Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

05/02/2019

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Janet Finch-Saunders. 

Health Service Waiting Times across North Wales

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on health service waiting times across north Wales? OAQ53374

Llywydd, despite increased demand, there has been a reduction over the last year of nearly 30 per cent in the number of people waiting over 36 weeks for treatment in Betsi Cadwaladr. Further work, however, is required and is being undertaken in order to bring all waiting times within Welsh Government targets.

Thank you, First Minister, and I do actually appreciate the acknowledgment about further work required, but, let's be honest, direct interventions by your Welsh Government into the Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board were implemented in June 2015, pending a number of vast improvements that were required. In reality, patients across north Wales are still seeing increased waiting time misery. We have just seen the worst ever percentage of patients seen within the four-hour target time for A&E; ear nose and throat—an almost 9 point increase in the percentage of patients' pathways waiting over 36 weeks to start treatment, as is the case for pain management. And those waiting over 24 weeks for a flexible sigmoidoscopy has increased in percentage terms by 4,900 per cent. 

Now, I have a number of cases where constituents are waiting sadly far too long for treatment, such as one elderly lady who fell in June last year, shattering her shoulder, and who has now been advised that she's likely to wait at least another nine months in agonising pain. First Minister, there are waiting time issues across this health board for various treatments and services. Now, it is clear to me, and I think to other Members in this Chamber, and, indeed, to our patients in north Wales, that after three and a half years, your own health Minister continues to fail as regards the functions and workings of this health board. As the FM, with ultimate responsibility—[Interruption.]

Okay. As the First Minister with ultimate responsibility for all portfolios—[Interruption.] 

When I ask you to come to the question, I don't intend you to carry on reading what you have you in front of you. Can you ask the question, please?

Okay. As the First Minister with ultimate responsibility, is it not time now that you started to take more of a hold on what's going on in this health board, and perhaps look at a better way of managing the direct interventions into this health board?

Well, Llywydd, I continue to take a direct interest in everything that goes on in the health service, including in north Wales. At the time that Betsi Cadwaladr was put into special measures, there were real concerns about its maternity services. Those have improved and are no longer regarded as in need to be in special measures. There were real concerns about out-of-hours services, which have improved significantly. There were concerns about delayed transfers of care, and they were down by 22 per cent in November and 24 per cent in December. There are many things that are getting better in Betsi Cadwaladr, but we recognise that there are people who wait too long for treatment, despite the fact that 36-week waits are down, 26-week waits are down, and the median waiting time for treatment in the health board is 8.4 weeks from the point that someone is referred for treatment to the point when that treatment has been carried out. 

As part of the response to winter pressures, the Red Cross has been going into A&E departments in some Welsh hospitals. They have been of great assistance in two of the three main hospitals in North Wales and have assisted almost 5,500 patients, which represents more than half of the patients that have been assisted in Wales, in Wrexham Maelor and Glan Clwyd hospitals. You may say that the general picture is improving, but I’m going to have to speak from experience here, First Minister. I was referred to A&E in Wrexham Maelor last Monday. I got there at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and I wasn’t seen until five in the morning—12 hours I waited in A&E. [Interruption.] Yes, it does happen regularly, and the picture being portrayed here is one of improvements being made. Perhaps there are improvements on a general level, but my response is that there are some unacceptable experiences that people still have to go through.

We do recognise the work that those such as the Red Cross are doing, but that specific service will come to an end next month. So, may I ask you whether you think that sort of service should continue and that we should rely on the Red Cross in our NHS in Wales? And what impact do you think that bringing that service to a close will have on the services left behind?

13:35

Well, Llywydd, I thank Llyr Gruffydd for what he said about the work being done by the Red Cross. And what the Red Cross is doing in north Wales is part of what we are doing over the winter—new initiatives to try and assist the system, and also to do things in new ways. The work that the Red Cross is doing, but also what we’re doing with Care and Repair, and having new people in emergency departments to assist, that is something that we are going to learn lessons from, and from those experiences in north Wales and to try and see whether we can do it across Wales. I recognise, as I told Janet Finch-Saunders, that some people wait too long in emergency departments over the winter. They have come under pressure, of course, and there are many things we want to do with the board to improve the situation in the north.

The Progress of Growth Deals

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of growth deals in Wales? OAQ53379

I thank the Member for his question. Growth deals are at different stages of maturity across Wales, reflecting different starting times. We remain committed to being a full partner in the development and delivery of successful deals for all parts of Wales.

One of the challenges of growth deals in Wales, compared to in England, where many were going previously, is that the Welsh Government is another significant partner in the room, whose agreement is needed to progress deals, and will legitimately have different emphases, and perhaps in some areas, different priorities to the UK Government. What can Welsh Government do to ensure its presence, and the requirement for that additional sign-off, actually is used to help drive growth deals forward rather than in any way impeding or slowing them down, and in particular giving support to councils where they may not perhaps have the same degree of infrastructure and budget as some of the other growth deals?

Well, Llywydd, I recognise the additional complexity that Mark Reckless points to, but we have always been positive and willing partners in the effort to create growth deals in different parts of Wales. The previous First Minister jointly signed off the Swansea city deal with the Prime Minister, in a mark of the work that had gone in jointly with local authorities, with other interests, and with the private sector, in that part of Wales. And we intend to play the same positive role in the north of Wales as well, where my colleague Ken Skates was meeting with the economic ambitions board within the last 10 days. The Member will be aware of the event that happened here in the Assembly last week in relation to a deal for mid Wales. And in all those contexts, which are different and have different challenges, the Welsh Government will be a constant presence, and a constantly positive presence as well.

I’ve called for additional funding and an additional focus on the north Wales growth deal, as a result of the Hitachi announcement on Wylfa Newydd, and we could add the Rehau announcement in Amlwch to that too. And whilst I note and welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to being willing to provide more funding to the north Wales growth deal, if additional funding is made available by the UK Government, I am aware of concerns that a change to the growth deal now could lead to delays in the process. If so, is the First Minister willing to consider some sort of additional funding plan in addition to the growth deal, and in parallel with it, in order to provide that necessary boost to Anglesey at this challenging time?

Thank you to Rhun ap Iorwerth for the question. Of course, I can see what he says about the concerns in north Wales, following Wylfa, if that is going to have an impact on the growth deal as regards drawing things back. The Minister also has called on the UK Government to provide more funding into the growth deal in north Wales following Wylfa. And we have said, as a Government here in Wales, if more funding comes from the UK, we are willing to look to see whether we can provide more funding into the growth deal to support people in north Wales following what’s happened in Wylfa, and more broadly on the island specifically.

First Minister, for my constituents in Islwyn, the Cardiff capital region city deal offers the real prospect of transforming our communities. The city deal aims to deliver up to 25,000 new jobs and lever in an additional £4 billion of private sector investment. What additional support, then, and oversight can the Welsh Government offer the 10 local authorities that comprise the Cardiff capital region city deal, and what can the communities of Islwyn realistically expect to see from the fruits of these endeavours?

13:40

Well, I thank Rhianon Passmore for that. Just as in my answer to Mark Reckless, I point to the continued involvement of the Welsh Government in city deals across Wales. I know that, yesterday, the Minister for the economy met with Andrew Morgan, the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council and the chair of the Cardiff capital city deal board, to discuss progress in that deal and things that we can do to continue to assist it. I know that the Cardiff capital city deal has ambitious plans to invest in housing in the area, to bring stalled sites into beneficial use; to add further investment to the transport infrastructure of the area, to go alongside that pivotal part of the Cardiff deal which is the metro plan. In that, people who live in the Member's area, and more broadly, can look forward to better connectivity, new economic opportunities, increased skill levels amongst people who live in Torfaen, and all of that is part of the ambitious plan that we have jointly with the 10 local authorities that make up the Cardiff capital city deal.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, when will you make a decision about the future of the M4 relief road?

Well, I will make a decision, Llywydd, when I am in the right position to do so. I know it's frustrating for Members, but the position is the one that I've set out on the floor of the Assembly previously. There was a major local public inquiry. It has produced a report, which I believe is substantial in scale and nature. Officials continue to consider that report and to make sure that, when they provide advice to me, it is secure as far as the legal aspects are concerned, the financial aspects are concerned, the policy aspects are concerned, and I have said to them that I want the best possible advice. Now, I believe that advice will be with me before too long, but I'm still prepared to make sure that the advice is the right advice, and then—to be clear with the Member—when the advice arrives I will need time to study that advice, because the advice will be complex and it will be significant, and I will put the time in necessary to make sure that the right decision is made.

Llywydd, all we've had from successive Labour Governments is dither, dither, dither, and that answer is just further dithering from you, First Minister. It's quite clear that, despite £44 million of taxpayers' money being spent on the inquiry into solutions for the M4 relief road, the details are now gathering dust on your desk, First Minister, given that it has been months since the report was published. Your Government is continuing to drag its heels on finding a viable solution, and the uncertainty that this is creating is hurting Welsh businesses and is damaging investment. Now, last week, more than 90 major businesses, who represent a quarter of the Welsh workforce, wrote to you urgently seeking clarification on this issue. You must end this uncertainty by finally telling Wales what your plans are. So, can you be clear here today? If the findings of the inquiry recommend the black route, will your Government then accept the outcome and actually deliver on the black route?

Well, the Member cannot possibly imagine that I'm going to give him an answer to that question on the floor of the Assembly when I have neither seen the report nor seen any of the accompanying advice that would be necessary for me. It would be reckless in the extreme to do so, and it would simply put whatever I said in legal jeopardy by those who might wish to challenge it. Of course I saw what the CBI and others have said, and the answer that I give to them must be the same as I've given to you: I will make a decision in the best possible way. I will do it in full consideration of all the factors that go into making it, and I will make it in the best way that I can.

First Minister, my question was a straightforward question, but, again, you can't give a straightforward answer. Welsh Labour have now stalled on this issue for almost 20 years, and appear as incapable as ever of driving forward a solution to the problem. It's beginning to look, from where I'm standing, like this project walked out the door with the previous First Minister. The damaging effects of your policy failures on developing an effective transport system are clear. Welsh gross value added is at the bottom of the UK league table; productivity is at the bottom of the UK league table; wages are at the bottom of the UK league table. And we can't underestimate how important this infrastructure project is for improving the economic fortunes of Wales. So, First Minister, if you're not going to deliver on the black route, can you tell us what solutions you will then bring forward as a Government, because the people of Wales have waited long enough?

13:45

Llywydd, it is difficult sometimes to listen to what the Member says without remembering that his party's the one that failed to bring electrification of the railways, that has presided over the delays in Wylfa—[Interruption.] And when it comes, Llywydd, to waiting to act on a report, how many months, and, eventually, into years went by before his Government acted to turn down the report that itself had commissioned in relation to the Swansea bay tidal lagoon? So, I think he's got plenty to think about in his party's own record.

Let me say this to him: his question to me was the absolute opposite of straightforward. It pretended that it is possible to give a simple answer to a complex question, that without having considered any of the advice or the report itself that I should come to a conclusion here on the floor of the Assembly. It would be the absolute opposite of sensible ways of proceeding for me to have taken his advice. 

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you assure the Senedd that your leading civil servant, Permanent secretary Dame Shan Morgan, has not indicated in conversation with you, or Cabinet or other colleagues that she is willing to leave her position before her contract ends in 2022?

I give the Member an assurance that no such conversations have taken place. 

First Minister, I'm afraid I have to press you again on this point, and this is because of the nature of the way this alleged departure has emerged in the media, as reported last Thursday by the Western Mail's chief reporter, Martin Shipton. He refers to a number of senior, and, as he puts it, well-placed sources in the Welsh Government providing him with the information that there have been discussions about Dame Shan Morgan's early departure. Now, there are two possibilities arising from the story as reported: either it is true, in which case the Permanent Secretary might have a case to claim constructive dismissal, or it is not, in which case someone is trying to deliberately undermine the Permanent Secretary. The Government, under your predecessor, had to deny allegations of briefing against individuals. Aren't you just a bit concerned that this practice seems to be continuing? 

Well, Llywydd, as far as that story's concerned, I think I'm as well placed a source as the Member will ever have. What I wanted to do—. I'm not going to be drawn into speculation about how other people may have come across information they think they have and so on. What I will do is simply report the direct conversations that I have had with the individual that the Member has named, and I give him this assurance absolutely that the things that he has read in the newspaper have never once arisen in any conversation that I have had with the Permanent Secretary, and that the correction that was issued by the Welsh Government and carried in that story 100 per cent represents the position of the Welsh Government. 

First Minister, when John Howard famously sacked all his departmental heads 20 years ago in Australia, it was dubbed 'the night of the long knives'. Now your Government is denying all knowledge of conversations several senior sources have maintained did happen. It seems to be a night of the short memories. Now, it said in the article that you're anxious to have a fresh start, but to give what you said now, today, on the record, added credence, can you confirm that neither you nor anyone acting on your behalf will either request or agree to the Permanent Secretary terminating her contract early? There is, after all, a very important principle here—the clue is in the name 'permanent' secretary. In order to protect the impartiality and independence of the civil service, politicians should never be able to sack the senior civil service. So, does the First Minister agree that, if there is no fresh start over the next two and a half years, it's the people then who will be the judge, and the person then who should be sacked under those circumstances will be you?

13:50

Well, let me try and rescue something from the Member's final question that would be worth a sensible response. I completely agree with what Adam Price said that the independence and the impartiality of the civil service is central to the way that we do business, and it is central to the way that this Government does business here in Wales, and there is nothing that I will do or any Member of my Government will do to cast any doubt on that principle. Of course, the Member was right that, in the end, we all work for the people who elect us, and every one of us—every one of us—is in a position at the end of an Assembly term where a verdict will be passed on us by the people who sent us here in the first place, and so that should be. 

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, Cardiff's bus services are in a crisis. The council-run Cardiff Bus lost nearly £2 million last year and is haemorrhaging money. Cardiff Bus has responded by cutting routes and raising fares, which affects passengers, and by downgrading pay and conditions for its own staff. It still hasn't filed its accounts for last year. What are your reflections on Cardiff's bus crisis and its implications for bus services in the rest of Wales?

I thank the Member for the question. The points he raises are important ones to people who live in the capital city particularly. It is because of the situation in Cardiff Bus company that my colleague Ken Skates has asked Transport for Wales to go to the company to offer advice to them, to make sure that they have whatever support they need to try to make sure that they respond to the commercial pressures that they face and to make decisions that promote the long-term health of bus services in the capital city.

I'm glad that action has been taken already and I'm glad that your transport Minister is already on the case and there is going to be discussion with Cardiff Council. But problems with transport in Cardiff have been going on for some time, so I think perhaps I can give some pointers—I know he's a very able Cabinet Minister, but perhaps I can offer some pointers on this occasion. It's Cardiff Council that oversees the operation of Cardiff Bus and scrutinises it, but I wonder how effective that scrutiny actually is. Cardiff Council, which is run by your Welsh Labour Party has no transport committee to oversee the bus operations. Cardiff Bus is actually overseen by the environment committee, which seems to be a very wide-ranging committee, and I wonder how far they look at the bus operations. Also, it is chaired by Ramesh Patel, who until recently was the council cabinet member for transport. So, to some extent, he's effectively scrutinising decisions that he made himself not so long ago as the cabinet member. Of course, you will be aware of this, First Minister, since when he has time to do so Councillor Patel also works for you at the Assembly. Are you confident that Cardiff Council's Labour-dominated environment committee actually has the ability to oversee what Cardiff Bus is doing and help to turn around this staggering mess?

