Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from David Melding.

Rent Smart Wales

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the budget of Rent Smart Wales? OAQ51384

Yes. Rent Smart Wales is self-financing through fees. We do, however, support local authorities to promote and enforce registration with Rent Smart Wales. 

First Minister, according to the freedom of information request put forward by the Residential Landlords Association, Rent Smart Wales is currently operating at over double its projected cost. At the end of February 2017, it had hired 50 full-time equivalents to administer the scheme, which is five times the projection of your regulatory impact assessment. Was the Welsh Government naive in its estimates of the administrative costs of Rent Smart Wales, or is inefficiency at Rent Smart Wales to blame?

As I said, Rent Smart Wales is entirely self-financing. It's paid for through the fees for registration and licensing of landlords and agents, and it's a matter for Rent Smart Wales, of course, which is run by Cardiff council, to explain its operating costs and what it does with the personnel that it has. 

First Minister, how does the work of Rent Smart Wales help towards supporting the most vulnerable members of our society who live in private rented accommodation?

Rent Smart Wales ensures that anyone involved in the letting and management of properties is both fit and proper and trained. The fit-and-proper-person test makes sure that nobody with unspent criminal convictions can have any involvement with a tenant, particularly important, of course, when dealing with vulnerable tenants. And training ensures that a landlord or agent is aware of their legal responsibilities, especially in terms of the safety of the property they let. 

First Minister, figures released last week showed that 86,238 landlords are now registered, meaning an estimated 3,762 are letting properties illegally. Registering as landlords costs £33.50 if completed online, and £80.50 on paper, irrespective of the number of properties they have. The scheme was launched on 23 November 2015, giving landlords 12 months to register, before it became law last year. First Minister, isn't it time that all landlords followed the example of the vast majority and live up to their social obligations to their tenants, comply with the law and deliver decent housing conditions in Wales? And what can the Welsh Government do to aid bringing those who, for whatever reason, continue to flout the law—?

Well, I absolutely agree that those landlords who have, as yet, failed to come forward need to do that now. They are breaking the law. If landlords come forward now, they may escape any financial penalties for non-compliance. If they don't come forward now and are subsequently found out, then, of course, Rent Smart Wales could issue fines, take them to court for prosecution, and they even have the power to remove their ability to let or manage properties. So, the sanctions are there. It's hugely important that landlords avoid those sanctions by complying with the law. 

Adult Mental Health Services

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on adult mental health services in Wales? OAQ51382

Improving mental health services continues to be a priority for the Welsh Government and we have committed a further £40 million for mental health services over the next two years.

First Minister, I'm really glad to see that you are increasing the resources for those suffering with mental health problems. But what I'm finding in Aberconwy is the interpretation of the Mental Health Act 1983—. And I know that many our patients are finding this very hard to navigate when it comes to support required. Even I, when I'm dealing on behalf of my constituents—it's really hard to ensure that statutory bodies are complying with this legislation, even down to treatment and care plans. When you ask the statutory partners responsible for a copy of the treatment and care plan, more often than not, we have to wait weeks to receive them. They've never, ever been written up in advance. I'm talking about people with complex mental health conditions. What will you do, as First Minister please, to ensure that it's not just the case of throwing money at this, and that strategic and well-intentioned plans are in place for these people who are, on some occasions, falling through the net and becoming very, very vulnerable indeed?

We do expect, of course, public bodies to comply with the law. She asks about what structure should be in place. Leaving aside the issue of the amount of money available, our 10-year mental health strategy, 'Together for Mental Health', takes a population approach to improving the mental well-being of people in Wales and supporting people with a mental illness. We want to make sure that people can have access to talking therapies, for example. We're looking at ways of helping young people even more, and she will be aware, of course, of the money that's being put in place for child and adolescent mental health services. But we certainly expect that, where public bodies are expected to comply with legislation, they do so.


First Minister, let me tell you about a 30-year-old man, who, after a mental health crisis, presented himself to Ysbyty Gwynedd, was then transferred overnight, on a six-and-a-half-hour journey, to a hospital in the south-east of England. His family was able to negotiate a handover to the home treatment team, so, after a week, he was returned home, but describes being accompanied back to his house, flanked by two guards, as embarrassing and traumatic. The whole experience he says left him feeling like a criminal and not a vulnerable patient. This is clearly unacceptable. So, what action will the Government take to address the shortage of mental health beds not just in north Wales, but throughout the country, and to include investment in beds themselves and staff, and also in home treatment teams?

Well, the Member gives an example there that deserves further investigation. It's very difficult to comment on it without knowing more about it, but, if he wishes to write to me with more details, I would of course be pleased to investigate that for him. He asked the question as well on mental health spending. Well, of course, mental health spending is ring-fenced in Wales, and we plan to increase that funding by a further £20 million to nearly £650 million in 2018-19.

First Minister, despite the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010, nearly a quarter of patients in Wales wait longer than 28 days for a local primary mental health support services assessment, and 20 per cent of those patients will wait more than 28 days for treatment following the assessment. In recent months, we have had warnings about insufficient consultant psychiatrists and problems recruiting sufficient psychologists. First Minister, what is your Government doing to improve recruitment of trained mental health clinical staff and put an end to lengthy delays in mental health treatment in Wales?

Well, we have, of course, in place a recruitment campaign, which has proven very successful. We put extra resources into CAMHS when that was needed, when demand did become very high and that demand needed to be satisfied. I can say that more than 154,000 people have been seen by local primary mental health support services since their introduction, as part of the implementation of the Measure in 2012, and over 82,000 people have received therapeutic interventions by their LPMHSS. So, we know that many people have benefited from that Measure, and we can see, of course, that the budget is ring-fenced for mental health, to ensure that sufficient resource is available.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, tomorrow, there'll be a motion before the Assembly to ask the Assembly's permission to set up an inquiry by the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister to scrutinise the allegations that have been made about the time in office of Leighton Andrews, and your special adviser, Steve Jones. I understand the leader of the house will respond to that debate tomorrow, which is quite right, because it's organising Assembly business. But I'm just working out in my own mind—I'm sure many other people are trying to work out in their own mind—why the Government has tabled a 'delete all' amendment to that motion, and why you have an objection to the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister undertaking this piece of work, on what certainly is not a political point, I would suggest; it is merely trying to get to the bottom of the allegations that have been made.

Well, I take the view that an independent process is the best way of doing that, and that's why we've tabled the amendment that we have.

Well, surely, the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister is an independent process. People sit on that committee and look objectively at the evidence that's given to the committee, and ultimately determine and provide a report based on that evidence. It was slightly alarming, from the Counsel General's interview on the Politics Show, that he questioned the ability of the Chair—as a Labour Chair—and Labour Members to actually be objective in their scrutiny. I believe that they will act with integrity and objectivity on the evidence that is provided by the witnesses that would come before them. I have the words here, which actually do say, 'the Labour Chair and AMs to act impartially on the subject', which I have stated is clearly not a political subject. [Interruption.] But those are the words—I've got them here in front of me—if, from a sedentary position, the Member wants to talk about them.

So, I do believe that they would act objectively, and I do think it is important for this institution that, if that vote is carried tomorrow, the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister is allowed to undertake that work. Surely that's what that committee actually does. So, I do ask you again to enlarge why you have put that 'delete all' motion down that will prevent the very committee that is charged by this Assembly to scrutinise you and your office and the activities of you and your office while in Government?  


Well, he has been partial himself in the words that he has alleged the Counsel General used—that's the problem. The committee is there to scrutinise me as First Minister—of course it is—but I take the view, and I think reasonable people will take the view, that, where there is an issue such as this, an independent process is the right to process to deal with the issue. 

Well, it is really regrettable to see that you are not prepared to have confidence in the committees of this Assembly to actually do the work that they are charged with doing and actually listen to the evidence that is given. But, tomorrow, there is a motion and there is an amendment. So, whichever one carries, there will be an inquiry. Can you confirm that Government Ministers or Government Secretaries who will be giving evidence to either one of those investigations will be relieved of collective responsibility and they can speak as individuals when putting the evidence before the investigations? And, above all, I'm not sure how people will vote in this Chamber tomorrow, but it could well boil down to one vote. These allegations are levelled at you as First Minister, and the activities of the First Minister's office. Will you absent yourself from voting in that vote tomorrow, given that it is specifically dealing with allegations—and I level this—which need to either be proved or dismissed and are levelled at you as First Minister? Will you absent yourself from that vote? 

Well, I think, by his comments today, the leader of the opposition has shown that it's highly political what he's trying to do; it's nothing to do with it being impartial at all. I saw his comments over the weekend, when he said that he wants an investigation up to the present day, for no apparent reason. Also, he said that the committee should make recommendations about the running of the First Minister's office. It's not a matter for the committee as to how the Welsh Government is run in that way. I am not afraid of an independent process. I'm not afraid of an independent process. I'm not afraid of an independent adviser looking as to whether I've breached the ministerial code, because I'm confident that I have not. I am not afraid of an independent process. I don't know why he is so afraid of an independent process. 

Diolch, Llywydd.

First Minister, mental health and children's mental health is one of the biggest issues facing Wales at the moment and, on 27 September last year, you claimed that investment would drive down waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services. You said,

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

Do you stand by that statement? 

Yes, I do. It is right to say, for example, with CAMHS, demand did outstrip what was available. There's no question about that and that's why we put the extra £8 million a year into children and adolescent mental health services in order to deal with that. If we look at the new funding that's been announced for mental health, on top of the general increases, £22 million of new funding has been targeted at improving access to a number of specific services: so, £8 million a year for older person's mental health; the £8 million I've mentioned for CAMHS; £3 million a year for psychological therapies for adult services; more than £0.5 million a year for community perinatal  services, and £1.5 million a year in local primary mental health support services to further support the Measure in 2012.  

Earlier this year, First Minister, StatsWales changed the way that waiting time numbers were being reported, removing the cases that were regarded as non-CAMHS pathways. This removed 1,700 children—some 74 per cent of the total—from the waiting list in one fell stroke. That makes historic comparisons impossible, but we do now have seven month's worth of new data, which means that we can see what has happened so far this year, and it's clear that waiting times for CAMHS are getting worse. Back in March, 87 per cent of children were waiting less than a month, and now it's 45 per cent. Back in March, no children were waiting longer than 16 weeks for that first appointment, and now one in five children are. That doesn't sound like a driving down of waiting times to me. You've previously argued that there are too many children being referred for specialist treatment. Do you still think that the problem with CAMHS is that too many children are being referred? 

Well, it is a fact that around 25 per cent to one third of referrals to specialist CAMHS are redirected to other services because the referral is inappropriate for what is a highly specialised service. Now, that's done to ensure that those children who require specialist support are able to receive it in a timely manner. Of course we expect CAMHS to deal with those young people who need help from CAMHS, but we also know that many of those young people who are directed to CAMHS in the first place aren't directed elsewhere to a service that is more appropriate for them.


Seventy-four per cent.

When confronted by a long-standing problem, First Minister, it looks like the response of your Government is to move the goalposts and to manipulate the data or to claim that not everyone really needed the service. Now, there are several other examples where, rather than improve services, you've moved the goalposts. It happened with the ambulance service, the number of full-time GPs in the NHS, and last week cancer targets were changed but we don't yet know what to. Yet you still reject Plaid Cymru's call for a 28-day diagnosis target set by the independent cancer task force.

Isn't it time we removed your Government's ability to avoid scrutiny by moving the goalposts? And isn't it time that Wales established an independent body for setting targets and publishing the data against those targets? What will it take, First Minister, for waiting times in CAMHS to be reduced so that children get the treatment that they need?

Well, it comes as a surprise to me, as I stand here every week, to suggest that I'm not scrutinised, because I can guarantee Members that certainly I am. Can I make the point that statistics are not changed by Government? They're dealt with independently, and it's up to the UK Statistics Authority to decide how it gathers statistics. It's not something Government decides. Yes, it is true to say, with the ambulance response times, for example, that that was changed, but that put it in a comparable position with England. That's one of the reasons why that was done.

When it comes to looking at cancer targets, these are issues that we look at to make them more effective. The issue I always have with the 28-day diagnosis is that specialists say to me that it's often not possible to do that because of the nature of somebody's cancer. People react in different ways and their diagnosis is done in different ways. I'm not a doctor; I'm just referring to what people have said to me.

Now, she makes the point about making sure that young people get the treatment that they need at the right time, and a priority of the Together for Children and Young People programme is to reduce inappropriate referrals, to examine the way in which specialist mental health services work with primary care and others in social services, education and youth justice and the third sector to ensure that young people do have timely access to appropriate help. But, of course, what is important is that young people, when they're referred, get the right level of service and don't just get defaulted to CAMHS. So, this is a holistic approach that we're taking, and we're confident, if we take into account as well the pilot projects that were announced in September for mental health support in schools, that we will then be able, of course, to ensure that more and more young people get the help and support that they need.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. The temperature in this Chamber may rise tomorrow, but I wonder if the First Minister's seen that the Met Office forecasts for outside show that we are likely to have sub-zero temperatures for the next week or two. I wonder if he also saw on Monday in The Guardian that there was a report saying that electricity and gas prices have risen in the last 20 years by three times the rate of inflation and the average household now spends £562 a year on heating and lighting. What it didn't say was that this is overwhelmingly due to the rise in green taxes, which will cost households almost £150 a year from next year, and they've risen by two thirds since 2014 and are now 20 per cent of the typical electricity bill. Considering that a quarter of the households in Wales live in fuel poverty, how can we justify loading these charges upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society?

