Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd14/05/2019
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 week is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Dai Lloyd.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the development of tidal energy in South Wales West? OAQ53834
We continue to work with partners across Wales, particularly in South Wales West, to develop a strong and positive future for the marine energy industry whilst preserving our rich marine biodiversity. Tidal energy remains an area in which Wales could lead the world.
Thank you very much for that response. As you know, in a meeting of the scrutiny of the First Minister committee recently, I raised my concern that the world's first test centre for the development of materials for tidal energy is now being built in Scotland. There is a risk that we in Wales are losing momentum, therefore, in terms of putting ourselves in the vanguard in this field. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon is an opportunity for Wales to become a global leader, but with the London Government having turned its back on Wales once again, the Welsh Government, in my view, needs to show clear leadership on this issue. Now, with the work of the Swansea bay region task and finish group coming to end, it was suggested that something may emerge from that that would seek support from the Welsh Government. Can you expand on any recent discussions on this point, and to what extent is the Welsh Government considering co-production in this regard?
May I thank Dai Lloyd for that question? I remember the question that he posed at the scrutiny committee. Of course, we continue to work with the city council's taskforce, and we look forward to receiving its report when it's ready. As has been true over the years, the Welsh Government is ready to participate in the project and to contribute to the capital costs of building the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. The problem, of course, Llywydd, is with the cost of the electricity. In that field, it is the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government to announce a scheme that can support the sector with the electricity costs. It is the United Kingdom Government that commissioned the report initially, so they must be accountable for not implementing the clear recommendations of their own report.
First Minister, I recently chaired a policy forum. Tidal Lagoon Power were there and they spoke about the work that they're doing to encourage businesses to buy energy from them in order to provide a future for the lagoon project. Welsh Government's national procurement service states that it collaborates with public organisations to use collective buying power to get a good deal for Wales, whether it's supply teachers, fuel, computers or sandwiches. Now, we know that the strike price is a question that has threatened this project. So, how can the work done on the national procurement service here on collective buying help make the case to organisations that it could be good value to buy energy from a tidal energy source like the Swansea bay tidal lagoon?
Well, Llywydd, I understand the point that Suzy Davies is making, and I've heard arguments made by those involved in the scheme in Swansea that the way to deal with the failure of the UK Government to have a contract-for-difference approach to the electricity that will be produced by any lagoon is to spread the cost of that amongst a large number of public and private sector buyers of that electricity. And I understand the case that they are making. But, surely, the real answer is that the UK Government should recognise that this was always to be a demonstration project, that it is inevitable in nascent technologies that the price of electricity produced would be higher than it otherwise would be in the marketplace, and, just as previous Governments were willing to do in the fields of solar and wind, that they must find a tariff for marine energy—not simply tidal lagoon technology, but marine energy—that allows those new technologies to be attempted and, as we would see it, to thrive here in Wales. That's the right way to do it. Spreading the cost amongst public and private sector buyers here in Wales will only go so far, and will, in the end, result in Welsh citizens having to subsidise a cost that always ought to have been the responsibility of the UK Government.
First Minister, Dai Lloyd pointed out that the energy proposals of the tidal lagoon could create a new sector of industry across the south Wales region and, clearly, also support other industries there, including the steel plant in Port Talbot. Following last Friday's announcement of the joint venture collapse that is likely to happen between Tata and Thyssenkrupp, this is now a possibility of actually where we can see steel being used from the Port Talbot plant in a project that would give benefits not just to the region, but to the whole of Wales with energy. Will you therefore go back to the UK Government with the message that this is a possibility of how the UK Government can help the steel industry, as well as the tidal lagoon and tidal energy?
I want to thank the Member for making that important point, and for taking the opportunity, which I know he does whenever he has that opportunity, to speak up for the steel industry across Wales and in his own constituency. The case for the tidal bay lagoon was never in the relatively small number of jobs that were directly to be involved in the project—that's a point that the Secretary of State for Wales tried to make when trying to excuse the UK Government's decision not to go ahead with the scheme. The jobs were always to be created in those supply chains and those other manufacturing possibilities that go with a new industry that can be born here in Wales. And of course there will be potential for Welsh-produced steel to be used in that construction. And I'm very happy to give the Member an undertaking that we will write again to the UK Government, making the case that he's just put to me, in this new context.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the support available to haemophiliacs and their families in Wales? OAQ53881
I thank the Member for that question. Services available to people in Wales with haemophilia include specialist physiotherapy, psychology, social services and access to latest treatments. In addition, the Welsh infected blood support scheme provides a package of financial and other measures for people affected by infected blood.
First Minister, you will recognise, as most of us here do, that the contaminated blood scandal is one of the great and terrible scandals that's occurred—admittedly, well before devolution, but one where there is a legacy with us to this day. You'll also be pleased, I'm sure, to welcome the commencement, at long last, of the contaminated blood inquiry, which has started to take place. And I'm sure you will also welcome the actual work that Julie Morgan has done with Haemophilia Wales, and with the families and the victims throughout Wales, and the work she's done with the cross-party group. But, First Minister, as the inquiry started, the UK Government announced a financial package of support—until it turned out that that financial package only applies to England. It appears that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are an afterthought and are not included within it, that there is no new money, no new funding, no new consequential. And this, First Minister, must be one of the most cruel and reckless activities by the UK Government—raising expectations while not providing any financial support. First Minister, will you urge the UK Government firstly to ensure that there is new money—proper money—to fund these people who deserve it, and that there is proper provision for the widows? And can you inform this Chamber what discussions, what contacts, you have had from the UK Government, because they are certainly writing in correspondence that there are negotiations about to start? And will you also arrange to meet with the cross-party group—or members of your Government to meet with the cross-party group—so that they can be involved in any forward planning, any decision-making process, but also for an explanation as to where we are with this inquiry and with the issue of support for victims?
Llywydd, can I thank the Member for those very important questions? Let me begin by agreeing with him that, of course, we welcome the establishment of the inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff. I'm pleased to be able to report to the Chamber that the Welsh Government has secured core participant status in the inquiry, which gives us extra rights of access to the inquiry, and the inquiry, I understand, intends to come to Wales on 23 July and will spend four days here taking evidence directly from those affected and those infected in the contaminated blood scandal, and we will do whatever we can as a Welsh Government to assist people to make sure that they can put their case to the inquiry.
But to go to the specific point the Member raised, on 21 January this year a meeting was held, chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, at which it was agreed that there was a need for a UK-wide approach, with parity for all those affected, and that meeting was attended by Scotland, by Wales, and by UK Ministers, and we came away from that meeting having signed up to that proposition and made efforts to secure further meetings beyond 21 January. However, on 30 April—the first day of the infected blood inquiry—the UK Government made a unilateral announcement of additional funding for English patients only. There was no consultation, there was no prior ministerial notice, and it was a breach of the agreement that had been reached on 21 January. We since had a letter from a junior Minister at the Department of Health. It takes your breath away, really, when she says to us, 'I believe', she says, 'That we could all benefit from greater dialogue and co-operation on these matters'. It beggars belief, really, that such a letter could be sent to us when they had done exactly the opposite. The campaigners, the charities and campaign groups who had been part of the meeting on 21 January have since written to the Prime Minister saying that their understanding was that those discussions were for the whole of the United Kingdom. 'We assume', they said, 'That the decision involved devolved administrations and have learned with a mixture of disappointment, anger and frustration that that has turned out not to be the case'.
Now, Llywydd, during the first decade of devolution, the Government at the UK level observed scrupulously the agreement that anything that had happened prior to devolution was a cost on the UK Government. Things that have happened since devolution, of course, are a cost on us here. The awful scandal in contaminated blood happened many, many years before devolution and the devolution rules seem to me unambiguously to require that if money is provided by the UK Government for patients in England, then the same help must be available to patients throughout the United Kingdom, and we will continue to make that case as vigorously as we can with UK Ministers.
First Minister, as part of the inquiry work taking place here in Wales, could you provide some clarity, perhaps, as to when pharmaceutical professionals in Wales could be expected to administer the trialled recombinant, laboratory-made factor products such as Fc-fusion, PEGylation and albumin fusion, and also advise what work this Government is doing with patients here in Wales in terms of communication as to how these drugs might actually make a big difference to their lives going forward?
Well, Llywydd, on 6 March, my colleague Vaughan Gething provided a written statement to the Assembly, setting out a fair and comprehensive package of additional support for families and individuals here in Wales. We believe that that went some way to meeting the concerns of those families. I'm happy to write to the Member on the specific question of when pharmaceutical professionals will be able to administer new forms of drug therapy, but we have been talking in this question about something more fundamental than that. We've been talking about financial support to people who have been infected by a failure on the part of the national health service nearly 40 years ago that will allow them to live decent lives at this point in their life cycle, and, while there are other things that we want to do, that fundamental issue deserves to be tackled right across this Chamber.
Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, a month ago you told the BBC that in the event of a crash-out Brexit, there would be food products that would not be available to the public in supermarkets. You said you didn't believe that this would lead to food shortages to individuals, but that the economic impact would be devastating to the food sector, particularly to businesses relying on fresh produce. Can you confirm that every frozen and chilled storage warehouse in Wales is already full to capacity, even with the current Brexit delay?
Well, the Member makes the important point, Llywydd. I repeat what I said a while ago, that as far as the shops are concerned, people will not have the range and the choice of products that they have come to enjoy during our membership of the European Union if we leave the European Union without a deal. And those in Wales who rely on producing food that is exported to the European Union will equally find their businesses put at risk if they suddenly face new barriers—not of tariffs but of the non-tariff variety—that will mean that there will be a very significant threat to large parts of Welsh food producers. I don't want to give the Member a definitive answer without being certain that I have it properly in front of me, but my understanding is probably close to what he was suggesting—that the food sector is already using whatever capacity it has to prepare against the day when we leave the European Union without a deal.
I can confirm that the cold storage sector in Wales is full to capacity—it has been, I believe, for some months, and, First Minister, you should be aware of this yourself because your own Government, prompted by concerns within the sector, commissioned a study before Christmas into cold storage capacity in Wales that was completed in January. Now, why have you refused to publish that study, and given the understandable public concern, will you commit to doing so now?
In a response to a written question from me, asking what representations you had received as a Government about a potential lack of capacity for cold food storage facilities in Wales, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs rather pointedly replied that you had only received a representation from one business within the sector. Can you confirm, First Minister, that there are only two companies in the sector in Wales and the one you received representation from—Wild Water Group—operates two of the three cold storage facilities for food in Wales? Can you confirm specifically that they have asked you to urgently invest in the development of a new storage facility because of the pressure Brexit has already put on the food sector and supply chain in Wales? You've done precisely this for medical supplies. Given the lack of warehouse capacity in that area, why not do the same for food, given the devastating impact you yourself claim the pressure on supply chains Brexit will cause?
Well, Llywydd, just to say that I'm not aware of any request that has come directly to me to release a report. I'm very happy to look to see the status of that report and if it was intended for wider circulation.
My colleague Lesley Griffiths has met the retail consortium this morning and received assurances from them about the steps that they are taking in relation to making sure that there are supplies of food available here in Wales. The Member is of course right to say that in the field of medical supplies we have found storage space to ensure that there is continuity of supply, but for the Government, we always have to balance spending money, which is in short supply, on things that we are certain we will need, should we find ourselves leaving the European Union without a deal, against those many other calls on our EU transition fund that is about preparing Welsh businesses and Welsh public services for the long-term future the other side of Brexit.
I can sure the Member that we keep all possibilities under regular review, and if we were convinced that it was necessary to secure further storage facilities for the purposes that he's outlined, then we would give that absolutely serious consideration. We've not been convinced of the case so far, but that doesn't mean to say that we wouldn't continue to consider it if further and better information became available.
Can I say, then, First Minister, I asked the Minister that is responsible to publish this study. You, as First Minister, are responsible for the Government as a whole, but I'm asking you again now: will you publish that study, because I think the public have a right to know? I can also tell you, First Minister, I'm in possession of a number of letters from companies within the food sector all claiming that the failure to invest in cold storage facilities will have serious adverse consequences now. The managing director of one leading Welsh food company expresses, and I quote, their concern with regard to a serious shortage of both chilled and frozen storage facilities within Wales. The supply chain director of another says it is imperative that we have more cold storage options in the local area to be able to continue to compete. Kepak, which employs 700 people at the St Merryn meat plant in Merthyr says this:
If there is no increase in storage capacity in Wales, we may have to consider transferring some production from Merthyr to a site in Cornwall, which could have a negative impact on employee numbers in Merthyr.
And, furthermore, the National Sheep Association has said that without long-term cold storage facilities for lamb, the effects of a 'no deal' Brexit could be catastrophic.
So, can I ask you, First Minister, given that you yourself have said that a 'no deal' Brexit could have a devastating impact on the food sector, given that hundreds of jobs are at stake now, the future of Welsh farming is at risk and the security of food supply in Wales may itself be jeopardised, why on earth won't the Welsh Government invest the £3 million to £4 million it's estimated that's needed to plug the gap in cold chain supply? And why are you putting your faith in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and companies over the border, rather than coming up with a Welsh solution to a Welsh problem that you have exacerbated through the usual dose of complacency, denial and inaction?
It's hard to know, Llywydd, where to begin, where you have to try and pick the bones of a sensible question out of the normal hyperbole that the leader of Plaid Cymru cannot deny himself. So, there was a sensible question in the middle of everything that he wrapped it up in and here's a sensible answer for him: I've said to him already that I'm happy to review the report to see if it was intended for publication, and if it is, then I'm very happy to think of doing that.
As far as cold storage is concerned, it is one of—it is one of—a whole range of things that we discuss with the industry, and which the industry says they would need in order to be able to survive the catastrophic impact of a 'no deal' Brexit. If this is the top priority for the industry, in the way that the Member attempts to suggest, then I'd be happy to hear it directly from the industry. And if that's what they say to us, then we will of course discuss that with them as part of the way that we go about the sober business of Government, which is to work alongside those people in Wales who would be affected by a 'no deal' Brexit, to hear from them about where they think the investment that we can make alongside them would best be put to use, and if cold storage turns out—from them, rather from him—to be their top priority, then we will certainly work with them on it.
Leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you tell us how well your Government carries out due diligence in relation to supporting businesses?
Well, Llywydd, the Welsh Government supports hundreds of businesses across Wales every day. We carry out due diligence, of course, on applications for funds that come to us, and we continue to remain in close contact with those companies during the period that we offer support to them. Does that mean that nothing ever goes wrong? Well, of course it doesn't.
Well, let me tell you how your Government undertakes due diligence. Since 2010, the Welsh Government has wasted millions and millions of pounds on bad loans and poor business decisions. Canolfan Cywain received £3.4 million, and what happened? It closed. Main Port Engineering received £650,000 and went into administration. First Minister, I'd like to look closer at one company in particular, 'ku-kd dot com'—or kukd.com. Now, the investigation into the awarding of a £1 million grant to kukd.com from the Welsh Government was announced in September 2016, yet almost three years later, we are still waiting for the report to be published into this issue. This isn't the first time we've questioned your Government's accountability and for being less transparent with us, First Minister. A long line of poorly managed projects have fallen far short of expectations and have dented the confidence of taxpayers. Let's not forget the further misjudgements by the Welsh Government: Pinewood studios, the Circuit of Wales project, the underselling of land connected with the regeneration investment fund for Wales, risky business investment in Kancoat, and irresponsible selling of Welsh timber by Natural Resources Wales. Now, given you claim that you undertake due diligence as a Government, and in the interests of transparency, will you now commit today to publishing the report into kukd.com as soon as possible, so that we in this Chamber can properly scrutinise the actions of your Government?
Llywydd, unlike the Member and, presumably, his party, we on these benches believe in investing in businesses here in Wales. I certainly don't apologise, for a single moment, for the fact that successive Welsh Governments have seen it as their duty to assist Welsh firms, to help them to grow to create work here in Wales, and if you're going to do that on an entirely risk-averse basis, where you're never willing to take a chance on a company that might turn out to be a really important part of our economic future here in Wales, then, of course, you can eliminate every possibility of something going wrong by never doing anything. If that's the policy of his party, he should tell us here. If he doesn't believe that we should ever be prepared to invest in a business that may, in the end, not turn out to do everything that both it says to us, our expert panels who review every single one of these cases and the decisions that Ministers make, then people in the future will know that were his party ever to find itself in a position to make decisions here in Wales, then they wouldn't be a Government prepared to do those things that allow businesses here in Wales to prosper.
The Member said to me that there was a lack of transparency and then proceeded to reel off a list of things that he could only possibly know as a result of information that the Welsh Government itself had placed in the public domain. My colleague Ken Skates says that he has no difficulty in publishing the report to which the Member referred, so there will be another report that he will be able to read, and we look forward to his views on transparency when another piece of information that is only available because this Government is prepared to make it available falls into his hands.
Well, this is about transparency and accountability, First Minister. We have waited three years for this report. Why on earth hasn't this report been published until now? So, I take it from the answer you've just given me that he will be publishing this report in due course, but that wasn't clear from your answer. Now, there are still—[Interruption.] There are still serious questions about the relationship between the Welsh Labour Party, former Welsh Government Ministers and kukd.com. Now, in an article by WalesOnline published on 4 November 2015, the then economy Minister wrote that, and I quote,
'Welsh Government support for this project has ensured another business founded by Mr Hussein will be headquartered in Wales.'
However, on 17 November 2015, Welsh Government officials met with kukd.com to discuss their ongoing business difficulties and falling job creation. Then, 10 days after this meeting, kukd.com were a principal sponsor of a Welsh Labour gala dinner at which senior management of kukd.com and senior Government Ministers were present. I put it to you, First Minister: transparency and accountability and openness should be at the heart of politics and decision making in Wales. Given that the report into kukd.com has not yet been published—but I welcome the fact that I think you said in your answer perhaps you will be publishing it—can you confirm that the investigation into this company will be looking at whether or not due diligence was thoroughly undertaken and what will you and your Government be learning so that taxpayers' money is spent wisely in the future?
Well, I've—. I said in my last answer, Llywydd, that, once the report is cleared for publication, it will be published and the Member will be able to read it and see everything that is covered in it. I sat in a meeting of the UK Cabinet in which the £30 million that has had to be paid to Eurotunnel in compensation for decisions that his party has made in Westminster, in addition to the contracts that have now been cancelled by his Government—£80 million; £80 million thrown away on that one issue. I don't need to listen to holier-than-thou speeches from the leader of the opposition, because if I wanted to look for where money is thrown away by public authorities, I need look no further than his party and its handling of that one single matter. There is a record number, Llywydd, of businesses now headquartered in Wales, and that wouldn't be the case if it were not for the policies that this Government pursues of assisting Welsh businesses, in investing in them where there is a strong case for doing so. And, where those investments don't turn out to deliver what we had all hoped and had been advised was most likely to be received from them, then of course—of course—we are committed to learning the lessons from those experiences, and that's why the Member was able to identify those instances that he started talking about this afternoon.
Leader of the UKIP group, Gareth Bennett.
Gareth Bennett, continue and ignore the rest of the Chamber.
First Minister, sometimes I return to subjects here in the Chamber that I have enquired about in the past, because it appears that nothing is happening. We seem to have reached this stage with Cardiff Central railway station. This is a major transport hub, of course, not just for people in Cardiff but for people throughout Wales, and users will know that there is a lack of room at the station, particularly when there are major events in Cardiff, when people tend to get crammed together in the station like tinned sardines. The Welsh public have been promised an upgrade of the central train station for some time. When do you think we are likely to get it?
Well, Llywydd, the Member is right to point to the fact that Cardiff railway station is a very busy transport location; 40 per cent of all rail journeys in Wales begin or end at Cardiff station. That gives you an idea of just how important it is to people in Cardiff but also the across the whole of Wales. Now, investment in Cardiff station is a matter not for the Welsh Government but for the UK Government. We've referred already this afternoon to Mr Grayling and his outstanding success as a Minister. On the long list of things that he has failed to attend to is the case for upgrading Cardiff Central railway station. Now, we have made the case time and again to him to persuade the UK Government to give Wales a fair share of the investment in the railways that we would get if you simply gave us the share that our railway network represents of the UK network as a whole. We get nothing like a fair share. We don't have the voice that we need in London speaking up for Wales to guarantee that we would get it, and so we have to work even harder to persuade the transport Minister in the UK Government not to add this to his lengthy list of failings.
Thank you for your engagement with the question and thank you for your engagement with many of the questions that I've asked you. Now, unfortunately, I'm not here to scrutinise Chris Grayling and the UK Government; I'm here to scrutinise you and your Government. You have made this case before of the lack of investment, which—I appreciate the point that you're making. Unfortunately, it doesn't help users of the railway station, who are still waiting for some kind of development work to begin. Now, a wider reflection on how your Welsh Government operates might take in the fact that every week you or your fellow Ministers tell us that they're in some kind of funding dispute with the UK Government. We had the absurdity recently of Welsh residents not being let in for treatment at a hospital just across the border in Chester because of this. The whole point of having a Welsh Government here at the Assembly is supposed to be that things work better for the people of Wales. To the neutral observer, it might appear that all that happens in reality is that you and your Ministers run an operation that does not benefit the people of Wales at all, because all that you do is waste time blaming your lack of action on funding decisions taken at Westminster and Whitehall. First Minister, don’t the people of Wales deserve something a bit better from you?
Well, Llywydd, I don’t see how the Member makes any claim at all to be what he refers to as a 'neutral observer'. I hope that his remarks on Cardiff railway station are an indication that he will join us in calling for the devolution of those responsibilities, so that we could discharge them directly here in Wales. I’m not sure if that is his party’s policy, but, if it were, I’d be very glad to know it.
And, where we are able to act, as in the bus station alongside the railway station in Cardiff, then it is the Welsh Government that has acted to ensure that the funding is available and the plan is in place and that the bus station will be developed in a way that, provided we get the investment from the UK Government, that will turn into the transport hub that we have always wanted to see, with an interchange between different forms of public transport right here in the centre of our city.
As far as the point that he ended with, about the Countess of Chester, let’s be clear: that was a decision of the Countess of Chester—a unilateral decision by that provider, which we have now had to spend weeks unravelling and putting back together again the plan that they had shoved off the wall. Now, you will have seen the statement that the health Minister has put out, explaining how, by taking the actions we have taken, we now have an agreement through the Department of Health that will make sure that the Countess of Chester goes on treating Welsh patients. But the decision not to treat Welsh patients was unilaterally and, as I would say, irresponsibly made by them, and certainly not by us.
Question 3 [OAQ53866] is withdrawn. Question 4—Mandy Jones.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on what the Welsh Government intends to do to encourage more engagement in local democracy? OAQ53858
I thank the Member for that question. The local government and elections Bill will include measures to encourage engagement with local democracy in Wales by extending the franchise, promoting transparency, diversity and wider engagement.
Thank you for that answer. First Minister, we are currently celebrating 20 years of this institution with a clarion call for more Assembly Members. I see that Scotland, with its population of nearly 5.5 million, has fewer councillors than Wales, with our population of just over 3 million. In my view, we are overrepresented in Wales. First Minister, how can you square the call for more AMs with the taxpaying public when literally nothing—[Interruption.]
Ignore noises off and just carry on with your question.
I do come to the committee.
First Minister, how can you square the call for more AMs with the taxpaying public when literally nothing is being done to reduce the number of councillors and local authorities?
Well, Llywydd, I don’t think the basic premise of the supplementary question is true, because, in fact, the number of councillors in Wales has gone down as a result of changes brought about by the independent organisation that reviews these matters on our behalf. But I don’t accept myself the basic premise of what the Member said. I don’t think Wales is overrepresented. In fact, there are many studies that demonstrate that, compared to other and very successful parts of Europe, we have less of a representative democracy here in Wales, and it’s my view—it isn’t shared by all Members, I understand—that, 20 years into devolution, the responsibilities that this body now discharges on behalf of people in Wales mean that going on trying to do that successfully with 60 Members, the number we started with when the responsibilities, the range and depth of responsibilities, was so different that it no longer measures up to the responsibilities that are carried out on behalf of people here in Wales, and that the case made in the McAllister review for an increase in Assembly Members was well made and doesn’t depend, I believe, on reducing other forms of representation in Wales in order to achieve that.
Welsh Government has proved averse to implementing the Localism Act 2011's community rights agenda, which would help community engagement. In 2012 the Welsh Government rejected the Wales Council for Voluntary Action's 'Communities First—A Way Forward' report, which found that community involvement in co-designing and co-delivering local services should be central to any successor tackling poverty programme, and, although the well-being objectives in the 2015 Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act include people contributing to their community being informed, included and listened to, too often this hasn't happened either because people in power don't want to share it, or because of a failure to understand that delivering services this way will create more efficient and effective services. So, what action do you and your Government propose to encourage more engagement in local democracy by turning the ambition in the well-being of future generations Act in these areas into understanding and delivering?
Well, Llywydd, I am completely committed to the notion that public services in Wales should be co-designed and co-delivered with those people who use them alongside people who provide them. The Member makes a fair point, that, at the heart of these things, often, are power relationships and that sometimes we have to work hard to persuade professional workers that they can share some of the power and the authority that they have at their disposal with people who use those services and that that doesn't represent a threat to them and is very, very likely to lead to better outcomes for the people who they are there to serve. I don't think that that requires specific pieces of legislation to bring it about, because I think it is a cultural shift in the way that people who provide services think of the relationship between what they do and the people who come through their door, regarding those people as assets, as people who have strengths, as people who have something to contribute to the way that services are provided, and this Government is committed to that as a principle throughout everything that we do in the services for which we are responsible in Wales.
5. What strategy will the Welsh Government follow to build on the success of hosting major events in Wales? OAQ53874
I thank John Griffiths for that. We're committed to building on Wales's recent success in hosting major events. We work with partners in Wales, the UK and internationally to identify events with the potential to grow, and to pursue new opportunities for attracting major sporting and cultural events to all parts of Wales.
First Minister, the Newport marathon on the first Sunday of this month was an outstanding success, building on the achievements of the previous year. There were some 6,000 runners in the marathon, the 10k and the family fun run, a carnival atmosphere in Newport, the women's marathon was won by a Newport woman, which was very pleasing for all the locals, and it really did encourage local people to think about running and getting more active. It works with other regular events like the two park runs in Newport, which see several hundred people every Saturday morning getting more fit and active and enjoying a very healthy start to the weekend. So, I'd be very pleased if you could recognise that success, First Minister, and also the importance in terms of the profile of Wales and Newport, the spend it brings into Wales and Newport, with hotels fully booked, restaurants, cafes and shops very busy, and also perhaps to look at how Welsh Government can continue to work with Newport City Council and key partners to build on the success of the first two Newport marathons for future years.
I thank John Griffiths for that. He's absolutely right that the second Newport Wales marathon was a terrific success, both in the numbers of people that it attracted to that mass participation event, but also in the way in which it was televised to other parts of the United Kingdom and beyond. The Welsh Government committed ourselves to investing in the Newport Wales marathon last year, this year, and we will do so again next year. We want to help develop the event's ambition to become the national marathon for Wales and, of course, John Griffiths is right that, beyond the event itself, such events adds to the profile of the area. It's not the only major event that Newport is involved in in a sporting sense. Glamorgan cricket club, Llywydd, are playing a county championship match in Spytty Park today for the first time in many decades—that's a major event in many of our diaries here. And, of course, Newport County embark on the latest of what has been such a fantastic run of success. We wished them well across this Chamber earlier in the season; I'm sure we do that again this afternoon.
I don't want people to feel that they are missing out, but there is one major event that can only be held in my constituency, and I'm talking about the Island Games. I'm very pleased to announce that, this very second, Ynys Môn county council has agreed to underwrite those games from 2025. I'm extremely grateful to the Welsh Government for already agreeing to give a substantial sum of money. The Isle of Anglesey Charitable Trust has also provided a sum of money, as has the international committee of the Island Games. I'm very confident that, through private sources and through local fundraising on Anglesey, we will ensure that we are able to stage very successful games in 2025, and I'm extremely grateful to the councillors for their support today. Does the First Minister agree with me that there is an opportunity through these games to leave a legacy for Anglesey in terms of physical activity and an interest in sport for decades to come?
