|1. 1. Questions to the First Minister|
|2. Urgent Question: Tata Steel|
|3. 2. Business Statement and Announcement|
|4. 3. Statement: Priorities for Government|
|5. 4. Statement: The Child Practice Review into the Death of Dylan Seabridge|
|6. 5. Statement: New Treatment Fund|
|7. 6. Statement: Self-improving the Education System|
|8. 7. Statement: Transport Modernisation—An Update on the Wales and Borders Franchise and Metro Programmes|
|9. 8. Statement: The Welsh Language|
|10. 9. Statement: Update on Wales’s Compound Semiconductor Cluster|
|11. 10. Debate: The First Supplementary Budget 2016-17|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and I call on Russell George to ask the first question.
Health Services in Montgomeryshire
1. How is the Welsh Government improving access to health services in Montgomeryshire? OAQ(5)0111(FM)
We continue to work with the health board and other partners in Wales to take a range of actions to improve access to healthcare services that are safe and sustainable and as close to people’s homes as possible.
Thank you. I welcome that answer in that case, First Minister. You may be aware that stroke patients in mid Wales are no longer able to access special treatment from the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital following a reconfiguration of services, which has resulted in services moving further away to the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. Can I ask you what discussions your Government has had with the UK Government, and with Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, to press the case for specialist services to be retained in Shropshire? And, can I also ask you what your Government is doing to ensure that mid Wales stroke patients have adequate access to this specialist service?
I’m aware, of course, of the proposals. We expect, as a Government, that the relevant stakeholders on our side of the border are involved in any potential changes. I know Powys Teaching Local Health Board has been very involved in representing the concerns of residents, and I understand there will be further work taking place for final options to be subject to formal consultation later this year.
First Minister, I met recently with Newtown health forum, who told me that between the hours of six o’clock and 12 o’clock at night in Newtown, there is no GP or primary care service at all. The GP surgery closes at six o’clock, and it’s hard enough to get an appointment there, and the GP Shropdoc, run from the Newtown Hospital, starts at midnight. Between six and 12, people in Newtown have to travel to Welshpool in order to access GP services. Do you think that’s a sufficient service for GP services in Newtown?
I know that the health board is looking at the situation, and I know that filling that gap is important to them. For example, if we look at the minor injuries unit at Newtown, the health board will be starting a process to develop a long-term health and care strategy for Powys during 2016, and the health board will be reviewing MIU services across Powys as part of its work on unscheduled care services in order to make sure that any gap that exists is plugged.
Access to Welsh Ministers
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on access to Welsh Ministers? OAQ(5)0118(FM)
Your Government has made sure that Wales has the weakest protection in the UK against commercial lobbying. There is no register. The last Presiding Officer said that we don’t have the same problems as Westminster. But, from what I can see, companies like Deryn, selling access and information to the highest bidder, seem to be everywhere in this Assembly. I wasn’t even allowed to submit a question about cash for access to Welsh Ministers. Clearly, we do not believe in open Government. So, what are you hiding, First Minister?
Sorry, I need to clarify that all questions that are tabled in order are accepted to be asked in this Assembly, and your question has been accepted as it is in order.
So, one is on the record, but my substantive question to the First Minister is: you clearly don’t believe in open Government, otherwise you’d have a register and we’d have regulations. What are you hiding? What are you hiding?
Nothing. Commercial lobbyists don’t have access to Welsh Ministers.
First Minister, perhaps I can turn matters a bit more constructively. I think it’s very important that politicians, and particularly Ministers, listen, and I hope you’ll identify ways in which your Ministers, either individually or collectively, can listen to the vital interests out there of stakeholders, and individuals indeed. Your predecessor used to have open-mike sessions of the Cabinet; I think these have fallen into disuse. There may be other methods but, really, listening to people’s views is key to good governmental decision-making.
I entirely agree with that, and being able to engage with organisations is hugely important. It’s right to say that open-mike sessions haven’t taken place for some years. However, I did travel around Wales offering myself up as part of a masochism strategy, taking questions from members of the public, and, like all Members—well, I trust all Members—I hold surgeries in my constituency in order to listen to the views of my constituents.
I think that the issue that the Plaid Cymru member raised are perhaps important ones. Transparency is paramount. Now, we know that lobbying exists in reality, in political circles, but we do have to make sure that it’s done legitimately, and we need to know who’s lobbying who at times. Are there any plans to establish a register of lobbyists here in Cardiff Bay?
Well, these are matters that were looked at by the standards committee in 2013—not a committee that’s run by Government—and it came to the conclusions that it did. Just to re-emphasise, Ministers do not meet with commercial lobbyists; Ministers, of course, do meet with organisations, such as charities and so forth, in order to listen to their views. But it’s certainly not the case that commercial lobbying companies are able to bring clients to meet Ministers. That is certainly not happening, and nor will it happen.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and I first call the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, with all the politics that are going on in the country at the moment, with changing leaderships in other legislatures, and the fallout from the Brexit referendum, some of the bread-and-butter issues do tend to get looked over. And I’d like to draw your attention to the Bliss report that was brought forward last week, by the charity, which I think is a vital document that I hope your Government will study with care, because it does offer a real route-map to developing neonatal services here in Wales. One of the findings in that report showed that only 20 per cent of neonatal units had enough nurses to staff the cots according to national standards. Now, there have been improvements over time to neonatal units in Wales, but they are considerable—2008, 2010, and 2011, the report points to. Can you commit, in this Assembly session, to addressing the staffing problems that this report clearly identifies: that only 20 per cent of units have enough staff to man the cots according to national standards?
Well, the neonatal network works with health boards to provide flexible, responsive staffing to meet the fluctuating needs for specialised neonatal services and to address any shortcomings in staffing levels. To support the development of our workforce, we have announced an £85 million-package of investment in the education and training of healthcare professionals in Wales, including neonatal staff. And, of course, the findings of the Bliss report will be used by the neonatal network to help all units to reflect on, and plan for, any changes for the future.
I appreciate that detailed answer, and it is a road map of sorts. But I think one thing that would be really appreciated is knowing how, in this Assembly, we will measure your success—going from 20 per cent to 50 per cent of units having enough staff, or, indeed 100 per cent of units having enough staff. Because what is key here is identifying the road to success, in getting the numbers up in the neonatal units. So, can you give us a timeline when the script that you read there is actually acted on and when we will see more staff in the neonatal units providing that vital service?
Well, I expect those numbers to grow over the course of the next five years, and I expect every neonatal unit to be properly staffed in that time. It is true to say that recruitment has been a challenge; it will continue to be a challenge in the light of the vote of a fortnight ago. But we will continue to say to those who want to come to work in Wales that they are welcome, as well as, of course, looking to train new specialists ourselves.
One of the issues that was identified in the report is the retention of staff. I mean, very often, we do focus on attracting new staff into the health service, but, in particular on neonatal units, it is the ability to retain staff once you’ve attracted them into the unit. In particular, 40 per cent of mothers will suffer postnatal depression and who will have an episode on these units. Ultimately, only five of the units can actually offer support for postnatal depression. Now, when you look at those numbers—40 per cent of expectant mothers will suffer an episode of postnatal depression and only five units can offer that support—that’s a clear area that really does need detailed work undertaken on behalf of your Government and the health boards. What assurances can you give the Assembly today, and Bliss in particular as a charity that has a special interest in this field, that this area will be given the attention it deserves and we will see progress so that that support can be offered in all units, wherever those units exist in Wales?
Well, I can say that the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee are working with local services in order to look to provide the services that people would expect. We did announce last year that new perinatal mental health services would be set up across Wales. They are developing well, with 30 new specialist staff being recruited, backed by £1.5 million of new investment.
Diolch yn fawr, Lywydd. A yw'r Prif Weinidog wedi gweld bod cydgwmni mwyaf Ewrop, Siemens, yn cyfarfod heddiw, neu’r penwythnos yma, yn y Cotswolds i lunio ei strategaeth ôl-Brexit, ac y bydd Joe Kaesar, prif weithredwr Siemens yno? Mae wedi dweud bod Siemens wedi ymrwymo'n llawn i'r DU, beth bynnag fydd yn digwydd. Mae'n dweud,
Rydym ni yma ar gyfer yr hirdymor...gan fod y DU yn lle da i gyflawni busnes.
Mae hefyd yn dweud ei fod wedi galw am i synnwyr cyffredin gario'r dydd o ran tariffau. Dyna fyrdwn yr ydym ni’n ei glywed bob dydd gan ffederasiwn diwydiant yr Almaen. A wnaiff ef ymuno â mi i groesawu'r ffaith ei bod yn ymddangos bod prosiect ofn wedi newid yn brosiect gobaith erbyn hyn?
I saw the report, but, in common with a number of businesses that I’ve met over the course of the past week and beyond, access to the single market is now crucial for them. They are reassured that the position is stabilising within the UK, as they see it, but the next big question for them will be: will there be free access to the single market without tariffs?
I wholly agree with the First Minister on that. Free trade is obviously very sensible for both sides, because we have a massive trade deficit with Germany and it’s very much in their interests that there should be free trade within the EU. Trade is mutually beneficial to both sides, whether you have a surplus or a deficit. But in a spirit of constructive co-operation, will the First Minister agree with me that we need, in Wales, to beef up our relationship with Germany and to put more resource into our connections through the German industry federation, the German Länder and with the federal Government to encourage further trade with Germany and also to take advantage of the political clout that Germany is clearly going to have in the EU in the years to come? A German commitment to free trade in the EU is the best way that we can get what we both want.
The leader of UKIP seems to be saying that, with the UK out of the EU, we need to get Germany to do the work for us in the EU, which is a curious scenario, may I say? The only model that exists that offers free access to the single market is the European economic area model. There is no other model. That has with it, of course, connotations in terms of the free movement of people, but there’s nothing else on the table at the moment. For me, access to the single market is an absolute red line as far as Wales is concerned. He asked a question about our relationship with Germany. Germany is a major investor in the Welsh economy, we have good relationships with German commercial organisations, and one of the issues that I am examining now is how we beef up our offices overseas, whether we should look to increase staffing in the existing offices, or whether we should open new offices. It’s a difficult balance to strike. We have had work done by the Public Policy Institute for Wales on that and we’ve listened to Ireland. They have a similar dilemma to us because of their limited resources and their size as well. But we will look to increase the Welsh presence now, as we have done over the past few years, in markets that are important to us.
Well, I welcome that response. But turning to a different matter, after today, the First Minister will be unique in the United Kingdom, because we will have a woman Prime Minister in the UK, and we have a woman First Minister in Scotland and a woman First Minister in Northern Ireland. Does he look forward to the day when he can make way for a woman to replace him in this Assembly?
What I can say to the leader of UKIP is that ‘The Guardian’—I’m not sure that’s a paper that he reads often—a few days ago said that it would be the case that women would now be heads of Government across the UK. I have to say that that was corrected by ‘The Guardian’, saving me, hopefully, from radical surgery. [Laughter.]
Diolch, Lywydd. I very much look forward to the day when Wales is presided over by a woman First Minister. First Minister, tomorrow there will be a new Prime Minister, who says she intends to implement the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. Now, Plaid Cymru’s view is that the next Prime Minister must implement the pledges that were made to people in Wales by the ‘leave’ campaign, even if she comes from the other side of the debate. We want to see an official Welsh negotiating position to be agreed by this Assembly and on her desk as soon as is possible. First Minister, when I asked you last week, you failed to commit to publishing a formal position or to having it debated and formally approved by this Assembly. Whilst I would accept that the new Prime Minister is coming into office much sooner than expected, can you confirm that you will aim to come to an agreed official negotiating position and that you will press the new Prime Minister for Wales to have a direct role in negotiations as was offered by David Cameron?
Yes, I can. I expect that promise to be honoured. We will of course have a twin-track approach. We’ll have our own negotiating team based in Brussels to see what we can achieve via that route as well. It’s complementary to the UK route. There are two issues that are red lines for us: firstly, free access to the single market—that cannot be compromised on—and, secondly, that every penny that has been lost through European funding should be made up by the UK Government in accordance with that promise given, not, it’s right to say, by the future Prime Minister, but by many in her party.
Thank you, First Minister. You’ll recall last week, when we discussed this, that I suggested that you needed to have a word with your Westminster Members of Parliament, and that you needed to tell them to get a grip and get on with their jobs. Last night the amendments to the Wales Bill were again debated in the House of Commons, and your MPs—the ones, at least, who turned up—abstained again on Welsh Government policy, this time in relation to the devolution of policing. They did exactly the same last week, abstaining on Welsh Labour Government policy to create a legal jurisdiction. How come your Labour MPs have no problem supporting policing powers for greater Manchester but can’t bring themselves to support the devolution of policing to Wales? Why are your MPs letting the Tories off the hook in this way, and how can you defend their behaviour, First Minister?
Well, it’s a matter of timing rather than principle, but our position is very, very clear. The situation that we will face in years to come is that there may be very different sets of criminal law in Wales compared to England. It will be possible, for example, for somebody to be arrested in Wales for an offence that’s not an offence in Wales but is an offence in England. It will be possible for somebody to serve a sentence for a crime committed in Wales that isn’t a crime in England, potentially. That’s nonsensical as far as the jurisdiction is concerned. It is also not sustainable to be in a situation where it would be a matter for the people of Wales to decide what offences they wish to create, but to have no say at all on how those offences are policed and enforced, and that remains the position of this Government.
That’s not an issue of timing, First Minister. There is an issue of principle here.
Okay, so, the Wales Bill is a matter that may not be of overriding priority for your MPs, but the future of the steel industry is critical. Wales without a steel industry is not a Wales that I am prepared to contemplate. The suspension of Tata Steel’s sale process is of significant concern. Now, the proposed joint venture could lead to cost-cutting measures and a reduction in UK steel capacity. That’s according to the analysis by the investment bank, Jefferies. If that merger proceeds we need a cast-iron guarantee that there is a future for steel making in Port Talbot and the other Welsh sites. How will you secure such a guarantee? And can you explain why there’s no statement on this week’s agenda on the suspension of the sales process? Will you also confirm that you’ll continue to provide support to the employment and management buy-out bid, and that you’ll press on Tata the importance of retaining the secondment arrangement for senior managers to work on that bid?
Well, two things: the Secretary is meeting with the management buy-out team today and, of course, he has an urgent question that we were content to accept, of course, in relation to the events of the weekend. I did have a senior official on Friday—[Interruption.] I had a senior official on Friday based in Mumbai who has reported back to me. The issue now for Tata is this: we have put a financial package on the table. We expect there to be a quid pro quo, and that does mean that we need to see conditions in terms of guarantees of future jobs and guarantees in terms of a commitment for a specified period of time, for several years. We do, however, need to see further progress on the pensions issue, over which we have no control, and indeed the issue of energy prices. So, we have a package on the table that we believe Tata would be content with. We need to make sure that we can demonstrate to the people of Wales that that package will achieve what they would expect, but we do need to see progress now, particularly on the pensions issue.
The Development of Football in Wales
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the development of football in Wales? OAQ(5)0102(FM)
The outstanding performance by our national team in Euro 2016 has presented a great opportunity for us to represent Wales abroad. I know that the Football Association of Wales Trust is already planning to use that success as a catalyst to grow the game further across the country.
Thank you, First Minister. I’m also very pleased with how the Welsh team did in the European championships, and I am sure that I’m not the only one who spent Sunday night thinking, ‘It could have been us’, especially when a former Swansea City player won the tournament for Portugal. In order to continue to develop football, there is a need for improved pitches. I would like to ask the First Minister how it is intended to increase the number of 3G and 4G pitches in Wales, thus reducing the number of games lost to bad weather throughout the winter.
I know that Sport Wales are working with the governing bodies of various sports, such as the Welsh Rugby Union, Hockey Wales and the FAW, to develop an investment programme for 3G pitches. I know as well that they’re developing a blueprint for sport and recreation facilities in Wales to support our drive to facilitate regular participation in sport and physical activity, and to make sure that we have facilities that are appropriate and sustainable in the future.
Do you not think that there’s a contradiction between seeking to increase the number of 4G pitches, and yet, just a mile down the road, there is an all-weather pitch that is locked up? Children are unable to play there because it’s too expensive. Also in this city, in the south of this city, in a very challenged ward such as Splott, the STAR leisure centre is being closed by your Labour council here in the city. So, there is a hall that children use, where they learn to play football. Do you not see the contradiction between what is being said here about increasing facilities, and yet the reality on the ground is that your Labour councils are actually cutting them?
Well, I think the same is true—. I am told by my colleague, the Member for Llanelli, that Carmarthenshire is in the same position—run by his party, of course. The reality is that councils are in difficult positions financially, but they must ensure that they don’t price communities out of facilities in those communities. The Member makes a fair point, actually, which is that we need to make sure that, where facilities are developed, they do not become so expensive that people can’t use them. Where there is a danger of doing that, we would urge all those involved to think again in order to make sure that facilities are accessible.
