Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


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

Statement by the Llywydd

It gives me great pleasure to announce that, in accordance with Standing Order 26.75, the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, and the Abolition of the Right to Buy and Associated Rights (Wales) Act 2018, have been given Royal Assent today.

1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and the first question is from John Griffiths.

Capital Funding

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's allocation of capital funding? OAQ51619

Diolch, Llywydd. Despite the pressures on our capital budgets, the Welsh Government will deploy almost £5 billion in support of infrastructure priorities across the whole of Wales, including, for example, building 20,000 affordable homes, delivering twenty-first century schools and protecting the future of our environment.

Cabinet Secretary, Coleg Gwent plans to relocate its Newport campus to the city-centre riverfront, which could be transformative for further education in Newport, would involve collaboration with the University of South Wales and their city-centre campus in Newport, and is also very much backed by Newport City Council in terms of wider regeneration plans. In general terms, I wonder whether you could tell me what sort of Welsh Government capital funding is available for that sort of project, in terms of direct Welsh Government capital funding and also, perhaps, in terms of alternative, not-for-profit models of providing necessary finance.

I thank the Member for that supplementary question. I'm very familiar with the University of South Wales's riverfront presence at the city-centre campus in Newport, which is highly successful, and I'm aware of the other plans to which the Member has made reference. The Welsh Government has a strong record of investing in education in Newport, alongside the city council. We are investing over £50 million in the twenty-first century schools programme in the Newport area, and the Welsh Government is funding £25.5 million of that. And all of that, as the Member will know, is against a background in which our capital budgets are £400 million lower in the coming financial year than they were in 2009-10, with all the impact that that has on our ability to fund important schemes. We are pressing ahead with the mutual investment model in Wales. That will make a contribution to the twenty-first century schools band B programme, and I've no doubt that, as the scheme that the Member refers to moves forward, we will look to see whether there is anything we can do, through conventional capital or through innovative ways of funding, should that scheme come to our attention.

You would have heard me yesterday asking the First Minister about the M4 relief road around Newport, Cabinet Secretary. Obviously, in the committee's inquiry last week, there was indication there was substantial cost increases to this particular project. As the Finance Secretary, and having responsibility for capital budgets, where do you believe the tipping point for this scheme is, with the cost overruns that are currently projected? Because the Cabinet Secretary for economic development did indicate, when questioned by the Member for Llanelli, that there was a tipping point. So, what assessment have you made of this scheme and the ability for this scheme to actually go forward?

Well, Llywydd, a decision of that sort would be a policy decision; it would be for my colleague Ken Skates to take the responsibility for that. As the finance Minister, my approach to the M4 relief road has always been to respect the independence of the local public inquiry, not to make allocations directly to the department for the M4 relief road until the outcome of that local public inquiry is known. I do hold money in central reserves, sufficient to go ahead with the project, but until we know what the local public inquiry will say, I think it is a more sensible course of action to hold that money centrally and to make allocation decisions in the light of the inquiry's report.


Of course, the cost increases are mainly due to the fact that £136 million extra has been allocated to meet the concerns of the port in Newport, and that presumably, as Cabinet Secretary, is something that you have approved of, or at least signed off. Now, you've mentioned the money that you have in the budget next year. As I understand it, you have £150 million in capital reserves and the ability to borrow another £125 million, so that makes a total of £275 million that could potentially be used next year as capital money towards the new M4, as we should call it. Can you confirm that you are not able, and will not seek, to spend that money, yes, until the public inquiry has reported, but also until there's been a vote on a supplementary budget in this Assembly? 

Wel, Llywydd, as the Member heard me say, I intend to allow the public inquiry to report before I make allocation decisions. Those allocation decisions would have to be reported to the National Assembly in the normal way and, where they need the approval of the National Assembly, that approval would have to be sought. 

Weaknesses in the Tax System

2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Welsh Government efforts to tackle any weaknesses in the tax system in Wales? OAQ51625

Well, may I thank Siân Gwenllian for that question? The Welsh Government is committed to exploring new approaches to deterring tax evasion, artificial avoidance and improving compliance across all the Welsh taxes, including local taxes and the new national taxes, which will be coming into force in April 2018.

I wanted to raise the issue of taxing holiday homes and second homes. Steffan Lewis and I sent you a letter before Christmas, noting concerns about the issue of second homes transferring into the holiday home category in order to avoid paying council tax. There are 500 properties that have been transferred from council tax to business tax in Wales, leading to a loss of over £1.7 million to the public purse. You responded by saying that some action had been taken in order to tackle the problem, but how confident are you that the rules that you have introduced into the system are going to tackle this problem in full? Doesn’t far more need to be done, if truth be told?

Well, Llywydd, may I thank Siân Gwenllian for the information that she has given to me and the correspondence that we’ve received from both her and Steffan Lewis? I have received advice from my own officials. At present, I believe that the rules are there in order to deal with the situation that Siân Gwenllian has outlined. We are not yet in a position where we can be confident about how things will turn out. I’ve replied, today, to the Member, after receiving her second letter, to tell her that, having considered her words, I have changed the new policy on the taxes that I will be publishing, hopefully, in February, in order to include this issue in the work programme and to do more over the years, working with the Valuation Office Agency and the local authorities. And, so, we shall see. Ultimately, if we see from the evidence that there is a big problem, then we will have to take action. However, if the current measures are robust enough to deal with the problem, the data that we'll be able to collect over the coming year will reflect that also.

Does the Cabinet Secretary agree with me on the importance of ensuring that all Welsh income tax payers are identified prior to income tax being partially devolved and that we don't want the same difficulties that occurred on income tax devolution in Scotland, where a number of people were misallocated? 

Well, this is a very important question and thanks to Mike Hedges for raising it. He is right to say that, when income tax responsibilities were devolved to Scotland, there were some teething troubles, which Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs experienced in correctly identifying those individuals who were now to be liable for Scottish rates of income tax. HMRC tell us that they have learnt through that experience that they are better placed to make sure that, as Welsh rates of income tax become a reality as of April of this year, they will be able to avoid some of the difficulties that they experienced first time round. There are advantages, as Members will know, in going second in some of these things. However, the executive who has primary responsibility for these matters at HMRC is coming to the Finance Committee on Wednesday of next week so that he can be scrutinised on these matters. I will be meeting him on the same day, and I will certainly be looking for further assurances from him that, as Welsh income tax responsibilities become a reality, HMRC will be able to deliver on their side of that bargain.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions, now, from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. In the absence of our finance spokesperson, I hope that the Cabinet Secretary will forgive me for mentioning health. But don’t worry—it’s in the context of budgetary allocations.

Cabinet Secretary, how does the Welsh Government, in allocating funds to large public bodies such as the health service, ensure that those funds are spent in a way that is consistent with the principles set out by Government?

Well, Llywydd, that is essentially a matter for the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the health service, but I am familiar enough with that field to know that he will have very direct ways in which, through his contacts with chairs, and then with chief executives, he will be keeping a direct track on the way in which the money that we are able to provide for the health service in Wales is then properly applied by those large organisations, as Rhun ap Iorwerth has said—that they apply the money we're able to provide for them in the most effective way. I meet monthly with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services so that, from my responsibility as managing the overall budget, I'm able to keep in touch with the way in which he is managing that very significant slice of the Welsh Government that falls to him.

Thank you very much. I do consider that to be a useful answer. It is an ambition of Government to enhance healthcare services in the community, but it’s difficult to check whether that’s happening in terms of where the funds are going because we get only a single budget line from you as Cabinet Secretary. Don’t you believe that there is scope to provide some sub-budget lines, in order for you as a Government to check whether the health service is doing what you expect them to do, but also to make it easier for us, as Assembly Members, to hold you, as a Government, to account?

Well, Llywydd, I am familiar with the point that the Member makes, and in the process of creating the budget for this year, we have given more detail on a lower level than previously in the second phase of the new process. And where we are able to do more to give greater detail in order to assist the Members to scrutinise as a Government, we are very happy to collaborate with the Finance Committee and others in order to see how best to achieve this. I do believe that we have made progress in the new process that we’ve used over the autumn.

There’s a responsibility on you as Cabinet Secretary to ensure that public funds in Wales are spent as effectively as possible, and I appreciate, from your earlier answer, that you do hold meetings with Cabinet Secretaries in different areas in order to assess whether things are going in the right direction. To give one specific example, we know that expenditure on primary care has reduced significantly over the past years: it's some 7 per cent of the total healthcare spend now, as compared with 11 per cent years ago. I believe we should go back to 11 per cent and your colleague the Cabinet Secretary for health says that we do need to strengthen primary care. But how do you, as the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, actually put pressure on your colleagues in the Cabinet in order to ensure that primary care in this context does receive the support that we hear it needs and that that support is provided in financial terms?


Llywydd, the Member was careful to make a distinction, but it is an important distinction, between the proportion of the budget that goes to primary care and the absolute investment in primary care, because the absolute investment in primary care has gone up over the years, albeit that as a proportion of the total budget it has taken less. Now, I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services is very keen to address that issue. That is why we fund primary care clusters directly. That is why we have preserved the integrated care fund again this year.

But I put this point to the Member, that one of the reasons why, as a proportion of the health budget, primary care has not had the share that other parts of the health service have had is because of the way in which public debate and debate here too focuses so heavily on hospital services, and we talk far less about primary and community services. So, every time there is a debate about services that might be altered in a hospital setting, we have huge debates. When changes happen at primary care level, there is far less attention to them. Partly, the reason that hospitals have taken a larger share of a growing budget is because of the way in which debates around the future of the health service are conducted. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Finance Secretary, yesterday, the First Minister didn't fully answer the leader of the opposition's question on an upper funding cap for the proposed M4 relief road. Are you prepared to give details of a cap, or is the Welsh Government happy for the costs simply to spiral?

Wel, Llywydd, I tried to say earlier it's not my responsibility to have the policy decisions in relation to the M4 relief road. My responsibility is to manage the budget and to make sure that there are finances available to pursue key priorities. In this case, the new M4 is being considered through an independent local inquiry, and until that inquiry reports I will not make direct allocations, because the need for allocations will be dependent on what that inquiry concludes.

Diolch. I don't disagree with what you've just said, finance Secretary, and I appreciate that there's currently an ongoing public inquiry looking into the different possible solutions and routes for the M4 and that should be allowed to take its course. I also appreciate that there's a policy issue to be debated here, and you're not the Secretary to do that with. However, I'm asking you specifically about the financing of the scheme, and, as finance Secretary, you do have an overall view for achieving and securing public value for money for the taxpayer. As I understand it, the current estimated cost is in the region of £1.4 billion. However, apparently, this doesn't include estimations of VAT, inflation, or future maintenance costs. Have any of these been factored in and what is your current estimate of the total cost of the M4 relief road?

Well, Llywydd, the way in which costs for the M4 relief road are presented to the Assembly are entirely in line with the conventions that are used across Governments in reporting such sums. So, there's nothing unusual in the fact that we report the sums in current prices, rather than in prices as they may be later on. What I can report to Members is this: where there is a need for funds for taking forward the public inquiry, for example, this year, and some enabling works that have been required, I am in a position to provide those funds to the Cabinet Secretary involved, and I remain confident that, should the scheme get the go ahead as a result of the independent local public inquiry, I will be able to use the levers available to me to be able to put the scheme into practice.

