Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd05/06/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from David Rowlands.
1. How does the First Minister assess progress in delivering the commitments relating to economic development set out in the programme for government? OAQ52286
Well, the economic action plan sets out our approach to building a strong economy through futureproofing businesses and empowering our places and people to become more productive.
One of the recommendations of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee report, 'City Deals and the Regional Economies of Wales', stated,
'There is a real danger that the creation of Regional Boards and structures to support them add an additional level of bureaucracy to economic development in Wales.'
We now understand that north Wales, south-west and mid Wales, and the South Wales East region, will have a regional officer to overlook the city and growth deals. Could the First Minister give an indication as to how these appointments are progressing, and also outline what he feels will be their full remit?
I understand that three are in place now. He asked the question about the structure. Well, where you have a regional deal, there needs to be a regional structure to deliver that deal; you can't rely on individual local authorities to do it working by themselves, but, by working together, and with other levels of Government, they can deliver the best outcome for the people who live in that area.
First Minister, the new wave of technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will potentially have a huge impact on jobs, and this is a piece of work that we're currently doing in the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee. Now, I certainly want to see the Welsh economy take full advantage of the opportunities presented by automation. Now, I appreciate that the Welsh Government has appointed Phil Brown to carry out a piece of work in this area, but that's not to say that work can't be ongoing now, before he reports. Do you have a lead officer working on this within the Welsh Government, and, as this is an area that rightly crosses over a number of portfolios across Cabinet Secretaries, who is the lead Cabinet Secretary in this area?
Well, in terms of digital innovation, obviously Julie James has that role. This is more than just about economic development, of course. People tend to see innovation as a threat to jobs. It needn't be. And, of course, we have to understand that there are opportunities there in terms of transforming the way, for example, that the health service works. That's something that my colleague the Assembly Member for Llanelli has made very clear on a number of occasions. So, it's not just an issue of economic development, although it's an important part of the future, but it cuts across many, many areas of Government, and that's why, of course, it needs to be dealt with by somebody with a cross-Government responsibility in that area.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the awarding of the Wales and Borders rail franchise? OAQ52261
4. Will the First Minister provide an update on the new Wales and Borders rail franchise? OAQ52285
Yes. Presiding Officer, I understand you've given your permission for questions two and four to be grouped.
Members will now be aware of the details of the new rail services contract, following the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport's written statement on Monday.
Okay. Diolch. Just before the recess, you announced the winner of the new Wales and Borders rail franchise, and it's already been pointed out that you have broken a manifesto commitment for a not-for-profit railway company. But it also seems now that you're privatising the infrastructure from the core Valleys lines as well, and that's a real concern after what happened the last time that the Conservatives privatised rail—in particular, we had the Hatfield disaster, which led to private companies running Railtrack and being abandoned, and the creation of Network Rail as a public body. So, what I'd like to know is whether you've had permission from Network Rail to privatise this infrastructure, and the real question really is: why can't it be kept in public ownership, and what will happen to the 1,600 people that Network Rail directly employs in Wales? Will your Labour Government be transferring these to the private multinational corporations?
No. First of all, it's probably right to say that our first preference would have been to have had a not-for-profit public sector organisation or body able to bid for the franchise. That was expressly ruled out by the legislation in Westminster, something that I didn't welcome, neither now nor at the time. What we have, however, is a service that will be an excellent service. It will improve capacity across the whole of Wales, and everybody will see a positive difference to services. He suggests that the network has been privatised. Well, we've talked to the rail unions, to the RMT—personally, I've talked to them—to the TSSA, and also to ASLEF. They understand the way forward. We have made sure, for example, there'll be a guard on every train, to add to passenger security and safety. So, we work with the unions in order to deliver a rail network that will be, I believe, the envy of the rest of the UK in future years, especially given the chaos that we see existing in some parts of England at the moment.
This announcement is great news, particularly for many of us who campaigned for many years for the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line to stop in Newport. It's gathered a lot of local support, including from the South Wales Argus, which has long campaigned on this issue, and it's a huge boost and will link communities across the region. I welcome the announcement that £800 million will be invested in rolling stock and that the franchise has committed to commissioning 148 brand-new trains for the next five years.
Yesterday's announcement stated that over half the new trains would be built in Wales. Can you give any further detail about what discussions are taking place with CAF Rail in Newport?
Well, the CAF investment is hugely significant. As the Member has said, it is a hugely important capital investment. It will create 300 highly skilled jobs in Newport as well. I can say that the operator and development partner is expected to procure long-distance rolling stock fleet from CAF. That rolling stock will be assembled at the CAF facility in Newport. Of course, the contractual arrangements will be a commercial matter between the ODP and CAF itself, but it's an excellent example of working together in order to deliver jobs in Wales. There's no doubt in my mind that one of the things that attracted CAF to Wales in the first place was the fact that we have an exciting programme of investment in our railways.
Yesterday's statement by the economy and transport Secretary said that we'll see a second limited-stop express service every hour on the Wrexham to Bidston line from 2021 and, from 2022, see services stopping at Wrexham as part of a new two-hourly Liverpool to Cardiff service. How, therefore, do you respond to the statement made to me yesterday by rail user groups in north-east Wales that the two trains allocated to the route could be running an earlier service into Wrexham at around 8.30 a.m. and operating a more frequent service over the line during the evenings and on Sundays and that, provided that train crews can be sourced, this could be realised as early as December 2018 or the May 2019 timetable change?
Yes, I mean these are all part of the discussions on timetabling, but the intention as the Member has rightly said is to improve the service on the Wrexham to Bidston line and indeed, due to the Halton Curve, further than that, of course, to discuss with Merseyrail the possibility of using the Mersey tunnel as well in order for trains to be able go straight into Liverpool. Those discussions will take place in order to allow that to happen. It's a long-held ambition for trains from Wrexham Central to go into Liverpool, but, of course, the Wrexham to Bidston service is amongst one of the first candidates for improvement that people will see, and we want to see that line develop even further in the future.
One of the issues that was mentioned yesterday in press reports was that the payments made to the new franchisee will depend to some extent on their delivery of service, which sounds good. Now, some of the criteria that were mentioned included cleanliness, quality of service and punctuality, but one of the problems with the privatised rail services that we've had in the last 20 years is that, sometimes, with punctuality the rules can sometimes be avoided by trains being cancelled instead. I wondered whether that issue had been looked at with the awarding of the contract.
No, that can't happen. We are aware of what happened at Northern Rail. We've ensured as part of the contract that rail operators cannot get out of their obligations simply by running fewer or no trains, and, of course, as part of the announcement, there will be simplified compensation arrangements for passengers who have to wait as well. So, we want to make the service as user friendly as possible, and it's exciting that the operator wants to do the same. They want to make sure that they work with us in order to build a rail network for the future. The days of 40-year-old trains running on the Valleys lines particularly—those days are coming to an end, and I'm sure that the people of the Valleys will be delighted to see that.
First Minister, I welcome the announcements made as a result of the Wales and borders rail franchise and the south Wales metro. I particular welcome the commitment to include half-hourly services to the Vale of Glamorgan line from 2022. I've been campaigning for this for many years, and, of course, you recall that the Welsh Government reopened the stations at Rhoose and Llantwit Major in 2005. First Minister, do you agree with me that a half-hourly service that calls at Rhoose station for Cardiff Airport will also improve access to the airport?
Yes it will. I can also say that Transport for Wales, with support from the ODP, will also be procuring a bus service as part of an integrated approach to improving connectivity across the Vale of Glamorgan, connecting Barry and the airport, and that will be available no later than 1 January 2024.
I welcome the new contracts and particularly the long overdue new rolling stock for the Valleys lines, but also the reduction in fares for the upper Valleys, which will help many people get more opportunities to commute in and access jobs, particularly in Cardiff.
Could I just ask the First Minister to say something about the risks that may come from the contract in terms of the different approach to risk sharing? If we see passenger numbers and fares undershoot relative to expectations, what may be the implications for other Government services?
We don't anticipate that at all. The last franchise was let on the basis that there would be no growth in passenger numbers. There was an enormous growth in passenger numbers, and we see now the overcrowding that takes place on so many services not just on the Valleys lines, but across many services that run on the Wales and the borders franchise network. We have built into the agreement the expectation that passenger numbers will rise, particularly but not exclusively passengers going through Cardiff Central, and the agreement is based on seeing an increase in passenger numbers. I can't see the numbers decreasing. I can't see that people will want to travel less or not travel into work. We must be careful to make sure, of course, that there is sufficient capacity over the next few years that people feel that there is a comfortable and good-value alternative to the car. But what we can't do is keep on building roads into our cities in the hope that that will resolve the issue of traffic. It can't be done without demolishing houses.
Now questions from the party leaders. The UKIP group leader, Caroline Jones.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the plans for the new Wales and borders franchise are very promising and a clear demonstration of what can be achieved by a true public-private partnership. The investment that will be pumped into our rail network over the next decade could not be achieved by the public sector alone. The biggest transformation will be in the south-east of Wales, with the metro delivering better transport links for our capital city. I hope the investment, though, will deliver improvements for the whole of Wales.
I note from the Cabinet Secretary's statement that the north-east metro is to be accelerated. What about the rest of north Wales? Will we see an end to situations that we saw when the cancellation of services between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog were apparent?
There are structural issues on the Conwy valley line, given the fact that it often floods, and we've seen that over the—. Well, not often; it has sometimes flooded over the past few years, and that is something for Network Rail to deal with in order to avoid that in the future. She asked, 'What will the rest of Wales see?' Better services on every railway line in Wales; more frequent services from Llandudno, as well, for example; we've already mentioned the Wrexham-Bidstone line; a proper hourly service on the central Wales line; more services on the Cambrian Coast line; station upgrades—the introduction of Bow Street station, an upgrade at Machynlleth together with the guarantee of the future of the loco sheds there; if we come down further south, an extra train on the Heart of Wales line; station improvements in Llanelli, in Carmarthen; more frequent services between Swansea and Fishguard Harbour. These are some examples of what will be done across the whole of Wales to ensure that everybody benefits.
Thank you very much. Thank you for highlighting how the whole of Wales will benefit.
Staying with the new franchise, I'm glad to see the commitment to retaining onboard toilets on all existing trains, and I hope that they will be fully accessible. There was little in the Cabinet Secretary's written statement about the accessibility of rail services other than on the south-east metro. We have to put an end to the situation whereby disabled passengers have to pre-plan and pre-book their journeys. Disabled passengers have been left stranded on trains, have been refused travel on trains, and that's if they can get access to the trains in the first place. Sixty-one of our train stations are defined as poor for accessibility in that they have no staff or insufficient wheelchair access or totally unsuitable wheelchair access. So, First Minister, what improvements will the new franchise agreement deliver to disabled passengers in Wales?
Fifteen million pounds has been allocated to improve accessibility, and every station on the franchise network will be made accessible.
Thank you for that, First Minister. The new franchise holders, KeolisAmey, have indicated that half of all new trains will be assembled in Wales, and I ask: will they be built with Welsh steel? With the Trump administration's tariffs on steel, the Port Talbot steelworks stand to lose 10 per cent of their business, and with the electrification to Swansea abandoned, and it being all but abandoned with the tidal lagoon, if the steel sector is to get support in Wales, then it needs to come from Wales. So, what discussions have you had with the franchisees about using Welsh materials in addition to a Welsh workforce in the construction of new rolling stock for the Welsh rail network, the north-east metro and the south Wales metro? Thank you.
We would encourage, of course, there to be as much sourcing of Welsh steel as possible. She has also raised two other important points in terms of steel tariffs and also the tidal lagoon. I can inform Members that I have written today to Greg Clark and suggested to him that the UK Government should make an offer in terms of the contract for difference to the tidal lagoon on the same terms as they made the offer to Hinkley. If it's right for Hinkley, it's right for Swansea. And she's right to point out that electrification was promised and then reneged on by the UK Government. The tidal lagoon has been talked down by the Secretary of State this morning and by others. Well, we have put money on the table and we have said today, 'Treat the tidal lagoon in the same way as you treated Hinkley.' We ask no more than that, and we believe that it would be possible for the tidal lagoon to move ahead on that basis. We await the UK Government's response with regard to that.
In terms of steel, there are two issues with steel. Firstly, of course, the tariffs that the US has imposed will create a situation where Welsh steel will become more expensive in the US market. What is not clear is whether that would in fact lead to a decrease in demand, given the fact that so much of the steel is not made in the US and has to be bought from outside anyway. Okay, we don't know what the effect of that will be, but of great concern as well is where the steel that was originally bound for the US market will end up. If it comes to Europe, it will create a glut of steel in Europe, the price will drop, and that will not be of benefit to the Welsh steel producers. So, I have said—I was in Washington and met with people there at the end of last week—that it's also important that the European Union now takes prompt steps, within weeks, not within months, to ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that the price of steel is supported in Europe.
Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. How much profit are KeolisAmey expected to make out of Welsh rail passengers during the next 15 years?
Well, there are, of course, commercial matters that the leader of Plaid Cymru will be aware of. What I can say, however, is that for £150 million, KeolisAmey will deliver a rail franchise for Wales and the borders below the current cost of £185 million. It's a total investment of £738 million as well on phase 2 of the metro, and what we will see is, for the first time, a rail system that the people of Wales deserve and not the cast-offs of other networks.
First Minister, there's been talk of this 3 per cent cap on profits, and if that is true, that is no cap at all. Because according to the rail industry's own trade body, the Rail Delivery Group, the average operating profit for a rail company is 2.9 per cent. So, this means that your cap is higher than the average profit margin for train companies. Putting that aside, the Wales and borders franchise doesn't commercially make a profit, so the only way that any rail company makes money is through Government subsidies. That means, First Minister, that you are paying profits out of our budget to the pockets of private shareholders.
Secondly, the idea that you won't pay a company if it doesn't meet its targets is hardly some kind of radical socialist policy because nobody pays for work that hasn't been done—it's as simple as that.