First Minister, I’d like to join with you in saying what wonderful news it was last week. Not only did our Welsh team do as well as they did, but they actually managed to turn someone like me, for whom, I can honestly say, football was of absolutely zero interest, into a passionate supporter. I could probably even talk about the offside rule if I tried hard enough. But I was very proud of them, and I was also incredibly proud of our fans and the way our fans behaved. Also, our footballers came across as real, decent, grounded human beings, and a real example to our young people. So, I come to the heart of my question, which is: will you have discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Education to talk about how we can up the hours and minutes that young people in primary school spend in sport? It’s actually been cut consistently, year on year. If we want to identify not just our football stars of the future, but also our sporting stars of the future, we need to start early, get them early, get them healthy and get them really used to the whole sports agenda. Instead, at the moment in primary schools that is becoming a dwindling time, and very difficult for rural children, especially those with no access to public transport, to access after school as well.
These are the issues that we’d love to explore with sports governing bodies. The Member has refreshing candour when she says she had no interest in football until now. [Interruption.] Well, converts are always welcome, of course. It’s difficult to underestimate the publicity that this has given our nation. I was in Paris on the night of the semi-final. I was in Mametz the following day. Around me, all I could hear was people saying ‘Pays de Galles’. That kind of publicity is very difficult for us to replicate. We have to build on that, and we’re working with Visit Wales in order for that to happen.
She’s absolutely right to say as well that the team have been role models as far as young people are concerned. They will see that it is possible to be hugely successful in football—and, indeed, in any other professional sport—without carrying emotional baggage, if I can put it that way, as we have seen in years gone by. We are fortunate in Wales in that we haven’t lost many school playing fields, as has been the case elsewhere over many years, and we will look to work now with Sport Wales and the governing bodies in order to deliver as many accessible facilities of the highest standard that we can across Wales.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's approach to increasing opportunities for adult education in Wales? OAQ(5)0113(FM)
We have a range of programmes aimed at increasing employability, improving skills, and supporting people of all ages and abilities to enter and progress into employment, and, of course, they play a fundamental role in reducing inequalities and tackling poverty.
Adult education can play a vital role in breaking the poverty cycle. That was the message from the Inspire! adult learners awards last month, at which I presented the life career change award. The new £22 million Coleg y Cymoedd building in Aberdare will provide an aspirational setting for adult education, but the challenge is also to ensure suitable provision of good-quality courses for learners. How is the Welsh Government working with providers to achieve this?
Well, the Member is right to say that the new campus will be a superb facility for the people of Aberdare and the surrounding area. We are in regular contact with the post-16 sector with regard to the planning of provision; that includes the planning of part-time and adult community provision delivered by the FE sector. Delivery plans are also collected and scrutinised by officials to ensure a suitable range of provision is offered within the budget available, and, of course, FE institutions are subject to Estyn inspections.
There is serious concern amongst adults learning Welsh throughout the country because of the new system, which has led to a loss of jobs amongst local tutors. Already, a significant number of experienced staff have been made redundant in Swansea, and a further number are facing job losses in north-east Wales and in Ceredigion. There is great uncertainty in the field after the Government failed to commit to funding the Welsh for adults course for next year, and, as you know, the budget for Welsh for adults has already been cut by £3 million. If cuts on this scale are going to continue, don’t you believe that that will work against your Government’s ambition to increase the number of speakers to 1 million?
It’s been difficult over the past financial year; that’s quite true. But we’ve also ensured that new centres have been opened across Wales—from Pontardawe to Llanelli to the capital city—in order to ensure that there are places where people can go and use the Welsh language, particularly in those areas where the language is no longer the language of the high street or generally used. Now, I know that places such as Y Lle, in Llanelli, have been very successful in ensuring that people can learn Welsh, but also use Welsh, so that they don’t lose the language once they have learnt it.
First Minister, there are a number of adults across Wales who want to learn Welsh,
fel y mae Siân Gwenllian wedi’i ddweud, gan gynnwys llawer o bobl yn fy etholaeth i, ac mae cymorth ariannol er mwyn eu galluogi i ddysgu'r iaith yn hynod o bwysig. Rwy’n meddwl tybed pa gymorth ariannol penodol yr ydych chi'n mynd i’w roi ar gael dros y blynyddoedd nesaf i gefnogi a meithrin yr iaith, yn enwedig mewn cymunedau fel fy un i, lle y ceir iaith fyw, ond mae angen dod â bywyd newydd iddi, yn enwedig i bobl sy'n symud i mewn i'r ardal o'r tu allan i’r cymunedau Cymraeg eu hiaith traddodiadol hynny.
That’s true. We have invested heavily, of course, in ensuring that the language is used widely in schools. We know that there are good examples like Gwynedd, like Ceredigion, where there are centres that enable children to be—the word in Welsh is ‘trochi’; it doesn’t quite work in English, because it means to get dirty in English, if you translate it literally. [Interruption.] ‘Immersed’; that’s a better word—for them to be immersed in the language. And they work very, very well. We find then, of course, that children are able to influence their parents and help their parents to learn Welsh, as they themselves learn Welsh so easily.
The Twenty-first Century Schools Programme
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the 21st Century Schools programme? OAQ(5)0107(FM)
Yes, with pleasure. Our twenty-first century schools programme will see investment of £1.4 billion over the five-year period to 2019. All 22 authorities will benefit from this investment, which sees the rebuild and refurbishment of over 150 schools and colleges across Wales. To date, 105 projects have been approved within the programme.
Thank you, First Minister. You’ll be aware that, for some, when mention of a new school is taken forward, there can be concerns, especially when children and parents are very happy with the school that they’re actually attending. Now, under section 5.4 of the Welsh Government’s statutory school organisation code, local authorities are obliged to consider all objections submitted conscientiously, and not to make decisions on amalgamation proposals with a closed mind to the stakeholders concerned. However, in Conwy recently, two recent amalgamation proposals affecting five of our primary schools are being taken forward by the council despite many objections. Many parents, teachers, governors and even the teachers unions are angry, frustrated and disappointed and consider the statutory consultation to be meaningless, particularly when relevant cabinet decision minutes recently were published before the meeting had even taken place—a fait accompli. In order to address the concerns raised, will you work with the new Cabinet Secretary for Education, obviously in the new school term, to look again at how the concerns and views of those most affected are considered within the twenty-first century schools decisions, so that these voices are heard and acted on appropriately?
The Member criticises Conwy council and the way they have conducted themselves. I know there have been concerns in Conwy, particularly with regard to a number of schools—I think in the Caerhun area and also I believe in Llandudno Junction. In terms of Llandudno Junction, my understanding is that there has been a re-consultation, which is open at the moment and will be until 27 July. With Caerhun, I understand that has already been approved. But it is correct to say that, where we set in place standards that we expect to be observed when school closures and mergers are proposed, we expect the process to be observed. There are legal pitfalls for local authorities unless they can demonstrate, of course, that they have followed the correct procedure, and we would expect all local authorities in Wales to do that.
First Minister, as well as building new schools, it’s also important that we continue to build new colleges for further education. Coleg Gwent have ambitious and important plans to relocate their Newport campus to the riverfront alongside the University of South Wales campus and, indeed, further buildings around and about. Would you agree with me that we must continue to improve our further education colleges in that way and support energy and ideas to bring about improvements to further education, and particularly, perhaps, strong links with higher education?
Yes, I do. I know that there may be proposals coming forward with regard to the Newport campus, but it’s entirely right to say that we should make sure that there is no hard and fast boundary between FE and HE for the student. I know that there are very many students who go on to complete degree courses who begin in an FE setting because that’s appropriate for them. They don’t perhaps have the confidence to go straight into HE and need to be encouraged to do so, and then of course they become successful over time. So, greater working between HE and FE is hugely important in order to create that seamless pathway for the student.
In light of the duties now on the public sector, given the introduction of the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015, shouldn’t there be a requirement on all buildings erected using public funding, and, in this case, twenty-first century schools, to be using all possible opportunities in terms of renewable energies?
Yes, I believe that’s right. We’ve seen a number of examples of that, where buildings are ‘excellent’ in the BREEAM category. We’ve seen water being collected from the roofs being used in the school itself. So, we would expect local authorities to consider the good examples that I’ve seen across Wales in order to do the same themselves.
General Practitioner Recruitment in Powys
6. Will the Welsh Government make a statement on GP recruitment in Powys? OAQ(5)0114(FM)
Yes. We will shortly be bringing forward proposals for a national and international campaign to market Wales and NHS Wales as an attractive place to work. That will include work to recruit, train and retain GPs and primary care professionals and to address the issues faced in Powys and across Wales.
I thank you for that statement, First Minister, but on Friday I attended a public health meeting in Ystradgynlais and one of the big challenges that they were facing was GP recruitment, particularly in the Coelbren surgery. I welcome what you have just said in terms of your plans to train and recruit more GPs. I look forward, First Minister, to receiving an update on how those plans are going to produce more GPs into the areas, particularly in rural Wales, where they are currently finding this to be a huge challenge.
Yes, we put in additional investment of over £40 million last year in primary care and £4.5 million of that funding was targeted at workforce diversification, including the creation of 300 posts in a range of primary care roles. The Member mentions Coelbren particularly; it’s part of the Dulais Valley general practice in Seven Sisters. There have been recruitment problems, and the result of that has been that the number of GP sessions in Coelbren have been reduced. I know the practice is going through a sustainability support process with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board, because, even though it’s physically within the Powys Teaching Local Health Board, its area of operation is in ABMU, and the two health boards are working closely to agree a longer-term solution to ensure the ongoing provision of high-quality services.
First Minister, I’m grateful to Joyce Watson for raising this question; it’s a particular issue in my constituency, with many GPs reaching retirement age and struggling to recruit. Many surgeries, in that instance, are having to reconfigure how they operate. What GPs are saying to me is that there is the potential for the devaluation of their premises if their practices cease to operate, which is a barrier for recruiting GPs, especially in rural Wales. Could I ask if you are aware of that issue? What steps is the Welsh Government taking to offer more protection and security to GPs to incentivise them, especially to recruit them to rural Wales?
Well, if GPs wish to be seen as contractors and independent businesses, there is a risk involved in terms of the potential devaluation of buildings. But, I don’t see why that should be the case necessarily. It is the case increasingly that many of those who wish to enter general practice don’t want to buy into a practice—they wish to be salaried GPs. It’s a trend that I’m sure many of us have seen across Wales. That is something that we and, indeed, the profession, will need to accommodate.
In terms of Powys as a whole, I can say that there have been six new GP partners in Powys and 11 new salaried GPs who have commenced their work during the course of 2015-16.
The Rural Development Plan
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of the rural development plan? OAQ(5)0117(FM)[W]
We know, of course, that this supports rural communities and the economy with a combination of Welsh Government and EU funding. Given the lack of assurances from the UK Government to date over replacing EU funding and programme continuity, I cannot predict its long-term future.
Well, thanks for that response. It was very interesting, if I may say so, because your skills Minister, in response to a question from me following a statement last week, made it clear that she is continuing to plan programmes on the basis that the funding will come to Wales. If it doesn’t come from the EU, then she’s expecting it to come, according to the pledges made, from the UK Government. But, the following day, the Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs announced that programmes such as Glastir, post 2018, were to be deferred because of uncertainty. That suggests to me that you don’t have much of a strategy as a Government in terms of how you’re responding to the decision following the referendum. Can you tell us if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing?
We know what we’re doing. We are going to continue with the capital schemes, for instance, in order to progress with those. But as regards the revenue programmes and schemes, it’s a much more complicated pictures But it’s quite evident that, if we see a cut of £600 million in the Assembly’s budget year on year over the ensuing years, there will be a very negative impact on some of the projects that we have.
First Minister, I appreciate that you have met with representatives of the agricultural industry last week to discuss concerns following the result of the referendum on the European Union and I support your calls for farming support payments and funding for rural communities to be safeguarded for the future. Now, bearing in mind that the European Union will still be a major trading partner for our farmers for the future, can you tell us what discussions your Government has had to date with the UK Government, and also with the EU Commissioner, to ensure that plans such as the rural development programme can continue?
Well, there is no guarantee at all. We know that the Commission cannot play its part as regards European funding at present. There is no assurance from the UK Government, so there is no certainty at all for the people of Wales. It’s important that we get this assurance as soon as possible in order to give our farmers some assurance. For example, we know that £260 million will be coming into Wales as regards payments to farmers, but at the moment there is no money left after we leave the European Union. So, assurance for farmers is crucially important.
On the same theme as the last two questions, I note that, within my own constituency and the constituency of the First Minister, we’ve just had the announcement as part of rural development of grants of up to £100,000 for individual regeneration schemes. It often surprises people that in a constituency like mine in Ogmore, a former mining and heavy industry constituency, that all but two of the wards in my constituency are rural. We have 40 per cent of upland hill farming, so we have pillar 1 and pillar 2 funding as well. But that pillar 2 funding has been crucial for rural regeneration, controversial as it is—the allocations. So, could I ask him, in his discussions with the UK Government, is he stressing to them the importance of making good any shortfall in the immediacy of programmes that are already committed to, but also in the longer term? Because we need to make sure that we have that backfill shortfall filled by the UK Government in order that we can keep those schemes progressing for many years to come. It’s critical for the regeneration of my communities and his.
We have made that point. The issue for us is this: in future, agricultural policy will be wholly autonomous and wholly devolved. We’re not going to brook interference from Westminster in that regard. It’s a matter entirely for the people of Wales, the people of Scotland and indeed England to decide what sort of agricultural policy should be pursued. The difficulty is, of course, the money. How will the money be distributed? We need to make sure that there is a guarantee from the UK Government that Wales will secure at least its current share of funding. My great fear is that there will be an attempt to Barnettise funding for agriculture, which means a substantial reduction in funding for Welsh agriculture. The sooner that Welsh farmers get the certainty from the UK Government that they need, the better.
Improving the Infrastructure in South-east Wales
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's policies for improving the infrastructure in south east Wales? OAQ(5)0108(FM)
The national transport finance plan, published in July of last year, sets out our investment for transport and infrastructure and services for 2015-20 across all of Wales.
Thank you, First Minister. A solution to the M4 Brynglas tunnels congestion is a key priority for the Welsh Government and indeed for this Assembly as a whole. I’m sure that Professor Stuart Cole will be sleeping a little easier knowing that his M4 blue route is now part of the mix to be considered by the public inquiry announced recently. You’ll be aware that Roadchef at Magor services have concerns about the effect of the black route on their businesses, as does the port of Newport, which may be bisected by at least one of the routes under consideration by the public inquiry. How have the concerns of important local businesses such as these that I’ve mentioned been taken into account, and how are they being taken into account by the public inquiry?
Well, I would expect the inquiry to take full account of the views of all those who express a view to the inquiry. We took a conscious decision to make sure that all the possibilities were examined by the inquiry in order that the public could see all the evidence and so that people would understand that we wanted to make sure that all the options were properly examined. The Member knows that I have stood here and said the blue route is hugely problematic in terms of its effect on so many people, but let’s see what the public local inquiry actually says and see what recommendations are made from there.
The key to ensuring success in the capital region is to pursue a multi-hub approach to infrastructure and economic development. Whilst the city deal and the city region model look to build on Cardiff’s international brand, we must recognise the role of other population centres as well. Does the First Minister agree with me that, in moving forward, the distinct status of Newport as a regional capital in its own right, the capital of the former county of Gwent, should be upheld and does he agree that this distinct status for Newport should be enshrined in the capital region’s planning and should be promoted at every opportunity?
I don’t agree with him on that. I think all the local authorities have an equal voice in terms of the development of the city region. Identity is important, I understand that, but the reality is that the economic region pays no heed at all to political boundaries. Newport is obviously an important city. It’s our third biggest city. Together with Cardiff and indeed the valley areas to the north, they will all play an important role in developing the whole of the city region for the good of all those who live in it.
I welcome the new allocation of money in the Welsh Government’s supplementary budget to the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal and would like to ask the First Minister whether this fits into any wider economic development strategy for integrating our waterways into the infrastructure of south-east Wales.
With waterways, I think it’s more a case of their potential for tourism. The waterways were fragmented many, many decades ago. The Glamorgan canal—it goes underneath the main railway line east of Cardiff but it isn’t connected to the rest of its former network. What’s important is that we have the potential for tourism through our canals, and in that way, of course, they can act as economic drivers, and we’ll continue to work with the stakeholders involved to make sure that that potential is realised.
Council Tax Collection Rates
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on council tax collection rates in Wales? OAQ(5)0110(FM)
Yes. In 2015-16, billing authorities collected 97.2 per cent of council tax billed.
Thank you very much for the reply, Minister. Figures released by your Government reveal that Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Torfaen councils have the worst council tax collection rates in Wales. The citizens advice bureau has labelled council tax as Wales’s biggest debt problem—6,000 people are now struggling to pay their bills. Will the First Minister explain to those families in Wales’s poorest areas why he decided not to use the funds provided by the UK Government to freeze council tax in Wales to the purpose for which they were actually intended?
Well, devolution means it’s not for a purpose intended, for a start; it’s a matter for the Assembly to decide how it spends its money. Nevertheless, the majority of authorities in England turned down the council tax freeze grant this year and they chose to increase council tax instead. Despite that fact, council tax in Wales is lower on average than it is in England, and, indeed, he will remember, because he was in the Chamber when council tax benefits were devolved, only 90 per cent of the budget followed. I did not see him advocating strongly at that time that Wales should receive its full share of money in order to deal with council tax benefits.
