Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd26/09/2017
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question, Jenny Rathbone.
1. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's strategy on a modal shift to sustainable transport? (OAQ51080)
We’re promoting sustainable transport by investing in our rail and bus services, by developing integrated public transport networks such as the metro in the north and south, ensuring active travel becomes more mainstream, and working with local partners to identify pinch-point areas and deliver infrastructure improvements to smooth traffic flow.
Thank you, First Minister. I just wanted to specifically focus on how we’re getting more people to bicycle, because I was very shocked when I had a delegation of year 12 students from St Teilo’s, all of whom are 16 or 17, and none of them were bicycling to school. One of them even said, ‘Oh, I live four miles away’, as if that was a long way to bicycle. If we look at the statistics, less than 3 per cent of children aged five to 16 go by bike, but 30 per cent, or more, go by car. If we can’t start with the current young generation, we’re never going to get the modal shift they’ve got in places like Holland, where 40 per cent go by bike, and, in one city in Denmark—the second city—80 per cent go by bicycle. So, what do you think the Government can do to really get that change in culture?
The Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, of course, is the basis for doing this, recognising that cycling, while important for health, is a mode of transport, and it’s important, as is walking, of course. I’ve always thought that in trying to encourage people to get onto bikes, it’s important that they feel safe, and a lot of people won’t go on the roads and mix with cars. In the countries that the Member’s mentioned, in the Netherlands, for example, and in Denmark, there is segregation between bikes and cars, and that’s one of the ways in which people can be encouraged to use bikes more. There’s a lot of work to be done, particularly in our cities, to establish bike routes into the cities. We have some bike routes that tend to take people away into the countryside, but we’re not yet in a position, I believe, where we can say that we have a proper network of urban cycle routes that will encourage the more reluctant cyclists to actually use a bike rather than feel they’ve got to compete with cars on the roads. But the active travel Act has begun the process of changing attitudes and encouraging local authorities to put in place proper provision for bikes.
First Minister, a year ago, the Welsh Government’s position was that there were no immediate plans to use public funds for electric vehicle infrastructure. Now, since then, of course, the UK Government has stated its position to phase out diesel cars by 2040. Would you agree with me that it’s now essential that the Welsh Government does invest in electric vehicle charging points in town centres initially, and then further afield, to make that transition from diesel to electric cars a reality?
Well, we already do: for example, the on-street residential charge point scheme, which supports local authorities with 75 per cent of capital costs of procuring and installing residential charge points, and with an associated dedicated parking bay. It is a challenge now for all Governments to put in place the network of chargers that will be needed before 2040, and in particular ensuring standardisation as well of chargers. As somebody who drives a hybrid, there are several different sockets that are used, and it’s quite difficult to find the right charger. But I expect, over the next four or five years, particularly with intervention from Governments, including ourselves, building on what we’ve done already, we will see an expanding network of chargers, which will encourage more people then to look initially, I suspect, at hybrids, and then at fully electric vehicles.
I agree entirely on the point on electric vehicles. Perhaps I’ll turn back to cycling and how important it is that cycling is a part not only of the active travel plans, but also of the local authority travel plans. I have seen too many of these local plans referring to cycling in the context of leisure and sport and don’t put cycling at the heart of the plans as a means of transportation, and Carmarthenshire is an example of that. So, will you urge local authorities to ensure that cycling is a central party of planning for local transportation?
It is central. Every local authority has to submit its initial maps of the new routes that they are going to develop within their area. They are now working on integrated network routes, and they have to submit them by 3 November this year, and then it will be possible to measure how much progress the authorities have made and how much more support they require in order to go at the right speed in the right direction.
The UEFA European Football Championship
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on Cardiff's bid to hold matches for the 2020 UEFA European Football Championships? (OAQ51086)
Yes. We’ve been meeting with the Football Association of Wales about this potential bid. We already have an ambitious major events strategy and we’ll continue to meet with the key stakeholders to consider how we can take this forward.
Yes, thanks for the response. It’s usually potentially a good idea to make a bid for these large events due to the potential to generate revenue for local businesses, although there is also the possibility of disruption as well. So, there is a balance that we have to make. But we do have a problem at the moment with the state of Cardiff Central Square and also the possible lack of capacity of Cardiff Central railway station. So, are you confident that those issues will be resolved in time for those championships in the summer of 2020?
Yes. Central Square is being developed rapidly now. With regard to Cardiff Central station, that’s a matter for Network Rail. We have pushed Network Rail. I’ve done it in meetings with Network Rail and it’s being done in other ways to redevelop Cardiff Central. It’s at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds but, nevertheless, it’s a redevelopment that is needed. We know that, potentially, the passenger numbers at the station will increase three-fold over the next 30 years. With 11 million passengers a year going through the station, it’s by far the busiest in Wales and it’s growing. We’re almost at the point where trains are queuing to get into the station. So, we have impressed on Network Rail the need to invest in that station given the fact that for so many people it’s the gateway to Wales.
First Minister, I commend what your Government and the previous administration has done to attract high-level events and how you’ve worked with the respective sporting associations. I think that’s a key partnership, and these sorts of achievements produce a gift that keeps on delivering because the marketing value—. People still talk about the wonderful days when the FA Cup was in Cardiff. Many people would like it back, or at least the semi-finals, which, of course, are in Wembley still because of their particular business model. But it really is an exciting way to market Wales and there’ve been great, great benefits, and you should really learn the lessons about how much a Government can do to market the nation as a whole.
Very much so. We’ve learnt that over the years. Not long after I became First Minister, the Ryder Cup was held and that was a huge event: some 25,000 people there on the final day, millions watching around the world. And, of course, culminating with the Champions League final, which, ironically, was almost a consolation prize for us for not getting to be chosen as a venue for the 2020 championships. It’s a consolation prize we very much welcome, of course, in that regard. But what’s been key to this is the vision that was shown particularly in the 1990s to develop the Principality Stadium. It was controversial at the time, and he must remember that. But when we look back at the old stadium, it was basically a concrete bowl with toilets. That’s the way it was described. Now, of course, it’s a far more modern stadium we can attract these events. And it’s true to say that sport carries probably the greatest reach of all when it comes to promoting Wales, and we know, of course, with the Euros last year, that probably had the greatest effect in terms of signalling to people that Wales exists as a separate nation, and, of course, triggering more interest in Wales, therefore triggering more investment in time and more visitors.
To present a slightly contrary view, Llywydd, in evidence to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee last week, the Wales Tourism Alliance said that whilst the focus will need to remain on major international events, they only tend to benefit a small number of locations, particularly Cardiff. The chief executive of the European Tourism Operators Alliance agreed and said there were lots of reasons for having a party, but economic benefit for the tourism industry is not necessarily one of them. What is the First Minister’s view and how can the Government take steps to ensure that large-scale international events don’t harm the Welsh tourism industry?
We can have both. One of the issues that we face with large-scale events is we have to ensure that people have places to stay outside Wales. The reality is the capacity isn’t there entirely in Wales to host people as they come to Wales. That will develop over time. It isn’t the case that it’s either spending money on major events or spending money on the rest of Wales. For example, we’ve supported tourism initiatives around Wales. We look at initiatives such as Surf Snowdonia in the north and the support we give to rural businesses around Wales. In some ways, a major event provides an immediate economic impact, but also, of course, it acts as a catalyst for developing interest in Wales and, therefore, for tourism around the whole of Wales. So, the immediate impact, it’s true to say, is more localised, but the longer term impact, in my view, is much broader, and that’s of course the way we’d want it to be.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
I call now on party leaders to question the First Minister. The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last week, the Welsh Government presented its waiting list figures for the Welsh NHS, and the figures showed that, in Wales, one in seven people is on a waiting list, or 450,000 people. In England, that figure is one in 14. There are pressures across the United Kingdom when it comes to NHS services, and everyone acknowledges that. As we go into the busy winter months, and with the financial pressures that are on the Welsh NHS, with four of the seven health boards projecting a deficit in excess of £30 million, what help is your Government giving to health boards to address the spiralling numbers that are waiting on waiting lists here in Wales and, above all, the financial predicament that many LHBs face?
Well, first of all, I don’t accept the premise that the question is based on. If we look, for example, at referral-to-treatment times over 36 weeks, that’s improved by 35 per cent between March 2015 and March 2017. March 2017 was also the highest performance on the percentage of patients waiting over 26 weeks since March 2014. We know that diagnostic waiting times have improved by 58 per cent by March of this year. I don’t accept that somehow the situation is worse in every case in terms of Wales compared to England. He’s right to say that all health services face pressures.
He asks a fair question, which is: what preparations have been made for the winter? Every year, we make preparations for the winter. The pressures do come on. We’re not immune to the same pressures, as other countries in the UK, but we know that, over the past few years, the plans that we have made have been robust enough to deal with the pressures that come on during the winter, and I’m confident that we are in that same position again.
You’re quite right, First Minister; you and I could trade statistics, and the gallery upstairs and those watching on TV would just get bamboozled by those statistics, but the figures do show that, in Wales, for example, there’s been a 400 per cent increase in people waiting 12 months or more for a surgical procedure. In the best health board, Cwm Taf Local Health Board, no-one waits 12 months or more. In the worst, or one of the worst, Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board, which is under the direct control of your Government, there’s been a 1,250 per cent increase in people waiting 12 months or more. So, it is the role of Government to make sure that good practice is spread out in the NHS here in Wales. So, why is someone in Betsi waiting so much longer for a procedure than someone in Cwm Taf? We only have seven health boards; surely, that good practice should be spilling out into all the health boards so that people do not see these spiralling waiting times here in Wales.
Well, what I can say is we recently announced £50 million of performance moneys in order to continue—we are now trading statistics again, but I think we have to—in order to continue this improvement trend for waiting times. The health Secretary and I have been very clear on the need for further improvement in waiting times, and all health boards have committed to further improvements by the end of March 2018. There are plans in place for all organisations and monitoring arrangements to be in place to ensure the improvement is delivered, building on the progress over the last two years. Yes, there are inconsistencies. Yes, we want to make sure those inconsistencies are dealt with, which is why we’ve allocated this money and why, of course, health boards have made the commitment that they have.
I agree with you, First Minister; the NHS is about acronyms and, obviously, statistics. But, very often, we miss the actual patients who are waiting on the clinicians who are under pressure, and they just want a straight answer. When you do have so many health boards in Wales, as I said, four of them—. And it’s worth repeating the deficits or the projected deficits that they do have, such as Hywel Dda Local Health Board, £49 million, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board, £35 million, Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board, £31 million. A lot of people will say, ‘How can you manage those deficits whilst controlling and driving down the waiting times?’ Are you confident that, by the time we get to March, waiting times will be declining and the deficits will be in hand and wiped out, as the health Secretary has indicated? Or will you have to bail out the health boards that have these projected deficits?
No, we expect health boards to be able to manage with the resources that they have. Clearly, we could not be in a position where health boards knew that whatever they spent, they would be bailed out. That is an incentive for them not to be as rigorous in their financial management and their care for patients as they otherwise should be. So, they have been told that, by March of next year, we expect to see these improvements. If not, of course, they will need to explain why that is and explain why they have failed to meet the promises that they have given both to the Government and to the people of Wales.
The leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Just before we rose for the summer recess, the Government pulled the rug out from underneath the Circuit of Wales project, which would have brought hundreds of millions of pounds of much-needed private investment into the northern Valleys. As a fig leaf, the First Minister and his Government then proposed that they should invest £100 million of public money in a speculative scheme to create a new industrial park in the Ebbw Vale area. Given that the Ebbw Vale enterprise zone has been in operation now for quite a number of years, and tens of millions of pounds have already been invested in jobs in that area, but only 320 new jobs have been created and 70 safeguarded, why does the First Minister think that his speculative proposal is going to be any more successful?
I talk to businesses, and one of the issues particularly that businesses have flagged up with us is the lack of suitable premises where they can go in order to set up manufacturing. One of the issues that we’re looking at is being able to provide them with the premises that they need, of the right size. We don’t do that in terms of building empty buildings for no reason. We’ve done that by consulting with businesses, and asking businesses what they want. That’s actually a very sound way of investing for the future rather than, as he calls it, being speculative. It’s far from speculative. This is based on the feedback that we’re getting from business.
Well, there are of course no firm offers to take space in the area that the First Minister is talking about. My colleagues and I had the advantage on Friday of visiting St Athan and seeing what’s happening at the Aston Martin construction that’s going on there, which is a Welsh Government success story—I fully acknowledge that and congratulate the First Minister. But, of course, St Athan is a very different kettle of fish from Ebbw Vale in terms of its potential attractiveness to investors, without improving the infrastructure still further in the northern Valleys. The whole point of the Circuit of Wales project and the job spin-offs that would come from it is not so much the racetrack itself, but the way in which the circuit would have put it on the map, in a sense, and would have attracted further automotive businesses around it. Given that, as a result of the collapse of that offer, the Welsh Government is trying now to fill a vacuum, I really can’t see why he has turned down the offer of hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment where the Government’s only liability was highly contingent on the total failure of the project, and the assets that would have been created fetching nothing.
No, we’ve explored this before. I’ve explained to him the issue of what counts as on the books and off the books. What he describes is speculative. Every business venture is speculative to some extent. But in some ways, in the questions he asks, he answered his first question, and that is: one of the reasons why St Athan proved attractive to Aston Martin is because there was a building there that fitted their spec. It was what they wanted. The site was right. Many businesses have said to us in conversations I’ve had, ‘Look, one of the issues we face in Wales is we want to go somewhere like Ebbw Vale, but where do we go? The buildings aren’t there. The premises we need aren’t there.’ That’s why part of the investment we’re putting into Ebbw Vale, into the Heads of the Valleys, is to make sure that the right premises are there so businesses can move in, rather than an obstacle being in place that won’t be removed without Government investment. Yes, is that speculative? Well, in the sense that all business is speculative, but it’s based, to my mind, on much sounder ground than the circuit was.
But of course the Circuit of Wales was more than just speculative because there was a fully worked out business case, which I understand was not undermined by the Welsh Government. The objection of the Welsh Government’s support for the project was based upon internal accounting conventions, in its opinion, in any event, set by Her Majesty’s Treasury. So, the Circuit of Wales project itself will rise or fall upon its own economic merits. No doubt the First Minister will have seen on WalesOnline today that the promoters of the project have now come up with another proposal that perhaps they could access funding for under the city deal. So, I’m anxious not to engage in any kind of inter-party fisticuffs today that might discourage the Welsh Government from helping the project, even at this late stage, to become viable. I wonder if the First Minister can, in the most general terms, give his support to making further efforts to look at whether the Circuit of Wales could actually be made into a reality.
