Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

05/12/2018

Cynnwys

Contents

Statement by the Presiding Officer
1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance
2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
3. Topical Questions
4. 90-second Statements
5. Debate on the Standards of Conduct Committee's Report 03-18 to the Assembly under Standing Order 22.9
6. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Welsh Government Performance
7. Short Debate: The Neolithic in the Story of Wales: Valuing the achievements of prehistory
8. Voting Time
9. Debate on Stage 3 of the Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill
Group 1: Duty to provide funded childcare (Amendments 4, 4A, 4B, 20)
Group 2: Parental eligibility (Amendments 6, 11, 8, 9, 17, 19, 10, 22, 5)
Group 3: Welsh language childcare provision (Amendment 7)
Group 4: Transportation between providers (Amendment 12)
Group 5: Additional charges and rates of payment (Amendments 13, 21, 32, 33)
Group 6: Qualifying children (Amendments 14, 15, 16, 18)
Group 7: Regulations to be made by Welsh Ministers (Amendments 1, 3)
Group 8: Statutory instruments: Changes to procedures (Amendment 23)
Group 9: Categories of providers of funded childcare (Amendments 24, 25)
Group 10: Administrative arrangements for the provision of funded childcare (Amendments 26, 27, 28)
Group 11: Reviews of determinations and appeals to the First-tier Tribunal (Amendment 29)
Group 12: Review and reports on the effect of the Act and sunset provision (Amendments 30, 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2, 35)
Group 13: Duty to promote awareness (Amendment 31)
Group 14: Workforce planning (Amendment 34)
Group 15: Commencement (Amendment 36)

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

Statement by the Presiding Officer

Today, we mark an auspicious event in the history of our Senedd. As we look forward to celebrating 20 years since the election of the first Assembly, in 1999, I’m pleased to announce that this place is about to become home to a second exciting senedd—our first ever Youth Parliament. This is the conclusion of many months of work by organisations, schools and the dedicated Youth Parliament team at the Assembly. We are very much indebted to everyone who ensured that this project has come to fruition. Over 450 young candidates, almost 25,000 registered to vote, with representation the length and breadth of Wales—the statistics speak volumes about their success.

This is a golden opportunity to enthuse the next generation, and I am confident that these young parliamentarians will be fabulous champions for the issues of importance to the young people of Wales. I am pleased, therefore, to announce the first ever members of the Welsh Youth Parliament, representing constituencies and partner organisations nationwide.

Here are the 60 names.

Here are the names of the young parliamentarians.

North Wales: Evan Burgess, Nia Griffiths, Brengain Glyn Williams, Talulah Thomas, Harrison James Gardner, Thomas Comber, Ifan Price, Abbey Carter, Jonathon Dawes, Jonathan Powell, Ifan Wyn Erfyl Jones, Grace Barton, Hasna Ali, Katie June Whitlow.

Mid and West Wales: Arianwen Fox-James, Marged Lois Campbell, Cai Thomas Phillips, Caleb Rees, Megan Carys Davies, Rhys Lewis, Ellie Murphy.

South Wales East: Calen Jones, Aled Joseph, Gwion Rhisiart, Betsan Roberts, Rhian Shillabeer, Manon Clarke, Ffion Griffiths, Tommy Church, Lloyd Mann, Charley Oliver-Holland, Finlay Bertram, Maisy Evans, Abby O’Sullivan, Luke Parker, Carys Thomas, Angel Ezeadum, Greta Evans, Chloe Giles, Abbie Cooper, Levi Rees.

Finally, South Wales West: welcome to Kian Agar, Todd Murray, Eleri Griffiths, Ffion-Haf Davies, Eleanor Lewis, Laine Woolcock, Efan Rhys Fairclough, Alys Hall, Ruth Sibayan, Ubayedhur Rahman, Lleucu Haf Wiliam, Caitlin Stocks, Casey-Jane Bishop, Oliver Davies, Sandy Ibrahim, Nia-Rose Evans, Anwen Grace Rodaway, Sophie Billinghurst, and William Hackett.

Congratulations to all of them.

We look forward to welcoming them all to the Senedd for their inaugural meeting in February. [Applause.]

Congratulations, everyone. Excellent. Thank you to Members, and congratulations to the members of the Youth Parliament.

1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance

So, that takes us on to the business of the day, and the first item is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance. The first question is from Jenny Rathbone.

Safeguarding Local Services

1. In light of warnings from the Welsh Local Government Association about the impact of cuts to local government funding, what discussions has the Cabinet Secretary held with the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services regarding the safeguarding of local services? OAQ53050

I thank Jenny Rathbone for the question. I hold regular discussions with all Cabinet colleagues, including the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services. On Friday of last week, for example, we jointly attended a meeting of the local government working group, attended also by members of the WLGA, and others.

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Obviously, the additional funding that was made available last week for local government is very welcome, but, in terms of how it translates into money going to Cardiff Council, it's £1.5 million, in the context of Cardiff Council having to look for potential cuts of £34 million. So, it remains a very challenging landscape for local government. And I wondered what work the Government can do to ensure that we are ensuring that public services are joining up together, to try and protect these preventative services, which are so important to the well-being of the community.

Can I agree, Llywydd, with Jenny Rathbone that it remains a severely challenging period for all public services in Wales? Nine years into austerity and local government is certainly in the front line. I'm grateful to the Welsh Local Government Association for what they said. When we announced the additional resources for councils, the WLGA itself said that the announcement signalled significant progress and demonstrated a concerted effort to offset the impact of austerity in Wales. We will go on working with local government colleagues to strengthen the way in which they are able to act collectively and regionally, and to find ways in which money can be moved upstream so that we spend money preventing problems from happening, rather than having to respond after the damage has been done. 

13:35

As you know, Cabinet Secretary, the local authorities in my area are all Labour run, and even they are starting to say that schools and social care budgets can't be protected, with one of them saying even that Welsh Government cannot continue to use austerity as an excuse for not allowing local government to deliver vital services to all constituents. With that comment in mind, I wonder if you could tell me whether you've discussed with the councils in my region, directly yourself, about whether changes to the funding formula would make a difference, and, in the meantime, whether you've discussed any particular ways about how they can protect those budgets on the money that you have given them this year and next year. And, if you haven't had the chance to do that, if you are First Minister in a few weeks' time, how will you be instructing colleagues to do that on your behalf?

I thank Suzy Davies. I congratulate her, of course, on having all Labour local authorities in her area, and I've no doubt they'll look forward to having a Labour Government at UK level as well as here in Wales, because that is what would make the greatest possible difference to their financial circumstances. The funding formula was discussed at the meeting that I attended with Alun Davies on Friday of last week, including representatives of councils in Suzy Davies's area. I think council leaders recognise that, in the end, the funding formula is a distraction from the main issue. The funding formula shares out the amount of money available, and changing it when money is reducing is exceptionally difficult. What they emphasise, and we emphasise too, is the need for the UK Government to provide proper funding for all public services in Wales so that it is the size of the cake that is growing rather than an argument over how a reducing cake is shared out. 

Cabinet Secretary, what assessment have you made of the research by the University of Cambridge, which shows that cuts to spending on services by councils in England are, on average, double what they've been in Wales?

I thank Jane Hutt for that question. She raised this during our debate on the draft budget yesterday, pointing to the research by the University of Cambridge, which, as I said yesterday, was published, as it happened, on the same day that the provisional settlement for local government in Wales was published. And it absolutely demonstrates, as the report itself says, that Wales and Scotland have taken a different approach to the way in which we safeguard local services here, and that we have, within the constraints, which are real, that we face—and our actions don't mitigate all of the difficulties that local authorities face, I know—but, within those constraints, we have protected local government in Wales from the worst effects of nine years of austerity, while local government in England has simply been thrown to the wolves. 

Welsh Rates of Income Tax

2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve the understanding of Welsh rates of income tax? OAQ53047

I thank Lynne Neagle for that question. In November, over 2 million people in Wales received a letter from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs setting out how Welsh rates of income tax will work. The Welsh Government has launched a social media campaign, in addition to the work of HMRC, to help explain the changes, and we work with HMRC and stakeholders to go on raising awareness of Welsh rates of income tax here in Wales. 

Thank you for that response, Cabinet Secretary. I'm sure I'm not alone amongst Members in this Chamber in having to reassure constituents on receipt of that letter from HMRC that there are currently no plans to put up income tax in Wales, because the letter has, I think, alarmed some constituents, certainly of mine. What assurances can you give my constituents that there are no plans to raise income tax in Wales? And while I welcome what you just said about the social media campaign, what more can we do to ensure that there is a good understanding of our new income tax powers in Wales?

13:40

I thank the Member for that supplementary question. I'm sure she's not alone in having constituents come to ask about Welsh rates of income tax, and it's very good, I think, that local residents turn to Assembly Members for explanation of these important changes. I'm glad that Lynne Neagle was able to offer the key assurance that members of her community will have been looking for—that we have no plans to raise rates of income tax here in Wales next year.

We are following up every enquiry that has come to the Welsh Government as a result of letters that members of the public have received. I know that Lynne Neagle will be interested to learn that we directly have received fewer than five calls and five e-mails to the Welsh Government as a result of the letter that went out. HMRC has, so far, received 94 calls in relation to that letter. That is a very small fraction of the 2 million letters that were sent out. But we will follow them all up, we will learn from the questions that people ask us and we will feed that into the social media campaign that we will be mounting over the coming weeks. 

Cabinet Secretary, are you also going to agree with me that one way to assist Welsh taxpayers' understanding of their tax deductions would be to have the Welsh rate included on both pay slips, where people get salaries either monthly or weekly, and the P60 form, where, if some people are working in England and in Wales, the end-of-year deduction should be showing what was taken out in England and what was taken out for Wales? So, that's a difference in tax collection in two different regions in the country. So, what discussion has he had in this regard, please? 

I thank Mohammad Asghar for those suggestions, and I'm very happy to pursue them with HMRC to see whether they would be a practical way of continuing to explain to citizens in Wales the changes that fiscal devolution have brought about. He's right to point to the fact that there are some detailed discussions that have gone on and, indeed, detailed analysis that HMRC are undertaking of the 98 cross-border postcodes, where people could be living in England or in Wales, in order to ensure that notification letters are issued only to those taxpayers living in Wales. We think there are fewer than 900 people in that situation, but the additional detailed work that HMRC has carried out will mean that letters to those remaining citizens will be issued by 10 December. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth. 

Thank you very much. Cabinet Secretary, what import or value should be placed on the views and comments of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales when the Government comes to major decisions on expenditure policies?

Of course, we listen to what the commissioner says. I spoke with her more than once when the budget was being prepared during the spring and summer. She has been very constructive, I think, during the process, and we appreciate the work that she does and the support that she provides to us as a Government.

I’m sure you will have guessed that I’m going to be referring my questions to the M4. The commissioner has made some very strong comments over some time now about your proposals for the M4 black route. She mentioned last year that the M4 scheme could put in place a dangerous precedent for the future. More recently, she has made her view expressly clear that she doesn’t believe this proposal would meet the needs of future generations. Should such strong comments, from a commissioner that we have entrusted a great deal in, be enough to put a stop to this proposal?

Well, of course, the commissioner has put forward her own comments as part of the inquiry and research that’s been undertaken—independent research for an independent report that has emanated from the work over the past year.

