remained in effect. To apply appropriate rigour and oversight, the amendments had built-in safeguards or were aligned with existing obligations to ensure safe provision of care and support.

Revocation of these amendments on 31 October is supported by a clear and significant majority of respondents to our recent consultation. I'm grateful to those who acknowledged their limited use in practice, demonstrating the incredible efforts made to maintain services and standards in response to the pandemic. Points were also understandably made about the need to be prepared to react as soon as possible to the potential need to reinstate these changes. We continue to closely monitor the public health situation and its impacts on the sector, and should we see a return to heightened alert measures and legal protections, the Welsh Ministers will promptly consider whether any legislative response is required to support providers of regulated services, drawing on intelligence from the use of these easements.

The second purpose of the regulations before us today is to clarify the description of category C premises within regulation 49 of the Regulated Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) Regulations 2017. This amendment is intended to ensure that, when a service provider applies to Care Inspectorate Wales to use currently unoccupied premises for the provision of accommodation-based services in cases where those premises were previously registered under any relevant enactment as a place where residential care was provided, then those premises must meet additional requirements applied to new premises. This change would take effect from 1 November. This clarification that category C includes premises previously registered under any relevant enactment, not only the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016, is intended to support our long-standing policy to drive improvements in the built estate used for the provision of care homes, secure accommodation and family residential centre services.

I ask Members to support the motion.

There are no other speakers on this item.

Deputy Minister, do you want to add anything else? No.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object?

I do not hear objections. 

Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

15:45

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. The Homelessness (Priority Need and Intentionality) (Wales) Regulations 2022

Item 6, the Homelessness (Priority Need and Intentionality) (Wales) Regulations 2022. I call on the Minister for Climate Change to move the motion—Julie James.

Motion NDM8096 Lesley Griffiths

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

1. Approves that the draft The Homelessness (Priority Need and Intentionality) (Wales) Regulations 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 27 September 2022.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Members will be aware of the tremendous work undertaken since the start of the pandemic, which continues today, to ensure no-one is left out in our approach to homelessness. Through statutory guidance, we, along with local authorities, ensured that those experiencing homelessness were provided support and accommodation, ensuring a holistic response to the public health emergency. This shone a light on the scale of previously hidden homelessness across Wales. We now have a better understanding of the numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

Whilst the pandemic may have subsided for now, the need for support and housing for individuals who are experiencing homelessness definitely has not. Ahead of our planned wide-ranging reform of homelessness legislation, I'm hoping all Members will welcome and support this interim legislative amendment, and recognise it as an essential step in the eradication of homelessness in Wales. The Homelessness (Priority Need and Intentionality) (Wales) Regulations 2022 will amend the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, meaning a person who is street homeless and a person with whom they may reasonably be expected to reside is recognised as a person having priority need for support and accommodation. To put it in plain language, a person who is rough-sleeping is a person in priority need of accommodation. This regulation will also act to amend the Homelessness (Intentionality) (Specified Categories) (Wales) Regulations 2015, which provides for specified categories of persons a local authority can choose to have regard to by making a decision on whether they are intentionally homeless. This will mirror the current priority need categories and include those people who are street homeless.

Stepping out of the pandemic, we have to acknowledge the impacts of the current cost-of-living crisis and the risk of more people becoming homeless and losing their accommodation. This legislation is needed right now, more than ever, to ensure that we maintain the approach taken throughout the pandemic. I hope all Members will welcome this needed amendment to the legislation and support the motion presented here today. Diolch.

I thank the Minister for this announcement. It's one that we, in this party, welcome. It's certainly a step in the right direction towards abolishing priority need entirely.

To begin, I’d like to ask for clarity, please, regarding those people who are already in temporary accommodation. You say in your statement, and I will quote:

'However, with the easing of public health restrictions and associated public attitudes it is possible that those who were hidden prior to the pandemic, such as people sofa surfing, will revert from being supported by local authorities and partners, to relying instead on social networks to provide somewhere they can live. Given this uncertainty it is difficult to determine whether there will be significant further changes. Consequently, we consider that the core homeless population will remain relatively stable level for the time being.'

Now, could you explain what this means, please? Are you saying that those people in temporary accommodation will leave this accommodation and will sofa surf instead? Or, are you saying that local authorities are going to try to evict those who are not at risk of sleeping rough? Alternatively, can you confirm unambiguously that people in temporary accommodation will not be evicted only to face great uncertainty due to the new priority need category that you are introducing? Because, while we support the introduction of these regulations as a step in the right direction, the truth is that they will have unintended consequences. You are, to all intents and purposes, reintroducing the priority need policy once again. The danger is that this could lead to some local authorities reviewing the cases of those who are already in temporary accommodation and potentially concluding their responsibilities for those who are no longer considered at risk of sleeping rough. So, I’m sure you'll appreciate why we are seeking clarity on this point, please.