This is a man who voted in favour of privatising electricity and gas. That's the reason why prices have gone up. The fact is there's no real competition, people don't really understand how to get the best tariff, despite people's best endeavours to do that. In fact, the service was far better when we had a nationalised provider, and that is something I'd like to see return in the future. It's nothing to do with green taxes. It's all to do with the fact that private companies make profits on the back of ordinary people, something he supported and, in fact, that party over there supports as well.

The First Minister, of course, did not answer the question. Five per cent of an electricity bill goes in profits to the electricity companies, 20 per cent in green taxes. So, the First Minister is completely wrong. But however bad things are at the minute, things are going to get worse, because the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, which accompanied the budget papers this year, show that environmental levies will rise from £10.7 billion this year to £13.5 billion by 2022. So, that means that green taxes will then be over £200 per annum for the average electricity user and a third of power bills.

The introduction of smart meters is going to add another £11 billion to that. That's £84 a year extra for the next five years for every household. Also, an extra £2 billion is going to be spent on upgrading transmission lines and infrastructure to cater for remote windfarms. That adds another £25 per household. So, I repeat my question, which the First Minister didn't answer the first time around: how can we justify loading these charges upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society?


Well, I mean, first of all, I had some rumbling from the party opposite about the overcharging of customers—in 2015, when my party stood in the general election, they accused us of being Marxists for wanting to put a price cap on energy prices. That's how much they cared for ordinary people. We all know what the Tories are like.

Now, in answer to the question posed by the leader of UKIP, every single method of generating energy costs money—every single method. Nuclear costs a great deal of money as well. Yes, we do want to make sure that we have cleaner, greener energy—it's good for energy security; why would we want to import energy from other countries when we can generate our own in a renewable way? Or is he saying is that we should just have coal-fired power stations absolutely everywhere and more opencast? Because that is the upshot of what he's saying.

He refuses to answer the question: how do we justify loading poor people with these excessive charges that are going to grow and grow with every year that passes? The OBR papers—the fiscal supplementary tables—following the budget show that the cost of the Climate Change Act 2008 in 2022 will be nearly £15 billion a year. And, over the next five years, the average household will be spending an enormous amount of its income on green taxes—£66 billion, £2,500 per household, over the next five years, will be taken from household budgets in green taxes. Green taxes are driving poor and vulnerable people into the red.

He talks about driving poor and vulnerable people into the red; the privatisation of energy was one way of doing that—we know that. His party stood on a programme of a flat tax, which would increase taxes for the vast majority of poorer people, and reduce them for people who are earning more. He's in no position to lecture anybody else about looking after poorer people. Let me ask him this—. At the end of the day, he doesn't believe in climate change. I do, he doesn't. I look at the science, he doesn't. That's the way that he sees it.

I believe that cleaning up the environment costs money. The UK was a mess in the 1980s; it was filthy. The River Irwell in Salford would catch fire if you threw a match into it. Where I live in Bridgend, the River Ogmore would run different colours according to what had been chucked into it by whatever industry was upriver. Nobody says to me, 'I want to go back to those days where the environment was degraded, where the rivers were polluted, where the air was polluted', but it seems to be something that he's more than happy to see again.

Environmental Protection

3. What action will the Welsh Government take to enhance environmental protection in the next 12 months? OAQ51368

A very topical question, if I may say. Through the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the creation of Natural Resources Wales, we already have, of course, some of the most advanced environmental legislation and integrated enforcement arrangements in the world.

Thank you for that reply, First Minister. No less than eight wildlife and countryside charities in Wales have criticised cuts in the environment funding set out in the draft budget. WWF Cymru said that there is an apparent gap between your pledges on the environment and the reality of what's happening on the ground, while others have questioned whether the Welsh Government has provided sufficient resources to deliver legislation such as the environment and well-being of future generations Acts. What message does the First Minister think this cut in funding sends about his Government's commitment to protecting the environment in Wales?

If you look at the local authority environment and sustainable development single revenue grant, a total of £61.79 million has been allocated to the local authorities for 2017-18. That is something that is hugely important, on top of, of course, the spending that will come from Government.

But, again, I say to him and his party, he is in no position to lecture us about money when, yet again, we have a budget that deprives Wales of money, that gives us a mere £200 million over four years to spend, where we end up in a position where we are 7 per cent worse off in real terms [Interruption.]—I know it hurts, but you've got to listen—7 per cent worse off in real terms since 2010, where, when Northern Ireland got £1.67 billion, they made no representations at all for Wales, and where Wales is so insignificant in their thinking, that the leader—and I feel sorry for him now—of the opposition is banned from sitting in the UK Cabinet, even as his Scottish colleague is there. And there they are, sitting lecturing us about standing up for Wales and making sure that we get more money for Wales. We'll do that; they will never do that.

As we exit the European Union, an increasing number of people are concerned that we should retain the environmental laws that protect what you’ve just described—mainly the way that we have improved the environment here in Wales and in the UK. Now, on Monday, before the external affairs committee, you said that you had prepared a continuity Bill in case negotiations with the Westminster Government don’t succeed in providing these protections that we’re seeking. Don’t you believe it would be appropriate for you to publish that continuity Bill in draft form now, as a public demonstration of your commitment to ensure that this legislation should remain as we exit the European Union?


There is a Bill. There will be a decision about when it should be published. At present, what I would like to see is that the House of Commons accepts the amendments. If that does come to pass, then we won’t need a continuity Bill, but it's true to say that one has been drafted.

First Minister, the Welsh Labour Government has shown that, through its proactive approach to regulation, enforcement and wider initiatives, great progress can be made to protect the Welsh environment. This is clearly evidenced in the Welsh Labour Government's proactive ambition for Wales to recycle 70 per cent of all waste by 2025 and zero waste by 2050, with over 60 per cent of our municipal waste in Wales currently being recycled. What further actions, therefore, can the Welsh Government take to enhance this fantastic and strategic achievement?

I pay credit to my colleague Lesley Griffiths and those who held the position before her for the fantastic work that's been done on recycling. Back in 2000, we recycled about 4 per cent of waste arisings in Wales. There are stretching targets for the future, but also we need to work with others to make sure that the level of packaging is reduced. It's difficult to do it at the Welsh level, because most of what comes into Wales is packaged and purchased elsewhere, but co-ordinated European action, indeed, worldwide action, to reduce packaging in the first place would reduce waste arisings and make it even easier for us to increase our level of recycling.

The Department for Work and Pensions

4. What discussions has the First Minister held regarding plans to relocate staff from the Department for Work and Pensions office in the Heath area of Cardiff? OAQ51378

The former Minister for Skills and Science met with Damian Hinds, the Minister for employment, to discuss the DWP’s estate plans, and he agreed to keep Welsh Government updated on any potential transfer of DWP functions from Gabalfa, and other locations, to a new hub north of Cardiff.

I thank the First Minister for that response. I want to make the First Minister aware that a huge number of the staff at the DWP office in Heath in my constituency are absolutely filled with uncertainty and concern at the moment. Many of them are disabled, many of them have caring responsibilities, and some of them will have to travel up to three buses to get the new location, not yet specifically specified, in Nantgarw. This is where other staff will be relocated from other parts of Wales. Could he ensure that their concerns are conveyed to the DWP so that they're not left to this feeling of uncertainty about not knowing what's happening and what's going to happen about the fact that they're going to have to travel so much further and for such a longer time? Many of them will not be able to take up the jobs in Nantgarw.

Well, it's a matter, of course, for the DWP, but, at that meeting, what was confirmed by the DWP Minister involved, the Minister for employment, was they were looking to relocate staff from five DWP benefit offices to an office north of Cardiff. It was said that the Minister would keep Welsh Government informed, but, clearly, it's hugely important that people know what is planned and know what the future holds for them as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, we could end up with a large vacant site in north Cardiff to add to eventual vacant sites at the tax office and Tesco House. This could well lead to more contentious housing schemes for north Cardiff. What can your Government do to protect residents from the problem of urban overdevelopment?

It's a matter, of course, for Cardiff council to produce its local development plan, ensure there is a five-year housing supply, and, of course, that plan is produced in accordance with national planning guidance.

First-time Buyers

5. What assessment has the First Minister made of the prospects over the next four months for first-time buyers in Monmouthshire? OAQ51388

Providing opportunity for first-time buyers in Monmouthshire, and, indeed, across Wales, has always been one of our key priorities. Home ownership is a significant part of our 20,000 affordable homes target, and Help to Buy—Wales is supporting this with nearly three quarters of new homes purchased through the scheme being first-time buyers.

First Minister, the average Help to Buy house price for first-time buyers in Monmouthshire is £240,000, similar to Gloucestershire across the border. Are you not concerned that, if your Government fails to match England's approach to first-time buyers, some of our young people will leave Wales and buy over the border instead? 


I'm sure they will be attracted by the fact that council tax is substantially lower in Wales than it is in England under the Conservative Government. But he asked the question about stamp duty. We understand, of course, there will be a need to respond to changes to stamp duty policy following the UK Government budget. Now that the UK Government has announced a relief for first-time buyers, the Cabinet Secretary will give consideration to whether changes should be made to land transaction tax.

First Minister, one of the things that first-time buyers in Monmouth share with those in Taff Ely and Pontypridd is the growth of leasehold properties—properties being sold by leasehold creating a whole series of financial issues in respect of ground rent, and in respect of the subsequent reversions or when the periods of years begin to expire. Do you agree with me that the growth of leasehold, for one, is unwelcome within Wales, but secondly, that the Welsh Government should give consideration to barring or abolishing leasehold properties for the future?

There's been a great deal of exploitation of leasehold where leases have come to an end. Of course, there are some areas, as my friend will know, such as apartments and flats, where leasehold tends to be something fairly normal. When it comes to houses, however, Wales has a history, where leaseholds have come to an end in the past, where people have been charged large amounts in order to buy out the land on which their houses actually sit. I think, in the future, it's hugely important that freehold is the tenancy that is normal, as far as housing is concerned. There may be examples, such as community land trusts, where that wouldn't be appropriate, just to make sure that house prices are kept down. But yes, certainly we want to do all that we can to ensure that people are not exploited when leases come to an end, quite often after a period of more than a century.

Sites of Historical Interest

6. Will the First Minister outline what the Welsh Government is doing to support sites of historical interest across Wales? OAQ51347

There are 4,000 ancient monuments listed across Wales, and 30,000 buildings across the country protected through listing also.

First Minister, you will be aware that I, for many years, have argued that local authorities should have a statutory duty to safeguard our war memorials. Now, I acknowledge, as part of the commemoration of the first world war, that your Government has launched a grant scheme to support monuments here in Wales, and I do understand that grants of up to £10,000 are available under that programme. So, can you tell us how successful that programme has been to date? And would you commit to publishing an analysis of where that money has been spent, so that we can see that all parts of Wales have benefited from that funding?

We are extremely confident that it's been a very successful scheme. Bearing in mind that the centenary of the first world war has been noted over the past few years, it's a way of ensuring that the monuments are renewed and maintained in a way that people can understand what they are, and that there's a feeling of pride in them as well. And, of course, we do give funding to Cadw to ensure that they have capital funding too. I have no problem whatsoever as regards giving you a schedule of the expenditure on the scheme. I'm sure that can be done, and we are confident that the scheme has been extremely successful.

First Minister, I've spoken many times in the Chamber about the need to capitalise on the industrial heritage of Merthyr Tydfil as part of an economic strategy for the whole area, and I'm sure that you'll join me in thanking the organisers and the many experts who recently gave their time at the industrial heritage charrette that was held in Cyfarthfa Castle, which looked at new and innovative ways to develop some of the incredible heritage sites and develop a unique attraction. Would you agree that, in looking to protect historic sites, we must find ways to protect the future of sites like the blast furnaces at Cyfarthfa before we lose them forever, and, at the same time, lose the potential opportunities that they bring to strengthen the local economy?

I do, and I think the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 has placed us at the forefront of the UK nations in the protection and management of the historic environment. A large proportion of that Act has now been implemented. In addition, of course, I mentioned earlier that Cadw has allocated over £22 million in capital funding to support the maintenance of historic buildings and scheduled monuments in Wales since 2011, with revenue support for maintenance around £6.5 million. So, there is money available, and we want to make sure that we are able to protect as much of Wales's industrial heritage as possible. 

Reducing Inequality

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on action the Welsh Government is taking to reduce inequality in Wales? OAQ51350

Yes. Equality is central to the work of the Welsh Government and our vision for Wales, as set out in 'Prosperity for All'. Our strategic equality plan 2017-20 sets out the steps we will take to achieve our equality objectives, and those objectives focus on tackling the most entrenched inequalities in Wales.

One of the entrenched inequalities in Wales is the disparity between the quality of the health service and the timing of the health service in north Wales versus other parts of the country. Why is it, First Minister, that my own constituents are twice as likely as constituents in Cwm Taf health board, for example, to be in an emergency department for four hours or more, and why is it that, in north Wales, one in 11 patients waits for 36 weeks or more from referral to treatment, versus just one in 83 down here in Cardiff and the Vale? This inequality is clearly unacceptable. I'm sure you would agree that that is unacceptable. What action are you taking to put this situation right, given that this health board is in special measures?   

Well, of course, there will be differences between health boards. For example, Betsi Cadwaladr has historically been the best performing health board when it comes to cancer treatment in Wales. But there are disparities. Of course, as the Cabinet Secretary for health and well-being is aware, we look to iron out those disparities and take action where that is needed. Where there is a need, for example, to recruit, we look to recruit and work with health boards in order to recruit the right level of medical staff they need in order to provide the service that we think is appropriate and right for the people who live in all parts of Wales. 