Surely, the fact that the highest percentage of people who don’t pay the tax live in our poorest areas reflects the fact that this tax is fundamentally unfair. The burden weighs most heavily on those people who are least able to pay. So, isn’t it now time for us to reform this tax so that it is fairer, as Plaid Cymru argued, of course, during the election campaign back in May?
We are always open to consider new methods of funding local authorities and people are talking about a local income tax, but that would have to be collected locally so that the tax didn’t go to where people work rather than where they live. It’s true to say—well, this is not universally true, of course—the higher the price of the house, the greater the income of the resident. That is not always true, I understand that, but the system that we have at present is one that works because it’s a tax that has been applied to a house. But, of course, in the years to come, there’s always an argument about whether there might be a more effective method of funding local authorities.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
I have accepted an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66. I call on David Rees to ask the urgent question.
Will the Minister provide details of discussions the Welsh Government has had with Tata Steel and the UK Government following the announcement of Tata's intentions to suspend the sales process of its UK steel making operations? EAQ(5)0036(EI)
Yes. Can I thank the Member for his question?We are continuing our extensive dialogue with Tata and are continuing to press the UK Government on a number of points including appropriate relief from high-energy costs, which is more critical than ever to ensure our industries are competitive, as well as the need for a solution on pensions.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that answer and for his assurances that the Welsh Government is actually continuing its pursuance of the various aspects? However, as we all know, the steel industry has been in a challenging situation for many years. In fact, this year, in January, Tata steel announced 1,000 job losses; in March, it announced the possible sales of its UK operations. My constituents—my steelworkers, their families—have all had to suffer a hellish period of time, whilst we’re waiting for some certainty from Tata Steel. That certainty, last Friday, was thrown away because of that announcement last Friday that they will suspend the sale process and now go to a joint venture with a company that, apparently, according to analysts, they’ve been having discussions with for over a year on its Dutch operations, and they’re saying, themselves—Thyssenkrupp are actually saying—that we need to consolidate steel making in Europe, puts the fear of—excuse the term—God into people’s lives and they are worried about their future; they’re worried about the town’s future. We’ve had uncertainty hanging over us; we want certainty—we haven’t got it.
Will the Welsh Government now clearly immediately engage with the new Prime Minister to get that Prime Minister to actually agree (a) the pension scheme has to be reinitiated because after Brexit it seemed to be put on hold—it’s disappeared from the scene; we need the energy prices, as you identified already; we need to start looking at, perhaps, innovative ways—I know the party opposite mentioned that we could have perhaps joint ventures with the UK Government and private partners, because if Tata aren’t going to do something, we need to do it. I’m concerned because Koushik Chatterjee, who is the group executive director and Tata Steel’s district director for Europe, has actually stated that the global steel industry is vulnerable and he cannot give guarantees of job security in Port Talbot. He can’t even have guarantees of jobs in Port Talbot staying there, full stop. That, again, puts, in my view, a position that perhaps Tata are looking at an out. We want to know their actual environmental liabilities and their responsibilities according to those. I know that the Welsh Government has been pursuing the environment and protection scheme. What are the implications of Brexit on that? That needs to be clarified.
The blast furnaces. It’s all talk about the blast furnaces. We need those blast furnaces. One thing I want the Welsh Government to do is to look at every possible option to keep those blast furnaces lit and operational to ensure that we can continue to make steel in Wales and not simply recycle steel through our furnaces.
Perhaps you want to look at innovation as well, encourage businesses that come in through innovation. It has been mentioned many times, the innovation hub in Swansea. Let’s get on with it, and let’s, perhaps, put that on the table.
Yes, I know. You’ve asked several already. If you can come to your final one.
I appreciate it, Llywydd, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate that the constituency is dominated—
I’ll have your final question. And I understand the importance of the question.
Final question, then. The trade unions have actually expressed to me their views. They phoned me today. They don’t want the sale process stopped. Will you negotiate with Tata and the UK Government to get the sale process back on line, if nothing else, in parallel with the other considerations they’re having?
First of all, can I thank the Member for his continued passionate defence of the Welsh steel industry? I fully recognise the anxiety and uncertainty that many, many families are going through. I, myself, grew up in a family that relied on steel for employment back in the 1980s. I know full well how much anxiety and uncertainty and distress it can cause when you don’t know whether you’re going to have a job next week, next month or next year.
First of all, we continue to work closely with the UK Government to ensure that there is a sustainable future for steel in Wales, but I can offer this assurance: there has been no announcement by Tata over a suspension of the steel sale process. That is ongoing in parallel already with the joint venture considerations. That’s one of the reasons why (a) I am meeting with one of the parties this afternoon and (b) why we need to ensure the UK Government remains committed to supporting a possible sale by another party.
Now, it’s my firm belief that, tomorrow, we will have a new Prime Minister in Britain. My message, or our Government’s message, to Theresa May would be simply: show your mettle in a way that Margaret Thatcher never did by supporting British streel. You can do that immediately, Prime Minister. You can do that immediately by resolving the crisis concerning energy costs that is affecting not just the steel industry but many other manufacturing sectors as well.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of the Cabinet Secretary, but I’m afraid that answer didn’t give the clarity that the Member for Aberavon was looking for and, even more importantly, as he would also agree, the clarity that steelworkers and their families are looking for. We’ve had a situation now where the chief financial officer of Tata Steel last night refused to give a guarantee over the future of Port Talbot. The chief executive officer of their prospective partner, Thyssenkrupp, has been quoted to saying that this a great opportunity to take capacity out of the steel industry. What’s driving this? What’s the motivation here? Take out capacity: that means a loss of jobs. Where is that axe going to fall? It’s not going to fall in Duisburg in Germany. It’s not going to fall in IJmuiden in Netherlands. It’s going to fall in Port Talbot and across the other Welsh and British sites.
So, I want an unequivocal statement from the Minister that, actually, far from being this salvation of the Welsh steel industry, this merger could be the means to its demise. As it currently stands, we must oppose this merger. The First Minister earlier talked about conditions. The only guarantee that is worth anything is if the equity stake that the UK and Welsh Government have talked about taking in Port Talbot has to be a golden share, where there is a veto on any future decision of the job losses in the Welsh and the UK steel industries. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree?
Finally, he has just announced to us that, actually—this is certainly breaking news—the sale process is not suspended. Well, if that is the case, is the financial support that the Welsh Government—and we supported on these benches—has given to the employee and management buy-out bid, which is, I think, a very, very strong and plausible bid, and it may be the real reason why Tata is walking away from the sale process, because they don’t want a competitor—? The Welsh Government has been providing financial support to that team hitherto. Will that support now continue along with the sale process?
I’d like to thank the Member for his question, and I accept much of what he says, but I’m surprised that he hasn’t seen from the Tata Steel news release from last week, actually, that they state in there, categorically, that they are also looking at a joint venture, not that they are looking at it instead of a potential sale. Now, we’ve said that we will work with anybody that offers steel in Wales a sustainable future. So, it would be neglectful of us to do as the Member wishes, which is to say, ‘Do not have talks with Tata and TK over a joint venture; oppose it and only speak to one or two of the potential buyers.’ That would be neglectful. We need to talk, from the outset, with anybody who is interested and willing to give a Welsh steel making a sustainable future. To do otherwise would be neglectful.
Cabinet Secretary, a few weeks ago, I asked the First Minister whether the support package that Welsh Government had put forward, including the possible acquisition of a share—that package put together, of course, to encourage credible buyers for the Port Talbot works—would still be available to Tata were it not to sell. So, I’d like you to give a clear commitment today on what your position is on that now.
Has Tata asks Welsh Government for anything new by way of support since or immediately before the suggestion that it may change its mind about a sale in the near future? In particular, have you been asked for anything or encouraged to offer support if Tata’s future is to be predicated on some sort of joint venture with Thyssenkrupp? What commitment have you had from Tata about how long this change of heart might last? Is it just breathing space for Tata to improve its bottom line with a view to improving its chances of a joint venture, or is it something more stable and, at least, medium term? Because you’ll be aware, Cabinet Secretary, that there’s, shall we say, serious concern about the disingenuousness of Tata and its behaviour in the last few months, and an even deeper concern about the role, potentially, of Thyssenkrupp in this, bearing in mind their statement within the last six months that they would seek to close certainly the Port Talbot end of any operations they were involved in were they to take on Tata’s interests.
Can I thank Suzy Davies for her questioning and say that we have been clear throughout with Tata that any support offered would be conditional upon safeguarding of jobs and sustainable steel production here in Wales, not just for the short term, but for the longer term as well? That support is on the table, as I’ve said already. We are willing to work with anybody who is willing and determined to ensure that there is a long-term, sustainable future for steel in Wales. I have asked for, and it’s been accepted, an urgent meeting with Tata. I expect to meet with them very soon. Insofar as any alternative potential purchase is concerned, we, again, would work with anybody that can guarantee a sustainable future for the Welsh steel industry.
I’m sure that the Minister will join me in congratulating the Member for Aberavon on the eloquent, passionate and, indeed, moving defence of his constituents’ interests today. I certainly was very moved by what he had to say, but I’m afraid that the certainty that he seeks is simply not available. Mr Chatterjee, who is Tata Steel’s executive director for Europe, has made it perfectly clear that the fundamental problem here is volatility in the market, which is largely produced as a result of overcapacity in China. Unfortunately, the Welsh Government is paralysed by a lack of political will on the one hand, and legal constraints, whilst we remain members of the European Union, from doing anything practical to resolve the uncertainties that exist. But what we need to do—I hope he will agree with me in this respect—is to recover our ability to negotiate trade deals on behalf of this country in itself and also to use the powers that the World Trade Organization gives to its members to impose anti-dumping duties of sufficient gravity to prevent the undercutting of the prices of steel that is made in Britain. We do have a certain amount of latitude on energy prices, but, of course, the crazy energy price regime imposed by the last Labour Government, under the Climate Change Act 2008, makes it very difficult for us to do that. So, why doesn’t the Cabinet Secretary come clean here and tell us that there is nothing he’s actually willing to do that is of any practical use to Mr Rees’s constituents in Aberavon?
I found the Member’s contribution pretty appalling. At a time when we should be dropping the political opportunism, and ensuring that there is a long-term solution for Welsh steel, the Member always goes back to the default position of either blame everything on Europe or embrace the idea that the free market can solve everybody’s worries. The fact of the matter is, in terms of duties, in 2016, provisional dumping duties were imposed on imports into the EU—this is before the vote—of cold-rolled sheet and coil from China and Russia and reinforcing bars from China, and these investigations continue. We will be outside of Europe soon and it’s going to make it more difficult to impose tariffs of the sort that we wish to impose, by the whole of Europe, on China.
And insofar as offering that reassurance and hope to the constituents of David Rees is concerned, this Government has done everything within its power, and will continue to do so, to ensure that there is a safe, sustainable future for his constituents, and for the steel industry right across this country—in the north, south and all over Wales. It’s simply unacceptable for the Member to talk down the prospects of the steel industry in the way that he does, when the problem with energy prices can be resolved by the UK Government.
Minister, I share the scepticism about the medium-term interests of Tata. They’ve been playing a game of hokey cokey with us. They’ve been in and they’re out, and they’re in again. Given that Gerry Holtham has estimated that the contribution of Port Talbot to the Welsh economy is the equivalent of 6 per cent of gross value added, it’s important that Tata understands that this is not a cost-free option for either the Welsh economy or for them. And would he give us assurances that any future financial packages that they seek will be tied to future guarantees of investment, and that they’ve been made fully aware of the environmental and social costs that they will have to bear of any further game playing? I think it’s time we showed some steel.
Yes, I would agree with the Member. The support that’s on the table is conditional on a number of factors. The support contains environmental improvement programmes, and we are absolutely and utterly committed to ensuring that the environment is improved. In terms of the support that we’re offering, we would expect it to be, and that will be the case moving forward.
Cabinet Secretary, I heard what you said in response to Adam Price about the situation whereby the companies are currently still open to negotiating with Tata in relation to the buy-out. In another article online, it says that alternative and more sustainable solutions are being sought by Tata. Does this not then mean that they have decided that they are not compelled by the arguments being put forward by these companies that they are able to take the Port Talbot plant, and other plants in Wales, forward? We need to understand, if they are going to go back to the table to these alternatives, if they do not find success with Thyssenkrupp on a German level. If we do not get that guarantee, then we need to have an understanding as to where Tata go in the future. They have said to me that there is intent to make sure that Port Talbot jobs are retained, but that doesn’t give enough of a guarantee to me that that is their final intention. So, I would want to join with Members to make sure there is a formalised deal in place to make sure that those Welsh plants are retained and sustained for the future before any future financial backing is given by your Government to Tata.
And my other question was: in this climate whereby talks are continuing in a different way, how can you assure us that companies locally around Tata Steel are not going to suffer in this complex environment? I’ve heard, in the last week alone, that two companies have gone into liquidation, who work with Tata Steel. I’ve asked Tata for more information on this, because I can’t get hold of the companies in question at the moment, probably due to the fact that they have gone into liquidation. But, we can’t lose more jobs in the area at the moment, when jobs around Tata are so valuable to local people. So, I would want to hear what you have to say on that, as well as making sure that any talks with this new joint venture have formalised agreement from both you and the UK Government.
Can I thank the Member for her questions, and say that, with the alternative still on the table and under consideration, I wish to continue talking with some of those potential buyers? And that’s why I’ll be talking with one today, and why I wish to also speak urgently with Tata Steel themselves.
Backing, any backing, will be conditional on long-term job security, and, insofar as the supply chain is concerned, the Member is right to identify unease and uncertainty in the supply chain, and that’s why the business and supply chain has established a business and supply executive team, comprising of Industry Wales, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, Welsh Government and Business Wales, who are all contacting and, where appropriate, exploring assistance to supply chain companies. There’s no doubt that this is a very difficult time for many engaged in the supply chain. The team is continuing to contact companies and offer support, and the team is focused on those companies with the highest value orders with Tata, including also the work of the Tata Steel taskforce, which has been discussing the growing impact of the situation on the supply chain in general.
Secretary, as well as Port Talbot and other sites in Wales, workers at the Llanwern and Orb works are very anxious regarding their future livelihoods, and the futures of their families, given the ongoing anxiety and threat. You will know that top-quality products are produced in Newport, such as the steel for the car industry at the Zodiac plant at Llanwern, and the electrical steels at the Orb works. Will you agree with me that, when considering the future of Tata’s operations in Wales, those operations need to have their due place in the discussions, and that you will be considering all Tata Steel sites in Wales as part of an integrated approach, in taking part in discussions, and, indeed, in taking action?
Yes. And can I thank John Griffiths for his questions? The destiny of any one plant in Wales is conditional, if you like, on the destiny of the whole Welsh steel family. And it’s my belief that Welsh steel right now is in a strong position; it has a bright future, provided it continues to get the support of Welsh Government and UK Government. The investment that the Member talks of, I think, should apply not just to one site, but to many sites, all of which employ a highly skilled workforce and people who are extremely loyal to Tata, and, in return, Tata should be loyal to them.
Cabinet Secretary, one of the ways in which the Welsh Government could support and assist the company, as it pauses for thought over the sale of the business, is through business rate relief. In April, I believe the Welsh Government said then that it could not apply for a temporary rate relief because it was, effectively, hamstrung by European Union rules at the time. Now, following Brexit, clearly we’re in a different position. Can I ask what discussions that you’ve had—or your officials have had—with the UK Government, relevant bodies at EU level, and with Tata, to revisit the potential for rate relief?
The Member, Russell George, makes a valuable contribution, and I can say that we are actively evaluating a number of measures to support the steel sector with business rates, and we’re testing these against the current existing state aid law. But, of course, we take note of what happened in the EU referendum and we are also liaising, especially with the UK Government, on how business rates can be utilised to ensure that steel has a future.
The next item on the agenda is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt.
Diolch yn fawr. I’ve made several changes to this week’s business. The First Minister will make a statement, shortly, on our priorities for Government. This will be followed by a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children on the child practice review on the death of Dylan Seabridge. The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport will then make a statement on the new treatment fund. And, to allow time for these statements to be made, the statement on Wales’s compound semiconductor cluster will be issued as a written statement.
Turning to tomorrow, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure will make a statement on the Circuit of Wales, immediately after oral Assembly questions. Business for the first three weeks of the autumn term is as shown on the business statement and announcement, found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
I thank the business manager for her statement of business. I’m particularly grateful for the changes to business today to allow an oral statement on the death of Dylan Seabridge, one of my constituents, and an issue on which I raised an urgent question some time ago, asking for such a statement. I’m glad that we have the review and are able to look at it later on.
Can I ask the Minister to look at two recent events that I think deserve a response from the Welsh Government? The first is today’s publication by the Committee on Climate Change—a risk assessment evidence report on adaptation for climate change. It shows very clearly that the United Kingdom as a whole, but Wales in particular, risks considerable economic damage due to the fact that we have poor quality infrastructure. Professor Krebs, who is the chairman of the Adaptation Sub-Committee, and is well known, of course, to us in Wales states that Wales is one part of the country with a lot of poor housing stock, and we need to look at how we make those homes more resilient. On the other hand, he also says that the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 gives us a good framework to work on this. But, taken together, I wonder if we could have a statement from the Government about how the Government intends to respond to the Committee on Climate Change’s report as the Westminster Government is obliged to respond formally and to take it on board. I think it would be appropriate if the Welsh Government were to respond in a similar fashion to take it, if you like, as a statutory kind of report and to respond in those ways, and for that to be, perhaps, part of the work that the Government takes forward by means of statement, but then by means of committee work, as committees develop their work and their response in this Assembly.