Thank you, finance Secretary. I'm getting increasingly concerned, because once again today there appears to be a distinct lack of figures. It wasn't that long ago that the Welsh Government told the Assembly that the cost would be less than £1 billion. I think a guarantee of some form was issued to us, whether it was that word or not, back then. But it now seems that this was grossly underestimated. Now, if you look at examples of other large road schemes in Wales, such as the A465 Heads of the Valleys widening—and, again, policy issue aside on that—that has been subject to many delays and is currently costing an estimated 25 per cent over the original budget. So, you can understand the public's concern about these kinds of projects. The M4 black route will, if chosen, run through sites of special scientific interest and across wetland, making it more complex than many other road schemes would be. Do you not think that, aside from the public inquiry, it's time for a full review of the potential costs of this project to ensure value for money for the taxpayer? 


I don't think it's possible to separate the two issues in quite that way, Llywydd, because the costs will be contingent upon the conclusions that the inquiry comes to. So, I don't think it's possible to separate matters in quite that way. Let me say in general to the Member that of course I share his concerns always that spending plans right across the Welsh Government are implemented in the most efficient and cost-efficient way, and that would apply to this scheme in exactly the same way as it would apply to all other ways in which capital investment available to the Welsh Government is paid out in practice.  

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. We're all awaiting with interest the Cabinet Secretary's decision on the shortlist for new taxes to be published shortly, but does he agree with me that, whilst no tax is ever going to be popular, there'll be greater acceptability amongst the public if they can directly relate the costs that they will incur with the benefits that they will receive? Some of these taxes, of course, embody that principle better than others. Given the pressures on public spending and the inevitable increases in costs that will come about in the area of health and social services in the years ahead, the proposal for a social care levy could be promoted, as long as the scheme that goes along with the tax is a sensible one, in such a way as to maximise the degree of public support for a tax. 

Well, I understand the point the Member makes, and hypothecation in the sense that people can see what they get for what they pay does have an influence on public acceptability. He will know that successive Chancellors at the UK level have always had antipathy to hypothecation in that way, but where I think the Member is right is that, in the scheme that Professor Gerry Holtham has put forward, and is the basis for these discussions, he does draw on the issue of public acceptability elsewhere, and he uses the example in Japan where there is unhypothecated tax towards social care, but you don't start to pay it until you're 40. Now, I suppose in crude terms you could say that people up to the age of 40 don't believe they're going to get old and don't think this is ever going to be them. Once you turn that corner, you begin to realise that investment in these services may be something that you yourself will have an interest in before all that long, and, in fact, in the Japanese model, as I remember it, the amount you pay towards the tax goes up as you get older. So, the closer you get to the point where you may benefit from it, the more acceptable making a contribution to it appears to get. So, in that sense, I think the Holtham work tends to bear out the general proposition that Mr Hamilton made.   

The Cabinet Secretary, like myself, is perennially youthful—we're seeing the horizon recede further from us as we get older—but I accept the general point that he makes. Given that adult social care costs are, on the Health Foundation's predictions, likely to rise by 4 per cent per annum for the next 20 years, and that costs should rise probably to about £2.5 billion by 2030, clearly there is here a potential massive funding problem for the Welsh Government. And therefore it's essential, in my opinion, if there is to be such a levy, that a fund should be created that can't be raided by Governments for other purposes. The Cabinet Secretary will remember that the National Insurance Act 1911—not remember because he was there at the time, but because he's a student of history—the whole basis of that scheme, which created national insurance in Britain, was to create a national insurance fund. Sadly though, that has been regularly raided ever since by the Treasury and the whole contributory principle has been undermined by Conservative Governments as well as by Labour Governments over the years, I think to the lasting disfigurement of the funding of social insurance in this country, and it would be a lot better if we were to hypothecate for a specific purpose. I know the dead hand of the Treasury has precluded this at Westminster but I hope, as a result of devolution, that the Welsh Government will be more enlightened in its consideration of these issues.  


Well, Llywydd, it was Marx who said, 'The older I get, the older I want to be'—but, of course, that was Groucho Marx rather than Karl Marx. The Member is absolutely right when he says that the national insurance fund became a fiction in around 1957, when the Macmillan Government of the time decided to dip into it and to pay for current expenditure out of the receipts that had built up in the fund. Ever since then, national insurance is, in fact, a pay-as-you-go system rather than an insurance-funded system. Professor Holtham's report is very clear that the scheme that he wants to advocate would be one in which money that Welsh citizens might pay for social care purposes in future would have to go into a dedicated fund outside Government, in which there were strong assurances for members of the public that Government couldn't reach into it in times of difficulty, and where there would be strong governance arrangements around it to give people the confidence that, if their money is being paid over for these purposes, that money would be there to be drawn out for these purposes in the future. 

Another way in which the national insurance fund has been described, of course, is as 'the world's largest Ponzi scheme', as it has developed. I hope we will never recreate something in that image here in Wales. What we have the opportunity to do here, I think, is something similar to what Norway has done, for example, in relation to the windfall that it obtained when North Sea oil came on stream and they created a sovereign wealth fund, which is now producing vast dividends for the Norwegian people, on the basis of which their very high standard of living and social insurance and health provision and so on is substantially funded. We don't have wealth of oil but we do have the wealth in the creative abilities of our people. If we could isolate a small portion of national income for a sovereign wealth fund of this kind then we could perhaps help to square the circle of funding of the growing needs of an ageing population and of a health system that is going to be able to cure so many more conditions that, in the past, have led to early deaths. So, either way, part of the growing prosperity of a nation is in the health and well-being of its people and this fits in neatly with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and consideration of taxes with that Act, I think, is absolutely vital if we're to make a success of devolution in this particular sphere. 

Well, Llywydd, can I thank the Member for his questions this afternoon? When we published our shortlist of potential taxes under the Wales Act 2014, it was exactly in order to generate a debate about the way in which these potential new powers for Wales could be used for important purposes that matter to people in Wales in the future. Some of the issues that the Member has raised this afternoon I think help to create that sort of debate and have done so in an area, which we all know, given the age structure of our population and what that means for public services in the future, is a debate that is unavoidable if we're to prepare properly for that future.

Question 3 [OAQ51607] is withdrawn. Question 4—Angela Burns. 

Health and Social Services Portfolio

4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the budget allocation to the health and social services portfolio for the coming year? OAQ51620

I thank the Member for that question. The budget allocation for the health and social services portfolio next year stands at record levels, with £7.3 billion-worth of revenue and £294 million in capital.


Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. I'm actually seeking clarity on the process that you use to determine budget allocations. I listened to your previous answer to the spokesman for Plaid Cymru. I'm not so interested in how you measure the outcomes that the Cabinet Secretary for health is so obviously responsible for, but rather how you yourself will actually determine the percentage of the Government's overall budget. What assumptions do you use? For example, do you simply say, 'Last year, you had x billion pounds; I'm going to add in an inflationary percentage and that's what you get', or do you look at the business case that has been built financially from the ground up and then assess on that balance? And, if you do, are those assumptions in the public domain?

Llywydd, the way in which allocations are determined across the Government begins with a series of bilateral discussions between me and all other Cabinet colleagues where colleagues make proposals to show how the key priorities of the Government can be met and what the financial implications of doing so would be. It's then my job through those discussions to try and make the sum of money we have, which as the Member will well know on this side of the Chamber we regard as insufficient to meet the needs of the Welsh population—how we can make the very best of the money that we have. Specifically in the health and social services field, we look to meet the commitments that we have made as a Government. That's why we have a new treatments fund; the Cabinet Secretary was able to explain the success of that fund earlier this week. That's why there is £7 million in the budget next year to press on with our determination to lift the capital ceiling in relation to residential care to £50,000.

And in the general health budget, we look to meet what we call the Nuffield gap. The Member will be familiar with the report that was published in the last Assembly that demonstrated that, provided the health service itself went on making the efficiency gains we have to ask of it, there would still be a need, because of demographic pressures and the fact that new treatments become available, for a £200 million additional investment from the Welsh Government. We will have met that in every year of this Assembly term and have gone well beyond it.

Cabinet Secretary, can you confirm that the PFI debt in Wales is around a fifth of the cost per head of the UK as a whole? And would you agree that the Welsh Government decision to use our public capital programme to invest in health and social care over the last 18 years has been a principled and responsible way forward for the building of new hospitals in Wales, including Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr, Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan, Ysbyty Cwm Cynon, Ysbyty Cwm Rhondda and Ysbyty Alltwen in Tremadog, and can you again indicate your preferred way forward for funding the health and social care estate in Wales?

I thank the Member for the question. She is, of course, absolutely right that we have a far smaller exposure to PFI schemes in Wales than any other part of the United Kingdom. The average annual cost per head of PFI schemes in Wales is well under £40 per head, and that's around a fifth of the cost per head for the UK as a whole. Where administrations took a different view, there is, inevitably, a consequence that they have to make provision for. In Wales, the annual charge for PFI liabilities is below 1 per cent of our budget. In Scotland, my colleague the finance Minister has to find 5 per cent of his budget annually to meet PFI liabilities. I well remember, Llywydd, in the very early days of the Assembly the difficult decisions that my colleague Jane Hutt had to make in the PFI field as a result of inheriting schemes when the Assembly was very first established.

I've explained to the Finance Committee previously that I have a hierarchy in mind always in capital expenditure. My first recourse, always, is to use public capital, because that is the cheapest money that we will ever have, and I will always use that first. There are then other means that we are able to deploy—borrowing powers that we now have, funding local authorities and housing associations to borrow in the way that Jane Hutt established, and then, beyond that, the mutual investment model. But, as far as possible, we use public capital in the health field as our first resort, and where we are unable to meet all the needs that we know are there in Wales, as, for example, in our determination to create a new cancer centre at Velindre, then we will use other means to ensure that people in Wales get the services they need.


Question 5 [OAQ51629] is withdrawn. Question 6—David Melding.

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015

6. What was the major change in the 2018-19 budget round that was determined by the priorities set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? OAQ51613

8. How did the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 influence the Cabinet Secretary's budget allocations? OAQ51612

I thank the Member for the question. Presiding Officer, I understand that you've given your permission for questions 6 and 8 to be grouped together.

Amongst the changes brought about in the 2018-19 budget, the additional investment of £30 million for homelessness over two years, including £10 million specifically for youth homelessness in 2019-20, demonstrates the impact of the Act, and the five ways of working that it sets out, including involvement and prevention in our budget planning.

Cabinet Secretary, I wonder if you realise that there's widespread feeling, I think, on all sides of the Assembly, that we should be more demanding of how this information is presented and therefore scrutinised and connected to the well-being goals. You'll be aware of what the future generations commissioner said to the Finance Committee—and I quote:

'Instead of feeling that the WFG Act had made an impact on the draft Budget, it was closer to resembling last years’, but with a few extra words around it.'

We must be much more dynamic, mustn't we, in how we use this Act, and mark where it has affected decisions and there have been moves into the budget or increasing the budget and items that have moved out of the budget. That's really what this Act demands.

I certainly share the Member's ambition and have taken advice from the Finance Committee on ways in which we can do more to demonstrate the impact of the Act on our budget making. That is why, in this budget round, in those bilateral discussions that I mentioned a few moments ago to Angela Burns, I ensured that there was a member of staff with responsibility for the Act always in the meeting, so that there was somebody there with the specific brief to ask those questions and to challenge Ministers where necessary as to how their proposals could be seen to bear the imprint of the Act. It's why we agreed with the commissioner three particular areas that we will pursue during this budget round to allow her to be able to see where the Act was making a difference, or where she felt that there was more that we can do. Llywydd, I've always got to say that the Act, inevitably, is something that will be evolutionary in the way that we are able to embed its principles in our budget planning. I accept that there is more that we can do and I look forward to playing what part I can in making that happen.