Furthermore, this will place a permanent expectation on local government. During the height of the COVID pandemic, local authorities received supporting funds, such as the COVID recovery grant, to help them accomplish the new expectations placed on them, such as the huge numbers of people that needed temporary accommodation. These funds have since been stopped, yet the duties continue. Local authorities are crying out for assistance; they tell us that they simply don’t have the resources to fulfil these duties, but there’s nothing in today’s statement about funding to allow them to carry out these duties. So, can the Minister tell us what funding will be made available for local authorities in order for them to achieve these ambitions set out in the regulations?

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, these regulations have unintended consequences, which could lead to more people finding themselves sofa surfing or homeless—not rough-sleeping, maybe, but certainly living in cramped accommodations with extended family and friends. This is a real risk and one that you are clearly content with, and I understand that—that's what politics is about and you have to make a decision based on merit. That's why we welcome these steps today. But can the Minister please square the circle of why the Government is happy to implement this policy, with the very real risk of unintended consequences, yet is unwilling to freeze rents and ban evictions, which has similar risks and unintended consequences? Diolch.

15:50

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you for that contribution, Mabon. This isn't a statement, just to say—we’re introducing the regulations today—so, obviously, it doesn’t cover off a large number of the other surrounding items that you've asked questions on. Nevertheless, I will just cover them off. So, if we don't do this today, then, in advance of transforming homelessness law in its entirety, which we intend to do in this Senedd term, but which, obviously, is a big transformation in the way that we do things, then local authorities will revert to the pre-pandemic position where they will go back to the current list of priority need and intentionality. The purpose of this regulation today is to continue the 'everyone in' approach. We work very hard with local authorities to make sure that the people who have fallen out of 'everyone in' approach are also provided with a service. But make no mistake: the issue here is about prevention and continuing service. So, it is absolutely not the intention that people currently in temporary accommodation will fall out of that temporary accommodation, become homeless and have to go back in again. We are working with the local authorities to ensure that that is not what is understood, and also to make sure that, where at all possible, local authorities are engaged in preventative work and not telling people to go away and come back 56 days before they're going to be homeless and so on. I absolutely understand the pressure on them. We've given them an additional £10 million across the 22 local authorities already, and an additional £6 million for discretionary payments. So, we are working with them.

One of the reasons that we're trying to make a merit out of having to do this in steps is one of the things that the associated documents with these regulations set out—the explanatory memorandum and impact assessments, Mabon—is that, obviously, we will work with local authorities as a result of this interim step to understand the cost and to make sure that, when we bring the homelessness legislation forward, we'll be able to have all of the information about the financing of that inside that piece of legislation, which will, obviously, be a very large piece of legislation, completely reforming the process. So, I make no bones about the fact that this is a sticking plaster on a system that doesn't work, but it's a necessary sticking plaster to make sure that the most vulnerable don't fall out of the system altogether and it enables the local authorities to continue to match our 'everyone in'. So, I'm very grateful to the local authorities—they've worked very hard with us; I've had a number of meetings with them over the last few days to talk about these issues.

This is an entirely separate issue from the rent issue. I understand the point the Member makes entirely, but we have a very complex system with rent, and this is not designed in any way to touch that, either in social rent or in private-sector rent—this is entirely about the homelessness response of local authorities. So, whilst I understand why you're collating the two, obviously, I'm not going to answer those particular questions today; I'm more than happy to continue that discussion elsewhere.

So, just to finish off by saying that I really do thank you, Mabon, for your contribution today. I do think it’s important to make sure that local authorities understand the ramifications of this. But there is a clear need for these regulations for the interim period, and they will support people who are street homeless in Wales, so I hope that every Member will support them. Diolch.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? I don't see any objection. And therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

7. The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2022

Item 7 is the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2022. I call on the Minister for Climate Change to move the motion. Julie James.