The second issue I’d like a further statement from the Government on is the issue of overspend by two of our health boards—Hywel Dda Local Health Board and Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board: some £50 million now in the past financial year. We’ve had a statement of fact by the Cabinet Secretary. That’s fair enough, but I’d like a statement of what’s going to be done. If I can remind the Government of what was said in the Finance Committee at the time of review of the National Health Service Finance (Wales) Act 2014, which I remember being taken through this Assembly, when the then Minister, Mark Drakeford, said in response to questioning from the Finance Committee:
‘I am reluctant to open the Pandora’s box of unplanned surpluses and deficits. Planned surpluses and deficits are what this regime is about. It’s about agreeing with health boards when they need to overspend in year 1 to make sensible investment decisions that then release revenue in years 2 and 3 or, sometimes, underspend in year 1 because there’s a big project that they want to be able to take forward in year 2. Planned deficits, I think, are firmly within the sight of three-year plans. I wouldn’t want the idea to get around in the health service that you can rack up unplanned surpluses or deficits—’.
Well, that idea is certainly well around the health service, certainly in two of the health boards, which I understand are still not fit enough to be put on the three-year finance framework, which the NHS finance Act foresaw. Now, considering that that Act was fast-tracked through the Assembly, without Stage 1 scrutiny, it is very remiss of the Government if it hasn’t been able to deliver on the ambitions of that Act to ensure that all our health boards are now on three-year planning, and are delivering on that three-year planning, and are not overspending in the way that they are.
So, as well as that statement of fact that we’ve already had, can we have a more thorough statement and perhaps a debate by the Government on the issues of these two health boards, and why the NHS finance Act is not working to put NHS finance in Wales on a more sustainable footing?
Well, I thank Simon Thomas for his two questions on the business statement. I’m looking at the first question. The Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs will be very keen to respond to this all-important report that was published today on climate change. It’s welcome that they recognise the position of Wales in that report. Of course, she will be responding to that. Of course, in terms of the adaptation and the way we’ve responded, for example, to flooding, which was a key message from that report, she will be able to provide a full response on the ways in which we’re already meeting some of those recommendations. It is welcome that the well-being of future generations legislation is recognised in that report. So, she will issue a written statement at this stage, as we move into recess, and I’m sure it will become a matter for further consideration at committee and, in the future, in the autumn term Assembly.
On your point about the two health boards that you alluded to in terms of their cash situation, again, whether I can build on the factual points that the Minister for health, well-being and sport has made—. But, again, just to clarify: cash assistance of £23.9 million was provided to Hywel Dda UHB in 2015-16 to enable them to meet ongoing cash commitments such as payroll and payments to HMRC. It’s not additional funding. It will be repayable in the future. No additional cash assistance was provided to Betsi Cadwaladr in 2015-16. Of course, the Member will be aware that the overspend in the two health boards was managed by holding back on central Welsh Government expenditure so that the total Welsh Government health and social services budget was able to break even in 2015-16.
Leader of the house, I was going to ask you if it was possible to have an update on Welsh language standards, but I see that the relevant Minister has had the power of telepathy and beaten me to it. However, I have read his written statement that was issued at lunchtime today, and it does not contain a timetable for bringing forward the necessary secondary legislation. I think that, as Members, we do need some decent notice of this. I’m sure the Welsh Government realises that we need time to scrutinise these essential regulations to avoid the situation we found ourselves in, I think, just before the Easter recess of the last Assembly. I note that, in the Minister’s written statement, he hopes to bring those particular regulations back to the Assembly by the end of this year. Actually, I think we were expecting them before the end of this term. So, if a revised statement is possible, that would be very welcome. And, if such a revised statement would be forthcoming, perhaps it could include an explanation as to why those regulations weren’t before us before recess.
Well, of course, you have got the opportunity this afternoon, Suzy Davies, to question Alun Davies on his statement on Welsh language policy priorities.
I’m sure you will join me in congratulating Professor Maria Hinfelaar on being installed as the vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndŵr University last Thursday, and on their achieving above the UK average for full-time first degree leavers achieving graduate-level employment. If call for two statements—first, on educational provision for young adults with autistic spectrum conditions and learning difficulties. I learned at the weekend that colleges making provision for vocational pathways in education for these young students had received a letter from the Welsh Government stating that funding for courses would be reduced from three years to two, unlike the referrals they receive from England, which are still three years, and despite concern among such colleges that this will severely impact on the outcomes for the students concerned.
Secondly, and finally, I call for a statement on epilepsy. At lunchtime, I hosted an Epilepsy Aware event, celebrating the fact that the charity has been providing services for families and carers for 30 years. But we heard that, although potentially 70 per cent of people with epilepsy can have their seizures controlled with optimal treatment, advice and support, only 52 per cent currently have such control, with great costs, both human and financial; that over 40 per cent of deaths and 59 per cent of child deaths could be avoided with better management; that there are unequal opportunities in health, education, leisure and employment; that there is inequality of provision across Wales; and that there is a need for a public campaign on what to do if someone has a seizure, educating people on how simple actions can save lives. There is, as I know—or there has been in previous Assemblies—a Welsh Government epilepsy strategy. But these problems have been highlighted in 2016, and this community, I think, deserves a statement from the Welsh Government, accordingly.
Well, Mark Isherwood, you do raise two important points. The first one, of course, we will be—. The Minister has issued a written statement on the additional learning needs Bill and, of course, has incorporated as well how we are going to take forward and handle issues relating to the all-important issue of education and young adults with additional learning needs, and also in particular in relation to autism.
Now, on your second point, on epilepsy, of course, it is important, when we have events that Members attend, that we are updated on issues, but we have a strong, well-monitored epilepsy strategy, which of course the Minister for health, well-being and sport will be updating.
Business Minister, I would like to request a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs on the Welsh Government support for farmers under the Glastir agri-environment scheme. Now, over the past month, I’ve been alerted to a large number of businesses having received letters from Welsh Government demanding the repayment of thousands of pounds based upon accusations that they have failed to undertake work as part of the terms of their Glastir contracts. Now, I would say, even the very best-run businesses in the world—and I should say I do believe farmers are excellent business people—cannot operate to their full potential when the Government department responsible appears to want to attack, deride and fine businesses the maximum amount of money at every possible opportunity for making minor errors on highly complex forms. Errors are made when dealing with complex forms, as has been demonstrated perfectly by Welsh Government this year. Almost 90 per cent of appeals against Welsh Government mapping errors have been successful or partially successful. So, in other words, in these cases, the Welsh Government error rate was 90 per cent. So, I would be grateful if you could ask the Cabinet Secretary to bring forward a statement at the earliest opportunity on the Glastir scheme. I appreciate that next week we have the Royal Welsh Show, so this would be an opportunity to provide that statement, which will commit to supporting Welsh farm businesses by adopting a proportionate approach in which leniency is applied where minor errors are made, incorrectly.
I’m sure that Russell George will agree that all publicly funded schemes, such as Glastir, do require that rigorous monitoring before payment can be made.
We now move to the next item which is the statement by the First Minister around priorities for Government. I call on the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
Diolch, Lywydd. I had hoped to be here today with a freshly pressed copy of the programme for government in my hand. However, it is not yet the time to do so because the Brexit referendum result has changed things fundamentally. There are many questions about the future to which we simply do not have the answers. The impact of Brexit on our own budgets and programmes will be very considerable. Our partners in the higher education and the private and third sectors will be greatly affected as they map out their futures. We all await a serious indication of the UK Government negotiating position towards Brexit and, crucially, confirmation from the UK Government that Wales will not lose out as a result of our EU exit.
Nothing would further intensify that sense of dislocation between people and the Governments that are here to serve them than me making promises today that I know the Government may struggle to deliver. I am therefore delaying publication of our programme for government until September, by which time we hope we will have a firmer indication on which to base a realistic assessment of our financial situation.
Llywydd, so much has changed since the May elections to this Assembly. For many of us, it has felt at times as if we are living in a parallel universe. The decision to leave the European Union is momentous and, as I have said, the real-world implications of the vote are still very far from clear—financially, socially, and for Wales’s place in the world. As a Government, we are utterly determined to get the best deal possible for Wales from the process ahead. There is a huge amount of work already under way to set firm foundations for delivery over the next five years. I am proud of the way we have weathered austerity over recent years and sheltered as best we could the services that people really rely on from the worst of the financial storm that has engulfed us. But there are still choppy waters ahead for our finances.
There are already worrying economic signs stemming from the EU vote that could have a serious knock-on effect on the public finances, and despite the cast-iron pledges of ‘leave’ campaigners, we still have no guarantees from the UK Government that the £600 million or so a year we receive in EU funding will continue to flow to Wales after the UK’s exit takes place—and I must tell you very candidly that, without this assurance, we face a very large hole in our future budgets. So, I call on the UK Government once again today to give the guarantee we need on every penny of that funding, which would give us a far clearer picture of what we will have to deliver in terms of what the people of Wales voted for in May. It’s time to make those promises a reality.
Llywydd, since the vote last month, the Secretary for the economy and I have been working closely with Welsh business and inward investors to give them as much reassurance as we possibly can. We have been listening closely to their concerns. Our ask of them is clear: keep your nerve, keep investing, remember all the things that make Wales a great place to do business and keep talking to us. Despite the circumstances, we hear many positive messages, and we hope to be able to make some significant new announcements very soon. I want to send a similar positive message back today based on what we’ve heard from businesses in recent weeks.
We know that infrastructure is critical when it comes to investment decisions, and so, despite the uncertainty over the significant element of EU funding, I’m confirming today that we will be pressing ahead with the development of the metro project, which has such transformational potential. It may not be in exactly the same form as before. We will have to look at alternative funding models and it may take longer to get to where we want to be, but I believe this is an important signal to employers that Wales is still open for business, eager to progress and that our offer to investors will only improve. My colleague the economy Secretary will say more later on this.
So, yes, there is uncertainty, but we will continue to lead and we will refuse to be gloomy. Chris Coleman was a great example to us all when he talked about daring to dream and being unafraid of the future. There will be no stone left unturned by me and this Government—and this whole Chamber, I suspect—in our ambition to deliver for Wales.
I want to look forward to the rest of this Assembly and set out the positive measures we are determined to implement over the next five years. The people of Wales elected this Government to make real improvements in their lives and we will deliver on this. We were elected on an ambitious programme with very clear priorities: to deliver more and better jobs through a stronger, fairer economy; to improve and reform our public services; and to build a united, connected and sustainable Wales.
Wales in the twenty-first century is diverse and complex, but the expectations of people are simple: healthy lives, good education, good jobs, strong communities and infrastructure that meets our needs. As a small country, we have strengths and opportunities that many others do not have. We have the opportunity to build a strong team approach and join up our programmes to reinforce and build on what people and communities are doing for themselves.
The future generations Act is a call to arms. It cannot make our decisions for us, but it can help us to work together to build the Wales that we want. I am clear that we don’t drive improvement by publishing strategies. We drive improvement through action and through strong leadership. I will be working with my Ministers over the autumn to develop four cross-cutting policies that will set the framework for how we deliver our priorities: a secure and prosperous Wales; a healthy and active Wales; an ambitious and learning Wales; and a united and connected Wales. No single Minister can deliver on those priorities, and I am setting us and our partners the challenge of working together to find innovative ways to make a change in all of these areas for the people of Wales. We will be working throughout the autumn to consider how we can have the greatest impact and how we can wrap services around people at the times and places where they need them.
Llywydd, as part of our compact to move Wales forward with Plaid Cymru, we have already set out our immediate priorities for the first 100 days in office. Although the 100 days falls at the end of August, we have hit the ground running and work is well advanced. We are developing plans in all of those areas I spelled out in May and also for those areas of common ground with Plaid Cymru. The Minister for Skills and Science has already made a statement on the immediate changes to apprenticeships to meet our commitment for 100,000 all-age apprenticeships. These will ensure that opportunities are not restricted by age and are widely available.
We have made a statement on our legislative priorities, again focusing on those areas that enjoy broad support across this Chamber, and using legislation only when it is clearly the best way to bring about change. Discussions are progressing on the establishment of a review into the long-term future for the NHS in Wales. We have established three liaison committees for constitution, finance and legislation. All of these committees have met and already they are showing the truth of my commitment to work openly with others and in acknowledgement of the wishes of the people of Wales.
Llywydd, this afternoon, the health Secretary will make further statements on the plans for a new treatment fund that will remove variability in access to innovative, new, high-cost drugs. The education Secretary will announce her plans for a self-improving education service this afternoon, which will encompass our commitment to increase investment in schools. These plans show how we will place health, jobs and schools at the heart of our plans for Government, and we will make announcements on the other commitments in due course. We are also, of course, pressing ahead with the programme agreed with the Liberal Democrats, under which Kirsty Williams became education Secretary. These will be reflected in the strategies that we will develop over the autumn. All of these priorities are a crystal clear indication that this is a Government open to the best ideas in Wales, wherever they come from, if they can make a real contribution to our goals.
Llywydd, I made clear my desire for this Government, and this Assembly, to be different. The election of committee chairs was an immediate and welcome move to openness, and it is in this spirit that I wish us to continue. This is a Government committed to working collaboratively and innovatively as the only way of meeting the ambitions of the people of Wales. Together we can build a Wales that is more confident, more equal, better skilled and more resilient. As a country, we’ve punched above our weight and now we are ready to do more. I want to see a Wales that is prosperous and secure, healthy and active, ambitious and learning, united and connected. This is the Wales we are determined to build over the coming five years.
The need for decisive leadership for Wales is of paramount importance. Not only does this include the overseeing of the national response to Brexit, but the internal governance of our country itself. It includes the need to draw up a programme for government and also the need to reassess spending priorities in the light of EU funding programmes potentially coming to an end in just over two years’ time. Plaid Cymru accepts the reasoning behind the delay of this programme for government.
First Minister, we’ve already seen from last night and from last week that there’s no clear line or chain of communication, let alone chain of command, between Labour’s Welsh Government and Labour’s Welsh MPs. So, my first question to you is: what are your Government’s priorities for the constitution? Co-operation has always been possible here in the Assembly, and we’ve obvious common ground on immediate powers that could be transferred from Westminster to Wales, but the weak spot for Wales as a nation is the attitude and behaviour of Labour’s Welsh MPs in Westminster. They are frustrating the Welsh Government’s programme and priorities. Will you therefore include as a priority for Government the need to establish some kind of leadership over Labour MPs in Westminster? Will you at the very least advise them to turn up to votes on the Wales Bill and to vote in accordance with the Welsh national interest at all times? If you cannot lead those MPs, or if they are too busy fighting amongst themselves and their own party leader, what other plan do you have to influence the UK Government and the Westminster legislative process?
I am more positive on the immediate priorities for Government resulting from the talks that followed my nomination for the post of First Minister and the subsequent vote. The agreement that we reached on reviewing the individual patient funding requests process was welcome and could genuinely improve people’s lives. It followed, of course, a denial on your part during the election that this was the best way to proceed. I know that a statement is due this afternoon on this matter, and I welcome that the new treatments fund will now be a Government priority, so does the First Minister now accept that the concerns of patients in trying to access rare drugs and treatments were genuine concerns and that they can now be addressed?
It goes without saying that the economy should also be a priority for Government. At this time of economic uncertainty, it’s vital that the First Minister moves to set out the short-term and the longer-term climate for business and provides some certainty. The First Minister will know that infrastructure is a priority for my party and that we want a new approach to how decisions over infrastructure are made and informed. Will the First Minister expand on the national infrastructure commission that he’s pledged to establish as part of the deal with my party? And will the First Minister confirm that he will commit to listening to the private sector as he and his Ministers develop plans to set up the national infrastructure commission?
As expected, you’ve set out that the future generations Act will be used as a framework for delivering your policies, and I would hope that the Act, if it is to mean anything at all, will influence and underpin the policies themselves and, in particular, how and whether roads and motorways are built. It must enable us to prevent runaway climate change as well as mitigating its worst effects.
Now, the First Minister mentions that four cross-cutting strategies will be developed to implement the Act, straight after mentioning that publishing strategies does not drive improvement. Can he state which of the four strategies will include climate change?
Finally, given that we are in a time of disengagement with politics, will the First Minister commit to involving people in Wales in his Government’s programme?
I’m not entirely sure what the last comment meant, because we’ve just come through an election. We put up our programme before the people of Wales, as did all parties. But there are other questions that the leader of the opposition asked. In terms of chain of command, I am not the leader of UK Labour—not something, I suppose, I would particularly welcome at this stage, if I’m being absolutely honest about it. I am the leader of Welsh Labour and our position is very, very clear. That is that there is no sustainable solution for Wales without the jurisdiction being addressed. There is no sustainable solution for Wales without policing being addressed. Labour MPs are not your problem; it’s the UK Tory Government that’s the problem, because they’re the ones who are against any consideration of the jurisdiction and policing, and they are the ones in power, not Welsh Labour MPs at Westminster. They need to move their thinking in terms of both of those issues. Otherwise, as I said, we will have a system where policing will take place of Welsh criminal laws without any say by the people of Wales over how those laws are actually policed. That self-evidently does not make sense in the future. She will know, because I’ve said, probably ad nauseam—many, many times in this Chamber and outside—that the Wales Bill in itself could never be, in any event, a sustainable solution, given the fact that the UK constitution itself is in flux, and in two years’ time we don’t know necessarily what the UK will look like. So, there will need to be an approach that is more federalist, and there will need to be an approach that is more flexible than has been the case so far. She will have heard me say many times in this Chamber that the issue of pooled sovereignty is something that should be considered as a basis for the UK in the future, as it is in Canada. It works there; there is no reason why it can’t work here.
