Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd21/11/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Education, and the first question is from Joyce Watson.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the school admissions code as regards summer-born pupils? OAQ52970
Parents can request that their summer-born child starts school aged five in a reception class. The code is clear that admission authorities should consider requests carefully and make decisions on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with parents and the school, and specifically in relation to the best interests of the child.
I thank you for the answer, and I'm sure you're aware that the first day of school is an anxious time for parents and their children, and they often look at them and think that they're not ready; they're too little. But the parents of summer-born children in some cases might have genuine cause for concern, and they're now calling for more flexibility on those start dates. Cabinet Secretary, in response to a recent news report, the Welsh Government has said that a school admission code review would start this month. Are you able to update the Assembly on that? Is it under way and who is leading it, and what might the scope be of that review?
Thank you, Joyce. I would agree that the start of a child's schooling can be an anxious time as well as an exciting time, and sometimes even more so for parents than it is for the individual child. I remember being left devastated at the school gates as my daughter tripped into school without a look backward, leaving me feeling very inadequate. Of course, our youngest children are entitled to schooling from our foundation phase, which offers a unique education experience for children aged three to seven. It's an innovative framework designed to meet the diverse needs of each individual child regardless of their stage of development. It is intended that this framework for our youngest learners is appropriate to their stage of learning rather than focusing solely on age-related activities. You are right to say that I have given a commitment for the code to be reviewed. That review has begun. In the first instance, my officials are discussing with each of the admissions authorities—i.e. each of our local education authorities—how they have been using the code over the last five years, and I have asked my officials to contact members of the summer-born campaign group to ascertain their views.
If it is the intention to amend the code, there would be a requirement for a statutory consultation period. So, if I decide to amend the code after this review, then that would be open to further consultation.
Cabinet Secretary, I was born on 28 August. I think I first raised this issue over 10 years ago, and I think we need to be even more radical, because I was young for my physical age as well as being born on 28 August. I think I was often 18 months behind many of the people that were in the same class year as me. It caused reading and writing difficulties when I was in primary school, and it wasn't until the very end of secondary school that I started to achieve close to my intellectual potential. This is a real issue, and we need to have children in the appropriate year group, which may not be exactly what's determined by the strict criteria of their age.
Well, David, as I said, the current code does allow for school admission authorities to be flexible in responding to requests from parents. As we carry out this review, we will be analysing how many requests have been made, how those requests have been dealt with, and, as I said, we are keen to hear the view from parents who have concerns in this area. And should I deem it necessary, then we can take the opportunity, following consultation, to amend the code. But, at this moment, we're still in the process of gathering evidence.
I was born on 1 September. [Laughter.] [Interruption.] No, we won't go on.
Question 2, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on medical education in Bangor University? OAQ52969
Presiding Officer, it clearly hasn't done you or David Melding any harm as to when you were born.
Thank you, Rhun. The Cabinet Secretary for health provided a detailed update on medical education in Wales in his letter to Assembly Members sent on 13 November. This confirmed that the first full programme of medical education to be offered in north Wales will commence in 2019.
Thank you very much. I celebrated as though it were my birthday—27 August, by the way—when we heard the news just a few weeks ago that medical education was going to be provided in Bangor from this next academic year onwards. Siân Gwenllian, I and the Plaid Cymru team more broadly have fought hard for this, and we were very pleased that we had reached agreement with the Government to secure the funding to push this forward. I'm extremely grateful to everyone who’s been involved in making this happen, none less than those in the teams at Bangor University and Cardiff University, given that this exciting development will be a partnership between both those universities.
My question today is what work is the Welsh Government and your department considering doing in order to notify young people locally that this is happening, so that they can start to make educational decisions that may be different in preparing the ground to study this course. Furthermore, what work can be done to promote this option for students and graduates in Wales?
Thank you, Rhun. I, like you, am delighted that these opportunities are being made available for students in north Wales. Obviously, routes into medical school start from the very choices that children make when they take their GCSEs. That's why, this term, we're seeing the roll-out of our reformed Seren programme, which looks to support children earlier in their educational career, providing them with exactly the kind of advice around GCSE options, career aspirations and opportunities at an earlier stage.
Obviously, universities are autonomous bodies and we can't dictate who they admit to their programmes, but I am delighted to say that, following changes to the application and admissions programme both at Cardiff and at Swansea, which are working in partnership with north Wales and west Wales to expand medical education, we have seen an increase in the number of Welsh-domiciled students gaining a place to study medicine at their institutions. So, that is now 30 per cent of students in Cardiff and 50 per cent of students on the Swansea postgraduate programme who are Welsh-domiciled students. In fact, we see a record number of Welsh young people being accepted to medical schools across the United Kingdom. Applications from Welsh-domiciled students to study medicine have again risen by a further 14 per cent for this year's application cycle. So, there is obviously a very keen interest amongst our Welsh school and college students to pursue courses in medicine, and that's why the extension of the number of places at Bangor and in west Wales, in conjunction with Swansea, means that our students, I believe, are well placed to take advantage of that expansion.
It's 18 months since I asked the First Minister here to ensure that the business case for a new medical school in Bangor included dialogue with Liverpool medical school, after the north Wales local medical committee had expressed concern that the previous supply from there, where many of their generation of GPs had come from, had largely been severed.
In addition, therefore, to the medical education to be provided in Bangor through the collaborative approach with Cardiff and Swansea, which I welcome, how do you respond to the continuing calls by the north Wales local medical committee to incorporate connections with Liverpool and Manchester medical schools and also, therefore, restore the supply of new young doctors into north Wales from there, when many trainee doctors may still choose to study there alongside their studies within Wales?
Well, of course, Mark, as I have said, we have seen a record number of Welsh students gaining a place at medical school, whether that be medical schools here in Wales or, indeed, in the rest of the UK, which shows the strength and the ability of our A-level students to secure those places. I have not been personally involved in those discussions with providers across the border. My priority is to support the intense work that is going on between Cardiff and Bangor universities, which is at an advanced stage and shows two institutions working really closely together. And let's be absolutely clear, this new expansion will provide pathways for doctors being trained completely in north Wales, enabling medical students to study in north Wales for the entirety of their degree and to plan for their postgraduate training, and I think that's very much to be welcomed.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Mohammad Asghar.
Thank you, madam Presiding Officer. Minister, the German vocational education and training system, also known as the dual training system, is highly recognised worldwide due to its combination of teaching and training embedded in the real work environment. The main characteristic of the dual system is co-operation between companies and colleges, regulated by law. Businesses that take part in the dual training scheme consider it to be the best form of personal recruitment by saving on recruitment costs required for the skills and labour needed. What study has the Welsh Government made of the German system to see if there are lessons to be learned that could benefit us in Wales?
Thank you very much. I met recently with the German industry to discuss this very issue. They came in and put forward their model of what is a successful model in Germany. I know that my predecessor in this role actually went to Germany and looked at the model and tried to understand if there was anything that we could pick up from the system. I think the nature of the education systems are very, very different, and they don't have the same number of local authorities. So, it's very difficult to pick up one model and plant it on here, but I do think that what we have recognised is learning on the job and really understanding that practical application of education is something that is beneficial. I've just been to an engineering presentation upstairs where they were saying precisely that—experiential learning actually really engrains the learning in the student. That's why we have really put the emphasis on the apprenticeship model. That's why I think we're very proud of what we've been able to deliver on this and why we are very keen to make sure that we deliver on the 100,000 apprenticeships that we promised during this Assembly term.
Thank you very much indeed, Minister. I'm glad that we're thinking on the same level. In Wales, the Welsh Government pays the employer to take on apprenticeships. In Germany, the Government does not pay the employers but pays for equipment and operation of vocational colleges, which represent some 16 per cent of the total cost of dual training. The companies who provide training contribute the largest share of the financing of dual training—some 80 per cent of the cost. As a result, German apprenticeship is genuinely employer-led and those employer organisations undertake the vast bulk of on-the-job training. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure apprenticeships in Wales more closely meet the need of Welsh employers?
This, again, is something else that I discussed with the German representative. We talked about how they managed to convince German companies that it was in their interest to invest in their own employees. I think we've had, over the years, quite a lot of European funding, and many employers in Wales have come to depend on European funding to upskill their workers. I think we need to probably start to get them to understand that they also have to put their hand in their own pocket to upskill their own workers and that it's in their interest to upskill their workers, as their productivity will increase and their profitability will increase as a result. That is very different from the culture that exists in Germany, where there's an understanding that they make a contribution. So, we're working towards that change.
On the relationship and making sure that the courses that we provide are relevant, you will know that we're really trying to push this issue in relation to regional skills partnerships. We've put that additional funding on the table, which further education colleges can't touch unless they're responding to the skills needs of local employers.
Thank you, Minister. Another criticism that has been levelled against apprenticeship schemes in Wales is that they mainly benefit larger companies and not SMEs. In Germany, there is a permanent system of training, beneficial to both large companies and SMEs. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure apprenticeships in Wales take account of the needs of SMEs as well as larger companies?
Well, the answer to that is 'a lot more than they're doing in England'. The interesting thing is that the apprenticeship levy is being paid by large companies, and they're given, effectively, tokens to spend and it's only the large companies that have access to the apprenticeship system. There's been such a mess that the actual system is collapsing in England.
We've not gone down that route because we think that it's essential that we do support small and medium-sized enterprises as well. What we're looking for are quality apprenticeships, not just vast numbers, which they're doing in England. So, I think that we can be very proud of the work that we are doing with SMEs. Tomorrow, I'll be meeting with the aerospace industry, where they've come together to provide SMEs across a number of areas—different companies understanding that they can feed off each other. So, we're trying to do a lot more of these shared apprenticeships, so that the burden doesn't fall specifically on any particular small company.
The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Siân Gwenllian.
Thank you, Llywydd. In light of the agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party negotiated two years ago, it was agreed that £2 million would be used specifically for promoting the Welsh language. You will be aware that what was at the heart of that agreement between Plaid and yourselves was a commitment to establish a language agency that would be at arm's length in order to do the promotion and language planning work necessary. Can you enlighten us on what happened to that pledge to establish an agency and why it wasn't delivered?
Well, what we had hoped, of course, is that the commissioner would be doing more of the promotional work. As that has perhaps been difficult for the commissioner to undertake, part of that work has come in-house and is being undertaken by officials within Welsh Government. Of course, ideally, we would like to have people at arm's length, people with the skills outwith the Government doing this kind of work. And, of course, ideally, what I would like to see, as we've stated in the White Paper, is that the new commission would be given this responsibility and that that commission would be an arm's-length organisation.
So, you’re still talking about the creation of a commission, which is included in the proposals on the Welsh language Bill, but in the culture committee last week, you said that everything is up in the air in light of Brexit, and you gave no pledge that there would be a Bill before the end of this Assembly term or a commission either.
In your manifesto for your hopes of becoming First Minister of Wales, I understand that there is no mention of one of the Government’s main policies and, indeed, the main policy that you've been responsible for promoting, namely the target of creating 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, or any talk about the Welsh language Bill either. Can we take from that that that you don't feel passionate about the Welsh language Bill proposals and that they won't be continued were you to become First Minister?
Well, I don't think it's appropriate for me to respond to the contents of my personal manifesto as a spokesperson on behalf of Welsh Government in this place. What I can tell you is that, as regards the Welsh language Bill, of course we hope that that Bill will come before us. At present, you are just as aware as I am of the mess that is taking place from the point of view of Brexit, and that’s the only reason why we're in a position to be clear that it isn't possible to make this commitment that we would like to make because of the chaos ensuing from Brexit at the moment.