Thank you to the Member for drawing our attention to the fact that the local council and ourselves, as a Government, have supported the bid that has been submitted to attract the games to Ynys Môn in 2025. The games have developed and grown over the years, and now it is a major event in the annual calendar. So, we look forward to working with the local people to bring the games to Ynys Môn and to use the games, as Rhun ap Iorwerth said, to assist and support the economy on the island, to do things in the health area, and also to celebrate the fact that the games have come to Ynys Môn and Wales.
6. What plans does the Welsh Government have to develop a whole system approach to improving our food system? OAQ53876
I thank the Member for that question. My colleague Lesley Griffiths will consult on a new action plan for food in the summer of this year. It will address the complexities of food products and consumption, with focus on the delivery of safe and healthy food choices, animal welfare and environmental recovery.
I'm sure we'll all look forward to that consultation, First Minister, but I'm concerned that we have a fragmented system at the moment. We have the health Minister who's awaiting the responses to the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' consultation, we have the education Minister in charge of school meals—a debate we're going to be having tomorrow—and we have the very welcome focus on food as part of the foundational economy. Yesterday, we had lots of major food retailers stepping up to the plate in committing to halve food waste by 2030. This is, it seems to me, a very complex subject, and I note that in Scotland, there's a lot of pressure to make the good food nation Bill one that delivers in a sustainable, holistic way, and I just wondered how the First Minister plans to bring all of this together within the Welsh Government.
Well, I thank the Member for that. She is right to point to the complexity of it all. Llywydd, it seems to me inevitable that almost every Minister in the Welsh Government has an interest of one sort or another in food, and that it's not possible, sensibly, simply to concentrate all those quite different responsibilities—whether it be for school meals, for hospital food, for the food rating scheme, for food businesses, for the environmental impact of food—all in one Ministerial portfolio. That means, in the way that Jenny Rathbone suggested, however, that we have to demonstrate that, as a Government, we are actively organised to make sure that we draw all those different threads together in a coherent way. I want to give the Member an assurance that where there are specific initiatives, such as the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' programme to which she referred—that while it was published by the health Minister, it was thoroughly informed by officials across the Welsh Government and by discussion with other Ministers. We have a standing co-ordinating group of senior officials in the Welsh Government to make sure that we bring the different activities that we undertake in the food field together. The food action plan, to which I referred in my original answer, has already been to Cabinet, has already been discussed, and will be further refined now to make sure that it takes into account the views of Ministers across the Government, to make sure as best we can that we deliver what Jenny Rathbone asked for, which is a coherent approach across this complex area.
7. What plans does the Welsh Government have for expanding degree apprenticeships? OAQ53873
We are providing £20 million to pilot and test degree apprenticeships over the next two years. Following that, when we have that experience, consideration will be given to making the programme permanent.
Can I thank the First Minister for that answer? Clearly, apprenticeships have been linked to education qualifications for many, many years—ONCs, HNCs—and now the degree apprenticeships are a step forward and very much welcomed. But, I understand in Wales we have two frameworks that are currently operational and we have not yet expanded those two frameworks. I'm very pleased to hear you have a pilot for two years, but when are you going to expand those two frameworks? We haven't got frameworks in health and social care, an area where we know there's a shortage of skills and gaps we need to fill, and beyond that. So, can you give us an indication as to when we'll go beyond the two frameworks we currently have?
I thank the Member for that question. Of course he is right and knows from his own direct previous experience that bringing the workplace and study together has very long been part of the way that we provide futures for people in Wales. The degree apprenticeship programme is a new initiative, Llywydd; 210 apprentices became the first to study in the new programme in September of last year and another 210 or so will add to that programme in September of this year. That will test the two frameworks to which David Rees referred. We are looking actively, while that is happening, at other places where that could be expanded, and he's right to point to the field of social care as somewhere where we are always trying to raise the status of the profession through registration and through education and training. We will need to learn from the experience of these initial attempts. There's no point in starting something off in order to learn from it unless you're prepared to take the time that learning requires, but we are actively looking to find other ways in which we can build on what we feel confident will be the success of the programme.
8. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of how effective the current funding models for public infrastructure projects are in attracting potential investors? OAQ53880
I thank the Member. In funding infrastructure projects, my first aim is always to use the cheapest form of capital first, beginning of course with conventional capital spending. When all public sources are exhausted, we work with potential investors on key infrastructure projects, always ensuring that the public interest comes first.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister, but as we all know there have been some very significant projects dropped recently, including Circuit for Wales, Wylfa nuclear power station and the tidal lagoon. In each case, these failed because of issues with the funding model. For jobs and quality of life, Wales needs some major public infrastructure projects to actually get off the ground. Going forward, what other funding models are you looking at to attract investment in future projects?
I thank the Member for that question. I can assure her that we will be working very closely with the UK Government on the new funding model that it is developing in relation to the potential future of Wylfa and to see whether there is a model that they can devise that would attract investors back to the table to see whether the pause in Wylfa can be unlocked there. As far as the Welsh Government is concerned—and of course the mutual investment model that we have developed has three key projects that we are taking forward—there's been a very strong interest from contractors and from funders and we look still to developing that model in relation to the new Velindre, in relation to the twenty-first century schools programme, and in roads projects as well.
Finally, question 9, Caroline Jones.
9. Will the First Minister outline the actions the Welsh Government is taking to improve the mental health of young people? OAQ53877
The Welsh Government continues to take action across the range of our responsibilities, including working with schools, colleges and the NHS, as well as a range of other partners across the public and third sectors, as we respond to the changing mental health needs of young people in Wales.
Thank you, First Minister. Young people today face an onslaught of pressures not even dreamt about during our generation. From pressures for how they look on Instagram to the need to spend money to avoid being a 'default' in Fortnite, the burden of the social media age takes its toll. Last week, a survey revealed that six and seven-year-olds are worried about school tests. First Minister, what steps can your Government take to reduce the stresses placed on young people?
I thank the Member for that important question. I agree with her that the difficult business of growing up is, in some ways, even more difficult than it has been in the past because of the way in which new media and other things intrude into young people's lives and the pressures that young people can feel to succeed in what can feel like a difficult and competitive world. Where those things are in our hands, as in the case of six and seven-year-olds, then we have acted already to try and make sure that the formative work that is important—because it's very important that formative assessment is made of young people so that they can get the help they need and, as their education progresses, it's tailored to their needs—but to try and bring about those formative assessments in ways that do not have the downsides of making those young people feel under additional pressures. And I know that Caroline Jones will know that we've moved to a new form of testing that will mean it doesn't all have to be bunched into a particular part of a year, that it won't feel like conventional testing, and that individual young people will be able to pursue a series of questions that are right for them and allow their teachers, then, to make an assessment of their progress and to make sure that, as they move ahead, they're able to get the sort of help that we would like to see for them.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next questions are questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, and the first question is from Mohammad Asghar.
1. What action will the Welsh Government take to improve community safety in the next twelve months? OAQ53830
The Welsh Government is committed to making our communities safer. Last week, I spoke at the serious and organised crime strategy launch in Wales, and welcomed the contribution of the police, local government and third sector, working together with Welsh Government, to improve community safety.
Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. Religious intolerance is on the rise around the world. In the last two months, we have seen attacks on mosques in New Zealand, on churches in Sri Lanka and on a synagogue in California. In response, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has doubled the amount of funding available to provide protective security for places of worship. Given that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a basic human right, Deputy Minister, what action is the Welsh Government taking to protect and reassure communities across Wales that they are safe at their place of worship?
I thank the Member for the question, because on 25 March, following the horrific events in New Zealand, I did write to all our faith communities—in fact, to all the imams across Wales—about protective security at places of worship. What was important was that I enabled those who were affected to liaise with me and officials to see how we could support them, and I drew attention to the places of worship protective security funding scheme. Yes, an uplift was announced by the Home Secretary; the difficulty, of course, is that it's only £5 million over three years and, indeed, it's not going to be available until July. So I'm pressing for that to be brought forward, and I'll certainly make sure that all of our mosques and, indeed, places of worship across Wales are aware of that funding.
2. What actions is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that advice services are fully supported for the remainder of the fifth Assembly? OAQ53857
The Welsh Government will continue its long-standing commitment to fund advice services to ensure there is free, impartial and quality assured advice available for those who need it. This recognises the vital role advice services play in improving the health and well-being of people across our communities.
Can I thank the Deputy Minister for that answer? Because it's clear that they do play an important role. Last year, we heard the Prime Minister claim that austerity had ended; well, she got it wrong, as she gets everything else wrong. Austerity has not ended and there are many constituents and many people across Wales who continue to suffer under the austerity ideology of this current Tory Government. Now, it's important that the advice services remain in place to support them when they need that support, to stop them falling through the traps into a downward spiral. Therefore, will the Welsh Government commit to ensuring that the funding levels will be maintained at least to the level they're at now, if not improved, to ensure that the services that so many of our constituents do depend upon to ensure that they don't fall into those situations—and their well-being and health is affected by that—are there for helping them when they need that help?
I thank David Rees for that question because the value to advice providers of longer term grant funding is recognised, particularly in these uncertain and challenging times. And we are clearly maintaining our commitment to the funding of provision of advice services. In fact, funding of around £8.5 million a year, including £2.45 million for the financial levy, and also, in addition to that, we've launched an £8 million single advice fund on 24 April, and we've extended grant agreements, to maintain stability of advice services. But, clearly, we expect to follow this through when we have more certainty on future funding from the UK Government, because advice services have always been a major priority for the Welsh Government, and particularly at this time of austerity and challenging times for the people we represent.
You referred to your 24 April written statement to Members during the Easter recess, when you announced the merging of three funding streams and the single advice fund. You said that providers are being encouraged to design and deliver services more collaboratively, and on a regional basis, you're establishing new regional advice networks in partnership with key stakeholders, with inaugural meetings anticipated this autumn. And you also referred to the Welsh Government now receiving a share of the UK financial levy.
How do you respond to concern expressed to me by some of the smaller providers, who tend to fill in the gaps when larger provider queues mean that people facing perhaps bailiffs or eviction need urgent intervention, that their experience is that they've been actively blocked when requesting to join collaborative funding bids locally because larger providers don't want to split their already reduced funding pots with competitors, and that, typically, a large provider can present a collaborative approach to a funder with partners less likely to pose a threat to their status as a lead provider in the area, and their calls to the Welsh Government, as you take this forward, for quotas within bids to compel larger providers to collaborate, not just on delivery, but on the sharing of funding resources, and for smaller ring-fenced pots of funding aimed solely at smaller delivery agents to encourage diversity, innovation, sustainability and specialisation?
I thank Mark Isherwood for that question because you have referred to my written statement on 24 April. This took forward the implementation plan from the information advice and action plan, which we published back in 2016, and there were 19 actions in that in order to make sure that we can make best use of advice services funding. And I think, as you say, in terms of better collaboration, this new single advice fund is going to enable that to happen. It will encourage better collaboration, improve the efficiency of service planning and delivery models, which is crucial to those smaller organisations that already do receive this funding. It's going to be available, and it is also, of course, ensuring that there will be longer term grant funding, as long as we get that firm commitment from the UK Government in terms of a future comprehensive spending review. But I do believe that this will meet the needs of the information advice action plan, which, of course, was brought together as a result of input from advice providers of all sizes across Wales.
3. What recent analysis has the Welsh Government made of the impact of austerity on equality in Wales? OAQ53851
A recently published Welsh Government report refers to analysis commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This shows there is a disproportionate negative impact of the tax and welfare reforms of the UK Government since 2010 on the incomes of several protected groups, including disabled people, certain ethnic groups, and women.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. I remain deeply shocked and saddened at the weekly visits to my constituency office from people who find that their lives are becoming harder and are facing an ever-more unequal society, largely due to the impacts of austerity. And in spite of what Theresa May has said, the Tories continue to impose austerity on our communities. Minister, do you agree that, as austerity continues to eat into the social fabric of our communities, destroying the lives of so many people, it is now time for the UK Government to stop the damage and scrap their policy of austerity?
I certainly do agree with the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. And today we have seen this inquiry being announced—the Institute for Fiscal Studies inquiry being announced—into inequalities in the twenty-first century. He's already said in the first publication that the UK has a higher level of inequality than many other developed countries. That's shocking for us here in the UK, in Wales, in the twenty-first century. The levels of poverty across Wales and the rest of the UK are too high. Austerity and the impact of the UK Government's tax and welfare reform policies have fallen disproportionately on our most vulnerable groups. We remain deeply concerned about the fundamental flaws of universal credit. And indeed, the Trussell Trust has just reported that, when universal credit goes live in an area, there's a demonstrable increase in demand in local Trussell Trust food banks. On average, 12 months after roll-out, food banks see a 52 per cent increase in demand, compared to 13 per cent in areas with universal credit for three months or less. So we know, and indeed we know because of the impact of the cuts on our budget, what austerity is doing, not just to our public services, but to the most vulnerable people of Wales.
Making sure that everyone has access to well-paid jobs or training opportunities is a must, and that certainly applies to people who are disabled, and I think that needs to be a priority for when we're looking for a more equal Wales. I'd be interested to know the Deputy Minister's view of the UK Government's Disability Confident campaign, which helps employers understand that they might actually be missing out on the very best people for their organisation, if all they see is the disability. And we've an excellent champion for this scheme in Swansea—I know some of your frontbench colleagues here will know about Julian John. And you will know, of course, that Swansea is a Disability Confident city. There are over 11,000 employers on the scheme at the moment, but Wales is still under-represented on that. So I'm just wondering if you could share some thoughts on how you think Welsh Government might be able to help employers understand this better, and maybe even commit to making Welsh Government a Disability Confident employer. Thank you.
Suzy Davies, that is a very important scheme. And we are working with the UK Government, and the department of employment particularly, looking at ways in which we can encourage increased awareness and take-up of that scheme by employers. It's very much a key point that I am discussing with the Minister for Economy and Transport. Because this is about employability, and particularly addressing the needs of disabled people in Wales in terms of employment opportunities. And that is something that, of course, forms part of our national strategy, 'Prosperity for All', because it is about also not just a framework for a whole-Government approach, addressing root causes of poverty, which of course includes disabled people.