On the issue of the IPFR, her party was not in favour of the cancer drugs fund, then it seemed to be in favour in some way of the cancer drugs fund. We are both in a position where we want to make sure that the IPFR process is reviewed, that will happen, and we will obviously introduce our new treatment fund that will ensure that those treatments—for all life-threatening conditions, not just cancer—that are approved for use are actually rolled out across Wales as quickly as possible.
On the issue of the economy, infrastructure is indeed important and I know that we have been working with her party on what a national infrastructure commission might look like—hugely important, of course, that there is democratic accountability as part of that. In terms of building roads and motorways, well, it’s correct to say that you can’t build your way out of trouble through simply building roads; that much is true. The M4 is not going to go away as a problem, it needs a resolution—in the same way as her party was very much in favour of the Porthmadog bypass, was very much in favour of the improvement of the road between Llandysul and Synod Inn; I understand the reasons why. The Llandysul bypass was another example of where her party was in favour of such—and indeed it was her own party leader that took those roads forward. So, I think it’s important to point out that her party has supported road schemes in the past.
But it’s not a question of either/or, because the metro is hugely important. There is no way, for example, that a solution can be found to congestion on the A470 by widening the road. It’s impossible, because of the way the road narrows towards Cardiff. So, it will be hugely important to see the metro established across the south of Wales, and, indeed, looking at the concept of Metro North, to make sure that that is taken forward as well, because we know that improving public transport is an important part of resolving the issues of traffic on the road.
She asked, ‘Where does climate change sit?’ Climate change is cross-cutting. It’s an issue that affects us all. Every single department within Government has the ability to contribute to reducing climate change and that is something that I expect all Ministers to adhere to.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon. I have to state my disappointment at such a lightweight statement, which talks in very flowery language but doesn’t offer much substance, to be honest with you. I do believe that the smokescreen—[Interruption.] I do believe the smokescreen of the referendum result is most probably just mirroring an inability for the Government to reach agreement with its coalition partners over a programme for government and I do think that people do need to reflect on that, because there are many issues that could’ve been brought forward in this statement, and then we could’ve had the bigger document. I remember the last programme for government in the fourth Assembly—666 pages with a sunflower on the front of it, and my colleague Nick Ramsay was very concerned about the future of that sunflower. It didn’t make it to the end of the Assembly; the sunflower died and wilted, and I do think this Government is wilting only in its first couple of hundred days within office.
But there is a lot of important stuff that the First Minister could’ve covered in his statement this afternoon, because it is ‘Priorities for Government’. There is no mention of the steel crisis at all in this statement whatsoever. You wouldn’t have known that the emergency question or the urgent question was going to be taken when this statement was being drafted, so I am surprised that there is no mention of the steel crisis, because surely that is a priority for the Government. I am surprised that there is no mention of how the Government proposes to tackle the NHS deficit in two of the NHS local health boards, which amounts to £50 million, which, again, could’ve been alluded to in this statement, accepting that the bigger document would come in the autumn.
The First Minister could’ve elaborated on the commitment around business rates, which we’ve been trying to get an understanding of for the last eight weeks since the election, but no Minister has come forward to explain exactly what that commitment would mean for businesses. Again, that could’ve been incorporated in this statement. We could’ve had an understanding of the cost that the Lib Dems have extracted from the Government, because, as the Lib Dems have pointed out, there is a significant financial cost to the commitments the Government has made, and the First Minister could’ve been in a position to inform us, via this statement, exactly what those costs were—again, something that was within your gift and you could’ve brought forward.
So, I would hope that, in response to me, you will give us some answers to those questions. What is the Government doing to address the NHS deficit here in Wales? What is the Government going to do on business rates—in particular, what new scheme will it bring forward? And what will it be doing to engage with the steel industry going forward, because it does seem to have been wrong-footed entirely by the announcements that were brought forward last week? And I have to say, First Minister, you weren’t in here when the urgent question was taken, and some of those answers provided little or no comfort to Members, irrespective of political colour in this Chamber, I have to say. We want to work on a cross-party basis on this and I think the arrangements to date have been very constructive, but I have to say that the response that was received on the urgent question today does not give much comfort to Members of any political party in this Chamber. So, I’d hope that maybe you will respond in a fuller way, because you could’ve incorporated that in your statement.
You did touch on the metro project and how that will be taken forward. I notice there’s nothing about the north Wales growth deal in here at all and how you will work to promote north Wales in particular, because, in your manifesto, you did have proposals for a north Wales metro, but you’ve chosen not to mention anything around north Wales—[Interruption.] I’ve read the statement very clearly; you allude to the metro project here in south Wales, you have.
So, First Minister, actually, instead of using this opportunity to map out what the Government’s priorities are going forward, you have just chosen to fill it with flowery language that carried little substance and won’t make any difference to people’s lives across Wales. So, on the questions I’ve put to you, can you give us some substantive answers or will we just have to wait another nine weeks to come back here and get another flowery document of 666 pages with, what, a daffodil on it instead of a sunflower this time, First Minister?
Isn’t there a sense of irony that the leader of the Conservatives stands up and talks about flowery language while talking about sunflowers without actually realising that? He didn’t listen to what I said in response to the leader of the opposition about Metro North, as I’ve called it; he obviously missed that response. Of course, in time, we’re working on our manifesto commitment over business rates and there will be announcements on that.
On the steel crisis, the situation is this: we’ve been in constant contact with Tata. I had an official on—[Interruption.] Well, there’s been an urgent question on this; I gave a response, indeed, in FMQs explaining the situation. We have a package on the table—a financial package—and we will expect to see conditionality attached to that package in terms of commitments to numbers of jobs and a period of time over which further investment will take place, but we also need to see action on pensions. It is not a matter that we can actually deal with as a devolved matter and we need to see the UK Government resolve the issue of pensions and the issue of energy prices, which every single energy-intensive industry in Wales tells us is a problem. I met with Celsa last week and again they said that energy prices in the UK are a problem. We can ignore it as much as he wants, but that’s what businesses are saying to me and it would do him well to listen.
I have to say, I’ve stood in this Chamber for weeks listening to him expound the benefits of Brexit. Not on any single occasion has he realised the problem of losing £600 million a year as part of our budget—not once has he recognised that that is a problem. Only today, when he was asked about it, he said there was a limit to how much money the Welsh Government could spend on computer rooms and community centres. That’s what he thought the money went on—not ProAct, not ReAct, not Jobs Growth Wales, not the metro, not the metro in the north and all these things, not farming subsidies—not farming subsidies—because, without that commitment, we can’t pay farming subsidies to our farmers. Yet, despite what other parties have done—Plaid Cymru, and UKIP for that matter, who have called for every single penny to be made up by the UK Government—he has failed to do so week after week after week in this Chamber. So, I cannot take lessons from him in terms of how we should govern when he fails to stand up for Wales. Can I advise him that, if he wants to be taken seriously as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, he should join other parties in this Chamber and make sure that Wales doesn’t lose out? Then he would look to gain more respect from the people of Wales.
First Minister, I do agree with you that the impact of Brexit has to be very, very carefully considered, and that will take a lot of time and a lot of commitment. I am particularly concerned on environmental policy. I realise that it’s early days, but there are some really massive issues to consider. For instance, on the future of the EU’s energy efficiency directive, how are we going to see that apply to Wales? Are we going to hardwire it into our own policy development? Waste and the circular economy: these are central areas to our current strategy and areas where we’ve made excellent progress, actually, and have been leaders at least in the UK or even further afield. Again, this is going to take a lot of work, because, at the moment, we are plugged into that European network and have a lot of assistance from that.
Climate change targets is another area where an awful lot of responsibility will come back from where it is at the moment in setting comprehensive cross-national targets—will it come back here or are we going to see them co-ordinated on a wider level across the UK? These are very intricate points.
I know, in terms of the priority that these matters had in the last Assembly, that we do not want to lose any advances that we have made. They’ve got to be held as leading the way across the UK level and ensuring that the highest standards are adopted, and that we have a truly sustainable economy for the future, based on coherent, extensive ambition in our environmental policy.
I agree entirely with what the Member has said. He recognises the challenges of Brexit. We know that it’s impossible to operate effectively on an environmental scale, particularly when it comes to air pollution, simply by looking at Wales or simply by looking at the UK for that matter, or simply by looking at Europe. It’s one thing to reduce air pollution in Europe, but if a particular industry relocates to a part of the world where controls are more lax, then it just means that the pollution is being exported to another part of the world and, actually, globally, things are made worse. So, it’s hugely important that we influence those areas where we can and, of course, look to keep energy-intensive industry in Wales, while, at the same time, ensuring that they have proper environmental regulations that they follow.
In a meeting that I had last week with representatives of the sector, I made it clear to them that was is already enshrined in Welsh law will remain. It will then be a matter for Government over the next few years to decide what it wishes to keep and what it wishes to discard. We’re nowhere near the beginning of that process, but we have to understand that it isn’t the case that, when the UK leaves the EU, everything falls that ever came from Europe. That clearly isn’t the case. It’s the same as when the Irish Free State left the UK. It’s not as if all the laws fell and there was no law. The laws that were there remained until they were amended in the future by the Dáil at that time. But, it is right to say that we shouldn’t lose sight of the good progress that we’ve made in terms of our environment and the excellent progress, particularly, that’s been made in recycling.
I appreciate what you say in your statement, for which I thank you, First Minister. Even though you didn’t have an awful lot of content to be able to give us today, there was an opportunity, which wasn’t taken, to highlight the Welsh Government’s mainstreaming of rights throughout the programme of government when we see it. I think a re-statement of that principle would have laid down a marker for those delivering public services that you expect equalities and the rights of Welsh speakers, children, older people, carers and a whole range of other groups, to be at the forefront of how those services are delivered now and as a result of your eventual programme for government. So, could you take this opportunity to re-commit, if you like, to the ‘due regard’ principle in terms of policy and legislation, but just as importantly in the monitoring and evaluation processes within Government? For example, there’s very little point in carers having the right to an assessment of needs separate from that of the person for whom they’re caring under the social services Act if it’s not being offered in practice. That’s just one example. I think this disconnect between the role of rights in policy and legislation and in the local delivery is going to be an issue that Welsh Government will continue to face over these next five years, and one that is capable of being resolved in a very straightforward way, I think. Thank you.
Well, we expect what is legally required to be delivered, and if that is not delivered, then there is legal redress, of course, in terms of that. With regard to the mainstreaming of rights, the practices we’ve continued up until now will continue. The Member will know that there are a number of areas where due regard has to be made to the rights of others and, indeed, the effect of particular policies on particular groups. That process will continue in the future to make sure that policies do not have any unexpected consequences that are to the detriment of some groups in society.
Diolch, Lywydd. Of the number of priorities for government in here that I can’t see specifically referred to, you have made some reference to the high costs of energy for the steel industry. Of course, negotiations with the EU that were begun by the UK coalition Government have only recently been concluded with agreement to help with those costs coming into force. Are you able to expand on what that agreement is and how that will assist, or, if not, establish that information and then perhaps brief this Assembly after the summer recess?
You refer to your being clear that we don’t drive improvements by publishing strategies. At lunchtime, I hosted an event for Epilepsy Wales. When I raised this in the business statement, the reply I got referred to the Welsh Government’s epilepsy strategy and statements that might be made by the Minister in the future. Will you ensure that the concerns raised by Epilepsy Wales and, more importantly, service users are taken account of?
You’ve also, on many occasions, responded to questions during the fifth Assembly on proposals for an autism Act, which we’ve been calling for, and which I had a debate on in January 2015. Initially, responses seemed to suggest it might be incorporated within an additional learning needs Bill. Subsequently, you’ve responded more generally that the Welsh Government is considering this further. Will you recognise that the autism community in Wales and the organisations working with it and supporting it are calling for a statutory underpinning to impose duties on service providers, particularly health and social care and education, so that the problems evidenced by the sector and, particularly, people on the spectrum and their carers and families are addressed and given a statutory identity?
Finally, my colleague Andrew R.T. Davies did refer to north Wales. We know that the Cabinet Secretary for energy and infrastructure held a summit last Friday in north Wales to discuss economic development in north Wales in the context of the Northern Powerhouse, but we haven’t heard reference to the actual growth deal announced by the Chancellor in March in the budget statement, when he said the UK Government will open the door to a growth deal for north Wales to strengthen the region’s economy and make the most of its connection to the northern powerhouse—in other words, a partnership, which I understood actually involved, potentially, more UK money, above Barnett, being on the table, if the Welsh Government engages early with that. I welcome the fact that the Under-Secretary of State at UK Government was present on Friday, but could you respond specifically in the context of the growth deal—capital ‘g’ and ‘d’—that was announced in the budget?
Well, I can assure the Member we will work with UK Government with regard to the growth deal. What is not clear at the moment is whether there is an element of that deal that would have been European funded, and this is at the heart of the dilemma that we face. If, for example, there is a gap in that funding, it has to be made up in some way, and, certainly, it has to be provided for that.
With regard to the epilepsy strategy, of course we want to listen to the concerns of service users, and they will be taken fully into account as we have regard to that strategy over the years to come. With autism, it’s right to say that it didn’t work as part of the ALN Bill. We are looking at what legislation might be necessary in the future in order to strengthen the rights of service users, and that process is still ongoing.
With regard to energy, it’s not to do with the EU; it’s to do with the UK’s energy market and the opaque way in which it operates. Now, I’ve had discussions with Celsa and, again, they said to me last week that they operate on the basis where, in Germany, energy costs are 20 per cent lower; in Spain 37 per cent lower. Now, there’s no rhyme or reason why that should be, but it’s to do, I suspect, with the fact that, in the UK, the energy market is not as transparent as it is elsewhere in Europe. Now, I’ve said it many, many times; what I’d say is that we need to make sure that the voice of businesses in Wales is heard in Treasury because they are all saying the same thing. They find it hugely difficult to compete because of energy prices. Tata have said the same thing, and this is an issue that the UK Government and the UK itself cannot run away from. Do we want to have energy-intensive industries? If that is the case we’ve got to make sure that there is a competitive package available in terms of energy prices; and we’re not at that point yet.
We move on to the next item, which is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children on the child practice review into the death of Dylan Seabridge. I call on the Cabinet Secretary, Carl Sargeant, to make his statement.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. The publication last week of the child practice review into the death in 2011 of Dylan Seabridge once again brought to our attention the circumstances in which a young boy’s life was cut needlessly short. Dylan was just eight years old and died of an avoidable and treatable vitamin deficiency. He died invisible to the services and professionals who could possibly have saved him. It is unacceptable that, in a modern society, a child should be invisible in this way. This case highlights the challenges faced when people individually, or as part of families, withdraw from traditional or common patterns of family life, and from the safeguarding and protection provided by and through our universal services.
The purpose of the child practice review is to improve our services and help us learn what needs to change. This is exactly what we intend to do in the light of this report: learn lessons and improve services.
The landscape has changed since 2011. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, in particular, strengthens the statutory and practice framework for safeguarding children and adults. It introduces a new duty on statutory partners to report to their local authority concerns that a child or adult is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect or harm. The Act is supported by the revised statutory guidance that has been subject to significant cross-sector engagement. We have invested significantly, through dedicated training, to support practitioners to deliver the strengthened framework and have published those training resources on the care council website.
Of course, while the Act provides a stronger base for greater confidence that a case like Dylan’s could not happen again, it does not and cannot provide all of the answers. Much is made in the report of the issues of elective home education, and there is no doubt that this is part of the picture here, but it is far from the whole picture. Dylan died because he was invisible to the services and professionals who could have been able to help and protect him.
There was a criminal investigation into Dylan’s death, and the Crown Prosecution Service took a decision that the prosecution of the parents was not in the best public interest. What is clear to me from the CPR is that no single service or professional let down Dylan but that, as a society, as a system, he was let down and allowed to remain invisible and unreachable.
I’m working closely with my colleagues the Cabinet Secretary for Education, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport and the Minister for Social Services and Public Health to consider the lessons from this case. Our response will be inclusive and seek to address the key issues of how services work together, how they pool their information and think family rather than individual in isolation, and about how we can prevent any child or young person from being so hidden from view that we cannot spot and address any risk of harm. ‘Think family’ is now more prevalent across professionals and agencies as part of approaches such as team around the family.
We will now consider how we can encourage and support professionals to act on their professional curiosity and have greater confidence to work effectively with families and be confident to escalate issues when needed, such as where the evidence for cause for concern might be, in fact, the lack of evidence of well-being. And we will consider the guidance and regulation in place for all adult and children’s services. Such consideration will, of course, include that around elective home education, but also in relation to the key milestones where parents and children would be anticipated to engage with health and other universal services, for example for vaccinations, the role of the health visitor, primary care teams, school nurses, GPs, and so on.