We’ve never rejected the circuit as an idea. It was simply the financial arrangements surrounding it. If the circuit is able to come up with a different proposal, then, of course, that’s something that we would look at. We don’t have an objection in principle, but we have to make sure that any project takes into account the interests of Welsh taxpayers and is able to demonstrate very strongly that the jobs that are promised are in fact deliverable. If there is something else that comes forward, then of course we’d look at that to see whether the circumstances have changed.
Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you imagine a country where megaprisons are placed in the middle of so-called enterprise zones? Or can you imagine a country that ends up being described as a Botany Bay of the twenty-first century and as a penal colony? Well, those were the words of Frances Crook, the respected chief executive of the Howard League.
First Minister, Wales must be the only country in the world where prisons are highlighted as tools for economic development, rather than as part of a country’s criminal justice system. Do you expect other prisons to close if the Port Talbot prison goes ahead? And can you confirm whether there will be a net jobs gain or do you think there’ll be a loss?
These are matters for the Ministry of Justice to answer. We’re not responsible for prison policy. But she asked a question about prisons. I have a prison in my constituency. It was very controversial when it was built. I was the ward councillor when it was built at the time. Now, no-one takes any notice of it. It employs many people, there’s a housing estate being built not far from the walls of the prison. But, nevertheless, it is important that people’s concerns are addressed, because I remember at the time people’s concerns. It is important that the MOJ carries out a full consultation with people in the area. That is their responsibility. Our responsibility lies with the issue of the land. Bluntly, we’ll look to get the best deal possible for the Welsh taxpayer for the land, regardless, of course, of how that land is disposed of. We are, on the issue of the prison, not actively promoting a prison. We want to get the best financial outcome for the Welsh taxpayer.
I’m glad you raised the question of the land, First Minister, because there’s a vision for a Swansea metro that has the potential to transform the city and its hinterland, and it’s the most attractive vision for our second city that we’ve seen in years. But the land earmarked for the Baglan prison appears to sit on the blueprint. Plaid Cymru’s view of that prison is well known, and there are Members of your own party who are in agreement with us that this is not the right site. Is it not the case that you will be selling off land that would otherwise be part of a future Swansea metro? Will you acknowledge that you are in a position to stop this project by refusing to sell this land? And if you do accept that, will you now refuse to sell that land?
Well, we would not do anything that would jeopardise the future of the Swansea metro, that’s true, but there are broader issues here that do have to be addressed. The prisons are crumbling, there’s no question about that. As somebody who was familiar with the system at one time with my job, our prisons are long overdue being replaced—we know that some of them are Victorian. We export prisoners. Women prisoners cannot serve their sentences in Wales. There’s no category A prison in Wales. We still have too many prisoners who are unable to serve their time close to their communities, and that’s important from their perspective in terms of their rehabilitation. What I don’t know is whether she takes the view that there shouldn’t be a prison at all, or whether it should move on to another site. If it is the case that she would want it moved to another site, we’d be open to suggestions as to where that should be.
You could argue there should be multiple sites, First Minister. All of the problems that you have just outlined will not be solved by building this megaprison so close to another new prison. Your economic policy is leading us to a situation where our national interests are not being upheld. Devolution and self-government are supposed to allow us to look after our own needs, to be an equal partner with our neighbours and not a servant. These superprisons are designed for the criminal justice needs not of our country, but of the country next door. And it’s not me saying that, it’s coming from the top English and UK voices on prison reform. Why are you setting up a commission on justice if not to deal with questions like this?
And it’s not just about prisons, First Minister, it’s this mantra of jobs at any cost that has led you to accepting the disposal of mud from a nuclear site in Welsh waters. What on earth is Wales doing taking waste from another country that could be radioactive? I don’t know why you granted that licence in the first place. I’d like to know whether you have any regrets about granting that licence. Will you agree to revoke it if it transpires that there is even the smallest risk to people’s health?
Well, she’s telling half the story. First of all, she knows full well that licensing is not done by Ministers; it’s done by an outside body—that’s the whole point—so that the politics is taken out of it. What I’ve seen so far is one person has said there may be an issue here. Well, of course, that issue needs to be addressed, but we’ve got be careful here because the waste from Wylfa goes to England, and if it wasn’t for Sellafield’s reprocessing plant it would shut immediately.
She has views on nuclear power that perhaps I wouldn’t share, but it’s too crude simply to say, ‘Well, this is nuclear waste being exported from England to Wales.’ We export a lot more out towards Sellafield. So, I don’t accept that this is an import-export issue. Where we have nuclear power, it’s important that there are adequate disposal facilities, but simply to present it in terms of an England-Wales battle ignores the fact we have our own nuclear power station, and we don’t have our own disposal facilities; we rely on England to deal with the waste that comes from Wylfa.
The Health Service in North Wales
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's efforts to recruit and train new staff for the health service in north Wales? (OAQ51084)[W]
The Welsh Government supports Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board to recruit and train staff in a number of ways, including record investment in nursing and allied health professional training places. Of course, the Member will know of the statement made before the summer about the way in which we wish to ensure that more training takes place in north Wales in order to ensure that there is more opportunity for people to come to train in north Wales as part of the Welsh training network.
According to figures published by the Welsh NHS Confederation in May this year, 141 medical posts in Betsi Cadwaladr health board were vacant, and this represents 37 per cent of all the medical positions that are vacant in the health service in Wales. We had a debate here last week as we discussed the Health and Social Care Committee report on medical recruitment. But despite all of the evidence supplied by the committee, the profession and the wider sector about the need to move towards establishing a medical school in north Wales, the Government is still refusing to do so on the basis of ambiguous statements on the cost and complexity of the process. The claim that the establishment of a medical school in north Wales is too costly is utter nonsense, given the millions that Betsi Cadwaladr spends on locums—almost £80 million over the past three years. First Minister, how many more patients in north Wales are you willing to see on waiting lists before you listen to the experts and pay attention to the evidence?
Well, I haven’t seen any evidence from experts saying that we have to have an independent medical school in the north. I have to tell you that—[Interruption.]
Carry on, First Minister.
Secondly, what we need to ensure is that the north links with the south to create a training system that is pan-Wales. But what does count, of course, is that those who require training see that the standard is high enough. We want to ensure that the standard is uniform across Wales, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We know, with regard to the training of GPs, for example, in the north-east and in the north west, that every place has been filled as regards the training places available. That is not true of the mid part of north Wales, but we want to ensure that more people come for training in north Wales, and we want to ensure that we move towards developing a system of medical education in north Wales over the ensuing years in order to ensure that the north is considered as a possible and potential training area. That is the aim of the Government. I don’t think that we disagree very much on that aim.
I’m really pleased that Sian Gwenllian has actually raised this again, and I would urge all north Wales AMs to make similar calls and to hold you to account, First Minister. This has been going on for years. Sian is quite right to mention there are 141 long-term vacancies. We have hospital wards in north Wales that have closed down for several months. We’ve met with the British Medical Association, we’ve met with other medical professionals, and there is a distinct need—it’s been proven—for a training centre somewhere in north Wales. The fact is, and the statistics prove this, that those who train in Cardiff move over into England. We cannot recruit. The Betsi board cannot recruit. Now, this is a board that’s in special measures. It’s got Welsh Government intervention, and yet it is failing at every level in terms of staff recruitment, in terms of keeping wards open. When are you, and when is your Cabinet Secretary, who consistently sits here during health questions shaking his head—? Well, I’m sorry, but you and the Cabinet Secretary—. We’re here to scrutinise you, and you are failing the patients of north Wales, you’re failing the health board, and you’re failing the actual staff who work there. We are in crisis in north Wales. We need a training centre in Bangor. The costs, as Sian has pointed out quite well, are there to be—. We cannot keep taking locum staff—
Can you bring this to a question?
Yes, okay, thank you. We want a long-term solution. You’re the one who has the levers to do this; please, can we have a training school in Bangor?
Well, I agree with her when she says she wants more training opportunities in the north. There’s no distance between us on that; it’s how it’s delivered. She’s asking, ‘Can it be an independent medical school?’ Well, we know that that’s not what is recommended. We know it would be difficult because big medical schools are in big cities with big hospitals, which have a far greater spread of specialities. What can be done, however, is to make sure that Bangor is tied in—the whole of the north is tied in—more completely with Cardiff and Swansea, and that we move to put in place a system of development over the next few years in order to provide better opportunities in the north. That’s the way to do it. It’s important to be able to link Bangor with the bigger hospitals to provide the training opportunities in the most comprehensive way. I think everybody in the medical profession understands that. I get the point that we need to provide more training opportunities in the north. I don’t dispute what the Member for Arfon has said. It’s a question now of not, ‘Do we do it?’ but ‘What is the most effective way of doing it?’, and we believe we’ve outlined that.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on workforce planning in Hywel Dda University Local Health Board? (OAQ51081)[W]
We expect Hywel Dda to develop its workforce plans so that they match the local population needs, both now and in the future.
Thank you, First Minister. May I first of all put on record my thanks to the staff of Bronglais hospital who cared for my son over the past fortnight in the accident and emergency department? I’m very grateful and I very much appreciate the work that the staff do at the Hywel Dda health board. But, we must acknowledge—and the Minister has acknowledged to me in answering a question over the summer—that there are problems in some areas, and paediatrics particularly. Doctor Vas Falcao, who just retired last year from Withybush hospital, has said that the paediatric service in the west is about to fail because of recruitment problems. We have six vacant posts for paediatric consultants at the moment at Withybush hospital, and last year’s recruitment campaign by Bronglais failed to recruit a single new consultant. So, we must ask whether you will take definite, specific steps to ensure better recruitment for staff in west Wales.
Well, may I say in the first place that I hope that your family situation has improved? I’m sorry to hear about what happened there. It’s true to say that there are still challenges in the west. I know that the situation in Withybush is a temporary position and not a permanent one—may I say that—and I know that the health board is working very hard to recruit the people they need. But what will not happen is that we will not revert to the old model, because the royal college is not of that view. Maybe one individual might think so, but that is not the view of the royal college. But, of course, I know that the health board is working very hard through the recruitment campaign that we have to ensure that the temporary situation in Withybush changes and reverts to what it was previously, that is, 12 hours per day.
First Minister, according to the Hywel Dda health board, they have faced more recruitment problems at Withybush hospital over the past few years because of the location of the hospital. That’s why the board has said that they’ve had to change the opening hours for paediatric services, for example. The constituents that I represent want to see full-time paediatric services reintroduced in the hospital. So, can you confirm that your Government agrees with that aim, and also can you tell us one thing that your Government has done differently as compared to the past six months in order to deal with these recruitment problems?
Well, of course, it is a matter for the health board, but they have a duty to recruit and they are still attempting to do so. Is he asking whether things should revert to what they used to be? Well, no, because that is not what the report states; I don’t think there would be an improvement in services at all. It’s true to say that there have been problems regarding recruitment in hospitals over the years, going back decades now. The further west you go, the fewer training hospitals you have. That is why it is vital to ensure that when specialists go to hospitals in west Wales they feel part of a larger network so that they have that professional support. That’s what’s happening, of course, through the links that they have in Morriston in the west, and in the north with some of Liverpool’s hospitals. But may I tell him once again that the current situation in Withybush hospital is temporary, not permanent?
First Minister, I took the opportunity during the summer recess to meet with staff and also the chief executive of Hywel Dda health board. I particularly focused on the issue of the paediatric ambulatory care unit in Withybush and all the headline stories that we have heard. What I was told quite clearly is that they recognise that they have recruitment problems and that those recruitment problems are not unique just to them, nor to Wales, nor to the rest of the UK. What they did tell me was that they’re looking at those challenges in a positive way, so that they can deliver an alternative model to the one that is currently provided on a temporary basis. So, could I ask, First Minister, what discussions the Welsh Government has had, and will have in the future, with the health board about what those strategies might be able to deliver and how effective we could expect them to be?
I understand that on 21 September, a few days ago, a new consultant paediatrician was recruited to Withybush. Also, there have been the appointments of two locums and two substantive consultant posts across their paediatric services. The health board inform us that they’re also in discussions with two further candidates for a community paediatric and a consultant paediatric post. That is encouraging and, of course, in doing that, we want to make sure that there is more to come.
5. How is the Welsh Government supporting apprenticeships in Wales? (OAQ51057)
Well, I’m glad that the Member has asked the question, because we’re transforming the skills journey through the creation of apprenticeship pathways to deliver on our commitment of 100,000 apprenticeship places for those of all ages, in line with the Welsh Government’s priorities and in line with the promises that we made last year.
Thank you for that. When, earlier this year, I raised in the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee concern expressed by the four Welsh police forces that they couldn’t access the apprenticeship levy and the £2 million that they were paying into it, the skills Minister replied that the Welsh Government would instead strike up a grant or contract arrangements, in dialogue with the College of Policing, and that they had meetings in the diary with the police and crime commissioners. I was then told subsequently, in March, that those meetings had, at that stage, been cancelled and not rescheduled. How do you respond to the concern expressed in August by the four police and crime commissioners and chief constables in Wales that this could result in 45 fewer officers in north Wales and potential recruits choosing to sign up to work for English forces instead, and calling for urgent action from the Welsh Government because the situation is putting them at a distinct disadvantage, and finally pointing out that although in England the money that forces pay into the levy goes to the English police college, in Wales it goes to the Welsh Government and, therefore, this lies in your hands?
Well, we could’ve done this if policing was devolved, but his party has sat there consistently in this Chamber and demanded that policing should not be devolved. We are not going to fund services that should be funded by a non-devolved body. This is a tax that was imposed by his party: a tax on business. We have received a share of that and we will use that money to pay for apprenticeships, but we cannot, in good faith, pay towards apprenticeship schemes that sit in non-devolved areas. That, surely, is the responsibility of the UK Government, as they keep on telling us.
I’m sure the First Minister would agree with me that some of the most inspiring visits that we have as Assembly Members in our own constituencies are to employers, big and small, who take on apprenticeships on a regular basis, whether those are what we might call entry-level apprenticeships, higher apprenticeships or even degree apprenticeships as well—they’re graduate apprenticeships. Companies like Sony, who are actually now setting the standard in terms of apprenticeship development within the workforce. Companies in your own constituency, First Minister, such as Ford in Bridgend, who, over many, many years, have developed people in electromechanical engineering apprenticeships, in business management apprenticeships, and so much more.
There is a great deal to be done, but much that is being achieved, but would he agree with me that one of the most significant ways that we can increase the pipeline of apprenticeships is by investing in heavy, big infrastructure? And whilst we may have missed the opportunity with the investment of electrification all the way down to Swansea, there is a way to make up some of the ground, and that is for the UK Government to give the go-ahead on the tidal lagoon in Swansea, because that will develop civil engineering apprenticeships, project management apprenticeships, business management apprenticeships, and many, many more. That, on its own, would have a significant effect on apprenticeships right across the region.