Llywydd, I have to simply repeat what my colleague the leader of the house said yesterday. There is a legal process under way in relation to decision making on the M4. As finance Minister, I have a part to play in that process, and I'm not going to be drawn on any aspect of the decision making that would draw me outside the legal parameters within which I have to operate. 

13:45

There is quite rightly a lot of weight of expectation on what the commissioner can do for Wales. Surely, in this first major test case of the influence that the  commissioner has, Government should be showing that they are taking her role extremely seriously. She raises some serious and fundamental questions about value for money and what that means for finances available for future generations.

As the holder of the public purse in Wales and somebody who is charged with ensuring that we get maximum value for money, and get maximum bangs for the Welsh buck, can you give an undertaking that, whilst we still await decisions by Government on the next steps for the black route, you will investigate every possibility of spending that substantial amount of money—up to £2 billion or more even—in a more sensible way, either by spending less for the same results through strengthening the road network and investing in public transport, or even spending the same amount of money and getting vastly greater results, which would please not only future generations, but future health Secretaries, future transport Secretaries and, indeed, future finance Ministers too?

Llywydd, I understand all the points that Rhun ap Iorwerth has made. All of them are serious points and all of them were rehearsed in front of the independent, local public inquiry. No doubt, they will all be reflected in the inspector's report, produced as a result of the inquiry. I am yet to see that inspector's report and I have to reserve any comments that I might make on this matter until I'm able to do that and to see the advice that is provided alongside it.

Cabinet Secretary, what provision have you made in your budget for next year in respect of the north Wales growth deal?

Llywydd, I am on the point of being able to make provision for the north Wales growth deal. I hope to be able to do that within a short number of days. I have not been able to do so up until this point because, unlike the Cardiff and Swansea city deals, where the amounts of money to be provided by the Welsh Government and the UK Government were agreed in advance of a UK Government announcement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer chose to announce the sum of money from the UK Government unilaterally and without agreement with us.

You're very slow off the starting blocks in respect of this deal, aren't you, Cabinet Secretary? Because, as you will know, this bid was put together and submitted by the north Wales economic ambition board on 23 October. The UK Government managed to consider it and put its hand in its pocket and place £120 million on the table within a matter of just a few weeks. Why have you spent so long dithering about this?

I'm sure the Member would rather that we had a constructive and cross-party approach to the north Wales growth deal. I understand that it is supported by Members across this Chamber. The Welsh Government certainly will play our part and I will make a decision on the amount of money that we are able to contribute to the deal. I would rather have been able to do that in the way we did in relation to Swansea and Cardiff—by prior agreement with the UK Government. The UK Government, having decided to put its hand in its pocket, but not all that far, I must say, given that it was £170 million that was asked for by north Wales authorities, not the £120 million they ended up with—. But I will make certain that there is a contribution from the Welsh Government and then I look forward to the cross-party consensus that has existed in this Chamber, on the importance of that growth deal, continuing.

I noted your criticism of the £120 million, but it's £120 million more than you've managed to put your hands in your pocket for so far. You're quite right to say that there is cross-party agreement on this matter. I noted that, in advance of the UK Government's budget, there were Members of Parliament on a cross-party basis, including Labour Members of Parliament, who were writing to the UK Government, asking it to make an announcement in the budget on the north Wales growth deal. I would anticipate that you've also received similar letters. Perhaps you can tell us whether you have, from either Labour Assembly Members or MPs in respect of the role that you might play.

I think what people in north Wales are looking for is some rapid decision making on this. We know that the Welsh Government, quite rightly, was very eager to get things signed off for the Cardiff capital region city deal and the Swansea bay city deal, but for some reason, you appear to have been a little bit more lethargic than you have been in respect of both of those deals in terms of engaging on the north Wales growth deal with the economic ambition board and in terms of putting some money on the table. You say now that you are going to make an announcement in the coming days; I welcome the fact that you've revealed that to us today. Can you tell us, in advance of that announcement, whether you will be providing sufficient moneys for the bid to be completely fulfilled?

13:50

Well, Llywydd, I, of course, received correspondence in relation to the north Wales growth deal. By and large, it urged me to put pressure on the UK Government to make its mind up in relation to the deal. This was the third budget. I notice the Member talks about decision making being made rapidly. This was the third annual occasion in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned the north Wales growth deal. Two years ago, he told us he was thinking about it; a year ago, he told us he'd thought about it a bit more; and this year, I was very glad to see that he had come to a funding conclusion. I will make an announcement, as I say, as soon as I'm able to. It will be a significant investment from the Welsh Government. I think we're much better off focusing on making sure that we work together, the UK Government, the Welsh Government, local authorities, private sector partners and others, to make the best possible success of the deal, rather than worrying too much about whether a decision was made one week or two weeks later than somebody else did.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Can I commend the chief economist to the Welsh Government for the document that was published this week, summarising the economic analyses that have been made by the UK Government of the effects of Brexit under different scenarios? But the document contains some of the more ludicrous projections, including the ones that have been published by the Bank of England this week—in the continuation of project fear—that claimed that by the end of 2023, on the worst case scenario, gross domestic product in the UK could be between 7.75 per cent and 10 per cent lower than it was in May 2016, which would be quite remarkable, because not only is that a much more severe contraction than we experienced in the recession of 2008, it is actually greater than the fall in output that occurred during the great depression in the 1930s, and is only seen in countries like Venezuela, which have been given a full dose of Corbynite economic policies, and where a 16 per cent contraction in GDP in one year is now the norm. So, would the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that the kinds of worst case scenarios produced by official organisations like the Bank of England are actually grossly irresponsible in the current climate of uncertainty over Brexit, because they just magnify fears unnecessarily and, therefore, make that uncertainty even worse, and that has a real impact upon businesses and the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people?

Well, Llywydd, can I thank the Member, first of all, for drawing attention to the document that the chief economist published yesterday? He is independent of Government in the judgments that he makes, and I know he was anxious to publish his assessment alongside the debate that we had yesterday, and I hope other Members will have a chance to read what he said.

I think his analysis is sober. I think it is deliberately couched in language intended to be non-alarmist, and where I can't agree with the Member, as he will know, is in dismissing projections that are made by absolutely mainstream and respectable forecasters, not simply the Bank of England, but also the Treasury itself, and also analysts outside Government, all of whom share a broad consensus on the potential impact on our economy of a hardline slash-and-burn Brexit. And I can't afford to dismiss those projections in the way that he does, because in Government, I'm afraid that you have to prepare for the worst, even when you are working as hard as you can to avoid it.

13:55

I'm afraid the Cabinet Secretary, in disagreeing with me, is also disagreeing with the former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, and indeed with Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman, whose political views are very far from mine and are actually not too far from the Cabinet Secretary's, because Mervyn King has said that he is saddened to see the Bank of England unnecessarily drawn into this project fear type of exercise. And Paul Krugman—no friend of Brexit—describes the bank's estimates as 'black box numbers' that are 'dubious' and 'questionable'. So, when such a broad range of economic analysts of world renown are able to dismiss these kinds of hysterical prophecy, I can't understand why the Cabinet Secretary himself, in the interests of a sober analysis and debate—which I agree with him the chief economist has added to our deliberations yesterday—can't calm things down by agreeing with me that it does us no good whatsoever to have forecasts for the future that are wildly, alarmingly out of kilter with reality.

Well, Llywydd, I would seek to calm things down in this way by saying that two things happened yesterday that make the prospects of a 'no deal' Brexit recede, and I'm very glad of that. The very best way to calm down anxiety will be for the UK Government to take the advice set out in 'Securing Wales' Future' and negotiate a form of Brexit that authentically supports the Welsh economy and jobs, and then we wouldn't have to be trading expert against expert, dealing with the hypothetical but catastrophic possibility that we could leave the European Union on terms that do the maximum damage.

I would refer back to the chief economist's report, because he does say in it that there is a strong consensus amongst economists about the key principles of forecasting, one of which is that distance itself is a barrier and trade is generally more intensive with partners who are approximate, both geographically and in terms of their stage of economic development. The Treasury model and most of the other models that are referred to in this document use what is called a gravity model of forecasting, and the fundamental principle of that is that the amount of trade done between two countries diminishes with the square of the distance between them. But, all the data upon which this rather dubious forecasting model is based were compiled in the 1980s and before—a world in which there was no internet, no FaceTime, no e-mail, no Google Translate, no standardised containerisation, no opening up of former Marxist states, like China, for example, no World Trade Organization, even—and therefore, given that trade in services is now vastly more important to our economy and, indeed, the economy of our European neighbours than it was then, and global mobility is so much greater and the digital revolution has taken place, the assumptions upon which these forecasting models are made are wildly out of date, and that is why they produce these alarmingly out-of-kilter predictions, which are always proved to be totally wrong after the event.

Llywydd, the gravity analysis is, as the Member said, summed up generally as 'trade halves as distance doubles', and that does tell you a relatively commonsensical thing: that you are more likely to have intense economic relationships with those who are closest to you, and the further away your market is from your own, the less likely it is that you will have the same intensity of trade. The real difficulty for the Member is that all the things that he points to in trying to discredit gravity analysis apply whether we are in the European Union or not. And, leaving the European Union is not a material fact in the analysis that he just attempted to set out.

The Long-term Strategy for Taxation Levels

3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's long-term strategy for taxation levels in Wales? OAQ53044

14:00

Llywydd, the Welsh Government's long-term strategy was set out in the tax policy framework published in 2017, and is reflected in the report on our tax work programme, published alongside the draft budget on 2 October.

If the Cabinet Secretary is in charge, can we expect tax rates in Wales to be higher or lower in five years' time?

Llywydd, taxation rates must be judged in the prevailing economic circumstances of the time, and that is what I would expect anybody charged with responsibilities for the Welsh finances to do. 

Does the Cabinet Secretary agree with me about the importance of taxation to support public services in Wales? If I could remind the Cabinet Secretary, in the last three weeks, the Conservatives have asked for more money for local government, more money for further education, more money for health. How are they going to fund it if they don't want taxation?

Well, of course, Mike Hedges is absolutely right. Taxation is the admission charge we pay to a civilised society. It is through pooling the money that comes through taxation that we are all able to afford the things that around this Chamber we regard as important in the lives of people in Wales. Now, if you chose to lower taxes in Wales by 1p, the gross cost would be around £200 million. Which of our public services would have to be cut, Llywydd, to enable that to happen? You can't do the sort of voodoo economic trick that we are often offered by Members on the benches opposite, in which you cut taxes, have less money, and still are somehow able to spend more on everything that they tell us they would favour.

Capital Investment in Cynon Valley

4. What are the Welsh Government’s priorities for capital investment in Cynon Valley? OAQ53029

I thank Vikki Howells for that. Our capital priorities for the Cynon Valley include investment in town centres, in flood prevention, in the health service—including, for example, the new primary and community care centre due to be completed in Mountain Ash in 2021.

Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary. In fact, there's an exhibition on for that primary care centre in Mountain Ash today. But, in particular, I am keen for work on sections 5 and 6 of the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road to be completed, which will be so important for my constituency. I noted the local government Secretary's comments last week about maximising the benefits of the investment in the A465 corridor for local communities. This was set against a 12-month time frame, so with work on sections 5 and 6 due to start at the end of 2019, how will this investment be exploited to bring the most advantage to communities in Cynon?