Well, Llywydd, there is a proper arrangement in which there is a board that looks after Cardiff Bus and the relationship between it and the city council is one for the city council itself to be satisfied with, not for me. Insofar as I see it from the outside, I believe those scrutiny arrangements are robust. Following the White Paper that my colleague Ken Skates has published and its debate here in the Assembly, it may lead to a joint transport authority, which would further reinforce the scrutiny arrangements over what goes on in Cardiff but more widely across the whole of the south Wales region and beyond.

I'm interested in what you say about the joint transport authority. I think that's something, and it's better than simply saying, 'It's a matter for the local council', which is the kind of response that Ministers here tend to usually hide behind. But it is interesting, is it not, that when you campaigned for the job of First Minister, one of your policies was to agree with Jeremy Corbyn that we need to return to having more municipal bus companies here in Wales? If you did what you said you would do and you went for more municipal bus companies, would this not simply be extending Cardiff's failing model across the whole of Wales and causing more problems for the hard-pressed Welsh taxpayer?

13:55

Well, the answer to that, Llywydd, is: of course not. Because if we were in a position, as we hope to be able to be, to reintroduce re-regulation of the bus services to bring services that depend almost entirely on the investment that the public makes in them already back under the control of the public, then we would do it in a way that avoids many of the difficulties that the current model provides for the municipal bus service here in Cardiff. I am very pleased indeed to align myself with those proposals that are being developed to bring bus services in Wales back within the control of the public and those people who pay for them already, and the White Paper that my colleague has published is a major step forward on that journey.

Best Value for Money for Public Procurement

3. How is the Welsh Government ensuring best value for money for public procurement? OAQ53333

I thank the Member for the question. The Welsh Government's approach to best value from procurement includes maximising spend in the Welsh economy, securing wider community benefits from that spend, and ensuring that fair work and ethical standards of employment are maintained when money is spent on behalf of the Welsh public.

In November I hosted an Assembly event with 3SC, a social enterprise established to bid for public and other contracts, harnessing the power of the third sector to deliver those contracts via organisations that otherwise lose out. At the event they launched their position paper, 'The Crisis in Public Sector Contracting and How to Cure It: A Wales Perspective', highlighting some of the challenges the third sector face in relation to public sector procurement in Wales and some thoughts on how these could be addressed. They said that whilst the social enterprise sector is growing in Wales, the sector remains small and unfulfilled in reaching its full potential, and the presence of an internal monopoly in many local authorities is just as restrictive of innovation and diversity as if the service was being provided by a big private sector outsourcer. How, therefore, will you engage with this report to look at its proposals for greater sensitivity in how services are procured and an explicit commitment for third sector and smaller organisations to secure a reasonable share of the public procurement pie? Finally, where they say problems such as reoffending, housing, disability and employment need co-operation, patience and clear thinking as well as money, but money that is spent not just with an eye to getting the cheapest solution, but the best solution—in other words, partnerships with purpose—will you consider this report?

Llywydd, I'm not familiar with the report, but I'd certainly be keen to study it, and I'm grateful to the Member for drawing it to my attention. He's right, of course: we know that winning contracts for small organisations can be a struggle. It's why the Welsh Government has worked with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies to find ways in which small organisations, whether they be small and medium-sized enterprises or whether they be third sector organisations, can come together to collaborate on bids, to create consortiums, to form joint ventures, and in that way improve their chances of getting work through the public procurement process. The Member will be encouraged, I'm sure, to know that 58 per cent of businesses that came through the Sell2Wales website over the last 12 months have gone to Welsh SMEs, and that's a significantly higher percentage than, let us say, three years ago. But if there are interesting and new ideas in the report, then I'd be very keen to study it, and I'm grateful to him for drawing it to my attention.

First Minister, the question focused on value for money, but one of the other important areas is value for the Welsh economy. As you pointed out, it's also looking at how we can use public procurement to actually support the Welsh economy and small independent businesses. My colleague Mike Hedges has often raised this with you. An example could also be ensuring that Welsh steel is used in infrastructure projects for the public in Wales. Will you look at what is happening there and can you give us a progress statement on how the procurement process is changing to ensure that as many Welsh businesses and products in Wales are used in Welsh procurement?

I thank David Rees for that. As he will know, following the difficulties in the steel industry back in 2016, a particular procurement note was produced for Welsh public buyers to make sure that we maximised the amount of Welsh steel that goes into the buildings and other infrastructure investment that is made on behalf of the public here in Wales. A whole series of things have been done, as the Member knows, to make sure that we extract not simply best value for money but best value in that wider sense.

The community benefits scheme in Wales now covers more than 500 schemes, and that has been very successful in making sure that local jobs, apprenticeships, training and spend on that wider set of community benefits are derived from the way in which public money is spent. Our code of practice on ethical employment in the supply chain was marked by an event in January that Ken Skates attended to celebrate 150 organisations in Wales signing up to that code, which is a real, practical example of that wider sense of how what we mean by best value can be found in the Welsh economy.

14:00
Alleviating Traffic Congestion in South-east Wales

4. What discussions has the First Minister had about alleviating traffic congestion in south-east Wales? OAQ53372

I thank Jayne Bryant for that. I hold regular meetings with the Minister for Economy and Transport, discussing key transport issues, including those that affect south-east Wales.

Thank you, First Minister. Air pollution caused by the regular idling traffic congestion on the M4 in the Newport area is already at high levels. It's a long-standing problem, which continues to deteriorate, representing a significant health risk to my constituents. Regular, reliable and affordable improved public transport is important for Newport, but will not solve the problem alone. The traffic statistics are clear that the people of Newport are not the main cause of the congestion, but are the ones who must live with the consequences of it on a daily basis.

When there are incidents on the motorway, like there were this morning in both directions, congestion and air pollution further choke Newport. First Minister, this is an issue that requires short-term tactical and long-term strategic solutions. As I've said before, doing nothing is not an option. While we eagerly await the results of the independent public inquiry, will you consider forming an expert taskforce, involving local people, businesses and representatives, to look at the immediate options available?

Llywydd, can I say that the Member makes a really important point that, while the debate on the floor of the Assembly is absolutely understandably focused upon the local public inquiry report and what that might do in the future, that is inevitably some years away, whatever the outcome of that might be, whereas the problems that the Member points to are problems that are happening here and now in Newport? I know that she met, in the last few days, with the Minister to discuss those steps that are already being taken in the Newport area to address the issues that Jayne Bryant has pointed to.

Now, the idea of forming an expert taskforce to look, as she said, at the immediate options seems to me to be a very attractive one. I'll ask the Minister, Ken Skates, to discuss it with Jayne Bryant directly and further. There is work that has already gone on with the local authority in relation to local air quality plans, so such a task and finish group would have work to draw on in trying to devise some here-and-now solutions to the difficulties that are faced in that part of Wales, and I'm grateful to her for raising that possibility with us this afternoon.

First Minister, last week a statement was issued, signed by dozens of businesses and council leaders, calling on the Welsh Government to press ahead with the M4 relief road around Newport. Signatories included Sir Terry Matthews and bosses of businesses such as Aston Martin, Tata and Admiral—companies described by the director of the Confederation of British Industry in Wales as people who have their finger on the pulse of the Welsh economy.

One company accused your Government of stalling for time and looking for reasons not to build the relief road. First Minister, do you agree with these businesses and council leaders that delaying a decision is holding back the Welsh economy and will you take this opportunity to provide a date by which this matter will be brought before this Assembly? It's been going on for the last nearly eight to 10 years, and every day passing by is mounting up the extra cost of building, or whichever way you want to think of it. It's desperately needed for this road to be developed and make sure of this congestion, which would improve our economy, health, education and, more than anything else, our sports. Thank you.

14:05

Well, Llywydd, I was listening when the Member's leader asked me those identical questions earlier on this afternoon and I don't think I'll take Members' time by repeating the same answers, Members having already heard the same questions. 

The Administrative Devolution of Welfare

5. Will the First Minister set out the Welsh Government’s policy on the administrative devolution of welfare? OAQ53335

I thank the Member for that. We will explore the case for devolving administration of aspects of the benefit system to Wales. In doing so, we will take into account the work of Assembly committees on this matter and experience elsewhere. Any transfer of functions would have to be accompanied by the necessary funding.

The question of whether the administrative devolution of aspects of welfare can bring benefits by better aligning welfare with Welsh Government policies to tackle poverty and to deal with providing opportunity for all is one that's been around for a while. But there was a frisson of excitement last week, I have to say, at the welcome response of the First Minister to the question of my colleague John Griffiths on 15 January that the case has been made to explore the devolution of the administrative aspects of welfare. It's something I believed we should be open to consider when I was a Minister and I still believe it now. So, whilst recognising there are dangers, flagged indeed by the devolution of council tax benefit, where the UK Government short-changed us badly—that is a lesson learnt—I would urge him to explore this seriously, but with due diligence, with patience, neither to succumb to the over-enthusiasm of those who would ignore any dangers and seek this devolution at any cost to our Welsh exchequer base and our Welsh citizens, nor to succumb to the over-cautious who would say this is too perilous even to consider. Could the First Minister now indicate for us how he might take this work forward, and perhaps to what broad timescale, and whether he'll draw on the report of the Bevan Foundation in doing so?

Can I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for the supplementary question, because the spirit in which he suggests we should go about this is exactly the way that I want us to do it? I want us to do it seriously, I want us to do it positively, but I want us to do it in a way that recognises that there will be difficulties in the path as well as advantages to be gained. The Member is right to point to the fact that administering parts of the benefit system is not a wholly new idea as far as Wales is concerned. The fact that we have preserved a council tax benefit scheme here in Wales, the fact that we have a discretionary assistance fund, the fact that we are taking action to abolish imprisonment as a consequence of not paying council tax and to absolve care leavers under the age of 25 from paying the council tax—those are all examples of how, when we have the ability to do it, we are using the powers we already have in the benefit administration field. The report that our colleague John Griffiths's committee produced pointed to some of the impacts on people in Wales, for example, of the benefit sanctioning regimen. And we know the punitive way in which that has been administered in Wales and in other parts of the United Kingdom and that's why I am committed to exploring whether there are further ways in which we could do things differently and better here in Wales. I hope to explore with the Wales Centre for Public Policy whether they may be the best way in which we can take these first steps forward, looking further at the evidence the committees have considered, looking at the experience of Scotland to date, and then providing an evidence base for us of the sort that Huw Irranca-Davies has pointed to, one where we have courage to look at things that may be new to us but are sufficiently alert to the dangers that might still be there. 

I think, frankly, First Minister, that administrative devolution in this area would be a very meagre thing. Now, since 1945, the social contract that's been the bedrock of the welfare state is that a citizen has a direct relationship with the state for a level of economic security and, no matter where he or she lives in the United Kingdom, they have the same basic economic rights to benefits. If we mess about with this principle, we could end up breaking that consensus we currently enjoy and that sustains a welfare state. We need to be very, very careful about this sort of fragmentation.  

Well, Llywydd, this is not a principle that appealed to the Member's own Government when they forced administration of council tax onto us here in Wales, when they devolved the social fund to us against our wishes, when they insisted that we took responsibility for the disability living allowance without having asked us at all for it first. But, actually—. See, I happen to agree with what the Member says, but I make a different distinction to him. I don't want to see the break-up of the tax benefit system; I think it is part of the glue that holds the United Kingdom together. I am not talking about devolution of policy responsibility for these matters; I am talking about administrative devolution—the ability not for us to have a different system in Wales, but for the way in which that system is delivered on the ground to be in Welsh hands—and I think that's a different matter to the danger that the Member points to, and a danger that, actually, I happen to share. 

14:10

I welcome the recent shift from the Labour Government when it comes to the devolution of the administration of welfare benefits. There's no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of many people who work for homeless support agencies, that austerity is linked to the shocking rise in visible rough-sleeping on our streets, and it's no wonder that this has been described as reaching crisis point by Shelter Cymru. Scotland already has extensive powers over welfare, thanks to the proactive Government from the Scottish Nationalist Party in power there, and they are doing much better on the homelessness front. So, will you commission a study to look at how they mitigated welfare cuts from Westminster so that, if we are able to have those powers in Wales, there is a plan of action ready and waiting? And will you also agree to review what the Government can do in the meantime, using your existing powers, to provide some relief to the growing homelessness crisis we have here in this country? 

I absolutely agree with Leanne Wood that the rise in rough-sleeping is the most visible outcrop of the age of austerity, and it is a profound change in the way that we see that crisis in people's lives in front of us every day, compared to a decade ago. I do want to learn from the experience of devolution of welfare in Scotland. It's a process she will know that isn't due to be completed until 2021, so it is at the very early stages of it, but, nonetheless, in the sort of study that I referred to in my answer to Huw Irranca-Davies, I think capturing the experience of Scotland is important for us. Here in Wales, as far as rough-sleeping is concerned, we are putting more money into homelessness services next year as well as this year, and there are a whole range of initiatives that the Minister then responsible for it, Rebecca Evans, announced before Christmas. We've seen some figures published very recently that have some very small first signs that those initiatives are beginning to make a difference, and I want us to go on doing more to address those very, very disturbing signs that we see around us of people who are forced to live their lives in circumstances none of us would be prepared to see as acceptable. 

The Categorisation of Schools

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the categorisation of schools? OAQ53376

I thank Suzy Davies for that. Categorisation is not a mark of success or failure but a means of identifying the level of support a school needs. Last week’s figures showed that an increasing proportion of schools are becoming self-sustaining and requiring less external support. That is an upward trend from the year 2015 onwards.

Yes, and I hope we would all like to join in congratulating those schools who find that they are no longer in need of support; as you say, the purpose of categorisation is to identify whether schools need extra support. In view of some of the GCSE and A-level results we saw this year, though, and the revised figures on the attainment gap between children eligible for free school meals and their peers, were you surprised that fewer schools are now seen as needing some support? And I'd also be keen to know whether you think the system serves well those schools who are good but could be excellent, because good shouldn't be enough for our most able, talented staff and students? 

I think there's a danger that the Member may be confusing two different issues—the performance in relation to exam results, which are very important, and the need for a school to have support. Because the important point she made is this—that there may be a school that appears to have very good exam results, but where those results should be better still, given the nature of the intake it has. And that school may need support. It may need support in order to make sure that it delivers the added value that a school ought to provide, depending upon the nature of its catchment. So, in that sense, I'm not surprised at the figures we see here, because I don't think the two things are quite as directly correlated as the supplementary question suggested. 

Of course, I am pleased to see that more schools need fewer days of support, because I think that is a marker of improvement in the system. And where that isn't happening, and where we have a very small, but concerning, number of schools that are stuck in the red category, I know that my colleague Kirsty Williams is requiring local authorities to provide her with an account, at school level, of the plans that are there to make sure that those schools get the support they need to make sure that they are part of this improving picture as well.

14:15
The Impact of a 'No Deal' Brexit on the Automotive Sector in Wales

7. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit on the automotive sector in Wales? OAQ53378

I thank Lynne Neagle. Our assessment continues to demonstrate that leaving the European Union without a deal would be disastrous for the automotive sector. Such a possibility should be taken off the table by the UK Government and an extension sought now to the article 50 timetable.

Thank you, First Minister. Would you agree with me that the lesson from the weekend, and the very bad news from Nissan, is that while no deal would be the very worst outcome of all for the automotive industry, the reality is that any Brexit will see arguments and uncertainty continue for years, and every day of uncertainty is a day when investors stay away and jobs are under threat, especially in constituencies like mine? And would the First Minister also agree that whatever Brexit deal is agreed, it will only ever be a blindfold Brexit, because the political declaration that accompanies the withdrawal agreement is just a political wish list, the equivalent of motherhood and apple pie, and that whether it's Mrs May's deal, or Norway plus, or any other sort of Brexit, the negotiations and damaging uncertainty will likely continue for years to come?

