Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd30/04/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon, once again, is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Lynne Neagle.
1. What steps is the First Minister taking to protect the natural environment in the south Wales Valleys? OAQ53781
Diolch, Llywydd. Amongst the steps being taken to protect the natural environment is the proposed creation of the Valleys regional park. It will support innovative responses to climate change, water quality and management, and the protection of biodiversity and unique local habitats.
Thank you, First Minister. First Minister, the report into the public inquiry on proposals to mine aggregate at a much-loved local beauty spot, known as 'the canyons', is currently with your Minister for Housing and Local Government, awaiting decision. And I'm really grateful for the cross-party support for our campaign to stop the development, and in particular to the many AMs, from all parties, who've signed my giant postcard depicting the area, in recognition of its unique natural beauty. Now, I realise that you cannot comment on an individual planning application, but will you take this opportunity to restate the Welsh Government's commitment to protecting our environment in the south Wales Valleys, not just for local residents, but also in order to unlock their massive tourism and leisure potential?
I thank Lynne Neagle for that question. Of course, I'm very pleased indeed to put on record, again, the Welsh Government's commitment to our irreplaceable natural resources, the significance that they have for the value of the landscape, for biodiversity and, indeed, for local heritage. And I commend, of course, the campaign that she has led and the imaginative way in which it has drawn attention to an issue that I know means a great deal to her and to local residents. Now, as Lynne knows, decisions on whether to recover an appeal follow a set of established and published criteria. If an appeal meets one of the criteria, then recovery is automatic, and that is what has happened in this case. Recovered appeals are processed by the Planning Inspectorate in the normal way, and that has now been completed. The decision then lies with Welsh Ministers, and, as the Member has said, it's not possible for me, or for anyone else at the Welsh Government, to comment on the merits of the proposal so as not to prejudice the final decision. But the Member's constituents will have heard what she has said today and I know will appreciate the efforts that she is making on their behalf.
Good afternoon, Minister. A recent survey found that Wales has been particularly affected by the spread of deadly fungus known as ash dieback. As a result, millions of diseased trees near buildings, roads and railways will have to be cut down, having a very significant impact on the landscape and our wildlife. First Minister, what action is the Welsh Government taking, alongside Natural Resources Wales, to increase tree planting in the Valleys, and elsewhere, to protect and preserve this vital part of our natural environment in Wales?
Llywydd, can I thank the Member for that question? He's absolutely right to point to the recent reports of the impact that ash dieback is already having in Wales and that it could go on having into the future. It's an example of the way in which threats to species do not observe any geographical barriers. Natural Resources Wales will lead for the Welsh Government in our response to ash dieback. Part of that response is about planting more trees in future, to take forward our plan for a national forest here in Wales, and to do everything that we can to deal with the specifics of ash dieback, but to advance the benefits of reforestation across Wales in the process.
Although we're celebrating new-found species like the Maerdy monster, recently found on a Rhondda coal tip, the picture for other species isn't so rosy. Anyone watching the brilliant recent BBC programme Land of the Wild will be concerned by the message at the end of the series by Iolo Williams about the extent of species decline in this country. Species decline and soil degradation are key concerns of extinction rebellion, so how will you address these concerns? Now that you've agreed that we face a climate emergency, when will you outline how you are going to meet their demands on immediate emission reductions and the setting up of a citizens' assembly? And do you accept that you now need to pull your finger out on this? As this stand, you are missing your previously agreed emissions targets, and a new M4 black route decision will make things much worse, which all makes the case for the setting up of a citizens' assembly so that we can hold you to account on this.
I want to agree with the Member about the seriousness of the position that we face in relation to biodiversity and the decline in species here in Wales. And the reason why, yesterday, my colleague Lesley Griffiths declared a climate emergency on behalf of Wales is both a recognition of the seriousness of intent that we have as a Welsh Government, our commitment to galvanize action inside the Welsh Government but far beyond, and to support the social movement that there is emerging in relation to climate change, because, while Government has a core responsibility—and we set out in our low-carbon plan 100 different actions that the Government intended to take—if we are to succeed in addressing what may be the single greatest threat to humankind at any time in our history, then those actions will have to go far beyond what Government itself is able to do, and that's why the social movement is so important.
Now, Leanne Wood pointed to the fall in vertebrate populations across the United Kingdom—a fall of 60 per cent since 1970. She pointed to the problems of topsoil—85 per cent of the topsoil of East Anglia has disappeared since 1850, since intensive agriculture began. These are absolutely and fundamentally serious signs of what is happening in our environment, and we are determined as a Government to play our part in moving from a period of environmental decline to one of environmental growth. I think that support across this Chamber will be necessary to make that happen, and I know that there are Members in all parties who are committed to making that happen.
2. Will the First Minister set out how the Welsh Government supports local authorities to provide leisure services? OAQ53769
I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. Even after a decade of austerity, the Welsh Government supports local authorities through revenue and capital funding for leisure purposes. Earlier this year we announced an additional £5 million worth of capital, through Sport Wales, to support the development of leisure facilities across our country.
Thank you, First Minister. I'm sure you'll be aware that leisure services or leisure centres that have been transferred to independent, charitable trusts are applicable for non-domestic rate relief, while those that are retained by councils aren't. This means that, across Wales, leisure trusts receive rate relief of approximately £5.4 million, whilst local authorities are paying around £3.1 million. This is obviously unfair, and I know that the finance Minister has already agreed to meet with representatives from my local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf, to further discuss this discrepancy. However, when these centres and services are so important in improving health and well-being, can the Welsh Government commit to doing all that is in its power to level this particular playing field?
Well, Llywydd, can I begin by agreeing with what Vikki Howells has said about the importance of sport and leisure to improving health and well-being? It was a particular pleasure to be with her in March at the opening of Cwmaman Primary School, and one of the really striking things that we saw that day was the multi-use games area available to the school during school hours but open for wider community use during the evening. And, indeed, I want to commend RCT as a local authority for the actions that it is taking to make use of the £15 million that the Welsh Government has set aside to support community-focused schools in Valley areas.
As for the specific supplementary question on non-domestic rate relief, I think it's fair for me to say, Llywydd, that while local authorities pay in money to the non-domestic rate relief pool, they get every single penny of that back. So, they are paying money in, but every penny that they pay is redistributed through the pool, and redistributed on the basis of need. Nonetheless, the Member has identified an important issue. I'm glad that Rebecca Evans will be meeting with the local authority and others on 15 May, I believe, so that we can explore in more detail with local authorities whether there is a discrepancy here and whether there is action that could be taken to address it.
First Minister, I'm sure you're aware of the situation at the city of Cardiff swimming club where, earlier this year, following the transfer of the Cardiff international swimming pool to Legacy Leisure, and a subsequent reduction in the council subsidy of £100,000, the club found themselves having to find £53,000 a year and a loss of pool time. This club has run for over 40 years, has seen dozens of its swimmers go on to represent Wales and the UK at Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games, including Mark Foster, David Davies and Ieuan Lloyd. I think it's very important that when we see a change in these arrangements, we remember the need to involve all our clubs and organisations using these facilities, including the elite ones that bring such honour to our nation and are really important right down the sporting pyramid, because what we see achieved at the highest level has a big impact on our ability to take up sport in general.
I thank David Melding for that. I am indeed aware of the issue and of the history of the club, both in terms of the role models that it has supplied and the work that it does in grass-roots swimming as well. I believe that the local authority remains in discussions with the club, looking for a way to resolve some of the issues that the club has identified.
First Minister, leisure services across Wales have taken a hammering over recent years and, obviously, as you've said, while Tory UK Government austerity has driven much of this, over recent years a lack of Welsh Government funding to local government has compounded the issue. Now, these concerns over funding have been well made by council leaders of all political persuasions by the Welsh Local Government Association. Local leisure services clearly play a vital societal role in terms of tackling loneliness and isolation, physical fitness and social cohesion. Do you now recognise that your Government will need to commit to providing more money to local government in future years so that these vital services can be protected?
Well, Llywydd, the Welsh Government's record of supporting local government in Wales bears any examination in comparison with what has happened in other parts of the country. That is why local authorities in Wales in this financial year have a very modest uplift in the investment that we are able to provide them, whereas further cuts are happening across our border. That does not mean for a minute that, nearly a decade into austerity, there aren't real pinch points and pressures that our local authority colleagues feel, and we discussed those with them absolutely regularly, and, as a Cabinet, we worked right through last summer to find money from every place we were able to go to in the Welsh Government to provide more funding for local authorities in the current financial year
Now, for next year, we have no budget at all. There is no comprehensive spending review that has been completed and we have no knowledge of what the revenue for Welsh public services will be from 1 April next year onwards. Those are tremendously difficult circumstances for local authorities, but also for every other public service that this National Assembly supports across Wales. We will do everything we can, working with local authorities and others, to protect those vital services, but the impact of austerity on the one hand and the absolute absence of a budget within which to plan for next year make that inevitably hugely difficult for us and for all of those services that depend upon the decisions that are made here in this Chamber.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. Someone must take responsibility for Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board slipping into special measures, First Minister. Who is to blame?
Well, the report that has been published today, Llywydd, is a very difficult read, and something went seriously wrong in Cwm Taf maternity services. What I think the report demonstrates is that failures happened at many levels. They were professional failures. The report undoubtedly demonstrates that there were behaviours by doctors and other clinical staff, sometimes, but not always, because of the pressures that they were working under, that do not stand up to the test of professional conduct, that there was a failure of leadership and that that created a blame culture inside that service that meant that when people felt they had something to say, they were reluctant to say it. It demonstrates that there was a systems failure, so it's not just about individuals—it is about the way the system itself responded to those concerns. And then there was a failure of the organisation itself to see what was going on and then to respond to it properly. So, I don't think it is as simple as being able to point the finger at particular individuals, because the report demonstrates that those failures took place at many levels, and putting those things right will require action right across the board and amongst those people who work for it.
Well, you're right, First Minister, to question leadership on this matter, and people are questioning the leadership of your Government under these circumstances. And let me remind you, First Minister, this isn't the first time we've raised this terrible situation in this Chamber. And the last time I questioned you in March, you told me that mothers and babies are no longer at risk under Cwm Taf. If that was the case, I for one have been left wondering why the health Minister today has actually ordered maternity services at the Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals to be put into special measures.
It's quite clear that you as a Government didn't have a grip on our health service, because your Minister has admitted today in his statement that he was unaware of an internal investigation from September last year. Surely your Government should have known what state of crisis these services were in, and why has it taken you so long to publish today's report, given that the first formal concerns at Cwm Taf were reported nearly seven years ago? And now, a review of 43 pregnancies will have to be carried out. Isn't it true that the health Minister and your Government have failed for far too long? You must be more transparent, First Minister, with the people of Wales. Instead of rearranging the seating plan around the board table, who will now actually take responsibility for this?
Well, Llywydd, the reason that we are having this very difficult conversation today is because the Minister commissioned an independent inquiry into what went on in Cwm Taf in October of last year. And I don't think there's any lack of transparency on behalf of the Government in having commissioned that report and having published it for the National Assembly to be able to debate it in the first week that we are back after Easter. And the reason that the Minister commissioned that report is in recognition of the bravery of those women and families in Cwm Taf who insisted on having the things that they could see brought to public attention. And those of us who've had an opportunity to read it will know just how powerful and how distressing it is to read the words of those women reported to us when they reflect on the experiences that they have had. And the actions of this Government are designed to make sure that the recommendations of that report are implemented, that they are implemented urgently and in full, that the failings that have taken place are corrected, and that we rebuild the confidence of patients and of staff who rely on that service every single day. There will be people using that service today, there will be people booked in to use that service over the coming weeks, and the actions that the Minister has taken are designed to ensure that those people, sometimes from some of the most health compromised parts of the whole of Wales, whose needs are greatest—that those people can be confident that the service that they receive is one that matches those needs.
But, First Minister, this latest development does call into question your leadership and the leadership of this Government to run our NHS. It's a sad fact, isn't it, that with five out of seven health boards across the country under special measures or targeted interventions, there is barely anything special or unusual about it anymore? This seems the new norm and the sad reality for the people of Wales under your Government. It takes an enormous amount of resources to heavily monitor so many services. Most notably, we are now approaching the four-year mark of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board being placed into special measures, making it the longest running special measurers health board in Britain. So, how is your Government keeping up with these extra demands? With such a dangerous record of established and proven healthcare failings under successive Labour and Labour-led Governments, can you today reassure the people of Wales how you intend to turn around the fortunes of our Welsh health service?
Llywydd, I don't believe that what we have read in this report is emblematic of maternity services across Wales. I have met midwives in every single part of Wales. They are amongst some of the most impressive health professionals I have ever met and they provide and absolutely dedicated and determined service for people. I was asked by the leader of the opposition whether this was emblematic of the service that is provided by staff of the NHS across Wales and I'm simply saying to him that, in my view, it is not and it does not reflect my experience of meeting front-line staff in every part of Wales.
Nevertheless, we recognise that people across Wales need an assurance that what has been discovered at Cwm Taf is not characteristic of the service that they provide. That is why, in addition to the independent maternity oversight panel that the Minister has established, and in addition to the actions that are being taken to improve the effectiveness of board leadership and governance in that local health board, the Minister has also announced today in his statement that across the NHS in Wales, we will carry out an assurance exercise, led by the chief nursing officer and the chief medical officer, and there will be a review later this year by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales of maternity services across Wales. Because while I don't think that this is emblematic of maternity services across Wales, patients across Wales deserve to have that independent assurance that the service they are providing is one that we in this Chamber would be proud to receive ourselves.
Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
In going through the various levels of responsibility in this case a moment ago, there was one level that you failed to mention, namely the ministerial level, the governmental level—the level that you're responsible for. Nobody has resigned as a result of these damning failings in maternity services in Cwm Taf, and yet, surely somebody has to take responsibility, and it's Ministers who do have to carry the can, ultimately. And that includes you, First Minister, because one of the reports highlights concerns dating back to 2015, and your tenure as health Minister.
An internal report from a senior midwife has raised the curtain on further cases of stillbirth going back eight years that the health board didn't report on, and the authors of the report, it's important to note, have recommended that those cases should be subject to inquiry too. Now, this morning, in an interview on the BBC, a mother who gave birth to her daughter at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital last year, who subsequently passed away, said that the resignation of the health Minister would give her and those in the same position as her some assurance that others in future wouldn't face the same suffering, although it wouldn't, of course, bring her daughter back. Given the responsibility that you and your health Minister share for the systemic failures in Cwm Taf, wouldn't it be the right thing for you as First Minister to not only ask your health Minister to apologise to these families, but also to ask him to do the honourable thing and resign?
Well, I do not agree with what the Member has said. As I explained in my reply to Paul Davies, we're in the situation that we are in today, where we're able to discuss what's happened in Cwm Taf, because the Minister took the action that he did.
And I don't believe, myself, Llywydd, that the terribly difficult days that those families have gone through and the very difficult day that they will go through today—that they look to a single individual as the way of resolving those difficulties. It is because of the actions that the Minister has taken that these matters have come to light. It is because of the actions that the Minister has taken that we have an independent report, and it is because of the actions that the Minister has taken that we now have a set of measures in place to give those families assurance about what has happened in the past and, to those families who still need to use that service, an assurance of the standard of care that they will receive. I commend the Minister for the fact that he is meeting those families directly, that he will speak to them, that he will hear from them of their experiences, and that he will be responsible for the actions that this Government has taken. I think that is a far better way to respond seriously, as we ought to, to the history of what has happened and to the individual experiences that lie behind the report we are discussing this afternoon.