Motion NDM8100 Lesley Griffiths

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

1. Approves that the draft The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2022 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 27 September 2022.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I move the motion. I'm pleased to be able to bring forward the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2022, which makes minor amendments to the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme Order 2020. The effect of these amendments is to include flights from Great Britain to Switzerland in the scope of the UK emissions trading scheme from January 2023. This helps to fill a gap in the UK ETS coverage since the UK's departure from the EU. It also fulfils our commitment in the 2020 Government response to the future of UK carbon pricing consultation to do this. The Order brings flights from Great Britain to Switzerland within the definition of aviation activity, covers England, Wales and Scotland in territorial extent, allows applications for a free allocation of allowances on the basis of historic aviation activity, and requires regulators to recalculate entitlements for a free allocation of allowances in light of the new category of historic aviation activity. Advice was sought from the committee on climate change on the proposal covered in the Order. Through the improved coverage of activities by the UK emissions trading scheme, we will be better able to achieve the environmental outcomes envisaged by the scheme. I want to offer my thanks to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee for their scrutiny of the Order, and I commend the motion to the Chamber. Diolch.

15:55

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? Once again, I see no objections. And therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

8. The Marine, Fisheries and Aquaculture (Financial Assistance) Scheme (Wales) Regulations 2022
9. Debate: The Children's Commissioner for Wales's Annual Report 2021-22

So, we will move on to item 9.

And—. Oh. Excuse me, Minister, are you speaking for the Government? Ah, right. We had it that the Minister for education would be speaking.

Item 9, a debate on the Children's Commissioner for Wales's annual report for 2021-22. I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt, to move the motion.

Motion NDM8094 Lesley Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the Children’s Commissioner for Wales’s Annual Report 2021-22.

Motion moved.

Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Llywydd. I'm really pleased to have this opportunity to lead this important debate with Members on the children's commissioner's annual report for 2021-22. The commissioner's annual report provides an annual independent spotlight on children's needs and their rights, and ensures we maintain a collective focus on them. This report provides an opportunity for us to reflect on progress and to consider how we can continue to make improvements to the lives of children and young people in Wales.

I'd like to start by welcoming our new Children's Commissioner for Wales, Rocío Cifuentes, who began her term in office in April of this year. I've met the new commissioner on several occasions since her appointment, and I welcome her commitment and dedication to upholding children's rights since taking up this important role. She's used this initial period to meet children and young people throughout Wales, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of her large-scale engagement exercise, Ambitions for Wales, which will enable children and young people to have their voices heard and to influence her three-year work plan.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the former commissioner, Professor Sally Holland, for all the work that she's done for children and young people. This report is reflective of her final year in office, as the former commissioner.

The commissioner rightly highlights in her introduction the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the cost-of-living crisis, on children and young people and their families, and I'd like to assure Members that we as Government will continue to do all we can within our powers to tackle inequalities and improve outcomes for all children in Wales. Tackling the root causes of child poverty must and will remain a clear and ongoing priority for this Government, as this underpins so many of our young people's life chances, future outcomes and prospects. 

However, we are also clear that the key levers for tackling child poverty—powers over the tax and welfare system—sit with the UK Government, and I welcome the commissioner raising these concerns with the UK Government. We need every level of Government to work together if we're going to support children and young people and their families during this unprecedented crisis. 

The annual report is an opportunity for the commissioner to highlight the work of the organisation, and I'd like to draw Members' attention to the ongoing work of the commissioner in supporting public bodies in taking a children's rights approach. Putting children and young people at the centre of our public services is so important, and I welcome the commitment of the commissioner's office in providing this support. The office has developed 'The Right Way: A Children's Rights Approach in Wales', which is a practical guide to help organisations place children's rights at the heart of all planning decisions and service delivery. The five ways of working, embedding children's rights, equality and non-discrimination, empowering children, facilitating meaningful participation and clear accountability structures provide a clear and supportive framework.

We are, as an organisation, led by my colleague Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Social Services, used to these principles in developing our own children's rights scheme, which we published in December last year, but I'd also like to thank the commissioner and her staff for all the work they did to advocate for children and young people as we emerged from the pandemic. An example of this was the development of the Welsh Government's Summer of Fun programme, which took place for the first time last summer. Working with the Urdd and Sport Wales, the commissioner was able to bring together a number of key partners for a series of round-table discussions with Welsh Government to look at how best we can support the recovery of our children and young people and to give those partners the opportunity to hear from children and young people themselves about what was important to them. This, then, fed into the development of our Summer of Fun programme, which provided free activities for the development and well-being of children and young people across Wales. We provided over 67,000 opportunities for children and young people and were able to build on that success through the subsequent Winter of Well-being. And this year's Summer of Fun also saw us provide food as well as free activities.

Turning to the recommendations in the annual report, the commissioner has made 16 recommendations to the Welsh Government, and these fall under four themes: adequate standard of living; family environment and alternative care; protection from exploitation and violence; and education, citizenship and cultural activities. These recommendations cover important issues right across Government, including tackling child poverty, health advocacy, children and young people in care and leaving care, child protection and justice, education, mental health, transport and learner travel. I welcome the recommendations in the report. I also accept that progress in some areas has not been what we would have liked due to the resource pressures of the pandemic. However, I won't be discussing the details of the Welsh Government's response today. The First Minister will publish the Welsh Government's response to the commissioner's annual report by 30 November.