Well, Llywydd, the Member is absolutely right that uncertainty is the enemy of investment and that is a message that the CBI and other industry-leading bodies have said for months and months and months. Brexit for them is not something that will happen after 29 March, Brexit is something that has been happening now for many months, and decisions are being made in businesses across Wales and across the United Kingdom, where things that would have been done and would have been in place and prosperity would have been supported—those things are not being done because of the uncertainty and the way in which this UK Government has managed to bungle Brexit right up to the very final line. And, of course, the Member is right—she will remember the debate we had here on the floor of the Assembly when Mrs May first declared her deal. There are things that are wrong with the withdrawal agreement, and we pointed to those here. But the things that are wrong with the political declaration are even more significant, and expecting this Assembly or anybody else to sign up to that flimsy document without any sorts of guarantees about the type of future that we need the other side of the European Union—no wonder she ended up with the defeat that she had, and no wonder that this Assembly was not willing to support it either.

Developing Participation in Sport

8. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's priorities with regard to developing participation in sport? OAQ53371

Amongst our priorities are increasing participation in sport by traditionally under-represented groups, the delivery of community sport and the strengthening of the relationship between physical activity and well-being. 

First Minister, success at a professional level is very important in terms of inspiring greater grass-roots participation, and in that context, I wonder if you would join me in acknowledging the success of Newport County in returning to the football league in recent times, in achieving a miraculous escape from relegation and then going on to the fourth round of the FA Cup last year, defeating Leeds United, drawing with Tottenham Hotspur and going to Wembley for the replay, and now tonight facing Middlesbrough in the fourth round of the FA Cup having defeated Leicester City in the last round. Would you agree with me that this is a fine example to those considering participation in football at the grass-roots level in Newport, First Minister? And will you also join me in sending all good wishes to Newport County for tonight's game?

I thank John Griffiths very much for that question. I absolutely join with him in sending, I'm sure, the best wishes of the whole Assembly to Newport County in their replay against Middlesbrough this evening, part of that remarkable record that Newport County has developed in recent years in cup competitions. And, of course, he is absolutely right that their success goes on to inspire people more widely in the area, the county. The community trust of Newport County we know is really active—48 per cent of young people in Wales participate in sport at least three times a week, but the figure for Newport is 58 per cent, and part of that undoubtedly is due to the inspirational effect of having successful professional sport in the area. We wish them the very best of luck in their replay this evening.

14:20
2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement and announcement—Rebecca Evans.

Two additional statements have been added to today's agenda, one on homelessness and rough-sleeping and an update on the Welsh mutual investment model. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on the latest waiting time statistics for accident and emergency patients in Welsh hospitals? Last month saw the lowest rate ever recorded for the month of December, with only 77.8 per cent of patients being seen within the four-hour waiting time target. Over 18,000 patients waited longer than four hours, with already 4,000 waiting over 12 hours to be seen by health professionals. Given that the waiting time target was set in 2008 and has never been met, can we have a statement from the Minister on the reasons why A&E waiting times last month were the worst on record for many previous Decembers? Thank you.

Thank you for that. I can confirm that the health Minister will be bringing forward a statement next week on unscheduled care winter pressures.

I'd like some clarity, please, from the Welsh Government about your policy when it comes to care homes and protecting and retaining public care homes in the public sector. I raise this matter because Labour-led Rhondda Cynon Taf council is looking to outsource public service provision to the private sector on the back of an alleged modernisation programme for services to the elderly, and this means that residential homes in Pentre, Treorchy, Gelli, Trealaw, Porth and Ferndale, along with some day-care services are under review and therefore under threat. This has caused a great deal of understandable concern to local people who I've spoken with, so could you please bring some clarity to this issue by bringing forward a statement from the Government on its care strategy?

I've just met Imam Sis, a Kurdish Plaid Cymru member who's been on hunger strike since 16 December in protest of Turkish oppression of his people. Central to this campaign is the bid to get the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, Abdullah Öcalan, freed from a Turkish prison. He's been incarcerated since 1999 under the most appalling conditions. Shamefully, the UK Government has looked the other way. Will you please join Plaid Cymru in extending solidarity with the Kurdish citizens of Wales who are protesting against oppression and standing for freedom?

I was disturbed to hear of Gilbert Watt, the case of a traveller from Cardiff who, with the assistance of the police, was ejected from a National Express coach that he had a valid ticket for. Mr Watt is a black Rastafarian, who was visiting his partner from London, and he'd made the journey with an e-ticket a number of occasions before without any problems. The fact that National Express has now apologised and offered him a refund, along with 10 complimentary journeys is very telling to me. Do you, like me, suspect that racism was behind this incident? And will you make a strong statement against such actions, which clearly discriminate against people?

Finally, I would be grateful if you would join me in acknowledging the work of Elfed Wyn Jones, Osian Hedd Harris, Aron Tudur Dafydd, Grisial Hedd Roberts, Iestyn Phillips and Caleb Siôn Davies after they took swift and positive action to reinstate the 'Cofiwch Dryweryn' graffiti in Llanrhystud? This is a landmark of national importance, so I, like many people across Wales, was appalled to hear that it had been defaced. These young people worked through the night on Sunday to right this wrong, and they've shown a knowledge of their own history but also a determination to effect positive change. Examples like this fill me with great hope for the future of this country, so will you join me in congratulating these young people for the action they took over the weekend? 

14:25

Thank you very much for raising these issues. I will certainly join you in congratulating those young people for the actions that they took over the weekend in the face of what I think was a particularly senseless and insensitive act with regard to the 'Cofiwch Dryweryn' memorial.

I would certainly say that Cadw, I think, has looked in the past at whether or not it should be a listed structure, and I know that even being a listed structure wouldn't prevent this kind of thing from happening again. But I know that Welsh Government would be keen to have some discussions with Llanrhystud Community Council and any other interested parties in terms of what we could do to better protect the site in future.

On the issue you raised regarding the Kurdish citizens of Wales, I can confirm that the international relations Minister did bring this matter up with the Turkish ambassador just last week, and perhaps she will be able to write to you with some more confirmation of those conversations that took place.

On the issue of discrimination, clearly, we would oppose discrimination wherever it takes place, and, certainly, organisations and businesses would have a responsibility to ensure that their staff always act in a manner that is very much within the letter and the spirit of all equalities legislation, and I would be concerned to hear of any examples where that wasn't taking place.

On the matter of the care strategy, I know that you'll have the opportunity to raise these concerns in health questions, which will be taking place tomorrow.

I would like to raise two issues and ask for two statements. Firstly, can we have a statement from the economy and transport Minister regarding road safety on the M4 between junction 44, which is in my constituency, and junction 46, which I believe is in the Minister's? There have been a large number of accidents, and locals have said about water drainage and the road surface in that area. 

Secondly, can I return to the job losses at Virgin Media call centre in Swansea? In January, you told me that the first tranche of those staff did leave in November and there were a further two phases planned for this year. Virgin Media's outplacement support team has taken on responsibility for providing staff with on-site access to key partners of our Welsh Government taskforce, including Careers Wales, the Department for Work and Pensions and local employers. The jobs fair in October took place on the Virgin Media site and there are further job fairs planned to coincide with the initial tranches of staff who will be leaving. So, those further jobs fairs will be timed in relation to those further tranches of people who will be leaving the company. Can we now have a Government statement, or can you make a response and provide a further update on what is happening there, which affects your constituency, Julie James's, mine and many others?

Thank you very much for raising both of these issues. Certainly, there is concern over the accidents that have recently taken place between junctions 44 and 46 on the motorway, and, certainly, I was very sorry indeed to hear about the recent fatal accident that occurred at junction 45, and, clearly, we would want to pass on our sympathies to the family of the person involved. Ensuring safety on our road network is our primary concern here, and officials are currently awaiting the police's detailed report and investigation into that particular collision. I can say that maintenance work is planned on this section of the M4 between junctions 45 and 46—eastbound and westbound carriageways—and programming of work will depend on prioritisation and the availability of funding. But in the meantime, our agent will continue to inspect the section on a regular basis and repair safety-related defects as and when they arise.

On the matter of Virgin Media and the job losses, I don't have much further to add to that information that you have given us this afternoon, other than to confirm that the further two phases of redundancies will be planned for later this year, and we will have those jobs fairs to coincide with those leaving dates. I know that Mike Hedges and Julie James and others are very closely involved in this issue and talking to the workforce, and so, it would be useful to know of any other additional issues that are outstanding that Welsh Government might be able to help with.

Organiser, could we have two statements, please? One in relation to the Welsh Government-proposed and Vale of Glamorgan Council-proposed new road from Sycamore Cross to the M4 in Miskin. We've had a change of Government, I would suggest—not a change of party, but a change of Government—with a new Minister and a new First Minister, and it would be interesting, certainly for residents in the area affected to know whether there has been any change of policy in the transport plan, because, obviously, we're conscious that the new deputy Minister is road averse, I would suggest, and residents would like to understand if there's any change in planning, and indeed, change of planning and the support that might come from Welsh Government to pay for this project.

And, secondly, could we have a statement from the Minister for rural affairs in relation to her consultation around Lucy's Law, i.e. third-party puppy sales? This is an area of great debate across Wales. Most local authorities have endorsed the proposal around Lucy's Law. Those who haven't, I'm confidently told, will be coming on board shortly. I do understand that the Minister is proposing to bring a consultation forward. To date, that consultation hasn't come into the public domain yet, so an understanding of how that might proceed in the near future would be very welcome indeed. 

14:30

Thank you very much for those questions. On the issue of the new road in Miskin, I think perhaps it might be most appropriate for you to write to the Minister with responsibility for transport to get the clarity that you're seeking on behalf of your constituents there.

And on the issue of Lucy's Law, I'll certainly have a conversation with the Minister to explore when further detail on that consultation and any proposed actions following it might be forthcoming. 

I’d like to raise issues regarding the transparency of the machinery of Welsh Government and  proper ministerial accountability to this Senedd. For some time now, there has been some ambiguity as to which Minister is accountable to the National Assembly for the civil service, which supports ministerial work. In Westminster, that responsibility is given very clearly to the Prime Minister, but the list of ministerial responsibilities recently published by the Welsh Government doesn’t throw much light on this issue, and I have a response to two written questions that were tabled by Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, asking the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, to explain how the mechanisms of the civil service have changed following the appointment of his new Cabinet. He states in response that staffing responsibilities are delegated to the Permanent Secretary and that Shan Morgan will write to Adam Price with a response. And in response to another particular question, asking quite clearly which Minister is responsible to this Assembly for the civil service, the response is the same, namely that staffing issues are delegated to the Permanent Secretary. Now, I ask you, therefore, for some clarity on this issue: which Minister does account to this Assembly for the civil service and the administration in their entirety that supports the Welsh Government?

On an issue related to the transparency of the civil service, I’ve been concerned for some time about the inability to access information about staffing levels and staffing structures in terms of Welsh language standards, because that can have a direct impact on Government policy in that area and on the delivery of Government policy. It used to be Government practice to publish a structural chart of the main departments and the senior civil servants. I have searched for such a chart but the latest I’ve been able to find dates back to May 2017, and it is dated. I had to search the very depths of the Welsh Government website, and the archive, indeed, to discover this. The Mark Drakeford Government has been very eager, on the face of it at least, to emphasise a new approach to open Government. In that spirit, therefore, can you ensure that there is a current, up-to-date version of a senior civil servant structural chart, as well as their departments, available as a matter of urgency to Assembly Members and the people of Wales?

Thank you for raising these issues. On the first, I don't think I can add anything further to that which was in both of the answers to the written questions to Adam Price. I've seen the answers myself, and I know that there is the intention, as you say, for Shan Morgan to write to Adam Price in response to his queries as well.

I'll certainly explore the issue you've raised about transparency in relation to the Welsh language standards, with regard to the senior civil service particularly, and I will write to you with further information. 

14:35

Leader of the house, last Saturday I attended a meeting of the Neath Port Talbot 1950s Women—make sure I get that terminology right. It was a packed meeting, with over 400 in attendance. Now, I appreciate that pensions, and this issue in particular, is a Westminster matter, but the consequences actually come in devolved competencies. If we have women who are no longer able to retire at the time they thought, and they have caring responsibilities, where are those caring responsibilities going to lie? They will rely on services offered within Wales. So, there are many issues that actually are within our devolved competencies. It's important that we get fair deals for these women, and I declare an interest, Llywydd as I have family members—I won't name them, in case I get shot when I go home—who are in that bracket. But it is important that we are seeing many, many women disadvantaged to the level where they may not be able to finish work simply because they could not afford to finish work. They may have other responsibilities, which puts an added pressure upon them. It is time now we do as much as we can to help them. Can you give a statement from the Welsh Government as to what action it has taken to raise these issues with the UK Government, to ensure that Welsh citizens who are in this bracket are actually going to be benefiting from the deals? There are various deals being discussed, but they deserve what they expected, and that is a pension from the state at the age of 60.

Thank you very much for raising this issue. As you say, pension matters are not devolved, but the impact that it's having on the women concerned is very much a concern for Welsh Government. Welsh Government has written to the UK Government to express our concerns about the impact that the pension Acts of 1995 and 2011 are disproportionately having on women who have had their state pension age raised significantly, without effective or sufficient notification. And, as you say, many women in this particular age group have worked in part-time jobs, often low-paid jobs, taken time off work to look after children and elderly relatives, and have also been subject to gender inequality in terms of pay for most of their working lives. So, it's clearly a great unfairness that is being done to this particular cohort of women. As I say, we've already written to the UK Government on this, but you've raised it here in the Chamber, and I'd be certainly pleased to do so again.

3. Statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government: Homelessness and Rough-sleeping

The next item is the statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government on homelessness and rough-sleeping. I call on the Minister to make her statement—Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. Llywydd, this Government is committed to ensuring everyone lives in a home that meets their needs. Meeting this commitment is made all the more challenging by the continuing austerity and uncertainty. The most pressing and difficult challenge is in meeting the needs of those who are furthest from secure, suitable housing, in particular those sleeping rough on our streets in tents and doorways, but also those whose homelessness is less visible but just as real.

We have this morning published the annual rough-sleeper count for Wales. The annual count aims to identify rough-sleepers on a particular night. It also includes the findings of a two-week data gathering exercise, using information from a range of services, to provide evidence of the levels of rough-sleeping over a longer time period. The data provides a snapshot of a continuously changing picture. In broad terms, the data indicates that our collective efforts may be beginning to have an impact. In the face of increasing pressures on households, the number of people sleeping rough appears to be stabilising overall, and, in some areas, numbers show a decrease. However, even one person sleeping rough on our streets is one person too many. Like all other Assembly Members who are familiar with the reality on the streets of our towns and cities, I know that rough-sleeping remains at a persistent and unacceptable level in Wales.

This is not a situation unique to Wales. Rough-sleeping is sadly evident in all major towns and cities. This is not acceptable and, in my view, it is not inevitable. Decent housing ought to be a basic human right in a rich country like ours, but the impact of welfare reform, coupled with almost a decade of austerity, is adding to the pressure on households and their access to affordable accommodation. The Welsh Government has invested significantly in preventing and tackling homelessness over the last three years. We are building on that investment, with over £30 million more this year and next. We are also committed to building more affordable housing and to protecting our social housing stock. There are signs that the combination of our groundbreaking homelessness legislation and this financial investment are making a difference.