First Minister, yesterday, your Government declared a climate emergency, which we on this side obviously welcome and which we hope the Senedd will endorse through our motion tomorrow. Most people will be reasonably of the view that yesterday's announcement will be incompatible with any subsequent decision to plough ahead with the environmentally destructive M4 black route. Can you confirm that the declaration of a climate emergency, presuming it has substance and isn't merely declaratory, is a change in policy that will be a new and materially relevant factor in your decision making on the M4, and have you asked officials for additional advice on that basis?
You have today also confirmed that you will not be making an announcement on the M4 until the first week of June. Given your party is deeply divided on this issue, isn't it just a little bit convenient, First Minister, to kick this down the road, all £2 billion-worth of it, until after the European elections? You said on Sunday you were seeking advice on whether this decision would be caught by the rules on pre-election announcements. Have you received that advice? Is that the justification for this further delay? And did the advice from officials remind you of the general principles set out in guidance that, although in some cases it may be better to defer an announcement, that needs to be balanced carefully against any implication that deferral could itself influence the political outcome?
Llywydd, I don't believe that the declaration of climate emergency is a new policy for this Government or, indeed, for this National Assembly, because I think that the environmental principles that have been important across this Chamber and across the period of devolution are summed up in that decision. Of course the decision to declare an emergency is meant to galvanise action; of course it is meant to draw attention to the emergency; of course it is meant to make sure that Wales is positioned where we would wish to see Wales positioned, which is at the leading edge of the social movement that is developing around the world on this matter, but I don't believe that it represents a sharp difference in policy. It sums up the significance and the importance that we have attached to the environment, ever since the sustainable development principle was introduced into the founding legislation of this National Assembly. And that's why we decided to do it yesterday: because we wanted to make sure that we remained consistent with and true to the history that we have developed in this institution and then to use that to go further still.
So, my colleague Lesley Griffiths has been seeking further advice on the targets that we have announced so far to see whether there is more that we could still do. I know that that advice is expected to be received on Thursday of this week and that the Minister will be meeting directly with those who have provided that advice, and we will then see whether there is even more that we can do, building on the 100 actions in the low-carbon plan that we published in March, to do even more to play our part in dealing with, as I said in my answer to Leanne Wood earlier, what may be the single greatest threat to human beings that we have ever faced.
I hope—and I'll say it again: I hope that, if we are to make the impact that we want to make, then where we share a sense of the urgency and where we share a sense of the necessity to galvanise action within Government and beyond that we will work together across the Chamber to create that new sense of urgency that is needed in our society. If we do it that way, then we will have a better chance of being able to address the problem than if we treat it as some sort of party political matter.
As far as the M4 relief road is concerned, then Adam Price is right that I've said today—I've set out, as I promised I would, the decision-making timetable for the M4. In the end, the purdah issue became irrelevant. I received further advice yesterday, which will lead to questions that I will need to explore with officials. So, there is further advice and further meetings that will need to happen over the next few weeks. Then there will need to be the legal documentation drawn up to support whatever decision I come to. Members here will know, as Adam Price said, that the M4 relief road is an inherently controversial topic, and whatever decision is made is vulnerable to potential legal challenge, so the legal documentation to support that decision has to be in the best possible order. All of that will take another small number of weeks, but I'm now confident that I will be in a position to make that decision in the first week after the Whitsun break and that it will be announced here, on the floor of the National Assembly.
Now, as we know, the British Labour Party national executive committee is meeting now to decide their policy on a second referendum. Now, I know you either don't know or won't say how your nominee on the executive is going to vote, and I must admit, having just watched Mick Antoniw interviewed by the BBC, I'm none the wiser either. My question is simply this: what is the current policy of the Welsh Labour Government, because there does seem to be some degree of confusion? You said over the weekend that a confirmatory referendum should be 'in the mix', which prompted Alun Davies AM to say, referring to you:
'Well that wasn’t the policy that he asked me to vote for. We agreed as a Labour Group that we would vote for a policy which included a firm commitment to a referendum and @fmwales needs to be delivering on that policy.'
Given this disagreement in your own ranks, and even in your own Cabinet, can you set the record straight? Is it your Government's current policy to advocate a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal? If a different line emerges from the NEC in London this afternoon, does that then automatically become your Government's new policy?
Llywydd, here is the policy: if the UK Parliament cannot unite around an alternative proposition that includes participation in the single market and a customs union, then the only option that remains is to give the decision back to the people. That is the policy—that is the policy as set out in a motion sponsored jointly by his party and mine in front of this National Assembly earlier this year. That is the policy that I voted for—that is the policy that he voted for—and I'm very happy to be able to confirm that it remains the policy of the Government this afternoon.
3. What strategy will the Welsh Government follow to strengthen and reinforce its commitment to tackle climate change? OAQ53760
Llywydd, the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 sets the legislative framework for tackling climate change in Wales. Commitments were further strengthened and reinforced in the 'A Low Carbon Wales' document published last month.
First Minister, it's clear that a growing number of people—our young people and, indeed, the older generation concerned for their grandchildren—do not think that the current scale and pace of action to combat climate change is sufficient. I think we've seen, with Extinction Rebellion and the number of people protesting, the number of arrests and, indeed, Greta Thunberg, as an amazing 16-year-old advocate for our environment, manifestations of that strength of feeling. As you say, there's a worldwide movement now to do more and, I think, to go faster. So, I very much welcome the Welsh Government's declaration of a climate emergency but I do believe it needs to be followed by new energy and new action. One key area, I believe, is transport, and I do think we need a more integrated, a much more integrated, transport system in Wales. One great opportunity is the south Wales metro, and I wonder, First Minister, if Welsh Government will now look at whether it's possible to radically strengthen and accelerate the programme of work for that south Wales metro.
Well, I thank John Griffiths for that. I completely agree with him, but of course we have to take actions to support any declaration and the transport field is certainly one where carbon emissions and the transition to a low-carbon economy has to take place, and the south Wales metro is key to our ambitions in this part of our country. John Griffiths will know that the White Paper, 'Improving public transport', has integrated transport at the very heart of it, encouraging people to walk more and cycle more, but also to look at the way in which bus transportation, which after all carries far more people every day than trains do—that we make bus travel a public service responsibility again. Because, when planning bus services is properly back in public hands, then we will be able to carry out the sort of integration of public transport that John Griffiths referred to in his question, and it's exactly that approach that the Minister intends to set out in the new Wales transport strategy, which is promised for later this year.
Minister, yesterday—obviously we've heard previously that the Government had called a climate change emergency here in Wales. I had expected to at least see a statement today because you don't use the word 'emergency' lightly. I had hoped to have heard more positive actions from you as First Minister to a series of questions that have been placed in front of the Assembly this afternoon. I have to say, I can't see, other than the press release that went out yesterday, what has changed in the Government's philosophy. So, can you enlarge maybe on, because you've called this emergency, what have you done to change the dynamics? Surely, you're not just chasing the next press release.
Well, Llywydd, there is a written statement. I'm not sure if Members have had it as yet but, if not, it will be with Members very shortly and that will set out a series of the actions that lie behind the declaration. But the declaration is important for its declaratory purpose. That is what the campaign has asked us to do and I know that it was welcomed by a large number of those people who are involved in the campaign. And sometimes in politics—personally, I think relatively rarely, but sometimes in politics—declarations are important because they send a message. That's why the campaign has asked us to do that. That is why the motion that Plaid Cymru has proposed refers to it, because political declarations create a context in which those actions can then be taken. Of course it must be more than a declaration, and it is more than a declaration here in Wales. The written statement sets out a series of those actions, drawing, as I've said, on the low-carbon plan. But the declaration itself is significant and it gives confidence and it gives hope and it gives a sense of purpose to those young people and others who have made this cause their cause and want it to be the cause of this National Assembly as well. So, I make no apologies for the declaration, because it's there for a purpose and it will be backed up, as the written statement will demonstrate, by the actions that we can take and then the actions that need to be taken by others beyond this Assembly and in Wales.
4. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve the road transport network? OAQ53747
I thank the Member for that. Our national transport finance plan sets out our priorities for the road transport network in Wales. The Minister for Economy and Transport will provide an updated plan in May of this year.
Thank you very much, First Minister. The cost of widening the A465 Heads of the Valleys road between Gilwern and Brynmawr was originally budgeted at £220 million. In November 2017, it was announced that costs had risen by £51 million and that the completion of the project was delayed until the end of this year. We now hear that the cost has increased by another £54 million and that the completion date will be missed again. First Minister, can you now please provide this Assembly with the revised completion date for this project? When will your Government receive the Welsh Audit Office report into the project's commercial position, which was begun last year?
I thank the Member for that question. I want to recognise the seriousness of the issue to which he has pointed and Members will know that the Minister for Economy and Transport's written statement published on 3 April provided the detail that lies behind the issue that the Member has highlighted. So, here was a complex construction scheme where a solution was required to address a particular geographical feature that the company, the contractor, argue was only discoverable once construction had begun. It is a matter of regret to the Welsh Government that the contractor has then incurred substantial overspend and programme delays and the detail of that is set out in the Minister's statement. While we will not now have full completion by the end of this year, the bulk of the work will be completed—the significant bulk of the work will be completed—during 2019 and we expect the remainder of the scheme to be completed in the early part of next year.
One cost-effective way of improving road networks is to find joint investment, and it's possible occasionally. There has been some talk about getting the National Grid to contribute to the cost of a new Menai crossing in order to carry cables as part of the Wylfa Newydd development—a bridge that would allow safe cycling to work to Parc Menai, for example, for the very first time. Now that the Wylfa Newydd proposal has been paused, does the First Minister agree with me that it's important not to lose momentum with the new bridge proposal, and does he agree that there is a very strong case to continue to seek joint investment from the grid by encouraging them to put the current cabling over the Menai on that new bridge as part of the project worth billions of pounds that is happening in other parts of the UK to remove pylons and underground cables in areas of outstanding natural beauty? It would also be a way of removing the pylons that currently run through the middle of the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.
May I thank the Member for the points he makes? I do agree that it is important for us not to lose momentum in the scheme that we have for the third crossing over the Menai straits. I know that the Minister is fully aware of that and we are keen that the pause of Wylfa does not impact the new bridge scheme. It is important to bring other people in, and the National Grid is part of that, but there are other partners that we can also think of. I know the Minister has heard the Member's words this afternoon, and we are working hard to progress the scheme and to put more details together, and, to be clear, we do not wish to lose momentum on such a crucially important scheme for local people.
5. What can the Welsh Government do to stop the UK from leading the European Union on providing subsidies to fossil fuels? OAQ53791
Llywydd, the Welsh Government uses our own powers to limit the extraction of fossil fuels in Wales. UK subsidies are provided using reserved powers. We continue to lobby the UK Government to invest instead in renewable energy generation, where Wales possesses such an abundance of natural resources.
Of course, these subsidies come at a price, because the suppression of the fuel duty rises that were due to be taking place for climate change reasons have meant that Governments have had to forgo a sum of money equivalent to twice the amount of money we pay for doctors and nurses in this country. So, we are talking about very large sums of money. And it seems to me that it's completely contradictory to charge the consumption of gas and electric in people's homes with 5 per cent taxes and to charge the insulation of people's homes, which will reduce the amount they'll have to use in the way of electric and gas, by 20 per cent. These are, obviously, really important issues as we move forward in how we tackle the climate emergency, and whilst I hear what you say about endeavouring to influence the neanderthal UK Government, what can we do in Wales to ensure that we have a level playing field to encourage people to invest in renewables rather than fossil fuels?
I thank the Member for that. As I said in my first answer, the Welsh Government already uses our own powers in relation to fossil fuel licensing to withhold support for new energy mineral extraction. The European Commission report that highlighted the UK's subsidy of fossil fuels also refers to the importance of demand reduction, energy efficiency and investment in renewables, and the Welsh Government directly plays a part in all of those things, using powers and resources that we have ourselves.
It nevertheless remains the case, Llywydd, that fuel subsidies, taxes and financial incentives are complex and largely reserved matters. What we want to see is use of the substantial financial and legislative levers in the hands of the UK Government put to work to drive down the use of fossil fuels and drive up the use of renewables—not just in wind and solar, but in marine energy particularly, where the failure to deliver a 'contract for difference' mechanism is inhibiting the growth of this vital Welsh possibility.
Surely the UK Government has been taxing rather than subsidising carbon use. Will the First Minister not congratulate George Osborne on his carbon tax, which has cut coal use by three quarters, or congratulate the UK Government rather than call it neanderthal, as UK carbon emissions have fallen faster than almost anywhere else in the world, by around 40 per cent since 1990 compared to only 17 per cent in Wales, or indeed congratulate the first world leader to campaign on climate change, who was Margaret Thatcher?
Llywydd, the European Commission's report to which Jenny Rathbone drew attention highlighted the fact that the UK Government subsidises fossil fuels in the United Kingdom at a level far in excess of any other European nation. I see nothing at all to congratulate them on on that record.
I'm sure that people will be shocked by what the First Minister said earlier in response to Adam Price—that is, just 24 hours after declaring a climate emergency, that you say that that didn't necessarily mean that you needed a change of policy. Now, one policy that I would clearly want to see implemented is more encouragement for disinvestment, because there is much money in public sector pensions, particularly, invested in fossil fuel companies. I had a letter from the Minister for finance recently that said the Government would welcome local authority pension investors considering these issues. Can we have a far more unambiguous statement from Government, making it entirely clear that, if you look at the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, these kinds of investments should not be happening?
The Minister is willing to give more information to the Member, and other Members who have an interest in this.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's plans to improve the strategic road network in mid Wales? OAQ53763
On 14 February, the Minister for Economy and Transport officially opened the £95 million Newtown bypass. We also plan further investments in the region that will improve connectivity and road safety.
Thank you, First Minister, for your answer. The Cefn bridge on the A458 near Trewern is one of the main routes from mid Wales into the midlands. There's growing frustration on the ongoing delays to repair works on this bridge following an accident that occurred last December. The delay has caused extensive queuing, especially during the holiday period, and there is currently no planned date for the works to begin. That's the latest information from the trunk road agency to my constituents. There doesn't appear to be any immediate date in sight for permanent repairs to take place due to agreements that have to take place with Network Rail, due to the safety concerns of operating on a live track. I hope you can give me a date, First Minister, but if you can't, can you also exert your influence on the trunk road agency and Network Rail to bring about a date for repair work to start on this important bridge?
Can I thank the Member for that question? He is absolutely right that two heavy goods vehicles collided on the Cefn bridge in December of last year and that caused major damage to the bridge. The bridge carries the trunk road over a railway and Russell George is quite right to point to the safety constraints that are inevitably in place where you have a live railway track and a bridge that needs repair. The bridge also has required a new steel parapet and that has had to be manufactured specifically, but that manufacture has now taken place. It's also been necessary to acquire the services of a specialist installer, but that installer is now ready to carry out the work. I'm pleased to be able to let the Member and his constituents know that Network Rail have now confirmed that track access has been granted for the weekend of Friday 7 June to Saturday 9 June, and that will allow that repair work to be carried out.
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on the progress of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Wales) Bill? OAQ53789
I thank the Member for that. Good progress is being made on introducing this Bill in Wales. The consultation on the Welsh Government's proposals received an overwhelmingly positive response and it is the intention of the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs intention to lay the Bill before this Assembly prior to the summer recess so that scrutiny can begin.
That's very welcome news, First Minister. At the moment, the Circus Mondao is one of the few travelling circuses in Wales that exhibit wild animals and they're currently in my constituency. You know they're there because they fly-post all over the borough and put their trailers illegally on public land to advertise what they're doing. I've no confidence that they are willing to obey the law on that ground, but I'm sure that legislation brought by the Welsh Government will compel them to obey the law by banning the use of wild animals. This is their second visit to my constituency since I've been here and I sincerely hope that this legislation will prevent a third visit.