I also accept that it's work in progress, but I think we need to be more ambitious, really, for the future, and in doing that, send a signal to the whole public sector that this could be the breakthrough opportunity to at last see joint working and pooled budgets in operation. I've been a Member of the Assembly since 1999 and it's been a constant call that we need to multiply our effort by having this common approach to public expenditure, and this silo mentality is very, very damaging. The Act could be used by the local service boards, for instance, as a very dynamic tool to ensure this type of effective spending of the Welsh pound.

I accept what the Member says—that there is a leadership role for the Welsh Government in showing that the way in which we are deploying the Act can be an example for the ways that others can take those lessons as well. I'm sure the Member will find a bit of time to look at one or two of the well-being assessments that the public service boards have produced and the practical plans that they are now deriving from those assessments. As ever, they demonstrate a span of quality across a range of different aspects of those assessments, but the good ones, I think, are already showing the way in which the goals and the five ways of working are impacting on decisions by local players, and in particular, in the way that David Melding suggested, are enabling them to combine resources, to pool efforts and to make a difference in the way that the Act would suggest.


I think it is still true to say that the well-being of future generations Act is like a shadow in terms of the influence it’s had on the budget to date. Now, I know that the Cabinet Secretary is very willing in answering questions such as this—and I don’t want to tempt him, because I do know that he has a list of projects that meet each of the goals of the Act. I don’t want to tempt him into that. But I want to ask him specifically, as the commission for future generations had been involved in aspects of this year’s budget, working specifically on one issue, which is decarbonisation, and also as there’s an intention to introduce carbon budgeting under another piece of legislation, the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, how would we expect next year’s budget to reflect the determination involved in that work?

Well, that’s perfectly true, what Simon Thomas has just said: I have a list here that I can use to demonstrate the impact the Act has had to date. But on the subject that he has raised, I have met, over the past fortnight, with Lesley Griffiths to begin the process of planning how, over the ensuing year, we will be able to bring the process of creating the budget together with the process of carbon budgeting, as we call it. And so, that work or that process has begun, and the civil servants are working on the detail. I have a meeting with the commissioner next week to discuss the same subject. Yes, we are eager, as a Government, and I know that Lesley Griffiths is eager, to do more to unify the two processes, assimilate them, and to have an opportunity to report back to Assembly Members on how we can bring the two elements together and have greater impact by so doing.

Business Rates

7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's policy on business rates in Wales?

Llywydd, a permanent small business rate relief scheme will be implemented from 1 April 2018. Plans for the further development of non-domestic rates include reviewing the appeals system and tackling fraud and avoidance. 

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I was actually very pleased to see included within your budget £1.3 million for local authorities to use to provide targeted relief to support our local businesses. However, the similar scheme in 2014-15 that should have provided similar support to our businesses actually did support some businesses at a total cost of £2.765 million, yet this represents just a 79 per cent take-up of the overall package of £3.5 million. This has been put down to the fact that there was complexity of guidance and tight timescales for application for these needy businesses. Going forward this year, how will you ensure that the time frames for local authorities and businesses to then be allowed to apply for those grants will be reasonable so that we can actually see 100 per cent take-up of this money that is specifically allocated for those businesses in need?

I thank the Member for the question, Llywydd. I was pleased to be able to provide what I know is a small sum of money in the grander scheme of things, £1.3 million, to local authorities to bolster their ability to provide discretionary relief to businesses in their own areas. The way in which I've tried to answer the dilemma that the Member has posed is in making that money available for local authorities to apply in that discretionary way with their own knowledge of local needs and circumstances. I think local authorities are in a better place to be able to use that very targeted amount of money to respond to businesses whose circumstances aren't captured by the larger schemes that we have in the non-domestic rates field and by not tying the money down with a lot of extra rules and regulations to give local authorities the flexibility, I hope, to be able to respond rapidly and sympathetically to businesses where there is a proper case for doing so. 

The South Wales Metro

9. What additional financial provision has been made to the economy and transport portfolio to support the development of the south Wales metro?

Llywydd, the 2018-19 budget includes an additional £173 million in capital allocated to the economy and transport main expenditure group to support the development of the south Wales metro. This brings the total allocated in this term to £433 million towards the total expected project investment of £734 million.

Cabinet Secretary, we're aware that, of course, the funding of major infrastructure projects is going to be very adversely affected by the uncertainty over Brexit funding we might have expected in terms of structural funds, and also issues such as access to the European Investment Bank and sources such as those. What steps have been taken to actually either find an alternative for sources of funding, and what longer term steps have been taken in terms of the longer term funding of the metro project, which was originally estimated in terms of around £3 billion?

Well, Llywydd, the Member is right to say that the sums of money that I have outlined—the £734 million, which is planned investment in the south Wales metro—include £106 million expected through the European regional development fund, and the Welsh Government is working very hard to bring that expenditure within the guarantees provided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as we leave the European Union. I continue to work with officials, and with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, to make sure that we are able to use every penny that we are able to draw down from the European Union while we are in a position to do so.

There is £125 million beyond that that comes from the UK Government, which we have had guarantees we will receive, and £503 million of the £734 million will come directly from the Welsh Government. Provision for that has been made in this Assembly term, and the remainder of it will be required beyond it.

The Member is, of course, right that, as we leave the European Union, we argue very strongly that that should not mean that Wales is unable to benefit from key European institutions, which have done so much good in Wales. The European Investment Bank is certainly in that category. The United Kingdom has been a major contributor of capital to that bank, and we argued that we should remain a subscribing partner to it. I do know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has also said that he wishes the United Kingdom to go on having a strong relationship with the EIB, and if a subscribing partnership isn't possible, then he will look for other ways in which we can continue to have a productive relationship.

Prosperity in the Northern Valleys

10. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the use of structural funds to promote prosperity in the northern valleys?

Llywydd, we continue to maximise available EU structural funds to support our objectives for growth and jobs across Wales. That includes, of course, the northern Valleys. So far, we have invested over £1.4 billion for that purpose, and that supports a total investment of £2.6 billion.

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The Industrial Communities Alliance have suggested that a new UK regional development fund should be central to any post-Brexit regional policy. However, they've also pointed out that this needs to be managed on a devolved basis, and that any moneys allocated should be above and beyond that due via the Barnett formula. Getting this right is key to the prosperity of the northern Valleys, so does the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that promises made during the EU referendum campaign, that Wales wouldn't lose out on a penny, need to be honoured?

Well, absolutely, Llywydd. Those promises have to be honoured. It would be a very strange irony indeed if those people who voted to leave the European Union found that Wales does less well out of its membership of the United Kingdom than it did out of its membership of the European Union. That's why the money that has come to Wales from the European Union—money that, you will remember, we get because we qualify for it under the rules—must flow to us after we leave the European Union. I've made a case to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury as to how that could be done. I will be restating that case when I meet her on Friday of this week. We believe very firmly that regional development is a devolved responsibility of this National Assembly, that we are best placed to make sure that we can go on doing that successfully in the future, but we need the money that has come to Wales for that purpose while we've been in the EU to continue beyond it, and we look to the UK Government to ensure that that takes place. 

2. Questions to the Leader of the House

The next item is questions to the leader of the house, and the first question is from Simon Thomas.

Superfast Broadband

1. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the start date for the superfast broadband successor scheme? OAQ51624

Thank you very much for that question. I intend to carry out a procurement exercise shortly, with a view to the new project starting in spring this year. I'll be making a statement later this month to set out more detail about the new scheme.

Thank you very much for that response. I do welcome the fact that there is to be a scheme, because we know that the predecessor scheme, which is coming to an end, hasn’t reached all parts of Wales. I know that you don’t have the full facts and the full report as yet, but there are numerous villages that have reported back that there are cables still hanging from poles and that the work hasn’t been completed, and that there are parts of Wales, which were never going to be reached under the previous scheme, that may need a different, smarter solution in order to deliver for them.

So, two questions, if I may: I think you’ve mentioned in the past £80 million for this—is that the figure that we still have, and do you think that that’s sufficient, or will you need to add to that? And how much real opportunity is there for another provider to come in to help in this process, because I do fear that putting all our eggs in the BT Openreach basket has brought us to the current situation where, quite simply, we can’t actually make an omelette from those eggs?

Simon Thomas makes a number of good points that he's made on a number of occasions to me about the way superfast has worked. I think it's fair to say that the Superfast Cymru scheme has been a hugely successful scheme for those people who've received superfast from it, and they are an enormous number of people across Wales. It's in the nature of the beast that we're not inundated by letters from people who are grateful to have received it. Instead, we receive a lot of correspondence from those people who find themselves at the other end of the project, and that's very understandable.

We won't know for a number of weeks yet whether the contract was completely fulfilled, but we have good indications that they did very well, and we're very hopeful that they did in fact fulfil the contract. But the contract did end on 31 December, at midnight, and therefore, obviously, if the work wasn't done by then, the Welsh Government isn't paying for it. So, that leaves people in a very frustrating position.

I will be making an announcement early next week, so I'm going to avoid the temptation to steal my own thunder by pre-announcing it, but we are very aware of the predicament of communities who've been left there, and of the number of people who were promised superfast under the first scheme and who fell off the end for various reasons. We very much have those people in mind when we're looking at the announcements that I'm hoping to make early next week, as it happens.

Please don't pay BT for Princes Gate. During the time I've been told on numerous occasions that Princes Gate will get fast broadband. In fact, last year, the head of Superfast Cymru—I won't name him—wrote and told me that a second pass would see Princes Gate be upgraded to superfast broadband by the autumn of 2017. The response from the leader of Openreach:

'The infrastructure serving your community forms part of a programme we were running which ended on Sunday 31 December 2017. This is a hard stop'— 

we're not doing anymore. And it's not just Princes Gate. Cynwyl Elfed, Hermon, Lawrenny, Martletwy, bits of Pembroke—they've all got this. They had the promise, they were told categorically—and Llanpumsaint—they were going to get it, and now they're not. I don't actually hold you personally responsible, Minister, because I know that you really believe in the delivery of this, but I would like you to talk fairly strongly to BT and to Openreach. They cannot make promises to people and then just basically say, 'Tough luck. It's finished. Too bad', because these people have lives to live, businesses to run, kids to educate. Broadband, superfast, is today's universal provision we all need, and I fail to see why my constituency should be so disadvantaged.

I think the Member has made a number of points that are well worth considering. As I said, in considering what we're going to do for the successor schemes, we are of course very mindful of the people who have had promises made to them in various circumstances and , for various complex engineering reasons and so on, haven't been able to be met under the first scheme.

Angela Burns will be the first person to say that I shouldn't be paying for something that is outwith the contract, and of course there has been an end to the contract, and we've been very certain about that end, because, of course, we have to behave in an appropriate financial way with regard to the contract and so on. But our primary intention here is to connect people to broadband—this isn't a financial exercise, it's an exercise in getting the infrastructure out there. So, we've had a number of conversations with Openreach BT about where the infrastructure build has gone to, and bear in mind, they are investing their money in that—they are not paid until those premises are connected. So, they have invested money in building out to those premises and it's in their commercial interest to make sure that people are connected as much as anything else.