Well, I think it is very pertinent that I ask that question, but I didn't get a response, of course.
You did acknowledge at the culture committee that the promotional arrangements were deficient—to return to promotion—and that the Welsh language division, in its current form, doesn't have the capacity to be doing that meaningful and strategic promotional work. We truly need action on language planning in order to create those 1 million Welsh speakers and I received some advice from the Assembly’s Legal Services that shows that an arm's-length agency to promote the Welsh language could be established without new legislation, and it refers to the work done by the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and the establishment of that organisation with broad-ranging responsibilities through a memorandum and articles.
Another area that your lack of direction with the Bill and the strategy is affecting is people’s ability to access Welsh language services when dealing with bodies that are crucial to the everyday lives of citizens. Unlike what you suggested at committee, in implementing the current Measure you could impose standards on the utilities, on transport companies, on housing associations and telecommunications companies. So, if there is no timetable for the establishment of a commission, nor a timetable for introducing a Welsh language Bill, may I ask you for a timetable in terms of this? When will it be possible for the people of Wales to be able to access these crucial services, which aren't reliant on new legislation?
I think that a huge amount of work has already been done internally, within the Government, as regards promoting the Welsh language and I would like to see the commissioner doing more of that work, and we’re in discussions to see whether, as a result of the fact that we won’t be seeing the imposition of more standards at present, there’s a possibility of seeing the current commissioner doing more of that work. That is the vision and that is what we are hoping for. But I do believe that a great deal of work has already been done over the past two years as regards promotion.
As regards imposing standards, we have said that we will have a break from that as we develop the Bill, and we of course hope that this Bill will be introduced and passed during this period, before the next election. So, I don’t believe that anything has changed apart from the fact that Brexit is likely to cause all sorts of chaos to all our current arrangements.
UKIP spokesperson, David Rowlands.
Diolch, Llywydd. Some 18 to 20 years ago, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair famously made a pledge to have 50 per cent of young adults progressing to a higher education by 2010. This target seems to have been enthusiastically embraced by the Welsh Government, because latest figures show that we are close to achieving that target in Wales. However, Cabinet Minister, the problem lies in that almost half of our new graduates are working in non-graduate jobs. Does the Cabinet Secretary not agree that this shows a significant mismatch in the education that students receive and the skills needed for industry?
No, I do not believe that to be the case. I want to ensure that Welsh-domiciled students that have the academic ability and the desire to study at a higher education level have the opportunity to do so, and are supported by the most generous system of student support in the United Kingdom.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your answer. We in UKIP believe that many students would be better off following another route to their desired career path; in other words, education should be more closely linked to employability rather than pure educational qualifications. Given such statistics as those quoted in the Wales section of the employer skills survey of 2017, which shows a sizable increase in the proportion of skills shortage vacancies in the construction sector, for instance—some 40 per cent of the vacancies in the Welsh construction industry are down to skills shortages—is it not time, Cabinet Secretary, that a much greater emphasis should now be placed on getting our children into vocational education?
Perish the thought, Presiding Officer, that we should value education for education's sake. Can I just say that the Welsh Government has committed to a comprehensive reform of post-compulsory education and training, which looks to break down the barriers between higher education, further education, work-based learning and apprenticeships to allow students to be able to have more flexible learning opportunities? I recently met a little boy who said his aspiration was either to do an apprenticeship or to go to university. I hope by the time he's 18 that he won't have to choose; he will be able to do a higher degree apprenticeship by both training on the job and being in university.
Again, I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her answer. Regional labour market reports published by the Welsh Government also have an interesting story to tell with regard to skills shortages. My region of south-east Wales has its highest skills shortage vacancies in the sectors of manufacturing, construction, transport and communications. The mid Wales region, where of course your constituency lies, has a somewhat different picture—business services, transport and communications having the highest skills shortage vacancies in that part of Wales. This would suggest that the vocational training given to our students should have a regional approach; even in rural areas they should not concentrate exclusively on agriculture. Cabinet Secretary, is the educational sector aware of this diversity and is it adequately addressing these needs, particularly with regard to the vocational sector?
Well, of course, Presiding Officer, the Member is right to say that different areas of Wales will require different skill sets to respond appropriately to the economy in that area. I would refer the Member to the statement given by my colleague yesterday, the Minister for skills and lifelong learning, which spoke of the reform to the way in which we are funding, for instance, further education to better align college provision with the requests of the regional skills partnerships and local businesses, so there is a greater synergy between what college courses are on offer in a local area to meet the skills needs of the employers of that area.
3. Can the Minister please update the National Assembly on EU funding for skills training in Wales? OAQ52961
Within the skills portfolio, we are leading on nine European social fund projects, with £340 million approved to December 2023. Around 105,000 participants have been supported to date, and we expect to support a further 125,000 to underpin a number of 'Prosperity for All' commitments and to deliver those key ministerial priorities.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. It's clear to me that the European Union has been a great benefit in funding skills and training opportunities. Certainly in my constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, the funds provided by the European social fund have a clear focus on the essential task of getting many vulnerable people back into the labour market. So, can you provide my constituents with any assurance that the strong record of investment in skills training will continue if we leave the European Union?
Well, of course it's difficult to provide assurances on anything at the moment, but we can hopefully rely on the assurance given by the Treasury that, whatever happens, even if there is a 'no deal', that we will have a guarantee that that funding will continue until 2020. If there's a transition deal, then officials are seeking to ensure that any money remaining within that ESF pot as a result of the fact that there have been massive fluctuations in the exchange rate, means that we hopefully will be able to carry on spending that money until 2023. But I think it's worth really underlining the massive, massive amount of support that communities like yours have received as a result of European funding. It's a shame that, perhaps, not more of those people who've benefited from those courses have really understood where that money came from.
We’ve heard from the Graeme Reid report that there is, perhaps, an over-reliance on European funding sources. Clearly that’s been natural because that funding’s been available, but there are sources for innovation that are available from elsewhere within the UK that universities and FE colleges could bid for so that they could do more as institutions and then do that on a commercial level further down the line. So, how would you respond to that suggestion by Graeme Reid, and are you as a Government doing enough to encourage universities and FE institutions to make applications in these areas?
Well, I think that my colleague is leading on this, but what I can say is that I think there are other sources that we could bid for to ensure that we get more of that funding into Wales. But I also think that it’s important for us to emphasise that it isn't only the Government’s responsibility to fund research and development. The private sector also must put their hands in their pockets. If look across the world, we spend about 1.5 per cent of our whole GDP on R&D; in the USA, they spend about 3 per cent. So, we have got some way to go in improving the level of funding—. The biggest difference is because the private sector in this country perhaps doesn't put as much of its money into the system.
Minister, the UK Government has confirmed that there'll be no gap in funding for regional growth in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. This guarantee includes European social funding projects. Will the Minister confirm, therefore, that, should the Welsh Government fail to deliver on its promise of 100,000 apprenticeships in this term, it will be the Welsh Government's responsibility and failure?
Well, Mohammad, I'm delighted to say that we're ahead of target in terms of the apprenticeship delivery, and I'm fairly confident that I can say that we are going to bust that target of 100,000 apprenticeships. There's more money that we think will be coming in that area. This is something we're absolutely committed to as a Welsh Government. We're very proud of our record on this. So, I'm fairly confident that I can say that we will hit that target and that, actually, we will go beyond it.
4. What action is the Welsh Government taking to reduce the cost of agency staff in the teaching profession? OAQ52959
Thank you for the question. The National Procurement Service has recently published a new tender specification for commissioning education agency workers, which clarifies the position on agency fees. Local authorities and schools are best placed to manage the deployment of supply teachers and monitor agency spend under the revised arrangements appropriately.
Cabinet Secretary, we are spending around £40 million a year on supply teachers, with most of that going to agencies, which overcharge schools and underpay staff. We cannot manage without supply teachers, but as Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru have highlighted, supply teachers tend to be treated exceptionally poorly in terms of pay, working conditions and with a general lack of respect. Cabinet Secretary, will you commit today to fund and expand the supply teaching project, which sees clusters of schools share newly qualified teachers to provide cover for absent staff, reducing our over-reliance on teaching agencies?
Thank you, Caroline, for your support for the supply teacher cluster pilots, which I've introduced. The investment of £2.7 million in that project is ensuring that 15 local authority areas are involved, and we have 50 teachers working across 100 schools as part of that. The evaluation of that pilot project has just begun. We need to learn the lessons of what parts of it have worked well, what parts, if any, have not worked well and the opportunities that the pilot gives us to look to expand that programme further.
Let me be absolutely clear that we have worked very closely with the National Procurement Service to ensure that the new agency worker framework specification, which was published on 12 November, addresses fair employment practices and minimum pay rates for supply teachers and offers greater transparency in terms of the fees that can be charged by agencies. It's important to note that we are not the employers of teachers, and I expect all public bodies who are the employers to abide by the principles of fair work and the code of practice in ethical employment and supply chains in where they source their work from. I should also like to add that to complement and support the changes to the NPS framework, I'm currently considering implementing mandatory quality assurance standards for supply agencies.
Thank you very much for that answer to Caroline. Of course, you'll be aware that, three years ago, the Children, Young People and Education Committee did an inquiry into the whole of supply teaching, and one of the costs that isn't always recognised is the impact that a supply teacher has on pupil outcomes, especially in disadvantaged areas and the links to poor pupil behaviour. Now, of the 20 or so recommendations that we made, most of which were either accepted or accepted in principle, one of them was a commitment to undertake research into the effects of supply teaching on these particular areas, i.e. pupil outcomes in disadvantaged areas and pupil behaviour. Have you been able to undertake that research or is that part of the clusters that you've been talking to Caroline about?
It has been factored in to the evidence base that we have based the pilot project on. We do know the importance of supply teaching in raising standards in Welsh schools and the ability to maintain a level of consistency with one supply teacher working across a group of schools so that teacher gets to know those schools and those pupils better. Conversely, the pupils beginning to develop a relationship with one particular person is one of the benefits, I believe, of the pilot that we're currently investigating. Clearly, these aspects will form part of the evaluation of the pilot and hopefully will give us the information as to whether this pilot should be extended to cover the entirety of Wales and whether it should go beyond, as it currently does now, using newly qualified teachers as the supply teachers in that particular pilot, and whether that should apply to the entirety of the supply teaching workforce.
Cabinet Secretary, I share the concerns that have been raised by my colleagues Angela Burns and Caroline Jones, and I continue to deal with casework from disgruntled supply teachers in my own constituency. Indeed, just last week, I met with a supply teacher who told me of an alarming case where a supply agency offers alleged inducements, such as tickets to rugby internationals, to headteachers in order to promote their business. Do you consider this to be appropriate, and if not, what interventions can the Welsh Government take?
Thank you very much, Vikki. I'd be very pleased to receive evidence from your constituent, on an anonymous basis if that would make the individual feel more comfortable, so this can be explored. As I said in my earlier answer to Caroline, as well as working with the NPS to produce what I believe is a stronger procurement framework than we currently have at the moment, I'm currently considering the introduction, as I said, of a system that would allow for mandatory quality assurance standards from supply agencies. Should we proceed down this route, any commercial agency wishing to supply temporary teachers to a maintained school in Wales would need to meet certain requirements. Those accredited standards would support, I believe, schools, supply teachers and also—the important point—the quality of teaching and learning, and could potentially look at ensuring that such practices as those that you have just outlined are not acceptable.