Dylan was not seen by any health, education, social or children’s services professionals between the age of 13 months and his death at the age of eight. In the final 18 months of Dylan’s life, efforts were made to engage with the family, and with Dylan, but with little success. We’ll never know how things may have turned out if those efforts had resulted in direct contact with Dylan. What we do know is that despite a level of concern, professionals were not able to gain access to a young and vulnerable child who died from a treatable condition.
This is a highly complex case, and you would not expect me, or my Cabinet colleagues, to respond in anything other than a considered manner. That said, I can report that whilst it is not routine practice to report to CPRs, I and my Cabinet colleagues feel that the unique issues raised by this case warrant us writing immediately to all safeguarding boards in Wales, and the national independent safeguarding board, drawing their attention to the issues raised and the findings of this report. I will be working closely with my colleagues to get to the heart of the issues raised by this case, and the CPR, and I will update the Chamber in due course of our intended actions.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for this statement this afternoon. The death of Dylan Seabridge has, of course, been appalling for us all, and it’s a duty upon us as an Assembly and you as a Government to do everything possible to avoid any possibility of similar cases arising in the future. We can’t say that there are no similar cases out there. You mention in your statement that we need to consider the lessons to be learnt. You mention the need to weigh up a number of elements, and I agree that there shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to what has happened, but, of course, we must move this process forward as a matter of urgency, and there’s no mention of a timetable within your statement. Therefore, I would like to ask you to give us some idea of when you want this process to be completed and when we can be confident that the deficiencies that allowed these circumstances that led to the death of Dylan could not happen again.
You state that among the things you want to consider is that you will encourage and support professionals in the relevant areas to act on what you could call ‘professional curiosity’, and for them to have more confidence in working effectively with families, but, of course, also to feel more confident in taking action, as you say, not necessarily when there is evidence of cause for concern, but when there is lack of evidence of well-being. Well, that’s a significant change, in my view, in terms of the way in which professionals in this area approach such a situation. It changes the burden of proof required, and I would anticipate that there would be wide-reaching implications for services in light of such change. I would appreciate it if you could just expand in responding to my comments on that, because I do think that such a fundamental change deserves more than a sentence in a statement. Now, what does it mean in practice? How will it actually make a real difference to services, and what implications could there be in terms of resourcing and the number of cases that will have to be considered? It’s not to say that I oppose this—certainly not—but I do think that we need to weigh up the change of emphasis very carefully.
You also say that you will consider the guidance and regulations in place for service providers and for adults and children, and that in itself is quite an undertaking. But, of course, that includes, as you say, some of those who choose to home-school their children. Now, I’d like to know what else you need to allow you to make a decision on this, because, of course, we’ve had two consultations—one during the term of the last Government back in 2012 on required enforcement and monitoring, and then one last year on non-statutory guidance in this area. I would like to know what your view is as Cabinet Secretary, and if you feel that you don’t have enough evidence to come to a decision, well, tell us what additional evidence you need because this issues has been discussed over a number of years, and I do think that the Government now needs to come to some decision as to the direction of travel on this issue.
Yr agwedd olaf yr hoffwn sôn amdani yw’r un yn ymwneud â'r ffaith na wnaeth y rhieni yma, wrth gwrs, geisio sylw meddygol, gan nad oeddent yn teimlo bod ei angen. Ac er nad ydym ni’n gwybod y rhesymau am hyn yn yr achos penodol hwn, rydym yn gwybod, wrth gwrs, am achosion eraill lle ysgogodd drwgdybiaeth o feddygaeth rhieni i geisio triniaeth amhriodol gan ymarferwyr meddygaeth amgen, ac mae plant wedi marw, wrth gwrs, mewn achosion eraill, o ganlyniad. Ac a fyddech chi’n cytuno, yn gyffredinol, ei bod yn bwysig i rieni ymgysylltu â gweithwyr iechyd proffesiynol, ac y gall fod peryglon wrth geisio triniaeth gan ymarferwyr meddygaeth amgen heb ei reoleiddio, yn enwedig y rhai sy’n ddrwgdybus o feddygaeth seiliedig ar dystiolaeth? A hoffwn glywed gennych chi, Ysgrifennydd Cabinet, pa gamau y bydd y Llywodraeth yn eu cymryd nawr i sicrhau dealltwriaeth o’r peryglon hynny hefyd?
I thank the Member for his questions this afternoon. It would be fair to say that, while the reviewers took quite a significant amount of time to make sure that we cover all ground, and the CPR is the final element of that reporting structure, it would also be fair to say that my team, and the Government previously, was already working on opportunities to improve the system. The social care and well-being programme has already improved that procedure, since this terrible event happened, so the duty to report, the training and guidance for authorities and individuals are rolling out. And, as I said in my statement, the importance of now looking at the family unit, as opposed to an individual who may be under some sort of scrutiny or reporting, is an important change in the way that we operate.
This is always going to be challenging, in terms of the burden of proof, and I listened very carefully to the Member. I am minded, though, on the basis that I would rather protect an individual, to take some risk in that process, rather than erring on the very strong lobbies, on both sides, about the rights of the child or the rights of the parent. But, to me, the vulnerable person has to come out on top here, and maybe, as a Government, we have to be much more robust in our approach to that—giving powers to individuals who fear there is some risk, without evidence always, but there may be that gut feeling that there’s something not quite right. We need to be able to support individuals in that process.
The Member’s right about the resourcing of that, and that’s why it’s really important, from this CPR, that I work with my colleagues across Cabinet, to fully understand—the home-education element is just one part of this particular case, but there are many other young people, I would suggest, who don’t access a system around healthcare or education, so people who opt out of education until the age of three, and may be in a similar situation, where we just don’t have a contact process. But I do think what we have to do as a Government is look collectively around an individual, think about how we’re going to operate trigger points, what the opportunities are there for us to understand that somebody is safe. And that’s what this question is about. There are many people, in many circumstances, in very, very good families. But, in this case, we have to question our failure as a system not to have the contact, and the ability to contact, individuals in this very process.
In terms of home schooling, I’ve already met with the Minister responsible for that decision, and we are, again, looking at the whole principle of well-being, about how that will look, and I’ll continue those discussions. I had a team meeting today, across the departments, to start looking about what we are going to do about this particular case, and what the lessons learnt will be, and how we will interpret them, in terms of legislation or otherwise, if we need to do that.
The Member is quite right to recognise also the unregulated issues around health and seeking medicines that actually aren’t regulated. That does concern me. But I think what I’d like to do is come back to the Chamber once we’ve had more of a collective discussion around our opportunities for success around the safeguarding. And, as I said, we have put many in place. There are still constant things that we can learn, and we should learn from these case reviews all the time, and it’s something that I’m very keen to do.
Minister, thank you for your statement. This was an absolutely appalling case, which has shocked everybody, I think, in this Chamber, and, indeed, across Wales. When people hear that, in modern-day Wales, a young boy, aged eight, died as a result of scurvy—a condition that everybody here hoped was consigned to the bin of history—I think we should all be ashamed of ourselves that this boy was allowed to get into such a shocking condition. When you think about how somebody dies from scurvy—the pain, the bleeding, the soft-tissue damage, the awful discomfort that this boy must have been in towards the end of his life—it really is absolutely appalling. I’ve read the report. It’s a shocking report that does point to the fact that different agencies didn’t have the opportunity to see Dylan at home because of the lack of co-operation from his parents, and the father in particular. I think it does merit wider consideration, really, in terms of a whole-Government response, and the response of Welsh local authorities and our education and health services as well. So, I am pleased, Minister, that you are taking time to get that right rather than rushing into decisions, and that you are doing so not independently of your other Cabinet colleagues, but in conjunction with them.
I think it is fair to give the opportunity for the new guidance and statutory framework that has recently been introduced to bed down, because I think it does put a much greater emphasis on the need for a multi-agency approach in these sorts of situations in the future. Hopefully, that will close some of the holes in the net that young Dylan unfortunately fell through. I was pleased, Minister, to hear you refer to a ‘think family’ response so that, yes, when there are needs that are presented as a result of the mother’s health in this particular case, the wider impact on the family—on the husband, on Dylan and, of course, his sibling, who has not been mentioned in the Chamber today—are actually considered in the round. Of course, had those things been more widely considered, it is perfectly possible that not just curiosity would have been aroused among those care professionals, but that they may well have taken action that could have led to Dylan being saved from this precarious situation that he found himself in.
I have to say that I am appalled by the Crown Prosecution Service decision not to want to prosecute in this particular case. I have looked at the reasons that they cited, which were all about the health and well-being of the parents, it seems to me—not about the lack of evidence of criminal neglect, but all about the welfare of the parents. Frankly, given that those same individuals went on to take a court case with the former employer of the mother of Dylan and were able to contest that, I would have suggested that their health was in perfectly reasonable shape to be able to be taken though the courts. I think we need to make an example of this case. These are exactly the sorts of cases that should be pursued in the public interest, not dropped or sidelined. So, I would be grateful, Minister, if you could tell us what discussions you as a Minister, and the Government more widely, are having with the Crown Prosecution Service in order to see whether this case can be picked back up by them, given the additional evidence that of course has now been brought to everybody’s attention as a result of the child practice review report.
I wonder, Minister, as well, whether you can tell us whether you might consider giving some sort of statutory access to children for those vaccinations and for health visits, particularly in those early years and primary school years. Everybody knows that visits from the school nurse or community nurse are a regular feature of school life these days. But, quite clearly, had Dylan had access to a health practitioner, it is perfectly possible that his condition might have been identified, and he may well have been identified as a as a vulnerable individual. I have to say that I am not persuaded that we necessarily need a register for those children who are home-schooled. It’s quite clear from the report that home schooling in itself is not a risk factor for individuals. But I do think that if additional access to those children is presented in other ways, perhaps through the health system, then that is a much more preferable route, I think, which safeguards the rights of the child that we have all legislated on in this National Assembly, including the right to health, a healthy lifestyle and health services.
In addition, Minister, I wonder what support the Government might be putting in place for parents who might not have the capacity to be able to raise their children in a way that society feels is fit. There are positive parenting programmes that I know the Government has supported, but how do we secure the engagement of people who are on the fringes, perhaps, of society and communities that don’t wish to engage? Is there any compulsion, perhaps, that can be used where there might be individuals like this in these sorts of situations?
Just finally, when it comes to the UN rights of the child, we have all said in this Chamber that we want to ensure that those rights are central to the approach that is taken to public services here in Wales, and as you know, as a Cabinet Secretary, those duties are placed on you as a Cabinet Secretary to have regard to those rights in every action that you take. But, the due-regard principle is not applied to local authorities at present in Wales, and I wonder, Minister, whether you will be prepared to consider, in conjunction with your Cabinet colleagues, a review of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 that we passed during the third Assembly to see whether there is scope to extend those due-regard obligations to local authorities and, indeed, all public services across Wales. Because I think if those rights had been very clearly considered, and this is brought out from the report—the right to a health service, the right to a decent education—then it is perfectly possible once again that individuals may have had access to Dylan in a different way, and another route to access to Dylan in a different way, that could have identified his situation sooner and perhaps saved a very young life that was extinguished completely unnecessarily as a result of an entirely preventable disease.
I thank the Member for his contribution. I think what we need to do in this Chamber on this particular case is, it’s not partisan, it’s about learning from opportunities and from all suggestions. His views will be noted by my team and we’ll take forward those views. This is a very sad case, and it’s vital everybody working with children and adults learns lessons from the review. We will consider carefully the findings of the child practice review and the areas highlighted for improvement.
Dylan’s invisibility to services and the need to recognise and follow up on potential prompts is an important one and the Member raised that particularly. Missing immunisations is a significant issue that needs to be explored on an inter-agency approach, and that’s why it’s important not just for—. I lead on this programme, but it’s important that my team colleagues understand about their actions and interventions with young people at a very early age, and how we have that multi-agency approach, and it works. It wasn’t that Dylan didn’t have access to medical services; there was a choice not to have access to medical services, and I have to question that on the ability of my role as Minister with responsibility for the rights of children. So, it is always a difficult discussion to have about proportionality and intervention, but it’s something that we shouldn’t shy away from, where there is an issue of a young person’s life at risk. I won’t offer any view on the CPS, but the Member made his view very clear. I will ask my team to give me further briefing on that particularly.
The Member also asked about interventions around parents who were less able, in terms of their ability or needing more support. We have many programmes in place: Families First, Flying Start, Communities First, Positive Parenting, and this is something that I’ve also asked my team to look at, again, across departments, about interventions—whether they come from social services, health, education or the communities division. What are we doing to support vulnerable families in communities? It is something that we have some great successes from, but it can be hugely challenging in the engagement process. We’ve got to get people over the doorstep in order for this to happen.
But there are next steps. I touched on issues of what we intend to do internally, and I said about writing to the regional and national safeguarding boards. We will also be considering guidance and the availability of adult and children’s services that are relevant. In changes as part this we’ll look at the key milestones where parents and children would be anticipated to engage with health or other universal services—not exclusively, but things around pregnancy and midwifery services, child vaccinations at 2, 3, 4 and 12 months, and pre-school vaccinations at 40 months. These are all key triggers, and when people are out of the system, we should have some concerns about that. It may be a missed appointment, but it may be something more important that we should follow up on on a multi-agency, multidiscipline approach.
Thank you. Can I just remind Members this is a statement, and therefore these are questions to the Cabinet Secretary? I am going to be very tight now. I’ve got a number of speakers who want to speak, and spokespeople have had their opportunity. Some of them took a little bit too long and I’ll be speaking to them a bit later, but can we just ask questions of the Minister now? Jenny Rathbone, please.
I think, just to say, that we all have a responsibility to all our children. Whether we have children or not, they are our future. And the best way in which society looks out for children, once they’re of a school age, is in school. So, it seems to me that, while it doesn’t mean to say that just because a child is being home educated that they are at risk, the fact that they are not in school means there needs to be extra special attention paid to ensure that somebody is seeing that child. This clearly didn’t happen in this case.
The Minister has already talked about the opportunities lost when vaccinations were due to occur. I’m not arguing and saying that the state has a right to insist that a vaccination occurs, but if the vaccination isn’t going to take place, then the child needs to be seen anyway just to make sure that the well-being of the child isn’t compromised.
The child is entitled to nursery education aged three. So, the local authority—I wonder why they weren’t wondering why this child wasn’t putting their name down for a free nursery place. If not, why not? Because every local authority needs to be planning for that and, if the parent doesn’t wish to take it up, that can be recorded. But, at least the question needs to be asked for those who maybe don’t know about that entitlement. When a child doesn’t present in a reception class when rising five that, surely, is another opportunity for the local authority to check that the child is either registered at school or is registered as being home educated. So, I’m concerned that there is not an express requirement in the 1996 education Act for LEAs to investigate whether parents are complying with the obligation for all children to be educated. I hope that that is one of the—
Are you coming to your final question, please?
My final question is: when, in June 2010, it was acknowledged that there were children involved and two officers actually visited the house and were then denied access, why were statutory powers then not used to actually ensure that the child was seen?
I thank the Member for her succinct questions. The Member raises some very important questions, which Cabinet colleagues are considering in their approach to resolving some of the evidence that’s been presented with this CPR. With that being around elective home tuition is a question that we need to resolve too, about the inferred risk that this may increase. The Member presents a very logical approach to the solutions to this problem of what happened here. But it certainly didn’t flow like that in that process. The Member will be knowledgeable around the express requirements in the Act. It is about registration for young people at school age; it’s something that we have to address. We have to make sure that we understand trigger points and when or where these should be acted upon by individuals.
There was a clear failure in the system and this young boy lost his life and we have to learn lessons from that. It’s something, as I said earlier, that the four Cabinet colleagues are working on with me, to resolve some of these loopholes in the system. Most young people in these circumstances will be fine, but there will be one or two as we evidenced here. I cannot stand here today saying there are no more Dylans in our community, and that worries me. That’s something where we have to make sure that, collectively, we try to close those loopholes.
Basically, the case of Dylan Seabridge is absolutely heartbreaking. Those of us who have children feel that way about this, especially the fact that the people who were charged with protecting him are the ones who failed him. I know many live-in families who have home schooled their children with great success and those children have turned out well and well-rounded and have actually gone on to have good careers and gone to university.
In contrast, we can look at the case of little Daniel Pelka, who died at the hands of his parents in 2012, who was going through the traditional system and was found rummaging in bins for food at school because he was being horribly mistreated at home. Now, despite this, and the fact that he’d missed 28 days of school, the abuse was not picked up by the teachers or by any of the people who were charged with looking after him.
My plea is that, as you have said, you do not have a knee-jerk reaction to Dylan’s case and that home-schooling is not made more difficult or challenging for those who choose this path. How is it that you can ensure that vulnerable children are seen regularly by those charged with their protection and that no more children slip through the safety net, and that parents who home-school are not going to be vilified? And also, will you ensure that there is a balance between the right of parents to raise their children in the way that they see fit and the right of the child to education and health?
Just one last point: you’ve raised many times, now, vaccination; are you saying that people who don’t vaccinate their children—? Is it that this is a trigger by which you think that there may be abuse going on at home? What was the relationship to which you were raising vaccination? Could you just make that clear?
