Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

I call the National Assembly to order. May I begin by wishing you all a very happy new year?

1. 1. Questions to the First Minister

[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.

And we will move on to our first item, which is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from David Rees.

Supporting Economic Growth

1. Will the First Minister outline his proposals for supporting economic growth during 2017 in South Wales West? OAQ(5)0350(FM)

Our economic priorities for South Wales West include supporting businesses to grow, investing in high-quality infrastructure and improving conditions for business.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. As you’re aware, steel making is a critical element of the economy in South Wales West and is the heart of the economy in Aberavon. The challenges that the industry faced in the last year have eased, but they’ve not gone away. Now, I applaud the Welsh Government in honouring its commitment to supporting the industry, with financial support of up to £12 million announced in December. I’m dismayed that the UK Government has done nothing and actually seems to be putting its back to the industrial sector. First Minister, before Christmas, Lee Waters, John Griffiths and I met with the chief executive officer of Tata Steel UK, and he made it quite clear that the joint venture with Thyssenkrupp was still on the agenda even if the deal is accepted by the trade unions at the end of this month. With that known view on the consolidation of the industry, and the pension deficit problems as well, what discussions and engagement will you be having with Thyssenkrupp and Tata to ensure that Welsh steelworkers have a more secure future?

I can say that any support we provide will be conditional on economic activity being protected in Wales. Our support will be subject—our financial support, that is—to Tata agreeing to legally binding conditions, and no funding will be drawn down by Tata unless those conditions are agreed. And it’s important that workers understand that the money that will be made available to Tata is conditional. We want to ensure that the money ensures that we keep those jobs in Wales and, importantly, we continue to have two blast furnaces at Port Talbot.

Assembly Members finally managed to get a formal meeting with the chief executives and council leaders to discuss the Swansea bay city region before recess, and it’s clear that they see investment in transport—you mentioned infrastructure in your reply to David Rees—as a key driver for the economic prospects of the region. Do you think that Wales’s second city, at the heart of this regional expansion, is big enough and ambitious enough to look simply beyond buses, which is what was recently suggested by Stuart Cole?

No, I think transport solutions can look at any number of different forms of transport. What is important is that the city deal is approved and receives funding from the UK Government, and we hope that will be the case in the future.

First Minister, in the past, you’ve recognised the importance of pensions in the economy when I’ve raised issues with you with regard to Visteon UK and the campaign that many of us were involved in at the time, in relation to the South Wales West economy, and, if those pensions were threatened in some way, how that would affect the economy. So, I’m wondering if we could have, therefore, a discussion on the Tata pension situation, because far be it for us to be criticised for butting out of this debate. I think it’s integral that politicians are part of this debate so that we can lead on this agenda. And I think it’s important, therefore, for us to have a debate on this, so that we can understand what contingency plans your Government will put in place with regard to the number of outcomes that are possible. For example, if the deal is accepted, or if it is rejected, the Welsh Government will have to have a view on that, will it not?

I think it’s unfortunate that Visteon is used as an example, because Visteon closed. I think it’s also unfortunate to suggest that trade unions are doing a disservice to their members. They are looking to represent their members’ best interests, and they’ve expressed a view on comments that have been made. That’s a matter for them. I think what’s hugely important is that there is an understanding that, at this moment in time, there is nothing else on the table. If there were genuine alternatives, then that is something that could be considered further, but that is not the case at the moment. And, so, we have to consider that fact—that the UK Government are not prepared to nationalise the industry. They’ve never given that indication, although I have urged them to do that in the past when David Cameron was Prime Minister. Therefore, the only package that is on the table at this moment in time is the package that Tata have placed there, but it’s for the workers and the trade unions to come to their own conclusions as to the future, particularly of Port Talbot.

First Minister, one of the biggest challenges facing the economy in my region during 2017 continues to be poor infrastructure. A thriving economy is dependent upon good transport links. With the rail network undergoing electrification works, businesses in South Wales West are at the mercy of the traffic flows on the M4. What plans does your Government have to reduce congestion on the M4 over the coming months?

Well, the first thing we want to see is the UK Government making good on its commitment to electrify the line between Cardiff Central and west Wales. Now, they have not given a date on that. The original plan, of course, was to electrify to Cardiff, and then from Bridgend to Swansea, making me wonder what I’d done to upset them in such a way that there should be a gap between Bridgend and Cardiff. But, at the moment, there is no date for the electrification of that line. We need to have that date so we can proceed with the modernisation of the rail network, which we know will take more cars off the road.

Children and Young People in Torfaen

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s priorities for children and young people in Torfaen? OAQ(5)0355(FM)

Well, I’ve set out my priorities for children and young people in the new programme for government, ‘Taking Wales Forward’, which was launched last September. I want every child to have the best start in life and have recognised the importance of a focus on the early years.

Thank you, First Minister. I’m sure that you’ll be aware of my concern that the decision was taken to end Schools Challenge Cymru in the draft budget, and that this decision was taken before the Welsh Government received the evaluation of the scheme. And it’s clear that lots of areas have seen very significant benefits through the programme, but it is also clear that there’s more work to be done in areas like my own, where we have a number of challenge schools. Can I ask whether you have any plans to make continued additional funding available to schools that were benefiting under the programme, but who have yet to make further progress? And how will we ensure that the good practice that has happened in other parts of Wales can be rolled out everywhere?

Well, it’s certainly the case that most schools have benefited under Schools Challenge Cymru. They no longer need that support; they are now able to stand on their own two feet. There are some schools that are not in that position. I can give my friend and colleague the assurance that we are looking at how we can help those schools that have not done as well, to make sure they’re not left behind, and to make sure the good practice that’s being learned in other Schools Challenge Cymru schools is passported to those schools that haven’t done as well as we would want, in order for them to be able to succeed in the future.

Happy new year to the Minister and to everybody here. The Welsh Government is committed to creating conditions to give every child the best chance in life in Wales. Will the First Minister advise how cancelling the scheme offering 16 to 18-year-olds a third off the bus pass travel will help young people in Torfaen, and elsewhere in Wales, to access jobs or training, where they are going to go, and definitely is going to cost them heavily?

Well, the current scheme is coming to a natural end. It’s right to say the uptake of the scheme has not been as substantial as was originally intended. But, nevertheless, the Minister has been in discussions with the bus and coach companies in order for them to come forward with a suitable alternative scheme—I think by April of this year. So, it’s not the case that the scheme is coming to an end and nothing will replace it; we are looking at ways of replacing the scheme and making it more effective in terms of its uptake.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions from the party leaders. The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.

Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, as we start the new year, the familiar waiting time problems in accident and emergency, and with ambulances, show no sign of dissipating. But, there’s an urgent question on that, so I want to ask you about a crisis in waiting times that doesn’t often get the attention that it deserves. At the start of last term, I asked you about waiting times for children and adolescent mental health services. You said at that time,

‘The resources have been put in and I fully expect the waiting times and the numbers to go down as those resources work through the system.’

First Minister, how is that going? Have the waiting times gone down?

Well, if we look at waiting times in terms of mental health admissions, we know there were 9,570 admissions in the year ending 31 March 2016, some 1,400 resident patients in hospitals and units across Wales. So, we know that the number of admissions has stayed steady, and, of course, we now expect to see the extra money—the £8 million extra—that’s being put into children’s mental health services, particularly, help to cut waiting lists, and we’re seeing that across Wales—waiting times, I beg your pardon.

First Minister, the answer to the question that I asked you is that waiting times for CAMHS have not improved. The numbers of people waiting for over 16 weeks got slightly worse over the course of the year, and, as well as stagnating over the past year, the waiting times remain substantially worse than they were three years ago. Now, one explanation that you’ve given for this is that there are too many children being referred. For example, in November 2015, you said,

‘evidence suggests that around a third of young people referred to specialist CAMHS have no mental illness’.

And you said,

‘A further third have low-level difficulties that wouldn’t reach the threshold for treatment by a specialist service.’

And these sentiments were echoed by your previous health Minister. Do you stand by that view, First Minister?

Well, in fact, there’s no evidence—no evidence whatsoever—that children are being added to waiting lists without reason. Now, the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report of 2014 highlighted that many children have to wait until their condition worsens to access support. The charity YoungMinds have said that many children and young people tell it how they’ve been frequently turned away from accessing services because the threshold for treatment is too high for them. First Minister, the evidence is growing that there aren’t enough services for young people with mental health problems. I’ll ask you the same question as I asked you in September last year: when can people expect to see improvements in the waiting lists, which you have promised to this Assembly time and time again?

First of all, CAMHS is an acute service; I wouldn’t expect people to be referred to CAMHS automatically. I expect young people to see their GPs and the GP to refer if that’s necessary. Secondly, every secondary school has a counsellor, and that counselling service is available for those who require it. I wouldn’t expect everyone, in the same way as I wouldn’t expect every single person who goes to a GP to be referred automatically to a secondary care service, to do that.

In terms of CAMHS, we’ve made significant investments in CAMHS; there’s no dispute about that. The money has gone in and we expect to see further significant progress over the course of this year. I will, however, write to the leader of the opposition in terms of the evidence base that we have of the nature of referrals to CAMHS, and I’ll provide that information to her.

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, over the Christmas period and recently over the last couple of days, there’s been considerable speculation over the merits or not, as the case may be, over the deal that is before the steelworkers at Port Talbot and other plants across Wales—Trostre, Llanwern and Shotton. Before we broke for the Christmas recess, you clearly said to me in a line of questioning that this is a very good deal and that it was a deal that you can endorse and that provides a future for the plant. Is that still the thinking that the First Minister has around this deal, because I’m unaware of any plan B if this deal is rejected?

I’m aware of the concerns, of course, around the process of the pension scheme and Members in this Chamber have echoed those concerns, but I have to say that I do not see that there is any other alternative on the table and so, although it’s a matter for workers to make their own decisions, the proposal that is on the table is, I believe, one that will preserve the steel industry in south Wales. There is nothing else. There is no plan B.

Thank you for that clarity, because I think it is important to understand the gravity of the decision that the steelworkers do face, and it is their decision, in fairness, because they are being asked to give up something in return for assurances around the long-term future of the steel industry here in Wales. We understand now from Plaid Cymru that it is their opinion that this deal should be rejected. What do you believe will be the consequences if this deal is rejected for the long-term and medium-term future of those plants that occupied so much of the political agenda as well as the community agenda in those communities through the whole of 2016?

I understand the concerns that Members have expressed, but, as I’ve said before, there is no other alternative on the table. The other consortia that were interested in taking over were all concerned about the pension scheme as well. So, the issue of the pension scheme is never going to go away. The alternative, I suppose, is that the UK Government could nationalise the industry. Your party made it very clear that you will not do that, and so, it seems to me that it is this plan, at the moment, or no plan. That is what the workers have to consider.

It is a matter of regret to me that the UK Government—things were different under the previous Prime Minister, if I’m perfectly honest—have not taken an interest in the steel industry in Wales; they’ve not addressed the issue of energy prices properly; they’ve had no discussions with us, as Ministers, on the issue of the future of the steel industry, or very few, since the new Prime Minister came into place, and I regret that. I noted carefully what Theresa May said yesterday about intervening in the market, but we’ve seen no evidence of that in terms of help for the Welsh steel industry.

I believe we have a very supportive UK Government, First Minister, when it comes to this issue, and I’d be interested to know how many requests have gone to Downing Street to seek that meeting on the specific steel issue. Do you agree with Stephen Kinnock, and very often—[Interruption.] I can hear the Deputy Minister chundering from a sedentary position, but he might well like to listen to the question first and then we might get an answer that would inform his constituents as well as other people in Wales. Do you agree—?

Can we allow the leader of the Conservative Party to be heard please?

Do you agree, First Minister, with Stephen Kinnock, that the proposals put forward on the table by Tata Steel are impressive proposals, and actually these do unlock significant investment for the steel plants across Wales, and offer a secure future, certainly in the short and medium term, for the many thousands of jobs that depend on this investment being unlocked? Seven thousand jobs—

I did ask for the leader of the Conservative Party to be heard, and I intend to be listened to when I ask.

Seven thousand jobs depend on this deal. Do you agree with that?

In the absence of anything from the UK Government, and the lack of interest from the UK Government since the last Prime Minister left his office, I believe this is the only deal that is on the table. We have provided a substantial amount of money, the UK Government have provided nothing, and we believe that that package—well, we will demand that that package—helps to secure the thousands of jobs in the steel industry in Wales.

Can I welcome the First Minister back from his trip to Norway? Perhaps he could tell us what conclusions he arrived at as a result of that. Is he aware that 70 per cent of the Norwegian people are still adamantly opposed to membership of the EU? And as regards membership of the European Economic Area, will he confirm that Norway is a member of the Schengen agreement, and so unfettered access to the single market, which the First Minister is always advocating, is going to require also unfettered access to the UK for unlimited numbers of EU immigrants?

‘No’ is the answer to that, because people in Norway—. He’s right to point out that they do not support EU membership, but they very strongly support EEA membership and freedom of movement. But, there is a difference, and I believe this is an issue that is a profitable route for us to pursue in the UK: freedom of movement in Norway involves freedom of movement to work. It’s not an unlimited system of freedom of movement. There are some rules surrounding how people can look for work if they lose a job, but it’s not an unfettered right of freedom of movement. All they do, actually, is follow the European rules to the letter, which the UK didn’t. The UK was more liberal in its approach and went beyond what the rules required. If that is what’s required in order to access the single market, I think that is something people would find perfectly reasonable.

Well, we discovered the answer to that question in the result of the referendum itself, because the referendum, the result, was overwhelmingly motivated—and everybody seems to agree this—by fears about unfettered migration, and as regard—. [Interruption.]

Oh yes. All the evidence shows that that was the clinching factor in the result. Plaid Cymru, of course, are not only in favour of full membership of the single market, but they’re also in favour of full membership of the customs union, which would prevent us from entering into deals with third-party countries as well. So, at least the Labour Party hasn’t gone that far in its adherence to EU membership. But, the reality is, isn’t it First Minister, that 508 million people currently have a right of entry, being EU citizens, to this country, to come here to live and to work, and if we were members of the EEA, then that would be, to all intents and purposes, the same as it is now?