I have to say, again, going back to some of the problems that disabled people face at the moment, that they are losing out as a result of UK Government welfare reforms. And we need to make sure that they can access employment, but that also we recognise that there are barriers that we have to address. And of course we are looking for ways in which we can develop a made-in-Wales solution to those problems, but certainly looking at that Disability Confident scheme.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies report on wealth inequalities in the UK has laid bare the gaping chasm between rich and poor. Among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, the UK is the second most unequal country, after the United States. This is a disgraceful state of affairs, and it's been now described by the report's authors as a threat to democracy. It's also a damning indictment on various Westminster Governments that have presided over growing inequality, and that is including Labour. It's worth remembering that austerity started under Labour, and the first food banks came about while there was a Labour UK Government. Here in Wales, our hands are tied in many ways, as we lack many of the economic levers that we need to bring about fundamental change. However, Labour in power have hardly set a good example by shutting down the Communities First scheme and failing to replace it. So, in the absence of a dedicated anti-poverty programme, what is your Government's strategy to reduce poverty?
Clearly, we mitigate against the impacts of poverty and the UK Government's damaging welfare reform programme. I've recently announced, and it's very relevant to the IFS inquiry, that we're going to commence Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010—the socioeconomic duty—by the end of this calendar year, and once that's implemented, this duty will mean that public bodies must consider what they can do to reduce poverty and inequality whenever they make major decisions.
But also, despite the fact that we've had 5 per cent lower budget in real terms as a result of austerity, which is a key point of this question, equivalent to £800 million less as a result of austerity from this Tory Government, we have implemented the discretionary assistance fund, supporting 214,326 awards to the most vulnerable people in Wales. The council tax reduction scheme is supported with £244 million of funding from the Welsh Government. And what's crucial about these policies that this Welsh Labour Government has taken forward is that as a result of the council tax reduction scheme, almost 300,000 vulnerable and low-income households in Wales continued to be protected from any increase in their council tax liability. We're investing £104 million in the Warm Homes programme to improve up to a further 25,000 homes for people on low incomes. Now, what's crucial is that people can see that we, as a Welsh Government here, are working and using scarce resources with those cuts from the UK Government to prioritise ways in which we can mitigate against the impact of welfare reforms and austerity.
4. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government takes the views of the Future Generations Commissioner into account? OAQ53837
The independent Future Generations Commissioner for Wales role was established to provide advice to Government and public bodies on contributing to the well-being goals. We have taken, and will continue to take into account, the views of the commissioner in the decisions we take.
Thank you for your answer, Deputy Minister. What assessment will you make of the future generations commissioner's influence and credibility if the Welsh Government ignores her views on the M4 relief road?
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is helping us to drive a renewed focus on how the Welsh Government works to improve and engage with the diversity of the population of Wales, and it's important that we work closely with it in terms of implementation of the Act through supporting organisations and, indeed, in sharing best practice across Wales. Of course, the First Minister is currently considering the independent inspector's report on the M4 corridor around Newport project, and his decision will be announced in the first week of June.
5. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on domestic violence and abuse in South Wales West? OAQ53879
The scourge of domestic abuse and violence is intolerable. That's why the Welsh Government introduced legislation and funds services for prevention, protection and support. We are working to making Wales the safest place for women in Europe.
Thank you for that response.
Now, figures released recently show that South Wales Police receive a phone call every 15 minutes about domestic violence or abuse—a truly shocking figure. One positive move in terms of the identification of domestic abuse has been the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety scheme, the IRIS scheme, which sees GPs and practice staff in Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taf trained to spot the signs of domestic abuse through a series of questions. In Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr, where the scheme started in January 2016, there have now been over 500 referrals where previously there had not been any. I believe that this award-winning project needs to be rolled out across the whole of the South Wales Police area, including into areas such as Swansea and Neath Port Talbot and, indeed, across the whole of Wales. To that end, do you agree and, if so, what support is the Welsh Government prepared to provide health boards to help contribute to this vitally important area?
This is an example of good practice that I know will be shared by the chief constables and the police and crime commissioners. In fact, I'm chairing the policing board on Thursday of this week, and I'm sure that this will be brought to our attention, because it does provide an opportunity for the police and services to work together in delivering on our national strategy on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and it is important that we can learn across Wales how services can work together in order to deliver that support and action in terms of tackling violence against women and domestic abuse.
Can I thank the Member for South Wales West for tabling this very important question? The Deputy Minister might be aware from recent news articles that councils in England will now have a legal duty to provide secure homes for victims of domestic abuse under recently announced plans. What conversations has the Deputy Minister had with the Minister for housing, looking at the implications of this? Also, what will they be doing to ensure that victims and survivors here in Wales have similar support—building on the fantastic work we've already done by leading the way with the domestic violence Bill—and once and for all ending domestic violence in all its forms?
I thank Jack Sargeant for that question, because the Welsh Government is committed to ensuring that we have all the services available that are needed for those seeking support because of domestic abuse and violence. Clearly, we are driving this as a result of our national strategy following the Act, and that has led to a more strategic and needs-led approach to commissioning and delivering all services, including refuge provisions and specialist services that are important. So, one of the things we've done—the Welsh Government's recently commissioned the Wales Centre for Public Policy to conduct a review into refuge provision in Wales and make recommendations for both women and men fleeing abuse. That review will look at international approaches and seek input from expert providers. I think funding is crucial as well as legal duties, and it's important that we have invested in Wales—continue to invest—in the Supporting People grant that's paid to local authorities to help vulnerable people find and keep a home or accommodation, including those fleeing domestic violence. That became part of the housing support grant from April of this year and is administered by all the local authorities. That does also give us a much better track record on refuge provision.
6. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on how the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is improving the lives of people in Wales? OAQ53878
The Act is improving people’s lives by providing a uniquely Welsh way of tackling the long-term challenges we face. It ensures public bodies focus on preventing problems occurring and working in a collaborative and integrated way, involving people who reflect the diversity of our nation.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. Yesterday, we learnt that carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere have reached 415 ppm for the first time in human history—not recorded history; levels haven't been this high since before humans roamed the plains millions of years ago. Unless we take drastic action, future generations will be left with toxic oceans and a dying planet. You seemed at odds with the view of the custodian of the well-being of future generations Act, the commissioner, on the M4 relief road. So, do you believe that your Government is truly committed to the Act and protecting Wales for future generations?
I think the well-being of future generations Act, as I said, is a unique way, a Welsh way, of tackling long-term challenges. You've mentioned long-term challenges. I think the fact that the Welsh Government was prepared to actually declare a climate emergency—I think probably the first Government that declared a climate emergency—following on only weeks after the publication of a plan, the low-carbon plan for Wales, with 100 actions and priorities that the Minister has not only committed to but is now reviewing and looking at in terms of the opportunities that lie ahead in tackling climate change—. I think what is important in terms of the future generations commissioner and the way that we work together is that we can see the impact that this has had. For example, the revised national planning policy has been reframed, using the Act, and puts placemaking at the heart of the planning system, ensuring that people's well-being is considered as part of the planning process.
As you'll be aware, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 lists well-being goals, including a healthier Wales. It is my understanding that such goals could be taken into consideration by public authorities, including councils across Wales and the Welsh Government when considering applications to dedicate particular footpaths. Will you, therefore, confirm that there is a duty on planning authorities to take into account the healthier Wales goal when considering the dedication of a highway?
Local authorities have to take into account the well-being objectives of the future generations Wales Act and consider the long-term impact of decisions that they make, and, of course, that includes all developments. I think what's very important, Janet Finch-Saunders, is that I have mentioned the fact that the national planning policy, which is crucial to these issues, has been reframed using the Act.
Thank you, Deputy 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 are two changes to this week's business. A statement on the Wales coast path and on active travel have been added to today's agenda. 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, please could we have a statement from the Deputy Minister for culture on what more can be done to protect our important historic monuments from vandalism? Last week, the Roman amphitheatre in Caerleon was once again the target for vandals, with stones being removed and thrown around. Removal of these stones has damaged the structure of this ancient monument and its underlying archaeology. Incidents have also been reported of suspected vandals being abusive and threatening to the custodian of the site. Minister, please could we have a statement from the Deputy Minister on what more we can do to protect such sites from these mindless criminals?
Thank you very much for raising this particular case in the Chamber. Of course, vandalism and destruction of protected monuments is thankfully very, very rare, but when it does occur, it's obviously something that's of deep concern and regret to the communities affected particularly, but also to all of us in terms of our Welsh history and our Welsh heritage. If there is an update that the Minister's able to provide in this particular case, I'll ask him to write to you.
Trefnydd, in a written statement on 30 April, the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip expressed her concerns with regard to the findings of Her Majesty's Inspectorate report on the Western Bay Youth Justice and Early Intervention Service, published on 28 March this year. The report showed that the amalgamation of youth justice services from Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend was poorly implemented, and the organisation created in 2014 has failed to adequately protect the children and young people, and the wider public, in the area. The report found that none of the three local authorities have taken full responsibility for the service, there was inconsistent partnership work, variable quality of casework, and inadequate day-to-day management, and managers and staff were, quote,
'left to firefight and respond to the symptoms of significant systemic problems.'
Essentially, the report finds that it is often impossible to tell if children and young people in Swansea, Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot are being protected at all. Even though youth justice is a non-devolved matter, there are clear links to devolved areas such as social services and early intervention. Now, as Welsh Government officials are involved in discussions with a number of bodies on this matter, will the Welsh Government, therefore, commit to providing an oral statement, focusing particularly on the progress needed and being made against the recommendations contained within this report?
Thank you very much for raising this issue. Of course, there is an oral statement tabled for the Assembly for next week on justice blueprints, and this might be an opportunity to raise some of these particular matters with the Minister on that day.
Trefnydd, obviously, following the announcement last Friday that the Tata joint venture with Thyssenkrupp is at risk and unlikely to go ahead and that they were suspending the process of a joint venture, can we call for an oral statement from the Minister for Economy and Transport—but, actually, I'd prefer it from the First Minister, as I think this is that important—relating to the actions the Welsh Government will take to work with Tata to ensure the future of the steel industry here in Wales? It's a crucial element for the steel industry, and we need an opportunity to ask questions of the Minister to ensure that we understand fully the actions they will take to protect steel in Wales. They've done it so far—the Welsh Government has to be commended on its history of support for the industry—but here we are again, facing another 2016, effectively, following the announcement last Friday, and the workers in Port Talbot, the workers in Shotton, the workers in Llanwern, Orb and Trostre all need to have confidence that there is a future for the industry here in Wales.
On a second point, could we also have a debate in Government time on the shared prosperity fund? In responses to a debate in Westminster Hall, called for by my colleague Stephen Kinnock MP, it was clear the message coming through from the Government was that this shared prosperity is going to be more of an all-UK type of prosperity fund and that we will not necessarily be getting the same type of funding we get now and we won't necessarily be in control of that funding. It's about time now we had a debate here so we can make sure that the whole Assembly has a debate and we're able to send a clear message from this Assembly to Westminster that they should honour the commitments they made and not invent new ways of slicing up the money for their Conservative friends in the English counties.
Thank you, David Rees, for raising both of those extremely important issues this afternoon. Clearly, this is a worrying time for those who work in the steel industry across Wales, and, as we stood by our steel industry throughout the crisis of 2016, we will again work collaboratively with the industry and with its supply chains, and also with the recognised trade unions, to support the steelworkers and the communities around them through this important next period.
The Minister for economy, Ken Skates, spoke with the executive director of Tata Steel Europe and also with steel unions on Friday following the announcement, and he'll continue to work closely with Tata to discuss how we can best support the industry in light of the recent announcement. I know it was his intention to issue a written statement today, but I'll certainly make him aware of your request to discuss the issue in person with him.
I'm very taken by your suggestion of a debate on the shared prosperity fund. I think it would be an excellent opportunity for this Assembly to send a clear message to the UK Government that any Brexit shouldn't mean a penny lost or a power removed from Wales, and we've certainly come to some strong conclusions about how the shared prosperity fund should operate in future. I think that sending a strong united message on that would be particularly useful.
Can I call for a single statement on support for people with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome, in Wales? Last Sunday, as you might be aware, was ME Awareness Day, on 12 May, and this month is ME Awareness Month. I called for a similar statement on 13 November, or last November, after I hosted an event here with the Welsh Association of ME and CFS Support and with ME Support in Glamorgan, and the showing of a film called Unrest, which led to calls for the health Secretary here to address as a matter of urgency the continuing need for improved access to timely diagnosis, for GPs to fully understand the symptoms of the condition, and for the development of a standardised training and awareness programme in Wales.
We also saw a copy of the ME Trust's 2018-21 strategy 'A Vision into Action' paper, which said that parts of the UK, such as Wales, had no specialist services. Unfortunately, the Minister responded by stating she didn't think there was any need for supporting statements. The Minister is pleased with her refill policy and no doubt will be bringing something back to the Chamber in the course of it to tell us how well it's doing. Well, we haven't, as far as I'm aware, yet heard.
I've now been contacted again by Dr Nina Muirhead, who spoke at that event, who has been diagnosed with ME/CFS herself, following glandular fever, who's not only a NHS doctor but an academic working at Cardiff University. She tells me that she's been in touch with the major health conditions policy manager at the Welsh Government, who she believes is now working on policy for major chronic health conditions, including ME/CFS, and she reiterates that, prior to becoming ill herself, she followed the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines, which perpetuated her misunderstanding of the condition by recommending cognitive behaviour therapy and graded exercise, where, from her experience, there's no psychological component, and exercise, if anything, was making matters worse. She concludes that the reality of ME/CFS is a serious, heritable, neurological condition. I therefore call for a statement and hope that you will be more forthcoming than your predecessor when I called for a similar statement last November.
Thank you for raising this this afternoon, and also for the opportunities that you've taken to host events in the past on this particular issue to raise awareness amongst Assembly Members. We do understand the challenges faced by people living with this condition and the impact that it can have on their daily lives, and also the importance of ensuring that the correct advice is available to them and also the correct treatments, and that's why we're working with healthcare professionals and the third sector to strengthen ME services available across Wales. I will ask the health Minister to reflect on your comments this afternoon and to provide you with an update on the latest situation.