First Minister, the Welsh index of multiple deprivation suggests that households containing children have a higher rate of income deprivation than the overall population, with 24 per cent of such households in deprivation, compared with 16 per cent overall. Members in this Senedd are very well aware that universal credit, the single monthly payment that replaces the six current working-age benefits, is being rolled out across Wales. Despite the outstanding and proactive work being undertaken in Wales to support, advise and assist those impacted by welfare reform, it is inevitable that universal credit will impact negatively on the lives of the most vulnerable people across our nation, through the operation of a process that seems designed to purposely push people into poverty and debt. What representations can the Welsh Government make to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to call on the UK Tory Government to rethink a highly regressive and destructive policy?

The roll-out of universal credit is a mess. People are left without money—people who need money on a weekly basis. People are left in a situation where they cannot afford to buy things. People are left in a situation of uncertainty, and we know that the UK Government's response to all this is, 'Who cares?' pretty much. Well, we care on this side of the Chamber. We urge the UK Government to make sure that people who need that money get that money and they stop the cuts they are making to the benefit system, and the cuts they are making to the spending that we as a society have historically made on those who are most vulnerable. We will always stand for those who are most vulnerable. 

Violence Against Women and Girls

8. Will the First Minister provide an update on action taken by the Welsh Government to tackle violence against women and girls? OAQ51342

Could I congratulate the Member for what I think is the first First Minister's question that she has asked? I hope that I am able to give her an answer that is satisfactory to her.

We are implementing the national strategy that sets out our action to tackle violence against women and girls, and survivors' voices have to be at the forefront of this work. In recognition of that, we are developing a national survivor engagement framework.  

I thank the First Minister for that answer to my first question to him. I think it is shocking to learn this week that, on average, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. Yesterday, I spoke at the BAWSO annual Light a Candle multi-faith event at Llandaff cathedral, following a march from the offices of the Llamau housing society. We raised awareness and support for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I welcomed, in my words in the cathedral, the approach that Julie James is taking regarding tackling violence against women as everybody's business. That was the message yesterday. Can I pay tribute to BAWSO, who organised the event yesterday? They undertake pioneering work, supporting women facing domestic abuse, forced marriage, trafficking and FGM, which we debated recently. Can the First Minister assure me that Welsh Government recognises the importance of the Wales-wide work of BAWSO?


Yes, I am grateful for organisations such as BAWSO, who do offer support for some of the most vulnerable members of the BME community. We have provided £446,000 of funding to BAWSO from the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence revenue grant during this financial year, and officials recently met with BAWSO service users as part of the survivor engagement framework. And I understand the Leader of the House and Chief Whip is due to visit BAWSO's Wrexham office next week.

First Minister, victims of domestic abuse very often have to go into hiding or stay in shelters for inordinately long periods of time. If you look across the piece in Europe, countries such as Italy and Germany not only have much more direct and emphatic laws about removing the abuser from the marital home, rather than the abused, but they also take the view that if a family has been disrupted and a parent, very often a woman with children, has to go into hiding, rather than just leave them in shelters, they actually take them, put them in a home and then help them to build a new life, new schools, new permanency, put down new roots in a place of safety. Will you undertake on behalf of your Government to look at what places like Italy and Germany do, to see if we can actually bring that kind of groundbreaking, whole-family view to how we might help somebody who is suffering and had to leave their home because of domestic abuse?

Yes, I think it's important that we look at good examples across Europe. One of the issues that we faced at one time was the wall we'd hit with the devolution boundary and not being able to do as we would want to do in order to make sure that we can be as effective as possible. We know, of course, with the reserved-powers model, there are greater opportunities now for us to develop the kind of legal framework that we would want, but, certainly, as we develop the cross-Government delivery framework that will be complementing our national strategy, looking at other countries and what they do, in order to see what the best practice is, will form an important part of feeding in to what we will then look to do in Wales.

Women’s Aid in Bangor, in my constituency, are extremely concerned about the talk of integrating the violence against women, domestic violence and sexual violence grant into a single composite grant. They are concerned that the same thing that’s happened in England could happen here: 17 per cent of specialist shelters were lost and a third of all referrals to shelters had to be rejected because of a shortage of space. This happened after the Government in England stopped ring-fencing Supporting People as a separate part of funding. Can you guarantee that a sufficient level of funding will be available to provide shelters across Wales if this budgetary change is made in 2018-19?

That is exactly what we wish to see, and we don’t want to see the service that is there at present being reduced in any way.

Local Authority-managed Car Parks

9. Will the First Minister make a statement on local authority-managed car parks in Wales? OAQ51390

Yes. Local authority-managed car parks in Wales are managed by local authorities. [Laughter.]

I thank the First Minister for that illuminating response. It was recently revealed, following a freedom of information request to all local authorities by the BBC, that councils are making hundreds of thousands of pounds a year out of pay-and-display parking machines that don't give change. Only six of the 22 local authorities were able to provide the information, but, for them, this amounted to £650,000 over three years. Is this not an abuse, and should not these profits go back into the development of car parks or related services to improve parking facilities in towns? At the minute, there is no statutory requirement for local authorities to do that, but where profits are being made in this way, so that they're not just going to be a rip-off on the motorist, shouldn't the money be used for related purposes?

Well, there are three things. I think, first of all, technology has progressed to the point where any new machines should be not just coin machines, but machines where people can use apps to park, or, indeed, machines where people can use their card to pay. Now, I'm fortunate to live in a very progressive Labour-controlled authority in Bridgend where that is possible in the car parks, and indeed, they have a policy where parking is free in a multi-storey for the first two hours, showing that they deliver for the people of Bridgend. Bear in mind, of course, that any money raised from car parking does go back into local authority coffers for the benefit of the local community. But I do take the point: I do believe that, as new machines are replaced, they should offer people the option of a number of ways to pay, whether it’s by phone, by app or by chip and pin.

Recruitment and Retention of Staff in the Social Care sector

10. Will the First Minister provide an update on the recruitment and retention of staff in the social care sector? OAQ51387

The social care workforce delivers a vital public service, and to ensure the sector is sustainable, we’re taking forward actions including tackling zero-hours contracts and low pay, registering workers and developing career pathways, and that will help to raise the status and profile of workers so that social care becomes a positive career choice.

Thank you, First Minister. Social care workers do an outstanding job. With an ageing population living longer, many with complex needs, we know that it’s crucial to ensure that we have a workforce ready for now and in the future. Recently, one of my constituents who has worked in care homes for many years has decided to take a job in a fast-food chain. The long hours, poor pay and difficult working conditions have left her with no choice but to leave the career that she loves. While I’m pleased at the Government’s commitment to implement an accredited qualification for carers, making this a reality is key to stopping people like my constituent, a dedicated and skilled social care worker, leaving the profession. Could the First Minister provide an update on how far these plans have been developed?

Yes. First of all, we provided £19 million of recurrent funding for local authorities to work with their service providers to help manage the impact of implementing the national living wage, which we wanted to see. What have we done? Well, we’ve brought forward regulations to improve the terms and conditions of the workforce, requiring providers to provide more transparency in their use of zero-hours contracts, to offer workers a choice of fixed-hours contracts after a three-month period of employment, and to clearly delineate between travel and care time. We’ve extended the register to domiciliary care workers on a voluntary basis from 2018, ahead of the mandatory registration from 2020, and that’s an essential aspect of ensuring the professionalisation of the workforce so we can have social care workers who are appropriately qualified to deliver quality care to the vulnerable in our society.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement. I call on the leader of the house, Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week’s business. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found amongst the meeting papers that are available to Members electronically.

Can I ask for two statements? Firstly, a Welsh Government statement providing an update on developments in the Swansea city region, and Welsh Government support for the city region, and further confirmation of what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance said earlier this week: that the money would be made available for the city region within the budget.

The second question I would like to ask is for a Welsh Government statement on universal credit roll-out in Wales, and an update on any discussions with the Westminster Government regarding the availability of application forms and information through the medium of Welsh.

Thank you for those two questions. The Member will be already aware that there’s a lot of work under way on the Swansea bay region city deal to develop the proposed projects into full business cases and to finalise the governance arrangements. That’s with the expectation that funding for the city deal will begin in 2018-19. We know that good progress is being made. The next milestone will be the establishment of a joint cabinet and the formal submission of the detailed business cases.

Swansea bay city region is also working with the Welsh and UK Governments to develop an agreed implementation, monitoring and evaluation plan that sets out the proposed approach to evaluating the impact of delivery. This is a £1.3 billion deal underpinned by £125.4 million of Welsh Government funding, £115.6 million of UK Government funding, £396 million of other public sector money, and £637 million from the private sector. I know that he shares my ambition for the Swansea city region, and we look forward to making it a reality as soon as possible.

Sorry, on the other one here—I was asked two questions, Llywydd.

On the statement on universal credit, we know that there’s been a revised roll-out schedule for universal credit following the UK autumn budget changes announced last week, and that confirms that, with the exception of Cardiff, all the other job centres across Wales will have implementation of universal credit pushed back by a few months. We very much welcome the pause of this roll-out, which we’ve been calling on the UK Government to action for some time. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration has written to the Minister of State for Employment requesting more details in relation to the UK autumn budget changes, particularly where universal claimants are in receipt of housing costs, to understand how the new support arrangements will work for claimants in the transition to universal credit. The Minister is also seeking reassurance that the Department for Work and Pensions will be able to offer financial support to universal credit claimants over the Christmas period as, Llywydd, I think a large number of us in the Chamber have been very concerned at the reports that universal credit claimants might be very seriously disadvantaged, especially if they're weekly paid. 

We also understand that applications for universal credit in Welsh are currently only available via a free telephone service provided by the Department for Work and Pensions's service centre. However, the Secretary of State did recently confirm that they're working towards having applications for universal credit online in Welsh as they move into the final phase of development.

So, I think, overall, we're pleased that they've acknowledged that there are some issues with universal credit. We'd have liked them to have acknowledged it sooner. We'd like them to also acknowledge that there's a real problem with people generally having their income decreasing as a result of the universal credit roll-out. And whilst we welcome the abolition of the seven-day waiting period for the first payment of universal credit, we remain very concerned that there are still universal credit claimants waiting more than six weeks for their first payment. 


Leader of the house, could I seek two statements from you, please? One is a statement from the Minister for economy and transport in relation to the potential overspend that was identified in his written statement yesterday of in excess of £50 million for the Heads of the Valleys road, on the stage that they're doing at the moment on the eastern edge, and the implications that that overspend could have on his budget for projects around the rest of Wales, because £50 million plus is a significant capital expenditure, which I presume hasn't been budgeted for, but will have implications on that budget, and it's important that we, as Assembly Members, when we're pressed in our own communities about the likely impact, can have answers to that. In an ideal world, it would be good to have an oral statement, if that was possible, because, to date, the inquiry, and the overspend, that the Minister commissioned have all been dealt with via written statements and there's been no opportunity to question the Minister on the floor of the Plenary here, so I'd hope that you would seek an oral statement on behalf of Members from the Minister before the Christmas recess.

Secondly, at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair yesterday—I know the Cabinet Secretary and other Members of the Government were there seeing the best of Welsh agriculture and the best of the rural economy. A comment that comes over time and time again—and, in fairness, I know the Minister has made progress on this—is around bureaucracy and red tape in the agricultural sector. But there is a perception, and in some instances a reality, that there is a considerable amount of that in certain Government-backed schemes. Could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary as to what measures have been brought forward by the Government over the last 16 months since the election to try and dispel some of those myths that exist, and actually where the reality is to get on top of some of the red tape that stops applications coming forward and makes it a bureaucratic nightmare for some applicants? Because I know that's not the intention of the schemes, but, again, there is this reality and perception in some cases that people feel that it is hugely cumbersome to apply for some of these grants.

Thank you for those two questions. In terms of the A465, we have had a number of occasions—we've had topical questions and other available opportunities for Members to question the Cabinet Secretary around the issues there. We very recently discussed it in this Chamber and of course there will be further opportunities in questions and so on to discuss it in the future, so I don't really see that we need a statement. I'm sure, at the end of the scheme, the Cabinet Secretary will be updating the Assembly accordingly. 

In terms of the winter fair arrangements, I very much welcome the Cabinet Secretary's visits to the winter fair, I believe she really enjoyed them, and they are an excellent opportunity to showcase really excellent Welsh produce, which a number of us have also taken the opportunity to do. I personally have done a small amount of Christmas shopping there, I'm delighted to tell the house. I don't think we've had any complaints, however, in terms of the red tape that Andrew R.T. Davies mentions. The Minister is shaking her head at me that there are no such complaints, so perhaps if he provides some details, the Minister could have a look at them.

Could I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for the economy, or indeed the First Minister, in response to comments by Airbus UK senior vice-president Katherine Bennett to MPs last week that Brexit could add significant costs and red tape to the UK operation? She's warned that Brexit could actually blunt the competitive edge of the Broughton plant, which as we know is a key employer of 6,000 workers in north-east Wales. Given that everything that's imported from Airbus in the UK is imported into the EU, does this Labour Government agree with Ms Bennett that our place is within the single market, within the customs union and the European Aviation Safety Agency, so that we can fend off other arms of the company, maybe in other parts of the world, who in her words are knocking on the door as a result of the situation that we find ourselves in in this country?

May I also ask for a further statement? May I ask for statement from the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning on the Welsh in education strategic plans? We did have a statement from the former Minister at the beginning of autumn—there have been almost two months since then. He accepted each of the recommendations made in the speedy review carried out by Aled Roberts. Now, since then, we haven’t heard anything further, and I’ve had local education authorities, councillors, educators and other organisations getting in touch with me asking what the situation is, and they are concerned that we are perhaps losing momentum on this most important issue. So, I would be grateful for a statement, even if it were to only endorse the commitment to take action, but also include a timetable for that action, so that we can tackle the weaknesses in these WESPS once and for all.