Now, page 20 of the manifesto on which you were elected promised that you would deliver a not-for-profit rail operator. You have failed—you've done the exact opposite. So, can you explain: if you believe that the only way to deliver a rail service that works for people in Wales is through a not-for-profit operator, why have you lumbered us with a second-rate private rail service for the next 15 years?
Talking Wales down—talking Wales down yet again. Of all the people who have commented yesterday, the only party who have said 'This is a bad idea. It's going to be a second-rate network' is Plaid Cymru—it's The Party of Wales, apparently, who are saying this.
Now, there are legitimate questions, I understand that in terms of the way it works, but saying it's a second-rate network is simply not true. Have a look at what is being proposed for Wales and bear in mind that the delivery cost is a good £30 million below the current cost. So, actually, this is far better value for money than the current system with Arriva. She asks the question again: why is it not the case that this was set up as a not-for-profit—why is it not the case that a public sector operator is running the service? Because the law says so. That's why. She can't do it—your party can't do it. The reality is: she is saying to the people of Wales, 'We would have done something that actually we know legally we can't do', and that's not a particularly credible position, I would suggest.
For goodness' sake, let's all celebrate the fact we have an excellent rail service that is going to be set up across the whole of Wales, people will benefit from good value, new trains, air conditioning—all delivered by a Welsh Government working for the people of Wales.
First Minister, a cap of 3 per cent will see profits to KeolisAmey in the region of between £100 million and £150 million from this contract. Whether you pay them now or in five years' time means that the Welsh taxpayer is putting money in the pockets of private company shareholders instead of reinvesting it back in our own rail network. That's £150 million that could have been spent on better trains, on more stations, on cheaper tickets.
Now, the Scotland Act 2016—[Interruption.]—contained a clause that explicitly allowed for the Scottish Government to procure a public sector rail operator. [Interruption.] One year later—
I do need to hear, and I'm sure the First Minister needs to hear, the leader of Plaid Cymru. So, can we please allow Leanne Wood to continue—please. Please.
Diolch, Llywydd. One year later, there was no such clause in the Wales Act of 2017. Despite this, your Government obediently voted to accept this new devolution deal from your friends in the Conservative Government at the UK level. Now, Plaid Cymru didn't dance to Westminster's tune. Plaid Cymru voted against that Bill. First Minister, do you now regret backing the Tories by voting for the deficient Wales Bill?
Just over two years ago, we all sat in this Chamber and watched Plaid Cymru actively canvass the support of the Tories in order for the leader of Plaid Cymru to become the First Minister. [Interruption.] And now she lectures us about working with the Tories. Memories are incredibly short on the Plaid Cymru benches. If she asks me, 'Am I happy with every element of the last Wales Act?, the answer is 'no'. Of course it's 'no'. There are some elements of it that I don't like. But most of it is something that I think was worth supporting. I don't take the absolutist view that she takes of, 'Let's jump off the edge of the cliff and let's see what happens.' The reality is that there's more work to be done on devolution. We know that. I know she knows that.
But what we have delivered, in the constraints that we have, is a better value, better system that the people of the Valleys will support and the people of the whole of Wales will support. It will deliver a first-rate railway system for Wales—a first-rate railway system—the best rail system that has ever been produced for Wales, a system that will deliver the best trains, a system that will provide jobs for Newport—for CAF, with 300 jobs there—a system that will ensure that we meet our targets in terms of sustainability, in terms of job creation, in terms of economic growth. Why on earth can't Plaid Cymru just for once support something that is good for Wales?
Leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I find myself with a group that's stuck in the middle here. Very often, it's good to be in the middle ground of politics, I find. So, I'll leave the extremists to debate amongst themselves on this.
First Minister, what is the Welsh Government's position when it comes to a second referendum, either on the deal that's negotiated around Brexit or on rerunning the referendum of June 2016?
We don't have a position on a second referendum. If you want my view, I do not believe a second referendum on the issue of Brexit is merited. There's been a referendum. Although, his party wanted a second referendum on devolution in 2005—I remember that—because they thought the result was too close. But I don't take the same view in that regard. So, we don't have a position as a Government. I think what's important now is to focus on getting the best deal for Wales and Britain as a result of Brexit.
Did I hear you correctly there First Minister? You said you do not have a position as a Government. Because, obviously, two of your Cabinet colleagues signed a letter last week indicating that they wanted to see a referendum. I always assumed that Government operated on collective responsibility, and I have certainly heard you say on several occasions as leader of the Welsh Government that you do not support a second referendum. So, surely, there is collective responsibility, and Cabinet colleagues now, after you've signalled that you are leaving the office of First Minister, are running their own agendas. Why is collective responsibility not running on this particular issue?
I can't believe that he's chosen this ground to ask questions. Let's see, for example, the situation that happens in Whitehall? If you want to see a lame duck leader, have a look at Whitehall. What do we have there? We have factions briefing against each other in public. We have people like Boris Johnson openly criticising the Prime Minister about Brexit policy without any kind of penalty. He'd have been out on his feet if he'd have been in my Government, I can tell you that now. We now have this farce where a decision has been taken on Heathrow where carte blanche has been given to Cabinet Ministers to campaign against that, because there's not enough support in Cabinet to take a collective decision. And when it comes to collective responsibility, we are solid here compared to the anarchist collective that exists in London.
First Minister, I notice you didn't address my question about your own Government, and it was only some months ago that you sacked the Member for Cardiff Central from her role as Government oversight on the European committee because she didn't agree with Cabinet responsibility, as you interpreted it, because you said that her letter of appointment had collective responsibility attached to it. So, you sacked one of your backbenchers, but when one of your Liberal colleagues in the Cabinet or one of your leadership contenders here decides to break ranks with collective responsibility, you do not take any action at all. Is it not the case that it is one rule for one member of the Government and another rule for backbenchers, and you are the lame duck First Minister?
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Well, let's just examine that. As I've said—[Interruption.] As I've said—[Interruption.] I mean, you've got to admire his brass neck. You've got to admire his brass neck more than anything else, and his ability to ignore the chaos that his party has created in London, and the fact that Cabinet Government as we know it doesn't exist, actually, in Whitehall under his party.
He asked the question: what's our view? Our view has always been, and I've said this many, many times in the Chamber, that any deal should be approved by the Parliaments—plural—of the UK. That's the situation. If that doesn't happen, well, it could well be there's another election. There would have to be another election. If there is then an inconclusive result, there'd have to be some way of settling it, but we're some way away from that. So, our view as a Government is quite simply this: let the Parliaments of the UK decide as to whether the final deal is a good one or not.
I come back again to his point. There's an element of incredible double standards in the Tory party, and let me say why. I don't advocate a second referendum on Brexit. I don't advocate that, because I remember his party saying in 1997 that the result of the devolution referendum was too close that there needed to be another referendum, and they stood on that manifesto commitment in a general election. And now they say, 'Well, of course, that was then, this is now.' I don't have that double standard; I argued against a second referendum then, I argue against a second referendum now on the issue of Brexit. When he wants to lecture us about our position, he needs to take a long hard look at his own party and the mess that the leader of the UK is in, the complete lack of planning, the complete lack of unity and the complete lack of a Government.
3. What future strategy will the Welsh Government follow to improve community cohesion in south Wales? OAQ52260
There are four objectives that we will pursue: firstly, building community cohesion at a national level; secondly, cohesion support at a regional level for isolated groups; thirdly, integration of new arrivals; and, fourthly, mitigating tensions and tackling hate crime.
First Minister, policing is crucial to ensuring our communities are cohesive and enjoy good quality of life, and our police forces work with local authorities, health, housing and, indeed, the voluntary sector in close partnership, reflecting the fact that a large majority of police work concerns devolved responsibilities. Given that, and the very strong case for devolving policing that follows from it, what work will Welsh Government do to ensure that relevant issues are foreseen and explored in terms of future devolution of policing?
Can I thank the Member for his question? He is right to say that we have a long-standing position of supporting the devolution of policing and, of course, the commission on justice will be looking at further issues. It is important, of course, devolution or not, that we work with the police. We do that, whether it's through the civil contingencies forum, whether it's through other groups, for example looking at victim support, because we're committed to protecting and supporting victims of hate crime. So, we've provided funding to Victim Support Cymru to operate the national hate crime report and support centre. That funding will continue until at least 2020, and there do continue to be positive signs that victims are coming forward and are more confident in reporting.
First Minister, third sector organisations play a vital role in strengthening and actively promoting community cohesion as well as providing a link between public sector bodies and ethnic minority communities. For them to succeed, they need the support of the Welsh Government. So, will the First Minister outline how his strategy to improve community cohesion will utilise and support the third sector in Wales, please?
Well, one of the things that we're looking at is whether we should update the community cohesion plan for the summer of this year to take account of recent rises in hate crime and the new challenges to community cohesion in Wales. I can confirm that we plan to publish the community cohesion plan and the tackling hate crimes delivery plan, so that as those plans are taken forward, they will take account of new evidence and fresh circumstances.
There is definitely more that can be done on this front, First Minister, when you consider that the latest figures from the Home Office show that hate crimes are up by a fifth in Wales in just one year. The majority of the 2,941 offences recorded—and we know that there will be many more incidents that go unreported—are related to race or religion, and if you combine this with Nazi graffiti that has appeared in Cardiff and Newport in recent months, a worrying picture begins to emerge. We also know that Muslim women are disproportionately affected by hate crime. So, can you tell us: what can your Government do to provide targeted support, in particular for Muslim women, but to all others who are victims of hate crime and discrimination, and how can Welsh Government directly challenge this growing problem of hate crime?
Well, as I said earlier on, we do fund Victim Support Cymru, and I said earlier on when that funding would continue until—at least 2020. Can I join with her in deploring the daubing of racist slogans on buildings, particularly, but not exclusively, in Newport? I know that she will share my strong condemnation of that. When it comes to reporting crimes, of course, there are two ways of looking at it: firstly, if there was an increase in reported crime, it may be that the actual level of crime has increased, but also it may be that people are more willing to come forward to report crime. It's always difficult to get underneath the statistics. From our perspective, we believe that more people are coming forward. There are not enough yet that report hate crime, and that's why, of course, we continue to support Victim Support Cymru, as I've said, and also, of course, to see how we can further evaluate the community cohesion plan in order to be more effective.
5. What plans does the First Minister have in place to support the roll-out of 5G technology? OAQ52283
We have appointed Innovation Point to advise, stimulate and develop activity on 5G in Wales, including opportunities to secure funding from the UK Government 5G test bed and trials fund.
Thank you, First Minister. 5G, as you know, will be crucial to enable much of the innovation that will come out of the fourth industrial revolution. Without 5G, things like driverless cars and the internet of things simply won't be possible. In China, they've already established 5G test beds in 16 cities and predict that 5G will be commercially available in 2020. We've currently got plans for just one, in Monmouthshire. There's an opportunity to use the Swansea bay city region metro that's being proposed as a test bed for using 5G in Wales to develop a new type of metro in the west. So, what is the First Minister going to do to make sure Wales isn't left behind, and will he commit to ensuring that 5G will be commercially available in Wales by 2020, just like in China?
Well, some of that is outside of our control, but he asked the question properly: what are we doing as a Government? Would I can say to him is that Innovation Point have been working closely with local authorities to develop credible bids and they have done that with the Swansea and Cardiff city regions. The deadline is the twelfth of this month, but that work is ongoing, so it's not just Monmouthshire, but we look at how this can work for our city regions as well. I can say as well that Innovation Point is working with Digital Catapult to undertake the Wales element of a wider UK 5G mapping study. That's delivered an up-to-date comprehensive view of the emerging 5G system in Wales on both the regional and local level. So, as far as the north is concerned, Innovation Point have also been providing support to Bangor University in their efforts to establish a digital signal processing centre of excellence in the north of our country. So, Monmouthshire, yes, first, but looking now, of course, at Swansea and Cardiff and beyond.
First Minister, can I welcome the fact that Monmouthshire will be chosen as a 5G test bed? I think the implications for rural connectivity are outstanding, and this announcement is a clear example of the UK Government delivering in terms of a digital strategy for Wales, and I look forward to how you're going to co-operate with it.
We've heard about the range of applications and these, to add to them, will go to smart farming with drones and using the internet to improve healthcare in the home and increasing manufacturing productivity, even as far as self-driving cars. So, what consideration are you giving to the impact that 5G technology will have on the health sector and public sector in Wales, first observing the practice in Monmouthshire?
Discussions are ongoing between the Cabinet Secretary, Julie James, and those in the health sector to see how 5G can benefit the health sector. As I said earlier on, we quite often see technology as something that primarily benefits the economy. It does, there's no question about that, but we know that there are opportunities in both health and education and other sectors to make sure that technology facilitates better working in the future.
6. What measures is the Welsh Government taking to support small businesses in Monmouth? OAQ52274
Through Business Wales and the development bank, we are committed to supporting entrepreneurs, of course, and small and medium-sized enterprises across Wales. And our focus remains on innovation-driven entrepreneurs, jobs and the economy.
Diolch, First Minister. Can I ask you, there was great concern about the introduction of the rate revaluation recently—last year, I should say. That revaluation had a mixed effect across Wales: some areas were far better off, others were not so good. Areas like mine in Monmouthshire and also the Vale of Glamorgan, Cowbridge, were badly affected. There is one business in Chepstow in my constituency that has seen its business rates rise from £4,500 per year to almost £8,000. I know that there were packages of support that were available, but those haven't helped all businesses, particularly that business in Chepstow, which is now in very serious difficulty. Can you tell me if you're going to revisit the rate revaluation and see how you can better provide support for businesses that have been badly affected like this?
The difficulty is that if you revise the revaluation or go back to the former valuation, you end up with people having to pay more as a result of the fact that they pay less now. There are always people who pay more and there are always people who pay less. We've known that through revaluations over the years. What we look to do then, of course, is to provide support for those who need it most. I don't know the ins and outs of the situation of the business that the Member has described, but what I can say is that during the course of this year, we'll be providing around £210 million of rates relief to support businesses and other rate payers, and that means that more than three quarters of rate payers in Wales will see a difference. Indeed, more than half will pay no rates at all.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s overall strategy for the funding of local government? OAQ52266
We support local government services through a mix of core revenue funding, capital funding and specific grants as appropriate. Our strategy continues to be to protect local government from the impacts of austerity within the resources available to us as a Government.