Almost 19,700 households were successfully prevented from becoming homeless between April 2015 and the end of September 2018. This is particularly positive given that the numbers of households assessed as threatened with homelessness rose by 12 per cent compared to the same quarter the previous year. Despite this significant increase in demand, local authorities managed to maintain service levels, preventing homelessness in 65 per cent of cases. Rough-sleeping is the most acute and visible form of homelessness. People sleeping on our streets often have a range of complex needs that accommodation alone will not address. If we believe the numbers of rough-sleepers to be persistent and unacceptably high, we must then question whether our service models are responding adequately to the needs of people who find themselves on our streets. We must learn from people’s lived experience and seek innovative responses that have individuals at their centre.

We need to ask ourselves whether the additional funding has had an impact, and whether service models adequately support the complex needs of people to help them off the streets and into long-term accommodation. I want local authorities to be bold and brave. I commend them and every single individual who works so hard to support rough-sleepers and help them turn their lives around.

There are some innovative approaches being trialled across Wales. In Wrexham, the community care hub is one such example. As the First Minister recently saw first-hand, it offers rough-sleepers unique access to GP, mental health, substance misuse, housing, outreach, job centre and other support services all in one room. Wrexham council is also seeing early signs of success with its 'assertive outreach' approach. The approach focuses on multidisciplinary support that is persistent and purposeful, with the primary aim of ending homelessness.

I am pleased to report real progress in taking forward Housing First in Wales. Although still early days, we are already seeing evidence of its success with some of our most complex rough-sleepers. We are working with local authorities and the wider sector to roll out a further programme of Housing First trailblazers, supported by over £700,000 of additional funding next year. We are also focusing on how we co-ordinate and share best practice from these early projects.

Housing First breaks with our traditional staircase, earned rewards approach to helping people off the street. Its success is couched in the fact that it puts the individual at the centre. It does not require them to earn the next step on the journey. It accepts that individuals may have a complex mix of issues and needs. Fundamentally, it recognises that individuals may be better able to manage or address issues such as mental ill health or substance misuse and engage with services when they have a stable place to call home.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Salvation Army Housing First project in Cardiff and was able to speak to one of the service users and hear about how Housing First has made a dramatic difference to his life. It was evident that the success of Housing First lies in bringing together a range of services, each working in new, flexible and responsive ways to meet the needs of homeless people.

The importance of multi-agency buy-in and flexibility is also being recognised in Ceredigion. They see the importance of all services and partners working together, actively seeking solutions to the complex needs of individuals. Ceredigion aims to prove that a shared commitment to tailoring services to individuals, rather than the other way around, can really reap rewards.

As well as encouraging local authorities to ask themselves hard questions, learn from one another and change their delivery models, I will also be encouraging them to work alongside my own department to reflect on what we may need to do differently. The aim, longer term, is to align our funding to local authority statutory homelessness strategies. It will be important that these plans clearly demonstrate how public and third sector organisations will work together strategically to deliver greatest impact. I want to see genuine collaboration between all partners across a locality. I will be asking myself and my ministerial colleagues to provide the same level of purpose, commitment and strategic cohesion. The unacceptable circumstances of every homeless and roofless citizen requires, and deserves, nothing less. 

14:40

I would like to start with areas of what I think are profound agreement, probably, across the Chamber, on this most important of issues, I think—a whole barometer for the sort of civility we have in society, or otherwise. I think rough-sleepers are the most vulnerable, in terms of being so far from secure, suitable housing. I was pleased to hear that from the Minister. While rough-sleeping remains persistent, it is unacceptable and it is not inevitable, and that is the view we need to hear from Government. Decent housing is a basic human right. I think that was a very clear statement after the second world war, but it perhaps has been lost in recent decades to some extent, and we do need to reassert it. We must be bold and brave—I like those words and I commend you for them—and test our current service models. On these principles, we can build a robust consensus and approach to this challenging issue.

The Minister referred to the success of the housing Act in shifting Wales to a focus on prevention, and I've heard a lot of people commend the Government's approach. So, in concentrating on a couple of deficiencies, I do still want to be balanced and say that I have heard people commend the approach and urge it on other parts of the UK. However, I have also repeatedly heard that a key deficiency of the 2014 Act is that local authorities are only required to assist those who actively seek assistance. Now, of course, many do go beyond that, but the requirement in the law is to respond to those who actively seek assistance, and local authorities can end their homelessness duties if an individual fails to co-operate with the local authority—again, it doesn't say that they must, but they can. And, finally, nor do rough-sleepers in the legislation automatically acquire priority-need status.

Now, the Minister has endorsed the housing first model, and I agree with her that it is probably the best way forward in terms of tackling rough-sleepers, but I do think some of the things that have now been, if not enshrined, then permitted in the legislative approach don't quite align with that. In fairness, I think you made reference to some of the difficulties of an earned approach in granting housing, but I do think that we need to carefully look at the legislation to see how it is operating at this level of bringing relief to rough-sleepers, and the need currently to seek assistance and then to, in an ongoing way, co-operate can't be there as the central principle of the legislation. That should not be how it is interpreted, because, obviously, rough-sleepers have very, very complex needs, as you said, and their circumstances are also highly complex.

I think the Wrexham model is genuinely encouraging because they have what you've called 'assertive outreach' and that does seem to me where we need to be going in terms of how we interpret the legislation, and so I hope that you will confirm that.

Finally, I emphasise innovative work found in the voluntary sector. I hope Members have had a chance to read Lindsay Cordery-Bruce's insightful and compassionate article in yesterday's Western Mail. I have to say, Llywydd, I think this was one of the best commentary articles I've read in many years in any newspaper, frankly, on this subject, and I do urge Members who've not had a chance to read it to do so. Lindsay emphasises the need for an active approach to, quote,

'put compassion back into commissioning'.

End quote. And that ACEs—adverse childhood experiences—need particular attention. Now, I know the Government is looking at ACEs, and I think to bring it into this sector is very important. She also says that homelessness has become a crisis of leadership as much as a crisis of housing, and I think it's for us now to try and combine and have this vigorous consensus and move things along.

And I'll just finish from another part of the voluntary sector, with Crisis's chief executive, John Sparks, who said, after the statistics were published today, and I quote:

'It's nothing short of a national scandal that night after night there are still people forced to sleep rough on our sleeps, especially when we know that if we take the right steps it could be ended for good.'

We all need to work to that end.

14:45

Thank you for those remarks. I don't disagree with any of them, really. I think there's some small degree of emphasis, perhaps—very nuanced—that we would disagree with, but, in general, I think we're going in the right way.

I think there's lots to be learned from how far we've come, what's been effective and what hasn't been effective and, in fairness, all over the western world, we have a similar problem, and the models that are being developed—we seek to learn from the best of those models. So, Housing First seems to me a very self-evidently sensible solution. It can take many months, however, to get somebody who has been rough-sleeping with a number of complex problems into the secure accommodation that they need. But we are very much looking to move away from the, sort of, staircase of earned reward that we've hitherto had. Not that that hasn't worked for some people. It will have worked for some people, but, really, what we're looking at is what's called trauma-centred approaches, individualised to the individual person, because every individual is different. So, I'm sure that there are perfectly good housing opportunities available that would make me very unhappy but that might make somebody else very happy. The point is to try and discover what that person is most likely to be able to sustain and what support services they require to do so. It may be, for some people, that being put into a flat and given a basic level of income is enough, and for others they will need a lot more support than that.

So, the model is centered around that person-centered approach, and I was very privileged to meet a gentleman who had benefited from that and was very sure that without that he would not have been able to come in off the street. So, I agree with that. We are looking and we have various reviews going on, started by my colleague Rebecca Evans when she was the housing Minister—reviews into priority need and several of the other things that David Melding mentioned, looking to see what has been effective and what we need to do to shift the conversation onwards. I'm glad you like the Wrexham model because I think there is much to be said for that kind of assertive outreach, as it's called. Having said that, though, in the end, we have also got to respect what the individual themselves thinks that they need and is able to express to us. So, it is about the careful balance between that person's individual rights and our need to support that individual back into sustainable accommodation.

14:50

Your statement claims that the number of rough-sleepers appears to be stabilising, but that's based on the rough-sleeping count, which still shows a 45 per cent increase since 2015. Furthermore, whilst those counts are useful in some respects, they can miss rough-sleepers who've been driven from the areas where people are being counted, which we know is happening as a result of over-zealous policing, and in some cases bad policy as well. The other data that we have suggests the problem is still on the increase. A 27 per cent increase in households threatened with homelessness since 2015, for example, does indicate the sheer numbers that we're talking about here. So, would you accept that it's too soon to say that the pressures that cause homelessness appear to be stabilising? After all, we don't have universal credit rolled out completely yet, and we know that that's likely to increase homelessness even further.

Secondly, your statement refers to the groundbreaking legislation, legislation that of course retains the Pereira test and priority need categories, despite the advice that the entire sector was giving to you. The Wales Audit Office have highlighted that, and I quote,

'Local authorities are reacting to the problems caused by homelessness with varying degrees of success, but there is limited focus on preventing the fundamental causes of homelessness'.

Now, your statement does imply that you know this, because you say that local authorities need to ask themselves some very, very hard questions. So, can you tell us what those questions would be, please?

Thirdly, I can't see any mention of the recent Crisis report on how to end homelessness in the UK, which is the most comprehensive plan that I've seen. Do you intend to read that plan? And finally, your statement mentions a number of housing first projects, and housing first is a philosophy that we endorse. Your statement notes that adopting this model is a move away from traditional staircase approaches, but can you elaborate on this, please, in terms of how the Welsh Government will be using its powers and, for example, funding to ensure a move towards Housing First? Can you also explain how retaining priority need is compatible with the housing first policy, please?

Yes, thank you for those remarks. I'd be very happy to try and do my best for those. We are having a review of the priority need system, which Rebecca Evans commissioned, and we are expecting to report back in April of this year, with a view to seeing very much largely what the Member has talked about—what's happening on the ground, what we should be doing to change it, if anything, and so on. So, I'm going to wait and see what that brings, but it was commissioned with a view to many of the things that she set out in her remarks.

In terms of the Crisis report, I've met with Crisis already. I'm very interested in what they've got to say. We have a number of pilots running. We want to see how those are evaluated. We are very, very interested in looking to see what we can do with a view to some of the things—the Housing First approach, the person-centred arrangements that are set out in that report.

The questions the local authorities should ask themselves are: are they learning from the best practice around them? I mentioned a number of authorities—Ceredigion, Wrexham, just to name two—we have good practice in our local authorities. It's not in every local authority. So, in working with the Welsh Local Government Association more generally, actually, for local authorities, not just in housing, we are looking to push good practice across the local authority sector in a number of ways. I'll be looking to local authorities to work together properly to make sure that we are having the best practice spread across Wales, and that we are not going at the pace of the slowest, so to speak, and that's not just in housing, that's across a range of services. Because we do have excellent practice in Wales, but that's not as universal as you and I would both very much like to see.

In terms of the universal credit roll-out, I absolutely take her point. I said in my statement that the rough-sleeper count is a snapshot of a very movable feast. We know that it hides a number of statistics of people who are not in secure accommodation but who are still able to sofa-surf or are at the behest of friends or family. We know that it hides those things. We know that local authorities have made some strides in preventing homelessness, but they are fighting a rising tide of poverty driven by austerity, and universal credit roll-out is certainly not helping that. So, I concur with everything she said there.

It's for us to see what we can do to help local authorities not just hold the tide, if you like, but actually accelerate it in the other direction, and that's very much what the reviews that we've commissioned will be looking to do over the next year.

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

14:55

First, can I welcome the ministerial statement? Can I also welcome some of the comments made by colleagues earlier? I especially welcome distinguishing between homelessness and rough-sleeping. Homelessness includes those of no fixed abode who sofa-surf thanks to the kindness of friends and family, but in many cases they are just one night away from sleeping rough. There are also those who are inadequately housed in overcrowded accommodation, often staying with family or friends, and are neither homeless nor rough-sleepers but need different accommodation. And that, sadly, includes children.

There are a number of hostels that do a good job but some individuals would prefer the street to the hostels for all sorts of personal reasons, which I know the Minister is well aware of. Does the Minister agree with me that the only way we are going to reduce homelessness and rough-sleeping is by building council houses in sufficient numbers to meet demand, providing support to get the homeless and rough-sleepers into permanent accommodation, ending no-fault evictions, and developing co-operative housing initiatives?

The very short answer to that is 'yes'. I do entirely agree with the Member. We absolutely are determined both to deliver our affordable homes target, but much more importantly build homes for social rent at scale. Now that the UK Government has come back to the 1945 consensus, if I can put it that way, and removed the housing revenue account caps and so on, it means that our authorities are freed up to build the housing that we so very much need.

The big thing will be for us to build the right sort of housing in the right places. So, some of it will just be standard social homes for rent, but some of it will be supported accommodation, and that will be both for people coming back in off the streets, and the right sorts of support and so on—and as I said, one size certainly doesn't fit all there—and it will also be step-down accommodation, so freeing up our NHS, for example, in allowing assisted placements out into the community. It will also mean building sustainable communities once more. Now, this is a point where David Melding and I don't agree, I have to say. I bitterly regret what happened with the right to buy and what happened in the council estates where I grew up, which have turned from sustainable mixed communities into communities where we have one socioeconomic group isolated away from everyone else. I think that is the wrong thing to have done, it did not work, and I would very much like to drive sustainable mixed communities back into those estates by building and adapting those houses so that a number of different uses can be put back there, so that, without wanting to seem nostalgic for my childhood, it resembles much more the estate that I grew up on than the isolated social groups that we currently see. Mike Hedges set out beautifully, actually, the things we need to do in order to achieve that, and we're very determined to do them.

Thanks, Minister, for your statement today. We did have an inquiry on the problems of homelessness and rough-sleeping on the communities committee last year, and as David Melding mentioned, in many cases it is a complex picture, and you've alluded to this in your statement today. So, sometimes it needs complex and cross-cutting approaches to solve these problems, and I was heartened by your references to the approach in Wrexham, where obviously you'll need to monitor how the outcomes pan out. But it seems that you do often need some sort of cross-cutting approach, and that may well be what they're doing with their community care hubs. So, that might be some example that perhaps we can draw on when we look at this across the breadth of Wales.

Now, one visible issue that we have witnessed recently is the increase in people living in tents in urban centres, which is becoming a controversial issue. Clearly, people would seem to be better off in tents than living outside exposed to the elements—that would appear to be clear—but I think we do need to be mindful that people within the housing sector have raised issues over this, with the potential problem that what appears to be a short-term solution of living in a tent might turn into a long-term solution, and might actually deter people in the long run from seeking more viable long-term housing solutions.

So, people in organisations like the Wallich are raising issues over this. I think we need to investigate why sometimes people are more willing to live in tents rather than seek shelter at the overnight shelters. Now, there is some anecdotal evidence from the recent media reports, and some of the people who have been interviewed—some of the homeless people living in the tents—have pointed out that sometimes the overnight shelters are not as attractive for them as living in a tent and sometimes they find the situations that they're in in an overnight shelter are not that safe. So, I think we do have to try to work out how to make it more viable for people to actually be housed in the overnight shelter.

I think drug use is becoming an issue—there is some evidence that the longer people stay homeless the harder it is for them to reintegrate and the more likely they are to be exploited on the streets by drug pedlars. Actually, many of the people who are in the tents—the ones who have been quoted—seem to be saying that one of the reasons they don't want to go into the overnight shelters is to avoid interaction with drug users. But, actually, if they stay in the tents, there is some evidence that they could end up getting involved with drug users even against their own wishes.