Today is an opportunity for Members to express their views on the commissioner's report and to comment on the areas the commissioner has raised. We look forward to hearing the views of Members and we'll take these views into consideration as we prepare our official response. So, in conclusion, Dirprwy Lywydd, I look forward to this important debate on the children's commissioner's report and our progress in supporting children's rights in Wales. The commissioner's independent role is crucial in holding the Government to account, and we will continue to work with her office for the benefit of all children and young people in Wales. Diolch.

16:00

Thank you, Minister, but I must confess that I was a bit surprised by the lack of substance in this report. It is very heavy on the statistics of the office of the commissioner and contains some irrelevant details, such as discussions around podcasts bringing magic and laughter to the office. I, and I think many here, would have hoped that this annual report, particularly since it was the last of the preceding commissioner, would have provided a comprehensive overview of the work that remains to be done and some seriously challenging recommendations to the Welsh Government. Whilst the recommendations offered are certainly worthy, I think the commissioner has missed an opportunity here to have pushed much harder and to have reported what evidence they have provided and what challenges they have made to the Welsh Government.

For instance, in the 'how we influence' part of the tackling child poverty section, the commissioner reports that they have written letters to various Secretaries of State asking for meetings, but obtained no acknowledgement letters that their letters had been received. This begs us to ask why the commissioner's office has never chased these meetings further, has never chased the acknowledgement of these letters, and has never hammered on the doors of Government to be heard.

The commissioner also describes that they are observers of the income maximisation group, which interestingly doesn't have a specific focus or work stream related to tackling child poverty, and there is no current strategy or action plan on tackling child poverty, despite repeated calls for specific focus on this important area. I think this is quite a worrying lack of progress, given that Wales has the highest levels of child poverty out of every UK nation, with one in three children now living in poverty, and particularly shows that the office of the children's commissioner is either completely powerless to provide significant impact in this area, or it's not seriously challenging the Welsh and UK Governments in this regard. The commissioner's office has simply completed the tick-box exercise of appearing to help deal with child poverty by sending letters and asking for meetings, which ultimately then they have never chased or pursued further. I therefore ask the Minister: going forward, what expectations do you have that the new children's commissioner will actually tackle this problem? Writing letters without even getting a response is not going to cut it.

Welsh workers have the lowest take-home pay in the UK in every single industry, which means that households do not necessarily have the same financial resilience as their UK counterparts. The benefit payments that some people are entitled to are worth more than the wage that they can receive from working full time, even if they are paid above the national living wage. And this is ultimately one of the root causes of widespread child poverty. With this in mind, the Welsh children's commissioner has to push a lot harder and have a better understanding of the ultimate causes of child poverty in Wales.

Turning to community ambassadors, which are mentioned in the report, the scheme is clearly one that has great potential for wider engagement, especially with normally hard-to-reach groups. However, with the exception of one online event held with young carers in north Wales, the furthest north the commissioner's managed to visit is Merthyr Tydfil, and I'm wondering why this is. Surely there are community groups further north who would have welcomed some engagement with the children's commissioner and her office. There is no mention in either 'Amplify!' or the ambassador schools programme about the geographical distribution of participants, and I would therefore like to emphasise to the Minister that there needs to be some commitment by the commissioner that her office is actively engaging with all parts of Wales and not just going to areas that are easily commutable from head office. This point also rings true with the level of investigations and support that has been offered as well. Of the 604 cases this year, a third of them have been recorded as coming from Cardiff, Bridgend and Swansea, and it would have been useful to know the full distribution across Wales, because it would help identify areas where more visibility of the commissioner is needed.

In terms of the comments made by the commissioner in relation to care leavers, the commissioner has identified a need for all care leavers to have an allocated personal adviser, and reported that whilst funds have been made available, the statutory change to embed this provision has not come into force, and the legislative change to make this happen, timetabled for 2022-23, will not now happen until 2024 at the earliest. Given that the Welsh Government is spending £20 million on a universal basic income trial for care leavers, why is this Government unable to ensure that every care leaver has access to a personal adviser? I would like to challenge the Welsh Government further and ask whether or not those opting into the UBI trial are going to have a dedicated personal adviser, because it's going to be a support mechanism that will be vital for some, especially as they're given £20,000 a year to spend.

