Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

23/10/2018

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on the agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. I have received notification that, under Standing Order 12.58, the Leader of the House and Chief Whip, Julie James, will answer questions on behalf of the First Minister this afternoon. The first question is from Hefin David.

Flexible Working

1. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support and encourage flexible working in Wales? OAQ52839

The Welsh Government is promoting fair employment practices, including flexible working, through the economic contract, the employability plan and the code of practice on ethical employment in supply chains. We have also set up the Fair Work Commission to advise us on what more we can do.

That's very good to hear. Policy at all levels in the UK has been about family-friendly working, and it's good to hear that the Welsh Government is trying to move beyond that. I took part in a debate the week before last, based on this report from the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, 'Work it out: Parenting and Employment in Wales', and one of the key things that's in that report, in chapter 3, is that we should make workplaces more equal and more flexible. Wherever possible, I think we should be buying people's talent and not their time. With that in mind, what further key steps, and what further detail, can the Welsh Government provide in how they're going to achieve that?

A core element of the concept of a fair work nation is, of course, the fair employment practices that Hefin David has outlined there. And it is a central focus of the Fair Work Commission, which will be considering whether current measures available to Welsh Government can be taken further, and to identify what new or additional steps might be taken, and including any legislation that might be appropriate. It is worth pointing out that the Welsh Government currently has a shared parental leave scheme, for example, and it's worth saying that very loudly, Llywydd, so that more people will take advantage of it, because there is a real issue of gender inequality in the decisions that people make about their careers around the time of children, and so on. But we do do a range of other things to promote innovative and modern working practices, which is more than flexible working conditions, and they are around looking to see where we can establish output-related working practices that don't disadvantage people, for example, with any disabilities, or who need to have very flexible arrangements, because their talent, as the Member has said, is what you're paying for and not necessarily the time taken to travel to a particular place, and so on. The Business Wales website provides information to employers on how to improve productivity through flexible working arrangements, and the economic contract, as set out in our economic action plan, presents a clear opportunity to engage in dialogue with employers on a range of issues that have the potential to support individuals as well as businesses in accessing the wide range of skills available once you come away from the very standard working environment.

Leader of the house, I was speaking to some constituents from Newtown this lunchtime, who own a small business in Newtown, and talking about being able to offer flexible working hours. Can you outline how the Welsh Government is supporting small businesses in particular to see the benefits of flexible working, and do you understand that there can be obstacles to flexible working? I see the benefits, but there are obstacles, for small businesses in particular, if they're employing only three people as opposed to 300. And how can you help small businesses in particular in that regard?

Business Wales is very well placed to assist small and medium-sized enterprises with those kinds of conversations, to see how they can optimise their business practices, to understand whether they have, for example, modern HR procedures and practices in place, and in some cases there is direct financial support for businesses, depending on what their growth plans are, and so on. So, it's well worth advising any such SME that they should get in touch with Business Wales and see what range of packages is on offer, including a rethink, perhaps, of exactly the way the business is structured and what opportunities might be evoked by a slightly different working pattern.

And I give the Member an anecdote, which is this: I had a factory—not in my own constituency, but somewhere in Swansea—approach me and say that there was a skills shortage, when I was skills Minister. Actually, it turned out that they had a working pattern that had a shift that started before the local bus service arrived. And something very small like that can make an enormous difference to the range of skills and talents open to people. So, having that kind of open mind—. Business Wales is well placed to give that kind of advice to businesses.

Health and Social Care in West Wales

2. What recent discussions has the Welsh Government had regarding the integration of health and social care in west Wales? OAQ52834

Welsh Ministers are having regular discussions in west Wales about delivering our ambitious integration agenda for seamless health and social care, as set out in 'A Healthier Wales', including how this can be supported by our £100 million transformation fund.

Thank you, leader of the house. I'm sure that you will be aware that this is an agenda that we've been talking about here in Wales for 18 years, to my sure and certain knowledge, and probably long before devolution. And I'm sure that you will understand that communities are beginning to lose patience with the speed of change. You may be aware that, on 13 June this year, Carmarthenshire County Council passed a motion requesting the Welsh Government to urgently look at the lack of integration between their social care policies, their social care activities and the Hywel Dda Local Health Board. There is real concern, I'm sure you'll acknowledge, in the west about the capacity of that health board to deliver on this ambitious agenda.

We have the announcement of a further £180 million today to deliver seamless health and social care. Of course, we're going to welcome that. I'm unclear whether it's new money, but, put against the £8 billion of the total health budget, it does really slightly look that perhaps we're putting a bit of a sticking plaster on a haemorrhage. What reassurances, leader of the house, can you give that the Welsh Government will focus on this area of work and that communities in the west can see an accelerated pace of change towards that seamless service, which we have all been talking about as the right way to proceed for many years now?

13:35

Yes, the Member's right to highlight the benefits of working together in that way. 'A Healthier Wales' identifies the regional partnership boards as key drivers of change in this regard, and, obviously, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 provides for the boards to bring together health, social services, the third sector and other partners to deliver effective, integrated and collaborative care services. I know west Wales are in the process of finalising the proposal, and, last month, the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care attended a meeting of the west Wales regional board to hear first hand the progress that partners in Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Hywel Dda have made to strengthen all of their integrated arrangements. The Member's right to say that we have allocated additional moneys in this year to strengthen our determination to ensure that social care remains a key plank in our health service delivery. 

Of course, a vital component, which you touched on very slightly in your answer to this, leader of the house, is the role of the third sector. It is extremely important in terms of ensuring that a lot of our services get delivered on the ground. However, the third sector are finding it more and more difficult to engage with health and social care—harder to engage with councils, harder to engage with health boards. This is partly because a lot of the third sector organisations are becoming far more policy orientated rather than the doing of the job. What are you doing to ensure that we have a proper engagement with the third sector, that they're not left out of this integration discussion,  and that we engage with the ones who actually can deliver a service and not just the ones who spend a lot of their time and their resources on lobbying us with policy ideas? 

Yes, well, I very much agree with the Member that the third sector is very much part of this integrated plan. Social care is, of course, a key national priority for this Government and we absolutely acknowledge that third sector partners need to be facilitated in order to have those discussions. That's very much part of the conversation that I just outlined, for example, the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care is having with a range of partners around Wales, with a view to facilitating exactly what the Member has set out. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Paul Davies. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Leader of the house, do you agree with me and the Minister for Environment that the current local government settlement is fundamentally unfair? 

No, I don't at all agree with that. There are complex issues around how the settlement works out, and it's all been absolutely agreed through the funding formula with local authority partners and, as my colleague Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, said, very recently, it was done in consultation with the sector groups and the WLGA. It was an agreed formula and it has been distributed in that regard, as you would expect. 

Leader of the house, the environment Minister is absolutely right: this local government settlement is unfair and imbalanced. The local government finance settlement reveals that all six of the north Wales authorities will receive a year-on-year reduction in their funding, and, in comparison, seven—seven—of the 12 south Wales authorities will receive an increase in, or continuation of, the level of funding from last year. So, firstly, it's apparent that we have a north-south divide, and to add to that—to add to that—yesterday, the First Minister—[Interruption.]

We do need to hear the leader of the opposition. Allow him to ask his question, please. [Interruption.] Allow him to ask his question.  

Diolch, Llywydd.

To add to that, yesterday, the First Minister planned to hold a Labour-only exclusive meeting with council leaders who were also urging the Welsh Government to rethink the budget settlement, despite the fact that these were the very councils that had the better side of the deal because of Welsh Government cronyism. [Interruption.] Six of the seven authorities that maintained or increased their funding in this funding settlement were Labour-run councils. You couldn't make this stuff up, leader of the house. Do you not agree with your Labour colleagues that the settlement is fundamentally flawed and that the funding formula needs to be reviewed because it's north Wales councils and rural authorities that will bear the brunt of these Labour-inflicted cuts?

13:40

Well, the leader of the opposition says that you couldn't make this stuff up and then proceeds to do so. I can only reiterate what I said in answer to the first part of his question: the funding formula is agreed every year with local government. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance sat in the finance sub-group, and the local authority leaders agreed on the latest set of changes to the formula. By and large, those changes are 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. There are a number of factors that impact on whether local authorities have had a decrease in funding this year—for example, if there are fewer people unemployed in the local authority than this time last year, or fewer secondary school pupils in an authority than this time last year, or fewer children claiming free school meals in its primary schools. There is absolutely nothing tribal or cronyistic about any one of these factors. The Member is extremely mischievous in saying so. 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 see less benefit. But the Member is also disingenuous in being part of the Conservative Party that has just put the longest form of austerity in Britain that any Government has ever done—ever—and he must take some of the blame at least for the lack of funding available to Wales during the settlement period. 

I'm not going to take any lessons in spending from the leader of the house and her party, which nearly bankrupted this country in 2010. Now, leader of the house— [Interruption.] 

I can't hear what the leader of the opposition is now saying. Can you please carry on, and can members of the Cabinet in particular refrain from commenting throughout the discussion?

Leader of the house, the environment Minister is not the only one to contribute to the red-on-red fire. The Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning recently said, and I quote,

'we must put our hands up and admit that one area where we have failed to make the impact that we...should have, is the economy'.

Well, I couldn't have said it better myself, Minister. The Welsh Government has failed our economy, and local government is one of its key pillars. It employs over 10 per cent of the Welsh workforce, spends £3.5 billion on goods and services, and promotes economic growth in all regions of the nation, yet successive Welsh Labour settlements consistently hammer the parts of Wales that are often most reliant on the local authority economy. The Welsh Government's consistent neglect of large swathes of Wales has ultimately resulted in regional inequality and a stagnant Welsh economy. Leader of the house, will you now listen to your own colleagues and call on the First Minister to rethink this local government funding settlement so that we have one that is capable of driving forward the prosperity of our nation instead of one that will only entrench regional inequality and council favouritism here in Wales?

Well, I think that the leader of the opposition is entirely wrong in both his premise and his argument. He fails to take any responsibility for having voted a Conservative Government with austerity policies onto the nation. I presume he voted Conservative in the last election and therefore contributed to that. Even if he is now— [Interruption.] I don't know what you're saying from a seated position. If you want to intervene, do say so. But I would say this: you have delivered by far the worst on the Conservative benches for Wales than other colleague Conservatives have done for their regions. So, to talk about regional disparity funding from that vantage point is not a good look. 

I can also say that I am very pleased to see that he is following the hustings and arguments inside the Labour Party so closely; perhaps he can learn a lot from them. 

Diolch, Lywydd. Leader of the house, I wanted to ask you some questions today related to— [Interruption.] I wanted to ask some questions today relating to the HS2 project. Of course, it isn't a devolved scheme, as we know, but it does have profound consequences for Wales in terms of spending and budgets. We know that the Barnett consequential is supposed to apply where we have major capital projects undertaken by the Westminster Government that do not directly benefit the taxpayer in Wales. What discussions has your Government had with the UK Government over the issue of an HS2 Barnett consequential for Wales?

13:45

We've had a lot of conversations about the parlous situation with the Barnettisation of the HS2 spending; there's extensive correspondence to that effect. There clearly ought to be such a consequential, and, Llywydd, I put it on record that the Welsh Government thinks that there should be such a consequential as a result of that spending. We would like our trains to be built here in Wales, we would like the money to facilitate that, and the money to facilitate the services that might link to HS2 across north Wales, for example. But he's absolutely right: we think a consequential should flow from it.

Yes. Thank you for that answer, and I'm glad you appreciate the point. Now, flowing from that—. [Interruption.] It wasn't condescending in any way, leader of the house.

You don't need to respond to comments made from sedentary positions, especially Joyce Watson.

OK. Thank you, Llywydd. Diolch, Llywydd. Sorry, leader of the house, I'll continue with the question. I hope you appreciate that there was no condescension implied.

Now, I'm glad you agreed with me on that point. My researchers have done the calculations to get the Barnett consequential based on the Treasury rules, and we've come up with a figure of around £4.6 billion, which was what Wales should have got. Clearly, there doesn't seem to be any sign of anything like that coming to Wales, so could I just ask for a little bit more clarity, given your first answer? Are you now going back to the UK Government to get a more realistic deal from the UK Treasury regarding this matter?

Yes. We are in constant dialogue with the UK Treasury about this matter, and about the franchise in general, and about our ability to build the new kit in Wales, and to stimulate the economy in so doing.

I suppose, leader of the house, there is an alternative rather than—I mean, this is an alternative way of looking at this—in that your economy Minister, Ken Skates, although he has cited possible benefits of HS2 to north and mid Wales, although fairly small in financial terms, he has also made the point that the HS2 project could have an adverse impact on the economy of south Wales. Because by making journeys quicker from London to the English midlands and the north, you are, relatively speaking, making south Wales further from London. So, that could impact adversely on the economy of south Wales. It's not therefore clear whether there are any net benefits from the HS2 project for Wales. I would point out that UKIP's policy is that the HS2 project is spiralling out of control in terms of costs and should be scrapped. Is there now a case that the Welsh Government could think about lobbying Westminster to try and achieve that end? 

Yes. The rail strategy of the current UK Government is not one with which we are at one, I think it's fair to say. And since he has taken the opportunity to mention the economy of south Wales in relation to trains, the best thing that the UK Government could do is both give us the consequential for HS2 and electrify the train line all the way to Swansea.

Diolch, Llywydd. As leader of the house on 16 October, you told us there would be a debate on the decision on the M4 relief road during the week beginning 4 December. Does the Government plan to announce its decision before that date while the Assembly is in session and not during the recess next week, for example? And will that be through the means of an oral statement to the Assembly? Will that be the First Minister's decision alone, or will there be discussion in Cabinet, and will it therefore be subject to Cabinet collective responsibility?

Since we've been waiting for a decision for at least two decades, would a delay of a few weeks matter a great deal? Would you agree that, since it's a twentieth-century answer to a twenty-first-century problem, it would be wise and proper to leave it to the incoming First Minister who will take over just a week after the proposed date for the debate on the decision?

We're in the process that results from the public inquiry, so, for the benefit of the Assembly, officials have now received the copy of the public inquiry inspector's report, which they are preparing advice on. Once the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport has received that advice and considered the report, he will issue a written statement on the next steps. We've committed to the debate, as the Member rightly says, and a vote in Government time on this project, once all Members have had the opportunity to consider the inspector's report and the decision on the statutory Orders. This debate and vote will be taken into account in final investment decisions on whether to award the construction contracts, and following the inquiry, should the decision be made to proceed to construction, works might commence next year. The Member is right, we have to go through the budget process for that to happen as well. We've already published the environmental information, draft Orders and the associated reporting for the proposed M4 project.

