Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd12/06/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. And the first question is from Llyr Gruffydd.
1. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Arla following its decision to close the site in Llandyrnog? OAQ52324
Well, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs has written to the managing director of Arla to request an urgent meeting to discuss all opportunities the company may be considering and how the Welsh Government may be able to assist.
Thank you for that response. I know it's early days, but I would like to ask whether the Government would be willing to consider maximising the potential of that site by looking at attracting others to operate from that particular site in future. Because the concern is that, if the site is mothballed, it closes everyone else out in terms of the opportunity to process milk in that area. We don't want a situation such as the one we saw in Whitland in west Wales many years ago, where the site was vacant for many years, which meant in turn that it wasn't possible to process milk in that area. That's important, of course, not only because we need processing capacity in Wales for all the reasons that I've outlined previously in my question to the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy and Transport last week, but also, of course, there is a commitment by Arla to continue to take milk from farmers in the north east. But for how long will they be willing to transfer that to Scotland and to Devon without, ultimately, deciding that it's not cost-effective?
I understand that the Cabinet Secretary has had a meeting over the phone this afternoon. One of the things that was being considered was what opportunities there are for this site, ultimately. I remember how difficult it was to ensure that the land was released in Whitland; I was the Minister at the time and ensured that that happened. It stood there, mothballed, for years in the town, and that's not something that people wanted to see; it was something that they wanted to see being resolved, and the land being used. So, there are two things: first, looking at the opportunities for the site itself, and, secondly, ensuring that there is support available for the people who work there, and that will be available, of course, through the ReAct scheme. Also, Business Wales is working with the company to see what opportunities there are.
Last week, responding to me, the Cabinet Secretary referred to the Farmers' Union of Wales statement that Arla was set to retain the site while potential opportunities for other products are explored, and that he would be taking that further with them. I've since been told by one source that 'other opportunities for the site' simply refers to recommencing production should tariffs be imposed on cheese imports post Brexit. But we also saw, over the weekend, reporting that Starbucks has struck a 21-year licensing deal with Arla to manufacture, distribute and market its range of premium ready-to drink milk-based coffees across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, which potentially opens wider opportunities. Perhaps you won't be able to tell us until you've spoken to the Cabinet Secretary, after his discussion, but will you inform the Assembly what discussions have been had, in that context, and whether this is simply restricted to tariffs post Brexit, or whether there are new opportunities linked to the publicised new contracts with third parties?
Well, it is early days yet, but certainly we will explore any possibility that will lead to a positive outcome for the area. And that is something the Cabinet Secretary will continue to do, together with officials.
First Minister, what steps did Welsh Government take, prior to Arla announcing the closure, to try and convince them not to close the plant in Denbighshire?
Well, these announcements often come with little or no warning. What we do of course in those circumstances is two things: first of all, to make sure that Business Wales looks to discuss the future with the company, and, secondly, of course, to provide support to affected employees, including through the ReAct scheme, in order to help them to identify alternative sources of employment. It isn't always the case that, where closures are announced, or proposed—because it is out to consultation at the moment—that we get substantial, or sometimes any, notice.
2. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle alcohol abuse? OAQ52333
We are investing almost £50 million a year in our substance misuse agenda and, within this, we are undertaking a range of actions to tackle alcohol abuse. That includes supporting services that are commissioned by area planning boards, and also, of course, this afternoon, introducing the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill.
Thank you, First Minister. Last week, Gwent Police announced the introduction of a scheme where first-time offenders for low-level crimes, including 'drunk and disorderly', will be given a chance to attend a course rather than face court. The course will be offered to individuals at the discretion of the police and no cost to the public, rather like the speed awareness course. Gwent Police are the first force in Wales to offer such a scheme as part of their wider strategy to tackle alcohol problems, reduce reoffending and ease pressure on the criminal justice system. Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service, a charity providing support and advice for individuals and families, have welcomed this scheme. Can the First Minister set out how the Welsh Government is supporting substance misuse services to increase awareness of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption? And how will the Welsh Government work with the police and others to reduce alcohol-related crime?
I think that's a very good idea. When I first started, many years ago, as a lawyer, it was often the case that where we had two young men—it was inevitably young men—who might have been fighting with each other in drink on the Kingsway in Swansea, which in those days was quite a venue for such things, if it was felt they wouldn't trouble the police or the courts again, they were often bound over, which meant they didn't have a criminal conviction. They were scared, frankly; it scared them from coming back into court and it was, in effect, a way of ensuring their good behaviour. This goes a step further, because it helps people to understand the effects of alcohol and alcohol abuse. In some ways I suppose it's the extension to speed awareness courses, which people—not myself I add, but some people—have found themselves part of. It's a good way of educating people. If we can educate people out of behaviour then that's better than punishing them without addressing the root cause of that behaviour.
In April, it was announced that an alcohol ban will be trialled in a section of the Principality Stadium of Wales during the autumn rugby internationals. This follows complaints about the behaviour of drunk people spoiling games for other fans, which concluded that 87 per cent were being subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse. Will the First Minister join me in welcoming this move to tackle alcohol abuse at rugby internationals? And will he commit to discussing this with other sporting bodies with a view to extending the ban to other sports and venues where alcohol abuse is a problem in Wales?
I think there are two issues here in the stadium: first of all, the behaviour of some supporters. Drunkenness has been part of crowds for many, many decades. That's not an excuse, of course, for the way some people behave. If people behave in a way that is obnoxious or breaches public order, then stewards should be informed and those people should be warned, and, if they don't take heed of the warning, removed from the ground. The second point is that many people complain that they're up and down on their feet all the time as people go back and fore to the bars in order to buy alcohol. It seems to me that people don't need to buy alcohol throughout the game in order to enjoy the game, and I think this is an important pilot—if I can call it that—that's being pioneered in order to see what the effect will be.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Can the First Minister confirm whether or not the Labour Party supports our membership of the European Economic Area?
It is one option that we need to look at and that is something, as a Government, we have done. It was why I went to Norway, indeed, to see how the situation in Norway worked. An interesting model—not one that fits Wales exactly but, nevertheless, if Norway can work to a model like that I see no reason why the UK can't construct its own model.
We are running out of time, First Minister, and you have described Labour's position as flexible. Now, there's nothing flexible about £5 billion being wiped off the Welsh economy; there's nothing flexible about Welsh jobs and wages disappearing and never returning; there's nothing flexible about rolling the dice on our biggest international market for agriculture, steel and over 60 per cent of all Welsh exports. Even the joint White Paper 'Securing Wales' Future' states that the least damaging option for Wales is inside the European Economic Area. We co-authored that report on the understanding that you wanted to stand with us against an extreme Tory Brexit. Why are you abandoning your own analysis? And do you believe that your Westminster leader is right to clear the path for the Tories to pull us out of the single market?
I am the First Minister of Wales; I'm not responsible for what happens at Westminster. What I can say is this: our position has not changed. Membership of the EEA is an important option that needs to be kept open. What is absolutely non-negotiable to my mind—and I know she'll agree with this—is that we need to stay within the customs union and, secondly, of course, to have full and unfettered access to the single market. The position hasn't changed from when we both authored that document.
You are the First Minister of Wales, you are also a member of the Labour Party, and I would imagine that you should have some influence. Now, Plaid Cymru MPs will tomorrow vote to save jobs and our economy by staying in the European Economic Area. Unlike Labour, we will stand up to the Tories and give it our utmost to stop an extreme Tory Brexit that will be so disastrous for Wales. If you let your party drag us out of the single market, you will be ignoring your own White Paper, your own experts, your own analysis. In fact, you'll be ignoring members of your own Cabinet. Both the Labour MP for Pontypridd and your own Cabinet Secretary for local government put it perfectly when they said that Labour has created an 'open goal' for the Tories, and Wales will be damaged as a result. So, what will it be, First Minister? Will you back the comments of the MP for Pontypridd and your Cabinet Secretary, or will you continue to toe the London Labour line, putting the interests of your own party before the interests of your own country?
It's an extraordinary comment, because, in order to provide any evidence at all to back that up, she would have to show that, somehow, I have opposed membership of the EEA—I have not, nor has the Government—secondly, that, somehow, I am opposed to remaining in the customs union, when, in fact, I'm one of its staunchest advocates, because I know full well what would happen in Ireland if that were to happen; thirdly, as she will know, I have always argued, as has she, for full and unfettered access to the single market. The Welsh Government's position has not changed, and we will continue to make the case to those elsewhere in the UK who are members of our party. But we are in Government in Wales. Our position is clear, the position has not changed from when we authored the White Paper, and I make it absolutely clear: Wales's future belongs in the UK, which she does not believe; secondly, within the customs union, to my mind, within the single market as well, because that means full and unfettered access to the single market—not within the EU, because people voted for that not to happen, but it doesn't mean that we need to have a chaotic Brexit based on flag-waving nationalism, which is what some in the Conservative Party advocate, rather than a sensible, pragmatic Brexit that works for Wales. That's what we want, and I hope that's what she wants.
Leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last week, the chief executive of Qatar airlines made some very unhelpful and disparaging remarks about whether a woman would be able to fulfil his role. You as First Minister have rightly identified that you as a Government, and I'm sure everyone in this Chamber, want Wales to be the most feminine friendly country and allow pathways to every opportunity in Wales, irrespective of whatever sex you are. What representations did you make to the chief executive of Qatar airlines about these comments, given that they are a strategic partner of yours and, not only that, you have put a lot of public money available to that airline to develop the routes into Cardiff Airport?
Well, clearly, I don't agree with his words. He is the chief executive of an airline, not the head of a Government. We will continue to make the case, both within the UK and beyond, to ensure that equality becomes something that is entrenched in societies around the world.
Sadly, from that answer, First Minister, you give an indication that you made no representations whatsoever to the chief executive or the airline about these remarks. If it was a small business in Wales, or a medium-sized business in Wales, I'm sure that, given the social contract that you've developed, you would be, obviously, demonstrating your dislike of the comments that were made and withdrawing that support from that small or medium-sized business. Another indication of the double standards here in Wales is the report today around Pinewood and the money that the Welsh Government made available to Pinewood to develop the facility in St Mellons. You talked of at the time, in 2014, that there was the potential for £90 million to come into the Welsh economy; there was the potential for 2,000 jobs to be created by this development. We know about 50 jobs have been created and, at the moment, there's a paper loss of about £9 million, according to the auditor general's figures. What's gone wrong, First Minister?
First of all, around about just over £4 million has been recouped, but many projects are still in progress. You wouldn't expect the whole lot to be recouped in one fell swoop. These are long-term projects, and the money is recouped over a longer period. I just wonder—I have some comments in front of me here, which I wonder if he agrees with:
'The addition of the globally-recognised Pinewood production company to Wales’ already rich film production industry is very welcome.
'An increasing number of blockbuster films are being shot at locations across Wales and Pinewood’s new base will offer even more opportunities to see Wales on film, from which the whole country could benefit....
'This very welcome announcement is further evidence of Wales’ growing reputation, as an ideal venue for filmmakers, with the right skills mix to tantalise future cinema goers and movie fans.'
I agree with those comments. They came from his own party—Suzy Davies.
The comments were made in light of your assertion that this investment could bring in 2,000 jobs, of which we know only 50 have been delivered, and potentially £90 million into the Welsh economy. Who wouldn't welcome such a proposition? But what we've seen with your management and your Government's management of this particular bid is that you have failed to deliver any one of those targets that you set in 2014. But the point that I identified with Qatar Airways, where you have said nothing, the point I identified with Pinewood, another big internationally recognised company, is if you're a small business in Wales and you look at these big companies getting the money and then you're discounted from accessing the support of Welsh Government because you've made such detestable comments, in Qatar's case, or Pinewood's overestimation of the gains to the Welsh economy, you'll be scratching your head today and asking, 'What is the Welsh Government for?' Isn't it the case, First Minister, that during your entire time as First Minister, you've promised much and delivered little?
Unemployment is at 4.4 per cent, which is a historically low level. Contrast that with the Tory years, when it was continuously in double figures. The destruction they wrought is there for all to see. We see a complete lack of ambition from the Conservative benches. They are bereft of ideas, no ambition for our country, not interested in investment projects. Now, he seems to be saying that we should withdraw support from Qatar Airways and let that go. Because they wanted to close the airport anyway, let's be honest. They didn't care whether the airport closed or not, and then jumped onto the bandwagon when the airport started to be successful.
He accuses us of mismanagement. Have a look at the way you've dealt with the railways. Have a look at the shambles you've made of the railways. It's a disgrace what the Tories have done to the railways and the money that's been hosed away—billions of pounds over the years—on a service that is substandard. Contrast that with what we've done as a Government, delivering the best railway service ever for the people of Wales over the next few years.
You look at employment, you look at unemployment figures and how low they are, you look at the fact that we've had the best figures for 30 years of foreign direct investment, you look at the fact that we bought an airport in 2013, which he opposed. They wanted us not to buy the airport, they wanted to leave it close, and now it's up by 50 per cent in terms of passenger numbers. We have intercontinental links, and he accuses us of not doing enough for Wales. Have a good long look at yourselves and the destruction you've wrought as a party.
Leader of the UKIP group, Caroline Jones.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, last week, there were some comments in the media with regard to English prisoners in Welsh prisons. Normally, I wouldn't raise this as a matter because the issue of prisons is not devolved to Wales. However, these comments allegedly came from a member of your Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services is believed to have said that Parc prison, in our region and constituency, should not be used to house English prisoners. First Minister, can you clarify your Government's position on this issue and do you believe that prisons in Wales should only house Welsh prisoners?
First, the Cabinet Secretary is clear that he did not use those words. Secondly, we know that clearly it can't be the case that only Welsh prisoners can be in Welsh prisons. There are some prisons that don't exist in Wales that need to house Welsh prisoners—category A prisons, for example—and we don't have a women's prison either. So, we couldn't create some kind of self-contained prison system under current circumstances, because that would affect us more than anybody.