I thank the Member for his questions. This is an extremely sad case, as I said—a child invisible to universal services. I think what is important, and I stated this from the start of this discussion, is that I don’t think elective home education is the only issue here. I think we’ve got a collection of problems that have come together with a very bad outcome of a young person losing his life, and we have to get underneath that. There will be some difficult discussions with all sectors about what we do about this. It’s not about vilifying one or the other, but it is about making the right decision. The Member raises the issue of the balance of the right of the child and the right of a parent, and I understand that, but I must come down always for the rights of the vulnerable. If the young person is the vulnerable person here, I will, at all costs, protect that process.
I’m quite happy to clarify the issue of vaccination. This wasn’t about making all parents vaccinate their children; it is still about parental choice, and I am fully happy with that process. What I was suggesting was, at a point in time when vaccination is due for an individual, the health service should understand that as a trigger point—whether the parent makes a choice either for against, and that’s completely reasonable—to make sure that the child in question is in a safe condition. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, to make sure we keep an eye on our young people, who sometimes find themselves in very vulnerable situations.
The Member raised another, awful, case of a young boy in traditional circumstances, but found in a neglectful situation, and I accept and acknowledge that, too. The problems we have here are there are some individuals falling through the system, and we have to understand how that works better. The multi-agency approach is what we need to have, where actually, even in Dylan’s case, if you stacked up some of the individual aspects of it, it may—. Well, it clearly wasn’t picked up, but when you stack them together, this makes a real case where, actually, we should be making strong interventions. That’s what we need to ensure happens in the future, and it’s something that we’ve learned from the CPR and are continuing to learn.
I must say, I’m quite disappointed with this statement today, Minister. When I asked an urgent question back in January, I was told to wait for the child practice review; now the child practice review has been published, I’m told to wait some inordinate amount of time again, without any timetable or idea of what the Government is going to do.
I don’t share your confidence, Minister, regarding the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Can you confirm to me that, although this Act introduces new duties and more training, it does not introduce new powers and therefore the situation could indeed arise again? With Dylan Seabridge, there were attempts to see him by education officials in the last year of his life; that was not a statutory right, to see a child that is home-educated, and that is what’s been addressed in the child practice review in a clear recommendation for a register of home-schooled children—not an interference in home-schooling, but a register and a right to ensure that those children are being educated and are being looked after. This is a missing piece from your statement that you have not addressed. Are you kicking it, again, into the long grass, or are you going to actually face up to the need to ensure that all children in Wales, in whichever situation they’re educated—including private schools in Wales—are properly accounted for for their education and their welfare?
And the final point is that the child practice review says very clearly that the way that Dylan Seabridge was treated by the authorities was not in accord with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Is that castigating Welsh Government or is it castigating the authorities concerned, and what action have you taken?
I thank the Member for his contribution. He will acknowledge that I’ve been in post for just over six weeks and I’ve picked up this terrible file that he is very familiar with. I am confident that the social services and well-being Act is a very positive piece of work that does include the right to report by statutory bodies and individuals. The Member will also recognise that the issue around the CPR making recommendations in there—this shouldn’t be the issue for laying blame at somebody, this should be about a learning opportunity for us all and making sure that this doesn’t happen again.
I wasn’t shy about coming forward earlier on about saying that I cannot guarantee that there aren’t any more Dylans in the system. What I can guarantee is that my team, working across Cabinet, will be looking to close those loopholes, whether that be on registers or not registers. Actually, my personal view is that I don’t think a register will fix this problem. It may be part of a solution, but it’s not the only fix here and that’s what we’ve got to understand better to make sure that Dylan’s scenario doesn’t happen to any child again.
Minister, I’m going to make my statement short and sharp and to the point. As you know, I live in Pembrokeshire and I have read many case reviews, and some of them pretty tragic, from that authority. My question to you is this—it’s sharp and it’s pointed—have you looked at how they dealt with this case, have you looked at any learning that has come out of it? Because I can think that this is the third tragic case that has come out of Pembrokeshire, and I can also think that each time we’re told something’s going to happen and something’s going to be learnt, and I’m sure that is the case. But what I really want to know here, and this is what really hurts, I think, in this whole case, is that one full year before this child died, somebody reported it and no action was able to be taken. That to me is what really hurts. Because, if that action had been taken at that time, the outcome could have been completely different. The other issue was that the person who reported it lived in Ceredigion and the child resided in Pembrokeshire. That’s an artificial boundary of authorities. I’m sure that there isn’t a single soul here that would agree that an artificial boundary allows people to put up a hand and say, ‘Not my problem; I’ve done my bit. I’ve reported it but it’s another authority that should deal with it’. I don’t think any of us ever want to be back here again in a situation where you can say, ‘I’ve reported it’, but you don’t follow it through, and that it is reported and you don’t take any action because there’s a bit of legislation that gets in the way of that happening.
I thank the Member for her comments and again I recognise the work she’s done locally on this particular issue, and others, indeed. I will be asking the national board to follow up and share the further improvements the Mid and West Wales Safeguarding Board have identified for themselves to further develop multi-agency safeguarding arrangements that reflect on this particular case. Indeed, the issue of the cross-border issue shouldn’t be an issue at all but clearly was in this process. The system recording failure is evident in this CPR. It’s a very sad indictment that, actually, we have to learn the lessons from such a sad case, but it’s important that we do. Pembrokeshire, as the Member will be aware, was in special measures. It’s something that we have to take, that, in essence, there were identified failures. We have supported the authority to move into a better space, but the safeguarding board—it’s the responsibility of all individuals, and, as Jenny said earlier on, we have to make sure, collectively, that we look after the future of our children. This is just one example where the system failed completely and we must make sure that we get this right for the future.
Okay, thank you. And, finally, Angela Burns.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, I’m delighted to see this report today. I called for an independent review of this case and was excoriated—not by the Minister, who gently let me down in this Chamber, but by members of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire county councils—for calling for an independent review. My reason for calling for an independent review was because of the very point that was raised here: multi-agency communication and working together. Joyce Watson has raised a part of it, but let’s be really clear, Minister, there was a ministerial advisory group in place, Pembrokeshire County Council was in special measures, it had been crawled all over by Estyn, it had been crawled all over by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, and none of those organisations thought, ‘Oh gosh, there is the death of a child and no-one’s conducting any review on it’. No-one thought that was out of the ordinary; no-one thought that was extraordinary.
Finally, Dylan Seabridge is the saddest victim in this case, but there is another victim and that is the whistleblower, who should’ve been protected by all the whistleblowing policies and protocols that we have in place. A whistleblower who has been, again, excoriated themselves—and it’s mainly one, but there is a second—who’s had a terrible time of it in their job. I can’t mention their name. They were treated quite badly as well by this very review body, which gave them a very limited amount of time—offered to meet, withdrew the offer to meet, and all this kind of nonsense. We’re here to protect our whistleblowers; we need whistleblowers to operate in all large organisations, public and private, to tell us when we’re doing wrong. Somebody tried to tell us we were doing wrong; we didn’t listen.
I listened to the Member’s contribution; I can’t offer any further points to that. But my final point, Deputy Presiding Officer: we cannot change what has happened to Dylan and the proposals that took us to this point, but what we can do in the legacy of Dylan is to learn what not to do or the right things to do for the future. The Member can offer much guidance to Government in terms of what she thinks may be able to improve our systems and I’d welcome having that discussion, as with all Members of the Chamber. We must learn to make sure we have systems in place that protect vulnerable individuals—children or adults—in all situations across Wales, and it’s something my team and my ministerial colleagues take very seriously.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Rydym yn symud ymlaen i'r eitem nesaf, sy'n ddatganiad gan Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Iechyd, Llesiant a Chwaraeon ar y gronfa triniaethau newydd, a galwaf ar Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. In our manifesto, we made a commitment to improve the introduction of innovative treatments by establishing a new treatment fund in Wales. We also agreed with Plaid Cymru, as part of the compact to move Wales forward, to undertake an independent review of the individual patient funding request process, otherwise known as IPFR.
In Wales, we are proud to take an evidence-based approach towards the introduction of new medicines in the NHS. New treatments are being discovered, licensed and approved for use in the NHS on an almost monthly basis, bringing with them the prospect of a cure or a better quality of life for people with lifelong or life-limiting conditions. Some of these new medicines come with a high price tag for the NHS, placing a responsibility on all of us to ensure our resources are invested where the proven benefits for patients are in balance with the cost. We will continue to take an evidence-based approach to determine which treatments should be routinely available in the Welsh NHS.
We rely on the expert and authoritative advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, otherwise known as NICE, and the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, otherwise known as AWMSG. Both these organisations undertake robust appraisals of new licensed medicines by assessing evidence of clinical effectiveness for patients against the cost to the NHS charged by the manufacturer.
Over the course of the last five years, we’ve invested in our own medicines appraisal programme to ensure that Wales can determine which new medicines should be available in the NHS as quickly as possible, giving people access to the most clinically effective and cost-effective new medicines.
Since the AWMSG was set up in 2002, it has provided advice on 286 new medicines, recommending 84 per cent for use in NHS Wales. In 2015-16, 45 of the 47 medicines appraised were approved for use in Wales. To improve the likelihood of a positive appraisal, we introduced the Wales patient access scheme in 2012 to encourage the pharmaceutical industry to offer prices for new medicines more in balance with their clinical benefits. This has created new opportunities for new medicines to be routinely available in Wales. To date, 21 new medicines have been made available through this scheme.
The new treatment fund will support the early introduction of the newest and most innovative high-cost medicines that have been recommended by NICE or AWMSG. We’ll make £80 million available over the life of this Government to ensure new medicines that address unmet clinical need, and represent a significant step forward for the treatment of life-limiting and life-threatening diseases, are available. This will be delivered consistently across Wales as soon as possible following a positive recommendation by either NICE or the AWMSG. The new treatment fund will meet the cost of these new medicines for a maximum of 12 months, giving health boards the time to plan and prioritise funding from within their budgets.
The fund has developed from our experience of making new high-cost treatments for a range of life-changing conditions available to people in Wales. Last summer, for example, the Welsh Government provided significant funding from its central reserves to enable the NHS to fund four new treatments for hepatitis C and a new treatment for a rare genetic and progressive disease called aHUS. The medicines represented a major step forward in treatment and secured significant health and social benefits for patients.
It is essential that the new treatment fund is operated transparently and is widely understood. During the summer, we will be refining the criteria and mechanisms needed to manage the fund effectively, and I anticipate the fund will be operational by December. Most importantly, it will ensure patients in Wales have faster access to life-changing and life-saving treatments wherever they live.
Where a medicine or treatment has not been appraised or approved for use in NHS Wales, a clinician can apply, on their patient’s behalf, for it to be made available via the individual patient funding request process, commonly known as IPFR.
It is right that we have a process in Wales to enable access to treatments and devices that are not normally available via the NHS. Each health service in the UK has such a process, with clinical criteria to determine accessibility. The NHS Wales IPFR process has been improved following a review in 2013-14. A further review will now take place to ensure better consistency of decisions across Wales and to make recommendations about what clinical criteria should be applied when determining eligibility.
I’ve discussed the scope for an independent review of the IPFR process with health spokespeople of each of the parties represented in the National Assembly, and I’d like to thank them for the constructive and mature manner in which those discussions were held. There is general agreement for the review panel to draw on expertise and experience of the system in Wales and to bring a fresh perspective from outside Wales. The patient perspective will also be an essential element of the review. The review will consider in particular the clinical exceptionality criteria and the possibility of a single national IPFR panel.
I want the review to be short and sharply focused to address these issues, and I will provide a further update to Members in September. We will continue to place the appraisal process at the centre of our evidence-based approach to medicines in Wales, ensuring people have access to effective treatment for their illness or disease.
The new treatment fund will support this approach by providing early access to high-cost, innovative medicines, which offer new treatment options to people with lifelong and life-limiting conditions. We are also committed to reviewing the IPFR process to ensure it is both fair and consistent across Wales. Taken together, these measures will help to ensure that patients in Wales have access to equitable treatment wherever they live.
First of all, can I say that I welcome the statement from the Cabinet Secretary today? Breaking it up into two parts, on IPFR, quite simply, we welcome the independent review of IPFR and, in particular, the examination of exceptionality. We, as I know the Cabinet Secretary is aware, think that this is core to this issue. This is, of course, a review that has been won by Plaid Cymru for the people of Wales as a result of the post-election compact, and we certainly look forward to the review getting under way.
We would urge all people who have been affected by IPFR issues to feed into this review, and it would be interesting to know what plans the Minister has to publicise the review when it gets under way.
On the independence of the review, yes, it’s important that there is input from the Welsh NHS into the review, but I would welcome assurance from the Cabinet Secretary that the chair will be independent of the Welsh NHS.
On the new treatment fund, I’m certainly—and we in Plaid Cymru are certainly glad that the Government now recognise that this is a problem that needs addressing. It is important, though, to recognise here that LHBs have been under a legal obligation to make NICE or All Wales Medicines Strategy Group-approved treatments available to eligible patients for several years, with ministerial directions to boards specifically stating this. Does the Minister, therefore, accept that the failure of LHBs in many cases to abide by these guidelines is a failure of health governance and a failure of delivery?
Linked to this, I am aware of cases where patients have been wrongly told that a treatment has not been approved for general use when, actually, it has, including one case in particular where a patient had to present the actual NICE judgment and the ministerial direction on access to approved treatments to her consultant in order to get a change of heart. So, what steps are you going to take to ensure that clinicians are kept up to date on NICE guidelines as, quite clearly, not every patient is going to be able to be assertive and knowledgeable enough about the system, and people, perhaps, will not be getting treatments as a result of this?
Finally, I move to funding. You say you will make £80 million available over the life of this Government to ensure new medicines are available. To break it into a five-year term, that’s £16 million a year. We had been suggesting that money should be ring-fenced from the pharmaceutical price reduction scheme—£55 million a year—and, yes, that was perhaps more than was necessary, but £16 million appears small. How confident does the Minister feel that the budget allocated will allow the Government to meet its desired outcomes? You also said that a new treatment fund will meet the costs of these new medicines for a maximum of 12 months, giving health boards the time to plan and prioritise funding from within their budgets thereafter. How can we be sure that the cost of these new medicines will be brought within budgets within 12 months and what is the enforcement mechanism that you’re proposing if they don’t? We welcome these announcements, but they are only as good as budgets allocated and the process and the processes used to deliver the principle.
Can I thank you for that series of questions? I’ll start with the new treatment fund. We expect the financial envelope that we have announced and placed upon it to be adequate to deal with the medications we would expect. That’s based on our previous experience and some horizon scanning of likely treatments that can come on board and the high-cost medications we’ve dealt with in the past. In all of this, there is an element of forecast and there’s always an element to look at what happens if the facts do change. So, if the facts change, we need to come back to the Chamber and we’ll come back in terms of those budgetary discussions. That’s just a point of being honest, but I do think it’s adequate to deal with the expectations that we place upon the fund.
In terms of the point you make about clinicians being up to date on what is available, well, clinicians can’t contract out of their individual professional responsibility, and I don’t think it’s a matter for the Government to continually tell clinicians, ‘This is what NICE is currently recommending or making available for treatment’. I know from my previous life, from having been a professional, that it was my individual responsibility to make sure that I was up to date and up to speed with what the law required me to do, previously. But I do think that the initial publicity that the new treatment fund is likely to get—. But the ongoing work of the new treatment fund, I would expect that clinicians would not be looking to say that there are excuses for not understanding what treatment is available or the support that is available within their health board and on a national level to ensure that new and innovative treatments that have been made available are there and are available for the patients whom they have responsibilities for directly. I think our clinicians are a pretty conscientious bunch at doing that, but if he wants me to take up the individual issue that he referred to then I’d be happy to do so and understand how that has happened, because that certainly isn’t something that I would want to see repeated.
On the funding for this, you mentioned the PPRS—the pharmaceutical price reduction scheme. Income is actually dropping on the PPRS because of a change in rules. So, it’s a really significant challenge for all the devolved administrations and, indeed, for NHS England. They anticipate a significant hole in their budget as a result of the scheme dropping, and it is a matter where NHS England and Department of Health officials are looking again at the rules for the scheme to try and look again to make sure that people aren’t avoiding their responsibility to pay into the scheme. So, that in itself isn’t a stable amount of income to try and actually use to try and fund any particular commitments. So, that does bring for us extra pressure right across the health budget. So, it’s a challenge for us to manage, and that’s just honest. That goes back to the point about budget discipline as well, because our expectation is that, after 12 months, health boards should be able to properly plan what they’re supposed to do for their population. Many of these medications are for a relatively small group of patients, and we expect the price for these treatments to be properly planned for and then delivered after 12 months of additional space to allow them to do so. Again, that goes into our previous experience of how the system has been run and managed. If any health board isn’t able to live within its means, well we have an architecture around that for individual accountability; we have the escalation process and, of course, the potential to have health board accounts qualified if they aren’t able to live within their means. They’re doing all the different things that we asked them to do, that we expect them to do, and we empower them to do as well. So, there is a significant piece of work for each health board to do. Broadly, I think, our health boards discharge that responsibility seriously and sensibly.