Thank you for both of those very important questions. In terms of the Brexit thing, we continue to call on the UK Government to provide Welsh businesses with the clarity they urgently need. And we absolutely do demand that they do not lose sight of the needs of businesses, workers and potential investors in their approach to the Brexit negotiations. We share the Member's concern at the current approach to the negotiations. There have been a large number of opportunities to discuss this in the Chamber, and I'm sure we're all very much looking forward to debating the Bill as it comes forward as well. But we certainly do share your concerns.

In terms of the Welsh language issues that the Member raises, the Minister was here listening very carefully to his comments, and I'm sure as she comes to terms with her new brief, she'll be taking them on board.

Leader of the house, later this week I'm attending a Wales automotive forum event, where I'll meet with Aston Martin. They'll update me on the positive progress on phase 1 of the new plant in St Athan.

Will you reiterate the Welsh Government's support for the project, given the concerns raised by Aston Martin very recently about the potentially catastrophic consequences of a Brexit 'no deal'? And will you join with me in urging the UK Government to obtain a Brexit deal that is good for St Athan and the rest of the country?

Absolutely. We're working very closely with Aston Martin, who intend to build their new sport utility vehicle at St Athan. And, Llywydd, I cannot resist the opportunity to say that I had the opportunity to visit Aston Martin at the Gaydon plant, and had the opportunity to have a look at some of the new designs there—and they are very exciting indeed. I also met a number of the apprentices from Wales working in that plant, and their commitment is really quite something to behold.

The project does remain firmly on track, and the company's consistently set out its commitment to the UK. But it has indeed sought clarity on Brexit from the UK Government to enable it to plan appropriately. And as I said in answer to the previous Member as well, we continue to call on the UK Government, alongside Aston Martin, to come to the understanding that no deal represents a real risk to business here in Wales, and that we, absolutely, urgently need clarity on our position after Brexit and, indeed, that they take into account the needs of businesses, workers and potential investors in their approach to the Brexit negotiations, which I'm afraid we're less than sanguine that they currently are doing.

Leader of the house, could I call for two statements, please? Firstly, on refuse and bin bag collection—something often raised here, but not in this part of Wales I'm about to refer to. Concerns have been raised with me in Flintshire, from Higher Kinnerton to Holywell, that people are no longer allowed to leave any extra black bin bags alongside the council-provided black bin. One constituent told me she'd rung county hall and was told it had been decided and it was to force people to recycle, but she added:

'I and many others still have non-recyclable refuse to dispose of from time to time, and this is when the council's policy falls down and creates fly-tipping.'

She said the policy of charging £50 by the council to take away a single item was, in her words, outrageous, and she simply can't understand why the council prefers to send out individual lorries to deal with fly tipping rather than collect everything in one go from the pavement. She concluded:

'I'm writing to you to urge you to raise this issue—one of the things that really affects people's day-to-day lives.'

Hence my raising it in the Chamber with you today.

Secondly, could I call for a statement on support for male domestic abuse victims? You may have seen press coverage last week relating to the men's refuge in Flintshire—the domestic abuse safety unit in Shotton. Well, it's not actually located there but hosted by—. And it reported a man who'd escaped from an abusive wife and moved into the refuge, saying it had got to the point where he was too frightened to leave the house. I visited—or should I say revisited—the domestic abuse safety unit last Friday, at their request, and they again emphasised and acknowledged evidence indicating that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by violence, and this is a violation of human rights and a cause and consequence of gender inequality. But they've also chosen to provide a gender-neutral service, because they say that domestic abuse and sexual violence affects both men and women. They told me that the male refuge received five referrals on its first day for just two spaces, and it's been full ever since, despite 30 referrals being refused, partly because it was full, partly because of risk assessment; that they're currently operating waiting lists; that they're receiving referrals from across Wales, and across the UK, and, for example, someone currently resident with them came from Conwy, who don't provide any men's beds, but refer them to Flintshire because there's nowhere else to go. I understand it's the only male refuge in north Wales, currently funded by the council, supporting people to March 2018, with funding for the female victims supported to 2019. Could I call for a statement accordingly?


Thank you for those very important questions. In terms of domestic waste collection, it's very much a matter for individual local authorities to decide how best to provide collection services to their residents. The Welsh Government advocates that local authorities provide comprehensive weekly collection services for dry recyclables and food waste, with a view to residents who make full use of the weekly recycling collections having very little to put in the residual refuse bags or bins. During FMQs, the Member will have heard an answer in which Wales's extremely good rate in terms of recycling was lauded, quite rightly so, and what I would say to the Member is that if his local authority is struggling, they should look for help from other local authorities who have very good practice in this area. 

In terms of male domestic abuse, I did see the programme that the Member refers to and it's a very serious issue. And, of course, we need to work towards having a Wales where violence against anyone in any situation is completely unacceptable. Our groundbreaking Act covers violence against women and girls, which is a very serious problem—still two women a week get killed as a result of gender based violence—but, of course, we need to make sure that services exist for all victims of domestic abuse wherever it arises. 

Can I ask for a Welsh Government statement on the impact on our communities of the recent budget and the inherent cuts to police spending and police numbers in Wales? We know that already, since 2010, there has been a £2.3 billion cut by the UK Government in policing, with the loss of 20,000 officers, and we know that inherent in this current budget is a further £800 million of real-terms cuts to policing, with the potential loss of a further 15,000 police officers across the UK, bringing police levels down to the levels in the 1970s, and that this will have significant implications for safety and for our communities. It seems to me that it's an important matter that there should be a Government statement on.

Thank you for that very important point. Members are obviously very aware that most aspects of policing policy remain non-devolved, and overall spending plans for the police in England and Wales are determined by the Home Office still. However, we're continuing to invest in community safety through our funding of the 500 additional community support officers that the Member will be very well aware of as well, and in protecting the budget for the additional community support officers for 2018-19, with £16.8 million earmarked in the budget for next year for the continued delivery of this commitment.

We also work very closely with police and crime commissioners and police forces in Wales, who can also bid for other sources of Welsh Government funding. They're doing a really good job in terms of collaborating and so on, and we allow them the freedom to make their own decisions about council tax increases, for example, in funding. But I completely share the Member's difficulties with the budget as announced. We will wait to see what the actual formula looks like, but I will certainly be sharing his concerns with the Minister for public services, who I'm sure will take them into account in planning out his year's work. 

Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement on the lack of employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities in Wales, and learning difficulties also? Mencap Cymru has recently pointed out that there are huge barriers facing people with learning difficulties who want to work. They went on to say that the employment rate in Wales was terribly low, with many employers needing to be educated about the benefits of employing someone with a learning disability. May I ask for a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to extend employment opportunities in this largely untapped potential workforce?

The second statement I need from the Minister would be that I visited a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals establishment in Newport. It's a wonderful job that volunteers and officials are doing, but I was very much disturbed when I heard that some of the animals—some dogs—had been very cruelly treated by people. And the offenders list, or register, is not here in this country. People can kill one animal and go and buy another one, or get another, from other devolved areas of the United Kingdom. So, we should be doing something seriously, through our respectable, honourable Chamber, that the people should treat animals with respect in Wales. And the RSPCA is doing a wonderful job, and we should be supporting them. Thank you.


In terms of the Member's first question, the Minister responsible for employability is sitting behind me, and I'm sure she'll be looking into making sure that Wales is a disability-confident and friendly nation. She'll be bringing forward a statement on the employability plan, which I'm certain will include a number of issues around disability-confident employers. When I was holding that portfolio, I did a large amount of work to make sure that employers in Wales understood what disability-confident might mean, and understood all of the attributes that many people could bring to their employer, if only people could see past them and to their skills instead. And I'm sure the Minister will be taking that into account when she brings her employability statement forward.

In terms of the RSPCA, I don't disagree at all with what the Member has to say. I was very distressed to see the vote in the House of Commons around animals, and whether they suffer cruelty or not. I would ask him to make sure that his own Government, in England, make sure that they bring forward the right measures, to make sure that sentient creatures are not cruelly treated, and are treated correctly.

Leader of the house, I wondered whether we could have a debate in Government time about what we can do to increase breastfeeding in Wales. The UK has the worst breastfeeding rates in the world, and that puts Wales, I'm afraid, in a very poor position. We know that 71 per cent of mothers start breastfeeding, compared with 83 per cent in England, but it's devastating to know that only 17 per cent are still breastfeeding just six weeks after the birth. This isn't just about the professional support that we give to mothers, which I know that the Cabinet Secretary for health is looking into, to try and improve breastfeeding rates, it is also about society's attitudes to breastfeeding, which is all our responsibility.

Because we heard last week from Dr Aimee Grant of Cardiff University on the research she's done in a Communities First area in Newport, about the attitudes to people feeding in public. And this is an absolutely crucial issue, because women don't go into purdah when they have babies—they need to be out and about, doing their daily tasks. So, when I read that people are saying that the

'standard joke in my house, if I breastfeed in Starbucks the whole café’s just gonna leave...and every middle-class, y’know, over 60-year-old woman is just going to be horrified.'

This is absolutely appalling. Breasts are for feeding babies, not for selling newspapers. And another woman, who said she always felt she had to cover up when she breastfed in public, was made to feel like she was pole dancing, because she was breastfeeding. This is completely outrageous, and we all have to do something about this, because it has a devastating impact on both the baby and the mother in later life. And it is feeding into our obesity, diabetes and cancer rates, and we just have to do something about it. So, I wondered if we could have a statement, and a debate, about how we collectively can do something about this.

I thank the Member for bringing up that very important topic. I share her passion for it, having experienced something very similar when I was breastfeeding my own children. And I'm appalled to find that, very many years later, the situation hasn't improved all that much.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services recently requested that officials and the Royal College of Midwives facilitate a task and finish group to explore ways to improve uptake, and to provide support to families. We have got a very good agenda for increasing the rate of breastfeeding in Wales, which remains a priority for us, and we've done a number of things, including the 'Transforming Health Improvement in Wales' review of all health improvement programmes, including the breastfeeding programme. I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary will bring forward a statement once the task and finish group has reported, so that we can all have a better view of where we are now and then how we can take the service forward in the future. 


Leader of the house, I'm sure that you were shocked, as everybody in this Chamber would have been, by the news yesterday of a 17-year-old from Rhondda Cynon Taf who was radicalised online and then went on to plan a terror attack at a concert in Cardiff here in June. We had a debate in the Senedd back in May of this year, and the Cabinet Secretary for Education, at that time, announced that there was going to be a national online safety action plan developed and implemented. I'd be grateful if we could have a statement to give us an update on the implementation of that plan, to ensure that we can look at the progress to make sure that we reduce the chances of young people being radicalised in the way that this 17-year-old has been. I think it's a matter that requires urgent attention, particularly in the current climate, and I would be grateful if the Government could make time available for that.

The Cabinet Secretary has indicated to me that she thinks a statement is due shortly. Actually, I'll also be answering questions with my portfolio hat on next week, so we'll be able to cover some of it off there as well, because I think the Member is right that this is an incredibly important area and I, too, was shocked by the programme that I also saw.

Can I associate myself with the comments made by Jenny Rathbone? I was pleased to attend this meeting last week with the Cardiff University academic and was really shocked at the tales that were told and I think if we could look at where we are with breastfeeding, that would be a great help. 

Yesterday, the cross-party Gypsy and Traveller group met in Pembrokeshire and had feedback from the members of the community there about what were the issues they were concerned about. One of the things that came up was the need for feedback on the accommodation needs assessments that have been carried out as a result—during the last Assembly—of a duty being put on local authorities to provide an adequate number of pitches and sites for Gypsies and Travellers. So, I wonder, leader of the house, because I believe this does come under your responsibilities, if we could have a statement where we look at what progress has been made across Wales about creating more pitches where they're needed and what the accommodation needs assessments have actually led to. 

Yes, I welcome both of those. In terms of the breastfeeding remarks, I'll just say in addition to the remarks that I made to Jenny Rathbone, that we have a number of examples of promoting and normalising breastfeeding across all Public Health Wales programmes of work, including, for example, the NHS settings programme, where health boards will continue to be supported to achieve and maintain UNICEF's UK baby-friendly accreditation and a breastfeeding report card is being developed to measure success, share good practice and identify areas requiring additional support. I will also be taking a good look at this in my new equalities portfolio, as I do think there is a real issue about how women are regarded in terms of their breasts and breastfeeding. So, I will certainly be doing that in conjunction with the Cabinet Secretary.

In terms of the Gypsy/Traveller issues that the Member raised—and has always raised as long as I've known her, which is all my life—I will certainly be looking at that. I'll be looking to have a meeting with the Minister for housing as soon as I possibly can and I'm very happy to say that I will then bring forward a statement on where we are and what we propose to do in the future, as soon as I've been able to have those meetings. 

It's a follow-on, really, from Mark Isherwood. I wanted a statement about domestic abuse that can affect everyone, both male and female. The Welsh Government figures on violence against women and girls include all the assaults and all the abuse of males in with those figures, but the word 'male' isn't mentioned. So, the figures are not really what is written on the tin. So, I'm wondering really when the Government will start to actually recognise—and I didn't really get it from your statement earlier—that domestic abuse is a serious problem that affects a lot of men. One in three victims are male and according to the Office for National Statistics only 10 per cent of men will report abuse. So, in terms of the men who are murdered by partners and ex-partners, there's roughly one every 11 days and that's not to diminish the other side of what you spoke about earlier. But there needs to be a recognition in this building and amongst everybody here that men are also the victims of domestic abuse and there need to be services for people, for everybody.