Thank you for clarifying that, First Minister. As you've rightly said, we have no women's prison in Wales and not a single category A prison. In fact, the prisons are severely overcrowded in Wales. Wales has 4,747 prisoners and only, across the five prisons, has an operational capacity of 3,700. So, a large number of Welsh prisoners are incarcerated in prisons hundreds of miles from home. This is believed to be a significant factor in self-harm and suicide. In your Government's submission to the commission on justice, you appear to be making the case for prisons to be devolved. Is this the case? If so, would a Welsh Government support building new prisons in Wales to relieve the overcrowding and the safety issue regarding staff, the self-harm of prisoners, and to house prisoners closer to home in relation to rehabilitation?
We do think that prisons, along with the rest of the criminal justice system, should be considered for devolution. It would take some time, because clearly we've had an integrated system with England for a long time. But it simply isn't enough for us to say, 'We will take control of the prisons' and carry on with the same policy as before. There is an opportunity now for us to look at a new system of penal policy in order to make sure that we have a policy that's tailored for the needs of Wales. That, to my mind, includes looking at different types of prisons, their sizes, their success in terms of reforming prisoners, and that's all an important part of the consideration of a Welsh penal policy, should prisons be devolved.
Thank you for that, First Minister. I'm sure we can all agree that, in the interests of safety of staff and prisoners regarding self-harm, something does need to be done on the capacity of staff as well—for the staff to be increased in order to provide a safe environment and in order to help with rehabilitation and to prevent reoffending. So, regardless of where the responsibilities over prisons lie, the Welsh Government has a role to play in the rehabilitation, as you've just said, and an effort through the provision of health services, education, housing and employment issues.
So, First Minister, I'm yet to be persuaded that there is a case for devolution of the justice system, prisons in particular, as I don't believe we can go it alone. However, it is clear that there has to be greater co-operation between the Welsh Government and Westminster here. So, what discussions have you had with the UK Government about improving access to rehabilitation services in Welsh prisons, and the impact of overcrowding, which eventually aids reoffending? So, regarding staff shortages and the impact on rehabilitation of prisoners, can you please answer those questions?
Well, it is tricky, because many services that are provided within prisons are devolved services, and it's not the easiest fit to make between a non-devolved service and a devolved service in order to provide those services. We've done it, but there will be easier ways of doing it. She says going it alone; Northern Ireland has a prison system, so does Scotland, and so, for that matter, does the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. It's not entirely self-contained, and there will always be, to my mind, a case for some of the most dangerous prisoners perhaps to be housed in one or two places, or three probably, around the whole of the UK, rather than us doing it in Wales. We'd have to pay for those prison spaces, but the number of offenders in that category is actually quite low. So, it may well be that we may not want to pursue the option of a category A prison in Wales. But there's no reason in principle or in theory why we couldn't run the justice system ourselves, given the fact that far smaller entities such as Northern Ireland have been doing it for nearly 100 years.
Question 3 [OAQ52330] has been withdrawn, so question 4—Paul Davies.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of health services in west Wales? OAQ52295
Hywel Dda university health board is currently consulting on its proposals to transform community and hospital services in west Wales. May I encourage everyone with an interest to engage in the consultation and have their say in helping to shape future services for the region?
First Minister, I’m sure you’re aware of my opposition to the current proposals of the Hywel Dda university health board, bearing in mind that each of the three options proposed by the health board will lead to the downgrading of Withybush hospital, which is unacceptable to the people I represent. Do you therefore share my concerns, and the concerns of the people of Pembrokeshire, that there is no option in the consultation that would safeguard services at Withybush hospital? And do you agree with me that any decisions on the future of health services in west Wales must respect the views of the people that those services serve?
It’s vital, of course, that there is a wide-ranging consultation, and that’s happened until now. Almost 1,000—964—online questionnaires have been completed, and over 500 postal questionnaires as well. Meetings have taken place and they have been well attended. And what’s important to remember, of course, is that what’s been placed in the document itself has been developed with doctors, nurses and staff, and people who provide care, representatives of patient groups and their partners as well. So, it’s not something that’s political in nature. It’s not something that’s been written by someone sitting in an office; it’s been put together by someone who works in the health service. So, it’s vital that people do take their part in this. I’m not expressing an opinion—and the Member wouldn’t expect me to do so—but it is vital that people do express their opinions about what structure they want in west Wales.
You will be aware that the Hywel Dda health board consultation is based on improving services in the community, and that is the foundation of an announcement made by the Government earlier this week in bringing health and care closer together. But the reality is that people have heard these rumours in the past, and the truth on the ground is that the waiting list is five years for an NHS dentist in southern Ceredigion, and having to phone in the morning for GP surgery appointments is very often used as a way of managing access to primary care. Wouldn't it make more sense if the health board could at least show the residents of the Hywel Dda area that it can do these basics right before they start to talk about castles in the air such as new hospitals?
No, I don't think there's anything wrong with having a new hospital in principle. I think that's something that is being considered. We are seeing hospitals being opened across Wales. What's important is that the structure is the right one.
With doctors, of course, there's no reason why people should phone doctors in the morning. It's the doctors that do that—not the health board. There are several surgeries across Wales that don't demand that people do that, so that's the choice of the surgery and the GPs—[Interruption.] Well, I can say that there are several surgeries across Wales that do give people an opportunity to make appointments online. Are they doing that? They can phone up to make appointments. Are they doing that? It's the GPs' choice, and that's something that they will have to explain to their patients.
You will be aware, of course, First Minister, that there is a consultation that is ongoing and that it doesn't finish until 12 July. I did make a request here some weeks ago about having additional opportunities for people to take part in that consultation, and Hywel Dda health board did respond. I hope that you will reiterate again—because it is a consultation—that nothing is fixed as yet, and encourage people, whoever they are, and particularly whatever their views are, so that they can be considered in the final document that will come out for consideration post consultation.
It's right to say that no decisions have been made. It is hugely important, as I've said, that there is the fullest possible consultation. I've not heard of any complaints around the consultation itself, although, of course, there'll be strong views about what the outcome should be. As I've said before, it's hugely important that the health board maximises all opportunities to engage with the public.
5. Will the First Minister provide an update on Natural Resources Wales's review into shooting on land that it manages? OAQ52335
Yes. I can say to the Member that NRW is still considering the responses from the consultation and Welsh Ministers will need to fully consider any proposals that NRW produce.
Thank you for that reply. There's been understandable concern regarding the tender for the review of evidence into NRW's shooting review. I understand that only one application was received and that one of the two academics employed to carry out the work is a self-admitted shooting enthusiast. I understand that NRW is, of course, an arm's-length body, but I and others have concern over the fairness of how this review has been conducted in light of that which I've just explained. Polling shows that there is a clear move against having shooting on Welsh Government land, and I was wondering whether you would be committed in future such reviews to ensure that they are transparent and that people can hold the Government to account, because I feel that it's failed in this regard because people perhaps have not had the trust that they've wanted in this particular review because of the potential conflict of interest that one of the academics has.
The Member raises an issue of which I'm not aware. Could I ask the Cabinet Secretary then to write to her to provide her with the reassurance that she would need?FootnoteLink Obviously, it's a matter that needs addressing in more detail.
First Minister, for my part, I'm quite relaxed about this, because there were 19 experts involved in this process on behalf of NRW, starting from the economist, senior statistician, wildlife management, their ornithologist, woodland and spatial ecologists, recreation, health and well-being team leader—. I won't read out all 19. Where I do have a real concern is that I believe that NRW have probably reached a position that they've put forward that is based on expert advice and opinion; however, there is also a very large petition that has been brought forward with a large number of signatures, a great number of whom appear to be from outside of Wales. My question to you is this: having had the first part of this consultation so rigorously put in place by NRW, are we able to apply the same rigour to those who might petition us from outside of our country as to what we should be doing in our country, and on our land, and by our people?
Well, those are matters, really, for the Commission in terms of the petition system, but I hear what she says. As far as we're concerned as Government, obviously NRW will be guided by its consultation and we are then guided by the views of NRW and, of course, looking at the consultation itself. So, the petition system is one thing, but it's not formally part, of course, of Government consultation.
Diolch, Llywydd. Sorry—.
Okay, we'll move on.
Question 6—Jenny Rathbone.
6. What additional action will the Welsh Government take to tackle air pollution in Cardiff? OAQ52306
We have issued a direction on Cardiff council requiring them to undertake a feasibility study to identify the option or options that will deliver compliance with the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, in the areas for which the authority is responsible, in the shortest possible time.
Clearly, this is a very serious matter because we have the potential for further legal action in the High Court hanging over us if we are not seen to be addressing this major health problem as quickly as possible. The KeolisAmey contract for delivering rail and metro is extremely welcome. The increased Wi-Fi on the trains will encourage more commuters to do the right thing and actually be working while they're travelling rather than sitting in their car, and the additional carriages and the additional frequency of trains are also very important to get that modal shift that we need. But I just wondered what work the Welsh Government's doing in conjunction with Transport for Wales to identify new tram routes to serve particularly east as well as south Cardiff, which cannot benefit from the upgrading of existing suburban rail lines? And, additionally, what discussions has the Government had with Cardiff council on the possibility and the need for a congestion charge or a levy?
Well, the matter of a congestion charge will be a matter for Cardiff council. With the metro, the fundamental principle of the metro that I wanted to ensure was there was that it would be extendable. That means, of course, the metro had to look like other modes of transport, such as light rail, as light rail's far easier to extend than heavy rail. The first example of that would be the line down to the bay here in 2023, but there are other phases. The east of Cardiff is badly served by the rail network—Cardiff parkway will improve the situation, but that's not enough in and of itself. In the future phases of the metro, there are plans to look at light rail/tram, for the eastern part of Cardiff. I've seen the maps to make sure that the gap that does exist there is filled in in the future. So, the metro map as it is is not meant to be the full extent of its reach, but there will be the opportunity to extend the metro via light rail into parts of Cardiff that have been poorly served in the past.
First Minister, many cities around the world are striving to become carbon neutral, some by as early as 2025, and this would obviously have a significant impact on air quality. The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has brought forward their target for carbon neutrality by a decade. We in the Welsh Conservatives have recognised the need for greater ambition here and have called for Cardiff to be the first carbon neutral capital city in the UK. I wonder if you share this type of ambition.
I think it's hugely ambitious. I think it's something that is potentially achievable; it's something I know that the Cabinet Secretary will want to achieve as well. We can't wait for the technology to deliver the reductions we seek by themselves, but we do need to offer people, of course, a comfortable, reasonably priced, frequent service that lures them away from their cars, and that's what the metro is intended to do, to make sure that people don't feel that the only way into work for them is to travel by car.
One of the reasons that Cardiff has suffered from poor air quality in the past—and still does according to recent court cases—is major polluting plants on the outskirts of Cardiff. Aberthaw, for example, has been taken to court on more than one occasion. It's really important, I think, as we develop our energy infrastructure, that we take the right tools, including environmental impact assessments, on any new developments. It's been of great concern for many in Wales that the Barry incinerator that was proposed and is still going ahead at the current time has not had a full environmental impact assessment done on it. It's very difficult to judge the quality of air that will affect people in Barry and Cardiff if we don't do such an environmental impact assessment. I know the environment Minister is considering whether to order such a full environmental impact assessment. Will you, as First Minister, ensure that that is done for both the residents of Barry and for the wider south Wales area?
It is something that's under consideration, as the Member says, by the Minister; it's for her to consider further. He is right to say that one of the things we need to do is to look at ways of reducing the carbon footprint of energy generation, which is why we need the tidal lagoon. Apparently, there was going to be an announcement yesterday; that's been delayed. And allegedly an announcement towards the end of the week, if indeed the Government is still is in place at that point. Still nothing.
He agrees with this, I know, but all we have asked for is that Wales should be treated in the same way as Hinkley. We're not asking for more than that, but give us the same fair play, the same chwarae teg, as Hinkley has had. Now, it's up to the Conservative Party here in Wales, and indeed in Westminster, to show that they can deliver for Wales what they've already delivered to parts of England. That's their test—can they show they're up to it?
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on efforts to tackle the problems caused by Japanese knotweed? OAQ52298
We do work with partner organisations and the public to tackle the threats of invasive non-native species in Wales. I recognise that Japanese knotweed is a significant problem. We have actively funded innovative trials. Two things: first of all, chemical treatments, but secondly, bio control, through using a natural psyllid predator. Of course, you have to be careful doing that in case you introduce an even greater problem, as the Australians will tell you, with some of the things that they've done—with sugar cane, particularly. But nevertheless, those trials are ones that we have funded in order to get to grips with the problem.
Can I thank the First Minister for that response? Knotweed is a serious problem in Swansea, especially in my constituency, but I'm sure Julie James could tell you exactly the same for Swansea West as well. Whilst the experiment with a natural predator and improved chemical treatments are to be welcomed, we have areas of green wedge where knotweed has become a problem. Has the Welsh Government got any plans of stopping green-wedge land becoming fully infested by knotweed, so instead of being a green belt, it'll be a knotweed belt?
Well, ultimately, of course, it's up to the landowner to control Japanese knotweed on their land. I can say that we recently awarded £50,000 to five councils via the green infrastructure funding scheme to undertake a project to combat invasive non-native plant species at over 1,000 sites throughout those five counties. It will also train community volunteers to help to control those plants, and we did recently publish an updated information sheet aimed at community and voluntary groups, with advice on action on land they manage.
They say that only certain things will survive a nuclear holocaust in this country: one being E. coli, the second being cockroaches, and the third—the certainty that this question will keep coming up on the order paper in this place.
You may have heard recently that there have been some ideas that perhaps we should eat more of this Japanese knotweed as it's full of vitamins and minerals. We can't eat our way out of this problem, obviously, so my main question to you is: have you had any information from local authorities that there has been any illegal dumping of Japanese knotweed in our landfill sites?
Not that I'm aware of, but I'm sure that there are examples of it. I have not—. That is a bio-control method I've not heard proposed before. I wasn't aware that Japanese knotweed was, in fact, edible. I suppose I should add the caveat, if anybody's watching this: do not try this at home until it's been fully tested. The leader of the house tells me it's quite horrible; I won't ask her whether that's personal experience or not, but it's not a recommendation from her. Edible but horrible—[Laughter.]—that is the Government line on the consumption of Japanese knotweed.