The issue of train overcrowding has been brought to my attention by concerned staff working for Transport for Wales. I know from my own experience that packed carriages during rush hour can be absolute hell. I've been informed that there have been occasions where a guard has refused to take a train further due to severe overcrowding. Now, apart from being dangerous for passengers, it's also leading to heated confrontations with staff, who often bear the brunt of considerable frustration and anger. My contact says, and I quote:
It is a serious concern and I believe that it's only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt either through accident or anger.
Now, I know that the set-up is a new one, but this has to be dealt with by this Labour Government. Do you agree that safety is paramount? And can we have a statement from the transport Minister to this Senedd setting out that he is aware of these issues and that he is taking swift action to ensure that our trains are safe for passengers, safe for staff and worthy of a developed country in the twenty-first century?
Well, of course we do agree that safety is paramount and that's one of the reasons why we've ensured that there are guards on all trains, for example, where we're seeing them stripped away from services in other parts of the UK. I think the best way forward would be for you to write to the economy Minister with the specific examples you've given this afternoon. He'll be able to take them up, then, with Transport for Wales.
Trefnydd, as you know, yesterday, BBC Wales carried a story about farmers being unable to recycle their plastic waste due to Wales's only recycling centre, I think, moving from a payment basis to a charge basis for the intermediate operators. I appreciate that the Welsh Government have responded that this is an issue between farmers and the private sector, but there clearly is an impact on the environment and on farmers, indeed, of course, if there is an increase in the disposal of plastic waste on land, either by burying or burning, as has been spoken about. So, I wonder if we could have an update or an intervention from the Welsh Government on this situation. I appreciate that it is an issue within the private sector, but there are consequences for the public sector as well, so I think it'd be good to hear the Welsh Government's further opinion on this, because there is great concern amongst farmers I've spoken to.
Secondly and more optimistically, I'm sure you are aware that yesterday was the Food Awards Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium—a great showcase of Welsh food, and we know the importance of that for tourism. There were two winners from my area—at least two winners—Sugarloaf Catering and Scrumptious Monmouth. But I know that there were also winners from across Wales. I'm sure you'd like to send congratulations to those winners and, indeed, to the runners-up, and perhaps we could hear, at some point, from the Welsh Government an update on the food strategy and how that ties in with tourism and food festivals and the like across Wales. Because Wales has a lot to give on the European and world stage in the food market.
Thank you very much. In relation to agricultural polythene, it is the case, as you set out in your contribution, that the disposal of farm plastic is a commercial matter between the farmers, the collectors and the plastic film waste plants that can and do recycle it, and that farmers do have a responsibility to ensure that their plastic is disposed of correctly. The Minister did suggest that you write to her with your concerns, and I'm sure she will respond accordingly.
On the second issue, I'm very happy to congratulate Sugarloaf Catering, Scrumptious and all the other winners at the food awards yesterday. Of course, the food industry is one of the rising stars in the Welsh economy. We've got a huge amount to be proud of in terms of the quality and the provenance that we're able to demonstrate in our food, and we do have a food tourism action plan that brings together those two elements, recognising the important contribution that the food industry can also make to our tourism offer in Wales.
The Government, as we've already heard today, of course, a fortnight ago declared a climate emergency, and this Assembly made a similar statement too. Now, I would expect that there would be a great deal of activity happening behind the scenes within the Welsh Government to respond to that statement and to clearly demonstrate that that statement is meaningful. I would assume, for example, that we would need to look again at the Government's legislative programme to ensure that that is fit for purpose in terms of meeting the challenge facing us, and that challenge has intensified now, of course, having recognised that it is an emergency. So, it would be good to have a statement from Government outlining any changes to its legislative programme as a result of that statement.
Also, could the Government make a statement to explain how the announcement of a climate emergency is going to impact upon the process of deciding on the M4 relief road in Newport, because, clearly, one would assume that the weighting given to the various factors would shift as a result of that statement?
May I also ask the Government and the Minister for Finance for an opportunity to have an update on the written statement released today? I understand that an error has emerged in terms of the work of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs on implementing devolved income tax in Wales, to the point where the coding for Welsh taxpayers has been incorrect, with many Welsh taxpayers being coded as being Scottish, and as a result have paid the Scottish tax level rather than the Welsh income tax level. Now, there isn't a great deal of detail in the Government's statement as to how many people have been affected, how this could have happened, and what HMRC is doing to solve this problem. So, some update on that situation, and perhaps an opportunity for us as Members to ask questions, would be something that I would appreciate.
Could I ask for a statement from the health Minister as well? I read with interest and welcomed the written statement last week in relation to cross-border healthcare arrangements and the agreement that has been reached in relation to the dispute with the Countess of Chester Hospital. There's nothing in the statement that tells us what the nature of that agreement or that compromise is. My understanding from a UK Government ministerial statement is that the UK Government will pay the disputed costs for this year, and that the Welsh Government will then step in and pay it in future years. I'd like to understand—this disputed 8 per cent, apparently, is relevant, of course, in this particular context, but it's relevant as well in every other particular context where we see health services being purchased from across the border. So, are we here running the risk of establishing a precedent where, if the Welsh Government agrees to pay the disputed 8 per cent for the Countess of Chester, then it's opening itself up to having to pay that to the 50 other health trusts and services that provide services to the NHS in Wales? So, it would be good to have an opportunity maybe for either an oral statement from the health Minister or some further information about the exact nature of that agreement, because the financial implications, of course, for our already beleaguered health boards could be very, very substantial.
Thank you for raising those various issues this afternoon. The first matter you raised was the issue of the climate emergency that was declared by the Welsh Government, and then you asked specifically about the legislative programme. Of course, the First Minister brings forward an annual statement on the legislative programme, which I believe takes place in June, so he'll certainly be making that statement as normal. The Minister for environment and rural affairs will also be bringing forward a statement to the Assembly on the low-carbon delivery plan, which includes 100 of those actions and priorities in terms of tackling climate change and carbon emissions. On the matter of the M4 relief road, the process has been clearly set out. I'm not going to be drawn into any further comment on it this afternoon, save to say that the First Minister has set out in his written statement the process and the expected timescale for a decision to be made.
With regard to the C code and the issues that that's had in terms of Welsh taxpayers, it is extremely disappointing that this has happened, but it does, I suppose, vindicate the very cautious approach that we did decide to take in terms of our approach to this issue. I have had discussions with HMRC, and the reason that I was unable to set out in my written statement the extent of the issue is because HMRC don't yet know the extent of the problem, because they have to run a number of tests, which they'll be doing in this month, and then further tests again in September to establish those individuals who have been assigned the wrong code by their employer or the person operating the payroll. But I obviously will commit to updating the Assembly and, particularly, the Finance Committee, as soon as I am able to on all of those issues.
The final issue that you raised was the matter of the Countess of Chester, and of course the agreement has been reached for 2019-20 only. But the health Minister has said that he would be happy to write to the health committee with further details and also, then, to make that letter available to all Assembly Members.
Organiser, could I seek two statements, if possible, please? One in connection to press reports on the weekend in the financial papers around developments of the Ford engine plant and, in particular, the Welsh Government's site at Brocastle and the potential for Jim Ratcliffe's company to come there and build a potential 4x4 vehicle to replace the Land Rover model. I appreciate the Welsh Government has been in negotiations. I appreciate those negotiations have been long and they are commercially sensitive, but there are press reports coming out now, obviously, making various views known as to the potential of this application. An update on where the negotiations are and, in particular, what development the Government has in mind for the Brocastle site in particular, where construction has now just begun, would be beneficial for the local community, as well as obviously workers connected with the Ford engine plant, to understand what progress, with the limits of commercial confidentiality, has been made, because, as I said, these negotiations have been going on for some time and the press are now speculating on this.
Secondly, could we have a statement from the transport Minister in relation to what work the Welsh Government is doing around the A4119, and in particular the arterial roads into the A4119, and junction 34 on the M4 up to junction 33? This is a regional transport issue, where people using those roads are literally gridlocked in the morning coming out from the Valleys—Llantrisant, Talbot Green, Pontyclun, and further up—and then on the way home, the traffic is severe to say the least. I appreciate the metro system is on the cards to come forward in the next five, 10, 15 years, but this gridlock, in effect, is happening here and now and is causing a huge amount of distress to drivers and, frankly, in some instances, is very dangerous. People are looking for as many rat runs as they possibly can, through lanes that are totally unsuitable for the volume of traffic, given the gridlock people are finding around the junction 34 and the road A4119. So, a statement over what action the Government is engaging in, with partners such as the transport agency and in particular the local authority, to alleviate some of this congestion would be most welcome.
On both of those issues, so the Ford engine plant and also the congestion issues around the A4119, I will ask the Minister with responsibility for economy and transport to write to you in terms of what he is able to say with regard to the Ford engine plant, but then also plans to address the congestion issues and any discussions he's had with other relevant agencies.
I had intended to request a statement on the announcement made today on taxation, and the error with the coding. I'm pleased that that's already been raised, but I do intend to ask a topical question on that issue.
If I could ask for a statement from the Minister for health responding to concerns about an event stakeholders locally have been invited to. It's called, and I quote: 'Cwm Taf Morgannwg safeguarding board's first ever Celebration of Good Practice event'. Now, this follows the damning and distressing report about maternity services in Cwm Taf health board, where mothers and babies certainly were not safeguarded. Whilst recognising that more bodies are involved in this event than just the health board, can I invite the Minister, who of course has rejected calls for his resignation, to at least respond to that invitation and serious concerns locally that have been raised with us that this is entirely inappropriate and deeply insensitive?
On the first issue of the C code, I'd be more than happy to take any opportunity to discuss with you or any other interested Assembly Members the latest update and, obviously, to keep Members informed and to share communication that I’ve had with HMRC on this particular issue.
On the matter of Cwm Taf and the safeguarding board area, that obviously is a large area where there is a huge amount of practice going on. I think it is important, especially in difficult situations such as the one that we find ourselves in now, to recognise good practice when we see it and to ensure that those people who are working hard and delivering well in terms of safeguarding feel supported to continue doing that and feel that they do have their good contribution recognised. Because, clearly, this is an extremely sensitive and difficult situation.
I thank the Trefnydd.
The next item, therefore, is the statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services, an update on the dimension action plan. And I call on the Minister to make the statement—Vaughan Gething.
Diolch, Llywydd. Next week is Dementia Awareness Week. In February last year, I launched the dementia action plan for Wales. The plan sets out our vision for Wales to be a dementia-friendly nation that recognises the rights of people with dementia to feel valued and to live as independently as possible in their communities. The plan drew heavily upon the experience of people living with dementia and those caring for people with a dementia diagnosis. I'm determined that the lived experience of people living with dementia will continue to guide the delivery of our plan as we take it forward with key stakeholders in health, local government and the third sector.
At the outset, I recognise the pressure on front-line services and the need to make the ambition set out in the action plan a reality. That’s why I announced £10 million a year from the last financial year to support the delivery of the key actions in our plan. I’m clear that the investment of additional resources must lead to a step change in dementia services. That must mean that people most affected feel that improvement as part of their everyday lives. I’m also clear that, in line with our commitment in the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015, the additional resources will be focused upon prevention.
To ensure the improvements are driven locally and in a joined-up way, £9 million of the additional funding was distributed to regional partnership boards through the integrated care fund. As a result of this funding and our integrated approach, we're now seeing positive and tangible change. For example, there is now additional support available for GP-led clinics to increase diagnosis rates, which, as Members will know, was a key priority and concern within the plan. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of dedicated support workers who play a key role in ensuring person-centred care is delivered.
Since publication of the plan, the number of dementia friends and dementia-friendly communities has also increased. We now have an extra 19 dementia-friendly communities, making up 72 dementia-friendly communities here in Wales, and an additional 38,000 dementia friends trained over the last year as part of the Alzheimer’s Society initiative. And the Welsh Government, of course, continues to provide funding to help support that Dementia Friends initiative. That plays a key role in tackling stigma, improving support in the community and raising awareness and our understanding of dementia.
During the last year, we've seen our first acute hospital in Wales receive dementia-friendly status from the Alzheimer’s Society. Ysbyty Gwynedd is only the second hospital in the UK to receive this status. It recognises the positive action taken by our staff to respond to the needs of the local community.
Another key action in the plan was to develop teams around the individual who provide integrated, person-centred care and support. The plan makes it clear that a one-size-fits-all will not work, and areas need to consider what change is necessary to be able to create services that adapt to what is required as a person’s needs change. Each area is now demonstrating how this is becoming a reality, for instance, through the development of multi-disciplinary teams, with an emphasis on the involvement of allied health professionals to provide a re-ablement approach. Crucially, these teams are able to provide more integrated care through activity that is driven by both the statutory and the voluntary sectors.
Joyce Watson took the Chair.
As part of this work we are seeing examples of flexible and enabling respite support, such as flexible outreach, and offering respite options beyond the traditional respite admission to a care home. At the same time, we see an increase in support for those who are in care homes or a hospital setting so that people affected by dementia receive personalised care and support no matter where they are. We have examples of work ongoing in care homes, which further strengthen that person-centred approach, and projects that support planned discharge from hospitals.
In addition to the funding routed through the integrated care fund, Welsh Government support has been provided to the Welsh ambulance services trust. This includes establishment of a dementia team, training and awareness for champions, and the delivery of training for emergency service call takers. WAST has also been involved in establishing an all-Wales blue-light dementia working group, which will work together to share best practice. The aim is to ensure that all of WAST's staff who come into contact with people affected by dementia are trained to understand their needs and how to provide support.
One of the ways in which the plan has helped move the dementia debate forward has been the recognition of the diverse needs of particular groups, for instance people with protected characteristics who may be living with dementia and people who may be able to understand only their first language as their condition progresses. The Welsh Language Commissioner and Alzheimer’s Society Cymru's recent report into Welsh language and dementia has made a number of recommendations and established a task and finish group to oversee these improvements. Welsh Government officials will sit on that group so we can consider any further work that is needed in this area.