5. What discussions has the Welsh Government held with Cardiff Council in relation to increasing the number of Welsh-medium school places? OAQ52971
Thank you very much, Neil. I'm very pleased that you asked that in Welsh, and thank you for your efforts in that regard.
I do think that there is a connection that's made very often between Cardiff Council and the Welsh Government, and there is continuous monitoring of what the council have promised to do in their Welsh in education strategic plan, and, in that, we hope that they will ensure that they deliver on those promises. So, in-house, within the Government, we have people who are regularly monitoring that.
Thank you. Ysgol Hamadryad is moving to a new site in Butetown in January. There is an opportunity to do something very special and very positive here with local communities. What will the strategy be, and what will you do to engage with this? Would it be possible to arrange a meeting with stakeholders in the community?
Thank you very much. Well, I'm extremely pleased to see this new school being opened. I was one of the people who campaigned for a school in this area of the city, and I was at the ceremony where they cut the first sod for the new building. I'm also very happy that there is a nursery unit that will be attached to the school and I do now hope that there will be an endeavour—and I know that this is already happening—by the school to engage with the community in a broader fashion, and that they go out and ensure that everybody in the area feels that they can access that school too. I give you a commitment to contact the council to ensure that they ask the school to redouble their efforts just before they move in, so that the people of the area feel that this school is theirs.
Minister, obviously, it's welcome news that new schools are opening up to provide Welsh-medium education, not just in Cardiff, but across the whole of Wales. But one thing that is really important is the ability to supply those schools with quality teachers able to teach the curriculum. With the devolution of teachers' pay and conditions, what analysis has the Government taken about many measures it might be able to take to fill shortages in this particular area? Because, as I said, there's little or no point in having new schools if we haven't got the teachers to teach the lessons.
Well, in relation to Welsh language teachers, where I'm slightly more familiar with where the issues are, I think in relation to primary schoolteachers, we're probably on course and we have enough teachers. We do have an issue, as do people across the whole of the planet, in recruiting teachers to secondary education. We are putting very practical measures in place to ensure that we can attract new people to the profession and to make sure that we are having quality standards. You'll be aware that the education Secretary last week really set out some very clear proposals in terms of how we will improve the quality of the teaching within Wales.
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide a statement on the provision of education to children and young people in Gwent who have a sensory impairment? OAQ52950
Thank you, Lynne. Through our national mission, we are reforming our education system to enable every learner, regardless of background or personal circumstances, to reach their potential. Local authorities have a duty to meet the needs of all children with special needs, including those with sensory impairments.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I know that you are well aware of my deep concern about the decision by Newport council to withdraw from the Gwent-wide specialist education service for children with sensory impairment, known in Gwent as SenCom. Disappointingly, this decision was taken with no consultation, either with families or with partner local authorities, and I'm deeply concerned that the withdrawal will destabilise services for a very disadvantaged group of children and young people who are currently receiving a high-quality specialist service. What steps can the Welsh Government take to ensure that children and young people in Gwent are not disadvantaged by this decision?
Thank you very much, Lynne, for the question today and the correspondence that you have been engaged in with me and officials regarding the SenCom service, which was a very, very good example of how regional working and local authorities were pooling resources to create a very specialised service to meet the needs of a specific group of children, which is perhaps difficult to do when working alone. Effective partnership working is a key factor in ensuring that resources are used effectively to support learners with additional learning needs, especially at a time when resources are not infinite. I have written to Newport City Council leader, Councillor Debbie Wilcox, to establish what arrangements are being put in place to ensure that learners, families and schools, not just in Newport but across the region, will not be adversely affected by this decision.
Should every school have the ability to serve children with sensory impairment to the same degree, or does the Cabinet Secretary believe it is better for schools to specialise and have particular schools with well-developed expertise in this area?
Well, Mark, I don't believe that there is a one size fits all; it very much depends on the needs of individual children, and, indeed, the views of the parents of those individual children about whether they want their child to be educated within their community, and the cohort within the community, or whether that child is better served by very specialist placements. What is really important as we moved through our ALN transformation programme is that schools of whatever variety are equipped to deal effectively with additional learning needs in its variety of forms and are there to respond appropriately to ensure that each child reaches their full potential. What is challenging in the SenCom case is that this is a specific group of children with very specific needs, and by working together, SenCom have been able to provide a multidisciplinary team that has been able to provide that very specialist support. But what is absolutely fundamental to our ALN transformation programme is that the child sits at the centre.
7. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the importance of rural schools? OAQ52941
Jane, rural schools play an important role in our national mission to raise standards and extend opportunities to all our young people, which is why we've taken action, including publishing a rural education action plan and introducing a small and rural schools grant, to help address the challenges that they face.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I'd like to thank you for your reply to my letter regarding the proposed closure of Llancarfan school, in which you say that a presumption against closure does not mean that a school will never close; however, it does mean that the case for closure must be strong and not taken until all viable alternatives have been consciously considered, including federation. As you're aware, there's widespread opposition to the closure of this rural school in my constituency. Can you comment on the evidence that the local authority has not considered viable alternatives, such as federation?
Well, Jane, I am aware that the cabinet of the Vale of Glamorgan Council decided to proceed with the proposal to transfer Llancarfan Primary School to a new site. The statutory notice, as you will be aware, was published on 5 November and provides a 28-day objection period in which anyone can respond. In this case, objections have to be done by 3 December. The local authority must then publish a summary of the statutory objections and the response to those objections. As you'll be aware, a proposal approved or rejected by a local authority can be referred to the Welsh Minister for consideration if certain limited parties decide to take that step, and therefore I can't really comment any further on that individual case.
8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the teaching of modern foreign languages in Wales? OAQ52956
The performance of young people who study modern foreign languages at AS, A-level and GCSE remains strong. We have invested £2.5 million in our 'Global futures' plan to enable young people to understand the importance and the opportunities of studying modern foreign languages.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response, but it doesn't actually reflect the reality of modern foreign language teaching in Welsh schools today. The latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures indicate that there are 80 students from Wales who secured places on European language and literature courses last year—down from 120 at this time last year. And, over the decade from 2009, A-level entries in French and German have fallen by two thirds—and they fell again last year—and Spanish by a half. The Government's 'Global futures' document was published in October 2015, and it was a plan to promote and improve modern foreign languages in Wales during the five-year period up to 2020. This programme seems to have utterly failed, so what is the Cabinet Secretary going to do to try to repair the damage that has been done?
Let us be absolutely clear: just a few moments ago, UKIP was telling us that we had far too many people going on to university to study academic subjects, and actually our focus as a Government should be on encouraging—[Interruption.]—be on people, encouraging them to do other routes. Let's be absolutely clear: where pupils are choosing to study modern foreign languages, they are doing extremely well—2018 results showed an increase at A-level grades A* to C in French, German and Spanish, and, at GCSE, A* to C grades increased in French—[Interruption.] In French also. Now, undoubtedly, there are challenges in relation to the take-up of modern foreign languages, but the figures from 2018 show that the decline in the take-up of German has halted, and the decline in French is less steep. We have put additional resources in via the 'Global futures' programme, and, to support this further, I have agreed additional funding for the regions for 2018-19 to enhance their support offer for MFL, with specific focus on the primary sector, so that children discover a love of learning modern foreign languages earlier in their academic career rather than having to wait until secondary school to have these opportunities.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
The next item, therefore, is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, and the first question is from Joyce Watson.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on increasing the opportunities for people to test for HIV, including within community settings, through self-testing and home-sampling? OAQ52963
Thank you for the question. I recently announced a number of interventions to improve sexual health in Wales, including a pilot for online testing in the Hywel Dda university health board area, and a project to provide self-sampling HIV tests to those attending pre-exposure prophylaxis clinics. This work will inform future developments in service provision across Wales.
I'm really pleased, Cabinet Secretary, and I welcome your commitment to this, because we all know that early diagnosis of HIV is crucial to ensuring that any individual who has a positive test can start treatment as soon as possible, and having a range of opportunities for testing is indeed vital to improving that early diagnosis and to maintaining the health and well-being of those people who are living, or might be living, with HIV. Late diagnosis of HIV does cause serious implications for the individual's health and can lead to serious and life-threatening complications. Unfortunately, late diagnosis for HIV is still high, with 43 per cent of all new cases being diagnosed late. So, Cabinet Secretary, beyond the ones that you have just outlined—and they are indeed very welcome—what other actions might the Welsh Government take to improve even further the take-up of early diagnostic testing in HIV?
Well, I'm genuinely encouraged both by the work we're doing on PrEP, but also in the new pilot that I've announced. The work on PrEP is important, because, if you recall, when I gave a statement to this Chamber previously, we had picked up a number of people in the pre-testing, before providing PrEP—a number of people undiagnosed with HIV—so they were able to actually begin treatment for that at that point, as well as the preventative point about PrEP, and I expect that we will learn much more about how to make sure PrEP is properly available to prevent HIV taking place in the first place. The roll-out that I've announced of the self-testing and sampling at home is important, because other parts of the UK have a variation of that. We've actually got an easier test that we're actually rolling out here in Wales. The initial focus is on chlamydia and gonorrhoea, but that will then roll out into looking at HIV testing as well. We provide nearly 100,000 HIV tests in Wales each year, so there's a significant amount of testing going on. It's not about what we should do; it's how we should do it, and how we should improve what we're doing, and, actually, on this point, we're leading the way across the UK.
Cabinet Secretary, you recently highlighted the importance of understanding the real levels of HIV in Wales, and I think, as you added, the number of people living with HIV here is probably underestimated. The Terrence Higgins Trust have produced statistics that relate to the UK as a whole, with a breakdown, but there's very little data in their statistics relating to Wales specifically. Aside from looking at providing testing in communities and self-testing kits, will you be carrying out further Wales-focused research to understand how many people in Wales are HIV positive and, importantly, if there any parts of Wales with a higher number of people suffering than elsewhere?
We expect to learn an awful lot from the PrEP study we're engaged in—not just people presenting themselves, because it is a genuinely nationwide point, but the broader engagement with sexual health services. So, the point about making testing easier—it's all part of trying to reduce stigma as well. There's a challenge about people coming forward to take advantage of the testing that is already available, so the easier we make that, the more we talk about it, frankly, the more likely we are to have people come forward. And we can of course be confident that there are people living in Wales undiagnosed with HIV, because we discovered some of them by accident in the PrEP testing. We thought we would discover some, because we're actually getting to people who have riskier sexual health behaviours than others. That's why, even the people who have undertaken PrEP, we know that nearly a fifth of those people have actually got other sexually transmitted infections. So, we're actually dealing with the right population of people, and I look forward to addressing the Terrence Higgins World AIDS Day event here in the Senedd at the end of this month, while speaking about this Government's commitment to eliminating HIV here in Wales.
2. Will the Welsh Government make a statement on immunisation rates in north Wales? OAQ52943
I'm happy to do so. Immunisation uptake rates in Wales remain at the top of international benchmarks and are comparable to other UK countries. The vast majority of children in Wales are fully immunised before they start school. Uptake of childhood immunisations in north Wales is above the Wales average for most programmes.