13:50

I appreciate, for reasons of accuracy, possibly, that the leader of the house was drawing on her notes there, but could I just press her, because I'm not clear that in her response she covered, for example, whether this will ultimately be a decision for the First Minister alone, or will there be a Cabinet discussion and, therefore, will the Cabinet be bound by collective responsibility in relation to that?

Also, in terms of the vote, can you reassure us, to use Brexit terminology, that it will be a meaningful vote? I mean, will the motion that is tabled be amendable to allow the consideration of other options, whether it's the blue route, for example, or, indeed, actually, an entirely different approach involving investment in public transport? Will the Government—? The language used was typically ministerial—and I mean no disrespect there—in terms of Yes Minister. I wasn't quite clear. Taking cognisance of a vote is one thing, but will this be a binding vote on the Government? Similarly, in relation to the second vote, the budgetary vote as well, if that vote is lost, presumably the Government then will have to listen to the voice of the Assembly expressed in relation to this project.

Yes. To be as clear as it's humanly possible to be, I've said that the debate and vote will be taken into account in final investment decisions, but that it will be in Government time. So, it's a binding vote in Government time on the Government. So, we've structured it in that way. My own backbenchers have been very clear that they want a vote of that sort. And we promised that vote—I promised that vote, as the Member rightly says, in the Assembly. And so, we will do that, but we are in a statutory process and the vote must come at the right point in that statutory process, which is currently timetabled for the week commencing 4 December.

Finally, can you explain why—? Reading the runes of where the Government is in all this—and I accept that, in terms of the statutory process, the due diligence is being gone through—you seem poised to ignore the judgment of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales who says that the Government has vastly exaggerated the economic benefits of the relief road, and that's been echoed most recently by your own backbenchers. She agrees with us about investing the £1.4 billion that is there currently for the black route in other options. I mean, it would be vastly more beneficial. You could double the amount of investment in the south Wales metro and have money left over to invest in reinstating the railway line between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, based on your own recently published feasibility study. What's the point of being the first legislature in the world to create a future generations commissioner if we ignore her advice on the largest capital decision that the Government's ever made? Doesn't that actually then leave the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 as a fairly empty exercise?

No, it doesn't. I disagree with him there. The commissioner provided evidence to the public inquiry, we have the report, it's with officials to prepare advice, and once the relevant Ministers and the Cabinet have the report, I'll be able to answer some of his questions, but I have not yet seen the report. I do not know what it says, and we're in a process in which that report, which was done at some length and took extensive evidence, will provide us with its outcome, and I do not know what that outcome is. I'm not in a position to answer those questions and as soon as we are in that position, as I said, the Cabinet Secretary will issue a written statement on the next steps in the light of that advice, but I don't have that advice yet, so I'm not in a position to say anything more about it. Adam Price makes a very good, valid point about the role of the commissioner, but she provided evidence to that public inquiry, which has, no doubt, taken it into account in providing its inquiry report outcome.

The Rights of People with Disabilities in South Wales Central

3. What is the Welsh Government doing to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in South Wales Central? OAQ52836

The Welsh Government published its new framework, 'Action on Disability: The Right to Independent Living', for consultation yesterday, 22 October. The accompanying action plan sets out priority actions under way across Welsh Government to tackle key barriers identified by disabled people themselves, including transport, employment, housing and accessibility.

I'm grateful for that answer. You may know, as part of Mountain Ash's regeneration, a Mountain Ash community hub is being developed, and people with disabilities have contacted me to say it's essential that that hub has disabled parking facilities. The day centre building never had those, nor a dropping-off point. I do commend RCT council for their consultation exercise. I have written to the lead cabinet member, Councillor Rhys Lewis, who has given me a very helpful answer that final plans are yet to be developed, but consideration of disabled parking as near as possible to the community hub has been highlighted as a priority consideration. So, when we ask disabled people for their views, we should act on them. There are many excellent regeneration schemes going ahead at the moment, but this sort of consideration ought to be at the heart of them.

13:55

Yes, I entirely agree with the Member. It very much should be part of the consideration, and one of the things the framework sets out, amongst many others identified to us by disabled people themselves, is the need for physical access to be facilitated. I mean, there are many other forms of access. So, I entirely agree with the Member. I hope that RCT council will take that into account. The voice of disabled people is rightly front and centre of this new action plan, and it highlights such issues as a matter of paramount importance.

The leader of the campaign to save the Welsh living grant is a Labour Party member, who has succeeded in getting a motion to the Labour Party conference in support of that grant's retention. Nevertheless, your Government is determined to push ahead with scrapping this grant, which is a lifeline to its recipients, in favour of transferring the fund directly to local authorities. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government, under the SNP, is retaining its version of the independent living grant. In the words of the recent petition on the matter, I'd like to ask you: why are people in receipt of the Welsh independent living grant being

'treated like guinea pigs when their high care and support needs require long-term stability and structure'?

I disagree entirely with the Member's take on this. Following the UK Government's closure of the independent living fund, back in 2015, we put in place the Welsh independent living grant with local authorities to enable them to continue payments at the same level to people who used to receive the payments, as an interim measure whilst consideration was given to what the longer term arrangement to support those people ought to be. 

This was only ever a short-term measure, and the grant has since ceased to be being replaced by alternative arrangements. On the advice of our stakeholder group, we are introducing future support through local authorities' social services over a two-year transition period. This commenced from April last year and is to allow sufficient time for authorities to agree, with the people affected, the well-being outcomes they wish to achieve, the future support they are required to deliver, and to provide that support. Our approach aims to ensure that all disabled people in Wales, whether they receive payments from the ILF or not, receive the support they require to live independently in the community, and we are keeping a close look on the progress in implementing these changes as they go forward.

What does the Welsh Government intend to do to address the communication failures between GP surgeries and the Welsh interpreting and translation service? This failure of communication has meant that the deaf community is unable to access vital healthcare due to administrative problems within the NHS in Wales. It's a very serious problem.

I'm afraid I don't know. I'm not familiar with the issue that the Member raises. Perhaps he would be good enough to write to me with the details and we'll ensure a response.

Improving Lung Cancer Outcomes

4. What measures will the Welsh Government introduce to improve lung cancer outcomes in the next 12 months? OAQ52808

Health boards and trusts are working to improve lung cancer outcomes in a number of ways, including the development of a value-based pathway of care. This will make the best use of the resources that are available, tackle variation in care, and deliver the outcomes that matter to people.

Thank you very much for the reply, Minister. Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in Wales, but it is responsible for the majority of cancer-related deaths. Like all cancers, it can be effectively treated or survival can be improved if diagnosed early. However, only 16 per cent of patients in Wales are diagnosed at stage 1. NHS England recently rolled out a one-stop shop designed to catch cancer early and speed up diagnosis. The centres act as a point of referral for people with vague, non-specific symptoms that their GP or healthcare professional suspects may be cancer. These centres have proved effective at identifying potential lung cancer patients before symptoms appear and before the cancer has advanced or set in the body. Will the Minister agree to consider introducing such a one-stop shop here, so that Wales will no longer have the poorest survival rates of all United Kingdom nations?

We have a number of things that we focus on on cancer outcomes, including implementing a lung cancer pathway through the lens of value-based healthcare. One-year survival from lung cancer has improved 5.8 percentage points, and five-year survival by 4 percentage points, between 2005 and 2009 and between 2010 and 2014. The cancer patient experience survey showed that 93 per cent of lung cancer patients reported a positive experience of their care—a significant improvement when compared against the previous survey.

We do have a national leadership group of expert clinicians, the Wales thoracic oncology group, that works within the cancer network to co-ordinate activity in Wales. The group has overseen a national lung cancer initiative over the past three years that included a symptom awareness campaign, a programme to get people ready for surgery, and to improve access to that surgery. We've also improved access to stereotactic ablative radiotherapy by funding new equipment at the Velindre Cancer Centre so that patients can access the advanced radiotherapy technique in Wales. In addition, the new treatment fund has led to faster access to a number of new drugs, including several for lung cancer. So, the Member can be assured that it is a matter we are keeping under close regard. 

14:00

Leader of the house, the reason Wales has some of the worst lung cancer survival rates in Europe is due, in the main, to delays in diagnosis. Unacceptably long waits for diagnostic tests and routine downgrading of general practitioner referrals contribute to late diagnosis of lung cancer. So, leader of the house, what is your Government doing to cut diagnostic waiting times and ensure that GP referrals are not downgraded?

We have some really interesting things happening in in this field, actually. The Welsh Government, like the rest of the UK, follows the expert advice of the UK National Screening Committee. The UKNSC does not currently recommend routine asymptomatic screening for lung cancer, but we are due to review the policy after the results of the NELSON randomised lung cancer screening trial are published. If that recommendation is for screening for lung cancer, the Wales screening committee will consider how this can be appropriately implemented in Wales, with a view to speeding up the screening. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends the primary investigation for suspected lung cancer is an urgent chest x-ray for people aged 40 and over with defined unexplained symptoms, and GPs are aware of this.

Children's Rights

5. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve children's rights in Wales? OAQ52833

We have clear plans to protect and extend children’s rights. We will introduce legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment, and we will legislate to give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in local government elections and support the Assembly Commission to extend voting rights to these young people for the Assembly.

I thank the leader of the house for that response. Is the leader of the house aware that a study published in the BMJ last week showed that countries where there is a ban on physically punishing children, including slapping and smacking, have lower rates of youth violence? The findings show that rates of physical fighting amongst young people were 42 to 69 per cent lower than in countries without any such bans in place. Doesn't she agree that this is very good evidence in support of the Welsh Government's plan to ban the physical punishment of children?

Yes, I am very aware of the research. In fact, the Welsh Government funds the Welsh contribution to the health behaviour in school-aged children study—one of the data sources that the research draws upon. We're very encouraged by the conclusion that country prohibition of corporal punishment is associated with less youth violence. It's very hard to say: less youth violence. [Laughter.] Of course, we considered a wide range of research and reviews in developing the evidence base for our proposed legislation, and the new research is very interesting and relevant to that. But I do think it's also important to also point out that our decision to take forward the legislation is also a principled one based on a commitment to children's rights, as well as on the research around violence, although that's a very nice added extra to have. The First Minister has confirmed that we will be bringing forward a Bill in year 3 of the legislative programme.

Leader of the house, I've argued before, of course, that our and Welsh Government's due regard for children's rights in our policy and legislation needs to be extended to public bodies, really, in order for the effect of what we do here to be felt locally. I don't think a three-page web consultation, as we've seen with Swansea Council recently on a school closure—which might be suitable for 17-year-olds but actually isn't for 5-year-olds—is particularly helpful. But, actually, the Welsh Government needs to look closer to home occasionally as well. The children's rights impact assessment on the most recent school code changes didn't mention article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at all. So, I'm just asking: do you think it's a good idea that all CRIAs should contain a statement of the reasons why article 12 hasn't been observed? I mean, there may be very, very good reasons for that—just impractical or genuinely unhelpful. But I think it would be helpful if they did include a statement as to why children's voices haven't been particularly sought on an occasion.    

Thank you. Yes, I'm very interested in what the Member said. I'm not aware of it, so I'd welcome a conversation between myself and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and her to explore that matter, because I think what she says is a matter of some interest.

14:05

Under the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, the Welsh Ministers do have to give due regard to specific provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in carrying out its functions, but the legislation doesn’t provide a means of operating when rights under the convention are not adhered to. If Wales leave the European Union, many legal safeguards for the rights of children and young people will be lost. Will your Government therefore consider incorporating the rights of children under the convention into Welsh law in full, in order to ensure that there will be a means available when rights are not adhered to?

Yes, it's a very interesting point, and in conversation with Helen Mary Jones about the incorporation of the rights of disabled people, we are very interested in looking to see what the impact of that might be in those conversations, including, if necessary, enforcement provisions and so on. I'd very much welcome a conversation that extended that to the rights of the child.

We are, of course, the only country in the UK so far to consult children and young people on their views on Brexit, and we are going to receive the consultation report by the end of October. So, it'll be very interesting to see what the young people themselves say about the issue of the incorporation of rights after Brexit as well.

Historical Sites

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of historical sites in Wales? OAQ52838

Historic sites contribute to the character of communities and deserve our support and protection. We are delighted at today's announcement that the slate landscape of north Wales will be put forward as the next UK nomination for inscription as a world heritage site. Wales has a unique and varied industrial heritage that is rightly celebrated.

Thank you. In 2007-8, a decade ago, the Conwy valley flood alleviation scheme was implemented at a cost to taxpayers of over £7 million. Now, despite the special circumstances of Gwydir castle's double grade I listing, castle and gardens—the only grade I listed gardens in Wales—Gwydir found itself entirely left out of that scheme and continues to suffer increasing and very damaging flood problems. A permanent flood wall would now cost in excess of £350,000. So, the owners, in absolute desperation, have resorted to recruiting volunteers recently to sandbag the area, but have now been told by National Resources Wales to suspend this.

Keith Ivens of the NRW has said that protecting this castle as a heritage site would be a matter for the Welsh Government, as it is outside of NRW's remit. Now then, leader of the house, First Minister—[Interruption.] Now then. The First Minister in January of last year, at a Carwyn Connect event in Llanrwst said that we need to find a solution for Gwydir, and this flooding cannot be allowed to continue. And continue it does. It is devastating to think what this family have spent on bringing this castle and its grounds back—700-year-old trees drowning, because of a lack of action from this Welsh Government.

Now then, could you therefore advise what steps you as a Welsh Government are taking. I will obviously, again, challenge the First Minister on what he's done since his Carwyn Connect—

Yes. How are you going to protect this very important, historical, double grade I listed castle and gardens, and how do you intend to live up to the reputation that you care and value our historical heritage?

As I'm sure the Member already knows, funding for flood alleviation schemes in Wales is available from the Welsh Government's flood risk management programme. It is directed at the most high-risk communities in Wales where risk to life remains a priority. Even if it were possible to design a cost-beneficial flood scheme for Gwydir, the primary beneficiaries would still be an uninhabited cellar and gardens, and even though those features are of huge historical importance and very beloved of the local community, it does not meet the very stringent criteria for funding.