Final question. You won't be able to give me the answer now, but I would appreciate it at some point in the near future. How many beds are there in terms of refuge for men in each county of Wales? Diolch yn fawr. Thank you. 


The Member brings this up consistently, and, as I said in response to Mark Isherwood, we are working, of course, towards a situation where no-one in Wales lives in fear of violence or anything else. There's a huge cultural issue around the acceptability of domestic violence. I will, of course, be looking at violence against everybody in all kinds of settings in my new role, but it is actually important to remember that two women a week are killed by domestic violence, and we need to get our priorities straight.   

Leader of the house, today we've seen the publication of the fifth state of the nation report from the social mobility commission, which actually doesn't give us good reading in certain areas, because it highlights the fact that austerity doesn't solve the problem; it creates even more problems for many of our deprived communities. Now, most of the deprived communities are therefore facing challenges, and the young people in those communities are facing those challenges as well. Can we have a statement from the Welsh Government to say how we'll actually now work towards tackling some of those points to ensure that our young people in the disadvantaged communities have a better chance in life? 

I very much welcome the Member's question. There is a big piece across the Government about social mobility currently under way. As the Member knows, I chair the fair work board, which is looking very much in terms of fair work and how we can increase social mobility. With my previous hat on, I had a number of meetings with various Cabinet Secretaries, and I will be incorporating the remarks that he's made in terms of what we're trying to achieve with the fair work board and working across the Government with other Cabinet colleagues to address some of the issues that were highlighted in that report, which I think are really a cause for concern to all of us.  

Two things, if I may, leader of the house. First of all, there wasn't time earlier for me to have my supplementary question to Neil Hamilton's question to the First Minister, despite the brevity of the answer that he received initially, on parking charges in Wales. But can I concur with Neil Hamilton's comments that it is important that councils are encouraged and given guidance to keep those charges as low as possible and to make sure that people travelling to our town centres across Wales aren't spending more than is required by the policies in those areas? In Monmouthshire, there are overstay facilities on many of the parking machines, and that does mean that people who do overstay aren't fined in the first instance; they can actually pay their ticket afterwards. So, could the Assembly give guidance to local authorities on how to keep charges to what is required in those areas, and perhaps we could have a statement on that? 

Secondly, on the weekend, one of my constituents in my village, actually, slipped in the cold weather we're experiencing at the moment and suffered a head injury. Luckily, there were friends and neighbours on hand to support her, but it was an hour before the first responder was able to be there. In fact, the subsequent ambulance was then with her about 10, 15 minutes after that, I think. So, specifically in relation to the times for first responders, can we have an update on what's being done to make sure that those are on hand in Wales when people need them? I know of many instances where first responders are there in the requisite time, but in the case of a head injury I really do think it's important that people do get the support and the medical treatment they need as soon as possible by those first responders, and perhaps you could look at what's happening there across Wales.   

In terms of the Member's first question on parking charges, I can only commend him to the answer the First Minister gave. There are a large number of authorities with cutting-edge practices in terms of parking charges, utilising modern methods of charging for the exact time that a person stays, including apps that do that and registering with the local authorities, and so on. And I would certainly commend that as a course of action to all local authorities, in conjunction with a good travel plan, because I do think it's very important to include active travel plans in city centres as well. Actually, there's quite a lot of research to show that people who travel by public transport into city centres spend more and spend more time in the shops and restaurants there. So, I think parking charges in an overall travel plan for our shopping centres is a very good thing. 

In terms of the winter preparedness and the first responders, the Cabinet Secretary was here listening to the Member's remarks and nodding, so I'm sure the Member will get a response to that in due course.   

3. Statement by the Minister for Children and Social Care: Improving Outcomes for Looked-after Children

The next item, therefore, is a statement by the Minister for Children and Social Care on improving outcomes for looked-after children, and I call on the Minister to make the statement—Huw Irranca-Davies. 

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


Diolch, Llywydd. I'm very grateful for this opportunity to update Members on our collaborative approach to improving outcomes for looked-after children in Wales. 

It is clear there is consensus among Members from all parties that looked-after children should have the same start in life and opportunities as all children. We clearly state this as our vision and our commitment to looked-after children in the programme for government ‘Taking Wales Forward’ and the national strategy ‘Prosperity for All’. I was pleased to have the chance to discuss the cross-Government approach to realising this vision with my Cabinet colleagues at my first Cabinet meeting earlier this month.

Over the last few years, the numbers of looked-after children in Wales have remained steadily high. Latest figures show that there are 5,662 looked-after children in Wales, with around 700 young people leaving care each year. Through providing a greater focus on prevention and early intervention, I want to see a reduction in the numbers of children coming into care, whilst continuing to ensure the right decisions are taken for every child and young person. This can only be achieved by taking a collaborative approach, working with front-line professionals, managers and decision makers. 

Now, I think I'm on safe ground to say that we all want to work in a collaborative way. And for me, working together to improve the lives of looked-after children is one of the best opportunities we have to demonstrate the value of cross-Government working.

We know that most children flourish and thrive when they are loved and cared for within their own families. But, of course, this does not mean children should be left with families come what may. We acknowledge that there are times when authorities must intervene for the well-being and the safety of children. However, the more we can help families stay together during difficult times by offering the right level of support in the right environment, the more we can do for the children who cannot remain at home.

I have decided the ministerial advisory group established by the former Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children will continue. This group is instrumental in guiding this work and in advising me, drawing its membership from across Government and across the sectors that provide services directly to families. I met with the Chair, David Melding Assembly Member, last week to discuss the pioneering work of this advisory group. David has been ably leading this work and I'm pleased to confirm that he has agreed to continue in this role. 

Achieving our shared vision for looked-after children requires a whole-systems approach and I'm pleased we've been able to assist by providing generous Government funding. Just this year, we have invested £8 million to drive change and improve outcomes for looked-after children. This investment will help make sustainable changes that, over time, will reduce the number of children coming into care. This includes £5 million to expand local authorities' edge-of-care services; £850,000 to expand the Reflect project across all seven regions in Wales—this is a project that works with young mums to break the cycle of repeat pregnancies and recurrent care proceedings; £1.625 million to help care leavers on their journey towards independence by enhancing local authority training and apprenticeship schemes and extending the availability of personal advisers up to the age of 25; £400,000 to deliver the Fostering framework for Wales; and £125,000 to develop adoption support work right across the country. 

Furthermore, our £1 million St David’s Day fund, which we launched in March, is providing flexible, financial support directly to care leavers in the same way that other young people receive financial help from parents. Carl Sargeant was passionate about this fund, and he would be pleased with the positive impact it's already having on care leavers right across Wales.

The group has developed a programme of change based around three themes, and they are: firstly, preventing children entering care, and early intervention—the preventative approach; secondly, improving outcomes for children already in care; and thirdly, supporting care leavers to successful independent futures. Working together, we've already made good progress, and I am grateful to our partners for their commitment and their dedication to working with us. We are now at the stage where we can pick up the pace of improvement and set cross-Government, challenging goals to deliver real step changes to improve the lives of looked-after children.

Research shows us that there is a strong relationship between the number of children entering care and deprivation in local areas. Tackling poverty and building community resilience will help keep families together during times of crisis. This year, we've invested in a range of prevention and early intervention measures to support families and reduce the number of children coming into care. As well as the £5 million investment in edge-of-care services I referred to, we have provided local authorities with £76 million for Flying Start and £38 million for Families First. Our focus going forward is on those early years. We recognise that this is a critical time in terms of child development and outcomes, especially for those living in deprivation. So, work is taking place to develop an integrated early years system to ensure that families get the right support.

To improve outcomes for children already in care, we know that stable placements are crucial for children to feel secure, have a sense of belonging and be able to fulfil their potential. So, we have a three-year joint education and social services plan, entitled 'Raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales'. This plan is supported by £4 million investment via the pupil development grant and it provides targeted educational support to care experienced children. Whilst it is encouraging that, at key stage 4, 23 per cent of looked-after children in Wales achieved level 2 inclusive—a 10 per cent increase from 2013—there is still so much to do to reduce the attainment gap further.

So, as well as improving education attainment, having a stable placement also enhances children’s emotional well-being and resilience. Care experienced children have a greater incidence of poor mental health. To reduce the trauma caused by adverse childhood experiences, we have invested in the establishment of a national ACEs hub, and, through our 'Together for Children and Young People' delivery plan, we have published an agreed care pathway for vulnerable young people, including those looked after to ensure that appropriate referrals are made to access therapeutic support.

For families and professionals involved in foster care, we have provided funding for an innovative social pedagogy pilot, which is exploring the impact of a holistic approach to education and life skills.

As children develop and make their way through life, we want them to be ambitious and to access opportunities so that they become economically active citizens. Yet, we know that 43 per cent of looked-after children are not in education, employment or training. So, through the Government’s youth engagement and progression framework, much work is under way with Careers Wales, youth services, schools, colleges and work-based learning providers to identify and support young people NEET or at risk of becoming NEET.  

In terms of higher education, we are progressing the recommendations from the Diamond review and are preparing to legislate for the benefit of care leavers so that they may receive the maximum level of maintenance grant to support their education from 2018-19.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge today the important fact that between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of young homeless people have been in care. To this end, we have invested £83,000 in the End Youth Homelessness Cymru partnership, which Llamau convenes on our behalf and have recently approved £2.6 million for homelessness projects. Of the 60-plus projects funded, 15 are specifically aimed at preventing homelessness for young people following the positive pathway approach. 

Finally, we are looking at other innovative ways that we can help young care leavers on their road to independence. For example, we are working with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to consider removing council tax liability from all care leavers aged between 18 and 25. Work to deliver this is in the early stages, but we believe practical help like this will make a real tangible difference.

Delivering a step change in outcomes for looked-after children is a key public policy challenge for us all here in Wales. The Government has set a clear policy direction and will continue to listen to the advice of the ministerial advisory group and the voices of front-line professionals and children and young people who are affected. With the support of this Assembly, our ambition must be to help to transform the outcomes of children, by providing a greater focus on prevention and early intervention, to reduce the numbers of children entering care, to improve the outcomes for those already in care, and supporting care leavers towards independent, successful lives. Thank you.     


Can I make it clear I'm speaking at the moment in my role as chair of the ministerial advisory group? Deputy Presiding Officer, this is the first chance I've had to pay tribute to Carl Sargeant, so I will take that opportunity, because Carl showed great vision and leadership in this area. To convene the group as a ministerial advisory group under the chairmanship of an opposition Member, I think emphasised both the non-partisan nature of this political challenge, but also that we do need the rigour and accountability of ministerial action, and, with that combination, we can really drive up standards. So, we've got a lot to thank Carl for, and we will do so as the work emerges in the next number of years.

Can I also put on record my thanks to the Minister that I have his confidence to continue as the chair of the ministerial advisory group, not least because of the excellence of its members and the many contributions they have already made? I'm pleased to say that the ministerial advisory group fully shares your vision, Minister, and that of the former Cabinet Secretary, that the heart of that is timely, effective, early intervention that ensures we take into care only those children who really need to be looked after and we support those children on the edge of care in their family settings. I think that really has to be at the heart of reform, and the ministerial advisory group was heartened by the £8 million that's been invested in driving this sort of change, with £5 million of that in the edge-of-care service development.

I'd also like to say that some things have emerged from the group that are now clearly reflected in Government statements. The link between deprivation and the numbers being taken into care was something that we specifically looked at in the ministerial advisory group, and I'm sure that the Minister will want to join me in commending in particular the work of one of our members, Professor Jonathan Scourfield of Cardiff University who has done so much in the statistical analysis of this issue, and has been vigilant in ensuring that the role of poverty and inequality is emphasised in any approach to developing policy in these areas.

I'd also like to say that work on educational attainment has progressed quite significantly. The attainment gap is still wide, and we need that ambition to close it. It needs to be connected up, clearly, to things like where foster carers are in providing that support at home for looked-after children. So, there are many loose ends, as it were, that need to be joined up to have this integrated approach. But we have had the first intimations of developing educational strategies that really do start to draw out the full potential of looked-after children and aim for that explicitly.

I think, when we look at care leavers, probably housing is the most important thing for them. For looked-after children, it is usually educational attainment in terms of what their life chances will be, and that feeds back into the stability of their care placement, because, if that's unstable and they're moving around, that's very disruptive. Often, it means they move school, for instance. But, for care leavers, housing and ensuring—through innovative methods like Housing First, where we absolutely preserve that tenancy and support it and ensure that that stability is provided to care leavers.

Can I end by just saying that I think the role of us all, and particularly our colleagues in local government, as politicians—corporate parenting is essential in this area? The great advantage we have is that it's non-partisan. There is no division politically on how we need to progress and the importance all parties place on this, but we need to give political leadership, as well, because it's not always been the case that, in the political arena, this issue has had the emphasis that it should, nor in the wider community or media, sometimes. So, we really need to be first, and, when we are talking about corporate parenting, I think that applies to the Minister, it applies to Assembly Members here, even though it sits more directly with our colleagues and friends in local government. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.

I thank David for his comments, not least in respect of our former colleague, Carl, and his work in this area, and many other areas as well. It's right to remark that, often, this area, in the past, has not received the attention it was probably due. It was easily overlooked. The whole issue of children and young people in care settings is so easily overlooked, because it only makes the headlines when something goes wrong, as opposed to a collaborative approach, as we're now trying to strive for, which can really have quite a dramatic impact on the outcomes and the life opportunities of young people. And, certainly, Carl saw that very much. He was, indeed, instrumental in establishing the ministerial advisory group and making sure, indeed, that it had that independence and that authority that comes with that independent voice. It is clearly non-partisan. It is very much collaborative in its approach. It's the opposite of finger-pointing. The only pointing that it does is to point at the gaps in provision or knowledge or data or strategy or plans and say, 'Right, now how do we all come together to deal with this?'