There's an important point here: knotweed is an incredibly invasive species—easy to move around—and, of course, it's hugely important that there are new ways sought to control it, but also, of course, that any kind of illegality regarding its dumping is dealt with as quickly as possible.
It's a well recognised fact that Japanese knotweed is one of the most pernicious plants ever to be introduced to the British isles. I understand that local councillors have a duty to control knotweed infestations. As these infestations can blight private houses, it is essential that these controls are in place, and yet even a cursory observation of mostly urban areas show that control measures seem not to be being applied. Would the First Minister consider reissuing guidance, and perhaps a reminder to local councils, of their duty in this regard?
Well, I think I made reference just a little earlier to the guidance that we have recently provided—updated guidance—in the answer I gave to the Member for Swansea East. That's aimed at community and voluntary groups, and that advises them on action that they can take. And local authorities, of course, will be aware of any statutory responsibilities that they have.
8. What consideration does the Welsh Government give to the trans-European transport network in developing its transport plans? OAQ52329
Our investment in the road network to meet European standards and our continual lobbying for UK Government to invest in our TEN-T rail network demonstrates the importance we place on good transport connectivity with the rest of the UK and Europe.
I thank you for that answer, but, planning ahead, there are examples of non-EU members being part of the TEN-T network—for example, Switzerland is. Is that something Cabinet has discussed in terms of post-Brexit planning, because the extent to which we co-ordinate with the EU on improvements to our major transport infrastructure—our roads, rails, airports and seaports—will have a huge bearing on economic activity for decades to come? Wales should look to maintain those bridges, even if England is intent on burning them.
The difficulty is geography, of course. We have to make sure that the network stays in place, across the whole of southern Britain particularly. You don't have to be an EU member to be part of it. Switzerland is part of TEN-T and they're not an EU member, and, of course, the network links two EU members: Ireland, on the one hand, and the countries on the continent on the other. So, there's no reason at all, rationally, why we shouldn't form part of that network. Only the most UKIP Brexiteer and flag-waver could possibly think that being part of an integrated programme to improve transport links is some kind of European plot. So, there is no reason why we shouldn't stay a part of this network.
Can I ask, First Minister, how you are engaging with the UK Government with regard to these routes? Clearly, as you just pointed out, this is a matter that stretches across the border, and it's clearly important that both Governments work together.
It is, and we do when we can. In his constituency, of course, he will know—he is seeing the Newtown bypass being constructed as we speak, which I know he's welcomed. He will have had the Four Crosses bypass as well, and then, of course, once through Llanymynech, the road starts to slow down, going through Pant into Shropshire and beyond. It can be difficult to engage the Department for Transport, so that they understand how roads that seem peripheral to them are in fact important to us, and to the communities that live along those roads as well in England. So, we will always continue to work with Government in England in order to make sure that our road network—and indeed our rail network—is as interconnected as possible.
9. Will the First Minister provide an update on discussions with the UK Government on Brexit? OAQ52334
Yes. We continue to use a range of channels for discussion, notably the Joint Ministerial Council plenary and European negotiations—EN. Most recently, at political level, there was the first meeting of the ministerial forum on EU negotiations on 24 May.
Thank you. I'm sure that the First Minister will have read, with concern, details of the UK Government's plans for a so-called 'doomsday' Brexit, under which the second-worst scenario of us leaving the EU without a deal would lead to the port of Dover collapsing, food shortages, fuel shortages, and the NHS running out of medicines within two weeks. Can I ask the First Minister what discussions you've had with the UK Government about these so-called 'doomsday' plans? And given that the UK Government's handling of Brexit is becoming more shambolic by the minute, what assurances can you offer that we will not encounter disruption to key services like the NHS in Wales?
The problem we have is that we don't have a sensible Government in London. We don't even have a Government that is absolutely determined on a hard Brexit, and absolutely determined to move it forward, come what may, with a majority in Parliament. What we have is a mess—an absolute mess. David Davis returned from wherever he's been for the past few months to complain about Northern Ireland. A resignation, again, this morning, of a Government Minister in London not happy with the direction that the Tory Government is taking. We have a Prime Minister who is in a position of grave weakness, who has to appeal for unity within her own party because of the backstabbing that's taking place. We have our own Foreign Secretary thinking that Donald Trump should lead the negotiations and not his own party leader—not his own party leader. You could not make this up. If I was a comedy writer, people would think this was too far-fetched. So, we do need something more sensible, certainly, in London—there's no question about that—because it's in no-one's interest for this chaos to continue. So, we've made the point, rationally and calmly, that people's views have to be respected. The referendum's result has to be respected, but it has to be done in the most sensible way possible.
There are those who support Brexit who say, 'People voted in the referendum for the hardest Brexit possible.' That's not what the elections last year taught us at all. People didn't vote for a hard Brexit. They were offered the opportunity by Theresa May to vote for a hard Brexit, and they said 'no', and that is the reality of the democratic position. When I see newspapers in London saying that this is some great betrayal, they forget the result of last year and what people actually voted for last year. My belief is, what people want is the result of the referendum to be respected and for Brexit to happen, but they want it to be done in the most sensible and rational way possible and not in a way that damages the UK.
I have to say, one of the things that troubles me is I don't believe the ports are in any way ready for a hard Brexit in March. We will then see delays at the ports. We will see lorries, not just in Dover but potentially in the Welsh ports as well, backed up down the road, nowhere to park them, delays, goods going off—perishable goods—and what, then, will the UK Government do? They'll blame the ports. They'll blame the ports—that's what they'll do. They'll say, 'Well, it's your fault; you didn't invest properly. It's not our fault, guv; it's the fault of the ports.' Or they'll come to us and say, 'The delays in Holyhead and Pembroke Dock and Fishguard are your problem because the Welsh Government controls the ports.' Well, that's not good enough. If there's going to be planning for a hard Brexit, which is happening—and, in some ways, you've got to understand why that's happening; you know, prepare for the worst—then there has to be money on the table to help our ports to deal with the inevitable consequences and delays that will actually occur. That hasn't happened. Instead, what we're getting is nothing happening, and the potential, I think, for ports to be told, 'Any delays are your fault.'
I thank the First Minister for his statement. Of course, it would be for the UK Government to decide what, if any, restrictions or customs it wanted to put—or not put—on goods coming into the country, but, First Minister, you made it clear earlier that your Government still supports staying in a customs union with the EU, and staying in the single market. Previously, you have suggested that you respect the referendum result and there shouldn't be a second referendum. However, you're no longer able to claim that that is the position of your Government because you allow Ministers to speak out and say that, notwithstanding the vote of Wales and the UK in that referendum, we shouldn't have that and they should be made to vote again. Do you not understand that if the position is that there has to be another vote on any deal, all you do is incentivise the European Commission not to offer any attractive negotiating arrangement?
Why does he hold the electors of Britain in such contempt? People have decided what's going to happen; they have an equal say in how it's going to happen. They're not excluded at that point—'Thanks, you all voted; from now on, you're an irrelevance.' That's what he's saying to the people of Britain. I don't advocate a second referendum on the issue. The referendum's been. His party did. His party did, after the 1997 referendum. They went into the general election in 2005 with the commitment for a second referendum on devolution. So, they were bad losers—bad losers on that side. I accept the result that we saw two years ago, but surely it is right that the people of Britain should decide how Brexit happens. It's not for the elites in the UK Government to decide how it happens; it's for the people. I don't see why there is such fear in Westminster amongst the Conservative Party of allowing people a say on how Brexit happens. People have decided the direction; they have every right to determine how the car is driven.
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 business statement. Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. There's just one change to report to today's business, which is to reduce the length of this afternoon's Stage 3 debate on the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
May I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for local government on the level of fees that local authorities in Wales are able to charge for their services? I have been contacted by a constituent in Newport who is involved in a dispute over the height of trees in a neighbouring property. He has now approached Newport City Council for help, but they're charging £320 before they will even consider the complaint. Could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on whether he believes that the scale of these fees is appropriate, and whether he will lower the cap to ensure that they're not used to boost the income of local authorities by fleecing local residents?
Yes, I think that's the sort of issue that the Member should raise as a constituency issue with the Cabinet Secretary by way of correspondence.
Could I raise two issues with the leader of the house? First of all, could I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services regarding the interoperability of the performers list in Wales and England? This is, as I understand it, the list that allows GPs to come from England to practice in Wales and, I suppose, vice versa. It's been raised with me several times by GPs in my region. I have got a particular issue at the moment in the Dyfi valley, where, for example, a practice has tried to get three locums recently. One locum took six months to get onto the performers list in Wales. Another one took two months to get onto the performers list in Wales, even though he was actually working in Bristol checking blood tests, but because the blood tests were from Wales, he had to be on the performers list in Wales. Two months' delay to do that is, I think, inordinate, when you think about it.
I don't understand the full background as to why we can't have a completely interoperable list here. Of course I support the devolution of health services in Wales, but I want us to share commonality with England in that regard. It is what's stopping many GP practices successfully using locums in the most appropriate and effective way. They are engaging with them, paying some initial costs for them, and then they are not actually working for them for several months. This is what's holding back many GP practices, actually, not their willingness or otherwise to answer the phones in the morning. That's just a way of rationing services, and let's be honest about it; we may as well face that fact. So, can we have a statement or a letter to AMs about how this works, why there are problems, and why I'm receiving GPs contacting me with months' delays in simply getting fully qualified GPs, who are on the list in England and can work as GPs in England? To my mind, they should simply cross the border with a tick-box and we should have a way of doing that.
The second issue I'd like to raise with you isn't for a statement, but it is very much around the business of the Assembly for the next couple of days. We've had a little bit of a ding-dong around whether the First Minister does involve himself in Westminster politics or not. I think we concluded that he does, and I think that we all have an interest in what's happening in Westminster today. We have the debates and the amendments on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill from the House of Lords, and we have one and a half hours to discuss the whole bunch of amendments around devolution, around the operation of both Wales and Scotland, which I think is a disgrace—that so little time has been allowed for that debate. But, within that set of devolution amendments, we have amendments that potentially affect our legislative competence here.
We have an amendment from your party—from Jeremy Corbyn himself, with Keir Starmer as the seconder—that changes the five-year rule that we have at the moment, around regulations carrying on for five years post the operation of the EU withdrawal Bill, to three years. That itself is different to your inter-governmental agreement. The inter-governmental agreement allows for five plus two. Your own Labour leader is saying it should be three plus two. So, straight away, something that we voted on—Plaid Cymru certainly didn't support it, but we voted on it as an Assembly several weeks ago—could be changed today in the House of Commons with a different set of amendments.
This does underline, I think, just how chaotic Westminster is in dealing with devolution and, I have to say, to be frank, it underlines a lack of coherence in your own party in the way that you are addressing this. I won't rehearse the old arguments we've put forward that you did this inter-governmental agreement too early and you did it in haste and maybe you are now repenting at leisure, but can you tell the Assembly how you will deal with these issues as you receive reports from the House of Commons? As we see any impact on the devolution settlement, how do you intend to give us that information, and how do you intend that the Assembly, over the next few days, should respond to some of those amendments that might now change the EU withdrawal Bill?
Yes, well, on that second one, we're confident that the amendments are unlikely to have an effect on the LCM. The LCM was drafted in such a way as to be quite resilient in that regard, but obviously we will be keeping an eye on what's happening in Westminster. If anything happens that does affect that—and we think that's very unlikely—then, obviously, discussions with the Llywydd about how to deal with that will take place. But, I emphasise that we think that's unlikely at the moment. We always did say that we thought the position could be improved, but that we were happy with where it had got to, and that remains the situation. But, we are obviously keeping a weather eye on what's going on and, indeed, it has been the subject of some discussion between the Llywydd and ourselves, about keeping that weather eye on it. We'll be doing that this week, and many of us will be taking a very large interest in what happens this week, for obvious reasons, as you said.
In terms of the other matter, I will discuss with the Cabinet Secretary for health the best way of making sure that Members have all the information necessary to understand the system. I think that's probably likely to be by letter to AMs, but I'll have a discussion with him to make sure that Members are in possession of all the information that they need in order to be able to understand how that system operates.
Last week, we had the very bad news that House of Fraser is closing stores in south Wales. In Cardiff, it's in the iconic Howells building, and of course House of Fraser in Cwmbran, too, is closing, and that will mean the loss of 438 jobs in total. I know some of my constituents work in Howells in Cardiff, which is in Jenny Rathbone's constituency in the centre of Cardiff. So, this is a real, terrible blow. Certainly in Cardiff, Howells store opened in 1865, and most people in Cardiff know somebody who worked there or did something there, including my auntie, who worked there, and everywhere you go, Howells has been such an iconic store. Of course, it is an awful blow as well because I understand that that store was actually making a profit, although it's part of the rescue deal for the House of Fraser as a whole. So, could we have a statement about what help can be given to the members of staff, the affected staff, and also can we have a debate about the future of the high street, because I think this closure and other recent closures mean that we really have to look at these threats to our high streets?
Yes, the Member raises a very important point, and these big-store closures are a real worry. The Cabinet Secretary is saying that he is very happy to write to Members and set out exactly what we're doing, but it's a combination of our usual—I'm afraid to say 'usual'; unfortunately, we have some experience of large redundancy situations in Wales. So, we have a response to that, which includes our ReAct 3 programme, providing a compressive package of support to people who do find themselves in this situation. The aim of the programme is very much to help people facing redundancy, or people who are actually redundant workers in Wales, to be able to reuse their skills in the local economy as much as humanly possible. We will support and work with House of Fraser and any company making those sorts of announcements to see what can be done. There's a range of advice available via Business Wales, and, of course, retail is identified as a priority sector in the economic action plan. But the Cabinet Secretary is indicating his willingness to write to all Members and say exactly what the situation with this announcement actually is.