Well, I very much agree with what the Member has said. Some may have noticed that I gave a speech on the weekend when I called on the UK Government to deliver the tidal lagoon. The response from the UK Government was that I should focus on public services in Wales and not mention the lagoon. Now, that causes me a great deal of trepidation because normally the response is, ‘We are still considering it.’ That suggests to me that they’re going to axe the lagoon, and that is something that is a great concern to me and, I’m sure, Members of this Chamber, indeed, outside of my own party.
This is a project that will deliver clean, green energy, not just for Wales but into the National Grid. It would deliver 1,000 jobs in manufacturing and maintenance, particularly in the area of Port Talbot, and we’ve had prevarication after prevarication after prevarication. Even an independent review, which I suspect was set up to say, ‘Don’t go ahead with it’ and then came up with the suggestion that we should go ahead with it, has reported that this project should happen. A billion pounds was put on the table for Northern Ireland—£1 billion for Northern Ireland; a coach and horses driven through the Barnett formula. We’ve heard that that’s sacrosanct; that was ignored, as far as Northern Ireland was concerned. Where is the tidal lagoon? The people of Wales deserve an answer, they deserve those jobs and they deserve the consideration of the UK Government.
The Future of Trauma Services in South Wales
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of trauma services in south Wales? (OAQ51085)
I missed the question; there was a bit of yapping on my left, but I have the question—.
It’s on the order paper.
May I apologise? Well, in the health board meetings in September, they will consider the recommendations regarding the establishment of a major trauma network for south Wales, west Wales and south Powys. This includes formally receiving the independent expert panel’s report on the operation of a major trauma network and a major trauma centre.
Thank you very much for that response, First Minister. Naturally, the recommendation to establish the main trauma centre in the University of Wales Hospital, Cardiff, is another example of a service that is being centralised in Cardiff at the expense of Morriston Hospital in Swansea, and this follows the loss of other services such as neurosurgery some years ago—neurosurgery for children and adults has disappeared from Swansea to Cardiff. Indeed, Morriston lost the neurosurgery unit for children although the only paediatric neurosurgeon throughout the whole of Wales was based in Morriston, but that wasn’t enough to retain the unit in Morriston, and it was moved to Cardiff.
Naturally, therefore, there is concern in the south west of Wales that specialist services are being lost and that Morriston Hospital doesn’t appear to be prominent enough in Welsh Government plans. Losing or weakening services undermines the status of the hospital as a regional centre of expertise, and also the city deal objectives in Swansea, which is looking to develop research and health posts of high quality. Also, the burns unit at Morriston—the only one in Wales, which also serves the south-west of England—the presence of that burns unit is crucially important for any major trauma centre. So, given all of that, will you, as a Government, commit to introducing a detailed vision for the Morriston site that builds on its clear strengths?
Morriston is crucial as regards health services as a major hospital that serves such a large population. But, he is saying that the Welsh Government has done this. This isn’t the view of Welsh Government. When you have a situation where people are strongly in favour of one site or another, the only thing you can do is establish an expert panel, as happened. That panel has presented its recommendation to the public. We know what they are and it’s up to the health boards now to collaborate to ensure that we do secure a centre. We know that it’s impossible to get two centres—we know that—but it’s crucially important now that the recommendations are considered and that a decision is made. But, as regards Welsh Government, we have no view, because the panel has submitted the recommendations and it’s now in the hands of the health board. If there is no agreement between the health boards, then, of course, it will come to Welsh Ministers and then every fact would have to be considered as regards the siting.
Well, it’s three years since the expert panel was set up to consider the location of the new unit, and, in that time, neither Cardiff nor Bristol have got any closer to Aberystwyth or Haverfordwest, let alone places in my region. The head of the independent panel, as we heard, is now speaking of moving the burns unit from Morriston to Cardiff and that, for me, raises questions about quite how these recommendations are being made in the first place. Morriston is just about to receive £2 million towards investment in response to cardiac emergency times, for which we are grateful, but it’s obviously a material consideration in that decision, the length of time it takes ambulances to travel. I accept that care in transit is a material issue, but, if it’s being taken into consideration for deciding where emergency cardiac services are to be improved, why isn’t it such a material consideration in where trauma services are to be improved? I appreciate it’s not your opinion, but it will form the Cabinet Secretary’s decision. I’m hoping to hear that transit time will be something that is taken more seriously than it currently seems to be.
Well, it might. It depends, of course, if the health boards agree or not. If they don’t, then of course it will come to the Cabinet Secretary for decision. Wherever you place the trauma centre, there will be people who are more than an hour away from it. It’s inevitable; the geography dictates that. Of course, we have air ambulances that are able to assist in terms of bringing people to hospitals more quickly. But the independent panel has made its recommendations; they’re out in the open now. It’s now for the health boards to decide amongst themselves what the most effective way should be of establishing a major trauma centre—not just a centre, but a trauma network as well. It can’t all be about one centre, important though that centre is, wherever it goes; it has to be about establishing a proper, responsive network to trauma that can feed into that trauma centre in the most appropriate time.
Finally, David Rees.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, I can join with the concerns of my colleagues regarding the major trauma centre being located in Cardiff and the possible losses of services at Morriston. We know that, when services move, others tend to follow them. Now, in this case, there is no service move because it’s a new service, but what I want is guarantees that services at Morriston stay in Morriston, because they’ve built up a reputation, they’ve built up a service delivery for local people, and I don’t want to see that damaged in any way whatsoever. It’s important that Morriston stays, not just a leader of that network, but that the services it has stay.
Morriston is bound to be an important district general hospital. It provides many specialised services for the hospitals further west in order for those hospitals to be able to provide the services for their people. I know that—. I’ve been told by consultants who work in Morriston that they often work in the hospitals further west as well. So, there’s no question of Morriston losing its status as one of our most important DGHs. Wherever the trauma centre goes, and that is something for the health boards to decide, it’s important, as I said, that that network is in place. At the end of the day, this is about providing more specialised and better care for people who are deeply in need of that care. We don’t have a trauma centre; we need one. It is based in the south, that’s true, but we need to have one trauma centre wherever that goes. But, certainly, as far as Morriston is concerned, it remains a big hospital serving an important city and will continue to provide specialised services, not just for Swansea, but for further west as well.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt, the leader of the house. Jane Hutt.
Diolch, Llywydd. I have no changes to make to today’s agenda. Business for the next three weeks is as set out on the business statement and announcement found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
As we are about to enter discussions on the Minister’s Welsh language White Paper, there are still some outstanding matters regarding standards that need completing, and I’m wondering whether we could have an early statement, please, on the timetable for publication of the Welsh language standards in health services.
We do, of course, have a debate on the business statement coming up next week, and I’m sure that will include reference to the standards.
I want to ask for two Government statements. Firstly, as we know, not just in Cambridge and around major American universities, but in European cities such as Aarhus in Denmark and Mannheim in Germany, the university sector acts as an economic driver. Can I ask that the Welsh Government makes a statement on how it sees the university sector in Wales helping create wealth in Wales, either via science parks or promoting entrepreneurship?
The second statement I want to request—and it follows on from a question Dawn Bowden raised last week—is on the action being taken to monitor the progress made in cases of defective wall cavity insulation in Wales. I have had several complaints, as a constituency Member, about this. I know that other Members have, and I’m sure most Members who I’ve talked to—. Or I know most Members I’ve talked to have, and I can see no reason why almost all Members here will not have had those problems, and it does have a serious effect on those who are being affected by it. So, can I ask for a Government statement on the size of the problem and what they see as a way out of it? And I also know the problems that exist when the Government made the decision, instead of having one insurance company, they put it out to competition—a word that always makes me shiver—and the fact that it makes life very difficult, then, to find out who is responsible.
I thank Mike Hedges for those two questions. In terms of your first question, of course Wales’s universities are already, and indeed benefit from best practice such as the examples you give—Aarhus in Denmark and Mannheim in Germany. Of course, one of the ways that it does this is by fully engaging, as West Wales and the Valleys, with EU programmes like Manumix, and that encourages the sharing of best practice in the advanced manufacturing sector. But I would follow on from a question to, and a response by, the First Minister earlier on this afternoon, that, if the proposed tidal lagoon at Swansea is approved, which I know, across this Chamber, we all want and expect, it would present a golden opportunity for Swansea to seize national leadership on tidal lagoon research, technology, commercialisation, and supply chains, as Aarhus in Denmark has done with wind energy.
On your second question, it is important to report that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs has agreed changes to the competent person scheme requirements to help ensure insulation is not installed to unsuitable properties from 1 October. For existing installations, officials will be meeting with the main guarantee provider, the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, to discuss progress in resolving outstanding claims.
Can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy and Transport on the obligations on local authorities to maintain safe highways and install traffic calming? Residents in the Pant Ddu Road area of Crumlin are working hard, and have been for many years, to secure traffic calming in their area. There’s been a doubling in the volume of traffic and the average speeds are now exceeding thresholds that I understand are needed for action in terms of the installation of traffic-calming measures. But it has been insinuated by the local authority that personal injury incidents or worse have to occur before criteria are met. So, can we have clarification on what the national guidance is for local authorities in terms of determining how an area can reach a criteria for traffic-calming measures before someone is hurt or worse?
Well, I’m sure many Members will agree with Steffan Lewis about these pressures that are being put on our local communities—particularly, of course, you refer to Crumlin in your area. The Cabinet Secretary, I’m sure, would want to clarify the lines of responsibility in terms of local authorities, also, the criteria in terms of our road safety grant schemes, which, of course, local authorities can apply for, and we allocate as a Welsh Government. So, I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary would be happy to clarify and share that with all Members.
Further to my cross-party statement, I wish to request a statement to this place on the status of music support services across Wales, the availability to Wales’s school pupils of affordable access to instrumental tuition and orchestral access, and the proposed benefit to Wales of a new national music performance strategy for Wales.
I think we’re very well aware of Rhianon Passmore’s support and advocacy for this, in terms of access and opportunities for music education in our schools, and I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary will be updating in due course.
Could I ask for two statements from the Government? First of all, I’m sure, like me, business manager, you were really excited to hear John McDonnell promise to bring back private finance initiative in house, bringing it back home. So, could we have a Government statement about bringing home Welsh PFI, the cost to the Welsh taxpayer of doing that, and the policy of Welsh Government to bring back PFI payments in house? Because you don’t need to wait to elect a UK Labour Government; you can do it now, here in Cardiff Bay, and you can do it tomorrow. The people, for example in Ceredigion, where we have the first PFI school in Wales built for Penweddig—. It’s a very good school, but it’s very expensive when it comes to certain maintenance aspects of the contract. I’m sure Ceredigion County Council would love to know how you’re going to buy that back and give them the money to improve the education service even better than it is currently in Ceredigion. So, please, a statement on your policy on PFI and when we can expect the Labour Party policy announced over the weekend to be enacted here in Wales.
The second statement I’d like to request from perhaps the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs is—. We heard the interchange between Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, and the First Minister on the extraction of Hinkley C construction mud and the placing of that mud in the Cardiff flats, as I understand it. There’s some controversy as to whether that is radioactive, whether it contains any substances we should be concerned about. Quite simply, a statement from the Government setting out the simple factual way that this application was gone through, who made the decision making, when it was made, and an assurance given that the conclusion of that statement was that no radioactive material is being deposited in Welsh waters—I think that would set everyone’s minds at rest.
Thank you, Simon Thomas.
Diolch yn fawr am y cwestiynau.
On your first question, I think Simon Thomas is very well aware of the Welsh Labour Government plans—taking the lead, I would say, as far as this policy issue is concerned, because successive Welsh Labour Governments have consistently avoided the pitfalls of PFI, as you are aware. As a result of our approach over the last 18 years, I would say, going back to when I was health Minister, liabilities relating to the traditional PFI schemes in Wales are much lower than in other parts of the UK. The annual cost per head of PFI schemes in Wales, around £200, is less than a fifth of the cost per head in the rest of the UK, which is more than £1,000 per person. Obviously, it is about value for money. It’s about the way we are developing. And, of course, we’ve had much scrutiny and engagement with finance committees, current and previous, in developing, for example, the mutual investment model, which the finance Secretary announced on 28 February. That is a new form of public-private partnership, ensuring the delivery of vital public services sooner than capital budgets otherwise permit, in an attempt to reverse UK Government policies of austerity, because, obviously, we need that infrastructure, and we need to be able to finance it.
On your second point, yes, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs will clarify the position to reassure Members in terms of lines of responsibility and the actual situation, not just a report that has come out overnight, which obviously raises matters of great concern to many of us in terms of our constituents and Wales as a whole.
Cabinet Secretary, can I ask for a debate in Government time on the impact of welfare reform on devolved services in Wales? It has been some time since we’ve debated this issue here. As you’re aware, universal credit had its full service roll-out in Torfaen in July—the second part of Wales to go live on the full service—and already the signs are deeply worrying. The six-week wait for people to have to receive their money—I know very few people who could manage without six weeks’ income—is already resulting in an increased use of the food bank locally, and there are very alarming signs about the level and quality of information being provided by things like the employment and support allowance helpline, the universal credit helpline and Jobcentre Plus. I think it would be very beneficial if we were able to debate these issues and to exert some influence on the UK Government for the impact this is having on our communities and our devolved services.
I’m sure that would be welcomed by Members across the Senedd, because you have the experience as the Member for Torfaen in terms of that pilot introduction of universal credit. I note that Welsh Women’s Aid raised this issue this week in terms of concern about what impact this could have, and we know in terms of domestic abuse and the stresses particularly facing women in that situation—. It is something that I feel we need to then consider ways in which we can update Members and debate these issues as well in terms of impacts.
Cabinet Secretary, could I ask the Minister to make a statement on the Rohingya Muslim refugees from old Burma, now Myanmar? The country has sent tens of thousands of people in an appalling and very desperate situation to neighbouring countries, Bangladesh and India. Only yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon had already approved £120,000 of initial aid to the Rohingya Muslims. These refugees—they are Muslims, Hindus and Christians. So, could you kindly make a statement on that issue? And, secondly, is there any possibility to help them out financially, morally, or to give medical aid to those areas, and for clean water to be given to those people from this side of the world? Thank you.
I think the situation of Myanmar refugees we’re very clearly aware of across this Chamber. Just in terms of our responsibilities, we have an asylum rights programme and we’re very much engaged with the Syrian refugees support as well. But, of course, not having devolved responsibilities for this we can obviously ask these questions of the UK Government, and be ready to provide support—and of course the close relationship that Wales has with Bangladesh as well in terms of these impacts.
Following on from Simon Thomas’s question, could we have a statement by the finance Secretary on the different types of innovative funding that are available for capital projects like the one that is going to be used in the new Velindre hospital in my constituency of Cardiff North? Because as Simon Thomas has said, there’s been a lot of publicity over the weekend about UK Labour’s plan to end PFI projects in England when we get into Government. And I would like to use the opportunity to commend her, as a member of previous Welsh Governments, in avoiding the worst excesses of PFI and leaving us in a much better position than the rest of the UK.