Finally, I want to pick up a point on the high levels of fixed-term exclusions of three to seven-year-old children in the foundation phase. I appreciate that the data is from 2017-18, but it seems to me that there are almost 80,000 days of learning lost to exclusions in Wales, and this seems excessively high, especially given that it is likely that some of the same children are being repeatedly excluded. With this in mind, I would like to challenge the Government and the commissioner on this point. The fact that this came as a surprise to the commissioner, and that they are reporting it some five years later, shows clearly that the commissioner's office is not keeping a close enough eye on these types of statistics.

16:05

Thank you. In closing, I'm conscious that with everything I've just said, I would nonetheless like to thank the previous children's commissioner and her office for the work that they have done. I know that I have highlighted several failings without mentioning many positives, but I've never doubted the commissioner's desire to only get the best for the children of Wales. Thank you.

16:10

May I echo the words that have already been expressed in terms of thanking Sally Holland for her tenure over seven years? I think her parting lecture, as well, was food for thought for many of us, reflecting on the challenges that she believed still faced so many children and young people. I would also like to welcome the new children's commissioner, who has shown already in her role that she will follow in Sally's footsteps and prioritise the voices of the children and young people of Wales.

I think it shows in this report the value of having that key role of the commissioner to make sure that children and young people have that representation, but are offered those opportunities so that their own direct voices are heard. I think one of the things that I've reflected on, reading the report, was the fact that so many children and young people had participated—thousands and thousands of those voices heard and listened to—and also the training in terms of children's rights, of raising awareness and continuous awareness, because it's an ongoing challenge, of ensuring that we do respect and listen to the voices of children and young people. We've seen the value of that in our own work through the Senedd committees, and I think it's clear from the report the valuable role that the children's commissioner's office plays in providing evidence and challenging us as politicians on some of our decisions as well. Long may that continue, because it is important that that influences policy.

I think the one thing to reflect on in terms of some of the challenges and how we respond—I heard, Minister, obviously, you reference the UK levers and some of things that are not within our control, that we can't change, but if we focus specifically on the recommendations in the report around child poverty, obviously, something that was also championed over the seven-year term of Sally Holland as commissioner—. Many of us will remember that target of eradicating child poverty by 2020, and the subsequent scrapping of that in 2016. I would echo the children's commissioner's calls to make sure that we do have that plan in place. I think not having that specific plan with targets, so that we are able to measure progress, is something that's lacking at the moment, and it's quite astonishing that there is no specific action plan on tackling child poverty. We have a number of measures—things that we're incredibly proud of in Plaid Cymru that we've been able to secure, of course, through the co-operation agreement between both of our parties; things, as emphasised in the report, such as the extension of free school meals and the expansion of childcare. But we need to go beyond that, and I think, with everything that's coming in terms of the further cuts that we are going to see with local authorities and everything, there's a real risk that the situation is going to worsen if we don't have a plan to tackle it and also if we're not monitoring the impact of all our policies, and monitoring where we can make a difference, given that we know the pressures will increase.

The other area I'd just like to focus on is the section on home education and the specific recommendations there, saying that Welsh Government must also publish an evaluation plan for the implementation of new statutory guidance alongside that guidance. I'm sure the Minister will be aware of concerns that have been raised with many of us in terms of home education. Whilst Plaid Cymru have agreed with the intention of the proposals, which is to ensure that every child and young person in Wales is given a suitable education, we still believe that that guidance, or draft guidance at present, doesn't distinguish between those who have chosen to home educate their children and feel that they're going to be monitored or mistrusted, as opposed to those children who aren't currently receiving any kind of education. I think there are some things that are raised here as concerns that I would like the Welsh Government to be addressing.

But I think the one thing that is very clear here is that COVID impacts, as illustrated in the report, have been extensive on our children and young people and will continue to be so. The cost-of-living crisis will also disproportionately impact our children and young people. So, the point I would like to emphasise, whilst closing, Minister, is: please can we ensure that that child poverty action plan, as is championed by the children's commissioner and this report, is in place, so that we are able to make those changes that our children and young people so desperately need? Diolch.

16:15

Annual reports are always retrospective, but this annual report is even more retrospective than usual, because, of course, this year, the current commissioner is reporting on the work of her predecessor. With that in mind, I'd like to thank Sally Holland, once again, for everything that she did for children and young people in Wales throughout her tenure, and congratulations, once again, to Rocio Cifuentes on her appointment. I hope you've settled in well, commissioner.

Back in December 2021, the Children, Young People and Education Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Ms Cifuentes. We urged her and her office to reflect on a few things as they plan and deliver their work, including how they ensure that they engage with children and young people across the whole of Wales, and how they evaluate the impact of their work so that it's clear how it is making a real difference to the day-to-day lives of children and young people. We will come back to those themes when we scrutinise the commissioner on her annual report on 17 November.