I wonder whether we could have a statement on how the Welsh Government is promoting the arts in international festivals worldwide. I ask because I've had representation from a poet currently living in Brittany, originally from Wales, who is interested in the promotion of Wales at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient in Brittany. Seventy thousand people go to that festival. In 2006, it was the year of Wales, and there was much promotion around it, but she said that since 2006, and I quote,
'a stand with a plate of Welsh cakes, some uninspiring leaflets and a cask of Felinfoel is all that's been an offer.'
I'm sure people enjoyed the Felinfoel, but it doesn't seem to be as wide an offer as we would be able to give of Wales in international festivals. She's very passionate about Wales, living there, coming from Wales, and I was wondering if you could update us on what you're doing to promote this festival and others, so that people can enjoy the Welsh culture abroad.
My second question is: we saw, did we not, how Scotland beat England in the cricket recently? We've had a debate here, via the Petitions Committee, about the creation of a Welsh cricket team. People said, 'Well, they'd only be playing Scotland, so that's not a very good thing to aspire to', but now we've seen Scotland beating England and we want to have a cricket team for our nation, so that we can celebrate, as Scotland is currently celebrating. So, I was wondering if we could have an update from the Welsh Government on their views on this. I know there has been a clash of views, but will they reconsider in light of what has happened in Scotland?
I have to admire the Member's optimism that the creation of a team immediately brings a celebratory reason. As somebody from Swansea, I have to tell you that that isn't always the case. I'm tempted to say, 'Be careful for what you wish sometimes', but the Cabinet Secretary is here, listening to that, and I'm sure he took it on board. I'm sure there are lots of good cricket players across Wales who'd be able to put a team together, but, as somebody from Swansea, I'm a little hesitant at the moment about talking about the endless celebration of teams, as we're still in mourning, obviously, about the situation of the Swans.
In terms of the arts worldwide, I had the real pleasure of being on the Welsh stall at the research and innovation conference in London last week, launching Graeme Reid's report on research and innovation in Wales. It was great to be able to celebrate a very large range of Welsh contributions to arts, culture and intellectual endeavour across the world. So, I take your point, and I'm happy to discuss with the Cabinet Secretary where we are at the moment. I was able to go to several festivals during the year of Wales, and it was great to be able to see that. So, I'll have a discussion with the Cabinet Secretary about what's currently happening and what we can do to make sure that Members are aware.
Leader of the house, you will be aware of the Scottish Government's decision to hold an inquiry into the policing of the miners' strike, and you'll be aware that this is a result of the UK Government's refusal, on a number of occasions—the Home Secretaries, Amber Rudd, and then Teresa May, whom I met with on the occasions, refusing to hold such an inquiry, despite considerable amounts of new evidence and documentation coming. And the reason it's important is not only the number of Welsh miners who were arrested, charged and then successfully prosecuted—took action against—the police for malicious prosecution, but it's the fabrication of evidence and the abuse of power that occurred, and where the orders for that abuse came from. Its relevance, of course, being that that conduct was, of course, then repeated subsequently at Hillsborough and then at the Rotherham inquiries. And that is why that conduct's important. Now, Scotland can have the inquiry because the situation with policing there is devolved, and we can't. Can I ask then that what the Welsh Government will do is that it will formally support the actions of the Scottish Government in holding its own inquiry there, but it will also make further representations to the new Home Secretary that it's about time the UK Government now held that inquiry, disclosed the documentation that is available? Because there are real questions to answer about abuse of power, where the orders actually came from, and one can only ask the question: what has the Tory Government got to hide?
Yes, I think the Member makes a series of excellent points. It's long overdue that such an inquiry takes place. The Cabinet Secretary is indicating his extreme willingness to do both of those things: both support the Scottish Government, and to write to the new Home Secretary—we haven't written to this Home Secretary, so to write to this Home Secretary and urge that such an inquiry takes place to cover the situation in England and Wales.
Could we have a statement from the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care on the future of the Child Minding and Day Care Exceptions (Wales) Order 2010? Members will be aware that this is the instrument that excludes registered childminders from Government funding if they are caring for the children of relatives. I think perhaps it's a good time to look again at those exceptions in light of the disappointing uptake in the Government's childcare scheme—now might be a good time to reconsider the exceptions to see whether that scheme can be expanded and that uptake can be enhanced. So, could we have an update and a statement from that Minister on this issue as soon as possible, please?
The Minister's indicated that he's looking at the situation with regard to looking after relatives' children and what can be done to ensure both that the safeguarding laws are interpreted properly, but also that we facilitate it in various—I mean, there are any amount of scenarios to be looked at. But he's already indicated his willingness to do that, and I'll make sure that he indicates the timescale for that to all Members as well.
Can I welcome, leader of the house, the fact that Stella Creasy MP secured cross-party support for the emergency debate on the Northern Ireland abortion law last week? The debate didn't hit the headlines, but it was Anna Soubry who reminded the DUP that 724 women come to the UK every year to have an abortion, as MPs last week called for urgent action to reform the law in Northern Ireland. Does the leader of the house agree that Stella Creasy has identified an opportunity for Northern Ireland and devolved nations to consider a new legislative framework to decriminalise abortions up to 24 weeks by amending the 1861 Act, which in fact was amended by the Abortion Act 1967? And can we ask the Welsh Government to consider this legislative prospect?
I was very pleased to see that Stella Creasy got that debate. I know the health Secretary is very keen on looking to see what we can do to assist. And I'm sure that he'll be very happy to consider what we can do, if we can, to help people who are stuck in that situation, which is something that is—well, it's beyond contemplation what somebody goes through if they're put into that position. So, I know that he'll be very happy to look at that.
Leader of the house, this lunchtime, I was pleased to attend an event hosted by Julie Morgan for Breast Cancer Care at the Pierhead, and I know that other Members—Siân Gwenllian, Jenny Rathbone, I think, as well, and Hannah Blythyn—attended. It was an excellent, very moving event actually hearing the first-hand experiences of sufferers from breast cancer. The organisation seeks to provide better all-round care following medical treatment for breast cancer. So, I wonder, in light of that event and some of the very interesting issues raised, whether we can have a statement from the Welsh Government on how you intend to support organisations like this so that people who have had breast cancer surgery don't feel that they're all at sea after that, but they feel that they do have that all-round care and support that they need to make a full and lasting recovery.
Yes, I'm sure the health Secretary will be more than happy to update Members on what the post breast cancer care is. The Member will be aware that I myself am a survivor of breast cancer, and I have to say I was extremely grateful for all the support that I received. It is essential that you have that support in order to put your life back in order. I know the health Secretary shares those views.
On Sunday, I took part in a litter pick on Llandanwg beach, and within one square metre of that shoreline we collected this rubbish. As you can see, this is considerable rubbish, and remember it's one square metre's worth on the tideline. What you will see is that 99 per cent of it is plastic, but large volumes of it are the very small plastic straws from the drinks that most children have. So, the question that I want to ask, leader of the house, is whether the Welsh Government would consider looking at stopping or indeed reducing the supply of those types of straws through its public procurement policy. In 2015, your predecessor made this statement:
'The recent passing of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act (2015) gives us a new opportunity to advance the principles of public procurement in Wales, building on the good work since 2012. Putting this into practice in the public service means we must continue to look toward our future generations and deliver more sustainable outcomes from our procurements so that our expenditure can help achieve the seven well-being goals'
of that Act. I would ask that, through our public procurement, we seriously look at widening ethical procurement to include looking after the environment, and particularly to look at whether our services that we procure are not adding to more litter on the shoreline, with one square metre producing that amount of debris.
Yes, and I think the Member makes a very good point, and it's a point that all of us who walk the shoreline would want to reinforce. We've all been written to, I'm sure, by several schools in our own constituencies and regions asking us what on earth we're doing to reduce this and giving specific examples. Certainly, schools in my constituency have written to me asking what we're doing. We have got Value Wales and the National Procurement Service working closely with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales's office and WRAP to develop and deliver several pilots in conjunction with local authorities and partners across Wales to demonstrate new approaches in procurement that fully embrace the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and one of those pilots covers the plastic straws issue. Officials are looking to see what we can do to develop a range of measures to identify trends and implement actions to reduce or eliminate the use of plastics, including food packaging and straws, in our contracts in the future. We're also consulting on those measures with suppliers in June—just right now, June 2018—and will monitor the outcomes as part of the formal contract management of those suppliers moving forward.
We've got a range of other things that we're looking into, and one of the pilots, for example—the Llywydd will be particularly interested to know—is with supporting Ceredigion County Council with their collaborative catering disposables framework, which fully embeds the well-being of future generations Act and looks at sustainable alternatives to plastics across the county. So, we're looking at a range of pilots in Joyce Watson's region that she'll be very interested in, and what we're looking to see is how fast we can roll those out across Wales so that we can eliminate the scourge of plastic in our oceans, which I know Members will have seen programmes on the television about—the penetration of microplastics right across the Arctic, in particular, which is horrendous to look at. So, the sooner we act, the better.
I'm aware that many Members take part in community rubbish collections and community plastic collections on beaches. I don't want it to be set as a precedent that you bring your collections in with you as props to this Chamber. I allowed it on that point, to make your case effectively. If I could also make the point that the Member sitting next to Joyce Watson took a photograph at that point. We're not elected into this Chamber to take photographs of each other. So, if I can just remind Members of that point as well. But the points are important ones, and I didn't want to interrupt or demean the points that were being made. Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. Yesterday, I drove from my constituency, in Anglesey, to Cardiff in a twenty-first century car, which was electrically powered—a Renault ZOE. Unfortunately, the charging infrastructure for Wales comes from the last century. I failed to travel straight down and had to come through England in order to charge. That’s clearly not acceptable now. Plaid Cymru has succeeded in getting £2 million from the Government through the budget agreement to work on a plan to expand charging points. Can I get an update from the Government on how that is being spent and how it will mean that we will very soon have charging points somewhere between Anglesey and Cardiff?
The Member makes—
Not Aberystywth. [Laughter.]
The Member makes an excellent point and it's one that the Government fully supports. I'm very pleased that we've got the arrangement in place. I will certainly speak to the Cabinet Secretary about where we are with the updates. I too would love to have an electric vehicle that I take longer journeys in, and I'm sure a large number of us share that ambition. So, it's something that we all share the ambition for and I will certainly speak to my Cabinet Secretary colleague about exactly where we are in that plan.
Leader of the house, I'd like to ask for two statements. Last week, the Riverfront in Newport hosted the world premiere of the Welsh National Opera's production of Rhondda Rips it Up!, an opera telling the life story of Newport suffragette, activist and entrepreneur Margaret Mackworth or Lady Rhondda. It's touring still now for those of you who haven't seen it. But John Frost School pupils from my constituency performed a special collaboration, Deeds not Words, immediately before the wonderful performance, and the project gave students an opportunity to work with top-class performers from the Welsh National Opera and, along with the rest of the audience, I was really blown away by their performance. Most importantly, the project has shown how giving young people the chance to have their voices heard through performance has a significant, positive impact on their mental well-being. Leader of the house, can we have a statement on the benefit of creative arts on the mental well-being of young people?
And my second request is: could we have a debate or statement on women and girls in sport? Tonight, Wales take on Russia at Newport Stadium in Spytty Park for the FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers and, following the growth of girls' football, it would be good to hear how Welsh Government can support more participation of women and girls in sports such as football.
On the first matter, I haven't had the chance to see it. I do hope I will have the chance to see it. I've heard very good things about the performance. We do have the Welsh Government vision statement 'Light Springs through the Dark', which is our statement on culture and creative activity, and that absolutely acknowledges the positive impact on health and well-being, supplementing medicines and core well-being, that participation in culture and the arts can have. It's a well-known fact that participation, in the widest sense of the word, in arts and cultural activity increases personal confidence, individual confidence. It also increases community cohesion, community pride. Bethan Sayed's remarks about the international festivals and the pride that people take in the cultural activities of their nation is a very good example of how it improves both individual and mental health. The young people who are taking part in that activity I know will have grown in confidence and in partnership and in cohesion as a result of that. So, we very much acknowledge that as part of our culture and creative statement, but we also acknowledge it as part of the mental health statement and it's a very important thing to emphasise in this Chamber.
In terms of women and girls in sport, Llywydd, I hope you will indulge me in a very short anecdote, because I recently attended a fundraising quiz. We were asked to play jokers on a round that we thought we'd do best on. Many people played their joker on the sport round and every question was about Welsh women's sportspeople, and it was amazing how many people couldn't name, for example, three Welsh women Olympians or any member of the Welsh football team or Welsh rugby team, and so on. It underlined to me the real need to highlight the participation of women in sport, so that they can be the role models—they are the role models—but that more people can understand the role of a role model in sport, and actually how incredibly well they always do and how we should be proud of them. So, I'll certainly be taking that up with the Minister and making sure that we can highlight all of their endeavours.
Thank you, leader of the house.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, and I call on her to make her statement on the Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill—Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. Yesterday, I laid the Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill, together with the explanatory memorandum, before the National Assembly for Wales. I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a statement about the Bill. Members will know that we are committed to removing barriers to entering and moving within the private rented sector. 'Prosperity for All', our national strategy, recognises that people cannot live well without good quality, affordable homes. We want to make renting privately a positive choice that is widely accessible. To that end, I believe any costs associated with renting must be reasonable, affordable and transparent.
Sadly, evidence shows that the current fees charged by letting agents often present a significant barrier to many tenants. This is especially so for people living on lower incomes, including young couples starting their lives together, students living on restricted incomes, or single parents struggling to make ends meet, for example. Fees can result in individuals or families borrowing money from friends or relatives, struggling to pay bills, or getting into debt. They may become overdrawn or, in the worst cases, may turn to payday loans or doorstep lenders. We know that tenants often experience the same level of service from agents, but see wide variation in what they are expected to pay. It's questionable whether the costs incurred are consistent with the fees that tenants are required to pay. And, in any event, landlords also pay agents for lettings and property management services. The requirement to pay these fees also makes it harder to plan for a tenancy, which in turn affects the affordability and accessibility of the private rented sector. Tenants are not inclined to challenge or bargain with agents, often due to desperation to find a home in the face of competition from other tenants. Tenants are also in a position where there is almost always only one agent managing a property, meaning that they have no choice but to pay the fee demanded from that agent if they want to rent the property.