So, these are complex problems, and I appreciate that the solutions are not always that easy. I think there is some evidence that rough-sleeping in Scotland—the figures may have stabilised, so I wonder whether there are lessons that we can learn from their approach there. Some people have also noted that a lot of charities, possibly, on occasion, seem to be competing against each other. Can we work to ensure that the charities do work together to help to resolve these issues? Diolch yn fawr.

15:00

I think the Member highlights very well the sheer complexity of the difficulties that face us. I would certainly not want to criticise anyone who helps a homeless person have a tent that stops them sleeping in a doorway, because it can make the difference between life and death. However, clearly that is not a sustainable solution. The whole purpose of the housing first approach is to be able to offer people secure permanent accommodation and not have to have them go in and out of night shelters and so on, which, clearly, is only a minor step up from sleeping in the street.

Having said that, the night shelters are a very important part of the mix. We are helping many of the charities that run the night shelters with things like more security and better living space, if you like, but one size doesn't fit all. For some people, that will just not be an acceptable place to go—for others, it will be a lifeline. So, you know—. The Member highlights the complexity, and what I've said in my statement and in answering questions across the floor is: it is quite clear to me, and as clear as the nose on your face, really, that each individual will have a different set of needs, and you need to design a different set of interventions for that individual. The idea that you can have some kind of universal service that fits everybody—clearly, that just does not work.

As I've said very clearly, I'm absolutely convinced that a suitable accommodation offer for the Deputy Presiding Officer, for example, might not be anything that I would find suitable accommodation, because we are very different individuals. We need to be able to recognise the humanity of the person who's homeless and get them the sort of home that they would be able to sustain long term, and that has a huge range of complexities associated with it.

I'd just like to say two other things, though. The first is, just to be clear, that not all people who are rough-sleepers have substance abuse problems—some of them do and some of them don't, so that's not a universal characteristic either. And that isn't the problem in every night shelter either, so the problem is that it's very complex and looks very different depending on where you shine your searchlight.

I'd just like to pay tribute, first of all, to all of the people, both staff and volunteers, who every single day and night are averting people from becoming homeless and supporting those who are on the streets. Every single night, there is a hot meal available to people who are destitute, and there's a huge amount of work going on and people working their socks off. Cardiff council's homeless outreach team helped no less than 54 people on one night last week into emergency accommodation—obviously, when we had the most extreme weather. We still have 90 emergency places available for people who can be persuaded to go into emergency accommodation in what was very dangerously cold weather a few days ago. I also pay tribute to fact Cardiff outperforms the Welsh average. 

Three quarters of the people who sought early advice about becoming homeless were actually helped into alternative accommodation rather than waiting until they were on the streets. So, obviously that's a really important message to anybody in that situation. 

Unfortunately, we know that the main cause of homelessness is not addictions of one sort or another. It is, unfortunately, mortgage and rent arrears and that is because of a deliberate policy by the UK Government not to allow in-work benefits to keep pace with prices, and family breakdown will instantly lead to people not being able to pay their rent. 

So, there's been a 247 per cent increase in the last year in Cardiff, compared with the previous year, as a result of mortgage and rent arrears, and that is a cause for concern. So, the desperate need for more social housing, I think, is top of my list of concerns, because people who are in temporary accommodation are waiting too long before being able to be moved into permanent accommodation, because we simply don't have enough. We've already got a lot of people inappropriately housed who do have a roof over their heads.

So, really—I know that there are intermediate pods being built as part of the innovative housing programme in Cardiff by Cadwyn, and I wondered if you can tell us when they might become available, because they're a bit like Ikea pods—everything available, privacy, security. And also you mentioned the trailblazer Salvation Army Housing First project that you visited recently. It would be very useful to hear a bit more about that. Otherwise, does the Government have any concrete plans to abolish section 21, which is forcing many people to become homeless, because they are simply unable to provide alternative accommodation when their private landlord decides they don't want to house them any longer?  

15:05

So, starting with that one, we are actively pursuing any legislative opportunity that would arise in order for us to deal with the section 21 issues. I'm not actually in a position to say what that is but we are very actively pursuing the various options that are available to us, within the legislative programme, to be able to address some of those issues.

We're also, as you heard me saying in response to other questions, looking to have a very serious mass social housing build policy, and we're looking to work with local authorities as fast as possible to free up public land in order to be able to do that. We're working very hard—Rebecca Evans and I are working very hard to make sure that the cap arrangements for the housing revenue account are removed from every authority that currently has one. I think we've got four left to go, but anyway it's not very many more to go. We're very much encouraging local authorities to step up to that plate and use their prudential borrowing powers in order to start the build for houses for social rent.

We're also, of course, pursuing our affordable homes policy, which—we're confident that we will get to our 20,000 affordable homes. But that's not the only solution that's needed, as Jenny Rathbone rightly says. We have a very bad housing shortage and that is driving some of the homelessness. But also we have a rising tide of poverty driven by austerity, which is also contributing to the family breakdown, stress and so on that she very ably outlined, I think. 

So, I go back to saying we need to learn from those very good authorities that have got excellent programmes. We need to spread the best practice across Wales. And I would like to finish by saying what I did say in my statement: to express the Government's very enormous gratitude to all of the people who work in this sector—the third sector, the local authorities, the volunteers and so on—without whom we would have had very many more deaths on the streets. 

I'm grateful to you for your statement, Minister, and I very much welcome the focus on enabling a greater supply of social housing. I think that's absolutely essential to get to resolve many of the issues we've been debating this afternoon. But also I would like to seek your views on talking about homeless people as human beings, and not simply numbers and statistics. Has the Government plans to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824? We're aware that the Vagrancy Act is still in force in parts in Wales, and it does criminalise people who are attempting to live on the streets and who are attempting to create survival strategies whilst living on the street. And we know that this is a pernicious piece of nineteenth century legislation that has no place on the modern statute book. So, I'd be grateful if the Government would outline any plans they would have to repeal that Act, but also, then, introduce new rights for people who are living on the streets. We know, for example, that people who are rough-sleeping do not have access to the medical support that they require, but neither do they have access to things that many of us would take for granted in our daily lives, like access to fresh, clean drinking water, for example. So, as well as repealing the legislation that criminalises people, we also need to ensure that people have the sorts of rights that many people take for granted.

And, finally, Minister, I heard your replies earlier on issues around substance misuse, but I would emphasise to you that I believe that creating a holistic approach to dealing with substance misuse and mental health, which does affect and impact many, many people who are homeless, would impact the ability of people then to sustain their lives in the future. We recognise—I think there's a wide recognition—that at the moment we simply do not have a holistic approach to policy in place; we deal with substance misuse in one place, we deal with mental health, and we deal with housing separately. We need to bring these areas together to enable us to ensure that people who have found themselves homeless are able to be sustained not simply for one night, but able to rebuild their lives.   

15:10

Yes indeed, I completely agree with that. That's, in fact, the complete basis on which the housing first strategy is based. I mentioned the innovative project in Wrexham that brings all of the services into a single room so that people have ease of access and so on. And the whole purpose of the housing first approach is that getting somebody into a secure, long-term home that they can regard as home makes it much more obvious that they will be able to access the decent services that come with having an address and a place you call home, whereas, if you're in a ladder of temporary accommodation and so on, you continue to experience the difficulties of not having those permanent services that people have when they have a decent, secure place to live. So, I completely agree with him, and we are looking across the Government at how we can improve the access to services for people who are right on the acute end, the rough-sleepers, but, actually, all the people that Mike Hedges mentioned—the people who are sofa-surfing—and the people that Jenny Rathbone mentioned—family breakdown as a result of serious financial difficulties and so on— that we are all aware of in our communities.

And can I just finish by agreeing with him absolutely that the whole purpose of this is to treat the poor, unfortunate human being who has found themselves in that position as a human being because, frankly, it could happen to any one of us. It's only luck that you don't end up in that circumstance, and so I think we absolutely have to treat each individual as the individual human that they are, and we have to make sure that we have a trauma-centred approach that gives that individual a tailored response.

And, in terms of the Act that he mentioned, we are looking across the piece at the interaction of various legislation, some of which we have the powers to do something about, others that have had unintended consequences—the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, for example, is having unintended consequences in this space—that we will need to work with the UK Government on to secure the changes that we need. 

Thank you for your statement, Minister. Homelessness and rough-sleeping are one of the nation’s greatest shames. The fact that we don’t have enough housing for our citizens is bad enough, but the fact that we neglect those in mental anguish, leading to them sleeping in shop doorways, is disgraceful, and I hope you'll agree with me. A large percentage of those forced to sleep rough are ex-forces. They leave service, often suffering from the physical and mental wounds inflicted upon them during conflict, expecting to be housed by a grateful nation, only to be abandoned, untreated and homeless.

People who were prepared to give their lives defending us and our nation are now treated badly, pushed aside, as if out of sight, out of mind. And this, by God, isn’t good enough. Politicians of all persuasions have attacked rough-sleepers as detritus to be moved from our streets without tackling the underlying causes, without thinking about the terrible suffering rough-sleepers experience. People don’t choose to sleep in shop doorways—they are forced to. We shouldn't be making them feel ashamed, as it is us who should feel the shame. I know of several veterans who feel forced to hide away their rough-sleeping behind bins or in bushes because of how they're treated. Where is the compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves?

When I worked at HMP Parc, people were in prison for vagrancy. They should not have been in prison; they should have been helped within our community. Unfortunately, successive Governments have failed to provide sufficient affordable housing, leading to this rise in homelessness. Minister, how is your Government increasing the supply of affordable housing this year? Welsh Labour have been in power in Wales for nearly two decades and yet homelessness has increased. So, will you accept that your policies are to blame for the increase?

Helsinki has virtually eliminated rough-sleeping over the last couple of decades, and since 2007, the Finnish Government has based its homeless policies on the policies of housing first. Minister, what lessons have you learnt from the Finnish experience?

According to Shelter, housing first accommodation is a better option for people with long-term mental health issues or substance misuse problems, yet Wales has very little housing first accommodation. Minister, can you outline how you plan to rectify this?

And finally, Minister, what specific action will your Government take to support homeless veterans and ensure that military personnel receive help, support and treatment upon discharge, in order to prevent their eventual homelessness and rough-sleeping?

15:15

Well, Deputy Presiding Officer, I think I covered quite a lot of what the Member asked me in answers to previous Assembly Members. I didn't, however, address the issue about veterans, which I think is something that she's right to raise. Under the priority need legislation, the priority need for armed services personnel only applies at the point of discharge from the regular armed forces, and it doesn't apply to reservists, spouses or other members of the extended family. We have, however, within the code of guidance, suggested local authorities, when considering urgent housing need, give additional preference to anyone who has a serious injury, medical condition, or any impairment, which they or a member of their household has sustained as a result of service in the armed forces. And we also have a specific housing pathway for ex-service personnel, which provides information and signposting for services and cross-tenure housing options available for service personnel and their families on transfer back to civilian life. 

We also developed, published and disseminated advice cards, leaflets and posters to publicise the pathway within the armed forces community and with existing rough-sleepers, including the contact details for the veterans' gateway service, which provides a one-stop shop for veterans and family members to access services and support in one place. So, I would very much like to highlight that Members, if they are encountering somebody from an armed forces personnel background, should be directing them towards the veterans' gateway service, which will help connect them with the right support and right people who will be able to deal with their very specific need.

Minister, I think many people do share a very strong feeling that it is simply morally indefensible that in the fourth, fifth, sixth biggest economy in the world, we have so many people homeless and sleeping rough, and I think that manifests itself in the sort of voluntary response that Jenny Rathbone mentioned earlier. And I know that at Christmas time, for example, so many people came forward to help with some of the temporary services that have been set up in city and town centres, that they were asked to return home because they were tripping over themselves. But their commitment was very much welcome, obviously, nonetheless. But people really are at a loss to understand how, as a UK, within Wales, we're unable to organise ourselves as a state, as a country, as a society, in a way that prevents increasing homelessness and rough-sleeping. We obviously need to do a lot, lot better.

In terms of the committee that I chair, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, Minister, I just wanted to ask some questions in terms of some of the work we've done, in terms of some of your responses, your predecessor's responses and where we are at the current time. In terms of the action plan, more information was going to be sought through research on the causes of the recent increase in rough-sleeping, and I just wonder whether that work has identified any opportunities for stronger measures around prevention. Also, the rough-sleeping action plan is intended to be a living document, and I just wonder to what extent it has evolved and what the current developments are.

And on responses to recommendations within our committee report, Welsh Government noted that there would be an updated code of guidance for local authorities on the allocation of accommodation and homelessness and that that would be published around the end of last year and that it would be subject to consultation. So, given that we haven't had the publication, I just wonder where we are with those matters.

Finally, the Welsh Government's response noted that it was in the process of commissioning an independent assessment of the potential implications and risks associated with changing the current priority need approach. So, Minister, could you provide an update on that work and an indication of when findings will be published?

15:20

I'll try and do those in reverse order, just because that's how my memory works. So, in terms of the priority need research, that's due back in April, commissioned by my predecessor Rebecca Evans. We're expecting that back in April.FootnoteLink I know that the new guidance is delayed, but we want to make sure that we've got all of the right collaborations and so on, and we had, obviously, a change of Minister in between as well. So, I will write to the Member and tell him exactly what the plan is, because we've been having some discussion about making sure that we've got the right input from all of our collaborative partners—third sector, local authorities and so on—before we issue the new guidance. And we are working, as I say, to shift to a housing first secure accommodation model, so we are looking to see what the evaluations of the various pilots bring us. Also, as I said in response to Leanne Wood, we are looking to see what the experience elsewhere with housing first models has been.

I didn't say in response to Caroline Jones, but the Finnish model is very interesting, but, of course, people cherry-pick what they like out of models, and one of the things about the Finnish model is that it's one of the most equal societies in the world and is not in its ninth year of austerity, which drives very many of the issues that the Finnish model is able to deal with, whereas we are in a very different position in terms of the stress that many of our families find themselves under, particularly those who are in minimum wage jobs, where the universal credit roll-out is having a severe impact on their ability to maintain their secure accommodation. That's why our legislation is groundbreaking, because we have swapped around to looking at the prevention of people falling out of accommodation. I have very much the ambition to end evictions from any kind of social housing in Wales and that we put the support services in place so that people are not evicted from social housing, because when they are, they become homeless—that is the end of that line. So, we need to work hard with our councils that still have their own housing and with our registered social landlords to make sure that we can maintain people in social rented accommodation, that we can meet their needs and that we ensure that they are in suitable accommodation, because, often, it can be that you're just simply in the wrong place away from your support network and all the rest of it. So, we'll be working very hard to put those matters in place.

We've also got to address the supply side, as he rightly says and the report says, and I've answered various Members about what we're doing on the supply side, but that is, of course, very important: to get the right kind of supply side and the right kind of housing for people so that they have their needs met as part of that secure accommodation. That's absolutely fundamental, and in places like Finland, that is the centre of what they do. Those are things that we're very keen to learn from.

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd, and can I start by thanking the Minister for bringing forward this statement today? I also welcome the comments you've made to Members across the Chamber. I'd also like to just join Jenny Rathbone in paying tribute to those who help with this situation we have day in, day out. It pains me that, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, rough-sleeping happens every single day, and it's simply an unacceptable injustice that damages and destroys thousands of lives. And it isn't just unique to the streets of Cardiff or London. It's happening in towns right across the UK, including my own. So, I want to see our communities, as well as the Government, work to end the epidemic of homelessness once and for all. Minister, would you agree with me that businesses can have some involvement in this—businesses like Dandy's Topsoil in my own constituency, which actually offered a position to a rough-sleeper? He didn't have a curriculum vitae, he didn't have a suit, but they offered him a job, an interview and a position, which started to change the way he was living his life.