Thank you, First Minister. I think in these times of Tory austerity, the approach that the Welsh Government has taken is to be welcomed. I'm aware, of course, that, for the current 2018-19 budget round, less of this money was hypothecated or ring-fenced, therefore giving greater flexibility and discretion over local authority spending priorities.
From my recent questions to the education Secretary, you'll be aware that, in Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, this means that school funding is being cut and breakfast clubs are under threat, which is actually contrary to the council's own budget consultation in which the public said that schools and education were their No. 1 priority for the borough. So, do you agree with me that this must draw into question whether the Welsh Government can risk removing ring-fenced funding from any further priority areas, such as Supporting People, for example, if some local authorities are going to choose to cut in your determined priority areas?
Well, the Member makes a fair point. We look, of course, to give as much flexibility as possible to local authorities and they are answerable to their electorates for the decisions that they take. I would've hoped that any local authority would see education as a very strong priority. I'm surprised to hear what the Member has said about her own local authority, and it is the case that local authorities need to demonstrate that, as they're given greater flexibility, they continue to prioritise spending in those areas where money is needed most. And education is one of those areas.
The 'Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People' White Paper acknowledged directly that there is a need, First Minister, for a more fundamental review of the funding of local government. The current Green Paper also notes that local authorities have highlighted a number of additions in relation to funding. Reacting to the Green Paper, the WLGA states that it
'will continue to press the case for proper funding'
of authorities, and a number of our local authorities now remain committed to calling for appropriate and equitable longer term funding budgets. The Vale of Glamorgan note that there is a well-made case for changes to the formula, as do many other local authorities. When one considers the correspondence your Cabinet Secretary has received, but which he ignores—. He isn't listening now; he's actually preferring to completely ignore the question, and he is the Cabinet Secretary for local government. So, as well as ignoring those calls and ignoring this question today—. Will you liaise with and talk to your Cabinet Secretary, please, to ensure that there is a more sustainable funding model and formula to be established, going forward? It's the very least that our local authorities deserve.
Well, I think the Vale of Glamorgan need to explain why they spend less on education than anywhere else in Wales, per head. That is under her party, and that is something that they will need to explain to their electorate. So, what I can say to her is this: that we fund local authorities at a level far higher than would be the case if they were in England, we have sought to protect them as much as we can, but it's inevitable that there will be difficulties and a squeeze of local authorities, because we are ourselves being squeezed. Can I suggest that she takes up the issue with her party in London, who continue to impose a squeeze, year after year after year after year, on Welsh Government, on the Welsh budget, while at the same time chucking £1 billion towards Northern Ireland to buy a handful of votes? That is how low the current UK Government have got—no strategy, all about buying votes.
One of the main arguments made by your Government over the need to reform local government in the way proposed in the Green Paper is the need to ensure financial sustainability of councils for the future. Council leaders the length and breadth of Wales of all political hues have strongly questioned whether merging councils would save money. So, on the basis of that, what financial assessment has the Government undertaken in order to support the objectives of the Green Paper? How much exactly do you hope to save, and over what period of time? And what will be the initial costs of implementing this restructuring?
Well, there is a cost if we were not to look at any kind of reform in the local government system. At one point, there were six local authorities in special measures as regards education, and Anglesey had been taken over completely. That demonstrates to me that things are not currently sustainable. We must ensure that local authorities at least work on a regional basis together. It’s not good enough for them to say, 'We're just not going to work with those next door to us.' We’ve seen the great change and difference that has been made in education with the consortia, and no local authority in Wales can work properly on behalf of their people unless they collaborate with other authorities. So, funding is important—we all understand that—but the way in which people work together is also important too.
8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to protect and support the steel industry in Wales? OAQ52284
We remain fully committed to supporting steel making in Wales and to ensuring a secure and sustainable future for the sector. We're working hard, of course, with Tata. If I could read to the Member the joint statement that we sent out last week with Tata Steel, which says:
We're working closely and constructively together to finalise the substantial public investment in the power plant at Port Talbot, which will reduce energy costs and cut carbon emissions. We remain fully committed to a secure and sustainable future for steel making at Port Talbot and this investment will play a significant part in this. We look forward to announcing the final go-ahead for the project and drawdown of funding in the near future.
That builds on, course, the substantial help that we've given to steel making in Wales, and rightly so, because we know how important steel making is to our economy.
Thank you, First Minister, for that answer and pre-empting my question, to an extent. But the sanction that has been imposed by the US on UK steel is going to have a major impact upon Port Talbot steel and steel products from elsewhere in Wales. Steel companies will look elsewhere, to other markets, which you've you already highlighted, to sell their steel and, therefore, the price of steel is likely to go down. This affects the profitability of steel, therefore, we need to address these matters, and you've already, thankfully, commented upon the leaked report that was mentioned in the press a couple of weeks ago about the £30 million investment in Tata for the power plant, so I can leave that one.
But you also, in your response to Caroline Jones, mentioned the actions that need to be taken to address the steel tariff issues. What are you doing as a Government to actually push those? Because it's important that we get this message across to the UK Government, and elsewhere, to ensure that actions are taken to protect our steel industry and the profitability of our steel industry. Otherwise, we will see damage done to our industry here.
Can I thank the Member for his question, and the many questions he's asked on behalf of his constituents, and rightly so? He asks what I have done. I was in Washington last week. I had several meetings there, including meetings with British embassy staff. We worked through what needed to be done next. It's not clear, because the US Government can be unpredictable, if I can put it that way. It's been made clear many, many times to the US that, actually, steel from Wales and steel from the UK does not pose a threat to the American steel industry. Many of the products that we export to the States are not made in the States. All that will happen is the price will go up for the American consumer. What we are not clear about is what effect there will be in terms of tariffs. I know in Trostre, for example, that exports to the US are a very profitable part of that business, and it's not clear, actually, whether Trostre will still be able to continue to sell to the US, if only for the fact the US doesn't produce what Trostre produces. But, as I said earlier on, what's hugely important is that we don't see steel that was previously bound for the US market ending up in the European market, causing a drop in the price of steel. That inevitably would not help in terms of the long-term sustainability of our industry.
Yes, First Minister, I think, when it comes to the threat of the US tariffs, all UK Governments need to be working together and speaking with one voice on this and actually improving efforts, not least in getting these city deal moneys flowing, because, obviously, part of that, for the Swansea bay city deal, is the steel innovation centre. I take some reassurance from your comments on the power station. I think we were all slightly confused by the comment that the decision would not be made on that until after you'd left as First Minister, so perhaps you can reassure us that this money from last year's budget will be released as soon as possible. If you can give us a date for that, rather than 'we are working together', I think all Tata workers would be far more reassured.
Nothing is on hold while I am the First Minister. As the Member can well imagine, I'm very keen to take decisions that help the people of Wales as quickly as possible. That is something that we intend to do once we're in a position to do so. With regard to Port Talbot, we ask people to judge us on what we've already done: the money that we've committed, the close working that we have had as a Government with Tata—not just in the UK but also in Mumbai as well. And she will have heard the joint statement that I read out in the Chamber that was made by both ourselves as a Government and by Tata.
It was on the power plant that I wanted to ask further because, of course, I met with Tata and they said that they've obviously completed phase 1, but they've got three other stages to complete with regard to the replacement of the power plant, and we're talking here about US steel tariffs. Surely investment now is critical in the power plant in Port Talbot to ensure that we mitigate against any of the worst effects coming from those tariffs. So, I understand from their briefing that the heads of terms for the grant funding have not yet been agreed between you. Can you give us assurances that you will make that decision as soon as possible and that you will give us a clear outline as to when that decision will be made, so that progress can be put forward in Port Talbot on this particular scheme?
The clear answer to that is 'yes'. Of course we want to make the decision as quickly as possible. Tata understand that as well, and she will have heard what was said as part of the joint statement that was issued between ourselves and Tata. I'm looking forward, of course, to the announcement when that can be done, and the drawing down of funding. Tata know that they have experienced a level of support, both financially and morally, from the Welsh Government. The situation is one of trust, and we want to make sure, of course, that we can make this announcement as quickly as possible.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house to make the statement. Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to report to today's business. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport will make a statement on rail services and the south Wales metro shortly. And, later this afternoon, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration will make a statement on changes to the park homes commission rate. Additionally, the time allocated to the Counsel General's oral Assembly questions tomorrow has been reduced. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Leader of the house, could we have a statement from the public service Minister on the support and help that community councils and town councils have, and the guidance that the unitary authorities have in dealing with our town and community councils? In my own electoral region, I have a great difference in the level of community councils that are in the Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taf, and I find that, on each occasion, local authorities have a differing view on how they consult and how they engage with those community and town councils. It is really troubling to hear many community councillors say that they feel completely ignored and overlooked in what is the first rung in our democratic process. I'd be grateful to understand what role and what assistance and guidance central Government—in this instance, Welsh Government—give to the unitary authorities in Wales to make sure that there's a level playing field when it comes to that engagement and that consultation process on important announcements. Thank you.
Yes, the Cabinet Secretary is happily nodding away at you, and I think he's indicating he'll be more than happy to bring forward a statement on this.
Could I ask for a Government debate to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Wales becoming a Fairtrade Nation? That's something that—. I think we were the first in the world to have that status, and it's something that I think we should celebrate as an Assembly. But it'd be good to celebrate it with a Government debate, because we're using Government time then, which is good, because it's on a Tuesday, which is good, because it will get people's attention, but because we can also then interweave into that debate other work that the Government does in its own outreach Wales in Africa work and supporting fair trade in the wider sense of the word. I am given to understand that the Government has cut the money that goes to fair trade in Wales, so we can explore that as well. That wouldn't be such a good side of it, but I think, on the whole, we want to celebrate that we have the tenth anniversary tomorrow of Wales becoming a Fairtrade Nation.
Secondly, can I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health? I understand he's shortly to visit Welshpool hospital after the flooding, the very sudden flash flooding, that was had there about a week ago, and I want to thank those workers and medical staff and everyone who worked to overcome those difficulties. When the Cabinet Secretary returns, can we have at least a written statement from him about what experiences and lessons have been learned from that, particularly what resilience and planning may need to be applied for the future so that we can make sure—? You can't control the weather, but you can at least know the effect of such flash flooding and take that into account.
Finally, can I ask for perhaps an oral statement, I think, building on what the Cabinet Secretary just said earlier—sorry, the First Minister just said earlier—in questions around the future of the tidal lagoon in Swansea bay, something I know she is very interested in? We are hearing these very desperate rumours from Westminster of a lack of support at the UK Government level now for the tidal lagoon and some astonishingly ill-judged comments from Alun Cairns—ill-judged and completely incorrect, as it happens, in terms of his mathematics. If we can have a statement from the appropriate Minister—perhaps the First Minister himself—including a reference to the letter, which I have now seen, which he wrote today to Greg Clark—. And it would be good if that letter was now circulated, rather than by Twitter, directly to Assembly Members so that we can have a good look at it because, for the first time, I see an actual figure in this letter of £200 million offered by the Welsh Government. That has been rumoured in the past. I haven't seen it written down before. Certainly, as Chair of the Finance Committee, I haven't seen it in any budget papers before. An equity scheme, a co-financing scheme: a rather similar approach has been taken by the UK Government to Wylfa of course, in terms of building investment in energy infrastructure, and, of course, for the UK Government to come up with a contract for differences agreement similar to that for Hinkley Point C. All this is positive from the Welsh Government, but we need to understand how we can build this alternative approach now, which I'm sure will get support from all parts of this Assembly, as the Assembly has unanimously voted in favour of the principle of a tidal lagoon, subject to regulatory approval, as the letter does, in fact, say. What we really need is a Welsh-made plan B. This is a fantastic opportunity, not only for job creation, not only for energy generation in Swansea bay, but a technology that Wales can own and sell abroad and actually pioneer and take forward. I'm very much afraid that part of the reason that we're held back and not allowed to take this forward ourselves is that some people think that we should do what we're told and we shouldn't take the initiative in things like this. Well, I don't agree with that, and I think it's very appropriate that we have time here now to debate what an alternative plan could be: one made in Wales, one where we perhaps come as joint owners of such an idea as this, where we work with the company, with the private sector, but ultimately the people of Wales will also benefit then from the investment that the Welsh Government can do and bring the UK Government, perhaps shamefaced, but, at the end of the day, bring the UK Government to the table as well.
Yes, well, Simon Thomas, as usual, makes a number of very interesting points. I think the Fairtrade Nation anniversary is something that we hadn't overlooked. It's very important to celebrate it; I'm very happy to explore what we can do to bring forward an opportunity to do so. It's something we are all very proud of, and I completely take the point. I certainly am happy to look at how we can bring forward such an opportunity.
I'm sure that the Cabinet Secretary for health will want to update Members on the Welshpool hospital issues. I'll explore with him the best way of making sure that that update happens. I'm not entirely certain what the extent of that is, but I'm happy to explore how to do that with him.
On the tidal lagoon, I had the misfortune to overhear the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, this morning on Radio Wales, and I thought that his actions were disgraceful. I think, to quote a Cabinet Secretary colleague of mine, 'With friends like that, who needs enemies?', as he was still trying to claim that he was a friend of the lagoon. I think the UK Government's behaviour over this has been disgraceful. The Hendry report made it extremely plain how it could be taken forward. There is absolutely no excuse for falling back on erroneous figures and poor analogies. The idea that anyone had ever proposed a like-for-like comparison with Wylfa and that, somehow, if you put Wylfa Newydd on a different footing, the tidal lagoon necessarily falls, or that, indeed, any old investment in Wales will do, and if it's in Wales it must be quite close to each other so it doesn't really matter if one is in the north or the south, which is the overwhelming impression I was getting from what he was saying, simply isn't good enough.