To address these concerns, the Bill will make the costs tenants face in future significantly lower and simpler to understand. The Bill is drafted in the light of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, and therefore applies to contract holders. No longer will they be charged for an accompanied viewing, receiving an inventory, or signing a contract. No longer will they be charged for renewing a tenancy. And no longer will they see a range of services added to their contract as check-out fees when they move out. Payments will be much more predictable, limited to rent, security deposits, holding deposits and payments in default. I expect most contract holders will only ever need to think about paying their rent and finding a security deposit. The Bill also guarantees that holding deposits are capped to a week’s rent. This is the level that most tenants currently pay, but I want to ensure that the costs they face at the beginning of their rental contract are kept to a minimum. Similarly, most tenants currently pay the equivalent of around a month’s rent as a security deposit, which I think is reasonable. However, the Bill provides for a regulation-making power regarding the amount of a security deposit. This safeguard has been provided to ensure we can avoid costs rising to an unreasonable level.
Many agents and landlords will recognise the purpose of the Bill, which will ensure that we see the change in practice in the private rented sector that I know Members have been calling for. If, in future, an agent or landlord requires payments that have been prohibited—that is, payments other than permitted payments—they will commit an offence. We have also provided local housing authorities with powers to investigate offences and to prosecute people who obstruct those investigations, for example by providing false or misleading information.
The implications of committing an offence are serious. Local housing authorities may offer a fixed penalty notice of £500 to discharge liability to a person they believe has committed an offence of requiring a prohibited payment. If the penalty is not paid, prosecution through the magistrates' court may follow. A person guilty of an offence of requiring a prohibited payment is liable on summary conviction to a fine. The Bill requires a local housing authority to notify the conviction to Rent Smart Wales, the licensing authority designated under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, as soon as it becomes aware of the conviction. Contravening the ban on fees may mean the withdrawal of a licence to carry out lettings or property management work. Therefore, it is in a person’s best interests to ensure that they comply with the Bill. Let me be very clear: agents and landlords might be putting their business at risk if they are convicted of an offence.
It is my pleasure to introduce this Bill for scrutiny by the Assembly. I very much look forward to engaging with the Assembly and the Assembly's committees over the coming months on a Bill that I hope will prove to be an important milestone in improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Wales who currently rent in the private rented sector. Diolch.
Can I begin by broadly welcoming this legislative initiative? It follows the operation of a similar measure in Scotland from 2012, and there's proposed legislation at Westminster; I think that was launched last month. So, there's a clear public need for reform in this area of law, and the Bill will seek to create a more transparent private rented sector and market, and we do support those aims.
The private residential sector market offers an important housing option and currently accounts for about 15 per cent of the dwelling stock here in Wales, and that has more than doubled in size since the year 2000. A recent survey of private renters suggests that nearly one in three households who rent their home privately do so through a letting agent. So, a lot of people in Wales—about 57,000 households—live in homes let through agents, so it's a very significant sector. The vast majority of these tenants will have paid letting fees. Last year, one in three tenants of letting agents paid over £200 in fees to begin a tenancy, and this means that to rent an average three-bed home, for instance, in Cardiff would require more than £1,600 in set-up costs, including rent in advance and bond. So, significant change is needed across the sector—I don't think that can be denied—and we are in a good position now to make these changes as we've also had a change to fee structures as a result of the renting homes Act, and I do think it's time to move to more comprehensive reforms. So, we are supportive of the principle.
I think it's important for the Government—and, indeed, in the scrutiny process, for the committee—to look at the experience in Scotland. I know their legal situation was different, but since an effective ban—one did technically exist before—on many of these fees came into force in 2012, by the Scottish Government's own data, there was, in the 12 months that followed the ban, an increase in rents by 4.2 per cent. So, I think we've got to be careful about how some of these costs get recirculated in the system. So, it's really important, I think, to distinguish those costs that are legitimate from those—if I can use the appropriate phrase in this context—that are rent-seeking; they are getting money out of people who are in a vulnerable position, and are therefore charged all sorts of bells and whistles when they wind up a tenancy, or whatever. So, it's very, very important that we learn from experience.
I think there are some reasonable alternative approaches that have been raised, and I think we ought to, in the spirit of open scrutiny, look at these. Just to mention a few—and I think this has come up in other legislatures—there's the spreading the cost alternative, where those fees that are seen as legitimate are spread perhaps over the tenancy or the first six months of the tenancy, so you don't have this terrible upfront burden, which does create a really difficult situation for many households, particularly those that are in financial need, for instance. But, inevitably, in a big change in your life situation, large upfront costs are difficult to manage.
I think the Residential Landlords Association has also engaged in this process and come up with some alternatives for consideration. Some of these are ones that could be accommodated even if we have a much more regulation-based approach, but they have urged the Government to use the powers under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, for instance, so that fees get displayed more prominently, and if they are displayed more prominently I think that those that are manifestly unfair are challengeable. So, I think that's an interesting idea. I think that we should be open to those in the sector who are deeply involved, and that includes management agencies, because many of them do a thoroughly excellent job and are important for the effective working of the market, but also the landlords who are seeking a system themselves that has an appropriate level and fair costs and a market system that is reasonable to them. Because, in this reform, we are kind of trying to shift the balance to landlords seeking those costs and negotiating effective services with the letting agencies, so we need to look at that.
Can I just conclude? I think this is a very important piece of legislation. I'm sure it will get widespread support, but, obviously, we will want to examine it fully and see how we may want to develop things now the debate has started. Thank you.
Thank you very much for those comments and questions and for your recognition right at the start of your contribution that, really, there is a public need for this legislation, which has been acknowledged across the UK, and certainly a public need to increase the transparency within the sector and to allow people to move into the sector and between different properties within the sector as well, because currently the fees are a barrier to doing that.
You also recognised how the private rented sector is an increasingly important part of the housing landscape here in Wales, mentioning that the size of the sector has doubled since the year 2000, representing now 15 per cent of the housing market here in Wales, and we recognise that that is going to become increasingly important as the years move on as well. So, it's really important that we do continue the work that we've begun through our renting homes Act and other pieces of legislation and policy to ensure that the sector is an attractive one, that it's accessible and that it is fair and transparent. And this piece of legislation very much fits into the kind of approach that we've been trying to take thus far. You also gave some examples of the kinds of scales of fees that people might be required to pay in advance of accessing housing. For a three-bedroomed house in Cardiff, it's over £1,000 upfront that people would have to secure, which is a huge amount of money. It could be extremely prohibitive for large numbers of families to be able to come up with funding like that in the first instance.
So, this public need is recognised UK-wide, and we are looking really carefully at the situation in Scotland, which has passed legislation twice on this issue, as you say: once, in the first instance, which wasn't effective and, secondly, back in 2012, to tighten the rules and make it a much more stringent and tighter piece of legislation. It is a fact that, following the introduction of the legislation in Scotland, there was an increase in the level of rent that people paid. I know that there was also a scrutiny committee in Westminster that looked specifically at that and couldn't find conclusive evidence that the legislation was directly responsible for the increase in fees, but, nonetheless, it is something that we are very alive to—the fact that there could potentially be an increase in the level of rent, I should say, rather than fees, as a consequence of this legislation. However, equally, in our consultation, we understand that people recognise that there could be an increase in rent, but, actually, a small increase in rent would be more palatable to them in order to be able to plan their household budgets and so on, so it is something that we are alive to and something I know committees will be taking a close interest in.
I have had a discussion today, in fact, with the RLA about their particular concerns regarding this legislation. Clearly, they come from a strong viewpoint of representing their membership and wouldn't want to see landlords disadvantaged by this piece of legislation. It is likely that landlords' fees would be increased; that's certainly something we recognise within our regulatory impact assessment as a result of letting agents looking to recoup money from elsewhere. But, also, landlords have significant power in the sense that they can usually shop around to find a letting agent who they feel will best represent them and do so in a way that provides them with value for money. I know the RLA have also put forward other schemes such as—or other suggested schemes—an insurance-type scheme, for example. I think whichever path we take forward—and our proposed path, of course, is within the Bill—it has to be one that doesn't disadvantage people who are on low incomes, because that's precisely what we're trying to avoid.
You mentioned the the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and that, again, is one of the Residential Landlord Association's proposals in the paperwork that they've submitted with regard to this Bill. The Consumer Rights Act wouldn't be able to deliver what we believe that we need in order to make the private rented sector affordable and accessible, because transparency is one thing, but it doesn't necessarily equal fairness.
Charges that contract holders face are a significant barrier to many tenants, and the 2015 Act wouldn't be able to address the existence of large, upfront fees or renewal fees, which our legislation seeks to address as well. That said, obviously, I really do welcome the engagement that we've had from the RLA, and all of the other representative bodies in the process of getting this far with the Bill, and their constructive comments that they've made to our consultation process. I'm sure that that kind of engagement will continue as we move through the scrutiny process.
Plaid Cymru has been calling for this action to be taken for some time, and I'm pleased and grateful to the Minister for introducing this Bill and for the advance notice she gave us of this information. And I'd like to thank her for taking the time to discuss this with me last week, although I haven't read everything yet in relation to the explanatory memorandum, but I will be taking it home—bedside reading.
In principle, this is a positive and welcomed step forward: renting is no longer a lifestyle choice, but a life necessity for many people, particularly younger people. Given the current state of the housing market and the economic condition that many people find themselves in, renting could well be a lifetime requirement for some, and what is important to recognise is that renting is not a cheap option. The cost involved with moving into a PRS home can be exorbitant. A listing this morning I saw in Cardiff alone had a charge of £318 for the first tenant, plus £18 per extra tenant or guarantor, with no mention of any extra charges for credit checks or ongoing services, and another I saw recently included a fee of 30 per cent of the monthly rent plus extra fees per tenant for credit checks. This is a major barrier for people, particularly those with no savings or access to credit.
We are witnessing a market failure, as I've already seen in your document, and when there is market failure, it needs to be corrected by Government or the sector itself, and since the sector has not been forthcoming, it requires Government intervention. I won't go through all the statistics related to the private rented sector here, as we have discussed these at length, and I'm sure we will again. So, I'd like to seek some clarity on some aspects of the Bill that I believe are unclear.
Payments in default will continue to be permitted under the Bill, which I have some concerns over. I understand that the consultation responses indicated that respondents wished these to continue, but I'm concerned that revenue lost by the removal of upfront fees could be recouped this way over the length of a contract. If someone damages a property during the contract, they should be charged to repair the damage, but how often could charges on top of repairs be levied under this Bill? What if there is a contractual obligation for the—and I quote—'proper maintenance of the property'? That could be subjective, and it could result in unfair charges, so I'd like the Minister to potentially reconsider this during Committee Stage, or at least be open to clarifying these payments and others related to the fault of tenants.
Could you clarify the arrangements relating to tenancies that fall through through no fault of the tenant? Will the landlord or agency get to keep a proportion of that deposit? I welcome the regulation powers under the Bill that seek to ensure security deposits do not rise as a result of this Bill. But perhaps you could confirm whether this will be a six-week cap or a four-week cap. It does seem clear in the Bill what the permitted charges will and will not be, but I would like you to confirm what the situation will be related to ongoing services. For example, if a tenant loses keys, or if there is a change of personal details or circumstances, will fees be permitted? I understand that it is reasonable for a tenant to expect to pay to replace a lost set of keys, however I would like to be assured that the costs related to such services will not rise or be unreasonable.
I understand the biggest worry with this legislation is the redistribution of costs to tenants. I wonder whether or not you could comment on the example from Scotland, where despite fees being abolished in 2012, there was an average rent increase of 5 per cent over the next four years, compared to 9 per cent across the UK. So, actually, Scotland was lower than the rest of the UK. Could I ask whether you expect landlords to pass on all or some of those costs associated with the abolition of fees to tenants in Wales, and if so whether or not you've considered this, particularly when it comes to people renewing a contract who will not see as much benefit in this legislation as those who move frequently?
I just wanted to finish on financial education. I noticed from the beginning of the explanatory memorandum about affordability and about people having to take on loans, and I recognise we are trying to take something away in terms of those barriers in this legislation, although there may be unintended consequences. But I haven't read it all to understand if you're going to be increasing financial education or support to tenants so that they will be able to understand this, they will be able to empower themselves to make any complaints where that needs to happen, and to ensure that they can ultimately afford the tenancy ongoing. I think where we see the possibility of talking about financial inclusion, we should do that, and I think this Bill may be another avenue to be able to do so.
I thank you very much for those comments and also recognise that bringing in legislation to this effect was a Plaid Cymru manifesto commitment. As it's something that the Conservative Party are taking forward in England, and I know it's something that UKIP have spoken about in favour of before, I think that it's good that we have cross-party consensus on this particular piece of legislation, although I fully expect the robust scrutiny that will be coming as we move things forward through the Assembly.
It might be helpful if I just outline some of the summary of costs that we have published in the RIA, and that demonstrates, really, how we would expect the removal of the fees charged to tenants to impact on other parts of the sector, such as landlords and the letting agents. We estimate the likely costs and benefits to tenants, landlords and letting agents in the RIA, over a five-year period, in order to give us a good understanding of how things might impact the various different interests.
Tenants, we believe, are expected to save between £16.7 million and £38.6 million over this period through no longer having to pay those letting agents' fees. So, the essential estimate is that £24.1 million would be saved to tenants. However, we do recognise that they may experience an increase in rent from the Bill in the first year of implementation. We estimate that at around £2.9 million. But, then, we anticipate that they'd save £7.5 million over the period from no longer having to pay those letting fees. And the net saving, therefore, to tenants is estimated to be around £4.6 million.
There may be costs to letting agents of up to £6.6 million in the first year, but these, again, might be offset by increasing the fees to landlords by about £5 million, leaving a net cost to the letting agents of £1.6 million. Costs to the landlords in the first year we expect may be £5.8 million, either from not being able to charge fees, or from increased charges that they experience from the letting agents. But these, then, may be offset by £2.9 million by increasing rent, so the net cost to landlords is estimated to be around £2.9 million.