We've had some considerable conversations with them about people in the position that you mentioned, for a number of your constituents, and indeed people across Wales who are in the 4 per cent of people who are at the end of the contract. I will be making some announcements next week, which I think may bring some comfort to some of the communities that you mentioned.


Does the leader of the house, with her responsibilities for broadband and for equality, agree with me that marriage equality actually has very little to do with the superfast broadband roll-out? Does she also concur with me that the comments from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, quite flippantly connecting the two, are little more than just another demonstration of how crass, insensitive and out of touch the Tory UK Government is?

I think the remarks made by the Secretary of State are really quite shocking, actually. Quite clearly, marriage equality is not the same thing as being connected to broadband, in any regard. Obviously, being an LGBT+ community member is a protected characteristic and ought to be treated sensitively as such.

The whole issue of marriage equality in Northern Ireland is of course not one for this devolved Government, but to equate the thing with an infrastructure roll-out is clearly highly insensitive and not something that we would want to see done in any circumstance.

Domestic Violence Offender Register

2. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on the Welsh Government’s position on establishing a domestic violence offender register? OAQ51618

I have asked officials for advice in relation to a domestic violence offender register. The UK Government is not planning to introduce a stalker and perpetrator register but is looking to improve multi-agency public protection arrangements and domestic violence disclosure scheme arrangements instead.

Thank you, leader of the house. In September last year, I was encouraged by Carl Sargeant's response to me regarding the creation of a domestic violence offender register. Carl was a passionate campaigner and champion for ending violence against women. The statistics on domestic abuse are stark: it's estimated that more than 75 per cent of us know someone who's a victim of domestic violence, one in five women are stalked, one in four are sexually assaulted or raped, one in four are suffering domestic abuse, 10 women a week are committing suicide as a result of abuse, and two UK women a week are murdered by abusers. 

Since I last raised this issue in the Chamber, the first annual report required by the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 has been published, and an objective identified in this Act is an increased focus on holding perpetrators to account. What assessment have you made about the benefits of a domestic violence offender register and what other mechanisms could play a crucial role to ensure information is shared between organisations and individuals to prevent and safeguard against convicted domestic violence offenders reoffending?

That's a very good question. There is no specific register for stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators in Wales at the moment, as the Member is well aware. The domestic violence disclosure scheme, also known as Clare's law, allows the police to share information about a person's previous violent offending where this may help prevent domestic violence or prevent someone from being involved in that sort of situation. We've got some really good services and processes in place in Wales, and we continue to work to raise service standards for victims and for survivors. But we are also looking at the Welsh Government's Strengthening Leadership series for public services, and we've published an awareness raising video, What is stalking?, which highlights actions to minimise risk and to support and protect staff and clients with whom an organisation is working.

There's a number of other things that we can also look at. I very recently, in the last week or so, visited the MASH in Cardiff central police station, which is the  multi-agency safeguarding hub—an arrangement between all of the agencies working across Cardiff and south-east Wales, looking to share information and data on exactly this. I had a really good meeting there about how that's worked and how effective it's been and how it's reduced offending, and it's helped survivors as well. And the whole agency set-up there is—if you haven't managed to visit it, I highly recommend it, and for anyone else in the Chamber who hasn't seen it. We had a long and interesting discussion about how we might roll some of that out across the rest of Wales, which will be ongoing, and, as I said, I have asked officials for advice as to where we are in terms of both legislative competence and the efficacy of introducing such a register.


Well, clearly, measures such as these, and pre-custodial perpetrator programmes, can contribute to the early intervention and prevention agenda. Welsh Women's Aid have emphasised the importance of financial investment in prevention and early intervention by health boards and public health regional leads, given the cost to the NHS of picking up the pieces after domestic abuse and sexual violence has happened. However, they raised concerns with me in December that, whereas they received from the Welsh Government department for health and social services over £355,000 in 2016-17, towards specialist violence against women, domestic abuse, and sexual violence services, that figure had fallen to just over £34,000 in 2017-18, where they understand the Welsh Government has instead passed the funding to regional health boards for allocation, but they say this hasn't happened, and the funding's been lost to the specialist sector.

How, therefore, do you respond to the concern expressed to you in the letter from the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on 11 January, stating that the Welsh Government's response to their 2016 report on the implementation of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 said that guidance would be published in relation to local strategies in July 2017, but this does not appear to have been published? And finally to post-legislative scrutiny, which indicates that Cardiff and Vale's well-being strategy doesn't contain mention of domestic or sexual abuse and how to tackle it, nor does Betsi Cadwaladr's strategy for the future, and Hywel Dda's strategy plan only mentions domestic abuse in relation to homelessness, and makes no mention of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, nor how the health board plans to implement its aims.

Well, we're doing an enormous amount of work in this area, with Welsh Women's Aid, and I've had a very helpful meeting very recently with Eleri Butler to go through a large number of issues around this agenda. It's very important, of course, as the Member highlights, that we work across the piece in Welsh Government, and we have a number of cross-Government initiatives in this area. We are working very closely with both health and with housing, and with local authorities, to make sure that we have a regional and seamless approach to these services. In the process of reviewing some of those regional arrangements, we have regional co-ordinators in place, for example, across local authorities, who are doing really good work on the ground in co-ordinating services. I have a number of meetings—I've either just had, or have arranged meetings—with a number of the sectors, to make sure that we do have better co-ordination across the piece in this regard.

What we really need to do is make sure that we build on some of the excellent services and processes we have, but we continue to work really hard to raise standards for both victims and survivors, and in concentrating on those two issues, we don't lose sight of the fact that we need to work right at the beginning of life, with the whole issue around gender and gender stereotyping, and some of the issues that arise very early on in our lives. Because there is an undoubted connection between sexual violence, domestic violence and gender stereotyping, and all of the problems that we have culturally in that regard. But the Member's highlighted a number of issues across Government, and I can assure him that we are working very hard; the Cabinet Secretary and I will be meeting very shortly to discuss this, and a number of other issues in this area.

I was just wondering, you mentioned you were meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, but what other Ministers you are engaging with. I'm wondering specifically on detecting early intervention, and signals of behaviour in somebody who would abuse an animal, for example. I've raised this before with the environment Cabinet Secretary, because there is research to show that, if they abuse an animal, they can then go on to abuse adults and humans in future. So, will you be giving evidence to the task and finish group that the Cabinet Secretary has put forward via the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to try and work with that sector on alleviating the problems that they are finding with abused animals, which could then subsequently help people such as the police and organisations that help women and others who are suffering from domestic abuse to really get to grips with stopping these events happening, before it gets to a very serious attack or a serious incident of domestic abuse?


Yes, I think Bethan Jenkins makes an excellent series of points there. As I was saying in response to Mark Isherwood, one of the things we've got to look at is just that the trends in somebody's life—. I've been working very closely with all of our Cabinet Secretary colleagues, because this agenda cuts right across the Welsh Government's work, to make sure that we address in that holistic way those sorts of behaviours and so, for example, we pick things up in schools, we pick things up through the youth protection engagement framework and we pick things up from a number of agencies that all share information correctly in order to be able to get both the prevention agenda and then the protection and survival agenda to work more harmoniously. So, I have a series of bilateral meetings arranged. I'm not sure that I'm actually down to give evidence in the way that she suggests, but perhaps if you write to me I can make sure that I am. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservatives' spokesperson, Russell George. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, how many households who were previously in scope for an upgrade under the Superfast Cymru programme, and expected to receive an upgrade by the end of December, have been let down?  

Well, that's not how I would put it. As I said, we've got the target for 690,000 premises to have been included in the first project. As I said, in response to an earlier question, I'm not yet in a position to be able to say categorically that that target was met. I hope to be able to do that within the next few months. We obviously monitor this very carefully. BT Openreach don't get paid until they have gone through the vigorous testing process and then we will know whether they've met the target. We know how many premises there are in Wales. So, by a process of elimination, we know how many are not then included, and those are the people that we will be looking at for the successor projects. But I don't hold the information in quite the way that you suggest. 

Well, you answered a question, but it wasn't the one I asked, okay. I asked how— 

I don't hold that information in that way, I'm afraid. 

I did ask how many people have been let down and you should know the answer to that, because you will know that many people were checking last year, and they were told that their property was in scope by 31 December. Now, on checking, they receive a different message saying that they're exploring solutions. So, it shouldn't be that difficult to work out how many people have been let down and work out what that number is.

I have to say, from a communications point of view, the Superfast Cymru project has been an absolute disaster. I have to say that there are plenty of examples of you writing letters to people, or them writing to you, asking, 'When am I going to be in scope?' You then write back and say it's going to be by a certain date. They don't get it, they write back to you, you write back and say, 'Sorry about that, it's now going to be this date.' They don't get it by that date, they write back to you, you write back again and say, 'Sorry about that, it's now going to be by 31 December 2017.' In January, they don't get it, they write back to you, then you write back and say, 'Sorry, the project's ended.' Well, that really is not good enough and that's what's been happening. So, can I ask you, what lessons have you learnt from this contract for designing the next, especially when it comes to communications?

I share the Member's frustration, as he well knows. I've been doing my tour of Wales and I've heard a lot from members of the public who are very frustrated by the scheduling letters that they get. I don't want to indulge in semantics, because it just irritates people, but obviously we don't promise it. We're talking about scheduled works and there are a number of complex engineering reasons why sometimes that doesn't work.

The reason I don't know everybody who was in that schedule and then didn't make the deadline is because I only know the people who have written to me and there may well be others who I'm not aware of. So, I could give you a subsection, but we don't hold the numbers in that way. I'm not trying to get out of it; we just don't hold the numbers in that way. What I will be able to tell you is how many people were in and, therefore, how many people are left. It's the people who are left that we most want to concentrate on. As I said in response to Angela Burns earlier, this isn't about the money, except that obviously we don't want to pay for something we haven't had; this is about using the money to get people connected. 

I completely accept the issue around comms. There were complex reasons for that, which are to do with the fact that we did this on the basis of postcodes, and not all postcodes and people are connected at the same time, and there are complex reasons for that, which I won't go into, but which have led to this really very frustrating position.

When I make the announcements about the next phase, you'll see that we're actually targeting individual premises. We won't have this issue about a pool of people, some of whom get connected and others of whom won't. We'll have a range of responses to that to make sure that we are fairly confident about where we can get, and that we're having good conversations with people where we think that there may be more technical difficulties. 


I'm grateful for you acknowledging the communications issues that have taken place. The open market review, which, of course, you conducted, identifies the premises for the next scheme. Those premises that were part of the Superfast Cymru scheme and have been let down would not be included in that analysis because, of course, they were told that they would get an upgrade by the end of last year. So, that's a factual statement; tell me if that's correct, in your view. But can I ask, and I've asked this a number of times, and I'll ask again: can you provide a cast iron guarantee today that those premises will be automatically transferred into the new scheme and prioritised? 

No, I can't, because until I know what the engineering difficulty or other difficulty was that prevented them from being included, I'm not able to give you a cast iron guarantee that we will be able to overcome those difficulties. I can tell you that they're absolutely the top priority for us—people who've been in that situation—and we're working very hard to make sure that we can overcome those, but there are a large number of reasons why. So, for example, we know that we have a large number of premises stuck behind wayleave difficulties. So, I'm not in a position to be able to say that we are able to sort out the wayleave difficulties in time to be sure that we can connect people, but I can tell you that we're working very hard to do so. 