Also, can I draw your attention to a report by Shelter, which is called 'Trapped on the Streets'? This report importantly notes that, although there are some common causes described by people sleeping rough, the population is actually diverse and each person's needs, as we've mentioned before, and experiences are vastly different. So, will you consider these findings in the report, because I think it's actually an excellent report and I think Members from across the Chamber should take note of that as well.

Finally, I know we're running out of time, Minister, I'm really pleased that you mentioned the work on Housing First, because this is something I called for last year, and sat down with the previous Minister last year as well to discuss that. So, will you commit to continuing that conversation in the coming months with myself, to see how we can develop this for Wales?

15:25

Yes, of course. I'm very happy to commit to that and to speaking with any Member who has an interest in how we develop these policies. We have a range of actions, as Jack Sargeant has pointed out—I'm very heartened to hear of the business that he mentioned. Sadly, many of the people sleeping rough on the streets have got jobs, because, actually, you need more than that. And one of the things we will be doing shortly is going to Stage 3 of our Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill, which will abolish many of the fees that are a serious barrier to people getting into private sector rented accommodation, because we have anecdotal evidence of people having to come up with about £3,000 in terms of deposits and fees and guarantor credit arrangements and all the rest of it, and that's just out of the reach of a large number of people who then end up sofa-surfing and all the rest of it. So, that's very much the purpose of that Act. So, as I hope that demonstrates, we're attempting to attack this absolutely heinous scourge on our society in a large number of different ways. 

In particular, I want to point out the trauma-centred approach that we're having where each individual is an individual human being and has their particular circumstances addressed, and that we don't have a one-size-fits-all, 'Oh yes, you're a rough-sleeper; you fit into this category' approach, because people very clearly don't fit into those categories, as I've said a number of times. So, we'll be looking to see that the action plan reflects that; that we review with our local authorities that their action plans also reflect that and we will shortly, as I said to John Griffiths, be publishing a number of best practice guides and the advice papers and so on, that will underline this approach once we've got the research and evaluations back, so that we can make sure that we put the best advice and guidance out there for all of our third sector and local authority partners.

4. Statement by the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd: Update on the Welsh Mutual Investment Model

Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd: update on the Welsh mutual investment model. I call on the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd—Rebecca Evans.

Thank you. Last year, the former finance Minister published a written statement about the development of the mutual investment model to help us realise our ambitious plans for public infrastructure.

Both the First Minister and I have described many times in this Chamber how our capital budgets have shrunk as a result of the UK Government’s relentless pursuit of austerity. Our capital budget has been cut by 10 per cent in real terms as a result of these austerity policies. In 2019-20, this means we will have £200 million less to spend than we did in 2010-11, but our plans and demand for capital investment in Wales have continued to grow.

Just a few months ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was proclaiming that austerity was over and that he was publishing a budget to unleash investment to drive future prosperity. He proceeded then to give this Assembly just £2.6 million extra capital to address every unmet investment need that we have in the coming year. It's against this backdrop that this Government has looked to make full use of all sources of capital funding available to us, and to develop new and innovative sources of funding, including the power to issue bonds and the Welsh mutual investment model.

Whilst I want to focus my time this afternoon on the mutual investment model and the latest developments, I also want to say a few words about access to funding from the European Investment Bank and our future relationship after Brexit. 

The Welsh Government has been extremely clear about its position on the EIB. We called for the UK to remain a subscribing partner in the bank—something we believe would have been achievable had the UK shown the political will to bring it about. After all, we all benefit from EIB finance: borrowers benefit from a lower cost of capital and member states in their role as investors benefit from a steady return on investment. As things stand, with or without a deal, on 29 March, the UK will crash out of the EIB. The UK Government has failed to put in place any safeguard, with the exception of an offer to put an additional £200 million of capital into the British Business Bank in 2019. I need only point out that over the last 10 years, the EIB has invested on average over £5 billion per annum in the UK to demonstrate how paltry a safeguard this is. Just last week, the House of Lords concluded with a degree of understatement that the lack of any meaningful proposals from the Conservative Government on a future relationship with the EIB or domestic alternatives was disappointing. As an absolute minimum, this Government wants the UK to make good on its commitment to bring about a meaningful relationship with the EIB. That relationship must include a clear mandate for the EIB to continue investing here, providing the funds and the expertise that public and private borrowers have been able to count on for over four decades.

Turning to the mutual investment model, I'd like to thank in particular the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee and the Finance Committee for their respective consideration of the mutual investment model towards the end of last year. Members will know that we are committed to delivering three schemes using this form of innovative funding: completing the dualling of the A465, additional investment in the next phase of the twenty-first century schools and education programme, and the new Velindre Cancer Centre. Together, these schemes have a capital value of more than £1 billion, and would not be affordable from our current, denuded capital budgets. Had we not developed the model, projects such as these would have to wait in line until enough capital became available, and despite what we've heard from Westminster about the end of austerity, the budgetary arithmetic just does not bear this out.

From the outset, our intention has always been to ensure that the mutual investment model promotes the public interest in the widest possible definition of that term. To that end, the model will deliver positive, additional outcomes in relation to well-being, value for money and transparency, and in doing so will avoid many of the criticisms levied at historic forms of public-private partnership—in some cases, criticisms that the Welsh Government was among the first to raise. For example, you'll recall that successive Welsh Governments have criticised the now discredited form of PFI. Indeed, last week in this Chamber, you will have heard the First Minister say that he expects all contracting authorities in Wales to conduct reviews of their historic PFI contracts and to identify the scope to make savings.

In relation to well-being, private partners with whom we contract using the mutual investment model will be obliged to help the Government deliver the objectives of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. They will need to deliver stretching community benefits, with penalties for non-delivery. They will need to adopt the code of practice for ethical employment in supply chains. And they will need to build our infrastructure with long-term sustainability and environmental efficiency in mind. We will require all MIM schemes to be subject to the rigorous investment appraisal of the five-case model—an internationally accredited appraisal tool, co-owned by the Welsh Government. The G20 finance Ministers have adopted the model’s principles as the basis for a global standard for infrastructure investment appraisal.

We've also developed a new project assurance tool that all MIM schemes will be subject to—commercial approval point checks. We have run two of these checks on the dualling of the A465. These checks have been supported by experts from the European Investment Bank and the UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority. I am convinced that rigorous investment appraisal, coupled with robust project assurance delivered by undoubted experts, will result not only in a better understanding of the risks involved in the delivery of major infrastructure projects, but also in a more credible appreciation of the value for money of such projects, and their affordability. To increase the value for money of our schemes, we have taken a conscious decision not to use the mutual investment model to finance soft services, such as cleaning and catering, which was one of the major criticisms of previous PFI contracts, and nor will it be used to finance capital equipment.

With regard to transparency, the Government intends to invest a small amount of risk capital in each scheme, ensuring that the public sector participates in any return on investment. This shareholding will be managed by a director appointed under the direction of Welsh Ministers onto the boards of those companies delivering our assets.

I agreed last month that, subject to the satisfactory completion of due diligence, the Welsh Government would invest 15 per cent of the total risk capital requirement for the A465 dualling scheme, pending a decision to proceed to construction. This investment will be on pari passu terms, with private equity investors. While all risk capital is, by definition, invested at a risk, we expect our investment to earn a return for the public sector that can be reinvested in other public projects.

The Minister for Economy and Transport has taken the decision to make the orders for this scheme. Notification letters were issued yesterday. He will provide further details on progress on this project in the coming weeks.

The Government has recognised the real pressures local authorities are facing, and we have been resolute in our commitment to do all that we can to protect them from the worst effects of the UK Government’s damaging policy of austerity. Alongside the three-year package of additional financial measures we announced ahead of the final budget, we have agreed that, for the next phase of the twenty-first century schools and education programme, we will increase the intervention rates for both capital and mutual investment model-funded projects.

Capital projects will benefit from a Welsh Government contribution of 65 per cent of the costs, and mutual investment model projects will benefit from a broadly comparable Welsh Government contribution of 81 per cent of the costs. Taking more of the load onto our shoulders, whilst challenging, will provide valuable additional support to our delivery partners in these times of austerity. It also offers a fantastic opportunity for us to deliver more in partnership. The Minister for Education will set out further details about the intervention rate in a written statement shortly. Thank you.

15:35

Can I thank the finance Minister for today's statement? I think it was only last week that I asked the First Minister for an update on the mutual investment model—I think you were sitting in the Chamber at the same time, Minister—so that's certainly efficiency. Leaving aside the usual preamble that features in many Ministers' statements about austerity, there are some very important issues that you've touched upon in your statement. I'd like to touch on a few of those myself.

Firstly, can I welcome your position on the European Investment Bank? The Welsh Conservatives have long been calling on the Welsh Government to make greater use of the bank, and we know that other countries, such as Spain, have long been utilising funding for road and rail schemes and other infrastructure projects. So, my party's role has been to call for more of that EIB investment for a long, long time. We haven't done the same, not just in Wales, but in the UK either. And I think you're right—we do need to push for continued membership, or partnership, or associate partnership, or whatever that might be, with the EIB. Let's not forget that the Republic of Ireland will remain in the European Union and Welsh and UK roads will still be needed to get there—at least I imagine that's how it will work—once we do exit the European Union. So, investment is required in UK roads, as part of a wider European, if not European Union, infrastructure.

Turning to the substantive aspect of your statement: we do, of course, support the use of the mutual investment model for programmes such as completing the dualling of the A465, which you mentioned; the twenty-first century schools programme—again, widely supported—which you mentioned; and also the new Velindre Cancer Centre. So, can you update us on the timescales for these projects, and indeed the timescales for getting the mutual investment models fully in place and finalised?

The monitoring of these projects is going to be all-important, given some of the cases of poor value for money—again, that you alluded to, and the First Minister did last week—of previous PFI projects, which happened over considerable lengths of time, under Governments of different hues, to be honest. I do recognise as well that, before, often, the Welsh Government had an input into those schemes, so monitoring is going to be all-important here, as the First Minister did tell us last week.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the five-case model? It's clearly important that this monitoring is robust, and this sounds impressive on the face of it, but, of course, thinking back to when PFI projects were originally brought in, there were a lot of very, on the face of it, sensible cases made for PFI and the sort of efficiencies those would deliver, and that certainly didn't happen, did it? So, let's make sure that the mutual investment model doesn't suffer from some of the problems that were faced by PFI and that lessons have been learned. 

Also, you mentioned soft services and you mentioned not using money for capital equipment—I don't doubt that you're right in some or many cases, but I'm just wondering is it right to have that blanket opposition to using mutual investment money for all capital equipment, for instance. You might well be able to make the case for that, but I'm just concerned that we might end up with a situation where the MIM model is actually so inflexible that perhaps in the future—if we want to futureproof, this is important—certain schemes might not be viable that otherwise might. So, I'd be grateful for some clarity on that. 

Could you tell us a little bit more about your efforts to improve transparency? You say that the Government's shareholding in each scheme will be managed by a director appointed by Ministers. What process is going to be used to select those directors and how transparent will those processes be?

But thank you for your statement. I think there's wide support across this Chamber for the mutual investment model, and I welcome what you've had to say today. I'd be grateful if you could give us some answers to some of the questions raised. 

15:40

Thank you very much for raising those questions this afternoon, and thank you very much also for your support for our position on the European Investment Bank, because it is clearly a really important source of both funding and expertise for us here in Wales. It's provided us with a key role, really, in supporting long-term investment to improve social housing here in Wales, education, energy, infrastructure, transport and water infrastructure. It's included backing investment by Welsh Water, for example, right across the country, including Stebonheath Primary School in Llanelli, where the RainScape project is helping to reduce sewage overflow into the Bristol channel. It also helped to fund the second Severn crossing and the A55 dual carriageway from Chester to Holyhead, as well as new roads in south and west Glamorgan, Dyfed and Gwent, and the Member talked about the importance of investing in that infrastructure. 

Recent European Investment Bank lending has supported education investment in Wales, including backing the new Swansea University bay campus, and cutting heating costs at Bangor University, for example, and has also provided support for our social housing programme, providing new homes and also improving existing properties, working with 10 different housing associations right across Wales. And, of course, the EIB has also backed key investment at Ford in Bridgend as well. So, clearly, it's an important source of finance, but also an important source of expertise too. And those additional benefits of expertise have very much come to the fore through the work that we've been doing to develop the south-Wales metro project, for example, which has very, very strongly benefited from the commercial expertise, which has informed the procurement process, whilst other previous investments in Wales have also benefited from the best practice that the EIB has been able to identify for us as well. 

In terms of the specific projects, I can provide an update on the A465. As you know, the public local inquiry concluded at the end of May 2018. I mentioned in my statement that the Minister has agreed to make the orders. So, a decision to proceed with the next stage now of procurement will be taken in the coming weeks, and an update will be forthcoming from the economy and transport Minister in respect of that. 

With regard to the Velindre project, the current status is that Velindre University NHS Trust is developing a suite of outline business cases for the delivery of the new Velindre Cancer Centre on the Northern Meadows site in Whitchurch, and Welsh Government is supporting the trust to deliver this major project to ensure that appropriate monitoring for that is in place. Work is being prioritised to secure site access at the moment, and there are some detailed negotiations going on with a range of third parties to make sure that can happen, and in parallel, then, the enabling works business case is being developed, pending the conclusion of those negotiations. The latest plan reports a completion date at the end of 2023, with an opening due in the first half of 2024.

Again, we are at an early stage with the mutual investment model in terms of its approach to supporting our twenty-first century schools programme, and Kirsty Williams does intend to issue a further statement on this issue shortly.

You referred to transparency, and that's one of the benefits of the mutual investment model— transparency will be key—also access to information for Assembly Members, and I'm really keen that we do take all opportunities to provide good information to Assembly Members on this, and there will be specific reporting requirements to Welsh Government as a shareholder and also as a client as well. Those specific details will be set out in the project agreements that are agreed with our partners in terms of delivering on these projects. 

In terms of capital equipment, I think it is the right decision not to use the mutual investment model for that, but clearly there are other options in terms of how we would fund that. It's just a question, really, of finding the most appropriate source of funding for the kind of things that we wish to procure.

15:45

I thank the Minister for the statement. Of course, I agree with the intention here, namely the need to look for innovative ways to boost investment in our infrastructure: infrastructure that shows the clear evidence of under-investment historically—and that under-investment, I remind you, has come from Labour and Conservative Governments over the years. Although I do agree that the age of austerity has deepened this problem.

So, yes, we need to look at the range of models that are available or that can be developed. I look forward to seeing the development of the principle of raising money through Government bonds. Could I also say that I’m pleased to hear a reference in the statement to our relationship with the EIB? It’s a great concern that there's a lack of attention or certainty, in terms of the Brexit debate, in terms of safeguarding the investment that’s available through the EIB at present, and I do agree that we should ensure that that relationship between the EIB should continue in the future. I have been to the headquarters of the EIB in Luxembourg, along with a number of other members of the Enterprise and Business Committee of the last Assembly, and realised the appetite there is and the ability there is within the EIB to look for projects that they can support for the benefit of long-term investment in strengthening our infrastructure, and I fear for what will happen if that is lost.