No, because if you interpret the rules strictly, that’s what you get: you get a freedom of movement to work. I believe that people would accept that. I think if people believe that somebody is coming to a job that they have, that will be a reasonable position to adopt. The other thing we have to remember is that the UK will have an open border with the EU. It will have an open border in Ireland, which will not be in any way policed and not be in any way monitored. Now, whenever this in mentioned in the discussions we have with UK Ministers, we see the equivalent of an ostrich plunging its head into the sand. They keep on saying, ‘It’ll be fine,’ but the reality is, given the fact that there will be an open border with the EU, given the fact that the UK Government will then want to monitor whether somebody has the right to work in the UK, how does an individual prove that right? Passports are optional, driving licences are optional; you end up with a compulsory ID card system. There’s no other way of doing it. Again, this is something that hasn’t been thought through properly, amongst many, many questions that are yet to be answered by the UK Government.

In the nicest possible way, I’d like to encourage the First Minister to spend more time abroad, and going to other countries where he can learn something about how the world operates outside the EU. In particular, I’d like to encourage him to go to South Korea, because South Korea has—. Not just because it’s about as far away—[Laughter.] Via Los Angeles possibly. Because South Korea has actually managed to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU. So, it’s not part of the single market, but it has all the trade benefits of membership of the single market without any of the encumbrances of the freedom of movement of people. As this has been lauded by the trade commissioner of the EU, Cecilia Malmström, in these terms she says,

‘The evidence of our agreement with Korea should help convince the unconvinced that Europe benefits greatly from more free trade… it spurs European growth. It safeguards and creates jobs.’

I’m sure that the First Minister and I are absolutely in agreement on that point. Therefore, it would be very helpful, I think, for the UK generally if he were to add his considerable weight to the argument for more free trade agreements with the rest of the world, which is something that we can negotiate only outside the customs union and outside the EU.

Well, I don’t know whether he means political or physical weight. I’ll try and be optimistic in terms of what he means. [Laughter.] The reality is this: free trade agreements take many, many years to negotiate. The UK will not have a free trade agreement within two years. Whenever I’ve spoken to officials who’ve been involved in such discussions, they find it laughable that people can even say that. It takes nearly two years almost to set the framework for the discussions. The concern that I have is that, in two years, the UK will fall off the edge of the cliff and have a free trade agreement with nobody, because there’ll be no transitional arrangements. So, transitional arrangements will be absolutely crucial beyond March 2019. Otherwise, there’ll be nothing.

He mentions Korea. What I don’t want is for the UK to become a kind of European North Korea that’s actually cut off from the rest of the world, without any kind of trading arrangements with anybody. That surely is in nobody’s interest. But there has to be a dose of realism here. It’s been said, ‘The world will fall at the UK’s feet.’ I don’t believe that at all. The UK is small compared to the other trading blocs. We have to be realistic and have to enter into negotiations with an open mind. We also have to understand that, as far as market access is concerned, there is a quid pro quo. We cannot demand from the European Union everything we want and expect to get it. That’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen that way. For me, there is a choice: either you say, ‘We’re going to limit immigration’, which is impossible because of the open border, or you say, ‘We’re going to have access to the single market.’ To me, access to the single market is absolutely the most important issue for us in Wales and therefore anything else can be compromised on. I believe that if we say to the people of Wales, ‘There is a freedom of movement to work’, then that is something that most people will accept as perfectly sensible.

Regional Economic Development

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of regional economic development in achieving the Government’s target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050? OAQ(5)0352(FM)[W]

We have consulted on our draft vision for achieving 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. The finalised document will discuss the relationship between the Welsh language and economic development, and we’ll publish the final strategy later this year.

Thank you. Plaid Cymru strongly believes that we must have social activity and economic prosperity in Welsh-speaking areas if the Welsh language is to be strengthened, and we believe in developing specific urban areas, such as the Menai area. Do you agree that we need to take all possible opportunities to create new national institutions in areas where the Welsh language is strong, as part of the 1 million Welsh speakers strategy? And do you agree that the creation of the new finance body that will be required to administer the new taxation powers that are coming to Wales will be an excellent opportunity to create high-quality bilingual jobs in an area such as the Menai area of north-west Wales? May I suggest Caernarfon as an ideal location because the Government has a half-empty building there already, which is ready for use? The establishment of the revenue authority there would be a great boost to the Welsh language, both locally and nationally.

Well, that’s a very important question. Some have talked about Porthmadog as well, of course. I understand why the Member supports the Caernarfon bid. That’s something that I’ve asked officials to consider. The point that is raised is whether it would be possible to ensure that there is prosperity in terms of skills in those less urban areas. That’s an open question at the moment. But, I do understand that where a new body is created—a new public body in that regard—we should look beyond Cardiff, and perhaps look beyond the south, to see whether there is a way to ensure that that body can be located somewhere else in Wales. This is something that we are currently considering.

The Welsh language and economic development task and finish group published recommendations on how bilingualism and economic development could be improved. Evidence from the review suggested that there were differences between how SMEs and larger businesses use the Welsh language, with many SMEs saying that the Welsh language was a cost rather than a benefit. Since the review was published three years ago, can I ask what practical support the Welsh Government has provided specifically to SMEs to increase the commercial advantages of operating bilingually?

Well, two points: first of all, rather than being a cost, it’s an opportunity for a business. If a business is seen as providing a service in Welsh, it will be received more favourably by the whole community. There is no question about that in my mind. Secondly, on a more practical point, there is a pilot project that has been operating in the Teifi valley, working with businesses, helping them to provide a service in the Welsh language, and helping them to understand the economic benefits to them as a business of operating bilingually. That project is important in terms of us being able to gather the evidence as to what will work in the future in terms of helping SMEs to develop their language offer as part of their business.

‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’

4. What recent discussions has the First Minister had with Cabinet Secretaries regarding the Environment and Sustainability Committee of the fourth Assembly’s report, ‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’? OAQ(5)0347(FM)

I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs has given great consideration to this. She has led on this, given her responsibility for energy matters. Our comprehensive response to the committee’s report has involved work across Government and is now available to view on the committee’s web page.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. He will know that a new year is often a time for new year’s resolutions as well. So, could I ask the First Minister whether he and the very able Cabinet Secretary will undertake—will resolve—to work with the Assembly and work across Government to take forward as many as possible of those 19 recommendations, which included a commitment to near-zero carbon homes; which included a commitment to driving forward in a revolution towards community and localised energy that would tackle the oligopoly of the big energy providers, using planning and other policy tools to turbo boost community energy; and also to drive that revolution as well within clean green energy jobs, right across Wales, urban and rural likewise? A hallmark of this Government and this Assembly in successive administrations has been the commitment to championing the environment and real sustainability. Will this be the Parliament, and will this be the Assembly, and will this be the Government that makes this a reality—a real green energy revolution, and the jobs boost that will come from a smarter energy future for Wales?

I believe so. The recommendations are closely aligned to our strategic direction. Of the 19 recommendations, we were able to accept 12 of them in full and seven in principle. In terms of how this is being taken forward, we have seen the success, for example, of Awel Aman Tawe’s locally owned wind farm, and the local energy trial in Bethesda, which was featured on the ‘Money Box’ programme this weekend. Those are just some examples. We hosted an event on Friday last with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, or BEIS as they call themselves now, and Ofgem, making sure that Welsh voices are heard on a major consultation on a smart, flexible energy system.

First Minister, I also commend this excellent report. I think it’s very important that committees work hard and reflect on the work of previous committees. I know that the successor committee will be returning to this. But this is ambition, and it’s that ambition that we want reflected, I think, in the Government’s programme. There’s a real chance here, you know. The Welsh economy was built more or less on a single source of energy, and we suffered for that after the 1920s and the replacement of coal with oil. New opportunities are before us, and those opportunities could help us transform the Welsh economy and make it much greener and more resilient and locally controlled.

Well, wind is there. The tide will always be there as long as the moon is in the sky. These are truly renewable resources that, when properly harnessed, can drive our energy consumption and, indeed, energy exports, ad infinitum, potentially. These are issues that we need to move forward with. We will have of course, in the Wales Bill, greater powers over energy consenting. But, of course, the financial aspect of energy development still lies with the UK Government. We look forward, of course, to what the Henry review will say in terms of the tidal lagoons, and we will look to work with the UK Government in order to make sure that we do have renewable energy that has a very low revenue cost in terms of generation and is there for the foreseeable future.

May I recommend to Assembly Members that, if they want a vision of the future that is anticipated in the committee report, they visit Pentre Solar, in Glanrhyd in Pembrokeshire, where new social housing has been opened by the Cabinet Secretary, and I was also in attendance, last Thursday? Those are the kinds of developments that are possible now in Wales and we should see far more of that developed here.

But, specifically, the committee recommendation made on energy suggests the creation of a not-for-profit energy company for the whole of Wales, to be an umbrella body for developments such as those that you have just listed—Ynni Ogwen, developments in places like Talgarth, Glanryd—in order to bring people together and to get the best possible deal for the customer as well as the environment and the Government. So, what steps are you taking to undertake that sort of development?

Discussions have taken place between officials and several bodies with regard to developing schemes to establish an energy company for Wales. Initially, of course, we have to clear about what the purpose of such a company would be before we move forward. But those discussions have taken place and continue.

Primary Care Provision

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on primary care provision? OAQ(5)0345(FM)

Yes. Health boards are collaborating with partners to invest in primary care as the mainstay of our health and care system, working in communities to tackle poor health, to support people to stay healthy and to do what matters to them, and to diagnose and treat problems where they occur.

Can I thank you for that response, First Minister? I've received a number of complaints since Christmas regarding primary care provision, basically in two practices within Swansea East, about not being able to make an appointment, being told to phone back the next morning, doctors unwilling to make an appointment, difficulty in getting vaccinations, unwillingness to make home visits. I also know of the excellent patient provision that the other surgeries cover in my constituency. What can the Government do to standardise the quality of provision and bring all doctors’ surgeries up to the level of the best?

It's a point that the Member makes, and it is a point that, like him, I hear from people on occasion. They ask why the services aren’t consistent. Well, those services that are provided directly by health boards are able to be consistent, but we know that most GPs are independent contractors, and that's the way the situation will be for some years to come. It is important, of course, for the public to be able to access services when they need them. I do expect local GP practices and health boards to be focusing on this, working together locally across practices and in their 64 local primary care clusters with other key professionals. There is money on the table; there's the primary care fund of £43 million. That is there in order to improve ways of delivering services: for example, developing the role of nurses, so that people don't feel that they have to visit the GP every time, and placing pharmacists, physiotherapists and social workers alongside GP teams, as we're seeing more and more across Wales, so people can get the right professional that they need rather than having to see a GP who isn't able to help them and has to refer them, and then having to wait for longer.

You make the absolutely fundamentally correct point that we need more of the allied healthcare professionals in place in general practices in order to help to maintain a good quality of service for staff. So, my question to you, First Minister, is that, last year, there was an absolutely right focus on getting more doctors into Wales, whether it was secondary or primary care. This year, will you be able to look towards how we may recruit more people into the allied healthcare professions, how we might have adequate training places for them, how we might encourage young people that this would be a very useful career path for them and show them that there’s a real career development? Because we’re not going to solve our primary care issues without having that broad structure of competent individuals offering holistic services to people.

Yes, absolutely. We launched the first phase of the national and international recruitment campaign last October, aimed at attracting doctors, particularly GPs, to train, work and live in Wales, and the indications are that the number of applications for GP training has increased, including in those areas where we have introduced an incentive-based approach. I can say that the Cabinet Secretary agreed plans for phase 2 of the recruitment campaign earlier this week, aimed at other healthcare professionals in primary care.

With emergency departments in our hospitals in crisis—the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s words, rather than my words—would the First Minister agree that the erosion that there has been in the percentage of NHS funding provided to primary care and the stress that that places on our GP surgeries causes problems for our A&E departments? And does the First Minister agree, therefore, that it is now time to look again at how health funding is allocated in Wales in order to ensure fair funding for primary care in order to maintain a sustainable NHS for the future?

Well, two things: first of all, I don’t think it’s just about having more and more doctors. We need to ensure that people do go to the relevant professional for them. That could be a pharmacist or it could be a nurse or a physiotherapist. It’s right to say that we do need to ensure that we do maintain the right number of doctors, but it’s not just about having doctors.

The other side, of course, is that it’s important that people don’t remain in hospital for too long. We’ve seen the problems that have arisen in England because they have cut back on expenditure on social services, and social care in particular. In Wales, of course, we maintained the level of funding to ensure that that didn’t happen here. It’s true to say that there are pressures in our health service. That happens every year, especially in our emergency departments. There have been plans put in place and those have worked despite the pressure that has been placed on doctors, and may I pay tribute, once again, to all those who work in our health service, especially those who work in the emergency services, for the excellent work that they do, especially at this time of year?

Welsh-produced Goods and Services

6. What plans does the Welsh Government have to encourage Welsh consumers to buy Welsh-produced goods and services? OAQ(5)0357(FM)

A number of actions to support growth across the whole of the Welsh economy—direct support through Business Wales, and we’re also working alongside the National Procurement Service to increase the amount of Welsh produce coming into the public sector. Of course, in the food and drink industry, Welsh produce is far better labelled now than it certainly was 15 years ago. He may have the experience that I have of going into local shops and seeing, fortunately, that Welsh produce is first off the shelves.

Norway, which, as we heard, he visited recently, the Republic of Ireland, the German region of Hesse, and others, all have an official, widely recognised country-of-origin brand that, in large part, is aimed at domestic consumers. Now, if, as it seems, we are going to be ejected out of the single market by that regressive alliance of Corbyn and May, import substitution will be even more important to us in the future. So, can we have a made-in-Wales brand as the first line of defence from the economic lunacy emanating from Westminster?

This has been looked at in the past as to whether there’s a need for a brand for Welsh produce, or whether it’s better approached through having a strong brand recognition for individual products, Welsh lamb being one of those products. These days, most food producers, for example, do label their products as Welsh. That is seen as a great advantage to them; for some less so, but certainly it’s much more prevalent than it was 15, 16 years ago, and people are far more likely now to buy Welsh products. I remember, at the time of the foot and mouth crisis, that at that time one of the big supermarkets didn’t label anything as Welsh. Everything was generic in every single store. That has long changed, and things are the better for it.

The domestic market in Wales is important, but it’s a small market, and that’s why, of course, we continue to make sure that we have an emphasis on exports, and having Welsh-branded products going to export. When we look at Welsh food, the one thing we must avoid is the Norwegian situation, where there is a tariff on food. They were saying to me that the tariffs are so detailed that there is one tariff for smoked salmon and another tariff for fresh salmon, which gives you an idea—he will know this anyway—of how complicated trading negotiations actually are. But, for Norway, they do have tariffs imposed on their agricultural produce going into the European market. The very last thing we need is to see the same thing happen to Wales.