There is an issue around the way that the UK Government deals with some of this, which the Member will be very much aware of, and that's to do with how we regard broadband. And I'm afraid it's still regarded as a luxury, despite the conversations about the universal service obligation. Because it's not a utility, we don't have the right to cross people's land and we don't have the right to insist that they allow wayleaves, and so on, and that is causing difficulties in a large number of areas. That's one of the reasons—not the only one—why I cannot give that cast iron guarantee. Would that I could, but we don't have the powers to enable me to do that. I can, though, say that we are very aware of the problems that the Member is mentioning, and everybody else is mentioning, and we are working very hard to make sure that we get to as many of those people as we possibly can. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Following on with theme explored by some earlier AMs with their questions, does the leader of the house think that the intervention agencies dealing with domestic abuse in Wales are robust enough to deal with this pernicious crime? 

As I said in response to a number of other Members, there are a number of initiatives that are really interesting across Wales. They're all tied up with a number of complex initiatives around data sharing and protocols, but I did visit the multi-agency safeguarding hub in Cardiff central police station very recently, and was very impressed by how the agencies there had come together to overcome some of the technical difficulties, right down to actually having a social worker sitting beside police officers, where they had separate systems on two different screens so that they could make instant decisions, and so on. It's a very impressive arrangement, and if the Member hasn't visited, I would highly recommend a visit to be able to see the good work that can be done. 

I thank the leader of the house for her answer, but latest figures show that reported incidents of domestic crime rose in the police areas of Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and north Wales by 23 per cent, and a massive 48 per cent in the South Wales Police area. Whilst much of these rises may well be attributed to police recognition and growing confidence in reporting such crime, does the leader of the house not feel that these are a troubling set of statistics? 

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

Yes, of course, all the statistics on domestic violence are troubling, and it's a scourge in our society, and we have to have a range of options for preventing this and for tackling both the victims and their perpetrators and their various issues. For the first time in Wales, we've got standards for relevant authorities set on training related to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. The national training framework raises the profile of these issues, and upskills the public service to respond more effectively to those experiencing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Over 70,000 people in Wales have accessed the training under the national training framework, so that's 70,000 more professionals who are more knowledgeable, more aware and more confident in responding to those experiencing this sort of violence. So, we're working very hard to make sure that we raise standards for professionals right across Wales. I've already mentioned some of the other things we're doing around multi-agency work, and so on, but the Member raises a very important point and we're working very hard to make sure that we get all aspects of that agenda correct here in Wales.    

Again, I thank the leader of the house for that comprehensive answer, but Welsh Women's Aid, one of the excellent agencies—I'm sure you alluded to it earlier on—dealing with domestic crime, and part of whose remit is the provision of refuges for victims, are hugely concerned with cuts to funding, citing the fact that 388 survivors of domestic abuse could not be accommodated in 2016. These refuges are often a critical element in giving victims of domestic abuse the courage to leave the abusive partner. So, how can a cut in funding for these agencies and property provision be in any way justified? The figures above show a growing desire with victims to seek intervention. Surely, leader of the house, we should be increasing funding for refuge provision not cutting it. 


And I couldn't agree more. What we've done is we've looked to see how we can manage our own decreasing budget in this area—as a result of the austerity policies of the current UK Government—in order to best make use of that. We're doing that by increasing the flexibility of our local service partners to use their grant in more imaginative ways and to collaborate better on a regional scale. We fund the regional co-ordinators specifically to enable them to do that. I absolutely understand the concerns of the organisations, including Welsh Women's Aid, that provide the refuges. We're going to be working very hard with local partners to make sure we get the very best out of the funding that's available to us.

Thank you very much. As you are responsible for issues of equality, can you explain how you ensure that all departments within the Welsh Government, and the bodies that you fund, do take equality issues seriously?

I'm having a series of bilaterals across all colleagues in the Government, which began when I took up this post only a few weeks ago, though it seems a bit longer. That's the purpose of the bilaterals: to make sure that the equality agenda, which clearly touches every part of Welsh Government—both Welsh Government as an employer, Welsh Government as an organisation and Welsh Government as a government—are properly incorporated into all of the work that we do. 

You will have seen over the weekend that the British Medical Association Cymru has expressed concerns about the behaviour of officials and health boards in relation to the development of sexual identity services for Wales, which was part of the first budget deal between your party and mine. A recent report by Stonewall has found that 36 per cent of transgender people in Wales haven’t been able to access the healthcare that they need—a figure that’s higher than in England in Scotland—and that half of trans people say that health staff don’t understand their specific medical needs. So, how concerned are you about these attitudes and alleged behaviours within the health service, and what steps will you take, along with the Cabinet Secretary for health, in order to eradicate discrimination against trans people within the health boards?

That's a very important point that the Member makes. As I said, the Cabinet Secretary and I are due to have our bilateral on these issues. I will say—and I'm going to steal my own thunder a little bit here—that next week I'll be launching the This is Me campaign, which is designed entirely to talk about gender stereotyping and treating individuals as individuals. It's a very hard-hitting campaign to make people see the person inside the skin that they see on the outside on a range of issues, including transgender. I think, when the Member sees it, she'll see what we're trying to do with it.

This is all about, as I said before, gender stereotyping. It's the root cause of a large number of the issues that Members have raised today and it's something we absolutely must tackle from the earliest point in people's lives. I have a major soapbox, which the Deputy Presiding Officer is watching me take out at the moment and knows I can go on for about an hour and a half on the subject—for example, on the Let Toys be Toys agenda and the way that people are shaped in their gender actualities really early on for no apparent reason whatsoever. The whole campaign will be designed around letting people be people, letting people be who they are and what they want to be without fear of discrimination or maltreatment. So, I will be having those bilaterals across the Government and we will be launching a hard-hitting public campaign next week.  

Thank you very much. I’m pleased to hear every word of that. Of course, we are now talking about how decisions by public bodies can have an impact on services for trans people, but there are also examples of decisions having a negative effect on other groups, which perhaps wouldn't have happened if we had more diversity among senior management in the public sector. You will be aware that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has noted this clearly, having identified that there hadn't been a general improvement in representation in senior roles and that women and people from ethnic minorities continue to be less likely to be in senior positions. Despite the fact that the number of women in senior positions has improved in some sectors, such as education, it has deteriorated in others, such as the health service and the police. So, what are you going to do in order to improve diversity within public bodies in Wales, particularly the health service, in order to ensure that we don't find ourselves in situations where officials and managers are preventing the development of services for minority groups. And more generally, do you support equal representation in terms of gender on public bodies in Wales?


So, the very simple answer to that last question is 'yes'. In fact, I've just commissioned a piece of work jointly with my officials in Chwarae Teg to see how we can make sure there is good gender representation—half and half, not 40 per cent—on all public boards sponsored by the Welsh Government in this Assembly term. I'm hoping to be able to report back when they've done that small piece of work to get that agenda running. The reason that's important is because those are the governing bodies of many of the organisations you've just talked about, and we know that having better gender equality, better diversity, on those boards, drives some of the behaviours that we want.

The Member's rightly identified that agenda. It will be part of the bilaterals that I'm having with all colleagues, including my health colleague, but there is a huge issue about making sure that the leadership of organisations properly reflects the population that it serves, including for gender but for other diversity issues as well, and that that drives the behaviour of the organisation. So, I share that aim with a very large number of my Cabinet colleagues, and we will be pushing that agenda very forcibly into the future.

Domestic Violence

3. What plans does the Welsh Government have to tackle domestic violence? OAQ51607

We continue to implement our national strategy, which sets out our action to tackle domestic violence. Survivors’ voices are absolutely at the forefront of our work. In recognition of this, a national survivor engagement framework is currently being developed.

I thank the leader of the house for that response, and I very much welcome the announcement earlier this month of the appointment of two new part-time national advisers on domestic violence. I'm sure they will bring a wealth of experience to this job, but, of course, there has been a six-month hiatus and they'll have a big task now in pushing through the legislation.

I know that the UK Government's forthcoming domestic violence Bill is planning to have a domestic violence and abuse commissioner, and I wondered whether you saw there being any liaison between our advisers and the new commissioner when appointed.

I very much join Julie Morgan in warmly welcoming the recent appointment of our new national advisers, Yasmin Khan and Nazir Afzal. I really think we've done very well in securing the services of two such excellent people. They are, between them, full-time, not two part-time people, so it's a job share, which I'm very happy about as well. In fact, the previous adviser, Rhian—her contract didn't end until October, so it's been a three-month gap between her going out of office and this, and that three months has been taken up in organising the appointment of the new advisers and making sure that the job share arrangements can work. So, I'm very pleased with that. I think we're very happy in Wales that we've got two such excellent prominent advisers in place. They're very happy to work together to determine priorities and approaches to the role, drawing, obviously, on their own individual strengths and experiences, which is why we're so delighted to have them. They will be working with the Home Office to discuss the proposals for the new UK commissioner role, and we'll aim to influence the developments in the UK to reflect the Welsh context, because I think it's fair to say that we are ahead of that game here in Wales and we're very anxious to make sure that the rest of the UK takes advantage of our experience.

Leader of the house, domestic violence is one of the most abhorrent things one could think of. I'm lucky enough to represent the region of South Wales Central, which is most probably one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Wales. For some families, neither English nor Welsh is the first language, and the translation service is vitally important to give confidence for people to come forward and actually report domestic violence and seek sanctuary from the abuse that they are being put under. Have you had a chance, in the very recent appointment that you've been put into, to make an assessment of what translation services are available for individuals who might find themselves on the receiving end of domestic violence, where English or Welsh is not their first language, and language might well prove a barrier to them getting out of that situation?


Andrew R.T. Davies raises an extremely important point. I have not yet had any extensive discussions on that. I've had a lot of discussions about English for speakers of other languages courses, and making sure that people who come to live here in Wales have access to English as a second language tuition.

It is on my agenda to have that conversation. I'm very aware, as well, because I represent the centre of Swansea—so, a very similar ethnic make-up—and this will be of resonance to those of us who come from Wales, that we have a large number of people in Wales who speak the secondary language of their country and not the primary language. So, we have a particular issue in the translation services around making sure that people who don't speak the primary language of their country but actually speak a secondary language also are served by that. I'm having quite an involved conversation with various people in my own constituency about how we might best serve that, and I plan to bring some of those experiences to this role when I have those conversations, which I'm due to have shortly. 

Digital Inclusion in Aberavon

4. What are the Welsh Government's priorities for delivering greater digital inclusion in Aberavon in 2018? OAQ51609

Our priority in Aberavon, as in the rest of Wales, is to ensure that people gain maximum benefit from the life-changing opportunities that digital technologies can offer, thereby securing improved economic, learning and health outcomes across all our communities.  

Thank you for that answer, leader of the house, and I appreciate the work that's already been done, but it could all be undone if we're not careful. Clearly, digital inclusion includes reference to accessibility, and accessibility is twofold. One is infrastructure, and you've already answered questions on that, so I won't address that one at this point. The other one is actually accessibility to the technology. Very often, in our disadvantaged communities, that was done through community centres and libraries. Many of those public services, as a consequence of the ideology of the Tory Westminster Government of austerity, are actually now under threat or have gone, or some might have been transferred to communities, and opening hours are reduced as such.

So, what are you going to do to ensure that people in those communities are able to access the technology so that they can be included, they can gain the skills? Because everything is moving towards digital technology, and if we can't offer them the ability to go somewhere and actually get access, we're failing those people.