Outside annual report scrutiny, we draw upon the commissioner's expertise to inform our scrutiny work. So, I pay particular interest to the commissioner's report card in her annual report. The report card sets out the commissioner's view of the Welsh Government's progress against key policy issues. The following policy issues resonate particularly strongly with our work.

The first is tackling child poverty. I agree, we are entering a cost-of-living crisis and, as a committee, we have agreed to focus on the negative impact of disadvantage on outcomes for children and young people. It's been little over a year since our committee was formed, but it is already painfully clear just how many of the challenges our children face stem from poverty. As the commissioner advises, we will pay close attention to the Welsh Government's child poverty strategy, due to be published by the end of the year.

The second is care-experienced young people. Like the commissioner, we were encouraged by the programme for government's commitment to:

'Explore radical reform of current services for children looked after and care leavers.'

Unfortunately, we also agree with the commissioner that progress on this important work has been too slow. We need transparency about what this commitment means in practice. We have recently launched a consultation asking care-experienced children and young people, birth parents, stakeholders and academics what they think radical reform should look like. What will make the biggest difference to care-experienced young people's lives? We hope that this inquiry will support the Government's welcome commitment to explore and implement the radical reform that children and young people need.

And finally, whole-school mental health: we have heard concerns about the mental health of our learners time and time again throughout our work, as an impact of sexual harassment among learners, as a cause of pupil absence, and beyond statutory education into higher education. We agree with the commissioner that schools are an ideal setting to support children with their mental health, and welcome Welsh Government's progress that the commissioner has recognised in her report. We will continue to do what we can to ensure that the Government builds on that progress to provide the mental health support that our children deserve.

There are many more critically important policy areas in this report, and not enough time to discuss them all. But I urge all Members of the Senedd, both those in and outside Government, to read this report and use the commissioner's findings to inform their work. Whether or not children are an explicit part of your committee's remit or ministerial portfolio, the Welsh Government has a legal duty to consider their rights in all decisions it makes. This report is relevant to all of us.

And to the commissioner herself, I look forward to discussing her report in more detail on 17 November, and to building on the positive relationship between her predecessor commissioners and our predecessor committees in pursuit of our common purpose: to improve the lives of children and young people in Wales. Diolch.

I'd also like to join with many others in thanking the former children's commissioner, Dr Sally Holland, for her leadership as the commissioner in promoting and safeguarding the rights of children and young people in Wales. As chair of the cross-party group on children and families and children in our care, I just want to use my brief time to focus on children and young people who are looked after.

Since 2003, the number of children and young people looked after has nearly doubled, and in the last decade, it has risen more than a quarter. I am particularly concerned about the provision of independent advocacy services for children and young people in residential care. We know that, as a result of the national approach to statutory advocacy, in place since July 2017, children and young people placed in local authority residential care are able to access independent advocacy. But that provision accounts for less and less of the total share of accommodation.

In March 2019, just 23 out of a total of 178 children’s homes were provided by local authorities. Evidence from Tros Gynnal Plant found that only 22 of the approximately 155 independent homes were actually providing independent advocacy. This is a real concern for me and, I’m sure, many others, Minister. Every residential home, whatever its status in terms of registration, should be required by law to provide an independent visiting advocacy service, as an added safeguard, ensuring that every child or young person has a personal advocate with whom they can communicate openly and without worry.

Many of us, either professionally or in another capacity, have met young people who are in care or who are care experienced. The trauma and experiences that they go through, in terms of coming into care, then in terms of their placements, mean that they really feel voiceless. Independent advocacy services are vital to ensuring that they have that voice. So, I would be interested to hear more on this matter in response to the debate, both in extending this requirement to the independent sector, and strengthening the existing national model for local authority settings.

The other matter that I would like to highlight is the use of unregulated placements. The commissioner’s report highlights concerns with the widespread use of unregulated placements. I appreciate completely that these often arise from emergencies and breakdowns in placements, and having been a social worker for many years, I know the situation. But there is a real concern with the quality and standards of accommodation. This can vary from ‘When I am Ready’ placements, right through to hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation, the latter of which is totally inappropriate. While there are some excellent supportive settings, some young people are very vulnerable if living in poor accommodation with limited support.

I understand that this is being considered as part of the work around the removal of profit from the sector, and on improving the range and availability of placements, especially for those with more complex needs. I do support this, and I’m really pleased that this is part of the programme for government. The commissioner, in her report, makes very clear recommendations about the scope of the work that needs to be undertaken, and I hope that you can respond, Minister, to that recommendation in this debate.