I was pleased to hear the First Minister, in his response, refer to the role of Welsh public bodies in supporting not just Welsh producers and suppliers, but also they have a role in proactively supporting their local economies. What a difference it would make if all Welsh public bodies, or, indeed, all bodies in Wales in receipt of Welsh public funds, acted deliberately, proactively and collaboratively with one another to support their local economies, and including fostering the development of local suppliers and local supply chains. What steps can the Welsh Government take to bring that about?

Well, we do continue work on marrying the risk-based and proportionate SQuID approach, as it’s called, simplifying the process for suppliers in bidding for public sector work and helping to ensure that all suppliers have a fair chance of winning that work. One of the issues, particularly in the food and drink sector, that was a problem at one time is that they were too small. Companies were too small to supply big organisations like the NHS day in, day out, week in, week out, with what they produced. That was overcome through the procurement initiatives that were put in place and we’ve seen far more procurement now taking place locally than was the case certainly 15 or 16 years ago. Moving local authorities away from compulsory competitive tendering took some time, even as the concept disappeared. When we talk of best value to local authorities, we say to them that it’s not just about getting the cheapest possible quote, it’s about making sure that as much money as possible is retained in the local economy.

I’m pleased that Adam Price has raised this question. Only you could make Corbyn and May sound like a 1960s folk group, Adam. I’d rather focus on the food and drink issue that the First Minister mentioned in answering you. I agree with you, First Minister, that Wales does have a great story to tell in terms of our home-grown food and drink, and you’re right to point out labelling as an important tool. Would you agree with me that food festivals and models such as that are also a very important way for us to sell Welsh produce, not just to Welsh consumers, as Adam Price’s question originally said, but also to English consumers coming across the border?

Abergavenny, I’m sure, is well respected as a food festival, as he will know. But he’s right, because the events showcase Welsh produce. The food hall at the Royal Welsh Show, at one time, was too small. It was rebuilt and is now probably too small again. That’s an indication of the success of the Welsh food and drink industry in its diversification, in its variation, and the fact that so many of the businesses that were set up over the past decade are still there and are still able to go into the supermarkets. There’s been a change of heart amongst a number of the supermarkets as well. Whereas in the past they preferred to purchase from large suppliers, they have become more interested in smaller suppliers and in local produce, which is something that I very much welcome. But what we have to avoid more than anything else is our biggest market, which is Europe, being either closed to us or the terms of trade with that market being less advantageous to us. The US will never replace the European market. The US is very protectionist when it comes to agriculture. So, keeping Welsh farmers being able to sell on the current terms of the European market is absolutely vital to the future of Welsh farming.

Avian Flu in Wales

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the outbreak of avian flu in Wales? OAQ(5)0351(FM)

It’s a matter of serious concern, of course. We have a strong track record of controlling animal-disease outbreaks. The Cabinet Secretary will be providing an update in her oral statement on avian influenza this afternoon.

I look forward to that statement later today. It was the case that, during the Christmas break, there was a wigeon—that’s a type of duck for those who don’t know it—that landed in Llanelli wildfowl wetland centre. I want to praise here the actions that were immediately taken by that wetland fowl centre in closing their doors to the public for nine days because, as a consequence of that, I’m sure that they helped reduce the spread of that avian flu within that area. We do know, however, that it did spread, and that there has been an infection in that area. What we also know is that birds don’t understand boundaries, and I think we would perhaps be well advised to take note of the very cold and sharp spell of weather that is now happening in eastern Europe, which might, and in my opinion probably will, create further migration of birds looking for food further south, to us—that is west, of course. My question will be, and I’ll probably address it to the Cabinet Secretary later, how we’re going to deal with that and how we’re going to inform the public to be aware of those newly migrating birds that could possibly be a source of further infection here.

We do work, of course, with the other GB Governments in order to take the appropriate action. I would encourage any members of the public to report dead wild waterfowl—swans, geese, ducks and so forth, or gulls, in fact—to the GB helpline. The Welsh Government website is updated continually with advice and I’d urge all poultry keepers and all those involved in working at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to check the website frequently. I know that the Cabinet Secretary will provide more information in due course this afternoon.

First Minister, in light of these cases of avian flu, what additional work are you as a Government doing to assess the impact that this disease could have on the poultry sector?

There is an effect, because there is a period of time after which it’s not possible to say that poultry are free range, because of the fact that they have had to be kept in. We do know that, and we know what the effect on those who keep poultry will be. So, at present, what’s vitally important is to ensure that the situation remains the same so that we can manage the disease itself. But, of course, we understand what the situation is in terms of poultry farmers if this situation should continue.

2. Urgent Question: Emergency Care

[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 Rhun ap Iorwerth to ask the urgent question.

Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement regarding comments made by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine that ‘emergency care in Wales is in a state of crisis’? EAQ(5)0097(HWS)

I thank the Member for the question, and I’d like to start by recognising the hard work of NHS and social care staff, who work under significant pressure at this particular time of year. That is, of course, a consistent feature of winter. I don’t accept that emergency care in Wales is in a state of crisis, and in fact we continue to work with Dr Roop and other leading clinicians, as members of the national unscheduled care board, in trying to find meaningful solutions to support improved outcomes for patients who need emergency and unscheduled care here in Wales.

Cabinet Secretary, nobody wants to speak of a crisis in the NHS. It’s worrying for patients and it’s demoralising for our excellent staff. But you’ll be aware that the Red Cross described the situation in England’s A&E as a humanitarian crisis. You’ll also be aware that your party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has described that as a national scandal, and demanded the Prime Minister explain herself to Parliament. Yet the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Wales yesterday described current performance here as being as bad as, if not worse than, England. It would be shocking, except that performance of this level is long-standing, and this happens every year. We’re used to it, and it somehow doesn’t generate the same headlines as in England.

The data for December aren’t available yet, but November’s data showed that just 77 per cent of patients were seen within four hours, and that almost 3,000 people waited longer than 12 hours to be seen in major A&E departments. If performance follows the usual trajectory, it’s likely things will get worse as the winter develops. So, if you were in my position here, I’m sure you’d understand the temptation to use the term ‘crisis’. Well, it’s not me saying that; it’s the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and there’s no ducking the severity of the warning that, due to this crisis, as they put it, patient safety is being compromised.

Cabinet Secretary, both winter and an ageing population are predictable, and we debate this every year. On our side here we call for better social care, for strengthened primary care, better out-of-hours GP services, to take the pressure off A&E, and you agree with us that this needs to happen. So, why hasn’t it happened? Why is there such a gap between the promises that get made here, and what happens on the ground? And are you embarrassed, frankly, that your own Labour Government’s performance undermines your colleagues in Westminster, who are desperate to highlight the failings of Jeremy Hunt?

No. I think, when looking at this, we need to think sensibly about where we are in Wales, and the comparison with England, which has been made. It is, of course, for the Red Cross to stand up for their own commentary on the system in England—they haven’t made the same commentary on the system here in Wales, and there are differences. There are seven different hospital trusts in England that have reached the highest level of alert—and they run a different system, so the pressures are different. Part of the challenge is the use of language and what we’re really and honestly describing. At the start of yesterday, the statement made by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Wales was then amended, because they referred to some of the English terminology, so there’s a real danger of not being accurate with our language, and not accurately reflecting the position that we’re in. And objectively speaking, we’re in a better position with less pressure in the system this week than last week. There are real highs, as everyone knows, in winter—real peaks on individual days and, at certain points in the year, peaks that sustain over periods of weeks or months. Our challenge always is: how do we sustainably and resiliently deal with that, to make sure that patient outcomes are not compromised and to make sure that patient care and the experience of care is as good as possible, and that the system does not fall over? You will recall that, when I attended the health and social care committee, in the winter pressures inquiry, I indicated that we’re in a better position than the last two winters: our plans were in a better place, we had learned from the previous two winters, but that did not mean there would be complacency because there will be difficult days. And you and I should be extremely thankful that we’re not members of front-line staff dealing with those pressures on the ground level.

But, that does not mean that where we are now is a crisis, because if you look at the objective levels of escalation in each of our hospitals, it simply does not amount to a crisis. We have a number of hospitals at level 4, but actually the majority are at level 3 or below, and that simply doesn’t reflect the emergency care system being in crisis. There is a need for all of us to have real care in the language that we use, because you were right, in the opening, where you talked about demoralising staff by describing the system in a way that is simply not accurate. I want to see staff supported in doing what is incredibly difficult throughout the whole year, but especially during winter.

There will be no complacency here. And one of the reasons we are in a different position to England is we haven’t seen the cuts made to social care that they have in England. That artificial measure has meant that the system as a whole isn’t working. We try to see the health and social care system as a coherent whole. We will undoubtedly have more learning to take from this winter, and if there is a real crisis, I will happily acknowledge it. I do not accept that where we are now is a crisis, but I do accept that there’s very real pressure and there will always be more for us to learn to do more to support our staff and to be better, not just for the health service, but the patients and the people who it serves.

You’re absolutely right, Cabinet Secretary, I think we must be very careful in the language that we all use. I think one of the first areas we have to be very clear about is that we are all entitled to challenge—challenge you, challenge the Welsh Government—about the performance of the health service. And by doing so, that does not impugn in any way the hard work of the people in that health service. Whether they are a top-flight consultant or the porter who takes the person from the ambulance in through the system, they all play a valuable part, and we need to get over this issue of ‘We can’t talk about it because we’re doing people down’, because none of us are doing them down. And language is very important, because the chairman of the Red Cross was utterly, utterly incorrect in the comments that he made about humanitarian crises. That was an appalling use of wording. And when you look at the evidence behind it, it’s mainly two NHS trusts. We have seven, and our seven all respond in different ways to the winter pressures.

Now, of course, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine made some very clear recommendations when they came before the health committee, and I know that you and your officials were looking at the transcript, looking at what people were saying, and have had a number of conversations with all these royal colleges. So, I would just like to ask you a couple of questions in terms of: were you able to ring-fence or ensure that health boards had ring-fenced any unscheduled care beds to ensure the provision was there, therefore elective surgery didn’t take a hit? Were you able to implement any frail and elderly assessment centres in any of the major hospitals in order to triage our more vulnerable people in the same way that we triage our paediatrics? Are you confident that redirection services have managed to work well? And, of course, what causes the collapse in A&E and what has caused this commentary, I believe, from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, who were absolutely right to have pinpointed what they did and how they see it, is the closure of beds, and I wonder, Cabinet Secretary, if you’re able to say whether or not there’s been an increase at all in community beds and in secondary care, because taking those three or four actions would, in fact, help to alleviate the pressures that the A&E departments are under. They are, of course, the front door to all of our acute services.

Thank you for your series of points, comments and questions. When we talk about the system being under pressure, it does mean that the job of staff is made more difficult and more demanding, and that also has an impact on the patient experience, too, and we should all reflect and recognise that we’re talking about this general area. I don’t, for one minute, say that Members shouldn’t ask awkward questions; I think it’s entirely appropriate, on occasion, to challenge the use of language as to whether it’s appropriate. In terms of the questions that you asked and the points that you made, I think, again, it’s about seeing health and social care as a whole system. It isn’t just the secondary care part, it isn’t just the ambulance service and the paramedics, it isn’t just the emergency department; it’s the whole hospital system and it’s the flow through that system and actually what needs to be done, not just in triage at the point when someone arrives at a hospital, but actually what is done before that, whether that’s with the ambulance service or whether that’s actually in primary care as well. And we are objectively getting better at doing that as a system.

I look forward to publishing more statistics and more information over the course of this winter on what is being done—for example, in the next quarter’s statistics on the ambulance service, the work they’re doing to see, hear and treat people and discharge them either on the phone or at the scene to prevent journeys being undertaken unnecessarily into the hospital system; the work that is being done across primary care with pilots similar to the one, for example, that I’ve mentioned previously on Ynys Môn, but also in other parts of Wales, with similar systems and advanced care to keep people out of hospital and get them out quickly if they do go in. So, people understand who their most vulnerable individuals are and often those are elderly people, as you rightly point out.

We’ve already seen, as I indicated at the committee, that there are, I think, approximately 300 extra beds in the system that are being delivered as part of the response to winter in terms of the plans that health boards have. That’s a normal part of planning. That means they scale down elective activity: that’s entirely normal too. But, even last winter, we saw more elective activity than had taken place than in the previous winter. I won’t forecast and give you any sort of guarantee it will happen now, because it would be wrong of me to say what will happen with unscheduled care not knowing what may happen in terms of the flu or in the weather and the pressures that will come here. But I expect to see progress made on elective care in the remaining quarter of this financial year. I expect to see the system being resilient in terms of unscheduled care too, and that will mean some of our resources and people are redirected to an appropriate point in time at any point in the health and care system. In many ways, what keeps the health part of the system going is the fact they are able to work effectively with social care and the third sector in getting people into and out of health facilities for care and back into their own home with packages of care where it is appropriate. And in that place, we are in a much better place in Wales than other parts of the UK, because we plan jointly between health, social care and the third sector. Undoubtedly, I will answer more questions in this Chamber and in committee on the reality of winter on the ground for patients and for staff.

Cabinet Secretary, the fact that the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Wales says patient safety is compromised and staff are struggling to cope with the intense demands should deeply concern us all. Rightly or wrongly, the Red Cross described the situation across the border as a humanitarian crisis and Dr Roop says that in some areas performance is as bad as, if not worse than, England. The Welsh Government has allocated additional funds to alleviate winter pressures, but these pressures exist all year round and if we have a major flu outbreak this winter we are in real trouble. Cabinet Secretary, in addition to funding announced to tackle winter pressures, how do you plan to address the capacity issues in the rest of the NHS, which are impacting upon emergency care? We know that there are people in hospital that can’t go home because of the fact that they are home alone and they are taking up bed space, which is quite needless, really, had we had an alternative to accommodate people. I have met over the Christmas period with a voluntary organisation that is seeking to help us, but I will discuss this in further detail at another time. Thank you.

