Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd10/07/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Economy and Transport. And the first question is from David Rees.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s priorities for economic growth in Aberavon? OAQ54227
Yes, of course. Our broad approach to economic development in Aberavon, and across Wales, is set out in the economic action plan.
Thank you for that answer, Minister, because it is important that we address the whole aspect. I'm sure I'll have another good look at the action plan. But, as you know, I've got strong commitments to the steel industry in my constituency and events in Bridgend, with Ford, have once again highlighted the need to develop a diverse economy in Aberavon, so that we're not simply reliant upon a sole employer. Tourism is one sector that can deliver part of that diversification and there are many fantastic sites in my constituency—I encourage anyone to come along to the lovely three-mile-long beach we have, the historic Margam abbey, or Margam park, or even the wonderful Afan valley. These all offer huge opportunities to strengthen the local economy and through a tourism offer—large or small scale.
One large-scale project that has been in the news recently is the Afan valley resort park, a concept that actually demonstrated that activity-based tourism is well suited to our topography, and one that could bring economic regeneration to an area of deprivation. I will acknowledge, as was mentioned yesterday, the serious concerns that have been raised about the financial dealings of the company that are developing and are behind the scheme, and, consequently, I would expect those to be dealt with in the appropriate manner. However, I believe the concept of the project is one that we should explore further, as it can offer employment, and opportunities, and regeneration to many in my constituency.
Minister, can you confirm first of all that no Welsh Government funding has been given to that project? And do you agree that such proposals should continue to be explored as a positive opportunity for building a strong tourism experience in our valleys and offer communities many opportunities, and what support can you give to smaller, local projects that can feed into the tourism offer in the valley?
Can I thank Dai Rees for not just his questions, but also the important point he makes about the fantastic natural and built assets in his constituency and across the region? As the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism takes forward a new tourism action plan, which will be consulted on, diversity within the sector and across each of the regions will play a key role. There has been huge business growth in Neath Port Talbot over recent years—double-digit growth in terms of business start-ups—and we as a Government, whether it's with regard to the tourism sector or any other sector, are determined to ensure that that growth continues into the future.
The Member also raises a very serious matter that has been much promoted in the media, and investigated particularly by ITV and The Guardian. We thank them for their work on this particular project. I can indeed assure Members today that we have not promised, and we have not provided, a penny of funding to Gavin Woodhouse or Northern Powerhouse Developments for the proposed development of the Afan valley adventure resort. But it is important that Governments look to proposals that are brought forward that offer transformational potential. I would join Members who have, across this Chamber in recent days, appealed for clarity as to whether the vision on offer for the Afan valley—a stunning valley in south Wales—can still be realised.
David Rees is absolutely right. And the opportunity, not just in the Afan valley, but both the Neath valleys as well, for tourism development is extraordinary. And I still consider it a missed opportunity. What's available in the Neath Port Talbot borough is just amazing. We've obviously been hit by some bad news recently, not just the newspaper pieces that you've referred to, but the sad news about Jistcourt as well, so we could do with some good news. Could you tell me when you last received an update from the Swansea bay city deal board about progress towards the national steel innovation centre?
I receive, at the moment, almost on a daily basis, updates from my officials regarding the Swansea bay city deal and each and every one of the projects, as does my Deputy Minister. And I hope that we'll be able to make a positive statement very soon with regard to the deal.
Nobody's disputing the fact that the Afan adventure park concept isn't good. And, in fact, we would be supportive of that idea, because I think, as has been exemplified in questions now, we know the potential and the beauty and the attraction of the Afan valley, and we want to see the area succeed. So, in your conversations with the council, with the city deal and other players, what efforts are you making now to ensure that we can get that much-needed investment in a region where we've seen not only Jistcourt, Ford potentially now as well, and other detrimental economic failures impacting on the area, so that we can put forward new alternative ideas and futureproof against some of these things? I appreciate you've thanked The Guardian and ITV, but how can Government, and the community as a whole, futureproof when we are looking at some of these grand ideas to understand how viable they actually are in future, so that we don't go beyond what is possible? We can still dream, but we don't actually then think that these ideas are something unachievable, but they are ones that are tangible, and ones that make economic sense, and that are value for money, ultimately, too.
Well, as I've said—. And I do welcome the point that the Member has made about being supportive of the vision that was offered. That's very different to being supportive of the company that was behind the vision; they are two very different things. The fact of the matter is that Wales is leading in terms of adventure tourism in Europe, and we have to look at all proposals that will enhance our excellent reputation. I think the Member also raises a very important point about how we assess the validity of schemes that are brought to us, particularly those that individuals promise will be enormously transformational for an entire region or, indeed, for an entire country.
And I'm sure I don't need to, but I will remind Members of the incredibly thorough due diligence that I ordered for one of the most controversial schemes that we have dealt with in recent years—the Circuit of Wales—which highlighted a number of challenges. It was as a result of that due diligence that we were able to avoid putting more than £300 million of taxpayers' money, £300 million of investment that could go into schools, hospitals and other services, at risk. So, I can assure the Member that, as far as my department is concerned, as far as the Welsh Government is concerned, rigorous due diligence of all projects that promise to transform the lives of people is made, and we will continue to make that effort to ensure that we do not invest in projects that cannot deliver and that are not viable.
But I think it is important that we don't put all of our hope in single projects that promise to change entire communities, and that's why I'm all in favour of ensuring that we have a diverse mix of businesses in each and every region. And with regard to the tourism sector, whilst you can have key strategic infrastructure in place, such as, in the north, Zip World or Surf Snowdonia, you also have to have around it a very, very high-quality supportive mix of attractions and infrastructure. And, so, with regard to the Afan valley, with regard to the wider community and the wider region, we're looking at every opportunity through the emerging action plan to invest in improving the quality of the offer in the area, and also the attractions that are there, based on the stunning natural environment and taking full advantage of our historic assets as well.
2. What discussions has the Minister had with cabinet colleagues about using public procurement to support local businesses? OAQ54222
Thank you. The Minister for Finance and Trefnydd has received a commissioned report on how progressive procurement can develop local spend with local businesses. We are now developing a structured approach for delivery that encompasses public services boards across Wales to look at methods to achieve this.
Thank you for that answer. Obviously, this is something that isn't just a matter for the Trefnydd, because, clearly, a lot of the budget is spent by the education Minister, by the health Minister, et cetera. I'm aware that the National Procurement Service is trying to get more bids from local businesses, both to reduce food miles as well as to improve the freshness of food, which is obviously the area that I'm particularly keen to explore with you.
I know, for example, that one local supplier, Castell Howell, in your constituency, has secured over 40 per cent of the public procurement contracts for food for our hospitals, schools and nursing homes. However, only 18 per cent of what they actually deliver is Wales-sourced. So, there's obviously a great deal more work to do on this and Carmarthenshire and Caerphilly seem to be at the vanguard of ensuring all our schoolchildren are able to eat fresh food rather than it coming from goodness knows where. For example, Woosnam Dairies, a milk producer, started off delivering all the milk to the primary schools in Caerphilly and is now delivering to the NHS as well as two other local authorities. So, it's a good example of how starting small can enable a business to grow, and be good for the public services we're endeavouring to offer, but also for ensuring that more food is grown locally. So, in light of the possibility of a 'no deal' Brexit, which could completely disrupt our food security, what plans does the Government have to spread and scale this good practice, which means getting more fresh food grown in Wales?
Well, thank you for the question. This is an area that we are actively working hard in. You mention Carmarthenshire and Caerphilly as examples of good practice, and we could add Ceredigion and Cardiff to that. There certainly are a number of local authorities who are doing good work in this area. One of the issues we have is that the performance across Wales is patchy, and the skills and the capability and capacity are patchy too. So, there's a big job of work that we're doing across Government. The finance Minister is leading on the transformation of the National Procurement Service, and I'm working alongside her through the foundational economy experimental fund and the public services boards to try and identify good practice and the spreading and scaling of that good practice. So, the example you cite, particularly of Castell Howell, I know that Carmarthenshire, for example, have put in a bid to the experimental fund for getting more local food into local schools. So, we are judging those applications over the summer, creating a community of best practice where we can share and spread the lessons from this.
I think one of the issues that we need to look at—. The foundational economy project through procurement is not just about getting more business into Wales, it's about changing the way that the sectors within the foundational economy work so those benefits are spread. And I take on board the point the Member makes around local food and provenance and the potential of that, especially post Brexit. I'm certainly alive to the point she makes and I will keep in touch with her as the work develops over the coming months.
Minister, still on the subject of local food and procurement, in a recent business statement, I raised the issue of Raglan Dairy, a Monmouthshire milk supplier, which has been awarded contracts by the local authority to supply local schools with non-plastic bottled milk. This is great for business, good for the schools and also good for the environment and efforts to reduce plastic pollution. This is a great example of a way that public procurement can be used locally by local authorities to support local businesses and to improve the environment. Can you tell us how you can share this good practice, in addition to what you've said to Jenny Rathbone? And, perhaps, who knows, maybe over the recess period, if you're free—if you're passing through my neck of the woods—we could visit Raglan Dairy and we could see for ourselves the good work they're doing.
Thank you very much for the question. I think that's an excellent example of good practice. I know from my own constituency, where, in local schools, children themselves are unhappy at having to have plastic bottles to drink their milk with, but the local authority doesn't have the flexibility in their contract to amend it at this stage and we're talking to them about that. So, the work we're doing with the public services boards is to see how this good practice can be spread. Kevin Morgan, from Cardiff University, often talks about best practice being a poor traveller in Wales, and that leader and laggard are cheek by jowl—you'll have one local authority doing cutting-edge work and the neighbouring authority lagging some way behind. So, how we even out these inequalities is something we're working on now with the public services boards. I met with a selection of them just a few weeks ago and there's a great deal of enthusiasm for using the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to address this agenda. So, I note that example of good practice, and I'll be speaking to officials to see how we can make sure it's widely understood, and see if there's potential to copy it.
Questions now from party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Diolch, Llywydd. Yesterday, in the Chamber, we were told that Welsh Government had not given money directly to the Afan valley project. You've confirmed that again today. Welsh Government, though, had given money to the Northern Powerhouse Developments company to develop the Caer Rhun hotel in Conwy. It had been given some £0.5 million and there are now clearly concerns over the future of that hotel in which Welsh money has been invested. Can you comment on the assessments that were made of the company's situation before that decision to invest £0.5 million was made?