So, it's very much one of those situations where, when we take action in one part of the sector, there are knock-on implications for the others. But we've tried to come to a good understanding of what those might be, through independent research that we've done, alongside the consultation responses that we've received as well.
In terms of payment by default, I think it is right that landlords should be able to recoup costs or to recoup money when their tenants have been found to be in breach of their contract. You gave the example of losing keys as one way in which landlords might seek to recoup some of that money from the tenants. The cost of lost keys would be on the face of that contract, so there should be really, really good transparency, in the future, for contract holders to understand exactly what the cost might be for them if they were to be in default of their contract in any way.
You asked about security deposits and how much they might be. We didn't consult specifically on what level security deposits should be set at in the consultation process, and therefore we don't suggest putting a figure on the face of the Bill. Now, that's one of the ways in which our legislation differs from the legislation in England. One of the things I'm really wary of is not putting on the face of the Bill the level of the security deposit, because we could, unintentionally, have the consequence of raising the actual level of security deposits as well, because there is—. My understanding of it is that it's around four or five weeks. So, in England, where you've got six weeks on the Bill, you could potentially be pushing up that cost, which is something that we don't want to do. It does give regulation-making powers, though, in the Bill. So, if, at a future date, we are of the opinion that security deposits are rising unacceptably and becoming unaffordable, then legislation could be brought forward, following a consultation, on that as well.
In terms of changing details, again this is another area where our legislation differs from that in England. In England, there is a charge on the face of the Bill, where there would be a £50 charge or 'reasonable costs' that could be charged for a new joint tenant, for example, to be added to the names within a tenancy agreement. It's not our proposal to add that on the face of our Bill, because we think it would be difficult to manage, both initially and over the long term, and quite what is meant by 'reasonable' could lead to disputes between landlords and contract holders unnecessarily, because it's not a huge or onerous amount of work to add a new contract holder to the details of a contract as well.
In terms of other differences between the legislation that we see across the border in England, there are some enforcement arrangements that differ quite significantly. Again, I'm sure that committees will be paying particular interest to the different approaches that have been taken in our different nations.
I think education is very important, both for the tenants—and I think there's much wider work to be done, actually, in terms of tenants and financial inclusion—but also in terms of the landlords and the letting agents who will be subject to the legislation. And this is why Rent Smart Wales puts us in a really good place, because we're now in direct contact with over 90,000 landlords and over 2,500 letting agents, all of whom are able to receive up-to-date, good-quality information and advice from Welsh Government on their responsibilities. But I think there's lots to learn in the private rented sector from the great work that's happening in the social rented sector, in terms of supporting tenants to better understand their financial responsibilities and the wider opportunities for financial inclusion activities. I've been really impressed by some of the work that we've seen going on through social landlords, in terms of supporting tenants with financial literacy, digital inclusion and a whole wide range of things that go well beyond what we would normally think of as simply a housing issue, because of the importance it places in helping people maintain and sustain their tenancies.
Thanks to the Minister for her statement today, and thanks also for the briefing earlier on. As you mentioned, we, UKIP, have been supportive of this kind of move. We did cover the issue of letting agency fees in one of our own debates last year, so it's an area where we are sympathetic to the issues faced by tenants in the private rented sector. On that occasion, all three opposition parties did support moving towards some kind of restriction in letting agency fees. So, it's good to see that the Government is now moving in that direction.
There have been a lot of problems with things that are often called 'administration charges'—a term that is often a coverall term to cover a variety of sometimes questionable fees. Sometimes, as you mentioned in your statement, the administration charge appears to be much higher than the real cost that will have accrued to the letting agent for carrying out that particular service. Perhaps more worryingly, sometimes tenants—or, to use your own terminology, contract holders—don't even understand what they've been charged for because, at the moment, a key issue is that a lot of these charges are not very transparent. I was glad that you used that term in your statement.
On the other hand, we are also mindful that there has to be a balanced approach, and you've mentioned that the Registered Landlords Association were heavily involved with the consultation, which I think is good, because I suppose, in a way, there are two sides to every story. We need to have a private rented sector as more and more tenants are actually drawn, sometimes by financial imperative, into this sector, and also by the lack of alternatives. So, we need to have a private rented sector and we don't want to make the regulations so onerous that landlords and letting agencies cannot flourish, as long, that is, as their charges are legitimate and they are transparent. So, we have to be wary, as we proceed with this Bill, of unintended consequences. I know a couple of people have used that phrase today already.
The obvious one, I guess, is that, as charges are banned, rents will rise instead. I know Scotland is the ready example, given that they've already moved to restrict letting agency fees. So, it's interesting that there's already this slight contention over the narrative from Scotland over whether the rents have increased there as a result of letting agency fees being restricted. Or is it more the case that they haven't risen as much as they have in England? So, I think we do need to look closely at the evidence from Scotland because it seems to already be in dispute what the evidence actually is.
The upfront burden on tenants was mentioned by David Melding, and one of the things that the RLA have called for is some kind of insurance scheme over deposits—one problem being that tenants are often charged a deposit for moving into a new property while they're still waiting for the deposit to come back from their old property. The RLA see the possibility of an insurance scheme so that these deposits could be transferred between the landlords. So, I wonder what thought you've given to that precise proposal.
The RLA are also calling for more flexibility over bonds where tenants, for instance, have things like pets. I think this is becoming a big issue. Lots of people want to keep pets, which is fair enough, and lots of landlords won't accept tenants with pets. We need to make sure that people with pets can get into tenancies. So, sometimes it may be the case that landlords need to be able to charge extra in terms of the bond to cover things like the cost of cleaning up when the tenancy finishes, because clearly, if you do keep a dog, then it probably is going to impact on the cost of cleaning. So, I think we need to look at that kind of aspect with this legislation.
Bethan Sayed raised the financial education issue, which she has often raised, and I think that you mentioned that that could be incorporated with Rent Smart Wales. So, I'm very interested in how the information is going to be disseminated, if you could give that more thought going forward. I know you seem keen on it, but I'd like a bit more detail on it going forward. Thanks very much.
Thank you very much for those comments. It might be helpful if I returned to the issue of what we've learned from the Scottish legislation in terms of our approach here in Wales. It is a fact that rents did rise in the first 12 months following the introduction of the Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011. That amended the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984, which I previously referred to, and it essentially banned all charges made to tenants other than rent and a refundable deposit.
However, the evidence that rents rose directly as a result of the change in the law isn't conclusive, and that issue, as I said, was examined by a House of Commons inquiry into the private rented sector in Scotland in March 2015. That was unable to find strong enough evidence to explain such an increase. The committee did identify wider factors as having a possible influence on the increase, including population changes and a lack of supply of properties in the private rented sector. The operation of the market at the time—so, the numbers of agents operating, the length of tenancy, changes in how agents were operating, rules around deposit protection, and increased health and safety standards—were all considered to be relevant considerations as well, and they couldn't be disentangled from the 2011 Act.
So, I'm sure that the experiences in Scotland and the legislation that is currently making its way through the process in England will be something that committees will want to scrutinise. But, it is—just to reassure Members—the case that we've also been looking very closely at both the Scottish experience and the committee process in England, and we've looked closely at all of the evidence that has been submitted to the English legislation proposal as well, because we are keen to learn from the best of the evidence that is available to us.
In terms of the impact on cost of renting, again, it's interesting, when you look at the current market, that there's no real differential between the cost that tenants are expected to pay to landlords who let independently or those who let through letting agents. There's no real difference in terms of the kind of rent that people pay, whether they are paying huge extra costs or no or very few extra costs. So, there isn’t that kind of clear differential there either.
In terms of enforcement and the provision of information, that will be done through Rent Smart Wales. As I say, we've got really good data and good relationships with the sector now, thanks to that. That also sets us apart from England as well because they don't have any kind of equivalent body. So, as a final stop, if you like, if landlords and letting agents don't comply with this legislation and they don't pay a fine, should they be subject to a fine, the ultimate sanction here in Wales would be that they would have their ability to rent homes removed from them, and that is a severe disincentive in terms of not complying with the law as well.
So, the legislation, as laid before the Assembly, does have some really strong focus on enforcement, as you'd expect. It also allows the local housing authorities to be able to keep any money that they are able to secure as fines to reinvest in their enforcement activities. Again, that's a difference between our approach here and the approach in England. We are asking local housing authorities to be the enforcement bodies for this, whereas in England it is trading standards. Again, we think that this best reflects our particular levels of expertise, the particular relationships that we have, and the fact that local housing authorities are, in our view, best placed to be the ones who are enforcing housing legislation here in Wales.
I don't want to make things more onerous for landlords, and I don't want to make things more onerous for tenants. What we want, really, is to ensure that we have a system that is transparent and as easily understood as possible. I think that we can certainly do that by working closely with the people who represent the landlords and also through Rent Smart Wales.
I very much welcome the Government's statement today. It always surprises me the number of people—especially younger people—who have ended up moving into the private rented market who, one generation, two generations or three generations ago, would quite naturally have moved into house purchase. I think that's a change in society that is not necessarily for the better.
Like many colleagues here, I have been calling for the ending of letting fees for several years. There are not many things that could unite Gareth Bennett, Bethan Sayed, Jenny Rathbone and me, but this is one of them. I think that that really does show the breadth of opposition to letting agent fees within this Assembly. They are unfair, unjust and paid by those often least able to afford the cost. I fully support the proposal to end letting agent fees and make it an offence to charge them.
I’m very pleased that the Government have given up what I considered their ludicrous, economically illiterate objection, voiced last year, that ending letting fees would increase rents and it has now stopped being put forward. Of course it won’t increase them. Yes, there have been increases in Scotland, as David Melding said, but I think that Bethan Sayed summed it up quite well: there have been increases in London, in England, and in Wales as well. House rents go up every year. It’s nothing to do with whether you have letting fees or not letting fees; they go up because of the shortage of housing that exists. And that is where the problem is: that there is a shortage of housing.
But if people really believe that letting agent fees are the solution to decreased rents, why don’t they support that when you’re buying a house, you pay the estate agent’s fees? That’ll move the prices of houses down, wouldn’t it? If that logic follows, then, obviously, the estate agent’s fees should be paid by the buyer not the seller. But, no, people aren’t going to suggest that, because the people who are buying houses would not buy. People who are selling would be unable to sell. Unfortunately, in the private rented sector, people have to pay, otherwise they end up homeless.
So, I really welcome the provision for enforcement arrangements via local authorities and the fixed-penalty fine. I have one question: has the Government considered a fine escalator for those who continually breach the law? Because one of the things that I’m afraid of is that some people will see this as a price worth paying. It’ll happen only occasionally. It’s a bit like those people who park where they shouldn’t and accept a parking fine as part of the cost of parking where they shouldn’t. People do break lots of laws when they don’t get caught very often and they don’t get fined very much, and when you balance out the cost, it may well be economically advantageous to do it. So, can we have an escalator on there? So, it may well be one price for the first time they’re caught, but if we double it the second and then double it the third, a bit like they do with people who fly-tip, and they get a fine, but if they keep on going back, they keep on getting a fine escalator, and whereas the first fine may not be very much, by the time they get to the third or fourth, they realise that fly-tipping is exceptionally expensive. So, can we have an escalator?
Thank you very much for those comments and for the question as well.
I thought the comparison with asking house buyers to pay the estate agent’s fees was quite an illuminating kind of comparison. Certainly, it puts it into perspective as well. And, as Mike Hedges perfectly correctly points out, these tenants' fees are fees that are paid by those who are usually least able to pay. And, as others have said, the private rented sector is going to become increasingly important in terms of meeting housing need, but also in terms of reducing the severe pressure that is also on our social rented sector as well.
In terms of that enforcement action, it has been modelled in line with the arrangements that are currently in place for non-compliance with licensing requirements under Part 1 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and, to date, there have been relatively few breaches of licensing arrangements resulting in penalties. So, that does suggest that there is a sensible balance that has been struck in our approach so far. And it’s well worth recognising as well that the vast majority of landlords do work within the spirit and the letter of the law, and almost all agents and landlords are now registered under Rent Smart Wales. So, once the Bill comes into force, we would expect similarly high levels of compliance.
We consider that there will be a significant impact, not just from the financial penalties in the Bill, but the consequences for an agent or a landlord if they are convicted of an offence. Convictions for breaches of housing or landlord and tenant law are included in the criteria for Rent Smart Wales as the licensing authority, designated under section 3(1) of the 2014 Act, and that's something that must be taken into account when considering whether a person is a fit-and-proper person to be licensed under Part 1 of the Act. So, that is a really, really strong deterrent in terms of contravening the Bill. However, I'm sure that the committee will be giving close scrutiny to the level at which we have set that fine within the legislation, and I'll be interested to hear committee recommendations in terms of any escalator of fines.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item, therefore, is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on the long-term plan for health and social care in Wales. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make his statement. Vaughan Gething.
Diolch, Llywydd. Next month marks the seventieth anniversary of the NHS. Nye Bevan’s radical vision, based on the model of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, transformed health services for millions of people. Today, the NHS and the social care sector are critical to the well-being of our nation. Yet everyone in this Chamber knows that the context for these services has changed markedly. More people are living longer. This, of course, is one of society’s greatest achievements, and a cause for celebration, but it brings with it additional demand for public services at a time when more than eight years of austerity significantly restricts our capacity to respond. We also see the way that modern society puts pressures on families and, in particular, children. These are some of the important reasons why the boundaries between health and social care make less sense as time moves on.
The vision of a seamless, more accessible, and better quality health and social care service is one that is shared across the Senedd. It is the reason why all parties here agreed to the establishment of a parliamentary review of health and social care back in 2016. And the terms of reference for that review, and the membership of the panel, benefited from cross-party support. And that expert, independent panel, ably led by Dr Ruth Hussey, published its final report in January this year. We have discussed that report here, in some detail. The panel very clearly articulated the urgent need to bolster the response to the significant pressure on our services now, which is only set to grow over the coming years. The panel’s final report was well received by the many stakeholders in health and social care, including here in the Senedd and, indeed, in the Health, Well-being and Sport Committee.