I think the Member makes an extremely important point. We are very aware of the problems of closing community facilities, and so on. As a result, we've been working with Digital Communities Wales to support organisations that specifically work with excluded groups to engage with specific sets of clients. I'm sure the Member is very well aware of the Get NPT Online partnership, for example, in his own constituency, which encourages people, community groups and enterprises to make the most of technology in Neath Port Talbot. It includes technology taster sessions for social housing tenants and sessions in libraries where they are seeking employment. 

What we've been doing, as that initiative shows, is looking at alternative ways of reaching people who are digitally excluded. So, we've been working, for example, with registered social landlords to make sure that tenants in particular housing communities have access, and we've got a very successful one up in Merthyr, where we introduced a number of refurbished Welsh Government laptops, expecting the demand to be relatively low and the demand was absolutely enormous. We've extended that arrangement there by another 20 or so laptops and two more supporters. But we're heavily reliant as well on volunteers and young people coming forward, so I'm really pleased with the initiative we have, where we have 500 digital heroes who are young volunteers to support older people to get online and to get their skills, and we can do that in a variety of settings, including health settings, because these are very important agendas.

We spend £4 million at the moment in Digital Communities Wales, supporting other organisations—so, a train the trainer model—in order to get some of these skills out there, and we have a variety of different arrangements in place to try and get to people where they are.

But the Member raises a hugely important point and I'll add another to it: one of the difficulties we have is that, sometimes, our volunteers are prevented from volunteering for the hours they want to volunteer because it interferes with their own universal credit arrangements. I've had some very robust discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions about why on earth we're stopping people volunteering because of some of the rather more onerous requirements for job seeking online, and so on, that are imposed upon them. So, I agree that some of the austerity programme is impacting on this agenda, but we are doing our very best to be creative in getting around some of those difficulties.

Anti-slavery Measures

5. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on anti-slavery measures in Wales? OAQ51583

Yes. We are determined to do all we can to make Wales hostile to slavery. We are working with our multi-agency partners to raise awareness of slavery, providing multi-agency training, supporting victims and assisting in bringing perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice. 

I thank the leader of the house for that answer, but Wendy Williams, HM inspector of constabulary, has said:

'While modern slavery cases can be complex and require significant manpower, many of the shortcomings in investigating these cases reflect deficiencies in basic policing practice. We found inconsistent, even ineffective, identification of victims',

which led to investigations being closed prematurely.

'As a result, victims were being left unprotected, leaving perpetrators free to continue to exploit people'

as nothing more than commodities. Can you please give us assurances that this is not happening in Wales, given that the Wales anti-slavery group tell us that there are 10,000 anti-slavery ambassadors in Wales, and yet we have the stark statistic that, to date, there has only been one prosecution across the whole of Wales?

Well, we're the first and only country in the UK to appoint an anti-slavery co-ordinator, and we've established the Wales anti-slavery leadership group to provide strategic leadership and guidance on how we tackle slavery in Wales. The Member will be very well aware that slavery is a very complex ground to investigate and prosecute, which is why we've worked with our partners to develop a joint-training provision for law-enforcement senior investigating officers and crown prosecutors and crown advocates. Working with our partners in 2017, we delivered a consistent standard of anti-slavery training to almost 8,000 people across Wales, and I'll take this opportunity, Deputy Presiding Officer, to urge anyone with information about slavery to report incidents to the police, as all reported incidents are investigated and previous reporting has led to people being brought to justice or disrupted the activity entirely.

The Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015

6. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on the role of national advisers in helping to implement the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015? OAQ51606

Yes. As I said earlier, I'm very delighted that Yasmin Khan and Nazir Afzal have been appointed as the national advisers, and I'm very much looking forward to working with them. They bring an enormous amount of experience and they'll be advising Ministers and working with victims, survivors and other stakeholders to improve our services and to report on our progress.

Thank you, leader of the house. As we mark the fortieth anniversary of Welsh Women’s Aid this week, will you join me in acknowledging the history, impact and value of the third sector in Wales, including not only Welsh Women’s Aid but Bawso, Hafan Cymru, Llamau, local and regional women's aid groups, Atal y Fro? These organisations provide vital services for victims of domestic abuse, but they also work with the statutory and criminal justice agencies who have the power in statute to make changes by implementing the law and making domestic violence a priority. What more can the Welsh Government do to ensure that there is united effort—with the backing of this Assembly; I think this has been demonstrated this afternoon across this Assembly—to prevent the next 40 years continuing the statistics that one in three women in Wales experience violence and abuse?

I very much join Jane Hutt in acknowledging the history, impact and value of the sector in Wales and, indeed, her own long history in this sector. I'm very grateful for organisations such as Welsh Women’s Aid and all the others who've made a stand to eradicate this sort of abuse in our society. They absolutely offer vital support to victims and survivors. I'm very pleased to say that I'm speaking at the celebration tomorrow of 40 years of Welsh Women’s Aid. 

We're very much working with organisations and survivors to understand their experiences and how the system can be developed to prevent violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. This is helping to achieve the objectives set out in the national strategy. I'm looking forward to the national advisers' input into this strategy, and we recognise the invaluable contribution made by a range of organisations, including public services, independent specialist service providers and wider voluntary sector organisations. The Member very rightly asked what else we're doing to look to see what we can do, and we're working with relevant authorities set out in the Act—local authorities, local health boards, NHS trusts and fire and rescue authorities. We also recognise the need to work with the police, police and crime commissioners, the education services, housing organisations, third sector specialist violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services, survivors and the non-devolved crime and justice agencies.

So, it very much is an absolutely multi-agency approach. We're also incredibly sure to make sure that the third sector organisations are clearly engaged throughout the commissioning process to contribute constructively to the design, delivery and review of the commissioning process and to make sure that we have proper regional coverage and collaboration across the sector. The sector's always been very good at this, and I'm sure they'll continue to co-operate with us as we look to put our commissioning guidance out in the foreseeable future, but I absolutely do pay tribute to the 40 years of history so far. I can't say I look forward to the next 40 years, because I very much look forward to not needing these services, but I'm sure that, as long as the services are needed, organisations such as Welsh Women's Aid will be there to meet that need.

High-speed Broadband in Caerphilly

7. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on high-speed broadband provision in the Caerphilly constituency? OAQ51610

Yes. Under the Superfast Cymru project we've provided access to fast fibre broadband to 27,206 premises in Caerphilly. At the last time of data checking, the average download speed for premises deployed under Superfast Cymru is 64.4 Mbps in Caerphilly.

I'd like to thank the leader of the house for the heroic efforts in which she's engaged to get the broadband issue sorted in Castle Reach and Kingsmead estates in Caerphilly. She has worked incredibly hard and I'm very pleased to see that it's happened. But I wanted to—[Interruption.] Of course, contrary to what Russell George said earlier. I wanted to raise the issue of the delivery plan for 'Our Valleys, Our Future' and the fact that broadband isn't actually mentioned in the delivery plan, but it will be vital in connecting businesses across the Caerphilly constituency. I'm concerned that there's no specific mention, so would the leader of the house give assurances that she'll be working with Cabinet colleagues in order to deliver the 'Our Valleys, Our Future' plan and particularly ensure that those businesses that are based in and around industrial estates in the northern areas of the Valleys communities benefit from broadband provision?

Absolutely. It's not mentioned because it's just a fundamental part of the infrastructure. I'm a member of the Valleys taskforce board. We're working very closely together. A very large part of the economic plan for 'Our Valleys, Our Future' is based on that sort of infrastructure development, and I think it's actually part of where we're going with this, and it's just becoming part of the furniture. So, large parts of the Valleys communities are already well-served by the infrastructure. The big issue now is to get the services that run on the infrastructure up and running. So, it's not about the widgets; it's about the increased service provision that we can use the widgets for. So, the Valleys is very much part of using infrastructure appropriately now that it's in place. So, where it isn't in place, which is not very many parts of the Valleys, we will, of course, be looking at the successor projects to fill it in. So, the estates that the Member has mentioned, we will be looking very much to see that we get to industrial estates and other developments of that sort in the successor projects I mentioned earlier, and that will be very much part of the Valleys plan where they're in the Valleys, and, of course, part of the roll-out where they're not.

3. Questions to the Assembly Commission

Item 3 is questions to the Assembly Commission. Question 1 is to be answered by Caroline Jones, the Commissioner for security and Assembly resources. Question 1—Simon Thomas.

Disposable Plastic

1. Will the Commissioner make a statement on reducing the amount of disposable plastic that is used on the Assembly estate? OAQ51614

Diolch, Simon. Thank you very much for that question. The Commission is committed to minimising waste, including reducing plastic on the estate, and we are proud to have achieved our commitment to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill to zero by 2018. We are working to reduce single-use plastic on the estate, switching to compostable alternatives where possible within the next six months, as well as working with suppliers to seek alternative solutions.

Can I thank the Commissioner for that positive response? Clearly, the Assembly has taken some steps in the recent past, for example getting rid of disposable coffee cups here and going over to ceramic cups, which is something that the public is now very interested in. So, we were ahead of the game there. I'm concerned that we stay ahead of the game. We still use one-use plastic knives and forks and so forth and also, just looking at the shop here, some of our goods are still in plastic containers that you look at and think—well, they don't need to be, really; it's just something that we've fallen into the habit of. So, I'm pleased to hear that you have a six-month plan, that you're trying to eradicate as much of this is possible. It's something I think we can all join together. I will, on Friday, be visiting Aberporth, which is one of the plastic-free communities in Wales, but it's not the only one now. Many communities are saying they want to set themselves up to be plastic free, and I think it's important that we in the Assembly—not the Government, but we in the Assembly— set the standard and set some leadership as well.

I thank Simon for acknowledging the positive work, which is ongoing. We have water filters and fountains around the buildings, cutting down on the need for bottled water. We provide extensive recycling facilities across the estate for most materials, including plastic, and we have clear signage and communication initiatives to raise awareness of the recycling facilities and we encourage their use. Improvements over the last few years have included removing some general waste bins from desks to maximise the use of the recycling options. Thank you for acknowledging the use of plastic cups, which is no longer happening. Thank you. 


On this matter, I was disappointed to see that, at the GP briefing breakfast, which you also attended, there were plastic straws provided for eating yoghurt, and I wondered if you can change that to make them paper, because we need to ban plastic straws; they are one of the worst offenders. In addition to that, the canteen is no longer serving vinaigrettes in bowls or jugs, but they've now got these silly little plastic containers, individually sized ones. That is just adding to the amount of plastic on the estate. This is completely ridiculous and not sustainable. I wondered if you could do something about it.

I thank the Member for her questions here. I would like to assure you that the work is ongoing and all the points that you've raised we will be taking note of and dealing with them. Thank you.

Questions 2 to 5 are to be answered by Joyce Watson, the commissioner for equalities and the Commission as the employer of Assembly staff. Question 2—Darren Millar.

Chaplaincy Services

2. What consideration has the Assembly Commission given to establishing chaplaincy services for Assembly Member support staff and Assembly Members? OAQ51600

The Commission has no plans to establish chaplaincy services. However, we do provide quiet rooms in Tŷ Hywel and the Senedd for prayer, contemplation, or just quiet time on a multifaith basis—

The Commission’s employee assistance programme also provides emotional and practical support and is available to all Members, their staff and Commission staff.