Of course, this was a matter for my colleague in Government, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, but I can assure the Member that no release of funding has taken place for that particular project. There were significant conditions attached to it that still have not been met, and so tourism officials are in the process of looking at the withdrawal of the offer of £0.5 million to Caer Rhun.
That's comforting to know and I look forward to more detail of how that progresses.
In the case of the Afan valley project, of course, there may not have been an exchange of funds in any way, but there was certainly support from Welsh Government in the form of your appearance in a video promoting Northern Powerhouse Developments plans, which gave the very public impression that Welsh Government was backing the company. That’s exactly what the developer wanted, of course, and no doubt it helped attract investors. In hindsight, do you think that your appearance in that video was a good idea? It is a number of weeks now since very serious concerns were raised about this company. Can you confirm whether, at the point at which those concerns were made, Welsh Government did instruct that video to be taken down? Would it be morally right, knowing the concerns at that point, for such a video tying Welsh Government into a project with its support to continue to be shown?
Well, first of all, I think we should just reflect on what your own colleague Bethan Sayed said, which was: you have to separate out the vision of the project from the people who were proposing to finance it. In terms of the project itself, it does promise to transform an area. In terms of the funding required for that, clearly, the company behind it are facing very serious questions. And, again, I would reiterate my thanks to those that have recovered significant information that has given rise to those questions.
Of course, I would prefer the video to be taken down—there is no doubt about that—because if there is any suggestion that the Welsh Government or I were backing the company, then that is wrong. I do support the transformational potential of the scheme, but I do not support those people who have been shown in recent weeks to need to answer very serious questions.
And I certainly agree with my colleague Bethan Sayed, who is now sitting behind me, in terms of the potential, and we're talking about an area that wants to see that potential being realised. And there's a danger always in raising people's hopes by going down the wrong avenues. But you tell us time and time again, quite rightly, of course, about constraints on Welsh Government finances. What that means is that we have to be very, very careful, very strategic and rather ruthless as well in how we spend that money.
This project was launched with great fanfare and Government, of course, was four-square behind it, having gone through due diligence processes, presumably, to measure the appropriateness of teaming up with that particular investor. In light of what has happened and what is emerging, will Welsh Government now undertake to publish, in its entirety, details of how and when it collaborated with the Afan valley project and Northern Powerhouse Developments, and what it did, in particular, to protect creditors and investors once it became clear that there were serious doubts about the company involved in backing it?
I think the Member believes that Welsh Government had a greater involvement than it did. There was no collaboration whatsoever: we did not promise money, we did not give money to this project. Any request for funding would have led to a thorough, and as the Member identifies, ruthless process of due diligence. And I’ve already identified one project here in questions today that underwent that thorough process. And despite vociferous support and pressure—indeed, from the Member’s own party, it has to be said, in particular the leader, who said that perhaps we should short-circuit in some way the due diligence process, I stayed firm; I made sure that the taxpayers’ interest was first and foremost considered by the Welsh Government. I will do that again and again. If they’d asked for money, if there had been any request for money for this particular project, the same approach and principles would have been taken forward.
Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, do you agree with the First Minister when he said that there have been major improvements to the Welsh economy since devolution?
Yes, there have been major improvements to the Welsh economy since devolution. We've helped to create more than 300,000 jobs since devolution, employment rates are at a record high, economic inactivity is at a record low—indeed, for the first time ever it's at the level of the UK average. In addition to this, we've seen the level of qualifications rise incredibly fast. We've seen economic productivity levels rise faster than the UK average in recent years. I think there is an enormous success story for the Welsh economy to celebrate, but it hasn't been achieved by Welsh Government alone, it's been achieved through a partnership between Welsh Government, business and other social partners.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. Your Deputy Minister, of course, has recently said that the Welsh Government has pretended to know what it's doing on the economy for the last 20 years, and efforts to improve the economy under devolution have not worked. Personally I think it is refreshing to hear a Minister speaking very candidly about the economy. I very much agree with the Member for Blaenau Gwent when he said he would prefer to hear a Minister who speaks plainly and clearly about the challenges facing the Welsh economy. I think the general public agree with that also. With this in mind, is there now a recognition that it's time to approach the economy in a different way? We have had three major economic strategies since devolution, but these efforts to improve the economy have not worked and have not raised the economic fortunes of Wales. Now, the economic action plan covers a large number of different themes but contains no targets for measuring progress, so it is, I think, also contradicted and undermined by the Welsh Government's 2018 budget, which provides no new funding to support any of the action plan's key priority sectors. So, can you, Minister, say what you are going to do to change, and how is your approach going to be different following the Deputy Minister's comments so we can see simplified access to business support, we can align an effective business and industrial strategy, we can reform a failing public procurement strategy to support small and medium-sized businesses, upskill the workforce and reflect this boost with suitably improved infrastructure?
What the Deputy Minister said reflects, in many ways, the challenges that I outlined when the economic action plan was being developed, that whilst we've had enormous success in many regards regarding economic development since devolution, the fruits of growth have not been felt fairly across all parts of Wales, that growth has been uneven and we need to iron out that inequality that we still see—not just across the regions, but also within the regions. It's why the EAP was designed to drive not just futureproofing of Welsh business, but also to drive inclusive growth. And at the heart of the economic action plan, of course, is the economic contract, which is designed to provide for fair work, high-quality work and improved skills.
Now, the Member mentions other economic strategies, including the UK industrial strategy, and, of course, the EAP was designed to complement and to dovetail with that, and that has been recognised by Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. And, furthermore, in terms of targets and measurements, the whole reason why we've introduced the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to the process of offering challenge is to ensure that we are measuring, in the right way, how inclusive growth is being delivered.
Well, thank you for your answer, Minister. I appreciate you speaking candidly about some of the challenges of the Welsh economy as well. Two main strands of the economic action plan, the regional business plans and the plan for the foundational economy, remain undelivered. So, I would ask you if you would look at some of the ideas that we have on these benches, for example for deploying trade envoys around the world to boost investment in Wales, and also to have a shift to an economy and a strategy where we're also supporting small and indigenous Welsh businesses as well. We want to see small and indigenous Welsh businesses grow. It's very easy for other businesses to come in and move out, taking investment with them, but we do need to support these small and indigenous Welsh businesses that we have in Wales as well. How can we avoid, in 20 years from now, a Minister looking back and saying, 'Forty years since devolution, nobody knows what we're doing on the economy'? How can we avoid a Minister saying that in 40 years' time?
In the first 20 years of devolution, we have pretty much solved a challenge that Wales has faced during the course of deindustrialisation, which is a higher level of unemployment than the UK average. We brought it down to the UK average and, indeed, on many occasions in the last year, it's dipped below the UK average, and for the first time, as I say, again, inactivity rates have fallen to the UK average.
So, what we've done over the past 20 years, on a macro level, is resolve unemployment and worklessness. However, that's in the whole. What we now wish to do is drive inclusive growth so that we get deeper into the roots, get into the communities that have not benefited so much from the fruits of our growth over the last 20 years, and ensure that equality and inclusive growth are at the heart of everything we do. Now, regional place-based economic development is absolutely crucial, particularly where you don't have the effects of agglomeration, and you don't tend to get the effects of agglomeration in urban areas of less than 0.5 million people. That's why we developed within the EAP the new regional units, that's why they are developing, in conjunction with local authorities and city and growth deal partners, regional plans—so that we can all work together to the same purpose to design interventions to make sure our investment is directed at the same purpose within each of the regions so that we're not competing, so that we're not duplicating but so we're all working to the same ends. And it's my view that, by having a place-based approach, we will be able to better identify the opportunities, the entrepreneurs, the businesses that can drive inclusive growth in the regions of Wales.
I have to say that, in terms of supporting small indigenous businesses, we've done a fantastic job in recent times through Business Wales and, more lately, through the establishment of the development bank. We've heard questions today about the Afan valley and my colleague Dai Rees's local authority of Neath Port Talbot, where we've seen an 18.8 per cent increase in the number of businesses since 2011, up from 6,455 to 7,670. That is not an unusual picture in Wales. We now have a record number of businesses in existence in Wales. The key for us in the next stage in turning the dial through the economic action plan is in ensuring that we turn more of those small businesses into stronger grounded firms, bigger grounded firms within Wales, and so that we ensure that employment is more sustainable in the long term and that we are capturing as much of their spend as possible for local communities.
Brexit Party spokesperson, David Rowlands.
Diolch Llywydd. Minister, when I was a member of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, we visited Trawsfynydd, where we learned about the decommissioning of the nuclear power station. At that time, there were discussions about the possibility of the site being used for the emerging small modular nuclear reactors. Has the Minister explored this option in any way?
Yes, I have. I'm really excited about the potential of Trawsfynydd as an area that could be used to develop and support small modular reactors. I'm not alone in this. The North Wales Economic Ambition Board shares the determination to examine all opportunities for Trawsfynydd, and that's why, within the north Wales growth deal, there is an access to the smart energy programme, which is designed to promote renewable forms of energy and the potential of SMRs in that particular area of north Wales.
Okay. I thank the Minister for his answer. I'm given to understand that Rolls-Royce are at the forefront of this type of technology. As such, a development at Trawsfynydd could benefit British industry as a whole. I'm also given to believe that much of the grid infrastructure linking to the national grid system is still in place at Trawsfynydd. So, given the local expertise and general disposition in the area to nuclear power, Trawsfynydd would surely be an ideal location for the emerging technology. It also falls into the Welsh Government's overall decarbonisation programme, and such an installation would also help alleviate the anticipated extra demand on the electricity infrastructure, which the advent of the electric motor car will inevitably put on the electricity industry as a whole. This should—and given some of the adverse decisions with regard to Wales over recent times, I emphasise 'should'—make the UK Government more amenable to such a development. So, would the Cabinet Secretary give serious thought to promoting this industry-leading project to Trawsfynydd?