We are extremely proud of what we have done to try and ensure that the tidal lagoon goes ahead. We will very seriously continue to do that. The First Minister made his opinion extremely plain, both in First Minister's questions and as a result of that. I will make sure that is distributed to all Members, either by placing it in the Library or some other means. It is available. It's a public letter. We're very pleased to be able to support the lagoon. We're very sad that such a letter has been necessary today. I will say, though, that of course we have not yet had a decision. What we have had is a load of leaked stuff and rumours and Secretaries of State going on the radio to say things, but we have actually not had any decision. So, I would very much hope that the outpouring of outrage, really, at the proposed decision will make them think again and that we can indeed have the right decision. But we are certainly very much behind it, and I will certainly explore what we can do to make sure that Members can express their views very forcibly on the subject.
Leader of the house, the Vale of Glamorgan Council is proposing to reshape youth services in my constituency, which could result in the loss of up to 30 trained part-time youth workers. I understand that there has been no direct consultation with the young people, the Vale youth forum, or the elected youth cabinet, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I also understand that the south Wales police commissioner hasn't been consulted in terms of the impacts on young people and prevention of crime. There has been no formal consultation with the trade unions representing the youth workers. I'd be grateful for a statement on this matter.
Can I just say that I'm not aware of the circumstances surrounding that? I'd be very grateful if you'd share the circumstances with me, and I will explore what we can do once we have got the detail from you.
Diolch, Llywydd. Can I—? [Laughter.] Thank you for your support, Oscar. Can I concur with the comments of Simon Thomas earlier, when he spoke about the importance of celebrating Wales's Fairtrade status and, I think, the tenth anniversary? It's not just Wales that has achieved Fairtrade status. Abergavenny achieved status as a Fairtrade Town 11 years ago. I went and helped cut the cake last year. So, could we also congratulate all those towns and settlements across Wales that are also doing their little bit to feed into the Welsh fair-trade agenda and to support the overall message? There's a lot of hard work going on out there.
Secondly, and finally, I recently—. Those of you who follow my Facebook will have seen that I attended a series of workshops at the Gwent Angling Society open day, which was established to encourage people in Monmouthshire and south-east Wales to take up angling and to realise the benefits of it. I learned a lot. I specifically learned how calming an activity it is. It's recognised now that it's very good for mental health issues and for those suffering from stress, which is of course central to mental health awareness this year. So, I wonder if we could have a statement—I'm not entirely sure which Minister it would be, potentially rural affairs. Could we have a statement from the Welsh Government about what they're doing to support activities such as angling, but not exclusively, which don't just have a well-being effect on people's physical health, but also on their mental health as well?
Of course I'm always very happy to congratulate every area of Wales that has made the effort to support fair trade. We're very proud to be a Fairtrade Nation, but of course it's impossible to be a Fairtrade Nation without the support of all of the little communities and voluntary groups and cities and towns—all sorts of communities across Wales—that come together to make that possible. I'm very happy to congratulate Abergavenny. There is a large list of other towns and communities that support it as well. And, as Simon Thomas also pointed out, it's an opportunity to buy very lovely goods, knowing that you're supporting a community of people who make those goods, who are being paid a fair wage, and they're getting a better deal, but it's also an opportunity to support the countries from which the goods come, by extending the hand of friendship and commerce to them. So, I'm more than happy to join with him in doing that, and, as I said to Simon Thomas, we'll explore an opportunity to have some sort of recognition of that celebration here in the Senedd.
In terms of angling, I'm very pleased to hear—I do not follow your Twitter account so closely, or your Facebook account so closely, that I'd noticed your visit to the anglers over the weekend, I'm afraid, but I'll chastise myself and pay more close attention in future. But of course the Member makes a very important point; a large number of outdoor activities, community activities and social activities are very beneficial to mental health. The Welsh Government is very cognisant of that, and it's very much part of our mental health strategy—that whole approach to mental health, including physical, community and social activities as an important part of that. The Member does a very good job in highlighting the efficacy of communities such as the angling community in supporting mental health projects of that sort.
Can I ask the leader of the house for an urgent statement? Following very much in the footsteps of Simon Thomas's excellent contribution, it's about the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. Obviously, the reports over the last few days, as you will be aware, are hugely disappointing. In Swansea, obviously, electrification of the main railway line is now dead—we've got to make do with diesel trains in the future, whereas diesel is being phased out everywhere else because of health concerns. As you would know, there's huge support locally for the development of this tidal lagoon in Swansea, not just because of the environmental benefits, but also in terms of the economic potential here for Swansea and the rest of Wales in becoming a world leader in the field. A failure by the UK Government to back this scheme, flying in the face of their own Government-commissioned report by Charles Hendry, which called it a no-brainer last year, would be yet another shameful betrayal of Wales.
Given that this is of such strategic importance to Swansea, and the rest of Wales, it is vital that the Welsh Government outlines clearly what it has done in recent days to respond to speculation that the scheme is floundering. I hear what the First Minister said earlier, and also your earlier reply, but I still think we do need an urgent statement, so we can truly explore what is going on. In addition to what has been said, has the Welsh Government been trying to facilitate meetings with the UK Government and the developers in recent days, for example? Because we need to know what contingency plans the Welsh Government has in place, and whether it is prepared to look at innovative models of delivering this scheme, as Simon Thomas said. The Welsh Government could look to use their capital borrowing powers to invest in the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, for example, instead of the expensive black route for the M4 relief road. By setting up a publicly owned Welsh energy company, it could bring this project alive themselves.
Three weeks ago, in the legislative consent motion vote here to approve losing powers in the EU withdrawal Bill, Labour were rejoicing and proud to be unionist, and placing their trust in a UK Conservative Government. Now, of course, the downside of not being in charge of your own destiny is that decisions that are damaging to you, damaging to Wales, happen. Another kick in the teeth, as the First Minister said. How many teeth as a nation have we got left? The Labour Welsh Government needs to show how committed it is to delivering this scheme. If the UK Government does decide to betray Wales, then we need to think of ways in which we can deliver it without them. So, will you commit to an urgent statement on this vital issue?
Well, I think I agreed with at least part of Dai Lloyd's speech on the subject of the tidal lagoon. I'm not entirely certain it was well placed in the business statement, Llywydd, but as I've said—
I was generous.
We will explore an opportunity to make sure the Senedd has the opportunity to express its very heartfelt views on this. I would, however, just say that, of course, as far as I'm aware, as I stand here, no actual decision has been made. We have had a series of leaks and trials and so on. I seriously hope that the UK Government has noted the appalling reception that its trial has had, and I therefore very much hope that they will come to their senses and make the decision that the Hendry report asked them to make. And I hope the benches opposite me are listening—because I know that they also support the project—and will be putting some pressure on their own Government in the UK to make the right decision.
So, they haven't made it yet, as far as I'm aware. I very much hope that they will not make that decision and that they will come to their senses. However, if we do have that decision then, of course, we will be in a position to act, and the letter sets out the fact that we are already making it extremely plain that we want this project to go ahead and that it's important to the people of Wales. As I said earlier, if a set of circumstances are good enough for Hinkley, then they ought to be good enough for Wales as well.
The decisive vote in the Irish Republic last week to repeal the eighth amendment and overturn a near-total ban on abortion I think has been widely welcomed. I think it was really a momentous occasion, but it does highlight the fact that Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK and really almost the only place in Europe where abortion is not legal except in very extreme circumstances. I know that we have debated here in this Chamber about access to NHS abortions for Northern Ireland women in Wales, but does the leader of the house think there is any case for a debate about how we can ensure that Northern Ireland women are able to get access to abortions in the way that we are able to here? I know there are tricky devolution issues, but does the leader of the house have a view on how we could possibly express our view in this Chamber?
Yes. The Cabinet Secretary for health has made it very plain that we have arrangements in place to ensure that women who do need to leave where they live and come to Wales in order to secure an abortion in the sad circumstances that they find themselves in—that that remains available. I'm very pleased that he's made that extremely plain, but clearly that's not optimal and people need the support of their families and of their communities around them as well. I'm afraid I think that the deal that the UK Government has done with the DUP means that any likelihood of us being able to secure change in terms of the devolution settlements overall and to have an evening of the playing field there is very unlikely at this point in time, but here in Wales we are very happy—and I'm pleased, as I said, that the Cabinet Secretary has reiterated this—to ensure that women who do need our medical assistance can get it.
I will just pay tribute to the campaigners on the eighth amendment in southern Ireland. I was very pleased to see that go through. I was a little startled—Llywydd, forgive me, I don't know this from my own understanding as I haven't had the chance to look at up—but I was startled to hear one of the campaigners saying that they had other things to do and that apparently the constitution of the Republic of Ireland says that a woman's place is better in the home, and she felt sure that they would now be able to get that amended as well. I'm appalled to find that it does say that, if that's true, and I hope that they'll be able to bring forward that amendment very shortly as well.
Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on the work of the NHS counter fraud service within Wales? The former chief executive of the NHS counter fraud service has claimed that the NHS in Wales could be losing up to £200 million a year through fraud and that not enough is being done to tackle it. Last year, the service in Wales recovered just under £350,000, which is peanuts, really. Can I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on whether he agrees with the former chief executive about the scale of fraud in the Welsh NHS and what action he intends to take to address this issue, please?
It's a very important issue, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary has seen the report in question. I think that the Member would be very well placed to ask him a question during oral Assembly questions to understand exactly what he's taking forward in the light of that report.
Over recess, we saw the company Lush come out to support the Spy Cops campaign, which is a campaign to uncover the fact that many police officers, emanating from the 1980s to this day, were infiltrating campaign groups here in Wales and across the UK, impregnating women and having sexual relationships with women without them knowing that this was the case. Now, I wanted to understand what the Welsh Government's view is on this and whether you support me in expanding the inquiry to the rest of the UK—I understand that there is a judicial review to try and involve Northern Ireland—and also to expand the public inquiry to full disclosure. Because, at the moment, we simply do not know the extent to which this has affected Welsh life. I know that there are campaigners called 'Lisa Jones' and 'Deborah'—these are false names to protect their anonymity—who have had severe problems on a personal level as a result of these relationships with police officers. Now, this campaign is not to try and undermine the whole of the police force, and I think that needs to be made clear. But I also think that the most important issue here is that women's lives have been severely violated, and we should all be concerned about this and about, potentially, the news that we currently do not know about some Welsh stories in this regard. So, I would welcome a statement from Welsh Government to give support to those women who have been affected and support to the campaign.
Yes, we were all absolutely appalled when this news started to break a few years ago about some of these clandestine operations. One can only imagine the trauma that somebody goes through to discover that their partner isn't at all who they thought they were and that the whole of their lives, really, has been a sham. It's an outrageous way for any police force to behave in any country, never mind a democracy. I do not have the words to express how outraged I am about it. I'd be more than happy to explore with my Cabinet Secretary colleague for public services whether or not there are any outstanding issues in Wales and keep Assembly Members updated. If Bethan Sayed has any particular information she thinks would be helpful in that, we'd be very glad to have it.
Leader of the house, might we make some time to debate the national survivor engagement framework? The purpose of the framework is to ensure that survivors of violence against women are able to inform and influence Government work related to domestic abuse and sexual violence. The consultation closed in May. When the Government publishes its response, it would be good to have a question-and-answer session here in this Chamber. I'm sure that some Members will have seen and heard Germaine Greer's attention-seeking views on rape that were reported in the news last week. Comments like that, in my opinion, are dangerous, not least because they can damage and demoralise and undermine survivor engagement, but more importantly, at a time when people may need support, she is taking away from them, by her comments, if they are shared, the understanding and dignity that has already been removed from them. So, the national framework does aim to do exactly the opposite of what she tried to do, and that is to empower women to shape and guide the Government policies that affect them. So, I hope that we can make some time to have a reasoned debate while at the same time absolutely condemning that type of conversation here in Wales—in my opinion, just to draw attention to herself rather than serve any meaningful purpose whatsoever.
Yes, I think Joyce Watson makes a very good point, as she always does speak up for the survivors of these sorts of outrages. We will continue our ambitious plan to improve the response to all victims of abuse and to ensure that, across all our public services, there are highly skilled, prepared professionals, ready and able to offer survivors the help and support they need. We put survivors at the very centre of our response to all domestic violence, sexual violence and other crimes of violence, and I think it's very important that we do so. So, whilst not taking away—I understand that Germaine Greer was expressing her own view of her own experience and, fortunately for me, I didn't hear what she had to say, but we've learned very much through our extensive survivor engagement work that survivors respond to the experience very differently and in very different ways, and, for many, it has very long-term and serious consequences, as Joyce Watson pointed out. I think it's very important to take that on board.
Only this week I met with the police and crime commissioner—our previous colleague—Jeff Cuthbert, to discuss with him what was happening in Gwent on the review of rape cases that's currently ongoing. He was assuring me that they are very keen to make sure that all sides in the review of rape trials are properly represented, both the victims and survivors and, indeed, of course, that justice is served to those accused of rape and before conviction. I was very reassured by their holistic approach to that, and I've had several discussions with my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services around what we're doing in this regard as well. So, I think Joyce Watson makes a very important point, and we will be giving it very careful consideration in our forthcoming victim strategy.
I call for a Welsh Government statement on the issue of electrical safety and older people in Wales. At an Assembly event last November, over six months ago, the only charity dedicated to reducing and preventing damage, injuries and deaths caused by electricity, Electrical Safety First, launched their report, 'How can we keep older people in Wales safe?' With more than half of accidental house fires in Wales caused by electricity, their report found that older people are significantly more at risk than other age groups when it comes to electrical fires in the home. Older people represent over a third of electrical fire casualties, with people aged over 80 at least four times more likely than other age groups to have been a casualty in these fires. The number of people aged 80 or over is expected to double by 2035, with an estimated 50,000 people aged over 65 living with dementia. The majority of older people in Wales—about 80 per cent—own their own homes, most of which will be older housing stock that has never had an electrical safety fire check. Based on the research, the report makes a number of recommendations, the first of which is a call on the Welsh Government for a scheme delivering free five-yearly annual home electrical safety checks for people aged over 80, regardless of property tenure. However, they said that since they launched their report they have not seen any further progress made by the Welsh Government in addressing the issue and ensuring that it's a priority to reduce the number of older people affected by fires caused by electricity in Wales. Given their evidence-based concern, I hope that you will agree that a statement from the Welsh Government should be forthcoming.