I thank the Member for his support for the legislation. Circus Mondao have a licence under English licensing regulations, but of course, that arrangement will be overtaken by legislation that will be passed in this Assembly, should it succeed in gaining support across the Chamber. Then, they and any other operators will have to obey the new legislative requirements here in Wales.
Finally, question 8, David Rowlands.
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the work the Welsh Government is doing to develop policies in accordance with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? OAQ53749
Llywydd, the Welsh Government is committed to embedding the five ways of working that underpin the Act into all policy development. We continue to make progress as we consider the long-term impact of all policies, work collaboratively with our delivery partners and look to involve our citizens in the process of policy making here in Wales.
I thank the First Minister for that answer. The work of the 70/30 organisation plays a vital part in combating child abuse. Their target of reducing such abuse by 70 per cent by 2030 goes with an acceptance that parenting skills do not always come naturally to some. It would therefore seem that this issue needs to be vigorously addressed. Will the First Minister ensure that his social justice programme will have at its heart combating child abuse?
I entirely agree with the Member that child abuse is a matter that Governments have to take very seriously and that parents have to be helped with the skills that they need, sometimes to carry out the very difficult business of bringing up children in significantly adverse circumstances. We already invest significant sums of money, both through the education service and through our social services, in providing that sort of assistance and have every intention of continuing to do so in the future.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd to make the statement—Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. There's one change to today's business: the Counsel General and Brexit Minister will make a statement shortly to update the Assembly on Brexit negotiations. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Minister, could we please have a statement from the Minister for health on drug rehabilitation services in Wales? Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of people dying as a result of drug poisoning in Wales has increased by 40 per cent since 2003. However, the only Welsh Government-approved residential rehabilitation centre, Brynawel Rehab, is not getting the referrals needed from the council to be cost-effective and is operating only at 60 per cent of its capacity. Last year, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales called on the Welsh Government to improve the availability of drug rehabilitation provision. Minister, can we have a statement from the Minister outlining the reasons why this vital facility is being underused, when the figures show its services are vitally needed here? Thank you.
Thank you for raising this important issue. Of course, residential rehabilitation and in-patient detoxification play a really important role in helping service users secure a long-term recovery. The Welsh Government remains committed to ensuring that such services are available and will remain an important element of the Welsh Government's substance misuse strategy in terms of its ongoing priorities. This year, we've committed more than £50 million to ensuring that people have the right help and support that they need to deal with the impact of substance misuse and £1 million of that will specifically support residential detox and rehab. Around half of the funding—so, £25 million—goes directly to our area planning boards, which are responsible for the assessing, commissioning and delivering of substance misuse services, and they commission those services in line with clinical guidance and with input from service users themselves.
With particular regard to organisations such as Brynawel, it is certainly for the chief executives of those organisations to advertise the good work that they do and to make those contacts and make those links in order to ensure that they are viable businesses. I know Welsh Government has supported Brynawel in a number of ways over the years, and, of course, Business Wales is very keen to engage with them to see what further support, information and advice we can offer for the future.
Trefnydd, you will recall that on 14 February last year, this Assembly unanimously supported a motion proposed by myself, and supported by colleagues across the Chamber, regarding the issue of unadopted roads in Wales. The motion called for the establishment of a taskforce to look at the issues facing residents across Wales who are living on these unadopted roads. These roads have often been unadopted for decades, are in a poor state of repair and result in significant levels of letters, e-mails and phone calls between residents and county councils across Wales, often going around in circles with no endpoint in sight. Now, following that vote in February 2018, the taskforce was established and has been consulting with a range of bodies, including local authorities, housing associations, utility companies, the Home Builders Federation, One Voice Wales, and everybody else, it seems to me. You will recall that the motion also sought to develop a Wales-wide programme to deliver a reduction in the number of unadopted roads in Wales. Now, in answering a written question on 26 March, the Minister for Economy and Transport stated that the taskforce was finalising its recommendations and that he expected to receive its report later that month, meaning at the end of last month. It's now the end of April. Could I ask the Government for an update in terms of the progress on this issue and when it expects to make a statement in this Chamber on the taskforce's recommendation?
Thank you for raising this issue. Of course, the issue of unadopted roads is one of concern to a great many of us in this Chamber. The work that's going on through that task and finish group really complements the work that is going on in terms of our leasehold reform agenda more widely in ensuring that there is good management of estates across Wales. I'll certainly ask the Minister with responsibility for the economy and transport to write to you with an update on progress on the issue, and to give you an idea of the timescales as to when he'll be able to provide more information on the work of that task and finish group.
I would like to ask for two Government statements. Firstly, I'm asking for a Government statement outlining what support has been given to staff who lost their jobs following the closure of Dawnus, which will affect your constituents as much as it affects mine, and what further help will be provided. Because it was a catastrophic closure, because it happened virtually overnight.
Secondly, I'm asking for either a Government statement, or preferably a debate, on incineration. This should include how the waste incineration directive is being implemented, whether buffer zones from properties, such as those that exist for opencast mining, could be implemented, and the reason why the Government is not bringing in a moratorium on incinerators, which I and many others in this Chamber have asked for.
Thank you again for raising both of these issues. And as Mike Hedges will know, Dawnus directly employed 705 people across Wales and the UK, and 430 of those employees were based here in Wales. As he will know, the Welsh Government established a taskforce to support those individuals who were directly affected as a result of the business entering into administration. The Welsh Government's ReAct programme, Careers Wales, and the Department for Work and Pensions' Jobcentre Plus have been deployed, and they're actively supporting those individuals who have been directly affected.
The administrator has appointed a specialist recruitment agency to manage the redundancy process, with all former employees notified and either paid or expecting their redundancy payments imminently. A number of regional construction businesses across Wales have taken on a number of those former employees who were directly affected, and a new business, based on one of the subsidiary businesses of the Dawnus group, has been established, with those staff transferring across to the new entity, and that safeguards around 37 direct jobs. Officials are aware that there's an ongoing dialogue with potential buyers for the acquisition of another subsidiary business in the Dawnus group, and that could safeguard more jobs within the group.
I can also inform Mike Hedges that 35 apprentices have been identified within the business, and officials have engaged with the construction industry training board to ensure that they have continued support, to ensure that they can complete their training with other organisations. And, of course, the taskforce will continue to work with the support organisations to help those individuals affected, and the Lighthouse Club charity can provide mental health support to those construction employees who have been affected.
On the issue of your request for a statement on Welsh Government policy on incineration, I will again speak to the Minister with responsibility and ask what she thinks would be the best way to provide an update.
Can I call for a statement on waiting times for patients in north Wales, please, from the Minister for Health and Social Services? The Trefnydd will be aware that the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had £1 million clawed back from it this year—this is on top of £3 million being clawed back last year—because of its failure to meet expectations from the Welsh Government in terms of delivering improvements on waiting time performance. And of course, over the Easter recess, it emerged that there was a row between the Welsh Government and the Countess of Chester Hospital in terms of the payments due for Welsh patients being treated there. Given that the capacity of the hospitals in north Wales is not geared up to take additional referrals as a result of the loss of the Countess of Chester's activity, this is absolutely going to add to the pressure in north Wales, lengthen waiting times, and unfortunately, I think, cause many people to languish in a lot of pain on waiting lists in the future. As I understand it, the Welsh Government has been provided with a plan, over 18 months ago, by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, to address orthopaedic waiting times in particular, and they are still waiting for that plan to be given the sign-off. Without that plan, they're unable to build the capacity in the system to be able to enable them to meet the waiting time targets. So I do think that we need a statement on this urgently, and we need an update on the situation with the Countess of Chester Hospital and whether patients are now able to be referred to there for their treatment.
Thank you for raising this. And, of course, the Minister for health will be answering questions in the Chamber tomorrow, and I see that you've tabled precisely this question for him, which will be question 4. So I know that he'll be pleased to answer that tomorrow. But I can say, with regard to the Countess of Chester, that the Minister has been very clear that the action taken by the trust is unacceptable and not in line with the statement and values and principles that we have agreed between the NHS in Wales and NHS England, and that we will always act in the best interests of patients at all times. I spoke to the Minister about this issue earlier on today, and he said that he would expect to be in a position to provide Assembly Members with an update, certainly, hopefully, by the end of this week.
Trefnydd, I'd like to raise some matters that were brought to my attention during a recent visit to the Rhondda campus at Coleg y Cymoedd. I was informed by senior management at the college, and ColegauCymru, about the serious financial constraints, not just on colleges, but also on students. Education maintenance allowance payments, which could mean up to £30 a week for some students, have not increased with the cost of living since 2004. Adjusted for inflation, payments should now stand at £45.25 a week—50 per cent higher than what they are now for some students. I've been told that a shortage of funds is often the reason for students from poorer backgrounds dropping out of their courses. So, can I ask for a statement from the education Minister about addressing the financial constraints on college students to ensure that education is accessible to all regardless of family income?
ColegauCymru and the principal at Coleg y Cymoedd are also concerned about the apprenticeship levy, which they say is a tax on Welsh employers. And many feel that Welsh employers are being penalised. Since Wales doesn't operate the digital voucher scheme, there's a feeling among employers that they are not getting their levy contributions back. In England, this scheme works differently and employers can get their contributions back. So, some companies now in Wales train their apprentices in England as a result of that. Does the Welsh Government have any idea as to how many Wales-based companies are training their apprentices in England? And furthermore, I'd like to know if this Government is able to work with the sector to overcome the problems around the apprenticeship levy to prevent Welsh employers from losing out, and to address the bureaucratic problems that companies in Wales face. A statement or a debate on this matter would be more than welcome.
Thank you. In relation to your first concern, I think that the most opportune moment to raise that with the education Minister would be during the debate this afternoon on support for disadvantaged and vulnerable learners. And, in regards to the apprenticeship levy, there were several detailed questions there, and I'll ensure that you are furnished with a response.
Trefnydd, I'd be grateful for two Government statements concerning the protection of wildlife. But firstly, last week, we had yet another slurry spill from a farm in west Wales near Cilgerran, with an estimated 120,000 gallons that have leached into the Afon Dyfan, a tributary of the Teifi. Natural Resources Wales, we know, is investigating, but goodness knows what damage has been done, and it will continue to be done as the pollution works its way through the food chain. I actually received an excellent poem this week from a constituent about Gammarus pulex. I wouldn't say I've got the pronunciation right, but in plain English, it's the water flea. And it says 'I'm an important indicator species for the environmental health of aquatic beasties.' And I think that's an important point, because this latest spill comes on the back of a serious incident in the same water system shortly before Christmas, and that spill near Tregaron was estimated to have killed 1,000 fish. We very often measure the damage in the number of fish that have been killed, but it won't be only fish that have been killed; it will be absolutely everything else within that environment that has been killed as well. And if we keep on as we are at the moment, with repeated slurry spills into our rivers, we won't have any life whatsoever left in those rivers, and it will take decades for that life to return. So, I believe that we need urgent action to address this, and I think we need to hold people to account who should be looking at this, and also look at the inspection regime that I hope is in place to inspect slurry facilities across the land, and also look further at whether some of these slurries are in the appropriate place, so that they cannot leach when they spill into our environment and absolutely destroy it.
The second statement that I would like is on hedge and tree netting. We've seen the recent campaigns that focused on developers using nets to prevent birds from nesting and therefore hindering planning applications and construction work, and I know that Mick Antoniw has raised this earlier this year. But I've received, as a request from a column I put in a newspaper this week, anecdotal evidence where this is happening on farm land. I know that there is a petition in front of the Assembly that is calling on us to do something seriously about reducing the use of netting that prevents birds from nesting and making it a criminal offence. I think, given that there is clear public interest in this subject, it would be really useful if the Government now did make a statement on this, because it is ridiculous to say that you're putting netting on a hedge that will stop birds from nesting, because birds will get within it and if you have any loose netting, not only will it allow the birds to get through, but it will most definitely prevent them from getting back out.
I thank Joyce Watson very much for raising two extremely important issues this afternoon. The first issue related to agricultural pollution incidents and the incident that Joyce described is subject to ongoing investigation. But, as we set out in our water strategy, agriculture is a major cause of water pollution, which is why the Minister is so keen to work with farming unions to develop sustainable solutions, whether through the better targeting of our financial assistance or by improved training through Farming Connect.
The Minister issued a statement on agricultural pollution last December, and in that she set out the requirement for regulations to be introduced, and they will come into force in 2020. And that is the right thing to do, not only for the environment, but also to ensure that Wales maintains its excellent international reputation in terms of farming. The number of incidents has increased over the last year, so that's obviously of great concern, and the Minister will work closely with the sector in terms of developing the regulatory reform and knowledge transfer, which I think are both necessary to address this particular issue.
I know that you've raised your concerns regarding netting in correspondence to the Minister and that she's prepared a response to you on that. We have received some reports of netting. We're not yet aware of how widespread it is, but clearly any incident is of real concern to us. Joyce Watson referred to the petition, which has just opened at the National Assembly for Wales. There's also one in Parliament with 330,000 signatures. So, I think that this is a real concern to members of the public. There might be occasions when the netting of trees would be legitimate, but that is only when it is absolutely genuinely needed to protect birds and prevent them from nesting during developments so that they don't come to harm, and that kind of circumstance would be extremely rare indeed. So, on the whole, I think that our policy certainly is moving away from mitigating harm and damage to integrating biodiversity and ecosystem resilience into the very earliest stages of due development control.
Can I firstly concur with the comments made by Joyce Watson and the Minister regarding the netting of trees? I first became aware of this over the last few weeks, and it does seem to be a cynical circumventing of the rules. It's not what the rules did intend originally, and I do hope the Welsh Government will look at it, and I'm happy to support that campaign, Trefnydd.
On a lighter, more pleasant note, I'm sure you'll want to join with me in congratulating Abergavenny RFC, who beat Oakdale—well, maybe the Member won't want to join in—to become the WRU national bowl champions recently. I wonder if we could have an update from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on the Welsh Government's support for locally based grass-roots sport like the national bowl championship. I think that it really does a great deal to grow sport from the grass roots, and we need to do all we can to support that.
Secondly, or thirdly I should say, over Easter we saw the tragic fire at Notre Dame in France. I'm sure that we all want to send our best wishes to the people of France as they face that enormous challenge of rebuilding that iconic cathedral. It just so happened that that very week, we had a group of 200 or so residents from Beaupréau in France in Abergavenny, the twin town of Beaupréau, and that brought to my mind the importance of twinning associations and the valuable role of twinning associations, particularly at this time with some of the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing Brexit issue. I wonder if we could have a statement or an update from the Minister for international relations on support given by the Welsh Government to twinning associations and campaigns across Wales. I think they've been going on for a very long time in different towns and villages, indeed, across Wales but often don't get the respect that they deserve, and I think that a lot of people are working behind the scenes to make those campaigns a success. So, I'd be grateful to hear from the Welsh Government on what support has been given.
Thank you for raising those two issues this afternoon, and, of course, the Minister was here to hear your request for a statement on Welsh Government support for local sporting organisations and clubs and groups. You'll have heard the First Minister, in response to one of the questions just this afternoon, talking about the importance of local sporting opportunities in terms of public health and, of course, well-being.
Again, on your concern about the importance of twinning organisations, I will ensure that the Minister is aware of your request for a statement on that particular issue.
I've asked on numerous occasions if we could have an update from the health Minister on the eating disorders framework. We know that this is in its consultation stage, and patients and carers have been key in putting forward their ideas, although I know that there's some kickback from consultants in the field, unfortunately. This week, I've had new cases of people with eating disorders as young as nine years old, and that's very worrying indeed. So, I would really like to see the culmination of this proposal so that we can get to grips with this issue now and refocus our energy on a new framework, if that would be entirely possible.