Thank you for that response. You'll be aware that older people and other vulnerable groups are also encouraged to undertake the offer of a flu vaccine each winter. There's been considerable concern in north Wales about a shortage of the vaccine across the region, including in my own constituency of Clwyd West. Do you accept that that shortage could potentially put the lives of vulnerable people at risk? And what are you doing to drive up the vaccination rates amongst front-line NHS workers, where there are—a significant proportion of whom do not have these jabs every year and could be putting patients at risk?
Thank you for the follow-up question. There were essentially two parts to the follow-up question. Actually, over the last year we've made real progress on NHS workers, in particular front-line workers, in actually undertaking the vaccine. Four years or so ago, when I was given the opportunity to work in the health department, the level of vaccine uptake within our NHS workers was considerably less than 50 per cent. It's now more than that, and actually Betsi Cadwaladr does pretty well within the bunch of Welsh workers. We're looking for that to expand further, because there is a clear message about, especially, people who have direct contact with patients to undertake the flu vaccination. We've taken that further in the social care sector as well. So, this year, the community pharmacy sector will lead on the vaccination of front-line workers in residential care, too.
On your point about the vaccine for older workers, it's one of those health phrases—the adjuvanted vaccine: a vaccine that is more effective for people over the age of 65. Actually, the evidence from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is that it's likely to be the only vaccine effective in people over 75. So, that's going out in every one of the UK countries, and all four countries have had some supply challenges from the manufacturer. We're now in a position where we can be confident that all of that supply will be available for the end of this month, November, and it's being phased in its roll-out. The manufacturers acknowledge some of the challenges they've had in doing so, but of course we're learning lessons this season, not just at the end of it, and I'm confident, as I think every other UK country is too, there is going to be adequate supply of that vaccine both in GPs and in community pharmacies to actually have a proper uptake of our most vulnerable citizens, and, this year, a more effective vaccine for over-65s as well.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Helen Mary Jones.
Diolch, Llywydd. I wanted to use my first spokesperson's questions to address issues in social care rather than health, as a symbol of how important people across this Chamber, particularly here in our party—. We see health and social care as an equal partnership, not one being more important than the other. So, can I ask the Minister for Social Services: does the Welsh Government know the number of registered nurses and care workers from countries within the EU that are currently working in care homes in Wales, and, if so, what are those figures?
Helen Mary, can I welcome you both to your spokesperson role, but also the way you've just laid out the importance of health and social care in the round? The Brexit stakeholder group that the Cabinet Secretary and I co-chair has looked at this issue. There is a relative paucity of data on the social care sector compared to the health sector. The health sector, we have quite accurate figures on the impact of Brexit, whether it's a 'no deal' or it's some transition, on the workforce within it. So, we have commissioned some work to go off and fill in some of those data gaps, but part of the data gaps is simply because of the wide, varied nature of the care sector. It's not as cohesive as the NHS that we have. But we've commissioned a piece of work to look at that, and, as soon as we are aware of that, I'm sure we will bring it back to the house then to see how we do it. But the reason we're doing it is exactly that: to see how we can prepare for if we are in a situation where we actually have to deal with loss of people from our social care workforce, which is so important for all those people that receive care from people who come to this country from all round the world, quite frankly, to provide care for our citizens.
Thank you for the response, Minister. I'm sure you would understand that, while taking on board what you've said about the complexity of the sector compared to the health sector, it is a source of frustration that we don't know, and, this close to Brexit, that we still don't have—whether you would ever be able to have as comprehensive and accurate a set of figures as we can have for the health service, but it is frustrating that you don't fully know that, and I share your concern, of course, about the potential impact on the workforce of Brexit, and if people are restricted in coming to work here.
Minister, you will be aware of last year's study by the BMJ that links cuts and austerity in social care to an increase in mortality in care homes. One of the mitigating measures, of course, as you will be aware, is the presence of fully qualified registered nurses staffing care home settings. Do you accept that there might be a risk to safety in care homes if Brexit and the immigration rules significantly affect the levels of registered nurses in care homes, and what are you able to do to mitigate that risk?
We absolutely have to guard against that happening. We've made our views very clear to the UK Government, not only in terms of the need for our existing care staff to stay and be welcome here in Wales come what may, but also to avoid tightening up on rules either around the individuals who work in the front line or their families as well, because we have to deal with both. And one of our frustrations at the moment, both the Cabinet Secretary and myself, is that the UK Government is not receptive to our overtures, which we've made in writing, to say, 'It's not good enough to say within health we'll pilot areas where we can have some sort of residency for individuals who are working with health.' That needs to be applied to social care, but it also needs to be applied sympathetically to their families, because why would you stay here, why would you come and work here unless you also know your family is being looked after? So, we are—.
The uncertainty you mentioned, however, is a very fact of the chaos around the Brexit negotiations—the fact that we're at this point over two years after the referendum where we still do not have crystal clarity on what we need to be planning for. But we are now planning, and we have been for some time, with our stakeholders, including with the care inspectorate, the care forum, with providers directly, to say, 'What are the impacts and, even with a complex sector, can we get the most accurate data on what the impact could be, particularly of no deal?'
Well, thank you, again, Minister. Obviously, nobody's going to blame the Welsh Government for Brexit, but I think it is appropriate that we raise some questions about how long it's taken to get this information, because, of course, there are many other reasons why we ought to have a better and clearer idea of what the skills mix and what the qualifications mix of our social care workforce is.
Of course, in the previous Assembly, we passed the legislation to create minimum nurse staffing levels in certain hospital settings. Those settings were chosen because there was robust evidence to prove that the levels of the staff nursing had an effect on patient outcomes. We now, of course, have the British Medical Journal study that shows that having qualified nursing staff in care homes can also have a similar impact on mortality and on outcomes. In principle, or on this side of the house, we would support the extension of that legislation ultimately to cover care home settings. We realise that that's aspirational at the moment, but would you commit in principle to considering extending the Act to registered nurses in care home settings, providing the evidence is sufficiently robust in future?
We will always keep our minds open on this, because I think you're right in saying that we always need to go with the evidence. And, of course, only in recent years, we've actually reviewed and renewed the guidance around nursing provision within the care home sector, recognising that, once again, care homes vary significantly in the type of residents they have—whether they need 24-hour cover, et cetera, et cetera. So, we have only fairly recently reviewed and renewed it. But we always keep an open mind about it based on the evidence, as opposed to simply saying, 'Here's a number; if we hit that bottom number, then we provide safe nursing cover within the care sector.' We probably need, if we're going to follow the evidence, also to do it in a very intelligent way that says, because of the quite diverse nursing needs within different care homes, whether those are with elderly infirm patients, whether it's with dementia patients—the differences will be significant. It could be different even from month to month or quarter to quarter, depending on the residents coming through. But I agree on the need to make sure that the evidence tells us what should be safe nursing levels within the care sector, and we'll always keep our minds open to evidence that's brought forward on that.
Conservative spokesperson—Janet Finch-Saunders.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, I'm sure that you are as horrified as I am to learn of the horrific failings and incidences of alleged abuse and neglect at the Pines residential home in Gwynedd. From the footage that has come to light at this home, there is apparent evidence of falsifying documents, medications hidden in residents' food, unsafe methods of moving residents and an overall lack of dignity and respect in their treatment and care. These are all incidences that fall well below what is expected within Wales and its own care regulations, all highlighted as a result of some investigative journalism shown last night on the Y Byd ar Bedwar S4C programme that I watched. What concerns me, Minister, is that this residential facility was already known to Care Inspectorate Wales and had a number of critical reports against its conduct and treatment of residents, but the poor treatment of its vulnerable adults has clearly continued. What is your Government doing alongside CIW to ensure that any facilities, such as the Pines residential home, are put on strict, meaningful improvement programmes, to ensure that the vulnerable residents are safeguarded against any malpractice or neglect?
Thank you for the question, and yes, I've seen the programme Y Byd ar Bedwar, and we're very aware of the concerns that have been raised regarding the Pines in Criccieth, as is the care inspectorate. The inspectorate took immediate action on being made aware of those issues identified by S4C at the Pines, and its inspection is ongoing as we speak. Now, because of that, it's difficult for me to comment any further about the Pines itself at the moment, but you do rightly point out that, actually, there have been improvement plans and inspections previously that have led to improvement measures within this home. It’s right that the inspectorate is in there right now investigating the latest allegations, as they remain at the moment—allegations—and to see what needs to be done. But it is difficult for me to comment further on the Pines.
What I can say as well, though, is that the care inspectorate carried out over 600 inspections as part of its regular inspection and regulation regime last year, but, of course, it’s always able, on the reporting of any incidents of possible abuse, neglect or whatever, to actually go into a home at a moment’s notice, and that’s what it's done in this respect.
You asked also what can the Welsh Government do further? I think that there are things that we can do and that we are doing. Only a couple of years ago, this Assembly took forward the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016. That is significantly different, because, for example, that places quite firmly, within law, requirements on providers and designated responsible individuals for care homes so we know where the buck stops as well. But it also moves away from minimum standards of provision, which, if you have a minimum standard, people choose to meet the minimum standard and no more, and it focuses instead on continual improvement, which is what we want to get from all our care home settings. But it also places an emphasis on the importance of the individual—on their care, their support and on supporting them in what their needs are. We won't get there overnight on this, but this is what the Welsh Government can do: set the framework for both the regulator and for care homes to constantly drive improvement.
Thank you. It is vital, however, that any suggestions for improvement, whatever their nature, are taken seriously and that the well-being of vulnerable older people is at the heart of how care is delivered. But my concerns do not just relate to the rights of people within residential homes. As the Welsh Government pursue their 'A Healthier Wales' agenda, which sees more patients receiving care at home, how are you making arrangements to ensure that older people who are receiving care in their own homes can be safe and that they will receive the highest standard of care and that their well-being is supported by all members of the multidisciplinary team responsible for providing that care? The reason I ask that today is that, on Monday, I was shocked by the fact that one of my constituents has recently been very badly let down by the multidisciplinary team that are going into their home at the moment, which has led to their daughter asking for a thorough investigation to what they deem the neglect of their elderly father.
So, what regulations and inspectorate systems will be put in place to ensure that vulnerable adults are not neglected in their own homes? They are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and it is vital that we have an independent inspectorate body in place to visit people in their own homes and ensure that all their needs are being met and their rights respected. What work is taking place, Minister, to ensure that such a system is developed, as your Welsh Government, health boards and social services progress with a community care agenda?
I think, Janet, that there are a number of things that we can do. In fact, when Sarah Rochira left post back in June, I think it was, we stood here in the Senedd and we made that commitment to actually making rights real for older people and we laid out a number of the ways in which we would do that. You’re right in saying this is not simply to do with the care setting: it’s every setting that a person will be in—in their own home, close to home, in a care setting—that makes them have a good quality of life and shows that their rights are respected.
So, some of the practical things that we said: our legislative framework there is underpinned by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2016. We said that we would, with the new commissioner, Heléna Herklots, co-produce practical guidance that demonstrates how to make those UN principles real for older people. We would take some of our initial work and focus it on the commissioning of services for older people, on safeguarding in all environments and on advocacy, because these are areas we need to get right if we’re going to support all older people to have voice and control over their health and social care in whatever setting.
But we’re also going to do things within the care home setting as well. So, we will update the 2009 guidance—it’s been too long since we’ve looked at that—in terms of how we escalate concerns about care within care homes. We will take advice from the NHS centre for equality and human rights on how to embed human rights into NHS practice. We will, with Care Inspectorate Wales, build a narrative of human rights into care home inspection reports, in light of the earlier question, and many other aspects. One thing we said we would do with the new commissioner is to ask her to chair a working group for us on making those rights real, because it isn't simply about passing legislation, it's about making them bite.
