Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd10/10/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon. Could I call Members to order, please?
The first item on this afternoon's agenda is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance. Question 1, Mark Isherwood.
1. What consideration did the Cabinet Secretary give to preventative services when deciding on the draft budget? OAQ52717
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, amongst the decisions taken when considering preventative services, I was especially pleased to be able to restore in full the early prevention, intervention and support programme of the Welsh Government in the draft budget.
Notwithstanding that, you have repeatedly and, I believe, sincerely committed yourself to driving forward preventative approaches to health and care in Wales. Yesterday's local government provisional settlement figures show an overall 1 per cent reduction for local government, with every local authority in north Wales seeing a reduction, although seven in south Wales saw a standstill or increase, and with NHS funding, however, going up 7 per cent, rather than seeing how we could budget smarter in order to deliver more through early intervention and prevention. How, therefore, do you respond to the statements in the letter from the Welsh Local Government Association, issued to us all yesterday, signed by the WLGA leaders from all parties, in which the WLGA Conservative group leader, Peter Fox, said,
'With £370 million new monies arriving from Westminster, an imaginative approach to funding preventative services to keep people out of hospitals was needed. Instead, the Welsh Government has given the NHS a seven per cent increase and cut council budgets for the eighth year in succession.'
We're not advocating a cut in NHS funding; what we're advocating is imaginative, smart, preventative budgets that keep the pressure off health services by the two working better together.
Well, I'm sure, Dirprwy Lywydd, that Peter Fox, for whom I have great respect as a leader, is very grateful that he is a council leader in Wales and not in England. By working hard all over the summer, we managed to reduce the gap in revenue support grant to 0.3 per cent—less than £15 million. Cuts that are facing English local authorities next year, were they to be translated into Welsh terms, would be £65 million-worth of cuts in RSG budgets for Welsh local authorities. So, I'm quite certain that the Conservative leader of Monmouth is very grateful he is living in Labour Wales rather than under the regime of his own party.
The general point that the Member makes, however, I think is a sensible one of course. When money is as short as it is, and when it reduces every year, everybody has to focus on trying to make that money go further, to use innovation, to have new ideas. My colleague Vaughan Gething has used £30 million of the health consequential to put that on the table of the regional partnership boards in Wales, where decisions have to be signed off jointly between the health board and the constituent local authorities. And I think increasing that budget in that way puts a new premium on the ability of those authorities to act in the imaginative way that Mark Isherwood mentioned.
Does the Cabinet Secretary accept that it is difficult to define preventative spend? For example, spending on home social care is preventative of needing residential care and hospital care. Expenditure on GPs is also preventative of hospital care. Would it not be better to define the expenditure as that which provides long-term good?
I thank Mike Hedges for that supplementary question. He will know that, when I was in front of the Finance Committee last week, I set out the new agreed definition that we have used in this budget of what we mean by 'preventative spend', a definition developed by the third sector and Public Health Wales in consultation with the commissioner for the well-being of future generations Act. And it's not perfect, I'm sure, and we'll develop it further, but it is a genuine step forward in having a common language. That divides what we mean by 'preventative spend' into a number of categories, from primary to acute. Any definition only helps us so far in the decisions we have to make, and Mike Hedges's idea of defining expenditure against long-term good, I can well see the sense that that would bring. By itself, it would not avoid decision making.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I was reminded, listening to that supplementary question, of a day that I spent when I was health Minister. I had two pieces of advice on the table. One was to use a sum of money that would have made a profound difference in the lives of very few people in Wales—fewer than 20 people, each one of them at a very high cost per person. On the same day, I had advice that told me how I could spend the same amount of money on a new cadre of, as I remember, epilepsy nurses around Wales—people who would have been able to do good things in the lives of a far larger number of people but where that difference would have been incremental to services that they provided rather than transformative. Both of those were possibilities that would have promoted long-term good. So, whatever definitions we have, and helpful as they can be, in the end they can't make decisions for us, and decisions are always difficult when you are faced with a finite sum of money and many different ways in which that money could be usefully spent.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Welsh Government spending for 2019-20 in Monmouth? OAQ52709
I thank Nick Ramsay for that question. Last week, I published the outline draft budget for 2019-20, which set out its main building blocks. The detailed draft budget will be published on 23 October. It will show continued investment in the Monmouth constituency in schools, in Welsh-medium education, in housing and in transport as we align our spending to the issues that matter most to people in Wales.
Diolch, Cabinet Secretary, and you got the fact that I meant the constituency and not the town of Monmouth, as I assumed you would. Leaving aside whether or not Councillor Peter Fox wants to live in Wales or England, which does creep up in this Chamber every so often, I'm sure you'd agree with me—and certainly Peter Fox has said to me—that he would like Monmouthshire to get a bigger slice of the cake when it comes to local government funding, and that is obviously dependent on the funding formula that we think should be looked at.
Leaving that aside, though, Cabinet Secretary, one area where the Welsh Government could make a difference in Monmouthshire would be to progress a Chepstow bypass—a solution to the congestion that is currently happening in Chepstow day in, day out and which is causing much misery to the residents of Chepstow and to commuters. I do appreciate that only a third of that bypass would be in Wales, so we do need to see support from the UK Government and, indeed, cross-border co-operation for that bypass to become a reality. Can you update us on any discussions that you've had with your colleague the Cabinet Secretary for transport or, indeed, with the Wales Office about the possibility of progressing that much-needed project and about the importance of the Welsh Government also getting support from the UK Government for it to become a reality?
I thank Nick Ramsay for that. The discussions with UK Government on this matter are indeed for my colleague Ken Skates to undertake, but I have recently discussed the Chepstow bypass issue with him. It's exactly as Nick Ramsay said: about a third of the distance and a third of the expenditure would rely on Welsh Government sources, and, in order to make that bypass worthwhile, we would have to secure the remainder of the expenditure and the investment from across our border. I know that my colleague Ken Skates is very aware of the pressures that face that town in relation to traffic, in relation to air quality and so on, and I know that he is very anxious to progress those discussions with the UK Government and to make sure that we can bring them to the table so that, between us both, we might be able to make this happen.
Can the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the total capital investment in the new Grange University Hospital, which will serve the people living in south-east Wales?
I thank Rhianon Passmore. The Grange University Hospital, which is, of course, very important to people living in the south-east of Wales, including Monmouth, is to receive funding of £350 million from the all-Wales capital programme. It is the largest financial scheme, Dirprwy Lywydd, in the whole of the NHS capital programme. It is in addition to the £217 million already provided for Gwent Clinical Futures. It is a recognition by this Welsh Government of the importance of the Grange University Hospital scheme to the future of acute medical services in this part of Wales.
We'll now turn to party spokespeople to question the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and first today is the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Steffan Lewis.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. The regulations repealing the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018 were due to come into force on 3 October. My understanding is that that did not happen because a vote of the Assembly is required. So, in the first instance, can the Cabinet Secretary, putting on his Brexit hat, clarify that the continuity Act wasn't repealed by accident without a vote? That would put my mind at ease. And, secondly, if that did not happen, can he enlighten the Assembly as to why we have not been informed of a new date on the face of the regulations? What is the new date? And when will there be a vote in the National Assembly?
Well, it's very good to have the opportunity to set any Assembly Member's mind at ease, so let me do that to begin with by assuring the Member that our Act has not been repealed by accident. It does, as he said, require a vote on the floor of this Assembly.
Finding time for the many things that have to be dispatched on the floor of the Assembly is a task that falls to my colleague the leader of the house, here. I know that she is endeavouring to find a slot at which that debate and that vote could be held, and, if it can be brought about, the ambition is to hold it this side of the half-term break.
I thank him for putting my mind at rest, at least with the first part of his answer. The second part of his answer, though, does raise questions. Is the Government taking into consideration the Supreme Court case between the UK Government and the Scottish Government on the Scottish continuity legislation? Of course, my argument would be that we shouldn't be repealing our continuity Act under any circumstances at all, but, surely, from the Government's point of view, they would wish to await the outcome of the Supreme Court case between the Scottish and UK Governments, because that would completely change the face of the devolution set-up and approaches to EU withdrawal across these islands if we have one devolved administration that has a protective shield of continuity legislation and we would have voluntarily and needlessly given ours away. So, is he able to clarify that the Government is prepared to delay, if necessary, until we know the outcome of the Supreme Court case?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, Welsh interest at the Supreme Court were defended by my colleague the Counsel General, who intervened to make sure that, where there were Welsh interests at stake, the Supreme Court was well informed about them. Of course, I don't agree with the Member that we would be left unprotected were we to repeal the continuity Bill, because we have an inter-governmental agreement that we entered into with the UK Government that, we believe, provided us with an alternative and, indeed, preferable set of protections in the circumstances that the continuity Act was designed to address.
Is the Cabinet Secretary, therefore, saying that even if the courts find in favour of the Scottish Government, it would be acceptable for one devolved administration to have a legal protective shield and that, somehow, the inter-governmental agreement between his Government and the UK Government renders the need for a continuity Act here needless? Because, surely, recent developments around the shared prosperity fund have demonstrated that the inter-governmental agreement has been breached. The Cabinet Secretary himself has said that,
'The UK Government’s “Shared Prosperity Fund” approach, if applied on a UK basis and directed from London, would be an attack on devolution'.
And the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has said,
'I fully recognise the role that the Welsh Government has played and the role that the Welsh Government has played in decisions for Wales. But obviously as we look at the shared prosperity fund across the whole of the UK we want to ensure that we get the right structure and the right processes involved in that so that the money that is being spent is being spent as effectively as possible because it's about delivering for people on the ground'—
i.e. it will all be run and controlled from Westminster. And I notice with interest that in the inter-governmental agreement, there is no reference to regional policy, and economic development is not listed as one of the 24 items either. So, is the Cabinet Secretary confident that the inter-governmental agreement is better than having continuity legislation, even though the inter-governmental agreement appears to be breaking at the seams already?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, the Member answered his own question, didn't he? Because, as he pointed out in his closing remarks, the inter-governmental agreement is not engaged in relation to the shared prosperity fund. The inter-governmental agreement covers those items set out in the withdrawal Bill that potentially, and in the future—because, remember, not a single power has left Wales as a result of the agreement—. There was a list of powers that were engaged by it that did not include, as the Member himself said, this area. So, he's brought two things together that do not have, in my mind, the connection he seeks to draw between them.
The asymmetrical nature of protective shields has already been introduced by the Scottish Government's decision not to be a party to the inter-governmental agreement. Our view was that it provided, in relation to those matters covered by it, sufficient protections for us to be able to proceed in the way that we did. The Scottish Government took a different view. Consistent with the inter-governmental agreement, we are looking for an opportunity to bring forward a vote to the floor of the Assembly in the way that I described in answer to an earlier question.
Thank you. I turn to the Conservatives' spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
Diolch. Cabinet Secretary, I'd like to ask you about procurement. When the National Procurement Service was first created back in 2013, your predecessor, the Minister Jane Hutt, described the NPS as a
'very Welsh way to meet Welsh business needs but also value for money for the Welsh pound'.
Since then, however, the NPS has made significant losses and has had to be bailed out by Ministers, ultimately leading to the decision by the Welsh Government to scrap the NPS altogether.
Can I ask you to outline what you believe to be the core factors that have contributed to the failure of the NPS? Does this not constitute a serious and significant blow to the Welsh Government's overall programme for policy, given the importance of procurement and the NPS within the economic action plan?
Of course, I don't accept for a moment the proposition of the question because NPS has not been a failure. Since it was introduced, the proportion of Welsh public procurement spend going to Welsh-based companies has gone up from 35 to 50 per cent. Of the 22,000 contracts that have been let through Sell2Wales, two thirds of those go to Welsh suppliers and three quarters of those are Welsh small and medium-sized enterprises, and that is as a result of the work that NPS has done in all parts of Wales. There are many other things that we could identify that rebound to the credit of NPS, in particular what it has done in driving up community benefits from contracts that are now let to Welsh suppliers.