Public Health Wales’s 1000 Lives programme is also working with memory assessment services to agree standards and principles that each service will work towards as part of the dementia pathway. That includes pre-diagnosis, assessment period and post diagnosis support and intervention.
Driving the range of improvements we want to see as a result of the dementia action plan and associated additional investment is key. To that end, we've established a dementia oversight of implementation and impact group, which informs, oversees and monitors progress against the action laid out in the plan. I really am grateful to all members of this group, which includes service users and carers, people with the lived experience of living with and working with dementia, for their ongoing commitment and challenge.
Having the right type of workforce is, of course, crucial in this area and we've established a learning and development sub-group, led by Social Care Wales, to establish an enabling workforce approach to dementia care here in Wales. This approach to learning and development will be centred on the principles of the 'Good Work' framework that I had the pleasure of launching in Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr. It puts individuals at the heart of learning and development and focuses upon compassionate practice. All of this is designed to improve care for people living with dementia, their families and their carers.
The dementia action plan signalled that we would create an all-Wales dementia allied health practitioner consultant post to help drive further improvement and to ensure that support and advice is available to health boards and local authorities on their improvement journeys. We've now completed all of the necessary preparatory work, and I'm pleased to confirm that we'll shortly begin the recruitment process for the post, and I expect the successful applicant to be in post by the end of this summer.
Finally, I’m pleased that the Welsh Government has committed to become a dementia-friendly organisation. Over 200 of our staff are already receiving training. It is important that Government helps to lead by example, in recognising our role as a major employer and the positive impact that can have on supporting colleagues, friends and our local communities who are living with dementia.
Given the strong partnership arrangements that we have in Wales I believe we're well placed to continue to create a society that positively supports those faced with a diagnosis of dementia. An ageing society means that the challenges in this area will increase but the first year of the dementia action plan has put in place many of the things that we think that we will need to respond effectively to those recognised challenges. Only by working together can we realise the shared vision for Wales to truly become a dementia-friendly nation.
I'd like to call Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you. Thank you, Minister, for your statement. The dementia action plan, of course, promises to improve person-centred dementia services and is based on a number of principles in dementia statements, including the right to an early and accurate diagnosis. Diagnosis, of course, forms an important part of your plan, especially as you even recognise that only around 53 per cent of individuals in Wales with dementia have had a diagnosis. Indeed, it was found that almost 19,000 with dementia remained undiagnosed in 2017-18.
So, in terms of realistic achievements in this area, could you confirm that your commitment in the plan to set targets for health boards to increase diagnosis rates by at least 3 per cent a year has been carried out and is being dealt with? And, once diagnosed, it is essential that there is a flexible support system. As such, the Welsh Government committed to the development of the multidisciplinary teams around the individual.
So, if that's the case, and that has been achieved, could you confirm to the Chamber today that every individual living with dementia that has been highlighted and identified has in fact been provided with a fundamental care plan? Thank you.
Thank you for the questions. I set out in my statement and reiterated the importance of diagnosis. It was a particular issue of concern, both from the wider community living with dementia, as well as Assembly Members, in the run-up to the plan. The commitments in the plan remain, about our expectation to see year-on-year increases through the plan. We also have a mid-point review to understand how successful we've been. We'll next have figures available on the increases in diagnosis rates in September of this year. But, as I set out in my statement, we're taking a range of practical measures to try and assist that. In terms of flexible support, again, I set out in my statement a range of the steps that we are taking to provide that flexible support and actually the point about having teams around the individual to understand the needs of that person, what matters to that person, and how that may change over time as the condition progresses.
And, in terms of a guarantee that everything is in place now, I think it would be foolish for me to try and suggest that is in place. This is a continuing journey. And on that journey of improvement we should all recognise that not every single intervention will be delivered successfully. There will be more for us to learn about what we don't get right as well as what we have got right. So, I want to be realistic and honest with people about where we are. It's a journey of improvement. There's huge commitment from our staff across local authorities and the health service in particular, and the third sector. But key to all of that is a commitment of people living with dementia to help inform the work we're undertaking and to be honest partners in both challenging and supporting us on the improvement that we all recognise is required.
I'm pleased to respond to this statement from the Minister, which gave an update on the dementia action plan. May I say, first of all, that I have been vice president of the Alzheimer's Society for many years, and I have also been vice president of Forget Me Not dementia clubs recently in Swansea? I also have personal experience of dementia over the past two years, following the death of my father recently, after months of suffering with dementia.
So, in responding to this statement, I want to emphasise the change that's required in services in our communities, having set out my association with the Forget Me Not clubs and the Alzheimer's Society and a number of others who work voluntarily in our communities. And, of course, most of the care for people with dementia is also done on a voluntary basis by families, and their contribution is crucial in this regard. If it were all to fall on social care and the health service, then we couldn't cope with this appalling situation in any way whatsoever, so it's important that we recognise and pay tribute to the contribution and commitment of voluntary carers the length and breadth of Wales in this regard.
And, of course, as the Minister has already said, there is still stigma. People fear discussing dementia. They fear being in contact with people with dementia. That's part of the importance of having that training to become dementia friendly, as the Minister has already mentioned. It's the need for patience. When you are in the queue, paying for something, or waiting to pay for something, behind someone who has dementia, we need patience. We shouldn't be putting pressure on people and hastening them. We need patience and we need to give people time. Because, at the end of the day, much of this is about dealing with the prejudice against dementia and dementia care, because people don't see it as being a physical problem and they see it as a mental health issue. But, of course, dementia is a physical ailment because the brain shrinks. So, that is a physical illness, and dementia deserves equal treatment with other physical illnesses and conditions, and that's what doesn't happen at the moment. If it were dealt with in that way, then we would have the same respect for those suffering with dementia as those with cancer or heart disease.
So, there's a great deal of work to be done in terms of preventing that stigma in our society against those who have dementia, and I would like to hear what the Minister is doing in moving forward with his action plan in order to deal with those issues. Ultimately we are talking about care on the ground and the need for more specific services on the ground.
Social care: the Minister will know my ideas about having a national care service, because the quality of care now is often deficient, can be dangerous or not available at all, and everything then falls on the families. We need more respite care when families are under huge pressure. We need more respite care for them. So, does the Minister have plans specifically to increase the respite care available?
I do welcome what he said about people here in Wales who are first-language Welsh speakers. Of course, as dementia develops, then you lose the ability to speak your second language relatively early. So, we need provision, and we need services in the Welsh language in order to deal with people who are suffering dementia and who are first-language Welsh speakers. They lose their second language, and that happens in all countries where there is more than one language spoken. But, we need a strategy as a matter of urgency to tackle that, because it's our aging population who tend to get dementia. It's not always linked to old age, of course, but there is a substantial percentage of those people who are Welsh speakers, and that's the only language that they have when dementia takes hold, as my own father's experience proved.
So, at the end of the day, I welcome the statement and I welcome the work that's ongoing. But, at the end of the day, as you've mentioned, you need a step change and we need to transform the scale and the quality of the services available on the ground in order to tackle this issue and to provide fairness to our people who have dementia and their families. Thank you.
I thank the Member for his comments and questions. I will deal with a range of the specifics that you've provided. But on your last point about the Welsh language provision, in the statement, I've set out the work that has been done jointly, first with the Welsh Language Commissioner and the Alzheimer's Society, and that task and finish group will help to inform us more about what we need to do. And as there is Welsh Government participation in the task and finish group, we will learn through the course of that and not just when we get the final report. Obviously, we'll then expect to respond to that and to understand how we will reform services—not just a central directive from the Government, but, actually, how each of those regional partnership groups will need to think again about how they provide services. This is not a care preference, but a care need, and we do need to reflect that.
On your broader points about recognising the contribution of the voluntary sector, the organisations themselves are involved in organising activities, support and services, as well as advocacy, championing and challenging us, again, to recognise the role of individual carers—often, members of families who go out of their way and give up lots of their life to care for loved ones. And without that, we wouldn't provide not just a service, but the sort of compassion and dignity that we want to see. Which leads into the point you make about the challenges of stigma. So, for all that we have a responsibility to do within the Government, within the health service, within local authorities, much of what we discuss is about our part to play as members of society and the country we live in, and that's why we aim to be a dementia-friendly nation. It's about how we behave with and towards other people, not just those that we know, but in particular, how we behave towards those people that we don't know, and that point about a greater level of tolerance and understanding that would not just make a difference here in the field of dementia, but more generally. I'm thinking of the way that we're prepared to treat other people, and expect to be treated ourselves.
That's why I'm particularly pleased to see such a large number of people, over just one year, who have got engaged and become dementia friends—38,000 extra people in one year, now 158,000 dementia friends across Wales. That's a really positive step forward. And I can say that from my own point of view, my constituency office and I, we are dementia friends—I am a dementia friend—having undertaken the training. Because I recognise it wasn't just about the job I do in this place, but actually, as a constituency Member, we already work with people living with dementia, and we will be contacted by people living with dementia now and in the future as well. It's a big part of our constituency already, and for other constituency and regional Members here too. And I know that Jayne Bryant and others are looking to encourage people so that this place could become the first dementia-friendly Parliament as well, if every Member has undertaken that training, together with their staff, and I'd encourage people to do so.
And on your broader points about how that helps, actually, we're seeing more and more people getting involved across the retail sector, for example, not just the support in terms of the charitable funds that people are providing, but actually, again, encouraging their staff to become dementia friends. And Boots is a good example; other community pharmacy and multiples are available. But in this particular one, it was the Wales part of that company that led the charge within that company, by having, in every single Boots outlet, dementia friends. There was a large programme of activity and engagement, and I was very proud to recognise that when they came here, and they're actually challenging the rest of the Boots group within the UK to do likewise. So, again, a movement that is gathering pace here in Wales, with that initiative, is going to make a difference here and beyond.
I just want to finish on your point about personal experience that many Members in this place will have. We recognise that a change is required. And not just because we can often talk about our own experiences, but the needs of our population are changing. It's not just about age—there is more than that—but actually our ageing profile means it will be a larger reality of the country that we are and will be in the future. And if we didn't recognise that a change was required to deliver the dignity and compassion that you talk about, then we wouldn't have a plan, we wouldn't have measures, and we wouldn't be taken so seriously as we are. The challenge will be to meet the ambition we've set in the plan, to make a real, practical difference.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. It's good to have an update today, and I welcome much of the positive report that there is in your statement, particularly about the increase in the number of dementia friends. I've got a few specific questions on the action plan. I was grateful for your replies to myself as Chair of the cross-party group on dementia around the transparency of funding for the plan, which is largely going out through the integrated care fund, and concerns about that have also been raised in the health committee. I was pleased to receive your answer and the assurances that you gave. But can I ask whether there are any plans for there to be any kind of independent evaluation of the impact of the plan, in recognition of some of the concerns that have continued to be expressed about transparency?
Linked to that, you've mentioned the work of the DOIIG, but I know that some third sector organisations are very keen to have a different leadership structure, one that involves somebody particularly championing this cause at Government level. Have you given any consideration to how this work is going to be driven forward by particular leaders within Welsh Government? You mentioned in your statement the input of those living with dementia, and that is a very positive feature of the work of Welsh Government in this area. And, in particular, I'd like to recognise the ongoing impact of DEEP in this area. But there was a phenomenal amount of involvement by those living with dementia in the formation of the plan. So, can I ask you for further detail? There was some 1,000 people who inputted into the action plan, so can I ask for some further detail on how you will continue to ensure that those living with dementia will be fully involved going forward?
And, just finally, I was pleased to see the reference to the Welsh Language Commissioner and Alzheimer's Society Cymru report in your statement. It is a really important report, and one that I was really pleased to attend the launch of. I don't think that we can overestimate the importance of the ability to communicate in your first language for someone with dementia, given the huge challenges of communication that exist. I'm pleased that Welsh Government are going to be involved in the group that the commissioner and the society have set up, but can you take this opportunity to restate your commitment politically to ensuring that the excellent recommendations in that report are driven forward?
Yes, I'm happy to give the commitment that you asked for at the end about making sure that we do continue to take forward the commitments that have been made, and in particular the point about first language provision, because as I said in answer to Dai Lloyd, this is not a preference, it's a care need, because actually you can't access the care that you need if you don't have the ability to communicate in what sometimes is the only language available to you. So, I'm more than happy to restate that commitment.
On your point about DEEP, they were definitely involved and a really important part of us getting to having a dementia action plan in the first place, and actually getting one signed off where there was an agreement that it was the right thing to do to move forward. We listened about making sure that there were people involved on the oversight, implementation and impact group. And it's important that we don't just say that means everything is sorted. People living with dementia are represented by a handful of people in one group. That comes back to the point about generally having teams around the individuals so that our services are genuinely responding to the needs of people and proactively seeking the views of those people as we develop and deliver services. That is central to our ambitions in the plan.
And that's partly why—and I'll come back to your first point now about evaluations, to understand is that really is happening. So, yes, I can confirm there will be independent evaluation, it will be commencing throughout this year and it will continue until the end of the plan. There will be an initial assessment of evidence and data availability to highlight any key gaps we may have and a final draft report on central elements will be delivered by the end of 2021, with a final evaluation report that is currently due to be provided in Spring 2022. So, we are definitely making sure that the independent evaluation understands the impact of the steps that we're taking.
On your second point that you made about leadership within and outside the Government, I have an open mind about whether there should be an identified dementia champion or not. Because actually this is a big service challenge that is in more than one area. I recognise the argument about having a champion and I recognise how actually that may not deliver all we'd want to do. So, I have a genuine open mind. I don't think it would be fair to say that the allied health professionals consultant is effectively going to be the champion. They'll have a role, obviously, in championing the needs of the service and understanding and listening to people, but I do have an open mind about whether an identified champion or champions could help us to make more progress. That will come from listening to people and services on that oversight and impact group as to whether that would be the right thing to do to help drive forward this agenda. So, an open mind—certainly not closed to it—but I'm interested genuinely in what will make the biggest difference in the most rapid period of time.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement here today. As the number of people living with dementia in Wales increases, it's so important that we get this provision right. I notice firstly in your statement the reference to the increased number of dementia friends and dementia friendly communities. My office, along with the offices of many other Assembly Members, have undergone that training and I think it's really important in terms of the support that we offer to our communities. What can be done to encourage other such community support services to engage with the training that the Alzheimer's Society offers?