Thank you, Julie Morgan, for enabling me to follow on and enhance the response that I gave to Simon Thomas earlier on. As I said to Simon Thomas, and to Members, particularly on the Finance Committee, of which you were a member in the last session, we spent a lot of time looking at ways, particularly when austerity was kicking in, in which we could, for example, assist local authorities with their borrowing powers. That led to the local government borrowing initiative, which resulted in Welsh Government assisting local authorities on an all-Wales highways environment programme, which actually addressed many of the issues that Steffan Lewis raised earlier on in terms of environmental improvements, but equally supporting, assisting—I have to use my words carefully—registered social landlords in terms of their borrowing powers, but looking at new ways in which we could assist infrastructure developments, not only the twenty-first schools capital programme. Again, this Welsh Labour Government is very proud that we moved into developing a capital programme in partnership with local authorities, in addition to our traditional public capital hospital building programme. But, of course, in terms of Velindre, we then looked at this new mutual investment model. I’ve already touched on that. It has to be a well-designed, well-planned and well-managed partnership that we have to lever in that funding to deliver this pioneering new cancer centre, which you have been very engaged in as the Member for Cardiff North, because we need to provide that new infrastructure for our first-class cancer services. And I know that the finance Secretary will want to update us—and, indeed, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport—on how that is progressing in terms of delivering the new Velindre hospital centre.
I’m looking for a statement on Hinkley Point as well, leader of the Chamber, because last week I asked the Cabinet Secretary for the environment about the dredging of potentially radioactive mud from just outside the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor. She said that she was unable to comment on a specific determination process for granting the licence. Quite frankly, this is unacceptable, and I’m really not sure what to make of what the First Minister said earlier, to be frank. An environmental impact assessment has not been carried out. It’s quite simple. People know about this now and they’re outraged. This plan of yours has been called the twenty-first century toxic Tryweryn. Now, Wales is not a dumping ground. So, what is your Labour Government going to do to reassure people that there is no risk whatsoever from this material? And will you suspend the licence until a core sample has been undertaken, and not just the surface, but under the surface? I’m sure you’ll agree that the Welsh people have a right to know exactly what is about to be dumped on them.
I did respond to Simon Thomas’s question earlier on, to say that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs will clarify our position in relation to this question.
Could I first of all begin by echoing Mike Hedges’s call for either a statement, or actually a debate, I think, on the issue of cavity wall insulation? When it’s done well, it can really transform homes for the better. When it’s done poorly—and I suspect probably every Assembly Member in this place will now have instances of poor installation—it is a disaster. I have one constituent from a family of no great means but their only investment is their home. Their home was great, they’d invested a lot of money into it, until they were advised on a Government-backed scheme to actually invest in cavity wall insulation. It has destroyed their house and it has destroyed their family around it and it’s terrible to behold. And it’s not the only one. In a statement by the Cabinet Secretary, which we welcomed, back in June or July, she mentioned that 2,000 claims had been made under the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency’s advice, against 300,000—that’s one in 150. If there were one in 150 cars breaking down, or one in 150 cans of beans rife with mould that you picked up from a supermarket, there’d be an outcry. So, I think we do need this. I’d welcome the opportunity to have a full debate to see how widespread this issue really is—and the simple fact that CIGA are not paying the amount of compensation that goes anywhere near the repair of homes.
Could I also ask for the opportunity for a statement or a debate on the issue of the growing treatments of Botox and other such treatments that sometimes are being carried out in training courses by unqualified, unregistered, unregulated practitioners? And I say this because a GP in my constituency, out of interest, went to attend one of these, and it was in the kitchen of the individual who was carrying out the training while the dog was running around with no proper medical knowledge whatsoever, and they were offering certificates in how to inject Botox into people’s faces.
But, finally, could I ask the simplest one of all? Could I ask the Minister for a statement—and it’s very parochial—on the 17:19 service from Cardiff Central to Maesteg? It is regularly late by over half an hour. Last night, it was late by over 36 minutes leaving. It was the pattern for the rest of the night. It is the service that always falls to bits. Could we have a statement on what the heck is happening there?
Thank you, Huw Irranca-Davies. It’s important that we have that second question in terms of cavity wall insulation so that I can, again, assure Members that the competent person schemes were introduced into the building regulations in 2010 and included the insertion of insulation into cavity walls. These schemes allow installers to install insulation and to self-certify the work complies with the building regulations. The Cabinet Secretary has recently approved proposals to strengthen the requirements we place on competent person schemes to help ensure that only suitable properties are insulated. The new proposals include greater surveillance by the competent person scheme operators, as I’ve said, of their installers to help identify bad practice and non-compliant work, and these are going to be introduced from 1 October.
On your second point, which is very worrying—and you’ve drawn this to our attention today—in terms of what is described as unregulated facial procedures, following Royal Assent in July—this July, 2017—the Welsh Government is now developing the regulations for the new special procedures licensing system, which requires engagement with a wide range of professional practitioner groups to get the right support, guidance and enforcement procedures in place to enable high levels of compliance. We will give local authorities time to bed in these new special procedures in terms of that licensing system before we add any new ones, but over 2,000 practitioners and 900 premises in Wales will need to be reassessed under the requirements of the new licensing system.
You have got the Cabinet Secretary responsible for transport sitting next to me here today in terms of the lateness of the 17:19 from Cardiff to Maesteg, and he says he will ensure that this won’t happen. He is going to meet Arriva in the next month, and he’ll raise it with them, because we take customer satisfaction very seriously, particularly in relation to commuter services at that time of day for those travelling west out of Cardiff.
Following on from questions asked earlier about the impact of major events in Wales, we have a Welsh football team to be proud of, we have Welsh football supporters to be proud of, and we have a Welsh football association to be proud of, and its great credit to them all that Wales has been asked to put in a bid to potentially hold Euro 2020 games. Now, could we have a statement on what specifically Welsh Government will do to try to ensure that the Welsh FA is in pole position if the opportunity does arise to host games for Euro 2020?
I know that the Cabinet Secretary will want to update Members on this very important opportunity in terms of the 2020 games and in terms of building on our experience, which was shared earlier on this afternoon, I think it would be appropriate to move to reassure and update Members accordingly.
Leader of the house, last night, I actually attended the fantastic performance by National Theatre Wales, which reflected on the crisis and the challenges faced by steelworkers in the time since January 2016 when there was a threat of 750 job losses and then possible closures. Now, I recommend to any Member who’s available to actually see it, and I know that some Members have already seen it. It brings home to us that the challenges they faced and the families faced were difficult at that time and are still difficult. Now, I know the Welsh Government at that point actually created an enterprise zone in Port Talbot to look at the diversification of the economy and to use the advanced manufacturing skills that were there to attract manufacturing businesses into the area. We’ve yet to have an oral statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure to talk about the progress on that enterprise zone as to what is being done to attract those manufacturing businesses into the area so that we can use the skills that are abundant in the area and that are there, all ready for people to come in. It’s situated fantastically for that, but we need to see what’s happening with those jobs.
Thank you, David Rees. The National Theatre Wales production—I think it’s called ‘We’re Still Here’—
‘We’re Still Here’.
I’m looking forward to seeing this play myself later in the week. I think you have to go to the station, then you’re taken to the destination for this. National Theatre Wales, I think, we would all recognise is a very, very important institution that we support. But you raised important questions about progress on the enterprise zone, and, of course, in the context of the developing situation, I know that the Cabinet Secretary will want to respond in due course. Also, just to recognise the work that you were doing, David Rees, in terms of bringing these issues to attention, and the briefing later on today for all in terms of progress in terms of Tata Steel.
I was wondering if we could have a statement on local government procurement criteria and strategy. I’m asking because I’ve had contact from a furniture company in Port Talbot that bid for contracts with Bridgend County Borough Council. They’ve put furniture in quite a lot of schools across Wales, but they weren’t even allowed to put in a bid to Bridgend County Borough Council, because they said they didn’t have the experience or criteria to be able to do so. Therefore, that contract went to a company in Yorkshire. We took evidence on the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee last week from Mark Drakeford about community benefits, about trying to keep contracts in Wales where possible, and I’m not very happy to hear, for a company that I deem to be specialists, of that work going out of Wales. So, could we have a new statement issued on that community procurement? Do local authorities have a structure that they can follow, or does it change by local authority to local authority, which obviously puts those putting a bid in in a very difficult position?
In response to the Member, I know this will be a matter for Neath Port Talbot council, but, obviously, working in terms of the twenty-first century schools programme with other authorities in many instances. There is, of course, a new code of practice on ethical procurement in Wales, and community benefits are at the forefront and, indeed, ensuring that we have access for local supply chains wherever possible. So I’m sure this is a matter that the Cabinet Secretary would be able to clarify.
I’ve been inspired by Huw Irranca-Davies’s request for something to be done about late trains to ask you, leader of the house, if we could have an update from the Cabinet Secretary on where we are with the awarding of the new Wales and borders franchise, currently of course with Arriva. I think it would be really helpful if we specifically had some information on where we are with the commissioning of new rolling stock. I think, in the past when I’ve raised this with the Minister, and possibly with the First Minister as well, it’s been suggested that the commissioning of new rolling stock would be primarily left until after the first phase of awarding of the franchise. Clearly, that leaves it very late, and I know that we would all want, and the public would want, the new franchise to hit the ground running so that when the company, whether it’s the existing company or whether it’s a new company, takes over the running of that franchise, we really can get off to a fresh start, and passengers and the public can have access to first-class trains and first-class rolling stock at the earliest opportunity.
Thank you to Nick Ramsay for that question. The Cabinet Secretary is making a statement later this week, updating on the franchise and, of course, he will answer those questions, particularly in relation to rolling stock.
Thank you, leader of the house.
The next item is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education on ‘Education in Wales: Our national mission—Action Plan 2017-21’. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make her statement. Kirsty Williams.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I am pleased today to publish the Government’s action plan for education in Wales: our national mission. The global experts on education performance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, recognised earlier this year that Government and the sector are working closely together with a commitment to improvement
‘visible at all levels of the education system’.
This action plan sets out the next stage in our reform journey, including development and delivery of a transformational new curriculum. At its heart is a focus on raising standards for all, reducing the attainment gap, and an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence. This Government is committed to a Wales where every child can make the most of their potential and is equipped to deal with the changing world. Last week, the First Minister set out the priorities for this Government in our national strategy ‘Prosperity for All’ and the focus on building a Wales that is both ambitious and learning. We are at a crucial point in delivering on those ambitions. The OECD’s advice to us was unambiguous: hold our nerve, stay the course, but do more to communicate, clarify and ensure coherence in our programme, bring a focus to leadership and deliver a much-needed new curriculum in a timely manner. This action plan responds to those recommendations. It also builds on conversations and meetings I and officials have had right across our nation.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
We are building on strong foundations set out in previous plans and programmes. But we can be even better, setting high expectations of our young people and teachers. We are clear about the way forward. Since the OECD’s report, I have reflected on its recommendations. I have spoken to hundreds within the education workforce and listened to the challenge and advice from the scrutiny committees here at the Assembly. The OECD said,
‘To support the realisation of its education objectives and ultimately its vision of the Welsh learner, Wales should continue its curriculum reform…to ensure that its reform journey is comprehensive and effective.’
The timeline for delivery of our new curriculum, which is at the core of a transformed education system, is set out clearly within the action plan. Instead of a big-bang introduction overnight one September, it will be rolled out starting with primary schools and year 7s. International evidence is clear on this. We will also provide the right preparation time for schools and teachers—not time to stand still, but time to provide feedback, further engage with the new curriculum and be fully prepared for the new approach.
Work on content and the areas of learning and experience continues at pace. The new curriculum and assessment arrangements will be available for schools to feed back, test and refine in Easter 2019. Following that period, all schools will have access to the final curriculum from 2020, allowing them to get fully ready and prepared for statutory roll-out in September 2022. It will then be introduced from nursery to year 7 in 2022, rolling into year 8 for 2023, year 9 in 2024, and so on as the cohort moves through. Together, we will deliver on our new curriculum, taking the time to get it absolutely right, but building in that extra time through roll-out and an extra year does not mean slowing down. It means we will deliver on those connected priorities within the action plan that are essential to maintaining high standards and setting even higher ambitions.
First: ensuring a high-quality education profession—supporting teachers to be lifelong professional learners through new standards, a national approach to professional development and reformed initial teacher education.
Second: identifying and inspiring leaders to raise standards—tackling a historic lack of emphasis on leadership through establishing a national leadership academy, enhanced leadership development, reducing bureaucracy through business managers, improved communication from all levels, and new standards and a revised headship qualification.
Third: inclusive schools dedicated to excellence, equity and well-being—a culture of respect and challenge, ensuring that all are ready to learn through expanding the PDG, enhanced summer learning programmes, dedicated ‘more able’ provision, and innovative ways to identify and measure well-being alongside attainment.
And fourth: improved robust assessment, evaluation and accountability within a self-improving system—being consistent and clear about the things we wish to value and measure through a new annual national education report and report card, through formative assessment and a new assessment and evaluation framework that focuses on improvement at all levels. Our national mission sets out clear timelines, policies and actions across each one of these areas.
In conclusion, Deputy Presiding Officer, schools are having to prepare our young people for jobs that have not yet been created and challenges that we are yet to encounter. This will require a renewed commitment to improving both the skills and knowledge of our young people as we raise standards in a transformational curriculum. Our national mission is ambitious, innovative and confident as we work to deliver a reformed and successful education system. Taken together, our reforms will meet these challenges and deliver on the high expectations that I’m sure we all share in this Chamber for our children and young people.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for the statement that you’ve presented this afternoon. I think I said on your appointment as Cabinet Secretary I wished you well. You have a very important job. Children go through our education system, or students go through our education system once. They get one chance at it and it is vital they have the best environment possible to learn and thrive in that environment. But the statement today does cause some concern, and if I can start with the statement that the First Minister gave last week, ‘Prosperity for All: the national strategy’, where, in the education section of that strategy, which I presume underpins this, he acknowledges that there is still
‘too much variation in the attainment of school leavers, which means without the right skills some risk being left behind and wasting their potential.’
I’d be very grateful to understand exactly what you’ve identified as being the fault, as to why there is so much variation within the education system within Wales and why, sadly, so many people do end up being left behind, and how your strategy will change the direction of education so that it’s not just another education strategy that a Welsh Government is putting forward and that, in three, four, five years’ time, we are having the same conversation, because I think it is important to understand the key direction of where the education system here in Wales is going.