But, turning to the mutual investment model, our party has given a careful welcome to the statements by the Welsh Government on the model so far. One frustration that we have voiced is the lack of ambition, possibly, in terms of how much we can look to raise or invest using this model. But, of course, we need to be careful and note how important it is to get the right model. We are, naturally, going to be having comparisons with PFI, and the Minister has made those comparisons in order to try to ease our concerns. Some people are going to look at the definition of this model and the definition of PFI and they’re going to find them quite similar, but I think that what we’re looking for is assurance that risk does reside in the right place, because, clearly, to be plain, far too many PFI projects showed that there was very little risk that was undertaken by private investors while they were making great profits.

So, could I ask the Minister, following a series of commitments that this is different, what steps are going to be taken to evaluate the contracts as they proceed to ensure that that balance of risk has been struck appropriately and that there are not excessive profits? Because this is a mutual investment model and we always need to be evaluating this to ensure that that’s what we have, because while investors, quite fairly, need to see a return in the long term from an investment, we need certainty that there is value for money for the public purse.

And, secondly, possibly referring back to our frustration about a lack of ambition at present, could you give us an idea of the next steps for looking for further investments using this new model and give us some explanation about how prioritisation is going to happen? Because, before the last election, we in Plaid Cymru were talking about giving the power to prioritise in the area of infrastructure to an arm’s-length body, and I would have a great interest in knowing to what extent the Government is going to be looking for advice and leadership and a civic discussion on setting the priorities for using this new model in the most effective way.

15:50

Thank you very much for those questions. I would begin, really, by saying there is no lack of ambition in terms of our infrastructure ambitions for Wales. In terms of where we would see things going next, obviously we have our Wales infrastructure investment plan, our national development framework, which is currently under way, and the infrastructure commission, and I think, together, these three things will help us really pinpoint and focus where we need to be making the most strategically important investments across Wales in the coming years.

With regard to bonds, yes, certainly, Welsh Government can issue bonds, and we have gained those new powers to do so to help fund our infrastructure investment, and, certainly, at a time when our capital budgets are continuing to fall, these do provide us with the full suite of borrowing levers that we could use to realise those ambitious infrastructure investment plans across Wales, but the important thing to remember is that our ability to issue bonds doesn't increase our ability to borrow. So, specific details of bonds here that we might want to issue in future in Wales are yet to be determined because we would only use those bonds when all other cheaper forms of capital have been exhausted, and any funds raised by Welsh Government bonds would obviously be counted against our borrowing limit as well, which is one of the attractions of other forms of finance that we would certainly go to first.

With regard to your comments on the European Investment Bank, I very much welcome them. I think we set out very clearly together in 'Securing Wales' Future' that our interests here in Wales would certainly be best served by remaining a subscribing partner of the EIB because of the direct benefits it brings to our economy, not only in investment, but also in that expertise that I've previously referred to. And, of course, just last week, the House of Lords adopted a report where it noted that UK infrastructure investment had been the beneficiary of more than €118 billion of lending from the EIB, but it also, unfortunately, noted the marked decline in funding from the EIB since the referendum and the triggering of article 50 and lamented the fact that, despite losing our access to the EIB after Brexit, the Conservative Government has said very little about any future relationship with the EIB or any possible domestic alternatives.

The Member referred to the differences between the mutual investment model and PFI, and there are some really key differences that I referred to in my statement. The first will be that we will be requiring very stretching community benefits to be delivered from our mutual investment model projects. I think this is an important and key differentiation. For example, we'll be looking at jobs created, training and apprenticeship opportunities, including for graduate work placements, pupil placements. We'll be looking for school engagement, community initiatives, supply chain initiatives, work with social enterprises, and, also, obviously, support for our small and medium-sized enterprises as well. So, there are some really key differences between PFI and the mutual investment model.

Another one of those key differences, really, will be the requirements that we're making regarding sustainability and the environment. So, for example, to provide environmental sustainability, key design principles for Velindre Cancer Centre will include the use of natural resources and energy efficiency in all possible areas. The A465—while improving the safety, connectivity and congestion of the local area, it will also improve the resilience of other Welsh roads by becoming an alternative route during periods of congestion, maintenance or major incidents and the local area will also see improvements in footways, cycleways, increasing permeability and aiming to improve physical fitness and active travel. And notable environmental enhancements will also be delivered by the scheme in regard to reduced flood risk and reduced pollution risks to watercourses. And those new environments—the new learning environments built through the twenty-first century schools programme must achieve an EPC rating of A and BREAM excellence. So, we can use these levers in the discussions that we have with possible partners in future.

15:55

I find myself a very skeptical voice on this issue regarding the mutual investment model. Although, I have to say, having taken the opportunity to speak to the Minister's officials on two occasions, I'm somewhat reassured about both the reporting mechanisms and the detail of the commercial approval point checks that will be taking place and also project agreements and reporting mechanisms that will be associated with those. So, there is reassurance, but I think it has been a rather well-kept secret by the Welsh Government as to how these things will happen until recently. The accessibility and information on the mutual investment model could have been much better, although now I've found that on the beta.gov.wales page there is a mutual investment model explanation. There are six paragraphs of relatively straightforward public information together with technical documentation. However, if I was a parent whose child's school was going to be built using mutual investment model funding, I wouldn't be reassured by language that the Minister used in her statement. For example:

'This investment will be on pari passu terms, with private equity investors.'

And

'we have agreed that, for the next phase of the twenty-first century schools and education programme, we will increase the intervention rates for both capital and mutual investment model-funded projects.'

I don't think that's very public facing and I don't think it gives much assurance to those parents of children who will be in twenty-first century band B schools. Therefore, what plans does the Government have to make accessible the information regarding the mutual investment model while projects are being prepared, and particularly while they are being delivered and afterwards? There must be plans to make accessible that information to those people who have concerns but have no interest in technical information.

Thank you for those comments. I was pleased that you had the opportunity to meet with and talk to officials about the mutual investment model. I would certainly offer technical briefings to any Members who are keen to find out more about how the model works and to have any detailed technical questions answered that they might have. I have to say though that the mutual investment model I don't think has been a secret—there's been a Government commitment to it going back as far as 2011, when it was in our manifesto to look at innovative ways to fund public infrastructure. The model has evolved over time, so we have been borrowing from Scotland and from England where appropriate, learning from the European Investment Bank, adapting to accounting rules where necessary, and the MIM is very much a project of that learning and the challenging and the adaptation that has been taking place, which I think is a good thing.

There's been clear ministerial oversight of this project since the start. I know that Cabinet had discussed innovative finance three times during the previous administration and periodic updates were also considered by the Cabinet sub-committee for infrastructure. In the current term, Cabinet has already twice considered the mutual investment model and my predecessor made statements on the mutual investment model on two occasions already in this term—so, in February 2017 and in June last year—as well as stressing the important role that MIM has to play in numerous publications, such as the update to the Wales infrastructure investment plan and the draft budget. So, it's by no means a secret, but I do appreciate and understand your concern that the mutual investment model should be easily understood and accessible to people with an interest, particularly, I think, with regard to twenty-first century schools, which is a tremendously exciting project that will transform the learning environments of children across Wales. 

When launching the mutual investment model, the First Minister, when he was finance Minister, said:

'The mutual investment model includes important obligatory long-term provisions to secure community benefits, to create apprenticeships and training places for Welsh workers and for sustainable development, in which the private sector partner supports delivery of the well-being of future generations Act. It incorporates our commitment to an ethical employment code and allows us to maximise the benefits of our sustainable procurement practices. The model also enables the government to exert influence over the chosen private partner to ensure that the public interest is protected. Where we invest in schemes, this influence will be exercised by a public interest director, and this is an important advance on what has been secured in other public-private partnership models in other parts of the United Kingdom. This ensures robust transparency in terms of access to board-level information, alongside a range of reserved matters to protect public funds and the public interest.'

I don't think anybody can find any problems with any of that. It is, however, a means of bringing private finance into public services that keeps it off the public sector borrowing requirement, so that keeps the Treasury happy, and is not PFI, which keeps the rest of us happy. But I have concerns about the future revenue cost of capital under this model. I always have concerns about the future revenue cost of any money that's borrowed, my own included. We know it is more expensive than using Welsh Government capital or using the Public Works Loan Board.

I have three questions: do you accept that bonds are only there to keep the Public Works Loan Board rates low, and that you would not expect the Welsh Government to use them, but they hang over the Public Works Loan Board as if you increase your rates, as they did to local government, then local government starts saying, 'Well, we can issue bonds', and they keep putting the rates back down? You talked about a return of 15 per cent on what our investment is, but isn't that just having our own money back, in that if we've invested it, the money comes back, and it's only our money going in, so aren't we just getting our own money back? And, really, the key question is: what is mean rate of return being achieved by those providing private finance through this model? We know that money being borrowed can be borrowed relatively cheaply, but we also know that we're capped on what we can borrow. If we could prudentially borrow, all of these innovative ways of doing things would be unnecessary. We'd use, as local authorities can, the innovative model—instead of an innovative model, we'd use our ability to prudentially borrow, and all this would be done by prudentially borrowing, it's the Public Works Loan Board, which would be cheaper. If the Minister's going to tell me that wouldn't be cheaper, I'd like to see the figures. So, really, just to come back to those three questions, the main one is: what is the rate of return being achieved by those lending?

16:00

Thank you very much for raising those issues. I completely agree with the point that you made about prudentially borrowing and the fact that local authorities are able to do so. We had a bit of discussion about this in my recent appearance before the Finance Committee, and I would certainly agree with the points that you and others in Finance Committee have been making on this issue. 

With regards to the bonds, whilst the Welsh Government does have the power to issue those bonds, we have no current plans to do so, because we are able to borrow via the national loans fund, which in general does involve lower interest rates than a Welsh Government bond would attract. The power to issue bonds, though, is important, because it does mean that there is another way in which Welsh Government can borrow in the event that the UK Government did decide to increase our cost of borrowing. 

In terms of the question on the mean rate of return for projects, well, currently we're going out to look for the partners to deliver these projects alongside us, so, much of the detail will be part of the dialogue that we will be having in the near future with interested parties. I will say on the issue of the importance of appointing the director to the boards, we're currently working through the detail of how this appointment might work to ensure that the appointee would have the right skills and the experience to undertake that role, because it is all part of the important way in which we will seek to hold the partners to account in terms of delivery.

A number of people have raised the issue of risk, and we will operate reporting mechanisms that support the Welsh Government public sector to undertake due diligence when concluding contract awards. Our arrangements will help provide early warning of any strategically important suppliers who might be experiencing financial difficulties, and we're also using available intelligence to develop as comprehensive a picture as possible of strategically important suppliers across the Welsh public sector so that we and public sector clients can have a clear understanding of potential exposure of over-reliance on too few suppliers. 

And our procurement policy approaches are intended to develop a diverse, competitive supply base, and ensuring fair business practices that flow throughout those supply chains. 

5. Debate: The Future of Wales's Railway

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 5 and 6 in the name of Darren Milllar, and amendments 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendments 2 and 3 will be deselected.

Item 5 is the debate on the future of Wales's railway, and I call on the Minister for Economy and Transport to move the motion—Ken Skates. 

Motion NDM6954 Rebecca Evans

To propose the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Regrets the historic underinvestment by the UK Government in Wales’ rail infrastructure and recent missed opportunities to enhance strategic infrastructure capacity in Wales.

2. Notes the published work undertaken by Professor Mark Barry: ‘The Rail Network in Wales—The Case for Investment’ and the proposals contained within it to enhance rail infrastructure within Wales and mainlines serving Wales.

3. Supports the Welsh Government’s response to the UK Government’s Rail Review being undertaken by Keith Williams.

4. Believes that investment in strategic rail infrastructure is essential for Wales’ future competitiveness regardless of the terms on which we leave the EU and calls on the UK Government to develop a timetable for meeting its current obligations for the Trans European Transport Network, including full electrification of the North and South Wales mainlines.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Thank you in particular for agreeing to this debate on the future of Wales's railways. I do think that it's an exciting time right now, seeing that we are in control of many of Wales's rail services, and I think, as a consequence, we can look forward to delivering a step change in terms of service provision, improvements at stations and, also, new rolling stock. But, it's equally fair to say that with the right powers and the necessary funding, we could be doing much more—more services to improve access to jobs and leisure activities; more attractive journey times to encourage people to move from their own private vehicles; and more stations to connect our communities.

The context for rail delivery in Wales is complex, fragmented and underfunded. The current railway settlement was designed before the advent of devolution. Although some efforts have been made to evolve it, the current settlement is still a reflection of the times in which it was created. Twenty years on from devolution, the Secretary of State for Transport in Westminster retains ultimate control of railway infrastructure here in Wales.

This imperfect devolution settlement is the root of many of the problems with our railways. It undermines our commitment to encourage inclusive economic growth, to deliver balanced investment across regions and to develop a railway that meets the social needs of our rural communities.

We know that the UK Government's enhancement programme is not serving Wales and is not meeting our needs. So far, we have not seen one of the business cases announced when the UK Government cancelled electrification to Swansea over 18 months ago. No funding for any enhancement schemes for our railway has been committed—no clarity on progress or next steps has been provided.

The UK Government's approach to allocating funding, which gives priority to areas of the country with higher levels of rail use, often because of higher levels of historic investment, cannot continue to be applied. The focus on their own infrastructure priorities, investment criteria and political motivators effectively discriminates against our more remote and smaller communities, and diminishes our ability to deliver the integrated transport network that the people of Wales deserve. This ongoing lack of infrastructure investment is limiting the capacity for new services, restricting the speeds of new trains and fettering our ability to open the stations that we dearly wish to see.

Our strategic vision, 'The Rail Network in Wales: The Case for Investment', undertaken by Professor Mark Barry, offers a compelling case to enhance rail infrastructure within Wales and main lines serving Wales. From this work, it is clear that there is the potential to deliver in excess of £2 billion of economic benefits from an ambitious, realistic and equitable investment programme in Wales's rail infrastructure.

It's expected that over £3 billion will be spent on the high speed 2 line in England during this financial year, and the same again on enhancing the existing rail network. A fair devolution settlement for Wales would allow us, over the next 10 years, to fund schemes such as the reopening of railway lines, electrification of the south and north Wales main lines, and new stations across the network.

So, I'm calling on the UK Government to recognise and address this historic underinvestment in Wales's rail infrastructure by offering an alternative approach to the development and delivery of the schemes that we need to improve connectivity across Wales. The investment required to meet the standards set for the core trans-European transport network routes through Wales to Milford Haven and to Holyhead by 2030 would deliver significant progress. The UK Government must, therefore, develop a timetable for meeting its obligations for the trans-European transport network, including full electrification of the north and south Wales main lines. Wales must not lose out on this investment as a result of any decisions taken in the context of Brexit.

Keith Williams's root-and-branch review of Britain's railways is an opportunity to reform the railway and create the fully integrated public transport network that Wales needs. This opportunity should not be missed. Our railway should be one of our most socially and economically valuable assets. It has the potential to make a huge contribution in Wales to people's lives, our communities, the environment and our economy.

Our expectation is for the Williams review to set out a clear path for Wales to have a greater say in specifying rail services; to manage and develop infrastructure with a fair funding settlement; and to establish a regulatory framework that recognises the diversity of UK devolution whilst maintaining a national railway that benefits all parts of Britain. 

I'm asking Members today to support the Welsh Government's response to the UK Government's rail review being undertaken by Keith Williams and the significant changes called for. This will give me the strongest mandate when I meet with Keith Williams next week to make the case for bringing the rail devolution settlement into the twenty-first century, giving us the powers and the funding we need to deliver the railway the people of Wales deserve. 

16:10

Thank you. I have selected the eight amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendments 2 and 3 will be deselected. I call on Russell George to move amendments 1, 5 and 6, tabled in the name of Darren Millar. 