On the points you made about welcoming the IPFR review, I’m grateful to you for the comments made today but also the discussion that we have had prior to this time. The review will be genuinely independent. The review will be publicised through the summer. It will be open for people to submit evidence to it, and we will also expect to try and manage and empower some engagement from stakeholders around that too, in particular to ensure that the patient voice is made real, so that the review panel themselves can properly understand the patient voice and experience, having gone through the process as a patient. So, I am mindful of those points as we take this matter forward but I expect that, when I update Members in September, you will be able to have some confidence in the work of the panel, but also to see that the sort of concerns you wanted raised and addressed will generally have been dealt with in that way. Also, the report, of course, will be made available without any amendment from anyone in Government.
Minister, thank you for this statement. I’m very, very well aware that my colleague Darren Millar has called before for a review on both the independent patient fund and, of course, the Welsh Conservatives have been calling for some kind of treatment fund for many, many years.
Going through your statement, I’ve just got a couple of questions. The first is that you referred to some of the new medicines that come with a very high price tag, which I think we’re all absolutely aware of, and you talk about the resources invested where the proven benefit for patients is in balance with the cost. I wondered if you might be able to give us an indication if that proven benefit would be condition related or, in a more holistic sense, where the drug may actually prevent a side effect or a continuum—you know, something that would develop in time as a successor, if you like, to whatever the ailment is that the person has. I ask that because recently in England there was a court case where a judge was talking about how the exceptionality, the way that a drug might behave on a person, made it valid whether it behaved on the person because they were unique, or their condition was unique, or whether it was simply because the—I can’t think of the word for it—continuing problems that might be associated with the condition were not unique and were coming along later but you could still bring forward the drug to prevent that from happening—a bit chicken and egg. So, I just wondered whether you were going to consider that in deciding what becomes an emergency treatment. So, therefore, that comes to my next question, which is on the stakeholders. Which stakeholders have you consulted to decide what will be? Is it just NICE; is it just the all-Wales medicines group; are you talking to consultants; are you talking to drug companies to decide what kind of drugs would be the best ones that would go into your treatment fund?
I know that the Plaid Cymru spokesperson discussed with you the resources available—the £80 million that you’re going to bring forward. It’s not just that, though. I wondered if you could outline what strategic planning and modelling has been undertaken by the Welsh Government. I did listen to your answers to Rhun ap Iorwerth about what happens when health boards take on board the drugs, and what happens at the end of the 12 months, but if I could just cite a case in point, because you refer in your statement to treatment for hepatitis C. Incredibly successful; a 90 per cent cure rate once somebody gets it, and yet it’s still a postcode lottery throughout Wales. Although the Welsh Government funded the roll-out, and that then went out to the health boards, not all health boards have picked it up because it is eye-wateringly expensive. They haven’t incorporated it into their run rate, and people are not being given it when they need it. We have evidence that we can offer to you to prove this. I would hate to see in 12 months’ time, with all of these other wonderful treatments that you are going to look at, the same kind of things happen because some of them will be extremely, extremely expensive. Therefore, I would like to understand what strategic planning and modelling you have applied to this. I would like to have greater clarity as to how some of the conditionality decisions have been arrived at, at present. I would like to understand where the money for this is coming from. I don’t think I managed to pick that up from either your statement or your answer to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson. In regard to the independent patient funding request, there’s no information on the individual patient funding request by health board. I put a written question in to you, and you came back and said that there was no central data. That kind of thing makes me very, very concerned that if we don’t have the evidence, how can we evidence the success of IPFRs? How can we evidence the methodology? How can we stop postcode funding? How can we ensure that fairness and that parity that you discussed earlier?
I really will work with you hard on trying to support a review of the IPFR. I think it is vital that we get this fairness across the board. But I have found that trying to get some of the evidence needed has been extremely difficult, and I would like to have a really clear understanding of how you see the group going forward and being able to extract the data that they will require from the health boards in order to ensure that this report is not just timely but that it is concise and, actually, that it is also really, really well evidenced. As I discussed with you when I had the good fortune to meet with you yesterday—and I am grateful to you for that meeting—I would also like to ensure, or ask, that you would ask the review panel that are going to look at the independent patient funding request to look at not just their overall strategic conclusions, but also how they think it could be delivered in an effective way. Conclusions are one thing; delivery is an entirely different thing. I think it would be really worth it if they could give some nod towards the level of resource—the level of financial resource and physical human resource—that you may have to commit to making this a uniform, consistent, fair practice across the entire country. Finally, Minister, I would like to again ask you to consider how best we get an advocate for the patient voice who can sit on this panel and really ensure that the patient voice is heard all through this. Sums are one thing, but when somebody is desperate for that little extra stretch of life because they have something very important they want to achieve—to see a wedding, to see a grandchild, or whatever it may be—or just because most of us don’t want to die, then we’ve got to try to marry that desire for life with the money that you have in your pocket. By listening to the patients, perhaps they can help show a way that we can go.
Thank you for the questions and comments. Again, I’m pleased for the constructive manner in which you have engaged in the conversation, and your welcome for the review. The IPFR review is exactly that: it is a review. I’m not asking people to sign up to what comes from it. The report will have recommendations. I’m just going to deal first with your point about the practical delivery. I would expect the report will come up with options and recommendations, and we then have to decide what to do. So, the practical delivery will be a matter for the Government to make choices over, but also the health boards then to practically implement as well. We will need to be up front about how that happens and the consequences that has. Equally, on your final point, it’s the recognition, when you have finished, of all the difficult choices that are made and what different patients want from their treatment. Different people make different choices, and there are ethical dilemmas in each of the choices that a patient would wish to make, together with the practical but very difficult principled decisions that people with these responsibilities have about how to allocate resources and priorities. This review will not be a silver bullet that will make everything easy for us. But it should provide a properly objective way to reassure ourselves about the manner in which the system is being run—that it is fair, that it is rational, and that people can understand the reason by which these prioritisation decisions are made.
If I can just deal with the point around the funding—no, sorry, the annual report on IPFRs. You asked about that, and I want to be clear that that report was previously published by Public Health Wales. There will now be an annual report published by the AWMSG. It should be published by the autumn at the latest—by September at the latest—so you should have all those data available. Those will be available for the review panel to see as well, which I hope will be helpful. Again, to be fair, you’ve mentioned the point about a patient advocate to ensure that the patient voice is heard, and that is simply a way of getting active consideration to ensure that the patient voice is there, and is real, and is properly taken account of, whether it is by a stakeholder reference group, and how that view is fed in—and, indeed, making sure that members of the panel properly take that into account. You can see that visibly in the way that the report is done. So, that is a fair point that has been taken on board.
On your broader points about the new treatment fund, I can confirm the £80 million is additional to the health budget. That’s £80 million over the course of the Government. I can also confirm that, in terms of how the new treatment fund will actually deliver new treatments, these will be approved treatments, so NICE- and AWMSG-approved treatments are what the new treatment fund will deliver, to ensure they deliver practically and quickly. So, I was concerned to hear what you had to say about the hepatitis C medication that we funded centrally. If you have practical examples of where that has not been delivered to constituents then I’ll be very interested to hear from you, and I would encourage you to write to me with those examples so I can take them up.
But in terms of the broader point you make about the condition, and the difference between treating a condition and preventing a future condition, well, this is part of the difficulty in the approval process for approved medications and treatments. It’s why we have a proper, objective appraisal process that doesn’t involve politicians, so it’s about that difficult choice of the patient benefit versus the cost of the treatment, and there are lots of ethical considerations in it, and lots of practical difficulties in terms of how we value that treatment as well. That’s why we have the two bodies that we rely on to give us that authoritative and evidence-based advice. Even that still produces difficult choices for decision makers at health board level, at clinician level and of course for politicians too. So, as I say, the reviews that we’re undertaking for the IPFR and the new treatment fund that we’re going to introduce won’t resolve all of our difficult issues, but I do think they’ll help to ensure there is greater and more equitable access to treatments across the piece, and that also we have some reassurance about a properly rational basis for us to make those decisions now and in the future.
Thank you. And finally, Caroline Jones.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary. I would also like to put on record my thanks for the way you’re approaching the review into the IPFR process. On issues such as these, it is important that we rise above party politics and work constructively together to delivery life-saving treatments for Welsh patients. While there has been much criticism of the cancer treatment fund in England, we must also accept that, for some people, it did actually save their lives. We all know of people who moved to England just so that they could access treatment that was denied to them by our Welsh NHS because of the inflexibility of the IPFR process. We therefore welcome the Government’s decision to review the IPFR process and we will work with you to ensure that we have a more streamlined system that is more responsive to the needs of the patients.
The cancer treatment fund was too narrow. People with life-threatening illnesses other than cancer should not be denied access to new treatments, and we welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to introduce a new treatment fund. As with all Government initiatives, the devil is in the detail and we look forward to seeing how this scheme will operate in practice.
Cabinet Secretary, the new treatment fund was one of your key pledges to the people of Wales, so it is important that you deliver upon your promise that the most advanced drugs for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses will be available in Wales first. How will the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group be strengthened in order to deliver faster appraisals of new medicines? Cabinet Secretary, are you working with groups such as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in order to improve horizon scanning so that we are better equipped to deal with new treatments coming down the line? The discovery of new treatments requires massive research and development. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that Wales leads the way in medical research and development? And what role will the excellent life science centre at Swansea University, which is in my region, play in the discovery and delivery of new treatments?
I note that the new medicines fund will only fund the first 12 months of treatment. Will local health boards be required to continue treatments? With the move to three-year funding for LHBs, will they have the flexibility to continue to fund these treatments?
Finally, Cabinet Secretary, we in UKIP look forward to seeing your detailed plans for the new fund and working with you to deliver improvements to the IPFR process and patient access to new treatments. We will work with you to ensure the Welsh NHS delivers lifesaving treatments to all the people of Wales. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you for that, again, constructive contribution and also for the conversations that we’ve had with other spokespeople leading up to today. Again, I welcome the recognition about the IPFR review, that it’s the right thing to be doing. The one point of disagreement I have is about the cancer drugs fund saving lives. We don’t have any evidence that the cancer drugs fund saved lives. There was some potential life-extending conditions. There’s lots of evidence we run through in this Chamber on a regular basis about a range of different people criticising the cancer drugs fund, including the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons and the medical director of NHS England. But we’re now in a position where the UK Government has recognised that the fund was too narrowly drawn and there wasn’t a proper evidence base for the medications in it. They’ve now got a NICE process, I suppose—an approval mechanism that goes into it—but I do agree with you that the cancer drugs fund is too narrow. That has always been the position of the Welsh Government, because we don’t think that it was ethically acceptable or defensible to value one patient’s life with one condition above another patient with a different condition that was life limiting. That’s why we never took that approach. That’s also why we now have a new treatment fund that looks at all conditions that are life limiting. So, we’re having real fairness and equity for all patients across the piece. I do think that is absolutely the right approach to take.
I’m not aware of there being an issue with the speed at which AWSMG has undertaken its appraisals. There is often an issue about getting the right sort of information and actually getting pharmaceutical companies to agree to a patient access scheme for those conditions that are potentially effective but are often horrifically expensive. So, there is still a need for an honest and grown-up conversation with those companies. I fully expect that ABPI will be wanting to talk to us about their perspective on this and I’m sure they will want to give evidence to the IPFR review and to be engaged with this Government around a whole range of issues about research, development and life sciences. We need to have an eyes-open approach and engagement with the industry. We can’t expect there to be new research and development by constantly criticising the industry that is doing it. But, at the same time, we need to make sure there is real public value and public value is being driven through the decisions we make on what we procure and why.
I’ll just finish with a point about life sciences and research. I’m really pleased to see that there’s been a move forward in the life sciences sector here in Wales and the approach that’s been taken over a number of years is bearing more fruit. We’re seeing real interest from a range of private sector bodies who want to be engaged in the research community here in Wales. I look forward to having more discussions about this with my colleague the Minister for Skills and Science, but we have a good story to tell on health and care research. If you talk to the health and care research community in Wales, they’re really positive about our approach and it’s because we listen to them. We asked them about what we could do better with the resources we had and we listened to them. So, our approach is grounded in what they have told us that we could do more effectively. So, I hope the Members will engage more and more with health and care research here in Wales. We have a good story to tell on a range of fronts, but I’m definitely ambitious for the future and hope that other Members will get engaged and involved with the research community.
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.
We move on to the next statement, which is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education on self-improving the education system. I call on Kirsty Williams.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Colleagues, we are embarking on a major reform agenda, the biggest education reform that we have seen in Wales since the 1940s. We have begun developing the new curriculum in collaboration with the sector, we are making major improvements to initial teacher training and are working to support the development of the education workforce through the current new deal.
These reform programmes are based on our approach of working in a self-improving system. That is often defined as a model where the key players in the education system take shared responsibility for their own improvement and for the improvement of others. My challenge is to build on the momentum of improvement we have seen through continuing to work with pace with the sector in a collaborative way with a clear focus on the quality of teaching.
The biggest impact on learner outcomes is teaching and leadership, and this needs to be positioned against the backdrop of our self-improving system. Therefore, I intend to develop a workforce and leadership strategy to set out explicitly a clear and coherent picture of the way forward for the workforce and how that will be developed and supported through the process of change. This strategy will build upon the existing plans developed as part of the new deal for the education workforce, such as the deployment of pioneer schools to support peer-to-peer professional learning, the introduction of an enhanced professional learning passport and strengthened school development plans to support more effective planning and choice of professional learning. It will continue to implement the reforms of initial teacher education proposed by Professor John Furlong. The strategy will also strengthen the focus in areas such as the development on new professional teaching standards, leadership development, the development of learning support staff and starting the transition to an all-Master’s teaching profession. I also intend to establish a Welsh academy of leadership. This will be developed in partnership with consortia, local authorities, higher education providers, and education leaders from Wales and elsewhere.
Now, class sizes remain a huge concern for both parents and teachers. The Welsh Government has listened to those concerns, which is why I have asked officials to scope out options to reduce class sizes, starting with the largest classes first. However, reducing class sizes is not just all about bricks and mortar, it is also about creating the space for teachers to teach, reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and ensuring that they are supported by excellent higher level teaching assistants. Therefore, the workforce and leadership strategy that I have previously mentioned will also focus on the development of learning support staff. This will provide a range of career development paths and address the need for a more coherent set of professional standards, qualifications and professional learning opportunities. I also want to build the capacity of learning support staff to obtain higher level teaching assistant status and will invest funding into a coherent suite of development programmes leading to higher level teaching assistant status.
In order for education to improve, we also need to further deepen and extend school-to-school working. This will be done through encouraging collaborative work by signposting and supporting schools to develop partnership models of governance, new models of school leadership and new pathways into leadership that will support this agenda and address the underlying problems with leadership recruitment. Now, the most formal of those collaborations will be federations, bringing together a number of schools under one governing body.
Different partners can offer different solutions. However, federations can bring strengths to areas of weakness, ensure effective accountability for performance, spread effective leadership and help build teacher capacity. Federation is an effective structural driver that can be used to enhance school improvement. Where teaching and/or leadership within a school is weak, a federation with a high-performing school that can implant its leadership, systems, practices and expertise can bring about the required change to improve the performance of the school. It can also assist with the recruitment and retention of good headteachers through deploying experienced practitioners in executive roles with heads of schools working to them. An effective leadership programme needs to be developed to support this move to federations, and that will form part of my new workforce and leadership strategy. Now, for smaller schools, federations can recruit more effectively than each stand-alone school seeking its own headteacher. Additionally, across a number of smaller schools, a federation can ensure that there is relevant expertise for each area of the curriculum. This is essential, as every pupil in Wales must benefit fully from ‘Successful Futures’. So, this all-Wales approach to federation would also include a specific national strategy for small and rural schools.
Whilst I am pleased that the GCSE results last summer showed progress in closing the stubborn attainment gap between those pupils eligible for free school meals and their contemporaries, it does not go far enough. The pupil deprivation grant, introduced in 2012 as part of a budget deal between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Government, is clearly making a difference in our schools and my priority is for the PDG to remain a key pillar for driving up standards for our poorest pupils.
Finally, I also intend to target resources in a number of specific areas relating to Welsh language and additional learning needs. I am fully committed to the continued development of Welsh-medium education from the early years to higher education. Ensuring that the Welsh-medium sector is considered at the heart of all developments, and that is a key priority for me. I intend to develop proposals to ensure that we strengthen the teaching of Welsh language through increasing the numbers of practitioners with high-quality Welsh language skills.
Proposed ALN legislation will enable us to improve the planning and delivery of additional learning provision, placing much greater focus on individual need and ensuring the needs of learners are identified early, and effective interventions are put in place, are monitored and are adapted to ensure they deliver the desired outcomes. But legislation is only one part of the reform that is needed; practitioners have indicated that they need significant skills development and easier access to specialist support if they are to deliver effective support to learners with ALN in the classroom. I am proposing a three-level response.
All practitioners should have the core skills development to support a wide range of low complexity, but high incidence ALN within settings, and access to ongoing professional development. Each school setting should have immediate access to one individual with advanced skills. I want to develop the role of additional learning needs co-ordinators, who will replace the current SENCOs. And all education settings should have access to individuals with specialist skills, for instance, educational psychologists, teachers of the visually or hearing impaired, and speech therapy. I will say more about each of these developments in the coming months and I’m committed to keeping the Chamber updated. Thank you.