Cadw's funding stream for repairs to historic buildings is focused on community assets, and therefore a flood alleviation scheme for Gwydir would not meet the criteria. But it is worth noting that Cadw has already provided grant support of over £150,000 towards restoration works for the castle in previous years.

I'm bound to say, Llywydd, that this is another example of the Conservative Member asking us to spend a lot of money on something that we all value whilst not taking into account the cuts in our budget from her Government over many years.

14:10

Leader of the house, I recently met with volunteers involved in preserving and promoting the blast furnaces of the former Gadlys ironworks. The works opened in 1827 and the furnaces are described as possibly the best-preserved in the UK, despite being largely unrecognised both locally and further afield. This project could be a real draw in terms of promoting the industrial heritage of the Cynon Valley and indeed Wales. How can the Welsh Government ensure that local groups access the support they need to make these ideas a success and to preserve the stories of our communities?

Yes, the Member makes an extremely important point. I'm aware of the national importance of the former Gadlys ironworks site. It does indeed have the potential to illustrate and enhance our knowledge and understanding of the development of the iron industry here in Wales. Cadw officers regularly monitor the condition of scheduled monuments and provide advice and guidance to site owners, occupiers and interested parties. I understand that a Cadw officer visited the remains of the blast furnaces at Gadlys in June 2018 and produced a management plan for the site. This has been copied to Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, who own part of the site, and a range of future meetings are indeed planned with the other owners and occupiers, and appropriate advice will be provided during those meetings. I know the Member has taken an active role in that.

It's recognised that, with the owner's permission, local groups and volunteers can and will make significant contributions to the preservation of the heritage assets at the ironworks site. Cadw provides funding to assist the four Welsh archaeological trusts in supporting local groups who wish to explore, understand and promote their heritage. The historic environment records that were put on a statutory footing by the recent Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 are very valuable tools to support this work, and I commend them to anyone who hasn't had the real privilege of looking through them, because they're an excellent piece of work.

The A5114 Railway Bridge in Llangefni

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of the railway bridge across the A5114 in Llangefni? OAQ52832

Yes. If we are to improve connectivity between communities and incentivise people to travel in a more sustainable way, it is important that we investigate how we can make better use of redundant railway lines as well as increasing services on lines already in operation.

Thank you very much for that response. On the fourteenth of this month, this railway bridge was demolished after a lorry struck it, and made the structure unsafe. Now, there are gaps where there once was a bridge, and the fact that there is no bridge there is now a threat to any future plans to reopen the rail line. I am convinced that reopening that rail line would be hugely beneficial to the economy of northern Anglesey, particularly the town of Amlwch. There is a line in place already; it’s not just grassland.

Now, I will remind the Government that you named Llangefni as one of 12 stations last year that were a priority to be reopened—without a bridge, there’ll be no station. So, will the Government commit to supporting the  Isle of Anglesey County Council as they put pressure on Network Rail to ensure that a new bridge is put in place that would be appropriate to carry rail in future, and also to support the council in doing research on options for that route, including the possibility of widening it—the abutments and so on—so that this event can lead to an improvement rather than a missed opportunity?

The Member makes a series of good points. The Member's well aware that the bridge was a Network Rail asset, and therefore is not devolved to us, and enhancing and maintaining it is not within our devolved competence. But alongside him, I welcome Anglesey Central Railway company's intention to run the heritage railway services along the line, and recognise the importance of building a replacement bridge in Llangefni to enable them to deliver their aspirations.

The Welsh Government is unfortunately not able to offer financial assistance as such, but we are very happy for officials to be engaged in any and all of the discussions between the Isle of Anglesey County Council, Anglesey Central Railway company and Network Rail to explore all the other opportunities that the Member listed in terms of funding. It is also worth mentioning that the new station at Llangefni has made it through to stage 2 assessment in terms of its refurbishment. If it should make it all the way to final stage, stage 3, then obviously the new station there is commensurate to the line being in existence, so that would put further pressure on Network Rail to put the line back in place. So, we're very happy to support with officials' time and energy, as you suggest.

In 2012, Network Rail estimated the cost of reinstating the Amlwch rail line at more than £25 million. In consequence, in December 2014, I asked the First Minister to consider supporting reopening the stretch from Gaerwen to Llangefni as a heritage connection, and, of course, this bridge would be critical. I said the precedent had been established in Llangollen with the link to Corwen, not only as a heritage connection, but also as an economic and social connection for people at both ends of the lines. And the First Minister replied that it was something that the Welsh Government would be keen to investigate and work on. So, what has happened since December 2014 and the First Minister's statement in reply to my question on this then?

14:15

As I say, it's a Network Rail asset and we have been putting some pressure on Network Rail to do something about it, and, as I outlined to Rhun ap Iorwerth, we're very happy for officials to work on any scheme that looks like it will bring the line back into beneficial use and do the historic investigation that he mentioned in order to see what can be done. We're also wanting to be in a position to attract funding for new stations if it becomes available, and so we've started, as I said, work on developing business cases for possible investment, and that does include the Llangefni station as one of those possibilities.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement and I call on the leader of the house. I will give her some time to change files. And therefore I call on the leader of the house to make her statement—Julie James.

There is one change to this week's business, which is to reduce the length of oral Assembly questions to the Counsel General. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on the inequality of services provided by local health boards in Wales's NHS, please? I have been contacted by a constituent who suffers from progressive coronary artery disease, CAD. This disease is slowly flooding up his arteries, increasing his risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or blood clot. His specialist has recommended that he should be treated with apheresis and, if he were living in Cardiff, his consultant would have given this treatment straight away. However, because Aneurin Bevan health board do not recognise this as a standard procedure, they have had to make an individual patient funding request for this treatment. Can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on why patients are being denied life-changing treatments simply because of where they live and what action he will take to address this postcode lottery in the NHS in Wales, please?

I don't think it is a postcode lottery. The Member's actually answered his own question, and has set out the procedure by which he applies for the funding that he needs. So, if he's having a problem with that, I suggest he writes with more detail to the Cabinet Secretary.

Could we have a statement on the rise of racism and hate crime in Wales since 2016? And I'm sure that you'd like to share with me the absolute disgust about the incident that happened on a Ryanair flight at the weekend and say that there is no place for this sort of behaviour, certainly across the world, but more specifically here in Wales.

And the facts are simple, that, since the referendum vote, the figures of race crime and hate crime have shot through the roof. Police figures obtained through a freedom of information request show that incidents surged by 23 per cent, Gwent being the biggest area that was affected, with a rise of 77 per cent—that's a 77 per cent rise in incidents from the previous year. That's an unparalleled rise during the time that these records have been kept. Now, those incidents reported in the past year included a Muslim woman being dragged along the pavement by her hijab, two Polish men being attacked in the street, resulting in the death of one of them, a Muslim man and woman being squirted with acid, leaving them with life-changing injuries—these are the most despicable crimes and they have been fuelled by racism and hatred towards the other. There is no area whatsoever in the UK that hasn't escaped these crimes, even those areas where they have voted very strongly to stay in the EU. And there were—76 per cent of incidents were restricted to verbal abuse; 14 per cent of cases involved threat of actual or physical violence. The statistics are extremely interesting—

14:20

I am, thank you. In terms of hate crime, 40 per cent of them are in terms of religion and over 50 per cent of them are against Muslim people, and just less than that against Jewish people. So, there's a real need, I feel, for us to take hold of this. I raise it now, because the police are bracing themselves for much more of the same and higher levels of incidents once we leave the EU.

Well, Joyce Watson highlights a very worrying set of figures and trends and some of the specific instances that we've all been absolutely horrified to know are happening. I do think there's a small ray of hope in that the number of reported hate crimes is rising, and we feel very strongly that that means that there's more faith in the system so that reporting the crime will actually have some desired outcome. I do want, as I always say, Llywydd, on these occasions, to encourage people who experience any kind of crime to come forward so that we are aware and action can be taken. It's very much our top priority to encourage that they come forward and to ensure that people feel satisfied with how their case is handled once they have come forward. From all of our statistics, we're making very good progress in that regard. We do have a good model in the national hate crime report and support centre, run by Victim Support, who work alongside a network of dedicated staff and the four police forces in Wales. The centre plays a vital role, as I know Joyce Watson knows, in supporting victims of hate crime in Wales, and I've provided funding for the service until 2020. But she's quite right—there's much more that can still be done. This year, we have made £5,000 available to each of the four police and crime commissioners in Wales and Victim Support Cymru to support them in a range of activities to promote hate crime awareness during hate crime awareness week 2018. I was delighted to speak at that last week. I would very much welcome a cross-party debate on the rise of reported hate crime and would very much welcome that initiative coming from the back benches.

Can I call for two statements, the first one on British Sign Language? I believe the last statement made by the Welsh Government was made by our former colleague Carl Sargeant on 20 October 2016 when he rightly said that:

'For Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL), appropriate communication support contributes to social inclusion and equal access to services...as a gateway to opportunities which hearing people take for granted such as taking part in parents’ evenings and community events, as well as supporting people to find and retain employment.'

However, last Saturday, I attended the 2018 'Lend Me Your Ears' conference for adults and parents of children with hearing loss in north Wales at Bangor University, where we heard members of the deaf community and BSL speakers, academics, speaking at the conference, as well as academics at Bangor University saying we need BSL legislation in Wales, looking at the BSL (Scotland) Act launched in 2015 and their national BSL plan published in October 2017, including a national advisory group including up to 10 deaf people who use BSL as their preferred or first language.

Although the Assembly and Welsh Government do not have specific powers in relation to British Sign Language, the powers we have in relation to equal opportunities would enable us to pass a law in relation to British Sign Language, so long as it relates to the use of BSL by any of the equal opportunity groups. I therefore call for a statement to reflect the genuine passion, concern and evidence expressed by members of the deaf community and academics at last Saturday's annual conference in Bangor. 

The second and final request is for a statement on tier 4 residential detoxification and rehabilitation substance misuse services in Wales. I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care on 3 July this year, after concern had been raised with me by the two remaining providers in Wales, Brynawel in the south and CAIS in the north, where both sets of services are under threat. Nearly four months have passed and I've still not had a response to that letter. Brynawel said that the Cabinet Secretary has spoken of commissioning, but they are not commissioned, their beds are simply spot-purchased, and the pathway to residential rehabilitation across Wales is, they quote, 'fractured to a greater or lesser degree' for people who are dependent on alcohol and drugs. 

An independent report in the second Assembly, commissioned by the Welsh Government, on detoxification and residential treatment, found the whole service was underfunded. A subsequent report commissioned by the Welsh Government identified numerous reports of people reoffending so as to be able to be detoxed in prison and of hospital admissions because of the unavailability of in-patient detox and rehab beds in Wales. And that called for a substantial increase in capacity. A report commissioned by the Welsh Government in 2010 reinforced this message, and the then Welsh Government announced it was going forward on a three-centre model: Rhoserchan, Brynawel and Ty'n Rodyn. Rhoserchan's now closed, Ty'n Rodyn's now closed, Brynawel's under threat, and CAIS in north Wales has been forced to go into the private sector to meet the desperate demand for beds, including a partnership in Lancashire and a 16-bed private unit in Colwyn Bay, with concern expressed that Welsh Government policy has therefore pushed this essential provision out of Wales and into the private sector. I call for a statement accordingly. 

14:25

I think the Member said as part of his rather lengthy submission there that he'd written to the Cabinet Secretary and not received a response. If he wants to furnish—

Well, if you furnish me with a copy of the initial letter, I'll chase the response from the Cabinet Secretary for you. 

In terms of BSL, as part of our additional learning needs transformation programme, we are funding training for local authority-based specialist teachers of learners with various sensory impairments, including BSL. We're very committed to creating an inclusive education system for all learners, regardless of their needs, and very much support the right of learners to access education through British Sign Language where required. It's a matter that Mike Hedges brings up on a very regular basis with me. Local authorities do have a legal duty to provide suitable education for all children, and that includes the provision of BSL. And local authorities also have a responsibility to ensure that appropriately qualified staff are available at schools where a learner has been identified as requiring BSL. 

We are investing in the training and development needed to strengthen the capacity of specialist services. A total of £289,000 over three years has been agreed to support the postgraduate training of a range of local authority-based specialist teachers, including six teachers of the deaf. This funding is also being used to train local authority-based staff in British Sign Language. And our Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 is at the heart of our work to transform the education and support for children and young people with additional learning needs in Wales. The Act enables us to improve the planning and delivery of additional learning needs provision and ensure it's more focused on a child or young person's individual needs. So, Llywydd, the Welsh Government takes this matter very seriously. 

I would ask for two statements, the first—this will come as no surprise to the leader of the house—an update regarding staff in Swansea being made redundant by Virgin Media, this statement to include details of what the Welsh Government is doing to help the staff find alternative employment, and any update on the redundancy terms being offered. 

The second one—I would like to ask for a Government statement on higher level apprenticeships leading to degrees, which should include the number currently studying, the number of companies involved, and the support the Welsh Government is giving. 

Thank you for those two issues. With Virgin Media, as the Member well knows, throughout the summer, officials have been in meetings with both Virgin Media management and its employee representatives to assess the situation as it evolves and to be sure our assistance is available where appropriate. The Welsh Contact Centre Forum is arranging jobs fairs to be held later this month at the Virgin Media site. The fairs will bring together recruiting employers within the area, as well as providing careers advice for those staff seeking alternative employment. 

Like you and other colleagues representing the Swansea area, we've all raised concerns around the handling of the redundancy processes being undertaken. The economy Secretary has specifically raised these concerns with Virgin Media's head office very recently, and I can tell the Member that, last week, Virgin Media wrote to the economy Secretary assuring him that all employees will not forgo a redundancy package as a result of taking up a job offer with an alternative employer before their formal exit dates, which the Member knows—I know as well, and Rebecca Evans also knows— has been a very major concern of the employees that are being—that go from Virgin Media. They will also make available to consumer operations staff a discretionary operational transition payment, or loyalty bonus, if you like, to recognise those who do maintain customer service levels by staying with the company until the formal exit dates. Virgin Media's outplacement support team has taken on responsibility for providing staff with on-site access to key partners of the taskforce approach,  including Careers Wales, the Department for Work and Pensions and local employers. And they're also offering one-to-one advice on curriculum vitae writing, interview skills, and Linkedin profiles. So, we're keeping a very close eye on ensuring that full range of services that the Welsh Government makes available to employees in this situation is available at Virgin Media.