Thank you for that. It's obviously a very important point. We've just announced the appointment of the new older person's commissioner, actually, and I'm sure the new commissioner will be taking a keen interest in this as well. The responsibility is spread amongst a number of Cabinet colleagues, so I will ensure that there's a co-ordinated response and we'll write to the Member with where the Welsh Government is at on that very important point.
Last week, a woman who wanted help with her mother's personal independence payment assessment came to see me. The mother, a domestic abuse survivor, suffers from a range of conditions sustained as a result of a violent attack by her partner back in 2009. She's arthritic, she's got a range of skin conditions, internal organ problems, having been viciously attacked by a hammer and a Stanley knife and left for dead. Understandably, she also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now, she was shouted at by a member of Capita's staff when trying to arrange a home visit for this PIP assessment. Capita has now accepted that a home visit is necessary, but they're unable to provide a suitable time around existing medical appointments, and if this next visit doesn't happen, then the PIP payments, the payments she is expecting, she faces losing.
Now, the callous and cruel nature of the benefits system is undeniable, and when you face such harrowing stories in your constituency surgery, you can see the human face of that tragedy first hand. It's not the way for a woman who has been treated in this way to be treated by the state. The devolution of welfare would allow the Welsh Government to mitigate many of the problems associated with this callous system. So, could the leader of the house therefore bring forward a debate or a statement on what can be done by this Government to alleviate the awful pain and suffering brought about by the current welfare system?
I have a second issue as well, and that's in relation to the Wales Governance Centre report out today, published with the University of South Wales, on the state of prisons in Wales. It concluded that the safety and state of prisons here is significantly worse than those in England, and, in fact, the number of recorded self-harm incidents and prison assaults in Wales has increased at a higher rate than in prisons in England since 2010, and there were more prison disturbances at HMP Parc in 2016 and 2017 than at any other prison in Wales and England. Thousands of prison officer posts have been cut, they face real-terms reduction in wages, and now staff and offenders are being put in danger as a result. Decisions about the Welsh prison estate should be taken in Wales and this evidence makes that clear. So, will the leader of the house bring forward a debate on the prison estate in Wales and how the Welsh Government can ensure that citizens who work as prison staff, or who are housed as offenders, are able to work or serve their sentences in a safe environment?
Yes, on that second one, I think we'd be very glad to bring forward a debate on the state of prisons as a result of that report. Those of us who have prisons in our constituencies, and I'm one of them, know very well from visiting what the conditions are like and what the problems are. It's long been our Government's ambition to have criminal justice devolved to Wales and one of the very real reasons for that is, actually, that the sentencing policies currently pursued by the UK Government are producing many of the issues that Leanne Wood draws attention to. It's not just what happens to people once they're in prison; it's why they're in prison in the first place and whether that's at all efficacious and what the purpose in a modern democracy of locking up quite so many young working-class men actually is.
And, to use very unparliamentary language, don't even get me started on the position of women in prisons, because that's a whole other debate as well. I think my Cabinet Secretary colleague and I have had many a discussion on this and would be more than happy to have that debate, because there are a range of issues contributing to the deleterious situation we find in our prisons, particularly the privatised Parc prison. So, I have a lot of sympathy with that and we have a lot to discuss here in the Welsh Government about the ragged edge of the devolution settlement and the difficulties that that's making in terms of what we can and can't do at the moment and why we need to have the devolution settlement sorted out in that regard.
In terms of the constituent with the complex PIP problems, my heart goes out to her. I have a surgery full of people who have similar problems very frequently. There's no doubt at all that the austerity programme pursued by the current UK Government is causing untold misery for individuals right across Britain, including in Wales. I disagree with her about the devolution of welfare. I think one of the sole purposes of the UK is for the redistribution of wealth from the south-east and London. It's a shame that it's currently in the hands of a Tory Government who have no such purpose. I'm not sure that administering a system that's appalling with very little of the money and empathy in it would actually ameliorate it very much. The Welsh Government has done an enormous amount, such as we can, to assist people, and I have some sympathy with why it seems attractive to do that and I have a lot of sympathy with the people who are caught up in the system. But I do urge the UK Government to stop its austerity programme because I believe that that political choice is very much at the heart of the discrimination that people with disabilities find themselves in in the UK today.
Firstly, can I request an update on Welsh Government action to help people working for Virgin Media? It has been reported in the South Wales Evening Post that employees have been refused time off to attend job tests and to attend job interviews, despite the fact that their jobs are seriously under threat. Has the Welsh Government taskforce been given access to Virgin Media and an opportunity to talk to the staff there in order to give them support? A loss of almost 800 jobs anywhere is bound to have a major effect on the local economy.
The second question I have is: have the Welsh Government any plans to implement immigration checks in the NHS in Wales? To refuse treatment to cancer sufferers and children would be massively inhumane. To fail to treat people who have highly contagious diseases would be a danger to each and every one of us living in Wales. So, can the Government give an assurance they're not intending to go down the direction of the NHS in England?
Yes, on that second one, the Cabinet Secretary for health has made it more than plain that we have absolutely no intention at all of charging for any treatment or care received in Wales for any asylum seeker, including those who have failed to get leave to remain. Welsh Government guidance to NHS Wales sets that out very clearly, and I applaud that policy for the reasons that Mike Hedges set out very succinctly there.
In terms of Virgin Media, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, I know, is meeting very soon with Virgin Media senior management to further discuss the plans for closure, the reasons behind the decision, and to offer what support we can to help reverse the decision if at all possible. The taskforce stands ready to support any affected staff if we're not able to reverse that decision. Officials have held recent meetings with both Virgin Media management and employer representatives to assess the current situation and offer assistance where at all appropriate. The collective consultation period, I understand, started on 23 May and will run for a minimum of 45 days. A counter-proposal from the employee representatives aimed at keeping the site open will be considered as part of this, and the Welsh Government has afforded assistance to the employee side in order to help put that counter-proposal together.
We debated the mud from outside Hinkley Point nuclear power station two weeks ago but we didn't get answers to some really serious questions. So, I want to pose again a question about the testing. In Kosovo, when mud was suspected of being radioactive, they tested using alpha spectrometry, gamma spectrometry and also plasma mass spectrometry. And yet, as to the mud that will be dumped not far from this building—and people 10 miles in-land will be breathing in particles from that mud; that's the scientific evidence that we've been given—why was it only tested using gamma spectrometry? And why on earth won't this Government direct Natural Resources Wales to retest the mud using the three methods that they use in other parts of the world when they suspect that mud is contaminated?
The Member brought this up with the Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs and the environment when she was here in the Chamber the week before recess, and they had a very comprehensive conversation between the two of them in which all of those issues were well covered.
Can I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport on road safety? The leader of the house may be aware that this week is glaucoma awareness week and rates of glaucoma in Wales are pretty significant. Around 38,000 people in Wales suffer from glaucoma, with about 19,000 of those cases being undiagnosed and many of those cases will not be diagnosed until at least 40 per cent of peripheral vision has been lost. A number of Assembly Members sat on a simulator today to experience what it's like to have glaucoma as a driver, and I have to say, it's pretty unsafe. I think everybody crashed the car by the end of their time on the simulator. So, clearly, this is a big problem. I do know that the Welsh Government has a road safety framework. It doesn't mention in there the need for people to have regular eye tests. I know that I've written to the Cabinet Secretary in the past and that he's displayed on some of the roadside signs the need to have eye tests, but can I ask for a statement on the road safety framework, because I do think it needs to be refreshed with reference to eye tests in there so that we can make sure that our roads are as safe as possible?
The Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that he's happy to work with our colleague the Cabinet Secretary for health to bring forward something as a result of the issues that the Member raises.
Thank you, leader of the house.
The next item is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport on rail services and the south Wales metro. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make his statement—Ken Skates.
Diolch, Llywydd. I commend you to my written statement issued to Members yesterday. I am pleased to announce, following the completion of the statutory standstill period for the procurement of the operator and delivery partner for the Wales and borders rail service and south Wales metro, that Welsh Government has completed the formal contractual agreement and awarded the contract to KeolisAmey.
We are at a historic point for rail service provision and our partnership will revolutionise our rail network, bringing about transformational improvements to communities and people the length and breadth of Wales, and of course its borders. Our new rail service contract will focus on the heart of communities, ensuring services are accessible to all, with increased frequency of services, improved facilities and connecting people with jobs, health and leisure.
We have recently published our economic action plan. The people of Wales are a central focus of the interventions contained within the plan, supporting them to lead secure, healthy and rewarding lives, whether it’s connecting them to employment and other opportunities through quality infrastructure, equipping them with the skills they need, or supporting our economic foundations. KeolisAmey share this vision. They have demonstrated their commitment to bringing best practice in rail and light rail operations to Wales, investing in infrastructure, rolling stock and staff, and harnessing technology to deliver for the people, communities and economies of Wales.
I'd like to take this opportunity to personally thank staff at Transport for Wales and all those involved in the process in this truly remarkable example of a cross-Government approach to procurement. Transport for Wales will be responsible for managing the rail services on our behalf, and delivering our investment in rail and metro infrastructure, and together they will deliver this new transformative rail service that Wales can be proud of over the next 15 years.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement, and I should also thank him for the briefing events that you put on yesterday afternoon and this morning, which were extremely helpful, so I thank you for that?
The awarding of the new rail franchise represents a multibillion pound opportunity and I, like you, Cabinet Secretary, want to make sure that every Welsh person benefits from that investment. I've yet to see the exact breakdown of how much has been invested by the Welsh Government and how much has been invested by the operator. I appreciate I may have missed this information in recent days, but I'd be grateful if you could outline the details of the funding profile of how much the Welsh Government and how much the operator will be investing in each year of the contract.
The contractor's relationship with Network Rail, of course, is crucial, and I'm wondering what alliance will be formed between the franchise operator and Network Rail. I wonder if you can outline what structures are going to be put in place to ensure there's a close working relationship between Network Rail and the contractor in the day-to-day running of the network, and, of course, with Transport for Wales as well.
I was particularly pleased to see the commitment in regard to 4G and 5G roll-out, with masts along the track, and I suppose that provides an example of the question I just asked with regard to Network Rail being responsible for one area, and the operator—the other, of course, Network Rail, owning the land around the track. And with regard to the improved mobile infrastructure, how will that dovetail with the Welsh Government's mobile action plan?
I do want to ask you about accessibility of toilets on trains. Of course, we know of the new legislation coming into force by 2020, and that some train companies are trying to get around the legislation on old Pacer trains by locking train toilets. I appreciate you've made some statements in this regard, but I would be interested in hearing from you, Cabinet Secretary, your views on how we guard against the unintended consequences of the persons with reduced mobility legislation, and a strong statement from you with regard to disability access to toilets on trains would be welcome.
And finally, could I ask you, Cabinet Secretary, to agree to a couple of points: to publish, in partnership, of course, with Transport for Wales and KeolisAmey, the opportunities that make clear to small and medium-sized enterprises in Wales every commercial opportunity over the coming years that the franchise presents; to provide updates on what additional measures Transport for Wales are taking to advertise the financial opportunities that the franchise represents; and, finally, to publish specific Welsh Government targets for the percentage of work won on this scheme by Welsh firms going forward? Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Can I thank the Member for his questions and for welcoming the announcement that took place yesterday, and the details of the new Wales and borders franchise? We made sure through the scoring process of the procurement exercise that everybody in all parts of Wales and, indeed, the borders area, benefited from the new franchise arrangements. The scoring system was such that it ensured that the bidders were keen to demonstrate how they were going to bring transformative change to all parts of the Wales and borders area.
I think the Member is right to highlight the importance of a number of very significant issues that have been highlighted in recent times, including accessibility and toilets. I can confirm that every toilet on all of the trains will be PRM compliant by the time that they need to be. It's absolutely essential that lower emission PRM toilets are incorporated on all of the trains that will be operating and the ODP has given a very, very clear guarantee that that will happen. The First Minister earlier stated that £15 million will be made available for accessibility at stations across Wales for people who are of limited mobility. There are a number of stations that I know of personally, including my own station of Ruabon, that do not have step-free access, or additional access to step-only access. That will be resolved in the coming franchise arrangements. Every station within the metro area will also be step-free accessible. And in terms of toilets, there will be additional toilets on stations within the metro network to ensure that, for the solution within the core Valleys lines network, no passenger will have to wait more than 14 minutes in order to gain access to a universal access toilet.
The Member raises other important points regarding procurement opportunities for SMEs. We're in the process at the moment of engaging as many Welsh-based companies and borderland companies as possible in the process of identifying infrastructure development partner opportunities to ensure that we capture maximum opportunity for Welsh-based companies. In addition, Transport for Wales, of course, has been set up as a not-for profit-organisation. In the future, it's our anticipation that Transport for Wales will be able to let additional services on a not-for-profit basis to more Welsh companies, and it's also our expectation in the future that Transport for Wales will be able to take on additional responsibilities for other forms of transport management and infrastructure delivery—again being able, in doing so, to award more contracts for Welsh SMEs.
In terms of the work that the operation and development partner will be undertaking with Network Rail, there will be collaborative work taking place with Network Rail, but it will also be on the basis of work being undertaken on a collaborative basis with Transport for Wales as well. I'm pleased that Wales will be represented on the Network Rail national board by a member from Wales itself, ensuring that Wales has a voice on the Network Rail board. I think everybody would acknowledge in the Chamber that, in recent times, the Welsh rail network has not received the sort of infrastructure funding that it should rightly expect. I hope that in the next round, the next control period, that will be addressed, and certainly having Welsh representation on the board at Network Rail will be of assistance.