My second request is if I could have a statement—well, he was here earlier—from Dafydd Elis-Thomas on the current discussions happening in Port Talbot with regard to the movement of the Banksy art display. We know that the only way in which the council locally can afford to adapt the building that they're going to put it in is if they can have financial support from the Welsh Government to develop a hub there as part of the Welsh Government's vision for a national art gallery for Wales. And so, in the spirit of trying to make this work, and to try and attract more people to Wales, would it be possible for the Deputy Minister, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, to provide a statement to us? They have written to him to ask whether he'd be minded to fund this—whether he could reply to them, for one, and whether he could let us know whether he is minded to support it, given the enthusiasm locally and internationally for the Banksy that will also attract other pieces of art internationally, if stages 2 and 3 can go ahead. Stage 1, we believe—touch wood—will go ahead, but we need financial backing from the Welsh Government for the next few stages, so a statement from him would be very welcome indeed.
Thank you very much for raising those issues. In terms of the eating disorder framework, the health Minister has confirmed that he has now received the report and he is waiting for some further advice on that from officials, but he will certainly make a statement as soon as he is able to do so, having considered that report.
On the Banksy issue, I'm sure that the Deputy Minister will respond to the request that he's received and reply to that correspondence, but, of course, we do have the statement on Creative Wales this afternoon, which might be another opportunity to raise this.
Trefnydd, I'd like to request two statements this afternoon. The first is from the Minister for Housing and Local Government regarding grass fires. Just four months into the year, and we've already seen 102 grass fires in the Cynon Valley, and I'd like to pay tribute to the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service for the way in which they've dealt with those. But shockingly, of those 102 grass fires, 98 were started deliberately. I'd welcome the opportunity for a statement from the Minister to outline what can be done by Welsh Government and partners to tackle this trend.
On a separate matter, I'd also like to request a statement on the EU settlement scheme. I've been contacted by a constituent whose German partner has lived in and contributed to this country for 30 years. To apply for status, he has to present his identification documents, and the only location in Wales where documents can be presented is in Hengoed, in Caerphilly. Now, that's a two-hour journey from Aberdare by bus or train, despite it being in a neighbouring constituency to mine, so goodness knows how long it would take for residents from other parts of the country to travel there. So, could we have a statement from Welsh Government, please, about what it can do to support people during this difficult process?
Thank you, Vikki Howells, for raising these issues. I will certainly ask the Minister for local government to provide you with an update on Welsh Government action and the action of our partners in terms of preventing grass fires. I understand that the number of fires this month has been relatively modest and that, overall, they're likely to be far short of the level that we had in April 2015. But when you provide me with the figures that you've seen for grass fires in your constituency, then, certainly, I think that we do still have a serious issue here to address, and I've seen it certainly in my own constituency of Gower in recent weeks. I'll make sure that that advice is forthcoming to you.
And on the issue of the EU citizens, we are disappointed, to say the least, at the lack of document scanning locations that have been provided in Wales and we recognise the huge difficulties that this will cause to EU citizens without having access to Android phones, which they would need otherwise to send that documentation. I do understand that the Home Office is looking to provide more scanning locations, and we would certainly like to see more of those in Wales. I know that the Counsel General has written to the Home Office about this matter, and if you'd like to share some more specific examples of your own constituents and the trouble that that has caused, we'd certainly be able to use those as a case study.
Of course, we're providing additional support to EU citizens via Citizens Advice, to provide information about the settlement scheme, and we've also contracted with a Welsh law firm to provide a EU citizens immigration advice service here in Wales. That service will deliver a public awareness campaign about EU settled status and an individual advisory service that will encompass a legal service that is sensitive to the circumstances of individual applicants, including any family members that they might have, to enable an understanding, completion and submission of those settled status scheme applications, and we'll shortly be making a written statement about these services.
I'd like a statement on the position that minority-care-time parents find themselves in. I had a constituent in my office earlier today being forced to pay bedroom tax, and being put into debt as a result. He cares for his daughter on the weekends and the extra room is needed. If you look at every council across Wales, those rooms that are needed to take care of children when parents work in partnership don't count in terms of bedroom tax. So, what can be done? I'd like a statement on what you could do, please.
Thank you for raising this and, of course, the Member will be aware that Welsh Government has, over a long period, made extensive representations to the UK Government about its bedroom tax and the fact that it is unfair to parents and families who find themselves in a variety of circumstances, such as that which you describe, but also parents and people who are disabled, for example, who need a room for carers to stay in occasionally or who need an extra room for some of the equipment, and so on, that they require. So, we've been clear for years that the bedroom tax is an unfair tax on disabled people, and we'll continue to press the UK Government on this.
Business Minister, you'll be aware that the First Minister announced at your party's conference early in April that section 21 evictions will be abolished. The UK Government has made a similar announcement that these so-called no-fault evictions will come to an end, and they're considered at the moment to be one of the biggest causes of family homelessness. The UK Government made a written statement to Parliament about what is now planned by way of consultation. I think we need an oral statement to scrutinise the way that this reform will be taken forward. It is very important to examine the way the consultation will also be conducted. Whilst I think this is a desirable reform, it has to be implemented carefully because there are many interests on both sides of the question, and how in certain circumstances landlords are able to acquire their property for sale or major repair is something that needs careful investigation. I think a lot of us have realised that section 21 is no longer fit for purpose given that 20 per cent of people now are in private rental accommodation. This is a very important issue and I think we should have an oral statement as soon as possible.
Thank you very much. This is an important announcement in terms of how we will approach the issue of section 21 in future, and David Melding is right that it is a sensitive issue that must be handled very carefully because there are strong views on both sides of the argument. I know that the First Minister has already had an early meeting with representatives of the Residential Landlords Association to understand their concerns, and, of course, they will be important consultees as we move forward. Clearly, this will require, I think, legislative change, so it will all be subject to the full scrutiny of the Assembly. The Minister will bring forward the appropriate statement when she's able to.
For the past month, people from north Wales have been blocked from accessing the Countess of Chester hospital as out-patient referrals, and that includes, by the way, urgent suspected cancer referrals. You did say earlier that the Minister would probably be making a written statement, I think, quite soon. I was going to ask whether we could have an oral statement so that we as Members could ask some questions, because my understanding is that there would be broader implications not just for patients in north Wales, but for the health service across Wales. I understand that the NHS in England are asking for an 8 per cent increase in charges, and the chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr health board has made it perfectly clear that if that is the case, then any agreement would have to be replicated across all English providers. Welsh patients currently access services in 50 different health trusts in England. We can all do the maths, and I'm sure that we will all be concerned about those kinds of implications.
But, of course, in the meantime, this stand-off is causing a great deal of distress to patients, who feel as though they're being used as bargaining chips in this dispute. Many are asking how it could have come to this, because we knew that there were issues as early as last year. But similarly as well, of course, when there was a similar issue with Gobowen hospital some years ago, then there was an agreement to go to arbitration. I wouldn't mind hearing from the Minister whether he feels we might be getting to that kind of position in the near future. We need to hear really from the Minister how long he expects this stand-off, if you like, to continue and how long it'll take to resolve the situation, because, in the meantime, do you not agree with me that, at the very least, the Countess of Chester hospital should be accepting patients from Wales and not punishing those patients for the failures of others?
Thank you. You would have heard me in my response to Darren Millar earlier saying that there will be opportunities to question the health Minister on this tomorrow, because there are questions tabled that are relevant to this particular issue. Our understanding is that this is a unilateral decision that has been taken by the Countess of Chester and that other providers in England are not planning similar action. I do understand that there is a meeting taking place this week and it will be after that point that the Minister will be able to provide an update to Members.
Finally, Alun Davies.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Minister, I think many of us welcomed the announcement from the Welsh Government yesterday in declaring a climate emergency, but many of us also want to know what the substance of the Welsh Government's actions are going to be as a consequence of that. I have to say, the written statement we've had this morning from the Minister is a wholly inadequate response to the declaration that was made yesterday. If this is an emergency—[Interruption.] I welcome the First Minister responding to this, if he wishes to. If this is an emergency—[Interruption.] If this is an emergency, I would—. I'm happy for the First Minister to answer this question if he's so anxious to do so. If this is an emergency—
Carry on with your questioning of the Trefnydd.
If this is an emergency, I would like to ask for a statement from every single one of the Ministers in front of us today on what their actions will be, what their department is going to be doing to respond to this, and what the Government is going to do to ensure that the emergency they've declared is going to have a response, which it deserves and it requires. I would also invite the Ministers to make statements to us first, to this place. A declaration of this sort should have been made in the Chamber here to allow scrutiny to take place of Ministers and Ministers' actions. A plan for a low-carbon Wales was announced, I think, three sitting weeks ago, at the end of March, yet no statement has been brought to this Chamber on the contents of that document and no opportunity has been provided for Members to scrutinise Ministers on that. We read from today's business statement that no statement is planned to be made on that either. So, I hope, Trefnydd, that you will be able to reassure me and other Members on all sides of the Chamber that we will have a series of statements from Ministers that live up to the statements that have been made to date, the declarations that have been made, and which demonstrate to us that Welsh Government is taking this seriously and that this isn't simply a press release.
Well, the Member will have heard the First Minister speaking passionately this afternoon about our declaration of a climate emergency, and he will have heard the commitment that we have to addressing this issue across Government. And he would also have heard me, in a business statement prior to Easter, make the point that the low-carbon delivery plan has been published and that we were giving Members the opportunity to digest that plan, and I've already made a commitment that it will be brought forward for an opportunity for Members to discuss it on the floor of the Assembly.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
The next item is a statement by the Counsel General and Brexit Minister: an update on the Brexit negotiations. And I call on the Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles, to make the statement.
Thank you, Llywydd. Superficially, at least, much has changed since we last had the opportunity to take stock of the Brexit process. I'm sure most Members will have welcomed the decision of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council to agree to an extension to the article 50 deadline until 31 October. The decision has meant that we have averted, for now at least, the prospect of a chaotic 'no deal' Brexit, a situation that would have been impossible for the country to prepare properly for. It has provided a breathing space, and an opportunity to reflect. What is has not provided is the certainty that a 'no deal' Brexit will not happen; it has merely moved the horizon.
Of course, as I and other colleagues have made clear, we in the Welsh Government have been doing everything we can within our control to mitigate the likely consequences of a 'no deal' outcome. And here I would like to pay tribute to the immensely hard work undertaken by staff across the whole Government and the broader public sector over many months to undertake the planning and preparations needed for this contingency. We have seen the civil service and public services in Wales at their best. Given the extension, the intensity of our preparations has been revised accordingly. We will keep this, of course, under constant review, but just as it is incumbent on us to prepare, it is also incumbent on us to manage resources responsibly and respond when the details have changed.
Yet, particularly at a time of such severe austerity, when our public services are under enormous pressure, it is nothing short of scandalous that resources have had to be diverted in this way. For what? Simply to protect the Welsh people against a threat that could have been averted had the UK Government recognised much earlier that the deal it had negotiated was unsalvageable and asked for a long extension.
The UK Government has squandered literally billions of pounds on 'no deal' preparations, on hiring new staff who now have little or nothing to do, on designing information technology systems we may never need and, most notoriously, on chartering ferry capacity from a company with no ships and then paying more than £30 million in compensation to aggrieved competitors, all in a vain effort to bolster the Prime Minister’s assertion that a 'no deal' outcome was acceptable—part of her failed negotiating strategy that keeping 'no deal' on the table strengthened her position when in reality it was only intended to keep her backbench colleagues at bay. But while at one level much appears to have changed, we should be in no doubt that the fundamentals remain the same.
There is, as yet, no majority in Parliament for any clear way forward. The negotiations between Government and opposition remain crucial. Both parties must engage fully, responsibly and creatively. The Government appears to view the negotiations with the opposition as an opportunity to try to sell its deal rather than to find a compromise—a compromise that, at the bare minimum, needs to involve a commitment to a permanent customs union and enshrining the Chequers commitments to regulatory alignment. Even more importantly, businesses still have no certainty about the long-term future—investment is on hold or being cancelled and jobs are being lost. This is the real damage of the Prime Minister’s disastrous handling of Brexit: livelihoods being lost, the economic prospects of whole communities being threatened and long-term damage to the future credibility of the UK as a major global player. And that looks set to continue. Because while the article 50 extension is welcome, it also entails considerable dangers. It’s tempting to agree with Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, that six months is
‘too near for a substantial rethink of Brexit and at the same time too far away to prompt any action’.
The split in the Tory party is becoming a chasm, with the Prime Minister in office but not in power. Discontent and disillusion with politics and politicians is growing, with more than half the population, apparently, wanting a strong leader who breaks the rules, and nearly three quarters believing our democratic system needs significant reform.
There is a real risk that, rather than making decisive progress, the six months will be spent in Tory bloodletting, continued Parliamentary stasis and a European election, which, though Welsh Labour has every reason to be confident about it, will be bitter and divisive. It is already more than a month since 29 March. Before we know it, it will be September and we will be no further forward and facing a new cliff edge—that must not be allowed to happen.
What we need is clear: real progress on the cross-party negotiations, or a speedy recognition that the Government is not prepared to move sufficiently to gain the support of the opposition, and, in parallel, serious, meaningful negotiations with the devolved administrations to shape an acceptable deal; if there is no agreement, one further opportunity for Parliament to find a majority for a way forward; and preparations for a potential referendum, including draft legislation and the other steps required under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
As a Welsh Government, we will do all that we can to press both the UK Government and the opposition to take these critically important steps.
Thank you to the Brexit Minister for an advance copy of his statement, although I have to say that, once again, it was merely a refrain from previous statements that he has made—there was absolutely nothing new in that statement in addition to the things that he has previously said.
I think it is a bit strange that the Brexit Minister and the Welsh Government take a position that criticises the Prime Minister for attempting to bring matters to a conclusion through seeking agreement for her withdrawal agreement when you are in a position, and your party is in a position in Westminster, to support the withdrawal agreement and put an end to the uncertainty so that we can get on negotiating the future relationship with the EU going forward.
So, do you accept that the Labour Party in Westminster is a roadblock to securing an end to this uncertainty, because of the ability that it has to back the Prime Minister's withdrawal deal? You've accused the UK Government of squandering literally billions of pounds on 'no deal' preparations. Isn't that the responsible thing to do—to prepare for all eventualities? You could easily criticise your own Government for making similar preparations, yet, of course, you wouldn't dare, because the reality is that you have to prepare for these eventualities because it's not in our gift—it's not in the gift of one side, in a discussion and a negotiation, to determine what the outcome might actually be.
Now, you know full well that the EU has made it abundantly clear that the withdrawal agreement is the only agreement on the table. You're telling the Prime Minister and the UK Government to go away and to compromise and yet I've heard no compromise from you. I've heard no compromise whatsoever from the Welsh Government on its position, which it set out in the aftermath of the EU referendum result. You know, no compromise whatsoever—you're still regurgitating the same lines, frankly, that you were regurgitating almost three years ago when the referendum result actually came about. Now, you know that there's no majority for your proposals either in the House of Commons, frankly. They've also been rejected, the proposals that your party has put forward. So, get over the criticism of the Prime Minister. Get around the table and start working to put an end to this uncertainty. And the one way that we can all do that—the one way we can bring an end to this uncertainty is to back that withdrawal agreement.