For my other questions, I want to focus on some interesting things that I have seen out and about on constituency visits. Firstly, I recently met with the occupational therapy team at Ysbyty Cwm Cynon to discuss their work supporting people who have recently been diagnosed with dementia and how they enable them to regain their confidence and to live independently. I joined one of those OTs on a house visit in Penywaun, and had such really positive feedback from the person being helped about how the intervention had really changed his life. So, what can be done to ensure that other areas, both within Cwm Taf and further afield, learn from this kind of approach?
I also recently visited the award-winning virtual ward at St John's medical practice in Aberdare, which is a shining example of a multidisciplinary approach. And this kind of approach is so useful to supporting those living with dementia, as well as many other conditions. So, what can the Welsh Government do to help enable and incentivise such partnership working in GP clusters to assist those living with dementia to receive the very best multidisciplinary care?
And finally, I also visited Ysguborwen Care Home in Llwydcoed to see a fantastic project that was being delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre, which allowed residents to utilise modern technology, such as iPads, screens and interactive tables, in order to engage with hobbies that they'd held all their lives or to look at old photographs that really re-jigged those deep parts of the memory and brought such happiness to them. What more can Welsh Government do to encourage care homes to utilise the very powerful benefits of modern technology in order to help those who live with dementia to maintain those pre-existing hobbies and interests that can add so much to their quality of life?
Thank you for the questions and comments. I think, turning to your point about GP clusters first, I think that, when we consider the action that's been taken through the regional partnership boards that we're looking to promote, lots of that activity is taking place within primary care. So, having more GP-led memory clinics and the focus on diagnosis needs to be accompanied by an improvement in the quality of care that is then provided, rather than simply improving the diagnosis rate and then not providing the service wrapped around that person and how they live their life. So there's an awful lot of focus on that. And this is standard business for our health service. It's not an additional add-on or a niche area of specialist activity. The numbers of people living with dementia will only increase in years to come, so better management of the condition and better identification is central to that, and without an active GP community, we're unlikely to realise a number of the ambitions within the plan.
I'm really pleased to hear that you and your office are dementia friends, and that's part of the awareness raising, the leadership and people recognising and saying out loud, 'I'm a dementia friend, I think you should be too.' And asking that question as we go about our business is part of doing so. But, to get from where we were, where we had 120,000 dementia friends in Wales, and then in the last year to get to 158,000 does show there is a developing and increasing level of awareness. And, as I said, I think that we all have an individual stake in needing to do that, and I think it'd be a really proud moment for Wales if we were able to be the first dementia-friendly parliament within the UK and beyond.
On your point about technology and activity, and lots of it is what I've seen within care homes and beyond, technology is being used really positively to help people exactly as you say, with hobbies and activities. There's lots of activity around music, but actually just on storing and reminding people of memories and the understanding of how we can make it easier for people to access those memories are things that actually continue to bring great joy to people's lives, not just the person themselves, but actually their family and friends around them as well. So, I'm interested not in just seeing the whole range of different activities but actually how we can try and understand which ones we think can help to make the biggest difference and, at the same time, how we can make sure that who that person is is reflected in those memories, rather than saying you're only allowed to have a photo book or to go and sing, because for lots of people like me—I love singing. Others may not like listening to it, but I love singing. And on a recent visit to west Wales, I looked again at how they had a range of singing activities for individuals that was making a big difference to people, but there are others who may not find that appealing at all, so we've got to think again about what matters to that person.
And I want to end on your point about the occupational therapy team in Ysbyty Cwm Cynon. I, too, had the pleasure of visiting them to meet the team and some of the people who are living with dementia who came into Ysbyty Cwm Cynon for the afternoon to explain how their work had made a difference to them. And there's a point there about the earlier we understand someone's needs, the earlier we can intervene and support them to retain more of what matters and is important to them. There is learning to be taken from across Cwm Taf Morgannwg, a real example of good practice that others should learn from across the service. And I'm happy to say that they've built in evaluation and research into the work that they're doing. So they won't just be able to say, 'We think we're doing the right thing', they'll have an evidence base to talk to the rest of the health board and, indeed, the rest of the NHS and wider family on how to make a real difference for people living with dementia.
We move on now to item 4, a statement by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government on the Wales coast path. I call on the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn, to open.
Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer.
Last week, we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of devolution in Wales, an occasion that provided an opportunity to reflect on our key achievements in the past two decades. Since its opening in 2012, the Wales coast path has established itself as a beacon of our nation's natural beauty. Its route stretches 870 miles around our entire coastline and is the first of its kind in the world, an achievement that we can all be proud of.
So, as we look back on the achievements of devolution, I wanted to highlight how we are continuing to develop and promote this fantastic asset, as well as how this fits in with wider efforts to increase access to our great outdoors. The path is a jewel in Wales's tourism offer. It makes a huge contribution to the Welsh economy, and it is estimated that it generates around £84 million a year in visitor spending and supports more than 1,000 jobs. The offer though is not simply about tourism and the economy; our Wales coast path can bring broader health and well-being benefits. We must make sure the benefits of the path are valued and enjoyed by people and communities across the country, in particular everyone who lives and works near our coast.
However, a hugely popular walking route can also bring with it issues and challenges, and we are continuing to invest in upkeep and maintenance. Our partnership with Natural Resources Wales sees nearly £1 million invested annually. NRW, who look after the path on our behalf, continue to work with local authorities and landowners to improve the alignment and quality of the path, and mitigate erosion.
A series of new circular routes, new publicity material and a toolkit for coastal businesses are some of our latest initiatives. The toolkit has been designed to help coastal businesses market their products and services through the pulling power of the path. It is a free, easy-to-use online resource that gives businesses access to a wide range of material and information in one place. It provides guidance on how businesses can give customers an unforgettable experience and better market their own businesses, using the coast path as a key asset. The toolkit was launched in March this year, with a series of free seminars around our coast, from Swansea to Narberth, and Conwy to Beaumaris.
A revamped website is in development. It will provide up-to-date information and a new interactive mapping tool. Natural Resources Wales is also working on a new augmented reality app, which will include engaging visuals, informative stories and interactive games.
Some of our more intrepid walkers complete the whole path in one go or over a period as part of a challenge. For those people, we are looking at a new system to incentivise and reward people completing stages or the whole trail. Far more people, however, walk shorter sections. With this in mind, we are developing different ways for people to enjoy their visit. A new series of circular routes will open up more of our fantastic inland countryside, in addition to the coast itself.
This year is the Year of Discovery in Wales, and this May marks seven years since the path was officially launched. Our coast path is celebrating by holding its very own walking festival, and I'd like to pay tribute to Ramblers Cymru for putting on a huge range of events, catering for all abilities.
As well as the coast path, we have three national trails and a range of other promoted local routes to enjoy. These provide access to some of our country’s finest scenery, not only for walkers but also for cyclists and horse riders. I was therefore pleased that we were able to fund additional projects worth over £0.5 million to improve the coast path and national trails in 2018-19. These will allow some important pieces of work to be carried out to improve the experience for everyone.
This Welsh Government is committed to deriving greater benefit from the huge network of footpaths we have. Wales has the greatest length of rights of way per square kilometre in the UK. However, improvements can be made to the way access to the outdoors is provided, managed and promoted in Wales. We've consulted very widely on a range of measures, and I'm grateful for the input of thousands of people and organisations. The size of the response we received is testament to the huge value the people of Wales place on their cherished countryside and landscapes. I made a written statement last month, responding to this consultation, that sets out our planned way forward.
Our long-term approach to access will be to provide a greater range of opportunities for outdoor activities. It will also promote responsible recreation that strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of both users and landowners. Our countryside is hugely important to the people of Wales and everyone must continue to have the opportunity to enjoy it. The success of the Wales coast path, and our commitment to reforming access more broadly, will ensure we continue to build on this success for the benefit of all the people of Wales.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
Can I thank the Deputy Minister for this very timely statement, made during the remarkable Wales Coast Path Walking Festival? Can I pay tribute too to the hard work of Ramblers Cymru, who are facilitating many of the festivities? Can I also emphasise to the Minister and the Chamber that I am a keen user of the path, especially in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and on my home patch, Glamorgan? So, I benefit immensely from this wonderful facility.
I'm particularly pleased to see the development of the app and the revamped website. I do believe in making this vital tourist attraction more accessible in a modern digital age. It sends a good image, I think, of Wales. As the Minister said, the coastal path is the world's first uninterrupted route along a national coast and gives hikers access to undiscovered sections of the coast, with stunning views, as I can attest to, and also rugged landscapes and rare wildlife. It's very pleasing indeed, actually, to take a pair of binoculars along with you and then just see some of the most wonderful but usually secluded wildlife. It truly is something to be proud of.
I'm also pleased to see how the Government is encouraging innovations, such as the development of circular routes that are connected to the path. I know from experience that, sometimes, if you've just got a day, you're looking for a circular route. It's really, really useful to have that, and it also brings a slightly wider area into connection with the path.
There are some issues, and I make these just to improve what is, I think, a great facility. The Minister referred to access issues, and we do know that some local disability fora have highlighted the issues around access by wheelchair and other barriers, such as those that are sometimes put in to stop motorbike riders from illegally getting onto the path. I know that at least one county council, Flintshire, has admitted that it does need to improve its access for disabled users, particularly where it's connected to viewing points, for instance. It's a great thing to enjoy, and I think we must remember that those with limited mobility or who are wheelchair-dependent still want to enjoy as much as possible the open environment. So, I think that's something to bear in mind.
If I can turn to marketing, the marketing toolkit, which I have looked at, is very comprehensive, covering all aspects of a marketing operation for local businesses, which can then capitalise on the walking paths. This, I think, is really, really important, but I just wonder if you're going to take it further and connect it to a properly funded strategy for walking in Wales. I know this is something that Ramblers Cymru are really keen to see, and we should set ambitious targets to promote walking as an everyday activity with additional support for the least active.
As you said in your statement, the benefits of the coastal path are not solely felt through the economy and tourism, though they are principally felt there, as the figures you referred to demonstrate, but there are health and well-being benefits too, and we can also connect it to our legislative basis in the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013. Ramblers Cymru have also mentioned the need to connect it into the health service, so that we can get people more active there who have or are developing the likelihood of health problems.
I also think there needs to be an international strategy. Llywydd, you can now walk all around Wales. I have walked the entire length of Offa's Dyke though it's—I'm amazed to think this, but it is 40 years since I did that, between sixth-form and university. But Wales is already pretty well-known out there internationally, and I think we need to build on that, because it's a premier location for walkers. It's particularly popular with walkers who come from the Netherlands and from Germany, but also other parts of Europe and also North America and other parts of the world. What these people want when they're enjoying our wonderful environment, both, as I said, up into the mountains but also around the coast, is they want boutique hotels, they want really good-quality restaurants—
—and they want access to—indeed, I hear another Member, who I know has enjoyed these facilities—nearby market towns and villages, so, you know, with good transport links when you need to make that little journey from the walking path you're following. But these people spend a lot of money. They're high-end tourists. When we think of people who are walking, we could be tempted to think it's a holiday that doesn't bring in much economic activity for the local community. Well, that's quite wrong. These people really are leading in terms of developing our tourism and improving the facilities, so that we're really up there getting some of those active tourists and cultural tourists also, who want to experience the totality of Wales but also enjoy very good restaurants and hotels when they do that—. But, broadly, this is work that's really been well developed, we warmly welcome it, and I do hope the Government will act on some of the suggestions I've made, which I know they've reflected on and the consultation has also, and other organisations like the Ramblers are making these points. Thank you.
Diolch. The Member will be pleased to see, with the use of the new app and the developed website, the modern technology being used to boost our natural assets and to promote them. I think the Member did a very good job there himself of very eloquently promoting our wonderful Wales coast path. The Member mentions about being a regular user. I would suspect and hope that all of us in this Chamber use the coastal path to some extent or another, and I actually look forward myself to joining Ramblers Cymru on one of their anniversary walks at the weekend as well.
I think you raise an issue that's been raised with me before in terms of access, in particular people with disabilities. I think it's about getting that balance between protecting the route but also making sure all the people of Wales can enjoy it in the right and responsible way, and I'm sure that's something, as we take forward the proposals on access, that we can discuss with stakeholders, with disability forums, but also with our partners in local authorities, NRW and landowners alike. The importance of circular routes—I think not everybody wants to walk the entire coastal path or are able to, and also you go to one point and then you don't necessarily feel fit enough or have enough time to walk back again. One of the things we're trying to develop with the new circular routes is actually starting to get this aimed at, perhaps, more family audiences, to bring them on board to start to enjoy the health and well-being benefits of the coastal path, and these are looking at being around 2 miles in length, so you're looking at just about an hour or two, and actually making sure they're near to facilities and transport links as well. So, it's thinking strategically about how we do that in the future.
A really important point too on being a part of an international strategy about how we sell Wales to the world. I was just in my own constituency, out on Friday, and the best kind of meetings and walks I have are when I go for a meeting in the Clwydian range and have a walk, and I was up the Penycloddiau hill fort, and you look out into the distance and in one direction you've got Ruthin and Denbigh, and beyond that you can see the Snowdonia range and Offa's Dyke. This is not only just to promote to more people within Wales what we have on our doorstep and the benefits that brings, but actually internationally the wonderful natural environment we have. And I'm pleased that the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, as part of her new international strategy—that will include the importance of Wales's natural assets and promoting tourism, inward investment and that positive image of Wales as well.
May I thank, first of all, the Deputy Minister for her statement, and, of course, I welcome the content of it, because the issue of the Wales coast path is one very much to be welcomed. It was an exciting development and it's a development that we have seen developing further over the last seven years, and we can look forward to seeing it continuing to develop year after year. Because there are magnificent views the length and breadth of Wales, and, of course, along the 876 miles of the coast and along the Wales coast path. And as we heard from the Deputy Minister, this is the only nation that has a coast path that does include its entire coast, and that is something to be treasured and celebrated. Of course, there are a number of magnificent sections to our coast—I won't just focus on the Gower, with 26 magnificent beaches that can be enjoyed, or Llansteffan, or even where I was over the weekend, in Manorbier, where the coast is wonderful there in south Pembrokeshire, before we go on to the Ceredigion coast, of course, which is full of wonders. And Aberaeron is a treasure, I do have to say. But I can't talk all afternoon on this, so I should focus on specific issues with regard to the celebration and the statement, indeed.