What has happened, Dirprwy Lywydd, is that circumstances have changed. The needs of our users of NPS have changed. They have come to us as a Welsh Government to say that they believe that there is more that they could do if a service were more regionally and locally based, and they've made a convincing case on that. And Brexit casts a new set of possibilities for public procurement in the future, and it was in that context that I asked for a review of NPS to be undertaken and that is what led to the decisions that I announced to this Assembly in September.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. You clearly knew there were problems because you did order that review, and of course it's not just me who's being critical, it's the auditor general as well, who found that public bodies only spent £150 million with NPS in 2015-16 and £234 million the year after that. In addition, although the NPS made savings for the councils and other organisations that use its services, they lost millions of pounds on their own budget and had to be bailed out—I use that term again, not lightly—by your Government. Further still, they've been criticised by a report from the Assembly's Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee for overestimating the value of food contracts to suppliers.
So, can I ask you, what emergency management procedures and best practice measures have you now put in place in relation to Welsh Government public procurement operations to ensure that lessons have been learnt from these failings and that procurement practices in Wales from this autumn going forward see drastic improvement? Because it's not good enough to simply say to the public that all is fine and as it should be when it clearly isn't.
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, if the case for change wasn't there, I wouldn't have asked for the review to be undertaken and we wouldn't have set out a new prospectus for public procurement here in Wales as a result of the review. When the Member says that millions of pounds have had to be found from Welsh Government budgets to support NPS, the figure last year was £1.5 million, so I think we need a bit of perspective on the additional help that the Welsh Government has had to provide. In the end, the important point that I think was in Nick Ramsay's question is this: if you have an organisation like NPS, it has to be valued by its customers and its customers need to be willing to use that service. And if that service is one that customers say they would rather secure in a different way, then you have to listen carefully to what those users have to say. It was as a result of that conversation, where users said that they felt that a collective approach to public procurement in Wales was better secured through a strengthened regional tier, rather than discharging things at a national level—we've listened carefully to that. NPS will not continue in its current format, and it will migrate to being an organisation with a stronger regional and local presence, and an organisation that is better placed to make sure that those organisations across Wales that spend public money are well equipped to respond to the new opportunities that may be coming their way.
We are where we are now, Cabinet Secretary. If I can just pick up on the last part of your comments there, and looking to the future, and turning to the immediate future arrangements for procurement, you stated, and you've reiterated again, that following the announcement that the NPS would be wound down over time, a smaller operation would then be set up to manage a reduced portfolio of national contracts. Can you give us some more details as to when NPS will formally cease to operate fully? What are the projected costs of winding down and disbanding the NPS? Also, what arrangements are in place to manage the ending of NPS operations? And what resources and business plans are in place to support the setting up of the new smaller operation that you envisage?
The Member accurately describes what will happen to NPS. There still are some national procurement frameworks that local authorities and others tell us they value and would want to continue to see at an all-Wales level. There are some contracts that users of NPS say they would rather use through the Crown Commercial Service, so that is at a UK level of procurement, and we will probably make some additional use of the Crown Commercial Service as well.
The transition from where NPS is today to where it will be in the future will be conducted according to the timetable that we are advised of by stakeholders through the arrangements that we have set up with those who rely on its services. We will want to make sure that there are adequate alternatives in place before NPS ceases to provide the things that it does today. The timetable that we will use, Dirprwy Lywydd, will be guided by what the users of that service tell us is right for them, rather than by a plan simply devised in Cardiff Bay.
Thank you. UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Cabinet Secretary is well aware that I'm keen to explore the possibility that by cutting tax rates in Wales we can create a tax advantage compared with England and grow the Welsh economy, and, therefore, increase the size of the tax base. We had a productive exchange, I thought, in the Finance Committee a few days ago, where I was pleased to see that the Cabinet Secretary was open-minded to this possibility.
The head of the Welsh Treasury advised me to look at the Welsh tax policy report of 2018, where numerous international studies on this topic are listed, and I've had the chance to look at a few of them—they all give support, broadly speaking, to my hypothesis. I'd like to draw his attention to one in particular by Isabel Martinez from the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-economic Research, which looks at what happened in Switzerland when this was tried by one Swiss canton: Obwalden. That did have the effect of attracting people on higher incomes to the canton in order to afford an overall lower level of taxation for everybody. The share of rich taxpayers living in the canton increased by 25 to 30 per cent in the first five years after the tax change, and the bottom 99 per cent of taxpayers weren't affected at all by this change, so it seems as though it was a win-win situation.
I know international comparisons are difficult in these areas, because behavioural effects are going to be different in different countries, but I'd like to ask him if he will instruct his officials to conduct a formal inquiry into the possibilities of this so we can inform decisions in future budgets.
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, the Member knows that I don't share his starting hypothesis. I'm not, myself, convinced at all that tax competition, in which we drive down Welsh tax rates in the hope that that will somehow lead to people coming into Wales to take advantage of it, is something that would be very likely to happen. But in answering his questions at the Finance Committee, I said to him that in Welsh Government we believe in evidence-based policy making, and therefore we are always open to evidence from other parts of the world. I'm familiar with the Swiss canton study that he mentioned, and the fact that it's there cited in Welsh Government information shows that we are willing to look at things that happen elsewhere, and see if there are lessons to be learnt.
There are many countervailing examples that would demonstrate the opposite to you. When I put this question to the tax Minister in the Basque Country, which has significantly higher tax rates than those parts of Spain that are immediately adjacent to his border, I asked him: didn't he have tax leakage and didn't he have people leaving the Basque Country to take advantage of lower tax rates immediately adjacent to them? He assured me that that was absolutely not a feature of the way that people behaved in that tax regime.
So, to answer the question directly, in terms of all the many things that I have to ask my officials to attend to as we take on new fiscal responsibilities, as we face the challenge of Brexit and so on, I don't have an intention at this time to divert their energies into an exploration of the sort the Member suggests.
Perhaps I can help the Cabinet Secretary by instructing my officials to do that, and sending him the results of their labours in due course.
But I would like to draw the Cabinet Secretary's attention to the statement on page 56 of the Welsh tax policy report, which summarises the effects of the numerous studies that are mentioned in the footnotes, which says that
'These have tended to show taxpayers with higher incomes have larger responses to income tax changes. The main explanation for this is that higher income earners tend to be more active tax planners and are potentially more mobile than those on lower incomes.'
So, we start from a position, I think, where the ground soil is fertile, and although I appreciate that the Basque Country may be different from the experience in Switzerland—you can't take one single survey as indicating, as a form of genius, behavioural effect across Europe, or in the United Kingdom, or in Wales—but, nevertheless, there is here I think advantage in looking at the possibilities, given the tax-varying powers that we've got are limited, but the room for manoeuvre that the Cabinet Secretary has in any budget is limited by the system of block grant from the Treasury et cetera. The amount of discretion that we've got depends, crucially, now upon whether the Welsh economy can grow faster than it has done in the last 20 or so years.
And I would like to draw his attention to something else. The Wales Centre for Public Policy published a report called 'The Welsh Tax Base: Risks and Opportunities after Fiscal Devolution', and there's a table in there that shows that if we attracted only 1,600 higher rate taxpayers to Wales by a 5p additional tax rate cut, that would produce a £16 million benefit for the Welsh Government. If we attracted 10,000, then that would add £230 million to the Welsh Government's budget. So, these surely are risks that are worth looking at, with a view to taking them if you're convinced that these are going to be reflected in reality.
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, let me try and find some common ground with Mr Hamilton because, like him, I agree that growing the Welsh tax base is a very important ambition for the Welsh Government. The only difference is in the best way to do that. He would do it by reducing the rate of taxation on high earners in Wales, in the hope that we would attract some people to come to live in Wales on that basis. I think there are many preferable reasons why people would want to come and live in Wales, not simply because it's cheap for them to do so. And the Welsh Governance Centre report on growing the Welsh tax base set out a series of other ways in which that could be achieved; for example, by greater graduate retention.
So, while I share the ambition behind his question, which is to make sure that we grow the tax base here in Wales, I think there are preferable ways to doing so from the one that he prefers, and where I think the evidence in favour of those alternative measures is stronger.
These are not zero-sum games; it's not one or the other—we can have both, in my opinion, and that's what I'm interested in exploring further. The Bangor study suggests that taxpayer growth in Wales is going to decline from an increase of 0.007 per cent in 2019-20 to -0.11 per cent in 2023, so the prospects for the future under things as they are now—even bearing in mind all forecasts are necessarily provisional and may not turn out as we predict, nevertheless, things are going to get tighter rather than less tight for him. And therefore it makes it all the more urgent to see what we can do to get more wealthy people into Wales, not just because as individual taxpayers they could add to the Welsh tax base but because that might also bring other businesses that they're involved in into Wales as well and Wales could do successfully what the Irish Republic has done, although we don't have control of corporation tax yet, and this is the way forward for Wales.
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, the Bangor projections are rooted in demographics rather than behavioural changes, and I don't think that the proposition that the Member has put forward this afternoon would do much to alter those fundamental demographic drivers. He promised in an earlier answer that he would provide evidence of his own to underscore the case that he has made, and, in the way that I said in front of the Finance Committee, while I don't think I'm easily persuaded of his case, I'm always open to reading new evidence.
Thank you. We turn to questions on the order paper. Question 3—Janet Finch-Saunders.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline how the draft budget will assist local authorities in north Wales in light of the financial pressures being placed upon them? OAQ52739
Dirprwy Lywydd, the draft budget demonstrates efforts across the Welsh Government to assist local authorities to meet the very real pressures they face. The reduction of less than £15 million in revenue support grant in Wales is more than 75 per cent less than the cut imposed by the UK Government on English local authorities next year.
Cabinet Secretary, according to the letter sent to local authorities by your colleague the Cabinet Secretary for local government, overall core funding for councils announced in yesterday's local government settlement will be cut by 0.3 per cent in the upcoming year. However, this hides the fact that the cut in spending will not be shared equally and fairly amongst councils in Wales. In north Wales, Conwy, Anglesey and Flintshire will all see their funding cut by 1 per cent—the highest cuts in Wales. My own authority of Conwy has already had to make £48 million in savings over the past six years and is now looking to find £16 million just to stay in business. Yet Rhondda Cynon Taf and Labour-run Cardiff have seen increases of 0.3 per cent. With £370 million coming from the UK Conservative Government to better fund our public services, many here in Wales consider this latest settlement to be a tribal and lazy approach by a Welsh Labour Government. What other excuse could you possibly provide for such an unfair and inequitable local government settlement?
Dirprwy Lywydd, the Member really should withdraw her accusation that the funding formula for local government in Wales is somehow tribal in nature. She knows that it is not. The funding formula is agreed every year with local government. I sat in the finance subgroup, where local authority leaders—[Interruption.]—no, no, local authority leaders agreed on the latest set of changes to the formula. By and large, those changes were ones that favoured more rural parts of Wales because they added an additional increment to the recognition of sparsity in the way that the formula operates. Welsh Government does not set the formula. It is set on expert advice and it is agreed by local government. The reason why Conwy has found a decrease in funding this year is because it has fewer people unemployed in its area than it did this time last year, it has fewer secondary school pupils than it did this time last year, and it has fewer children claiming free school meals in its primary schools. There is nothing tribal about any one of those factors. They are all empirical measures, they feed their way into the formula, and, every year, some local authorities see a benefit and some local authorities find that they are less so, and Conwy council is no doubt grateful for the fact that, in order to help that council address the changes in the formula, the Welsh Government will provide £513,000 more in funding to that council next year—not as they do where you are in charge, by taking money from some councils and giving it to others, but through central funding that this Government provides to provide the funding floor.
Although I don't think the taxpayers in Conwy will enjoy an increase of 11 per cent in council tax either—but that is something that is currently being considered. I raised a question with the Cabinet Secretary for public services last week, given the huge, painful pressures on local authorities now, as to whether he was confident that arrangements were in place by Government—that there was a process in place—to deal with the situation, should such a situation arise, of a council in Wales going bust, as we've seen happen in England. That’s something he admitted that they are looking at and developing at the moment. Can I ask you the same question: from a finance perspective, in terms of the budget you're responsible for, are you confident that you have the necessary arrangements in place should such a situation arise?
Thank you to Llyr Gruffydd for the question. As he said, Janet Finch-Saunders didn't raise this afternoon the possibility of an 11 per cent increase in council tax in Conwy, where the majority of people in the cabinet in that authority are members of the Conservative Party, so we'll see what will happen there. In general, I have spoken more than once with Alun Davies on the subject that Llyr raised. We are confident that we have things ready where we can be aware of where in the system local authorities are concerned for the future.
I think it is worth saying, Dirprwy Lywydd, that, despite those genuine anxieties, and I have real—. I take very seriously the things that local authorities say to me about the pressures that they face nine years into austerity. Nevertheless, revenue spending by local government in Wales last year grew by 1.3 per cent—it didn't fall at all; it grew by 1.3 per cent—and capital funding by local authorities in Wales last year grew by 5.5 per cent. And, difficult as things are for us all, trying to provide public services with falling resources and growing demand, that is the background against which this year's local authority settlement has been laid.
4. What effect has the 6 per cent land transaction tax rate had on tax revenue from commercial property transactions of over £1 million since April 2018? OAQ52724
Dirprwy Lywydd, it is too early to draw any conclusions about the potential effects of land transaction tax on the commercial property market. Only five months of data has been published by the Welsh Revenue Authority. And, of course, as I've said many times in this Chamber, the Welsh Government will continue to monitor the situation.
Yes, well, the Cabinet Secretary is no doubt aware that the land transaction tax base is commercial property transactions, and, according to the CoStar review of commercial property investment for the second quarter, which, I understand, surveys all commercial transactions above that size and many more across the UK, the total amount of commercial property investment in Wales in the second quarter was just £40 million. That is a 78 per cent decline compared to the five-year average. Is it not the case that, as night follows day, that collapse in commercial property transactions is going to lead to a collapse in commercial tax revenues on the LTT thanks to your 6 per cent supertax?
Llywydd, that really is about as nonsensical a contribution as you're likely to hear this afternoon. The Member takes a single quarter—a single quarter—and proceeds to build castles on it far into the future.
It's in your budget for this year; you're relying on them.
Let me give him a different example of commercial property transactions here in Cardiff in the third quarter, where, in Cardiff, the largest office tower, Capital Tower, was sold last month for £25 million. This is what the seller's agent said:
'Over recent years Cardiff has cemented its position as a major regional centre in the UK.... We capitalised on this here with more than 10 inspections of the building from potential purchasers, creating a highly competitive bidding environment which enabled the end result to be achieved.'
From the man who offers me one quarter—from the man who offers me one quarter's worth of figures. So—[Interruption.] Yes, but what he would like to do, he would like to take one quarter and then tell me that the rest of the world is falling about our ears. I offer him one transaction from the succeeding quarter, which is the single greatest sum ever paid for a commercial building here in Wales, and where the buyer's agent said:
'The fast moving Cardiff office market has meant quality office investment stock like Capital Tower is so hard to buy.'
It does not sound to me to be the views of people put off from investing in Wales. Dirprwy Lywydd, if there were to be anything that would have an impact on commercial property in Wales, it's not 1 per cent added to a tax, it's his plans for a hard-line Brexit that will bring property prices in commercial and residential property crashing around our ears.
5. What negotiations have taken place to ensure that post-Brexit structural funds will be managed by the Welsh Government? OAQ52725
Both the First Minister and I have repeatedly raised this matter with UK Ministers. I will do so again at the finance Ministers' quadrilateral attended by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Wednesday of next week.
Picking up on the fair funding of local government, here in Wales we have a really transparent formula, but the research from Cambridge University published yesterday indicates that there's been a land grab by Tory shires, paid for by the poor in the post-industrial areas of the north of England. So, places like Liverpool, Gateshead and Wigan have suffered up to 50 per cent cuts in local government spending, compared with the leafy shires that have merely suffered single-digit cuts in their funding.
Now, this does not bode well for the way in which the UK shared prosperity fund is going to be operated, if it's going to be done through pork-barrel politics, because it's been crucial—[Interruption.] It's been crucial that—. The EU structural funds have been absolutely vital in creating thousands of jobs, getting thousands of people into employment. The reason we have the largest amount of money from Europe is because we are the most deprived area, and that continues to need to be the case in the way that this so-called shared prosperity fund is going to be operated. So, what assurances, Cabinet Secretary, can you give us that the UK Government recognises that, under the Wales Act 2017, economic development and regeneration is not a reserved matter? And how are we going to resolve this major constitutional and financial issue?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I thank the Member for that question. She's quite right that the Cambridge University study published earlier this week suggests that it is devolved powers that have allowed Scottish and Welsh Governments to mitigate the harshest cuts experienced in local government in England, where they describe 'intensifying territorial injustice' as the guiding principle of UK Ministers' actions.
On the shared prosperity fund, while I disagreed with what was said earlier by Steffan Lewis when he conflated the shared prosperity fund and the inter-governmental agreement, when there is no relationship between the two, I did agree with the substantive point that he was making. Wales gets money through the European Union because we have a need that that money is there to meet. It is for UK Ministers to deliver on the promise that members of the governing party there made in the referendum: it was a cast-iron guarantee, as I remember, that Wales would not lose out a penny from—[Interruption.] Not a penny—a cast-iron guarantee that Wales would not lose out. So, we must make sure that the money that comes to Wales today delivers on that promise that was made, and, secondly, it must come to Wales. It must come under the control of this Assembly. That must be guaranteed. The shared prosperity fund consultation should be England only, just as the consultation on common agricultural policy reform was an England-only consultation. That, I think, is consistent with the conclusions drawn by the Finance Committee and by the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee when they looked at this matter. When I go to London tomorrow, and again next week, then, together with Scottish colleagues, I will be making that abundantly clear.
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the fiscal prospects that underpin the draft budget? OAQ52722
Thank you for the question. The chief economist’s report, published alongside the budget, makes it clear that fiscal prospects across the UK remain very challenging, especially in the uncertainty created by Brexit. Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, alongside the UK budget on 29 October, will provide a further update of prospects before our final budget is laid in December.
Thank you for that reply, Cabinet Secretary, and, indeed, the chief economist actually did state our fiscal position, and I quote. He said we will:
'depend in part on the approach taken by the UK Government to funding the recently-announced increase in spending for the NHS in England.'
It's therefore obvious to me that the consequential increase in NHS spending must be fully funded when it reaches Wales, and we can have no more of these unfunded and uncosted UK Government announcements. Indeed, given the other pressures identified in the chief economist's analysis and, ironically, raised by a number of Welsh Conservative Members today—who seem to spend more time attacking you and the Welsh Government than they do lobbying the UK Government for more and better funding settlements for Wales—would you agree with me that the people of Wales will not forgive the Tories if they let us down yet again on this matter?
Well, I thank Dawn Bowden for that question. Let me repeat, Dirprwy Lywydd, what I said during the budget debate here. On paper, we have, apparently, £365 million as a consequential of the announcement made back in July on the seventieth anniversary of the NHS. We're still to have a net figure from the Treasury. They are unable to tell us how much of that money will actually come to Wales and how much of it will be lost in cuts to other devolved budgets.
What we do know is that half that money was spent before it even crossed the border. Of that £365 million, the UK Government spent £95 million when they concluded an agreement for 'Agenda for Change' staff. They then told us, a week before our draft budget, that they'd also spent £74 million of the money they were sending us on changes to pensions that they were introducing. So, before a single pound has made it our way, half of it has been spent by Conservative Ministers in decisions that were made nowhere near Wales. None of that was said by the Prime Minister when she announced her birthday present for the NHS, and Dawn Bowden is absolutely right to say that we have to watch like hawks the way in which this Government claims to give money with one hand, only, with complete sleight of hand, ends up taking it away with the other.
Thank you. And finally, question 7, Mandy Jones.
7. What consideration does the Cabinet Secretary give to supporting the eradication of homelessness in allocating funding to the local government and public services portfolio? OAQ52726
Dirprwy Lywydd, we will invest an additional £10 million in the current financial year to tackle homelessness. The draft budget for 2019-20 repeats that £10 million and adds a further £10 million specifically to tackle youth homelessness, making a total of £30 million in new investment in this vitally important area.
Thank you for that answer. Cabinet Secretary, I return today to the matter of rough sleeping; it is not going away. Indeed, we heard yesterday that 65 rough sleepers have died in the last year in the UK. I know that Wrexham has previously been reported as having the highest number of rough sleepers in Wales. Last week, my staff attended the launch of a prototype sleep pod in Newport, designed by Amazing Grace Spaces. These are designed in Wales, made in Wales, providing jobs and upskilling in Wales. I've seen the design and heard about how this sort of scheme could work, providing secure and warm beds for the night, but also providing the support services that those sleeping rough may need to get them back on their feet. Cabinet Secretary, funding and vision are needed. Will the Welsh Government provide the former and demonstrate the latter?
I thank the Member for her question, which had a number of very important points in it. First of all, she's absolutely right, I think, to say that rough sleeping is a phenomenon of austerity. It is a desperate—desperate—judgement on the current UK Government that we have seen the rise in the number of people—[Interruption.] Can you imagine a country—
Thank you. Thank you.
—that is the fifth richest country on the face of the globe and has had a Government that has been prepared to tolerate the conditions in which we see more and more people forced to live on our streets? It is an indictment, a visible, everyday indictment of the policies that have been pursued.
Against that background, as Mandy Jones said, the solutions are a mixture of physical infrastructure, the need for more places for people, but, by itself, rough sleeping is not amenable simply to a housing solution, because so many of those people who find themselves in those circumstances have, along the way, accumulated any number of other difficulties in their lives, and they need help to deal with those matters, too.
The Newport example that she cited sounds very interesting. I'm sure that it is known to my colleague the Minister for Housing and Regeneration. She recently, for example, visited Wrexham in north Wales, which Mandy Jones mentioned, in order to see some innovative arrangements that are being put in place there. I've had a recent discussion with the Minister about the plans she has for using the additional money that is now available to her in this very important area, and I don't think I'm letting anything out of the bag in saying that her general approach is to invest more money in those examples that are there already, and we know are succeeding, and then to invest further funds in innovative solutions that we've not been able to attempt so far, and which this additional investment will now unlock.
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.
Item 2 on the agenda this afternoon is questions to the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip. The first question is from Nick Ramsay.
1. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on superfast broadband in Monmouth? OAQ52708
The Superfast Cymru scheme facilitated the roll-out of superfast broadband access to over 5,490 homes and businesses across the town of Monmouth, investing just over £1.68 million. Average speeds across the county of Monmouthshire are over 95 Mbps.
That was the Monmouth constituency, as you rightly judged again, leader of the house. I've spoken to a number of residents recently who were at the public meeting that you attended a couple of weeks ago in Llanddewi Rhydderch, in a very rural part of my constituency. As you will be aware—it was along with the local county councillor, Sara Jones, I should say. As you are aware, there is a very poor broadband service in that area, and residents are looking for some solutions from the superfast broadband roll-out. I wonder if you could provide an update to me today on any developments in the wake of that meeting, and whether you have made any progress in getting a better broadband service to people in that area.
Yes, it was a very positive meeting, actually, and discussed quite a few innovative solutions that both we could do in co-operation with Monmouthshire council itself, and actually with a group of the residents who are very keen on looking to see if they could have a bespoke solution for their particular community. That does give me the opportunity to say to everybody in the Chamber—no doubt I'll say it quite often during the course of my questions, Deputy Presiding Officer—that we are very keen on supporting innovative community solutions across Wales where there are communities of people who are happy to look at those solutions. The team that facilitates that is engaged in that at the moment.
2. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the development of 5G in North Wales? OAQ52727
Yes, I've appointed Innovation Point to advise, stimulate and co-ordinate activity on 5G across the whole of Wales.
Thank you for that answer. I note from a headline last week that Welsh Government has commissioned advice on the roll-out of 5G in Wales. I hear terms like 'superfast' and 'ultrafast' and, frankly, the mobile coverage and broadband speeds in my region don't seem to live up to either of those names. Can you tell me whether 5G will enable a uniformity of service and speed across my region, or will it just reinforce the different levels of service between the haves and have-nots across north Wales?