I thank Vikki Howells for that. She will know that we went out to tender on sections 5 and 6 of the A465 back in July. We are now having an opportunity to consider fully the inspector's report, and I hope that a decision to proceed with the next stage of procurement will be taken very shortly. Directly in that project, there will be contractual requirements for the successful bidder to deliver a range of community benefits around the employment of local people, training apprenticeships and work contracts for local companies, all of which will benefit residents in her constituency. My colleague Alun Davies was referring to a working group set up by the Valleys taskforce, which is to consider how best to maximise the opportunities around the dualling, not simply while it's being built but once it is open as well.

Cabinet Secretary, you will know, and I'm sure you welcomed, as I did, the decision of RCT council to launch the largest ever capital investment programme in their history. It's set at £300 million, of which £45 million will be on housing. Some innovative schemes are planned, and some important partnerships with the private sector and housing associations—and the local authority itself, of course. Given now that the Treasury is lifting the borrowing cap on councils that want to build more houses, don't you welcome this approach, which, in tough financial times, is just the sort of way to really see our local economies being stimulated?

Well, I do welcome the lifting of the cap, and I know my colleague Rebecca Evans has been in correspondence with local authorities about what that will do to their ability to raise further funding to invest in housing. Of course David Melding is right about the local economic impact of house building in communities, and I agree with him that RCT council, under the leadership of Councillor Andrew Morgan, has been amongst the most innovative councils in Wales in finding ways to expand their ability to invest in capital projects, not simply in housing but in many other areas as well. Councillor Morgan is the author, with Jane Hutt, of the local authority borrowing initiative that we have helped to fund, and I congratulate them on the work that they do in this area.

14:05
The Welsh Government Apprenticeship Programme

5. What discussions has the Cabinet Secretary had with the Cabinet Secretary for Education about the funding of the Welsh Government's apprenticeship programme? OAQ53025

I thank the Member. I meet all Cabinet Secretaries as part of our budget preparations to discuss delivery of our priorities set out in 'Prosperity for All'. That includes our commitment to deliver 100,000 high-quality, all-age apprenticeships during this Assembly term.

Thank you very much for the reply, Minister. The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee recently expressed its disappointment at the lack of transparency surrounding the funding and operation of the apprenticeship programme. The committee also expressed concern that this lack of transparency poses a challenge to the effective scrutiny of this flagship Welsh Government initiative. Cabinet Secretary, what discussions have you had with ministerial colleagues about this matter, and what action will you take to ensure that the concerns of the community are addressed and resolved? 

I thank the Member for that. Of course we take seriously the views of the committee and I look forward to studying them in more detail to see how we can tell our story more clearly on apprenticeships, because it is a very good story indeed, Llywydd. As a Government, we would certainly wish to make sure that no-one is left in any doubt that, for example, next year we will invest £150 million of Welsh Government money to help us in our journey to a minimum of 100,000 all-age apprenticeships during the course of this Assembly term.

Research from the National Society of Apprentices shows that apprentices spend 20 per cent of their salary on transport, which is significant, given that some apprentices are only on £3.70 an hour. I was wondering what plans—or if you had any plans, potentially, to encourage free transportation for apprentices so that they can reach their place of work in a timely fashion and in an affordable fashion, so that they don't have to budget for transport when they have to budget for so many other things in their lives as apprentices?

I absolutely, Llywydd, recognise the point that Bethan Sayed has made about the cost of travel on people who are going to work and managing on low incomes. The policy matter is not one for me. It will be for my colleague Ken Skates, but I'll make sure that the points that she's made this afternoon are drawn to his attention.

Would the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that the UK Government's much-vaunted apprenticeship levy has now been exposed for what it is: nothing more than a tax on employers, which has done little to improve access to apprenticeships? Will he also agree that the further education colleges in Wales are doing a phenomenally good job in training apprentices to the benefit of our country?

Well, of course Mike Hedges is right, Llywydd. The apprenticeship levy is simply a tax, in any other name, and a very badly designed tax, and a tax that is friendless, as far as I can see, amongst the nations of the United Kingdom and amongst employers as well. It was a botched job from the start. There was no prior discussion with Scotland or Wales. We could have helped the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to do a better job of it had he simply allowed us, as the statement of funding policy required, to be part of the design of what he was intending to achieve.

I certainly agree with Mike Hedges that further education colleges in Wales do an excellent job in responding to local economic needs, in matching young people with careers that they will be able to develop over the long term. I've recently myself met with apprentices at Airbus and in Tata in south Wales, and they all had really impressive stories to tell of the support that they have received from major employers in Wales, and how that has been matched by a genuinely responsive approach by their local education authorities and the further education colleges on which they rely.   

Changes to Business Rates in Wales

6. What changes to business rates in Wales does the Cabinet Secretary intend to bring forward following the UK Government's budget announcement regarding business rates in England? OAQ53035

I thank the Member for the question. As he will know, I announced yesterday that I intend to enhance our high-street rate relief scheme for 2019-20. I said yesterday, Llywydd, that I would use the full £26 million consequential for that purpose, and I can say today that I intend to make £24 million directly available to the high-street scheme itself and that I will also provide an additional £2.4 million to local authorities to fund the discretionary rate relief that they are able to provide.

14:10

With the UK Government's announcement in the budget back in October, the figures that came out of the UK Government budget announcement said that businesses in England would receive about £8,000 rebate on their business rates up to a rateable value of £51,000 over two years. Given the series of announcements you just made there, Cabinet Secretary, which are welcome—additional money going into business rates—what tangible benefits will be felt on our high streets here in Wales, given that Small Business Saturday was only last Saturday, and time and time again business operators on high streets say business rates are the biggest millstone around their necks to expansion and employing more staff on those high streets?

Llywydd, I think it is important for me to make sure that Members understand that, once the small print of what the Chancellor said on 28 October was examined, it turned out that there is to be no national scheme in England at all. There is simply to be funding to local authorities to use their discretionary powers. There will be no national rules. You will simply be in the hands of your local authority to use the money that the Chancellor provides as they see fit. So, the figures the Chancellor used are illustrative at the very best and simply not to be relied upon as representing a scheme that businesses across England can rely on. By contrast, our high-street relief scheme has a set of all-Wales rules. There is a way in which businesses will know exactly how much they will be entitled to get. And, of course, I do agree with the Member. Every penny that we will get as a result of that announcement will be spent to assist businesses here in Wales, but we will design a scheme that meets the size, the distribution and the value of the Welsh tax base in this area, which is different to the one in England, and we will design a scheme that puts the money where it will have the best effect.

I'm aware that many childcare businesses in my constituency in Cardiff North are very concerned about business rates. Will the Cabinet Secretary confirm that all childcare providers will be exempt from paying business rates in Wales from April 2019?

Yes, Llywydd. Thank you to Julie Morgan for that, because I can confirm exactly that—that our small business rate relief scheme is to be extended to provide 100 per cent rate relief to all registered childcare providers in Wales, and this higher level of relief will start on 1 April 2019. It is a very good example of aligning our taxation responsibilities with our policy ambitions, because, of course, we have an ambition to provide the most enhanced level of childcare to people here in Wales, and the decision on rate relief was designed to support the sector on which we rely to deliver our childcare offer.

Public Spending Figures for the Nations of the UK

7. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the most recent public spending figures for the nations of the UK? OAQ53056

I thank Joyce Watson for that. The figures show that investment in health and in social services and in education grew faster in Wales in 2017-18 than in any other UK nation. 

I was interested to listen to the news bulletins yesterday morning, but dismayed to learn that spending in vital care services for elderly people in England has been cut by 25 per cent per person since 2010. That, of course, hasn't happened in Wales, because the Labour Welsh Government has protected those budgets, and I'm extremely proud of that, and I'm sure everybody would want to join with me in celebrating that fact. But, from next April, a portion of the income tax paid by people in Wales will directly fund Welsh public services. How will that free up Welsh Government to go further in terms of prioritising those vital front-line services?

I thank Joyce Watson for that important question. She's absolutely right—that is what the figures produced by the UK Government demonstrate, that despite the impact of austerity and the very real challenges that that poses for public services, we have protected spending in local authorities and spending on elderly services to an extent certainly not seen across our border, and spending per head on health and social services in Wales combined last year increased by 3.8 per cent, and that was the highest increase of any of the four UK countries.

Joyce Watson is absolutely right to point out that the new fiscal responsibilities we have bring with them some new opportunities. She will be aware of the report of Professor Gerry Holtham, looking at the possibility of a social care levy here in Wales. The Cabinet has a sub-group set up, chaired by my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies, bringing together Cabinet colleagues to see whether it would be practical to take some of that analysis and to put it to work in Wales using our new fiscal possibilities to support our ambitious policy agenda.

14:15

Could the Cabinet Secretary confirm the funding floor guarantee that the UK Government has provided in respect of spending in Wales, and compare and contrast that to any funding floor that was in place under previous Labour Governments in the UK?

I thank the Member for that. The fiscal framework does include a multiplier—it's 105 per cent. I think the leader of the opposition yesterday suggested it was 120 per cent, but it's actually 105 per cent. For every £1 that is spent in England, we get 105 per cent of that through the Barnett consequentials. That's amounted to £70 million so far for Wales. With the additional money for health—[Interruption.] No—[Interruption.]

I think I'm—[Interruption.] Yes, yes. The point that the Member asked me was whether there is a mechanism in the fiscal framework that guarantees that Wales gets a fixed percentage of the funding that is announced in England. The answer is that it does. That has given us £70 million additional so far, following the signing of the fiscal framework, and, if you take into account the promised additional funding for the NHS over the next few years, that will give us £270 million beyond what we otherwise would have had without the conclusion of that agreement. 

The Future of Tax Levels in Wales

8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the future of tax levels in Wales between now and the next Assembly election? OAQ53030

I thank Darren Millar for the question. The draft budget, published on 2 October, proposed that the Welsh rates of income tax remained the same as England and Northern Ireland in 2019-20, consistent with my party's manifesto commitment not to raise income tax levels in this Assembly term.

I'm very grateful for that response. I've listened carefully to you respond to similar questions as well during the course of this question time, and what you hadn't indicated is what your plans or the plans of your party might be beyond the next financial year. I'd be grateful if you could assure us of your personal commitment not to increase income tax rates before the next Assembly election, including in those years beyond 2019-20.

Well, Llywydd, I've already repeated the manifesto commitment of my party not to raise income tax levels in this Assembly term. I would be much better placed if the UK Government was able to tell me how much money this Assembly will have beyond the next financial year. There is to be a comprehensive spending review, which will not even begin until January, and I have no figures at all for the Assembly's budget beyond 2019-20. That will be a great help to us all in being able to provide the sort of certainty for the future that the Member has asked me about.  

Thank you very much. I think the question has been asked. Can the Cabinet Secretary confirm that Welsh taxpayers have received their HMRC letter about Welsh rates of income tax?

That's not the question in front of me. I think we'll leave it at that and thank the Cabinet Secretary for his contribution.

2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services

And that brings us to questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services. Question 1 comes from Helen Mary Jones.