Yes, it's a matter to be welcomed, of course, but there are two points to make, though: of course, conservation is vitally important, and, of course, as David Melding has mentioned, health issues are also very important, and we also pay tribute to the Ramblers for promoting walking in our nation. It's a fairly easy way to keep fit. You don't need membership of any gym that costs thousands of pounds. Walking is the way forward—10,000 steps every day. And just going on the Wales coast path—you will have achieved that in the blink of an eye, and it wouldn't feel like 10,000 steps either. And this is vitally important when we talk about conservation. This is an element of tourism that attracts tourists, attracts money and boosts the economy, but, thinking about responsible tourism, therefore, that also safeguards the environment, and that whole conservation aspect is vitally important.
And, of course, there's caring for our environment, and also, taking advantage of the opportunity, I'd like to see the Deputy Minister emphasising this: it's not just a case of looking after our natural environment, but also about looking after our linguistic and cultural environment, because, for many parts of it, it is the Welsh language and Welsh culture that are inextricably linked to this coastline. There are some examples where we are losing our old traditional Welsh names, and not just those traditional Welsh names but historic Welsh names, and names in several other languages. We've lost Porth Trecastell on Anglesey, which is now Cable bay, and there are some other examples, just because people can't pronounce the name of the island or the name of the river or the name of a particular headland. But I can't think of any other countries on earth that would be willing to change the names that they've had on various geographical places for centuries in order to please those people who don't want to give the indigenous language a go.
So, just because somewhere looks isolated or remote on our coastline, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have a traditional name—either a Welsh name or a Brythonic name or a Viking-inspired name. So, we need to keep those names, not just in terms of natural conservation but because of the linguistic and cultural conservation of our nation, given the natural wealth of all of our names. Every headland and every part of the coastal map has a name. If you look at the historic maps of our nation and at the wealth of names and the descriptions that are there in the Welsh language—of course, some of the modern maps don't include all of those names, so people will think, 'Well, this place doesn't have a name. Why don't we give another name to it—a name from another nation?' No, it will have a name—it's a matter of finding that original name. So, I'd like to have some sort of assurance from the Deputy Minister that we are considering these matters of safeguarding and conserving natural place names on our coastline as well.
The second point, as well as congratulating everything that is going on with regard to the path that you can walk on around our coastline, some have mentioned the creation of an all-Wales cycling route. Some Ministers in this place are very fond of cycling, so what about developing a cycling route alongside the walking route, because I think that there is a valuable resource there as well?
To conclude, therefore, we'll be tackling the health agenda, the fitness agenda, the obesity agenda, as well as getting to grips with the tourism issue, that considerate tourism, that does not just mean turning up and thinking, 'Well, if it rains, what do we do then?' It's about thinking about the development of our nation and explaining to people the rich history of our nation, and our language and our culture, without being ashamed of it at all, and what is there with our coast path. What is there not to like about the coast path? Long live the Wales coast path. Thank you.
Llywydd, I think, in future, when we want to create marketing adverts for the Wales coast path, we should just ask Members in this Chamber to talk about their favourite areas. I'm sure we all have a favourite and we all have areas we've not been to yet, which we'd really like to go to. But I think the contributions so far show how valued a natural asset it is for all of us, as the only nation, indeed, as Dai Lloyd said, that can boast having a coast path that covers magnificent stretches. I remember many years ago, when I was working outside of Wales, people there would come up to me and talk about the Wales coast path; they were going there on holiday and I'd tell them about different places that they could visit as well. So, it shows the vision and the reach that we have to build on there.
The Member is absolutely right in terms of the work that Ramblers Cymru are doing in promoting walking, for a lot of people as an accessible way to keep fit and to boost their health, and where you can do as little or as much as you want. And it's right that we're looking at these new circular routes and shorter routes so that people can—you know, to make it open to as many people as possible.
On the points the Member made in terms of it not just being about conserving our natural environment—and, as you know, we want more people to enjoy the coast path, but it's absolutely right to strike that balance between conservation and promotion, to make sure we maintain our natural assets, but also there's also the aspect of the environment in terms of, actually, how we deal with things that are very high in public consciousness, such as plastic pollution and littering, so the role that some of the other initiatives we're taking across Government, as part of Refill Cymru, can play in that as well.
In terms of looking at our cultural environment, one of the things we're looking at, building on these new circular routes or different routes, is, actually, to focus on different areas, not in terms of geographical areas, but culture and heritage. As we take that forward, there might be something that the Member would want me to share information with him on and for you to be able to input into that, as we take it forward as well.
In terms of cycling, I confess I am a keen but somewhat lapsed cyclist at the moment, given that it's difficult, often, to find the time. I keep thinking, 'Oh, in the next recess, I'll get out for a long bike ride' and it keeps going back to the next and the one after that. But one of the things, following the written statement on access, that we'll look at is how we can better use multi-use passes for activities like cycling and also horse riding as well.
I'd like to thank you for your statement today, Deputy Minister. I'm very lucky to live close to some of the most spectacular and celebrated stretches of our country's coastline, one of those being the Pembrokeshire coast. I do represent many more miles, of course, and most of the coastal path is, in fact, in my region, and it stretches from the Llŷn peninsula to Carmarthen bay. There are unique discoveries to be found all along the 870 uninterrupted miles of the Welsh coastline—so I won't be doing a circular walk in a day—from rare wildlife to industrial heritage. And you can see both together, if you know where to look. You will see kestrels, little owls and many other examples of bird life living in what are disused, now, industrial sites, but they're not unused industrial sites if you care to look for those things. So, I think we need to join those two elements together to tell another story that we are able to do.
I think that the Wales Coast Path Walking Festival, ending this week, has been brilliant in celebrating and promoting the coastal path. I think it's also worth reminding ourselves that the Wales coastal path is just seven years old. So, we have moved along pretty quickly within those seven years. And we know that visitors have always headed to our coast for different reasons, whether it was the miners' fortnight at Barry Island, or whether it was dolphin watching in Cardigan bay. But we've created the unbroken path; it's a continuous physical link. The Wales coast path project can, going forward, create more opportunities to link together those different visitor experiences and therefore boost tourism in the years to come. I have to agree with David Melding when he talks about this being high-end tourism, because people who walk the path do it for many different reasons—bird-watching is one reason, photography will be another reason—and there will be sales of cameras and binoculars, backpacks and other things along the way, and those people who sell those goods really do gain from this creation.
So, I hope that you'll continue to support and promote initiatives like the walking festival, which do help to sell the Welsh coast as a destination for more reasons and all seasons, and I think that that's a key message, because people do walk this path in all seasons and for many different reasons. One of the questions that I would like, Deputy Minister, is whether you will join me in thanking the people who keep that path open, from the staff who work—and I've met some of them; I'm sure others have—in all sorts of weathers to the volunteers who also take up opportunities to make sure that we can keep walking this path, and also to recognise—and other people have mentioned it today—the real benefits to people, particularly mental health benefits, from either volunteering in working opportunities to keep that path in good order, or to escape to the countryside just to make them feel good and so that they can escape the pressures of work. I think that that is of critical importance, which is now, I'm glad to say, eventually being recognised.
I absolutely join Joyce Watson in thanking the staff and volunteers who keep this wonderful asset of our path open, maintained, sustained, like you said, in all weathers throughout the year. Their work and their commitment are certainly to be applauded, and you're very lucky to represent the area you do and boast such a huge swathe of the coast path itself amongst that.
You talked about, actually, how one of the wonderful things, one of the amazing things about the coast path is it can combine rare wildlife with our rich industrial heritage as well, and, actually, how we bring them both together and promote that to visitors to the coast path. I can see that in my own area alone, where we've now got a new section put in the trail with the old pithead and the Point of Ayr colliery and a model of the old pit pony, and it gives you some boards there with the history of it, but you go just around the corner and then there's the RSPB area where you can look out across the Dee estuary.
So, yes, certainly, it's what we have worked on and we should build on, and one of the things we're looking at—I know the Member said she was going to do the long walks, not the circular walks, but one of the things we are looking at, as I said earlier, in terms of these circuits, is looking at focuses and different themes, and one of them could be wildness and certainly heritage as well, so that's one way we can maximise on those assets as we take this work forward.
In terms of high-end tourism and the opportunities there for us both as a nation, but also those businesses involved, that's why I think the toolkit for coastal businesses is very, very important and to do what we can as Members, too, to promote that to businesses within our own constituencies and our own regions. There's a range of material that these businesses can benefit from. Resources include logos they can use, news items—they can get posters and videos to use on their own online/offline marketing to try and capture that growing market as well. I definitely will be promoting the walking festival. I will be there on Sunday, and I will manage to find a walk that combines two elements of my portfolio, where I'll be going for a walk and also litter picking as well.
When I grew up, I was born in Gowerton, and if you turned left going out of my house—the steelworks were right in front, but, if you turned left, you'd walk down the old—submerged now—canal path, where once a famous Conservative son of Swansea was lifted bodily out of a Labour Party meeting and hurled into the canal. It's now been filled in, so that can't happen anymore. But you follow the canal along there and it takes you down to Penclawdd and the mudflats of the north Gower, the estuary, the Loughor estuary, and, if you keep on going around the 13-mile peninsula, you then turn into the beautiful sandy coves on the south. I thought I'd been born in heaven, I have to say. I thought I was extremely lucky. But, as you get older, you start to realise that, actually, we're blessed in Wales, throughout Wales. All parts of the coast are remarkable, are glorious.
My only regret in celebrating, as I did, last weekend with Ramblers Cymru, Pembrokeshire national park, Natural Resources Wales, a local ramblers group, my old colleague Andrew Campbell of the Wales Tourism Alliance—. We were gathered there in Saundersfoot doing a mix of coastal path and heritage trails, going inland a little bit—some of the new circular routes. My only regret is that Wales beat England to the march on this, but it's a nice regret, actually. I took through the coastal path Bill for England back in—. Crikey, when was that? A decade or more ago. And we're still building it. Now, it's a big thing, but we'll get there, apparently, by 2021. But that will then be remarkable, that you'd be able to walk not only the Wales coastal path but all of the England coastal path as well, from Carlisle to Newcastle and beyond, and walk the whole of England and Wales, should you have the time and be so inclined and have stout boots and make that whole journey. But I guess I am one, Llywydd, of those people referred to as those people who do go and spend money in the local economy. I will walk for miles and miles and miles but then always end up spending on a good meal and a few beers, and probably a nice place to stay in a B&B overnight. And there's plenty of people who do that. It's remarkable—the impact on the economy. And we shouldn't forget, of course, and I welcome the statement today, that this is in the fine tradition of things like the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the rights to roam, the access to the national parks, the rights of way legislation—all of those things that have opened up the countryside and coast for generations of people since that first progressive post-war Government, and long may this continue. Interestingly, while we were in Saundersfoot, we saw the development there of the new marine centre—the scaffolding was going up and so on—and the magnificent harbour development that they have there, with £4 million of possibly our last tranche of European funding going into it, into a remarkable performance and gathering space on that harbour, transforming it for a new generation.
If I could ask a couple of questions of the Minister—. It's been referred to already, the issue of accessibility of sections, at least, of the coastal path, for those with mobility issues or those who use wheelchairs or mobility devices. It's right that we make sure that the coastal path is accessible for everyone. Also, what do we do for diverse groups that don't normally access the outdoors? I recall we had a very good mosaic project, working with the national parks years ago, that was looking at different communities from BAME communities who, traditionally, generationally, do not go out into the outdoors, but working with them and with people within those communities to introduce those communities—and multigenerational within those communities; mums and dads and grandads as well as the children—to the outdoors. What are we doing on that to make the most of that with our Wales coastal path?
I wonder if the Minister could also speak to her colleague dealing with transport and public transport, to have a look—I don't need the answer now, but to have a look at the TrawsCymru buses issue, because a lot of people I know have made really good use of the free weekend TrawsCymru transport in order to go. I'm looking forward to my free bus pass when I get older, okay—is it 60 or 65? I'll have to check. Not long to go. But the number of people I speak to who are walking sections of the coastal path using either the free bus pass or the TrawsCymru weekend bus and then walking sections back and then catching it again—it's really opened it up. In terms of social inclusion and healthy lifestyles and so on, it's a major innovation. So, if that discussion could happen—.
Could I, certainly as vice president—one of the two vice presidents—of Ramblers Cymru, give my great thanks to the Ramblers—not just for what they're doing with the festival at the moment, but their ongoing work with maintaining footpaths, byways and so on? It is always a challenge—there's a lot of volunteer effort in it—but they really deserve credit for what they do.
Perhaps I could ask the Minister as well for her thoughts on the continuing challenges, because of where we are with funding, tight funding, at the moment. I'm going to try and avoid using the 'austerity' word—. No, it's out there now. But local authorities are stretched in terms of their rights of way. People now connecting up some of the circular routes, on the coastal strip as well, is to do with keeping those normal rights of way accessible as well.
And, finally, if I could simply say how much I welcome this, because of the innovations in here, not least the toolkits for businesses, as well as the circular routes, which should meet everybody’s possible needs—. Long may it continue. Keep the energy behind this. Don’t give up on it. And it’d be interesting to see, maybe in a couple of years, a further economic assessment of the impact of the coastal path on the Welsh economy.
Llywydd, I’m afraid I’m going to have to start by saying that I fundamentally disagree with the Member: I don’t at all regret that Wales beat England to the mark on this. But I absolutely agree with Huw and thank Ramblers Cymru, not just for the walking festival that ends this weekend, but also for the ongoing role they play in terms of not just the maintenance and looking after our coast path, but also the initiatives they bring forward to encourage people to benefit from it as well. And, on that, I think everybody could—. On the accessibility issues, I think there is, like you said, that balan