Thank you for your answer, Commissioner. The cross-party group on faith recently held a discussion on the topic 'Faith-based chaplaincy, is it worth it?' and we heard from people serving as chaplains within public sector organisations and we heard from individuals who've been recipients of the benefits of chaplaincy services, which, of course, are helping to reduce disputes and disagreements between public sector providers and service users, they're bringing comfort to people in times of crisis and, of course, they're able to offer pastoral care, regardless of people's faith, beliefs, or whether they've got any faith at all. We felt that these were important benefits that might be of use to Assembly Members, to Assembly Members' staff and, indeed, Commission staff here on the Assembly estate. Notwithstanding the good work that's being done to support staff and Assembly Members here in the National Assembly, I do think that there's something quite unique in terms of the pastoral care that chaplaincy services can offer, and I wonder whether this is something that the Commission could discuss in depth to see whether there might be an opportunity to develop a chaplaincy service, which I certainly would welcome and I know that some other Assembly Members would welcome too, particularly given the sort of trauma that the Assembly suffered in the last three months of last year.

Members might be aware that, historically, there has been a Cardiff Bay chaplain, most recently Reverend Peter Noble. However, it came to an end in the summer of 2017, and we're informed that the group of churches involved here have no intention of or funding to replace the role. Should members of the cross-party group on faith wish to arrange chaplaincy support themselves at no cost whatsoever to the Commission, arrangements could be made for them to make use of a room within the Assembly estate for that purpose. This is permissible under the rules for the cross-party groups.

Families and Children

3. What efforts are being made to make the Senedd a more friendly place for families and children? OAQ51593

The Senedd is already recognised as a welcoming place, and it has received awards for the efforts made to cater for the needs of different audiences, including changing facilities. The cafe is now breastfeeding friendly, and there is a sign near the menu that highlights that. There is also a sign on the scanners as you enter the Senedd. A nursing chair has been purchased, and we're evaluating, with service users, the most suitable location for that. Staff always aim to make the experience a positive one for all visitors, including families with children.


I thank the Commissioner for that response, and I'm very pleased to hear about the purchase of the breastfeeding chair. On 3 May last year, I did ask a similar question about what progress was being made to make the Senedd more friendly towards children and families and, in particular, breastfeeding mothers—and particularly breastfeeding mothers who want to feed in a private space. I wondered what progress had been made in terms of identifying such a place. I was concerned that the family room had been turned into a meeting room, and I know the only place for private breastfeeding to take place at the moment is in a toilet, which does not seem appropriate. So, I wondered whether places like the old press room could be looked at, which is not used at all at the moment, from what I can see, in order to really go out of our way to encourage women to feel that they are free to breastfeed here. Because, obviously, breastfeeding rates in Wales are low, and this is our opportunity to give an example.

I actually welcome your interest in this, because it would be to the benefit of everybody if as many people as can actually breastfeed their children wherever they wish to go. As I've said, we've looked at the location of that chair. It hasn't been decided. That's happening in consultation with those people who will want to use that. I think, as part of that consultation, it will necessarily follow that we will look at the room provision that will go alongside that.

The Real Living Wage

4. What progress has been made towards ensuring that all staff employed directly or indirectly by the Commission are paid the real living wage? OAQ51603

The Commission has been an accredited living wage employer since December 2012 and requires that all staff employed directly are paid at least the living wage. We also do all that we can to ensure that all staff employed via contractors are paid the living wage as a minimum, by making this a contractual obligation. Our contractors are required to provide evidence that they are up to date with the latest living wage rate.

Well, thank you for that answer, and I very much welcome the work that has been done in terms of directly employed employees and the payment of the living wage—the real living wage—but there is still considerable concern with regard to those who are indirectly employed, because it is very clear that there are those who are not paid the real living wage. I wonder if it would be possible to have perhaps a statement circulated giving us information about precisely how many people there are that are on these indirect contracts that are not being paid the real living wage, and what the timescale might be for the actual achievement and the assurance that that situation changes. Because it is a matter of considerable concern. We are here promoting the real living wage; we are putting ourselves forward as exemplars. I know the Assembly doesn't employ, but we have direct accountability for the Assembly Commission, and it seems to me that we haven't quite yet achieved the laudable objective that we have set that everyone who is employed directly or indirectly should be paid the real living wage.

Before I took this post—the reason for taking this post was because I am really very keen on driving forward equal opportunity in work, whether that's through pay or any other means. I have not actually received any reports that say that we are not paying the living wage. So, if you have a particular case that you want to bring to my attention, I will welcome that. What I have done—and we've been working towards it—is arrange meetings with people who are both directly employed and who are agency or contractually employed staff so that I can meet and discuss with them personally, or their representatives, their terms and conditions, because I think that, as politicians, it is really, really important that we demonstrate real commitment towards those who we employ, especially when we're in receipt of awards and we're trying to set ourselves up as exemplars. 

Accessibility on the Assembly Estate

5. What steps is the Commission taking to ensure that the Assembly estate is accessible to all visitors? OAQ51621

The Commission is committed to ensuring access for all to the Assembly estate and we do continuously review accessibility to all buildings. Equality impact assessments are made before any refurbishment or improvements are carried out, and we always observe legislative requirements and strive for best practice.

Thank you, Commissioner. In 2015, the National Assembly committed to becoming a dementia-friendly organisation. This commitment sent out a strong message to people with dementia and their carers that they are both warmly welcome and able to visit this estate. It stated that Dementia Friends sessions would be delivered to all public-facing staff, equipping them to respond to external visitors living with dementia. Further to this, I believe that 21 Assembly Members and their staff have become dementia friends. But I believe we should aspire to be the first dementia-friendly Parliament in the world, if all 60 Members were to complete the training. Can the Commissioner provide an update on progress towards ensuring the Assembly estate and staff are actively fulfilling its role as a dementia-friendly Parliament?

I can, but I can't make people sign up. So, as Commissioner I will join you in your plea for Assembly Members to become dementia friendly, because I think that will not only help us here, but it will help us when we're engaging with people, wherever that might be. There has been a conversation that has started with the Commission's diversity and inclusion team. They've engaged with a dementia engagement and empowerment project to look at developing a guide for visitors with dementia. It's a similar guide to those that were already produced for visitors with autism. It's about being aware. For example, the scanners that beep might be a little bit disconcerting to some people who might not understand that. So, they're quite excited and they're very, very engaged in trying to look at what it is that they can do.

There has been, of course—the diversity and inclusion team have delivered Dementia Friends information sessions highlighting what it feels like to live with dementia, and the small ways that people can help, and how to turn that understanding into action, because that's really what we want to back. The sessions, as you know, are advertised to all Assembly Commission staff, Assembly Members and Assembly Member support staff each year during the Commission's diversity and inclusion week. So, we are moving forward. I'm sure that there is progress that we can make, and I'm sure that we will take any advice that people are able to give us to help us achieve our aim of becoming a dementia-friendly organisation with all the Members, hopefully, signed up.

Thank you. The next question is to be answered by the Llywydd, Elin Jones, as the Commissioner for communications and engagement. Question 6, Mandy Jones.

Public Engagement in North Wales

6. Will the Commissioner make a statement on public engagement in the North Wales region? OAQ51616

The Commission delivers many initiatives to engage the people of north Wales in the Assembly’s work. People of all ages participate in events, committee consultations and workshops to improve their levels of understanding. We are also proud to have an office in Colwyn Bay that provides a public space for Members and Commission staff to deliver our work in the region, and I understand that you took your oath at that office when taking your seat in this Parliament.

Diolch, Commissioner. Commissioner, I was quoted in the press on my return as an Assembly Member as saying that, generally, people in north Wales think that the Welsh Assembly should not exist. [Interruption.] Calm down. This view is expressed by many constituents on different campaign trails. Now I am here, I can see first-hand the impact that the Assembly has on the lives of the people who live in my region. Commissioner, what additional steps will the Assembly Commission take to show the people of north Wales what the Assembly does, the difference it makes, how they can get involved, and encourage more than a 43.5 per cent turnout at the next Assembly elections?


Thank you for that supplementary question. The Commission and, I’m certain, every Member in this Chamber is very aware that there is a continuous challenge to ensure that people in every region of Wales understand fully what is devolved to this Assembly and the powers that lie elsewhere. In response to that challenge, the Commission decided to commission a piece of work that was led by Leighton Andrews and a panel to look at how the Commission, on behalf of this Assembly, may communicate our work better to every community in Wales. There are opportunities, of course, to communicate digitally these days, in every part of Wales—hoping that the broadband reaches every part of Wales, of course. But there are interesting and innovative recommendations in that report from that commission, and we, as an Assembly Commission, would hope that we would be able to realise those recommendations as we wish to communicate with the people of Wales—that’s true in every community, not just north Wales—and that we communicate an understanding of the work that we do in this Parliament on behalf of the people of Wales.

I agree that communication is crucial, of course, but there’s nothing that can beat actually getting out there and engaging directly with people. I do applaud the initiative of Senedd Newport in 2016, and Senedd Delyn, which had to be deferred because of sad circumstances. That model of intensive engagement in different parts of Wales is something I think we should do more of. May I ask, therefore, whether the Commission would be willing to consider not just having one every year, but actually having that intensive engagement targeting specific areas every month? Because that’s the best way, I think, of educating people on what we do.

I appreciate the point that the Member has made. Certainly, our experience, having undertaken Senedd@ in various communities—I’m thinking of the most recent one, Senedd@Newport—demonstrates that there is real value to the work of the committees, the work of the Members, and the work of the entire Assembly in engaging with specific areas, improving Members’ understanding from every part of Wales of that specific area, and also vice versa. So, we are looking now, following the fact that we had to unfortunately defer Senedd@Delyn, at how we can plan this programme of intensive activities in specific communities throughout Wales for the rest of this Assembly term.

You might recall that, when we used to have the regional committees, they were extremely popular and well attended, particularly in north Wales—even when that wasn't necessarily the case across the whole of Wales. Since their demise, the cross-party groups I chair largely meet annually in north Wales, and when they do there's huge popular engagement with them, from organisations and people interested in the key areas who see those groups as the face of the Assembly in the absence of any other direct interaction that they can take part in. How might you and the Commission therefore be able to consider how you might work with the cross-party groups on that agenda at least, notwithstanding the fact that generally they fall outside the definition of being a formal Assembly body?

I've noticed that you've been particularly proactive as leader of your cross-party groups in ensuring that there are meetings outside of Cardiff Bay, and in the north in particular for your cross-party groups. I think that that's a model that I'd want to encourage and facilitate and want to see the commission supporting. I'm as keen also to provide the support for committees, as they undertake to meet outside of Cardiff Bay. That logistically can be very challenging for those committees, because many Members are also members of other committees, and that makes it quite difficult to meet in different parts of Wales. But the principle of encouraging the work that we do to take part and take place in other areas of Wales is one that I wholly endorse and would want to see the commission seek to facilitate across party groups and committees as well.

4. Topical Questions

Item 4 is topical questions, and the first topical question this afternoon is from Angela Burns, to be answered by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services. Angela.

Withybush Hospital

2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Hywel Dda University Health Board's most recent service-change proposals, which could potentially result in the closure of Withybush Hospital in the future? 108

Hywel Dda university health board is currently testing and narrowing down options for its transforming clinical services programme. A shortlist of options will be released publicly in the spring, followed by a formal public consultation, which will inform any final decisions of the health board.

Thank you for that, Cabinet Secretary. I listened very carefully to the answers the First Minister gave to the leader of Plaid Cymru yesterday, and also the comments made by my colleague Paul Davies in the business statement. And I tabled the question today because I was absolutely appalled by the supercilious arrogance with which our concerns were dealt with.