Support for Rural Councils

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Welsh Government support for rural councils? OAQ53046

14:20
Member
Alun Davies AM 14:20:02
Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services

The majority of Welsh Government support for rural councils is delivered through the £4.2 billion local government settlement. The settlement funding formula includes a number of indicators that account for varying degrees of population sparsity across all of our authorities.

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer, but here's the reality: Powys is looking at a £14 million budget gap for the next financial year, Carmarthenshire has had to make £50 million-worth of cuts at the same time as raising its council tax by 22 per cent over the past five years, and citizens in Pembrokeshire are facing a 12 per cent increase in their council tax in the next financial year alone. Now, I realise that the Cabinet Secretary is dealing with a difficult budget and I realise that it is not the fault of the Welsh Government that the settlement is tight, but surely, given those figures, Cabinet Secretary, you can see that there must be something wrong with the way in which the money is being allocated. Because, if you compare this with communities in more urban parts of Wales, it just does not seem equitable or fair. 

The Member is absolutely correct, of course, that we are dealing with a very difficult financial settlement, and I and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance have been absolutely clear in our response to this. This is a difficult settlement and we would prefer to be able to allocate greater funding to all local authorities. But, let me say this: I do regret the increasing tendency amongst many Members to pit different communities against each other. In the question from the Member for Llanelli she pitted rural against urban. In the past, we have pitted north against south, east against west. I do regret this tendency within our debate, because it does not reflect either the debates that we have with local government, and I do not believe it reflects the reality either. I will say to the Member that the finance sub-group, which provides representation for all authorities across the country, endorsed the settlement funding formula for the next financial year at its meeting on 27 September. In addition to this, I spoke to representatives of all political groupings in local government last week and I repeated to them the point I made in this Chamber during a Conservative Party debate on the funding formula and the settlement that, if I receive a letter from all four political groupings within local government asking for a review of the formula, then I will institute it. I have to say that the response on Friday was not very positive to that. 

I think you're very fortunate at this point that the Member for Llanelli is not in the Chamber; I think you wanted to refer to the Member for Mid and West Wales.

Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, on 31 January, the leaders of both Powys County Council and Ceredigion County Council will be coming here to the Senedd as part of a Growing Mid Wales delegation jointly sponsored by the Llywydd, the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire and me. There'll be an opportunity to showcase produce and services from local businesses from across these two rural local authorities. Now, I appreciate you're not leading on the mid Wales growth deal, that's a matter for the Cabinet Secretary for the economy, but can I ask you what are you doing to support these two rural local authorities to boost the economies of mid Wales?

As the Member indicated in his question, that does not sit with my responsibilities, but I will say to him that the first time I met with the leadership of Powys County Council these matters were discussed. I met with the leadership of the authority and I said to them there that this Government wanted to be an activist Government, seeking to promote and support economic development across the whole face of the country, and that we would be active in supporting that. Certainly, in the conversations that I've had with all local government leaders across the country, we've always emphasised that we will continue to provide that level of support. 

The Impact of Local Authority Funding Cuts

2. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the impact of local authority funding cuts? OAQ53053

I and my Cabinet colleagues consider local government funding with local authorities through the partnership council and its finance sub-group, as well as other formal and informal engagements.

I know you will be aware of the findings from Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty, and among many of his stark conclusions were that Westminster cuts have fallen hardest on the poor, on women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents and people with disabilities. He argued that a misogynist would find it hard to do a better job. Has your Government taken a full impact assessment of your local authority cuts to ensure that you are not repeating the callous decisions of the Tories and exacerbating the situation for those people with the least in our society?

14:25

We certainly will be reviewing the report from the UN rapporteur, and I must say I've read his report and I concur with the Member for the Rhondda's conclusions on it. But let me say this: the Cabinet Secretary for Finance in answer to an earlier question pointed out that the University of Cambridge has recently published a review of the approach from different UK administrations to local government, and that review is very, very clear that Wales and Scotland have followed a very similar approach, which is very different to that of England, and the consequences for that are very clear for the English population.

But let me also say this: one of the reports that I read last year, which is very influential on my thinking, was that those local authorities who represent poorer and more deprived communities have greater difficulties in raising funds, and are more reliant on central Government funding, than rich and more prosperous areas. And that is one of the reasons why I have always pursued, in my time in this office, a route that seeks to have the structures in place that maximise the impact of front-line services and ensure that we have services provided at a scale that is able to withstand future financial pressures as well. And I look forward to support from Plaid Cymru and elsewhere in pursuing that agenda.   

What dialogue have you had with the chief executive of Flintshire County Council since he wrote to all councillors there on 16 November, asking them to back the #BackTheAsk campaign to get a fair share of Welsh national funds, which was, on 20 November, backed unanimously by members of all parties to take, quote, 'the fight down to the local government department in Cardiff'? 

I haven't spoken to the chief executive, Colin Everett, on this subject in that time frame, but I will say this: as the chief executive was making that statement in Flintshire, the leader of Flintshire County Council was with me in Cardiff in Cathays Park, telling me that he had no wish to reopen the funding formula or debate or discussions around that formula. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

We now have questions from party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, David Melding.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, it's nearly a year since the finance Secretary announced his changes to land transaction tax, moving the standard threshold for payment from £150,000 to £180,000. What assessment has your department made of the likely effect this will have on first-time buyers in Wales? 

Thank you very much for the question, and, of course, the decision around the land transaction tax means that around 80 per cent of first-time buyers in Wales won't pay tax, with our threshold of £180,000. This, of course, is the same proportion of first-time buyers as in England with their stamp duty land tax. Currently, the average house price here in Wales is £140,000, so I think it is incorrect and unfair to suggest in the Conservative Party's White Paper, released this week, that there is no relief for first-time buyers, because that is misleading—around 80 per cent of first-time buyers are protected from that. 

Well, Minister, when this policy was introduced, it diverged from the option that they took in England. There, first-time buyers have a relief of up to £300,000, and, on properties that are priced at that level, there is no stamp duty at all. You quote the average house price—I thought you said £140,000; I think that is not accurate. The average price, I think, at the moment is £180,000 or thereabouts, and that is a significant amount. For properties then between £180,000 and £250,000, which is where the average price in many local authorities now is, first-time buyers will not get full relief; they'll get a margin of that on the £180,000, but they will not get the same deal that those buyers would get in England.

Let me just spell out what that means. In Cardiff, it means our first-time buyers, compared to the equivalent in England, pay £1,700 more in tax. In Monmouthshire, they pay £5,400 more in tax, and, even in Anglesey, first-time buyers there are paying more than £1,000 in tax in addition to what they would pay if they were in England. Do you think it's fair that our first-time buyers in Wales do not get as good a deal as they get in England?

14:30

Well, the Office for Budget Responsibility's assessment of the first-time buyers' relief was that it would do little to help first-time buyers, and it would increase house prices and result in very few additional first-time buyer purchases. So, we don't want to replicate a relief that's not deemed to be effective. And, in fact, our approach is much more fair in Wales, because our approach is keen to assist all of those who struggle to buy a house to do so. So, you don't have to be a first-time buyer to benefit from our land transaction tax relief here in Wales. And, actually, I think that's a fair thing to do. People struggle to buy their second house, people struggle to move, and I think our approach has been to help people who are struggling, rather than first-time buyers as an entire group.

Well, relief is either helpful, or it isn't, so I think you need to make your mind up on that. And I wouldn't like to go out into the streets of Cardiff, or go to Monmouth or Anglesey, and tell the first-time buyers there, paying well over the odds of what they would pay if they were in England, that this extra tax is neither here nor there. I think that is a really bad message. The other thing, where I do agree, is that we do need a broader range of policies, and the building rate is the key thing, really, in terms of providing a better market and a more competitive market for our first-time buyers. So, how do you think the lowest building rate on record almost is helping first-time buyers in Wales?

Well, clearly, Welsh Government is committed to increasing the scale and pace of building, and one of our commitments in 'Prosperity for All' was to work very closely with local authorities to do that. And we're able to do that now as a result of the raise in—or the scrapping of the borrowing limit, which, of course, Welsh Government has been campaigning for for some time. We're well on course to meet our target of 20,000 new affordable homes being built through the course of this Assembly, and today you'll have noticed that we've published 'Planning Policy Wales', which clearly takes us forward, in terms of breaking down some of those barriers in terms of planning. So, ensuring that the areas that are brought forward for planning will genuinely be built on, rather than, as we see at the moment, plots of land being included in local development plans, then they have the impact of raising the value of that land, but actually doing very little to improve the rate of house building. So, I would point to 'Planning Policy Wales' as being an important move forward, in terms of being able to break down some of the barriers that we are seeing to the pace of house building across Wales.

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, you spoke at the Crisis conference on ending homelessness back in June, and I'm sure you've read the report that was produced at that event, which outlines what can be done to end homelessness. It's a very comprehensive report, with recommendations for all Governments, including your Government. Can you tell us what you learnt from that event and from the report, and how it's influencing your decision making?

Thank you very much for that. As you say, I did attend that report, and have read the very extensive document—I think it's about 2 inches thick. So, it certainly is full of evidence, which we are taking very seriously. What I learnt from that conference, really, was about the importance of supporting people with a direct impact of an experience of homelessness and listening to people who have had that experience of homelessness. Because, of course, I stayed for longer than my own slot within that conference, and was able to hear directly from people who have that experience of homelessness, which I think has to be the answer in terms of guiding us to our response. This is one of the exciting things that Swansea is doing, with the additional funding that we've been able to provide to them for tackling rough sleeping. They're undertaking some work with Shelter to gather those individual stories of rough sleepers, so that we can understand at what point an intervention could have been made to prevent that rough sleeping, how we could have helped people out of rough sleeping much sooner, and how we can prevent people from losing their tenures in future.

Thank you, Minister. For some years now in Plaid Cymru, we've been arguing the case for the phasing out of priority need. Now, two weeks ago, you responded to my colleague, saying that that was the subject of a review. But, of course, in 2012, your Government commissioned Cardiff University to review homelessness law, and they recommended abolishing priority need, a recommendation endorsed this year by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, and, of course, there's this recommendation in the Crisis report. So, why has your Government rejected the recommendations of these reviews, and instead asked for another one?

Well, we're looking very seriously at the issue of priority need, and I completely understand where the call is coming from on it, and I am sympathetic to it, but, at the same time, we need to understand any possible unintended consequences. For example, when we look at the situation in Scotland, where they abolished priority need, you find larger groups of people staying for much longer in temporary accommodation, which isn't something that we would want to see here in Wales. So, we need to be doing this alongside the increasing of the supply of housing, and also, the rolling out of housing first, for example.

This is certainly an area that we are looking at, but it can't be done in isolation, because the unintended consequences are there. And if you look at Scotland, where they have removed priority need, you can walk around Edinburgh or another city, and there will be people sleeping on the streets and rough sleeping, so it isn't a panacea by any stretch of the imagination. It has to be part of a larger picture. 

14:35

You've had since 2012 to work out the unintended consequences on this, and the numbers of street sleepers are on the rise. People are becoming homeless and staying homeless because of your delaying tactics, and we need action on this now. Now, your colleague Andy Burnham in Manchester has pledged to eradicate rough sleeping by 2020, eight years sooner than your Government, seven years sooner than the Tory target, and, as part of that, he spent the autumn working with local authorities to provide a bed for every rough sleeper this winter, every night, in a range of accommodation, including women-only places and places that also allow people to take their dogs. Members of the public can now download an app that they can use to direct rough sleepers to where they can have assistance. Why is this level of ambition and action possible in Manchester, but it's not possible from your Government?