Thank you for the comments that you raise. Again, I go back to saying that, of course, I’m concerned about the language used and the comments made by Dr Roop. But, as I say, objectively, the pressure in the system is not as great as it has been in the past. It is not as great as even last week. There’s a real issue here, and I have no issue with people saying that the health and care system is under real pressure through winter and that makes the job of staff more difficult and more demanding. That’s very different to saying that it is in a state of genuine crisis. I do take issue with some of the points that are made about the fact there is year-round pressure. There is year-round pressure, but in winter that pressure is different. You are more likely to see people that are older and sicker come in to our health and care system. They’re more likely to occupy beds within the healthcare part of the system and that puts more pressure on the transfers of care and packages of care within healthcare, but also between health and social care as well. So, winter is a different sort of pressure. That’s what we’re seeing now and we’ll see more of it in the next few months. There’s no point in pretending winter does not provide this pressure that is extraordinary. That is why there is an extraordinary response in planning for winter and in delivering in winter as well. But I am really encouraged about the fact that we’ve not seen a collapse in delayed transfers of care here in Wales. We’ve actually sustained and been able to manage some of that pressure at the start of winter. I look forward to saying more about what’s been done when the next figures are published later on this month, because that tells us something about the health of the whole system and the ability to move people effectively from the point when they need some sort of support and care back into their own homes with that package of care and through healthcare if that’s what they need. So that, of course, is the focus of our activity, on what we expect health and social care to do together, but I think, really, every one of us should recognise not just the work that staff do, but think about how we talk about the jobs that they do and the care they provide for each and every one of our constituents at various points in time.

Cabinet Secretary, I listened very closely to the answers that you have given, and you said that the pressures are not as great as they were this time last year. In your most immediate response, you said that. Yet, the last figures for A&E, for people waiting over 12 hours or more, went up by 22 per cent to 2,955. Are you in a position to confirm that those figures are on a downward trajectory, given your comments this afternoon, and that those wait times are becoming more responsive in our A&E departments across Wales, and that, when the latest figures come out, because you will be in possession of the figures, we will see a decline in those figures, given that they’ve shown a year-on-year increase, on the most recent figures up to November, of 22 per cent in people who are waiting 12 hours or more in A&E departments across Wales?

There are two points to make here. The first is that I recognise that some people do wait too long, whether it’s in November or whether it’s in June, and that’s part of our challenge in improving the system. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have bad outcomes in terms of the clinical outcomes, but that isn’t always a great patient experience. And there’s something here about our measures on four and 12 hours as well. They tell us something about the care that’s provided, but not everything that we would think that we are being told. You, for example, could go into a hospital and, actually, you’d be seen, treated and discharged in four and a half hours. Now, the way our figures look, we’d probably say, ‘That’s someone who’s waited too long.’ But you could actually have a very good experience of care in that time, and you could actually be really happy with the treatment that you’ve received. Equally, you could be in an A&E department for three hours and our figures would then say, ‘You’re a success’, but that might not be a great experience as well. So, it doesn’t tell us everything that we think the figures actually might do. So, I expect to see that there will be more pressures through winter on both four and 12 hours, and, you know, it would be fantasy to try and claim otherwise.

The challenge must be: how resilient our system is, what the quality of care being delivered is, and what the patient experience tells us about that as well. And the point that I was trying to make was that, actually, objectively, we’re in a better position this week than last week, and if there is a system in crisis, you wouldn’t have thought the system would have coped and de-escalated with the pressure coming through the doors, and maybe see what happens on different days through the rest of winter as well. For example, on 27 December, there was a five-year peak in admissions. On 1 January there was a much higher admissions rate than the previous January as well. So, we’ll see those different peaks and troughs, but we will all know there is more pressure in the system in winter. We need to understand what we’ve done in advance in the plans we’ve had, how successful they’ve been, what we learn for the next year, and then that broader trajectory of improvement through the whole health and care system to try and make sure that people do get seen, treated and discharged in an appropriate period of time, but also in the appropriate place, because every single part of the NHS in the UK recognises that still too many people, even at the points of highest pressure, are going to a place that isn’t the appropriate place for their care and treatment.

So, there’s something about educating and empowering the public and informing them where to go for the appropriate treatment that they need. And that’s why I’m really encouraged by the early results from the 111 pilot in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg area, which I think has been really helpful in getting people to the right place to get the right treatments and care. I look forward to providing Members with more information on that pilot and then seeing if that will then be rolled out in other parts of the country.

3. 2. Business Statement and Announcement

Thank you to the Cabinet Secretary. The next item on the agenda is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt.

I’ve several changes to report to this week’s business, Llywydd. I’ve extended to 45 minutes the time allocated to the oral statement on the consultation on the draft dementia strategic action plan for Wales. I’ve added an oral statement on avian influenza, and an oral statement on the new treatment fund. And, finally, as no questions have been tabled for answer by the Assembly Commission this week, the Business Committee has adjusted tomorrow’s timetable accordingly. And business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Can I call for two Cabinet Secretary statements—the first from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs in relation to the future of the timber industry in Wales? Members will have noticed that there were some concerns raised by Clifford Jones Timber, an organisation that is based in Ruthin in my constituency, about the failure of the Welsh Government forestry land to secure a greater planting regime, an increase in the planting regime, in order to have a sufficient crop for the future. You’ll be aware that that particular business employs 80 people, and indeed, there are many thousands of jobs in the wood manufacturing industry in Wales that rely on timber production. I wonder, Minister, whether we can have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary, just in terms of what the Welsh Government intends to do in order to maximise the output of that industry, and its economic contribution to Wales in the future.

Can I also ask for a statement from the Minister for Skills and Science, in relation to the Superfast Cymru scheme and the way that it is marketed here in Wales? I’ve received a number of communications from constituents who are very concerned about the inaccurate information that is appearing on the Superfast Cymru website in terms of the availability of superfast, high-speed broadband in their immediate localities. And even more concerning is feedback directly from BT Openreach to constituents, which seems to suggest that, because now that the Welsh Government has taken on the responsibility for marketing Superfast Cymru, they now need to re-register an interest in having access to it. This is the feedback that has been given. I can see the Minister shaking her head, but that is the feedback that they’ve got—I’ve got a copy of the e-mail here. So, clearly, there is some disjointed communication there, which needs to be addressed, and I do think it would be useful to have a further statement from the Minister for Skills and Science in order to address that.

I thank Darren Millar for his questions. I will draw the attention of the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs to your questions and concerns about the future of the timber industry in Wales. This is something that I’m sure, if there is a specific issue in your area, in your constituency, you would want to raise with her anyway. And, of course, the Minister for skills is so often on her feet in this Chamber making statements about our role, such as it is, in terms of our powers and responsibilities, in terms of broadband, and not only the marketing, but of course the delivery, which all of us are involved in, in terms of not only the prospects but the success in terms of broadband in Wales and superfast broadband.

I was wondering if we could have a statement on your Government’s investigation into New Sandfields Aberafan, NSA Afan. I only understood from the chief executive of Neath Port Talbot council—I saw an e-mail sent to our group leader—that there was an ongoing investigation into financial irregularities and that funds are suspended at present. The Government—your audit office within the Government—is looking into the situation.

I wondered if you could provide a statement in Government time on what you’re actually doing, what that entails, and how people in the community can be, perhaps, communicated with to try and alleviate some of the concerns that they may have, because, potentially, some of those services may not be able to be delivered by this particular Communities First organisation, if the investigation is long-standing. And I think it’s something that all Assembly Members should have been told about, and not just the councillors. So, I would like to understand how we weren’t communicated with also from the Government, considering this is quite an important issue. We’ve had previous issues, and I’m not saying that—. At the moment, there’s an investigation, but we do know in this Chamber that there have been previous problems with various Communities First organisations across Wales. I hope that this isn’t the case in this instance, but if it is, we need to know, and Assembly Members need to be kept informed.

Well, thank you for that question. Following initial investigations into allegations concerning possible misuse of public funds at NSA Afan, we’ve suspended funding whilst further investigations are undertaken. We’re exploring ways to safeguard the provision of services, which you raise. But it is important that we exercise our duty to protect taxpayers’ money from potentially inappropriate use. And this is subject to investigation, so it would be inappropriate to comment further on this matter.

The leader of the house will have seen concerns in the press on the weekend that, when it comes to calculating the apprenticeship levy, local authority schools are being treated less favourably than English academies. The payroll of a local authority school may attract the levy, when the payroll of a similar-sized academy in England might not. Will the Government bring forward a statement, indicating what representations it may be making to the UK Government, to make sure that Welsh local authority schools aren’t being unfairly treated, because the English system has become a fragmented free-for-all?

Thank you to Jeremy Miles for drawing this to our attention. Of course, Members will be aware that the apprenticeship levy will be paid by any organisation that has a payroll in excess of £3 million per year. The levy is an employment tax. It’s been introduced by the Westminster Parliament; it applies to the whole of the UK. In Wales, schools, of course, are maintained by local authorities, therefore their budgets will be impacted by the introduction of the levy, irrespective of their size. Of course, we don’t have the English academy system here in Wales, but, clearly, there will be an impact. I’m grateful to the Member for bringing this to our attention.

First of all, can I just take the opportunity to thank the Government for listening, to some degree, anyway, to my constituents and those of other Assembly Members regarding the issue of business rates relief? It’s obviously not as far as we would’ve gone, but it is welcome, as far as it goes. However, we do need, I think, an urgent statement on how this additional £10 million is to be spent. We talk about existing eligible businesses having more money or the same amount of money for longer. Are new businesses going to be eligible? Will there be new criteria? If it’s going to be operated through local authorities, how will those applications need to be made? Will you be placing time constraints on local authorities, for example, and making sure that they deal with applications in a timely way? Will any of that £10 million be top-sliced to pay for the extra administrative work involved? I think this detail is now urgent, if you wish to reassure small businesses in the way that I’m sure you intend to do.

In the autumn—this is a second statement that I’m looking for here—the Government confirmed its commitment to the Lift programme and Communities for Work. In December, Mark Isherwood invited the Cabinet Secretary to explain why these particular programmes had been protected when the predicted results compared unfavourably in terms of value for money and job entry, actually, as defined, with the Department for Work and Pensions’s Work Programme. Attempts to get up-to-date data had failed at that point and the Cabinet Secretary undertook to look at them in the new year. That suggests to me that he hadn’t looked at them properly before actually agreeing to continue with the programmes, which, of course, cost tens of millions of pounds. As the Assembly, like Welsh Government, is committed to tackling poverty, we have to be certain that these intervention programmes are the best programmes, and I think we need to see those figures and evidence of due diligence as soon as possible now. We need to reassure our constituents that we’re all doing the right thing here, and it’s not just some activity covering up a lack of effectiveness. So, I’d be grateful if you could get a statement from the communities Secretary with annexes of up-to-date data on the relevant figures there.

Finally, I appreciate that this one is early days, but I don’t want it disappearing from our line of sight: could we have a statement reasonably soon on progress on changes being considered to the regulatory framework, and planning framework, actually, which AMs from my region raised as a result of the woodchip fires that we saw during the summer and later on? The Cabinet Secretary did say that she’d be looking at changes, and I think it would just be encouraging for us all to see what progress has been made on that. Thank you.

Thank you, Suzy Davies, for those three questions, and thank you for welcoming the fact that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government did announce that extra, new non-domestic rates relief scheme for the high street—part of the Welsh Government’s final budget laid on 20 December. I know it has been widely welcomed. Clearly, this is going to be delivered. It’s a targeted relief scheme; it’ll be in place by 1 April of this year, when the revised rates come into force. It’s important also to say that this is in addition to the £10 million transitional relief scheme, also from 1 April, and the £100 million tax cut for small businesses in Wales provided by the small business rates relief scheme. So, it is now a question of delivering on that commitment and, obviously, the Cabinet Secretary is now taking that forward. There is an opportunity this afternoon in the final budget again to welcome this, and I’m sure that Suzy Davies will do so.

On your second point on Communities First-related issues, relating to Lift and the way forward, you will be aware, of course, that there is still an engagement process on the way forward in terms of resilient communities, and there’s been a great deal of response to that through an online survey, focus groups and engagement events. These issues, of course, are being considered in terms of what the response is, and particularly those aspects of Communities First and Lift, as you have described. Of course, your third point, that is something we will take note of in terms of updates on those regulatory frameworks.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. May I thank the Cabinet Secretary for business for her statement? Further to that, Ken Skates, the Cabinet Secretary for the economy, published a written statement yesterday, ‘Expert Review of Local Museum Provision in Wales 2015 report—Update on progress’. Following that statement, a number of questions arise, particularly in terms of the possibility of creating three regional bodies to provide services for museums in future and the financial questions that arise from that. It’s also important that we should understand the work that’s in the pipeline to develop a museums charter and the discussions that the Cabinet Secretary is having with local councils on this issue. He mentions those issues in his written statement, but because of the questions that arise from that written statement published yesterday, could I ask for an oral statement in the Chamber on this issue, please?

I’m glad to find that you do welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s written statement, clarifying many points that you have raised with him. I know that there will be opportunities and questions to the Cabinet Secretary and, indeed, I’m sure, in appearances at committee as well on this matter.

I would like to raise two issues. Firstly, before Christmas, the Cabinet Secretary for the environment responded to me here in the Chamber, saying that she would write to me regarding a question I raised on local development plans. I haven’t yet received a note on that, so I would be grateful for a response—very grateful for that.

Secondly, I would request a statement. I have previously highlighted the success of forest stage rallying in Wales, which is worth £15 million a year to the Welsh economy. Now, we did have a very encouraging response form the Welsh Government back in July, which suggested that Natural Resources Wales and the Motor Sports Association had come to an agreement on charges for road repairs and maintenance, and I was very grateful for that. It now appears that the mid Wales stages for the 2017 British rally championship have been cancelled due to uncertainty over the charges in rallies in NRW forests. Now, I believe that this is in regards to having to charge VAT. The immediate consequence to this, of course, is that the cancellation will have a huge knock-on effect on the mid Wales economy and will lose thousands and thousands of pounds to the local area. You will appreciate that rallying and motor sports bring in lots of visitors and a vital income to mid Wales. So, I would be grateful if the appropriate Cabinet Secretary could investigate this and bring forward a statement to the Chamber.

Thank you, Russell George. The Cabinet Secretary has been able to respond positively to your first question. On your second question, I think it is a matter of clarifying what the reasons are for that cancellation, because, clearly, as you said, there’s a very positive response to the use of our forests for these championships, which are welcome. But, there are reasons for cancellations, and I think it’s important that we clarify, and I think the Cabinet Secretary will ensure that that is brought to your attention, and for Members as well.

Will the Minister formally place on the record my thanks to officials, to police and to members of the public for support after the burglary of my constituency office? Members may be interested to know that there’s no actual back entrance; the burglars had to go seven doors down, go through a door, go down the end of a lane, turn left, know to go through the shed-like structure through another door, they arrived at the window, unscrewed a wooden cover, cut through PVC and sawed through steel bars. Maybe we should have had Welsh steel. Maybe that’s what we should do next time. But, to be serious, I would like to thank officials who have taken great care to look after me, my staff and my family. I thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.