You start also by identifying the OECD and the PISA targets and it is on the record, obviously, as being not your target: the 500 for reading, writing and the sciences—and arithmetic obviously as well. This now forms part of the policy paper that you’ve launched, saying that it is a Welsh Government target to be hitting the 500 mark when the next OECD figures come through in 2021. So, I’d be grateful as to why you don’t see those figures as being your target, yet the document identifies them quite clearly as being a central pillar of driving standards up here in Wales. I’d also like to understand from the Cabinet Secretary, in particular around the reforms that were brought forward under Qualified for Life, which was the Government’s policy document 2014 to 2020, how, again, this document differs from that document, because if I’m correct, we’re still in 2017, and that document was setting the tone to take us through to 2020? Obviously, one of the key pillars of that document was the Schools Challenge Cymru programme, which was set to drive standards up in many of our schools, and from the assessments that have been made— certainly in its initial two years—they were having very promising results and successes with this scheme, and, obviously, it was terminated last year by your good self. Again, as I said, I, and I’m sure the teaching profession and parents would like to know exactly how much legs your policy document, if you like, has—which you brought forward today. Will they see the full term of the agenda that you’re setting out, or will it be another revision in two or three years’ time?
The curriculum that you’ve identified and the changes to the curriculum are welcome, and something from this side of the house that we’ve been calling for, given the increasing body of evidence that clearly shows that there did need to be a pause and almost a reflection on its implementation, and I commend you for doing that. But I would ask you: what assessment have you made of the capacity of schools to deal with, potentially, two curriculums being delivered within the school setting? We constantly have debates, we have discussions, as to the capacity of teachers and schools to develop a coherent learning environment and strategy, and, at the end of this process, they will, at a certain point, be delivering two curriculums within the school environment.
Teacher recruitment is a vital area, and we understand the problems there, but in your statement you touched on the historical lack of focus on leadership. Again, I would be really keen to understand what backs up that analysis of the historical lack of focus on leadership, given, obviously, that we’ve had a party within this Chamber who have run education for 17 to 18 years now, and I presume that’s an observation you are making about various policies that have come forward before to address the leadership crisis—which I think is a fair comment to make—when we do know that many deputy headteachers do not step up and take on a headship because they do not feel that they’re supported to do that, and there are very many good deputy heads who would make excellent headteachers, but, without that progression within the education system and without that support, we’re going to continue having that leadership crisis.
And one final point, if I may, Deputy Presiding Officer with your permission, on HE in particular: it is vital that from our schools students progress into the HE environment. Some of the numbers that have come out around HE recently clearly show that, sadly, the numbers are not going in the right direction and are actually falling backwards for participation in HE from some of our most deprived communities. The Seren network was established and regional hubs were created in order to assist Wales’s brightest pupils to access higher education. I would be grateful to understand how, with the reforms that you’ve launched today in our education system, we will reinvigorate the ambition to go forward into HE, and ultimately experience the wider world of education, whether that be here in Wales or anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Thank you very much, Andrew, for the comprehensive list of questions. The strategy that was announced by the First Minister is the overarching plan for the Government. This document that is launched today adds the meat on the bones that you were asking for just last week, about how the ambitions that are in ‘Prosperity for All’ will actually be delivered. And I make no bones about it: there is too much variation within our education system. There is too much variation in schools. We see that as something that needs to be tackled. We see within a single school a department that is performing really well and a department that is performing less well. We also see variations between individual schools in the same local education authority; sometimes only a matter of miles apart, the results can be very different, and we have to iron that out.
Now, there are a number of ways in which this strategy seeks to raise standards across our entire system. Of course, the most important factor is the quality of teaching. That is the biggest thing that we can do to improve the educational attainment of our children, that is to ensure that the quality of teaching across all of our schools is consistently high. That’s why there is so much emphasis in this document about how we can raise the quality of teaching, whether that be reforming our initial teacher education system, whether that’s a new national approach to continuous professional learning, new teaching standards that are currently being adopted for both classroom teachers and headteachers. Our system cannot be better than the teachers who deliver it, and that’s why this is at the core of our programme.
You talked about the issue around schools challenge. You’ll know that that was a time-limited programme, limited to only 40 schools. There are lots of schools across Wales that need help and support to develop them. Some of those schools did very well under Schools Challenge Cymru, but I’m afraid to say, in some cases, despite the additional resource, that did not translate into better results for students and, indeed, one schools challenge school just before the summer holidays was put under special measures by Estyn. So, we need an approach to school improvement, delivered by our regional consortia, for all schools in Wales—right the way across our country, rather than just limited to 40 handpicked institutions.
You raise the issue of PISA. There is nothing inconsistent in this document and the statements that I and the First Minister gave in answers to questions on 20 and 21 June earlier this year. What’s absolutely clear is that, for the 2021 PISA assessment that will be administered by a different administration in a new Government, whose results will be published by a different administration, that remains the long-term goal. What I am focused on is making improvement in the tests that will be taken next year, because I haven’t changed my mind: our performance in PISA is not what we would want it to be and we need to see improvement, not in 2021—we need to see improvement before that.
Now, Andrew, you do raise a very legitimate point about the issue of roll-out within the secondary sector, and whether having to teach two curricula in the school will be challenging. It’s normal practice for teachers to translate curriculum requirements into schemes of work for each year group in their school; no teacher teaches the same lesson to each and every year group. So, this phased roll-out in secondary schools allows the teaching profession the time to develop their new schemes of work year on year. Now, our teachers and those who represent them understand this, and they are very supportive of this approach. And international best practice would tell you that a phased roll-out gives us the best chance for success. The last time we had a major change to the curriculum, of course, was back in 1988, which was done very much top down and done overnight. And I’m afraid if you speak to people who were involved in the delivery of that reform, they’ll say that it caused significant chaos. But I’m very glad that I will have the opportunity later this week to talk to Lord Baker, and I will reflect on his experience of how he felt that that top-down, overnight big bang actually worked out.
Leadership, I think, has been an area where we have not had sufficient focus. The reasons for that, you know, I’m not clear on and I’m not sighted on, but what I am clear on is that, if we are to see the improvements that we need, we have to have a focus on leadership, and that’s why we are introducing our new leadership academy. We’ll be reforming the qualification for our headteachers, with new leadership standards and more support for existing headteachers and those who aspire to headship, and as we see the leadership academy develop and bed in, I’d hope to see that focus on leadership go down the whole school system to focus on leaders of individual subjects or individual year groups—leadership in our regional consortia, leadership in local education authorities. This is a national mission. We’ve all got to challenge ourselves and ask: ‘What are we going to bring to the table to see this national mission realised?’ And there’s a place for all of us in that, including Members here in the Chamber whose scrutiny and challenge in the committee has been a very important part of my deliberations when looking to set up the timetable for the curriculum.
With regard to HE, can I just say that HE isn’t the be-all and end-all? It’s the right thing for some people, but this idea that everybody has to do HE and that, if you don’t, then somehow you are a failure—I think we need to move away from that. We have to look at education in the right setting, for the right people at the right time in their lives, and that might mean going on to training when you’re in the world of work 10 years after you’ve left school. It may be a higher level apprenticeship. It may be a degree-related apprenticeship. There are many ways in which you can fulfil your potential. HE is an important part of that, yes, for a certain cohort of our population.
May I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement and welcome, for the most part, the content of the statement and indeed the action plan? I don’t think anyone would disagree with the long-term ambition of the Government here—quite simply, ensuring that all children achieve their potential. I’m sure that’s something everyone would want to see. But what we have in this action plan is a great deal of high-level stuff, and the detail on exactly how some of these aspects will be implemented will become clearer, and that, perhaps, is where the nitty-gritty lies.
Now, one of the most significant factors in this statement, I think, is the change of timetable in terms of introducing the curriculum. Many have noted that and, as the Cabinet Secretary knows, I have been raising this consistently with her—back in November of last year, back in March and May in committee and also in the Chamber. And, every time, you’ve told me that you’re confident that the original timetable is appropriate, or was at that time, so I welcome the fact that there has been a change, and I would like to ask: why now, a year after I and many in the sector asked for this, do you feel that now is the right time to do that, and why didn’t you do it sooner during this process?
I’d also like to know what you will use as a yardstick for success in terms of some of the reforms that will be introduced, because reference has been made to using PISA targets as one yardstick. When the previous Government actually turned its back on its PISA targets, you described that as a total lack of ambition. But it’s the lower targets that were adopted that appear in this action plan.
Ac wrth gwrs, pan roddais bwysau arnoch yn y pwyllgor ynglŷn â thargedau PISA, fe’i gwnaethoch yn gwbl glir nad targed PISA yw eich targed chi. Wel, mae yn y cynllun gweithredu, felly a ydym felly’n dod i'r casgliad nad eich cynllun gweithredu chi ydyw? Rwy'n meddwl bod angen eglurder arnom a yw'r Prif Weinidog wedi eich goruwchreoli ar PISA ynteu a ydych chi wedi newid eich meddwl ac nawr yn fodlon derbyn y targedau a ddisgrifiwyd gennych o’r blaen fel rhai sy'n dangos diffyg uchelgais llwyr.
Nawr, mae croeso i’r cyfeiriad at gynllun datblygu gweithlu cyffredinol o hydref 2018 ymlaen, wrth gwrs. Gwnaethoch sôn, yn y cyd-destun hwnnw, am waith i wella ansawdd y gweithlu llanw. Efallai y gallech ymhelaethu ychydig ar yr hyn sydd gennych mewn golwg yn y fan honno, ac a yw hynny'n cynnwys newid y model cyflenwi llanw yng Nghymru; gwn fod llawer wedi codi pryderon â chi bod llawer o ddiffygion yn y ffordd y mae hynny'n gweithredu ar hyn o bryd. Rydych yn dweud y byddwch yn cytuno ar fodel asesu ac arfarnu hirdymor i ysgolion—beth allai hynny, o bosibl, ei olygu ar gyfer categoreiddio ysgolion? A fyddwch yn symud oddi wrth yr hyn y mae rhai pobl yn eu hystyried yn systemau goleuadau traffig dadleuol? Rwy'n meddwl y bu awgrym y gallai hynny ddigwydd a byddai'n dda cael eglurder ynghylch a yw'r rheini yma i aros, ynteu a ydych chi'n meddwl y gellid adolygu’r rheini yn y tymor canolig.
Nid oes llawer o gyfeiriad at adnoddau ar gyfer rhai o'r camau arfaethedig hyn yn y cynllun, felly rwy’n meddwl y byddai'n wir dweud y bydd ysgolion yn chwilio am sicrwydd gennych y bydd ganddynt yr offer a'r adnoddau sydd eu hangen i gyflawni a chyflwyno'r newidiadau arfaethedig i’r cwricwlwm ac, wrth gwrs, y newidiadau ehangach sy'n cael eu cynnig.
There is also reference in the action plan and in your statement to using the new powers that will come to this place, of course, in terms of teachers’ pay and conditions. Perhaps you could give a suggestion and perhaps expand upon the kinds of changes that you will consider. You’ve already suggested that you will be willing to look at conditions of service as something that may need review.
And in introducing the curriculum, of course, we need to ensure that appropriate teaching resources will be available in order to provide that new curriculum. We know the difficulties that there have been in terms of Welsh-medium materials in the past, and I would like to be given an assurance from you today that the new curriculum will not be introduced unless all of the necessary resources are in place in Welsh and in English, where necessary.
Finally, may I also welcome the references to youth work within the action plan? It’s important that we see youth work as part of the education offer that we have in Wales. A recognition that providing strong youth services is central in considering the future of the education sector is something that is very encouraging for me, and the recognition, of course, that informal education has a crucial role in supporting formal education too.
Thank you, Llyr, for that set of questions. Could I say that what we have got in the document, I believe, is a very clear set of actions associated with whom we expect to deliver them, whether that be central Government, whether that be tier 2 of our system, the regional consortia, the LEAs and other partners such as Estyn and the Education Workforce Council and schools themselves? And those are outlined in timelines, associated with each of the four enabling objectives that we have within the document.
On the issue around the roll-out of the curriculum, what I have said, each time I’ve been asked about this, is that, yes, I believe that we can meet the original suggested timetable in Graham Donaldson’s work, but I’ve also gone on to say that I will always keep that under review, and if I feel that it is necessary to amend the suggested timetable for roll-out to ensure that our curriculum transformation is successful, then I’d be willing to do that. There was simply a lack of clarity as to how roll-out would happen. The document—. And previously, there was no plan for roll-out. And this is one of the things that schools have asked for: ‘Can we have clarity about actually how this will be rolled out?’ And I’m providing that clarity that we have not had before and I’ve also listened very carefully to the work of the committee and to professionals the length and breadth of Wales about how much time we need to ensure that our profession will be ready to take on these changes. And, again, that is absolutely crucial and it’s right that we signal this change and provide that clarity now, as we launch our new national strategy, and, as I said, to give clarity to the profession who’ve been asking how it will actually happen.
You raised the very important issue of supply teaching. It’s important that not just the individual people who find themselves working in the supply sector—. It’s not to diminish their contribution, but, actually, overreliance on supply, we know, has an impact on standards. It’s inevitable. So, this is a source of concern to me. You’ll be aware that the previous Minister set up a task and finish group to report on how we could take this forward and didn’t really come up with any overall solution of how to address this agenda, but there were important things that it suggested and, for instance, that we’ve taken forward. So, supply teachers’ access to Hwb: the very professionals who probably need access to that resource more than any other professionals were denied from getting that because we were not giving them a log-on and a password to be able to get onto that system. That has now been addressed.
But looking to the longer term and different ways in which we could organise the supply sector, I, like you, am very aware that there’s been much interest shown in the Northern Ireland model. Now, there are pros and cons to the Northern Ireland model, but I have officials in Northern Ireland this very week—this very week—looking to see whether the Northern Ireland model is one that could be easily transferred to Wales, but we have to recognise that some of this can’t be done until the powers of teachers’ pay and conditions are devolved to us. So, there is some constraint around that, but we are actively looking at different models to be able to address some of the longer term structural problems around how supply teaching is organised at present.
The Member may be interested in some of the local authorities that are looking to work together to have a supply teacher hub model, where a supply teacher will be made available to a cluster of schools and will be working for that particular cluster of schools. There have been a number of local authorities that have come forward and have shown active interest in being part of that pilot. So, there’s lots going on in the issue of supply teaching.
With regard to terms and conditions, it’s really important to reassure people, because some unions have been more enthusiastic than others about the devolution of pay and conditions, to reiterate the promise that no teacher will be worse off as a result of this system, and we do want it to align ourselves with our ambitions within this document, which is all about raising standards and closing that attainment gap.
Resourcing for all of this, of course, sits alongside the usual budgetary processes that we have in Government, at a time when UK austerity continues to be really challenging, and we will do our very best to ensure that our schools have the resources that they need, recognising, of course, that school funding comes in two tranches—yes, via the education department for things like the pupil development grant, but also via local government, via the revenue support grant—and we have to be mindful of that approach to how money actually gets into our schools.