Well, clearly, you're not aware of the work that we're doing through our housing first programme, and also, through the rough sleeper action plan, which was published last year, and the fact that we've asked every single local authority in Wales to put forward a homelessness reduction plan and a plan to tackle homelessness that has a specific focus on rough sleeping. When you look at the number of places that are available, as compared to the number of people who are rough sleeping, actually, in many cases, there are the beds there. But I understand that they're not attractive to the people who are rough sleeping because, in many cases, rough sleepers tell me that they don't want to go to certain places because they can't be around people who are taking drugs or using alcohol, or people want to stay with their dogs, or people want to go as a couple. So, we've asked local authorities to address this in their housing action plans, which will be submitted to Government by the end of this month. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There were press reports recently that revealed that Cardiff is now the second highest council area in the whole of the UK for collecting bus lane fines. Some quarter of a million drivers were fined in the course of a year. Only Glasgow council, in fact, fined more drivers than Cardiff. Now, I appreciate the need to adhere to the local driving restrictions, but, sometimes, mistakes can be made innocently because drivers aren't familiar with an area. The RAC are saying that, with this number of people being fined, there are probably genuine problems for drivers with things like signage and the road layouts. Do you think there is a danger that councils like Cardiff could be too punitive in collecting fines from drivers for these kinds of minor driving offences?

Presiding Officer, I have no responsibility for these matters raised by the Member. What I will say is that it is a matter for the local authority to deliver on their responsibilities in a way that they see fit, and then, a matter for residents and electors in Cardiff to hold the council to account for those decisions. 

I appreciate the need for local democracy and for decisions to be made at the ballot box, as you indicate. But, of course, people make decisions at the ballot box based on a variety of factors, not merely whether or not they were fined for driving in a bus lane. So, as you have oversight for local government in Wales, I wonder if you are perhaps alive to the possibility that there could be a danger that councils, without naming any particular council, perhaps in this instance—[Interruption.] Well, let's forget I named that council, is there a theoretical—? To please the Minister and to perhaps engineer a more enlightening answer, is there a theoretical possibility that councils could be perhaps too punitive in collecting these kinds of fines?

That may theoretically be true. Let me say this to the Member for South Wales Central, who's clearly having some difficulties with this matter: I do not believe it is right and proper for Ministers standing here in this place to pass comment upon the decisions taken by local government in fulfillment of its functions. We have accountability here for decisions taken by the Welsh Government, not by individual local authorities. 

14:40

Yes, indeed, you are correct in stating that. Thinking about the issue of fines as a general issue, we know—I think we can agree on this point—that local government is in a difficult place at the moment in terms of its finances. Is there a possibility that sometimes councils could be over punitive on many kinds of fines and they could be simply using the local ratepayers as cash cows? 

I will, Presiding Officer, provide the leader of UKIP with a list of ministerial responsibilities prior to our next session in this place [Laughter.] I have been very, very clear with him, and other Members, to be fair, who have tried equally as hard to tempt me into a terrible indiscretion—[Interruption.] But I will not be tempted on this occasion to make a comment upon the decisions of any local council in any part of the country. It is right that we have debated, and we will debate again, the difficulties facing local government in terms of funding arrangements and how it will exercise its responsibilities into the future, but I have made it my policy, and I continue to make it my policy not to comment upon the individual decisions of individual authorities. That is a matter for them, and they are accountable to their electorate, not to this place here. 

Innovation in Local Government

3. How does the Welsh Government encourage innovation in local government? OAQ53059

I would encourage all authorities to innovate in their plans for improving service delivery. Innovation and creativity is always central to delivering effective and sustainable services to all of our citizens.   

Yes, Cabinet Secretary, I'd very much agree with those sentiments, and in this time of UK Government-imposed austerity, it's all the more important, I think, that we find these new ways of delivery and indeed often delivering more with less, but obviously that is quite a challenge. In terms of local government working jointly with other key partner organisations, I wonder if you might say something about the early experience of the public services boards, and particularly how health and social care are taking forward joint working, and more particularly how Welsh Government has a role in identifying good practice within public services boards, because I think it is variable from one to another—how Welsh Government might identify best practice in public services boards and ensure that those lessons are shared across Wales. 

Presiding Officer, I will say to the Member for Newport East, in his capacity as Chair of the relevant committee in this place, that I'm looking forward to his committee's report on these matters, and I will give it some considerable attention when I'm able to do so.

But he's right to identify public services boards as an opportunity to bring together authorities to innovate and to provide new and different solutions to many of the difficulties we face. I have just agreed a package of support for public services boards, and I will, Presiding Officer, be making a statement on that matter in due course. As a part of that, I think we should be setting some very clear ambitions for public services boards as to what we want them to achieve, and the preventative agenda that the Member has described is, I believe, absolutely central and critical to that role of public services boards. I hope that we will be able to see local government working together with its colleagues in order to deliver a more profound approach to preventive services than we've seen in the past. And I think that public services boards are key to that, to their ability to deliver it across a particular geography, and I hope that they will be able to as well maximise the opportunity that new means and methods of working present to us.

I will say, Presiding Officer, the Member for Llanelli on this occasion, Lee Waters, has produced an excellent report on this matter in terms of digital services, and I'm looking hard at that at the moment, and I hope that we, alongside the leader of the house and the Cabinet Secretary for health, will be able to respond fully to the remarks and comments that he makes. 

Cabinet Secretary, new ways of working are indispensable for sustaining the quality and scope of service delivery by local authorities faced with budget constraints. This requires adoption of innovative solutions, coupled with the development of new technology. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that strong, top-down leadership is required if this is to be achieved and would he support each council having a recognised innovation champion, since new ideas are often developed by the passion of individuals rather than a matter of process?

14:45

I do agree that leadership is important, but I'm not sure I agree that it's top-down leadership that is required. I believe that we have some extremely talented people working throughout the public sector, both in local government and elsewhere across Wales, and the working group that I described in an earlier answer is providing us with a very challenging report that seeks to ensure that Welsh Government is able to respond fully to the challenges of technological change as well. And I hope that, working together with all parts of the public sector, we would be able to do so.

Local Government Budgets

4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on local government budgets? OAQ53038

Local authorities in Wales set their budgets in the context of their medium-term financial plans, based on a mix of locally raised revenue and Welsh Government-provided specific grants and unhypothecated funding through the revenue support grant. This year, local authorities budgeted for over £7 billion of expenditure.

Thank you for that answer. As you will be aware, local government funding has been cut by £1 billion over the last eight years. Many councils are reporting acute pressures on schools and social care. They report fatigue and low morale amongst the workforce and project the loss of a further 7,000 jobs over the next few years just to balance the books. The call for necessary financial support by local authority leaders across Wales is seemingly falling on deaf years. Are you proud of your Government's role in driving local government and schools into the ground?

Presiding Officer, it's the easiest thing in the world for us to describe the problems facing local government, but, on these benches, we seek to describe solutions as well. It is an inadequate and insufficient response to the challenges we face today to simply issue a press release calling for additional funding of all areas of Government expenditure. It is an inadequate and an immature response. I will say this to the Member: I have met with all political leaders of Welsh local government within the last week and I've been very, very clear with them about the challenges that we face. But I'll say this as well: in the future, we need to think harder about how we organise and structure our services to meet new challenges. And that is a challenge not simply for Government and the governing party, but also, I would suggest, for all parties represented in this place, because all too often, when proposals for reform come here, we see the same people who've issued a press release saying how difficult things are, standing up and queuing up to oppose all proposals for reform. So, I would hope that we will see a great deal of maturity on benches in this place when facing challenges for local government, rather than simply listing those challenges in speeches.

Of course, it's not easy necessarily for councils that are trying to make the most of the money that they have as well in order to regenerate their city centre—in the case of Swansea—and improve the local economy there. A cabinet report from the council there last month stated that there is a risk that the local authority does not have sufficient resources to complete phase 1 of its city centre regeneration project—Swansea Central. In response to that report, the leader of Swansea Council told councillors, and I quote, that the 'public will shoot us'—slightly unfortunate, I think—referring to Swansea Council's Labour cabinet, if the regeneration scheme is dropped. We all want to see Swansea city centre thrive, and I say that even though it's a different coloured council there. How can you be confident, bearing in mind the settlement that they've just had, that the cabinet there is able to manage its funds and budgets appropriately so that they can respond appropriately to such financial warnings?

I've got complete confidence in the leadership of Swansea Council to manage funds available to it in a proper way. The leadership of Swansea Council, I think, has provided almost inspirational leadership in terms of their ambitions for that city and is putting in place the means of achieving that. The leadership shown by Rob Stewart, as the council's leader, I think, sets an example for many other leaders to look at, but also the leadership shown by all those authorities in that area in terms of putting together the Swansea bay city deal. I hope that we will see those ambitions realised, but what I will say to the Member for South Wales West is that the greatest challenge facing Swansea is not the funding formula but the policy of austerity that has meant that, for eight years, Swansea and other local authorities in Wales have not received the level of funding that we would seek to give them. And I would suggest to Conservative Members, rather than come here and list those problems, they should go to London and list those problems.

14:50
Local Authority Regional Working

5. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the effectiveness of local authority regional working? OAQ53039

We expect local authorities to work together and to assess the effectiveness of those arrangements. Where regional arrangements are required by law or Welsh Government policy, the relevant Minister has oversight of the effectiveness of those arrangements. 

You will be aware that local authorities in Wales often send their recyclables to facilities in England or beyond for processing. Exporting this material adds to our carbon footprint, of course, but also means that we are missing out on an opportunity for job creation. Do you agree that the Welsh Government should be doing more in terms of working with local authorities to develop regional recycling centres in Wales to ensure that all recyclable materials are dealt with here in Wales?

We have for several years been working with local government and different councils to create exactly the kind of regional network that the Member suggests we put together, which does exist in the vast majority of the nation. I'm very content with the kinds of arrangements that councils have made in order to ensure that their waste materials are recycled or treated in the appropriate manner.

The Swansea bay city region deal should enable the potential projects being proposed to bring significant economic benefit to the four local authority areas covered. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that these projects have the potential to bring major employment opportunities across the region? Does he also agree with me that this sort of collaboration, if done in the right way, could be seen as a blueprint of local authorities effectively working together in the future, and it would therefore not require forced mergers as he originally wanted?

I do support the collaborative approach that the Member for Preseli has outlined. It is important for local authorities of whatever size or shape to be able to work together with their neighbours to deliver the sort of ambition that he and I would probably agree on in terms of the Swansea bay city deal. However, the issues of mergers or structures within local authorities are slightly different, of course, and those are about the sustainability of those units of governance. It is my view, and the view of local government, that the current structures are not sustainable into the future. So, therefore, as a Minister, it is my responsibility to ensure that those facts are put in front of this place and local government and that we are able to move towards a conclusion on that.

But I will say to the Member that it is right and proper that he then supports those proposals to ensure that his electorate and all our electorates have the quality of services they require and that local authorities are sustainable into the future.