14:30

Leader of the house, this is the fifth time of asking, so I'm hoping I will get somewhere this time. We were promised an update on regulations that might affect local authorities and Natural Resources Wales's powers, with regard to regulating woodchip storage sites, and the fires that ensue from that. It's obviously been a big issue, not just for my region, but other regions as well. So, if we could have the well and long-promised update on that—.

And, secondly, I wonder if you could also remind the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs that, in July, I asked for a statement on whether there could be some update, or some consideration, of the Commons Act 2006, and whether there is any need to refresh regulations beneath that Act, to help communities who might be affected by commoners grazing—what shall we say?—irresponsibly. There are a few issues, which I'm sure you are aware of, in Gower. So, if we can have an update on that, I'm sure we'd both be delighted. Thank you.

The Cabinet Secretary is nodding happily at me, so I'm sure she'll provide that update. On the woodchip thing, I rather thought that had happened, and I'm sorry it hasn't, and we'll chase it up.

It's emerged over the weekend that more than 1,200 people who were infected with HIV as a result of contaminated blood, including 55 people in Wales, were pressurised into signing a waiver before getting ex gratia payments from the UK Government, and, after that, were then told that they also had hepatitis C. So, these people and their families—and, in Wales, 40 of those 55 have since died—are currently precluded from taking any further action, any legal action, although, thanks to Haemophilia Wales and the cross-party group's submission to the inquiry, the issue is included in the public inquiry's terms of reference. So, what can the Welsh Government do to ensure that the survivors, and the family members who have lost loved ones to HIV and hepatitis C, who signed this waiver in 1990, can also take part in this public inquiry into contaminated blood, which, of course, the victims have at least succeeded in getting off the ground? And can the Welsh Government also ensure that all necessary documents related to the HIV litigation, which are held by the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office, which was then the licensing authority, are disclosed to the inquiry? And I don't know whether the leader of the house is able to answer with those responses, or whether we ought to have a fuller statement at some point.

My understanding of the situation at the moment is that the chair of the infected blood inquiry has been very clear that everyone who has evidence to contribute will be able to offer their evidence to the inquiry, either in writing or in person, and that the voices and experiences of all those affected by these events, including the people who she is mentioning, will be heard. The Welsh Government is registered as a core participant in the inquiry, and we've given our full commitment that any relevant documentation or evidence that we may hold in relation to any aspect of the infected blood scandal will be made available, as requested by the inquiry. So, should we be in charge of those documents, then we will be disclosing them. And I undertake to discuss with my two colleagues over here whether there is anything else we can do about any other documentation that might not have passed to us when the Assembly was formed.

Leader of the house, the Commons Home Affairs Committee has this week called for an end to single household payments of universal credit, with Welsh Women's Aid stating that:

'It’s critical that there is an end to the default payment to a single householder to ensure that women have access to their own financial resources and ensure Universal Credit does not enable perpetration of financial abuse.'

Do you agree with me that the UK Government's single household payment of universal credit will make it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships? Can we have a statement on how the Welsh Government is committed to tackling domestic violence, and welcoming its commitment to retaining a housing focus grant, which Welsh Women's Aid says:

'will potentially help survivors of domestic and sexual violence'

who need access, and other supported housing, particularly under the continued threat, as a result of the single household payments of universal credit?

Yes, I do very much agree with her. Survivors and stakeholders all tell us that the single household payments, where there is a domestic abuse situation, could give perpetrators total command of household income, further enabling them to control and isolate their partners and making it much, much more difficult for people to leave abusive relationships. And there's a long campaign, which I know she's been very much a part of, to ensure that women have the right amount of the household income given to them on any credit or universal credit scheme for those reasons, and for reasons of being able to ensure the correct spending on children's needs and food and so on takes place, even outside of a domestic violence situation. The Member will know that we're very committed to a gender review and equality of gender across Welsh society, and we know that an unequal arrangement for finances very much contributes to that gender inequality. So, I entirely agree with her that this is not a situation we would like to see.

We continue to press the UK Government to address the critical flaws of universal credit, which are having an impact on our most vulnerable people, including those experiencing domestic abuse. The system is fundamentally at odds with our vision for an equal society and the independent economic status of women, as she has very ably outlined. 

14:35

Two things, leader of the house. One is: I wonder if you would join me in congratulating the National Youth Arts Wales, supported by the Arts Council of Wales, for the absolutely stellar performance on Sunday of the world premiere of Sorrows of the Somme, which was performed by the National Youth Choir of Wales and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. It was an absolutely outstanding performance that really captured the horror and the death of so many Welsh soldiers at Mametz Wood, and reminded us of the horrors of war and all we need to do prevent it.

Secondly, I wondered if I could ask for a statement on fraud in the recycling of plastic, because we've read in the newspapers, in the last couple of days, that six UK plastic waste exporters have had their licences suspended or cancelled, and the Environment Agency is investigating claims of false exporting of tens of thousands of tonnes of non-existent plastic waste and that the £50 million industry has been penetrated by criminal gangs. Other concerns are that waste isn't being recycled, it's just being left to leak into rivers and oceans across the world, and that repeat offenders in the UK have not had their licences removed. The National Audit Office in England points out that self-reporting invites this level of fraud and error, and the Environment Agency has made only three unannounced visits to accredited reprocessors and exporters in the last year. So, could we have a statement on how well NRW compares with the Environment Agency's inspection record of accredited reprocessors and exporters, what liabilities could the Welsh Government be exposed to in relation to false claims of exporting Welsh plastic waste through UK ports, and what action the Government may need to take to prevent this scandal undermining citizens' confidence in our excellent Welsh recycling records?   

Well, to start off with, of course, I'm very happy to congratulate the performance that Jenny Rathbone highlighted. I'm very proud of what the Welsh people have done in commemoration of the sacrifice and bravery of many of our people during the first world war, and I'm very pleased to be able to add my voice to that, I thought, very powerful example of the effect of the death of so many young men and the loss of them to our culture and society. 

In terms of the plastic issues that she mentions, the Environment Agency is indeed, as she says, investigating the UK plastics recycling industry for possible fraud and abuse, following criticism last year, as she said, by the National Audit Office of PERNs, which is plastic export recovery notes, which are used by producers to show they're contributing to recycling plastic packaging waste. The export trade is at a UK level.

Here in Wales, NRW do not have any current investigations into plastic packaging waste exporters, because there are three exporters in Wales that have all been inspected and audited in 2018, and NRW do not have any specific concerns or suspicion of fraud in relation to those exporters. The EA investigations are all focused on exporters based in England. Any UK-wide investigation would be carried out jointly between the two agencies, but, as I say, that's not happening at the moment. Any other Welsh waste going overseas will be included in the overall figures for materials exported from the UK, and the regulation of the transshipment of waste is not devolved to Wales. So, that's a UK Government-level matter. The Environment Agency, as I said, is leading that investigation. 

Apart from fraud, as she points out, it's clearly a very bad thing if waste is being exported from the UK and not treated properly overseas so it leaks into rivers and the sea. The answer is to have good infrastructure at home to treat the materials we collect and collect the materials in the best way that guarantees high, clean-quality materials that can be recycled and fed back into a circular economy.

The Welsh Government has very much set out its preference for source-separated collections and materials at the kerbside in its collections blueprint for this very reason. As Lesley Griffiths has said on a number of occasions in this Senedd, we are very proud of our records on recycling here in Wales.

14:40

Leader of the Chamber, last week, Geraint Davies MP went to the House of Commons and argued in front of the Environmental Audit Committee in Westminster that the mud dredged from outside Hinkley nuclear reactor in Somerset, which was then dumped just outside Cardiff, was not properly tested and was a public health risk. Now, that's the same mud that your Government voted, just two weeks ago, to carry on dumping. He quoted Professor Dominic Reeve from Swansea University, an expert on sea bed movements, who said the mud had not been sufficiently tested. Now, there will need to be a new application to dump the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of mud that is left. Do you agree with your Swansea West Labour colleague and the professor at Swansea University that the dumping should not take place, and can I have a statement on what your Government will do differently if the new application is made?

I've spoken to my colleague MP, who has since removed the tweet as he had not actually read the NRW evidence, which he has freely admitted. I understand that the Cabinet Secretary is about to write to all Members with an update.

Diolch, Llywydd. Leader of the house, I wonder if we can have an update from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on the uptake and availability of this year's flu vaccine? I know that many AMs have been involved with the programme since they came to the Assembly.

I've been contacted by a constituent from Chepstow, who made an appointment with his local GP to go and receive the vaccine, only to be told that the stocks of the vaccine for over-65-year-olds, which he was, were critically low. He was asked to return in a month's time. He's obviously concerned that the flu season will be under way by the time he receives that vaccine. So, I wonder if the health Secretary could give me some reassurance, through a statement or other means, that this very worthwhile vaccine is available to as many people as possible. I fully appreciate that there are pressures on the NHS in delivering this, and it's a more popular vaccine than ever, but nonetheless, if an over-65-year-old is seeking that vaccine, it's very important that they do receive it in a timely way.

The Cabinet Secretary agrees with you, and he'll write to all of us to set out where we are to alleviate such concerns. But I'd also like to point out that your constituent wouldn't have had to go to his GP, he could, of course, have gone to his community pharmacy to receive his flu jab, and I would recommend that Members bear that in mind.

3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services: A Healthier Wales: Update on the Transformation Fund

The next item, therefore, is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on 'A Healthier Wales': update on the transformation fund. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make the statement—Vaughan Gething.

Diolch, Llywydd. Members will recall that in June of this year I published 'A Healthier Wales'. That responded to the recommendations of the independent expert-led parliamentary review of health and social care in Wales. And Members will, of course, recall that the terms, remit and membership of the parliamentary review panel enjoyed cross-party support from this place. 'A Healthier Wales' sets out our long-term future vision of a whole-system approach to health and social care. Our approach was formed in partnership with the NHS, local government, the third sector and colleagues from housing.

When our plan was published, I gave a commitment that work would begin immediately on implementation, and that I would bring back to the Assembly in the autumn a report on our initial progress. So, today, I can update you on the steps we have already taken as a Government, and the actions that our service delivery partners are taking with us, as we begin our journey of transformation.

As a first step, I established the health and social care transformation programme. This programme is led by Dr Andrew Goodall, the director general for health and social services and chief executive of the NHS. He is supported by a programme team made up of Welsh Government and senior health and social care professionals with experience of front-line service change. The programme will beresponsible for driving delivery at pace across the whole health and care system, and for ensuring that the 40 actions contained in 'A Healthier Wales' are discharged.

I have also constituted an advisory board, made up of senior health and social care leaders, together with key partners from across sectors and geographical regions of Wales, to provide strategic oversight, advice and challenge to the programme. This board has already met twice and is providing real additional value with the expertise and influence it is able to provide to our work.    

When the plan, 'A Healthier Wales' was published, I also announced that additional money was being made available to health and social care providers in Wales through our £100 million transformation fund over two years to support the testing of new service models on the ground. In July, we wrote to our health and social care partners inviting them to work together through their regional partnership boards to develop and submit proposals for potential support from the transformation fund. We asked partners to design proposals in line with our shared ambitions set out in 'A Healthier Wales', and in particular our vision and our design principles. This should guide thinking around new models of seamless care. We all recognise the need to bring services together, closer to home, and these new ways of working must have the potential to be scaled up across regions and, of course, at an all-Wales level.

I am pleased to report that we have already received eight proposals from regional partnership boards, with more in development. I have confirmed support for two of these proposals, including Western Bay’s Cwmtawe cluster integrated health and social care programme that I can announce today, following the Cardiff and Vale’s Me, My Home, My Community project that I announced and visited last week. These pilots will allow us to test and evaluate new approaches to care that support the principles set out in 'A Healthier Wales', including early identification and intervention to support at-risk individuals, innovative use of technology and information sharing to enable different services to work together, and multidisciplinary community-based approaches to care provision. All of these should reduce pressure on our GPs and hospitals and, of course, provide a better service for the public. 

The strength of the proposals that we have received so far, and the manner in which partners have generally worked together to develop these ideas in a short time, gives me great encouragement that our regional partnership boards will deliver on their role as the primary agents of change and transformation. However, I also recognise that if regional partnership boards are to play the leading role in transformation—and we know that they have the ambition to do so—they will need sufficient resource and expertise to do so. That is why I have confirmed in our 2019-20 budget proposals that regional partnership boards will receive an additional £30 million. This additional support will strengthen regional partnership boards and ensure that they are able to meet the challenges ahead. 

Whilst the transformation fund has, understandably, attracted much interest, I will say again now, as I have said many times since we published the plan, service transformation must be a core activity for all health and social care organisations. Strong system leadership will be required to drive the change needed across Wales. Ultimately, it will not be the £100 million transformation fund but the £9 billion of core funding that our health and social services receive each year that will deliver transformation. I have been at pains to point out that the transformation fund is itself only one small part of the much wider programme of change set out in 'A Healthier Wales' that we are now embarked upon and committed to delivering.

I would like to take a short amount of time to update you on some of the other work we have already begun in support of those wider actions. The plan promised stronger national leadership from the centre and a commitment to simplify, where possible, some of the planning and reporting arrangements that have grown around the health service in particular over time. In relation to the first of these, I can confirm that work is well under way in relation to our planned NHS executive. In relation to planning requirements, earlier this month I issued revised integrated medium-term plan guidance that sets out a more streamlined and joined-up process that we are supporting with an additional £60 million of new funding.

In keeping with our drive for greater emphasis on health promotion, I launched our healthy and active fund in the summer together with the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport within the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency. This partnership is with Public Health Wales and Sport Wales. 

In support of our workforce objectives, we have announced new pay deals, extended our 'Train. Work. Live.' programme, commissioned Social Care Wales and Health Education and Improvement Wales to develop our new workforce strategy. We've refocused a new national leadership group that now includes representatives from the social care sector as well as the national health service. I will of course be happy to provide further updates to Members in the future to update you on progress.           