I'm delighted that David has taken on the gamut of continuing to chair it, because, having played such a good role already, I think the continuity is very important. As I say, I think the work that the group is doing—the ministerial advisory group—on improving outcomes has reached a point where, already, it has an impressive array of work streams that it's been involved with that have led to tangible outcomes and changes in policy, and it seems to be at that point where it's going to kick on to another step change. I have no doubt, again, it will have direct impacts on the children and young people we're looking at.

Indeed, the work of Jonathan Scourfield I'm aware of and I hope to be meeting soon as well to discuss the work with him and his very much holistic approach on how we tackle these issues, including those wider issues of poverty and the family circumstance, not simply focusing on the child or young person themselves.

So, I trust and have full confidence in the role of David, both in this Assembly, as a Member of this Assembly, but also in chairing that group, to give challenge to the Government, but also to do it in a way that says, 'This is the way in which we can resolve these issues', rather than simply saying, 'Well, hand us a bankroll of money and we can solve it'. We all know it's not as simple as that. It's a number of clever, intelligent interventions on a sustainable way.


Can I thank the Minister for Children and Social Care for his statement on improving outcomes for looked-after children? Obviously, as we debated last week, in the debate here on substance misuse, some children have a horrendous start in life—neglected, abused, tormented, starved of love and affection. Much of this ends up later on in drug and alcohol issues, and homelessness also, as discussed last week. It's right to commend the work of Llamau, as the Minister has already done in his statement—tremendous work, over the years, from Llamau, in recognising and helping to sort out homelessness issues amongst our young people.

I like the idea, as the Minister said here in his penultimate paragraph, about removing the council tax liability from all care leavers aged between 18 and 25. I like that idea, and I hope it comes to fruition. We shall wait and see. Obviously, after such a horrific start, children inevitably can end up in local authority care. Yes, some of us have also been county councillors in our time and very well aware of our continuing corporate parenting role now, but it started off in our local authority days.

Back to the statement and its accent on the preventative agenda, a couple of questions do spring to mind. The first one: obviously, the quality of foster care is all-important, and I understand the national framework for fostering is being discussed. I wonder if the Minister can tell us more about that, including, for example, the extra investment that he'll be putting into training and support for foster carers.

Moving on, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 means that local authorities must have care plans beyond the age of 18 for looked-after children, including funding continued foster placements, where both parties want it. In terms of funding continued foster placements, how many of these plans have happened, and what is the outcome? I’m sure we would all be pleased to have that information to hand. Obviously, although work to prevent children from entering the care system is all important, what safeguards are there to ensure that children do not end up more damaged because of an ill-advised attempt to prevent them from entering the care system? Finally, while there is support for foster carers and adopters with any behavioural issues, there doesn’t seem to be the wider awareness in the educational system, with some schools apparently not making allowances that a bad start in life may be behind some challenging behaviour that needn’t happen if schools made reasonable adjustments. There are several examples over the years—if just people were just more aware. So, I was wondering if we could ask the Minister to work with the education Cabinet Secretary to ensure that teacher training includes training on issues of neglect, abuse and attachment disorders. Diolch yn fawr.


Dai, thank you very much for those observations and questions as well, which I will try and respond to. First of all, the dialogue that we have across the Cabinet, including with the Cabinet Secretary for Education, on the issue of identification of those who need additional support by professionals working the front line, such as teachers, teachers’ support and so on, is a key issue. It has to be, in order to actually know, then, the right support that needs to be put in place and the right additional help that needs to be put in place. We know, by the way, as Dai will know, that, roughly two thirds of children who are in looked-after situations, the evidence suggests that they have some form of special educational needs. So, it’s not only identifying the situation of being in looked-after care, but it could well be that many of them will have additional educational needs.

I think the thing that we can all agree on in this Chamber as we try and work across Government, but also with other partners on the ground, is that mediocrity, accepting mediocrity, in educational attainment for looked-after children is simply not acceptable. We should be as ambitious for every single child, right across the piece. And whatever we have to bring to that—. Part of that, by the way, is—. I referred to earlier on, particularly with foster care, which Dai mentioned, that we’re funding this social pedagogy—I never get it right, whether it is 'peda-gogy' or 'peda-godgy'. [Interruption.] Thank you. 'Peda-godgy'; thank you very much—which is aiming to improve the educational attainment of children, particularly in foster care. This project looks to support foster parents to be more actively involved with their foster children's education, and helping them to build better links with the education system, which we also know is a key thing—it's the parents being involved in the education of the young person, not simply stepping away from it, standing off. Included within that, by the way, has been a series of masterclasses for people involved in fostering, whether on a personal or even a professional level. They've been very well attended, and the feedback that we have had from them has been excellent as well.

You touched on the issue of homelessness, and those stark figures that I mentioned there, that we know that 20 per cent to 30 per cent of those people who we find homeless have been in care situations. So, we have developed the Welsh youth homelessness positive pathway, which was launched in 2016 by the former Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children. It’s quite a comprehensive approach to helping young people avoid homelessness, and we think that this is the best approach to planning local services—front-line services—for young people. But we do know that more needs to be done, by the way, to embed this across Government, particularly in relation to mental health services.

You also touched on the issue of substance abuse or substance misuse. We've identified this as one of the ACE issues—the adverse childhood experiences—that can alter the early development of a child. Dai, who's a doctor as well, will know that excessive exposure to some of these substances as well can also affect—if the child directly is exposed to them—the neurological development as well, such things as hormonal systems and so on. There were nearly 5,000 reported cases of children in need due to parental substance misuse within 2016. We're investing £50 million to tackle the harms associated with this.

But Dai is absolutely right: in taking all these approaches, we need to make the right decision for the right child in the right circumstance, and whilst our emphasis should be, actually, on early intervention and prevention, there are occasions, as I said in my opening statement, where sometimes it is necessary to remove the child from an environment. But, first of all, we have to do everything to try and make sure that, if we can, they can be kept in that home environment, and only then removed.


Thank you for your statement, Minister. May I say 'congratulations' on your recent appointment? I'm sure that the other Members here will agree with me that, in an ideal world, no child would be taken from their family to be looked after by the state. No matter how caring or dedicated the staff looking after children in care are, there is no substitute for the security of a stable family environment, however that family may be made up. But it of course happens. It's sometimes a horrible necessity that a child has to be taken away from their family, and I'm pleased to see that schemes are in place to reduce the number of children being taken into care in the first place and that there are things being put in place to provide them with support once they come out of care. I would like to see, though, further support being given to children in care, but I'll come on to that in a moment.

Working with young mums to break the cycle of repeated pregnancies is a good idea, as is extending the support available from personal advisers up to the age of 25. But what worries me is that, although I acknowledge that funds are not unlimited, the sums set out in your statement intended to be spent on 5,500 or more children being looked after by the Welsh Government don't seem to me to be particularly large: £400,000 to deliver the fostering network is a relatively small sum, and £125,000 to develop adoption support work across the country represents a tiny amount of money. I mean, it's only £25,000 per region. So, how do you see this money being spent, and how much difference do you think it's going to make to the actual outcomes of looked-after children? The sum set aside to address youth homelessness is tiny, given the number of homeless and rough sleepers in Wales.

Looked-after children are already disadvantaged by the circumstances that took them into care in the first place. Their education will have suffered alongside. It's vital that these children are helped to find a better future, and providing additional educational support is very, very important. The money promised and referred to in your statement as being for that purpose is submerged within the pupil deprivation grant of £4 million, but that £4 million has to provide educational support for deprived children who aren't looked after, as well. So, how much of the pupil deprivation grant will be spent on improving the educational outcomes of looked-after children specifically, and how can you assure us that the money set aside will be sufficient to bring substantive results?

I welcome the proposals to exempt care leavers from council tax; I think that's a brilliant idea. And I would really, really encourage local authorities across Wales to adopt the proposal. As I said, the schemes referred to in your statement are encouraging, and, like I said, I have doubts about whether sufficient resources are being put in place, but I really do hope that the investment that you've referred to, and the schemes that you've referred to, bear the fruit that you and the rest of us hope for. Thank you.

Michelle, thank you very much. I think the nub of your argument—. And by the way, can I just thank you for welcoming the approach that we're taking and what we're trying to achieve with the outcomes? Because this is very much focused on the outcomes, rather than simply saying, 'We tick boxes, we distribute grants, and we keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best'. This is all designed around the idea of collaborating with partners out there, both with local government and with others, and with existing schemes on the ground, such as the Flying Start programme, the Families First programme, and so on, in order to deliver that turnaround in a child or young person's life, in their family situation, that will be enduring and long lasting.

So, what I would say to you, Michelle, is: while some of the individual sums may look small—they're not insignificant, by the way, because we have to find this from a shrinking budget, quite frankly—they are not, because, when you target them in the right way—. And this is the approach: taking advice, by the way; not simply the Welsh Government doing it off the top of its head and saying, 'Well, it's a little bit of money here and a little bit over there'. It's steered very much by the views of front-line professionals, by those who are in care situations themselves, by the ministerial advisory group as well, who are saying that these are the right interventions.

I would say that, if money was no object, frankly, and I had the cheque book, I would write a cheque 10 times as big, and I would transform it tomorrow, and by next year. We’re simply not in that situation. We are where we are, but what we can do is both box cleverer by working much cleverer on the ground, and doing the right interventions, so that those edge-of-care services, for example, and the £8 million additional that we’ve just put into that area of work—that’s exactly the sort of thing. That £8 million can go a long way in the right situation to actually addressing that issue of helping keep children and young people in a family situation where it’s appropriate, by putting the wraparound with them. When you add that to Flying Start and Families First and other interventions, that goes a long, long way.

So, it’s not a question of putting one box over here and saying, ‘This will solve the problem’. It’s actually to do with integrated, collaborative services on the ground that identify the young person, identify the support they need, and pull that support around them. I would simply say: don’t look at just slivers of funding. Look on the ground there, and where the outcomes come. Because the measure of success with this is very much to do with the outcomes: does this mean that the effects for children who are in looked-after care situations are better? Does it mean that those who leave to lead independent lives are improved? Does it mean that, actually, those who are on the edge of going into care—that their opportunities are also improved, and sometimes kept in the family situation as well by better wraparound care?


First of all, I endorse David Melding’s comments about the former Minister and the non-partisan nature of this. I also extend congratulations on your new position.

There are lots of good things here, and I’ve heard lots of good things that you’ve said today. I notice that you said you want to see a reduction in the numbers of children coming into care. I note that you say

‘the more we can help families stay together during difficult times, by offering the right level of support’—

that that's the right way to do things. But what concerns me about the cases I get time after time after time is that parents who desperately want to keep the children in this region, South Wales Central, appear to be losing them for a whole variety of reasons, one of which, often, is not safety. I have a case on my books where it’s recognised that the parents love the children, the children love the parents, and unfortunately for the parents, they called in children’s services to get support, and they’ve ended up losing the children, and they’re desperately fighting to get them back, because that particular children’s services department say that these parents don’t have the skills to parent.

I would question that judgment, because far too often parents are saying to me that adoption and care is almost becoming an industry, and the interactions that I’ve had with families—. Ironically, I’ve just had a message through today from a mother who wants me to go and visit because she’s in danger of losing her child. I would say, really, as a former professional teacher, families need support, but what they’re getting is a very adversarial system that interrogates, almost, and there is a tick-box approach from social workers under tremendous pressure. So, I wondered what you thought of those things, and whether or not you’re looking at countries around the world where there is no forced adoption, because forced adoption is something that is really troubling me, looking at the kind of cases that I’ve picked up for far too long, actually, not only in here, but across the road as well.

Neil, thank you for that. Can I say that we always look around the world for best practice? But we can also look on our own doorsteps, because what we know is that there are variations in the approaches taken locally throughout Wales, as there are in England, by the way, as well. But it’s certainly some of that investment into the wraparound families provision. If you look at something like Families First, for example, it often gets missed because, if you say ‘Families First’, people think that’s a lovely cosy thing, but actually that is exactly the multi-agency approach to a family that says where are the areas of competence, of expertise, of knowledge that that family needs in order to provide a stable, resilient family environment for children.

The investment in things like Families First is helped by our analysis of things like the ACEs hub, which we've now invested in, which identifies those areas of adverse childhood experiences. We know that if you have two or three or four of them, it's more likely that that child is going to be in difficulty, if not actually taken into care. So, how do things like Families First help to avoid that situation? How does it wrap around that family? We've put £270 million in the Families First programme since 2012. It provides that supportive, enriching environment for children. It reduces the incidence of adverse childhood experiences. The approach taken here provides families with coherent packages of support, through a multi-agency approach that helps them as a family develop the skills for them, but also for their children as well. Those sort of approaches are definitely the way forward. We know it because it achieves the outcomes we've been talking about. But it takes long-term, sustained investment, working with families, to do it.

The point where I would agree and where we need to look at is how do we shift the curve, recognising that we have to make sure that we invest in the outcomes for children and young people who are leaving care and those people who are currently within care. We have to do that, but we also somehow have to shift the curve to make sure that we're investing more in those early years and prevention, because that is the thing that will give those families the support that avoids the necessity in future of more children being taken into care. But, sometimes, it is inevitable that the right thing for the child in a particular situation is that they're taken into care. In such a circumstance, we need to make sure that it's done with the most expert judgment, with the most compassion, and also that it's done sharing best practice, not just from abroad, but actually up the road in Wales as well.