Yes, I will indeed. In fact, I'm pleased to say that I've met with Rolls-Royce to discuss this very issue directly in relation to Trawsfynydd and so too have members of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, and I think it's worth telling Members today that energy features as one of three primary strengths of the north Wales regional economy within the economic ambition board's vision for the region. It also forms one of the four key enablers within the north Wales growth deal. So, I can assure the Member that, not just within Welsh Government, but regionally across the local authorities and collectively as the new regional unit, we are well aware of the potential of energy in north Wales, very supportive of it, not just of SMRs, but also, crucially, I think, of the renewable energy sector, where there is enormous strength and expertise in north Wales, and that's why that is included as such a crucial component of the north Wales growth deal.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on planned improvements to rail services in Mid and West Wales? OAQ54225
Yes, of course. Transport for Wales will be improving and increasing rail services across Mid and West Wales, including, I'm pleased to say, Llywydd, introducing brand new trains in 2022, which have more capacity, they'll have air conditioning and they'll have power sockets.
I'm grateful to the Minister for his answer, particularly with regard to capacity. The issue of overcrowding on the railways was raised with the First Minister in this place yesterday. Unfortunately, that's not an isolated concern. Constituents from across the mid and west region have been contacting me citing real concerns about the line that runs across mid Wales to Shrewsbury in particular. Examples included delays ranging from 30 minutes to an hour being just routine and an increasing lack of carriages and seats on those trains—one constituent counting 26 people standing up in one carriage—and, obviously, I'm sure the Minister would agree with me that this isn't acceptable and it is regrettable that these were the same sorts of complaints that we heard under the previous franchise. Last July, the Minister provided us with details of the new franchise agreement that stipulates that Transport for Wales will be penalised if passengers are forced to stand for longer than 20 minutes. Could the Minister reassure my constituents that that commitment to reduce standing on trains will be honoured and could he give us some sort of idea of the timescale for the additional capacity that he mentioned to me in his original answer?
Yes, of course. I've got some comprehensive information in front of me concerning the delivery of new trains and improved services. In addition, I have established next week an opportunity for Members to be briefed on developments on the Wales and Borders franchise network and there will be a drop-in centre between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I think it is worth stating that pressure on capacity is something that still affects the rail franchise because we've just inherited something that was designed on the basis of zero growth but which, in fact, grew considerably from something in the region of 19 million passengers to 27 million passengers when the franchise ended last year, but we are committed to delivering £800 million-worth of trains during this franchise period. Already, we have introduced the delay repay 15-minute fare repay system; we have introduced 3,000 new advance fares; we've launched the new Wrexham to Liverpool service along the Halton curve; additional class 153 trains have been introduced to the franchise; community rail vision projects have been developed and unveiled; we now have the class 37 service operating on the Rhymney line; and work on the Taffs Well depot will start this month.
In the coming months, I'm pleased to be able to inform the Member that mark 4 trains will replace pacers and mark 3 trains. In September, applications open for the new style concessionary travel cards for current passholders. In September, again, of this year, we are going to be launching a station improvement vision. New community rail partnerships will be established in the same month. They'll concern the Treherbert, Aberdare and Merthyr line and also the Cardiff-Rhymney line.
We'll see timetable changes in December of this year that will deliver four trains per hour between Cardiff and Bridgend, and, on Sundays, over 200 more services will run across Wales. Just in the new year, in January, the young people fare initiative will begin, with free travel for under fives extended to young people under the age of 11, and, for 16s, there will be free off-peak travel when accompanied by an adult.
By the middle of next year, I'm pleased to inform Members that the new Bow Street station will have opened and TfW will have moved its headquarters to Pontypridd by September of next year. There is huge excitement and an enormous amount of work taking place across Wales and the borders area right now. New trains that will operate on the lines are being built at this very moment in Newport at CAF, who we attracted here from Spain, but I can assure Members, if you wish to have any further information or ask any further questions, please do so at the drop-in next Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Minister, I'm sure you will agree with me that one way of improving rail services for people living in Mid and West Wales is to reduce journey times. Now, the proposed west Wales parkway north of Swansea would deliver journey time savings for commuters travelling from my constituency to Cardiff of up to 15 minutes each way by cutting the need to travel through the centre of Swansea. It could also encourage a modal shift from the car to the train and that, in turn, would help to reduce congestion on key roads in the region as well. Can you therefore give us an update on this proposed project, and what discussions are you having as a Government regarding this proposed plan?
I've discussed this particular plan with the Secretary of State for Wales just in recent weeks. We are supportive of the proposal in principle, provided we can also have the assurance over additional funding, not just to introduce trains to the lines, but also to ensure that those trains can operate. We will need an increase in the subsidy from the Department for Transport or, indeed, from the UK Treasury.
I think there's also potential, if objections can be removed, for an open-access operator, such as Grand Union Trains, to utilise that particular parkway station, if it is developed, operating rapid express services between Swansea and London. But, of course, there is the other issue of the Keith Williams review, and I would restate the Welsh Government's position on the review that's being undertaken right now, and that is for the devolution of powers over rail infrastructure and, of course, funding for it as well.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on train services on the Cambrian line? OAQ54198
Yes. Transport for Wales is committed to improving services on the Cambrian line. Current trains are being modified to improve access for disabled people, with the entire fleet to be replaced with brand new trains by 2022. Service frequency improvements are also planned along the line.
Thank you, Minister. I'm pleased to hear that answer. A member of the Montgomeryshire access group has contacted me to say that they've received yet another complaint from a wheelchair user that they could not use a toilet on the Cambrian line, which means that, in some cases, people have resorted to, in their words, wearing adult nappies. Following, of course, the Equality Act 2010, Transport for Wales has to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled people. A reasonable adjustment for a train, where you could sit for three hours and 20 minutes from Aberystwyth to Birmingham International, is simply a properly-designed disabled toilet. For disabled people who are normally using the toilet, it is, I'm sure you would agree with me, totally unacceptable, inappropriate and degrading that they cannot do so on the train. So, I'm wondering if you would liaise with Transport for Wales to improve access to toilets for disabled people on the Cambrian line with immediate effect rather than waiting for new rolling stock with the appropriate facilities for disabled people.
Can I thank the Member for his question? I'll be pleased to take that matter up with Transport for Wales. It is worth noting, I think, that, across the Wales and borders network, Transport for Wales is currently completing modifications to its trains to make sure that they are accessible for disabled people and that work has to be completed by the end of this calendar year.
I'm also pleased to be able to tell the Member that, with regard to the area that he's identified, Machynlleth station has been proposed to trial a dementia-friendly environment. I'm also pleased to inform the Member that, through Transport for Wales, we are now working with Disability Wales and the Royal National Institute of Blind People to assist the customer-facing-staff within TfW. And, of course, we are ring-fencing £15 million for accessibility improvements at stations. One of the key principles underpinning the development of Transport for Wales is that it must ensure delivery of integrated transport for people who are disabled or able bodied, and we are determined to deliver on that principle.
5. What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact of tourism in north Wales? OAQ54199
The tourism sector employs just over 9 per cent of the Welsh workforce, and the 11,500 businesses generate around £6.3 billion a year—a huge contribution to the Welsh economy. It's also one of the key economic drivers in north Wales; it is important, I think, that we continue to grow the sector in the region and that we continue to enhance the region's key strength of attracting adventure tourism operators and attractions.
I'm sure, like me, you'll welcome the fact that we've been seeing rising numbers of international visitors, particularly from places like Japan in recent years. You may be aware that, last month, the Prime Minister announced plans to create five tourism zones in the United Kingdom in order to boost the sector and boost visitor numbers by 9 million, and to create 130,000 new hotel room accommodation. And, as an Assembly Member from north Wales, I know how critically important it is to get people to stay overnight and not just to visit on a day basis, in order to drive up the impact on the local economy. Given that these zones are up for grabs, can I urge you, as a Welsh Government, to co-operate with the UK Government and try to attract and make one of those zones north Wales so that we can reap some benefits from this investment that the UK Government is going to be making?
I'll certainly speak with both the Minister, my colleague Eluned Morgan, and also the Deputy Minister regarding this development, because, of course, it could play a key feature in the international strategy that is shortly to be consulted on. It would also neatly sit with the current partnership for growth strategy for tourism in Wales, which is striving to drive up the number of higher quality hotels in Wales. It's been a particular challenge over many years in attracting the developers of good quality, but also, it has to said, affordable hotels. Now, the Member is right that, in terms of spend, spend is higher on average per person per day with overnight visitors than it is with day visitors, and that's why it's so important to drive day visitors to come back for overnight visits, and this has been at the very centre of the partnership for growth strategy, which comes to an end next year. And, as the Deputy Minister develops the action plan that will follow it for tourism, I'm sure that he will be determined to guarantee more high-quality attractions and hotels in Wales for the future.
Thank you, Llywydd. We know that visitors bring around £70 million into the local economy in the Snowdonia area annually, but with that there are problems in terms of the images we see of people queuing on the top of Snowdon, for example. There are paths that are being eroded, the car parks are overflowing, there are problems with other infrastructure such as litter and public toilets. There is a risk that the success means that the visitor experience declines and deteriorates, and that that actually reduces the potential to grow this sector.
Now, I’m aware that the Government has allocated some additional funding to strengthen tourism infrastructure earlier this year but, of course, what we want to see is a sustainable long-term solution. And I just wanted to know what discussions you’ve had, for example, with your fellow Ministers on the possibility of providing better resources for the national parks, and Snowdonia national park specifically in this context, because, as we’ve seen the number of visitors double over the past 20 years, the Snowdonia National park Authority has seen its resources halved. So, you can allocate a little bit of money every now and again, but the sustainable solution would be to ensure that the national parks are properly funded in the first place.
There are a huge number of visitors to Snowdon itself, more broadly to Snowdonia, yes, but the mountain itself is operating pretty much at capacity in terms of how many people can climb it at any one time. One of the concerns that we've had across Government is to make sure that we spread the wealth more evenly across the region and that we take away some of the pressure on communities in Snowdonia, particularly in those areas where visitors go to, by driving other opportunities for them to visit, for example, the areas of outstanding natural beauty, and we're looking at ways that we can better promote the relevance and the attractiveness in particular of the Clwydian range area of outstanding natural beauty in order to generate more opportunities in Denbighshire, in Flintshire and in Wrexham, whilst not detracting from the very special offer that Snowdonia has to make.
I think it's absolutely essential that all partners work together, and that's not just Welsh Government and the national park, but also Natural Resources Wales. They have a key role in promoting the natural environment in Snowdonia. I recently met with the chair and the chief executive of Natural Resources Wales to discuss the economic potential of Snowdonia, and, in particular, some of the assets, the buildings, that Natural Resources Wales own, which could be put to use in order to accommodate more visitors to the area and take some of the strain that I spoke of from those communities that host so many visitors each year.