Now, I want to ask you, in terms of the criticism as well of the discontent in the Conservative Party—of course, there's division in all parties, including your own. There's even division just a few seats down from you on that front row. You've got someone who takes a contrary view to the view of other colleagues in Government. I don't hear you criticising your own side for those divisions. We've seen divisions even in your literature for the EU elections, should we regretfully have to have them, in recent weeks over recess. So, I think pointing fingers and trying to highlight some of the difficulties in securing agreement within parties—you ought to have a look in the mirror at times, Minister, frankly, to see those contradictions on your own side. You say that you've got a lot of confidence for the European elections. I think that a lot of that is very misplaced indeed, because, of course, we've been seeing the problems, as I've just highlighted, already.
Now, you've highlighted a number of different options—things that you think need to be done. You think that it would be helpful to prepare for a potential referendum although it wasn't clear in your conference speech recently whether you felt that we should have one after we've exited the EU, before we've exited the EU, or what principally your position might be on the questions that might be asked in that referendum. Do you accept that holding another referendum before implementing the outcome of the referendum in June 2016 would be an affront to democracy, would be an affront to the democratic processes that this country has always abided by and would be an affront to the constitution? Because, of course, we have always, as a country, implemented the outcomes of referendums regardless of whether the political establishment have always been happy with the outcome of those referendums. Quite rightly so too. So, do you think that it is wise to not implement the outcome of that referendum when it was very clear that Wales, and especially your constituency, voted to leave the EU?
Well, I'll just start by saying that I do regret the Member's lack of welcome for the opportunity for this Chamber to continue to discuss the impact on Wales of, surely, the single biggest issue that any of us face, including his constituents. I think it's important that this forum, this Chamber, is able to give its opinion on the evolving situation in Parliament, in Europe and in Wales on this most vital issue, and I would welcome his engagement with the debate with that spirit.
He talks about my party being a roadblock in Westminster. The truth of the matter is that the Prime Minister could have avoided the situation that we are in and could have avoided the affront to democracy that he referred to obliquely in his last remarks if she had done what national leadership demanded that she should do and not seek to placate competing factions in her own party, but seek to reach out across the House of Commons and across the country, in fact, to seek to find, difficult though it would be, a form of consensus coming out of the result of the 2016 referendum. That was the task that lay in front of her. That was the responsibility of national leadership, and she has failed it, and his remarks fail to recognise that. She looked inwards rather than looking outwards at a point when that was the challenge ahead of her. He talks about compromise: we have been absolutely clear on these benches that the task for both the Government and the opposition is to enter into those discussions seeking to find an agreement and that that will require compromise. We have been clear here for more than two and a half years in the paper that we put together with Plaid Cymru, 'Securing Wales' Future', of the sort of arrangement we would see as in Wales's interests post Brexit. We have been absolutely clear that those things must be principal to those discussions but the discussions must be allowed to continue to seek to find, as I said in my statement, fully, responsibly and creatively, an outcome for that discussion. And I absolutely reject his view that the House of Commons's position hasn't moved on this. The reason we are only now discovering what the House of Commons's view is on these matters is that the Prime Minister has consistently prevented them from debating this in a democratic forum by imposing on them constraints that meant that only her deal—which was never acceptable to the House of Commons and barely acceptable to most of her party—was to be debated in the House of Commons. We are now at the eleventh hour dealing with this when we should have been dealing with it in June 2016, and it's her failure to approach that in the right spirit in June 2016 that puts us in this position.
He asked about the waste of money, and I do recognise that there's been money spent in all Governments in all parts of the UK, but who is in control of that decision? It's the Prime Minister, and, actually, she's pursued a negotiation allowing 'no deal' to remain on the table while irresponsibly not taking steps to prepare for that eventuality for the last three years. That lies at her door, not at this Government's door. And flattered though I am to hear that the Member listened to my conference speech, perhaps if he'd listened a little bit more—[Interruption.] Perhaps if he'd listened a bit more closely he'd have heard the answer to some of the questions he's raised today.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. I'll begin with matters that we agree on. I'd like to support your words of thanks to Welsh Government and public sector staff who have been working so diligently to prepare Wales for the catastrophic possibility of a 'no deal' Brexit. Their hard work is appreciated. I agree with you as well that it is scandalous that resources are being squandered on preparing for an eventuality that should have been ruled out from the outset. It's particularly galling to consider how this money could otherwise have been spent, given that our public services are under such financial pressures as a result of the austerity policies of the British Government.
The Prime Minister's actions in this regard are truly disgraceful, throwing money away for the sake of appeasing the extremists within her own party—money that could have been spent otherwise on the NHS, on schools, on improving infrastructure, on improving people's lives. It goes to show that the welfare of Welsh citizens means nothing to the negligent British state and that the only way to secure our own future is by taking it into our own hands as an independent country. Westminster is not exactly doing itself any favours at the moment.
But, Minister, I'd like to turn to your criticism of the length of the article 50 extension as being neither short enough to force an outcome nor long enough to rethink the doomed endeavour. I asked you on 30 March how long you believed the extension should be, but you chose not to answer my question. At that point, you relied on strategic ambiguity rather than stating a view, and it's ironic that you're now critical of others for doing the same. Plaid Cymru was clear that the extension should be a long one, up to the end of 2020, to give time and space to deal with Brexit appropriately. Do you, therefore, now regret not supporting our call in this regard?
I'd also like to ask you for some clarity in terms of your claim that you're putting pressure on the opposition, that is, your own party, to achieve real progress in cross-party negotiations. Does this mean that Welsh Government's negotiating priorities differ in some respect from Jeremy Corbyn's, and, if so, could you please provide this Chamber with details in terms of what Welsh Government is asking for specifically?
You also say that you're pressing for discussion with the devolved administrations. I welcome this, and I hope that you're successful in securing the parallel meaningful negotiations that you've mentioned. Of course, in a parallel reality, the Labour Party would have taken a principled stand on Brexit and would have a clear policy on holding a public vote so that any deal goes back to the people to decide whether to accept it or remain in the EU. Instead, we have an incomprehensible policy wrapped in convolution. When asked by BBC journalists today about how he would vote on the matter in Labour's NEC, Welsh Labour's representative, Mick Antoniw, gave an answer that succeeded only in raising the level of confusion to a new level. He said he supported a legitimisation of any Brexit deal through a vote, but that this should not be in the form of a referendum, because referendums give a range of options, as opposed to, presumably, letting people have a narrow choice of accepting or rejecting a deal that does not exist. If the definition of a referendum is 'a choice between a range of options', then I'm not sure what exactly happened on 23 June 2016. What he seemed to be saying was that the policy has now morphed into actually supporting a referendum—without calling it that—as long as remain is not an option on the ballot paper. I may have misunderstood him, so I'll quote his response. He said, 'A referendum can give you a number of options. You could actually put the key issue of whether we want to remain in the EU or not; a legitimisation could actually be saying, "This is the deal we have. Are you prepared to accept this deal and these negotiations?"' Minister, can you therefore confirm whether or not Mick Antoniw is reflecting Welsh Government policy on that committee, or is the stance of Welsh Labour somehow not the same as that of the Government? I'm unclear as to whether Welsh Government support having a confirmatory vote on any deal or just on a deal it doesn't agree with. If so, what is the democratic justification for this stance?
Finally, I welcome your call for the UK Government to begin preparations for a referendum, even though it's currently unclear whether or not you would wish this referendum to actually happen. This Assembly agreed on 13 January that work should begin immediately on preparing for a public vote. Could you set out what steps your Government has taken in this regard, either in terms of Executive action or making the case to the UK Government or the opposition?
I thank the Member for that series of questions. I do welcome the remarks that she opened with, to thank civil servants and people across the public sector in Wales for all the work they've been doing. That will have been very well received by those who have been engaged so hard over that period. And I also welcome the attention that she draws in her question to the relationship between Brexit and the preparations for a 'no deal' Brexit in particular and the pressures of austerity. Those twin challenges, I think, place particularly acute pressures on all parts of Government, public services and, indeed, the third sector and the private sector as well, so I welcome that remark.
In relation to the question of duration, I was actually quoting Guy Verhofstadt's remark about the duration. She will know that we have indicated that, in our view, the renegotiation of the political declaration to reflect the kinds of principles that her party and mine set out jointly in 'Securing Wales' Future' was something that could be done in relatively short order that would not require that level of extension—the kind of extension that's been now given by the European Council. But it's evident, equally, that the existence of that extension reflects, really, I think, on their part, a sense of exhaustion about continuing discussion, dialogue, and, as they perhaps would describe it, the distraction from the other business and priorities that our European Union colleagues inevitably will have. But, having provided that significant extension, my point was simply to say that we need to continue to press to make sure that the discussions under way are meaningful and not regard that period as a period in which to retrench into preferences and perhaps into a sense that we don't need to engage. That would be the wrong interpretation of that period of time, of that extension.
In relation to discussions that we've had with the frontbench, obviously, those are discussions within the party, but it's absolutely clear that those reflect the principles that we've espoused publicly here, and, again, as I will say, jointly with her party in 'Securing Wales' Future', for dynamic alignment of rights, a close relationship with the single market and membership of a customs union, amongst other things. And she'll be familiar, I know, with the priorities that we have both jointly set out. I have been clear and I've provided statutory language that would enable there to be parallel discussions with the devolved administrations in relation to the development of the negotiation of the political declaration. I know that that is also an ambition of the Scottish Government, she will be unsurprised to hear. And, having written to David Lidington on exactly that point, I also followed that up in a conversation with him perhaps two weeks ago to reiterate how important it was for that to continue. I welcome the engagement that the Member continues to make in relation to this issue. I think, on the question of preparations in particular, her closing point, just to be clear—I think I've said this publicly before—we have pressed the UK Government to make sure that steps are taken by the UK Government, which is principally responsible for this, and the Electoral Commission. I raised that again with David Lidington in that same conversation only two or three weeks ago. And I know also that the First Minister has written to the Permanent Secretary asking her to reflect on what steps the Welsh Government at large need to take in order to prepare for that. But she will hear from my statement the statutory basis for most of those steps, and those steps largely lie in Westminster.
Well, there was nothing new in the statement today, but I still welcome the opportunity to debate this issue, because it does point out the utter absurdity of the Labour Party's position on the deal that it wants with the EU, encapsulated in one sentence of the statement, which says that they want
'A compromise which at the bare minimum needs to involve a commitment to a permanent Customs Union over and enshrining the Chequers commitments to regulatory alignment.'
Well, what a preposterous position that it is. We will remain subject to decisions taken by the EU, but in which we have had no part to participate and in which we've not had a vote. The Commission—. We've got at the moment one commissioner out of 28. The Council of Ministers—. We've got 8.5 per cent of the votes on qualified majority voting decisions and we've got roughly 10 per cent of the seats in the European Parliament. If we were to leave the EU on the kind of arrangements that the Counsel General has set out today, we would have no votes whatsoever in any of those decisions, and yet we would be subject to whatever decisions the EU made. That, whatever it is, is not Brexit. And this, I think, points out the fundamental hypocrisy of the Labour Party's position, because they claim to want to respect the result of the referendum whilst on the other hand committing themselves to a policy that actually produces the exact opposite of leaving the EU except in the even more damaging situation whereby we can actually have no influence whatsoever over decisions in which currently we do at least have a minimal part to play.
And let's be in no doubt that the EU would have no interest whatsoever in taking decisions that were in our interest and indeed, very often, would have every interest in doing the opposite to favour their own member states over the interests of Britain. We would actually be in a worse position than Turkey is now, but at least Turkey is prepared to accept that ignominy because it is, at least theoretically, a candidate member of the EU, whereas, we would be the opposite; we would be on the point of departure, so why on earth would we want to make those commitments whilst we were legally outside the EU? It does go to the very heart of what leaving the EU should all be about—taking back control, making decisions for ourselves, making our own laws and having the British people, ultimately, as the sovereign body that determines the way in which Governments behave. Because the European Commission has made it absolutely clear what the customs union is about. It's about a system of common rules—I'm quoting from one of their documents—that goes beyond
'the Customs Union as such—with its common tariff—and extend to all aspects of trade policy, such as preferential trade, health and environmental controls, the common agricultural and fisheries policies, the protection of our economic interests by non-tariff instruments and external relations policy measures.'
That is everything that goes to the very heart of trade and we would be giving up all that under Labour's proposals. We would, in fact, be in a state of vassalage, as Boris Johnson has previously pointed out. And as Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, has said, there are arguments for remaining in the EU and there are arguments for leaving the EU, but there is no case whatsoever for giving up the benefits of remaining without obtaining the benefits of leaving. And that is exactly what the Labour policy would mean.
And does the Counsel General not agree with me that the customs tariff that he wants to commit ourselves to in perpetuity is actually a tax on the poor, a tax on working people? There's a 15 per cent tax on footwear and clothes imports, for example, an 11.5 per cent tax on coffee, a 17 per cent tax on oranges, which we can't grow in this country anywhere, anymore than we can grow coffee. And there are lots of senseless tariffs as well. There's a tariff of 1.7 per cent on swords, cutlasses, bayonets, lances and scabbards; a tax of 15 per cent on unicycles. Now, I don't know what threat the importation of unicycles poses to the British bicycle-making industry, but I can see no justification for that whatsoever. There's even a 4.7 per cent tax on umbrellas with telescopic shafts. There are 12,160 of these absurd impositions upon working people. But also, of course, in many other respects, there are taxes on food and other necessities of life—a 5 per cent VAT on central heating fuel, for example. These are all things that are going to hit the poorest hardest, and that's what the Labour Party is committing itself to.
So, I do agree with the Counsel General in one respect: that the tragedy of the situation we've now arrived at—and he said this in answer to the Conservative spokesman—is that Theresa May has made no preparations whatsoever for coping with the dislocation that a 'no deal' arrangement would inevitably involve. We should have spent the last three years actually putting together, in outline, our trade deals with the rest of the world. We haven't even begun that process. And also we should have put in process the technical infrastructure for how to cope with trade flows across the United Kingdom borders, with a tariff regime if one were to be imposed. But also—and my last point is this—part and parcel of what the Labour Party proposes is a permanent open-door immigration policy, in effect, because that also is an essential part of the four freedoms that the single market entails.
And we end where, I suspect, the Member would have preferred to begin. I'm glad he welcomes the opportunity to discuss the issue in the Chamber. He talks about the loss of democratic influence as a consequence of leaving the European Union, and that is inevitably the case. But if I am presented with the choice between the kind of hard Brexit that he evidently favours and the kind of Brexit that I've been describing, which, whilst it comes at the cost of direct political influence, does what it can, outside the European Union, to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the people of Wales—we on these benches will always choose that second option.
His antipathy to a customs union is predicated on the positive alternative of a flourishing UK trade policy, entering magnificently into free trade agreements with grateful nations across the world that felt shut out by our relationship with the European Union. We were promised 40 trade deals by the point of exit day. We are now on 29 April, and we have eight mutual recognition agreements, none of which—apart from one—makes any significant contribution to Welsh exports, thus imperiling not just the 60 per cent of Welsh exports that go to the European Union, but the 10 per cent of Welsh exports that go to countries that are the subject of those trade deals. It harks back to some fictitious past when we had a fantastic capacity to negotiate an independent trade agreement, which is simply not a reflection of the political realities of the UK for decades, perhaps even a century or more. And it is a dangerous folly to persuade people, or seek to persuade people, that that is a responsible alternative future to describe to them.