4. 3. Statement: Consultation on the Draft Dementia Strategic Action Plan for Wales

We now move to the next item: the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport on the consultation on the draft dementia strategic action plan for Wales. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make his statement—Vaughan Gething.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. In October, I presented to the Assembly the second delivery plan of our 10-year cross-Government strategy, ‘Together for Mental Health’. That was launched on World Mental Health Day, 10 October. A key action within the delivery plan is the development of a dementia strategic action plan. This responds to a key commitment within our programme for government, ‘Taking Wales Forward’. It is the clear ambition of this Government to make Wales a dementia-friendly nation. I’m pleased to make further progress within the first year of this Assembly term. I launched the public consultation on the first national dementia strategic action plan for Wales at Oldwell Court in Cardiff yesterday.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

People living longer is, of course, something to be celebrated, but, as life expectancy improves, we know more people will develop dementia. Dementia is one of the biggest healthcare challenges that our generation faces. It’s estimated that between 40,000 and 50,000 people in Wales are currently living with dementia, although not all are diagnosed. Clearly, the impact of dementia in society is much wider when we consider carers and family members.

It is crucial that we hear from people living with or affected by dementia, just like the people I met yesterday at Oldwell Court, because we want to understand what matters most to them. We must have a clear way forward to support people with dementia and the people close to them. A number of engagement events across Wales have already taken place to hear from people living with dementia, their family members, carers, health professionals, voluntary organisations and other people with an interest in dementia. That’s been undertaken in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society and the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project, widely known as DEEP, who have already engaged with over 400 people personally affected by dementia. My thanks do go to all of those who have contributed to this work, as their views and experiences have been instrumental in creating the draft plan for wider public consultation.

It’s worth recognising that no two people with dementia, or the people who support them, will have identical needs. From the pre-consultation work already undertaken, people have told us that services need to be values and rights driven, and be tailored to the individual. That support needs to be flexible to the different needs at different stages of the condition. Those sentiments have been echoed in a number of reports, including the older people’s commissioner’s report, ‘Dementia: more than just memory loss’ and the Welsh Language Commissioner’s inquiry into the Welsh language in primary care, ‘My Language, My Health’. The issues identified by these reports include a lack of knowledge and understanding of dementia amongst professionals and the public, and the need for dementia assessments and care to be accessible through the medium of Welsh. The need to ensure access to help, support and services in rural areas has also been highlighted in a report published last year by the Alzheimer’s Society.

We have, in fact, though, come a long way in realising our commitment to create a dementia-friendly nation here in Wales, but we recognise that there is, of course, more to do. Last year, we announced a number of priority areas on dementia and the steps we would take to address them. This included work on dementia risk reduction, increasing public awareness, actions to improve diagnosis rates and ensuring that support is available to people affected by dementia. The draft action plan builds on this work and contains a number of themes that we propose will require further action over the next five years. But, to ensure that the plan remains relevant and targeted, it will be formally reviewed and refreshed after three years, and the final plan will include more details on timescales, examples of notable practice and expectations for delivery.

The themes have been structured using a pathway approach, which came out strongly from the engagement that we’ve undertaken so far. Proposed areas for action include raising awareness of how to help people reduce their risk of developing dementia, or delay its onset; raising awareness and understanding of dementia through the expansion of Dementia Friends and dementia supportive communities and organisations; ensuring that dementia is recognised appropriately and that people have timely access to assessment and diagnosis; early support and treatment for people with dementia, their carers and families, following diagnosis; and the availability of increased support, whether in a person’s home, in hospital, in a care home or even at a day centre. The plan also contains a section that supports implementation. This includes a continued focus on education and training, following the recommendations included in ‘Good Work: A Dementia Learning and Development Framework for Wales’, launched last year in Hefin David’s constituency, and also continued support for research into dementia.

The formal consultation will run for three months, closing on 3 April. I am urging everyone with an interest in dementia to share their views. We would like to hear from the wider community, including businesses, faith groups and other interests. It is only by working together that we think we can build a truly dementia-friendly Wales and combat other problems, such as loneliness and isolation. The public consultation will help us to use people’s experiences and expertise to develop and deliver a robust and evidence-based action plan.

I do trust that Members from all parties will recognise the work undertaken to date. I look forward to hearing the views of as many people as possible, to ensure that our final plan is ambitious and achievable, and that we do work in partnership with individuals, their families and their carers, to continue to make progress towards making Wales a genuinely dementia-friendly nation.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, I welcome this statement immensely. I am very pleased to see that there’s a public consultation to inform the dementia strategic action plan. I do want to pick up on the paragraph where you start by saying:

‘People living longer is something to be celebrated.’

I think that, too often, the rhetoric around dementia, the rhetoric around older people, is not positive: they are bed-blockers, they are a drain on social services, and dementia is something that is going to happen to everybody and it is going to be absolutely terrible. Whereas, of course, we know that older people are to be celebrated, that they are a vital part of our community, and that dementia, if supported, if caught early, and if given the appropriate treatments, can actually be slowed and sometimes put into remission, and that people can go on to live really good live even though they have dementia—obviously not everyone, but, still, some people. So, it is to be celebrated.

I only have three questions because I am quite sure that the Chair of the cross-party group on dementia is going to have quite a significant number of questions for you, and I am very pleased to be a member of that group. When you see the outcome of this consultation, will you ensure that the action plan has clear and measurable outcomes, and a consistent data set? I think this is incredibly important because a key problem in ensuring transparent accountability is that measurements change over time, parameters can be fudged, and transparency can dissolve into opaqueness. I think that if we want to know whether or not this action plan is going to work and continue to work over the next decades, then to have a clear and consistent set of outcomes and measurables is vitally important, going forward.

My second point is, in looking at the consultation, it doesn’t propose much on delivery models. So, I wanted to have a little bit of an understanding from you on whether you will be seeking to rely quite significantly on co-production with third sector organisations; or will you be looking to increase the intervention by Welsh Government by, say, increasing the numbers of support workers; or will you be putting much of this responsibility onto health or on to social services or local councils; or will you be looking to deliver through the partnership boards?

Finally, given the severity of the dementia issue in terms of the fact that it is now one of the biggest killers of people in Wales, and given that it is also one of the main reasons why sufferers and carers suffer so badly from isolation and loneliness, which of course impacts on their mental and physical well-being even more, do you think that the targets that you have in the plan are ambitious enough? They don’t bring us in line with other countries. I do appreciate that it is always hard to go from one level to another, but a 3 per cent increase year after year—is that going to actually get us to where we want to be quickly enough, or can you look to improving those targets? Dementia kills more people than almost any other disease in Wales, and we really need to get a grip of it.

Thank you for the questions and comments, and I agree: as I said in my statement, we should celebrate the fact that more of us live longer. Our challenge always is: how do we live healthily and live well for longer as well? Part of the point you made earlier about reducing our risk or delaying the onset of dementia is that there is lots and lots of evidence about how we can help ourselves to live longer. We talked lots in the last term—but not so much this term—about the fact that the Caerphilly study shows us an awful lot, not just about the theory but about the practical reality of what each of us can do to make different choices about how we live our lives, to live a healthier life, to reduce our risk of having dementia or, indeed, to delay the onset. There are also major public health factors in a whole range of other conditions too, in the way that we can reduce those particular challenges for us, not just for the health of the nation, but for individuals as well. And that’s part of what we want to try and move to in writing this plan, about having different bodies talking about the same messages about what each of us could and should do, as well as what we then expect of each other within our communities, but also of public services and the private sector as well.

And I think that this goes back to the point you made about the actions for different partners, because there will be things for the health service to do. We were talking about diagnosis rates, so, a range of people obviously have to be a big part of that, but also in social care, in the care and provision and the way that we expect the social services and well-being Act to be implemented progressively, there are sections in the action plans being consulted upon about what we expect to see happen. As that Act is implemented, the third sector will be not just champions and advocates, they provide services—they’re commissioned to provide those services in different parts of the sector. But there’s an awful lot in here, as I say, about us as a society and as a nation, and what each of us will do, as individual employers in this room, with our staff and the way we all deal with our constituents, the way that we talk, to the way that businesses and the wider communities are actually genuinely friendly and understanding of, you know, the significant number of people who live with us now and will do in the future as well.

So, it isn’t just one set of partners; that goes back into how we’ll have consistent data and measures for success. Some of these will be easier to measure than others. How people feel that they are supported, for example, is more difficult to measure in the same way that we might want to measure, for example, diagnosis rates and have harder data about what is being done in different parts of it. But I do want to see commentary on what’s in the plan and how we then have meaningful measures, because we do know—and this is being perfectly honest—that, in the past, each of us has signed up to saying the Government should do, the Government should measure different parts of activity, but they don’t always tell us a great deal that is useful, and I really do think, in the end, if you want something that is both, as I say, realistic and ambitious at the same time, that does mean that the measures that we have and the way we want to produce that information has got to be meaningful and useful. Otherwise, we could measure activity in a way that is easy to say we’re measuring something but not really telling us anything of value.

And on your final point about diagnosis and the 3 per cent year-on-year increase, I think that is quite ambitious, actually, and if we achieve it, we’ll see a progressive and increasing number of people coming into services and actually receiving services and, hopefully, receiving more help. But, if people have a different view, then they should say that during the consultation. And it’s then also about having an ambition, as I say, that is achievable. What I don’t want to do is to set a level of ambition that may look great on paper but we don’t then have the services scaled up to deliver and we set our staff up and our services up to fail then, and that can’t be the right thing. It’s got to be about how we further improve what is a real and current significant challenge for health, social care and our nation and will be more so in the future.

I’m very pleased that we now have a strategy that we can give due attention to through the consultation, to strengthen it and to build on what we have before us, by including the experiences of those people who genuinely know what needs to be done, namely the families of those who have dementia. I know that the majority of us here in the Chamber have heard plenty of heartbreaking stories of people who feel that they failed to access the care that they feel should be a fundamental right for someone with dementia: the woman who had to stay on a ward in a hospital for months with a relatively simple infection because there was a failure to put an appropriate package of care in place in her community; the carers who can’t arrange care for even a short period of time to have a break; those who feel that the kind of day care that’s vital for them isn’t available. It’s the voices of those people, the families and those who have dementia themselves, that I want to hear coming through in the final strategy, following this consultation. I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary would agree with that.

I only had five questions. Two have already been asked by Angela Burns, so I’ll ask them as rhetorical questions, even though we know what the Cabinet Secretary has in mind in that regard. It’s important to have a balance between being ambitious and being realistic, but I will ask whether this 3 per cent increase in diagnosis on an annual basis is something that the Cabinet Secretary genuinely feels couldn’t be improved upon, because that will only take us, in five years, to the situation where Northern Ireland is at present.

The other rhetorical question is how to measure success, ultimately, because it’s the action that’s important here, the effect that this strategy will have on people the length and breadth of Wales. Is the Cabinet Secretary clear in his mind that he will be able to look back and say, ‘Yes, this has worked’ or ‘This hasn’t worked’?

Three questions to which we may receive specific answers: is there an intention to develop further the preventative side, to invest genuinely in opportunities, for example, to exercise to delay or reduce dementia symptoms, and not just to draw attention and raise awareness of the kind that the Cabinet Secretary mentioned a few minutes ago? In terms of diagnosis in the Welsh language, as the Alzheimer’s Society has said, I very much welcome the plan and the intention to improve things somehow, but when will we have, from the Government as well as from others, as part of the consultation, more detail on what is being considered here?

Finally, the rural aspect of dementia care. Does the Cabinet Secretary expect that this final strategy on dementia will give us a fuller picture and clearer picture of the specific issues that stem from the needs of dementia care in rural Wales? As I say, I welcome the fact that we do now have this draft strategy to work from; the challenge now is that we would have a final strategy that is going to be able to achieve these very warm words on which we can all agree to make Wales a genuinely dementia-friendly nation.

Thank you for your comments and questions. I’ll start with where you ended, on the points about rural Wales, of course. I expect there will be comments from people from right across Wales, in both urban and rural Wales, on the reality of provision and support now, and what they want to see both in the strategy and in the delivery afterwards. There are points that both you and Angela Burns have made, not just about the vision that we have, and what is in here and what may or may not be in here. Those are points to be debated, discussed and argued and then, ultimately, we’ll have to make a choice. But it is about how they’re delivered in reality. So, that’s some of the points about measures of success and how we share information, again, which were constantly made during your contribution as well.

You will see more of this because the consultation ends on 3 April, as I said. You will then see a response with a finalised version of the action plan being produced over this calendar year and then progressively implemented. I hope that people will be able to reflect on comments that have been made through the consultation process actually having an influence on what ultimately is then going to be implemented and delivered. I reiterate again that what we have now comes from that conversation and listening to people who are living with dementia now. Not just advocates in the third sector, but individuals themselves, their families and their carers have actually had a real part to play in drawing together the current consultation proposal and we will of course be listening to them. I’m really pleased, actually, that the Alzheimer’s Society made clear that their main message yesterday following the launch was that people living with dementia have to be involved and their voices have to be heard, in telling people what their real experience is, and whether the consultation is going to reflect upon that in what we then ultimately do.

Just to your point about prevention, of course we produced the ‘Dementia: reduce your risk in 6 steps’ guidance in May 2015, and I was not the health Minister at the time—someone else was. But there are really simple points there: the points about acting now, and what we can do to reduce our risk by being active, checking our health regularly, trying new things, not smoking, only occasionally drinking alcohol—that’s a challenge for a number of Members—and by watching our weight. These are all things we laugh and joke about from time to time, but they actually have a real influence on our ultimate health outcomes now and later in life as well. So the consistent message we want to give—and I think it’s actually helpful in some ways—is that these are the same sorts of messages we give on a whole range of other public health challenges. The real issue will be: can we persuade ourselves and people in the country not just to understand what those messages are, but then how we make it easier for people to do something about those? It’s not about trying to take the fun out of life. It is about saying, ‘These things can make a difference’, and how do we help to make those healthier choices easier choices.

So, there are big challenges for all of us, but I’m cautiously optimistic about where we are now, and our ability to have in place a plan that is appropriately ambitious, realistic, and achievable. We will of course be reporting back at the three-year point as to where we are, that sense check on what we’ve done, and then to check again that we’re still in the right place in what we expect people to do, and the sort of progress that we are making.

Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement? I’m really, really pleased that we have reached this point today and, like others, I really welcome the commitment that you’ve made to ensuring that the voices, not just of families affected by dementia, but of people who are living with the condition are fully heard through this consultation. I think those are the most important voices of all: far more important than our voices, as important as it is that we speak out. I think there is a great deal to welcome in this draft strategy. I think it covers all the main areas that I would think should be covered.

I do just want to pick up on a couple of specific points. The first is diagnosis rates. I don’t think that 3 per cent a year is ambitious enough. As I’ve said before, we wouldn’t accept a 50 per cent diagnosis rate for a condition like cancer and we shouldn’t accept it for something like dementia. I hope that, as we go through the consultation, it will be possible to introduce a more ambitious diagnosis-rate target.

Of course, diagnosis targets are only valuable if you’ve actually got the support services in place for people once they’ve received the diagnosis, and I’m pleased that the strategy recognises that. Indeed, you recognise the fact that pharmacological treatments, et cetera, which can slow the progress of dementia, can only be made available to people once you’ve had that diagnosis. I think that’s very important. But there is still a lack of detail on this issue of support workers: currently 32, it’s clearly not going to be enough for the whole of Wales, especially if we do increase diagnosis rates. So, I hope that, through the consultation, we can look to improve on that.

And then just finally, on the issue of implementation, I’m really pleased that you’ve been specific about the mechanisms for monitoring the strategy in terms of the group that’s going to be set up. I hope that we will be able to know more about exactly how that will work and, in particular, the reporting mechanisms to Government with that group.

I also wanted to flag up that I’m pleased to see the high-level performance targets in the back of the document, but I think that there needs to be more detail there as well. I would like to ask you whether it is your intention, through this consultation, to actually put some milestones, in terms of actual numbers, into that section so that we can actually clearly monitor, as we go through this, how we are actually achieving against our aims.

Just finally, I wanted to say, there’s been this discussion about whether you should be too ambitious or whether you should be realistic: I think we should be aiming really high with this document. Anyone who’s had any contact directly with dementia will tell you that it is a game-changing experience. We know that the numbers of people who are going to have dementia make it a game-changing experience for our public services and I think we should aim for our strategy to be a game-changing strategy.

Thank you for the comments and questions. I’ll start by answering some of particularly detailed ones. I welcome the fact that you welcome the broad strategy. Of course, the point of the consultation is to hear what people have to say about it and see what can be improved and actually delivered on the back of that as well.

In particular, your points about the monitoring group on delivery, and to consider how we could potentially add milestones for progress, we think it is important that people can see what progress is being made through that, whether that’s going to be about milestones within the delivery itself, within the action plan itself, or whether it is about the monitoring group and how they report back on that and how it can be shared so that people can see the progress that is and isn’t being made. Because it is important there’s honesty about the progress that is being made. Because if I stood up and tried to claim that everything was fine and wonderful and people were seeing constituents and being told something different, well that would be very difficult, and I think the consultation would not build the trust in what we’re trying to do, because we do want to be able to talk about what progress we are making on dealing with a growing and significant challenge for all of us in every part of our public services.

We have already made investments, before the consultation has taken place, so your point about support workers is well made and it’s one that’s regularly made by a range of people. We’ve put in some more money, for example, £0.5 million into occupational therapy support and we’ve also put £800,000 into support workers in the primary care setting as well. We need to understand what impact that is having and then how we’ll actually have more staff able to provide that direct support as well.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the report yesterday, but—[Inaudible.]—were talking about what happened when their diagnosis took place for a family member several years previously, and they didn’t have that support at the point of diagnosis. Now, that is a real challenge—for the individual who has dementia being told this is a challenge that you now face, but also for the family as well. So, that’s one of the obvious points for improvement. I can say that it is better now than it was five or six years ago and more, but our challenge is how do we further improve, and how does this strategy make a real difference. That’s the point about what we want to really see happen.

So, we’ll look at the diagnosis, we’ll look at whether the rates we’ve got are ambitious enough and achievable enough and that support can go around them, but people in this room have a really important role to play as advocates and champions, and raising different issues for us in the Government as well. But also not to play down the experience of people in this room, because many people in every party have got individual experience of caring for family and friends, and so this isn’t something where there is a lack of experience and empathy in this room—not just seeing constituents, but individually too, and I’d want to see that captured in the way the consultation works, and then how we take this work forward. And, of course, I’d be very happy to come to the cross-party group at some point in the near future to understand more from members of the cross-party group and external visitors as we move through the consultation.

Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary. The goal of making Wales a dementia-friendly nation is one we all share. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in Wales, and the number of people affected by dementia is expected to rise by around 40 per cent over the next decade. The fact that Welsh dementia sufferers, their families and carers can directly feed in and shape Wales’s first dementia strategy is most welcome, and I look forward to seeing the results of the consultation in due course.

Regarding the draft dementia strategy itself, I have a few questions relating to the high-level performance measures. You have set a target of ensuring that two thirds of dementia sufferers have a formal diagnosis by December 2021. How did you settle on this target, and why is it not more ambitious, given the obvious benefits a formal diagnosis brings? The strategy sets a target for the percentage of NHS staff who come in contact with the public who are trained in dementia care: the target is for three quarters of the workforce by 2019. When can we expect to see 100 per cent of NHS staff trained in the appropriate level of dementia care?

The Welsh Government rightly wants to see a reduction in the percentage of people with dementia prescribed antipsychotic medication. However, you haven’t indicated a target for that reduction. Granted, there may be a few cases where this is necessary, but all the experts agree that we should not be using these medicines to treat dementia. Cabinet Secretary, will you be using guidance to ensure that antipsychotics are only used when strictly necessary?

I welcome the fact that the strategy highlights that dementia can strike at any age and the role that alcohol can play. We need to better educate the public about the risks of alcohol-related dementia and brain damage. Cabinet Secretary, what plans do you have to increase public awareness about the fact that alcohol misuse can lead to dementia?

Finally, Cabinet Secretary, what plans do you have to improve access to substance misuse clinics, so that we can, hopefully, prevent more people from developing alcohol-related dementia in future? Dementia is one of the biggest health challenges facing our nation, and it is therefore vital that we get this strategy right. I look forward to seeing the responses to the consultation and working with you, Cabinet Secretary, to deliver our shared aim of a dementia-friendly nation. Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you for the comments and questions. I think, in terms of trying to deal with those, I’ve answered points about diagnosis, and I’ll look forward to hearing what the consultation says about what we’ve got in the plan, and what is realistic and achievable for us to actually deliver. Part of the point we’re trying to get across is that there’s a need to have a continuing increase and improvement in the diagnosis rate, at a rate that is real and material, and to see that carry on. Now I recognise that many people will urge us to be more ambitious. We need to understand what is really coming through the door, and what is our ability then to actually improve diagnosis rates with different partners acting at different points in time. So, I’m happy to hear what the consultation has to say before we make a final choice—that is, after all, the point of having a genuine consultation.

On your point about staff and staff training, I’d like to deliver what’s in the plan, and learn from that afterwards about how we then have more NHS staff being trained and appropriately equipped. It’s also about staff in health and social care, but in a wider field as well, and that’s why the advice, the guidance, that we launched before Christmas really does make a difference. It was actually a very useful event in actually meeting people in Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr and understanding what they’d already done, the training that had taken place and the improvements in the patient experience that had taken place as a result of that training and provisions being in place.

I recognise the points you make about the use of antipsychotics and where they’re appropriate, and that’s part of the point, and we talk about it in the plan, but I particularly want to deal with your comments about substance misuse. There’s something here about the join-up between the different plans and strategies that we have, recognising we do talk about substance misuse and the plans that we have to improve substance misuse provision to help people to get through that as well, and, in particular, the way that alcohol-related brain damage crosses a number of different areas of activity. We know that there is some work that we’ve been supporting in and around Ogmore in looking at this particular issue in terms of the treatment, the provision and the research, but also Members who were here in the previous Assembly will have heard me discuss some of the work that’s been taking place, for example, in the Liverpool and the Glasgow areas as well. It’s important we continue to learn from other parts of the UK about what is likely to be a continuing challenge. More and more people are going to be coming through doors with alcohol-related challenges, and in this area in particular as well, and lots of those people will actually be more affluent groups of people coming in with alcohol-related challenges in dementia. So, we’ve got to think about how we deal with a range of our different challenges, understand what the current evidence is about what is effective, and then how that impacts obviously on diagnosis, but actually on treatment and provision that we need to have, which will be different in the future to what we have now, as well.

Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary, and thanks also to the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project and the Alzheimer’s Society, who have assisted you with this. I know their work in my own region is very valuable indeed. Three things: I was very pleased with the recognition of the need for Welsh language speakers, whose rights are, of course, already recognised in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, but can you confirm that provision of services, or assistance, really, in other languages will also be considered closely? I think, in this situation, the question of language is less one of abstract right and one of meeting needs. And I don’t think it needs to be about a great chunk of Government machinery, but I think it is down to Government and us as Assembly Members to ensure that those needs are met.

I’d also be interested to know what you actually mean by ‘raising awareness’, because I’m curious to know what that’s likely to look like within public services. Are you considering, for example, identifying dementia friends at all levels of public service, whether that’s the chief executive of a council or even a private bus company, because, of course, public services extend beyond the public sector, and this strategy needs to reach that far as well?

And then, just finally, the impact on social services, and I fully appreciate that this strategy’s entirely about the needs of people with dementia and those who support them, but we also have to consider those who are available to help provide what meets those needs, and how this strategy will help local authorities in particular relieve pressure on social services in certain places in order to be able to provide more support in other places within social services. And while the focus should absolutely be on the needs of people with dementia, actually those who are providing the services also need to have due weight given to their views, too. Thank you.

Yes, I’m particularly interested in hearing from social care providers as part of the consultation on what’s in here, about the experience of their staff and about the realities of delivering and providing the service, because the mix of that provision will differ in different parts of the country as well. Sometimes, that will be appropriate to what exists there, and sometimes there may be other learning they can take from the way in which different models of care are delivered in other parts of the country. So, I really do hope that we hear directly from people providing services in the here and now, as well as those people living with it. There are a range of different stakeholders who could and should take part, and I’m interested in the widest possible range of views being provided.

On your point about not just the Welsh language but other languages, I agree with you: it is about addressing a real need. There’s plenty of evidence that people with dementia will often revert to their primary language, and their ability to speak other languages can be compromised. And so actually there is a real need here to be addressed, as opposed to a preference, and it’s important to recognise the difference there. So, that will provide differing challenges in different parts of the country, but it is something that each of our providers needs to take on board in designing and then delivering their services.

And, on the point about what it takes and what it means to be a dementia-friendly community and country, I’m pleased you make the point this is more than just public services. Actually, there is a role for people in the voluntary but also in the business sector too as well to be generally dementia friendly: the level of understanding that can be displayed, what that means for different people as well. That’s why, when you look at dementia-friendly communities, it isn’t just people in the public sector that have got involved and engaged and are making a real success; it is a much wider range of people. That’s what I tried to get over in my statement and that’s why I’m also interested in hearing from business groups as we go through the consultation, and then roll out into delivery as well.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer; thank you for calling me to speak on this draft dementia strategy. I welcome it and I welcome the public consultation that’s taking place. I’m very pleased that people who are actually experiencing dementia will be consulted, and their families. I was very pleased to see that the importance of the wider community is recognised in the draft strategy and I think it’s absolutely essential that people suffering from dementia and their families and carers are enabled to still play a vital role in society, and that there needs to be a range of support outside the statutory services to ensure that people can maintain a good quality of life. I think it’s very good that it also recognises that this support doesn’t have to take the form of dementia-specific activities, because I think some of the most innovative ideas come from communities themselves and the best ones encourage non-dementia sufferers to mix with people who’ve got dementia, in the way that we’re talking about dementia-friendly communities, and we’ve obviously talked about what they actually are.

Before Christmas I was very privileged to attend a concert in my constituency by the Forget-me-Not Chorus. I’m sure many other Members have experienced the Forget-me-Not Chorus, and I found it an absolutely inspiring occasion, because the Forget-me-Not Chorus is made up of people who have got dementia and their carers, and they participate in pairs. They gave an absolutely unforgettable performance, where many people suffering from dementia who were unable to speak in everyday conversation, a song came back to them. In the same way as the Cabinet Secretary spoke about language coming back to people, the power of song was so strong that—. It was an unforgettable occasion. It seemed to me that that sort of activity—. It was done in conjunction with the Welsh National Opera, so the standard of singing was very high, but that is the sort of activity that I think we should be encouraging in a widespread sort of way, because it is a way for people and the carers and the relatives to participate, and you could see the joy it gave. It just seemed to me an example of the sort of provision that we could encourage, and I was very pleased that there is a choir practising in Thornhill—and there is one in the Cabinet Secretary’s own constituency and in Newport—and it’s really quite exhilarating that this is happening. I think most of the other points that I wanted to make have been covered by all the points that have been made today. But I just thought and wondered if you could comment on that sort of activity and what we can do to encourage that.

Yes, and thank you for the comments and questions. Again, we go back to the fact that this consultation draft has been drawn up working with people living with dementia now and we’re to hear from a wider range of people through the rest of the consultation’s period of time, because this isn’t about saying that once a diagnosis is made then that is it, because, actually, lots of people live for a long time with dementia. Whether they live for a long time or a short time, there is still something about the quality of life that they have and also the families and their carers around them too. One of the most interesting parts of my visit yesterday was actually sitting down and talking to people with dementia. I played some Scrabble with them, and I didn’t win—I got moved on before the game ended, which was very disappointing, but I was listening to people, having a conversation and understanding the parts of what was still important to them and the conversations they wanted to have, and then also having a conversation with carers as well and understanding the impact for them, not just having that break and the time, but also the engagement in meaningful activities for them and their loved ones, and whether that’s the Forget-me-not organisation—. In fact, I did a Forget-me-not visit with Rebecca Evans in a previous time, when I was a Deputy Minister, meeting people in her now constituency and understanding some of the impact that has for a range of individuals, but not just individuals, but their families, their carers and all those other people who are still volunteering and making those organisations a real success. Because music, song, and a range of other activities that go into making something generally meaningful for people living with dementia, as opposed to something that’s looking to warehouse people, and keep them somewhere where we think they’re safe—and, actually, you’re de-skilling them and you’re taking away the quality of the life that they have. I think that can be quite distressing for individuals who still have a significant awareness of who they are at various different points in their journey with dementia, but also their families and carers as well. So, thinking about how we deliver that whole package of support around individuals is absolutely the way we want to be, and then to understand how we’ll do that, and who will do that, with a range of different partners. And, as you point out, the third sector in particular are a really important part of that now, and will be, again, in the future.