Finally, as others have, can I wish the new commissioner, Rocio Cifuentes, the very best for her time in office? I look forward to working with her. There is a huge amount of work to be done for our children in building a brighter future. The COVID pandemic—both its direct impact on the lives of children and young people, and the decision making around how Wales responded to the pandemic—highlights just how important an independent champion for children and young people is. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

16:20

I'd like to start my contribution today by thanking the new children's commissioner and her team for their work in producing this comprehensive report. I'd also like to join colleagues from across the Siambr in offering my thanks to Professor Sally Holland for all that she achieved during her term of office.

Sally was a robust champion of the rights of children and young people in Wales. I was able to join her on a visit to Cynon Valley Organic Adventures in Abercynon in my constituency last year. This was for their big lunch during Volunteers' Week, and it was a great opportunity for Sally to speak to some of the young people that Janis and her team worked with. Thanks to Sally for taking the time to visit. I know that this is a field in which she will continue to make a significant contribution.

Turning to the annual report, I want to focus on a few key areas—firstly, the sections relating to tackling child poverty. We all know, of course, that this is one of the most fundamental issues facing our society. The data quoted in the report on the scale of the challenge is sobering enough. However, the latest figures from Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy suggest the number of children in poverty in Wales has increased even beyond this. We also know this is likely to have been further exacerbated by the unprecedented cost-of-living pressure. In the context of these facts, I am truly shocked and appalled by the lack of engagement with the children’s commissioner from the UK Government. The report notes multiple occasions where members of the UK Cabinet refused to meet with the children’s commissioner, or even reply to correspondence. As one of those who failed to respond, the then work and pensions Secretary, is currently Deputy Prime Minister, it does not augur well for the Truss administration in the key challenge of rising to the issue of tackling child poverty.

I note in contrast the actions of the Welsh Government, which the children’s commissioner has welcomed. Policies such as the roll-out of universal free school meals, the provision of free school breakfasts, an expanded childcare offer, Flying Start and an enhanced PDG access grant to help with the cost of the school day all make a real difference. From my engagement with the project in my constituency, I also want to mention the food and fun clubs that provide such benefits to those families eligible to participate. These actions and more demonstrate the commitment of Welsh Ministers to eliminate child poverty. That said, I am sympathetic to the commissioner’s comments around the child poverty action plan. If taken on board, that could lead to a really strong piece of work that ensures a relentless laser focus from all of us on giving every Welsh child the best possible start.

I’m also sympathetic to the commissioner’s recommendation around free public transport for under-18s in Wales. I recently hosted an event for the National Education Union Cymru and the Child Poverty Action Group here at the Senedd. This was to mark the launch of the ‘Tackling Child Poverty Together’ short guide for schools. Quite a few children and young people from Welsh schools attended, and their big ask was that they should be able to freely use public transport. I know the Deputy Minister for Climate Change is passionately keen to change habits and encourage greater use of buses and trains. I appreciate money is tight, but meeting this recommendation, even in terms of the requested pilot, could go a long way to encouraging excellent lifelong habits of public transport use.

Finally, the section around whole-school mental health and well-being support. As a former teacher, as a mother of a teenager, and from my constituency postbag, I know this work is completely necessary. The commissioner rightly praises the interventions the Welsh Government has made—that’s both in terms of the approach itself and providing funding so that it can properly be implemented. When our children and young people are under such pressures, we should offer them no less. I look forward to the swift and effective roll-out of this across Wales as a matter of urgency. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

16:25

Can I also thank the Minister for the statement? And can I also thank the current commissioner for her work so far, as well as her predecessor, Professor Sally Holland?

The past few years have been difficult for us all, and in particular, children and young people, who’ve had to experience significant disruption to their lives and development. So, it’s important that we in the Senedd continuously ask ourselves how we are working to create a better future for young people, and give them the tools that they need. I very much hope that all public bodies and tiers of government from across the UK are fully engaged, and continue to engage, with this work. The children’s commissioner’s role and reporting are fundamental to shining a light on areas that need improvement, and I compliment the commissioner on her report. I personally found it clear, succinct and easy to use.

Deputy Llywydd, the issues faced by our children and young people have persisted for far too long, and in many cases the issues mentioned in the report are exacerbated in rural areas, such as in my constituency of Monmouth. Take transport: young people often experience barriers to accessing education, leisure or employment opportunities due to the availability and cost of public transport. There just isn't the provision that you would get in Newport or Cardiff, for example. Now then, Minister, are you working with your Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the needs of young people are fully met in your transport strategy, 'Llwybr Newydd', as well as your upcoming bus Bill? 