Thank you, again. I've met with Heléna Herklots and I was very impressed. I know, going forward, she can't do everything, but one of the things she's going to focus on is elder abuse. The Welsh Conservatives have had long-standing commitments to ensure that the rights of older people in Wales are strengthened, and I am hugely supportive of my own colleague Darren Millar AM who is now bringing forward much needed legislation in this area. We know, Minister, that older people do not always know their rights, they do not always know when an injustice has been committed against them, and they do not always have the confidence to report this. This was most recently evidenced by the Crown Prosecution Service, which revealed that of the 35,000 crimes prosecuted in Wales last year just 250 were against the elderly. It is clear that we need to make a concerted effort to ensure that the rights of older people in Wales are strengthened, that older people know their rights, and public bodies have a duty to promote and to protect these. Can you today acknowledge that there is scope in this area to strengthen this with legislation and that you will work constructively with the proposed Bill, and, of course, those putting it through, to strengthen the rights of our older people here in Wales?
The first thing to say in response is that all rights—older people's, children's rights, the rights of disabled people—are universal and they should be applied in that way. The other thing is I think there is cross-party support for driving the rights agenda as well. I think the question is how we best do that. I'm more than happy to work constructively with Darren and any Member who brings forward suggestions on a rights-based agenda to see whether legislation is the right way forward or whether there are alternative ways. I don't say that latter part of my sentence to row away from, but I think that making rights real is far more than only legislation. That's where, working with commissioners, we can draw out very practical ways for when we talk about older people in care homes, older people who have social care packages in their own homes and so on.
What strikes me is that if I go to a school in Swansea and I ask children about rights, they can articulate to me by the number what those rights are. They can tell me about right 31, the right to play. They can tell me about article 12, the right to be heard and to have grown-ups actually put their ideas in a process. But, if you go to an older person's group and say, 'Do you realise you have rights?', they'll say, 'Really?' So, we've got a way to go.
I'm more than happy to engage constructively on that, because I think we share the same aim. I would simply say in reciprocation, let's engage with it practically on what would be needed to actually make those rights real and make older people aware of the rights that they have, which are universal.
UKIP spokesperson—Gareth Bennett.
Diolch, Llywydd. A couple of weeks ago in the Assembly, I met with representatives from the Alzheimer's Society. During this meeting, I and some of my staff undertook a training and skills session to become dementia friends. The object of becoming a dementia friend is to learn some of the logistics of dementia—what dementia is, what causes is, what are the symptoms. Most importantly, it's designed to demonstrate how we can help people with dementia by better understanding their condition. Cabinet Secretary, could you give us an update on how the Welsh Government is helping to encourage more people to become dementia friendly?
I'm happy to confirm that we work very well with a range of third sector organisations, including those people promoting dementia friends. I've met with Boots, for example, and because of the leadership in Wales, every Boots store in Wales has dementia friends on its staff, and they're looking to roll that out in the rest of the Boots company in other parts of the United Kingdom. Actually, there are lots of people in this room who have undertaken the dementia friends training. I have, as have my staff, and I believe that Jayne Bryant has indicated she wants to try and encourage all of us to be dementia friends, so we can say we're the first legislature in the world that is fully dementia friendly. So, there is much we're doing to promote that campaign being run by one third sector organisation. It's part of actually becoming a dementia friendly nation, which, of course, is spelled out in the Welsh Government's dementia action plan.
Thanks for that answer. That's encouraging to hear. Problems can be caused when people with dementia have to go into hospital, particularly if staff are not trained to meet the needs of those patients. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure hospital staff at all levels understand how to care for and support people with dementia?
As the Member for Caerphilly will know, I launched the Good Work training toolkit in Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr more than a year ago, and that's been developed by staff within the service working with the third sector so that we do understand the training needs of staff to provide that genuinely person-centred care for people with dementia—to understand what matters to them, to understand how being in an unfamiliar place, for most people, can be unsettling, but particularly for people who have dementia. So, it is absolutely part of where we are within the health service as part of the health contribution to the dementia action plan that we have. But, most importantly, I think, that is being overseen—that whole action plan, not just the training of the staff—. There is genuine engagement with people who are living with dementia in an oversight group for the plan. So, it won't simply be a report back from a Minister, whether it's me or somebody else in the future; you'll have the assurance of people living with dementia giving an honest assessment of where we are in taking forward the commitments we make in that plan. And, of course, we do have a mid-point review, where the public and, indeed, Members of this place can look at what progress we have made and what more we'll still, of course, need to do.
There can be an additional problem, apart from what we've discussed so far, and that's the problem of stigma surrounding the condition of dementia. Can the Welsh Government do anything to help reduce this stigma surrounding the condition?
I think this conversation, the conversation we've had and regularly have within this place and around it, is part of dealing with that stigma, for people to recognise that more and more people have dementia and will do in the future. It is a society-wide challenge and not something that people need to feel ashamed about at all. The stigma, though, often comes from people not wanting to acknowledge that they have the condition, and their families and carers not always wanting to. And that's difficult because, if you see someone's personality changing in particular, whether that's about a loss of memory or other changes that sometimes happen—because dementia affects different people in different ways—it's, if you like, a basket of potential conditions and outcomes. It can be difficult to accept that person, who you know and who you love, is somebody different in who they are and how they behave, even if they're still the same person who has brought you up, who has loved you and cared for you. And it's very difficult. I know that there are people in this Chamber who have gone through that experience, and outside as well. So, this is a genuine cross-party and cross-society campaign for decency and dignity and having better outcomes for people living with dementia and, of course, the research we will want to undertake to try and improve outcomes and, if at all possible, prevent dementia taking place in the first place. And in that, as with so many other things, we can do more ourselves to make choices that mean that we are less likely to have dementia ourselves in the future.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on cancer outcomes in North Wales? OAQ52938
Yes. The Welsh Government does not routinely collect cancer survival data at health board level. However, all-Wales figures show one-year survival has improved by 3.2 percentage points between 2005-09 and the last reported five-year period of 2010-14, and five-year survival has improved by 3.3 percentage points over the same period of time. There is, of course, more to do.
Thank you. Cabinet Secretary, cancer does not discriminate. Gender, race or sexuality, cancer is not choosy. We are seeing that, increasingly, cancer doesn't discriminate against age either, and yet currently smear tests for cervical cancer start at age 25. By reducing the age of smear tests and cervical screening, we can save lives. We can tackle cell changes earlier and prevent cervical cancer. A number of my constituents have signed an online petition calling for the age to be lowered. Cabinet Secretary, will you look at reducing the age of screening, please?
I recognise the campaign in this area and in others over the age profiles for our national screening programmes and, indeed, bids for conditions not currently covered by screening programmes to continue. We, as does every other UK Government, follow the expert advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, an independent expert body that gives us advice on the very best evidence for how to make the biggest difference.FootnoteLink And, at present, their advice is that we should not have a national screening programme for people under the age of 25.
Now, that does not mean that nobody under the age of 25 will potentially have cervical cancer. The challenge is whether there's real benefit to be gained for the population by having a population-wide screening programme, because some screening programmes have potential harm for people as well. So, the challenge is that balance in risk and the advice that we have, and I think it's one of those instances where politicians really should be guided by the evidence. As I say, that does come from independent expertise that advises every single Government in the UK. But, of course, as you heard earlier, we'll always review the evidence as to what we could and should do.
Endoscopy services are key to ensuring the early diagnosis and detection of cancers such as bowel cancer, and 104 patients in north Wales needing an endoscopy are waiting over 24 weeks or 168 days. Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board's latest board meeting said that endoscopy have maximised this with backfill and additional weekend capacity, and a third endoscopy run in the west, saying that some of the additional capacity is being used to address the backlog of urgent suspected cancer patients and patients referred by Bowel Screening Wales. But, it also states that although it's expected that the board will continue to meet its 31-day target, the 62-day target for patients newly diagnosed with cancer via the urgent suspected cancer route to start definitive treatment is at significant risk, particularly due to the pressure on endoscopy across Betsi Cadwaladr. What work, therefore, is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that sustainable capacity is built in this area, so that no patient needing an endoscopy is exposed to waiting for longer than the Welsh Government's target waiting times?
Mark, it is absolutely something that takes up time and attention within the Government and within the health service. The national health service Wales executive board has considered further action on endoscopy services. We're having an action plan to try to understand how we have better capacity in kit and also people, and how we do so properly. It's not just about the new faecal immunochemical test—it's more than one part of cancer and more than one part of healthcare.
You'll be pleased to know that the health committee is actually—I should give its full title of health, social care and sport, I think; I see the Chair behind me—is looking to have an inquiry on endoscopy services. We've submitted evidence to it, and I know there'll be much more scrutiny. So, I'll be more than happy, in this role or a different one, to come back to answer further questions either at that committee or, indeed, in this place on what we are doing and the effectiveness of the programme of work that we have.
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the availability of the flu vaccine this winter? OAQ52954
I'll be happy to do so, and I hope your question hasn't been answered by your colleague. I wrote to all Assembly Members on 1 November advising about arrangements for the supply of flu vaccines this year in the light of the phased delivery of the recommended vaccine for people aged 65 years of age and over.
Something of a groundhog day here, Cabinet Secretary, but Darren Millar did ask about this area as many other AMs have, like me, received e-mails from constituents concerned about the availability of the vaccine in question. The most recent e-mail I received was from a 75-year-old from Abergavenny, who was unable to receive the vaccine as his local GP practice has limited stocks and is prioritising currently over-75-year-olds.
I understand from your earlier answer that part of the problem was surgeries and community pharmacies ordering too little of the vaccine to start with. That's something that Age Cymru have reported. I also hear you when you say that stocks will be available by the end of this month, in time for the flu season. But, what can be done to better get this message out there? Currently, older people are anxious, I think it's fair to say, about this delay. I think it would be helpful if the message was communicated that the flu season hasn't started yet and that they will be vaccinated in time. Currently there are concerns, and I think that the Welsh Government does need to alleviate those concerns.
Yes, I'm happy to reprovide the reassurance that you seek. This year, we have a better, more effective vaccine for people aged over 65. It is a phased supply—that was a challenge in the manufacture and supply of that vaccine, rather than GPs or community pharmacies underordering. By the end of this month—by the end of November—the supplies should be available in Wales and across the rest of the UK. So, people should contact their healthcare providers of choice for the flu vaccine, whether that's a community pharmacy or, indeed, a GP surgery, to arrange for themselves to be vaccinated. The message is that the vaccine is going to be available, contact your healthcare provider and make sure you get yourself protected from flu this winter.
5. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on contingency plans for the continued supply of pharmaceutical drugs to NHS Wales in the event of a no-deal Brexit? OAQ52945
Yes, we are working with the UK Government, which has instructed medicines manufacturers and suppliers to, at present, maintain an extra six weeks’ worth of their products, over and above their usual reserves. We will, of course, continue to work with the UK Government to make sure that we do all that we can should the United Kingdom leave the European Union.