That just reminded me of an event. Twenty years ago, I volunteered to go to a residential home to do some carolling. We were singing all of the well-known carols, and at one point we asked the residents if they had any requests, and a lady put up her hand and said, ‘Yes, stop singing.’ Now, the reason why I mentioned that was because, afterwards, a member of staff informed us that she hadn’t spoken for a couple of years, and my point was, regardless of whether you’re a good singer or a bad singer, you can actually have quite an effect on people. But you don’t necessarily need Government to organise this for you. You can go yourself into your local community and do these things.

One of my staff attended the recent cross-party group on dementia, where those living with dementia were represented and, indeed, present. What was clear is that those living with dementia wish to remain a part of our society. They wish to help others as buddies, and they certainly wish to be heard. I note that this consultation that you’ve started appears to be along the usual Welsh Government format. So, what I wanted to know was: how can you ensure that those who need to be consulted—those who are actually using the services—are reached by this consultation, and are able to respond and are able to have their needs met? Can you highlight how this consultation has been made bespoke for that?

Regarding support services, I just wondered what your thoughts were on the merging of social services departments that are providing some of the treatments and care of dementia patients, usually in their own homes, with the NHS, in order to ensure that the left hand knows exactly what the right hand is doing, and to provide a better delivery of services for dementia patients?

Well, I’m not sure if the first point about someone who hadn’t spoken for years actually standing up and speaking when you were singing was a comment on your singing ability, or whether it’s about the impact of music on memory and triggering a reaction. But those points are well made about different activities that are not just about experience, but how you maintain someone’s ability to do things as well and making sure they don’t deteriorate at a more rapid rate.

I understand the points that are regularly made about the way that we consult, but this is a good example of listening to and working with not just the third sector and advocates and champions in designing and delivering a consultation to go out to a broader group of people, but individuals themselves, as I’ve said, because in the dementia engagement and empowerment project, those people are living with dementia themselves, and so they play a key part in terms of people who we’ve listened to in drawing up these proposals for consultation. And it’s why I’m encouraging, and other people are encouraging, the widest possible range of people to get involved and engaged. The events that we’re running we are running with the third sector, with a range of different people they’ve already worked with, who they know have this challenge now, and other people who will get diagnosed in the future as well. We won’t ever, being honest, reach 100 per cent of people. No consultation can do that. But I do think we’re going to reach a good number of people who will then tell us something of real value about their lives, how they live them, the challenges they’ve faced already, what’s worked for them, and what hasn’t, to understand what we already do now, and what we want to do better in the future to deliver better outcomes for those individuals and their families.

That goes back to your final point about merging departments between social services and/or the NHS. We’ve set out a clear agenda in the social services and well-being Act on the partnership that we expect to see happen between health and social care, and the wider third sector and individuals as well. It is about how you empower people. It is about how you reduce barriers to design services around individuals. The Minister will be doing more work on this in practical terms, working with a range of different partners, to understand how the scheme of that Act is progressively delivered over the next couple of years. And I think we’ll be in a good place later on in this term to see how successful we’ve been. We’ve made a deliberate choice not to have a structural reorganisation, but to think about we actually get outcomes for people, and that sense of partnership and real engagement, and mandating people to work together in health and social care in particular.

5. 4. Statement: Avian Influenza

The next item on our agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs on avian influenza, and I call on Lesley Griffiths to make that statement.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. In response to highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza outbreaks across Europe, north Africa and the middle east, I declared, as a precautionary measure, the whole of Wales as an avian influenza prevention zone on 6 December 2016. The prevention zone requires all keepers of poultry, and other captive birds, to keep their birds indoors, or take all appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds, and to enhance biosecurity on their premises. This was a precautionary measure to minimise the risk of poultry and captive birds being infected by wild birds. Similar measures were introduced in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensuring a co-ordinated approach across the UK.

On 16 December, highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza was confirmed in turkeys at premises in Lincolnshire. The majority of the turkeys at the farm died quickly from the infection, with the remainder being humanely culled. A 3 km protection zone and a 10 km surveillance zone were put in place around the premises, restricting movements from premises identified in the zones. Following confirmation of the disease in Lincolnshire, I took further action to protect poultry and captive birds in Wales by introducing a temporary suspension on poultry gatherings such as sales and shows.

EU trade is dependent on strict certification for movement of live poultry and animal products. Following the Lincolnshire case, no trade was allowed from the infected premises, in line with EU requirements. Similarly, no poultry or poultry products can be moved to the UK from the protection zones and surveillance zones imposed in other EU countries. We are continuing to assess the wider impacts on international trade, but we are aware that some non-EU countries have already imposed restrictions.

The disease was confirmed in a wild duck, a wigeon, in Carmarthenshire on 22 December. This was the first finding in a wild bird in the UK, and was not unexpected, given the disease had been confirmed in wild migratory species throughout Europe. Prior to this finding, wild bird surveillance had been increased, with the reporting threshold for species susceptible to this virus strain reduced from five dead birds to one. Members of the public have been encouraged to report any dead wild waterfowl, such as ducks, geese, swans or gulls, and five or more dead wild birds of other species in the same location, to the GB helpline.

Since the finding in Llanelli, there have been further findings of highly pathogenic avian influenza in dead wild birds in England and Scotland, and in Wales, in another wild duck, a teal, in Conwy. It is likely more cases will be found, which will be reported on a weekly basis.

On 3 January, our chief veterinary officer confirmed disease on a smallholding in Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire. The premises, which had six chickens and 19 ducks, was put under restriction, and the birds were humanely culled. The CVO established a 3 km protection zone and a 10 km surveillance zone around the infected premises to reduce the opportunity for the spread of disease, the requirements of which are on the Welsh Government website. The poultry keepers identified in the zones will be visited by the Animal and Plant Health Agency and subject to targeted veterinary investigation. This case reinforces my earlier action, and I am extremely concerned to ensure all keepers of poultry, particularly backyard flocks, make every effort to protect their birds from contact with potentially infected wild birds.

Last week, I extended the prevention zone in Wales to 28 February, which I considered following the Pontyberem case, the continued findings in wild birds across GB, and expert advice. DEFRA and the Scottish Government have done the same. I understand some poultry keepers are having difficulty adhering to all of the requirements of the prevention zone, particularly keeping their birds indoors or separate from wild birds. Housing birds that are not used to being housed or confined for a sustained period may create welfare and behavioural problems. Guidance on maintaining welfare, and a variety of environmental enrichment options for captive birds, including poultry, is, again, available on the Welsh Government website.

I know poultry keepers care about their birds and will understand the actions I have taken are aimed at protecting their birds from disease. Compliance with the prevention zone requirements, and the other restrictions around the premises in Pontyberem, apply equally to keepers of backyard flocks as they do to large commercial premises.

The media have been informed of the declarations implementing restrictions. Guidance is available on our website alerting the public and poultry keepers—and across our social media feeds. The CVO conducted a round of interviews last week across public and commercial outlets covering Wales and the UK as a whole, and a series of further interviews is planned with smaller regional radio stations this week. The latest information has been widely available in the media, but even so, some keepers may still not be aware of the requirements. Poultry keepers with 50 birds or more must register their flocks on the poultry register, and I would strongly encourage all poultry keepers, including those with fewer than 50 birds, to provide their details to the poultry register. This will ensure that they can be contacted immediately, via e-mail or text update, in an avian disease outbreak, enabling them to protect their flock at the earliest opportunity.

The actions and control measures put in place have been proportionate, targeting the activities of highest risk, to minimise impact on international trade, the economy and the sustainability of the poultry industry within Wales. I can assure everyone about the Welsh Government’s continued efforts in this constantly evolving disease situation. I have received regular updates from the CVO and my officials, who worked throughout the Christmas period and who remain closely engaged with other administrations, monitoring the situation and taking action as necessary. The level of risk of avian influenza to poultry and other captive birds from wild birds will not decrease in the coming weeks and may even increase when the spring wild bird migration period begins. Work is in hand with DEFRA and the Scottish Government to consider what the exit strategy might be for lifting the prevention zone.

The Llywydd took the Chair.

I cannot stress enough the need for those who keep poultry flocks and other domestic birds to remain alert for signs of the disease, to contact their private veterinarians if they have any concerns and to practice the highest levels of biosecurity.

Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement this afternoon? I think it’s important that, from the outset, we reinforce the message that the risk to public health from this virus is very low and that it does not pose a food safety risk for Welsh consumers.

I appreciate the delicacy of this particular issue and that’s why it’s so important that the Welsh Government is quick to act and is working collaboratively with other Governments across the UK. It’s crucial that any contingency planning is co-ordinated with other Governments across the UK, so that Government policies don’t hinder or even escalate the current problem.

In light of today’s statement, given that the Cabinet Secretary has made it clear that her officials are engaging closely with the other administrations, perhaps she could, therefore, update us on the latest discussions that the Welsh Government has had at a ministerial level with the UK Government and the other devolved Governments regarding this particular outbreak, and how the monitoring of disease threats like the H5N8 strain can be strengthened across Governments in the future.

Of course, it’s so crucial that smaller keepers and those who keep chickens and other birds on a more domestic level are kept updated with the latest developments in relation to this particular strain, and not just the commercial poultry sector. I’m pleased that poultry keepers are being encouraged to provide details of their flocks to the poultry register, which is a crucial anchor for the Welsh Government to better understand the situation here in Wales. I sincerely hope that even those keepers with fewer than 50 birds provide their details so that, in the event of an outbreak, they can have access to the appropriate information quickly and thereby better protect their birds. Could the Cabinet Secretary therefore provide us with an update on the frequency of keepers who are providing their details to the register? Perhaps the Cabinet Secretary could provide an initial assessment of the effectiveness of this register at this stage.

Unfortunately, the signs of avian flu, as I understand it, can vary between species of bird and could range from something very mild, like a change in colour, to something far more drastic. However, because the disease can react differently, it’s very difficult to effectively monitor the disease in kept poultry and even more so in wild birds. There is, of course, still an important role for surveillance to play in relation to this outbreak, and today’s statement confirms that bird surveillance has, of course, increased. However, perhaps the Cabinet Secretary can tell us a bit more about how this enhanced bird surveillance, specifically in wild birds, is taking place across Wales at an operational level.

The avian flu strain will, no doubt, have an effect on Wales’s free-range sector, which, of course, prides itself on the animal’s ability to roam freely. We know that 89 per cent of egg production units in Wales produce free-range eggs. Further to my question to the First Minister earlier today, perhaps the Cabinet Secretary can tell us a little bit more about what assessment has been made of the impact of the strain of avian flu on this particular sector. I appreciate that today’s statement references the Welsh Government’s guidance on maintaining welfare for captive birds, however can she tell us if there are any implications on the welfare of poultry on free-range farms, and if so, how has the Welsh Government mitigated any potential welfare implications as a result of this strain of avian flu?

Now, last year the Cabinet Secretary brought forward a statement on exotic animal disease threats. I asked about how the Welsh Government prepares Wales, in the event of an outbreak of a disease, to ensure that our support processes have access to the appropriate resources and funding. I’m sure the Cabinet Secretary would agree that it’s essential that there is adequate funding in place to ensure that farmers, local authorities and agencies are confident that they have what they need to deliver disease control measures here in Wales. Therefore, I’d be grateful if the Cabinet Secretary could now tell us how the Welsh Government allocated resources in this area, and how that funding is monitored so that the people of Wales can be as confident as possible that the Welsh Government is taking action to make Wales as safe as it can be at all times.

In closing, Llywydd, can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement this afternoon? It’s incumbent on all of us in this Chamber to do what we can to promote the importance of good biosecurity, and to encourage our constituents to report dead wild waterfowl or other dead wild birds. I’m pleased that this afternoon’s statement confirms that the Welsh Government is working alongside other Governments to ensure that a streamlined co-ordinated approach is delivered across the UK. I look forward to hearing more about the Welsh Government’s action in this area via the Cabinet Secretary’s response.

I thank Paul Davies for his questions and comments. I think it was very good that you, sort of, reiterated what I said about the risk to public health: it is very low, there have been no incidents at all of this strain of influenza in the public, and the Foods Standards Agency has said it’s very safe to eat both poultry and eggs. I think we were very quick to act—we took the decision around the precautionary measures, as I said, on the 6 December—and gave it a great deal of thought. I think the fact around free range was something that, obviously, was of concern to me, because you didn’t want to start the clock too early, because of obviously the 12 weeks in relation to the free-range status. You know, you didn’t want to start too early because that would have an impact on that. But I think it was right that we acted quickly and, certainly, I think the co-ordinated approach between the UK Government, Scotland and Wales has been able to give that very consistent approach, and Northern Ireland obviously followed closely after.

The chief veterinary officers I think have daily discussions, and certainly officials were having daily telephone conversations, and there have been meetings. So, at an official level, those discussions are going on at a very frequent rate. In relation to ministerial discussions, last week all four agricultural Ministers from across the UK were at the Oxford Farming Conference—sorry, three were there. The Scottish Minister wasn’t there, but there was a representative from Scotland. So, again, there were discussions, both at ministerial and official level.

I think the poultry register—. It’s very important—obviously, if you’ve got over 50 birds then it’s mandatory—but what I’ve asked officials to do it look at whether it should be mandatory for fewer than 50, because I am concerned that everybody does know about this. If you’ve only got two chickens, it’s just as important that you care just as much about your poultry as people with more. So, I’ve asked officials to have a look at whether it’s possible to introduce that also. But, again, I think it needs to be a consistent approach across the UK, so that’s something that we will be looking at going forward.

The poultry register has been, I think, in use for about 12 years, so it is a very well-maintained register. But I do think we need to look at what we can do for people who’ve got fewer than 50 birds. You’re quite right about the symptoms—it could be respiratory, it could be diarrhoea, it could be discolouration of the neck and face, so I think it’s very important, again, that people are aware of what the symptoms are. You discussed about free range, and you’re quite right—89 per cent of our egg production in Wales is free range and there is an impact on that. One of the reasons we’re looking at how we have this exit strategy is around free range also.

The welfare of birds is very important and, again, we know that birds aren’t used to being housed. You get different diseases when you’ve got birds together. Boredom is obviously something that has to be looked at, and that’s why we’ve put advice on the website regarding environment enrichment.

In relation to resources and support, we haven’t put any additional resources in at the minute. I asked officials yesterday if there were any concerns about the capacity of local authorities, because, obviously, they’re the ones that would have to come in if there wasn’t compliance. Again, I have to say officials were particularly pleased with the way Carmarthenshire council had been able to respond in light of the outbreak in Pontyberem.