Minister, can I also thank you for today's statement and welcome you to your new role? Congratulations. Also, I follow other Members in paying tribute to Carl Sargeant for his important work in this area over many years. It's not an easy area to deal with, but he did it with determination and panache. It's strange him not being in this Chamber when this issue is being discussed. 

I just want to say a few words, given that the Public Accounts Committee will be launching our inquiry into looked-after children, or care-experience children as we prefer to call them, in the new year. It will be a far-reaching inquiry that will primarily consider the effectiveness of spend on this area of the Welsh budget, because as you said, it is a considerable area of spend and we want to have the maximum benefit for those children in need that you've identified. It's also a subject that the Public Accounts Committee intends to return to in stages over the remainder of this Assembly term, rather than it being a one-off inquiry that will then just be left. We think that it's important enough to revisit. 

The figures that you've mentioned justify the approach. The number of children in care in Wales is 90 children per 10,000 people, compared to a lower rate of 60 per 10,000 people in England. So, if you combine that with the statistic that spending on services has increased markedly since 2011, there are clearly many questions that need to be looked at. 

Turning to your statement in particular, you've hinged your statement on delivering the programme for government. Can I ask you—? You cite collaboration extensively in your statement as being all-important in helping the Welsh Government achieve its objectives. How are you going to ensure that effective collaboration between front-line professionals, managers and decision makers really works on the ground in practice? It's a noble objective for a strategy, but it needs to be more than that. We've heard many noble objectives in this Chamber and many strategies over many years—I can see the finance Secretary will agree with me—but it's about converting those objectives into real progress on the ground that all of us would like to see. 

And crucially, I suppose, what resource will be committed to delivering this aspect of 'Prosperity for All'? The cost of promoting cross-Government working is not always an easy one to estimate, I know, but we do need to have some basic idea of what the cost is going to be and how that is going to be funded over the years to come—beyond your comment earlier, I think in response to Michelle Brown, that you shouldn't just see this as slivers of funding in different budgets, but you should be looking at the holistic whole.

Can I welcome, as you have, the work of my colleague David Melding and the ministerial advisory group over some considerable time now? I know they've done a lot of good work in this area. Over time, we'd all like to see a reduction in the number of children coming into care, but of course this must be balanced by a need to provide those children who do need to be cared for with the support they need, in the way that they need it, and when they need it. So, how do you intend to ensure that, in these circumstances, care is individually tailored to young people's needs and we avoid a one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf care package?

I think you anticipated my question earlier, when you spoke about—well, I don't think you called it 'co-production' but certainly the principles of putting the citizen at the centre and tailoring care to the particular needs of the individual is I think uppermost in your thoughts. And I think that can be a big difference here, above and beyond funding issues. If you can actually put the care-experience child at the centre of that process, not just at the centre of care, but at the centre of the decision-making process about deciding how they're going to be looked after, then you can make a big difference as a Minister by achieving that aim.

And finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, we do, of course, need to address the issue of what happens after care, again, something you mentioned. I welcome your ambition to remove the council tax burden from care leavers up to the age of 25. I think that's got a lot of potential and really is worth exploring. That's a good development. We know, statistically, that adults who have been through the care system are more likely to suffer problems, including drug misuse, and are more likely to be in prison. The proportion of the prison population who have been in care is marked and is clearly trying to tell us something.

You've also said in your statement that up to 30 per cent of homeless people have been in care at some point. So, how do we ensure that care continues in some form, as long as possible, and that the curtain doesn't simply come down when a young person reaches 18, because they're too often viewed as adults at that point, and we know that, actually, you don't suddenly go from being in care to being out and left to your own devices in the world when the clock strikes 12 and you suddenly become 18. People need support after that. And I don't think that's always been there or always been pre-eminent in the past. I think that this is again an area in which you as a Minister can really make some big changes to the way that care-experience or looked-after children are cared for in Wales. And I wish you success in that venture and look forward to working with you next year when the Public Accounts Committee begins our inquiry into this important area. 


Thank you. And I'll reciprocate by saying that I look forward to helping the committee in its work, either appearing in person or by evidence, whichever you require, how often you require—perhaps not every week, but whenever you need me there. And can I thank you as well for your recognition, Nick, of what you, I think, termed the significant funding that is going in, not only on its own in terms of the targeted funding for interventions with children in looked-after care, or those who are at the point of entering looked-after care, but also as part of the wider package care there? You make the really important point about how we make sure that this is driven home. Well, it is now fundamentally embedded: it's there within our plans going forward and it's there as a key ambition. Improving outcomes for children in care is a key ambition within 'Taking Wales Forward'. It's within the priorities in the national strategy 'Prosperity for All'. And as you know, some of those documents have been criticised for being light on words, but it's in there—it's bolted in there, front and foremost. We are committed, absolutely committed, to ensuring that all looked-after children enjoy the same life chances as other children. But a lot of this will, I have to say, be driven by the work that's already in train, including that driven by the ministerial advisory group on improving outcomes for children. Let me just touch on some of those because they're significant in the way that it's been taken forward.

Thank you for the kind words again about Carl. It was under Carl that phase 1 was taken forward, back in 2015-16. There's a phase 2 programme under way already, chaired ably by David Melding. It's based on the three themes that I described earlier on. Collaboration is fundamental to this, but it's interesting the way that it takes that collaboration forward in specifics. So, it's got a wide-reaching programme, and as part of phase 2, it looks at things such as professional practice, assessment of risk and edge-of-care services, permanency planning, building stable placements. Each work stream is chaired by a local authority head of children's services. It's vice-chaired by a representative from the third sector. There are 25 work areas within that work programme. They cover research, pilot projects, policy development, improvements, tangible improvements to professional practice and so on, and the group has produced its framework for action, which gives real detail to the pathways in which we will achieve these improved outcomes. And that, of course, is backed up by the additional funding that we are putting in place. So, have no doubt of the commitment of this Government to deliver on this, but to do it by working in collaboration with those on the front line, in collaboration with children and young people themselves, and the work of the ministerial advisory group. It's deeply embedded within Government. And I'm keen—and I thank you for your kind words on my coming into this post—to take forward this work, and to see that real step change that I think we can now do.


Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you for your statement Minister. And I too would like to pay tribute to the work and dedication of Carl Sargeant in this area.

As others have highlighted, outcomes for looked-after children are well below those of children who are not in our care system. We have to provide additional support for these children, who have already had the worst possible start in life. However, according to Action on Children Cymru, there is a postcode lottery in the support available to children in care. This is unacceptable. I am pleased that the Welsh Government have acknowledged this, and have allocated additional funding to improve the life chances for these young people. I would also like to acknowledge the work undertaken by David Melding, who has a long and distinguished record for standing up for looked-after children. And I am pleased that David will continue to chair the ministerial advisory group.

I have just a couple of questions for you, Minister. There have been a number of concerns raised about children’s services in Bridgend, and we are told that the courts in Bridgend have lost trust in the local authority’s ability to carry out its duties with regard to looked-after children. This has led to a number of children being placed out of county. Minister, what steps are you taking to end the postcode lottery, referred to by Action on Children? How will you ensure that children’s services are able to fulfil their duties to both protect young people, ensure they achieve the best possible outcomes, and put an end to out-of-county placements where possible?

Minister, I am pleased to see that there is additional funding to support care leavers on their journey towards independence. This is an area that we have, in the past, failed in. The recent Children in Need DIY SOS programme highlighted the absolutely fantastic work undertaken by the Roots Foundation in my region. As well as running an activities centre for young people in care, Roots provided support housing for young people in care and leaving care. They help provide the necessary skills to enable young care leavers to live independently. Minister, does your Government have any plans to replicate the work of the Roots Foundation to other parts of Wales? And finally, Minister, what is your Government doing to support charities like Roots, who play a vital role in supporting looked-after children, and help to improve outcomes for these vulnerable young people?

Thank you again for your statement, and I hope that we can all work together, collaboratively, to improve outcomes for looked-after children. Thank you.

Thank you very much for those comments, and your welcome again, and the recognition of Carl's work in this area as well.

One of the ways in which we're looking to take that step forward, and to avoid this postcode lottery situation, the way that there are differences, variability—. We want, by the way, to have innovation—we want innovation. We want it to be based on the needs of the local population, and what those needs of those children in care, or children facing a care situation, are. But we need to make sure that they have quality services provided to them and quality support. Now, part of that, in terms of, for example, the early intervention, and the early years, is trying to roll out best knowledge and best practice on what actually works, and then allowing those local areas to pick up the very best, rather than constantly reinventing the wheel.

Now, one approach to that is we're taking an approach to early years integration, based on early intervention and prevention—an integrated early years system for families and parents. Now, what we're aiming to do with this is to ensure that all programmes and services for the early years come together seamlessly, to get the best value for parents and children. We know there are some in the Bridgend area; there are some really good individual programmes for families and young people. How do you pull them together seamlessly within? I have to acknowledge again the limited resources available. In fact, that puts an added incentive—make sure that they work together well.

So, my officials have begun discussions with colleagues across Welsh Government, from health, social services and education, to scope how we take this forward, with the goal of achieving a much more coherent and focused approach to those early years. And a key component of this programme will be an intensive project with two public service boards, one in the Valleys and one in north Wales, to see how early years services might be reconfigured based on closer working between the local health boards, local authorities, Welsh Government and other partners. So, the idea is that we design services that support this long-term preventative approach and it could potentially be a model to be utilised more widely across Wales. Now, that's the approach we're thinking through at different levels of intervention—how do we make it seamless and how do we learn best practice and share it across Wales?

You referred to an interesting organisation—Roots. I'd like to find out more about that to look at it. I don't think we're so much in the era now of simply identifying a group and saying, 'Well, here's a Welsh Government grant.' What we are in the business, however, of saying is that the local partners on the ground should be, with the funding available, looking at what the needs of that local population are and then deciding who can provide that best. But I'd like to hear more about that project—perhaps we can talk or you can write to me. Thank you. 

4. The Tax Collection and Management (Permitted Disclosures) (Wales) Regulations 2017

The next item is the Tax Collection and Management (Permitted Disclosures) (Wales) Regulations 2017. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.

Motion NDM6577 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1.  Approves that the draft The Tax Collection and Management (Permitted Disclosures) (Wales) Regulations 2017 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 25 October 2017.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’m pleased to introduce the Tax Collection and Management (Permitted Disclosures) (Wales) Regulations 2017.

6Dirprwy Lywydd, for very good reasons this National Assembly decided that the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Act 2016 should prohibit the disclosure of protected taxpayer information by a Welsh Revenue Authority official unless that disclosure is expressly permitted by section 18 of the Act. 

Protected taxpayer information is defined in the Act as information relating to a person, which will enable them to be identified, and information that was acquired by the WRA or a delegated body. Disclosure is a serious matter and a breach of this requirement is a criminal offence. Section 18(1) of the Act sets out a list of gateways, however, under which it is permissible to disclose protected taxpayer information. At present, this section does not provide a gateway for the disclosure of protected taxpayer information to either Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs or to Revenue Scotland, where such a disclosure is simply in connection with a function of these respective bodies or in connection with the function of the Welsh Revenue Authority. The purpose of the amendments I'm laying today is to provide relevant WRA officials with such a gateway to discuss protective taxpayer information with HMRC and with Revenue Scotland.

The regulations will ensure consistency with HMRC, which itself will have a legal gateway to share information with the Welsh Revenue Authority in April 2018. The reason for doing all of this, Dirprwy Lywydd, is that the Welsh Revenue Authority I believe should be able to do the same as HMRC is able to do to support compliance on devolved taxes and their equivalent in order to deter avoidance and evasion. Again, for the purposes of compliance in relation to devolved taxes, the Welsh Revenue Authority is currently discussing a reciprocal arrangement with Revenue Scotland for the purposes of information sharing with them. That's the basis on which I hope Members will support these matters this afternoon. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome the fact that we are discussing regulations with regard to devolved taxes for the first time here. Of course, three Acts have been passed by now but Standing Orders have been amended to allow the Finance Committee to consider specifically regulations relating to devolved taxes, and it’s the committee’s intention to do that, certainly, as the new ones are tabled.

We have published a report on these regulations. There’s nothing surprising in it, but the committee is in agreement with the Government’s intention and what it intends to do, and what has been described by the Cabinet Secretary. The only thing that I would want to emphasise today is the live interest of the committee in ensuring that clear guidance is available to regulate how these powers are used by the different bodies that are allowed to use taxpayers’ information in this way, and even though we have discussed this and ensured this as the Bills have gone through the Assembly, it is just as important to ensure that the guidance is very clear with regard to the provision of subordinate legislation as well. Thank you.


Deputy Presiding Officer, may I just say thank you to the committee for the work that they have done in scrutinising the regulations and giving the Government an opportunity to respond to the points raised by the committee? I believe that the committee is now content with the responses that they have received. In terms of clear guidance, of course I agree with the committee Chair. I know that the chair of the WRA and the new board have given priority to guidance. I spoke yesterday to the WRA chief executive and I am confident that the work is in the pipeline. They’ve already commenced it; they are speaking to stakeholders; and guidance will be available after Christmas so that people can have clarity as to what information the authority is going to gather and how they’re going to approach their work, and that will be is issued in a timely manner before 1 April next year when the WRA approaches that work.

Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order—

I can't do it; I'll have to do it: 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

5. Debate: Entrepreneurship: A National Imperative

The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

The next item on the agenda then—we'll go back to normal—is the debate on entrepreneurship and the national imperative. 