In terms of the roll-out of new technology, KeolisAmey have designed the roll-out of improved Wi-Fi, the installation of new masts, in line with our Superfast Cymru and mobile interventions to ensure that they don't duplicate them, but instead that we have seamless pathways from train to station to train in terms of Wi-Fi. I'm confident that given the investment that KeolisAmey are looking at placing within new and emerging technologies we will be able to see every train providing free access to Wi-Fi in the coming years. This will be a transformational franchise arrangement, and I'm keen to ensure that we maximise opportunities, not just for the businesses of today but also for new businesses who will be able to look at opportunities where there are new stations.
Now, one of the key benefits for many rural communities of this franchise agreement is the promise that has been made to invest in station buildings and in the landscaping of stations and in bringing stations back into use where they are currently not in use, and that could provide huge opportunities, particularly in rural communities, for new business start-ups at stations. I think many of us could point to a huge number of stations within the 247 station slab that exists on the Wales and borders network where there are opportunities to open up space to new businesses, whether it be in retail, whether it be in hospitality, whether it be in business design or creative industries. There are huge opportunities, and I'm particularly pleased to see a strong focus by the operator and development partner on that potential business area.
I'll start, if I can, by referring to what the First Minister said earlier today in suggesting that Plaid Cymru somehow is doing Wales's rail down. I think we're all excited about the prospect of hopefully getting some more decent trains at some point. I have no doubt that KeolisAmey have put together a very impressive bid, and I congratulate them on landing this lucrative deal. So, is it—[Interruption.]
There's no opportunity for an intervention, so the Member doesn't need to take it as an intervention.
So, Plaid Cymru doing Wales's rail down—the context is quite important here. It's successive Labour and Conservative UK Governments that have done Wales's rail down: the Conservatives, who've recently rowed back on electrification; 13 years of Labour Governments before them that failed to get any electrification done, north, south, east or west; a Labour Government—I think I'm right—that left us with the laughable zero-growth Arriva franchise—laughable, that is, if it wasn't so serious for the thousands of Valleys lines commuters squeezing onto trains, day after day, or north-south travellers sitting on trains for five hours that are really best suited for half-hour or hour-long journeys. So, yes, we're all excited about the prospect of new, fresher trains. I was on the enterprise and business committee in the last Assembly when we considered, in great detail, the dire straits—the dire state, actually—of the current rail system that we have in Wales. Passengers know that it's about time we had better trains, because they've seen pictures of what they have in other countries—they've been on holiday and they've travelled on trains more suited to this century rather than the middle of the last. So, I would urge the Government to be realistic in your expectations about how grateful people should be for what we have now, or what is being promised after suffering the service that they have done for so long.
Now, reading sections of the statement issued by you yesterday—and we're grateful for that statement—there's an element of sadness in many ways. The quality of the franchise deal is very, very important. The last franchise deal left us wanting for so much. We were told 15 years ago that we were having trains that weren't fit for the twenty-first century—we've still got those trains now. Even now we're told that one in every 20 journeys, for some years to come, will continue to be serviced by the current rusty, battered, out-of-date rolling stock that we currently have—[Interruption.] Well, you can clarify that, but 95 per cent travelling on new trains in a few years, you say—that still leaves one in 20 on the very old twentieth-century rolling stock that we currently have. You're having to wait until 2020, still, to have power supply charging points on trains, we were told in the statement yesterday. And again, one in 20 journeys won't have that basic necessity.
It was really important to learn from the mistakes of the last franchise and make sure that they weren't replicated this time around, and I'm not entirely convinced, yet, that those lessons have been learnt. You stated in your statement that onboard catering remains a key feature of services on the Wales and borders network. Anyone travelling north-south will tell you—apart from the one train a day, one northwards and one to the south, that has proper buffet facilities—anybody travelling on the usual trains, north-south, will tell you that the trains aren't suitable for those long journeys—five-hour journeys on trains suitable for short hops. I got on the train in Bodorgan—I would urge anybody to get on the train in Bodorgan, it's a station in a field in the middle of Anglesey; I feel very proud of our little station, but it's a good two and a half or three hours until we get a cup of tea served. And I remember asking Arriva, 'Why doesn't the tea trolley come on until Shrewsbury?', and the answer I got was, 'Because the franchise agreement said that the tea trolley shouldn't come on until Shrewsbury.' So, getting that franchise agreement right is absolutely vital. So, when you say that, in the new all-singing, all-dancing franchise deal,
'As a minimum, provision will be of the same level as that currently available',
that fills me with dread about my journeys from—. This is from your statement; I'm quoting from your statement yesterday. That fills people with dread, because people want to use the train more for north-south journeys, and people are looking for a better service. Being told that current provision of things like a cup of tea, a glass of water, on a five-hour journey shouldn't be too much to ask for in the twenty-first century.
Let me ask for your thoughts, also, on the role of the new system for bringing Wales together. Public transport isn't just about moving people from A to B. Surely, our new, visionary rail system for Wales should be about, effectively, bringing A and B closer together, building a network that ties different parts of Wales together. I see very little in that list of improvements that was published yesterday that shows us that we are creating here a genuine Wales-wide rail system. Of course there are improvements—I see the increase in train numbers on certain routes, on many different routes, and improvements for commuters, and new trains—and that's great, but where is the creation of the all-Wales rail system?
On the profit element, picking up on comments made by Leanne Wood earlier on, rail shouldn't have been privatised in the way that it was, but it is privatised. What I'm looking to see is real public control of the money that flows through the rail system. Could you give us more assurances about how we tie in improved performance, which we hopefully will get from the new operator, with how the money gained from that new performance will actually be driven back into the rail network? Those are the kinds of clarifications that we need now. We lost control of rail; rail became a cash cow. Companies were able to profit—still are able to profit. We need to make sure that this is watertight, and I'm still not quite yet hearing that this is total public control of rail in Wales.
On the question of not-for-profit rail operators, the First Minister said earlier, 'Well, we can't do it. The law says that we cannot have a public rail system.' What we can have, of course, and we investigated this in the last—[Interruption.] Thank you for the suggestion that I have a few seconds left. We looked in the committee in the last Assembly at the prospect of creating a not-for-profit vehicle, which certainly is allowable under legislation. Can you tell me, as a final question, what efforts Government made to look at the prospect of finding, developing, sourcing a vehicle for delivering rail not for profit? If you tried and failed, why did you still put it in your manifestos that you wanted a not-for-profit system? If you didn't try at all, well, what on earth were you doing, putting it in your manifestos? I'll leave it there. Thank you, Llywydd.
Can I thank the Member for his questions and his contribution? I think it's fair to say that his message was somewhat inconsistent with the message given earlier from the leader of his party, in terms of welcoming the franchise agreement. I should just point out that the new arrangements were described earlier this afternoon by the leader of Plaid Cymru as 'second rate'.
It's clear that the position of Plaid Cymru, with regard to letting this franchise, is such that they would have been in no other position, were they in power, other than to continue with the current franchise arrangements, because it is simply—[Interruption.] Because it is simply not possible to ensure that a public body is able to run the current rail network as it stands in law. We tried to change that law, as every party recognises. It could have been the case—a not-for-profit organisation could have won the contract if they had bid, but none did, and we clearly would still prefer nationalisation. However, within the straitjacket in which we operate, we believe that this is, by far, the best deal that could have been struck.
Indeed, Members of Plaid Cymru signed up to a report not long ago that stated that, if we were to reach the point that we're at today, we would have achieved heroic ambition. We've done that, and in having that position—one that is so intransigent as to not recognise that we need to be pragmatic with regard to the award of the rail franchise—it suggests that the only way forward for Plaid Cymru would have been to continue with the current arrangements, and the price of that would have been enormous: 16 per cent higher in terms of subsidies. So, the price that Plaid would have paid over the course of 15 years would have amounted to more than £300 million in addition: 16 per cent more. We're going to save 16 per cent as a consequence of the agreement that we've reached, and there would have been a continuation of the poor services that Members have already highlighted and, of course, the accumulation, annually, of profits of more than £28 million. That's a fact, if you'd continued with the current arrangements, and that's the only place you could have gone to, based on your current argument.
If Plaid Cymru can't welcome our having delivered what their own Members described as a heroic ambition, then surely—surely—there should be some recognition of the enormous benefits that will come to Wales as a consequence of this new franchise: £800 million more on rolling stock; £194 million more on stations; half-price tickets for 16 to 18-year-olds; half of the trains built in Wales. I think it's time to just recognise that, sometimes, we do deliver. We do deliver and we have done. We have delivered an excellent franchise arrangement for the people of Wales.
Profits were raised as an issue earlier, and by the Member now. The profit of 3 per cent was mentioned earlier, and 2.9 per cent. Well, if you look at what Arriva have been making in terms of profits: pre-tax profits in recent times have reached as much as 18.6 per cent; post-tax profits, 6.9 per cent; dividends of £20 million being paid to the parent company; just £3 million invested in—[Interruption.]
We did not sign that contract. That was not a Labour—. That was a non-departmental public body. They got it wrong. They got it wrong, and I'm on record on numerous occasions saying that they got it wrong. I wish those on that side of the Chamber would admit that they've been quick to criticise the way that we've gone about procuring this exercise on numerous occasions, but now is the time to be contrite because we have got it right for the people of Wales.
And in terms of the operator and development partner making a profit, well, it's interesting, because Keolis and Amey both have excellent track records in delivery. If you look at customer satisfaction, actually the two best performing networks at the moment in the UK, in terms of customer satisfaction, are the docklands light railway and the Manchester metro system—both operated by Keolis. And in terms of Amey: an excellent track record, as the Member should know, because one of the organisations that they work for is the Plaid-run Isle of Anglesey council.
In terms of quality, and the Member is absolutely right to say that it's all about the quality of provision—I'll forgive him for not having read all of the brief, because there is a substantial amount of information in there—but he said that people will have to ride on rusting rolling stock that we have now. The statement said that every train is going to be replaced, and that 95 per cent of all passenger journeys will be based on brand-new rolling stock by 2023. [Interruption.] No, the Member said we will still be operating rusting rolling stock that we have now. [Interruption.] No.
No. We will be replacing the units that currently operate on the north-south main line. We're going to be moving to freshly refitted and refurbished Mark 4 trains. Why? Well, because during the consultation process—and 1,300 people and organisations participated in that process—we were told that that much-valued service needed to be enhanced in terms of journey times and in terms of the quality of provision. And so, as a consequence, the bidders went out to look for the best rolling stock solutions. The Mark 4 is a class leader in terms of comfort. It is recognised as being one of the best trains in terms of passenger comfort and so, for that reason, they will be refitted and brought into use as soon as possible.
In terms of the new trains that will be operating, actually, the new diesel multiple units will be operating not in 2023-24, as the Member has just called across the Chamber. In north Wales, which I know the Member is very keen to see benefit from this exercise—. North Wales will be the first area to benefit from the new DMUs in 2022, and in terms of the north-south service that, again, the Member has referred to on a number of occasions, not only are we going to be maintaining the current service level, we are going to be improving it with bidirectional services.
The Member also said that the onboard catering offer is currently insufficient, and I agree. That's why I said that, as a minimum, provision should be maintained at the same level everywhere, and improved wherever possible. So, as a consequence, what the successful bidder has promised to do is to improve the catering offer on the service that the Member identified. But it's not just that service: the catering offer will be improved across the Wales and borders network. It's absolutely crucial that passengers expect a higher level of comfort, and a greater degree of catering offer. They wouldn't have got that if we had maintained the current franchise agreement, which is what the leader of Plaid Cymru would have to do, but they will get it with our franchise agreement.
And in terms of transport bringing people closer together, there are many examples of how people are going to be brought closer together in this. Transport for Wales will be a national not-for-profit organisation tasked with maintaining an oversight of the current franchise agreement and making sure that there are improvements in the network, carried out at speed and to budget. But in terms of some of the examples of how people are going to be brought closer together, from this December there'll be new services; there'll be changes introduced in 2019; and there'll be 22 per cent more Sunday mileage operations from 2019. Cardiff Central to Bridgend: a perfect example of how we can bring people closer together. There's going to be a consistent four-train-per-hour solution from 2019. I could go on. The list is there, ready for Members to see, if they wish. Every single service improvement demonstrates how we are uniting the country better, bringing people closer together and bringing people closer to their places of work more speedily as well.
In terms of profit, the Member is right, profit does need to be reinvested wherever, whenever possible. We are capping the profit margins of the operator and development partner, and all excess will be reinvested back into the network. We're going to be monitoring the performance of the operator, and we're also going to be looking at using break clauses as a means to ensure that they deliver against the proposals that they've outlined in their procurement bid.
In terms of the not-for-profit question—whether a not-for-profit organisation could operate the rail services—again, I must stress that there was nothing preventing a not-for-profit organisation from bidding. Unfortunately, one did not—[Interruption.] We were encouraging one, and indeed, it was in our manifesto. That's why we were encouraging a not-for-profit organisation. Sadly, none came forward.
The key point here, Llywydd, is the interest of passengers. That is what matters most, and we are delivering a first-class franchise arrangement for the people of Wales.
Well, perhaps I ought to point out that those wonderful trains that Rhun ap Iorwerth referred to on the continent were probably paid for by the billions of pounds Britain has poured into Europe over the last 40 years.
But, to move on, can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for this statement, which gives a comprehensive overview of what the new franchise is expected to deliver over the coming years? I must say, there are some mouthwatering promises that should silence even the most critical of commentators. Enhancements to stations, rolling stock and vastly increased timetables augur well for the future of rail travel in Wales and the borders. The competitive dialogue process certainly seems to be justified by the commitments you have extracted from the winning franchisee.
We are, of course, very aware of aspirations as opposed to outcomes, so it is gratifying to know that you've put in place clauses allowing you to terminate contracts at the five and 10-year stage if the franchisee does not deliver as envisaged. There are many improvements to services' frequency and times that, together with the increased capacity provided by new and more numerous units of rolling stock, should provide the quality of service so desperately needed to improve passenger satisfaction.