He finishes by talking about the impact on the poor. Well, all I will say to him is that the kind of Brexit that he favours, by any measure, will lead to an economy in Wales that is between 8 per cent and 10 per cent smaller than it would have been otherwise. And that is not just a number on a graph, it is not just a statistic, it's not just a mathematical calculation—it's jobs, it's livelihoods, it's standards of living, it's communities, it's organisations, right across Wales. We will always stand up for those people.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary—sorry, the Minister for Brexit—for his statement this afternoon? And can I also join with Delyth Jewell in supporting the comments about the hard work and dedication of the public servants who work on this, and have been working on it for so many months? You've highlighted clearly in your statement the shambles that we are seeing as a consequence of the failed leadership of the current Prime Minister. This afternoon, we've heard the Conservatives trying to defend the indefensible, and we've heard UKIP trying to deny the economic evidence that has been put in place with regard to the impact of Brexit on Wales, particularly of a 'no deal' and World Trade Organization rules, which would damage this Welsh economy severely.
But you focused on a few things as to what's been going on, and we all know that the only thing really that's changed since we last met is the fact that there is now an extension that's been put in place—until Halloween, of all nights—of the departure date. But we are still in an impasse, because the Prime Minister has failed to convince her party that her deal is worthy of being supported. And we all know why: because it actually is not good for the country, and she needs to start changing her red lines. She has not made any compromise whatsoever. Her red lines are still the same as they were 12 months ago, and I think that's the reason why we are where we are. There's no doubt about that.
There are few questions I want to ask, perhaps beyond the negotiations, but which are consequential upon those negotiations and which actually impact upon Wales very severely. This involves, perhaps, your discussions with your UK Government colleagues in relation to some of these things. Where are we on getting the movement towards a Joint Ministerial Committee on international trade so the Welsh Government can have a say in future trade agreements? Because it's important that, as we move forward, we now have an extra bit of time to do some work on getting a forum that works for Wales, and not just works for the Tory party in London.
Could I also look at some of the actions taken by the UK Government on state aid? I understand that there is a regulation being put forward that would give powers to the Secretary of State on state aid. There is a claim that it's a reserved matter, but clearly we have a very important say on the implications of using state aid. There has also been talk about changing it to the Competition and Markets Authority. But where's the Welsh representation on that? Where's the Welsh Government representation? On other public authorities—. We had an argument on the Trade Bill about Welsh representation or Welsh nomination for the trade remedies authority. What about other bodies, such as the Migration Advisory Committee? Where are the discussions going on during this time that we have to ensure that the Welsh Government voice is actually being heard in these bodies that are making important decisions?
Also, the joint scrutiny committee, which is part of the withdrawal agreement—is there going to be any involvement of the devolved nations in this joint committee scrutiny process? Are we there yet? Are the UK Government moving in that direction? Do they recognise that devolution exists, and that actually we should be having a say in some of these bodies, particularly this joint scrutiny committee, which will oversee the transition period, if there is one?
Minister, only this week we've seen the uncertainty of the student fees fiasco going on, where clearly it is possible that EU students may be now required to pay full fees—full overseas fees, I might add—which is completely going to put people off coming here and it's going to affect Welsh higher education institutions—a devolved area. It's going to affect Welsh HE research collaboration—a devolved area. So, are you having negotiations on those matters?
You haven't mentioned much in your statement about the preparations for 'no deal', other than we've gone a long way. Have you learnt lessons from it? We've passed the date of 12 April. We've gone beyond that now. We know Halloween is our next deadline. Have you learnt lessons? Or are you undertaking a review to ensure that lessons learnt on the 'no deal' preparations up to 12 April can be put into place if we have to—because we may still be in that situation on 31 October—look at a 'no deal' scenario? Are you learning lessons? How much of what you've done to date can be transferred to October?
Now, we know about the Welsh Government's purchase or lease of a warehouse. Is that going to continue until 31 October? What's the situation? Where is the stock that we may need to put in place for that and other products? Where are we in those situations? And how much does the Welsh Government expect to spend in the next six months holding those situations, whilst we await a possibility of a deal or no deal? We just don't know. Our businesses, I'm sure, would want to know exactly what support they'd have from you as well.
I thank the Member for that range of questions. He started by talking about the parliamentary response to the Prime Minister's deal reflecting the very simple principle that it was not good for the country, and I think in that simple phrase he's hit the nail on the head. That is fundamentally the reason why there is no progress being made in Parliament.
He asked a question in relation to state aid. He will, I think, have seen the correspondence that I sent to the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, which dealt specifically with the question of state aid and the way in which the statutory instruments converting EU law into domestic law had operated in the context of state aid, which, as he will know, the Welsh Government was not happy with. From a policy point of view, in terms of the end result, the objective, of the statutory instrument that I referred to, in fact, we agree that that is the right outcome: to remain aligned with the EU-wide state aid arrangements and to have a UK-wide system that reflects that. But the process and the democratic principles—the devolution principles that inform that process—we disagree about with the UK Government. The UK Government's position, as he knows, is that state aid is not a devolved matter, and our position is that it is. So, from the UK Government's position, they had proceeded in the way that they had described to themselves and to us as the way they felt it ought to work. We disagreed with that, we've made that very plain to the relevant Minister and, indeed, I'll be writing shortly more broadly on the question of respecting the devolution settlement in discussions like that.
He asked for assurance that the Welsh Government is making representations to ensure that the Welsh voice is heard in the arrangements on monitoring the transition, and I can confirm to him that those discussions are under way. They have been under way for some time. They haven't yet reached the outcome that we would wish to see, but we continue to press UK Government Ministers in relation to that so that those arrangements obviously reflect the voice of people in Wales, but, importantly, are also credible and can command confidence, which is so important in this process in its entirety.
Finally, he asked about the preparation that we've undertaken to date and how much of that is relevant to a potential 'no deal' scenario delayed to the end of October. Of course, the bulk of that is going to be relevant. Clearly, though, moving, if we do, to a position where—. I described in my statement the risk of simply moving the horizon, didn't I? If that is what happens—and we fervently hope that that is not what happens—clearly, there will be considerations around departure at a different time of year, for example, and having experienced a further five or six-month delay. So, all those factors are being assessed at this point to ensure that we have the full picture.
I would like to welcome strongly the actions of the Welsh Government and, in particular, the First Minister and the Brexit Minister. At a time of febrile political discourse, Welsh Labour leaders have offered a calm, measured and constructive approach to safeguard the Welsh economy and people, whilst recognising the political decision of the people of Wales, and also upholding the democratic position supported by the Labour Party conference and members that where there is failure to uphold single market and customs union access and environmental and workers' protections, the option of a public vote is on the table. And we are seeing clearly in Westminster that, as yet, there is no majority in Parliament for any clear way forward, and, therefore, a clear prospect of a vote of no confidence in the UK Government, and I welcome this. I equally welcome the responsible and creative approach that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have displayed in the present negotiations between the Government and Her Majesty's opposition. But, once again, time is running out, so what dangers does the Brexit Minister foresee if a 'no deal' hard Brexit is the outcome, and what are the likely consequences for my constituents in Islwyn? What actual confidence is there in getting the UK Government to agree to include the Welsh Government in its discussions about any reform of the political declaration?
I thank the Member for those questions. She asked me about the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit and our assessment of the impact of that on Wales. Well, she will know that we regard that as the worst possible outcome for people in Wales. Just the impact on the economy is extremely adverse—between 8 per cent and 10 per cent smaller than otherwise it would be. And that has a very real effect on people, businesses and organisations in Wales, and on the public services at large. It is the worst outcome. We hear in Parliament that there is no appetite for 'no deal', but we need to be absolutely clear that without the prospect of an alternative deal, that remains on the table. Whilst the time frame within which we're preparing for that is now significantly different, clearly, we keep under review those preparations to ensure that they are current.
She asked, in relation to her final question, about levels of confidence that the Welsh Government would be involved in reforms to the political declaration. I wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Lidington, in relation to this, providing statutory language that would enable there to be a legislative footing to enable the Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive to be involved in parallel discussions, if you like, in relation to the evolution of the political declaration, and I reiterated the importance of that in a conversation with him very recently.
With regard to the broader set of relationships between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, she will know that there is an ongoing inter-governmental review of those relationships, which we had hoped would have resulted in some outputs around this time, but because of the diversion of energies in Governments to deal with other aspects of Brexit, including 'no deal' preparations, that has not been possible. But the First Minister, I know, has been pressing very hard to ensure that that work comes back to the plenary session of the JMC at the next available opportunity. And with regard to involvement in negotiations for future phases of Brexit negotiations, I met with the relevant Government Minister only last week, to impress upon him the importance of resolving our requests in relation to fuller participation in those negotiating structures, and I very much hope that that will be a subject of discussion at the next JMC(EN).
Thank you. Diolch.
Item 4 is the statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on Cwm Taf maternity services, and I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I have today published the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives report, following their review of maternity services at the former Cwm Taf university health board. This is accompanied by a further report, which provides accounts from the women and families who have used these services. Members will now have had an initial opportunity to consider the reports, and my written statement issued this morning.
I want to start by reiterating my apology to all the women and families affected by the failings and poor care described in the royal colleges' report. There is no doubt that the service provided to many women and their families fell well below the standard that I or anyone else would and should expect from our national health service. I do, though, want to thank the women and their families who shared their experiences to inform the review. I can't begin to fully understand the impact for those who have experienced unsafe or uncaring practice. Like most parents across Wales, our family's experience of maternity services was a positive one—one that every parent has a right to expect. The failings described in the report have no place within our NHS. I'm determined to ensure that this report is a catalyst for immediate and sustained improvement.
I commissioned the independent review of both royal colleges in October last year, after concerns relating to the under-reporting of serious incidents were brought to the attention of the Government. The reviewers have spoken with families and staff, and considered the information provided to them by the health board in forming their conclusions. My officials received the final reports on 16 April.
The report describes a number of serious concerns and there is a clear call for action. It highlights failings in governance, data accuracy, serious incident reporting, leadership and culture. The review makes clear that this has had an impact on pregnancy outcomes. The accounts from women and their families provide a deeply upsetting insight into how these failings have impacted on their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. The report also acknowledges the extreme pressure that some of our staff have been working under. There are also significant concerns and questions about the effectiveness of the wider board leadership and governance.
In my statement this morning, I set out the steps that the Welsh Government is taking, and I'll now take this opportunity to confirm those measures for Assembly Members. As part of this response, I have placed maternity services at the former Cwm Taf university health board into special measures.
It was incredibly distressing for me to read that women and families did not feel that they were taken seriously when voicing their concerns and worries. Whilst within the report there was feedback that reflected individual good practice, overwhelmingly those who contributed spoke about distressing experiences and poor care. This morning, my officials have met with some of the women and their families affected to discuss the report, and to seek their continued engagement to improve the service. It is vital that their voices continue to be heard, and I again want to extend my thanks to them for the courage and resilience they have shown in telling their stories.
The report makes a significant number of recommendations, grouped across 10 main areas in the terms of reference that I set. I fully accept the recommendations of the report and I am grateful to the reviewers for their work. The focus now must be on implementing their recommendations. In order to achieve this progress, I'm taking action across three main areas: maternity services in the former Cwm Taf area; broader governance in Cwm Taf Morgannwg; and finally, seeking assurances on provision across Wales.
Firstly, I'm establishing an independent maternity oversight panel. This panel will be tasked with seeking robust assurance from the health board that the report recommendations are being implemented against agreed milestones. The panel will establish an independent, multidisciplinary clinical review of the 43 pregnancies considered by the report. These were identified in a look-back exercise to January 2016. The panel will also ensure that a look-back exercise to 2010 is undertaken, as recommended by the royal college's review. I want to offer reassurance that women who feel they have had an adverse outcome will be able to have their care reviewed.
The independent panel will also have a role in advising the health board on how to effectively re-engage the public whilst improving maternity services in the former Cwm Taf area in a way that generally does rebuild trust and confidence in the service. Mick Giannasi, the former chair of the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, also a former commissioner for Anglesey council and a former chief constable of Gwent Police, has agreed to chair the panel. He will be supported by Cath Broderick, the author of the women and families report, who will continue to engage with women and their families. And they will be joined on the panel by senior midwifery and obstetrics leads who are, of course, independent of Cwm Taf.
Secondly, I am putting in place arrangements to improve the effectiveness of board leadership and governance in the organisation. I've asked David Jenkins, the former chair of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, to support the chair of Cwm Taf Morgannwg to provide assurance on the implementation of the recommendations. And Mr Jenkins will also advise me of any further action that may be required to improve governance at the board. The NHS Wales Delivery Unit will work with the health board to ensure that there are effective arrangements for the reporting, management and review of patient safety incidents and concerns. Healthcare Inspectorate Wales has confirmed that it intends to undertake a governance review that will align with any further review work to be undertaken by the Wales Audit Office.
And finally, I am seeking immediate assurance across Wales on the provision of maternity care. I've asked all health boards to consider the reports and how the findings may be relevant to their own services. I expect all health boards to provide assurance to me within the next two weeks. The chief nursing officer and the chief medical officer will work with health boards to ensure that the learning from these reports informs actions for Wales in the new five-year vision for maternity services.
There have been significant developments in recent years across maternity services in Wales—significant and positive. For example, OBS Cymru is a national quality improvement project that aims to reduce harm from bleeding following birth, and has received national and international accolades. Most women in Wales receive high-quality services and have a positive experience from pregnancy and childbirth. Nonetheless, many expectant mothers and their families will understandably be shaken and concerned by the reports published today.
As I said, the reports made for incredibly difficult reading, and they will do for all of us who take the time to look at the reports. At their core are mothers and babies, their experiences in pregnancy, during birth, and the level of safety that every family has a right to expect. The measures that I have announced today are the next essential step in ensuring that high-quality, effective maternity services are available to every mother and family in Wales.
I want pregnancy and childbirth and the maternity care that is provided to be a positive experience that women and their families can look back on and cherish.
Can I thank the Minister for his statement, and indeed for the briefings that have been made available to Assembly Members and their staff today? These reports make for very grim reading indeed. They expose some very serious shortcomings at the heart of an organisation, the Cwm Taf health board at that time, which failed those in its care. The staffing, the leadership and the governance issues have had tragic consequences, frankly, for mothers, babies and their families and loved ones, and those responsible for what went wrong must be held to account for it.
The culture in these organisations is set by the leaders in the organisations. That includes members of the board and indeed senior managers in that health board. I think that some of the information that has come to light following the publication of these reports—and I do welcome the fact that they were published in full in the public domain—is very alarming indeed. It's particularly alarming and galling to see that there had been some evidence of problems that was not relayed to the Welsh Government sooner, and shared with the Welsh Government, particularly the consultant midwife who undertook a review of some of the issues in relation to the reporting of serious incidents and stillbirths, which was clearly very inadequate. I do think that it calls into question the integrity of those senior managers who would have had sight of that report and failed to disclose it to the Welsh Government and indeed to your senior officials.
So, my first question is this: what action is going to be taken to hold those individuals to account for failing to disclose the very serious issues that were identified in that report, which was completed and given to the health board back in September? I'm also very alarmed that the report suggests that basic governance processes were not met. The risk register, it says, was not even updated since 2014—2014. We're in 2019, for goodness' sake. These are things that the board should naturally be focusing on in terms of reviewing those risk registers from time to time. So, what accountability have those independent board members, who you appoint, Minister, to you for their lack of focus on some of these basic processes that ought to be in place on any board as far as governance is concerned?
I note as well that the report goes on to identify a timeline of previous reports—no fewer than nine reports raising concerns over a period from 2012 right up to September 2018, all of which provided opportunities for intervention and an opportunity to lift the lid and expose some of the problems that clearly were beginning to emerge in those maternity services. Yet, time after time, it would appear that recommendations were not followed up, that the outcomes of those reports were not fully shared with the people that they needed to be shared with, and that the things that should have been implemented arising from them were not implemented arising from them.