Well, I'm sorry, but—

I think we need to move from business, I'd be here all day if I was doing all this in Welsh. I will practice over the Christmas recess, I promise. 

So, I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to move the motion. Ken Skates. 

Motion NDM6578 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

Recognises that entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises are imperative to Wales in creating better jobs and supporting investment and that the Welsh Government, in partnership with stakeholders, has a key role to play to create the right environment and support infrastructure. 

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'd like to begin by thanking you for allowing me to bring forward this debate today, and to begin by positing a question: what is it, what connects the most successful and diverse economic regions around the world, from Boston to Utah, from Israel to the German Mittelstand? In my view, it's a vibrant business base; a business base driven by the twin pillars of entrepreneurship and innovation. Entrepreneurship and innovation enabled by the availability of finance; research and development; skills; infrastructure and, of course, opportunity.

As a Welsh Government, we have a very clear vision of what we want to achieve here in Wales. We want to grow our economy, and that means fostering entrepreneurship and helping businesses of all sizes to become more productive and more successful. But it has to be growth with a purpose: growth that tackles the inequalities and productivity challenges that hold our economy back; inclusive growth that spreads opportunities so that we all play a part and deliver to our full potential. That's why it's important to champion and to cherish our entrepreneurs and the benefit of entrepreneurial skills to enable growth within businesses. I recognise the success we have already achieved in this regard.

Since its launch in 2012, Business Wales—the Welsh Government's service for entrepreneurs and SMEs—has dealt with over 150,000 enquiries; it's provided advice to over 77,000 individuals and businesses; it's engaged nearly 0.25 million young people in entrepreneurship; signposted and provided information to a further 92,000 businesses; it's created over 25,000 jobs and safeguarded a further 5,000; and it has supported the creation of 12,000 new enterprises here in Wales.

I recently announced that the Business Wales accelerated growth programme since April 2015 has created over 2,300 jobs to date, and the programme has also helped participating companies attract £80 million of private sector investment and generate £38 million of exports. This highlights the potential in Wales and also the importance of a supportive ecosystem that proactively helps entrepreneurs and SMEs maximise their contribution to the Welsh economy. 

Building capacity has been a key objective. Big Ideas Wales, which encourages entrepreneurship from an early stage and develops the entrepreneurial skills of young people, has delivered, in my view, outstanding results, with 70 per cent of young people under the age of 25 now having aspirations to work for themselves. And 375 role models have engaged with more than 56,000 young people in 86 per cent of schools, further education colleges and higher education institutions.

I do think that we need to celebrate the successes of young people in business. We have some excellent examples of the practical ways that we do this, through competitions and also through boot camps. Capacity building of this type complements our drive to encourage graduate start-ups. More broadly, the recent winners of the Fast Growth 50 showcased the talent and opportunity that we have in our country. 

It's encouraging to see that we now have a record number of active businesses in Wales, and the number of new business births is the highest for over a decade. Small and medium-sized businesses in Wales account for 99.3 per cent of enterprises in our country, 62 per cent of employment and 39.7 per cent of turnover. To grow, Welsh businesses must evolve and to evolve, they must innovate. Government, academia and providers of finance are all part of that ecosystem. That's why I've supported Be The Spark, a new national initiative to drive innovation and entrepreneurship here in Wales. The approach has been developed by a high-calibre panel, chaired by Simon Gibson, and has resulted from Wales's participation in the regional entrepreneurship acceleration programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It's estimated that the MIT alumni and the Boston ecosystem combined would equate to the twelfth biggest economy on the planet. Be The Spark is a strategy specifically for Wales that makes innovation-driven entrepreneurship the responsibility of all stakeholders, not just Government, but also financiers, larger corporates, academia and entrepreneurs, and Be The Spark has examined key metrics to outline the challenges for Wales. 

Whilst some of these will undoubtedly be challenging, I want to embrace the corresponding opportunity and set an ambition of where we need to be, and it's here. We need to address lower than UK start-up rates, from the current 60 per 10,000 to 120 per 10,000. The UK rate at present stands at 93 per 10,000. We also need to proportionally increase patent activity from 3.3 per cent to 5 per cent. We need to encourage an active and diverse angel investment community. It's a fact that Wales currently receives under 1.1 per cent of UK angel investment. We also need to increase the HE graduate start-up levels from 0.3 per cent of the student population to 1 per cent. That would lead to an extra 1,000 new starts every year. Extend this target still further to students currently in higher education, and we could deliver another 1,000 new starts. That's close to a 1 per cent increase in the business stock in our country. We also need to increase the proportion of growth firms in Wales from 19 per cent to 30 per cent classified as growing. And, finally, we need to increase the level of industry research and development expenditure, delivered in collaboration with higher and further education.

Deputy Presiding Officer, we need to harness the power and influence of all stakeholder groups and move forward with a shared objective. It should be a shared objective across Government, across education and businesses, and I do think that a prime example of this in action is the Welsh Government's £20 million investment in the Deeside advanced manufacturing research institute, which targets the need to focus on commercialisation, unlocked by all stakeholders working together. But as a Government, we don't have all of the solutions ourselves. Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, those working in risk capital, as well as key people from academia and Government, need to work together to make this happen, and Be The Spark has to be the key driver for innovation-driven entrepreneurship here in Wales.

As part of this collaborative approach, I am delighted to note that NatWest has agreed two-year funding for the chief executive officer of Be The Spark, Caroline Thompson. Entrepreneurs are imperative for developing a strong economy and creating better jobs and supporting investment. We need to encourage entrepreneurship from an early age, through raising aspirations and understanding of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial mindset has benefits for those who not only start a business but also enter employment. There's an identified key challenge for our larger businesses where intra-preneurship is an essential ingredient in improving productivity through innovation.

Business Wales is the recognised service for entrepreneurs here in Wales. It provides support for aspiring entrepreneurs, start-ups and existing microbusinesses and small and medium-sized enterprises through a variety of channels, including online, on the phone and through dedicated business advisers located across the length and breadth of our country. I highlighted earlier the importance of the Business Wales service here in Wales. 


Mark Isherwood rose—

I had the pleasure of attending the Be The Spark event last Wednesday. They welcomed the fact you had hosted it. They did express regret that nobody from Welsh Government was able to attend it, but it was great to hear contributions not only from business, including someone from Wrexham sat next to me, but also from local authorities, with the chief executive of Monmouthshire speaking, and, of course, academia as well. So, how will you ensure, given what you're saying, that this is about a collective innovation-driven entrepreneurship approach that includes social entrepreneurship, innovation in public service delivery and, of course, driving the economy of Wales through the business sector too? 

I'm delighted to hear the change of heart by the Welsh Conservatives concerning the Be The Spark initiative. The change of approach has gone from one of objection in the summer to now applauding the work of all of the stakeholders in Be The Spark, and I'm delighted that one of my most senior officials is indeed a founding member of the Be The Spark team here in Wales.

I was sorry I was unable to be at the particular event that the Member highlights. I, with my colleague Lesley Griffiths, that evening travelled back to north Wales because of the tragic circumstances that we faced, but I am utterly committed, as are my officials, to playing a very active role in ensuring that Welsh Government contributes to what must be a cultural change in the way that we approach entrepreneurship and innovation-driven entrepreneurship. Indeed, I've been insistent on maintaining the Be The Spark initiative across all stakeholder groups, with Welsh Government taking the leadership role. We have faced, in the past, some criticism for taking this initiative forward, but I do believe that the event that the Member points to is another example of the success of this particular programme.

We'll be seeing in the months to come the number of mentors and the number of people pledging support to Be The Spark increasing still further, with valuable opportunities for networking to take place. I'm pleased today to say that, in complementing the Business Wales service and to complement the Be The Spark event that took place very recently, I've announced more than £5 million for new activity to support entrepreneurship in Wales. This includes £1 million of funding to establish a pathfinder project to encourage regional, community-based entrepreneurship, and the initiative will focus on engaging with disadvantaged individuals at a community level in specific locations across Wales, following an approach that is flexible and responsive to local, regional and spatial needs, including the new economic regions and the Valleys task force.

Recognising the importance of space and supporting our commitment to taking Wales forward through procurement, an additional £4 million has been allocated to support the establishment of another four enterprise hubs across Wales. These hubs will be located to fill areas of market failure, working hand in glove with incubators from the private and academic sectors so that, wherever you live, you can access incubation. This is in addition to the £1 million of funding I previously announced to establish a new business hub in Wrexham.

Deputy Presiding Officer, growing businesses also need, of course, access to growth capital, and the recent launch of the Development Bank of Wales is an important core component of the Government's economic policy and delivery. The development bank is a key tool to address this issue. Business Wales and the Development Bank of Wales have an agreed operational plan in place to better align the services offered, with a clear aim of benefiting the customer. This will enable us to provide a seamless mix of expert advice and support alongside affordable finance exactly when it is needed.

I want to continue to develop the scope and role for the development bank supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs, including considering innovative finance solutions. In addition, my officials are exploring options for closer alignment in joint working between Business Wales and Careers Wales. Securing closer integration between the two services has the potential to better connect the delivery of business support and employer engagement with the education, economy and skills system, and a more streamlined approach to services for our customers.

We want to ensure that entrepreneurship is part of the suite of options made available to young people. This will build on our ambitions of the new curriculum to encourage ambitious, creative and enterprising contributors. We need to make the right connections to nurture the talent of our pupils and students and to support their interest for business through Big Ideas Wales.

Finally, we need to ensure that we continue to provide entrepreneurs and SMEs in Wales with the appropriate environment and the appropriate support at the right time to enable them to create better jobs and support investment in the Welsh economy. Deputy Presiding Officer, I'm keen to hear Members' views about how we can support this agenda together, going forward.


Thank you very much. It'll be interesting to see your reply, given that that was a 14-minute opening speech. Never mind. I have selected the amendment to the motion, and I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to move amendment 1, tabled in his name—Rhun.

Amendment 1. Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new points at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to invest in a network of entrepreneurial hubs in every part of Wales.

Proposes that additional financial transaction funds allocated to Wales by the UK Government are used to create a new SME investment fund for the Development Bank of Wales.

Calls on the Welsh Government to establish a dedicated national innovation body, as a partnership between business, government and academia, to drive up levels of new product development.

Amendment 1 moved.

Yes. A 50-second reply to the debate from the Cabinet Secretary will be interesting to listen to.

I am pleased, in the absence of the Member for Carmarthen East, to take part in this debate for Plaid Cymru to pursue issues with regard to economic development.

It is a debate on a vital area for the future of Wales. Our economic future is based on talented people developing ideas and developing those ideas in Wales, and we have to create the correct business environment to allow entrepreneurs to succeed, and our amendment sheds some light on what we in Plaid Cymru would like to see with regard to Government intervention to achieve that objective.

I’ll focus on innovation, which means doing entirely new things or, possibly, doing old things in new and better ways, but innovation can’t, necessarily, happen in a vacuum and we need to promote and encourage innovation. That’s why we call for the establishment of a dedicated national innovation body to increase expenditure on research and development, for example, to develop a reputation for Wales internationally as a nation of excellence with regard to research and innovation.

And there’s a close relationship, isn’t there, between innovation and entrepreneurship. When entrepreneurs transfer new information into new practice, that’s when innovation happens. Innovation and creating devices and developing new ideas create entrepreneurs, but what we need to do is to be a nation that can accelerate the speed at which our entrepreneurs can make use—practical use—of new ideas and innovations, and that’s where the Government’s role is vital.

It would be good to think that the market in itself would ensure that there’s plenty of research in the development of products, in R&D, here in Wales, but it’s not always the case. We can’t always depend on the market, and there are international examples that show that the role of innovation bodies is extremely valuable in getting to grips with underfunding, perhaps, in R&D funds, because of market failure. There is a great deal of variance with regard to the size and structure of bodies that exist in locations worldwide, but the raison d’être for those bodies is consistent. It’s possible that Innovate UK and Enterprise Ireland are some of the most recognised innovation bodies in the world. They’re large: £600 million in the case of Innovate UK, and €300 million with regard to Enterprise Ireland. But there are smaller bodies that work in a regional context, a sub-state context, which can lead to very important lessons for Wales.

I’ll talk about the JIC Innovation Park in the Czech Republic in South Moravia. Now, it’s a region with only 1.1 million residents, and unemployment has fallen from 12 per cent in 2002 to 4.7 per cent by now. It was only £0.5 million annually that the innovation park fund stood at when it was established, but now the sum has increased to £1.5 million. It’s a relatively small amount of money, but it has a significant impact. South Moravia has had a regional innovation strategy since 2002 and the innovation park focuses mainly on implementing strategies in partnership with the chamber of commerce, universities and other not-for-profit bodies. It focuses on the research agenda and has ensured research so that South Moravia spends 3.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on research and development, and that’s three times the percentage of the gross value added of Wales spent in this area. So, these are our competitors that we need to compete with, with regard to our expenditure on innovation. The Basque Country is also an example where there is an innovation body that is doing excellent work.

I know that the Welsh Government doesn’t support the idea of arm’s-length expert bodies supporting the Government in its agenda. I know when I was economy spokesperson I mooted the idea of having a new Welsh Development Agency for the twenty-first century. ‘It’s not democratic; it’s a quango’—that was the call from some, but, in the devolved era, there is that accountability here in the National Assembly. And, with regard to the Basque Country, the CEO there is a politician, and changes every four years, so it is possible to operate an arm’s-length body without losing accountability.

Time has beaten me. We do need innovation in policy as well. We need innovation in the Government’s attitude towards economic development. I appeal on behalf of business, and on behalf of the economy in Wales, for creativity from the Government and from the Cabinet Secretary.