Question 6 [OAQ54214] is withdrawn, as was question 7 [OAQ54219], so question 8—Nick Ramsay.
8. Will the Minister provide an update on noise mitigation proposals along the A40 in Monmouthshire? OAQ54218
I'm very pleased to inform the Member that design development of noise barrier and surfacing works for the action plan priority area near the Bryn on the A40 are currently being finalised, and works will begin this summer and autumn.
You've answered my supplementary question already, Minister. Clearly, this question is as well worn as that road surface on the A40, which I raise frequently. As you've just said, residents living in the Bryn and neighbouring communities close to the A40 dual carriageway do put up with daily noise pollution because of the ageing concrete road surface of that stretch of road, which needs to be replaced at some point with whisper tarmac. I know your officials have been working on noise mitigation proposals, including acoustic fencing—you've already mentioned that, so I'd be grateful if you could give us a timescale for that. Also, something that came up at a recent residents meeting—has any consideration been given to the possibility of a reduction in the speed limit for at least a stretch of that road? Because in other areas where speed limits have been reduced, maybe to 50 mph, that does produce a lower level of noise pollution. It may be one easy, quick solution to actually dealing with some of that noise pollution.
Can, I please, Llywydd, check whether that particular area is part of the 600 sites that we are currently assessing under the speed limit review? It may well be that it is, but I will check and report back to the Member. In regard to the other question that he posed, I can confirm that the noise mitigation scheme will be delivered this financial year between Raglan and Abergavenny. I'm also pleased to inform the Member that a £4 million A40 Wye bridge scheme will alleviate congestion on the A40 coming into Wales, as well as improving traffic flows in Monmouth. We are investing as much as we possibly can with strained resources to ensure that we have better connectivity across Wales.
9. How is the Welsh Government supporting economic development in the Heads of the Valleys area? OAQ54195
The Welsh Government’s priorities are set in our economic action plan, and the Valleys taskforce delivery plan aligns and focuses on actions that make a real difference, including strengthening the foundational economy.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. I'm sure you'll be aware that the final costs for the dualling of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road look to stand at more than £2 billion—more than the rejected plans for the M4 relief road. The final section of that road, the last 16 miles, will come in at more than the total that the Welsh Government will be spending on the south Wales metro. Now, I'm a supporter of the road, I think that it's done great things to improve safety and has great economic potential. There have been some tangential benefits to the local communities during the construction phase, but what I'd like to ask you is: what more can the Welsh Government do, moving forward, to ensure that this huge economic asset can be capitalised upon by those communities in the northern Valleys, which are some of our most disadvantaged?
Thank you for the question. The Member is right to point out the very significant investment the Welsh Government has made in the Heads of the Valleys through the dualling of the road. She also notes there have been community benefits delivered as part of the delivery of the scheme, including apprenticeships and training, employment of local people, spend with local companies, engagement with local schools and supporting community groups and events. But she's also right to point out that building roads in itself does not guarantee a positive economic return to an area. We need to use it as a platform to develop beyond that. This is a conversation I've been having with her and with other Members from the Heads of the Valleys areas through the group that we've set up to shadow the Valleys taskforce, and, as a result of that, I am going to be setting up a sub-group of the Valleys taskforce to look specifically at how the dualling of the road can be leveraged to make sure that there are benefits flowing for the whole region. There is huge potential, as the Member has noted previously, from tourism, from food production, giving arteries into both the midlands and the south Wales economies. So, I think there is much that can be done to build on the very significant investment that we've made, and I'm keen to work with her and colleagues to make sure that we do the best that we can with that.
Thank you, Minister and Deputy Minister.
That brings us to questions to the Counsel General and Brexit Minister in relation to his responsibilities as Brexit Minister, and the first question is from Alun Davies.
1. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the development of the UK common frameworks? OAQ54215
There continues to be good progress on frameworks, albeit slower than anticipated due to the impact of 'no deal' planning. We remain committed to frameworks as a long-term system for inter-governmental policy making, and I was pleased to share the first draft framework with the Assembly last week.
The Counsel General will be aware that this is a matter we discussed with the First Minister at the external affairs committee on Monday. I'm grateful to the Counsel General for his very full answer to that question. Does he not share my concern that in creating common frameworks we are almost creating a hidden state within the United Kingdom where many decisions are taken away from public scrutiny and beyond public reach? Does he share with me the concern that we are working without any framework, as it were, for the common frameworks, and as such, what is required to guarantee public scrutiny and public confidence in this system is a statutory structure that puts in law the basis upon which these frameworks are reached, and enables inter-institutional democratic accountability and scrutiny of the work of these frameworks and the new United Kingdom that seems to be being created behind a curtain?
I thank the Member for that further question. The fundamental premise behind the inter-governmental agreement, which is the source of the frameworks programme, was that our default position, if you like, is that frameworks should not be necessary, and so we have approached the task of identifying where frameworks may be necessary from that starting point. As he will know, we have concluded an agreement with the other Governments in the UK that some frameworks will be entirely non-legislative—i.e. they will be based on agreements between Government—and there will be some frameworks that no doubt will involve legislative underpinning. We've shared with the committee our analysis of where those distinctions might lie. One of the areas of focus in developing the common frameworks, and one of the reasons why we have been pressing hard for progress, is the understandable and perfectly legitimate desire on the part of scrutiny committees in all of the legislatures in the UK to engage meaningfully with the process of developing the frameworks and how they operate into the future. So, it is a matter of regret that we have not been able to share more information sooner than we have, but I'm afraid that's been as a consequence, as I say, of the diversion of energies into 'no deal' planning. One of the dimensions of the common frameworks is the question of governance and ongoing review. As he will know, that sits within a broader set of discussions that we are having with the UK Government on improving the quality and machinery of inter-governmental relations, and much of that work touches on the issue of governance, which has very clear read-across to the matters that the Member has raised today. We would have hoped to have made further progress in that area as well, as he will have seen from my letter jointly with the Scottish Government last week, but he can be reassured that we are absolutely mindful of the importance of ensuring that stakeholders have an opportunity of feeding into the development and operation and holding us to account, and, importantly, scrutiny committees in this Assembly and in other legislatures across the UK.
I note, at this stage of the development of UK common frameworks, that the aim is to widen engagement and consultation, and indeed the UK Government stated on 3 July that they have developed a more detailed engagement plan, and this is to mandate increasing engagement and to raise transparency. Now, it does seem to me that this is exactly how the system should operate. I note that you have some concerns, but in general, this is quite a radical departure for UK governance, and it seems to me to be broadly going in the right direction. There is a great need both for the wider stakeholder community to get involved, and obviously for proper scrutiny and transparency.
I thank the Member for that. His question acknowledges that the common framework shared to date is the first of what we hope is many frameworks that we can share. And they are absolutely—. You know, it is not a fait accompli. It is there for engagement with stakeholders. On that particular framework, there has been a pilot for engaging with stakeholders and we hope to learn from that as we develop the scrutiny and engagement process in relation to this going forward. It is right to say that, of all the areas of inter-governmental relations flowing from Brexit, the development of the common frameworks, which has happened overwhelmingly at official level, has been among the most productive, even if there has been, by this stage, little to put in the public domain. The quality of engagement is probably better there than in any other part of the process.
2. What assessment has been made of the impact of Brexit on the car manufacturing industry? OAQ54226
We are in regular dialogue with companies in the sector, the Welsh Automotive Forum and national sector bodies regarding the potential impact of a 'no deal' Brexit, which would be disastrous for the automotive and, indeed, other industries.
I'm grateful to the Counsel General for his response. He'll be aware that, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, 80 per cent of the cars assembled in the UK are sold abroad. Around 58 per cent of those are exported to the EU. As the Counsel General said, if we don't get some sort of trade deal, the tariffs on car exports could be very serious—up to 10 per cent—which will really hit the competitiveness of Welsh manufacturers in this really important sector.
He will also be aware of the Cardiff Business School report for the Welsh Government in 2017, highlighting how firms linked to the automotive sector based in Llanelli, such as Calsonic and Schaeffler, could be exposed in this scenario. We now know, of course, that 200 jobs are at risk at Schaeffler's Llanelli plant. So, can the Counsel General tell us a bit more about what actions the Welsh Government is taking to mitigate the potential impact of Brexit on this key interest, particularly in the case of a 'no deal' scenario?
Well, I thank the Member for her further question. She's right to highlight the significance of the automotive sector to the Welsh economy. It employs about 11 per cent of the manufacturing workforce, which is around 18,500 people in Wales, and brings in revenue of around £3 billion. So, it's a very, very significant contributor to the Welsh economy. She's right to highlight the damage that trading on WTO terms would cause to the sector—and, indeed, operating outside a customs union. PwC recently estimated that deliveries to Germany from the UK, which can currently be achieved in around 12 hours, could take up to 72 hours. She will know, I know, that the impact that that has on the just-in-time supply chain arrangements of the automotive sector is going to be very, very significant.
The Minister for Economy and Transport issued a written statement earlier this year describing ongoing activity to support and promote the Welsh automotive sector in this difficult time. He's also met key players from the industry, including those, for example, earlier in the year affected by the Honda announcement, which was an announcement geographically in England but had knock-on effects for us here in Wales. There are 20 Honda suppliers in Wales, some of them very significantly exposed to that company.
She will also know of the support that the Welsh Government has given, both in terms of skills investment and in other terms, through the European transition fund, for example, to the automotive sector. We continue to lobby the UK Government to ensure that we do not leave the European Union on terms that would impose punishing tariffs and non-tariff barriers on the automotive industry and, indeed, other important sectors to our economy.
In keeping with all the parties in this Chamber, the Brexit Party is hugely disappointed with Ford's decision with regard to the plant at Bridgend. Our sympathy lies with the workforce, which has made tremendous efforts to comply with Ford working regimes over the years. But, let us be explicit here: Ford's decision has nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit. This has been categorically stated by the Ford management. As with all big business, and this includes all the motor manufacturers and all the subsidiary manufacturers, Ford will take the best option for the company. One has to remember that they removed production of their transport vans to Turkey—and just to remind everybody, Turkey is not even in the European Union. Though the EU partly funded the plant in Turkey—[Interruption.] The EU partly funded the plant in Turkey—[Interruption.]