14:50

I'd like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement on the transformation fund. It is very eagerly anticipated, because I have heard this transformation fund being claimed by so many people as a panacea for much within the NHS, so I'm very pleased, actually, to read about the general points that you make about the criteria. Perhaps you could actually just give us a little bit more expansion about the criteria for a project going ahead to the transformation fund. Who's going to be making the decision? Will it be just the regional boards putting forward the projects and then Andrew Goodall's team making the final decision, or will it be at a slightly lower level?

I'm a little bit concerned that only two projects so far have been agreed and we're coming towards the end of 2018. I appreciate it's a new fund—I'm not unrealistic—but given that the money is only available until 2020, are you confident that you'll be able to deploy that £100 million within the next, well, just over two years, and not only deploy it, but actually have it working and have the results of an evaluation so that we know whether or not those projects are then worth rolling out throughout the rest of the NHS?

Are you able to give us any indication of the projects that you have had in—the six where you have not yet said 'yes' or 'no', and whether that's actually because they're a 'no' or because you're still evaluating them—and can you confirm whether or not there is equity of application across Wales? The reason why I ask that is, of course, Betsi Cadwaladr is in special measures, Hywel Dda is undergoing a fairly rigorous transformation programme, and I am quite concerned that health boards—and there may be others, not just those two—don't miss out on this opportunity because they're so busy doing their day-to-day other jobs. So, can you assure us as to whether or not we are going to have that equity of application?

A couple of very quick questions, in particular: projects that you are looking at—will you be giving an extra weighting towards the primary and community sector? I ask that because, of course, the entire drive of the parliamentary review was talking about how we need to move away from the secondary sector. When I talk to health boards, I get the impression an awful lot of the application is going towards firefighting or trying to make things happen in the secondary sector. And so, this primary and community sector, which we're putting so much faith in to transform the way we deliver the NHS services over the next decade or two decades—we need to make sure that there are projects there that are going to be rolled out. Will you be able to assure us that there will be checks and balances across all of this spend and that it doesn't simply get sucked into either existing debt or fixed overheads or additional administrative personnel, so that it actually does hit the boots on the ground?

I would be interested to know if this is new money that you talk about in your statement. You talk about a very welcome, as ever, £30 million for the regional transformation boards, and an extra £60 million to support the IMTPs. Is this redeployed money or completely new money on top of the £100 million?

Finally, do you have a system of time framing your pilots to ensure that those pilots have a kill switch—they're either successful or unsuccessful? How long are you going to give them? Because, if they turn out to be unsuccessful—and I appreciate that we're not going to be able to be successful in every single one—then we need to be able to recognise that writing very, very quickly and move on to the next project so that we can maximise that amount of money as much as possible, to transform the NHS in the way we need to.

Thank you for the comments and questions. I'm going to start by recognising what you say about the fund, and, of course, some people have all been looking for an extra sum of money. Whenever you announce a certain sum of money, people always try to understand what their part of it is, what their chunk is and whether it will cure all ills. Well, I've been really clear from the outset, as indeed has my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies, that this fund is a specific fund to help deliver change and transformation. It is not a panacea. It really is about supporting and implementing new ways of working to transform our whole service. So, it's a way of leading change to then use the £9 billion to deliver that change on a system-wide level. That's what we're looking for. And, in that, the design principles that I've mentioned several times really matter. If they don't meet the design principles that we set out, they won't get supported. If they are not genuinely scalable, and they can't demonstrate how, if successful, these projects could scale, then again they won't be supported. I accept that not every project that gets supported, even on the best advice, the best design—not every project is likely to succeed. It's important that we accept that and say that again and again at the outset, because there'll still be learning from projects that don't succeed.

That goes back to your final question about evaluation and time frame. With each bid that comes in, there will be something about evaluation within it so that we can understand what good it is or isn't doing, and also the time frame within which to do so. So, these are not never-ending projects. They can't be. They have got to lead to a point where we can understand: is this the right answer, and, if it is, how do we then scale it across our system? And, if it isn't the right answer, then we have to disinvest from it. I'm very, very clear about that and I have no difficulty in saying that, both in the initial launch that I attended in Cardiff and Vale, and the same goes for the Cwmtawe cluster, and whatever projects I decide to support in the coming weeks and months.

So, on the question that you asked about how the decisions are made, the advisory board is there to challenge the work that is being done by the programme board. That group, led by Andrew Goodall, will provide the advice to me, and I will then make decisions, based on that advice, about whether to support projects or not. So, I have decided on the first two projects. The eight areas that I mentioned—I'll get advice on those, and I will then look at them, and I will then make a decision about what to support. I'm happy to confirm that each part of Wales will provide a project to go into the transformation fund, of varying scales and sizes. I can absolutely guarantee that Hywel Dda and north Wales are not about to be screened out of this. So, you will see, in the choices that I make, that we will be making choices across the country. I expect every area, not just the two who have applied—. I expect, before the end of the calendar year, you will see a range of other choices. So, I can't give an exact timescale, because I need to consider the advice when it's given and make a choice when I'm content that it is the right thing to say 'yes' or 'no' to. But I expect to make further choices in the coming weeks, not necessarily waiting a matter of months.

I'm also happy to reprovide the commitments that I have given previously—that this transformation fund is not a way of using extra resources to primarily go into a hospital system. Now, that doesn't mean that projects can't have an impact on our hospital system, or can't use some of the money within the hospital system, but it is primarily about delivering a shift in how we deliver care. So, the primary focus is primary and community services. It really is about the partnership between health and social care and others, including housing and the third sector. That's why we have used regional partnership boards as the initial mechanism. Anything that wants to come to the transformation fund must first have the support of its regional partnership board. That's really important. So, health and local government are in the same place as co-decision makers, for the shared objectives that 'A Healthier Wales' sets out. It is not a question of all of them saying, 'This is my project. I will now decide.' They have to agree with their other partners around the regional partnership board table.

In terms of the £60 million to support the IMPTPs, that is new money. In terms of the £30 million I have announced for the regional partnership boards, that is new money too. Of course, with the transformation fund, if we don't spend all of it, I will then have to make a choice as to whether I can reprovide that money into the next year. I think we'll see an expansion in ambition and scale in the projects we are likely to see, and I want to encourage that, not level it downwards.

14:55

Thank you to the Cabinet Secretary for his statement. If I may just return to an issue that was raised by Angela Burns, as to whether this £30 million that has been announced today is new money, I think that's very important. If it isn't new money to the health budget as a whole, can you tell us from where in your budget you have taken the £30 million? I would associate myself with the welcome that Angela Burns has given to this if they are new resources, but if they are recycled resources, we need to know where they have come from. I would draw your attention—. As you said yourself in your statement, of course, this extra money is very welcome, but it is very small compared to the total £9 billion budget. In fairness to the services, it may be asking them to do quite a lot with comparatively little.    

Returning to this portfolio after many years, I suppose I was a bit concerned to see your statement that the 'A Healthier Wales' programme promises to provide strong national leadership from the centre. Obviously, part of me welcomes that, but you have to ask where that's been for the last 18 years. I'm trying hard, Llywydd, not to be sceptical here, but I've heard a lot of this before, about excellent pilot projects that can, in this case, deliver better co-ordination between health and social care, but what we haven't seen is those rolling out. I very much hope that this is not the case and that I will be proved wrong.

Of course, a candidate for the Welsh leadership position—and, you know, we all follow this very closely for very good reasons—recently said that change takes courage, and I'm sure that the Cabinet Secretary will agree with me that delivering change in the NHS is going to take considerable courage, and it will require him, I think, to face down some vested interests, possibly, and delivering that change may not be easy. Of course, his party has been in charge of the NHS and health and social care for 18 years.

We've had programmes and legislation intending to deliver this outcome, and, as I've said, it hasn't happened. And I don't underestimate, in fairness, Cabinet Secretary, how difficult it is to make this happen, but I would like you to provide us with some reassurance that it is going to be different this time. And even if this is quite a long timescale, could you give us some indication this afternoon—and forgive me, new to my role as I am, if this is a matter that you've already dealt with in previous statements and previous debates—but what sort of timescale do you have in mind, not so much for the pilot projects, but for actually being in a position where you know which pilots have worked and you're ready to start rolling them out? Because, I think, historically in Wales, we really haven't been very good at that. We've been good at coming up with good ideas, but we haven't been very good at upscaling them.

And in order to provide this Assembly with some reassurance about the process, I wonder if you would consider publishing the meeting notes of the advisory board, so that we can see for ourselves what challenge is being provided to the transformation programme. I understand you may not feel that that's appropriate, because there is a question, potentially, of confidentiality, and one wouldn't wish to stifle robust debate. I suppose an alternative to that, Presiding Officer, might be further regular statements from the Cabinet Secretary.

Your statement also mentions simplifying planning and reporting for the NHS. Now, none of us would wish that to reduce accountability, but I think, neither would any of us wish people to be spending time on unnecessary paperwork. So, I welcome that commitment in the statement. But, I'm also interested to know what the time frame is for a new and simplified system.

Can you elaborate on what you've already said to Angela Burns about how the effectiveness of the pilots will be assessed? This will obviously be difficult to do, because they'll be addressing different issues, different problems, as you've already highlighted. And can you also tell us: what plans do you have to ensure that the successful pilots are rolled out and, perhaps more difficultly, that the unsuccessful ones are abandoned and that this is done in good time? I don't wish to be sceptical, Cabinet Secretary. I wonder if you would consider, for example, publishing the evaluations of—once you've made a decision, if you publish the evaluations, both of the projects you decide to support and those you don't, so that we can see more clearly the direction of travel.

I very much hope that this is a new dawn of leadership, and I remain to be convinced and look forward to pursuing this work over the next months and years.

15:00

Thank you for your comments and questions. Of course, I agree with you that change does take courage, but when we think about the questions that you've asked, I'm happy to reiterate the comments to Helen Mary Jones that I made to Angela Burns as well: I answered that the £30 million for regional partnership boards is indeed new money.

I should also welcome Helen Mary Jones to her new role in this Assembly term as spokesperson for Plaid Cymru. I'm sure we'll have lots of opportunities to talk at length in this Chamber and outside.

Just to deal with your point about the meeting notes, it's partly process, and I think it's also partly about wanting to have openness, but I would not want to stifle the robustness of challenge within that meeting. I'm more than happy to come to this place and answer questions, and I don't find that a troubling thing to do; I'm more than happy to do so. But, I want to think about a way in which we can not stifle debate and challenge within that meeting, but at the same time make sure that Members are aware that that is genuinely taking place.

On the broader point about time frame and evaluation that you asked about at several points, as I said to Angela Burns, there'll be a time frame and evaluation for each bid that goes into the fund. It's part of what'll be tested before any project for the transformation fund is approved, and I won't set an artificial time frame for that evaluation to take place. Not only will I expect there to be an evaluation framework within there, but of course that will inform any choice made about successful or unsuccessful. And I would expect to make that available, or information from that evaluation available, when choices are then made about whether to continue and to promote that as a project to be mainstreamed, or indeed if the choice is not to continue with that.

Because all of us in this room are aware, in our variety of roles, and will get lobbied constantly about different projects that are working where people are saying, 'This is a great project. You must support it.' There is often, even in an unsuccessful project, much that is of value and learning that people want to continue with, but we have to make a choice about what not to do that stops us from doing things that are potentially of greater value to the whole system. So, yes, I want to find a way to make sure that evaluation information is available to help support those decisions.

On your broader points about where we are, look: I recognise that change in the national health service is difficult, and, yes, there has been a Labour Minister in this position over the last 18 years, including of course during the One Wales Government, so we've all seen the challenges and difficulties over time of delivering health and care in Wales—in times in the first half of devolution when there was more money, and in the second half of devolution when coping with austerity. What is different now is we don't have money to avoid a process of change. We have rising demand that we could anticipate 20 years ago, but that demand is now at a point where it could overtop our system, so there is real responsibility on all of us in a leadership position to actually enable change to happen.

That doesn't mean we all need to agree. You can have unity of purpose without unanimity on every single question and choice to make. But I do think that each of us needs to recognise that there are voices in all parties against change. As I've said before in this place, I recognise there are people in my party who do not want to see change happen when it is difficult at a local level, and there's no point pretending otherwise. But it's my job in this position to try to make sure that our system has the leadership it requires, and has the opportunities to enable and support it to make choices to genuinely change the way in which we deliver health and social care. I am determined to do that and I look forward to a grown-up and mature response from every party in this Chamber to allow us to do that. That does not mean that there won't be challenge, but it took courage and change from people in all parties to create the Parliament here in the first place and we now need to demonstrate that same courage, leadership and maturity in delivering and driving genuine change throughout health and social care here in Wales.

15:05

I want to start by being perhaps uncharacteristically generous towards the Cabinet Secretary for health, because I recognise, having been in politics a very long time, that the health service is not always benefited by the party political dogfight, and the constant change and reversal of change that I've witnessed in the course of the last 30 or 40 years has often been an impediment to improvement rather than a spur to it. So, I welcome the approach that the Cabinet Secretary has brought to this, and I think it's an area where we're all aware of the potential problems that the health service has, in terms of funding, an ageing population, the diagnosis of new conditions that can be treated, et cetera, et cetera. And I believe there is a genuine opportunity here for us, without abandoning the combative democratic scrutiny that we're elected to carry out on the Government, to work together in the same direction, and, without abandoning challenge, to do it in a way that is constructive.

I do believe that the announcements that have been made so far—for example, the Cardiff and Vale partnership board proposal for Get Me Home Plus, which the Cabinet Secretary announced last week, is a genuine improvement in the way we do things, getting people discharged from hospital earlier and then for their needs to be assessed in their own homes, so that we can take advantage of the way their homes are adapted in order to improve their process of recovery, et cetera. That is going to be a very, very helpful thing and I do think that, in the statement, the Cabinet Secretary's to be applauded for the realistic tone that he has adopted, in particular saying that, whilst the transformation fund has attracted much interest, it must be a core activity for all health and social care organisations. I particularly approve of him saying that, ultimately, it would not be the £100 million transformation fund, but the £9 billion of core funding that our health and social services receive each year that will deliver that transformation. I think that sense of realism is vitally important because there are almost impossible challenges that lie ahead. Michael Trickey wrote, two years or so ago, in his document, 'Closing the health and social care funding gap in Wales', that 

'Improving productivity and efficiency will be an essential part of the mix....To make a real difference through improved efficiency and productivity, Wales has to outperform historic productivity improvement rates.'