Yesterday, I published 'A Healthier Wales: our Plan for Health and Social Care'. That plan responds to the final report of the parliamentary review, taking forward its key recommendations. The plan sets out a long-term future vision of a whole-system approach to health and social care, focused on health and well-being and on preventing illness. The plan is different, not just in its bold ambition to truly integrate health and social care, but because it has been designed in partnership with those who will be driving and delivering the change that it articulates. These stakeholders have shared our frustration with the pace of change thus far, despite a near-universal acknowledgment that urgent change is needed. An important theme running through the plan is stronger national leadership and direction to make the whole system align with our national priorities, with regular progress updates available to hold those responsible for delivery to account.
To achieve this future vision, we will develop new models of seamless local health and social care, which will scale from local to regional to national. A national transformation programme will help to deliver change at a greater pace. And there will be a transformation board to oversee and be accountable nationally for the commitments in the plan. It will advise on and commit targeted funding support to health and social care providers particularly focused on selected new models of seamless local health and social care. And the new models must be identified as delivering significant and enhanced value and be strongly aligned to national priorities.
We will strengthen national leadership and direction, including the development of a national executive for the NHS. The national executive will support and challenge health boards and NHS trusts and ensure the development of capacity and capability across our system. We will ensure that the whole system is fit for the future by focusing on quality and value and harnessing digital opportunities and supporting our workforce. All of this work, and our future system, will be underpinned by a strong shared philosophy and continuous engagement.
But we haven't just taken the panel’s recommendations at face value. I recognise that the key to any effective public policy is to understand the barriers that have frustrated change in the past and to put in place what needs to be done differently to overcome them. We have therefore taken great care in this plan to give strong national direction in realigning our policy levers so that they fully support the vision—in particular, financial strategy, planning, performance management, and inspection and regulation. These structures help to shape decision making on a day-to-day basis in our delivery organisations.
Finally, this plan has been developed through a major engagement exercise with our key strategic delivery partners. I have met with local government and health board leaders in each of the regional partnership board areas of Wales, together with the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care. We've also discussed the plan with local government cabinet members for social care and the Welsh Local Government Association council. And we will maintain this engagement now that the plan is published, with a further round of regional footprint meetings planned for the weeks running up to our summer recess.
At executive level, the WLGA, the NHS Confederation, the Association of Directors of Social Services and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action have led or been involved in working groups that have helped to shape the plan. The most senior staff from these organisations were members of an external reference group that was chaired by the Welsh Government director general for health and social services. We've also received feedback from citizen panels during April, which has helped to shape the vision and the design principles in the plan. All of this builds on the high level of public and professional engagement already undertaken by the parliamentary review team.
A significant and previously unseen level of engagement with people, professionals and indeed political parties has characterised the work of the parliamentary review right up to the publication now of 'A Healthier Wales'. I hope this is now a plan that the whole nation can get behind. It is a plan with a clear set of actions for the first three years. The work starts now and will move quickly to build momentum. The plan contains all the components needed to take health and social care forward, but it will count for nothing without effective execution. As I have said regularly to our external partners, the radical thing to do now is to implement this plan.
Suzy Davies took the Chair.
Minister, I'd like to thank you very much for bringing forward this statement, and actually I want to pick up on one of the comments you made in here above all else probably:
'More people are living longer. This is one of our society’s greatest achievements, and a cause for celebration'.
I'm so glad to hear those words, because so very often we talk in a pejorative way about older people—they're talked about bedblocking and that the costs and the worries of the NHS are because of the longevity in our lives. And I for one celebrate the fact that we all might live longer—I most certainly hope that I do—and I'm very glad to see that you recognise that that is a cause for celebration.
The vision you put before us tells us, to be frank, no new news, but then again neither did the parliamentary review. What it has done is—we all know a lot of this stuff, but it's structured it, made it in a way that we can digest it, and, hopefully, implement it. Now, I'm sure that you will agree with me that the biggest risk to delivering substantive change rests in leadership and behaviour. Do you believe that you have enough people of the right calibre and experience to lead a transformative process—and at pace, because this is vital? We know this, the Welsh Government know it, the NHS know it, and yet we've not been able to do it so far and we need to make these changes.
A strong national board taking once-for-Wales decisions is very vital. However, which organisation do you see will become responsible for the external scrutiny of that board? I think this is vital, because it was raised with me and by me during the parliamentary review discussions. And, whilst I note that the director general led the scrutiny for the development of this plan, going forward, it is him and his national team who must be tasked with ensuring that it happens. I would like to know how you're going to ensure that you keep his feet to the fire to make sure that this happens at the pace that you describe that we need.
There have been many policy documents and attempted starts in the journey of both transformation and integration through health and social services. Again, the parliamentary review identified that Wales is heavy and good on a lot of policy, but light on delivery. I still don't see in this vision that it clearly identifies the how—how we are going to do it, how we're going to make this change. There are lots of boards, lots of local, regional and national, but, the front line change that we need, how will you ensure that there is no false start this time? If it's going to go wrong, it will go wrong at the beginning. So, you must lead well from the beginning and constantly assess the risks and the process. Can you perhaps tell us how you might do that across the three years before the formal review?
The vision is quite light on workforce issues: how we develop our workforce from carer to consultant, how we value them, how we train them, and how we give them parity of esteem. The vision mentions in passing Health Education and Improvement Wales, but can you give us more detail, given that staff and the re-energising and the respect, evaluation and involvement of staff were such a key part of the parliamentary review? I don't think it comes across well in the vision at present and perhaps you can flesh that out a little bit more.
There is so much to talk about, acting Deputy Presiding Officer, and I'm sure I'm running out of time, but given that so many GPs and community hubs have closed in the past, how do we start that up? There are no tangible targets or commitment.
I think I'd like to end on two points. One is that I'm sure we're going to discuss this more and I would ask if you would commit today to bringing forward a debate in Government time so that we might have the chance to flesh out this vision. And, secondly, could you just make a comment on the £100 million for the transformation fund? Extremely welcome, but it is described as time-limited funding, it is targeted towards rapid development and implementation—it does seem to mirror, to an extent, the aims of the integrated care fund. So, therefore, will health authorities or local authorities who are not leading on innovation in the end miss out and suffer further disadvantage, or will you be able to use that £100 million of transformation to bring a parity of delivery and service change across all the health boards, from the strong ones to the very weak ones? Thank you.
Thank you for your comments and the questions. I want to start off by, again, recognising and welcoming the cross-party work that went into the parliamentary review, the membership and the terms, and where we are now. And I expect, of course, that there will be slightly a different character where we are as you quite rightly scrutinise me and the Government on taking this plan forward.
I understand your concern about some of the centralised functions that we've been advised and recommended to create, not just in the review, but also in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development review as well. I think your question of are there enough people of the right calibre to deliver national transformation comes to that, together with your question about the scrutiny of the national executive. We may want to bring more people in. That's part of what we're looking to do to deliver a national executive. Some of that is about bringing together, in a more coherent way, different parts of our health and care system and to have those, I think it's likely, to be responsible to the director general and the chief executive of the NHS. That then means, of course, that that's going to be responsible to a member linked to the Government and, of course, I expect to be scrutinised on what happens both in committee and here in the Chamber as well.
Now, I do actually think that, across Wales, our—. We could always look for would we want more people of greater calibre and quality, and we would always want to say, 'Well, you can never have too many good people'. I actually think our first challenge, though, is to get organisations pointing in the right direction at the same time and the leadership that already exists at not just the senior level, but at peer and delivery and front-line level, and we'll actually see real gain being made in doing so. And that's why the plan sets out that regional partnership boards—which already exist, so we're not going to create a whole new plethora of boards and organisations—they'll be empowered to take forward some of the transformation that we are discussing.
And, really, your point about the place of staff—I think it's pretty clear, in having a quadruple aim that we've validated and agreed to take forward in this plan, that the key additional in the quadruple aim is ensuring we have a motivated and sustainable health and care workforce. And that will be hugely important, not just as something to talk about but to deliver in practice. And the challenge in the detail of the delivery on this and on a number of other things is that I don't think you'd expect to see a high level of detail in this plan. I think you have to see the ambition and the clarity in the targets, the actions to be taken, in the timescale to deliver them, rather than a very detailed operational plan for the service. That would, very quickly, become out of date. But the challenge is how we achieve our targets and the actions that we have set out. It's also worth mentioning that the NHS staff survey has just recently opened, so, if any members of the NHS staff family are watching, then I'd encourage you to take part in the staff survey and tell it how it is about what's good, what's bad and what's indifferent within your organisation. We have a similar challenge about keeping on board the social care workforce, and I'm pleased to note that the British Association of Social Workers in Wales have welcomed the plan as well.
I just want to finish by dealing with your point about transformation. In the plan, you will have seen that we've asked each regional partnership board to develop two particular models to try and deliver some of that transformation. Now, there's a deliberate ask there to make sure that we're having something done on a large enough scale—so, not just a small area of transformation that is isolated to a single community, but a much larger level of transformation that all of those regional board partners can agree on and get behind. And that's really important, because that again reinforces our view that it must be the health service and local government and other partners who are agreeing on what our transformational areas of activity are for them all to engage in and support, to make the change that we've discussed many times in the past. And the transformation fund will help to promote that and to take it forward. But we also think that's likely to generate a number of areas where partners don't need the transformation fund to agree on doing something together. Because the real priority is not how we use £100 million of transformation funding, important as that is in advancing and kick-starting the pace of some of the change want to see, it's actually how we more progressively use the £9 billion of money on health and social care spend together and that's a challenge. How much more of it will they spend together on the same objective to the same high level plan and with the same workforce working closer and closer together and that is what we're looking to achieve.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for that statement.
The Welsh public knows that Labour has lost its way with the running of the NHS in Wales and Plaid Cymru wants to get the NHS back on its feet. That is why we pushed for the parliamentary review of health and social care, which gave us a very useful, I think, set of guiding principles. The quick turnaround demanded by that review for the Government to come up with a plan of action was proof, I think, of what we already knew—that this Government has been lacking in strategy for the future of health and care. So, now we have a set of proposals, and there are positive elements, certainly. The £100 million fund, for example, is welcome. Of course it's welcome, but it's not enough, I fear. But, more importantly, it's not the evidence I think I and Welsh patients were looking for of a set of proposals that will lead to a new culture and actually provide the actual means of bringing about that change and setting us off on a new direction.
When the parliamentary review report was published, we came up with a set of asks of the Government, things that we expected of Government in light of what was proposed and set out as a set of principles in that review. So, I'll go through them. There are four that I'll mention here. We need detailed plans to recruit more staff, in particular in primary care. We're talking about putting more weight and more pressure on primary care. That means we have very acute staffing issues that we need addressed. Where is that plan for staffing? We need substantial proposals for policies to prevent ill health. I'm not seeing that. Where are those proposals? Thirdly, where are the plans that we expected, in light of the parliamentary review report, to provide better and comparable data on performance that will allow benchmarking with performance in the other nations, as recommended by the review? And finally, for the time being, this is something that has been partly addressed in the set of proposals that you have announced in the £100 million transformation fund to push forward the agenda of integration, and I think we all want to see integration happening, but we wanted proposals on how services provided by different public sector bodies with different budgets are going to integrate to provide the best possible health and social care. The parliamentary review could give us general principles. I believe actually that was the role of the parliamentary review, to spell out some guiding principles. The Government needed concrete and very, very comprehensive proposals, and I'm afraid that's not what we have here.
Well, that's an interesting set of questions and comments from Rhun ap Iorwerth. I'll deal with your four points and then I'll deal with your more general observations, which you'll not be surprised I don't share.
On the proposals to deliver a new culture, I actually think there's a limited extent to which proposals in a plan can deliver a new culture. Actually, what has started to change the culture is the process that we've undertaken between partners in undertaking the review itself and in the broader work that the Government has undertaken over a period of time. A really good example of that is the integrated care fund, and that came from budget discussions between parties in this Chamber, and that has changed some of the culture and working relationships on the ground. It's given us good examples of what working together delivers: a better place for people to work across health, social care, housing and other areas of our workforce, and equally better outcomes for the citizen. That's crucially what this is about, and that's been reinforced by the way we've gone about developing the plan.
As I've said in my statement, we have done this by working with partners. The Government previously wrote a plan for the health service, gave it to the health service and told it to deliver it. They then told their partners in local government and elsewhere, 'This is what we're going to have to do.' We've done something different this time. It's been positively welcomed and recognised. We have brought together Government, the health service, local government and other partners that I've set out, and there's actually been a joint conversation between different people about their varied roles in delivering better services and better outcomes. So, we've made real progress in taking that forward and, interestingly, the Welsh Local Government Association recognised that themselves in the statements they've issued about how we've got to this point, and in the direct conversations that I've had, together with the Minister, with people of all parties and independents across the country.
In terms of the challenges about workforce, not only do we have the quadruple aim, but we have a range of actions within the plan—actions 25 to 28 in particular—that talk about how we will take forward getting the right workforce to deliver a different way of providing health and social care services. Interestingly, yesterday when we launched the plan formally, we were very pleased to be in the Cynon valley visiting the Laurels care home in Aberdare, and also then visiting a person in a home in Ynysybwl. That was a really positive and real example of change that we're already delivering that we want to see more of: not just a virtual ward, but, actually, if you could have listened directly to those GPs that talked about how their jobs have changed and the way they believe their job has changed for the better. One said, 'I would not go back to the way we used to do things. We didn't really talk to each other before and we didn't think that we could do. Now we talk to each other, we have the space to do it, and we are delivering better care for the people we are responsible for as a result.' They also recognise that they have different staff doing different things with them. It wasn't just a validation of what I think; it's a validation of what they see in practice, and that's what we need to deliver more of. That's why we're bringing different partners together, and that's why regional partnership boards must be a key driver in delivering that change.