If I can't hear the question, I'm sure the Minister can't hear the question either.
What one has to remember is that any tariffs put on any of the exports, particularly of the car industry, after Brexit, will have a hugely detrimental effect on European car manufacturers. And we're not just talking about the German car industry; we're talking about the French car industry, which is increasingly dependent upon their exports to the UK. So, to say that Brexit is going to have this detrimental effect on the car industry is absolute nonsense. Will the Counsel General not agree with me on those points?
No, he will not. I think if we are going to properly evaluate the impact of Brexit on our economies, it's important that our reflections have some connection with the realities of what is going on. And I think he has conveniently forgotten the statement made by senior executives at Ford at the end of last year, which were very clear about the damaging impact of a 'no deal' Brexit on the automotive sector here in Wales. I will refer the Member to the remarks I made earlier, in relation to the damage that would be caused to this vital sector by the course of action that he is a passionate advocate for.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Darren Millar.
Diolch, Llywydd. What opportunities has the Welsh Government identified as a result of Brexit?
Well, it's important, isn't it, to try and be clear-sighted about these things? It is absolutely our view that the overwhelming outcome of Brexit on Wales is negative. A 'no deal' Brexit, which he is happy to tolerate—and the candidate in the Conservative leadership that he supports is increasingly keen upon—would be particularly damaging for Wales. But there are aspects of the process that we've been engaging in so far that can provide aspects of optimism for the future. For example, if the UK Government lives up to its promises that we should have not a penny less and not a power taken away, in relation to future structural funds here in Wales, there are opportunities for those funds to be deployed in ways that, free from the constraints of particular European programmes, can even better support the Welsh economy. But perhaps he can join me in pressing the Secretary of State for Wales and the UK Government to live up to those commitments, which they've so singularly failed to do so far. There are also opportunities for us, if the proposals that the Welsh Government have put forward were taken up, to strengthen the devolution settlement, and strengthen inter-governmental machinery, which has been exposed, as a consequence of Brexit, to be so inadequate. But he will have seen from the statements the First Minister, and I, and others have made, over the course of the last week to 10 days, that the UK Government has, so far at least, fallen significantly short in that respect as well.
Well, the truth is that, despite the constant doom and gloom from the Welsh Government, and from you, Minister, the reality is that there will be some fantastic opportunities for Wales, once the barriers that are currently in place and the shackles that are currently there as a result of our membership of the European Union have been removed. We will no longer have to walk on eggshells, worrying about compliance with EU rules, when legislation, for example, is presented to this Chamber. And I'm surprised you didn't refer—[Interruption.] I'm surprised that you didn't refer to legislation at all in your response. Because, as you will know, Portugal has stood in the way of the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing here in Wales—something that this Chamber voted to support in the interests of the health and well-being of Welsh citizens. So, do you agree with me that leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to get on in helping the health and well-being of our citizens, by delivering that minimum alcohol price, which this Chamber supported? And can you tell us what action you are taking in order to ensure that the legislative programme in the future takes advantage of the opportunities that might appear post Brexit?
Well, on the question of legislation, I think he misunderstands the situation. The Portuguese intervention is part of a set of rights and processes that exist across the European Union, which underpin the legislative framework through which we've been operating, and continue to operate, as member states. And we are proud of the fact in this place, I think, that we operate within the framework of European law, which has developed a network of human rights and protections for our citizens here in Wales, environmental protections, social protections, workforce protections, which his party—or certainly he—would happily throw away, it seems, in the support that he shows for a 'no deal' Brexit. We here should be proud of that, rather than regard it as an imposition. We've worked very hard in the Welsh Government, with other Governments across the UK, to ensure that we have been transposing the EU body of law into Welsh law so that those rights are not lost on the point of exit, because we regard them as an asset to Welsh public life and not the regulatory burden that he implies they should be.
It speaks volumes, frankly, Minister, that this administration here in Wales will take every single opportunity that it can to criticise the UK Government, no matter how unfair that criticism is, and yet you jump at the chance to praise the European Union no matter how undeserved that praise might be. We heard this week that the Welsh Labour Party's priorities are clear. It's the European Union first, and the union of the United Kingdom last. And because this Chamber won't hear it from the Brexit Minister, let me tell you about the opportunities that we will see, because, of course, we will see the regulatory burden rolled back, potentially, from many businesses that don't need to trade overseas with export. We will also see, of course, some significant savings for the taxpayer. We will have the shared prosperity fund to replace the European Union funds that we will lose. And, of course, the two candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, one of whom will become Prime Minister, have both guaranteed that Wales will not lose out a single penny of European funding compared to the cash that it receives to date.
So, instead of having to apply rules here in the UK that benefit farmers in France, fishermen in Iceland, wine producers in Portugal, don't you think it would be better to be able to have our own rules that support farmers here, food and drink producers here in Wales? And can you explain how you are respecting the outcome of the referendum, which is what you promised to do in the aftermath of the referendum back in June 2016? You said that you would respect the result as a Welsh Government and seek to implement that result. You stood on a manifesto that said that you would respect the result. You have now, of course, rolled back from that, kicking sand in the eyes of the electorate, rejecting the decision they made to leave the European Union. So, can you explain why you have shifted your position so significantly, and when will you wake up, smell the coffee, and look at Brexit as a wonderful and glorious opportunity for Wales, not the sort of doom and gloom that you are predicting?
Well, I'm going to resist the temptation of the Pollyanna-like blandishments of the opposition spokesman in this regard. Can I just pick him up on one point? He talks about the shared prosperity fund and the commitments made in relation to that. Let's be clear: what Boris Johnson said last Friday was a constitutional outrage—the fact that those funds would be better deployed if there was a Conservative element to them, not a UK Government element, but a Conservative element. What does that mean? If he wants the Conservatives to manage those funds, the Conservatives need to win an election here in Wales, which you haven't done during the last 100 years. [Interruption.]
Okay. Let's listen to the Brexit Minister's response.
I will tell you the extent to which the UK Government respect the devolution settlement in relation to that. When the Minister stood up in the House of Commons and told us we wouldn't be hearing about anything in relation to that fund until next year, that was the first we'd heard of that. There was no courtesy telling us what the plans were, despite pressing for that. So, that is the extent of respect for the devolution boundary.
He asks me about respecting the result of the last referendum. He knows very well that we on these benches have advocated for a long time a form of Brexit that respected the result of the 2016 referendum whilst doing the least damage possible to Wales. And the intransigence of the Prime Minister for his party in Parliament stood in the path of that outcome. And we recognise here, which he should recognise, that we have reached the end of the road in relation to that, and the only means of avoiding a 'no deal' Brexit, for which there is no mandate in that referendum result, is a referendum that we are calling for.
The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Delyth Jewell.
Minister, Labour's new Brexit policy is to support a referendum on Brexit and a campaign to remain if Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt is Prime Minister, while intending to renegotiate and leave if Jeremy Corbyn is Prime Minister. I'm sure people who've been following the evolution of Labour policy will conclude that there have now been so many backward steps to accompany every forward step that Jeremy Corbyn's feet have become entangled and he is now in a metaphorical confused heap on the floor. [Interruption.] The logical consequence of this new policy is that the only way to ensure that Labour campaigns to remain in any future referendum is to ensure that your party is not in power in Westminster.
No, it's not out of order. Can you carry on, Delyth Jewell, please? And can we have some silence from the backbenches of the Labour Party?
Minister, do you therefore agree that, if there is a general election, it would make sense for people who wish to see Labour campaign to remain in the EU in any future referendum to vote for parties that will campaign to remain under any circumstances?
Well, I think it's somewhat churlish, when one has been calling for a referendum, not to welcome the fact that a party then promises a referendum as a recognition of progress. But the Member knows very clearly what our position is here, as a Welsh Labour Government in Wales. We have advocated for a position as described in the joint paper that we had with Plaid Cymru. We have recognised that we have reached the end of the road in relation to that, and we call for a referendum in relation to any departure on any terms or a 'no deal' departure, whichever Prime Minister negotiates those terms. She will know that we continue to advocate that in all our discussions with the UK Government and to ask them to take proactive steps to make that a reality. The First Minister has written to all Welsh Members of Parliament asking them to join the calls in favour of a referendum and to ensure that Parliament plays its part in making that a reality, and we are happy to work with any other party who shares that objective.
Thank you, Minister. That was a valiant attempt to justify the latest manifestation of your party's Brexit policy, though I suspect people watching will want to draw their own conclusions as to whether that argument holds water.
Boris Johnson recently said that if he were Prime Minister, he'd want a strong Conservative influence over how the EU funding replacement scheme—the shared prosperity fund—was spent in Wales, and the Conservatives, in this Chamber today, have said that, 'You lot should not be trusted with that'. Their words not mine. Since the Conservatives are not in power here, this suggests that Boris Johnson wants the fund to be administered from Westminster, or that there may be some truth to the rumour that his friend, not mine, the Secretary of State for Wales, wants it to be administered by local authorities. Do you agree with me, Minister, that this would be a naked power grab, which would run counter to the Wales Act 2017, and that it should also therefore be possibly illegal since powers over economic development, including the administration and spending of regional funds, are devolved to this Assembly?
Well, I echo the sentiments in the Member's question. As I mentioned a few moments ago, I think it would be outrageous for that to be what happens. The Prime Minister has made commitments, which she is not living up to. Boris Johnson, in making that statement, raises alarm bells, as her question implies. We are absolutely clear that we should not suffer a penny less of the funding that we have received here in Wales, and that the powers over those funds should be exercised here in this Assembly by the Welsh Government on behalf of the people of Wales, because we are best placed here to manage our economic development in Wales.
Thank you, Minister. The Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language told the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee recently that your Government is developing red lines in relation to devolved areas that it does not wish to be included in future trade agreements. Minister, can you tell us what those red lines are? She also told us that the Welsh Government would be willing to take the UK Government to court if it tried to sell off the Welsh NHS as part of a future trade agreement with the US. But, as you will know, under section 82 of the Wales Act, the Secretary of State has the power to direct Welsh Ministers to implement directives contained within agreements that fall outside their devolved competence. Could you, therefore, please assure us what actions your Government could take were the UK Government to invoke section 82 in order to try to force Welsh Government Ministers to implement damaging measures that they don't agree with, and whether this would involve possibly taking the UK Government to court, as your colleague the international relations Minister has indicated?