Unfortunately, mobile technology isn't devolved to Wales. If it were I would be able to answer that question in a much more simple fashion. But we are engaged with the UK Government to discuss exactly how the spectrum sales of 5G will be sold, and much will pivot on how they are in fact sold in the end. And that's why we have Innovation Point looking at a whole series of innovative test-beds for 5G so that we can get the evidence together to influence the UK Government's approach to 5G technology when it finally goes onto the market.
Earlier this year, leader of the house, I was in rural parts of western Kenya and I have to say, I was appalled at the fact that their mobile signal seemed to much better than it is in some parts of my own constituency in Clwyd West. So, I'm wondering what action you can take, given the devolved powers that you have over the permitted development rights in terms of the heights of the telephony masts that we have around Wales, to, actually, give a better opportunity for those masts to reach into some deep rural parts of the country in the future by lifting the height restrictions that are currently in place in terms of the planning system?
Yes, the Member will be aware that we went out for consultation on the changes to the permitted development rights and I am expecting to be able to announce the results of that very shortly. Deputy Presiding Officer, I have an oral statement next week—it's very unfortunate that it's timed this way around. But I am hoping—I'm not certain, but I'm hoping to have some announcements to make. It's the Cabinet Secretary for planning's area, but I'm hoping to be able to tell Members what the outcome of that was by that time.
It was good to hear that Monmouthshire is going to play a part in the UK Government's rural test-bed for 5G. Cardiff is receiving funds for a local full-fibre network. We know about the first compound semiconductor centre that's going to be based in south Wales and, of course, we know about the Welsh Government's Tech Valleys strategic plan. So, there is a lot of focus and a lot of investment happening, not only from your Government, but from the UK Government, in terms of south Wales. But what more can we do to make sure that areas in north Wales and other parts of Wales aren't always a bit of a second thought that keep having to catch up?
They certainly aren't. Myddelton College, the first Microsoft school in north Wales, is currently benefiting from 5G wireless technology, which the rest of the UK won't start seeing until 2020. So, they're well ahead. College pupils there are working on tablets allowing real-time interaction with teachers for lessons and marking. The school estimates it will save around £100,000 a year on printing paper and pens. So we have got test-beds around Wales, actually, looking at different systems. There are complex ways of financing those, but they are spread across Wales, but deliberately so, and we're very keen on looking to see that we have test-beds in very rural areas, in semi-rural areas, in city and rural areas, and so on, because we know that the technology will have different problems and issues and different benefits in all of those areas. So, we've been very keen to make sure that we have a spread.
We now turn to the party spokespeople, and the first this afternoon for the leader of the house is the Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
Thank you and good afternoon.
Your responsibilities, as you know, include covering the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and human rights in relation to UN conventions. The Equality Act 2010 requires service—
[Inaudible.]—the beginning of that. I'm very sorry, Mark Isherwood, I didn't hear what you started saying. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to repeat it.
I shall repeat it. I'll speak a little bit slower. Your responsibilities include equality, covering the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and human rights in relation to UN conventions. The Equality Act 2010 requires that service providers must think ahead and take steps to address barriers that impede disabled people and states you should not wait until a disabled person experiences difficulties using a service.
The Welsh Government incorporated the UN convention on the rights of disabled people into the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 Part 2 code of practice, which said that
'Local authorities must seek to empower people to produce innovative solutions'
through local networks and communities, and that this
'means putting robust arrangements in place to secure involvement of people in the design and operation of services.'
Now, I've raised this question with Welsh Government Ministers many times: what action will the Welsh Government take to address the growing concern, distress and damage being caused when those very public agencies are failing to carry out those responsibilities and duties? I'll give you just a couple of examples. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Flintshire gave its contract for disability support services to outside agencies, not the agency FDF Centre for Independent Living, on which the local disability community depends, who told me at their AGM that they had not been involved in the decision. The news today from Wrexham, that a number of social businesses providing work for disabled people are set to close, but no reference whatsoever to designing and delivering with the communities affected. We know about the Conwy deaf community having to go to ombudsmen after their British Sign Language services were withdrawn. And, of course, concern in Cardiff that Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru has had to pull back services from its one-stop shop, despite the autism community locally saying they weren't consulted and that they absolutely depend upon those services. So, given your responsibilities in these areas, how will you now ensure that the Welsh Government intervenes to help these local authorities understand better what they must do, and also how that will not only benefit disabled people, but also, ultimately, save them money and help them manage their budgets better?
I'm not aware of all of the details of some of those examples, and I'd be very grateful if Mark Isherwood would kindly pass them on to me; I am aware of some of them. There are three things to say about that. Where somebody has signed up to the ethical code of procurement practice, then they ought to comply with it, and I'll be taking those up with the local authorities in question where that's been breached. It's not a matter for the Government exactly how they carry out the procurements, as long as they do it in line with the guidance. And we will be issuing a new set of guidelines—action on disability—towards the end of November, certainly before the end of the Christmas term, and that will address some of the issues that he raises there, in terms of duties on local authorities and enforcement. That has been very much developed in consultation with disability communities around Wales. It will go out as a consultation, and I very much hope that we will be able to reach a conclusion, alongside our disabled citizens, that suits their needs. And that's very much how we've designed that, in order to facilitate those things.
Thank you. Well, I hope that will help local authorities and health boards to better understand how to reconcile their procurement obligations with their obligations to design and deliver services for local people, because there is a conflict between the two.
Again, noting your responsibilities, you know that the Welsh Government's 'A Healthier Wales: our Plan for Health and Social Care' has an ambition to bring health and social care services together, so they're designed and delivered again around the needs and preferences of individuals. And the Welsh Government itself says,
'We may also need to change how we pay for health and social care services.'
Again, noting your responsibilities, how do you respond to, again, a growing concern raised with me of local authorities removing direct payments from people, in discussion with health boards, who are then being moved on to continuing health care? They're losing their independence, they're losing their ability to live in their own homes, sometimes with support, and frequently ending up being told through the health support that they're going to have to go into some sort of statutory residential provision, or commissioned care, rather than having their own front door. And this is exacerbated by a Welsh Government requirement that personal budgets must not be pooled, unlike in Scotland and England, which prevents a local authority pooling the direct payments with the continuing health care budget. How, then, is the Welsh Government going to enable people affected by this to continue to live independently, rather than being forced to lose voice, choice and control over their own lives?
Actually, that's not in my portfolio area, but I do have extensive discussions with the Cabinet Secretary over it. There's a complex set of issues there that Mark Isherwood raises—quite rightly so. It's not my understanding that that's the outcome of the change, but it isn't my portfolio area, so I'll have to write to him, because I'll have to consult with my Cabinet Secretary colleague who is the portfolio holder for that particular fund.
Well, given your responsibility for the Equality Act 2010 and the UN convention, I would argue that you have some overarching responsibility, although clearly it's not your departmental responsibility.
I do; I'm not arguing that I don't. I have had those discussions with the Cabinet Secretary, but I don't have the detail that you're asking for, as it's not my portfolio responsibility.
Right. And finally, again, a similar question, relating to another part of your responsibility areas: the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, Fairground, Circus-folk, Show-people and Bargees community. They've issued a notice of a training day in Cardiff on 5 December, and I'm wondering how you respond to this, which is within the information on the notice that's gone out:
'The...workshop will focus upon the current policy initiatives associated with the "Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales, 2015)" have left behind the Romani and Traveller communities of Wales, particularly in terms of the "Well-being Assessments" carried out by the Public Services Boards established by the Act and the recent review of these by Netherwood, Flynn and Lang (2017) for the Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe. These crucial processes have ignored the needs of Romani and Traveller people in "planning today for a better tomorrow"'.
I don't accept that, I have to say. We've got three plans in train for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller citizens of Wales. The Welsh Government published the 'Enabling Gypsies, Roma and Travellers' plan on 28 June, which built on the work that we'd undertaken since 2012 around accommodation, education, health and community participation. It introduced new commitments on employment and training as well as building bridges with social services and criminal justice agencies.
We also introduced the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments and they've identified unmet need for 237 residential and 33 transit pitches across Wales. We're currently in the process of undertaking a second annual review of those assessments and we're encouraging local authorities to work with Gypsy and Traveller communities to develop their own small private sites, and that's including liaising with planning authorities and getting the right planning consents in place.
The Member will know, because we've had quite a lot of discussions around how the Gypsy and Traveller site capital grant links to those assessments and the assistance that we're looking to give, both to local authorities and to individual groups where that's appropriate. During 2017-18, for example, £3.4 million of funding was invested in extending the existing site in Gwynedd, creating an additional five pitches, a nine-pitch site in Newport, a two-pitch site extension in Powys and a refurbishment project at several sites in Pembrokeshire. So, we're in very direct contact with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and the liaison has been very good, and the response very good to those plans.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Siân Gwenllian.
Thank you very much. You will recall that an attempt to scrap the regulations on the distribution of temporary blue badges was one of the first debates in the fifth Assembly. At that point, we on this side of the Chamber supported you on the basis that having a deficient scheme for the blue badges was better than having no scheme at all. But the deficiencies of that new scheme are now becoming more and more apparent, and these are the problems that we had anticipated, of course.
We see that requests for badges are being denied to people and people are losing their independence as a result because their health is expected to recover in less than 12 months. Institutions that help disabled people to apply for these blue badges are being asked to sign legal documents, which places the burden of proof of this 12-month rule on these organisations, with the possibility of hefty fines if they make errors or mistakes—namely helping someone who only needs a wheelchair for 11 months rather than 12 months perhaps. Do you think therefore that it is time now to look at improving this scheme, so that these charities wouldn’t have to face policing their own clients?
Thank you for raising that, Siân Gwenllian. I'm afraid that that also isn't directly in my portfolio area, although I have had many conversations with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport. I'm not actually familiar with the issue around the charities' applications that you raised there, so I'd be very grateful if you'd write to me and I'll ensure that I'll have that conversation with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport.
Thank you very much for that. It’s a little odd that an issue that is fundamentally about equality is in another portfolio, but I will write to you on that.
I will continue to ask questions on blue badges because it’s becoming more and more apparent that over the past decade the attitudes of governments towards disabled people have veered towards placing criteria that are much harsher and processes that are far more bureaucratic, where they are required to prove their disability in order to access their rights. Unless that proof is provided, they are seen as being misleading. You’re very familiar with the personal independence payments, namely that a high number of decisions go against disabled people and that these decisions are often overturned at appeal. Indeed, there are a number of Members in this Chamber who have fought against the Westminster Government on these policies. But blue badges are within your control as a Government and our casework highlights that the exact same thing that is happening with PIP is also happening with the blue badges. I have constituents who have been rejected without face-to-face assessment, people with respiratory problems who have been refused blue badges because they don’t use walking aids for the few steps that they can take before they're out of breath, and a number of others facing a very harsh interpretation of the rules until they get through a successful appeal. So, is your Government at risk of falling into the same trap as has happened with PIP payments, namely making people who apply for blue badges feel that the system is against them?
I very much hope not. Just to explain, I don't have direct portfolio responsibility for a large number of areas that impact on equalities, because equalities impact on everything. So, I have some direct portfolio responsibilities. But, what I do have responsibility for is ensuring that those equalities duties and obligations are carried out by all of my Cabinet Secretary colleagues. So, I'm not in any way trying to abrogate my responsibility for it; I'm just saying I don't have the detail with me because that detail is held by the Cabinet Secretary.
Having said all of that, the reason I explained that is because I very much want to see the social model of disability embraced throughout Wales, and that is where we do not ask the disabled person to do anything that anybody else wouldn't be asked to do. We simply look to remove the barriers facing that person in accessing all of the aspects of society that they need to access. So, I'm very happy to undertake to go away and speak with the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the scheme to ensure that we are not doing that.
I too am very vehemently opposed to the way that the PIP assessments have been carried out. I have many constituents who face similar problems. So, I will undertake to go away and speak with the Cabinet Secretary, because if that's happening it really ought not to be.
Thank you for that. There’s one other aspect that I’d like you to discuss with the Cabinet Secretary for the economy, therefore, namely the guidance that is related to organisations that own minibuses that use blue badges. The regulations and the guidance have been drafted poorly and an organisation that would hope to take disabled people out on day trips and so on will have difficulty with the whole system of accessing a blue badge for their minibus or whatever vehicle they use. The problem lies in the drafting of the regulations and that then creates a problem for the local authorities in the way they are considered and there is a lack of clarity.
So, can I ask you to also look at that issue? I do think it’s important. I do compare it with what has happened with PIP payments, and I’m sure you would agree with me that that isn’t the way we want to do things here in Wales.
I absolutely do agree with you that that isn't the way we want to do things here. I will certainly take that up with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport. Indeed, Siân Gwenllian, I'd be very grateful if you'd come to a meeting, if I broker it, between the three of us so that we can discuss the detail.
The UKIP spokesperson, David Rowlands.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Leader of the house, Innovation Point, Wales's leading digital business growth agency announced last week the first meeting of an extra group set up to prepare and shape a coherent national 5G programme in Wales. This will support the wider 5G UK ecosystem and help to position Wales as a world leader in the development and delivery of 5G. Can you give an update on this announcement, leader of the house?
Yes. As I explained in answer to an earlier question, we're extremely keen to support the development of 5G, including a very large number of test beds across Wales. We're looking to test innovative solutions across the various aspects of Welsh society so that we can show what 5G can do in different circumstances and given different criteria. We're very keen indeed, for example, to ensure that in areas where there's no 4G coverage that people don't have to climb a ladder and that they're able to leapfrog up from 0G, frankly, in some areas right up to the top. To that end, we've been having a lot of discussions around how that can be facilitated. That is all tied up with the way the spectrum sale will be done by the UK Government in the end. So, the Member will have heard me talk about the way that 4G was sold off. There's no end to the use of that. I'd like to see that like a planning consent, so if you haven't used it in five years it reverts to the public sector so that we can use it. Whereas in fact what's happened is it's been sold to the private operator and I can't get it back. I very much wish I could.
I thank the leader of the house for that answer. It is encouraging, leader of the house, to see that Wales is already establishing itself as a leader in the area of digital innovation through initiatives like the compound semiconductor cluster based in my own South Wales East constituency. Fifth generation technology will undoubtedly be an enabler of new technologies, which can only support and accelerate wider digital opportunities across Wales. What further plans have the Government put in place to take advantage of this new vital technology?
Yes, as you said, I've recently agreed with Innovation Point that they will advise on, stimulate and exploit opportunities in the emerging 5G landscape, co-ordinate the work of all key stakeholders and delivery partners, and establish appropriate governance frameworks for that activity.
There's a large number of projects going on around Wales. I mentioned the one in the college, for example. We're also doing it as part of the automotive technology park planned in Ebbw Vale. A very large part of the digital infrastructure proposal for the Swansea bay city region is focused on 5G, and the Cardiff city deal is also looking at it.
I say to the Member that we're very keen to ride that wave, and there's no reason at all why we wouldn't be one of the absolute forerunner take-up nations for that. I should also say to the Member, though, that there are lots of other exciting technologies that don't have quite the buzz, if you like, of 5G. So, all of the way around Wales, we are looking at very effective use of something called long-range wide-area network technology, which is very low frequency. The devices have a hugely long battery life as a result, and they can monitor all kinds of things that give us really useful data around social isolation, for example. So, there is a large number of other technologies that we're taking a very keen interest in as well.
I thank the leader of the house for that enlightening answer. Can I now turn to another matter, which I know you take extremely seriously—that of bullying, particularly in the context of schools? Given the recent tragic incident in St John Lloyd Catholic Comprehensive School in Llanelli, where a young boy, Bradley John, suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, committed suicide whilst on the school premises due to bullying, is the leader of the house content that all schools are treating bullying in an appropriate manner? I understand that the bullying that the boy's parents had complained of on numerous occasions was simply logged as 'incidents'.
We have a very extensive programme of anti-bullying—again, in conjunction with my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Education, who has responsibility for the schools programme. We support a large number of curriculum developments. We've recently supported the healthy relationships and sexual relationships roll-out for the guidelines there. We support, for example, Stonewall Cymru's Come out for LGBT campaigns, and we also work very closely with a large number of other organisations that have members who particularly experience hate crimes, to ensure that our schools are very safe places, as well as the rest of our society. So, we have a very large and extensive framework that schools must comply with in order to ensure that we don't have that sort of behaviour.
Thank you. We'll return to questions on the order paper. Question 3, Paul Davies.
3. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on the latest roll-out of broadband in Preseli Pembrokeshire? OAQ52707
Although we do not hold information specifically relating to Preseli, I can confirm that the Superfast Cymru scheme provided access to fast fibre broadband to over 60,470 homes and businesses in Pembrokeshire, delivering average speeds of over 77 Mbps and investing £15.7 million.
I'm grateful to the leader of the house for also attending a public meeting in my constituency earlier this year to discuss my constituents' concerns regarding broadband. She will be in no doubt about the frustrations that my constituents feel in being unable to access sufficient broadband service. I appreciate that she will be making a statement on the new contract next week, but can she reassure my constituents that communities like Mynachlog-ddu will no longer be left behind, and that this new contract will, in fact, deliver a sufficient broadband service for communities such as Mynachlog-ddu?
As I said at the meeting—thank you for inviting me, and, as usual, I say to Members where I haven't gone that I'm very happy to go to communities; they're always very useful—the meeting was very useful. It allows me to explain why we are where we are and what's actually happening, and also to understand at first hand some of the frustrations. I think your meeting was no exception. It's very nice when there are one or two people there whose problem we can solve instantly, as well, which is always lovely, and there were, I think, a couple in the room on that occasion.
So, what I will say is exactly what I said at the meeting, which is that if the properties there are not included in the actual contract that's rolled out—and I'm not able to say anything about that until I make the statement, unfortunately, but, as I said to you, we've asked for specific properties so that we don't have some of the comms problems we had with the first phase of superfast—then we will know if they aren't, and we will have an innovative pot of finance specifically to get to communities that are not specifically targeted in those contracts. So, one way or the other, we'll be able to work out a solution. Fast fibre broadband might not be the solution, but we will get fast internet into people's homes.
Thank you for your response to Paul Davies. You'll obviously be aware, leader of the house, that rural businesses are particularly impacted when they're unable to access effective broadband services, and this has an ongoing effect on the rural economy. Can you reassure us that, when you're rolling out the new contract—and I appreciate you can't say much in detail about that today—you will be ensuring that all businesses are enabled to access the broadband services that they badly need in Pembrokeshire and in the rest of mid and west Wales?
Yes, so, as I said in response to Paul Davies, you’ll be able to see, once we have the contracts, which premises are and are not included, because we’ve deliberately tendered it in that way. I would encourage business—. I have this conversation—and I’m not sure that I’ve visited alongside you, Helen Mary, so perhaps we should facilitate that as well—and, as I explain, quite often it’s frustrating because businesses wait until the superfast programme gets to them, only to discover that actually it’s not adequate. We run a voucher scheme specifically aimed at businesses and we have a business exploitation team who are very happy to speak to any business about their actual requirements and what the best way of satisfying those is. So, if you do have people who are not in the contract, or actually even if they are, and if you think that they’re underestimating their need for broadband services, then I’m very happy to facilitate the exploitation team coming out to speak to the individual businesses by way of doing it.
Deputy Presiding Officer, if you would just indulge me for a minute, I want to give the example because it’s very common across Wales, so if people are listening, they can hear it: if you run a tourism business and you wait for Superfast Cymru, but you expect more than 40 devices to connect to your system, which is probably 10 people or 20 people at the absolute outside in today’s world, it will not be adequate. So, you need to do something more and so you should contact the business exploitation team.
4. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote digital collaboration between the public and private sectors? OAQ52730
The Welsh Government works closely with the Welsh tech sector to promote opportunities arising from the digitisation of public sector services.
Thank you, leader of the house. Last week, I attended a digital know-how seminar in Newport, along with representatives of over 75 local charities, SMEs and small businesses. The event was one of many which Lloyds Banking Group have held as part of their pledge to train 2.5 million individuals, SMEs and charities in digital skills by 2020, and this follows some research that found that 55 per cent of Welsh small businesses don't have a website and that only 26 per cent feel they have skills to prevent online fraud and scams. A key aim of the event was to encourage those attending to share knowledge, experience and best practice from their respective fields. So, how is Welsh Government working with employers to equip people with the digital skills needed for the benefit of individuals, SMEs, charities and the public sector?
Yes, it's an excellent question. We're working very hard with the private sector to increase support for people to engage with technology as a way to improve their lives. It's a priority area stated within our digital inclusion forward look document. The ability of large national organisations to highlight digital inclusion to wide audiences plays a crucial role in helping to raise awareness, and the event that the Member attended is a very good example of that, actually. Our digital inclusion programme, Digital Communities Wales, works with NatWest, Barclays and Lloyds to better co-ordinate digital inclusion activities across communities for that reason, because they have a big, wide reach across customer and staff bases. We also, through links with the Trades Union Congress and Digital Communities Wales, encourage organisations such as Tesco to consider their digitally excluded customers, whilst ensuring staff have an opportunity to also learn basic digital skills. We use Business Wales's bilingual support service to make it easier for Welsh microbusinesses and SMEs, including social enterprises and aspiring entrepreneurs, to access the information, advice and support they require to start and grow their business. So, I would say to any small Welsh SME that feels that they're in that situation to contact Business Wales and to get the support that they need to get online.
Research, Deputy Presiding Officer, from Welsh researchers shows that businesses that do get online have an exponential growth in their businesses compared to those who do not, and the research is very compelling that businesses that don't embrace the digital world are really struggling to survive.
Leader of the house, on 18 July, I raised my concerns with you that organisations with proven track records in the UK and throughout Europe for their work on digitising and streamlining public services were struggling to gain access to the Welsh Government. You said in response, and I quote:
'I'm very happy to be the conduit into Government if anybody's experiencing that difficulty. Deputy Presiding Officer, I'm always astonished when I say this, but I'll say it again here in the Chamber: my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. It's astonishing to me how few people take up that opportunity. I'd very much welcome contact from anyone who thinks they can improve public services.'
Now, I'm aware of at least one significant company that took you up on this offer. They contacted you on 18 August by e-mail, they've followed it up with two telephone calls so far into your department and they've not yet received a basic reply let alone any further comment on an appointment or even requesting more details of the services that they offer, and this is for digital streamlining in the NHS. Please can you do something to break this inertia within Welsh Government because we could be missing out on really fantastic ideas to streamline our public services?
Yes, well, I'm very sorry to hear that. I was not aware of that. I'd very much welcome the details of that outside the Chamber and I'll follow it up. I wasn't inundated, unfortunately, with e-mails that I'm aware of. That one clearly slipped through the net. So, I make the same offer again, but I will certainly follow that up. I'm very sorry to hear that and we'll sort it out.
5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to tackle gender-based bullying? OAQ52720
Yes, bullying, whether in schools, workplaces or communities, is just unacceptable. We work closely with a wide range of partners, including school staff, the police, refuges, Stonewall Cymru and Victim Support Cymru, to tackle gender-based violence, intimidation and bullying. This includes a strong focus on education and awareness-raising campaigns.
Thank you for that answer, leader of the house. The increasing instances of online gender-based and homophobic bullying are having a huge impact upon young people in Wales. This week, we learnt that a gay minister is facing repeated online abuse, mostly calls for him to kill himself. Young women are being put off entering politics due to constant torrents of abuse and rape threats they face on social media, and social media bullying has been linked to an increase in child suicide. Leader of the house, what more can you and your colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Education do to help put an end to this type of misery?
Yes, the cross-Government delivery framework on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence sets out what we are doing and will be doing to meet the objectives contained in the national strategy on violence against women, domestic violence and sexual violence. Objective 3 is particularly focused on increasing awareness in children and young people of the importance of safe, equal and healthy relationships and that abusive behaviour is also wrong. We've been running two very successful campaigns. The This is Me campaign is trying to make sure that people don't accept gender stereotyping. I hope you've all seen it. It's been one of the most successful in terms of range and reach across Wales that we've ever run and it's been very popular with a number of the colleges and schools that I've visited. I was very privileged to launch it down in Rebecca Evans's constituency, actually, in Gower College, with a large number of very enthusiastic young people who were very keen to come out of the gender stereotypes. I hope you have seen it. It shows a range of things that always make me smile. An enormous piece of equipment pulls up and a person wearing the most beautiful pink wellies you ever saw gets out—obviously an expert driver of this huge piece of machinery and not at all what our unconscious bias would lead us to expect, and there's a male midwife featured there, there's a woman mechanic, but there are also people in their gender stereotypes, because actually there's nothing wrong with that if that's what suits you. So, the purpose of the campaign is to say that you should be the person you want to be, and if that conforms to a gender stereotype, fine, and if it doesn't, that's also fine. It's been very well received and it goes alongside our healthy relationships work, because we know that when people are trying to live up to a gender stereotype that doesn't suit them, that's when a lot of the problems start to occur. So, we've got a large number of programmes aimed at that.
We've got our Don't Be A Bystander campaign, which I hope you've also seen, which encourages people to take action where they see something that might look a bit weird to them and just to say something. We had very powerful testimony from some of the survivors there. Actually, it moved me to tears on one occasion, where one woman said that she was seen coming out of her shed early in the morning in her pyjamas by her neighbour, and her neighbour just said, 'Is everything okay?', because that seemed a bit odd to her, and she said that was the catalyst for her to think, 'No, it really isn't.' So, she said, 'Yes, it was'—this is her testimony, not mine—to the neighbour, but it made her realise that it wasn't, just that one little thing.
So, we've rolled out our 'ask and act' policies. Very large numbers of people have been trained now—if I flip through my papers, I can tell you: I think it's 70,000—and that's what that's doing. So, it's a simple set of things that you can do as a person—it's available if Members want to take it themselves, by the way, the level 1 for just ordinary citizens—that trains you in what to say if you think something is strange, just to give you the confidence to do it. So, people like firefighters, who often go into homes and then they see something—to give them the confidence to be able to know what to do. It's a very simple set of actions and it's very powerful. So, we're very determined, Deputy Presiding Officer, to wipe this kind of gender-based violence out of our communities.
6. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on broadband coverage in Newport East? OAQ52711
Yes. Although we don't hold information specifically for Newport East, under the Superfast Cymru project we provided access to fast fibre broadband to over 14,000 premises across all parts of Newport, delivering average speeds of over 75 Mbps and investing £2.9 million.
Thank you for that, leader of the house. As you know, phase 1 of Superfast Cymru did not reach the villages of Langstone, Llanvaches, Bishton and Goldcliff in Newport East, and I'm very grateful a meeting took place with one of your officials and others to discuss the issues. Phase 2 is eagerly awaited by local residents in those villages and I wonder if—an announcement next week, I know, but I wonder if there's anything you can say at this stage in terms of the issues that those residents face.
I haven't got any specific information, unfortunately, that I can give you. It has to await the outcome of the tendering process. But I will just repeat, because it's worth repeating, that we will know who is and isn't in the contract. If you aren't in the contract, then we will have a pot of money specifically designed to help villages or communities of people come together and get a solution. There are a large number of extremely successful projects right around Wales where people are getting gigabit speed, for example. So, I have a group of officials whose sole responsibility it is to facilitate that. I know they've met with the villagers that you mentioned, John Griffiths, and they'll be very happy to facilitate that should that not be part of the programme. I'm not in a position to say one way or the other, I'm afraid, at the moment.
Cabinet Secretary, according to the Ofcom's 'Connected Nations' report for Wales, the area that has seen the greatest improvement is Newport, where superfast broadband coverage has now reached 96 per cent. However, rural coverage in Wales is only 66 per cent. What plans does the leader have to increase the coverage of superfast broadband in the hard-to-reach or notspot areas to raise south-east Wales to the level enjoyed by Newport, to ensure that the whole region benefits from the prospects of economic growth?
Well, that's entirely the whole point of Superfast Cymru—to do exactly that, Mohammad Asghar. As you know, it's an intervention in the market. Without Superfast Cymru, most areas of Wales would never have got any broadband at all. Unfortunately, we are not able to roll it out as infrastructure. We require consent from the UK Government to implement state aid provisions, so it does rather hamper us. I think the figures you refer to are slightly old. The last phase of superfast drove the 66 per cent up very considerably. The least good across Wales is now 83 per cent, in fact. But, overall, we have about 90,000 premises in Wales not served.
Deputy Presiding Officer, when I make the announcements about the contracts next week, we will know how many will be covered with that, and, as I say, we have specific programmes, then, to target the rest of the communities.
7. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on Welsh Government action to tackle violence against women and domestic abuse? OAQ52718
Yes. We continue to implement our national strategy. Following input from our national advisers and stakeholders, our delivery framework was published in July. Draft national indicators will be issued for consultation by the end of this year, and we will be supporting a further roll-out of 'ask and act' training.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. IRIS, the identification and referral to improved safety, is a general practitioner-based domestic abuse and sexual violence training and referral programme, and in my role as patron of Bawso, I'm pleased they are delivering the IRIS model, which has transformed the recognition and referral of domestic abuse in primary care in south Wales. The IRIS scheme is the first of its kind in Wales. It was launched by the police and crime commissioner, together with Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board chair, Maria Battle. Twenty-five GP practices across Cardiff and the Vale have been selected to be part of this innovative project.
The IRIS model was launched in GP surgeries in Cwm Taf in November 2015, and Dr Jackie Gantley, IRIS clinical lead, has stated that prior to commencement of the scheme, there was a very low rate of referral to services. There were only seven referrals identified in a three-year period prior to commencement, whereas in the three years post training, 870 cases have been identified and supported. The project encourages early identification, diversion to appropriate support, preventing further suffering and reducing crisis demand on the police. The victim-centred approach also provides police officers with the opportunity to work more closely with the GPs, enhancing local knowledge of pathways and support available to victims. Will you consider roll-out of the IRIS programme across all communities in Wales in order to tackle domestic violence and abuse?
Yes, it's clearly been a very effective programme, and I know Jane Hutt's long-term interest in programmes that are effective in terms of prevention as well as helping victims. It's a GP practice-based domestic violence training, support and referral programme, and I think it was first trialled in Bristol and Hackney.
As she says, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales has funded two of the projects, and some of the funding has come through Cardiff and Vale local health board. We've been concentrating on our national training framework, ensuring that violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence training is a core part of the service that our health, fire and rescue and local authority colleagues offer. And as I said earlier, Deputy Presiding Officer, public services have shown a commitment to this training, and I was right in saying over 70,000 people were trained last year. It's a key part of the framework that supports front-line professionals, with detailed guidance and training to help them to ask potential victims about abuse and to take action to help them. GPs are identified as a priority group for 'ask and act' in our statutory guidance. It's a very cost-effective process of informed enquiry to identify and support victims, and it's opening up gateways and opportunities for those who have experienced abuse in every part of our public service. We've just recently run a procurement exercise for further 'ask and act' training for front-line professionals and are on track to achieve national roll-out by 2021.
Under the 2015 Act, local authorities and local health boards are required to develop and publish a local VAWSDASV strategy, setting out the identified needs and priorities for their area. The first strategies were published for 2018–19, and the national advisers will be providing feedback to assist with the further development of the strategies. So, as part of the further feedback, Jane Hutt, I'm more than happy to discuss with my Cabinet colleague for health whether this programme could be part of that.
Cabinet Secretary, can I refer you to a report delivered to the Royal College of Midwives's annual conference last week? This report found that midwives, despite being specifically trained to recognise domestic abuse, often didn't realise when they were themselves the victims. One of the key recommendations to come out of the research was the need for specific policy to support staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse, and I was pleased, in this regard, to note that six of the seven health boards in Wales do have a specific policy. Do you agree with me that all bodies and organisations in the public sector should have such a policy?
Yes, I absolutely do. It's very much part of our national framework. It's very important as part of the 'ask and act' programme that not only are people trained to recognise what they're seeing in front of them with the people they're working with, but that they are trained to see it themselves. Just to consider whether I can do this without revealing any personal details, but I have been actually present when we've gone through the training, and somebody has actually realised that what we were describing was their own life. So, it can have that effect. But, yes, I absolutely agree it should be—well, it is part of our programme that it should be rolled out to all areas of public service, and, actually, after that, the third sector and then, actually, the whole of the citizenry, which is why I was saying earlier, in response to another Member, that the advice is available, and, actually, if Members are interested, they are very welcome to try it.
Thank you very much, leader of the house.
Item 3 on the agenda this afternoon: questions to the Assembly Commission. All the questions this afternoon will be answered by the Commissioner Suzy Davies. So, question 1, David Melding.
1. What assessment has the Commission made of the Assembly's participation in the 2018 National Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay? OAQ52715
Thank you for the question. It was a remarkable week. I hope that you all agree with that. An evaluation has been conducted that concluded that the Assembly’s participation in the Eisteddfod was an overwhelming success. Measures included footfall onto the estate, the engagement that was achieved, cost, and the reputation of the Senedd and our staff. Outcomes included a huge increase in visitors to the estate: over 29,000 people visited the Pierhead and over 18,000 people visited the Senedd, taking part in committee consultations as well as having a greater understanding of our work.
I was delighted to see the popularity of the National Eisteddfod, with very many people visiting the event for the very first time. Having the Lle Celf in the Senedd seemed to be a very appropriate use of the building, and I would be interested to hear about the broader benefits that it brought to the Assembly.
Thank you for that as well. Having our Senedd at the heart of our national cultural event, and being the home for the Lle Celf, the societies tent and the provision for learners was an excellent opportunity. Nearly 7,000 people attended the events of the societies, and 5,500 people took their photograph in the Llywydd’s chair in the Chamber. I haven’t done that, so maybe I should try next time. [Laughter.]
The formal and anecdotal feedback for the Lle Celf was very positive, and I’m pleased that we’ve had an opportunity since then to show the excellent work of Kyffin Williams, for example—I hope you’ve seen that exhibition. I’m delighted to see works of such cultural significance given a stage in the Senedd, and certainly I’d like to see more of that—within the inevitable constraints of our financial and human resources, of course. And if there's a possibility for us to use the estate more than we do at present for engagement strategies with the public, I’m sure you would all be content with every opportunity to do so.
2. What events does the Commission have planned to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War? OAQ52740
Thank you, Andrew. Well, over the last four years, of course, we've worked with a range of partners to commemorate those who lost their lives, including the 14-18 NOW and Wales for Peace, to hold conferences, a series of guest lectures and panel discussions, including contributions of experts in particular aspects of war. We'll all remember the exhibitions, including the weeping willow exhibition and, of course, the opportunity for Members to bring some of their own memorabilia in, bringing the awfulness of war into very close contact with our own family experiences.
There will be another guest lecture on the role and contribution of women to the first world war, and, finally, a conference in conjunction with Wales for Peace, bringing children and young people from across Wales together, to discuss shaping the future we wish to see—obviously, with the first world war as the context for that.
Thank you, Commissioner, for that answer. There have been, you quite rightly pointed out, many commemorative events over the last four years, and in particular the programme that the Welsh Government has led on, which is to be commended, in fairness. But this is the national Parliament of Wales, and as you walk through this building, there is, at the moment, no physical memorial to the fallen in the first world war and the effort of the civilian community that was left at home to feed the nation and to provide those basic services on the home front as well, then. I do think that is missing in this wonderful Parliament building that we have, and I would invite the Commission to look at putting a lasting memorial up that would commemorate the centenary activities but also be a focal point, as was the wonderful poppy display that was outside this building—I think, two years ago now—which captured the public's imagination and is now available for everyone to see at the Imperial War Museums. So, I'd invite the Commissioner to take this forward within the Commission, and hopefully the Commission will come forward with proposals for a lasting memorial that shows what this building and this institution and its Members did to commemorate the centenary.