On your point about performance benchmarking with other UK nations, that requires the other UK nations to want to do that, and thus far I've seen no desire whatsoever from our colleagues across the border to want to do so. The only time we've been able to benchmark quality data between the UK nations, actually, Wales did rather well. We were above the line in the majority of the 13 quality measures. We were below the line on two, but, actually, on five out of the 13 measures, we were above the UK average. That shows that on a quality basis, NHS Wales does quite well in comparison to the other nations across the UK, and every now and again it would be good if you could recognise that, as well as our challenges.
We recognise the challenges about integration—that's what this plan sets out for us to do—but I just don't accept the starting point of saying that Labour has lost its way. If that were the case, we would not be here in our respective positions in this Chamber. Plaid Cymru pushed for this review, together with other parties, and we all recognised in a moment of maturity that this was the right thing to do. And we recognised that in doing so, it would mean that there wouldn't be a strategy while we had a review and we got to this point as well.
Now, I think that when you look at what other people are saying about where we are, far from saying that this is a disappointment—. If you look at the comments from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, the range of royal colleges, including the royal colleges of nursing, podiatry, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Health Foundation with a UK perspective, the Bevan Commission and the British Association of Social Workers Cymru—they all say this plan takes us in the right direction, the plan is a good thing, and, as I finished in my statement, the radical thing to do now is to deliver.
Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary. I want to state at the outset that my party supports the direction you are taking with the long-term plan. I might not always agree with some of the decisions you may take or always support the way you've opted to implement those decisions, but I agree that things have to change, and they have to change if we are to see the NHS celebrate its hundredth anniversary. Health and social care in Wales have their problems, but we can all agree that the care provided is excellent. The problems are in getting the care in the first place. We have finite resources and because we're all living longer, our reliance on health and social care is increasing, putting those resources under greater strain. Sadly, in the past there has been a lack of forward planning in health and care, particularly in workforce planning and silo working, which meant a complete disconnect between services. I welcome the Welsh Government's recognition that all public services have a role to play in improving health and care. Ensuring an elderly person has a walk-in shower after a hip replacement will ensure that that person can stay in their own home and not be forced into a care home for two years while they wait for adaptations to their housing.
As I've said many times, and as the Welsh Government have indicated in their plan, the old models of care won't work in the future. We have to work smarter. There are many great examples of this happening within health and social care at a local level. For example, Aneurin Bevan local health board and the University Hospital of Wales worked with mathematicians from Cardiff University to improve appointments. The specialist in queue theory ascertained that, by rescheduling theatre slots, they could eliminate cancelled operations. This is the sort of thing that needs to be shared and rolled out across our NHS and social care sector. Best practice needs to be shared and scaled up. I am therefore pleased that the Welsh Government has chosen to implement a national transformation board. I hope the programme board will help identify and nurture innovation and roll it out quickly to the whole health and care sector.
Cabinet Secretary, while I welcome the role that digital technology will play in delivering future health and care, and there are clear advantages to increasing the use of telemedicine, what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that a move away from face-to-face consultations does not lead to increasing isolation for our elderly population? The move to a more digital health and care system will see greater investment in informatics and health-related software. Cabinet Secretary, have you or your Government given any thought to the role that open-source software will play in the future? And will you be taking steps to reduce the NHS's reliance on proprietary software? After all, if public money is being used to pay for software development, shouldn't the public own the licence?
Finally, Cabinet Secretary, in the spirit of a whole-system approach to health and care, what steps are the Welsh Government taking to ensure that Welsh patients are not prevented from playing a full part in participating in their own health and well-being as a result of poor broadband connectivity? As we move more and more services online, we have to ensure that the digitally excluded don't become excluded from health and care. Thank you once again for your statement, and I and my party stand ready to work with you to deliver health and social care services fit for the future.
Thank you for the comments and the questions. I certainly hope that I'm around to see the one hundredth birthday of the national health service—maybe not in this place but around nevertheless. [Interruption.] Well, easy now.
In terms of the three points that you mentioned about digital technology and whether the ability to consult people remotely leads to greater loneliness and isolation, there's a challenge here about understanding what's fit for purpose and how you still understand that human interaction matters for people with some of their health and care services in particular.
Part of our challenge, though, is that, actually, for some people, we recognise that it's difficult for them to move significantly out of their own home and, indeed, the move to have more treatment that is taken out of hospital settings and, indeed, if you do need to see someone based in a hospital, whether that person actually can do that from a remote setting in any event. We already see telemedicine doing this, and lots of members of the public are actually really pleased with what that means and does for them, but the challenge is a greater level of consistency because we've yet to take advantage of all of the efficiencies that could deliver. But also that can make a positive impact on how people don't feel lonely and isolated or the difficulties of getting to larger centres for different aspects of their treatment. That also matters in terms of our ability to use the technology available in terms of how we monitor people remotely and monitor their health and care conditions. So, there's more that we could and should do. Again, we are clear about the need to take advantage of those opportunities.
On your broader point about the intellectual property ownership for what we use, I'd say that there's a challenge about who owns the systems and the software that we would use and, at the same time, making sure that what we have is fit for purpose. Part of the challenge is that you end up developing systems with people who are specialists around the health and social care arena, and some of the challenge comes with the difficulty in procuring large-scale items and also, frankly, in making sure we're getting more and more choices that are 'once for Wales'. Because a large part of the opportunity to get greater gain in health and care outcomes actually comes from sharing that information and enabling that to happen, rather than having competing systems and information, which I'm sure is something that lots of Members will see from their own postbags at various points in time.
Your point about broadband and service provision: we recognise there's a need to invest in our broadband infrastructure to deliver greater public services. Sometimes, that will be into people's homes, sometimes it will be into hubs where people go for their treatment, and they can be local hubs rather than looking to travel a significantly greater distance. That will matter not just in more rural locations, but also in an urban location like the one that I represent, where, actually, being able to go to a more localised venue rather than travelling across the city for a different episode of care will be much more convenient for the individual person. So, there's the capacity to do that, but, crucially, the ability to make sure that our whole system is having a joined-up conversation and sharing information with the right number of health and social care professionals to make the right choices about health and care decisions.
You said at an earlier discussion in the Chamber that the health service either changes or it'll fall over, and that seems to me the challenge in front of us that we've all got to play our part in. And it's a really difficult job, because changing the way people do things is really complicated and many people find it difficult to adopt new ways of working.
So, I think one of the challenges facing us is how we get some of the excellent practice going on in different fields in different parts of Wales to be embraced by other people. For example, in Cardiff and the Vale, they've got this exercise and weight loss intervention that reduces people's need for surgery, and the evidence-based diet and exercise support—over three quarters of over 300 people lost weight, with an average weight loss over eight weeks of around 3 kg. I mean, that's a very substantial health gain and something that I'm sure could and should be adopted, as it's shown to work, across all the health boards. So, I was a bit bemused by Angela Burns's question, 'What will happen to local authorities or health boards who are not leading on innovation?' I think we should bypass them, because if they're not capable of leading on innovation in anything, then we have quite a struggle.
So, I suppose one of the things I'd like a bit more information on is how we're going to involve the citizen in transforming our health service, because Nick Ramsay earlier mentioned the excellent expert patients at the Breast Cancer Care launch of their report at lunch time—here are women who have had breast cancer and are now volunteering to support other women, and that makes them feel great, it makes the women who are most recently having to come to terms with this issue feel a lot more confident, having seen what can be done by others. This is exactly the sort of thing we should be replicating with expert patient programme across the piece. So, I think that's one of the challenges—I wonder how your new national executive is going to make it happen. How are they going to actually ensure that we are implementing good practice that's been properly evaluated across the piece, rather than waiting for it to somehow seam across?
I think the other thing that I really want to hear a bit more about is how we're going to empower grass-roots staff to be able to do the right thing because they understand the realm in which they're operating. It's disappointing that some district nurses have been reduced to a task and time measure, so I've been told by some of their managers, and they're simply unable to look at the whole patient, and that is the exciting thing about Buurtzorg—that we have client-centred thinking and ways of working, and the question mark, really, is whether front-line staff are going to be given that sort of opportunity to deliver person-centred care and be allowed to self-organise, and whether senior managers are going to allow them to get on with it.
Lastly, I just want to ask about something that's very important to ensuring that people aren't turning up inappropriately in hospitals. Last year, I attended a partnership meeting here in Cardiff that was identifying diversionary schemes for frequent attendance in the emergency department, the Welsh ambulance service and the police, and a key partner in that was Communities First. They provided the well-being courses, the confidence building, the Living Life to the Full courses, the people with pain workshops that the health professionals were referring these frequent attenders to. Now that Communities First has been abolished, who is going to be providing these sorts of grass-roots programmes, and how is that going to be picked up? Is it through the public services boards, or is it some other way? I'd be grateful if you can give us some indication.
Thank you for the questions. I accept your first point about the urgent need for change. We've talked about that on a number of occasions in the past, and, I think, when you raise the lifestyle management programme, looking at diet, exercise and smoking, that Cardiff and Vale run, a number of health boards have similar programmes. The challenge is not just how people get ready for surgery, but, actually, how we generate a different cultural change more generally within the population to avoid the need for medical treatment or social care.
In terms of your three specific questions, the final one—we are working, of course, with partners in the voluntary sector as well as in local government, and indeed with housing partners as well, in understanding how to link people into different services, because, often, people don't have healthcare needs where they engage with the healthcare system. They often have a social care need, or they're engaged in a part of the system that is open and available because they don't understand how to navigate through to get their healthcare need appropriately met. Interestingly, in a range of the pilots we've undertaken in Wales about people who are frequent callers to the ambulance service, they often have a mental health need that is unaddressed, and that's part of our challenge to try and find—. And, actually, that work will continue, because the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust recognises it needs to happen, and, equally, health boards themselves recognise it needs to happen as well. They're now in the same space as their partners, and it should be a better fit to find the right answers.
On your point about the citizen and their engagement, well, this plan validates and takes forward prudent healthcare once more, and there's a key role in prudent healthcare for the citizen being a more equal partner, not just in healthcare services, but, actually, the challenge for healthcare services is to catch up more with social care that already have been for some time—. It's about having a real citizen voice within the services that they require. And there's a point there about continuous engagement for the citizen to be involved in choices and a conversation about their own healthcare needs, and, crucially, as well, with our staff too, which goes into your final point, where we're talking about how we understand the greater value—have a greater value base—from health and social care. And you'll see that in the plan. You'll also see that in the way in which objectives are set for health board chairs as well this year, about the need to demonstrate a move towards value-based healthcare.
In terms of what that then means for front-line staff, again, on the visit yesterday, when we visited Mrs Benjamin in Ynysybwl, it was a really good example of how staff had taken ownership of the problem with the citizen. Because Mrs Benjamin didn't want to stay over in hospital. She'd broken her ankle and she needed to stay for a brief period of time, but, normally, her stay would've been about a week, but she was so clear she wanted to get home, for a range of reasons. She had a conversation with the Stay Well at Home team, so the occupational therapist had a conversation with medical staff about the need to get her home, they spoke to their partners in the Rhondda Cynon Taf council—the excellent care at home service they have—and they managed to make sure that within a very brief period of time, she was at home with the right package of care. And that ended, not because staff said, 'This needs to end now', but because she said, 'I don't need the support that I've got. I can manage now. I'm every so grateful.' And she talked about, 'The way my girls have looked after me has been amazing. I couldn't have done it on my own, and I was really worried.' That was a good example of staff taking ownership, changing front-line decisions, so not just being told by medical staff what they should, what they must do. They listened to the voice of the person, and that's changed the package of care she has now. And as a result, you have a much happier citizen who's regained her independence and is able to meet her other wider responsibilities. That is exactly what we need to see more of right across health and social care.
We have heard from one person from all parties by now, so may I ask for the next speakers to be concise, and also for the Cabinet Secretary to be concise in his responses? Thank you. John Griffiths.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, I want to add my voice, really, to those calling for more preventative steps in the future, to make sure that the strain on the national health service is eased and we cope better with the challenges of an aging population. So, I just wonder whether you could tell me what, in future strategy and policy, will better support the sorts of steps that are taking place in my area at the moment, where Newport Live, for example, as the leisure provider, is working very closely with Newport City Council, local sports clubs, community grass-roots organisations, the voluntary sector, as well as the health board and a range of others, to try and get a more active population. We have been meeting and taking steps for some time. And there are also initiatives around the park run, which helped celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the NHS last Saturday morning, at the park run, and, indeed, with Newport county, with County in the Community, linking the local schools and working in the community generally. There's quite a lot going on, Cabinet Secretary, and I just wonder how, as part of these future initiatives, Welsh Government will provide more encouragement and support for that very necessary work.
Well, it's about not just empowering the people and providing the space, but how we judge new partnerships to be taken forward. If you look at the quadruple aim, the first leg of that is to improve population health and well-being. That will require people to be more active, as part of it. We've understood, for a very long time, that a more active population where we reduce smoking, where we deal with diet, and where we also deal with some of the challenges of alcohol as well—which we'll talk about later on today as well—will help to improve a range of those measures. We need different partners with different levers to help people make better choices. But also I think Members should take some comfort in the design principles for the new ways of working and the new models that we're going to test them against. The first of those is prevention and early intervention—that's a key design principle around how we will then judge the effectiveness of those measures we want to get behind in generally transforming health and social care, rather than just dealing with more of the same that hasn't been able to gain what we all want to see.
The competition is open for the quickest question here. Vikki Howells.
Diolch. Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your really important announcement today. I'm glad that you were able to see such good examples of best practice at two locations within the Cynon Valley, and hopefully they will enhance your ability to take that and roll it out elsewhere.
Two quick questions, then. Firstly, can I welcome the recognition in the plan of the work carried out by carers and volunteers? As you will know, this week marks Carers Week, so could you say a little bit more about how the Welsh Government can support, in particular, those unpaid carers supporting their family and who, of course, make such a big contribution to our health service? I also welcome the focus on equity of outcome in the plan's vision for the future. Part of this involves making sure our future generations are healthy and active. How do you see cross-Government work like active transport, education and access to the outdoors fitting in to achieving the plan's goals?