Well, our position, as a Government, is not that we should have a veto in relation to these matters, but that where the UK Government is formulating a negotiating position for international negotiations of whatever type, they should not normally proceed with that negotiating mandate unless they have secured the agreement of devolved administrations, where devolved competencies are directly affected, or, where they can be indirectly affected, we should also be involved in those discussions. That seems to us to be a fundamentally reasonable request, and an appropriate role for the Welsh Government in those negotiations. We cannot be expected, nor can any devolved administration be expected, to co-operate in how those international obligations are implemented if we haven't been given a voice in formulating those positions at the start.
I would say that this is an important devolution principle, but it’s also an important principle from the point of view of the credibility of the UK Government. The European Union, and our partners in the European Union, know very well what is devolved to different nations within the United Kingdom, and they will know very well that the implementation of those obligations will rest on the shoulders of devolved administrations and legislatures. And, therefore, to proceed in the teeth of opposition to implementation of some of those obligations would be very naïve and would fundamentally affect the credibility of the UK Government in those negotiations.
I made that point very directly at the last JMC(EN) to David Lidington, when I pointed out what had been said in this Chamber and elsewhere, that if a future UK Government were to seek to proceed with the kind of trade deal that Donald Trump was championing in the press conference with Theresa May a few weeks ago, the Welsh Government would refuse to implement the privatisation of the NHS in Wales. We have been absolutely clear about that. That has been our position; it remains our position and it will be our position.
3. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the Welsh Government's engagement with small businesses on Brexit preparedness? OAQ54221
We have supported small and micro businesses through the Brexit resilience grant and are providing preparedness information with businesses and stakeholders, particularly through our websites. We are in constant dialogue with key organisations representing the interests and concerns of small businesses, several of whom are represented on the EU exit working group, a sub-committee of our council for economic development.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. I'm sure you would agree with me that it is, obviously, vital to engage with businesses across Wales in preparation for Brexit. You mentioned that you have been talking to some of the key organisations and they are around the table in your meetings also. But I'm particularly concerned about small, independent businesses that might not be members of such institutions as the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses. How are you engaging with those kinds of groups that are not in membership bodies?
Well, the Member raises a very important point, if I may say, and I know that he brings a particular perspective to that. I was at an event on Friday of last week, in my region, run by the South Wales Chamber of Commerce, and these challenges were the sorts of things being discussed there. The question of how one disseminates information very widely is a challenge.
We have provided online resources that explain, we hope, in straightforward terms some simple steps that businesses of any size should consider taking, partly to assess their own readiness for Brexit. Some may be exposed to Brexit in different ways from others, but there are some simple steps on our 'Preparing Wales to leave the EU' website that we're encouraging businesses of all sizes to take.
There is a particular tool that, again, is user-friendly and can be used by businesses of any size, that enables businesses to look at questions of workforce, trading conditions, data protection—really practical aspects of business life—and we encourage businesses of all sizes in Wales to look at that, look at the resources we've provided online and to engage with those tools. It is very difficult for small businesses to make judgments in what is a very, very uncertain field. It's hard enough for large companies, but if you're a small business, perhaps without spare resources to deploy on different potential outcomes, we recognise how difficult that set of circumstances is.
But I think it's important for the message to be sent out and I hope that Members in the Chamber will do what they can in their constituencies and their networks to share that set of messages from the Welsh Government that there are some steps that businesses should consider taking, so that they put themselves in the best possible position for what could be extremely choppy waters ahead for many of them.
4. What meetings does the Counsel General have scheduled with the UK Government to discuss Brexit over summer recess? OAQ54193
The chaos in the UK Government means it's hugely difficult to schedule meetings during recess, the beginning of which coincides with the appointment of a new Prime Minister. I hope the incoming Prime Minister will continue the practice of inviting Welsh Government to be represented at the UK Cabinet meetings when they discuss Brexit preparedness, and we stand ready to attend during recess and beyond. Our focus in the coming weeks will be continuing to prepare for a possible 'no deal' Brexit that, contrary to the views of those wishing to be the next Conservative Prime Minister, would be catastrophic.
Thank you for that response, Minister. I'm taking it from that response that you have no meetings scheduled over the summer recess. Am I correct in saying that?
I have meetings, both scheduled and in my diary. But as I made clear to the Member, getting focus from UK Government Ministers to put in place the sequence of meetings one might wish to see over the coming weeks has been a challenge because the UK Government is facing obviously very significant change as a consequence of the change of Prime Minister.
5. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact that Brexit will have on the availability of legal aid? OAQ54209
Legal aid provision is the responsibility of the UK Government and has been subject to substantial cuts since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was introduced. We are concerned that the economic damage of Brexit may result in further cuts, which would further impede access to justice.
I thank you for that. But since that introduction of legal aid cuts by the Westminster Government over six years ago, the number of parents having to represent themselves now in child custody cases has more than doubled. Many families simply cannot afford to pay for legal representation, and are having to navigate complex issues alone without any understanding of that law. This, of course, is putting tremendous pressure on families and campaigners have said, and I quote,
'children's best interests are being "obscured"'.
Brexit has the potential to affect every aspect of life in the UK, including the UK's legal framework. Therefore, Counsel General, what discussions have you had with the UK Government about how Brexit will impact families who currently qualify for legal aid in the family court?
I thank the Member for throwing light on what is a very, very difficult issue. I think she's absolutely right to identify the serious risk, in my view, that the range of consequences of Brexit will put pressure on families across Wales. I think from a legal aid perspective, we are concerned that, particularly with the economic impact of a 'no deal' Brexit, that would put even further pressure on public resources to fund legal aid. Clearly, we know how significant the cuts have been to date, and even further pressure on those budgets would be a disaster.
But there's also the issue of the pressure that those cuts are placing on public services that are themselves under pressure, and that could certainly intensify in the context of Brexit. She talks about the family courts in particular, and I think we need to recognise that the pressures on families of the uncertainty caused by Brexit even now, together with the possible loss of employment and so on, is going, I think, to become a serious issue. It's one of the things we are considering at the moment in Government: how we can address some of those pressures outside the context of legal aid.
I would also say to the Member, though, that if we were to leave the European Union with no deal, that would put the question of civil judicial co-operation within the EU under serious pressure, and the Law Society and others have been advising lawyers about steps they can take in that particular context. We recognise the pressure that organisations are under to provide advice to individuals in this sort of situation, and she will know, of course, that we have provided funding for a number of organisations, and in particular in the context of Brexit to give legal advice around immigration status, so that EU citizens are able to take full advantage of their rights and apply for EU settled status here in Wales.
Minister, Brexit tends to generate far more heat than light these days, with rumours and claims and counter-claims swirling around, and I think it behoves us all to try to learn the realities that are there on the ground. Our parliamentary colleagues in Westminster—there's a group called the Young Legal Aid Lawyers who have taken some 45 Members with them, out shadowing them, out on the ground doing legal aid, really understanding what the issues are that are facing them, and the challenges ahead with Brexit and for families, no matter what the outcome may be. Members of that group include, for example, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for legal aid and the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Would you consider supporting this group and perhaps trying to bring just such an initiative here to Wales so that we may also go out and learn that reality?
I thank the Member for that question and for the way in which she presented it, if I may say, and I share the sentiment that she started the question with. I would be very happy to look at the work of that group and see how I can support their work or get engaged with what they are doing. I'd be very happy to look into that, and I thank her for making that suggestion.
6. What discussions is the Welsh Government having regarding UK governance arrangements post-Brexit? OAQ54196
I have had numerous discussions in relation to United Kingdom governance arrangements post Brexit, most recently at the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations) meeting on 28 June.
I'm grateful to the Minister for that response. As you'll be aware, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee did a piece of work last year, and the committee published a report called 'UK governance post-Brexit', and in that report it was recommended that the Llywydd, along with spokespeople and speakers from the other Parliaments and legislatures of the UK, should establish a speakers' conference with the aim of deciding on the best way of developing inter-parliamentary co-operation within the UK. The purpose of this conference would be to consider how to develop joint working between Governments within the UK post Brexit, in order to ensure that the correct frameworks are developed for the future. I understand that models of a speakers' conference are being considered at the moment, but can you as a Government tell us what discussions you've had on this particular idea and also, following on from an earlier question from the Member for Blaenau Gwent, do you think that this is an effective way of ensuring that the correct inter-parliamentary mechanisms are put in place for the future?
That’s a very important question. We have a long way to go in dealing with the changes that will come following Brexit to ensure that the constitutional settlement and the relationship between the nations of the United Kingdom work in a better way than they do at present. Our focus as a Government, on the whole, has been mainly on how the mechanics work between the Governments, because that’s our constitutional remit, but an integral part of that is how the Governments are accountable to the legislatures. And part of that, certainly, is—and we've seen the benefit of this in discussions—how the committees specifically within the legislatures have been calling for greater opportunities to scrutinise and develop new systems and ways in which we can do that in the context of Brexit. I am aware of the work that is going on as regards the inter-relationships between the legislatures. It’s a matter for the Assembly and the Llywydd constitutionally, but that kind of creativity and imagination on how we re-form the relationship between the nations of the United Kingdom is completely core to a stable constitutional system post Brexit.
7. What plans is the Welsh Government making to protect businesses if the UK Parliament fails to stop the UK from leaving the EU with no deal? OAQ54223
The Welsh Government is doing all it can to support businesses in preparations for EU exit through advice, guidance and resources that we and the Development Bank of Wales are making available. However, no preparations can fully mitigate the effects of a 'no deal' Brexit.
The Federation of Small Businesses is already reporting that businesses in Cardiff Central are suffering from things like exchange-rate fluctuations, which is making it incredibly difficult for people to be able to price their goods accurately without the danger of making a loss. We've got construction companies who are losing staff because people are returning to their countries of origin, and smaller IT companies are reporting that they are struggling to source stock, because larger IT companies are stockpiling materials and equipment. I think it's a particularly difficult time for small businesses, and I note that both Ireland and the Netherlands are offering support to small businesses in the form of Brexit advice vouchers or other forms of financial or non-financial support to help small businesses through the unknown. The UK Government has notably not yet offered any of this sort of support to UK businesses; they seem to be too busy organising freight contracts with companies who have no ships. So, I wonder if this is something you have discussed with the Welsh Government, or if you could raise it.