As you know, I have a particular passion for ensuring that we have equity in our system. It’s in this document: an equity for all our students, and that includes those students that pursue their education through the medium of Welsh. It is not fair that students do not have timely access to Welsh-medium resources. The Member will be aware that I held a summit on this earlier in the year—I’m sorry that you were not able to attend that summit—and I continue to have discussions with the Welsh Books Council, with the university press, publishers and the WJEC about how we can improve on this situation. It will be crucial in developing the new curriculum, because if big publishing houses are not interested in working with us now, they’re certainly not going to suddenly wake up and decide they want to resource a brand-new curriculum. So, we have to look to ourselves, not to others, to find creative solutions to that problem. But we have to have an equitable system for all of our children.
Youth work: absolutely crucial. This document tries to make those linkages between what happens in schools, what happens in communities, what happens in the home and how that relates to attainment, and having the opportunity for engagement in non-formal education activities, whether that’s your local youth club, whether that’s your local young farmers’ club—whatever it may be that is in your locality. Access to that for young people is vitally, vitally important if we are to address not only attainment, but also to address issues around well-being, because that’s the service, in many ways, that we can use to address issues around well-being.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement and welcome the plan that she’s published today? We know, of course, that there are challenges, but I think that it is a very welcome plan and that it is very useful to have everything in one document, in one place, with the timescales attached. I also welcome the announcement that you’ve made about the curriculum and the phased approach. I think the most important thing when doing something as ambitious as this is that we get it right for learners, and I’m grateful that you have listened and have responded in that way. As you know, it is an area that the committee has looked at and is continuing to look at. One of the issues that was raised is that the schools that aren’t pioneer schools did not feel sufficiently in the loop and sufficiently involved in the process. So, I would like to ask what your plans are, going forward, to make sure that that changes and that we are all on the same journey in Wales.
I was also really pleased to see the very strong focus in this document on the need to improve teacher education and professional development. As you’re aware, that’s also an issue that the committee is looking at. One of the concerns that I’ve had is that embarking on something as ambitious as curriculum reform can act as a distraction for some from the absolutely fundamental need to ensure that we have the best quality teaching possible. As you’re aware, this is an issue that Estyn has raised regularly as one of the weakest areas of our system. So, I’d like to ask how you intend to ensure, going forward, that we are all fully focused on that in particular in the profession.
But I do want to give a very warm welcome today to the focus in the plan on well-being. As you’re aware, this is something that I feel very strongly about. The committee is embarking on a new inquiry into the emotional and mental health of children and young people, and we see the role of the schools as absolutely fundamental in that. As you’re aware, there is an enormous amount of good practice out there in individual schools. You announced the pilot yesterday with the health Secretary. But I would like to ask, in terms of early intervention and that universal support for children and young people, how you intend to ensure that that good practice is rolled out as far as possible across Wales, but more importantly how you intend to ensure that schools are accountable for delivering on the well-being agenda.
Just to close by saying that, like Llyr, I really welcome the emphasis on youth work. It’s great to see it mainstreamed in a document like that and to see the role that it plays fully recognised. Thank you.
Thank you, Lynne. The whole purpose of the document is to respond to the OECD’s criticism about a previous lack of communication from the centre, and we have to listen to that and hold ourselves accountable for clarity around that communication and a coherence about all the strands of reform that are going on at the moment. There’s lots of reform, and sometimes people ask the question, ‘Well, why and for what purpose?’ If we want the profession to engage in this, we have to be very clear ourselves, and that’s what the plan is dedicated to doing.
Quality teaching is absolutely at the heart of the plan, and we are embarking, as you will know, on a range of programmes, but just to highlight the national approach to professional learning and what does that actually mean. So, we’re working with the regional education consortia on this, and there are broadly three main areas that we are focusing on. The first is helping all teachers to understand fully and prepare for the new curriculum and new teaching approaches. That’s regardless of whether you’re in a pioneer school or not, because we need all our teachers to understand the basics of this new approach to the curriculum. That’s already under way, and our new professional teaching standards are a key to achieving this, because they create that entitlement for teachers to say, ‘I have a right to this continual professional learning throughout my career.’
There are more specific skills that all teachers, again, will need and those relate to assessment, curriculum design and the cross-curricular responsibilities that they will have for delivering this new curriculum. Some of that work is under way at present, but we need to develop that further as we go forward. That’s one of the reasons why we need to adjust the timetable for the curriculum: to ensure that that kind of professional learning offer is available consistently, right the way across Wales. Of course, then, there will be specific support needs arising out of the individual areas of learning and experience that are subject specific or AoLE specific. So, there are three strands to the professional learning offer that we will have available.
Like you, Lynne, I have a personal commitment to the issue of well-being. What we know is that we can’t expect children to make the most of their educational opportunities if they’re dealing with other things in their life. I can’t take away bereavement. I can’t take away that some children’s parents will split up. I can’t take away that there will be other traumas in that child’s life. But what we can do is help those children have the resilience that they need, so that when life throws the inevitably tough times at them, and there will be tough times for them, they will have within them the resources that they can call on to manage those situations appropriately and respond to and not be worn down by them. That’s for all our children. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of saying there’s only a specific type of child who suffers from that, because these are universal truths. That’s why we are working across Government. The new project that was announced yesterday will take place in your constituency of Torfaen, and Blaenau Gwent and south Powys. Wrexham and Denbighshire and Ceredigion will all take part in that project, and we’re looking to see that learning—. We’re trying to learn from that so that we can ensure that there’s a consistent roll-out across the country. Crucially, of course, the new curriculum includes the AoLE of health and well-being, so this will be an integral part of what we do in our schools and it will have equal status to the other AoLEs within the curriculum. That’s one of the exciting prospects, I think, about why we’re taking this forward.
Estyn. Well, of course, we’ve announced—. I’m very supportive of the review that they themselves have announced, because unless we get Estyn and inspection aligned to our new curriculum, again, schools will just revert to type and do what they think Estyn needs of them. So, we need to ensure our Estyn inspection regime is aligned to our new curriculum, so that there is not an inconsistency and a confusion for schools, and the review will report next year.
Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary. I do welcome your announcement that the new curriculum will be phased in, but I do so with a little bit of caution. On the one hand, a phased roll-out makes sense, for instance, it enables teething troubles to be resolved and it gives more time for teachers, as you’ve said, to adapt; however, it’s surely going to involve at least some teaching staff having to teach to two different curricula, and the potential for additional stress and confusion for teachers, pupils and parents concerns me. Have you consulted teachers about this potential challenge and how it will be addressed? What support, help and advice are you going to offer teachers and school leaders to ease the transition?
No matter how good the new curriculum may be, the standard of teaching is key. That’s something you’ve already mentioned today: the standard of teaching. So, I would like you to explain how the new teacher standards regime will ensure that the new curriculum will be taught as effectively and as well as can be achieved. How will the new standards support and promote the new curriculum and ensure that any teaching staff who are not performing to the correct standard are helped to achieve it, and if they can’t, are helped to an alternative path?
Comment has been made by teaching unions that teachers won’t be ready to teach the new curriculum, and I think your planned roll-out is at least partly in response to that. But how are you going to make sure that, even with the additional time, those teachers will be ready and confident to deliver the new curriculum in accordance with your timetable?
Lastly, you refer to the education report and report card. I would like you to give a little bit more detail about this. Would you explain how it will work and what the objectives will be? You’ve also said that you want to have improved robust assessment and accountability. I just ask: assessment and accountability of whom, and how do you envisage this working in practice? Thank you.
Can I thank Michelle for her questions? Key to the first set of questions is the issue around professional learning and, as I’ve outlined to previous speakers, there is a comprehensive timeline associated with what we expect to deliver for a national professional learning model, as well as improved initial teacher education. The new teaching and leadership standards are an important part of this, because they quite clearly set out the expectation that we expect teachers to be lifelong learners themselves. They should be the best student in the classroom. I’ve got no time for somebody who claims that they are the finished article. There is always an opportunity to continue to learn more and to reflect that back in your practice within the classroom.
But let’s not be—. Let’s not mix up teaching standards with issues around professional competency. They are two very, very different things, and there are two very distinct processes for dealing with that. Let’s not get hung up that these professional standards are about dealing with issues around professional competency. There is more that we need to do. There is more that we need to do to support staff who are struggling and to ensure they have the opportunity to address difficulties in their performance, and there is more that we need to do to support schools as employers and LEAs if they find themselves in a situation where, despite all best efforts, somebody should not really remain in the classroom, but that is different from the professional teaching standards and the expectations that are set out.
I’m glad that Michelle has brought up the issue of the report card and the national annual report, because nobody else has picked up on that, and it is an important new innovation. We’ve looked at international best practice, and it’s all very well holding individual schools to account via a school categorisation model; this is about holding the Welsh Government to account. This is about sitting down on an annual basis to judge where we are as a nation in terms of our education system—yes, in terms of attainment, but also looking at the wider determinants that we’re talking about in this document. And it’s about that self-reflection as a Government on where we are. If Michelle would like to look at international examples of best practice, I would alert her to the system in Ontario for instance, which we’ve been learning a lot about. So, this is about holding us to account, not just holding teachers to account, or schools to account, or the consortia to account, but holding this Government to account for its performance on a national basis, and I’m really pleased that you picked up on that.
Thank you. I have five more speakers. We’ve had one from each of the four parties, so, if the five speakers can just ask a question, I am prepared to extend the session. If I find that you don’t, then I will cut the session down. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you for your statement and your deliberative approach to rolling this forward and making a success of it. My question is on objective 3. Some things can’t wait, so will you look at the research published in the British Medical Journal by Professor Allyson Pollock on the importance of children not getting collision in contact sports, and banning rugby tackles in schools? She was right on PFI, so we need to ensure that we are taking notice of this research, as this being a major contributor to concussion in young people.
Thank you, Jenny, for that. I am aware that my predecessor, Huw Lewis, met with campaigners on this particular issue and statements were issued at that time. I am also aware that my colleague Rebecca Evans is actively pursuing this case and we’ll be working across Government to look at evidence and to look at ways forward.
The Children, Young People and Education Committee took evidence from Mick Waters last week, and I welcome what you said about separating competence and the new standards. But I do have a little bit of concern about the language used in some of the standards. It’s quite complex and takes some time to interpret. Mick Waters said that they held long conversations when the working group were developing their descriptors and that they need to be—could they be so precise that they can’t be misinterpreted, in which case they’re at risk of becoming trite, or whether they become complex and sometimes difficult to make sense of initially. And the feedback from teachers was that they appreciated the complex descriptors. Now, I’m concerned by that because some of the descriptors I had trouble interpreting myself, given some of the complexity and the language. What role will the Education Workforce Council play in, where there may be those difficulties, helping refine them?
I’ve also noted that the professional learning passport is mentioned several times in the descriptors, in the standards. For example, it states that the professional learning passport is used to support reflective practice and record an active commitment to continued professional learning. We know that the professional learning passport hasn’t had a wide uptake, despite the £300,000-worth of funding from the Welsh Government. So, how will the professional learning passport be further embedded to enable the descriptors and the new standards to be used effectively? I feel that the EWC has an important role to play here and would like to see an enhanced reflective role for the EWC in the development of the professional standards.
Thank you very much, Hefin. Can I assure you that the teaching standards were developed by the professionals for the professionals, and, indeed, they also trialled in schools before they were formally adopted? It is a source of concern to me that the professional learning passport has not been as well used as I would like it to. I think it has real potential, and we need to reflect on how we can make it as easy for professionals to use as possible and as relevant for them to use as possible—not having to go home and spend hours and hours and hours doing extra work, but, actually, how they can use that interactively as they go about their daily work, sharing that with other professionals in their schools, and, of course, information technology is a great way in which we can address some of that. The EWC initially had a role to play in the initial work on teaching standards carried out by the previous administration. The EWC is a new organisation. They’ve done a tremendously good job in registering all the different professions that we now ask them to register. They’ve got an important new role in validating initial teacher education courses and we will constantly reflect as to other roles that the EWC could perform on our behalf.
I’ll declare an interest as a former teacher. I know what you said about professional standards, and there’s a lot of talk about generic standards and raising standards, and lots of slogans, lots of buzz words. But I’m concerned about the detail, really. So, I wonder if you’ll allow me to give you a little test, Cabinet Secretary. Can you outline the contents of the new teaching qualification for teaching assistants—what it involves and how many hours that it actually takes, because the teaching assistants who I speak to are just not very impressed?
Well, I’m sorry to hear that. In Wales, we’ve traditionally used teaching assistants to a great deal of effect. It’s really interesting, when I visit other countries, like Finland, and, most recently, southern Irish schools, that teaching assistants do not play a part in the education system at all, or to a very, very, very, very small degree. Usually, the only adult in the room is the qualified teacher. Now, I think teaching assistants have an important part to play, especially in our foundation phase, and, if there are questions about the quality of the professional learning opportunities that our teaching assistants have, I do meet regularly with Unison to talk about these and I’m happy to take them up.
But what is it?
It was a question. Rhianon Passmore.
Thank you. First of all, I would like to welcome the action plan as a positive and transformational step forward for Wales, and my question really is based around the fact that we do have the best ever GCSE results for Wales. Are we complacent in that journey in moving forward? Do you feel that attainment gap that we are now closing is closing fast enough? And are you very confident that the way forward for us is to continue with the OECD’s commentary around the fact that this transformational curriculum is the right way forward for Wales? Thank you.
Could I say I’m absolutely not complacent at all? Is the attainment gap closing fast enough? No, it’s not. I’m particularly concerned about the fact that our children on free school meals continue not to reach the same attainment levels as their richer counterparts. But I’m also equally concerned about how few children in some local authorities who are on school action plus reach the level 2+ threshold. In some local authorities it’s a real, real cause for concern. I’m also concerned, for instance, about children who do not receive their education in a traditional school, whether that be in a pupil referral unit or in education otherwise than at school. So, there are many, many levels to this issue around the attainment gap. It’s not just about free school meals. It is about additional learning needs and it is about EOTAS, and this action plan sets out what we intend to do with all aspects of that.
Thank you. And, finally, Huw Irranca-Davies.
I welcome today’s statement, but may I ask the Cabinet Secretary to explain how today’s announcement will assist Welsh-medium education in particular? I am pleased to have two excellent Welsh-medium schools in my constituency. Ysgol Llangynwyd serves the west, and Llanhari serves the east, but both will find difficulty in finding sufficient numbers of chemistry, maths, and physics teachers and so on. With increasing demand for high-quality Welsh-medium education in all subjects, how are we ensuring that we improve educational standards for all children and young people, particularly in the mother tongue of Wales?