My question leads from a concern raised by a constituent specifically about the supply of insulin to Britain in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. He raised concerns following remarks made by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's Sir Michael Rawlins, who warned on 30 July that insulin is not manufactured in Britain, all of it has to be imported and it cannot be transported like other prescription drugs because it's temperature controlled. I submitted a written question to the health secretary—to you—during the summer recess about this, asking what action you were taking, and the response was that you were in regular discussions with the UK Department of Health and you'd keep my office and Assembly Members updated. So, my question is: given the uncertainty that surrounds Brexit at the moment, have there been any significant developments on this matter since I asked my written question?
The challenge comes with a 'no deal' Brexit and our ability to prepare for the possibility that the United Kingdom crashes out of the European Union at the end of March next year. I don't think I should try to provide false reassurance that all will be well. For every Government, though, in the UK, it is in every Government's interests to make sure that we do all that we can. So, this is about how we try and make sure there is enough supply available. That is still about the arrangements with other countries, because you're right—you can't simply transfer all medicines across borders and not worry about their shelf life. There are approximately 14,500 people with type 1 diabetes in Wales, so this is an issue of real concern. There is a limited supply of insulin within this country, but nothing like enough to care for all of those people with type 1 diabetes. I'm not in a position to provide you with a detailed update at present on this particular issue, but I certainly will do so as soon as it's available because, as I say, it's something that bothers me, and it should bother all of us if a 'no deal' Brexit really does happen, about how we do all that we can in each part of the UK.
Cabinet Secretary, the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee has heard this issue, and insulin was raised, as were radionuclides, which are essential for scanning equipment. I think what the Government has to do, in co-operation with the UK Government, is set in place arrangements over these key medicines and products about how that would be handled. I don't think for a moment the European Union will resist special measures over these very specific products that have problems with their shelf life and temperature in particular. You have to get on with this, and not just say, 'We want to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit'. I do as well. You have to have plans about how to deal with it in these specific areas.
There are real practical conversations going on between every health department from every nation within the UK, and on this, actually, it's an issue where I and the Scottish health secretary have written to Matt Hancock seeking a meeting to try and put some of the politics aside and to have a practical, face-to-face conversation about what each of us can do. I've yet to have a positive response to the joint offer of a meeting, but I think it would be sensible for Ministers who have responsibility for health departments to have that conversation on a very practical level, because the challenge comes in the fact that the UK Government is acting for the UK in having this conversation on the supply of medicines and products with a limited shelf life. Now, I'm not in control of the conversation with European Union partners. I don't believe they want to punish the UK at all, but there must be some common sense about our arrangements with the rest of the European Union to make sure that that supply is not interrupted. But I can't give you the reassurance you seek that all is necessarily going to be well. I can give you the reassurance that this Government is a willing and genuine partner in looking for an answer, should the United Kingdom leave without satisfactory arrangements in other areas.
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on increased pressures on GPs in North Wales? OAQ52965
Yes. We recognise there are challenges but remain committed to supporting our hard-working GPs and their practice teams throughout Wales. Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board has recently appointed a new executive director of primary care and community services, Dr Chris Stockport, and he will lead and oversee the adoption and adaptation of the primary care model for Wales across the health board to try and help ease pressures on general practice within north Wales.
Thank you for that response. Of course, in addition to the seasonal pressures and the usual pressures that we see on doctors and the health service, there are other problems emerging directly from some of this Government’s policies. The local development plan in Wrexham, for example, anticipates that an additional 10 GPs will be required because of the increase driven in housing development as a result of those local development plans. So, what’s the Government doing to ensure that sufficient numbers of doctors are available to meet the increasing demand that there will be as a direct result of the local development plan in Wrexham, but also across north Wales and across the whole of Wales?
There is always a challenge in linking population growth and housing development with the provision of a range of services including healthcare services. We'll have the same practical challenge in delivering Wylfa Newydd as well. It's a challenge and it's about a conversation with local general practice themselves, but also the wider team as well. The health board are developing a north Wales primary care academy to co-ordinate and develop local training, mentorship and professional development opportunities. They're also looking at how to rearrange and reorganise primary care. In north-east Wales in particular, it's one of the key priorities for Dr Stockport because we recognise the additional pressure there. That is likely to mean that clusters will need to take on more responsibility with new leadership and arrangements for those practices that have handed their contracts back.
I recognise it's a real and practical challenge to maintain and safeguard what we have and to develop it for the future, but the new model for primary care is not simply a reorganisation delivered by Government; it's actually got buy-in from a range of our partners including the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association's general practice committee as well. The challenge is how we make it work not if we can make it work, and the different roles that healthcare professionals will have to play to provide the high-quality healthcare that every single part of Wales should be entitled to.
Despite warnings year after year by the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association, the number of registered GPs working in Wales is at its lowest level in five years. In 2014, the Royal College of General Practitioners warned that the share of Welsh NHS funding for patient care in general practice had been falling for years, and in the same year the north Wales local medical committee came to this Assembly and warned that several practices had been unable to fill vacancies and many GPs were seriously considering retirement because of their currently expanding workload. Why, therefore, did Welsh Government practice receive the lowest share of NHS spend in the United Kingdom last year despite the rise in patient demand?
The way in which we allocate finance across the service is to try and meet current and future needs. In particular, we're investing in a healthier Wales, and I've made it very clear that as activity is moved around our health and care system, I expect resources to be moved around to enable that to happen. If we look at the broader definition of primary care for all those different primary care services, we actually fund primary care at the same level as they do in Scotland.
The challenge is the right numbers of professionals in the right place to deliver the service that we want. In that regard, looking at the future, we overfilled the year before last on GP training and we had a 98 per cent fill rate in GP speciality training last year here in Wales—the best percentage figures of any UK country. We're looking to slightly expand those numbers and we're looking at a review headed up by Health Education and Improvement Wales this year to look again at how we actually recruit GPs, and included within that is a look at the numbers for training as well.
In terms of making the job easier and a better job for GPs as well, at the recent primary care conference there was a positive message from Charlotte Jones from the BMA about the partnership that exists between GPs themselves, the NHS and the Government, and in particular, the moves forward we've made on the indemnity scheme and the further work we're doing on clusters.
So, not everything is perfect, there are still challenges for all of us to address, but I actually think we're in a good place for that partnership to work. We have a committed group of general practitioners who want to make primary care work with other healthcare professionals. We have the right plan; the challenge will be delivering it in a very contested environment and an environment where we need to do things differently in the future. But that is what this Government is committed to doing.
7. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve health and social care services in south-east Wales? OAQ52968
Thank you. On 8 November, the Cabinet Secretary for health announced around £13.4 million funding from the transformation fund to support improved access to services in Gwent. The Gwent proposal focuses on prevention, well-being, and new seamless models of health and care, delivered closer to home. We're delighted to say that it also includes the development of a pan-Gwent integrated system of emotional and mental well-being for children and young people. This confident and ambitious programme is supported by the Gwent regional partnership board.
Thank you, Minister, and as you've mentioned, you and the Cabinet Secretary made the recent announcement of the £13.4 million investment in health and social care services in Gwent during your visit to the Serennu children's centre in Rogerstone. The centre and its dedicated staff have been providing an invaluable service to children with complex needs from across Newport and the wider region since it opened in 2011. I know from speaking to children, parents and staff, both past and present, that the centre has transformed the lives of those who use it and their families. The Serennu centre is unique in its provision: treatment, care, information, consultations and leisure services all under one roof. Children can benefit from the continuity of care and this significantly eases the burden on families. So, can the Minister set out how the centre will be used as an excellent example of the way health and social care services are delivered locally?
Thank you, Jayne. I think the Cabinet Secretary and I were blown away by the conversations that we had with parents and staff and young people themselves there, who were eloquent in their praise for what the centre is doing, and also, I have to say, by how it fits in within the approach that we're now taking across Gwent, because the principles they have there are about being focused on the individual, about co-production of solutions that wrap around the individual, about working on early intervention and prevention with families and young people, giving them that support at the right time in the right way.
Well, that was the ideal place, I have to say, to launch not only the overall transformation proposal that they have but also the aspects around children and young people. One of the interesting aspects being taken forward in Gwent, on a pan-Gwent basis, is that they're trying to embed their version, a Welsh version, a Gwent version, of the iceberg model, which I know the CYPE committee has looked at in detail—it's interested Members here from the Assembly—and which looks at that more integrated work across organisational boundaries. It looks at the early intervention, the right support at the right time, so that, in terms of things like mental health and well-being, child and adolescent mental health services are not the only game in town. It's a much more holistic approach and involving children and young people, reflecting their voice in the design of services. The Serennu centre does all of that. I said to them when I left there that I look forward to coming back and spending some more time there, because it's a joy to behold and we need to see more of that, and of this approach, I have to say, which they're taking across Gwent, right across Wales. And that's the idea of the transformation fund—that you don't just do it in Gwent; you then learn the lessons and then you upscale it and you say, 'Can we do this right across Wales?'
In September, around a third of patients, 22,300 people, who attended A&E at the Royal Gwent Hospital waited more than four hours to be dealt with. Just over 66.4 per cent were seen inside four hours, compared to the Welsh Government target of 95 per cent. Only two A&E units in Wales produced a worse performance. What action will the Cabinet Secretary take to improve waiting times at A&E at the Royal Gwent Hospital to ensure it meets the targets his own department has set?
The Cabinet Secretary heard what the Member just said, and we continue to work on improvement within A&E because we're never complacent about it, but we do have areas where performance, as you highlighted, is working, but it's not consistent. So, what we need to do is work with the health boards to put the onus on them to make sure that they are bringing down those waiting times within A&E and working with the Welsh ambulance service as well to make sure there is a seamless transfer of patients, that there is effective discharge and so on. So, we're not complacent about this at all, but there are areas of very good practice within the Welsh NHS. We need to make those areas of good practice commonplace.
Question 8, Angela Burns.
Thank you. Good fielding. [Laughter.]
8. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on new medicine being distributed through the new treatment fund? OAQ52942
Yes, I'm happy to do so. By the end of October, the new treatment fund had provided patients throughout Wales with faster access to 146 new medicines for a wide range of medical conditions. The average time taken to make medicine available is now 17 days. That is a reduction of 81 per cent.
That's to be welcomed, Cabinet Secretary. I'm sure you know that, in May, there was a national roll-out in England of the use of 5-ALA treatment, which is a technique that assists physicians in the removal of brain tumours. This technique has led to demonstrably improved outcomes for patients. The 2018 NICE clinical guidance recommends that, in appropriate cases, patients take 5-amino levulinic acid prior to surgery. The All Wales Medicines Strategy Group also recommends this treatment. As you're aware, a patient's geographical location will dictate where their brain tumour is treated. In north Wales, the centre of excellence is Liverpool's Walton Centre; elsewhere for Wales we go to Cardiff university hospital. My concern is that whilst a hospital in Liverpool is making use of this treatment, surgeons at university hospital in Cardiff are not. Are you able to ask for clarity on this unequal situation, and would you be able to use the new treatment fund to facilitate uptake of this innovative methodology that could help patients retain so much more of themselves after brain surgery?
Yes. I am aware of the availability of the new treatment. I don't actually think it's specifically an area for the new treatment fund, but I will, nevertheless, look into the differences that you've outlined between north and south Wales, and I'll happily come back and report to Members when I'm in a position to do so.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
The next item, therefore, is the topical questions, and the first is from Mick Antoniw.
1. What discussions has the Cabinet Secretary had with Cardiff Airport in light of reports that the airline Flybe is to be sold? 234
I've held discussions with airport executives myself, and my officials maintain regular contact with Cardiff Airport, and they're continuing to work closely with Flybe. All flights to and from the airport are operating normally and, of course, the sale of the company is just one option that the company is considering.