I thank the Member for that question and I recognise very much the sorts of challenges that she described companies and businesses in her constituency as suffering—the challenges in particular for small businesses, who may not have the resources or the breadth of time and capacity to address what are, for all of us, a very complex, interconnected set of challenges. Perhaps it's particularly acute for sole traders or for small businesses, and we've been mindful of that in how we've sought to tailor some of the support that we feel able to give, which we are clear is a partial contribution to what is a complex set of challenges.
She will know that we have established a Brexit business resilience fund, which enables businesses to apply to the Welsh Government for financial support for projects that might enable them to transition through difficult, turbulent times into a post-Brexit world. That's a match funded scheme, but it provides access to really quite significant sources of revenue. At the moment, it's over subscribed, but we are looking at that.
There is also a significant amount of funding that has been made available to the Development Bank of Wales to target businesses of different sizes, including small businesses, and some of that is around covering short-term financing problems and so on. But the sorts of challenges she identifies around exchange rate risk, and also, as I've heard elsewhere, companies that may have stockpiled their own stock leading up to the end of March or April now finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage, if you like—. So, these are absolutely complex challenges. We are hoping that we can provide some support through the Business Wales network and through the Brexit portal, which companies in her constituency can access through the Preparing Wales website. I hope and I expect that she will be only too glad to pass on that information to her constituents, companies and businesses.
And finally, question 8—Llyr Gruffydd.
8. When is the Counsel General expecting to receive key information from the UK Government which will allow the Welsh Government to complete its plans for Brexit? OAQ54206
Well, I don't know. It depends on the new Prime Minister. I have repeatedly called on the United Kingdom Government to share information on preparations for all possible Brexit outcomes. The flow of information has improved, particularly on 'no deal' Brexit preparation, but it's still imperfect.
You don’t know, we don’t know, nobody knows. We have no idea, do we, what’s going to happen after the end of October? Is that the message that you’ve conveyed to your agricultural Minister, because she has launched a consultation, of course, on transforming support for the agricultural sector in Wales, and the consultation finishes the day before Brexit? And after that day, of course, we could be facing difficulties in accessing international markets, we could be facing difficulties in terms of tariffs. We have no idea how much money we’ll receive. So, whilst you’ve told me, to all intents and purposes, that you have no idea what the arrangements are, have you passed that message on to Lesley Griffiths?
Well, that is not what I said. I said that I didn’t know when the information would be forthcoming from the United Kingdom Government. As regards preparation, it’s important, isn't it, that we make all possible preparation to ensure that we are in the best position possible when the times comes to leave, if the time comes to leave? It is definitely certain that we haven’t got the full picture at the moment, or the full information to hand, in a number of areas. That’s not something that we welcome, of course. But the Member would also criticise us if we didn’t make any preparations to prepare for this scenario, and he has criticised us in other contexts, saying that we are lagging behind, in his words, in presenting environmental legislation, for example.
So, as a Government, we have to take purposeful steps to ensure that we have a proper framework to be able to deal with whatever outcomes of Brexit. We have been discussing earlier today this question of regional structural funds and so on. There's a great deal of work happening in that field too—we're not certain what the budget will be for that. We have to prepare systems as regards how we can better secure financial sources in the future. And it's obvious—and I know that the Member will know this—that the challenge for the agriculture sector is a huge one, and it’s important that we collaborate and co-operate with them, as the Minister is doing, in order to describe the kind of situation we will face post Brexit and prepare the best we can for that possibility. But I’m sure that the Minister will be very keen to hear the standpoint of the broader sector during the consultation.
Thank you, Counsel General.
I have received one topical question, and the question is to be answered by the Counsel General and is to be asked by Alun Davies.
1. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the devolution review announced last week by the Prime Minister? 335
Aspects of the Dunlop review can be welcomed. It has the potential to support the joint inter-governmental relations review, however there are fundamental questions about the devolution settlement and the role of territorial offices that are beyond the scope of the review but nonetheless need to be addressed.
I'm grateful to you for that answer, Minister. I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's absolutely outrageous that the Prime Minister has made a statement of this kind without even consulting the devolved administrations. The First Minister was very clear in answer to a question at committee on Monday that the first the Welsh Government heard about this was when the Prime Minister's speech was being covered in the media, when she was on her feet speaking. One of the fundamental aspects of devolution is that it should be a joint venture between the United Kingdom Government and the Governments in the rest of the United Kingdom, and if the United Kingdom Government feel able to announce a review without even consulting the devolved administrations, the Governments in Wales and Scotland, then clearly it tells you exactly what they think about devolution.
I'm sure you share with me that this was a grossly offensive way of operating, that it is an appalling position to take and it sums up the United Kingdom Government's attitude at the moment. Minister, will you undertake to convey these feelings to the United Kingdom Government, which I'm sure would be shared in all parts of the Chamber? And will you also ensure that the UK Government understands that the problem with devolution starts and ends with them?
Well, I thank the Member for that supplementary question. He'll recall, I think, the speech that the First Minister made to the Institute for Government a few weeks ago, where he said that devolution, effectively, wasn't simply a question of what happens in Wales, but it's also a question of what happens in Westminster, and it's incumbent on Westminster to look at how Westminster and Whitehall operate in a different way in order to give full support to the devolution settlement. There are some parts of that speech that I think we can welcome. The Prime Minister talks about the UK resting on and being defined by the support of its people, in that sense of being a voluntary association of nations, and we welcome the recognition that devolution is now a stable and permanent part of the UK's constitution, as the speech indicated. I think, if Westminster and Whitehall are serious about addressing how they re-evaluate how they work to support devolution, that will only be a good thing, but I do echo the Member's response in relation to the fact that, if you're going to give a speech that is about the future of the union and the future of devolution within it, then the least you can do is have a conversation with the devolved administrations in advance of that so that, as he describes it, that sense of joint venture of the constitutional settlement is retained and preserved.
But there's also, frankly, a very practical point to this: we have been pressing here for progress on the inter-governmental review for the last 15 months, and we have very little to show for it so far. He will have seen the announcement made by David Lidington last week and the response of the Welsh and Scottish Governments to that. Actually, pressing forward with that progress would have been a very good way of demonstrating commitment to the devolution settlement here in the UK, and to launch another review without acknowledging that, I think, was unfortunate. And I think had the Prime Minister sought the advice of the devolved administrations, we could have had a constructive discussion about the terms of reference and about how they could be better constructed to meet some of the significant challenges that we face in dealing with the UK Government. We note the emphasis in particular on the importance in the review of the territorial offices, and I think the First Minister was clear in his speech back in May that there is now an opportunity and a need, in fact, for the role of the Wales and Scotland offices in particular to be radically rethought in this post-Brexit world.
I appreciate the response of the Minister, actually, because, of course, the UK Government was simply trying to respond to requests from this Government, and the Scottish Government as well, about the way in which Whitehall and UK departments operate. And we very much welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has responded in such a positive way by announcing this review. Number 10 has made absolutely clear that the review is not going to stray into devolved areas. This is about strengthening devolution, recognising where the boundaries lie and making sure that the machine of Government in London is able to respond correctly and appropriately to matters that cross their desks, where there may be a devolved competence or devolved relationship that needs to be recognised. So, I do welcome the fact that there are many aspects of the Prime Minister's speech that you welcome. I'm sure that there are times when communication could be better between the UK and Welsh Governments, and I think that everybody recognises that there are times when, sometimes, it's good to have a heads-up about these things. Clearly that wasn't the case this time. Perhaps that is a matter of regret.
But, as I say, the reality is that this is a Prime Minister who is responding positively to requests by this Welsh Government and Government in other parts of the United Kingdom to want to look at this issue and make sure that Whitehall and UK Government departments are functioning appropriately. So, can I ask that, in terms of the engagement that you have with the UK Government, you formally welcome the decision that the Prime Minister has taken, and will you ensure that you co-operate with that review in order to help the UK Government identify where those shortcomings are so that they can be put right in the future?
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Well, I note the points that the Member makes. It isn't just a question of being given a heads-up. I think that, in a sense, reveals the challenge that we face. It isn't just a question of telling us what's going on. It's a question of proper, deep engagement in the future constitution of the United Kingdom, and that's the bit that's missing. We get plenty of heads-up, although not on this occasion; what we don't get enough of is proper mature engagement on the basis of parity, and that, I think, goes to the heart of the challenge that we face.
I think that, if the review ends up with a conclusion that the solution to the future of the union is simply beefing up the Wales Office, as I think I read in some of the slightly hyperbolic press briefing, that is a fundamental misreading of what is required to strengthen the union. What is required to strengthen the union is better relationships and better machinery between the Governments of the United Kingdom, not a strengthening of the territorial offices.
But I look forward to hearing what the review comes back with. As I say, the terms of reference would have been much stronger and more useful had we had proper engagement in advance, but we look forward to seeing what the review has to say in due course.
On the morning of the day that the Prime Minister announced this review of devolution, I received an e-mail from you, Minister, giving an update on the work that you've been doing to try to improve inter-governmental working in your role as the Welsh Government representative on the JMC(EN). You announced that the committee had agreed draft principles on how those relations should be conducted in the future, and they were very welcome. They were drafted by the Welsh Government. They include, and I quote,
'Maintaining positive and constructive relations, based on mutual respect for the responsibilities of governments across the UK and their shared role in the governance of the UK. Building and maintaining trust, based on effective communication'.
A few hours later, we were treated to this announcement from the Prime Minister that her Government would conduct a review of devolution. The devolved administrations, including yours, Minister, were not given prior notification that this was on the way. That is the crucial point here, isn't it? You were not informed about the detail, the scope or the terms of reference of the review, and you did not consent to it. Do you agree with me, Minister, that the draft principles for future inter-governmental working, which it's taken over a year to agree and which your Government had produced, were broken within a few hours of their publication? Doesn't this tell us all we need to know about whether the UK Government can be trusted to act in good faith when it comes to inter-governmental relations? David Lidington, the Deputy Prime Minister, has as good as acknowledged today that Wales is seen as having been failed by Westminster. The current devolution settlement contained within the Wales Act is a matter of law. Can you, therefore, assure us that, whatever the outcome of this dubious review, Wales's powers, as enshrined in that legislation, will be protected? And, finally, considering the UK Government's behaviour in this respect and in terms of risking our nation's economic future with a 'no deal' Brexit, is your view the same as the First Minister, in that your commitment to the UK union is not unconditional, and, if so, doesn't it follow that your Government may one day conclude that Wales's interests would be best served as an independent country?