That is going to be a significant challenge. Perhaps the Cabinet Secretary can devote a little time today to exploring the options in some of these areas. For example, we know that accident and emergency admissions in hospitals have gone up from 980,000 in 2010-11 to 1,030,000 in 2017-18. Part of that is because people can't get to see a doctor at times of their own choosing. That's an area where there needs to be improvement as well because, in 2012, 15 per cent of people said that they were unable to get a GP appointment at the time of their own choosing; that's gone up to 24 per cent in 2018. In fact, it's 27 per cent in urban areas. So, that's obviously a significant challenge.

Dementia is a growing problem. Again, there's a 48 per cent rise in the figure compared with eight years ago, and it's believed that as many people are undiagnosed again as those who have been diagnosed. Cancer diagnoses have doubled. Diabetes is up by a third. More prescriptions are written in Wales than any other UK nation at 28.3 per year. Is there scope there by tweaking the system to reduce the cost imposed upon the health service, which precludes us from spending the money in other, perhaps more productive, ways? NHS equipment has been in the news again recently as well. In Cardiff, for example, 10,000 walking aids are handed out every year, but 40 per cent of those are not returned to the health service when they're no longer needed. So, savings are going to be an important part of the mix.

Of course, the more collaborative working processes that we're talking about today are an essential element in achieving those productivity improvements and I appreciate that at the early stages of this programme it's very difficult to be specific. Reading the 'A Healthier Wales' document, the start, it's full of management speak, which I fully understand, and its aspiration, and we need to deliver and delivery will take time. So, perhaps the Cabinet Secretary can just add a little more to what he said in the statement already on that. 

15:10

Thank you for the uncharacteristic generosity that I recognise in your comments. I think the point that you're making about efficiency and about how we gain greater value and productivity, they matter. There's something about doing some things differently, doing them more efficiently, but there's also something in transformation about doing different things as well. And we need to be able to do both of those and judge when we need to do either one.

So, for example, you talked about prescriptions. Well, actually, prescription growth has been slower in Wales since the free prescription policy than it has been in England where people pay for prescriptions, which is an unusual fact—it's counterintuitive—but that's the reality of what has happened. So, people are already making choices about what to prescribe. And, actually, in Wales, we've had a national approach to prescribing on using biosimilars—so, not having branded products, but products where there is exactly the same efficacy and safety for the citizen. So, we've actually taken a national approach and made real financial savings.

But that isn't just the only part of what we have to do. There's a large part of this that is about how we just do different things. Your point about access to accident and emergency and the figures going up, well, of course, access to primary care is part of that story. I don't think it's the whole story, actually. It does, though, partly reinforce why we need to transform primary care to make sure we have GPs working in deliberate partnerships with other healthcare professionals, and not simply as a response to challenges in recruiting general practitioners in different parts of the country, but, actually, in every part of the country it's the right thing to do. It's a better job for the GP, a better job for the physio, for the nurse, and the pharmacist and the occupational therapist that will work with them and, ultimately, a better service for the member of the public, and people will get faster access to the right person. That is also the same reason why we want to have a genuinely more joined up partnership with social care as well. Most GPs will tell you that lots of the people who come through their doors to see them have social problems and not, really, health or medical problems for them to deal with. So, that partnership really does matter.

The point about demand coming into our system—we've rehearsed this many times about the age of our population, about the additional public health challenges we have, about dementia as a particular challenge that we face now and in the future as well. It reinforces why we need to do some things in a different way, but actually to do different things too. So, our 'hear and treat' services and our 'see and treat' services are not just about keeping people out of hospital, they're actually about that being a better way to deliver that care for the person. You'll deliver more local care that is more appropriate for that person and give them a better experience too, and there's actually less risk for that person in making sure they don't have an unnecessary trip to a hospital. That's why we have to have a different conversation about value. It's partly about prudent healthcare and about the value base of what we're doing, and what value are we gaining by spending money and using resources in a different way to provide better care and not just technically more efficient care.

Of course, I look forward to having this conversation in committee during the budget. I'm sure that we'll get asked plenty of questions about this by committee members, but, throughout the life of this plan, it actually underpins much of what we want to do and how we'll actually have a system that is in balance, that is financially sustainable, and is delivering high-quality healthcare to meet the challenges of today and the future.

Joyce Watson took the Chair.

15:15

I'm delighted by your statement, particularly by your recognition that this is not just about £100 million, it is about the £9 billion that we currently spend on the health service, because if we're going to deliver 'A Healthier Wales' we are going to need to transform the whole service. Cardiff and the Vale is an excellent example of how it would be possible to simply suck all the resources into hospital care as the hospital consultants are very powerful, so I'm delighted that Cardiff and the Vale have embraced the Canterbury experience, which indicates that it is possible to reverse trends in terms of more and more elderly people ending up in hospital, when, in fact, with better community support, they could be staying at home, which is obviously what people want. So, I'm very keen to hear more about Me, My Home, My Community and what outcomes we're going to be measuring to ensure that this is the right model that we could be rolling out to others.

We learnt from the Canterbury, New Zealand, model that it has slowed demand for acute care, but that it takes time—it doesn't happen overnight. One of the things that Canterbury has is the 'one system, one budget' mantra. So, how has that approach got on with being developed in regional partnership boards? I appreciate it's work in progress. And where does Buurtzorg sit in this, which is obviously neighbourhood care pioneered by the Dutch? So, in my mind, the spotlight can't just be on the transformation fund, it has to be on the whole-system approach to this, because simply throwing more money at pharmaceutical companies isn't going to actually transform the health of our nation.

I'm particularly interested in some of the social prescribing that is being pioneered in the south-west cluster of Cardiff, which I'd love to see being developed in my constituency, active ageing programmes, things to reduce loneliness and isolation through referring people to gardening projects, and something called the Grow Well project in south-west Cardiff. It would be fantastic if we could see that sort of thing going on in other parts of the city. 

The east Cardiff cluster was established as an informal system by the east Cardiff, Llanedeyrn and Pentwyn Communities First, but of course that has now ended. So, I wonder what intelligence you're able to share with us about how well that sort of social prescribing is moving forward in the absence of these Communities First programmes?

Thank you for the comments and questions. I'll deal with the specific points about Buurtzorg and social prescribing, and then I'll come back to the broader points about how we're moving forward, including your opening gambit.

On Buurtzorg, we have indeed invested additional money in training district nurses, looking at particular models of care, and that will, of course, feed into how we want to try and plan and deliver our services. It’s also worth mentioning that district and community nursing is an area that, of course, the chief nurse is looking at in working on whether we can extend the nurse staffing impact to understand that that's an innovation that’s already available and the principles that have already been delivered as well. District nurses are actually really important in keeping people in their own home and getting them back to their own home as well. So, we should never underestimate the importance of district nurses, and yet we rarely talk about them in this Chamber.

On your point about social prescribing, actually, when you look at a number of the projects that we have going on across the health service, social prescribing is a much more important feature of that. In some of the money that I announced on mental health and social prescribing, all of them have the direct link between social prescribing and mental health—every single one of those projects and partnerships that I've already given funding to over the last year. Not only that, though, but if you look at Me, My Home, My Community, the first project under the transformation fund, that has social prescribing as one of the seven elements to it. If you look at the Cwmtawe cluster approach that I've announced today, that too has social prescribing as part of it as well. So, we're looking to develop the evidence base for social prescribing, and in each one of the areas of Wales that you look at, you will see social prescribing as a deliberate attempt for the health service to work together with the care service and, of course, with the third sector and the citizen to understand how we help them.

Now, on your broader point about the Canterbury system, it's been interesting, of course, that Cardiff and Vale have taken inspiration from that. They have a settlement and an agreement over time on what to do to so they had consistency in approach. And the Me, My Home, My Community approach builds on Canterbury, but equally, when I was at the launch of this event, people from Canterbury were there and they were looking for things that they, too, could learn and take back to Canterbury. So, it is a genuine learning opportunity that goes in both directions. They're actually impressed by the unity of purpose and vision that are being delivered across health and social care. So, we should take some positives from what our staff are actually doing and delivering, now they have the opportunity to work deliberately together.

Much of the Get Me Home and Get Me Home Plus scheme that you see within the Cardiff and Vale Me, My Home, My Community, looks very similar to what’s happened in Cwm Taf with their partners in social care with the 'stay well at home' scheme, which, of course, was what I and the Minister visited on the day we launched 'A Healthier Wales', and they were the big winner in this year’s NHS Wales awards, too—a partnership between health and local government. That really is the future. That’s why we’ve placed so much emphasis on regional partnership boards. Where we’re getting the greatest gain and the greatest value is where people are deliberately working with each other, within the health system, the join-up between hospitals and community services and, even more importantly, the join-up between the health and the social care system and, indeed, the citizen. It’s a deliberate direction of travel, and we will only do it if our partners are able to sit in the same room and they want the same priorities for the same citizen.

15:20

Given that the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 code, too, requires the boards to work with people and communities to design and deliver services, what requirement will you, if any, be applying to your decisions regarding proposed spending to ensure that, for example, if this applies to the deaf community, the deaf community have been involved, or the autistic community, then for the autistic community to have been involved, or wheelchair users, and for wheelchair users to have been involved, or what have you, so that the real experts in the barriers that people encounter are addressed, rather than the well-meaning perceptions of people who are otherwise around the table but may not have personal experience?

I recognise you mentioned particular points, yet I’m looking for the voice of the citizen, and the citizen isn’t one single person with one single characteristic, and I don’t want a narrow tick-box exercise so that people can tick off and say they’ve had a conversation with someone who has a particular characteristic. It is about how we serve the citizen and serve the community. So, in actually delivering a Get Me Home and Get Me Home Plus scheme and delivering the 'stay well at home' service, you have to look at that person in their context. So, if that person has sensory impairment, we have to understand how that impacts on their care choices, the information and communication that they will need, and that we actually understand what matters to them. If that person is a primary carer for another person—indeed, when we visited Doreen on the first day, her primary concern was not herself, actually; her primary concern when she broke her ankle was who was going to look after her husband, who was older than her and who she was the primary carer for. That was what she was most concerned about and why she didn't want to stay in hospital herself. So, it’s understanding her as a person, the context she was in, and not just seeing her as an old woman who needed to stay for a week in a hospital, to understand why it mattered to her to get her home quickly. And they built the support around her by understanding what mattered to her, and that's what we need to see. So, it isn't about saying, 'Have you spoken to this group, that group or another?', but to understand, if you're directing a service, for example learning disability services, whether you've directly engaged with people who take part in that service—not just the staff, but the citizen as well.

So, yes, that is what I would expect to see in each of the choices that I will make about the advice that I receive, to understand where the voice of the citizen is, how have their needs been taken account of, and, crucially, how we understand if we've made a difference. That comes back again through the evaluation points that have already been made by our colleague Angela Burns.

15:25

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your statement. A lot of this has now been covered, so can I just bring you down to—it's a very simple point, actually, that I wanted to make? I've been doing a lot of work in my constituency around health and social care over the summer and into the autumn, and there is a clear suggestion that people don't always receive, certainly, the social care support that they think they should have. And although I'm treating that feedback with a little bit of caution at the moment, because I think that needs some further work, I do know that that is something that you're acutely aware of, and your £180 million announcement on the health and social care integration agenda is very much welcome in terms of moving us some way towards dealing with that whole-system approach to health and social care that clearly is the answer in the longer term.

In strengthening some of the new innovations that I've seen, and the people who I've been talking to, like the GP support officers and the community connectors, we've certainly got to continue improving the links between GPs, third sectors and local authority support. So, even at this early stage, could I ask that you give some consideration to whether greater consistency might help users to understand the innovation and change that's taking place at local level? I'll give you an example, and you and Jenny Rathbone have both alluded to this. I've been talking to GP support officers, I've been talking to social prescribers, I've been talking to community connectors, I've been talking to the virtual ward team, and by and large, they're mostly doing the same type of work. And while I accept that each of those innovations is slightly different, I do feel that some greater consistency in titles and terminology might help users to better understand what part of the service they're actually dealing with. Of course I appreciate that's probably very low down the order of your priorities in the wider scheme of things, but I do think it is important. Terminology is important and that people, when they're accessing the services, and when you're delivering the type of integrated care that we're looking at—that everybody understands that when they access that service, and when they are referred to a particular type of service, they are consistent in what they're getting and they know what they're getting in terms of the titles that people use.

I recognise the point that you make very well, and, to be fair, it was interesting for me to come to some of the events that you ran over the summer in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, in trying to understand more of the detail of how health and social care are delivered—good things, bad things and different things, and areas of opportunity as well as areas to highlight.

I recognise the point you've made because, of course, when we visited one of the practices in your constituency, and the conversation about having early dentistry access, about having a social worker in that practice as well, and how that deliberate join-up had helped the GPs to do their job—it's not just about saying, 'This is a weight off my mind, I don't have to do it', but, actually, they knew that person was going to get a better service and they could then spend more of their time on people who they really needed to see and who needed to see them. And they didn't medicalise the social problems that existed. But I recognise your point that, at some point, after all the pilots are done, and we understand what we think will work, we'll make choices. If we're going to have a national roll-out, not to say things are different by accident, but actually while we've made a choice about why they seem different, and how to make it easy for the citizen to engage in the service. Because lots of this debate that we've had today will not mean much to people watching. When we talk about the integration agenda, if you then ask someone who was watching this programme, 'What does that mean?', well, actually, I think, for the citizen, we should make it easier for them to navigate their way through. So, it's a consistency in expectation, some consistency in the sort of titles people have—I can see that would be useful. And at some point, you're right, we'll need to get to a point where we make choices: what will be national and consistent and what will be down to national principles delivered locally. And that's what we set out in 'A Healthier Wales'. But all of us need to bear in mind that the conversation we have has to mean something to the people whom we're here to serve.

4. Statement by the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning: The Welsh-language Technology Action Plan

We move on now to item 4: a statement by the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning—the Welsh-language technology action plan. And I call on the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan.

15:30

Thank you very much. In July 2017, the Welsh Government published its strategy for the Welsh language, Cymraeg 2050. The main target of Cymraeg 2050, it’s important to note, is our desire for a million Welsh speakers. But the other point that we had to underline in that process was that we wanted to see people using the Welsh language as well, and to ensure that the Welsh language is at the heart of innovation in digital technology, to enable the use of Welsh in all digital contexts.