There is just one note of disappointment, as a Member for south Wales, and that is, although you speak of extra services, better rolling stock and rail improvements to the Ebbw Vale line, there remains the notable omission of a commitment to a rail link into Newport. When I questioned Arriva Trains with regard to why this link could not be achieved, they indicated that the line was at full capacity with the service to Cardiff. Will the Cabinet Secretary indicate whether the new improvements to the Ebbw Vale line will at long last create enough capacity for this desperately needed Newport connection? Thank you.
Can I thank the Member for his contribution, for his questions and for warmly welcoming the announcement, and can I thank him for on previous occasions also welcoming the process by which we have procured the Wales and borders franchise operator, that being competitive dialogue?
I think it's an interesting example of how, in carrying out an innovative and creative approach, we have been able to showcase to the rest of the UK how perhaps procurement of rail contracts should be carried out in the future. Up until now, the way that franchises have been let has been such that Governments have sent out a big transit van of specifications and then bidders have come back with a price, and that means of going about procuring a contractor has led to bidders being incentivised to just give the lowest cost return and, in doing so, often to provide an unsustainable provision. As a consequence, we've seen the failure of franchise arrangements across the UK. What we've done is turned that on its head and through a process of having a funding envelope and entering into competitive dialogue we've said to bidders: 'This is the envelope; this is the maximum sum of money available; what can you do for it?' And then we've stretched and stretched in order to ensure that we get the best possible arrangements, and I think that's why we've been able to extract such a positive deal for people the length and breadth of Wales.
The Member is absolutely right about rolling stock needing to improve. More than 140 new trains will be provided for the network and, of course, more than half of those will be built in Wales. Every single one of the 247 stations will receive an upgrade. It's quite a fact, actually, that, in the current franchise arrangement over the last 15 years, we believe that approximately £600,000 has been spent on stations. In contrast, the figure will be £194 million in the next franchise—quite a contrast, and I think that again demonstrates why the previous franchise arrangement was unfit, whereas the current arrangements that we've agreed are superb for passengers and communities alike.
I'm pleased to be able to say to the Member that the South Wales Argus's campaign for Ebbw Vale to Newport services has been successful, and Members have achieved what they have wished to do over many years because within the franchise arrangement there will be a train per hour operating between Ebbw Vale and Newport. It's something that many people during the consultation exercise said they needed, they wanted, and I'm pleased that we've been able to provide it.
I warmly welcome this announcement. I think it's very positive and very exciting and will bring great benefits to Wales. I certainly welcome the method of procurement, which I think will result in a more passenger-focused service, and I congratulate the Cabinet Secretary on his achievement.
I just want to welcome particularly a certain—. I welcome the emphasis on introducing electric trains and the commitment to sourcing this from renewable sources—50 per cent from within Wales; I think that is a great step forward—and also the use of the tri-mode trains, which will minimise disruption on the Valleys lines.
My constituents in Cardiff North are always complaining about not being able to get on the trains or the trains being so crowded that they find the journey is very difficult, so I'm really pleased that there are going to be, I think it's 45 per cent, more seats in the peak morning travel time. So, I think that will be a huge help to my constituents in Cardiff North.
I'm also very pleased about the new stations that are being proposed. There's a new station being proposed called the Gabalfa station. Now, that is not exactly where I had expected it to be, and it's actually in Llandaff North ward. I welcome it, but I wondered if the Cabinet Secretary had any information about how a decision was made about where exactly to site it, because it's not exactly where I thought it would be, and whether that is set in stone as well. We certainly need a station in that area, but I think there would be benefits to it being in a slightly different place.
I was also very interested to see that there are plans to develop a metro spur link to Velindre cancer centre, which is something that I've been very keen to see, because, obviously, with the increasing numbers of people who are using the services of Velindre, particularly due to an ageing population, the more public transport we can get that's going straight into Velindre in this way, I think, will be ideal. So, I wondered if the Cabinet Secretary could provide any more details on the plans for the cross-Government working on this, which is referred to in his statement yesterday.
Lastly, I'd like to support your call for the Welsh Government to take on responsibility for the inter-city franchise between Wales and the rest of the UK.
Can I thank Julie Morgan for her questions and again for warmly welcoming the announcement?
I'm also delighted that the preferred bidder was able to bring forward very ambitious plans for reducing carbon emissions—a reduction of 25 per cent in the next five years—and, probably more importantly, the promise that 100 per cent of the electric to be used on the electrification of services will be renewable, and that 50 per cent will be sourced from Wales. With the tri-mode trains, with our battery-operated trains, I think we're demonstrating that Wales is trailblazing as the providers of twenty-first century electrification. Until recently, it's always been assumed that you can only electrify by installing a huge number of pylons, cables everywhere, but, actually, that's not the case. It was recently highlighted in the Welsh Affairs Select Committee's report that the potential of hydrogen and battery-operated trains today is enormous. Some countries, to be fair, have been operating those sorts of technological improvements for many years—Japan, for example, have been using that sort of technology for over a decade—but few in the UK. So, I'm delighted that Wales will be at the forefront of using renewable energy, using a new form of electrification, and trailblazing in that way.
I'm also pleased, as the Member highlighted, that we'll see a significant increase in capacity. I think the staggering fact that there will be a 65 per cent increase in the size of the fleet across the Wales and borders network and the metro area shows that there is huge, huge potential to meet now the expected passenger growth, which is currently standing at around about 74 per cent by 2030. So, clearly, what the bidder, what KeolisAmey, have provided within their procurement bid meets passenger expectations in terms of demand for seats.
In terms of the siting of new stations, well, this was carried out on the basis of the availability of land and property and the potential to integrate with other forms of transport—buses, active travel, strategic park and ride—and also the need to integrate with strategic land planning for new developments and, of course, the need to be positioned in strategically important areas for people to be able to gain access to them from home and from work. I'm happy to discuss further the siting of the particular station that the Member has highlighted, but the Member is absolutely right in pointing to the spur that will serve Velindre, that this is a great example of the integration of public services with public transport.
In terms of cross-Government working, I'm keen to continue dialogue with my colleagues, particularly in local government and in health and in planning, to ensure that, where there is social infrastructure being created, it matches perfectly the transport infrastructure that is also being planned for those areas.
Cabinet Secretary, listening to Plaid Cymru today reminded me of an old foundry workers' union representative who, when his workers had been out on strike, went into negotiations. He came out afterwards and said to his members, a mass meeting of the members—he said, 'Well,' he said, 'brothers and sisters,' he said, 'I've negotiated an extra week's holiday pay,' he said, 'I've negotiated a 10 per cent increase, and not only that,' he said, 'you are only going to have to work on a Friday.' And the bloke at the back shouts out, 'What? Every Friday?' I can only presume that that was a member of Plaid Cymru because, listening to their comments today, it seems to me that there is not a single thing about this whole package that is of any benefit. Well, I can tell you that, certainly, in my constituency, having Transport for Wales, first of all, coming into Pontypridd, is going to significantly regenerate that town. It's already having that effect: 500 to 1,000 jobs. Having the new rolling stock maintenance within my constituency, in Taff's Well, creating several hundred jobs, is also something that is very much welcomed by the people of Pontypridd and Taff Ely. And the fact that we now have in Coleg y Cymoedd some of the best training programmes, and I'm glad to see that you attended Nantgarw in order to make the launch, is again very significant—very significant because, of course, some of us will remember that that was the site of the former Nantgarw colliery and coke works; what a regenerated area. Also there's the fact that, now, of course, the Treforest industrial estate station is going to move, and I'd like you perhaps to comment a little bit about the precise timetable and timescale for that move closer towards Nantgarw.
Could you also perhaps just outline the benefits that are going to be there, particularly for the 16 to 18-year-olds, in terms of the ticket regime, because that's been something of considerable benefit, and also perhaps at some stage whether you are considering the extension—as I declare an interest here—in the concessionary travel card for over-60s to the rail network as well?
Can I also ask you just for confirmation that there will definitely be, in accordance with the discussions with ASLEF and the RMT trade unions, guards on the trains? Because people want guards on the trains. They see them as being something that gives them security, gives them comfort and confidence in the rail network, and it's something that's been lost in other areas.
And can I then ask you one very final point? And that is, of course, that most of these trains will be up and running by 2023. We need to start preparing now for the next phase, and you'll know I've raised with you, of course, the issue of the railway line going up to Llantrisant. And, of course, I had a tweet earlier today saying that Nessie has at long last been sighted heading up towards the A470, and I've tweeted back saying, well, we hope Nessie's only stopping off and is now going to be heading up towards Llantrisant where we're all waiting to see her there.
Can I thank Mike Antoniw for his observations and for his questions? I think he points to a very significant development in his own constituency, the establishment of Transport for Wales in Pontypridd. It could act as a perfect example of how we can use transport-related infrastructure, transport-related business, to drive economic growth across Wales. And I'm particularly keen to make sure that, from this franchise agreement, we draw out every possible opportunity to drive economic growth in an inclusive way across Wales.
I was also delighted that the launch of the new franchise took place at the Nantgarw rail facility, a facility that is bringing hope and opportunity to young people and, again, which will become an even more important facility in the years to come as a consequence of this very franchise agreement.
In terms of the timetable for the move that the Member highlighted, I can get the Member more details on that, but we are committed to doing the work that is required in a timely fashion to enable services to be running as expected and to the planned date of 2023.
In terms of concessionary travel for young people, of course, we are extending free travel from under-fives to under-11s. We are also offering reduced opportunities, or reduced fares, for 16 to 18-year-olds, halving the cost of tickets for 16 to 18-year-olds. And we're also going to be offering free off-peak travel to 11 to 16-year-olds that are accompanied by an adult on some services—again, crucially important for families to be able to be connected with one another, particularly at weekends, where they might want to go to watch a rugby match or a football match, or any other form of sport or cultural activity. And this precise benefit will apply to families and to friends alike. Current arrangements for over-60s will be maintained, and I do agree that it's vitally important that there is a guard or a second person on the train, not just for security, but for safety reasons as well.
And, in terms of moving beyond 2023, the metro is being designed in such a way that it can be extended, and I'm particularly keen to ensure that people in communities where there is a high proportion of people who can't yet easily access work on public transport are given the opportunity to do so in the future through extending the metro and, indeed, not just extending the metro in the south-east, but also right across Wales, seeing services extended through future investment in the infrastructure and in the trains that run on them.
We are out of time for this statement, but, given its importance, I'll extend the statement time slightly, but if I can call on Members to be succinct in their questions—. Nick Ramsay.
Just one question from me, diolch, Llywydd. I also welcome your statement, Cabinet Secretary, and thank you for arranging the briefing. I went to the breakfast one this morning, and it was inspiring stuff. We just need to make sure that it does work to plan, but what I saw was very positive.
Can I ask you in terms of the KeolisAmey commitment to disabled access at our railway stations and general accessibility? There have been ongoing problems with poor disabled access at Abergavenny station in my constituency for many years now, and certainly under Arriva's franchise. What discussions have you had with KeolisAmey around the problems at that particular station? What solutions are they proposing? Will the new franchise address these problems and how long will it be before people in Abergavenny see the improvements to access that that station so desperately needs?
Can I thank Nick Ramsay for welcoming the announcement, and also thank Nick and every other Member who attended the breakfast briefing for taking part in that? Because I think it's important that we're able to share as much of the information as possible with Members, who I'm in no doubt will then pass on that information to constituents.
Disabled access was a key consideration, not just in the procurement exercise, but also in the work carried out by the economy and infrastructure committee when looking into the future franchise arrangements. I'm particularly pleased that no stations on the metro map will have step-only access. Every station will be addressed, and work will be carried out to ensure that disabled access is improved. Abergavenny is one of those stations that will see improvements. In addition, £15 million is being made available to improve access at stations outside of the metro area, again bringing opportunities for people to be able to access trains at stations that are currently prohibited to them.
In terms of the time frame, the work that is going to be carried out between now and 2023, when the metro services will be fully operational, will include the access work that is required. I don't know where exactly Abergavenny sits in terms of the timetable for infrastructure work that needs to be carried out, but I'll certainly write to the Member, and other Members, as soon as I can with details about the specific time frame during which those stations will be improved.
If I could ask the Cabinet Secretary—. He’s just mentioned some of the ways in which the franchise can cut down on carbon emissions; can he confirm specifically that we will see trains using hydrogen as part of this programme over the next 15 years? Such trains are already running in certain parts of Germany, and it’s a way, as he suggested, of skipping beyond the electrification problems that we have at the moment and introducing something better immediately for the people of Wales.
The second thing I want to ask is on the financial infrastructure underpinning all of this. We know some of the details, but not all of them, because it is confidential in terms of costs. But on Friday, you published a written statement on access payments for the railways, and I was pleased to see that you had come to an agreement now with the UK Government, but the details are not yet available. Can you confirm when those details and that agreement will be published so that we can scrutinise that? You will recall, of course, that if you don’t come to an agreement, then to all intents and purposes, you will pay £1 billion over 15 years in order to get that access under the current system. You say that that is coming to an end—excellent—but you also say that you have had to agree under the current comprehensive spending review to spend over £100 million over the next two years. Given that the UK Government is only giving £125 million for the south Wales metro, that is an example of giving with one hand and taking with the other. The Welsh Government is not much better off from the contribution from the Government that is still responsible—as they haven’t devolved the railways—for the railways across the UK. So, can you just give us a little more flesh on the bone in terms of those figures and explain when you will be publishing a statement on the full agreement, so that we have an opportunity to scrutinise that financial agreement very carefully?
Can I thank Simon Thomas for his questions? I think the use of hydrogen trains will be seen more widely in the years to come. They're still being tested in certain environments and on certain railways, but it's my view that we'll see far more examples of hydrogen trains on rail networks around the world in the next decade or so. They did not form any part of the bid from the franchise operator. However, should future excess profits be reinvested into new rolling stock, then certainly hydrogen trains could be considered, especially as we roll out metro concepts elsewhere in Wales. Instead, twenty-first century electrification—if you like, next generation electrification—has been utilised, with battery power. Some people still hark back to the days when pylons and cables signalled the future. Well, in a similar way to the way that iPhones and iPads show that you don't need to plug in your Apple computer, so too battery-operated trains show that you don't need to have cables everywhere. The next natural step might well be hydrogen—we don't know what the market will demand as of yet. But, certainly, as we examine the development of hydrogen trains and the reliability of them, it will be a key consideration for any future reinvestment in the rail network and any future reinvestment in rolling stock.