The report also mentions several things relating to the accessibility of services and advocacy for a range of young people. Again, these are things that are not necessarily easily accessible in large rural areas, which can affect how young people engage with and receive support. How is the Government working with local authorities and service providers to ensure that services are fully accessible? And are services being adequately promoted so that young people know what's available to them and how to access it? 

Finally, can I also put my full support behind the commissioner's recommendation for a specific strategy on how to tackle child poverty in Wales, particularly given the current context that we find ourselves in? And at this point, I have to express my disappointment once again that the commissioner's office struggled to get the level of engagement with UK Government that was deserved, and on several levels. This is not good enough and has to change. Now, the Welsh Government may not have all of the levers that it argues that it needs, but it certainly has a lot already, and we need to find ways to better utilise what powers and initiatives that we do have. Can I ask, Minister, whether the Government will fully consider how well its current policies are working to alleviate the causes and consequences of child poverty, and whether such learning can be taken forward to help to inform the new strategy that is due later this year? Thank you. 

16:30

I want to use this opportunity to thank the Children's Commissioner for Wales for this report, and welcome the new commissioner, Rocio Cifuentes, to her role. I look forward to seeing the work that Rocio achieves through engaging with young people, making Wales the best place to grow up as a young person. It is great to see how the Children's Commissioner for Wales has engaged with youth-led groups in my own community of Bridgend. The report mentions being engaged with Bridgend inclusive youth club and Bridgend YMCA, and I've worked with young people in the clubs to develop resources and materials that are relevant to their needs, and the needs of children and young people with learning disabilities. 

The report also mentions Project Vote that saw 16-year-olds voting for the first time in our recent local government elections. Students at Cynffig Comprehensive School in my constituency were able to participate in a pilot scheme that allowed them to vote in school across three days. It was great to see them representing young voter voices in The Guardian, where they spoke about how important it was to them to be able to vote and about ways to make voting more accessible. 

The report also mentions the work that the commissioner is doing regarding the learner travel review. I have met with the previous commissioner regarding this issue, and pupils in Cornelly who are campaigning for improved access to school transport. The change in three-mile to two-mile criteria for access to a bus pass has really impacted the young people getting to and from school, including their mental health and uptake of musical instruments. This winter, there will be children as young as 11 walking to school in the rain and then sitting in soaking wet clothes all day. As the report states, this is an issue that is impacting on pupils across Wales, and I agree with the report that the Welsh Government must set out clearly and with urgency timescales to achieve positive change by the end of the Senedd's term, and young people's views must feed into the next stage of that work. 

The report explores the whole-school approach to mental health, and I have spoken with the commissioner about my own experiences of anorexia after sharing here in the Chamber. So, it's great to hear about TERMS, the technology-enabled remote monitoring in schools project by the Royal College of Psychiatrists that has been co-designed with pupils of Brynteg Comprehensive School in Bridgend, where the project is now being piloted. This project came after pupils were asked directly what area of mental health they wanted to explore. Eating disorders was raised as the key area that they wanted to have more research around.

And then, lastly, I'd like to highlight the recognition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child—the tools that underpin all policies and legislation that impact young people. Since being elected, I have been working with school councils and Bridgend youth council, as well as Pippa King from Biometrics in schools and Jen Persson from Defend Digital Me, on the increasing use of biometric data being collected and used in schools. In 2021, I was made aware of local schools in Bridgend introducing technology to collect and use fingerprints of children for lunchtime meals. Technologies once used by state intelligence agencies are now being used on our children for monetary transactions. Consent letters sent to parents framed the use of fingerprint data collection as safer for children, and I am pleased that the Welsh Government has updated guidance, clarifying that it is always up to the child to make the decision on whether or not to hand over their data. However, when speaking to young people in my community, they are not aware of this, and they think it is up to their parents.

Fundamentally, when somebody has a password, it is something that you can change or reset; a fingerprint is something that you are—it is part of you. Once that data is compromised, it is compromised for life. And these technologies are also not immune to data leaks and exploitation, just as we saw in schools across Wales that youth apps—the US app, Seesaw—had been hacked into—the system—and sent explicit images to children. Article 16 of the UNCRC states that all young people have the right to privacy, and yet, what we are seeing is that intrusive technologies are being rolled out in schools and without the information for young people to understand who is collecting their personal data and how it is being used now and in the future. So, I would therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss these concerns raised with me by young people, with the commissioner, and the potential impact of digital technologies being used in educational settings across Wales. Diolch.

16:35

I want to also thank the outgoing children's commissioner and welcome t