It calls again into question the role of senior managers in that organisation, executives in that organisation, for not being able to share that information more widely. I would remind everybody in this Chamber that the consequences of those actions have been that babies have died. That is the reality. Babies have died. Mothers, fathers, families have lost their next generation as a result of what has happened at Cwm Taf.
I wonder also whether you can tell us what is going to be done by the Welsh Government to address the workforce issues, which are not just evident at this health board in this report but more widely across Wales, in terms of the midwifery workforce and indeed in terms of the obstetrics and clinician workforce to support those midwifery services. You will know that my party has raised, on many occasions, concerns about the fact that around a third of the midwifery workforce are going to be eligible for retirement by 2023, but at the current rate of replacement we are not going to be able to fill the gaps that are there in the midwifery workforce already, and which are now growing in terms of the positions that you are currently funding for training. So, we need to make sure that there is a massive increase, frankly, in capacity to make sure that the overstretched workforce that we have is not overstretched in the future.
It is appalling, frankly, to see that there were times when doctors should have been available, but they were not available. They were on call, but wouldn't respond for three quarters of an hour. Now, in an emergency, every single minute matters. Forty-five minutes in an emergency is not acceptable, yet that's what we read about. We read about a lack of mandatory training being undertaken. As few as a quarter of the staff actually participated in some training courses. It's not good enough, and we need to make sure that there are sufficient people in these wards to be able to deliver the high-quality care that I know we all want to see.
I'm concerned as well that the voice of patients, in terms of the concerns that they had raised, had far too often been ignored. And it was harrowing—absolutely harrowing—to read those patient accounts and some of the statements in there about the lack of dignity, the lack of respect, the flippant way, frankly, that some individuals had been informed of their babies' deaths. Absolutely harrowing. And I wonder what on earth is it about some so-called professionals that leaves them in a position to treat people inhumanely in the way that some of those people had clearly been treated by people in our Welsh health service.
There's also a hint in the report about the important role of CHCs in being able to help manage—community health councils—the complaints process and perhaps be able to assist health boards in learning lessons from complaints. And I wonder whether you'll be able to tell us, today, whether you see an enhanced role for community health councils going forward in supporting health boards, in listening to the voice of patients and in implementing change when there are lessons that need to be learnt.
And finally, can you also tell us, Minister: some of the things that I read in the report suggest to me that there need to be many referrals to the Nursing and Midwifery Council and to the General Medical Council about the lack of competence from some professionals. Will the Welsh Government, or will the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board be making those referrals and, indeed, if necessary, will the police be informed and be asked to undertake a review, particularly given that medical records clearly were going missing and were inaccurate at times also? Thank you.
Thank you for the series of questions that I'll now try to run through. I'll try and deal with those matters that are broader and then some of the specific points that you've made.
The matter in terms of regulators: ordinarily, you would expect referrals to be made by the employer, and I actually think it'll come back to some of the work that the independent oversight panel will do to identify what had happened in the 43 cases, and a broader look back to see if referrals are required, but we have ensured that the reports have been directly shared with both regulators, the GMC and the NMC, and referrals should be made as appropriate. But it's not for me to determine that individual referrals should be made, but I am trying to ensure that we do have a level of understanding to know whether that should be the case.
In terms of community health councils, we actually have proposals to enhance the voice of the citizen across health and social care and reforming the way that they work, and that broader role across our continually more integrated health and social care system. I think those new proposals are outside the scope of this report, but with the current way that community health councils are constituted, of course they have a role in supporting people in making their complaints, and in the information we've put out today, we've been clear that community health councils are there to support families to do so.
Coming onto your broader point about staff numbers, there are two distinct points, I think, to make here. One is that, on midwifery numbers, it's clear that there were not enough midwives within the service, and there's a challenge about when the health board itself recognised that it was not Birthrate Plus compliant, and that, of course, is the tool that is used to understand the right number of midwives to deliver the service.
Generally, within Wales we have found that our health boards have been Birthrate Plus compliant. The challenge about the future workforce that has been highlighted has been the need to do something to ensure that we recruit and train enough midwives for the future. It's part of my disappointment that the health board declared at a relatively late stage that it was not Birthrate Plus complaint. Of course, that was then re-highlighted in the report because the experience of staff has been that they were working understaffed, and patients and families recognised that themselves.
So, there's a job of work to be done immediately that is both about recruitment but also the way that health boards work together, not just within Cwm Taf Morgannwg but around them, to try to make sure that the units are adequately staffed as we try to both recruit and train for the future. But I have already recognised the need to train more midwives for the future, because, two years ago, I decided to increase midwife training places by 43 per cent. So, we are actually taking steps to make sure that, for the future, we're training many, many more midwives.
On the point about doctors, the numbers aren't actually the issue—it's the practice and behaviour that are the issue. The report sets out quite clearly that there is an adequate number of doctors in this part of the service—it's the way that they have behaved that is the challenge, and that, actually, is much more difficult to deal with in many ways. If you have the right number of staff behaving in the wrong way, then it still provides a challenge, and this report sets out that that is part of what has happened.
On your point about, in any event, the way that our staff behave, it's part of our expectation and we do not expect staff within the health service to be insensitive, unprofessional and to provide a lack of dignity for people who are often at their most vulnerable when they interact with the health service at any point, and that obviously includes people who are due to be giving birth or people who know that they may have a potentially poor outcome from their pregnancy. That was part of what I found particularly difficult to read in the report. It took me several days to read the report because it's genuinely upsetting.
On your other point about the internal report that the health board commissioned, which was provided in September 2018, it's plainly not acceptable that that report was not properly addressed through the board's reporting mechanism, that it was not provided to the board's quality and safety committee and it was not provided to the board, and action was not taken at that time. The health board chair and the chief executive have both recognised, in publishing that report today, that the health board got that completely wrong.
It's important to recognise what the health board has got wrong to actually make progress for the future. There is a question for the board that the chair is addressing, with a review led by an independent member of the board, to understand what happened at that time, why it did not come to the board, what can be a lesson in looking backwards but also what that means going forward. There are broader questions there about leadership and governance, not just to be addressed in that one individual instance—that's why the work that Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the Wales Audit Office do will be important, and the broader support of what David Jenkins will be doing as well.
It is plain that there have been system failures within the health board—that's acknowledged not just within the report but in the briefings and statements that have already been made today. But the accountability for that is not a simple question of lining up a discrete number of people to be removed from the organisation.
As you heard the First Minister point out, the report sets out challenges and failings in a number of different areas within the service, from the direct contact with individuals to people who had an area of leadership and management responsibility, to the clinical direction of the service, all the way through to the advice, information and challenge provided at executive and board level by independent members. That is why I believe it is hugely important that there is independent oversight of the work that's required to implement the recommendations of this review, and that independence comes not just from looking at the 43 serious incidents in the 2010 look-back, but that that will then provide a proper evidence base for where accountability lies and how we move on.
There's something that is very difficult here, because the report highlights that there was a punitive culture within the workplace, where people were frightened and fearful of raising concerns. That is wholly inappropriate and in no way acceptable. To get to the point where people are more confident where they could and should raise concerns, we actually need to be open about people acknowledging now what went wrong, as opposed to people looking to walk away from that because they fear for their jobs. Actually, if we don't have that more open-cultured environment, we're more likely to compromise the quality and the safety that people who use those services have a right to expect. So, a fundamental change in the culture is what is required, that is why the independence I've inserted into taking forward those recommendations is so important. But I will, of course, report back to Members when there is more information to be provided about that work and the immediate assurance exercise that I've required to be undertaken.
I'm obviously grateful to the Minister for the statements that he's provided, for publishing the report and for the briefing I was unable to attend in person but I have been able to speak to colleagues who were present and we're grateful to the Minister for that.
The Minister, of course, is right to say that this report makes for very difficult reading. I've only had a day to read it and it is very painful. Reading the pages, 30-2, that talk about the patients' experience—how disregarded, how distressed, how humiliated these women and their families felt at a time when they are most vulnerable. Any of us who have been through the experience of pregnancy and birth know that however confident and however pleased you are to be pregnant and however safe and secure your home situation is, you feel incredibly vulnerable at that time in your life. And as the Minister rightly says, the very least that women and their families can expect is that they are made to feel as safe as possible, that they're handled with sensitivity and dignity and, particularly when there is terrible sad news to impart, that that is done sensitively and kindly.
It's also clear, and I think we should stress this, that the report sets out very clearly that there are good people working in that service—good people at the front line who are working incredibly hard to provide the best service they can in circumstances that are very, very difficult. I think we should acknowledge and express our thanks to those staff who have—I would suggest it's an overused phrase but I think it's appropriate in this case—clearly been lions being led by donkeys. They have been let down by systematic failures and it's not good enough. Terrible systematic failures—and the Minister talked about the deep cultural issues where people were disrespected, where the staff themselves were disrespected and they were disrespectful.
It is right, of course, Dirprwy Lywydd, that the Minister has apologised, and I'm sure that we are all glad that he has met some of the families and will continue to meet them and to take their views and concerns into account. It is also right, of course, that he accepts the recommendations. However, I remain unconvinced that he can be confident in delivering those recommendations. He cannot present to this Chamber today and to those families the idea that this crisis is some kind of a surprise to the Welsh Government. Darren Millar rightly highlights page 7 of the report, which sets out nine separate reports highlighting particular aspects of this issue from 2012 to 2018, and that in addition to the warnings that have been raised in this Chamber to the Minister by, among others, my colleague Leanne Wood, speaking on behalf of her constituents and the experiences that they've suffered.
Now, the Minister tells us that he's placing part of the health board into special measures. Well, those of us who represent part of the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area know that four years into those very special measures, the problems are not solved. The issues that come into my constituency postbag and I know that of others—my colleagues Llyr Gruffydd and Siân Gwenllian, for example—. Four years of special measures and the problems are not solved. So, I want to ask the Minister today, Dirprwy Lywydd, whether he accepts that there are some systematic problems with management in the NHS. Professional staff—doctors, nurses, midwives—have to have a given set of competencies, they have to be registered, we have to know that they're professionally competent. Is it not time to have that core set of competencies for people who are managing our NHS and a system of registering those staff, and particularly a system of registering those senior staff so they cannot fail in one local health board and pop up in another? There's a particular pattern of that happening across the border. I'm not suggesting that's relevant specifically here, but in terms of the systematic failures that we've seen, where people who have made a mess of things in English health management are fetched up making a mess of things in ours. Surely we need that core set competencies. We need managers and leaders who can be relied on. We need to know what's expected of them. Now, when it comes to accountability, I have heard, of course, what the Minister has said to Darren Millar, but the Minister himself has talked about needing to change the culture. Well, how can you change the culture if the same individuals who created that culture are still in charge of it? Now, I completely accept, Dirprwy Lywydd, what the Minister says about not wanting to create an environment that's even more punitive, but, unless people are held accountable, how can those frontline staff, how can those women and their families, be confident that their concerns will be addressed more sensitively if the same people are addressing them who have allowed this situation to arise in the first place? I'm not calling for heads to roll necessarily, but how can people be confident that things will change if no individuals are held accountable? In any other profession—in social work, in teaching—massive systematic failures like that would lead to people being replaced and I just do not understand why the Minister doesn't seem to feel that this is necessary.
Now, and I say this with much regret, Dirprwy Lywydd, but I have to ask the Minister whether he accepts that in our health system—and this is something I support and it's different from the position in England—the accountability for the running of the national health service in Wales rests with the Welsh Government and with the Minister. The legislation is clear about that. The Minister appoints the health boards, he sets their budgets, he sets their policies, and so should he in my view. So, finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, I have to say that, faced with this most recent, most serious failure, does the Minister believe it is time to consider his position to act accountably for what's gone wrong and resign?
The scale of the concern, as is set out in the report and in the timeline, was made properly aware when a new head of midwifery service actually reviewed the data within the service, and those concerns led to additional Welsh Government contact with the organisation and, ultimately, because I was not satisfied with the health board response, I decided to commission this independent review that has been reported today. So, from the scale of the concern being properly highlighted, by someone doing their job as they should do, escalating those concerns, we now reach a point where a Minister makes a decision—we have this report today. And it is an undeniable fact that, without that, we wouldn't have the objectivity in the report that we have today and the lid could well still be on top of these concerns that exist within this service. [Interruption.] When it comes to understanding the range of different reports, there are reports across a range of different services and then action is normally taken to resolve those. We actually found the scale of this concern—and, as I say, I've set out for you how and when I acted to ensure that the Royal College's review was undertaken.
Now, when it comes to special measures within the service area, we have a clear set of recommendations to work to for the service to improve against. We have independent oversight of whether those recommendations will actually be achieved and we are in the fortunate position where a number of families who have met with Welsh Government officials today and have received a personal apology from the chair of the health board are still willing to continue to engage in that work to improve services, and that is hugely important for us to be able to properly learn lessons and ensure that women's voices and their families are not forgotten in this, because, actually, what we need to do is enhance their voice in the future of the service. So, I think there should be some more positivity about how long the service area will remain in special measures, but I will say the service area will remain in special measures as long as it is appropriate to do so. I'm not going to set any sort of artificial deadline for special measures to end in this service area. There must be a proper and sustained improvement that is objectively highlighted and signed off, and it's worth pointing out that, in Betsi Cadwaladr, maternity services were one of the key concerns that led to special measures for the whole organisation and the service has delivered sustained improvement in maternity services and that's why they came out of special measures more than a year ago.
Now, on your point about management, I appreciate that some of what you had to say was not about the Welsh system at all, was actually a commentary on the system in England, but, of course, many managers are themselves clinicians. If you look at most of the executive team around health board tables in the country, they're registered healthcare professionals who still maintain their professional registration, but the job they undertake as leaders and managers requires a different sort of experience to being a clinician. And, of course, we do look at the relevant qualifications and experience upon appointment, and the health boards that appoint them do that as well. This is the point about our system having the boards to properly undertake the governance, the support and the challenge required to make sure the right people are appointed and in place. Part of what is difficult about this particular service is that, up to now, Cwm Taf has been a high-performing health board, living within its budgets and doing well when it comes to performance measures. But quality and safety is a non-negotiable part of the healthcare system here in Wales, and so the accountability that Members understandably call for—there will be evidence to underpin any form of accountability and the independent processes that I have set in place are not just designed to provide assurance to the public, they are designed also to make sure we understand where accountability should lie, because our objective is to change and improve the service, and that must require significant cultural change to do so.
So, I'm not going to set out an artificial deadline for whether anyone should leave their employment; I am interested in people who are in the health service being able to do their job properly and to do their job with the public that they serve. But we have seen a change already—there's a significant change in independent members compared to the health board in 2010. Two doctors who were in the service at the time the report was written have now left the health board. Coincidentally, we also now have a new nurse director at executive level within the health board in place within this month. They're out to recruitment for a new medical director—again, that is a matter of coincidence; that was a planned retirement in any event. And there is also now, within the last two weeks, a consultant midwife within the service as well, so there is change, and significant change, within the leadership tiers of the organisation.
The challenge now is for people to do the job that they're paid for, the job they came into the health service to do, to provide the confidence and the quality that each and every family is entitled to expect. And, of course, I will not be resigning; I will be stepping up to my responsibilities as the Minister for the national health service here in Wales and seeing through the required improvements that I recognise must take place.
Thank you, Minister, for the statement. I have to say that I'm both shocked and saddened by what I saw in this report and the findings, and, like others, my thoughts, first and foremost, are with the families, many of whom are my constituents, of course, that have been affected by the failings in the Cwm Taf maternity services.