In terms of track access charges, I would be more than happy to write to Members with details of the agreement that was reached with the Secretary of State. I have to say that the Secretary of State and I have reached an agreement following what I think have been very positive discussions that have taken place since September 2017. The Member is absolutely right that the agreement with the Secretary of State addresses what was widely reported last year, where the Welsh Government would have been required to pay the UK Government over £1 billion over the next 15 years in track access charges. We've essentially prevented the Welsh taxpayer from having to shoulder the burden of the best part of £1 billion, and with the end to this adjustment payment we've agreed to a new arrangement, similar to the arrangement that is in place between the franchise operations in England and the Department of Transport, which also takes into account, of course, of the way that the Welsh Government is funded. This means, in turn, that the forecast access charge costs in the bid are what will be paid for the next 15 years. Due to the complications with the existing spending review, two further adjustment payments will be made up until 2020, as the Member identified.
It's worth reiterating that the Secretary of State for Transport has reconfirmed the UK Government will provide £125 million of funding towards the south-east Wales metro and the Department for Transport will fund the Welsh Government for England-only services as well. But I'm perfectly happy to provide more details on the agreement.
Like colleagues on these benches, I'm very keen to celebrate all that you've managed to achieve. I think there are huge benefits from this new contract. Obviously, being able to buy our tickets on the phone and integrated ticketing so that the full journey is completed from when we go home to our destination and back again—that's all fantastic. And also being able to build our new carriages in Wales means that we can respond much more quickly when there's increased demand.
I've got one specific query. In your statement yesterday you talked about 45 per cent more seats being available going into Cardiff in the morning peak rush hour, and I just wondered if that's going to be sufficient given that we currently have 80,000 people commuting into Cardiff at the moment, which is completely unacceptable. It's going to be a much more productive use of their journey to work if they're sitting on the train composing their reports or reading their e-mails. So, I just wondered if that level of increase is sufficient given that we not only wish to see them coming in by train, but we need to see them coming by train for very good public health reasons as well.
Can I thank the Member for her questions? The Member's absolutely right that new technology must be embraced by the operator. It is being embraced, and it's worth just sharing with Members more detail about the repayment system that will be operated. It will be automated, and so any passenger that's delayed by 15 minutes or more will get an automated reimbursement of the ticket fare. That's something that happens in some parts of Europe, and I'm delighted that we'll be introducing that arrangement here in Wales.
I am confident that the additional seat capacity will be sufficient for passengers, and it's worth also pressing home the point that there will be penalties for the operator for anyone who's having to stand for more than 20 minutes. In addition to there being increased capacity in terms of seats, there will also be additional capacity for bikes and other forms of transport taken on trains, including wheelchairs, because of course we need to integrate transport far better, and if you can't take a bike onto a train you're then not going to be able to cycle the short way, that final one mile, as it often is called, to work. There are also some exciting proposals contained within the franchise arrangement for that final mile to work, which I'll be pleased to be able to share with Members in the coming weeks.
Cabinet Secretary, thank you for your statement today. I'd like to place on record my thanks for delivering the extra capacity on the Ebbw Vale line, ensuring that the link will also stop in Newport. This is very welcome for the region and particularly for my constituency in Newport West. It was great to wake up to the South Wales Argus headline this morning saying, 'At last!', which I think sums up what many of us have been waiting for. Newport train station is the second busiest train station in Wales. Linking the Gwent valleys and parts of Newport such as Rogerstone and Rhiwderin to the city centre will help ease congestion on our roads.
It's vitally important that travelling by train is accessible and affordable to young people and I welcome the announcement that concessionary fares have been extended to include 16 to 18-year-olds. So, does the Cabinet Secretary agree that enabling young people to easily and affordably move around the region for education and employment opportunities not only encourages use of public transport but also contributes to the Welsh Government's plan for inclusive growth?
Absolutely; I couldn't agree more. It's a shocking fact that, in some parts of Wales, a fifth of young people can't even get to their job interview because they can't afford the public transport required to get them to their interview. So, the half-price fares scheme for 16 to 18-year-olds will certainly assist in driving inclusive growth across Wales and ensure that more young people are able to get to job interviews and get to and from work.
The Member is absolutely right, Newport is the second busiest station within Wales, and it's going to be important that it, like every other station, receives a good amount of investment to maintain it as a visually pleasing station, but also one that utilises the very latest technology so that passengers are comfortable travelling on reliable services. I'm also pleased that there will be that hourly service between Ebbw Vale and Newport from 2021.
And finally, Darren Millar.
Can I thank you for your statement as well? I'm very pleased that there will be some improvements in rail services in Wales. These have been long overdue in my opinion, as a regular traveller between north and south. I've just got a couple of questions, though.
I know that both you and I have been very keen to see the direct rail link established with Liverpool and that that is going to hopefully be on track in December of this year, which is extremely good news indeed. But one thing that you didn't mention in any of your statements that I could see was a reference to direct rail links to both Liverpool and Manchester airports, which of course are increasingly important as Wales becomes part of this global world economy. So, perhaps you could tell us whether there's going to be an increase in the frequency of journeys to Manchester Airport from north Wales, particularly with the PSO arrangements that you announced that you were investigating and the public service obligation support that you might be able to give to air links to those places.
Secondly, there is a train station that was closed a few decades ago in my own constituency, which I would like to see reopened, and that is the Foryd halt, which serves the area of Towyn and Kinmel Bay. You'll be aware of the huge popularity of Tywyn and Kinmel Bay as a tourist destination, with 60,000 bed spaces on caravan parks there. I believe that it's time to relook at the viability of the Foryd halt as an opportunity for improving green transport in north Wales, and I wonder whether you can tell us whether that is something that you'll be able to discuss with the new operator, given the bonanza in the cash available to improve and invest in new stations.
Just finally, whilst I welcome the extension to concessionary fares for 16 to 18-year-olds, of course it doesn't go as far as the proposals that we put forward in this Chamber some time back for our green card, which would give reduced rail fares to 16 to 25-year-olds, and, indeed, some concessionary bus opportunities as well. I wonder whether you've give any further consideration to those and how they might knit together with this particular scheme.
Can I thank the Member for his questions and for welcoming the procurement arrangements, and for his continued interest in key services in north Wales, including the north Wales to Liverpool service that will operate via the Halton Curve. I'll come to that point in a moment, but, first, I should also say that we are looking at direct north Wales services into Liverpool Lime Street using the Mersey tunnel. Using newly acquired bimodal rolling stock, we'd be able to operate through the Mersey tunnel direct from Wrexham to Liverpool, and not just Wrexham to Bidston. I think that would bring huge benefits to north Wales.
In terms of the north Wales to Liverpool services I'm pleased that, using the Halton Curve, there will be new services provided from north Wales through to Liverpool. The new Liverpool to Llandudno service, for example, in 2022 will be one of those services that uses the new Halton Curve, and as a consequence will be able to operate to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Likewise, I'm also pleased to be able to share with the Member information concerning the other airport that serves north Wales on the English side of the border, which is Manchester Airport, and there will be new direct daily services from north Wales to Manchester Airport, again in December 2022. I'm also pleased to be able to say to the Member that they will be on brand-new made-in-Wales trains.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary.
The next statement comes from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services and an update on Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board—Vaughan Gething.
Diolch, Llywydd. In my statement on the 1 February this year, I confirmed that following the review by the Welsh Government, the Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, under the escalation and intervention arrangements, that Betsi Cadwaladr university health board would remain in special measures.This week marks three years in special measures for Betsi Cadwaladr university health board. I want to update Members today on the progress made in some key areas during this period, the significant challenges that remain and the plans to work with the health board during the next phase of improvement.
Under the special measures arrangements, we have provided support to stabilise and recover the position in key areas of concern. This has included areas outlined for immediate action in 2015—on governance, leadership and oversight, mental health services, maternity services at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, and reconnecting with the public and primary care, including out-of-hours services. More recently, steps have been required in finance and some performance areas.
This support has involved a higher level of scrutiny and oversight, appointing key advisers to work alongside the board on leadership and governance, mental health services, primary care and the NHS Wales delivery unit providing targeted support. During the first two years, an additional £10 million of funding was provided to support action in key areas, including mental health and maternity services. In the past 12 months, investment to reduce waiting times has included a £1.5 million commitment towards the unscheduled care programme, and over £10 million of additional support in planned care that has helped to result in a 45 per cent reduction in people waiting over 36 weeks, compared to the end of December 2017.
Update reports from the health board and the Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales reviews did, during the first two years, evidence progress against the milestones and some evidence of recovery. The recent report from the Health and Social Care Advisory Service into the care and treatment provided on the Tawel Fan ward also reported on some recent progress, including key areas of work detailed in the dementia strategy and patient and carer support.
One of the substantive reasons that Betsi Cadwaladr was placed in special measures in 2015 related to major concerns in maternity services at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. Due to the hard work of the staff and the support provided, this is a service area we have seen significant improvements in over the past three years. Following advice from the review, under the escalation and intervention arrangements, I announced earlier this year that it was de-escalated as a special measures issue.
Progress has also been made in other areas, including the management of complaints and concerns, with improved clinical oversight under the leadership of the executive director of nursing; in developing and delivering the mental health strategy in partnership with users and partners; improved performance in delivering Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 targets; restructuring the mental health team; and board governance processes.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Since 2015 there has also been a continued investment in the estate and the services to ensure improved access and healthcare for the people of north Wales, with a number of these having been or due to be completed.
The major ongoing significant refurbishment work, involving over £160 million of capital investment on the Ysbyty Glan Clwyd site, is due to be fully completed in December this year, and the sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre, otherwise known as the SuRNICC, on the site is due to fully open this summer. Capital funding of almost £14 million has been provided to redesign, extend and improve the emergency and urgent care department in Ysbyty Gwynedd. Investments have also been made in two modular theatres at Wrexham Maelor Hospital and for environmental improvements to mental health wards as part of the drive to improve standards of care.
I recently announced £2.2 million of funding to convert a theatre at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd to a hybrid theatre capable of performing complex vascular surgery. That will bring benefits for patients, and is already increasing the attractiveness of the health board in terms of recruitment of consultants, with five vascular consultants successfully appointed and improvements in surgical training.
It's not only in hospital settings that capital funding is making a difference, of course. Investments in primary care are supporting priorities to improve population health across north Wales, reduce health inequalities and provide care for people closer to home. Over £14 million has been provided to develop integrated health and social care centres in Flint, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Tywyn that provide a range of integrated, co-located, health, social care and third sector facilities.
However, despite the investment and progress in some key areas, significant challenges remain, as reported in the Deloitte review findings and, indeed, the HASCAS report. They both highlighted continued concerns on governance, clinical leadership and service redesign. In the last 12 months, the Welsh Government has escalated the level of intervention in finance and some areas of performance due to substantial concerns on referral to treatment waiting times, unscheduled care and financial planning and management. I am intensely concerned with the decline in performance in these areas, and generally exasperated with the pace of progress by the health board on the milestones set for the first part of this calendar year and the continued lack of clarity on its plans for the future.
I was always very clear that the transformation at Betsi Cadwaladr would require a significant culture change to working in partnership, both externally and internally. This will require ongoing focus on board-to-ward engagement and a move from an underlying resistance to consistency in clinical practice in a variety of service settings, with strong professional oversight and clinical leadership. To deliver improved outcomes for its population, the health board needs to work in a systematic way, in partnership as one organisation at a local and regional level, and to play a full part on a national level.
During my regular visits and contact with the health board, I continue to be impressed by the commitment and hard work of staff to deliver quality patient care in a challenging environment and in the context of high-level negative reporting and attention. I take seriously the well-being of our NHS staff. Whilst sickness levels in Betsi Cadwaladr have been lower than the all-NHS Wales position for a number of years, and it is delivering a range of initiatives to support staff, we will continue to engage with the health board and trade unions on how we can better support our staff.
To ensure the health board delivers on its short and medium-term expectations swiftly, whilst also planning and undertaking transformational change, I published on 8 May this year the special measures improvement framework. This sets out milestones for the next 18 months in four key areas: leadership and governance; strategic and service planning; mental health; and primary care, including out-of-hours. I expect visible progress before the summer on the framework expectations, including a reduction in waiting times, responses to the recommendations set out in the HASCAS and Ockenden reports agreed and being actioned, recruitment to key positions completed, the additional capacity and capability required in place, and turnaround actions having a positive impact.
To support the improvements and drive forward the work in the short and medium term, the Welsh Government will provide more intensive support, with a team to work alongside the health board, and additional resources to further improve waiting times. This will include additional system leadership, turnaround and operational capacity support. We will also be increasing the NHS delivery and finance delivery units interventions to include individual unit members providing focused support on plans, intelligence and best practice. Advisory support will also continue under the special measures arrangements.
The intensive support will initially be directed towards supporting improved governance and accountability, focused joint working with clinicians and partners to deliver substantial improvements, especially in planned and unscheduled care, delivery on financial turnaround and working towards developing an integrated medium-term plan for 2019-2022. Adviser support will include continued guidance on leadership and governance from David Jenkins and Emrys Elias on assuring the development and delivery of the thematic quality improvement and governance plan for mental health services.
The next phase of the improvement journey will be led by a new chair from 1 September, following the appointment of Mark Polin, who will bring clear direction and leadership. He will lead a renewed board, with the recruitment of a new vice-chair and three independent members, and changes at the executive level, including a recently appointed new executive director of workforce and organisational development, and the imminent recruitment of a director of primary care and a director of strategy.
I will continue to hold regular accountability meetings with the chair and chief executive and I will attend the board meeting this Thursday to discuss progress. I will set out my clear expectations of the board to lead and deliver sustained positive change.