Cabinet Secretary, thank you for the answer. You'll understand the reason why I've raised the question. The airport, since it came into public ownership, has been remarkably successful. In the last year, there's been 9 per cent growth, which was on top of 16 per cent growth the previous year, and 15 per cent growth in passenger numbers since it was taken out of private ownership and into the public sector. It has recently been named as the best under 3 million airport in the UK. It has increased incoming passenger numbers from 24 to 30 per cent. There are new airlines, new routes. In July 2018, it was the second best time performance airport in the whole of the UK; and, in 2017, it was awarded a five-star status.
Of course, turning around an airport after years of decline is not easy, and I wonder what assurances the Cabinet Secretary can give us in terms of the Government's long-term strategy with regard to the importance of the airport as part of the Welsh economy, as a major employer, and also the long-term strategy to ensure that success continues in what are very, very difficult times for the airport industry, but to the benefit of the Welsh economy.
Well, can I thank Mick Antoniw for his question and also for recognising the remarkable success of Cardiff Airport since the Welsh Government purchased that particular asset? The aim, of course, the long-term strategy—which was outlined in the master plan during the summer—is to grow the airport to accommodate 3 million passengers annually. I'd also like to put on record my thanks to the incredible team at Cardiff Airport who are responsible for the success that Mick Antoniw has outlined.
It's worth stating with regard to Flybe that, based on discussions that have taken place between the airport and the company, we are aware that there are no plans for any radical changes to the route network. There are no plans whatsoever to ground planes, and there are no plans whatsoever either to cut the number of routes. Members will be aware that the company are in talks with potential strategic partners and, again, I should state that the sale option is one of several options that are currently being examined. If a sale went ahead, then it would be recognised that Cardiff international airport has been part of the successful story of Flybe over many years.
In addition to the services that are operated by Flybe, we've recently seen Cardiff international airport successfully work with TUI in introducing an expanded service through the addition of another aircraft; KLM are increasing capacity at Cardiff international airport; we know about the new route to Doha operated by Qatar Airways; and Cardiff international airport are also in discussions with Ryanair. We know that Ryanair intend to double the number of services next year, providing a huge opportunity, potentially, for Cardiff international airport. We will go on supporting this major asset, not just for south Wales, but for the whole of Wales. Our international airport is hugely important in terms of its strategic fit with our transport plans for the future of Wales. We are proud of its success, and we look forward to its success continuing for many years to come.
The news was alarming last week, obviously, that Flybe have put themselves up for sale, because, in some markets, they are a very successful airline and achieve real growth. In the early years of the Government's ownership, significant loans were made to Cardiff Airport, with the purchase price on the loans in excess, now, of £100 million, I believe the slate talks of. Part of that money was made available to secure Flybe to the airport, and if you look at Flybe's accounts, the aircraft are actually chartered to Cardiff Airport, which is quite a unique way of accounting for those aircraft.
What security has the Minister had given to him that no Government money is at risk should the worst-case scenario happen and Flybe cease trading? None of us want to see that happen, and, hopefully, the best option, which would be to secure the long-term viability of Flybe, either through a partnership or a purchase, will actually expand route development out of Cardiff. But there is a significant amount of public money being put on the table to secure the Flybe route, and it is incumbent on the Cabinet Secretary to give Members assurance that that money is secure and is able to be transferred to a new operator, should Flybe cease their routes out of Cardiff.
I can assure the Member that whilst, on the one side, the loan with Cardiff international airport is, of course, commercially sensitive, the airport is currently within its terms of the loan agreement, and that money is secure. But I think it's important that we don't talk down—and the Member is right to state that we should not talk down—the prospects for Flybe. It's been an incredibly successful company, and in terms of the services operating to and from Cardiff Airport, we've seen a good increase in the number of passengers using that particular air carrier.
I do think that Flybe and Cardiff Airport have worked exceptionally well together, and that's why talks have been so productive since last week's announcement. Of course, the sale may be the eventual outcome, but I believe, based on the performance of Flybe, that a strategic partnership, or a successful sale, is highly likely. We know that the factors that have contributed to the challenges facing Flybe have concerned issues such as information technology systems. These can be overcome with the help of a strategic partner, and that's what I hope we will see for Flybe.
One element of this that hasn't been given a great deal of coverage, if any, I believe, over the past week is the fact that Flybe, through its subsidiary Eastern Airways, runs the link between Anglesey and Cardiff, which is a service that's more popular than it’s ever been. And I congratulate the Welsh Government in that regard.
Can you, as Cabinet Secretary, tell us or share any concerns that you may have on the impact of the current Flybe difficulties on that contact, and inform us of any assurances that you have sought or received already in relation to that crucial service?
Well, can I thank the Member for his question? It's very timely, actually, because it's my intention to announce shortly the outcome of the tendering process for that particular air link. The Member is absolutely right: we have seen great success since the route has been operated by Eastern Airways. I believe that passenger numbers have increased by something in the order of 40 per cent, demonstrating the growing demand for the Cardiff to north-west Wales air link.
I will be making an announcement soon. I wouldn't want to pre-empt any announcement that I will make, but I am confident that the arrangements that have been in place are fit for purpose, have been successful and could continue into the future. I see no reason why Flybe, given its performance to date, would collapse. There is a strong interest in the company, both in terms of its fit with potential partners or as a potential purchase by another airline, and that could include—dependent on the outcome that I'll be announcing soon—inclusion of the Eastern Airways link between Cardiff and Anglesey.
Can I join the Cabinet Secretary and Members in praising the management of Cardiff Airport in my constituency? I welcome the latest passenger figures for the airport, which show that during the last financial year total passengers grew, year on year, by 9 per cent to reach 1.48 million.
As it has been suggested that air passenger duty has been a particularly detrimental factor for Flybe, what representations is the Welsh Government continuing to make regarding devolving air passenger duty, which is clear would have a beneficial impact for Cardiff Airport and for Wales, and, of course, receives cross-party support in this Assembly?
It's very interesting—Jane Hutt makes a really important point about the role that air passenger duty could play in assisting and making Flybe more competitive, because it's my understanding that something in the region of 80 per cent of Flybe's flights are subject to the double whammy of domestic route APD. Clearly, if that were to be devolved and we could either abandon it or significantly reduce it, then that would assist Flybe and it would also make air services more competitive for passengers.
The UK Government has said that it is open to reviewing the devolution of APD if new evidence comes to light, and I think what we've learnt from Flybe in the last week is that if the removal of APD could be secured through devolution, then, clearly, that would be sufficient evidence to justify the devolution of APD, because it could assist in the company being more competitive. The Welsh Affairs Committee are currently looking at this issue, and the Welsh Government have contributed evidence to that inquiry. Also, we commissioned consultants, Northpoint, to look at the potential outcome of abolishing the tax on all flights. They found that it could raise the number of passengers using Cardiff Airport by more than 650,000 per year, in a very short space of time—in just seven years. That would be an incredible increase in the number of passengers and it would assist the airlines that operate from there, including Flybe.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The second question is also to be answered by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, and the question is to be asked by Rhun ap Iorwerth.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on train services following Transport for Wales's public apology for shortcomings in services? 236
Yes. Storm Callum, autumn conditions and the dreadful quality of the rolling stock we inherited from Arriva Trains Wales have impacted the operation of rail services. Transport for Wales is implementing a recovery plan and passengers will see consequential service improvements each day over the next few weeks.
Maybe in your subsequent answer, you might want to join with Transport for Wales in apologising for the inconvenience that has been caused to travellers over the past few weeks. I personally thought the First Minister was hugely defensive yesterday when criticism was put to him of the situation on Wales's railways, and many thousands of passengers have suffered, failing to get to work or failing to get from work. My own daughter was standing on a platform at Aberystwyth on Sunday afternoon waiting for the train, which was on time, according to the sign—it just didn't turn up. Now, anybody who knows Aberystwyth station, you've got pretty good warning that that train's not coming. But the train didn't arrive. This isn't acceptable. As I say, I thought the First Minister was very defensive in saying, 'We didn't promise to transform rail in a month.' Well, we weren't criticising Government for not transforming rail within a month. The point that was being made was that things had gone backwards at quite a rate over a matter of weeks. And it's not too much, I don't think, to expect Welsh Government to be a little bit contrite and to say, 'Yes, sorry. Things aren't really going as they can.'
Now, I've learnt a bit over the past few days in terms of reasons that have been given for so many trains being taken out of service. I had to read it twice—I thought it was a problem with flat tyres. I know enough about trains that it wasn't that, but flat wheels is a problem that comes from trains sliding on leaves and so on. So, yes, we recognise that there are problems and we recognise also, I guess, that there would be teething problems. I support, in principle, having Transport for Wales, so this isn't somehow wishing Government to fail, because we want a better rail service. But can you this afternoon, perhaps accompanied with that apology from Welsh Government to Welsh passengers, tell us what kind of timescale we should be working to now when people can expect that the train service will get back to normal, and, considering people wanted a better service and were looking forward to seeing the end of the last franchise so that we could start a new chapter, give us the assurances that we need today?
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Can I thank the Member for his question? First of all, he makes the assertion that services have gone backwards. In fact, despite the recent difficulties, this first four-week period of the operation of the new franchise and the new contract has seen higher levels of performance than the equivalent period last year, including punctuality. Now, some Conservatives are, I hear, laughing. The fact of the matter is that the previous contract was not fit for purpose.
The Member is right to identify flattened wheels. Now, what we have discovered, because you ask for the reasons, and I think it is absolutely right that passengers understand the reasons for problems with rail services—. Transport for Wales have discovered that, unfortunately, an ageing fleet of trains that they have inherited—an appalling fleet of trains—did not see investment made, which therefore led to a lack of modern technology being adopted on the rolling stock, and this includes, importantly, wheel slide protection. Wheel slide protection is what prevents services from being cancelled or postponed in autumn periods, and the trains were not given the wheel slide protection. Why? Because market forces—the form of capitalism we operate—led to the operator deciding that it would rather have profits than put wheel slide protection on the trains. That will stop. That will stop. By next autumn, every train that Transport for Wales operates will get wheel slide protection.
Now, in addition, I've asked for a full appraisal of other reasons why we have seen the disruption on the Wales and borders network in recent days. I'll be assessing whether it was just down to the wheels, or whether there was another contributing factor, such as more leaves on the line than we have found, or whether it was because the trains were poorly maintained in the lead-up to the transfer of the franchise to Transport for Wales. We know that the inheritance of the fleet of trains did not suit passengers as it should have done—the trains themselves are appalling—and these will be replaced in just a matter of months. The first of the replacement trains will be coming on track—the Vivarail trains, the Geralds and the 769s will all be delivered next year. Every pacer will be removed next year, and as I said, by autumn of next year every single train will have wheel slide protection fitted.
I have to say as well, Deputy Presiding Officer, that I've had reports of dead rats in inspection pits at the point when the franchise was handed over. This is what Transport for Wales have been dealing with, and Transport for Wales, to their credit, have managed the transfer of the rail services, I think, of course during an incredibly difficult time, with unprecedented floods—the worst floods in some parts for 30 years.