Can I first of all say that I agree with everything that Paul Davies just said? Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that it's important that all public services work within the same regional footprint, which is true of the Cardiff city region but not true of the Swansea bay city region, and on the importance of ensuring that local authorities get used to working together? The four local authorities in south-west Wales may have different political leadership but have shown great leadership in the area in working together.

I do believe that, at times, we make government too complex. I think I've made that very clear both here and elsewhere. I believe that we need to look for clarity in the way in which we structure the delivery of our services but also in the way in which we structure the public accountability for the delivery of those services. So, I do believe that we need to ensure that we have a regional footprint that is understandable not simply to those of us who have to work with it, but also to the electorates we all serve. But I do not believe that that, in itself, is a sufficient response to some of the challenges we will face in the future. We will all be aware of the financial difficulties facing local government today, but we also know that Brexit and other issues mean that they will face even more difficult decisions in the future, and, so, we do have a responsibility to think hard about that future and to put in place structures that are sustainable in the future. 

14:55
Youth Justice Services in Wales

6. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on youth justice services in Wales? OAQ53036

Members may recall that I commissioned the development of blueprints for youth justice and for female offenders. I have shared these blueprints with members of the Cabinet, and I hope, Presiding Officer, to be able to provide Members with an update in the next week or so. 

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response and look forward to reading the updates. The latest safety figures, published in October, reveal that the number of self-harm incidents in prisons in Wales is rising and that, of course, includes Parc and the young offenders institution there, where I believe there have been a staggering number of incidents already this year: 777 incidents between January and June. Can the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on Parc's plan to employ behaviour analysts to improve safety levels? 

I have visited HMP Parc and the youth offenders institution within the prison, and I have discussed these matters with the director there. Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service have confirmed that there are behavioural management analysts in Parc who are working towards reducing self-harm and violence within the prison. However, I believe we need to go further than this. I believe that we need a distinct penal policy for Wales, which looks, in the first instance, at the issues around youth offending and female offending, and that we need to look at investment within the secure estate but also, critically, at a holistic approach to policy that seeks to reduce offending, to enhance rehabilitation and to ensure that women particularly are not treated in the way they are today. 

Cabinet Secretary, a little while ago, the ministerial advisory group on outcomes for children received a presentation from Lord Laming and his review into the youth criminal justice system and the alarming discovery that looked-after children were much more likely to come into contact with the youth justice system compared to their peers, often because those involved—the police, teachers and the courts—assumed a certain response was appropriate for looked-after children that they wouldn't have for children from other backgrounds, and this in-built bias is obviously really very worrying. It's an excellent review and a very compassionate one, and I do hope that all relevant agencies have taken on board the recommendations that are contained in that review.

I agree very much with the conclusions from the Member for South Wales Central. I did meet with Charlie Taylor, chair of the Youth Justice Board, in the last few weeks to discuss these matters with him and how we approach youth offending. The analysis that the Member has described is absolutely correct and one that I believe is an emergency that we need to address. I hope that, when he reads the blueprint, when it is published, which, I hope, will be next week, then he will be assured that we are doing so. I would certainly be very happy to attend the cross-party group to discuss these matters in more detail if he wishes me to do so. But the burden of my analysis is that I believe that we need to take a far more holistic approach to policy. The broken settlement we have in Wales at the moment is an impediment to that, and I would like to see the devolution of the penal system and criminal justice to Wales to enable us to develop and deliver exactly that holistic approach to policy. 

I share the concerns that have been outlined here by the findings of the recent Wales Governance Centre report into violence and self-harm in youth institutions. You are responsible for youth justice services, but, of course, the other services that operate within Parc prison are adult services, and they fall within the remit of Westminster. So, what we really need is to see the criminal justice system devolved. Now, that's something that Plaid Cymru has been calling for for as long as I can remember, and it's nice to see that some of our political opponents have come on board now with that argument. Will this Government remain committed to the commission on justice in Wales under the next First Minister? And has your Government managed to persuade your Labour Party colleagues in Westminster of the case for the devolution of the criminal justice system to Wales? Because there was a block of MPs from the Labour Party who I found to be every bit as devosceptic as some of the Tories during my dealings with them over Part 2 of the Silk commission.

15:00

Despite the best efforts of the Member from the Rhondda, I do believe we actually agree on far more than perhaps she would believe. This Government is absolutely committed to the devolution of policing and criminal justice to this place—

—and to the creation of a holistic approach to policy. We created, at the request of the police, a policing board for Wales, which met last month for the first time, and we are working well together with the police. I've met with the Home Office on a number of occasions to pursue these matters, and I've met with Ministers in the Ministry of Justice to pursue these matters as well. It is my view that the matters that we're discussing this afternoon are best addressed by this place in a holistic way. That is the view of this Government, and that will continue to be the view of this Government.

Supporting Veterans in Mid and West Wales

7. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on what the Welsh Government is doing to support veterans in Mid and West Wales? OAQ53057

We have made tremendous progress in improving services and support for veterans, which includes those living in Mid and West Wales. I hope the Member will agree that my recent statement on these matters highlighted that.

I do, indeed, welcome your recent statement and I do also believe that ex-servicemen and women have done their duty by our country that we, in turn, then, owe them something back, not least how they return to civilian life. Part of that is, of course, trying to find work. But meaningful employment, I think, is pivotal to that journey, and also findings that it will support their mental health. So, I'd like to ask you, Cabinet Secretary, if you could tell us some more about the employment pathway that you just said you announced yesterday.

Presiding Officer, Members will be aware that we launched the employment pathway in partnership with the armed forces expert group that consists of representatives of public and third sectors, as well as military charities and including the Department for Work and Pensions. It provides options for veterans and service leavers on where to find support and information to secure employment relevant to them. I should also say to Members that prior to my duties here today, I launched a new toolkit for employers alongside Business in the Community and others to complement the employment pathway. This seeks to ensure that employers themselves understand the benefits of employing former service personnel and to ensure that they are able to deliver the best opportunities for employment for all those leaving our services.

Last month, the Welsh Government voted against the Welsh Conservative proposals to create an armed forces commissioner for Wales to ensure that the armed forces covenant is upheld. Will the Cabinet Secretary reconsider the Welsh Government's opposition to the creation of the post to ensure that the new cross-Government strategy for veterans in the UK can be delivered effectively?

The Cabinet Secretary will be aware that veterans are often over-represented in the homeless population. In Mid and West Wales and rural communities, these people are perhaps less likely to end up actually rough sleeping, but are very often in very insecure, sofa surfing from one family member to another type of situations. What discussions have you and your colleagues had with local authorities in Mid and West Wales to ensure that this kind of hidden homelessness amongst the veteran population is addressed?

One of the reasons why I was very anxious to ensure that we do fulfil our responsibilities under the covenant is to deliver resources to the front line where they're needed. So, we will be spending considerable resource supporting the local authority liaison officers network across Wales, which delivers support for all service personnel, both in terms of housing and in other terms as well. So, I hope we will be able to work with local authorities to ensure that local authorities are able to deliver exactly the services that the Member for Mid and West Wales describes. And, for me, and certainly for those people that I'm talking to at the moment, they want to see that level of resource there, delivering services for people. We've heard many times during this session this afternoon about the challenges facing local government in terms of delivering services, and it is therefore incumbent on all of us to look at how we can deliver those resources to the front line to ensure that people do have the services that they need and require. And that, Presiding Officer, was the point I made in reply to the Conservatives about the request to create a commissioner. What we want to do is to put money on the front line and not create further bureaucracy here. It is a matter for Members here to hold Ministers to account for the decisions we take and the services we deliver, and that level of democratic accountability I think is important.

15:05
The Local Government Settlement for Pembrokeshire County Council

8. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the local government settlement for Pembrokeshire County Council? OAQ53037

I published the provisional local government settlement for 2019-20 on 9 October. The Government announced further funding for local government on 20 November. The final settlement will be announced on 19 December.

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that reply. When I raised this question a year ago, Pembrokeshire was being forced to raise its council tax by 12.5 per cent—the highest rise in Wales. This year, the draft budget was presented on Monday, as a result of which, council tax is set to rise by another 10 per cent and there are going to be £15.5 million-worth of cuts in services. Prior to the budget being set, senior officers in Pembrokeshire had warned that council tax would need to rise by 28 per cent in order to meet service needs. Pembrokeshire is being penalised by the current local government settlement and there seems to be no incentive for economical councils to continue to be economical, because the higher your council tax is, the more you get from the Welsh Government. So, can I add to the plea from Helen Mary Jones earlier on that this settlement formula should be reconsidered? Because it's not just rural councils that are penalised in this way, but any economical council is bound to be, because the higher your council tax is, the higher the financial needs estimations are, and consequently the higher the grants from Welsh Government, which does seem to be perverse.

I did notice the comments made by the leader of Pembrokeshire County Council on these matters in a newspaper recently. I will say to him and to the Member for Mid and West Wales that Pembrokeshire County Council has taken a number of decisions over its council tax levels over a number of years in full knowledge of the consequences of those decisions. And it is a matter for the electorate of Pembrokeshire to determine whether those decisions were correct or not, and not a matter for me. What I do not believe is that either the professional or the political leadership of Pembrokeshire can take those decisions and then turn around to the media and say that they have no idea of the consequences of those decisions. Whenever we take political decisions, there are consequences, and Pembrokeshire has taken decisions to reduce its council tax, in relative terms, over a number of years—it has the lowest council tax in Wales—and, as a consequence of that, they're now facing difficulties in their budget. That is a matter for that authority and for the electorate of Pembrokeshire.

3. Topical Questions

The next item is the topical questions. The first question is to be asked to the Cabinet Secretary for Education, and the question comes from Suzy Davies.

Secondary Schools in Wales

1. With a recent Estyn report stating that secondary schools in Wales could do better, with only half currently judged as good or excellent, what work will the Welsh Government undertake to ensure that standards are raised across all secondary schools in Wales? 242

Our national mission sets out clearly our plan to raise standards for all young people in all of our schools. We are delivering record investment to support teacher development, to support our most disadvantaged learners and to enhance leadership capacity and good practice across the system.

Thank you very much for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. I think perhaps I should just begin by acknowledging that Estyn does say that they're happy that there's been progress in the primary sector. But I think it would be a betrayal of those young people if they then move on to schools in which the majority of pupils—and I mean the majority—across the age and ability range continue to fail to develop from skills and knowledge well enough, or make enough progress, or struggle to think independently, or feel responsible for their own learning. Obviously, I've taken those quotes from the Estyn report.

With half of schools underperforming and a suggestion by Estyn that the gap between well-performing schools and those that are not performing well is likely to widen, I'd be grateful if you could give us a little bit more detail about what you're planning to do, because Donaldson will not be biting in until 2022, that's almost a school generation away, and you cannot sacrifice this current cohort to another period of inadequacy. And I think you'd be the first to say that, if you were sitting on any of the benches other than the front bench in this place.

So, firstly, the schools that are in special measures or still in need of significant improvement: I asked you what action you'd taken on these back in September, and you reeled off a list of actions, but admitted that you had not exercised your powers under the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 to intervene with schools. Bearing in mind the results of this report, I'm wondering if you would now be prepared to do that.