I’m really sorry, Deputy Presiding Officer, I’m not sure whether I got all of that. But what I will say is: Huw, you’re absolutely right. If we’re to have an equitable education system we need to ensure that children have equal chances, whether they are in English-medium, Welsh-medium, or bilingual provision. And, that’s, again, one of the reasons to make a decision about slowing the curriculum introduction down slightly, so that we can address the needs specifically in the Welsh-medium sector. There are a number of programmes in which we can do that. So, that’s alternative routes into teaching for more mature students. It’s developing maybe people who are working in a learning support capacity at the moment. It’s about increasing our secondment schemes, so people who have language capabilities can have a break from school to go and develop them further.
It’s even about innovative technological advances. So, officials have been up recently to look at the delivery of Gaelic education in the Outer Hebrides. My goodness me, if we think we’ve got challenges in rural Wales, go to the Outer Hebrides and look to see how you provide a bilingual education system in the Outer Hebrides. One of the ways in which they’ve supported Gaelic—[Interruption.] One of the ways in which they’ve supported Gaelic—[Interruption.] As I was just saying, my officials were there just over the summer. One of the ways they’ve supported that is by the e-school, and that has been absolutely fantastic in terms of attainment for those children. So, they’ve got university professors teaching science via Gaelic over an internet link. They’ve got a philosophy professor at a university teaching philosophy via Gaelic over a link. Actually, what this is doing is enabling more children and parents to make that positive choice about learning through Gaelic, and then that, in itself, drives then more demand to be able to demonstrate to people, ‘You have a real professional opportunity and a lifelong career should you move into this sector’. So, we’re actively looking at whether those technological solutions that are being used innovatively in other parts of the world—whether we can adopt some of that best practice here in Wales to address those situations.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure on transport proposals for Deeside, and I call on Ken Skates to introduce the statement.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome this opportunity today to update Members regarding a number of transport developments in Deeside. It goes without saying that, as a Government, we are absolutely determined to spread prosperity and support economic development across all parts of Wales.
In March this year I launched my transport vision for north Wales and the north-east Wales metro. This vision is to create a quality integrated transport system across the region that maximises the economic opportunities by connecting people, communities, and businesses to jobs, facilities, and services. Improving connectivity goes beyond the regional border, which is why I’ve set up a transport steering group that brings together key partners from north Wales, Merseyside, and Cheshire to deliver my vision. The steering group will co-ordinate the development of a work programme for the north-east Wales metro as well as taking forward investments in other parts of the region. Over recent months it has worked with local authorities, business sectors, and bus and rail operators to develop a package of transport investments for delivery over the coming months.
The main focus has been on creating integrated transport hubs at key employment sites across north Wales and the wider Mersey Dee area. In north Wales these hubs are centred in the Bangor, Abergele, Rhyl, St Asaph, Wrexham, and Deeside areas. It is my intention over the coming weeks to announce a programme of metro initiatives in the Wrexham hub area, but today my focus is on Deeside.
My statement today will announce my decision about the preferred option for the Deeside corridor scheme, as well as outlining wider initiatives being taken forward in the Deeside area. I’ll be making further statements over the coming weeks and months to explain my proposals for the other hubs.
Transport integration is about joining up all transport modes, and the package of measures we are planning for Deeside delivers on all modes and improves infrastructure and services. Importantly, the improvements support the Deeside plan published earlier this year by Flintshire County Council. I would like to congratulate the authority on their plan, which identifies the transport interventions necessary to deliver opportunities for economic growth. The package of measures we are taking forward goes a long way towards meeting the aspirations within the Deeside plan.
Firstly, I am pleased to announce that, after taking into account the technical, social, economic, and environmental aspects of the Deeside corridor scheme, plus the outcome of the public consultation we held, I have decided to adopt the red route as the preferred option. This option, which includes increased capacity on the existing A548 and a new road between the A55 and A548, I believe, will address the transport problems we had previously identified in the A55/A494/A548 Deeside corridor improvement key stage 2 study. The proposed route will help address the chronic congestion the area suffers, it will improve journey times for both businesses and commuting traffic, and it will also strengthen the social and economic links between north Wales, Deeside industrial estate, Chester and beyond. Villages such as Oakenholt and Northop Hall will see the benefits from reduced through traffic on the A548 and B5125.
Deputy Presiding Officer, I will be publishing a TR111 plan in order protect the route under the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995. This means that the local planning authority will refer to the Welsh Government all future planning applications that are near the preferred route. The next steps will be to investigate further and develop a preliminary design. In particular, we will be looking at the environmental and engineering issues in more detail, taking account of the comments made during the consultation and looking at a junction strategy and options for side roads and accesses. The design will also take into consideration the demands that may arise from advances in technology such as connected and autonomous vehicles. It is critical that what we deliver with our investment today is fit for the future.
Following preliminary design, we will publish draft Orders under the Highways Act 1980 and the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. The draft Orders comprise the powers to establish a line, modify the side roads, purchase land and put in place any other rights we need to deliver the scheme. We will also be progressing the delivery of the A494 River Dee improvement scheme. This scheme will investigate options that will resolve the existing traffic bottleneck at this location of the network and overcome the serviceability issues with the existing bridge.
Our development work to improve connectivity by rail is also moving to the next stage. We are currently discussing with Network Rail the commissioning of further work on a new Deeside Parkway and co-locating Shotton higher and Shotton lower. The latter will enable a seamless interchange for passengers wanting to change between the Wrexham and Bidston line and the north Wales main coast line. As for Deeside Parkway, this offers an exciting opportunity to improve access to the business park, the introduction of park-and-ride provision, and facilities for road freight traffic. We will be working closely with Flintshire County Council to deliver these proposals further.
I have provided the local authority with funding to improve access to Deeside by sustainable modes. Over £1 million has been allocated to improve bus services and to encourage walking and cycling. Part of this money will be spent on developing bus interchanges, bus priority measures on the B5129 Shotton corridor and bus infrastructure on Deeside industrial park. The remainder of the grant will support the introduction of active travel routes within the Deeside industrial park. This will result in a complete network of dedicated cycleways on all access routes within Deeside industrial park, with seamless links to rail and bus hubs. Secure cycle parking will be built into the design of the transport hubs. The cycling and walking provisions in the Deeside industrial park will be used as the exemplar to guide the development of other key employment hubs across the region.
We are also working with local authorities in the Mersey-Dee area, and with bus operators, to develop a bus quality partnership scheme aimed at improving the travel experience and increasing passenger numbers. We’ve already invested £5.5 million in the Northern Gateway site to facilitate commercial development. Further investment of £4.7 million has been committed to continue with building additional road infrastructure, to open land for development and attract further businesses to locate at the site. This infrastructure will improve transport connectivity to and within the site.
All the initiatives I have described will go a long way to address the barriers to accessing jobs in the Deeside hub. They will also form one of the building blocks that will deliver a north-east Wales metro vision of a well-connected and high-quality integrated transport system.
Thanks very much for your statement. You refer to your establishment of a transport steering group to develop a work programme for the north-east Wales metro, referring to a range of partners in north Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire. Now, of course, there already is a working group, created via the Mersey Dee Alliance, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and their partners. To what extent does this correlate with that and their proposals in their own vision, and of course 360, primarily in the context of rail?
The four hubs you describe in terms of north-east Wales miss out that huge area between Deeside and Wrexham, and particularly the areas where connectivity is poorest, in some of the smaller towns and villages. I would therefore welcome a comment from you on how that will be joined up, and those communities will not be left without access, particularly for young people to work, or older people to key services. In terms of your other hubs—Bangor, presumably you’re talking primarily about the bridge, or third crossing, or whatever that might be, and Abergele-Rhyl—to what extent do those fit into the north-east Wales metro? Because you’re talking about four hubs and the north-east, so what is the relationship between the two? Are we talking about something different, or is it one single project with four different strands within it?
You refer to the Deeside plan published by Flintshire County Council. You may be aware, as I certainly am, that again, as I mentioned before, many of the smaller towns and villages that aren’t on Deeside are concerned not to miss out on this connectivity, and I hope you would comment on that.
Now, it’s nine years since the public inquiry recommended to a predecessor Minister during the third Assembly that the previous proposal on Aston Hill should not go ahead, and we are where we are. I’m sure the residents of Aston Hill and the thousands living in the surrounding areas will welcome your decision to adopt the red option as opposed to the alternative. Clearly, the A55/A494/A548 corridor is below modern standards, with some of the slip roads being too short, too close, and generating poor visibility. We understand the red route would be an 8-mile road between the A55 and A548 with two lanes in each direction, leading to an increase in capacity and an improvement in journey times between the River Dee and Northop interchange. However, clearly your decision will not be so warmly received by the people living on that route. In your consultation, you said the red route would be likely to affect about 56 hectares of agricultural land and farm businesses and that mitigation would be by financial compensation and by accommodation works. Could you tell me what proposals you have to engage with those businesses and individuals who will be affected in relation to that mitigation and financial compensation?
There’s also, as I know from correspondence you’ve received that I’ve been copied on from local residents, a belief or a call for the need for a crawler lane, and good signage at the start of the red route, and I wonder whether you can confirm whether those will be accommodated or will be considered.
There’s also a call in certain quarters that, even with the red route, the A494/A55 interchange has still been listed by the Automobile Association as one of the worst in the UK, and that some action will be required there—not to increase the lanes, but to have better egress from the main highway.
You refer to the A494 Dee bridge. In the consultation you describe that as a separate scheme, but can you confirm, as I know to be the case, that the red route is dependent on that, and confirm how the two will work concurrently to ensure that the whole can deliver as intended? You refer to developments of bus interchanges and bus infrastructure. How do you respond to concern expressed by community transport providers in Flintshire that they resisted or rejected the offer from the council to take on some of the commercial routes, and that the pilot minibus schemes put into Kinnerton and Buckley being run by licensed taxi companies may not be viable after the initial additional funding runs out for commercial companies to continue, and also their concern that the north Wales transport for health group, set up by the Welsh Government, has not met since May 2016, and that the Welsh Government has not reconvened the meetings? Again, for many people, this transport connectivity is critical, but those who perhaps need it most are the most affected by its absence.
Finally, you referred to Deeside Parkway as an exciting opportunity to improve rail access to the business park. As you know, the Wrexham Bidston Rail Users' Association have highlighted that rail travel to work in Flintshire is only 1 per cent, less than half the overall Welsh average, that many employees have to use their car to access employment and those who can’t may not realise their employment potential, and that 20 per cent of interviews and job offers at the Deeside industrial park are declined because of transport difficulties—and that happened, in fact, to my own oldest son. Thankfully, he found alternative employment elsewhere. Do you propose that the location for the parkway should be adjacent or within Deeside industrial park, and if so, how will you mitigate the impact on Hawarden Bridge?
Can I thank Mark Isherwood for his comments and for his questions? I think many Members around the Chamber will welcome today’s announcement. Many Members have been consistent in calling for investment in north Wales to alleviate the congestion, particularly along this part of what is a key economic artery. I’ll deal with each question in turn, beginning with the last question that Mark Isherwood asked concerning Deeside Parkway.
I think this offers an enormous opportunity to break down barriers that too many young people—indeed, people of any age—face when trying to access job opportunities. The Member referred to the 20 per cent statistic in relation to those who are unable to undertake job interviews because they cannot access affordable or reliable public transport. That figure covers the whole of the Mersey-Dee area, and is part of the justification for viewing this initiative as a cross-border project to ensure that people in Wales can access job interview opportunities not just within north Wales but also across the border. And it will be essential that Deeside Parkway is located on the industrial park. The initial design and plans for the parkway—the cycle routes, the bus lanes—have been designed in such a way to enable people to shift from one mode to another and to travel seamlessly within the industrial park.
In terms of the steering group, the Member is right, we do not wish to have a multitude of organisations leading this work. The taskforce that was set up to look at what rail enhancements are required for the region has produced an outstanding prospectus, Growth Track 360. The steering group will take members from that taskforce and it will also look at additional membership from local authorities, because their investment in the north Wales metro will also be crucial indeed. It’s entirely possible that the growth deal could contribute to widening the scope and the scale of the metro in the years to come.
In terms of the design of the metro, it is intended to couple together communities large and small with primary places of employment. We’ve identified those initial hubs where work will take place in the first stages as a priority, simply because of the volume of people that are employed at those destinations and the prospects for jobs growth.
We’ve also coupled with the metro vision strategic economic development projects, and the Member is aware of the advanced manufacturing research institute that is being taken forward at speed and that will see one base at Broughton and another in the Deeside industrial park. So, we are coupling together employment opportunities with transport investment in the future.
I’m just going to touch on the public debate that took place regarding the preferred option. I do recognise that any proposal for a new road and for road enhancements can be controversial, but it was recognised by more than 80 per cent of those who responded to the consultation, or who attended the exhibitions, that local public transport, local public roads and trunk roads are vital to accessing good work opportunities and for social purposes. More than 80 per cent rated investment in transport as important or very important.
In terms of the preference for one route over another, the support for the red route stood at 74 per cent, for doing nothing at 5 per cent, and the remainder for the blue route. In terms of those affected—and clearly, had we progressed with the blue route there would have been incredible disturbance for many, many people living in the area affected, as well as a major impact of the competitiveness of the region, as upgrades would need to be taking place over a substantial period of time. As we move towards designing the specific route, we will be engaging with stakeholders and any compensation that needs to be made in line with existing arrangements will be discussed with landowners and property owners in the established manner. I do recognise that there is need as well for good and proper signage at the start of the current red route plan. Coming off the M56, or indeed travelling towards the M56, I think it would be hugely beneficial to have smart signage that is able to steer traffic away from accident black spots when they occur, and to ensure that travel through to north Wales and along the north Wales coast is as seamless and as smooth as possible. That signage, and the request for a crawler lane as the red route rises up towards Northop and Northop Hall, will be considered during the design stage. Likewise, I mentioned in my statement a junction strategy that will examine the safety and compliance at current junctions. It’s been found—. I know that the Member is well aware of many of the junctions on the A494/A55 interchange—you’ll be aware that some of the junctions are poorly aligned with the lanes, some of the slip roads are too short, some of the junctions attract a huge number of accidents and must be dealt with. Indeed, there were two tragic deaths in just the last month on the A494 at Aston Hill. So, the junctions will be dealt with via a strategy of improving safety, journey times and capacity.
Mark Isherwood raised the question of the A494 Dee bridge, and the need to ensure that this bridge receives the appropriate investment to upgrade it to a safe level and to make sure that traffic can flow smoothly where there is currently a pretty severe bottleneck, especially at peak hours. That work will take place whilst, in parallel, it will not be dependent on us pursuing the red route. That work must take place regardless of the Deeside corridor project. So, that investment will take place in parallel, but it’s not contingent on the delivery within a certain time frame for the red route, although we would wish to deliver both as soon as possible.