Amendment 1—Darren Millar

Delete point 1.

Amendment 5—Darren Millar

Delete point 3.

Amendment 6—Darren Millar

Delete all after ‘EU’ in point 4 and add as new points:

Regrets the recent poor performance of rail services, including frequent delays and cancellations, operated by Transport for Wales since they became responsible for services on the Wales and Borders franchise.

Regrets the delay in the re-establishment of direct rail services between Wales and Liverpool.

Notes the role that the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales can play in helping to shape a vision for Welsh rail infrastructure.

Notes the scale of the contribution to Welsh rail infrastructure that the UK Government’s city and growth deals will make.

Urges the Welsh Government to work together with the UK Government and all relevant stakeholders in order to continue to make progress in improving rail services in Wales.

Amendments 1, 5 and 6 moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I formally move the amendments in the name of Darren Millar. To say that there has been underinvestment by the current UK Government in Wales's rail infrastructure is entirely inaccurate. Let's have a look at the facts—[Interruption.] Let's have a look at the facts, Deputy Presiding Officer, rather than the rhetoric outlined in the motion. 

The UK Government is investing record amounts in Wales's railway infrastructure. Network Rail's budget for the Wales and the borders route for the 2019-2024 period is £2 billion, an increase of 28 per cent on the last control period. Let's celebrate a bigger and better railway for Wales—[Interruption.]—in a moment, I will, yes—which will be delivered, improving journey times for passengers on the most advanced new trains. Furthermore, the £5.7 billion investment in brand new InterCity express trains, which will cut journey times from south Wales to London by 15 minutes, and each train has up to 24 per cent more seats compared to a typical high-speed train—this, I would hope, is to be welcomed.  

Thank you for giving way, Russell. You're making a fine fist of trying to defend this, but I just wonder what response you have to the analysis that was endorsed by the Welsh affairs select committee and the transport parliamentary select committee at Westminster, cross-party groups. In fact, the Welsh affairs select committee is chaired, if I recall correctly, at this moment, by the Conservative Member for Monmouth, I think it still is. They concluded the Department for Transport's current decision-making processes and existing systems of scheme appraisal work against regions outside the south-east as they are weighted heavily towards the reduction of existing congestion. They point towards Crossrail, a massive investment around Paddington and everything in there. They conclude the complete opposite of what you're putting, Russell, so are they wrong? 

Well, it's interesting you mentioned part of that report. Of course, another part of the select committee's report that was issued in January 2017 concludes that investment in Welsh rail has been consistently mismanaged by the Welsh Government over the past decade. So, we can all be selective, can't we, on which parts of the report we want to read.

With regard to the work—as I move on now—by Professor Mark Barry, the report takes a detailed look at the long-term strategic interventions that could be made on the rail network in Wales to improve connectivity and to ultimately deliver economic benefits. I certainly think that there's much in what he says that is to be welcomed and I think is sensible. But there are no costings, of course, in his report, and the report focuses more on presenting a vision for the future of rail infrastructure in Wales rather than a realistic pathway towards that vision. I accept that that clearly needs to be fleshed out in more detail.

Of course, Deputy Presiding Officer, the fact is that the Welsh Government has many levers at its disposal, and I think the Minister started off by saying so as well. The reality is that, in many cases, the buck does stop here with the Welsh Government in relation to the state of trains in Wales. There are levers that the Welsh Government do have at its disposal in regard to passenger experience.

The Welsh Government-run Transport for Wales took over the rail services in Wales, as we know, last year. We're all aware of the huge number of cancelled trains, whilst running services have become significantly overcrowded due to the rolling stock being removed from operation. The Welsh Government handover strategy, I think, does have to be questioned in this regard. What we did see last autumn was not the transformational improvements to services that the Welsh Government promised, and neither does it represent the additional capacity or the vision of future rail services in Wales that Professor Barry describes. Responsibility, I think, for the current fiasco we saw last autumn does lay squarely with the Welsh Government, and their attempt, I think, to shuffle the blame is unacceptable in this debate today. 

16:15

According to Professor Mark Barry, as you quoted, he thinks that Wales has been underfunded by—[Inaudible.]—2016. Do you disagree? 

I did outline at the beginning of my contribution that the next control period is a 24 per cent increase, and when it comes to investment as well, we've seen £50 million on the project to upgrade the north Wales railway lines, including a new signalling system for north Wales on the main coastline from Shotton to Colwyn Bay, £300 million investment in the Cardiff area for resignalling, £2 million investment from the new stations fund in Pye Corner to Newport, £4 million from the new stations fund for Bow Street and Aberystwyth, £16 million investment in the Halton curve, linking north Wales to Liverpool. And, of course, that brings the point as well, but let's focus—I hope you'd agree—on not where the investment is taking place, but what the benefit is to Welsh passengers. Surely, that's got to be taken into account, and the same goes for HS2 in that regard as well. So, I think it is disappointing in that regard. 

Of course, as well as better trains, more capacity and better fare and ticketing options, I think we also want to see rail services that integrate effectively with the other modes of transport we use on a daily basis, and a transport system that isn't viewed in isolation but contributes to cross-border economic growth and better supports public services. I've mentioned the Halton curve as one example in that regard.

The UK Government's £5 million investment we've also got to look at as well, in the Cardiff city deal, which will promote an investment fund and opportunities pipeline for the regional and support for electrification of the Valleys lines as well. The scale of this UK Government intervention to Welsh rail through the city and growth deal should be recognised, I think, by the Welsh Government, not desecrated as it is in the motion today. I hope that the Minister will seek to recognise that need for a cross-Government approach in his closing remarks today.    

I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to move amendments 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 tabled in his name. 

Amendment 2—Rhun ap Iorwerth

In point 1, delete 'regrets' and replace with 'condemns'.

Amendment 3—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Insert at end of point 1:

', acknowledging that Wales is severely lagging behind the rest of the UK in transport infrastructure investment.'

Amendment 4—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Insert at end of point 2:

'and calls on the Welsh Government to implement the recommendations, with emphasis on connecting the north and south through the re-opening of the West Wales lines.'

Amendment 7—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point at end of motion:

Notes the importance of decarbonising public transport and calls on the Welsh Government to commit to renewable methods of powering public transport.

Amendment 8—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls for a renewed focus from the Welsh Government on working towards the reopening of the Gaerwen to Amlwch railway line across Anglesey in light of recent worrying economic announcements.

Amendments 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. 

I left my home on Ynys Môn around 6.30 p.m. last night. Six hours later, I arrived in Cardiff Bay. I could easily have jumped into the car and made the journey comfortably in about four hours at that time of night. It makes no sense that we have a rail system—that should surely incentivise people to get on it—which is a disincentive every time you look at how long-distance journeys work in Wales. A hundred and one pounds that journey costs for a return ticket. There was no cup of tea in that six hours on that train. I don't find that acceptable, and neither do I find it acceptable in the twenty-first century that I should be rummaging around on all fours looking for the one socket that is there on those ageing trains. It's not good enough. 

Now, of course, there have been changes that we look forward to seeing the fruits of them in the creation of Transport for Wales, and, yes, the rolling stock is due to be improved in years to come. But there's very good reason, I think, why we do have such dismal rolling stock, why we do have such a system that is a disincentive for people to get on it, and it is that lack of investment in our rail infrastructure. And it's historic, and it has been going on for many, many years. Professor Mark Barry in his report cites the Office of Road and Rail data for 2011-2016 showing that the Wales route received just 1 per cent of the enhancement budget—£198 million out of £12.2 billion budget—despite it making up 11 per cent of the network. That cannot be acceptable. Equal figures can be cited from Labour's days in Government—1997-2010—again showing historic lack of investment. So, it's not as if one party can wash their hands. But we are where we are, and I do support the comments that have been made by Welsh Government, on the whole, in responding to the Williams report and saying that we cannot remain in this position looking to the future where underinvestment in Wales continues unaddressed. If we haven't got the investment that we need in infrastructure, we are not going to have, however much the rolling stock improves and the number of services increase, a rail infrastructure that work for Wales. 

We refer to a number of proposals about what needs to be done in our amendments today. We certainly, in our first amendment, amendment 2, say we condemn the situation, the historic position. It's not disappointing—it is to be condemned. In our third amendment, amendment 3, we make the point that Wales has continuously lagged behind the rest of the UK in terms of its transport infrastructure. We, in amendment 4, stress what we should be looking for from our rail system. Yes, we need very much stronger local links, for commuters in the south-east of Wales and in the north-east of Wales, across the north Wales coast, across south Wales and in other parts of Wales, but we need to be seeking that pan-Wales connectivity. And that is why we have—we have—to put long-term plans in place that do connect us in that figure-of-eight which is, far too slowly, being built in road terms, but we need it in rail terms too, so that we do connect the west of Wales—[Interruption.]—not just from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth, which is often cited, but also from Bangor down to Aberystwyth too. Yes, I give way.

16:20

Does he accept there can also be a benefit to people in Wales of rail investment even if it's not within Welsh borders, in particular the electrification of the line from Paddington to Severn tunnel? It's of a huge benefit to Wales and will he recognise that?

I'm certainly one that doesn't see Wales as behaving in isolation, and what happens in terms of infrastructure elsewhere can be beneficial. But what happens in terms of infrastructure elsewhere can be detrimental to us too. Look at HS2—every study shows that HS2, with the billions being spent on HS2, would be detrimental to the Welsh economy as a whole, even though there might be advantages in terms of a slightly quicker link to Crewe for passengers in the north.

I will press ahead to my local amendment, amendment 8, calling for the reopening of the Gaerwen to Amlwch line. We all regret the decisions that were taken by Beeching back in the 1960s, but some rail lines were saved then and we have benefited from that. The reopening of the line to Ebbw Vale is one good example. Some lines were saved. Another one that was saved was the line across Anglesey. It was saved because it was used as an industrial link to the Great Lakes bromide works in Amlwch, right up until the 1990s. There is a rail line there, it needs reopening. I don't need to tell you the bad economic news that we've had in the north of Anglesey in recent times. Let's have a renewed focus on reopening that line so that we can look to connect that disengaged community in the north of the island with new economic opportunities, and look for tourism opportunities at the same time. We have to be more ambitious on Anglesey, but as we look today a little bit wider, we have to be more ambitious about what we can do for our own rail infrastructure in Wales in future.

I want to start my remarks this afternoon by welcoming very warmly the comments made by the Minister in his opening comments to this debate. I think it is a responsibility for all of us to fully support the Welsh Government in their submissions to the Williams review and ensuring that we have a settlement that is fit for purpose. And when I say a 'settlement fit for purpose', I don't mean something that a Conservative spokesperson can stand up and defend on a Tuesday afternoon here. I mean something that serves the needs of our constituents day in, day out. And when I look at how the Welsh Government has been able to act with creativity and imagination to reopen services, to invest in new services, what I see is a Government that is absolutely committed to serving my constituents day in, day out.

Rhun ap Iorwerth spoke about the success of the Ebbw valley line, and he's absolutely right to do so, and, of course, my friend would talk about the Maesteg line, and another friend would talk about the Vale of Glamorgan line. We do have these very real successes to celebrate, but we also need—. If these reopened lines are to remain a success in the future, we need to invest in them now for that future as well, and that means for ourselves on the Ebbw valley line to ensure that we do have new rolling stock, modern rolling stock, that we do have the new services, not simply the doubling of services in 2021, but I remember the Minister in his statement in June of last year saying that he wanted to investigate four services on the Ebbw valley line by 2024, and I hope we will be able to achieve that, and I would certainly be interested in his comments this afternoon on that increased capacity that we need to be able to deliver over the coming years. But we're only able to do that if we do have the structures in place that enable us to do it.

I'm very interested in hearing a reassurance, if you like, from the Minister that the Ebbw valley line is still considered to be an inter-urban service, linking the Heads of the Valleys with the heart of our capital city, because whilst we all look towards increasing services, increasing stations, investment in our railways up and down the country, of course for those of us who are served by stations at the end of the line, every station stop on the way makes our journeys longer. So, we need to ensure there's a commitment in order to deliver an effective rail connection from Ebbw Vale town to Cardiff, including Abertillery, that is served by a railway that is there to serve the Heads of the Valleys and not a commuter service for Cardiff and Newport, and that's a very real and important distinction. And I will say to you, Minister—I know you've been lobbied on this on a number of different occasions: there is no support in Ebbw Vale or Blaenau Gwent for any service to Newport. This was established as a service linking the Heads of the Valleys with the capital of a country, and that is a service that we want, and we do not need a commuter service, either, I'm afraid to say, for Newport or for Cardiff. This is to link the poorest communities in this country with the heart of our capital, and we need to be able to keep a very real focus on that. So, there's no consensus and no support in Blaenau Gwent for our railway to be disrupted in that way.

But in order to deliver what that railway can really do, which is social and economic success, we need a structure that can do that into the future, and whilst the Member for Montgomeryshire, the Conservative spokesman on these matters, made a gallant effort to defend the Conservative approach to railway development, I'm afraid he wasn't very convincing on that this afternoon. We have not seen the investment in Wales that we require. We have not seen the focus on Wales that we require, and what we have seen is a Welsh Government investing in our railways but without the democratic structure that we require to deliver that.

This is about social justice, Minister. It's about economic justice. It's about having a structure that can deliver both of those in our country into the future. I don't know if UK Ministers have discussed investment on the Ebbw valley line with Welsh Ministers at all; I doubt it. The Ebbw valley line is a long, long way from Whitehall and Westminster. It's a long way from their thoughts, and I have never seen any—I've never been convinced that they in any way care about what we're doing here.

So, I hope in the future, Minister, we'll be able to see a settlement that enables you and us to deliver social justice. We need investment in the rolling stock and in the rail connections. We need connections to communities such as Abertillery, which is not served at all by the current structures, but what we need more than anything is a settlement and a clarity that there's a commitment to funding these ambitions and these visions, a commitment to funding the sort of investment in the rail system that we need, and that to me means the devolution of the infrastructure and control over the infrastructure to Wales, so that this Government can roll up our sleeves and get on with the job that the Tories aren't even interested in starting.

16:30

Well, as so often with this Minister for Economy and Transport, the motions begin with a newspaper headline, now claiming historic underinvestment by the UK Government in Wales's rail infrastructure. In a written statement last December, this Minister stated that Wales has been the poor relation of the UK's rail investment and that we've received less than 2 per cent of the investment in rail improvements in recent years. However, after this was put to Network Rail in the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in 2017, they copied Members on the 2015-16 Office of Rail and Road's annual report, 'UK Rail Industry Financial Information 2015-16', which stated that Wales actually received 9.6 per cent of net Government funding for franchised train operators and Network Rail, and 6.4 per cent of the total net Government funding for Network Rail routes. 

The following year's report, published in 2018, shone further light on this. On average, Government contributed £1.53 per passenger journey in England, £6.08 in Scotland and £8.82 in Wales. Net Government funding, as a percentage of the rail industry's total income in England, Scotland and Wales was 17 per cent in England, 47 per cent in Scotland and 49 per cent in Wales. Net Government funding for rail franchises as a percentage of total income, including infrastructure funding, was 56 per cent for Wales and the borders, compared to just 21 per cent for the GB total.

Wales and borders received 9.4 per cent of net Government funding by franchise area. Across all GB routes, expenditure per passenger was highest in the Wales route at 43p per kilometre. Wales received over 5 per cent of GB Network Rail enhancements expenditure by route, and Wales received almost 10 per cent of total Government funding of franchised train operators and Network Rail—[Interruption.] Certainly.