For some of the students—. In a third of the schools that Estyn investigated, they saw that pupils were disengaged, had little interest in their work, they would disrupt the learning of others, and that some year 12 students had a lack of critical and independent learning skills, meaning that they were struggling with their A-Levels and actually dropping out in year 12. I think there's a significant number of students here who are failing to meet their potential as their independent and critical learning capabilities are not being developed earlier in their education. What worries me about this, Cabinet Secretary, is that those students could be internalising this as their own failure, when actually it's a failure of their education. It's clear that some of these schools need the support that they're not getting at the moment.

Now, after consortia, Schools Challenge Cymru and academy Wales, which talks all about leadership, I don't think they've been giving you the results you were hoping for. So, what can you do next to ensure that this year's year 7 pupils progress towards meeting their potential rather than, I don't know, getting static or even slumping? Can you tell us what the updated plans are for your National Academy for Educational Leadership? That's an idea that the Welsh Conservatives were very interested in themselves. And will you share with us the answers to the searching questions that you will undoubtedly be asking the consortia on the back of this Estyn report: why they have not prompted the sea change that we might have expected in those schools, especially as you've been content to give them an extra £5 million in-year as a result of space in the budget. I'm very keen to hear about what happens to our pupils now, not after 2022. Thank you.

15:10

I welcome very much the chief inspector's annual report for 2017-18. I'm looking forward to studying the report in more detail, and of course will formally respond in the Plenary debate, which I understand, Presiding Officer, is provisionally scheduled for 19 February of next year.

I'm glad that the Member has acknowledged the progress that has been made in the primary sector, but I would be the first person to say that progress in our secondary sector is not good enough. I say it not just because I'm on these benches; I say it as a parent who has children in the system herself. I want all of our children to attend a good or excellent secondary school here in Wales, and our approach is to support all schools to be good and excellent, rather than the approach that we saw very much in operation yesterday across the border, when £50 million was announced to support just 16 highly selective secondary schools. That's the difference between the approach of this Government and the approach that the Tories would take, picking off certain schools and certain children for support, whereas we want all of our schools to do well.

Now, let me be absolutely clear what we are doing. The inspection report yesterday says that we need to do more to support our teaching profession. That's why we will spend £24 million over the next 18 months on supporting the professional learning of our staff. That is the single biggest investment in Welsh teachers since devolution, and we are determined to make sure that all our practitioners, in every classroom, are as good as they can be.

The Estyn report also rightly pointed to disparities in the quality of leadership in our system. That's why we have established the National Academy for Educational Leadership, and to be fair, Suzy, that is less than a year old, and to say that it has not delivered is simply not fair on those people who are working very, very, very hard to ensure that our leaders, our new and our aspiring head teachers, are as good as they could be.

For me, what is absolutely critical is that by the time a school is put into a category by Estyn, either in special measures or significant improvement, that is too late. Both local authorities and regional consortia should know their schools well enough that when they suspect a school is struggling to meet the needs of their pupils, they are able to intervene earlier, and we should not let it get to the stage of needing an Estyn inspection report to say that that school needs extra help. I am currently considering options of what more we can do to intervene earlier in schools that, potentially, are not meeting the needs of their children, are struggling to cope and are causing concern. At the moment, local authorities have the statutory responsibility for monitoring those schools, and for schools where there are those concerns, I expect local authorities to take prompt action. If they need more help to do so, either from the Welsh Government or from the regional consortia, I will make that help available.

15:15

However challenging the situation is in Wales, it's nowhere near as challenging as for pupils in England, where schools that have been found to be in special measures are simply being hung out to dry because they are obliged to be taken over by academies, and academies are simply walking away. They don't even get inspected by HM inspectors, so it's absolutely ridiculous for people on the Conservative benches not to recognise that our situation is so much better.

I think the Estyn report is a very good guide to what good practice looks like, and is in a very readable form for all school leaders to be able to access. It's absolutely not true that half the schools are failing. I have one concern, which is around the paucity of excellent early years provision. This may seem a very long way from secondary school education, but, actually, that is where we can really begin to tackle the disadvantage of deprivation. It's excellent that we now have four examples of early years provision that are deemed excellent, which is four more than last year, but we obviously need many more.

In terms of supporting excellence in our secondary school teaching, I wondered if, in your response to the Estyn report, you might reconsider restoring Schools Challenge Cymru. I'm not the only person on these benches who thinks that they were dismantled before they had had time to embed the sharing of good practice that is very clearly evident in many of our secondary schools and needs to be shared, particularly with those schools who are facing the most challenges. We saw how excellent and transformative it was in London, therefore I wondered if you would consider that.

The evidence to note from the Schools Challenge programme in Wales was mixed. Undoubtedly, there are some schools that benefited from participation in that programme. There are some schools that, despite considerable extra financial resource and support, failed to make the progress that we would have liked to have seen. Again, one of the challenges around Schools Challenge Cymru is that that support was limited to a single group of schools, rather than a national approach to schools that are causing concern. 

You will be aware, I'm sure, Jenny, of the interesting proposals that have been put forward by Graham Donaldson in his review of Estyn, the inspectorate. There is some commentary about how we can improve the situation for schools that find themselves in categorisation or in special measures. For too many of those schools, the support that is available to them to make rapid improvement is not consistent and it is not what I would want it to be. I continue to discuss with Estyn what more we can do to support those schools that find themselves in categorisation.

We are aware of some crucial elements that can make a real difference to improving schools' performance rapidly if they find themselves in that situation. But, as I said, a school that has to wait for a formal categorisation by Estyn has waited too long for support. We need to work with our local authorities and with our regional school improvement services to better understand how we can identify problems earlier, and how we can provide assistance to those schools before Estyn comes in and says that they need to improve.

4. 90-second Statements

Diolch, Llywydd. Wednesday, 7 December 1938—thousands of people gathered at the pavilion at Mountain Ash, including my very own grandmother, who would regale the family for many years afterwards about the amazing and talented superstar that she saw there. They came to attend a Welsh national memorial meeting and concert in honour of 33 members of the International Brigade from Wales—men who had given their lives fighting against fascism in defence of democracy in the Spanish civil war, and appearing at that concert was the famous American artist and actor Paul Robeson. Robeson, the son of a former slave, was a skilled sportsman and academic, but he chose to pursue a career in the arts, winning plaudits for his roles on the stage and screen. The 1930s saw Robeson's increasing association with political causes. Central to this was his support for the republican side in Spain. Robeson regarded this as a turning point in his life. Speaking at a benefit concert for Spanish refugees, he proclaimed:

'The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery.' 

The decade also saw Robeson forging lifelong links with the mining communities of south Wales. He performed in miners' clubs, sang for the miners' relief fund and starred in The Proud Valley. Just as the Spanish civil war shaped his activism, so did his association with these communities, and on Friday, 80 years since the pavilion concert, I'll be opening an exhibition at Mountain Ash working mens' club to celebrate this historic event and a truly remarkable transatlantic association between Robeson and the south Wales miners. 

15:20

Diolch, Llywydd. Yesterday we said goodbye to Professor Mike Sullivan, director of Swansea University's Morgan Academy, socialist and Welshman. Mike grew up in a working-class family in Risca, the first in his family to go to university. Graduating from Oxford, he worked as a social worker before starting a distinguished academic career, first in Cardiff, then in Swansea. He served here, as a Labour special adviser during the period of the One Wales Government, ensuring the passage of the best possible version of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. After his return to Swansea, Mike was pivotal in raising the university's international profile, initiating the relationship with Secretary Clinton, and he founded the Morgan Academy, named for Rhodri Morgan. 

Mike was warm and compassionate, but he could be steely when he needed to be. His passion for social justice and for Wales informed all that he did. He had a great gift for friendship, and I know, Llywydd, that there are many in this Chamber who were proud to call him their friend. 

Mike died too soon. He is survived by his wife Jane, their son Ciaran and his stepchildren, and their loss is incalculable. For those of us who knew him, Mike's life will inspire us as we work to build the Wales and the world that he believed was possible, and with his beloved university, beset at present by troubles, we vow to protect his legacy.

This week is Lifelong Learning Platform's Lifelong Learning Week. This is the pan-European civil society for education, which is using this week to bring together partners from across Europe to encourage and talk about ideas to foster lifelong learning. With our future in the European Union currently uncertain, I hope that Wales can continue to play a role in European engagement platforms such as this one. Exchanging ideas and visions in this area can help us understand what works best in other nations, and how it can work here too. We can learn from smaller fellow countries that have seen success in improving and developing a lifelong learning framework that is truly cradle to grave. In previous generations, the pattern of life was often school, career, retirement. This is not the case anymore, and in a world where we face challenges from automation, competition from around the world and a flexible and fast-evolving economy, we must put an emphasis on learning and training at any age, and constantly promote a mindset that emphasises that nobody is ever too old to learn a new skill or to take up a new interest. 

The Lifelong Learning Platform believes that the objective of education and training should not only be described in terms of employability or economic growth, but also as a framework for personal development and to promote active citizenship and engagement. Going forward, regardless of our position in Europe, I think it's vital for us to support and fund lifelong learning here in Wales so that we can support this vital asset for our nation. 

5. Debate on the Standards of Conduct Committee's Report 03-18 to the Assembly under Standing Order 22.9

The next item is the debate on the Standards of Conduct Committee's report to the Assembly, under Standing Order 22.9. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion, Jayne Bryant.

Motion NDM6890 Jayne Bryant

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Considers the Report of the Standards of Conduct Committee—Report 03-18 laid before the Assembly on 23 November 2018 in accordance with Standing Order 22.9

2. Endorses the recommendation in the report.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Llywydd. As Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee, I formally move the motion.

The committee considered the report from the commissioner for standards in relation to a complaint made against Gareth Bennett AM. The complaint regarded his failure to comply with the rules and guidance on the use of Assembly resources and bringing the Assembly into disrepute, which is a breach of the code of conduct.

The Standards of Conduct Committee gave the commissioner’s report careful consideration, and our report sets out the committee’s judgment as to the sanction that is appropriate in this case. The facts relating to the complaint, and the committee’s reasons for its recommendation, are set out in full in the committee’s report. 

The motion tabled invites the Assembly to endorse the committee’s recommendations.

15:25

There are no speakers in this debate. I take it that the Member doesn’t wish to reply to the debate. The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Welsh Government Performance

The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Julie James.

That brings us to the next item, which is the Welsh Conservatives debate on Welsh Government performance, and I call on Paul Davies to move the motion. Paul Davies.

Motion NDM6892 Darren Millar

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Regrets that since December 2009:

a) referral-to-treatment waiting times in the Welsh NHS have increased;

b) performance against both the 4 and 12 hour targets in Welsh emergency departments has deteriorated;

c) cancer treatment targets have never been met in Wales;

d) the number of beds in Welsh hospitals has fallen;

e) GCSE performance has deteriorated in Wales with attainment of A*-C grades for summer 2018 the worst since 2005;

f) Wales’s OECD PISA scores are worse in reading, maths and science with the most recent results being worse than in 2009, placing Wales in the bottom half of the OECD global ranking and at the bottom of the UK rankings;

g) scores of Welsh schools have permanently closed;

h) gross disposable household income as a percentage of the UK average has fallen;

i) Wales has had the poorest average wages growth rate of the UK nations;

j) business rates in Wales have become less competitive than other parts of the UK; and

k) the annual number of new homes being built in Wales has fallen.

2. Calls upon the Welsh Government to acknowledge its failures, abandon its failing policies, and to deliver the positive change that Wales needs.

Motion moved.

Diolch Llywydd. On the eve of learning the identity of the new Welsh Labour Party leader, it is timely to reflect on the performance of the Welsh Government under the leadership of the current First Minister—the success, the failures and the lessons for the future. It will be for others to cast judgment on the First Minister's legacy, but today I want to focus specifically on policy and the burgeoning gap between promises and delivery.

For eight and a half of the First Minister's nine years, there has been a Conservative Prime Minister in Downing Street, and for Ministers here, the temptation to play party politics has been too great. Too often, the First Minister has played the role of the leader of the opposition to the UK Government, rather than acting as a leader of a Government here in Wales. In Labour's campaign for the 2011 Assembly election, devolved areas barely got a mention, as they were keen to take advantage of low levels of public awareness of what the Welsh Government's responsibilities were.

Now, of course, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that there have been some successes in the past nine years and areas of agreement between the parties: the 5p carrier bag charge, introduced with cross-party support, has helped change shoppers' behaviour and has reduced the number of single-use carrier bags in circulation; the children's rights Measure and the food hygiene rating system were also introduced in the past nine years. All parties worked together on the successful referendum on further law-making powers for the Assembly—a decision that was followed by the devolution of taxation, empowering this Chamber to make better decisions for the people of Wales. Both those successes have been, I'm afraid, few and far between.

The Welsh Government record since 2009 is, sadly, one of failure and missed opportunities, and no more disastrously than in the national health service. Despite campaigning on a leadership manifesto, promising to protect health spending, Carwyn Jones became the only leader of any modern political party in the UK to inflict real-terms cuts to the NHS. Carwyn Jones's first budget as First Minister took £0.5 billion out of the Welsh NHS. By 2014, the health budget had lost almost 8 per cent in real terms, equating to £1 billion.

The NHS has still not recovered from the legacy of Labour's budget cuts. Today, health boards are facing a record combined deficit of £167.5 million. The impact on waiting times and standards has been devastating. In December 2009, no patient in Wales was waiting any longer than 36 weeks from diagnosis to the start of treatment. Yet today, that figure stands at 13,673. Of these, more than 4,000 patients are currently waiting more than a year for surgery. When Carwyn Jones took office, 224,960 patients were waiting in the queue to start treatment. That queue has doubled to 443,789 patients.

In nine years, some key performance targets have not been met once. The target for 95 per cent of accident and emergency patients to be seen within four hours has not been met since 2009, and performance is getting worse. In October this year, only 80 per cent were seen within four hours, and at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, that figure was just 54 per cent—the worst on record.

Shockingly, the number of patients waiting over 12 hours to be seen in A&E has risen by 4,000 per cent since 2009. Earlier this year, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine described the situation in A&E in Wales as 'dire' and 'horrific' with an experience for patients which is 'unsafe, undignified and distressing'. Capacity in the NHS has shrunk with the number of beds falling year on year to the lowest on record today—2,000 fewer beds than in 2009, and in some health boards, the bed occupancy rate is breaching safe limits on a daily basis. This decline in NHS performance has coincided with Welsh Government decisions to continue to downgrade and centralise NHS services, forcing patients to travel further for vital care, and putting even more pressure on retained services. NHS cuts, closures and downgrades—that's what we've seen since December 2009.

Now, a commitment was made by the First Minister during his leadership campaign to spend 1 per cent above the block grant on education every year until the per pupil funding gap between Wales and England had been eliminated. Nine years on and the funding gap still remains, and the education budget is 7.9 per cent smaller in real terms than it was in 2011. In the 10 years to 2016, 157 schools closed, mainly in rural Wales, and, across the country today, 40 per cent of schools are facing a budget deficit. This is despite the fact that the Welsh Government receives £1.20 for every £1 spent on schools in England. GCSE performance has deteriorated since 2009, with the gold standard of five A* to C grades falling this year to its lowest level since 2005. Wales has declined in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment tests, with worse scores in reading, maths and science, with the most recent results placing Wales in the bottom half of the OECD ranking, and ranked the worst in the UK. Targets and timescales to improve Wales's education system position have all been quietly dropped, ditched and changed to cover the tracks of failure.

Under the current First Minister's watch, another target, for Wales to reach 90 per cent of UK average gross value added by 2010, was dropped. Wales still has seen has the lowest wage growth of any UK nation. Opportunities to create the conditions for indigenous small business growth and greater inward investment have been missed in favour of trying to control and over-tax business. The Welsh Government's business rates regime has led to Wales having the UK's highest high-street vacancy rate, with too many vacant and boarded-up premises. Wales is now the most expensive part of the UK in which to do business. However, it is good to see, from yesterday's comments in the budget debate, that the Welsh Government is finally listening to our calls for action on this. Nevertheless, this Labour Government still fails to recognise that low-tax economies are more vibrant, more competitive, and, actually, generate more revenue because of the greater viability of setting up a business. Creating the conditions in which businesses can prosper, and investors are attracted to set up in Wales, should have been a far greater priority over the last nine years, to generate growth and increase prosperity levels.

Labour has failed to deliver a fit-for-purpose public transport network, so there remains no proper alternative to the car. The jury's still out on the success or otherwise of the new franchise, although it's fair to say its start has been, at best, shaky. Numerous major road projects have been delayed by ministerial dithering, while many of those that did get built fell victim to massive overspends, including the Heads of the Valleys dualling.

Inadequate mobile signals and broadband infrastructure are still a problem, given the slow progress on addressing notspots.

Creating the conditions for economic growth would have gone some way to tackling cyclical poverty, which still blights too many of our communities. The flagship pledge to eradicate child poverty was dropped, while evidence shows that the hundreds of millions of pounds that poured into Communities First had no impact on prosperity levels, and, after 20 years of Labour, these communities remain as poor as ever.

The current First Minister has made home ownership further out of reach for many, including denying social housing tenants the right to buy their property. House building has been constrained by red tape, creating a housing supply crisis, which has driven up prices and made getting a step on the property ladder more difficult. Sadly, this has been a Government that spent billions treating the symptoms of poverty rather than properly investing in the preventative agenda to give the next generation better prospects than the last. The last nine years have been blighted by mismanagement, particularly in Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board, not to mention the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales and the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association scandals, by indecision and inaction over business rate reform, the M4 relief road, and a lack of house building, and by poor decision-making, cutting the NHS budget and scrapping the right to buy.

For the sake of the 3 million people we serve, Wales needs original ideas, a fresh approach and new leadership. While I wish the First Minister well for the future, I am more convinced than ever that, to fulfil its true potential, Wales needs a new Government, and I urge Members to support our motion.

15:30

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

Thank you. I have selected the amendment to the motion, and I call on the Leader of the House and Chief Whip to move formally the amendment tabled in her own name. 

Amendment 1—Julie James

Delete all after Wales and replace with:

1. Recognises:

a) Almost nine out of 10 people are treated within the target time of 26 weeks

b) Investment in the Welsh NHS is at record levels

c) More people are surviving cancer than ever in Wales and receiving treatment within the target time

d) The proportion of pupils awarded the top GCSE grades at A* to A increased to 18.5% in 2018

e) 8.7% of pupils were awarded A* at A-level in 2018 – the best results in Wales since the grade was introduced in 2010

f) Gross disposable household income in 2016 was £15,835 per person, equivalent to 81.5% of the UK GDHI, up from 2015

g) Gross weekly earnings in 2018 for full-time employees working in Wales have increased by 2.1% since 2017

h) 1.5m people were employed in Wales in the three months to September 2018, up 4.2% on the same period a year earlier—the largest increase of any UK country or region

i) Three-quarters of small business in Wales receive help with rates bills and half pay no non-domestics rates at all

j) 20,000 new affordable homes will be built with Welsh Government funding this Assembly term.

2. Thanks the First Minister for his leadership and his work during his nine years in office.

Amendment 1 moved.

15:35

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I understand, of course, what would motivate the Conservatives to table a motion such as this one. We are approaching the end of the tenure of the current First Minister—we could have presented a list of failings ourselves. But I think it says a great deal about the Conservatives that, in this lengthy list, there is no reference to child poverty, homelessness, carbon emissions, and so on and so forth. The Welsh Government, through its amendment, responds in the way that we perhaps would have expected, listing a long list of statistics without any context, or statistics that have been used—let’s talk plainly here—in a way that’s misleading, and that’s to justify their actions. I can refer to the 20,000 affordable homes that they refer to. Of course, that includes homes sold through Help to Buy—Wales, where a third of the homes have been sold at over £200,000, which can’t be categorised as affordable, however you look at it.

So, we’ll leave the Conservatives and the Government to play ping-pong today. We will abstain in this vote, but I will take this opportunity to make a few of my own comments—not in listing in the unimaginative way the Conservatives have done, but I will look at some of the fundamental factors that are problematic in the way that Labour, under this current First Minister, have sought to govern Wales. There are patterns and themes that emerge regularly, which have been highlighted in a series of committee reports, by the auditor general, and by the various commissions and task and finish groups that the Government itself has established to mask its lack of action.

I’ll start with all of those task and finish groups and review panels, many of them unnecessary. They are put in place time and time again as a delaying tactic, to avoid making decisions. Let’s look at homelessness and the scrapping of priority need, which is now the subject of another review. Well, why another review? The Government commissioned Cardiff University to review homelessness law in 2012, and the recommendation was to scrap priority need, and nothing has happened. What happens is that people in this cold winter are still sleeping rough, and dying on our streets, because of delays by the Government in making decisions.

There are other themes. Targets—there is reference in the motion, and in the Government’s amendments, to targets. Well, we can see what’s happening in terms of those targets. The Government’s targets, time and time again, are set lower than England and Scotland—they are still missed, by the way—and that in an attempt to make the Government look as though they were performing well. There’s a lack of ambition—that’s the core problem here, I think. Take the Government’s claim in its amendment that almost nine in 10 patients are treated within 26 weeks. Well, the real figure is 77 per cent on average, over the past two years, according to StatsWales. It’s not nine in every 10. In Scotland and England, 18 weeks is the target, and, at least in Scotland, almost nine in 10 patients do truly start their treatment within 18 weeks.

Another problem is the Government’s unwillingness to learn from good practice. The Williams Commission stated that good practice travels poorly within this Government. How many times have we heard about good practices on a small scale that haven’t been rolled out? Now, I could go on—time is short.

However, one thing that struck me earlier this afternoon—one of the fundamental problems of this Government is its unwillingness to lead. This Government follows, far too often. And I heard a Cabinet Secretary speaking earlier about his staunch support for the devolution of policing and justice. Well, I’m delighted that the Government supports that now, but they’re behind the curve. We in Plaid Cymru are pleased, anyway, at seeing the Government following us and supporting our views on that issue or on taxation of sugary drinks, but it’s very frustrating to see the Government missing these opportunities to make a real difference to the lives of people.

The Conservatives: well, bring your own ideas to the table too. A negative list such as this one, without proposing any alternatives, never looks any good in the view of the public.

15:40

It is the legacy of the First Minister that's in the spotlight today. It's only this week we've produced our own policy on how t