I have to say, Cabinet Secretary, I have been quite complimentary of the Welsh Government with regard to its rail franchise. I think I'm on record as saying you've been heroically ambitious with regard to the rail franchise, but in doing so you have, of course, set a high bar, and in doing that you have set expectations of passengers. Now, in the summer, you said that in the coming weeks you will deliver groundbreaking transformation, and we're now, of course, in month 2 of the new rail franchise, and Transport for Wales. And where are we now? We've had the statement from Transport for Wales last night to AMs, which was, I think, appreciated, and I welcome that. It talks about the effects of storm Callum, but I have to say, the effects of storm Callum happened right across the UK, and it seems that other areas of the country have bounced back, but we haven't here in Wales. The update provided no explanation about why priorities are being taken in the way they have, so I'm not so much asking you about why this has happened, but why they have made the priorities that they have.
I had a Facebook comment last night off a Dawn Jones, who said, 'Please help'. Her daughter goes from Newtown to Wrexham college and she's stuck, she can't go for her education. She's pointing out that the service also picks up students in Newtown and Welshpool to go to Shrewsbury college. Well, the 08:40 from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury last week was cancelled four times out of five—that's an 80 per cent cancellation rate. If you look at the cancellation rate on the Valleys lines, it's less than 1 per cent. The difficulties for passengers are greater where infrequent services are cancelled than where services are frequent, and this is the issue here. So, can I ask you a series of questions around priorities?
No, you can ask a question—a question, not a series.
What is the rationale for preventing cancellations on Valley lines by cancelling services in other areas, which is what is effectively happening? Does Transport for Wales's service contract include a different performance requirement for the Valley lines, and why is it that the Cardiff Bay service is regarded as a higher priority of use per unit, when Cardiff Bus operates a frequent high-capacity bus from Cardiff Central station to Cardiff Bay? When Transport for Wales, each day, makes its planned cancellations, does it take into account the social and economic impact of those issues as well, such as on Betws-y-Coed and Tenby, which have year-on-year tourism, or in Newtown and Welshpool, where students go to college on an infrequent service?
So, can I ask, finally: will Transport for Wales modify its criteria for prioritising cancellations to ensure that the burden is spread more equally than it is now?
Can I thank the Member for his question and assure him that there is no loss of ambition as far as the Transport for Wales rail franchise is concerned. There still will be £800 million spent on new rolling stock, £194 million on station investment—contrast that with just £600,000 that was spent over the last 15 years—an extra 285 services, 600 new jobs, a 25 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, new services from next spring, replacement rolling stock from next spring. Change is coming, but I do accept that there is frustration amongst passengers and passenger groups. As I said, there have been unprecedented weather conditions, and the Member is right that other rail services might not have suffered quite so badly, but that's because, probably, other rail services had the investment that Arriva Trains Wales rolling stock should have had. And, as I've said previously, the wheel sliding protection was not there to prevent trains from being taken off line.
There are no arbitrary prioritised cancellations of certain services over others. The prioritisation is based on a number of factors, including the availability of bus replacement services. However, I am conscious of the need to assure people that fair play is being applied across Wales and across all services. I will seek to have Transport for Wales write to all Members with the rationale for prioritising service cancellations, and replacement services as well.
The only thing I want to add, because I'm not going to repeat everything, is that there is an urgency to get to the bottom of what went wrong, and you've identified a few issues. The urgency is that we don't end up in a situation where the people who have used that service, and the people we were hoping would use that service, don't get put off and disillusioned, so that the numbers are negatively and significantly affected in an irreversible manner, because we really want people to use the train services that we have, and you have, invested in and secured agreement to deliver.
I am pleased that the company have apologised, and I am personally really sorry that people have been inconvenienced right across my region, as I'm sure you are, Cabinet Secretary. And I suppose that the key question is here—. I understand that, in some places, like Blaenau Ffestiniog to Llandudno, there are replacement bus services operating. Will those replacement bus services be adequate to replace the missing train services, so that people can move around the region in a way that they were hoping they could?
Well, I think Joyce Watson touches on a very important point concerning the integration of various forms of public transport. Joyce talks about the need to ensure that replacement bus services are adequate. Well, I think once I'm able to outline reform to public local bus services, and proposals for future legislation, Members will be able to appreciate how we'll go about better integrating rail and bus services to ensure that end-to-end points are as seamless as they can possibly—end-to-end travel is as seamless as it can possibly be.
I should just point out again that the previous contract was let on the basis of zero passenger growth over a 15-year period, and so, consequently, at the point that we inherited an abysmal fleet of trains, trains were already overstretched and over capacity. During the autumn months, when trains have been damaged—when the wheel sets have been damaged—that has contributed to an exacerbation of capacity issues. It’s something that Transport for Wales are dealing with. They’ve put in train now a programme of remedial works. We’re looking at whether additional mitigation options, such as the use of wheel lathes outside of Wales, can be utilised to address the current maintenance backlog.
But I would, again, just say that storm Callum was unprecedented in many parts of Wales and I think it'd be remiss of me not to put on record my thanks to staff on the network who kept as many services running as possible and, in many cases, were involved in some scary incidents, where trees were hitting trains, where trains were having to run through pretty significant levels of floodwater.
Cabinet Secretary, I invite you again to apologise, because I noticed that you haven’t put an apology on the record yet. But could I see some clarification in relation to the statement that was put out by Transport for Wales yesterday—a welcome statement to give us an overview of the situation? They talk of, out of the 127 engines available to them, 36 are off the tracks, as it were, in the workshops, in the second paragraph. It then goes on to say that, 'Additionally, we currently have 21 units withdrawn from service'. So, if you put the 36 and the 21 together, you’ve nearly got half the fleet out of action. Can you confirm that that is the case and that the 769 locomotives that you announced back in July 2017, which were due to enter service in May 2018, are available to the franchise so that they can bolster the fleet, or are we still waiting for those engines to come into service?
First of all, in terms of apologies, there should have been an apology long ago for the under-investment—terrible and historic under-investment—in rail infrastructure in Wales; 1 per cent of funding for what amounts to a double-digit percentage of rail track. It has to be said that we haven’t yet found categoric evidence that it’s the tracks that have been the problem, but it could well be that a contributing factor is the poor infrastructure that trains are actually operating on. Certainly, earlier in the year, with a cracked track, that was part of the problem for rail services being cancelled in many parts of Wales.
Now, additional rolling stock has, as a consequence of Welsh Government intervention, been introduced to the network. But we are examining many ways that we can bring additional rolling stock on a short-term basis to Wales, whilst the Vivarail, 769 and Gerald trains are delivered. It’s important that people recognise, Deputy Presiding Officer, that Transport for Wales is doing all it can to source additional rolling stock for the network, whilst at the same time working 24/7 to make sure that those trains that have been damaged due to storm Callum are brought back on the tracks as soon as possible.
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.
Item 4 on our agenda this afternoon is 90-second statements and the first this week is Siân Gwenllian.
Thank you very much. This week is part of the United Nation’s annual 16 Days of Activism campaign to fight against gender-based violence. The purpose of the campaign is to draw global attention to the huge problem of violence against women by urging action at a local, national and global level to tackle it. The courage and determination of the women who are part of organisations such as #MeToo and Time’s Up have shed light on experiences that are entirely unacceptable. This isn’t simply a problem for Hollywood, of course. One in four women in England and Wales have experienced domestic abuse since the age of sixteen. Over 0.5 million women had experienced sexual assault in 2016-17. One in seven students has experienced sexual or physical assault whilst at university.
Let us state clearly and unambiguously today: no woman or girl in Wales should have to live in fear of violence or sexual harassment. For years, silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to continue. In order to end this violence against women and girls in Wales once and for all, we need resources and action immediately and at a sufficient scale to meet the demands. Certainly, we need to support every woman and girl in Wales who has experienced these terrible experiences.
Thank you. Mick Antoniw.
Dirprwy Lywydd, this Saturday, 24 November, Ukraine and the international community mark the day of remembrance of the victims of Stalin's artificial famine of 1932-33 known as the Holodomor, which, in Ukrainian, means 'death by hunger'. As a Welsh parliamentarian, I will be attending the commemoration in Kiev.
It was a famine created by Stalin to enforce collectivisation of agriculture and to break Ukrainian resistance to Russian Soviet rule. There were more than 4,000 uprisings against this policy, which were ruthlessly suppressed. In December 1932 the central committee of the Communist Party ordered that all grain, including sowing seeds, be seized. Villages that failed to co-operate were blacklisted and deliberately starved to death, and an estimated 1 million people deported to Siberia. An estimated 4 million to 6 million perished. It is estimated that around two thirds of these were children. Precise figures are impossible, because Stalin ordered all records to be destroyed.
Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who is honoured in Ukraine, witnessed the Holodomor and was one of the few journalists with the courage to report on the scale of the famine and its causes. Many countries around the world have recognised the Holodomor as an act of genocide. The 9 December this year is the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948. This Saturday, members of the Ukrainian diaspora living in Wales and around the world will place lighted candles in their windows in memory of the victims.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. As the chair of the cross-party group on vision, I am pleased to note that this week sees the launch of the latest Wales Vision Strategy, and I would urge Members to come along to the event in the Oriel between 12 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. tomorrow lunchtime.
Our level of vision has a huge impact on our lives. There are 107,000 people in Wales with sight loss and this is expected to double over the next 20 years. Blind and partially sighted people each face their own set of challenges every day. Feelings of isolation are unacceptably high, and one in four blind or partially sighted people of working age has a job only.
People with sight loss are more likely to have a fall, are more likely to live in poverty. They are more likely to have depression and have problems with everyday life. We hear of some pretty distressing stories of eyecare patients suffering horrendous delays to their treatment, and delays to follow-up care is a major issue across Wales.
Just recently, in a report by the Wales Audit Office, we heard that 28,000 eye patients were waiting twice as long as they should be for an appointment. This needlessly puts patients at risk of irreversible blindness and needs to be urgently addressed. Now, I'm passionate about making the changes we need, and I would urge members across the Chamber to engage with this agenda so that nobody within their area loses their sight from a treatable eye condition, and that we do all that we can to support people with sight loss.
Thank you very much.
The next item on the agenda is a motion to elect a Member to the Assembly Commission. Can I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion formally? Rhun.
NDM6876 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 7.9, appoints Siân Gwenllian (Plaid Cymru) as a member of the Assembly Commission in place of Adam Price (Plaid Cymru).
Thank you. Does any Member wish to object? Therefore, the proposal is—the motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
We move on to a motion to elect a Member to a committee. Again, can I ask for a member of the Business Committee to move the motion formally? Rhun.
Motion NDM6877 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Orders 17.3 and 17.13(ii), elects Helen Mary Jones (Plaid Cymru) as a Member of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.
Thank you. The proposal is to agree that motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
We now move on to item 5 on our agenda, which is a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv), on further education funding. I call on Bethan Sayed to move the motion. Bethan.
Motion NDM6862 Bethan Sayed, Mohammad Asghar, Helen Mary Jones, Siân Gwenllian, Suzy Davies
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Regrets that funding for further education has been under significant pressure in recent years as a result of funding cuts.
2. Notes that the further education sector has been placed under extra demand, in part due to the Welsh Government’s policies relating to lifelong learning, skills and employability, which have been clarified in the recent employability plan updated by written statement in September 2018.
3. Expresses concern that staff in further education institutions are considering strike action over insufficient pay and concerns over heavy workloads.
4. Proposes that there be no further reduction in the amount of funding received by the further education sector and that its position as key to productivity, skills, training and employability in the Welsh economy be recognised.