The purpose of today’s statement is to launch a detailed plan to show how we will do this. Almost every person—but, in particular, children and young people—comes into contact with technology at some point during their day. The action plan we are launching today recognises that technology is an area that we must tackle in order to ensure that the Welsh language remains accessible in our new digital world. I think that this area is going to be a game-changer for 2018.

The plan sets out how we want to ensure that children, young people and adults have more opportunities to use Welsh language technology, and this is particularly important in schools, in the workplace, and at home. And it’s important that the opportunities to use Welsh in technology are easy to find and to access. They do have to be accessible. I’m someone who uses technology every day, but I am very rarely offered the option to use it in Welsh without having to ask.

And, if there is a Welsh language option, it’s not always obvious that it is available unless I search for it. Life is busy, and who has the time to go looking? In fact, why should anyone have to seek out the Welsh language option on technology? The plan sets out how we want the Welsh language to be offered in technology without having to ask or look for it. We want Welsh to be available via devices that use technology—from working on a computer to using your phone or your tablet. We want to develop the technology that will enable you to speak to your devices in Welsh and, vitally, for your device to be able to understand you.

We want the technical resources that we create on the basis of the plan to be readily available and shared, and to be there for everyone to use again and again. And, for this to happen, the plan states that we must make sure that we have the correct digital infrastructure to support the Welsh language. So, these are the three specific areas of infrastructure that this plan will address: Welsh language speech technology, computer-assisted translation, and artificial intelligence in Welsh, so that machines understand Welsh and can give us help in Welsh.

In terms of translation, we will examine how we can use technology to increase the amount of Welsh that is seen and used, and to help, but not replace, professional translators. But I have to emphasise that it’s not the technology, nor documents about technology for technology’s sake, that interest me most. That’s not what’s important. Rather, if technology can bring more opportunities to live our lives through the medium of Welsh, or to learn Welsh, we need to grasp those opportunities. And grasp them we will.

If technology can facilitate opportunities to work and provide services in Welsh, those opportunities need to be developed. If technology can improve the quality of life of people living with challenges in terms of accessibility or disability, they need to have that technology in Welsh. And they shall have it, because that’s what they deserve, and all these things need to be widely used.

Like me, most Welsh speakers live or work bilingually. So, as I do my work, the technology I use will need to be able to deal with English and Welsh at the same time. This, too, is one of the principles of the plan. This is an ambitious plan, and it will not be the responsibility of the Government to implement it alone, but we will not shy away from leadership or funding, where appropriate. 

I should also note how grateful I am to the members of the board of experts I chair for all the input that they have given, and to everyone who gave advice in developing the plan.

So, to summarise, we have a clear vision for technology and the Welsh language, and the plan we are launching today shows the things we wish to do to make this vision a reality. We want to see Welsh at the heart of innovation in technology. We want it to be possible for organisations, families and individuals to use the Welsh language in an increasing number of situations, be those situations monolingual in Welsh, or bilingual in English and Welsh, without having to ask to do so. Technology moves quickly, and we want Welsh to move with the technology. That is the aim of our plan.

15:35

Thank you for the statement. I was just using the technology now to see what the Welsh word for ‘spoilt’ is, because, as Assembly Members, we are spoilt with the services that are available to us here and how we can take full advantage of them to help us in our work and to work in both languages during our business hours.

When I saw the title of the statement, I had thought that the Government was going to try to avoid the somewhat embarrassing fact that there has been a reduction in the number of Welsh teachers. So, I wasn’t looking forward to a future where that gap was going to be filled by working through digital means, rather than using teachers. So, I was pleased to see that we were discussing an entirely different area.

Now, I accept your analysis that technology stretches into our daily lives, and I think it’s a good place to introduce the Welsh language to people, both visually and in an open manner, as well as allowing Welsh speakers to live their lives through the medium of Welsh—it’s easy to press the 'language' button on an ATM machine, for example. But I’m sure we’re talking about something far more complex and ambitious than that.

So, I have quickly looked at the plan itself; the link arrived this lunchtime, so I haven’t had an opportunity to look at it in detail yet. But I saw no closing date for a progress assessment, and I don’t know what that period for assessment will be, so, it’s difficult for us as opposition Members to scrutinise your ideas. So, if you could help us with some sort of time frame, then that would help us to carry out our duties. Could you share with us your analysis of the innovation programmes that are currently being developed—here in Wales, hopefully, but also abroad? If there is any information you could provide on that, that would be excellent.

You talk about leadership and funding. This Government is constantly complaining about a shortage of funds, so how can you persuade the Cabinet Secretary for Finance that this should be a priority for funding? And, just to close, how will you prioritise sectors or activities, or whatever, in order to benefit from this plan in the most effective way possible, and to make sure that it’s prominent too, because we need see those who benefit from this plan? They need to be in our faces, in a way—we don’t want to be hiding these successes, and we need to ensure that it's apparent to everybody. Thank you.   

15:40

Thank you very much. I think—just on that first point, of course, we’re not going to be using machines to try to teach people how to speak Welsh, but I do think it’s important that we do innovate with education through digital and technological means, and I think that there is a possibility to increase educational provision through the medium of Welsh. We’re doing something at the moment with E-sgol, which is a project, and we’ll see how it works out. Sometimes, we do have to be innovative but, no, this isn’t going to replace teachers in our classrooms.

I do think that it’s important for us to understand how complex these machines are. And thank you very much for the question about how we assess progress. What’s important is that there is an understanding here that this is a plan that is long term in nature. We’re not going to turn this around overnight, but it is something where we will have to continue to work hard, because the technology will change on a weekly basis almost, and so we do have to keep up with those developments. But there is already a great deal of collaboration with some other nations. I know that the centre in Bangor is working closely with Ireland, for example, on how they're developing their translation memory. I do think that there is a possibility here for us to benefit from the developments, but also to turn it into something where we can sell these ideas and these technologies worldwide, because what we’re talking about here is not something monolingual in Welsh, but bilingual. There are hundreds of nations worldwide that will be looking for this technology, so there are opportunities and possibilities that this is something that can be marketed, then, worldwide.

Now, how are we going to benefit from this plan? One of the things that’s important for us to do, of course, is to ensure that the public sector comes together, where possible, to collaborate, so that, for example, we develop a translation memory, if you’re going to translate. Every local authority in Wales does translation in some way. If we get these machines to communicate and speak to each other, the technology and the artificial intelligence will work much better with more input into the system.

Thank you very much for the statement. I have consistently called on you in this place to take action, and it’s positive to see a statement of your intent to do that in the area of language technology. Indeed, this is an area that both I and Plaid Cymru are very interested in, as you will know. At the National Eisteddfod in August, I and my colleague Jill Evans held an event on European languages in the digital age, with representation from Canolfan Bedwyr at Bangor University, in this very building, as it happens.

Now, Canolfan Bedwyr, in my constituency, does innovative work with the resources available, but the criticism that there's been in the past, generally speaking in terms of language technology, is that there hasn't been a sufficiently strategic overview from Government and that the funding has been limited and patchy in nature. That is why Plaid Cymru did call for a meaningful strategy to ensure the development of the Welsh language in the area of language technology and on digital platforms. That was for two main reasons: first of all, so that this Government behaves like a national Government and takes ownership and provides guidance for the development of Welsh-language technology, and, secondly, in order to put right the underinvestment to support the vision to ensure that the Welsh language is a viable language in the modern, automated age. And although I haven't had opportunity to look in detail at the contents of the plan yet, it is promising that the Government is publishing such a strategy.

But, to turn to the second point, namely funding, I hear no mention in your statement about any new funding that's been allocated to deliver these proposals, but I did hear you on Radio Cymru this morning talking about funds of £400,000 as the investment that you're going to provide to support this plan, and that will be up until the end of this Assembly term. Can you therefore confirm this afternoon that what you said on Radio Cymru this morning was accurate and confirm exactly how much new funding will be available annually to deliver these proposals?

You mentioned in your statement the need for Welsh language services to be accessible and easy to use so that people can take advantage of them, and I agree entirely with you on that. Since the Welsh language standards have been implemented, I have to say that I am finding increasing opportunities to use the Welsh language with bodies that have responsibilities under the standards. The strength of standards is that they link together all elements of organisations’ and institutions’ work, and that is clear where the Welsh language is prominent on self-service machines, apps and websites, for example. My question, therefore, is: wouldn’t it be better use of resources and better in terms of the success of this plan for your officials to be continuing to work with the powers that you have and to push them to their extreme, so that more regulations can be brought forward for standards in the sectors where they can be introduced, including telecommunications companies, which are very influential in terms of people’s use of the Welsh language?

To conclude, I was particularly pleased that the work of the Plaid Cymru Member of the European Parliament, Jill Evans, in the European Parliament, had secured support for her report calling on the European Commission to draw up policies in order to tackle discrimination against minority languages in the digital sphere, including the Welsh language. But, of course, it’s a concern as to what will happen if Wales leaves the European Union. I would like to ask you, therefore, to conclude, what discussions your Government officials or you as Minister have had with the European Commission in terms of the work that has received approval in light of Jill Evans’s efforts, and how are you preparing to continue to work at a European level and to work internationally for the benefit of the Welsh language and language technology for the future? Thank you.

15:45

Well, thank you very much, and I’m very pleased that you too acknowledge the excellent work that Canolfan Bedwyr is doing up in Bangor. It genuinely is innovative work that is happening, and it’s important that we share that work and that other people have the opportunity to use that technology. I am pleased that you’ve underlined that what we have here is a more long-term vision and a strategic vision, and that’s why we brought these people here, together, the experts together, to ask them to help us decide how we should prioritise. And they’ve helped us to come up with the priorities that are in this strategy.

In terms of the funding, it is right that the funding is perhaps a little bit more than what I said on Radio Cymru this morning. The details will be in the budget that will come before the Senedd shortly, so that will come forward. I can’t tell you exactly how much will come in the coming years because, of course, we won’t know how much we’ll receive from the Treasury in London, but it is likely to increase from where we are now, so, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that.

In terms of the public services, I do think that it’s right that the standards have brought something forward that means that everyone across Wales now knows where they stand. What will be allowed and enabled with this new plan is that they will be able to share that information more easily across Wales.

Nobody is going to get rid of the standards—I think I’ve said that before—but you’ll be aware too that what we can do with the private sector is limited to some extent by the current legislation.

In terms of our relationship with the European Union, I think that we’ve been in the vanguard in terms of minority languages. We have quite a good story to tell, I think. They often come to us to ask about what we're doing, but of course, there is always room for us to learn, particularly from areas such as the Basque Country, I think. So, we do acknowledge the work that the Commission has done, and yes, of course we are in discussions with the Commission. But, if we do exit the European Union, that relationship will change, and perhaps what we'll have to do is have that relationship with other minority languages in a bilateral manner, rather than via the European Union, which will be a great shame, of course.  

15:50

Thank you for your statement, Minister, although I am sorry to have to observe that it's rather thin on detail, and it does seem to be largely a list of aspirations, laudable though those aspirations are. Your statement talks about a plan, but I can't see a detailed plan in your statement. So, I'm just wondering: would you let us know when the detailed plan is going to be issued, and will we have advance sight of it? It's all very well and good to be launching a new action plan for Welsh language technology, but let's not forget that your Government did that five years ago. So, before launching a new set of objectives, perhaps the Minister would like to review what's been achieved under the previous Welsh language technology action plan.

In 2013, a document was produced by Welsh Government to be used as a guide for what the Government was going to be doing and hoping to achieve in the next five years in terms of Welsh language technology. One of the areas that the Welsh Government said it would focus on was motivating the main technology companies, such as Google and Amazon and Microsoft and the like, to increase the Welsh language provision that they offered. The desired outcomes set were stated to be more products and services provided by the main technology companies in Welsh, and third-party Welsh language digital content to be available and easily accessible via the distribution channels of the main technology companies. Welsh Government also wanted to encourage the development of new Welsh language software applications and digital services, and to increase the availability of Welsh language software applications and digital services—again, objectives that I can personally really get on board with. But, can you tell me, Minister: has there been a significant increase in the products and services provided by these technology companies in Welsh? Has there been an increase in the amount of Welsh content online? Has there been an increase or an improvement in the apps available to bilingual people, or people who only speak Welsh? It must be very, very difficult for somebody who is either only a Welsh speaker or has very limited English to get around the modern mobile world without apps in the relevant language.

Another aim was stimulating the creation and sharing and consumption of Welsh language digital content. So, can you tell me how much more content there is out there, and how are you assessing it? Are you actually monitoring how much Welsh language content there is there, how many apps are out there that are available in Welsh? How are you actually monitoring the progress and the achievements of the previous work that you've done so that it can be built on for the future?

The report also said that the Welsh Government would aim to establish a precedent for the development of new, innovative Welsh language technology. Can you explain to me a little bit about what was actually done, and what the actual outcomes of that work were, and what precedent was actually established in that respect?

The document also stated that there were a number of Welsh language or bilingual apps and e-books that had been published online for a range of devices in Welsh, there was a Welsh language interface for Microsoft Windows, Office and the like, and Facebook had a Welsh language interface. So, there was quite a lot of activity, even five years ago, in relation to the Welsh language and technology. So, can you tell us how much money you spent over the last few years on enhancing Welsh language provision in technology and what the actual return on that investment has been? Thank you. 

15:55

Well, thank you very much, and I'm glad that you appreciate that the aspirations in the document are good. I think, actually, there's quite a lot of detail in the plan. There is a clear direction of travel. We have had experts advise us on what we should be doing. So, I actually think that what's clear here is that it's not just a plan, it's an action plan—we know exactly where we're going. What we have done is to motivate, and we are working with large tech companies, but it's clear that one of the things we do need to concentrate on also is the content side of things. So, we can't expect these big tech companies to look at content, but that is something that we can help with. We have a wici Cymraeg, and I attended a wici Cymraeg conference in Aberystwyth a few months ago, where people from all over Europe, again, came together to listen to what we were doing to develop the Welsh Wikipedia, which is growing by the day, and we're encouraging schoolchildren and others to ensure that they are adding to that body of knowledge and work that then can be used.

We do have meetings planned with large tech companies; that is an ongoing dialogue we have with them. There has been a large increase in the number of apps that are available in Welsh, and that's thanks largely to a small grants scheme that we ran last year. Some of these have been highly successful. Books for the blind, for example—we've had an example where people are able to read books and then to allow people who are blind to hear books through the medium of Welsh. We've got technology developed so that people who are caring for people with dementia can have access to understand what their loved ones are experiencing, and, again, that's through the medium of Welsh. You can stand on top of a mountain with a particular app and know the names of all the mountains in Welsh as you screen around. These are the things that people would expect to have in English, and now we are allowing that to happen in Welsh and providing the means for that to happen.

But you're absolutely right, we will be monitoring the progress of what we've done already and what we can build on. And let's just be clear about this: this is about building on the good work that's already been done. There are lots of experts in this field already in Wales, but we need a lot more, and one of the things we're keen to do with this project is to make sure that we develop the technology and the abilities of the people who are able to use the technology through the medium of Welsh, and that is an important part of this technology plan.

Thank you very much. I warmly welcome the vision behind the statement of putting Welsh and English on an equal footing so they can work simultaneously on the same platforms, and the ambitions you have of making sure that devices like Siri and Alexa can chat to us in both languages seamlessly. It's clearly the right one. An emphasis on better machine translation and Welsh language bots is also absolutely the right focus.

I think the opposition parties are right to challenge us on the absence of targets and timelines. I also think we need to think very clearly what it is we're trying to achieve and what is the role of the Welsh Government in this. Is it to have a favoured supplier, like Microsoft, who is regarded as ahead of the pack in the quality of Welsh language translation, or is it to influence, as has been discussed, the broader marketplace? Clearly, depending on which of those paths we want, the route we take will be slightly different. I think, when we look at the deliverables section of the action plan, a number of the deliverables mention releasing software under an appropriate licence, which would suggest that we are giving an advantage to Microsoft to then allow others to use its intellectual property. I think it would be better if we insisted on an open platform, and open software, maintaining the public good, rather than simply favouring a particular vendor from the outset where we create a set of dependencies and restrict innovation in the broader marketplace. This is often a fine line to walk, especially in an area like Wales where there is little market activity and it's having to be stimulated by the Government. But I just invite the Minister to give that some thought with her experts, because I think it's important that we get this right at the beginning so we can influence the ecosystem as we go on.

Similarly, it's important that this is done in parallel with the Welsh Government's broader work on digital, particularly in the public sector. I must say the section in the introduction on the public sector is sparse. I think there is an opportunity to increase Welsh provision through the use of technology and I think we need to give a bit more thought to that.

My final point is a comment the Minister made in response to Suzy Davies about reassuring her that this was not going to replace teachers in our classrooms. I just urge us all to have an open mind about the possibilities here. Bill Gates has talked in the past about the fact that we overestimate the amount of change we're likely to see in the next two years and underestimate the amount of change we're going to see in the next 10 years. And when you think, 10 years ago smartphones barely existed, Skype was in its infancy, and just, for example, how much things have changed since then, certainly machine language translation didn't really exist and how now that's become part of our everyday life. I think, when you look at the fact that Google are developing earpieces where you can have simultaneous translation in any language, the possibility is mind-blowing. And this is not to say we're going to displace teachers, but the ability to enhance our use of language and the way we learn it to assist teachers, to get more people understanding and using language and breaking down communication barriers, that's huge. Let's not start at the beginning with a defensive mindset about, 'Don't worry, we're not going to get rid of jobs in this sector', or threaten professional interests in another. We need to be open about what this can deliver to us as a society, and how it can give the language extra life. Diolch.

16:00

Thank you. That discussion about open access or having a relationship with a particular software manufacturer is something that is very alive, and something that we are very aware of. We haven't come to a conclusion on that, but we are very clear that that is something that we need to consider very, very carefully. I think, as a principle, if it's the Government sponsoring it we need to think very carefully about open access. So, in an ideal world, that's where I'd like to go, but we need to also understand if they can bring something additional to the table, if they can help us commercially. We haven't come to a conclusion on that. So let's carry on that conversation, because that's something we are very, very much aware of. But we must not restrict innovation, that is absolutely clear.

I take your point about not replacing teachers in the classroom. I think we do need to keep an open mind on this issue, and I hope that, in the answer to Suzy Davies, I also made clear that, actually, this could be an opportunity to enhance the availability. So, that e-school programme that we talked about: if we can't get access to teachers in some subjects in particular parts of Wales, then it is an opportunity for us to explore how we can give that provision, which is something that is working highly effectively in Scotland. I know the World Bank has done a huge amount of work on this, where they find lots of difficulty recruiting teachers in some very remote parts of Africa of the right quality, and what they've found is, actually, virtual teachers can do a very, very good job. So, I absolutely agree that we need to keep an open mind, but let's make sure that we don't undermine the work of the teachers who are working so hard in our classrooms at the moment.

So, yes, we need to make sure that we focus on delivery here. It's, I think, essential that we understand that this is a very fast-moving space, so my concern with putting very fixed timetables down is that, actually, the timeline will shift considerably. We've got to just keep on making sure that we're up to date with the technology, and by setting out really restrictive timetables, sometimes we might be restricting ourselves, and we need to be more nimble. I hope that that's what we'll get as a result of this technology plan.

5. Statement by the Leader of the House and Chief Whip: Broadband Update

I'd like to move on to item 5, a statement by the Leader of the House and Chief Whip: broadband update. I call on the Leader of the House and Chief Whip, Julie James.

Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. Today I wanted to provide you with a further update on broadband across Wales.

16:05

Suzy Davies took the Chair.

The broadband market in Wales has seen rapid change over the last five years. Ninety-two per cent of premises in Wales can now access a superfast broadband service, compared to barely half five years ago. This transformation has been brought about by both private and public sector investment.

The private sector continues to invest in broadband services in Wales. Virgin Media are continuing to expand their footprint in south Wales and have expanded into the Wrexham area. Openreach has announced they intend to bring full fibre connectivity to 3 million premises across eight UK cities, including Cardiff, by 2020.

From the public sector perspective, Superfast Cymru has made a massive contribution by providing access to nearly 733,000 premises. It is not an understatement to say that Superfast Cymru has played a significant part in revolutionising the digital landscape in Wales. Both businesses and individuals are now enjoying the benefits that fast broadband brings.

We are supporting businesses to make the most of their connectivity through our Superfast Business Wales programme. It supports businesses across the whole of Wales to understand, adopt and exploit the digital business technologies that superfast infrastructure makes available. So far, the programme has helped over 3,000 businesses, provided 20,000 hours of support and held 550 workshops and events. For individuals, broadband helps them to learn, to stay in touch, to find jobs and to access entertainment.

As I have outlined in previous statements, however, there is more to do to reach the remaining premises that are not yet to be able to benefit from fast broadband. Given the scale of the task in providing fast reliable broadband to these premises currently unable to access it, we are going to need a range of interventions in future. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We need to make sure that these interventions are complementary, address the remaining need for fast broadband and reflect local demand for services. 

There are three elements to our approach: individual support through our Access Broadband Cymru and ultrafast connectivity voucher schemes; support for communities through our voucher schemes and community-led interventions; and publicly funded roll-outs through the successor project to Superfast Cymru. The successor project to Superfast Cymru will form one part of the suite of interventions. And as I outlined in my previous statements ahead of the summer recess, we have been undertaking a tender exercise for the successor project to Superfast Cymru. This has been a very complex process.

The procurement for lots one, north Wales, and three, south-west Wales and the Valleys, is now complete. The successful bidder for both lots is BT. A grant agreement was signed yesterday. Under the grant agreement, BT will initially provide access to fast broadband to nearly 16,000 premises across both lots by March 2021, utilising just over £13 million of public funding. This funding will be met from contributions from the Welsh Government and from EU funding. Work on providing the underlying network to support the project will begin shortly. This work is vital in providing the backbone to connect the premises. The first premises are forecast to be connected by the end of 2019. The vast majority of these premises will be served by a fibre-to-the-premises connection, including all premises in lot three. The evaluation of tenders for lot two covering east Wales is ongoing, and I will make a further announcement on this as soon as the process has been completed.

In my previous statements I also outlined our work to review the ultrafast connectivity voucher scheme in light of the announcement by the UK Government of their national gigabit voucher project. Officials are working with their counterparts in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to explore how the schemes can be used to best effect to improve broadband connectivity for homes and businesses in Wales. They have explored a number of options and met again last week to finalise a proposal. I will provide you with a further update as soon as I am able.

I am committed to providing individual support to those premises unable to access fast broadband by continuing the Access Broadband Cymru scheme. We are working to streamline the application process to make it quicker and easier for individuals to apply to the scheme. For many, a community-based scheme is going to be the best route to fast broadband connectivity. As Members will be aware, we have already had successes in supporting community level interventions.

Villagers in Michaelston-y-Fedw used vouchers from our Access Broadband Cymru scheme to support their own community broadband initiative. They formed a community interest company to bring ultrafast fibre-to-the-premises broadband to residents and businesses. This has increased their broadband speeds from around 4 Mbps up to upload and download speeds of 1 Gbps. The community project employed contractors to do some of the work, while teams of volunteers have taken part in activities such as digging chambers, fibre splicing, laying out ducts and fitting out the village's communications hub. The village pub, community hall and church are already connected to the ultrafast broadband network, and work is under way to connect over 175 premises in total in the community. More premises are now choosing to join the project. 

This self-dig approach isn’t the only community model and we will work with communities and local authorities to provide advice and funding to bring fast broadband where it is needed. For example, officials have met with representatives from the B4RN project in north-west England to discuss how they could support communities in north Wales. Michaelston-y-Fedw is not the only community that is exploring community solutions. I attended a public meeting in Llanddewi Rhydderch in Monmouthshire recently and that community is also considering a scheme. Our officials are now working with them to explore the options available.

As I have highlighted in previous statements, we are developing a community intervention that will build on the ABC and ultrafast vouchers to make accessing funding for these types of schemes more straightforward. This work is dependent on the outcome of the tender exercise for the successor project to Superfast Cymru and, as outlined above, the review of the voucher schemes. As these other pieces of work come to an end, officials will be able to turn their attention to further developing the new scheme. In the meantime, communities will still be able to access funding from the voucher schemes.

Our work to improve digital infrastructure is vital to underpin our commitments in 'Taking Wales Forward' and to the economic action plan. I will continue to keep you informed as we develop and deliver our integrated approach to fast broadband connectivity. Diolch.

16:10

I think, leader of the house, that there will be many people up and down Wales who will be delighted to now receive superfast broadband over these next few years. I think in that regard you should be congratulated. It makes a massive difference to people's lives. I think the biggest disappointment to me in your statement today is that figure of 16,000 premises being just so low. In your statement today, you have talked about the 92 per cent of premises in Wales that now have access to superfast broadband service, and in the same sentence you talked about transformation as well. I do bring you back, as many on this side have previously, to 2011, of course. The Welsh Labour manifesto committed to, and I'm quoting here:

'ensure that all residential premises and all businesses in Wales will have access to Next Generation Broadband by 2015'.

So, there are big frustrations here. You might say you weren't in Government then, but you were on 3 March 2015 when you said, and I quote:

'Our aim to reach 96% of Welsh premises by the end of Spring 2016...with at least 40% of all the premises in the intervention area also benefitting from access to services in excess of 100Mbps.'

So, this hasn't happened. So, what I would ask is: what clawback mechanisms have been in place to reimburse the public purse for BT not meeting the coverage obligations, as I understand them? I've not seen the contract, but that is as I understand it. What was set in the original contract? Perhaps you can clarify the position on that. What has been the penalty, if I've understood that correctly?

I am intrigued to learn of the reasons behind the complexities that have delayed the awarding of phase 2 of the Superfast Cymru project. Are you in a position today to tell us? You have cited previously commercial confidentiality, but clearly two of those lots have now been awarded. I do think people will be expecting answers on why they've been left in the lurch in regard to the successor scheme. 

I have said previously many times that there should have been a seamless transition between phase 1 and phase 2 of the scheme, so that people were not left stranded with infrastructure hanging from poles outside their homes. I know we've had a difference of opinion on that. But that does bring me to my next question. What will happen to the stranded assets that Openreach has already invested in, but not completed because they ran out of time? Will these areas be guaranteed to be completed under phase 2?

How many bidders were there for lots 1 and 3? If there was only one bidder, how have you ensured that you have benchmarked the bid to ensure competitive value for money for the public purse? You say £13 million has been allocated to lots 1 and 3 for 16,000 premises, but the original amount that was allocated was £80 million. So, what's happened to the additional £67 million? Is that to be spent on lot 2? Clearly not. So, perhaps you can provide some clarification on that. Why is the evaluation of tenders for lot 2 still ongoing? I think there has been delay after delay after delay on this. We heard back in January and the summer about a delay again and now the people of east Wales will want some answers as to why there was a further delay again. 

My understanding is that the open market review was conducted before the end of phase 1 of the Superfast Cymru scheme. So, can you confirm that all those so-called stranded premises or white premises in lots 1 and 3 will be included in phase 2 of the project, and if not, how many premises in lots 1 and 3 will be left without superfast broadband at the end of phase 2? The original estimate was that there were 98,145 white premises in 15,763 postcodes. Does this mean that there are over 82,000 premises in lot 2, and if not, why has the Welsh Government gone out to tender on a scheme that doesn't include every premises in Wales, as per your original pledge?

Finally, will you also confirm that you have learned lessons from the mistakes of phase 1 and ensure that individual premises will be given guarantees as to whether or not they will be included in the successor scheme, rather than being based on a postcode system that allowed individual premises to be shifted in and out of scope?

Thank you for your statement today, leader of the house, I look forward to receiving further information on lot 2, and perhaps you can tell us when that information is likely to come about.

16:15

Thank you for that masterclass in some of the figures involved. I think, Russell George, you feel very much as I do that, perhaps, sometimes, you've been living and breathing this for quite some considerable time. Let me try to unpack some of the figures, because they're complex and again to do—as I say so often in this Chamber—with the fact that this is a state aid intervention programme grant aiding the eventual successful tenderers for the grant programme and not an infrastructure project. If it was an infrastructure project, it would be very much simpler, but it isn't.

So, as you know, at each stage, we have to make sure that we're not intervening in a market without the correct state aid cover, which we have to get through the Broadband Delivery UK process, and that puts an added complexity into it. In terms of the first contract, as I said, the actual coverage for that contract wa