Finally, I think your final point—it is down to all of us, and it’s a very good opportunity. One of the reasons I wanted to have this statement today was to again say that we can only just keep reiterating the importance, particularly, of biosecurity.

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for bringing this statement. As she has just said, maybe we, as politicians, can’t be of assistance directly in dealing with this disease, but it is important that we discuss it so that that disseminates a strong message from the Government on the prevention zone and on food security, which is still the case in Wales. That message should be conveyed strongly.

May I take this opportunity to thank the Cabinet Secretary and, through her, her staff and the chief veterinary officer for working over the Christmas period, and for being available for local councils too, of course, to co-ordinate issues related to this disease and the need for close collaboration with other Governments over the ensuing period? As has just been mentioned, this sector is important to the Welsh economy. We tend to think, perhaps, about meat, lamb and beef, but it is 6 per cent of agricultural GDP emerging from the poultry sector, and that is worth something in the region of £100 million. So, it is important that the message is conveyed strongly that our food is safe and that appropriate steps are being taken to deal with the disease and to prevent the spread of it.

Most of the questions have already been asked and answered, if truth be told, but I do have a few specific questions just so that I can have some clarity on these issues. We’ve already discussed free-range poultry, or whatever you want to use in Welsh for free range, but it is a very important sector for Wales and I think it’s more important for Wales than it is for England, if truth be told. I think after some 12 weeks there is a risk that the category or designation of free-range eggs may be lost because the poultry are kept indoors, and it is possible that free-range egg producers may be ill-prepared for keeping poultry indoors for a long period of time. That could have an impact on animal health in those circumstances. So, what specific steps are being taken in this area to ensure that the sector can be safeguarded, because there will be demand for produce from this sector and we must ensure that the sector is able to survive any impact brought about by this disease?

The second question specifically emerges from the statement that you made on 20 December when, at that point, you mentioned the fact that there was no prevention on gathering some birds together—pigeons and caged birds, for example. Although the only show that I was aware of had been postponed, it is still possible, under the current restrictions, I believe, that those who keep pigeons and doves can continue to meet. Have you reviewed that, given that it seems that the disease has spread in Wales, in both north and south Wales now?

The final question is: although you have been very clear on the messages that you have conveyed as Cabinet Secretary, we’re all aware that the press in Wales doesn’t perhaps fully report Welsh political issues. So, are you confident in your own mind that all poultry keepers in Wales, including those under the threshold for statutory registration, are fully aware of the status of Wales in relation to this disease and are fully aware of the biosecurity measures that need to be taken to prevent the spread of this disease?

If I can start at the end of Simon Thomas’s questions: am I confident that every single person who has got even one bird knows about it? I would say ‘no’. That’s why it’s so important that, as you said, we as politicians get that information out. The CVO has done a significant round of interviews last week. She did the BBC breakfast television network. We thought it was really important to get out there and get that message out. So, I would like to think that everybody has picked it up off our social media, from the television, from the radio and from our website. But, you know, hand on heart, can I say 100 per cent? No, but I hope, also, that discussions will take place between poultry keepers. The fact that we did suspend the gatherings of birds later in December—on 20 December—again, that message will get out. So, I am hopeful that, now it has been a month since we brought in the prevention zone, that information is out there. So, anything that anybody can do to encourage more people to talk about it is, I think, really important.

You asked about free range, and I alluded in my answer to Paul Davies to the decision to introduce the prevention zone back on 6 December. I took it after a great deal of advice and consideration from the CVO. You will remember that DEFRA were the first to introduce it, closely followed by Scotland and then by Wales. Northern Ireland were a little bit further on behind us. One of the reasons why I did think so carefully about it, because it is important that the action we bring forward is proportionate, was specifically around free range, because that 12 weeks—. You know, once that clock starts ticking—. So, we are having discussions about what we will do after 28 February—obviously, now we’ve got the prevention zone to 28 February, which takes us absolutely up to that 12 weeks. So, it will depend on what cases we have over the next seven or eight weeks, but the officials are having discussions with DEFRA and Scottish colleagues, in particular, about having that exit strategy from that prevention zone.

You specifically asked about pigeons. The prevention zone conditions do apply to all captive birds. However, pigeons are not of significance in the transmission of this particular strain of avian influenza, so they can still be flown. But, of course, currently, it’s the close season for racing pigeons, and there are no racing schedules, apparently, before the beginning of April. So, again, I don’t think it would be proportionate to extend any of these measures to sports and recreational pursuits at this time, but we will have to keep all options under continual review.

I hope it won’t disconcert the Cabinet Secretary too much if I offer my full support for the measures that she has taken. I have frequently been a critic of hers in the past on the question of proportionality. I think that, in this particular instance, the action that she has taken is proportionate. It is in the interests of all poultry keepers that we prevent the spread of this disease. Having lived through the horrors of the Edwina Curry salmonella-in-eggs scare 30 years ago, where a lot of unnecessary hysteria was caused, I think it’s important to remind people that avian flu comes in many, many different strains. Most of them are not a real menace, even to poultry keepers, let alone to the public. There is no food safety risk, as far as we know, at all. Therefore, there should not be any knock-on effects on those who sell food products that are related to birds.

I wonder if the Cabinet Secretary can tell me to what extent we can improve the general public’s understanding of these issues. Of course, among poultry keepers, we might expect a higher level of understanding than the public generally. As regards reporting of the dead birds that are seen, there is guidance that says that you should report any waterfowl or gulls—or, indeed, any bird—in quantities of five or more found together. That’s important information that is needed by the authorities to understand exactly how the disease is spreading, if it is. Biosecurity is the key to sorting this out. It sounded, from what the Cabinet Secretary said earlier on, that we are likely to see these restrictions continue for some time because of the time of year. We currently have, as she mentioned, migration in the coming weeks. Therefore, this is likely to produce problems for people who keep poultry for commercial reasons.

As regards the smaller flocks, the latest incident, in Pontyberem, involved a relatively small number of birds, and in these circumstances, I wonder what could be done to encourage people to net enclosures for keeping their birds, in which case there should be very little interference with the lives both of the birds themselves and, indeed, of poultry keepers. Given the animal welfare implications of housing indoors for significant periods of time, if this is likely to continue for several months, it may well be a worthwhile investment for people to have netted areas where birds could be let out, and I wonder to what extent her department could assist in that respect.

Thank you. I certainly don’t want to be compared to Edwina Currie, so I do welcome your comments around proportionate measures.

You’re quite right: there are a variety of strains of avian influenza and this is a high pathway one, this H5N8. I think you raise an interesting point around the general public, because, you know, it’s been hard enough getting that information out to poultry keepers, but, equally, it is a matter of public health interest, and it’s very important that people understand that there is no impact or that the impact on public health is very low—this strain has never been seen in a member of the public—and also that food safety is very important and, as I said in my opening remarks, that poultry and eggs, the Food Standards Agency has said, are safe to eat. So, again, I go back to how we’ve let poultry keepers know. It’s really important that we get that message out. One of the decisions taken this week is that we’ll do a round of interviews with local radio stations, because people, obviously, listen to local radio stations as well, building on the significant work that the chief veterinary officer undertook last week.

Biosecurity is so important, and it’s really important that very high standards of biosecurity are maintained. We’ve now got the protection zone—sorry, the prevention zone—up until 28 February, which, I mentioned, takes us right up to that 12-week period before we have to then take some very significant decisions around free range. So, we’ve got the zone in place until 28 February.

In relation to netting, I think that’s a very good point, because a lot of people—. When we announced that zone—and, as I say, it’s very important that you take proportionate action—I was very aware that there would be animal welfare sort of situations arising, because people wouldn’t have had the houses ready for the poultry. So, if you can just net them, that keeps them away from wild birds in some respects. So, it might be worth, as you say, if people haven’t been able to get those houses straight away, you know, to have that net and that mesh there and to make sure that, when they feed the poultry, the feed is not accessible to wild birds. That’s also very important. So, if people could look on the website, there’s a lot of information on our website. We’ve got that information out on our social media feeds also, and, hopefully, today, you know, even if just a few more people pick up from this statement—. Maybe Members, when they do their weekly—I don’t know; I do a weekly newsletter on e-mail—or if we, you know, when we’re in our advice surgeries, we could get that message out also.

I don’t wish, Cabinet Secretary, to delay the debate or lengthen the debate by asking all the questions that have already been asked, so I’m going to focus in on just two areas. One of them has been mentioned, but it’s about how we let the public know about the mechanisms for reporting, because not all the public who may come across something they think could possibly be suspicious will understand the process of reporting. So, maybe we could look at letting them know that they can go to their local council, for example, or any other authority within their locality who could then pass that on on their behalf—it might be useful in reporting.

I think the other area that perhaps could be explained little bit more is the advantage to those people who don’t have flocks of 50 birds or more in actually registering their birds and what they get from that, because I know from somebody who has only got four birds that they get kept up to date on the latest situation so that they can protect themselves.

Also, I’m going to reiterate what I said earlier: we do have an unfortunate circumstance at the moment with the weather in eastern Europe. These are all migratory birds that are affected, and the migration could possibly increase if that weather front hangs in eastern Europe, where a lot of these birds are coming from. So, if you are able to tell us whether that is in your consideration.

Thank you, Joyce Watson, for those comments and questions. I think you’re quite right: we need to make sure the public do understand that if they come across a dead bird or a group of five dead birds, they should report that, but they need to know where to report it. So, there is the GB helpline, but you’re quite right: they can report it to their local authorities as well.

I think the point I made—I think it was in my response to Paul Davies—was that I’ve asked officials to look at what we can do for keepers of under 50 birds to make sure that they do register. There are a number of them already registered, so they will get the e-mail and the text update immediately. But it is my concern that people with, say, two or four or six birds aren’t getting the information. I think the only way we can do that is to make it compulsory for them to register, but that’s a significant piece of work. It would require secondary legislation, for instance, and as I mentioned, I think it would be good to have a consistent approach across the UK, but those discussions have started.

The reason I mentioned that the incidence is unlikely to decrease is because of the issues that you referred to in relation to migrations. So, they are very much in consideration in the discussions, particularly between the chief veterinary officers and officials at a UK level.

Thank you again, Cabinet Secretary, for your second statement on this. I think that proves to us as Members just how seriously you, in fact, are taking this. Obviously, it was a great disappointment when it was discovered that a deal teal was found at the RSPB Conwy reserve. I have to tell you that, on Twitter last night, the manager of the reserve, Julian, was concerned that this will cause people not to visit. So, it’s how we get that positive message out there that at least it has been identified, and it’s going in as part of your biosecurity. On my Twitter feed, I made the announcement that you were making a statement today, and they will be looking out for that. So, anything you can do, working with local authorities, to highlight the fact that it is still safe for visitors to attend.

Moving on, you mentioned the smallholding in Carmarthenshire, and that was just a handful of birds, really. I just wanted to ask, on that particular example, had they already registered the fact that they were keeping that poultry, or were they in fact on any register. The reason why I ask this: I actually know quite a few people who keep poultry—low numbers, but they just do not see the necessity. They tend to imagine that it’s the bigger poultry farmers, and those who keep animals free range. I just wondered are you working with local authorities so that they can perhaps, on the ground, be more aware.

Also, certainly in my part of north Wales, there are numerous hobbyists and visitor attractions keeping tropical bird aviaries, birds of prey and of course domestic poultry, and it’s very difficult to mesh off in order to feed birds and everything, in terms of those kinds of birds, without wild birds coming down to visit and, actually, very close contact. It’s how can you actually make people very aware of the dangers posed by avian flu and the need for all outdoor poultry owners to come forward, join the register and keep them indoors. Perhaps your department could use social media more and then we, as Members, can look out for it and tweet it, because I think it’s a message we need to get out.

Clearly the onus is as much on these bird owners as large-scale poultry farmers, who may be finding it difficult, as you rightly pointed out, to adhere to the requirements of the prevention zone. How can you ensure that they are also taking the necessary precautions in terms of sanitation, disinfection and registration? The H5N8 strain is highly pathogenic and given its potential to spread can cross-contaminate or mutate, and we obviously cannot afford to underestimate the potential dangers. How are you seeking to prevent any cross-contamination when contact between humans and infected birds is inevitable, because clearly people are feeding them not realising that at the time? I’ve done quite a lot of work on this previously, and I am in fact a bird owner myself and I know that if I actually contract flu, it depends which flu it is, but you have to be very careful, because you can cross-infect.

Finally, you state that the level of risk of avian influenza may increase over the coming weeks. The World Organisation for Animal Health suggests vaccination should this situation become more problematic. I just wondered, in terms of resource, how you’re able to look at that, if—and I’m only saying ‘if’ because obviously there’s a cost with that. But more so, what about the fact that, in our local authorities across Wales, a lot of our regulatory and public protection departments have lost budget and they’ve lost many of their important officers? How do you think, given that this is a situation that could—? We know it’s on the increase. How do you think you are placed—your department, and indeed our local authority departments—in actually dealing with this in terms of where we can all have full confidence?

Thank you. Just in relation to the Member’s questions around vaccination, there is actually no vaccine against H5N8 currently authorised for use in the UK. So, I think that’s a very important point to get across. I mentioned, in a previous answer, about local authorities, and certainly in Carmarthenshire, my officials particularly said how quick they had been to deal with the incident in Carmarthenshire and there were certainly no concerns around capability or capacity. I think the point that you raised about the dead teal that was found in Conwy—. I think it’s just as important to get that message out about tourism and public health at the same time—that it’s very safe to visit and it’s safe to eat poultry and eggs.

Again, I think I’ve answered the questions around how do we get people with under 50 birds to know about this information. The best way is to put yourself on that poultry register so you get the updates regularly. I’m very pleased to hear from Janet that she is using her social media feed. I think my department has been very, very good. Certainly over the Christmas period we’ve managed to tweet a great deal of the information that we’ve been getting out, because it has evolved so quickly since I first took the decision around the prevention zone on 6 December.

Biosecurity—people are aware of biosecurity. I really can’t emphasise that point too much. I can’t possibly, and neither can my officials, visit every farm and every poultry keeper. So, again, it’s just about making sure we continually get that message out because, sometimes, when things go quiet as well, people might not think the risk is there. So it is really important that, over the next seven or eight weeks, and while that zone is in place until 28 February, we continually take every opportunity to get that message out.

6. 5. Statement: The New Treatment Fund

The next item on our agenda is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport on the new treatment fund. I call on Vaughan Gething.

Vaughan Gething AM 16:13:00
The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport