Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

01/05/2018

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item is questions to the First Minister, and I have received notification under Standing Order 12.58 that the leader of the house, Julie James, will answer questions today on behalf of the First Minister. The first question, Mark Isherwood.

GP Locum Services

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of GP locum services in Wales? OAQ52065

Yes. Independent general practitioner contractors and health boards will employ GP locums where there is a service need. GP practices must ensure that they are appropriately qualified and registered.

Thank you very much indeed. Well, in 2014, the chair of the north Wales local medical committee wrote to Members calling for urgent action to tackle a growing crisis unfolding in general practice. In 2016, the vice-chair of the north Wales local medical committee wrote to Members saying that they were very aware of how precarious general practice is in north Wales, with some areas, such as Wrexham, at risk of losing more surgeries in the very near future. And, of course, Gresford is now under threat. Last week, new Welsh Government figures showed the number of registered GPs working in Wales at its lowest level since 2013, with 83 fewer in 2016 and 2017, with just over half of the GP practitioners leaving the workforce rejoining as locums. How, therefore, do you as a Government respond to the reasons given to me by some locum GPs in north Wales two and a half weeks ago for not working in Wales as being: more affordable medical defence cover for locums doing sessions in England than in Wales, on top of the separate performance list issue; extra bureaucracy when dealing with pension contributions; the curtailment of training links with north Wales medical schools; the 'stress and danger' of working in the Welsh system; and different and inferior IT systems, et cetera, et cetera?

It's true that using the same data source as previous years does give a fall of 83. However, statisticians have found quality issues with the data, which may mean it's considerably lower. And a more complete measure of GP capacity in Wales is to include all GP practitioners, locums, retainers and registrars. Using that method shows that there's a 0.3 per cent drop of about eight since 2016. However, I'm very pleased to say that, contrary to the gloomy impression, which I don't think is at all helpful, given by Mark Isherwood, following the conclusion of all three rounds of our 'Train. Work. Live.' recruitment into GP training posts, the Wales Deanery confirmed the appointment of 144 places, which surpasses the 136 training places available at the beginning of the recruitment round, which compares to 121 places filled following three rounds in 2016. This is an increase of 19 per cent, which I think everybody can be very, very pleased about, and it completely contradicts some of the gloom and despondency we hear from the opposite benches. 

Cabinet Secretary, isn't one of the issues with locums the fact that not only can they earn £800 plus a day without the responsibilities of running a practice, but that the tax system under which they operate means that they can effectively, by setting up as a co-operation, pay just 20 per cent tax and the rest as dividends? And what, effectively, the locum system is actually doing is undermining GP practices. Is it the case that the Government is making representations or having discussions with the UK Government about changing the tax system so that it cannot actually work in this particular way and we actually give support to those who take on the day-to-day, ongoing running of GP practice and the long-term medical provision that we require from our GPs, rather than what is, understandably, people who can see far better terms and conditions and earnings by coming in as locums?

Yes, it's true that the introduction of IR35 in the medical profession has probably led locum GPs to consider their taxation affairs. Taxation policy is not devolved to the Welsh Government, but it does affect, obviously, our GP workforce in the same way as it does across the rest of the UK. It's not absolutely clear how it's affecting individual career decisions by GPs, but there are many other factors currently in play like professional indemnity and last person in a practice liability and that sort of thing. 

Of course, we have a different model in Wales as well to support this, and whilst the independent practitioner model has served us well for many years, many GP practices are finding it challenging to respond in the current situation. So, we are looking at different ways of providing that, including employed practices, and facilitating locums where younger doctors do want the flexibility that being a locum provides. So, we are looking at very different ways of providing that, alongside the multidisciplinary practices that we're also looking to implement in large numbers of practices in Wales. 

Another sign of the pressure on primary care was when those figures last week showed the number of GPs working full-time in our primary care surgeries in Wales hitting a low of more than 10 years. And, I'm sorry, but I'm not as relaxed as you are about that. You said again today, as we've heard from Government in the past, 'Don't worry about the number of full-time GPs; we've got plenty of locums.' Well, I'm afraid that's not acceptable, because what you have in a locum is somebody who will more likely work fewer hours, for more money, and it undermines the sustainability of the NHS. Isn't it about time that we saw concrete steps from Welsh Government to stop the drift towards agency and locum working, and to put primary care on a more sustainable footing for the future?

13:35

Well, again, I just disagree with the take that Rhun ap Iorwerth puts on this, because, as I said earlier, there are a number of ways of looking at how many people work as GPs, as locum GPs, as retained GPs, as GP registrars, in Wales. Many of Wales's medical centres are training practices, which are responsible for training the next generation of GPs. And, as I said in response to the earlier question, we are doing very well on our training—we're recruiting more than ever before and filling all of our training places, including in previously hard-to-recruit areas, such as Ceredigion, and so on. So, I don't think it's at all helpful to put the negative spin that you're putting on it, and actually what we really want to do is broadcast the fact that so many people are very happy as a result of our 'Train. Work. Live.' campaign, to come and fill our training places and then go on to work in Wales.

Social Care in North Wales

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of social care in North Wales? OAQ52081

Will the standing First Minister make a statement on the provision of social care in North Wales?

I'm not quite sure what you mean by that, but social care plays a critical role in helping people live independently, working in partnership with health, the independent and third sectors, to manage demand and improve outcomes for people both in north Wales and nationally. This is why 'Prosperity for All' places social care as a sector of national importance.

Thank you for that answer. Hampshire County Council is aiming to leverage voice-activated home-speaker Amazon Echo skills to assist with adult social care. The technology can help people not only suffering with physical illness, but also help those who are suffering from loneliness and depression. According to the council, over 9,000 people are currently benefiting from assistive technology such as Amazon Echo, with 100 new referrals being made each week. Will the Welsh Government look at introducing their own trial to help tackle the social care demand in north Wales?

Yes. We already have several trials in place. It's a matter of great interest to us how we can use medical technologies of all sorts to assist with both social care and, actually, medical care. We have active pilots in place looking at exactly how we can exploit those technologies.

Cabinet Secretary, alarmingly, social service departments in local authorities in Wales overspent by £383 million against their budgets in 2016-17, with Cardiff Council alone exceeding their budget by a staggering £190 million. Now, many are predicted to massively overspend again over the next 12 months. Costs in social services are predicted to increase by another £344 million in the next three years, and there is evidence now that, by 2035, the number of people aged over 65 living in Wales will increase by 35 per cent and those aged over 85 by 113 per cent. This is a ticking time bomb. Now, Cabinet Secretary, what frameworks do you believe the First Minister and, indeed, your Welsh Government are putting in place now to ensure that our social care providers, and their budgets, are effectively resourced and that they are indeed futureproof for the next 20 years?

I always find it very difficult when the Conservative Party go on about spending, in view of the money—[Interruption.]

You have the money. You have the budget. You have the budget.

It's very handy to be able to have a divided brain on this subject, but I am happy to be able to tell the Member that, here in Wales, public spending on personal social services for families and children has gone up by 22 per cent between 2010-11 and 2016-17, which is a considerable difference to the spending rise in England, which is only 5 per cent.

Well, I agree that the funding coming from London is insufficient—we clearly would agree with that. But the question is, really, what is this Government doing in preparing for the reality of this £344 million injection that will be required by 2020? Just pointing fingers and blaming others isn't really answering the question. Now, only last month as well, of course, we heard that one of the UK's largest care providers, Allied Healthcare, was in financial difficulties. So, as well as telling us what more the Government will do to try and address the significant shortfall in funding, can you tell us how you will ensure that the most vulnerable in our society won't actually suffer as a consequence of Allied Healthcare's ongoing problems? 

13:40

Yes, in terms of Allied Healthcare, we are aware of the contractor's requests to go into some kind of administration, and we are working very hard to ensure that we have a good plan in place. I know the Minister has been working very hard to ensure that we have continuity of care practices in place for anybody who could be affected by that, though I hasten to say, so as not to set any hares running, that we are not in a position at the moment of any care ceasing in any of the places where Allied Healthcare care is provided. 

In terms of the overall issue, obviously an ageing population is a problem right across western Europe, but here we have made absolutely certain that we work alongside health to pool resources with social services, and, of course, we've stopped many of the cuts to social services that have occurred in the UK. But it is extraordinary to be able to split the austerity agenda and the results of austerity, which are insufficient money for public services, from the effects of that, which I know that you're not doing. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. Would the Minister prefer the support of the Scottish Labour Party or the Tories and UKIP in Wales? [Interruption.]

If the leader of Plaid Cymru is referring to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, then we would prefer to have done the very best for Wales, which we have done. 

I'm sure the Minister is aware that, yesterday, the Scottish branches of the two parties in her Government joined together to oppose Westminster. Instead, in Wales, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have caved in, given our leverage away and weakened the hand of people here in this country. On 27 November 2017, the First Minister said in this Assembly, and I quote,

'we wouldn't accept a sunset clause. Who is to say that it wouldn't be extended ad infinitum in the future? It's a matter of principle',

he concluded. A five-year sunset clause now forms part of the agreement that your Government has signed up to. Can the Minister explain: has the Government lost all of its principles? 

No. I think, again, the hyperbole that's being demonstrated by Plaid Cymru here is really not helpful at all. Just to be absolutely clear, the Welsh Government has secured significant changes to the UK Government's EU withdrawal Bill that protect the devolution settlement, which this party agrees with. Welsh Ministers have come to an agreement with the UK Government that many areas already devolved will remain devolved. The Bill, as originally drafted, would have allowed the UK Government to take control of devolved policy areas, such as farming and fishing, and that is no longer the case. After months of intensive talks, an agreement has been reached meaning that the Welsh Government will be able to recommend that the Assembly gives consent to the Bill on the basis of an inter-governmental agreement and amendments to the Bill that have been published, and which do not say what the leader of Plaid Cymru is currently saying that they say.  

This is not my hyperbole. Those were the words of the First Minister, and this is nothing short of a Labour-Tory stitch-up. You were backed by Brexit believers while losing the support of every branch in your own party, and people in Wales can see that you've sold this country short.

Westminster now have control over at least 24 policy areas and many of those are extremely important to people's lives: control over agriculture, environment, public procurement—all of those issues now sit in Westminster. The only conclusion that we can draw is that you believe that the Tories in Westminster are better placed to act in the Welsh national interest than your own Government. [Interruption.] Well, let me tell you, Minister, my party doesn't trust the Tories, and we don't trust Westminster with our farms, with our environment or our NHS. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us: when Westminster concludes a dodgy deal with Donald Trump, how does her Government plan to stop them opening up our NHS to private companies now that you've given those powers away? [Interruption.]

I'm afraid the leader of Plaid Cymru has fundamentally misunderstood the powers in the Bill. The UK Government cannot act in place of the Welsh Government, and my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, when he took us through in great detail the Bill only very recently on the floor of the Senedd, explained the way that the freezing of the powers would work, the way that we have got concessions so that English Ministers cannot act where they would otherwise have been able to act, and, of course, the sunset clause, in its current form, whereas the comments that she talks of are, of course, from the original Bill. So, I would recommend to the leader of Plaid Cymru a very careful reading of the Bill, which she clearly has not undertaken.

13:45

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Leader of the house, could you give me an assessment of what the life choices are of young people here in Wales?

I think the chances of young people here in Wales are very good indeed, but we could do more and, again, as I emphasise, without the austerity policies of the UK Government, we could do a great deal better.

Well, Leader of the house, when it comes to education, many of the things that can be done to improve life chances for young people are within the gift of the Welsh Government, and, sadly, the achievement has been hindered by some of the policies that have been brought forward by previous Labour Governments. But in the field of dyslexia, there's a real poverty of ambition in trying to improve the life chances of children identified with dyslexia in our schools. The gap with children achieving A or A* to C in selective GCSE grades has widened since 2015. Thirty-three per cent of pupils used to be getting those results at GCSE. Now, 36 per cent of pupils are not hitting that target in English. When it comes to science, which used to be a positive territory for students who were identified with dyslexia, now there's a 10 per cent deficit in children achieving five good grades at GCSE. You don't need money to make that difference, you just need the policies in place to make the improvements. Over the last two to three years, we've seen a massive decrease in the number of children achieving the grades we'd like to see who've been diagnosed with dyslexia. Why isn't the Government doing more in this particular field?

Of course, that was the whole point of the additional learning needs Bill—to give support to those who are most vulnerable in our system. But I do think that it's quite extraordinary to say that it's not money, but it's policy, because, of course, the policies for additional learning needs always involve additional support for the pupil. It's an absolute fact that the more additional learning needs the pupil has, the more support they need and the more money that costs. But, of course, we want to do the very best for all the people in our school system, including the most vulnerable and those with additional needs and that's what the legislation aims to do.

I clearly identified how the gap is widening and that clearly is unacceptable, especially over the last two to three years, where, in English and science in particular, there's been a real deterioration. Over the border in England, they've introduced phonics as a policy area to improve the ability for children to improve their reading. Since 2011, 147,000 more six-year-olds are benefiting from this policy area in England. From 2011 to 2016 that number is—147,000 children. Will the Welsh Government be developing more strategies to assist children identified with dyslexia and make sure that these numbers, which I've quoted you today, are arrested and actually put into decline so that children identified with dyslexia have a better life chance here in Wales?

We do teach phonics in Welsh schools. I've personally visited schools and watched their phonics tuition, so I'm absolutely well aware that we teach phonics already. I'm sure that more could be done to teach more children phonics. But I do think the statistics that you're quoting are a little misleading because most dyslexic children have additional time and take different exams. So, I'm afraid I don't have the detail of that at my fingertips, but perhaps if the leader of the opposition would like to let us see these statistics he's quoting, we'll be able to respond to them fully.

Diolch, Llywydd. It's always a pleasure to see the leader of the house at the lectern. I hope it doesn't mean that the First Minister has sadly become a bit demob-happy.

I wonder whether the leader of the house is aware that minimum pricing for alcohol is being introduced into Scotland today and that that has resulted in a bottle of Sainsbury's Basics London Gin being increased from £10.50 to £13.13, a bottle of Asda Rich & Ripe Red Wine from £3.19 up to £4.88, and 18 cans of Tennent's Lager, which cost £12 at Asda will be increased to £15.85. These are significant increases by percentage and does she not agree with me that this is going to impact disproportionately upon people with low incomes? I know she's concerned about the impact of austerity upon people, so is this the right time to be adding extra burdens on them when one of the ways in which they try to alleviate austerity is to have a moderate drink? It's not going to affect the people who've got serious alcohol problems very much, but it is going to affect the overwhelming majority of people who drink responsibly. 

13:50

First of all, on his remarks about the First Minister, which I think were particularly ill-judged, the First Minister is, of course, on an extremely important mission to Doha, coming in on the first Qatar Airways flight to Cardiff Airport, something which we're all immensely proud of. And, Llywydd, I feel obliged to say at this point that when I returned to Wales as part of my professional career in 1993, the first sad task I was given was to work on the compelled privatisation of Cardiff airport from the public sector, because it was making such an enormous amount of money it was an embarrassment to the then Government. I'm delighted to say that this Labour Government has been able to put it back into the public sector where, of course, it's gone from the very poor performance it had in the private sector to a sterling performance in the public sector. So, I'm grateful to the leader of UKIP for giving me that opportunity to say that.   

In terms of minimum pricing for alcohol, I know that he doesn't agree with the policy, but large numbers of people die as a result of alcoholic poisoning, and that's something that this party takes very seriously indeed. 

I think what the leader of the house is admitting is that it's a sledgehammer to miss a nut, because the vast majority of people are going to be affected in their pockets but it's not going to make any difference to their health. At the moment, up to 76 per cent of the price of a bottle of whisky is taken in excise duties and value added tax. Of course, this is not a tax that is proposed to the minimum pricing of alcohol, so the extra profit, if any, that is made will go into the pockets of the supermarkets. So, there won't be a fund from which public health benefits could be spread by Government policy. Surely, a much better way of tackling this problem is to target the problem drinkers themselves, rather than to impose burdens upon people who don't have a problem. 

Of course, the minimum alcohol pricing policy isn't the only policy that we have in place to assist people who suffer from alcohol abuse and substance misuse problems. The leader of UKIP is quite right to say that it can be an issue with austerity that people attempt self-medication and so on, but we're very wedded to making sure that those people have the correct support that they need to be able to stop the abuse that they suffer. And we know from the research that minimum alcohol pricing is one of the pieces of armoury in that kit. 

But, of course, alcoholism or alcohol dependency isn't the only public health problem that exists in Wales. There's a significant problem with obesity, there's a significant problem with cardiovascular disease, and the Public Health Wales Observatory has recently published figures that show that the risk factors for heart disease are: physical activity, 71 per cent; unhealthy eating, 67 per cent; alcohol, perhaps surprisingly, only 43 per cent; and being a current smoker, even more surprising, only 23 per cent. So, where is this policy of minimum pricing of alcohol going? If the state has allocated to itself the power to try to alter people's behaviour in their private lives by using the tax system or a variant upon it, why shouldn't we introduce a tax on food, a tax on salt, or any other of the known factors that might be a cause of deterioration in individuals' health?    

Well, of course, this party has a very different idea of the state's role in people's lives than UKIP does. I'm not entirely certain that it's consistent in UKIP. But, of course, we have a number of things at our disposal that the Government does indeed do. We have done a very large number of things in public health. So, for example, adult smoking prevalence rates fell to 19 per cent ahead of our 20 per cent target in 2016. Smoking amongst young people is at its lowest level, with 7 per cent of boys and 9 per cent of girls aged 15 to 16 smoking regularly, compared to 9 and 14 per cent in 2009-10. And 425,000 men and women are routinely screened in Wales for breast, cervical and bowel cancer. These are state interventions in people's lives, but they're very welcome, and they contribute hugely to public health agendas here in Wales, of which we're very proud.     

Improving Trunk Roads in South Wales East

3. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve trunk roads in South Wales East? OAQ52110

Our national transport finance plan sets out our commitments for trunk road improvements across Wales, including the south-east.

Thank you. The recent changes to the A4042 Rechem roundabout in Pontypool have caused massive disruption for local residents and commuters, and I've received a very large volume of correspondence from constituents regarding not just the huge delays, but also fears over the safety of the road. I'm very grateful to Welsh Government officials for agreeing to meet me later this afternoon to discuss proposed changes that could rectify this being put forward by the developer of the nearby housing estate. What assurances can you offer my constituents that Welsh Government officials and the South Wales Trunk Road Agent, working closely with the developers and Torfaen County Borough Council, will be looking at this as a matter of priority, and that a new system will be put in place as soon as possible? 

13:55

Yes, I understand, as you just said, Lynne Neagle, that transport officials are meeting with you after this session to discuss the issue in more detail, and we have received a number of concerns about the new road layout and are working with the local authority and the developer responsible for carrying out the work and its design to address the situation as a matter of urgency. I understand that it's likely that the road markings recently installed will have to be changed to improve traffic flows, and this will take a little while to implement because of the safety checks that need to be completed. So, in the meantime, the temporary 40 mph speed limit will remain in place and new lanes provided will remain closed to traffic in order to maintain safety. The work is being carried out to increase the capacity of the roundabout, as I know she knows, to accommodate the new developments in the area. The officials are more than happy to work with you to resolve the issues.

The project to do dual the A465 Heads of the Valleys road is currently the largest road-building scheme in Wales. In October last year, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport announced a comprehensive programme and cost review of the project due to the delay in completion targets with significant cost implications. Will the acting First Minister advise of the timescale for this review, and will she commit her Government to making a statement in the Assembly on this important issue as soon as the review is completed?

Yes. The Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that he's more than happy to update Members by way of a statement.

The leader of the house will be aware of the public health scandal that is the A472 between Crumlin and Hafodyrynys. It isn't a Welsh Government trunk road, but I wondered if the Welsh Government has considered reclassifying it as a Welsh Government trunk road. It is a major route, after all, for the region and the area, but more importantly, with the resources of the Welsh Government, perhaps that trunk road's public health issues could be better resolved.

I'm afraid I don't have any details of the road that the Member is talking about. I'd be more than happy to make sure that he's written to with the details.

I think we all welcome the potential economic benefits that Trago Mills is clearly going to be bringing to Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding areas, but its location immediately off the Cyfarthfa roundabout on the A470 is a source of ongoing concern. The management of the opening of Trago Mills last weekend actually went very well and I think was generally very good, but the traffic remains extremely heavy in the area, given that we also have the Cyfarthfa retail park immediately opposite, and this coming bank holiday weekend, I'm sure, is going to be a bit of a nightmare up there. I think the problem is largely due to the fact that the Trago Mills development was given planning permission some 20 years ago when traffic was much lighter and the other retail developments weren't there.

So, can you please assure me of two things: one that there is going to be a long-term permanent solution to relieve the pressures for local residents at Cyfarthfa; and can you also confirm that consideration is being given to the review of time limits on planning permissions for such developments, which take no account of changing circumstances in an area over such a long period of time?

Thank you for raising that. We're fully aware of the importance of the A470 strategic corridor. The section around Trago Mills is currently being investigated and appraised to the requirements of the Welsh transport appraisal guidance, known as WelTAG. Studies are on hold at the present time whilst the unsettled traffic patterns and demand return back to average conditions following the opening of the Trago Mills store, which we know increased demand considerably.

The bedding-in period is expected to last about six months, by which time the study will recommence by testing projected trends with those known post-opening of Trago Mills. The sensitivity testing will better inform the appropriateness of the longer term solutions that are proposed. Once the stage 2 studies along the corridor have been completed and appraised, transport interventions to address congestion will be addressed. That's expected to be completed by early 2019, and in the meantime there are medium-term measures to be progressed.

The issue about the time limits for planning consent relating to major developments is a matter for local planning authorities to consider. I know the Cabinet Secretary has a consultation out at the moment, and I'm sure that the local authority and you will be responding to that. In this case, as you know, the decision for planning consent was made in 1994 by the Mid Glamorgan planning authority and included highway improvements appropriate to the scale of development at that time, but, as the Member has highlighted, that situation has changed very much. So, the studies will inform improvements in the road once the traffic has settled again.

Housing and Health

4. What assessment has the First Minister made of the relationship between housing and health? OAQ52079

Integrating housing and health is the platform to effective prevention and early intervention for people with social and health care needs. This is why both housing and social care are priorities in 'Prosperity for All'.

Can I thank you for that response? As you know, the 1945 to 1951 Labour Government had housing and health in the same ministry, led by Nye Bevan, somebody who we both hold in very high regard.

Poor housing has a serious effect on health. People, especially the old and young, become more susceptible to illness when living in cold and damp conditions. Poor conditions mean that people can't be discharged from hospital when, medically, they're able to be. But if you discharge them, you're going to have them back in again because the conditions they're living in are such that they're going to make them ill. What is being done to improve poor quality housing and thus reduce hospital admissions?

14:00

I absolutely agree, poor quality home can have a very significant impact on people's lives, particularly for those from the most disadvantaged communities.

Quality standards, including the Welsh housing quality standard for social housing, are critical to helping deliver the Government's wider well-being agenda. The Welsh housing quality standard will ensure that, by 2020, more than 220,000 households in Wales will have a home that is safe, warm and secure. Currently, as at 31 March 2017, 86 per cent of social homes in Wales meet the Welsh quality housing standard. The Welsh Government is investing a further £108 million of capital funding a year to social landlords to ensure that the Welsh housing quality standard is achieved in the time period.

I think this is a very important question; I thank Mike for raising for it. Forty five per cent of accidents occur in the home, and accidents are in the top-10 causes of death for all ages, particularly high amongst children—after cancer, I think the highest—and older people. Now, in the many interventions that we make, for instance, insulation of homes, social care visits, we should be making an assessment of the safety of homes because very, very many vulnerable people could be protected if we did that and thought about preventing accidents.

Yes. The Member raises an important issue, and as part of the Welsh quality housing standard, of course, making sure that homes meet a standard where accidents are very much minimised is important.

There are also a number of schemes for adaptations across Wales, and I'm delighted to say that in my own council, the speed of adaptation has increased out of all recognition from where it was 10 years ago. But the Member makes a very good point, and we are very keen to ensure that as we develop new homes in Wales, the best safety standards are incorporated in the design.

Shelter Cymru's guidance to private tenants about taking action if their home is unhealthy or in a dangerous state, and I quote:

'Firstly, you need to think carefully about whether to take action. In particular, consider whether your landlord is likely to try to evict you rather than do the work.'

Although the tenants can then ask the council to send an inspector, they are still under risk afterwards if the landlord decides to throw them out, or if they have a grudge because they have taken that action. In that regard, will you look to putting legislation forward in relation to protecting long-term renters and encourage longer term tenancies with clear and significant penalties for landlords if they take this type of action? Because, of course, we want to ensure that their houses are healthy, but if they are judged for taking action, then that is something we should all be concerned about.

Yes, the Member raises a very good point, and, obviously, we want people to be both safe and healthy in their homes, but also to have secure rental arrangements because we know that insecure rental arrangements, particularly for families, contribute to long-term mental and ill health. I know that the Minister for Housing and Regeneration has very much this in mind when we're looking at our new housing Act that's coming forward in this Assembly term.

Gender Review

5. Will you make a statement on the gender review that is currently being conducted by the Welsh Government? OAQ52107

The review, which is being led by myself, will help ensure that gender equality is placed at the heart of Welsh Government policy making and delivery, and that Wales becomes the safest place for women in Europe.

I welcome the review, of course, as long as the outputs are clear and that it will lead to an improvement in equality. In announcing the review in a speech in Oxford, the First Minister said, as you have also done, that he wants Wales to be the safest place for women in Europe. Again, I agree entirely, but turning those words into a reality will require commitment and firm political will. At the moment, the gender equality agenda is part of the range of responsibilities that you have as leader of the house. What's your view on having a Minister who could focus entirely on promoting equality for women?

Well, it's an interesting thought. I think it has pros and cons that are very well rehearsed and the Llywydd probably won't permit me to take an hour's speech on the pros and cons. But what is essential, of course, is that any Minister with responsibility puts it at front and centre of what they spend their time doing. The reason for the rapid review is to ensure that we haven't missed anything out; that there are no gaps and that we don't have any unintended consequences; but also that all of our policies are aimed in the same direction at the same time.

I'm very much looking forward to receiving the first report in June. We have a number of stakeholder events and I have a number of meetings with various influential women, survivors, bystanders and people who use our services, and so on, across Wales to gather as many opinions as possible while we look at focusing all our efforts on achieving equality somewhat faster than I think we would if we'd just gone along as we were in the first place.

14:05

Leader of the house, you told me in questions last week that the gender review will include the pay gap across all public sector organisations. As just one of the top-50 companies in Wales has a female chief executive—that's the Royal Mint—I'd be keen to understand how private companies that used to be in public ownership, or at least have strong public sector connections, are being included in your review. How do you envisage the review helping to persuade large private companies of the type that are currently under the purview of Welsh language standards, for example, to reduce their gender pay gap?

One of the things that we're looking at in terms of the economic action plan, the fair work agenda and our procurement policies is to see what levers we have to ensure that those goals are goals that are striven for in the private sector as well as in the public sector. I do think it's important for us to get our own house in order first, as well, but we are very much hoping, both by soft influence and by direct leverage using our funding, which a large number of private sector organisations in Wales receive, to be able to shift that agenda rather faster than it currently appears to be shifting.

Leader of the house, yesterday, I welcomed a student pilgrimage from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David; they'd walked from Merthyr to Pontypridd and down to Cardiff. They had banners with the suffragette message, 'Deeds not words', and in fact, the students were mainly from the College of Art in Swansea—I think that's in Mike Hedges's constituency—and they presented me with their pilgrimage manifesto. They also sang 'Bread and Roses', which was very moving, on the Senedd steps. But what they want is equality of opportunity; free childcare; job security for women on maternity leave; to continue the fight for equal pay; a commitment to diversity of representation in public organisations; and a commitment to supporting cohesion in communities through creative initiatives. So, leader of the house, I'm sure you will agree that this manifesto accords with the objectives of the gender review. Will you ensure that the voices of these students are heard and welcomed?

Very much so. Actually, it's in my constituency and I was very sad not to be able to—.

I did actually make my best effort to get there, but it wasn't sufficient and, sadly, I missed them, so I was very disappointed. I'm very pleased that you were able to see them there. They're an inspirational group of young women and I absolutely concur with their agenda. Would that we could do it faster.

Healthcare Services in Mid and West Wales

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of healthcare services in Mid and West Wales? OAQ52100

We continue to invest in healthcare services in Mid and West Wales, including £3 million recently for Withybush General Hospital and £25 million for Glangwili General Hospital. We are also investing £6.6 million in Llandrindod Wells County War Memorial Hospital. We will continue to work with health boards in the region to provide healthcare services that deliver the best possible outcomes for all patients.

I'm grateful to the leader of the house for that reply. She may know that I've raised the provision of health service facilities in the Welsh uplands, based on Blaenau Ffestiniog, in the Assembly on many occasions. The cottage hospital there was closed some years ago and has recently been replaced by a new office building—plenty of desks, but no beds. There is a continuing problem with GP recruitment, of course, and retention, and in other ways as well.

There is significant dissatisfaction amongst local people in Blaenau Ffestiniog and the surrounding area, and they recently submitted a petition to the Assembly to call for an independent inquiry into the provision of health services in the Welsh uplands. Tonight, there is a meeting of people from Blaenau Ffestiniog and Dolwyddelan to consider the possibility of taking legal action to compel an independent inquiry. I wonder whether the Welsh Government would see it as advantageous to facilitate an independent inquiry, because it couldn't possibly prejudice the provision of health service facilities in the area, but it could do a great deal to alleviate public concern.

No, and I think the Member undermined his own argument by referring to a health centre as an office building. That doesn't really assist the—

It's not an office building. Have you been in there? Have you been inside?

14:10

I think that it's very important to get the facts out when we're discussing health, which is always in emotive subject—

I don't think the leader of the house requires any support from her ministerial colleagues. Leader of the house—

There are many Members—there are at least five Members for Blaenau Ffestiniog in this Chamber, something that has been central to the respect we have as Assembly Members in this Chamber from the start. Leader of the house.

As I was saying, there are a range of fervently held opinions on the subject, and a large variety of them expressed, as we've just seen, Llywydd, in the Chamber itself. But I think that the Cabinet Secretary has this well under control and has already answered several questions on the subject, as the Member himself said.

Leader of the house, I have raised my concerns over the future of west Wales health services on numerous occasions in this Chamber. For my pains, I've been accused by members of the Government and backbenchers of scaremongering, talking down the health services and harming staff recruitment—all by myself, I've harmed staff recruitment.

The current Cabinet Secretary approached the Welsh Conservatives to take part in a parliamentary review, which we did with great pleasure. One of the aims of that was to help to depoliticise the NHS in order to try to look for a strong future for the whole of Wales in the NHS. So, imagine that wave of cynicism that swept over me this weekend when I saw Labour Assembly Members, Labour MPs and the Labour political party campaigning outside Withybush and Llanelli to save our hospitals. Do tell me, please, leader of the house, in your role as chief whip, what are we to look forward to? Will the name-calling of us here, if we have the temerity to argue about this, end? Will it continue? Will you be talking to your colleagues? Above all, are we going to look for rational debate, or will the Labour Party continue to scrabble for votes in a desperate attempt to try to mitigate the problems they know they're facing with a health service that they've been in charge of for the last two decades? I'm really cross, Vaughan, because you want us to be depoliticised—that lot, get a grip.

The Member makes a very good point about the conduct of public affairs. I personally do not indulge in any of the behaviours that she mentioned. I don't agree with politicising—

However, there is an open—. As I said, I know that the Member feels very fervently, as do I, that, sometimes, politics is unnecessarily divisive and political, and I do not agree with personal remarks being made about others in any way, shape or form, and I know that she agrees with that. However, there are, as I said, a range of fervently held views on any healthcare reform. There is an open consultation at the moment. A large number of people across the political spectrum have fervently held views on that subject and are making them known during the consultation period. The consultation period has a large number of weeks yet to run. I'm sure there will be more demonstrations and fervently held views expressed in that way during the course of the consultation, and then, once the consultation is closed, we will have the opportunity to discuss the outcome of the consultation, once the responses have been analysed.

University Dropout Rate

7. What is the Welsh Government’s response to the latest NUS research highlighting that the highest university dropout rate is amongst working class students? OAQ52076

The Welsh Government recognises the financial barriers that can stop people entering higher education. That is why, following the Diamond review, we have reformed student support, so that new full-time and part-time undergraduate students are entitled to support equivalent to the national living wage whilst they study.

The National Union of Students report 'Class dismissed: Getting in and getting on in further and higher education' is, I think, an important contribution to a debate that needs to concern us all, because, in light of these drop-out figures and the skills challenge that are posed by the fourth industrial revolution, we need to be raising the skills base of all our young people to respond to the uncertainties of the job market ahead. I'm somewhat concerned that we still have quite a big difference in the numbers of young people achieving degrees in Wales, compared with, for example, the south-east of England: 26.5 per cent in Wales compared with just over 32 per cent in the south-east of England. I just wondered how the Welsh Government can address this, because it's clearly amongst working class young people that we need to be getting them to take up further education.

Yes, absolutely. Our new student finance package is supported by the National Union of Students in Wales, and answers many of the questions raised by the review in England. It's the most generous in the UK, and it's designed to give more help towards living costs by providing the equivalent to the national living wage through a mix of non-repayable grants and loans. This means students can focus on their studies rather than worrying about making ends meet.

Wales was the first country in Europe to provide equivalent living cost support in grants and loans to full-time and part-time undergraduates, as well as postgraduates. The total amount of full-time student support awarded for the academic year 2015-16 was £797.5 million, which is an increase of 7 per cent on the previous year. Our recent performance data suggests retention rates for undergraduate higher education students in Wales are improving. Data for Wales for full-time first degree young entrants from low-participation areas shows a reduction in withdrawal rates from 9.1 per cent in the 2015-16 data to 7.6 per cent in the 2016-17 data. Because, as Jenny Rathbone correctly identifies, it's not just getting into university; it's staying there and being able to concentrate on your studies and not be undermined or disadvantaged by having to work through your student life in a way that's unfair and disadvantages you in your future endeavours. So, our support package is absolutely designed to do just that, because we want to support those communities who have the brightest children, from whatever their background, to make sure that they can be the very best person that they can possibly be.

14:15
Heritage Tourism in South-east Wales

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote heritage tourism in south-east Wales? OAQ52109

We continue to support heritage tourism initiatives in south-east Wales. For example, the Welsh Government-led heritage tourism project provided £1.058 million for visitor improvements, including access, interpretation and other facilities, at Caerphilly castle and Blaenavon ironworks. We continue to invest and to promote heritage sites to attract additional visitors to Wales.

Thank you, leader of the house. Newport has a rich cultural history dating back 2,000 years, and included in that is Caerleon, which was one of only three permanent fortresses in Roman Britain, dating back to the first century AD. It's home to the most complete amphitheatre in the UK, impressive fortress baths, and the only remainder of Roman legionary barracks on view anywhere in Europe. The redevelopment of the Roman legionary museum was announced at the recent review of the National Museum Wales, and it's an opportunity to further promote and develop Caerleon's Roman heritage. How will the Welsh Government work with the museum and Cadw to attract visitors from across Wales and the rest of the world?

Yes, I have to say I only very recently visited Caerleon Roman works and museum and had a thoroughly lovely time. I particularly liked the baths, and the illusion of people swimming in the baths is particularly effective. For anybody who hasn't been, I highly recommend it. It's a very educational and pleasant day out, so I couldn't recommend it more. We have had initial conversations to consider the future of the heritage offer at Caerleon. We're going to be involving other partners in due course, as suggested by the Thurley report, to ensure a consistent and coherent experience for tourists. Essential work to the roof at Caerleon will mean its closure for some months, unfortunately. The museum is working in partnership with Cadw, and will continue to offer an excellent education experience for schools. The Roman baths, amphitheatre and barracks will continue to be open to the public throughout the period of the museum closure. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's a really excellent experience all round, and very educational.

Thank you to the leader of the house in her role in answering on behalf of the First Minister. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the leader of the house, in her role as leader of the house, and the business statement and announcement. I call on Julie James to make the business statement. Julie James.

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

Well, may I both acknowledge your endurance and call for two Welsh Government statements, the first on the Welsh independent living grant? As, amongst other things, the chair of the cross-party group on disability, I've been articulating concerns in this Chamber and in correspondence with the Welsh Government since the decision was taken by the Welsh Government to move the Welsh independent living grant into local authority funding, unlike the situations in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where a partnership with the third sector was established. The Northern Irish commissioned under the Scottish model to ensure that the independence and control of the service user was protected. I last raised this early in March with the First Minister, describing the proposal as a betrayal of the right of disabled people to live independently and make their own decisions, but, once again—despite my calling on the First Minister to recognise that independence means giving people choice and control, and not having to agree how they spend their money with well-meaning experts in county hall when they're the real experts in their own lives, the First Minister once again rejected this. However, I've now been copied on a report from a charity of which I'm patron, stating that at the recent Welsh Labour Party conference in Llandudno, on a motion put down by the Clwyd South Labour Party, delegates voted to support the continuation of the Welsh independent living grant, despite the policy of the Welsh Government, and it's been reported that this will now be maintained at least until the Assembly elections in 2021—welcomed by the campaigners led by Nathan Lee Davies from Wrexham, but still keen to stress there's some way to go in securing the grant in the long term. Therefore, given that this isn't just a decision, I'm sure, for any party conference—this is a decision for this place—I think the Assembly must have a statement to bring us up to speed on what is a very important matter for a large number of people, particularly the campaigners who've been fighting so hard to achieve what appears to be some progress in this respect.

Secondly, and finally, could I call again, following calls last week, for a statement on the A487 Caernarfon to Bontnewydd bypass, although my request comes from a slightly different angle? We know that there was a public inquiry. We know that, following the inquiry, the Welsh Government said it would consider the inquiry report and make a decision by the winter. We know that, in March, the Welsh Government said it needed more time to consider the plans, but concerns have been raised with me by local businesses that a document they submitted to the inquiry detailing objections not to a bypass, but to the yellow route favoured by the Welsh Government, presented—. But a legal representative from the Welsh Government, the Welsh Government's barrister—. On the basis of his submissions, they refused the right to question the Welsh Government on the contents of the document, although the legal advice they'd received advised that no judge would make a decision based on any draft report, and any judicial review would only be possible on the issuing of orders. Dare I say that your barrister had said that they should have gone to a judicial review following publication of draft orders, against the legal advice received. They have raised concern with me over what they have described as the total intransigence of the Welsh Government over 10 years in considering the impact on jobs and businesses locally. They do support strongly a bypass, but have been trying to put forward their case—albeit without success to date—in asking the Welsh Government to adopt the orange or black route to protect businesses and jobs. This is a very important matter. The document I referred to is a detailed submission, which confirms that, if you read properly the original submissions, there was 75 per cent local support for the black route. That was not presented in the WelTAG evidence; it wasn't questioned at the public inquiry. I therefore support calls for a statement to the Assembly on this important scheme and in the context of these valid objections and a real threat to jobs in two major local employers on the route.

14:20

Well, on the first matter that he raises, we continue to maintain that a static grant can't possibly meet all of the demands of every disabled person in Wales, who have complex and varied needs. No change has been made in Government policy, and therefore I can't see that there's any requirement for a statement since nothing has changed in the Government's policy. And, as Mark Isherwood said himself, he asked the First Minister about it back in March.

On the bypass, there's a public inquiry under way. The Member has made his remarks about the conduct of that inquiry, but, clearly, it wouldn't be right for the Government to comment on the conduct and legal submissions in a public inquiry.

I notice, leader of the house, that it's been stated today that the incinerator proposed for Barry is likely to be operational by the end of the year, and I think there are wider lessons for the whole of Wales from the experiences the people of Barry have had over the last couple of years. Something has gone seriously wrong, I think, if we have a incinerator so close to homes, in an area of deprivation as well, in the context of air quality, which we're all trying to improve in Wales, without an environmental impact statement. It has been stated, I think, by the environment Minister here previously, that she's minded to request such an environmental impact study be done, but we're told nevertheless the incinerator's going ahead. So, I would very much like, and Plaid Cymru would like, to hear a statement from the environment Minister about whether we'll see such an environmental impact study. And if that impact study, of course, does give rise to questions around emissions, around transport links, around storage of wood, around all of the things that the local residents have been complaining about, then we need to understand how that might impact on the granting of final licences and conditions for the incinerator in Barry.

Also, I'd like to ask whether such a statement, if made, can also include any work that the Government's done with Ofgem around the fact that the current proposal seems very different to the one that originally got granted the renewable obligations certificate—it's so old, this proposal, it goes back to days of ROCs, I understand; it's done under a previous regime. But there's been a lot of change since then, including the incinerator itself being at least 10 per cent bigger in terms of its output than it had been previously. So, I think all of us would appreciate, not just for Barry but for the wider lessons that we draw on the environment in Wales, an oral statement so we have the ability to question the Minister on that.

The second item I'd like to raise is the fact that many of us did celebrate Welsh food and farming at lunchtime today, and we're very grateful to the National Farmers Union, I'm sure, for launching their campaign, We Are Welsh Farming/Ni Yw Ffermio Cymru. But the context of raising this with you today is, of course, we have this proposal of the Asda-Sainsbury’s merger, telling us this will be done with lower prices. No jobs will be lost from the shops, the shops won't close, but somehow we'll have at least 10 per cent lower prices. Now, there's only one way to squeeze lower prices out in those circumstances, and it’s from the suppliers, and the suppliers are our farmers. And, when you squeeze our famers, yes, you may get something cheaper in the shop, but you're actually squeezing our communities, because those farmers are recycling the pounds that they earn within our communities, and that's clearly demonstrated by Welsh Government's own work as well as the union's work themselves.

So, if we're going to see such a major merger and a consolidation in the supermarket sector, then it does beg the question that the supermarket ombudsman needs to be beefed up considerably, because we don't want to see any supplier—but I'm talking particularly of Welsh farmers here— be squeezed by an irregular market and the use of too much pressure and too much anti-competitive, in effect, market forces being used. So, it would be good to have a response from the Welsh Government, perhaps a letter from the Welsh Government at this stage, to the Asda-Sainsbury’s merger, what discussions you're having with UK Government around this, what steps can be taken to protect Welsh suppliers and Welsh farmers in particular, and whether you think—you, I think, yourself personally, but certainly Government has said in the past that it's very interested in beefing up an ombudsman and making sure that the voice of the supplier in the supermarket chain is strengthened, as well as, of course, what we're seeing now, which is the supermarkets themselves being strengthened. 

14:25

I think, on that second point, Simon Thomas makes an excellent series of points. It is very worrying that such a large merger is considered, especially when one of the partners, effectively, is Walmart, which is not exactly renowned for—what shall we say—progressive policies in regard to its purchasing. It is, as you know, subject to the competition commission, but my understanding is that the competition commission generally looks at the effect on consumers and not on suppliers. The Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs and myself have some concerns about this and we will be expressing those concerns to the monopolies and mergers inquiry, because actually I share your concerns about the suppliers. There is only one way to squeeze it and it is at that end. So, it is certainly an issue for us that we will be considering. 

In terms of the Barry incinerator, I'm not absolutely certain where we are in that process. I think probably the best way forward would be if the Minister updates us by way of a letter as to where we are from our point of view and then we can take it forward from there.

Leader of the house, I'd ask for two statements. Do you know when we could expect an update on the surgical use of vaginal mesh in the NHS? I've raised this a number of times in the Chamber and I understand that a task and finish group is due to report soon. I think it would be appropriate if we had a statement following that in the Chamber. 

The second statement I'd ask for is on animal welfare. Last week, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported that prosecutions for animal cruelty in Wales are at a four-year high and many of the instances dealt with by the RSPCA throughout 2017 concerned horses and other equines. It's frequently the case that they've been abandoned, and horses are being found sick, dying or sometimes dead. One significant problem is the difficulty finding out who owns those and perhaps registration could possibly help. So, could we have a debate in Government time on this and animal welfare more broadly?

14:30

On the vaginal mesh, I know that the Cabinet Secretary is due to make a statement once the report has come out, so we'll be sure to bring that forward as soon as is possible once that's been done.

The Cabinet Secretary is also due to make a statement on animal welfare. We are very well aware of the issue about tracing the ownership of horses, which is, Llywydd, a massive issue in my own constituency, even though it's city centre, which you wouldn't expect. We are aware of that. I know the Cabinet Secretary takes it very seriously and is going to make a statement shortly.

Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement on the levels of child obesity in Wales? The latest child measurement programme's annual report shows that more than a quarter of children in Wales are overweight or obese. This is much higher than in England. Areas such as Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly in my region both produced results higher than the Welsh average. I understand the Welsh Government is working with Public Health Wales to develop a new strategy to tackle obesity. Could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on when the strategy is likely to report, and what measures he intends to take to tackle this problem in the interim period in Wales? Thank you. 

The Cabinet Secretary has indicated that he's expecting to run a consultation and he'll provide an update before the summer recess on that consultation. 

Leader of the house, I'd like to ask for two statements if, possible. The first relates to the announcement today by the Welsh Local Government Association, who claim that children's services in Wales are nearly 'at crisis point'—and I quote. Now, clearly, increasing demand and reducing budgets is a recipe for disaster, as we all know. We have seen recently the difficulties in Powys, and it's clear that other councils in Wales are feeling the pressure in terms of the demands on their services and their ability to respond. So, with that backdrop, can I ask if the Minister for Children and Social Care therefore would be prepared to bring forward an oral statement at the earliest opportunity on the pressures facing children's services, and what the Welsh Government is planning to do to address them? That's the first one. 

The second request relates to plans to develop a metro system for Swansea bay and the western Valleys. As I've mentioned previously in this Chamber, the development of a metro system that, in principle, looks to improve travel times for people in south-west Wales is to be welcomed, naturally, but you'll be aware of concerns within Neath with regard to the need to protect the status of Neath railway station as part of any metro proposal. Feelings are running high in Neath at the moment. So, given that work has started in terms of the development of the strategic outline business case for the metro, would the Cabinet Secretary for transport be prepared to bring forward an oral statement outlining the work currently being undertaken and how he sees the project developing? Diolch yn fawr. 

Taking those in reverse order, on that one, my colleague the Assembly Member for Neath has been extremely vocal in his opinions about any potential closure of Neath station. No such closure is remotely on the horizon. We can't even get the UK Government to electrify the line, never mind straighten it. So, I think that's just pie in the sky. There is a conversation about the Swansea bay metro, quite rightly, and the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport has put money into a feasibility study for that, but that does not include the closure of Neath station. 

On the children's services, the Minister for children is due to make a statement on those issues very shortly, and of course my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for local government is due to make a statement on Powys later on in today's agenda. 

Can you give me an assurance that I will receive an honest and clear response from your Government on a simple issue, which I have been pursuing now since January? I've asked the Minister for the Welsh language how many staff are located in the Government's Welsh language unit—those staff responsible for preparing Welsh language standards regulations. Having received the response 'loads' in a committee, I received a response to a written question that it was the Permanent Secretary who should answer such a question. I received no response from her until last Thursday, and that was because I had to raise the issue here in the Chamber. I was given this response, which was shocking:

'I am content that there are sufficient policy officials within the Division to take this work forward in line with Ministerial priorities'.

That was the Permanent Secretary's response. So, first, I haven't had a response to a simple question from an Assembly Member, asked in January. Secondly, isn't this another example of a lack of transparency within your Government—part of a pattern and a culture, unfortunately? And thirdly, is the head of the civil service, who is supposed to be unbiased and impartial—should she be giving a response that one would expect from a Minister? Is this an attempt to evade giving an honest answer to a simple question? So, I would appreciate your support in securing an answer to my question. I don't think that this Assembly, or your Government, should allow this kind of anti-democratic behaviour.

14:35

I'm aware of the issue. I think that, actually, it turns out to be relatively complex. But I will write to you, Siân Gwenllian, and make sure that you have, however complex the answer is, a direct answer to your question.

Thank you, leader of the house.

You deserve your cup of tea now. Thank you for that.

3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance: The Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan Mid-point Review 2018

We move, therefore, to our next item, which is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance on the Wales infrastructure investment plan mid-point review 2018. I call on the Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. At the height of the recession, and in the early years of the UK Government’s flawed and failing austerity programme, my predecessor, Jane Hutt, published the first 2012 Wales infrastructure investment plan. Ever since, this plan has been at the heart of the Welsh Government’s work to create and sustain economic growth, and to support vital public services. Its goals and priorities have guided our significant infrastructure investment right across Wales, including, in the last Assembly term alone, £1.2 billion to provide more than 11,500 affordable homes, £1.3 billion to support our twenty-first century schools and education programme, where 100 schemes have already been completed and 60 more are on their way to completion, and £1.8 billion to modernise our transport infrastructure, from the Heads of the Valleys road to the Newtown bypass.

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

Dirprwy Lywydd, we have done this, and more, at a time when our conventional capital budget will be 20 per cent lower in real terms by the end of the decade than it was in 2009-10. And all of this just at the point in the economic cycle when the UK Government should have stepped up and not shied back from investing in the future. Here in Wales, in the six years since the WIIP was first published, we have invested £9 billion of Welsh Government capital funding, and developed new ways of drawing in investment from elsewhere, to deliver ambitious projects, which deliver lasting benefits for the people of Wales.

Now, Dirprwy Lywydd, a great deal has changed since that first WIIP was published in 2012. Back then, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, promised that austerity would be over by 2015. Now, it extends to 2025. We have had the European Union referendum, and the decision to leave the European Union. The impact of the uncertainty that this has created must help explain why, at a time when economies across the eurozone are growing at their fastest rate for a decade, growth across the UK is faltering, and is at its weakest since 2012.

Dirprwy Lywydd, that is the background against which our mid-point review of the Wales infrastructure investment plan is to be published today. The review reflects on the experience of the past six years, where we can see progress, and where we can draw lessons for the future. It takes account of the many changes—some of which I've just identified—that have occurred over the lifetime of the plan so far, and it sets out our investment priorities for the remaining period of the plan, aligning it with the aims and goals of 'Prosperity for All' and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and setting the Welsh Government’s spend more directly in the context of the investment that others plan to make in Wales.

Dirprwy Lywydd, we have ambitious plans to invest further in Welsh infrastructure, with plans already set out to invest an additional £6.5 billion worth of capital in our priorities between now and 2020-21. And today, I can set out a new capital funding package of £266 million to support the delivery of Government priorities over the next three years. Amongst other objectives, these investments are strongly aligned to support the work of my Cabinet colleague Lesley Griffiths in the vital field of carbon reduction.

The new funding allocations include: £60 million over three years to accelerate the creation of active travel routes to connect residential areas, work, education sites and services; over £60 million over the next three years for the NHS, for the all-Wales capital programme; £31.5 million over three years for the next generation access broadband phase 2; £25 million over three years for the new Tech Valleys programme; and £15 million over two years to fund a pilot, as part of the ministerial taskforce for the south Wales Valleys, to ensure that schools in the area become community hubs and provide community learning centres with extended services. The mid-point review also includes an up-to-date pipeline of Welsh Government, local authority and private sector investments. It provides the details of more than 350 schemes with a value of around £42 billion, including this Government’s own flagship commitments.

Llywydd, as members of the Finance Committee will know, my principle has always been to exhaust the use of the least expensive forms of capital before using other more expensive sources. The plan, therefore, relies on our efforts to begin with to commit the vast bulk of our conventional capital, well in advance of spend, then to move on to deploy every pound of capital available to us through the regional development funds from which Wales benefits as a result of our membership of the European Union—that amounts to over £720 million in additional investment—then to make full use of the £1 billion in borrowing powers now available to us, and then to go on supporting additional borrowing for investment by our local authorities and our housing associations. 

And because, even when we have pushed at the limits of all these possibilities, we still have vitally important public purposes that could otherwise not be afforded, we have devised our own mutual investment model, building from the Scottish Government’s not-for-profit schemes, to find a way to fund the new Velindre cancer hospital for south Wales, to complete the dualling of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road, and to enable us to accelerate band B of our twenty-first century schools and education programme. And, Dirprwy Lywydd, I can announce today the latest development in this area, because in line with the provisions in the Government of Wales Act 2006, agreement has now been secured with the UK Government that it will bring forward legislation to enable Welsh Ministers to issue bonds for capital investment expenditure, providing the Welsh Government with a further set of borrowing levers in the future.

Dirprwy Lywydd, we are in the process of establishing a national infrastructure commission for Wales, and later this afternoon the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs will make a statement about our preferred option for our new land use plan, the national development framework. Together, these will provide a strategic picture of our national and regional infrastructure needs, and help us ensure our investments are aligned and targeted to where they can have maximum impact in the face of continuing austerity.

Deputy Presiding Officer, this mid-point review of the infrastructure investment plant will help us to work in a more integrated and and collaborative way within Government and with our partners. It will ensure that our infrastructure is robust, will contribute to the growth of the Welsh economy and will help us to formulate the long-term future of our nation and its people. I commend this plan to the Assembly.  

14:40

Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement this afternoon? I think we all recognise that we do remain in a time of public spending constraints. We certainly in the Welsh Conservatives welcome proposals to invest in our economy and public services, despite those obvious challenges.

Can I just say in responding at the start to your statement, Cabinet Secretary—? On your point about UK funding, which you made at the start of your contribution and at the end, the almost obligatory comment now on funding cuts—. Yes, spending cuts, you're quite right to say have extended beyond the original cut-off of 2015 that was set out back in 2010. But if the alternative was deeper, yearly cuts, then I think I would probably stick with the Chancellor's current timescale rather than look at those cuts having been faster and deeper at the time. And we know that, yes, the deficit has taken longer to come down than was previously hoped, but the UK Government is getting there in that regard. Debt itself will soon be cut, not just the deficit, and that will, in the longer term, set the UK economy and the Welsh economy on a sounder footing, so you will have more money to invest in those important public services and infrastructure. [Interruption.] You might not agree with that, Lee Waters, but many people do agree with that.

Your statement covered a wide range of investment proposals and a wide range of spending areas. I will just touch on a few of them. I warmly welcome the proposals to continue developing the twenty-first century schools programme through the second band of funding, in partnership with local authorities across Wales. I recently visited the site of Monmouth Comprehensive School, due to open in September. It's a really impressive state-of-the-art building, which shows what can be achieved when Welsh Government works with Conservative local authorities such as Monmouthshire. It will extend opportunities for modern teaching and learning. While you've increased the funding available for twenty-first century schools, could you advise of any changes to the timescale of the next phase of the programme? Is that as was originally envisaged?

On house building, we recognise that there are growing pressures on the housing market, particularly in south-east Wales, and commentators are concerned with the removal of the Severn bridge tolls and the effect that that will have on local housing supply in Monmouthshire and other local authorities in south-east Wales. How confident are you that the funding you're providing for the development of affordable housing proposals, across certainly south Wales, will be met?

You touched on the Heads of the Valleys ongoing investment scheme. I had a tour of the new road—the Clydach gorge part of the road—a few weeks ago, and it's certainly a very impressive piece of infrastructure, which is widely welcomed, I know, by businesses and local people. However, of course, on the downside, it is coming in considerably over budget and considerably behind timescale, which is leading to delays far in advance of what was originally anticipated and were tolerable by local people. So, I think my question would be: in relation to that project and similar large infrastructure projects, what mechanisms are you putting in place to make sure that the taxpayer is getting value for money, that projects like this are delivered as efficiently as possible and that there is proper scrutiny on the public purse? I know that, in future, the Public Accounts Committee, which I chair, will look at spending like this, but I'm thinking, in the meantime, what is being done at this moment in time to make sure that that spending is efficient?

I don't think you mentioned the critical care centre—I might be wrong—currently being developed in Cwmbran. That's another project on which there has been significant delay. However, it is now going up and, again, looks like an impressive building. So, could you, just at this mid point in your infrastructure programme, guarantee that that will open on the timescale that we are now looking at?

Can I finally say, as well as mentioning UK spending cuts, you also mentioned the obligatory Brexit, which features in many statements and debates—we've got another one tomorrow, I think—in this Chamber? I appreciate your concerns about Brexit and that it creates some uncertainty for your Government, but I would point out that that wasn't a decision of the UK Government; that was a decision of the UK people and the decision of, actually, a majority of the Welsh people. It probably wasn't the decision of a majority of my constituents or probably yours in Cardiff West, but it certainly was a decision that the Welsh people took. Do you not agree, Cabinet Secretary, that, rather than constantly bemoaning the effects of this, it is for the UK Government and the Welsh Government to now get on with delivering a stronger economy in the light of what's happening? I think the people of Wales will be looking to you to set forward a positive vision for the future that will take Wales where we need to go at this important juncture in our history.

14:45

Dirprwy Lywydd, I thank the Member for those questions. Let me take the two general ones first. As far as public spending constraint is concerned, the choice that faced the Government ought not to have been between steeper, swifter cuts and the long, slow strangulation of the UK economy, which they have embarked upon; the choice ought to have been to use counter-cyclical investment, particularly of an infrastructure sort at a time when the costs of borrowing had never been lower. And instead, George Osborne, rather than doing what was done in the United States of America and on the continent of Europe to take that opportunity to stimulate economic growth, chose the most inopportune moment you can imagine to reduce capital investment right across the United Kingdom. Now, of course, I entirely agree with what Nick Ramsay said: the UK Government is not to blame for the Brexit decision and I didn't suggest that they were. What I am reflecting in my statement is what private sector businesses and organisations tell this Government and tell the UK Government all the time, which is that the uncertainty about Brexit is having an impact on their ability to plan investment into the future. I believe that there are steps that the UK Government could have taken to have provided greater certainty in the way that they have gone about Brexit, but it is an unavoidable fact, for the UK Government as well as ours, that a major change of this sort, whatever view you may take of it, brings huge uncertainty with it, and that is making an impact on investment decisions of private businesses not just in Wales, but across the United Kingdom.

Can I briefly deal with the more specific questions the Member raised? I appreciate very much what he says about the twenty-first century schools programme. Monmouth local authority, like all local authorities in Wales, has benefited significantly from band A. We're now moving into band B and the five-year time horizon for band B of the twenty-first century schools programme remains unchanged.

I am confident that the capital investment we are making in affordable housing—the single greatest investment we will make as a Government—in order to achieve the 20,000 affordable homes that we want to see built during this Assembly term, provides the investment necessary and that we are on track to make sure that it is changed into the provision of that badly needed housing on the ground.

The point that the Member made about the previous phases of the Heads of the Valleys road has been well rehearsed here. There are genuine topographical challenges in that part of the construction. What I've announced today are the further steps we are taking to complete the whole of the Heads of the Valleys road using our mutual investment model.

I didn't mention, he's quite right, the critical care centre, Dirprwy Lywydd, because that is already catered for in funding terms in the plans that the Government has already announced.

14:50

I welcome this mid-point review. I've not had an opportunity to read it all as of yet, of course. I assume the Cabinet Secretary has. Could he share with us—? As this is a review, of course, it will have identified certainly things that worked very well and others that may not have worked so well, and, of course, it's those that didn't work so well that are perhaps those where lessons can be learnt. So, what didn't work out quite as the Government may have hoped when the WIIP was first announced six years ago? One of the objectives set at that point was to change the process more generally for investment, for example to bring the need for far more robust business cases in order to assess projects and to use evaluation techniques of a world-class quality. Now, has that happened to the extent that the Government had hoped?

Secondly, I'd like to turn to the question that—. We've rehearsed this issue many a time, Cabinet Secretary, but it is this issue of the balance of regional infrastructure investment across Wales. You did refer to it, actually, in your remarks in relation to the strategic picture that needs to take account both of national and regional needs. We've produced figures, of course, previously that have shown certainly the kind of imbalance in terms of capital investment that typically we see across the UK, and the fear is that we are becoming potentially a microcosm, a version, of that problem in the UK of over-concentration of capital investment, actually in the corner of the country that is already relatively affluent. Of course, we can't avoid it at the moment, but we have had—. Well, all our First Ministers have come from Cardiff and the M4 corridor around it, and we may have a fourth—

14:55

—well, that bit of the M4 corridor in south-east Wales—representing it. Obviously, politics does impact upon these decisions, so how can we make sure, whoever the next First Minister is, that there are structures in place, particularly looking at the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, to ensure that we get a better spread of investment across Wales? 

And finally, on the issue of the scale of ambition, it's great, by the way, to see the power there for the Welsh Government to raise bonds; I think we've actually called for that previously. But then the next question is, of course: what is the scale of our ambition in terms of the quantum? And there, Cabinet Secretary, you're absolutely right that there has been this historic opportunity with the low interest rates et cetera, and probably, we would say, a backlog of underinvestment in the past in the Welsh infrastructure. The WIIP was there to address that and to seize that opportunity, but yet, even if we take the figures that are in your statement—the £1 billion for the mutual investment model, the £1 billion in terms of the borrowing powers—that takes us up, in terms of financing on an annual basis, to about 1 per cent of the annual budget. The Scottish Government have a target of 5 per cent. And so, if we were to match their ambition in terms of our appetite for financing a capital programme on that scale, then we would be in a totally different situation, wouldn't we, in terms of the level of capital investment that we're currently able to finance. The 350-odd projects, the £42 billion—at the current rate, it will take 20 years, a generation, for us to actually work our way through the WIIP as a whole—there or thereabouts. Shouldn't we take this opportunity as we're reviewing the WIIP also to ask ourselves, 'Is the scale of our ambition equal to the opportunity and equal to the challenge that Wales currently faces in terms of its infrastructure?'   

Dirprwy Lywydd, thank you. I'd like to thank Adam Price for his questions. 

To answer his first couple of questions first, looking back over the first period of the WIIP, what will be some of the lessons I think we would learn from it? Well, I think the first is that we are putting considerably more emphasis in the mid-point review on the way in which Welsh Government investment has to act in a complementary way with the investments that other public sector bodies make in local government, for example, but also the major investments that go into transport, energy and water, and so on, by other major investment players in Wales. I think we've learnt the need to make sure that those things are better aligned.

I think we've learnt as well of the need of public authorities to have a finer-grained grasp of infrastructure within their own localities. So, the national assets working group we've set up, which has done—as I know Adam Price knows—a mapping exercise in the Cwm Taf area, trying to make sure that all partners on the ground are aware of the infrastructure assets that are owned by others, is therefore able to make better investment decisions, sharing facilities, releasing land for housing, creating better jobs in the management side of infrastructure and making the public pound go further. And I think that's something else we have learnt in this first part, and that's why we've produced a relatively modest sum of money—around £2 million—to make sure that that mapping exercise can be replicated right across Wales. 

Adam Price asked about whether we had succeeded in strengthening the way in which business cases are brought forward for investment, and the five-stage business case model has now been adopted as standard, and that was very much driven by some of the work that went into the original WIIP.

I don't dissent from the proposition that geography has to play a part in the way in which investment decisions are made, but I've never believed myself that it ought to be a determining criterion. I think, in the end, it has to be the quality of the proposal that comes forward, the return on public investment that it provides and the impact that it will have on the future of our economy. Those have to be the things we look at first, and then, of course, we have to see how investments can help us to spread and sustain prosperity in all parts of Wales.

I didn't mention in my statement the over £600 million of capital investment that will come with the city deals that have already been announced. And, of course, the growth deal for north Wales is now making further progress. There's the metro in Swansea, mentioned by Dr Dai Lloyd earlier this afternoon; the north-east Wales metro; the major investments that are going on in Anglesey to make it an energy island and the ambitions that we have there for marine energy in the future. I think we are able to show that we are investing in all parts of Wales. It's an important criterion that we use, but it is not the decisive one.

As far as ambition is concerned, I'm grateful to Adam Price for welcoming the news on bond issues. It is a matter I know he has raised regularly in the Chamber. I can tell him as well that I have already written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury alerting her to the fact that I intend to make a case for extending the borrowing powers available to the National Assembly as part of the forthcoming spending review.

The difference between Scotland and Wales, however, is rooted at least partly in the level of PFI debt that Scotland drew up in the first decade of devolution, which we, thankfully, decided to avoid. And there is a choice that he and I have rehearsed many times outside the Chamber and here: every time you finance borrowing, you have to eat into the revenue that is available to the Welsh Government for other purposes. And a case can be made for diverting more of our revenue to support additional capital borrowing, and it's a perfectly respectable case that can be made. But every £1 we divert in that way is £1 less for the very urgent revenue demands that the Government faces on all sides of the Chamber. We know that we don't have the money we need for our schools and our hospitals and all other great public services. So, it's a matter of judgment and there's a balance to be struck, and it's a challenging one to get right.

15:00

I wholly endorse what the finance Secretary has just said about the choices that have to be made, and the reality is, of course, that we are constrained by the Welsh block, which is out of our hands. Half of the budget goes on health, another quarter goes on education, and the remainder is split between the other heads upon which the Government spends. The amount available for capital spending is therefore limited, and the finance Secretary's hands are tied. So, we are talking here about a small part of the Welsh Government budget. The urgent need for Wales, as the poorest part of the United Kingdom, is to raise the tax base here, now that we've got limited freedom to raise future revenues from taxation. This is going to become increasingly important to make Wales a more attractive place for businesses to locate and to expand and to attract entrepreneurs into the country and to encourage those who are already here.

I know that the finance Secretary starts all these statements with the ritual trip down austerity avenue, but the fantasy that a UK Labour Government would have done anything very much different from what the Conservatives have done had they been in office after 2010 I think is nonsense. The Alistair Darling plans, on which the Brown Labour Government fought the 2010 election, was actually more restrictive than the plans that George Osborne proposed in his first financial statements. The idea that you can carry on spending money forever and have infinite deficit spending is disproved by the experience of countries as various as Venezuela and Zimbabwe. We've doubled the national debt since 2010 to nearly £2 trillion, which is now £22,000 for every single person in the United Kingdom. Yes, we've lived in an era of low interest rates, but if the Government's financial policy had been much more relaxed, then those interest rates would not have fallen as fast and as far as they did. Now, of course, there's only one way forward for interest rates, and that's up. So, we have to be ever more cautious, I think, in balancing the books, or moving towards that. George Osborne was continually pushed off to another day—Philip Hammond similarly—the day on which the budget is balanced. Now, that has implications, of course, for us here in Wales too. But for the future, looking at it in the very longer term, we want to have a tax policy in Wales that is going to encourage growth and investment. You have to create wealth before you can spend it. If you spend it before it's been created, then you end up in the same position as Mr Micawber. 

But to move to the specifics, I just want to make a couple of points. The statement says that the plan's been at the heart of the Welsh Government's work to create and sustain economic growth, but, of course, economic growth in terms of private sector businesses in Wales has been modest since the inception of the plan, and, in fact, mid and west Wales is one of the worst. I do endorse what Adam Price has said about the need to have a more equitable spread of investment throughout the country.

Wales, according to the Barclays entrepreneurs index, has the second lowest number of high-growth companies in the UK, at only 77. The number of companies receiving venture capital funding has also increased from 23 last year now to 32. The value of this investment hasn't increased; it's stable year on year at only £9 million. These are very disappointing figures.

The StatsWales figures on active business enterprises per 10,000 population show that, overall, the Wales figures have an increase of only 57 active businesses per 10,000 since 2012. And mid and west Wales figures are very much below the best areas and the Wales average overall. Mid Wales being, for these purposes, Powys and Ceredigion combined, shows an increase of only 31 active businesses per 10,000 population between 2012 and 2016. So, we need to do something to ensure, from the Welsh Government's ability to spend, that we build upon these modest successes so that we reduce the imbalances in Wales. Looking at the increases in business turnover between 2012 and 2017, again from the StatsWales figures, Wales has seen an overall increase of 13.8 per cent. Pembrokeshire has seen only a 3 per cent increase. I know you're never going to have everybody at the average throughout the whole country, obviously, and things change over time, but we should, I think, at least endeavour to ensure that there's a greater equity in the way Government is spending. I'm sure that Lee Waters will find that it grows on him the longer it gets. The other—[Interruption.]

15:05

No, you don't get much longer because you've had far more time than the other two spokespeople. So, if you could come to some questions, thank you.

Right, of course. I defer always to your authority, Deputy Presiding Officer.

I would just like to make a further plea, lastly, in relation to broadband access because, again, for mid and west Wales, of the 10 constituencies with the slowest broadband connection, seven out of 10 were in mid and west Wales. In Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and Montgomeryshire, Ceredigion and Dwyfor Meirionnydd, over 50 per cent of broadband connections are slower than 10 MB per second in 2016. I do applaud what the Welsh Government has done in this respect to improve connectivity, but I think there is a lot more that still needs to be done, and it can only be done if we can provide greater finance for it. So, I wonder if the finance Secretary could give us his reflections on those few points that I've made.

Thank you very much. Let me first of all identify a small number of points where I would not agree with what the Member has said. He said that the Welsh Government's hands are tied. Our hands are not as completely tied as they once were, very largely due to the work carried out by my predecessor, Jane Hutt, in setting off down the road of innovative ways of adding to the conventional capital that is available to us. And I tried to set some of those out in the way that we have supported borrowing that was capable of being undertaken by housing associations and local councils and in the way that we have used sources of funding outside the Welsh block. Of course, the big context is set by the block in the way that Neil Hamilton said. Let me say to him: austerity isn't an avenue, it's a dead end. That's what the continual pushing into the distance of the day when we will finally see it come to a conclusion demonstrates.

I've not argued at all, Dirprwy Lywydd, this afternoon, for infinite spending, but the clue is in the term, isn't it—'capital' investment? Capital spending is not just money poured down the drain, it is the money that we use to create the conditions in which we get a greater return as a result of the investment than we would have if we hadn't made it. And that's how we manage—and I agree with what he said here—to try and raise the tax base in Wales, to try and make sure that our economy is able to do better. What do businesses coming into Wales expect to see? They expect to see the sort of infrastructure that they know public spending will support the investment that they are willing to make. And so I don't agree with him that capital investment is somehow something that we should be sceptical about. We invest today in order to succeed tomorrow, and the success we have tomorrow more than pays back the investment that we make in order to get there.

I thank him for what he said at the end about broadband access. He's seen that there's over £30 million in today's announcement of additional investment over the next three years in broadband access. My understanding, but you'd hear much more of it from my colleague who has responsibility for it, is that that money will, in part at least, be spent in those parts of Wales where the broadband challenge is at its greatest and to enable us to accelerate the infrastructure that we need in digital technologies, again because businesses in that part of Wales—their future and their growth depends on it.

15:10

I very much welcome the statement by the Cabinet Secretary, who I'm sure agrees with me that the choice is often between austerity or growth and what austerity is doing is strangling growth in the British economy and the Welsh economy. Could I also say that it wasn't serendipity that Wales has got low PFI? It was good decisions taken by the Welsh Government at the time. They could've followed Scotland and England and built up that debt.

I'd like to put on record my personal congratulations to Jane Hutt, the person who started off this 10-year programme. I just look at the benefits it has given to my constituency: the new secondary schools, the new primary schools, the improved transport infrastructure, the new homes. That's what we try to get elected for—to improve the lives of the constituents we represent. Capital expenditure is incredibly important, not just to provide the buildings, but very much to reflate the Welsh economy. You put money in—capital expenditure—and you buy goods and you employ people and the money gets circulated inside the economy. This is something that doesn't seem to have crossed Philip Hammond's mind, because it probably doesn't appear on his spreadsheet.

It's a very important point that Adam Price raised about bonds, but the important thing about bonds is not to use them, but to have the capacity to use them to keep the Public Works Loan Board honest. Very few people—. You'll see them used—bonds—by local government bodies. Transport for London took out a very substantial bond, but very few other people have. When the Public Works Loan Board started looking at increasing interest rates, people started looking to bonds in order to push their rates down. I think it's important that we have the ability to use bonds, not necessarily because we want to use them, but because they give us power over the Public Works Loan Board, which, if we didn't have that, would be the only lender we could go to.

Can I just say I very much welcome the £60 million over three years to accelerate the creation of active travel routes to connect residential areas with key employment and educational sites and services? I'm sure that my colleague Lee Waters is going to say more about that later on. When will the split by region or local authority be available, or will local authorities have to bid, and how will those bids be decided?

Inside this money, will there be extra money available for the Swansea bay city region for transport within that region? I know we use the word 'metro' because that's the word we've got used to, but improved bus and rail links, opening additional railway stations, making it easier for people to cycle and walk within that area is really what I'm talking about in that. For relatively small sums, huge improvements can be made in terms of ensuring that cycle routes are completed, that buses and trains actually meet each other so you can get off a bus and catch a train or get off a train and catch a bus, rather than being unco-ordinated, and that buses get close to the railway stations, rather than making people walk 200 yards, or 200m in modern parlance, when it's raining.

My final question is: waste recycling collaboration, will there be money available for that, and how will that be distributed?

15:15

Well, let me begin by agreeing, as Mike Hedges predicted I would, with a point he made at the outset: the problem with austerity is that it is self-defeating. It creates the problem it claims to address, and that's why we find ourselves in the position that we do. He's absolutely right to say, of course, not using PFI was a deliberate decision by Welsh Governments in the first decade of devolution, and I well remember the criticisms that were levelled at the Welsh Government at the time for making just that decision. I think we now see the wisdom of it. Every one of us, Dirprwy Lywydd, I think, can point to the impact of capital investment during the first period of the WIIP in our own constituencies, whether that is in health or in education or in transport or in housing and the other key purposes that were identified for it.

Can I thank Mike Hedges for reminding us of the multiplier effect of capital investment? It isn't just the building that you see, or the transport link that is created, it's the supply chains that it supports, it's the jobs that are created there, it's the spending in local economies, it's that benign economic cycle that capital expenditure brings.

Dirprwy Lywydd, Mike Hedges was also right to remind us that the issuing of bonds does not extend the capital limit of the Welsh Government. It doesn't give us more money to invest, but what it does is it gives us more choices in the way that we can get to that capital limit, and were the day to come where the interest rate in the Public Works Loan Board were to rise—and the UK Government were tempted to do that, as Mike said, not that long ago—we would have somewhere else to go. That's an important lever in our hands.

I'd like to be able to answer the more detailed questions that Mike raised in relation to active travel, to the Swansea area, to waste recycling and so on, but those are things that fall to my Cabinet colleagues. They will provide the detail to Members in a series of announcements that I'm sure they will be making over the coming days.

Cabinet Secretary, can I also welcome the midpoint review of the Wales infrastructure investment plan, which I did launch, as you stated, in 2012? We developed the plan to ensure that Welsh Government decisions on capital investment are made in accordance with agreed Wales-wide strategic Welsh Government priorities. Can I welcome the £9 billion invested as a result of the WIIP, including that pipeline of the wider public sector and private sector investment in terms of profiles and planning, and welcome the fact that that has been in accordance with the five-case business model that has underpinned the efficiency, maintenance and management of the plan?

Thus, two questions from me: in terms of the innovative finance schemes you are progressing, can you update us on the current and post-Brexit access to loans from the European Investment Bank? The bank has played a key role in infrastructure investment in Wales, including the private as well as the public sector, with the landmark Swansea University second campus as a clear example—of course, also backed by Welsh Government and European regional development funding. Will we be able to continue to access European Investment Bank funding? Can you also confirm that the European structural funds—and you highlight the £720 million that is being used for capital investment in Wales in this programme—will be fully drawn down in this programme timeline, and for what key purposes? Can I thank you for opening the Llantwit Major Comprehensive School learning campus, which, of course, was as a result of the twenty-first century schools investment programme, funded in partnership with the Vale of Glamorgan Council?

Just finally, Mike Hedges and you in your response to him, talked about the wider impact on the economy. The impact today on the construction sector is crucial, and it would be helpful to know if you can identify the jobs that will be created. We have shown in Wales that we can be innovative and we can, in fact, challenge austerity through innovation and careful management and prioritisation of our resources.

15:20

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. First of all, can I say to Jane Hutt that the Llantwit Major learning campus is an absolutely excellent example of what I said about how all our constituencies have flagship places that we can point to that are there because of the work that the WIIP set in motion?

The Member made a very important point about the construction sector. I attended an event at Coleg y Cymoedd yesterday, in which I was able to meet several groups of young people—I was very pleased to see a number of young women amongst them—who are following courses in engineering and in the railway industry, making sure that they have the skills that are needed for the construction sector in the future, and to hear from the Institution of Civil Engineers, for example, just how important the WIIP has been to them in allowing them and their Members to plan ahead for capital investment that they know is here in Wales.

Two specific questions from Jane. Firstly, in relation to the European Investment Bank, we have argued from the beginning that the UK should aim to remain a subscribing partner of the bank. We are a major capital holder within the bank, and of course Wales has benefited from it. The European Union UK phase 1 report on the negotiations says that there is a prospect of what is called a 'continuing arrangement' between the UK and the EIB. I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the basis of that report, to press on him the point that we clearly see merit in a mutually beneficial relationship with the bank, and making a number of technical suggestions to him, based on our experience as to how an ongoing relationship with the EIB could be secured.

As to structural funds, we continue to operate within the Chancellor's guarantee, which sets a limit of 2019 for us to commit all structural funds available to us during the current round. I remain hopeful, Dirprwy Lywydd, if not optimistic, that that transition arrangement, which is part of the first phase 1 deal, once it is confirmed, that that will mean we are able to use structural funds in the current round on the basis of business as usual. That is to say that they will go to the end of the seven-year period, and two years beyond that, so that we are able to make even better use of the resources that are available to us.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, I rise to praise the Government. I warmly welcome the announcement of £20 million a year for active travel investment. Having been the first Government in the world to set out a statutory requirement for long-term planning to get walking and cycling to be a more commonly used, everyday option, I think it's right that the resource is now beginning to be put in place—not least because this is a cross-cutting benefit, not only tackling public health but climate change and congestion too.

There are a number of questions I have, but as you rightly remind us, the details are for the relevant Cabinet Secretaries. A question for you, perhaps, is if you can help point us, in the future, to the total amount of investment the Government now makes in walking and cycling schemes. It is quite difficult to disentangle the various different funding streams, and I think it would be helpful, given the scale of this announcement, to have a global figure, which would allow us to compare our spending with other countries. And also, you mentioned that the £60 million is to connect residential areas. As the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for planning is also present, I thought I'd take the opportunity just to underline the importance of getting the maximum benefit from this investment. It can't be just a matter of Welsh Government giving grants for new infrastructure. We must ensure that when new developments take place, that is hardwired into the design. So, the new 'Planning Policy Wales' iteration that's out to consultation must include, not as desirable but as an essential requirement, that active travel routes are included within planning policy. So, I would encourage you to have conversations with your Cabinet colleagues to make sure that we get the most out of the investment that you've announced, which I very warmly welcome.

15:25

Dirprwy Lywydd, thank you to Lee Waters for those points. I said, in my statement, that one of the key principles that links nearly all of the investments I've announced today is the contribution that I want to see them making to the efforts being made by Lesley Griffiths to reduce carbon emissions right across the Welsh Government. The money going to active travel will certainly help to do that. It will improve air quality, it will build physical activity into people's daily lives, it will provide those wider health benefits, and it is designed, as I said, to connect residential areas with key employment, educational sites and other places where people have to go in order to carry out their daily lives. So, other Government Members will have heard what Lee Waters has said about making the very most of the additional investment and, of course, I agree with him there. I don't have a figure immediately in front of me that would draw together the total amount of investment that the Welsh Government is now making in walking and cycling and other active travel initiatives, but I'm very happy to commission that, and I'll write to the Member with a figure that he can then rely upon.

4. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs: The National Development Framework

Item 4 on the agenda is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs on the national development framework. I call on the Cabinet Secretary, Lesley Griffiths.

Member
Lesley Griffiths AM 15:27:11
Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Creating sustainable places where people can lead active and healthy lives and be proud to say where they come from is a priority of the Welsh Government. The planning system plays a central role in delivering these places, and the process by which we do it is place making. There are many components to successful place making. The Government must play a part in this by providing leadership and putting in place a policy framework for the planning system that has place making at its core.

Last February, I launched, for consultation, a new version of our national planning policy, 'Planning Policy Wales'. The document expressly recognises the multifaceted nature of the well-being goals and ways of working under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The revised version of PPW seeks to put sustainable place making at the centre of our national planning policy. To complement PPW and enhance place making, yesterday I issued for consultation the preferred option for the national development framework. This is the first formal outward-facing stage in the preparation of the NDF, which will replace the Wales spatial plan. Unlike the Wales spatial plan, the NDF will have development plan status.

The NDF will play an important role in the delivery of the Government’s national strategy 'Prosperity for All', which, in turn, recognises the role of the NDF and the need to co-ordinate the planning of new homes, facilities and infrastructure by local authorities, health boards, housing associations and other key partners. The NDF will have a 20-year time horizon and will sit at the top of the hierarchy of development plans in Wales. Beneath it will sit strategic development plans and local development plans, and the legislative provisions require any plans beneath the NDF to conform to it. This represents a very powerful mechanism for shaping the planning system in Wales, and it is essential that local development plans are prepared and reviewed in a timely way if we are to give effect to our place making ambitions.

The preferred option is the product of considerable stakeholder engagement, testing and challenge, and reflects the structure of the draft PPW. Taken together, PPW and the NDF strengthen the role of place making in the planning system. We must turn away from thinking of the important issues of the day, such as housing, transport, health and energy as discreet issues, and recognise their combined impacts on places. It is time to re-energise the planning system and local planning authorities to deliver sustainable places for future generations.

The consultation on the preferred option for the NDF closes on 23 July. I encourage everyone with an interest in the long-term development of Wales and the creation of sustainable places to make their opinions known by responding to both consultations on PPW and the NDF. Thank you. 

15:30

Can I welcome the announcement today? One of the disadvantages—and, Deputy Presiding Officer, you'll share fully in this—of first being elected in 1999 is that we remember going around this race course in the first place, and the spatial plan was regarded as being highly innovative, ground-breaking indeed, a 20-year vision, integration across the main public policy areas so that they're not viewed as discreet entities, regional planning as a new concept that was going to give relevance to the planning cycle. That was published in 2004. And I cannot tell you how much it dominated the first Assembly, this whole concept of thinking spatially. We updated the plan in 2008 and then you did a further update in 2013. And, about half way through this whole process, in 2009, the chair of the north Wales economic forum heavily criticised the plan saying that it was good in theory but it was very difficult to actually see what it delivered. I think that's a very broad criticism and it's not entirely fair, but I think it does sum up some of the frustrations. 

Can I just ask some very specific questions? When will the draft national development framework be laid before the Assembly for its consideration, because there is a danger that it'll come to us very late, in the sort of late evening of this Assembly term? I just wonder if you have anything further to tell us on that. And what then have you learned from the Wales spatial plan? What is being preserved in that concept, and what is now being ditched as not being effective? And I notice that, obviously, its statutory significance, in that local development plans have to refer to it, is a big change. 

I'd like to know how the national/regional significance divide will be defined. I think that's part of the problem at this level of planning. And will your regions be the same six sub-regions in the Wales spatial plan—with slightly blurred boundaries, it has to be said—or have you come up with a different way of doing this? When will local development plans have to show that they are compliant with the NDF? It could be a long time, I think, before that happens, given the length of time this is going to take to get through the system. And how will the strategic development plans, the regional plans, work alongside city deals? I think these are some very important questions. 

And then, on housing, I know we'll have some further detail possibly this afternoon, but you do say that you are now going to have regional housing projections, and I just wonder how that will fit alongside the revised projections that were produced in 2015, but not taken up—the Holmans alternative projection. And how will that current review in developing regional housing projections fit in with the recent announcement on the affordable housing supply review that is now going on?

However, it's important we get this right. Obviously, we have new legislation in this area, and I think it's important that we strive to get an integrated, coherent planning system. But, on reflecting on one of the major initiatives in the early stages of devolution, spatial planning, it doesn't seem to me to have been a stunning success. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, David Melding, for your observations and your questions. I think the Wales spatial plan—. I wasn't here in 1999, but I think it was very innovative, but it did have limited influence, and it didn't have the statutory weight to be able to influence decisions in the way that the national development framework will do. It also had, I think, very limited national strategic spatial prioritisation, and I think it lacked that national overview that I think we desperately need. So, that's what, certainly, I've learned from looking at how the Wales spatial plan developed. So, the statutory development plan—and you referred to this in your comments; the statutory development plan status of the NDF will ensure that it can set the direction to lower-tier development plans and then influence that decision making.

You asked about the timeline. We'll be out to consultation next year. This is the first stage of this process. It's very technical, but nothing's been written; there is no content yet. There's been a huge amount of stakeholder work that has been undertaken by my officials—I think they've spoken to about 200 different stakeholders over the past year to get to this stage, but this is really the first stage of preparing. So, next year, 2019, we'll go out to consultation. That's when, obviously, there will be scrutiny, and a plan will be in place in 2020.

You asked about city deals and growth areas and about LDPs and SDPs, and I've made it very clear to local authorities they have to have LDPs in place. We are trying to get them to work at a strategic development level as well. It is meeting with a little resistance, shall I say. Next week—I think it's next week—I'm meeting with all the lead members of planning, where we will be able to discuss this further. The planning system is very complex, and I think we need to get some simplification of it, if you like. And one of the ways of bringing all these different tiers together, and it's why I went out to consultation with PPW—. And also, in my own portfolio, I have energy policies, which sometimes clash with planning. So, I think it's really important that we get everything right, and the NDF will help us in that way too.

So, the planning system will obviously play a crucial role in delivering the Cardiff and Swansea city deals—the proposed north Wales and mid Wales growth deals also, if those bids are approved—by setting out our strategic spatial policies on housing, on employment, on transport, on education, on digital infrastructure, on tourism. And I have had conversations with all my Cabinet Secretary colleagues ahead of this stage also.

In relation to housing, I've also met with the Minister for Housing and Regeneration. What I want the NDF to do is to provide strategic direction for housing, again linked to connectivity infrastructure; I think it's very important that that happens around key facilities, and also where there are areas of growth, so we have that very clear focus on place making. I do think there is an opportunity for the NDF to identify a national policy-based population and housing projection. That could include an all-Wales range of housing numbers for a planned period. It's something that Scotland are looking at, and I'll be very happy to learn from them.

15:35

Thank you for the statement. The national development framework will set the national strategy for planning for the next 20 years, as you note. So, it is very important that the Welsh Government consults as much as possible to ensure that the right objectives are set and that the right strategy is in place to deliver the framework. Of course, the strategic development plans and the local development plans will have to dovetail with the framework, and that's another reason for having a thorough consultation in rural areas as well as in urban areas, and with different demographic groups in Wales.

I think it's also very important on this point that the people of Wales—and the local authorities, if truth be told—understand what the purpose of the national development framework is and its relationship with the two layers underneath it. Now, it looks like something completely technical and boring on the surface, but I think it's important that people do understand that this does set out the framework for development for such a long period of time, and that they have to be part of that process. So, I think that having a clear explanation of what the purpose of this is, right at the beginning, would be very beneficial.

I agree with David Melding that we do need to learn lessons from the spatial plan for Wales. I wasn't here in 1999 either, but I do remember that period, and I remember that it was very unpopular, that it caused a great deal of ill-feeling and opposition. So, I hope that this framework won't suffer the same fate and follow the same direction. So, could you give assurance that this consultation will be a genuine consultation and not just a tick-box exercise where the final decision and the favoured option is already decided—that that's not what we'll end up with?

Now, the document does mention providing

'direction for the three regions across Wales—North Wales, Mid & South West Wales and South East Wales.'

Who says that those are the three regions that we have in Wales? The framework also mentions focusing on strategic housing, providing connective infrastructure in the city deal and growth deal areas and support for rural areas as well. I don't understand entirely what that's supposed to mean. Is the intention to compel local authorities to work on matters that have been decided by the Welsh Government within regions that are set out and directed by the United Kingdom Government—the city regions and so on, which are currently being emulated by the Welsh Government?

Turning to the issue of the Welsh language, of course the lack of affordable housing is a particular problem in several communities, while other communities feel that housing has been built in the wrong place, without the facilities and services that are needed for the growth in population. The major challenge that Wales will face over the next 20 years, of course, is developing the Welsh language and ensuring that it flourishes, and the planning system does have a part to play in that objective of reaching a million Welsh speakers.

This potential for the planning system won't be achieved if the Welsh Government doesn't provide strong leadership and robust leadership in this area. I would suggest at the beginning that we need reform and strengthening of technical advice note 20, which contradicts the Planning (Wales) Act 2015. We've had this discussion before, but I'm sticking to my guns and I very much hope this will give us an opportunity to have that discussion again.

Now, there is an opportunity with the framework for the Welsh Government to give clear leadership to local authorities with regard to linguistic planning. So, my final question is: will you provide certainty that the national development framework will include a clear statement and an unequivocal statement about the importance of the Welsh language in planning how to use land? Thank you.

15:40

Diolch, Siân Gwenllian. I can absolutely reassure you that it is a genuine consultation. As I said in my answer to David Melding, not a word has been written yet. This is really the start of the process, even though there has been huge consultation with stakeholders by my officials over the past year. I think I mentioned about 200 stakeholders and that includes all local authorities—you referred to local authorities—health boards, public services boards. But the real hard work starts now. And it is very technical and, because it isn't something tangible, it is hard to ensure that people do understand just what an important document this is and what it is intended to do. 

It will be a national land use development plan. You know that I'm out to consultation at the moment on the draft marine plan. So, that's obviously for the water and the sea. This is an equivalent for the land and, as I've mentioned, it will replace the existing Wales spatial plan and it will set out the 20-year spatial framework for land use in Wales. So, it is a context for new infrastructure, it's also for growth at national, at regional and local levels also. 

You asked about rural communities and, again, how I envisage the NDF working is it will support living and working in rural places to make sure that they're economically and socially and environmentally sustainable and vibrant. The policies within it will provide a framework for rural housing, for instance, which you referred to, but also services, facilities—including health and education—and employment and connectivity. That's to make sure that our rural communities retain and attract people and obviously help deliver a much more prosperous and sustainable rural Wales.

You asked specific questions around the Welsh language. We are under a duty to consider the impacts of the NDF on the language and we're doing that as part of the integrated assessment process. Planning can obviously create conditions whereby the language is allowed to thrive and that's providing opportunities for new jobs and for housing and community facilities. So, I believe the NDF can indirectly help us reach that target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050, which we want to do, by promoting developments in the right places.

In relation to local authorities, I mentioned that officials have been in discussions with local authorities so that they do understand where the LDPs and the SDPs fit in. I think what the NDF gives us is a better means of showing the major development priorities for Wales, and that's ensuring also that the planning system is aligned. So, I want to work with local authorities and developers to show where our priorities are, but also to help them reach difficult decisions more quickly. Because you'll be aware that sometimes things land up on my desk and I think that that will help them before they get to that situation—that will help them. So, what the NDF will do is sit, if you like, at the top of a pyramid of development plans, with strategic development plans for the regional level and the local development plans at the local authority scale. It's hugely important that the three work well together. We want to avoid duplication, for instance. The NDF will focus on the national matters, if you like—the matters that affect that large part of Wales—but the strategic and local development plans will remain responsible for the detail and for identifying sites for different types of development.

15:45

I thank the Minister for today's statement. We're talking today about plans and planning and, as the Minister just outlined a moment ago, we seem to be heading towards broadly three types of plan: local development plans at the bottom, a national development framework at the top, and strategic development plans in the middle.

We have had issues of public contention over LDPs in recent years, with councils feeling that, in some cases, their hands were tied in having to proceed with LDPs that were not always universally popular with some, or large portions, of their electorate. So, I think one of the problems, or one of the issues, or, to use a popular phrase in Government, one of the challenges that you're going to have going forward is: how do you retain democratic consent for a major overhaul of planning, involving decisions taken at regional and even national levels? That may be the main challenge that you have, going forward, because if we've had a problem at a fairly localised level with LDPs, how do we ensure that we don't actually magnify these problems, going forward, with larger-scale planning like the SDPs and the NDF as a whole? So, I suppose my first question is: broadly, how will you ensure that you retain a large measure of democratic consent to these kinds of proposals? It's going to come down a lot to the structure of what you set up.

David Melding, who spoke first, gave us what I found a very interesting historical look at what was attempted in the first Assembly term with the spatial plan, which, I must confess, I wasn't much aware of. I don't remember it being a matter of massive newspaper talk at the time, but perhaps my memory fails me. But, obviously, it was a major development of the Government in the first term, which didn't really work. So, now we are where we are with a new scheme. So, how will you learn from the lessons of the spatial plan? I wonder what lessons you take yourself, Minister, from the relative failure of the spatial plan and how we can ensure that this plan will not replicate those failures. 

I think there are problems, and I'm hopeful that this will be broadly a success, but I can see issues, going forward, because you also have a local government reorganisation, which is still in the mix, which your colleague sat two doors down from you is in charge of. Obviously, there's a separation between you as the planning Minister and him as the local government Minister, and that can sometimes cause problems. You're obviously going to have to work closely together on this to ensure this is a success. I wonder how these things are going to dovetail. At the same time, we've also got the city deals coming in, the growth deals, so I hope this all doesn't become very messy and I hope that you can retain between the two of you, and the housing Minister as well, a broad measure of control over this. So, I wonder broadly what your thoughts are on those points.

One issue that I did particularly want to ask about was the SDPs. I know you stated that these are going to be statutory—sorry, the NDF will be statutory. So, this will influence, is bound to influence, decisions taken at the lower tiers. I'm just slightly puzzled as to who actually takes the decisions with the SDPs. It seems to be the local authorities together. You said you were trying to get them to work together at a strategic level. How does that work with your statutory powers? How will that actually work in practice? Will they be working at the same level as the city deals? Will it be the city regions that actually take the decisions over the SDPs, or will it be some other conglomeration of different local authorities? Diolch yn fawr.

15:50

I thank Gareth Bennett for his comments and questions. I think I need to reassure—. Well, I've ensured my officials have reassured local planning authorities, and I'm very happy to reassure members that the NDF isn't some kind of power grab or a bypass for good, effective local decision making. If we think about it, over 25,000 planning applications are dealt with by local planning authorities each year, and only a handful are taken by Welsh Ministers. That won't change as a result of the NDF. What the NDF gives us is a better means of showing the major development priorities for Wales and ensuring that that planning system is aligned. You're absolutely right; you heard me in my answer to Siân Gwenllian that the NDF will sit at the top of a pyramid of development plans and the SDPs and the LDPs will be underneath at a regional and local authority level. 

Local authorities have already played a very significant part in reaching this very early consultation stage. They've been very involved with early engagement. However, I do think there is much more we can do with them. I have an offer on the table to all local authorities to work with us as we gather our evidence now ahead of bringing forward the draft NDF. I will continue to seek the views of local authorities, but of course there is an onus on them to play a very full and active role. I've also made it very clear that the NDF is not an excuse to delay any work on local development plans or the review of LDPs that is currently taking place by all the planning authorities. There won't be any surprises in terms of the content of the NDF, because we expect them to work with us in preparing it. 

You referred to the Wales spatial plan, which you didn't know about, being a failure. I wouldn't go as far as to say that, but I will go—. I think David Melding referred to the sort of enthusiasm that the first Wales spatial plan was greeted with, and I think it's absolutely fair to say that it didn't deliver the meaningful change that the first Government wanted. 

You asked me what lessons we've learned and I think the big lesson that I've personally learned, and clearly officials have learned, is that because it didn't have that framework and that status of being a development plan, it didn't have the teeth, if you like, to bring forward that meaningful change. So, that's why we've given that status to the NDF, because I don't want it just to become some sort of glossy document that sits on the shelf and it doesn't have the teeth to drive that change that we want to see.

I work closely with all my Cabinet Secretary and ministerial colleagues. I mentioned that I've met them all before we've even got to this stage to see what their priorities are. It's very much a cross-Government document. We don't work in silos. We work very closely together, and I referred to what work I've been doing with my colleague the Minister for Housing and Regeneration. The Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, as you say, is initiating work around reform. This will dovetail with it. Obviously, we've got 25 local planning authorities with the 22 local authorities and, clearly, in the work that Alun Davies is taking forward, I will work very closely with him on that. 

15:55

I strongly support the principle of a national development plan and a strategic development plan sitting above the local development plans. I think that we too often look at areas in isolation, and for those who know the area near where I live, you have Parc Trostre and you have Fforestfach retail park, which are both three or four miles apart. They have an effect on each other, but they're dealt with by different planning authorities, and under any changes anybody's put forward in recent times, it would still be under different planning authorities. We've seen the development of a second campus in Swansea, which I think has been a tremendous building, but it actually has a much bigger effect on Swansea than it does on Neath Port Talbot, the council which by serendipity it appears in. It was a bit of land that nobody used, and they followed a stream down to get a boundary. So, I think it is really important that we do end up having a strategic overview. 

Can I go back to before the spatial plan? The spatial plan only replaced the old county plans. The county plans existed and they designated areas within a county for different usages. It's quite interesting that the county plans disappeared, because the counties' planning departments disappeared, because somebody decided that if there was a planning department in a district and a planning department in the county, there must be some form of overlap there where you can bring efficiency in by merging them. People have always wanted to merge things to bring efficiencies in; one day it will work. And we found out then that the county plans disappeared, so you didn't have a county development plan, which was very useful. I think that we do need overall development plans, because people are always affected by the area next to them, and that's not solved by the boundaries of Wales or the boundaries of council areas, however big you make them, or by the boundaries of the city regions. 

I've got two real questions. Will you be looking to designate land for forestry? One of the great failures over the last few years is that the amount of afforestation that should have taken place in Wales hasn't. Many people in this room are very keen on increasing the amount of forestry in Wales. Will you be designating areas, like the county plans used to designate areas for minerals and areas for forestry? Will that be in there so that you can have areas designated, so that we can actually have enough land available for afforestation to actually meet our plans? 

The second question is: we've now got a marine plan separate to the national development plan—why? I've come to the conclusion that the sea at every point meets land. And I'm also of the view that ports, for example, have an effect on marine; at least part of them is on land and part of them is at sea. Surely, one unitary plan covering marine and land would be better than having two plans, because I'm sure somebody in the future will be wanting to join them.        

Thank you, Mike Hedges, for those questions. I'll take the second one first. I think that's actually a very good point as to why we did separate plans, and I suppose when I came into the portfolio exactly two years ago I was very conscious of the fact that we didn't have any strategic view of our marine—our seas and our waters—and it was becoming more and more of an issue, and I was very keen to get the marine plan up and running. As it was, it took me just over a year. If I'd have waited for the NDF as well—and, obviously, the NDF isn't going to come until 2020—that would have prolonged it, but I think it is very important that they do dovetail very much together. 

In relation to your question around forestry, certainly, I absolutely agree with you that we're not planting as many trees as we would all wish to, and clearly that's a piece of work that my colleague the Minister for Environment is taking forward. I think what the NDF has the potential to do is aid the delivery of the natural resources policy that we've brought forward. I think there's potential for all three of the NRP's priorities to be supported by the NDF. Obviously, the planning system has a key role to play in helping to reverse the decline of biodiversity, for instance. So, we can certainly look as to whether we designate areas for forestry and, again, I mentioned that is absolutely a blank piece of paper at the moment. So, we can certainly see what responses come in from the consultation, but I do think that that is an area that we can look at going forward.

16:00

Thank you for the statement, Minister. I just want to focus on one aspect of it, and that's energy. The statement, rather than the consultation, makes it clear that energy is at the heart of the place making, as you suggested. Specifically, there's a great deal of talk in the consultation, in the paper, of renewable energy, which is in the Welsh Government's hands, of course. But it's also true to say that there are major energy developments beyond renewable energy that can affect communities. You think of the Aberthaw power station, for example. The climate change committee heard evidence just last week that the closure of that power station, which is in the pipeline from the Westminster Government, is crucially important for the Welsh Government's climate change targets. We've just seen a planning application for the reopening of the coal mine in Aberpergwm, which raises questions as to how energy developments of this kind fit in with the other concept that you espouse, because the purpose of any national strategic plan is to deliver on the ground what you have within national policy; that its purpose. So, when you talk in the consultation about nationally important energy projects, can you just tell us today whether the 'national' there is referring to Wales or the UK? I only use 'national' in reference to Wales, of course, but I occasionally see it being used in the context of the UK. So, it's just so that we can understand that fully, so that we can be clear about that.

Secondly, as has been mentioned already, your alternative choice in this consultation talks about three regions in Wales, which means that mid Wales goes with the south-west of Wales. But, of course, we do have four regions to all intents and purposes with the ambition region in north Wales, the Ceredigion and Powys growth area, and then the two city regions in the south. As you perhaps know, yesterday, there was a conference held in the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, looking at energy in Swansea bay city region—it was held by the Institute of Welsh Affairs—and one of the things that was discussed and indeed was recommended in that conference was that there should be energy and renewable energy targets at a regional level in Wales. That is, in order to reach your national targets, as set out in this consultation, you will also need regional targets, because different regions may perform better than others in terms of renewable energy—mid Wales makes a significant contribution in terms of wind turbines, for example. So, related to this idea of three regions, are you wedded to that, and, as a result, will you be introducing renewable energy targets on a regional basis?

Thank you. In relation to the word 'national', I too am talking about Wales when I refer to the NDF. I think getting our energy policy and our planning policy aligned and correct is very important. I mentioned a clash of policies at times, and I'm having to look at a planning application for renewable energy, say wind turbines, and because it sits outside an area—you know, the planning policy—there is that clash. You mentioned another one that's just come before me. So, I think it's really important that we do align our policies, and that's one of the reasons for going out on 'Planning Policy Wales' in order that we are able to reach the targets that I set for renewable energy and the types of energy back in December.

In relation to the regions, no I'm not wedded to these, and I think this is an area that we can look at over this period now when we're looking at the preferred option and setting the scene, if you like, ahead of the draft NDF coming out next year. Looking at whether we should have regional targets for energy is something that we can look at. I think the most important thing is that the NDF supports our decarbonisation aims and helps us build resilience to the impacts of climate change. I think that's something that I would want it, obviously, to do.

If we're going to achieve our strategic decarbonisation goals, I think that has to be a central goal of the NDF, and that includes, obviously, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. So, what I want the NDF to do is support the delivery of our targets through policies that then support generation through a range of technology, and also provide a framework for the delivery of local energy generation also.

You mentioned major energy infrastructure, and, again, I think it gives us an excellent opportunity—the NDF—to spatially express our very positive planning policies on energy infrastructure in order, again, that we can meet our climate change obligations and also our renewable energy targets. My officials are currently examining opportunities to map the potential for new large-scale renewable energy infrastructure across Wales. And, again, placing those in planning policy I think will enable us to show real leadership where we consider the developments are best placed.

16:05

I'm very pleased, and I very much welcome the hardwiring of the well-being goals and the ways of working of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 into the planning policy for Wales, and into the national development framework. In the light of that, I wonder if you can say a little bit more about its development plan status and whether it enables you to do some of the following. For example, does it enable you to make it clear that out-of-town shopping centres will not be welcomed in the future because of the damage they do to place making in city centres or town centres? Does it enable you to insist that significant new housing developments will only take place where there is also decent public transport links, as it's impossible for us to meet our climate change obligations unless we control development to areas that are properly connected? Does it enable us, for example, to repeal the Land Compensation Act 1961, which is one of the main barriers to the development of new land for housing where there is housing need, as it enables people to hold on to land in the hope that at some future date it might become considerably more valuable than it is in its current status? So, I'd be keen to understand a little bit more about what levers this new national development framework gives you to really deliver on the well-being of future generations Act's aims.

Thank you, Jenny Rathbone. You're absolutely right—I think the ways of working in relation to the well-being of future generations Act have been absolutely integral to the development of the NDF, even during the work that we've undertaken to date, but absolutely for the work ahead. We've really considered how the ways of working shape what we do and how they can help us achieve the sustainable development that we want to see. They've also been used to inform the review of the evidence and identify issues, and also to look at the structure of the assessment framework. It's obviously a requirement of several pieces of legislation that we do undertake a variety of assessments in relation to the NDF. So, we have really sought to integrate the approach already at the assessment process.

You ask about specific points, and I think you're absolutely right—it's vitally important that when we're looking at where housing developments are going to be placed, for instance, that there is the public transport around it. When I've had discussions with my Cabinet colleagues and ministerial colleagues ahead of this, it's been something they're looking at. So, for instance, when I was talking to Kirsty Williams, if she was looking to put a new tertiary college somewhere, it would be important to look at what surrounds that—whether the housing is there, whether the public transport is there. So, absolutely, that will be part of this.

You ask me about the 1961 compensation Act—I'm afraid I don't have the answer to that question, but I'll certainly be happy to send a note to the Member.

5. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: Powys County Council—Update on Support under the Local Government Measure 2009

The next item is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services on Powys County Council—an update on support under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009. I call on the Cabinet Secretary, Alun Davies.

16:10
Member
Alun Davies AM 16:10:00
Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Following a critical inspection by Care Inspectorate Wales of Powys County Council’s children’s services, my colleague Rebecca Evans, the then Minister for Social Services and Public Health, issued a warning notice to the council under Part 8 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. On 16 April, my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister for Children and Social Care, provided an update on progress on the actions arising from the warning notice.

Earlier today, Care Inspectorate Wales published their report of their inspection of Powys’s adult services. The inspection highlights areas of significant concern for Powys to address. It was clear in the previous report on children’s services and in today’s report on adults’ services that improvement in the authority as a whole is necessary to enable improvement in social services.

In November last year I received a request for formal support from Powys’s leader, Councillor Rosemarie Harris. I subsequently exercised my powers under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009 to provide Powys with a comprehensive package of support to assist with corporate improvement. This was developed in partnership with Powys County Council and the Welsh Local Government Association.

In December 2017 I appointed Sean Harriss, an experienced and well-respected local authority chief executive, to carry out a rapid review of the council. I tasked him to scope the main challenges facing the council and to provide a report setting out his findings and the steps required to address them. His report, 'Review of Leadership, Governance, Strategy and Capacity', was published in February 2018, and I provided an update to the Members on his key findings. The report highlighted that the council had made progress but still faced significant challenges in strengthening its corporate leadership and capacity. The report also stressed that those challenges could be overcome with, and I quote, an 'increased capacity and capability in the local authority coupled with an enhanced and intense package of sector led improvement’.

To ensure continuity and consistency, I asked Sean Harriss to continue his work with Powys County Council and oversee a second phase of support. He has provided them with support in the following key areas: performance and quality, vision, organisational change, and, finally, strengthening the budget position.  

We met again, yesterday, and he provided an update on progress at the end of his second phase of work. His assessment was that progress is evident, but significant challenges remain, and enhanced corporate leadership capacity is necessary to deliver and sustain the level of change required. This requirement was reflected in his February report, which recommended the appointment of an experienced interim chief executive with a proven track record of transformational change.

Powys council has been following up this recommendation and I would like to congratulate Mohammed Mehmet, previously chief executive of Denbighshire County Council, on his appointment as the interim chief executive of Powys County Council. His track record in Denbighshire speaks for itself, having led the council through a period of significant challenge to being one of the best performing authorities in Wales. With the appointment of a new acting chief executive, Mr Harriss’s time and work with Powys will now draw to a close. I would like to thank him for his work with the council, but also, Deputy Presiding Officer, I would like to recognise the work of David Powell, the interim chief executive, and also the positive way in which the council, its staff and members have responded to these challenges.

The leader of the council and the new acting chief executive will be supported by the new improvement and assurance board, which has been established with a broader remit and replaces the former social services improvement board. I am pleased to say that Jack Straw, who chaired the social services improvement board, is continuing as chair. 

The Welsh Government and Powys County Council have appointed Bozena Allen, a former director of social services, to the role of the social services external member, and Jaki Salisbury, a former chief executive and director of finance, to the corporate role on the board. They will provide support, challenge and guidance to the council. They are experts in their field, with a proven track record of successfully implementing and leading organisations during periods of transformational change. The board held its first meeting on Wednesday, 25 April, and the board will provide regular updates on progress and will advise on where further sector-led or Welsh Government support is required.     

Deputy Presiding Officer, I believe the actions for the council are clear. They must deliver the social services improvement plan they have in place for children’s services and ensure a similar plan is delivered for adult services. They must also follow through on the recommendations in Sean Harriss’s review of leadership, governance, strategy and capacity. I will expect the council to implement an up-to-date, robust and sustainable medium-term financial strategy that prioritises its spending in key services and can deliver the package of measures needed to transform the council. I have provided some investment to assist with this.

I have met the leader of the council today, and she has assured me of her commitment to driving through progress and ensuring Powys County Council is able to offer the same high-quality services that people have a right to expect. The Minister for social services also joined us in that meeting. Both I and my colleague the Minister for Children and Social Care will continue to update Members on progress. Thank you.  

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