Thank you very much for that idea. We're always looking for new ideas in the Commission to improve the building and perhaps convey our connection with the people of Wales. I mean, this is a serious part of our history, and I hope that the temporary exhibitions and the work that's been done in the last few years have helped maintain that link, and particularly for young people, to remind them that this has actually happened. We have the merchant seafarers' memorial outside, but of course that's just one group of contributors to war, and, of course, there are many local men—and it is men—commemorated by that memorial. But of course this is an idea we will consider. The one thing I don't think any of us would want, though, is the building just to become a place to be covered in plaques. I think we would have to be particularly careful about what we choose to say 'yes' to if we're going to be thinking about these types of memorials, but, of course, this is the first world war we're talking about, so I would say it would be a very good contender.
Well, we are the National Assembly for Wales, and so can I ask that any commemoration activities that are taking place are provided around Wales, not just in Cardiff Bay? I know this is our major place of work, but Wales is a lot bigger than just Cardiff Bay, and I also know that the Commission have staff in other parts of Wales, so please can I ask that other parts of Wales are considered, not just this building?
Well, I think it's fair to say that all parts of the public sector, particularly our local authorities, have been great participants in this commemoration over the last four years. We're talking about the end of those commemorations now, and, as we heard earlier, of course, local authorities are strapped for cash at the moment, but the same is true of the Commission in deciding how it needs to divide its resources up. I would hope, though, that the engagement strategy that we have, particularly engaging with schools, has made a contribution to young people's understanding of this across Wales, not just in Cardiff Bay.
Question 3 [OAQ52735] by Julie Morgan has been withdrawn. Question 4—Jayne Bryant.
4. What is the Commission doing to encourage young people to visit the Assembly? OAQ52731
Thank you. Well, we engage with over 20,000 young people each year, half of which engage with us on the estate. Youth groups, colleges and schools are all invited to take part in sessions in Siambr Hywel, and we also travel to schools—that should be more convenient for them. The range of services offered to young people is actually advertised on the website as well—so, I'm just giving that a plug now so that more people know about it—as well as across social media channels, the education and engagement team's youth letter, through the Dysg newsletter, and through the Hwb learning platform.
Thank you. A few weeks ago, to mark the centenary of women's suffrage, over 100 brownies and guides from across Gwent, aged between seven and 14, spent two consecutive Saturdays in the Senedd at the Senedd takeover. It was a full day of activities and my colleagues Lynne Neagle, Julie Morgan and I were really impressed with the girls' enthusiasm and ideas. There was even a special badge designed for the occasion. It was the first time that many of them had visited the Senedd, and it was a fantastic opportunity for them to learn more about the history of women's suffrage in Wales. We also recruited voters, and, hopefully, some potential candidates, for the Youth Parliament. A lot of hard work by Assembly staff and Girlguiding Gwent went into planning this activity on a Saturday, so can the Commissioner set out what is being done to attract organisations working with young people to hold innovative events such as this in the Senedd?
Thank you for that contribution. I'm hoping that the members of staff hear the congratulations that you've offered them, because the girl guides and brownies that you were talking about obviously had an amazing experience, and, if we can compare what their experience was like with those who came in during the Eisteddfod, where understanding of what happens in this place grew really quite significantly, then I hope the same is true for your visitors.
You mentioned the Youth Parliament. Obviously, brownies and girl guides are one of the groups that have been targeted, if that's the right word, to help find candidates for the Youth Parliament. You'll remember that, outside the 40 constituencies, there are 20 seats that will be taken by members of youth groups, and actually Girlguiding Cymru's got an exceptional record. It was here, or engaged with the Assembly, 11 times last year, and that was away from this estate, so I think, as an organisation, it's absolutely right that they're the people who should be taking part in our Youth Parliament.
Did they know about the travel subsidy that they can get to come here? Maybe you don't know the answer to that, but that's one of the main tools that you would use for getting people to come here, rather than our education and outreach service going out. But, apart from the things I've already mentioned, our outreach team does still go out, though there'll be questions about where the balance lies now between that work and the work on the Youth Parliament, because, obviously, we have a set number of staff and the Youth Parliament has obviously been a priority for the Assembly, as we found out in votes on this—well, almost two years ago now, I think.
5. Will the Commission make a statement on resourcing the Welsh Youth Parliament? OAQ52729
Absolutely. The Assembly Commission agreed in November 2016 that £100,000 would go in this financial year to help set the institution up and to promote it and to help young people understand what it would be for. And, thereafter, in non-election years, we're talking about £50,000.
Thank you very much, Commissioner, for that answer. May I ask on what basis the £50,000 has been agreed? Because I think we need to be sure that—. This is such an exciting initiative—this is one of the best things the Assembly has done for a very, very long time, it's had a huge welcome, and we need to make sure that the resourcing for that is sustainable, I think particularly looking at supporting those groups of young people who may find it harder to engage—some of the young people who will come from the 20, rather than the 40 directly-elected Members. So, can I ask that the Commission keeps that funding under review and to give consideration if it's found that it's not adequate?
Oh, absolutely. I can give you that reassurance now. We all want this to work. The figures that we have—. This is the first time we've done it; it's been done on best estimates and comparisons with similar ideas in other Parliaments, if you like. But, if this doesn't turn out to be enough money, we will have to, as a Commission, find extra resources to make sure that we can support it properly, because, if we do this half-heartedly, there's no point in us doing it at all.
6. Will the Commissioner make a statement on the preparedness of the Assembly and its offices across Wales to respond to potential terrorist attacks? OAQ52741
Thank you for that question. It's a serious question and, as you may notice from budgets in the most recent years, the Commission has already made a significant investment in protective security across the estate but also in Members' offices, which is regularly reviewed, considering the UK threat level from international terrorism. And, as well as providing appropriate security advice and comprehensive safety awareness training to Members and Commission staff, we have increased levels of protection against cyber attack, which, of course, is invisible—we don't get to see that in the same way that we do our security presence, which has also increased—and we work with a number of agencies to develop and deliver a package that's pretty robust.
Thank you. On 22 March 2017, 50 people were, of course, injured and five tragically killed in a terrorism attack when they drove a car into crowds on Westminster bridge, stabbing, horrifically, a policeman outside the House of Commons. Whilst none of us can predict when or where a terrorist attack might occur, this particular attack does highlight the possibility that democratic institutions are facing. Undoubtedly, we know and we appreciate the very strict security measures that we do have here in Cardiff Bay. However, I do share some concern about the safety and anti-terrorism measures in our Colwyn Bay office. So, will you clarify what measures you are taking—or the Commission, that is—to protect the staff and public using those offices, please?
Well, certainly—obviously, I'm not going to give you too much detail; quite a lot of this will be confidential, and I'm sure you understand why. But the level of attention paid to the Colwyn Bay office is the same as here. So, the whole of the Senedd is classed as a tier 1 site. The National Assembly for Wales's security team works in partnership here with South Wales Police and other appropriate agencies, such as the counter-terrorism unit, to identity risk and put the appropriate level of mitigation in place. I'd say, probably—. The Senedd gets that level of oversight from South Wales Police rather than North Wales Police, obviously. But what you will have seen—and I'm hoping this is true of Colwyn Bay as well—is that there's increased staffing within the security service, and, here, there's an introduction of an armed police presence. I mentioned the cyber attack and the security awareness. So, if you have any sense that the staff in Colwyn Bay are perhaps not getting the training that we're having here, then I really would like you to let us know. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Commissioner.
Item 4 on the agenda is topical questions and no topical questions have been accepted.
Therefore, item 5 is the 90-second statements, and the first of the 90-second statements today is from Jack Sargeant.
Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. Today is World Mental Health Day. In recent years a lot of progress has been made in breaking down the stigma about talking about mental health, but we know that there is still so much to do. This year's theme for World Mental Health Day is young people and mental health in a changing and challenging world, and I was proud to host an event this morning with the future generations commissioner, Sophie Howe, on this very issue.
Unfortunately, we know that one in four students experience poor mental health whilst at university, and what many of them are saying is that it is difficult to find and access the services that they need. Being on a course of education can be very stressful. For many students, it's their first time away from home. There are lots of new experiences and new people to meet. There's often financial pressure. There's the work and stress of whatever course they're on. And, on top of all that, there are personal and family stresses. So, I'm proud to be supporting the National Union of Students Wales's campaign on mental health this year. They will be reviewing the good practices and looking at where improvements can be made and I look forward to them presenting their findings to us here in the Chamber.
Llywydd, for me, this day is also very personal. Dad was an extremely loving person and a role model to so many of us. As I said in my first speech in this Chamber, he was the man that I loved going for a pint with, the man who helped me in my exams, the man who stood by my side proud when I graduated, the man who held our family together. He had a lot of friends and a lot of close family and I know that his death has affected my life and their lives for many years to come. I do think that it's altered my existence and paved the way for many things to happen in my life that were completely out of my control.
Llywydd, I will finish up now. I just want to say to those who can't discuss mental health problems and find it difficult that I stand with you. I am one of you, but I will fight alongside you. I'll end on a very, very brief quote:
'When "I" is replaced with "We", even "Illness" becomes "Wellness".'
Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Thank you. Rhun ap Iorwerth.
At St Cybi Church today, the residents of Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire have gathered together to remember the sinking of the RMS Leinster exactly 100 years ago.
The RMS Leinster left Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, shortly before nine in the morning on 10 October 1918. She was bound for Holyhead with 771 passengers and crew on board. An hour later, she was targeted by a patrolling U-boat. It fired two torpedoes and the Leinster was sunk. More than 500 of those on board lost their lives. It was an atrocity, and it’s thought that reaction to it influenced the politicians involved in talks to end the first world war. Armistice was signed a month later.
Families and communities in Wales and Ireland were devastated, and today we remember them and all those who died: people like fireman John Williams of Gwalchmai, who had saved a woman passenger and had gone down below again to save another when he was lost; people like Louisa Parry from Holyhead, a stewardess, who sailed that day instead of one of her sisters who was ill. She went to a lower deck to help passengers but became trapped in a cabin with a mother and her child. We also remember the crew of U-boat 123, who themselves were killed a week later.
The RMS Leinster centenary commemoration group in Holyhead includes a number who lost their grandparents in the sinking. I’d like to pay tribute to them for their hard work in reminding us of the history of the Leinster and for arranging the commemorative events in Anglesey this week. I look forward to attending one at St Mary’s Hall in Holyhead this Friday. Today two communities and two nations are bound together in memory.
Thank you. Mark Isherwood.
This week is Hospice Care Week, the annual week of activity to raise the profile of hospice care across Wales and the UK. The theme of Hospice Care Week this year is 'Heart my Hospice'. The cross-party group on hospices and palliative care's recent inquiry into inequalities in access heard how limited awareness of the full range of services offered by hospices and the stigma around talking about death and dying can be barriers to people accessing the right care. The group recommended that hospices across Wales should continue to raise awareness of the care they provide and the opportunities for communities to engage with their work.
Each year, hospices in Wales directly care for more than 10,000 people, around 80 per cent of whom are cared for in their own homes and the community. Hospices are reliant on engagement with their communities to support their work. They provide opportunities to volunteer as gardeners, drivers, in retail and administration, and fundraise a total of £2 million every month to sustain the delivery of hospice care in Wales.
Hospices in Wales are asking people to demonstrate their support for their hospice by volunteering, donating, or by showing they care on social media in Hospice Care Week. Throughout the week, hospices in Wales are opening their doors to their wider communities to encourage greater engagement and to improve awareness of the vital work they do.
Today, we mark World Homeless Day. Since its foundation in 2010, World Homeless Day has been observed on every continent, with the obvious exception of Antarctica. The purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to homeless people's needs locally, and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage created by an international day. So, I'm very pleased that we have this chance to mark it today.