Finally, the Member has asked about the capacity on the existing A494 and A55, suggesting that at the Ewloe interchange there is work that’s required, even though we’re going to progress a red route. I would agree with the Member; that will form part of the strategic review of junctions. And along the A494 on Aston Hill, it’s a staggering fact that as many as 70,000 vehicles currently use that particular stretch every day—70,000 people or more using a road that was not designed for the twenty-first century, and that figure equates to several sections of the M4, and yet the A494 is only two lanes. So, it’s my belief that this work is long overdue. I also believe it will be supported by the vast majority of the people in the region, and that it will lead to the region becoming far more competitive.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement on the transport proposals in Deeside? And whilst I welcome elements of the statement, I do question the rationale behind bringing forward separate updates to this Chamber for the four hubs within the north-east Wales metro, given the obvious interdependence between the hubs as part of that metro project. I believe that we need to be discussing this in the round and in a holistic way. We need to be testing whether the metro project stacks up as a whole and I would ask the Cabinet Secretary to set aside Government time to enable us to do just that.
Turning to some specifics, as regards buses, plainly, the provision of timely and quality bus services will be a key test for the success of the metro project. Can I ask the Cabinet Secretary what consideration he has given to utilising new powers over the regulation of bus services to establish a publicly owned bus provider to deliver services as part of this metro project? And turning to the consideration of rail, obviously, Cabinet Secretary, while you have engaged with Network Rail on the commissioning of a new Deeside Parkway, as you’ve said, and co-locating Shotton high at Shotton low, we know, of course, that Wales is chronically underfunded in terms of rail infrastructure investment. After all, Wales, as you know, has 6 per cent of the UK rail network but only 1 per cent of the UK rail investment. So, what follows from that is: how are you attempting to ensure that Wales receives its fair share of capital funding, and what other projects are you currently pushing for in the wider north Wales region in order to further the capital investment in rail in Wales? Diolch yn fawr.
Can I thank Dai Lloyd for his questions and his comments? Bus reforms have been consulted on already, in the last 12 months. That consultation took place at the start of this year and ended in May. We’ll be taking forward, based on the consultation, a further piece of work in the spring of next year, which could, in turn, inform provisions within potential future legislation, but it is a very valid question about whether public bodies could and should run local bus services. It’s something that I’m personally in favour of, and I also believe that we need to ensure that corrections are made, as soon as we possibly can with the new powers, to some of the problems that have been in existence since deregulation in the 1980s. But, as I say, the consultation did take place in this area. It will inform a further consultation on the package of provisions that could be included in potential future legislation.
In terms of the Deeside hub and the other hubs that are proposed for north Wales, it’s a fact that Flintshire County Council have already developed a very effective Deeside plan that has informed the specific interventions within the Deeside hub as proposed today. We will be working with other local authorities on similar hub visions, and we will be linking them together through the metro concept. This is a system and a design that must serve local needs and be worked up with those local authorities where they’re going to be situated, rather than have them imposed by Welsh Government. I’m very keen to work with my partners across north Wales to ensure that the hubs and the metro system that link them operate for the people, and are designed by their local representatives as much as by experts and designers within Welsh Government.
In terms of investment in rail infrastructure, the Member is right; it’s 11 per cent of the Network Rail Wales route, but only 1.5 per cent of funding, in the latest control period, has actually come to Wales for infrastructure investment. That’s not acceptable. We made a powerful case for devolution of responsibility for rail infrastructure, and with it appropriate fair funding. We continue to make that call. In the meantime, we continue to press upon the Secretary of State for Transport the need to invest in Wales, and in particular in some of those projects that require urgent attention. The Member asked what other rail-related projects I believe should attract immediate attention and I would say the north Wales main line.
Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary, although I must say I don’t welcome the statement and the decision to go with the red route. I appreciate it’s been a difficult decision and, yes, it’s very, very true that congestion at Queensferry is absolutely appalling. I used to have to commute through that interchange every day, and I know from personal experience it’s an absolute nightmare. But I don’t know that carving a new road across green space between Oakenholt and Kelsterton is the right way to go.
It seems to me that the blue route was the better option. I appreciate that it would have caused a lot of disturbance in the Deeside area while it was under construction, but what concerns me about the red route is that, effectively, you’re just moving the bottleneck further west. The problem we’ve got at Queensferry right now is that, effectively, you have four lanes narrowing into two, all of these different junctions coming off it, and, yes, okay, we won’t have the additional junction problem at the end of the red route, but you are still going to have four lanes of traffic combining into two lanes, which is going to create a bottleneck. So, I really don’t think that the red route is going to solve a lot of problems. I think it’s just going to move the problem further west to between Northop and Holywell.
Another thing that concerns me about the decision to adopt the red route is that, at the moment, that area that the new road is going to travel across—that’s currently a green zone; it’s currently a buffer zone between the settlements of Flint and Bagillt and Kelsterton, Connah’s Quay, and that conurbation in the north-east corner of north Wales. It concerns me that, with this construction of a new road, there will be encouragement to remove that green barrier entirely and, eventually, we’ll end up with a conurbation from Flint to Queensferry. Can you assure the people of Flint and Oakenholt, and round those areas, and Northop, that their environment is not going to become subsumed, eventually, into a conurbation? What are you going to do to protect that green space?
Another thing that worries me is that—. I’m all for co-operating with the north-west, I’m all for improving links, but we do have to be careful in north Wales because, at the moment, were already starting to become a dormitory for the north-west. I would like to hear what measures you’re going to introduce in the future to make sure that north Wales doesn’t become a dormitory for the north-west and the west midlands, courtesy of this new route and these improvements. I’m not criticising improving the road system or the metro or the rail network. What I want to know is: have you considered the long-term consequences? How are you going to stop north Wales being turned into a dormitory? How are you going to stop the A55 corridor from becoming a dormitory for England?
Okay, moving on to the consultation, you mentioned before that, you know, it’s gone out to consultation. That consultation period was eight weeks long. To what extent did you publicise that consultation? How many local people knew about the consultation in sufficient time to be able to respond adequately to it? And how many respondents did you actually get, and who were they?
Finally, you’ve mentioned £5.5 million that you’ve invested in the Northern Gateway. I’d be interested to learn how many jobs this money has generated and what sort of jobs they are. Are they higher paid jobs or low paid, and are they full time or part time? Thank you.
Can I thank the Member for her questions? The people of Aston Hill, Queensferry, Shotton, Saltney, Ewloe and Broughton I think will be very surprised that UKIP were so keen to support the blue route, because there is no doubt that the blue route would have impacted on the quality of life of a huge number of people. Even when completed, even when widened, it would have still led traffic up a steep hill that would have, in turn, created poor air quality for thousands upon thousands of people. Doing nothing, as the response has shown, was not an option. Only 5 per cent of those who responded said that we should take no action whatsoever. Seventy-four per cent supported the red route and, in terms of the consultation, I’m pleased to say that more than 2,500 responses were received to the consultation. More than 1,800 people attended the exhibitions, which were well publicised and, indeed, an additional exhibition was held at the request of one of the local Members, Hannah Blythyn, the Member for Delyn.
We will be working with the communities that will be affected and with those individual landowners and property owners to ensure that there is environmental mitigation and compensation, and that there is compensation for owners of property and land. But let me just pick up on one point that the Member made about people from the north-west living in north Wales. I’m not sure whether the Member is aware of this, but approximately 25,000 to 30,000 people each day cross the border from Wales into England to work. And approximately 25,000 people cross the border from England into Wales each day. As far as the regional economy is concerned in the north-east of Wales and the north-west, there is no border, and we should not seek to draw a slate curtain across a very active border—one that contributes massively to the GDP and GVA of the overall Welsh economy.
We need to strengthen that economy, generate better quality jobs, closer to people’s homes—better quality jobs for people who live in north Wales. But, at the moment, it’s possible to get from Manchester and Liverpool to Deeside industrial park in, what—40 minutes? On a bad day, on the A494 up Aston Hill, it can take just as long to get from Deeside industrial park to Mold. That is not acceptable. We need to make sure that people who live in north-east Wales have good, quick access to job opportunities in what is Europe’s biggest and one of the finest industrial parks. So, I make no apology for creating jobs and creating employment opportunities in Deeside industrial park; it should be something that UKIP is proud of.
In terms of the specific questions, technical questions about the A494-A55 interchange and whether it will move the bottleneck, I dispute that as well, because the option of the red route now gives two access roads into north Wales. One can be pursued for north Wales, another can be pursued for Wrexham, and therefore it will not move the bottleneck, because you will have an option of taking traffic off the Aston Hill, if it’s going to carry on through to north Wales, whereas existing traffic can stay on there if motorists wish to turn off for Wrexham or a south-bound journey onward to other communities such as Chester. I recognise that the Member will have her own opinions about the project and her own opposition to the preferred route, but I would urge her to base her preferences on the evidence, and the evidence clearly shows that the red route it the best option for the community and for the region.
As the red route, as announced today, will have a significant impact on my own constituency of Delyn, it’s probably my democratic duty here today to raise the number of concerns that constituents have raised with me and a number of wider points.
I want to start with perhaps what could be perceived as a somewhat pedantic and slightly parochial point in respect of the title of today’s statement, and that is ‘Transport Proposals for Deeside’. Because, if you look at the initial proposal map, with the red and blue routes, actually, a significant portion of that covers the communities of Oakenholt, Flint, Flint mountain and Northop, which fall outside the Deeside area. I’m more than happy to offer Cardiff-based Welsh Government officials a crash course on the respective communities of north-east Wales and Flintshire, but, on a more serious point—and I did raise this as part of the consultation process—I think, for this to be as accessible as possible for people, they need to understand that it is affecting their area as well, and that it is a consultation and a proposal for them to be involved with. I hope that this will be taken into consideration at the next stage of the process.
Whilst, as we’ve already heard, there’s been much local debate and disagreement over the two proposals put on the table, and I know that that disagreement and debate is set to continue, I think we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in north-east Wales who doesn’t think that investment of some sort in our transport infrastructure is needed, and particularly in the key gateway into north Wales. However, Cabinet Secretary, you’ll be aware from my correspondence on this matter that a number of my constituents and communities in the area have raised a variety of concerns, which I want to briefly outline here today.
Of course, there are the wider environmental implications and concerns associated with any proposal, any new road of this size. And I know that the so-called red route will impact on a number of farms within my constituency, and we will see the loss of woodlands and public rights of way. Can I ask what work has been and will be done in respect of this, and what part will meeting our well-being of future generation goals play in terms of assessing the environmental implications of the red route as proposed today?
At £250 million this transport plan is a significant investment and it should also bring with it significant social benefits to the communities in the area, and I’d like to see any social benefit reinvested in the community and used to enhance facilities. You’ve talked about the active travel plans for Deeside industrial park, which I welcome, but can that actually go out further across Flintshire, to enable people to be able to cycle to work where possible, for people’s health and well-being? Cabinet Secretary, do you have a view at this stage on how social benefits could be used and put back into the community? Could social benefits coming from the road fund contribute, for example, to things like the capital programme to overhaul Theatr Clwyd?
Another point: understandably, my constituents are concerned about the impact the proposal could have on the surrounding towns that I’ve already mentioned, particularly the traffic through the likes of Flint and Northop, both of which can already be congested at peak times. Also, we’ve already heard how the new interchange and the converging lanes in Northop—. There are worries that that could have the impact of transferring problems just literally further along the road. What mitigating work has been done and will be done around Northop and Flint mountain? Has consideration been given to how the A55 resilience study that was going to—? Will that also form a part of this, because I know you’ve already responded to my colleague Mark Isherwood in terms of the possibility of a crawler lane? I think that should be given consideration as part of this, that this isn’t the be-all and end-all, there needs to be—. I think there are other problems along that route that need to be addressed.
The Flintshire bridge is a key part of the proposals. Do the proposals for improving this bridge ensure it’s fit for purpose? I know it can often be closed as a result of high winds and it’s still known as the new bridge in the area, despite being nearly 20 years old, and some locals have nicknamed it ‘the bridge to nowhere’ because if you go along it, you’re hard-pressed, perhaps, to see one or two other cars going along it. I think it will been referred to, how you’ve got this—. It’s been there for a number of years now, but people still choose to go up the Aston Hill to come into north Wales. So, what guarantee could you give, if this route goes ahead, that people wouldn’t still travel along Aston Hill and that that wouldn’t remain congested, as it is?
You referred to the village of Oakenholt in your statement. I know residents in Oakenholt have particular concerns with how the new road will affect the area. We’ve already seen substantial new housing developments in Oakenholt over the next few years. So, Cabinet Secretary, can you really be confident that the route as outlined will enhance Oakenholt and the surrounding area, and not do damage to the community?
Just briefly, to finish, moving from road to rail, because I recognise your statement did cover plans to progress the north-east metro, which I welcome. We talk a lot about connecting Deeside industrial park, which is really important, as the cornerstone of the regional economy, but we really do need to make sure that other communities towards the west of Flintshire are not left out and are not let behind, and that they are connected as part of the north-east Wales metro proposals. You’ll be well aware that there’s currently only one train station in my constituency, in Flint. Access to public transport for a huge swathe of the population of Delyn means buses and, to be honest, at the moment they are either not that reliable or do not connect up. This metro for north-east Wales does have the potential to be a massive economic enabler, not just for the region, but for individuals to better access work opportunities, to get to Deeside industrial park. I know in my own events, my Future Flintshire event that I held earlier in the year, there was particular concern about how young people were able to access work at Deeside industrial park if they can’t afford a car, or if they have got a car, often the cost of insurance for younger people makes that prohibitive.
I welcome the news to look at Shotton High Level, Shotton Low Level and the Deeside industrial park station, but could we, as part of the north-east Wales metro proposals, look at how we could actually develop stations further down the line to the west of Flint? I actually recently met with Holywell Town Council members, representatives from Network Rail and my MP colleague, David Hanson, to look at a potential site for a new station in the Greenfield Holywell area. Much of the structure actually is there—obviously it needs a little bit of work and enhancement—but it’s there from the old station. That station actually formed a key strategic point, not too far from the point of the Port of Mostyn, which links the advanced manufacturing sector of the north-east with the energy sector of the north-west, and this is where the A380 wings for the A380 Airbus go out or are shipped out to Toulouse. So, I would really urge serious consideration—and I’m happy to meet with you and officials to see how we can take this further—of a new station at what is being called Greenfield halt, or, actually, if we did do it, why not call it St Winefride’s halt to maximise on the heritage and tourist assets just on the doorstep of where that would be placed?
Just to wrap up, we are seeing large-scale investment in the pipeline in our infrastructure in north-east Wales. There are big proposals on the table, proposals such as the metro, that would bring huge potential for our area. But, in closing, I really, really need to call on the Cabinet Secretary to listen and act on the ideas and the concerns of the people, communities and organisations of Flintshire. I’ll be working hard to make sure my constituents have a voice, going forward in this process. I strongly urge the Welsh Government to make sure that the process is as accessible as possible to all communities in Flintshire, not just Deeside, and actively involve people from the communities across the county.