While I know that many women have had good experiences and good care within Cwm Taf, too many have not, and right now they have to be the focus of our concerns. There are many aspects of the report that I'd like to address with you, which include data accuracy, patient dignity, inadequate support for staff, lack of professional development training, reviews of serious incidents, poor clinical practice, inappropriate staff management, reluctance of staff to exercise their duty of candour and, of course, who actually takes ultimate responsibility within the health board. But, due to the limited time today, I will do that with you outside of this session and in direct discussions with the health board. Today, I'll just focus my comments on three particular areas and try not to repeat what others have said.
Firstly, the poor governance of maternity services in Cwm Taf is clearly of grave concern, and, whilst staffing levels are something that must be addressed, I have to say that, even if we had optimum staffing but those services are not properly managed, then we're still going to have the same problems. So, I'm particularly concerned at the statement in the report relating to false assurances given to the board by the senior executive team about the service, and I'd like to know what that means and what is going to be done about that.
Secondly, in relation to the decision in 2014 to move the consultant-led services onto one site, do you know what risk assessment was undertaken regarding the impact of staffing on that decision, given that most midwives based at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital would naturally look towards Cardiff or Bridgend and not Merthyr when considering employment changes? And why, as it appears, were the staffing issues consequent on that decision left to the last minute to address when the board has had five years to plan for it?
Finally, it will be vital to ensure that the service is not destabilised during this period of intervention, so what assurances will you and the health board be giving to prospective mothers about the safety of maternity services in Cwm Taf now, and how that will be communicated
Minister, within the Cwm Taf area, many of us will have both a political and a personal interest in ensuring that maternity services are fit for purpose, and, indeed, my first grandchild is due to be born at Prince Charles Hospital in August, so, while I welcome the proposed actions set out in your statement, what are the timescales within which you expect the health board to deliver the changes that are needed?
Thank you for the comments and the questions. I think you're right to point out that, of course, there is a great deal of good care that takes place every single day in every single community across our national health service, and the report does highlight a range of staff who provided good care, in particular in the community midwifery service, but it is entirely right and appropriate that we focus on the failings identified in the report today. And that does come back to your point about the management and the culture within different parts of the service, so not just at the most senior level, reporting in to the executive team and the board, but from the shop floor and all the way through and leaders and managers in different parts of the service. The report talks about a punitive culture; I would expect the trade unionists to talk about a bullying culture, and a culture of fear within the organisation, and I recognise that on reading the report. So, it isn't just one part of the culture within the maternity service in the board that needs to be addressed. And that does come back to your point about false assurances being provided, because the report sets out quite clearly that a range of concerns were suppressed and not dealt with, and reports were not then properly concluded, so, actually, people were being provided with an assurance that wasn't accurate, and I think independent members took assurance where it should not have been provided to them in that place. That is a question not just that the report sets out, it's not just a question that will be addressed in the independent review on what went wrong, as well as making recommendations for the future, it is part of what the board needs to address now. I've spoken several times to the chair of the health board and he understands very well that it is a question for the board to address adequately and properly themselves as to what information they had, what they didn't have, and what they will require to have in the future and the level of challenge they must have. That is part of the work that David Jenkins will be doing in supporting the board to do so.
In terms of your point about the move, the move to the concentration of consultant-led care at Prince Charles—you're quite right—has taken a long time to happen, longer than it should have done, frankly. And part of that is because the health board, but also the two units in question, were not determined to make the move happen in a collaborative manner. When the report took place, they still found culture between the two sites that was not accepting of the move that was imminent. And that's a real problem from the leadership teams within the doctors on both those sites. And that's not acceptable.
So, the move, and, prior to the move, there was a multidisciplinary meeting that took place, and there were two Welsh Government officials in that meeting, which confirmed that they were in a position for the move to go ahead and that, actually, there was less risk to staff and the service in going ahead with the move in March than in putting the move off and in trying to run consultant services on both sites, partly because of the fragility of staff in midwifery, but also the number of locum staff within the medical grades as well. So, yes, there was oversight, but there's still more work to do to make sure that that service is the sort of service that you or I would want for ourselves and obviously for your first grandchild.
When it comes to women and their families being supported, they should contact their midwife and contact their health boards to talk through concerns and fears that they have, to understand the options that are available to them, and to make sure that they do so as soon as they are concerned or worried, because that is part of the role that the midwife has, to support women to make their choices. Some women may want to choose to give birth in different settings, whether at home, whether it's water births, or whether it's in consultant-led care or in midwife-led care, and some people may want to think again about the location of their birth. Now, I would want to encourage the take-up, in the first instance, of all of those concerns with their community midwife, and, for the health board, it's a very clear expectation that they support women to make those choices of where they are most comfortable, where they feel best supported.
And, in terms of the timeframe for improvements, well, improvement has to take place immediately. Immediate improvements are required, but I should not pretend to you or anybody else that this will be resolved quickly, because the cultural change that I've highlighted on more than one occasion will take many months to actually be in place and then to be sustained thereafter.
I've got a number of speakers now, and I will extend this statement. However, the major parties have had their first speaker, and I've been quite lenient with timing, so I will ask all the other speakers now just to address the statement and ask a brief question. That way, we'll probably get everybody in without overrunning for too long. Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, thank you for the briefing that you facilitated this morning for Members and, in particular, for the apology that you have offered in your statement this afternoon. I think it is wholly appropriate, and I welcome the remarks that you made about how difficult you found reading the report. It is a very difficult report to read, because, ultimately, you are talking about something that should be a joyous occasion and, sadly, for some families, it turned into a horrendous experience that no-one should ever have to go through. And this is happening in twenty-first century hospitals, sadly, not too far from this very institution.
One thing I would like to put to you, because most of the ground has been covered, is the issue of governance and supervision, because I think that goes to the crux of the matter here. At the very top of the recommendations or concerns there is the lack of consultant availability, taking 45 minutes to come to a hospital when required. There's the inability to make evidence available until the inquiry team turned up at the hospital itself, from the board. There have been nine different reports, I believe, from 2012 to 2018. In fact, on page 11 of the report, the report authors talk of their dismay
'that the Health Board had received information highlighting areas of unsafe practice'
yet chose not to take any action when this evidence was presented to them.
I think what is of critical concern here is: when is this culture going to change? I hear what you said to date—it takes time to change that culture—but this isn't a report in isolation. This is a report built on nine previous reports, and there has been a cataclysmic failure of governance in this particular health service, in this particular discipline. And I do question whether it's isolated specifically to this discipline, maternity services, or if it's a wider issue. It cannot be right that there cannot be fundamental change in this health board, because if that change is not delivered at the top of the health board, then, really, we will be back here in two, three, four years' time, reviewing the same sad report that we're looking at this afternoon.
As I say, I do commend you for the apology you've put on the record. I think some families will find comfort in that. But we cannot and must not allow this to be another report that isn't acted on and, as I said, we're back here in two or three years' time.
I have absolutely no intention of coming back here in two or three years' time and having to report that no further progress has been made. That's why I've taken the steps that I've confirmed today and given the assurance of independence in reviewing the progress that the health board has or has not made. Because I will be honest about the level of progress that has or has not been made by the health board every time I report back to the Chamber or to the wider public.
Again, I go back to the point about behaviour and culture, because when you talk about the report highlighting that doctors weren't available, that's a point about the medical culture, because that wasn't about the numbers of people employed within the service, it was actually about their working practice. In many ways, that is much more difficult to address, which is why I said to Dawn Bowden that we are talking about many months of work to change the culture to a point where it is more likely to be sustained and changed, and I'm under no illusions whatsoever that significant change is required within the organisation.
The work that I've highlighted is not just confined to maternity services. There is new clinical leadership within the medical team within this part of the service, there's a new clinical lead in place, and that's a positive step forward. But the work that Healthcare Inspectorate Wales are going to be doing is looking more broadly at leadership and governance within the organisation, and I'm expecting their report to be available before the end of the autumn. I've had a conversation with the chief inspector of HIW today, and that is my expectation following the conversation with her—that she expects a report to be available within the autumn.
Again, HIW reports are published and there is no hiding away from them, and so we'll be clear about what level of change has or has not taken place and what further change is still required. I would expect that we'd still hear at that point what further change is still required to make sure that that change is real and sustained. So, I'll return to this Chamber and/or committees that do or don't want to ask questions about this, and as I said, I'll be honest about where we are and about what we still need to do.
I attended the briefing this morning on this, and there wasn't enough time for me to ask questions there on behalf of my constituents in the Rhondda, so I hope I will be afforded the time now, Llywydd.
It's good to have an apology from the health Minister, and, I have to say, when I first read this report, which refers to a culture of people's concerns being dismissed, I immediately thought that this could also apply to the health Minister. I have lost count as to how many times I have raised on the floor of this Chamber, with both the health Minister and the First Minister, my concerns about staffing shortages and complaints in my local health board area. I have to say, most of the time, these concerns have been dismissed, or at least not taken seriously. Yes, the health board has to do better on a whole range of areas, but Minister, so do you.
It's not good to read that 67 stillbirths, going back to 2010, were not properly reported, and it's appalling to read how some patients just weren't listened to. I wonder how much of a problem this would have been in a more affluent area. Poorer people's views are often easily dismissed across a whole range of public services. So often do I hear about people being treated differently to how those from middle-class backgrounds would have been treated—people who may have gone to university and know very well how to demand their rights. This principle is known as the inverse care law, and it's been recognised and acknowledged by the medical profession. Minister, will you agree to look to see if this has been an issue in this instance? Please feed back to us.
These are my further questions. Will you agree to look seriously at every complaint and every serious case that has not been dealt with satisfactorily? Given that this report talks about a problematic culture, a punitive culture with regards to complaints, I strongly suspect—and my case files back this up—that failing to deal with complaints is a much wider problem. Do you agree with that point, and can you tell us exactly what you are going to do about it? Because I didn't hear anything specific in your statement addressing that point of culture. I welcome the fact that you are going to look into other departments. What messages can you give to worried parents-to-be, like the constituent of mine who is due to have her fifth baby and has seen the services decline over many years, and now is very worried about the care she is likely to get? Can she opt to go somewhere else, for example? Will you agree to closely monitor the situation at Prince Charles Hospital? I've had contact with many former Royal Glamorgan patients who are not happy with what they've experienced in Prince Charles Hospital over the last six weeks or so.
We in Plaid Cymru campaigned from 2013 against moving and centralising these maternity services, and we've campaigned against the moving of the children's services, which are due to move this summer. Doctors have told me their concerns about all of this as well, one telling me of their belief, and I quote, that mothers and babies will die. This report confirms that staff agree with us about centralisation, and have been prevented from speaking up. Will you listen to the staff that say that this centralisation is risky? Will you now listen to what patients are saying on this, and will you agree to monitor and work to reinstate those services at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital if the situation continues to be a risk and people continue to report problems?
I'll start by reiterating that I'm not going to defend the failings identified in this report. That is absolutely not what I'm going to do. It would be wholly inappropriate for me to try to do so. The challenge is how those failings are addressed, and we have a wide number of recommendations to do so. As I've said repeatedly, having a proper independent process to do so is really important, not just to the health board, but actually to the public that the board is there to serve, because no family should be treated in this way, regardless of their income, of their educational status, where they live. No family should be treated in the way that the report sets out.
If you actually look at similar communities—for example in the Gwent valleys—you don't hear the same story. We don't have the same level of concern. If you look, for example, at practice—and it goes back to culture and things that I've raised and described in many of the responses to questions today—the intervention rates within the former Cwm Taf health board are significant and different, and the report highlights that. It is not explained by the socioeconomic group of people they're dealing with. It is not explained by comorbidities in health, because, actually, similar communities have different intervention rates in terms of induction, caesarean section and assisted delivery. And that comes back to culture within the unit and the practice, and that is part of what has to change. Otherwise, we'll have women taking more risks than they should do in giving birth, potential complications afterwards, and it will change the mix of the staff and the beds that we need to properly service that. So, actually, it's really important to change around a better service and a safer service within the area and a better use of all the resources that we have. It comes back to why the independent review of the 43 serious incidents and the look-back to 2010 is important.
But I just want to finish on your point about supporting women to make choices. Yes, as I said, I expect them to be supported to make choices. And there are other consultant-led units that are not in Prince Charles where women may want to give birth, but they should start, as I said in response to Dawn Bowden, by discussing that with their community midwife to talk about fears or concerns they have and the choices that are available to them.
I don't agree with you that going back and trying to unpick the south Wales programme is the right thing to do. The concerns that existed then about fragility within our system in trying to run a larger number of sites than our staff and the case mix provides—I don't think that's the right way forward. What we do have to do is to understand the information that we're given by both staff and by people using the services, and to understand what we need to do to properly equip the service that we have in terms of capacity and staff numbers and, crucially, practice and culture.
Thank you for your statement today, Minister. As a mother myself who's given birth within the Cwm Taf area, as well as being an Assembly Member for a constituency that falls under the Cwm Taf area, I can honestly say that this report is the most distressing thing that I have read since I was elected to this place three years ago, and my thoughts are very firmly with the families that have been affected.
I'd like to add my support to comments previously expressed by other Assembly Members about the impact of these tragic consequences, the nine previous reports and missed opportunities to put things right and the urgency to put things right now. I'd also like to pay tribute to those really hard-working and dedicated front-line staff who will be feeling very vulnerable with the publication of this report today—many of whom I met when I visited the new service at Prince Charles hospital recently. From the mothers who gave evidence to this report, one theme stands out very strongly, and that's the fact they wanted to give their evidence in order to put things right for future mothers going through the service. The two areas of questioning that I'd like to focus on today are very firmly linked to that.
Firstly, for all the women that I have spoken to from my constituency and also the women from Cynon Valley whose views are expressed in the report, there's one theme that stands out very clearly, and that's the issue around notes disappearing, or record keeping not being accurate, and women going through a very difficult time in labour being repeatedly asked by different members of staff to verbally pass on information rather than the information being there at hand. Now, you'll be aware that on the Public Accounts Committee, we have been undertaking an inquiry into NHS informatics, and I wondered whether, as part of the next step after this report, it would be appropriate to consider whether informatics could be used more effectively within the Cwm Taf maternity service, in order to ensure that all the information that midwives and doctors need is at hand in order to make the right decisions at the right time for mothers and for babies.
Secondly—and this is an issue that you've touched upon in your reply to the previous Assembly Member—we know that the Cwm Taf area has particular issues around its socioeconomic make-up and resultant health issues that arise from that, but there are other areas of Wales that have those same challenges. What work can be done to link up the service provision in Cwm Taf with other very similar areas of Wales where they have fewer interventions in labour, which we know then leads often to safer outcomes for mothers and babies?
Thank you for the comments and the questions. Again, I welcome the point you make about staff. There will be many staff who will be concerned going into work today and looking to go into work for the rest of this week. There's a point about how we support staff, about how we still have high expectations of how staff behave, and how they are to be supported to work in a much more open environment.
I completely recognise your point about families wanting to see improvement. Many people said expressly they came forward to tell their story because they didn't want it to happen to someone else and they wanted the service to be improved. That does go back into record keeping—one of the concerns that I recognised having read the report as well. I do think the better use of what is no longer new technology but standard technology in large parts of our life is part of doing that, to provide a greater robustness and certainty about record transfer and actually taking a more proactive approach to capture the views of people as they're using the service as well. So, I absolutely do think that is a standard part of the future.
Crucially, it goes into your second point about support from other health boards who serve similar communities. Because actually there is already good practice that exists within the system here in Wales on the doorstep of the former Cwm Taf area, and it's important to me that that is properly accessed and taken on board in improving the service within the former Cwm Taf area to make sure that we don't wait months and months and months to make no progress, but that the immediate improvements that could be made, we're clear about what those are and the support that's provided for people who are running midwifery at the services, who are running maternity services in very similar communities with different intervention rates and different outcome rates.