Do you accept that the public have the right to express their worries to their elected representatives, because your backbenchers—a number of whom seem to think it was highly laughable that people in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion may be concerned about proposed changes? Do you accept that this, the parliamentary review, does not say 'close Withybush hospital'? Do you accept that the history that has been engaged in Withybush hospital, with botched consultations since 2006, has left people in Pembrokeshire very, very sensitive to this subject? And do you agree with recommendation 4 of the parliamentary review, which says, 'Put the people in control', and talks about openness, honesty, transparency, and engaging with the public in the shape of their future services? Could I please ask you, Cabinet Secretary, to urge Hywel Dda to make sure that their consultation is open, honest and transparent, because skitting around the west Wales area, holding meetings in very small village halls, and then not letting people take the papers out, does not strike me as being honest, open or transparent, nor does contacting the political representatives when the proverbial hits the fan, and there's a leak, seem to be open, honest or transparent.

Could you please give me a comment on what effect this latest series of events might have on 'A great place to work'—recommendation 5—and what damage that might do to our recruitment issues that we have in west Wales? I'd be interested in your comment following recommendation 3. And the reason why I reference this is because I'm particularly angry at the way the First Minister, in my view, traduced the work that I, my colleagues in the Welsh Conservatives, and, to be fair, the other opposition Members, have put into treating with honesty and maturity your efforts to support the panel on their review of health and social care delivery in Wales. Yesterday, he lost pretty much all of my goodwill, because this review is about how we talk to people, how we engage with people, how we take people with us, how we deliver a sustainable future, and how we try to take some of the battle out of the NHS. It is not air cover, before it's even dry, to suddenly say, 'Ha, but, you know, guess what? Tough luck, west Wales—once again, 15 years on, we're going to start going on about Withybush hospital.'

So, I'm asking you to please ensure that other Members of your party, and your Government, respect the people of west Wales. Will you please ensure that Hywel Dda speak to us in an open, honest and transparent way? In fact, my colleague Paul Davies and I have managed now to get a meeting with the chief executive and the chair on Thursday. This is so serious, and it's really, really annoyed me, beyond all description, that this, which I was looking forward to see as your vision, was traduced in such a way. We don't expect that supercilious arrogance from the First Minister. We are here to represent the people we represent and we have every right to ask you to scrutinise Hywel Dda health board to make sure that they go about this in a really fair way and, for once, take the people with them and not just set it up to be a battlefield. 


Well, I have to say, I don't share her characterisation of the way that Members in this Chamber behaved yesterday. I certainly don't think there was any attempt or intention to introduce supercilious arrogance or to traduce the efforts of Members in every party in having a properly mature conversation about the future of health and care in Wales. The parliamentary review was an honest attempt to try and have an informed and mature debate about our future. And in every part of Wales, not just in west Wales, there will be very difficult choices to be made. 

I can't and I won't comment on the detail of an incomplete process within Hywel Dda and their transforming clinical services programme, because as you know, and I appreciate you know this, I potentially have a decision-making role at the end of this. So, I can't comment on proposals, but there is a process going through and the health board have announced there will be a shortlist to go out to public consultation with in the spring. And it's really important there is a proper public consultation through this. It's important that staff are properly engaged in the process as well, because whatever you or I or anyone else says about the future of health services, if there is to be a battle between politicians, then people choose their sides. Actually, I think lots of people will walk away and simply think it's politicians arguing over something rather than, 'What about the future of health and social care in Wales?'

As we all know, from what the review said, the way we're currently set up isn't fit for our future, so there'll be a need to be a way to deliver change and reform in our system, and that's difficult when it comes to local decision making. It isn't just an issue for one particular site in Wales; every site has a challenge around the attachment to services as they currently exist, to bricks and mortar, and that isn't just a west Wales view. So, I really look forward to a consultation that engages the public and to see the view of healthcare staff themselves as well, because, actually, the real trust is in that which rests between the public and the people running and delivering those services.

There's got to be a serious account taken of whether or not we think the way we currently run and deliver services in every part of Wales is going to last, and if not, how that conversation takes place so the public do get properly engaged and informed before any choice is made. That's what I expect and that is a process that I expect to engage in in this place and, of course, I expect people to ask me questions to try and pin me down on a particular view during the process. I know that is part of what Members will try to do, but I will be direct and honest and I'll continue to say, 'I can't give you a view'. And I won't give you a view about a consultation. There are no proposals as of yet, but I may well be asked to be a decision maker in there so I have to make sure I do the right thing. 

Members in this Chamber are well aware of my views on this matter. I find it completely unacceptable that any options that could result in the closure of Withybush hospital are even being remotely considered by Hywel Dda university health board. The people of Pembrokeshire have seen a constant reduction of services in recent years, and this latest news sends another statement that health services in Pembrokeshire are once again under threat.

Indeed, it would be even more difficult to recruit medical professionals if there is no stability over which services are staying and which are potentially being removed. Therefore, following on from Angela Burns's questions, does the Cabinet Secretary accept that this announcement does nothing to help attract doctors and medical staff to the area when they continue to see services being removed from the hospital? In light of these damaging proposals, can he tell us what immediate steps he is taking to address this matter? 

Sorry, just a minute—you've asked a number of questions. Do have the courtesy to the Cabinet Secretary to hear all of the debate, please. Cabinet Secretary.  

The move that we wish to see in health and care is set out in the review. There'll be a concentration of some specialist services onto a smaller number of sites to provide better care. That will mean more physical travelling distance to some of those services. What absolutely compromises that also is that there'll be more care delivered closer to home—we see that already. There are a wide number of services delivered within the community and local healthcare that previously would have been delivered in theatre conditions. So, we're seeing a move around right across the whole country of the way in which care is delivered. 

Our challenge in the future of health and care, not just in Pembrokeshire, not just in west Wales, but in every single part of the country, will be how we deliver change and reform to safeguard the future of health and care services, and not to wait until something is genuinely broken before we fix it, because no change isn't an option, and there's no way not to be honest about that. That is one of the central messages from the parliamentary review. The challenge is how we recognise the way we currently send and deliver services in health and care, how we recognise the weaknesses and the strengths we have to try and deal with our weaknesses, as well as build on our strengths, and, actually, there are real challenges in every health board about locum and agency spend. In some of our services, there's a real challenge in financial terms about the way money is spent. That's why I've taken action on the pay bill, actually, in locum spending in particular in the last few months. There's a pay cap that's come in on locum spend, on the terms available in November from last year, because we do need to deal with some of those costs, otherwise we'll undermine the sustainability of that service. That does affect recruitment into services in each part of the country.

In west Wales, in particular, I still expect the campaign we have on 'Train. Work. Live' to sell not just the opportunity to work in the national health service in Wales, but to live here as well. And, actually, I think west Wales has an awful lot to offer people as a place to work, but certainly as a place to live as well, and the training opportunities that go alongside that. 

There is no way to have an easy conversation about transforming any part of the national health service. There will always be a reasonable view about why a change—in particular on a local and individual level—shouldn't happen; you'll see that in any and every part of the country. But if there is not the space to have an honest conversation between staff within the health service and with the public about reasons to try and change the service to improve the quality of care and the quality of outcome that is delivered, then we won't get to a point where we can be certain and have real confidence in the future of the national health service, and that is absolutely where the parliamentary review is. That is the way I expect every health board to behave with their own individual populations, but also in working together on a number of the challenges that we face in the way that services are designed and delivered. 

As I say, I'll be as open and as honest as I can be, protecting, of course, the reality that I may well have to be a decision maker. I can't go into some of the detail in the questions that you asked, because, otherwise, I'd put myself in a position where I could undermine the consultation that has not yet gone out to the public—it's for this spring. And this is not just that one part of Wales would have this conversation; there is a national conversation and some really difficult national choices for us to make. 


You've set great store, Cabinet Secretary, as did the First Minister yesterday, by the parliamentary review but, of course, the parliamentary review was published too late to influence these proposals from Hywel Dda. So, will you join me today in urging Hywel Dda to withdraw these proposals until we have had time to consider the parliamentary review—how it might be applied throughout Wales, and how this mature conversation that you're seeking for us to have can be had on that basis without us dealing with individual proposals to close hospitals, which, to be frank, will not allow any of us to engage in that sort of mature debate that you're urging us to do? It would be far better, would it not, for us to consider that parliamentary review, which was only published last week, and to do that and to urge all health boards to look at how we consider the review and then to implement a series of consultations with their local populations, based on the principles of that review? You're putting the cart before the horse if you now allow Hywel Dda to go ahead with a series of consultations, some of which will be highly contentious, that are not able to be influenced by that parliamentary review at all. And you are at risk, therefore, of losing some of that widespread sharing of concern and support that you've built up around the parliamentary review. 

I would also like to invite you to join with your own Labour colleagues in Preseli Pembrokeshire. Paul Miller, the candidate in 2015, stood on a platform of restoring the paediatric services to Withybush; indeed, I remember him saying that he'd had three meetings with Steve Moore—incredible; three meetings, just imagine it, with Steve Moore—to discuss how they could be restored. We were all waiting for those paediatric services to be restored. They had been taken away temporarily, if I can remind you—not as a decision of a consultation, but temporarily taken away due to recruitment difficulties. Surely, to restore some sort of trust of local people to allow us to have the serious debate that you're asking to emerge from the parliamentary review, you would first restore the paediatric services at Withybush so that people have the trust back again and then ask Hywel Dda not to proceed with this consultation until we've fully considered the parliamentary review. 


At the start of the parliamentary review, there was a conversation about how much would wait until the end of the parliamentary review process and how much would need to carry on in terms of conversation. You'll have seen the lengthy statement from the medical director, Dr Phil Kloer, of Hywel Dda, about an ongoing conversation and consultation that the clinical community have been having within Hywel Dda about a range of difficult choices that they feel they need to discuss with the public.

I don't share the Member's view that the parliamentary review means that everything must stop and the consultation must be restarted at some point in the future. I think the parliamentary review highlights a number of points about needing to have a conversation, about not putting things off, and actually this has got to be openly done by the health board and its employees. The clinical community have to be engaged in that conversation with each other and with the public that they live amongst and that they serve.

I don't think it would be the right thing for me to instruct, or attempt to instruct, the health board to stop its consultation now. I think the test is whether they will have a consultation that is open with the public, where they can honestly explain what is happening and where the staff feel empowered to properly engage in that with their communities. Because whether they are to undertake a consultation with the public in spring or in the summer or in the autumn, there is simply no avoiding the reality that there will always be contentious choices to make in west Wales, in north Wales, in south Wales and mid Wales. We either have a choice over whether we say that the national health service and social care must engage in that debate now and confront some of these challenges and have a difficult conversation and then make choices, or we put that off and make it even less likely that that will happen in the future, until at some point something goes wrong. I don't think that's the right thing to do. 

I understand why opposition Members in particular urge me to intervene and to stop things. I do appreciate that. To be honest, if my party were in opposition we may well be asking awkward questions of a similar nature to anyone in the Government as well. I actually think the reason why Ministers are here to do a job is to make a difference to the country, and some of that is about allowing difficult choices to go ahead and be made. I'm not going to try and attempt to instruct Hywel Dda or any other health board to stop the consultation with its staff or with the public. I think the consultation has to run, the public have to be properly engaged, a choice will have to be made and, ultimately, that choice could land upon my desk.