There has been good progress in Wales on ending homelessness, including the homelessness prevention legislation that inspired similar measures in England, commitments on youth homelessness, and work to develop the housing first approach. But we still need a plan, to get everybody into a safe, stable home. Figures for Crisis, calculated by Heriot-Watt University's Professor Glen Bramley, found that 8,200 people across Wales are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness. This includes the main forms of homelessness, such as people who are stuck in crowded and unsafe places, in hostels and night shelters, sleeping on people's sofas and kitchen floors, or in cars, night buses, tents and, of course, alarmingly, out on the streets. If we carry on as we currently are, the Heriot-Watt research found that the number of homeless households is expected to almost double in the next 25 years across Britain. We must redouble our efforts, and ensure that we bring an end to this scourge.
There are twin celebrations going on in Denbigh this week, with the Clwyd Welsh language centre celebrating 30 years of providing Welsh-medium education for adults. It’s also 10 years since the opening of the unique Wireless in Wales museum, which is also located in the same building in Denbigh town centre. The main driver for the establishment of the two bodies was the late David Jones, the former mayor of Denbigh, a Welsh learner, a staunch internationalist, and a man who had a great interest in the history of radios, and the link between the development of radios, the survival of the Welsh language, and the concept of Wales as a nation.
David was instrumental in the campaign to open Wales’s first county Welsh language centre in Denbigh, and his personal collection of old radios is the centrepiece of the fascinating museum located in the Clwyd Welsh language centre in the town. He was a loyal member of Plaid Cymru, and held internationalist beliefs. He helped set up Cymru Cuba, the Cuba-Wales society, and his wife, Vesi, who is from Bulgaria, is still active in the museum.
The language centre has developed considerably since its inception as the first county Welsh language centre in Wales. Following the reconfiguration of Welsh for adults two years ago, Popeth Cymraeg is now responsible for all courses in Denbighshire. It also works in partnership with Coleg Cambria, which is responsible for Welsh classes in the counties of Wrexham and Flint.
It is fair to say that the thousands who have benefited from these courses, and the thousands who have visited the radio museum, would not have had the opportunity without the gentle and stubborn vision of our late friend, David Jones. We are greatly indebted to someone who was a real community champion, and that's why I want us to remember him today, and wish both centres well on their special anniversary.
Item 6 on the agenda is a motion to amend Standing Orders, and can I call on a member of the Business Committee to move formally the motion?
Motion NDM6825 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee, ‘Amending Standing Orders: Standing Orders 24, 25 and 27—Section 116C Orders’, laid in the Table Office on 2 October 2018; and
2. Approves the proposal to revise Standing Orders 24, 25 and 27, as set out in Annex B of the Report of the Business Committee.
I realise that these Standing Orders will pass, and for the efficiency of what we need to do, I think we have to accept that. However, it would have been much better if we were amending this afternoon Standing Order 25 to accommodate the new needs that are on us, in relation to taxation powers.
In response to the Business Committee's preference, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee—and I think the Chair will speak later—suggested a new Standing Order 25. Bizarrely, we are now having to accept a bifurcated Standing Order 27. In the event, this is the wrong Standing Order, because it breaks the logical sequence laid out in Standing Orders, and it effectively places a new Standing Order within an existing Standing Order. This is not clear or transparent, and will have a big effect on anyone trying to read our Standing Orders, to gain an understanding of how these matters are dealt with.
Joyce Watson took the Chair.
This process has been made even more convoluted by the reporting mechanisms that the Government has committed to. I won't bore the Assembly with them all, but it seems to say there should be a reporting mechanism, but the whole committee is not involved in it, just the Chair. Whilst I have no doubt that Chair will be diligent in the exercise of his duties, this is not robust procedure. I have to say, acting Deputy Presiding Officer, that this amendment is bad craft and I hope it is not repeated.
I’m very pleased to speak to this motion to amend Standing Orders and I speak on behalf of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and on behalf of Mick Antoniw, the Chair.
In April this year, the Business Committee wrote to us as a committee, seeking our views on the changes being proposed to Standing Orders related to the scrutiny of Orders in Council under section 116C of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Section 116C of the 2006 Act, as you all know, permits the addition or modification, through an Order in Council, of law-making powers for the Assembly in relation to taxation, as David Melding has just said. The Order in Council will specify how the taxation powers are to be changed.
The Business Committee asked for our views as a committee on whether we saw any reason not to develop an appropriate procedure within Standing Order 27. Standing Order 27 concerns the scrutiny of subordinate legislation. In seeking our views, we were advised by the Business Committee that the Welsh Government considered it to be problematic to mirror Standing Order 25, which sets out the process for scrutinising Orders in Council under section 109 of the 2006 Act. Section 109 concerns modifications to the Assembly’s existing legislative powers.
Our favoured approach was to include a separate, new Standing Order: Standing Order 25A. We felt that, irrespective of the approach it adopted, a new Standing Order would sit more comfortably within the current structure of our Standing Orders. This would have meant that Standing Orders that relate to acquiring legislative competence, i.e. Standing Orders 25 and 25A, would sit before those related to utilising that competence to make law—Standing Orders 26A, 26B and 26C—and would not come within the ambit of Standing Order 27. This Standing Order concerns scrutiny of subordination legislation that is invariably made as a result of powers delegated from a National Assembly or UK Parliament Act to Welsh Ministers.
As we've said on numerous occasions as a committee, it’s important that laws are accessible to citizens. It is just as important that the way in which the Assembly operates, through its procedures, is accessible too. On that basis, we felt that our solution offered a clearer, neater and more accessible way to proceed. The Finance Committee also questioned whether Standing Orders would be better served by a new stand-alone Standing Order rather than integration into Standing Order 27.
In view of the Business Committee’s decision, we have written to the Welsh Government seeking an explanation why the Welsh Government considered it problematic to subject Orders in Council under section 116C of the 2006 Act to the same scrutiny process as those under section 109, and why the Government felt the new procedure would sit better in Standing Order 27, rather than a newly drafted Standing Order 25A.
We’ve also noted from the Business Committee report that, as part of the commitments given to supplement the process chosen, the Cabinet Secretary will meet with the Chair of our committee to brief him following meetings with the Joint Exchequer Committee. We have therefore sought clarification from the Welsh Government as to why the Cabinet Secretary is meeting the Chair only, rather than the whole committee. The Business Committee has indicated that it will review the effectiveness of the new arrangements in due course and we would be very happy to assist with any review. Thank you very much.
I now call on the leader of the house, Julie James, to reply to the debate.
Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer.
Standing Order 25 was established to deal with section 109 Orders, as they existed under the pre-2011 devolution settlement—the old legislative competence Orders or LCOs of the third Assembly. Section 116C Orders, whilst relating to devolving new tax-making powers to the Assembly, are different from LCOs; they will only come forward after a period of negotiation and consultation and on the basis of consensus between the Welsh and UK Governments. The two-step process of the LCO, where proposed and draft Orders are scrutinised, is not appropriate in this situation. The Government has given a number of commitments regarding the information that will be provided to the Assembly during the negotiating phase in advance of a section 116C being brought forward. These are set out in the Business Committee's report.
A section 116C Order is an item of subordinate legislation subject to the affirmative procedure. The existing Standing Order 27 already provides for most of the procedure necessary to scrutinise 116C Orders. We consider incorporating the procedure in Standing Order 27 would see a consolidation of Standing Orders for subordinate legislation. This approach avoids duplication of procedures in different Standing Orders, thus helping with accessibility and transparency. Last week, the Assembly agreed the same approach to Standing Order 27 for statutory instruments made by Welsh Ministers relating to EU exit.
The issue has also been raised about the proposal to provide a briefing to the Chair, as a representative of the committee, to ensure the committee could be updated on the progress of negotiations in a timely fashion. As you can appreciate, this will be in the context of inter-governmental confidentiality and relationships, but in the light of comments from the various members of the Business Committee, I am absolutely certain the Cabinet Secretary would be more than happy to consider other options to keep the committee updated as a whole, if they would find that helpful.
There are ongoing discussions between our respective officials about future arrangements for keeping the Assembly committees informed about the operation of the inter-governmental relations machinery. The Government is very open to establishing appropriate arrangements. We can address the issues around the Joint Exchequer Committee, for example, in that context. As Dai Lloyd said, in his closing remarks, the process as established by section 116C of the Government of Wales Act is new. The Government is more than happy to review its commitments and the changes to Standing Orders, if they are agreed today, in the light of experience of actually operating them. Diolch.
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
We'll move on now to item 7—debate on a Member's legislative proposal: a Bill to incorporate the United Nations declaration on the rights of disabled persons into Welsh law, and I call on Helen Mary Jones to move the motion.
Motion NDM6819 Helen Mary Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes a proposal for a Bill to incorporate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons into Welsh law.
2. The purpose of this Bill would be to strengthen rights-based policy approaches to promote the rights of those with disabilities and use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons as a framework for future developments.
Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. It is my privilege to propose today that this Assembly should legislate to incorporate the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled persons into Welsh law. I must begin with an apology, the motion before us refers to an earlier version of the United Nations declaration rather than the updated convention, as ratified by the UK Government in 2009. This error is entirely mine. It arose from haste in preparing the motion, and I trust that the Assembly will accept my apology in this regard and that we can frame the debate in the light of the current convention.
Disabled people comprise 26 per cent of the Welsh population—higher than the average for the UK—and they still face systematic discrimination and prejudice. Nearly 40 per cent of disabled people in Wales live in poverty compared with 22 per cent of the non-disabled population. Only 45.2 per cent of disabled people aged 16 to 64 in Wales are in employment compared with 80.3 per cent of the non-disabled population. Only one Welsh local authority has set any targets for a percentage of affordable homes to be accessible, and only 15 per cent of local authorities hold good information about disabled people's housing needs. I could go on.
When the United Nations committee reviewed the performance of the UK as a whole in relation to the convention, its findings were damning. Amongst other issues, the impact of austerity was highlighted as having resulted in severe negative financial constraints amongst disabled people and their families. The committee also highlighted the issue of disability hate crime, the absence of robust data, the employment and pay gap for disabled people, especially for disabled women, and the lack of a policy framework to address the poverty of families with disabled children. Overall, the committee found that there was insufficient and uneven implementation of the convention across all policy areas, all levels of Government and all regions.
Now, disability organisations acknowledge that there have been positive developments for disabled people since devolution. We have adopted the social model of disability as the basis of our policy here in Wales, and that is very important, as the leader of the house commented in response to a question earlier today.
The Welsh Government's framework for action on independent living sets out a vision for implementing the convention in Wales based on the four key values of confidence, co-operation, co-production and choice and control. There is very much to welcome in the framework, but it is not a law—it's a policy, and policies can very easily be changed. There is no formal redress for a disabled person whose rights under the framework have not been met.
To my mind, rather strangely, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 states that persons exercising functions under the Act must have due regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, but not, on the face of the law, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Act's code of practice does mention the convention, but, at any rate, the code only applies to the provision of social services, and not to other situations in which disabled people may face discrimination, like planning, housing, business and the economy.
In the past, acting Deputy Presiding Officer, the Welsh Government has argued that the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 provides a legal basis for improving the rights of disabled people in Wales and the services provided to them. But, this legislation is not human rights legislation, and the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales does not have any relevant enforcement powers.
I submit, acting Deputy Presiding Officer, that it is time to legislate to fully incorporate the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled persons into Welsh law. Incorporation would require the consideration of disabled people's rights in all policy and legislation proposals brought forward by Welsh Ministers. It would raise the profile of disabled people's rights across the Welsh Government and, indeed, across the whole public sector and the wider community in Wales. It would convey a very clear message to our disabled fellow citizens that we, their representatives, understand the prejudice, the discrimination and the barriers to participation that they face, and that we are determined to address that prejudice and discrimination and remove those barriers.
We do know that incorporation can be effective. Research by Dr Simon Hoffman of the Wales observatory on the human rights of children and young people at Swansea University has found that the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, while falling short of full incorporation, has had a positive impact—legitimising the language of convention rights in policy discourse, introducing an expectation of compliance with the convention and introducing the children’s rights impact assessments, which serve to embed the convention as a framework for policy development. He also found that the Measure had provided an impetus and confidence to stakeholders, and to children and young people themselves, to use the convention in policy advocacy.
Acting Deputy Presiding Officer, when this Assembly chose to legislate for the rights of children and young people, we sent a very c