Well, I can give her the assurance, certainly, that this Government will always fight to make sure that Wales's interests are best reflected in all the discussions and negotiations that we have with the UK Government and we will not tolerate the taking away of any powers from this Assembly or Welsh Government. She has my categorical assurance in relation to that.
She will have noted the terms in which I responded to the publication of the principles last week jointly with Michael Russell, my counterpart in the Scottish Government. We welcomed the fact that these principles were put in the public domain and I will take this opportunity of thanking Welsh Government officials who lead on that work and lead on that work very effectively. It was—it is—a matter of regret that that was the only part of the review that we felt was sufficiently developed and mature to put in the public domain. One of the things that will need to happen is an early meeting of the JMC plenary between the heads of Government, and I'm sure there'll be reflection at that point about how those principles need to be delivered upon, not simply published.
And, to her point about the exchanges that she had with the First Minister in the committee the other day, I would just say we've been very clear that we think that Wales's interests are best protected as part of a well-functioning union, which is why we work so hard to try and reform the aspects of that that do not best work in Wales's interests at this point. I thought the First Minister took advantage of what ought to be a space in committee to have a more reflective, thoughtful, measured discussion about some of these things, to engage in exactly that, and I'm bound to say I thought it was somewhat unfortunate how that was responded to. The First Minister made the point very simply, I think, that if you were to say—. Is any politician able to say way into the future that, under all circumstances, under any version of the—[Interruption.]—under any version of the—that the interests of Wales would be best protected? That isn't—you know, one cannot say that, but our view is very passionately the case that Wales's interests are best protected as part of the United Kingdom and a well-functioning union, and a union that needs to work better than it does today.
This, of course, isn't the first instance where the representative democratic interests of Wales and the Welsh Government have been, to some extent, bypassed or put to one side while the UK Government just gets on with something without discussion or consultation. It does seem very, very odd. The previous one, of course, was equally significant, on the UK shared prosperity fund. So, I wonder—clearly, they're not learning a lesson, or they're wilfully carrying on to ignore the wishes of Welsh Government or the Scottish Government and both Assemblies as well, both Parliaments, but where are we on the shared prosperity fund? Because, meanwhile, in Wales, like the suggestions that have been put forward by Welsh Government and by the Scottish Government on future structures of devolution, we're also working on ways forward for allocating properly funding throughout Wales. So, the group that I'm delighted to chair—the regional investment for Wales steering group—is working actively across Wales with representatives of wider Welsh society to look at the right structures, and yet UK Government is off doing its thing on the UK shared prosperity fund and we don't know a lot. Would the Minister share with us where we are on that at the moment? Do we have any clarity at the moment on that? Because that might indicate to us the way in which they intend to take this latest piece of work forward.
Well, I thank the Member for that. Can I also take the opportunity of thanking him for his work chairing the regional investment steering group, which is important work and goes to the heart of the point I made to Llyr Gruffydd earlier about needing to take proactive steps in a very creative and imaginative way to look at how we can deliver some of these funding sources into the future differently from how we have been able to do that to date? So, I thank him and members of the steering group for the work that they are doing in that important area.
I think the point that he makes in relation to clarity of information and sharing of information in relation to the prosperity fund is absolutely critical, isn't it? We have been clear that this is not the way to proceed if you're looking to respect the devolution boundaries, and I think he will have shared my dismay at the remarks made by Boris Johnson—in Cardiff, of all places—last Friday in relation to this. I very much hope that that will have ended up being a question of party politics as he seeks the nomination of his party. I'm afraid I don't have much confidence in that. As we stand today, I can't tell him that I have any insight into what the proposals are or any substantive detail, and I think he will share my regret about that.
Thank you very much, Brexit Minister.
Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is the 90-second statements. The first one this afternoon is Leanne Wood.
I'd like to pay tribute to one of the Rhondda's most famous sons, the actor Glyn Houston, who was born and raised just behind my grandmother's house in Tonypandy. When he was a child, his parents moved to London to find work and escape the crushing poverty and unemployment of the Rhondda. His parents couldn't afford to take all three children, and Glyn was left behind to be raised by his grandmother, Gwenllian. The children were reunited in Gwenllian's care just three years later in tragic circumstances due to the untimely death of their mother.
From this adversity, the family produced not one but two famous actors, for Glyn's older brother Donald also found worldwide stardom. Glyn served in the second world war in the military police, and, after making his film debut in The Blue Lamp in 1950, he went on to star in films such as The Cruel Sea, Turn the Key Softly, Private's Progress and Tiger Bay. He also had an illustrious career on the small screen. In 2009, he was the recipient of a British Academy of Film and Television Arts lifetime achievement award from BAFTA Cymru, which was a richly deserved accolade for an actor whose work touched the lives of many generations of film fans across the world.
Now, I realise that many of today's young people in the Rhondda may not have seen any of Glyn's films or tv shows, but I'd like to think that they would like to know about him. His career teaches us that you can deal with adversity at a young age, you can come from a tough-going background, and you can go on to achieve anything you put your mind to if you put in the work and you are determined.
Thank you, Glyn, for those lessons. Rest in peace.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. This Saturday, I'll be attending celebrations to mark the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Aberdare park. The park—the 'people's park', as it was initially called—was the very first public park in Wales. Developed by the local board of health, it occupies nearly 50 acres that had been part of the ancient Hirwaun common. Undrained, unkempt land, ankle deep in mud and water, became quality parkland and recreational grounds. That work took three years. The official opening on 29 July 1869 came after a tremendous procession of dignitaries and local people marched from Aberdare town centre to the park gates. There at the park gates, in a symbolic gesture, the dignitaries stepped aside to let local residents complete the first lap of the park. It was, and still is, their park, after all.
Over the years, the park developed in response to nature and human agency: boating, baths, a public water fountain, and more. The August bank holiday of 1906 saw 30,000 people visiting the park. Since 1950, the park has also hosted annual internationally renowned motorcycle races. These bring visitors from across the UK into Aberdare for what is said to be one of the best and hardest-to-master routes. In 1956, the National Eisteddfod was held in the park. Gorsedd stones still remind people of that event.
As I close, I want to pay tribute to the Friends of Aberdare Park, a voluntary group whose members work tirelessly to improve the park for all, and to invite all AMs to join me in celebrating the hundred and fiftieth birthday of the people's park.
Thank you. Rhun ap Iorwerth.
On 20 July 1969, man landed on the moon and, 50 years later, I want to commemorate the event, yes, as a major step for mankind, but also as an incredible step in the career of a man from Anglesey who was one of the major architects of the moon landing.
Tecwyn Roberts was born in Llanddaniel in 1925. Having started his career as an apprentice in the Saunders-Roe aircraft factory on the outskirts of Beaumaris, and then gaining an engineering degree, he went to north America to live. He made a career for himself in aeronautics in Canada, first of all, before joining NASA in 1959, where his ability was used to its greatest extent in trying to deliver Kennedy’s vision. He delivered the work of creating mission control and its new communications systems that were so necessary for the moon landing programme.
On the day of the landing itself, his role was entirely crucial. Armstrong and Aldrin would not have landed without him. Amongst the great relief, there was one man from Anglesey who knew that his work was done, apart from getting the astronauts back home, of course. It’s an incredible story, and I look forward to learning more in special programmes with Tudur Owen on S4C and Radio Cymru over the next few days. It’s very appropriate that a clock is counting down at the end of my 90 seconds—three, two, one. [Laughter.] I may personally have failed to see the landings by some three years, but we were there—Wales was there, Anglesey was there—through Tecwyn Roberts, the engineer from Anglesey who took the world to the moon.
Item 5 on the agenda this afternoon is the motion to annul the School Performance and Absence Targets (Wales) (Amendments) Regulations 2019, and I call on Suzy Davies to move the motion—Suzy.
Motion NDM7106 Suzy Davies
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 27.2:
Agrees that The School Performance and Absence Targets (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, laid before the Assembly on 6 June 2019, be annulled.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I move the motion.
I tabled this motion today for two particular reasons. The first is that these are pretty important changes to the current system of assessing the performance of a school, and the second, which isn't a matter for this Minister in particular, but, I hope, for Government generally—I hope, Minister, that you will forgive me for using this particular example to make the point.
The Minister has previously explained to us that the current system of school performance assessment can lead to unintended consequences. Every year, school governors have to set targets for pupil performance in the second and third key stages in the core subjects of maths, English, Welsh and science and there is a similar process, I understand, for students reaching 16 and facing external exams. They also have to set performance targets in two or three other subjects, which are non-specified. The school can then be judged on the performance according to its success or otherwise in reaching those targets— something that becomes particularly visible at the end of year 11, where the comparison is not made between targets and teacher assessment, but between targets and exam results. And that, as we've heard, can lead to schools putting a disproportionate effort into timetabling for the core subjects and gaming the system by entering students for exams that can only ever produce a grade C GCSE equivalent.
As part of wider reforms, and to deter this behaviour, the Minister's moving towards new evaluation and improvement arrangements. We've already got some interim key stage 4 performance measures, I think, which we'll see worked through for this summer’s exams. And the current setting of targets process doesn’t align with this new-look performance measure and doesn’t bring anything to a school’s self-evaluation and improvement. Furthermore, governors are being asked to set targets on what will be an obsolete set of requirements. I think that’s core of the Minister’s argument, but, if I’ve got it wrong, I’m more than happy to be corrected.
Now, these regulations still require governors to set targets; it looks like it’s still six. But the requirement for any of those to be the core subjects of English, Welsh or maths will go, as will the need to report on the percentage of pupils who achieve those targets. Now, we may have an issue with the idea of a school being set targets by its own governors and not knowing how close or far away from those targets its pupil results were. But the first purpose of bringing this motion to the Chamber is not to challenge the Minister’s general direction of travel but to give you, Minister, an opportunity to explain to us directly why you're content for schools to be able to avoid setting targets in these three subjects in particular.
English and maths and, increasingly, good Welsh-language skills, are still considered essential requirements in any job application. And, even if the new performance framework is about self-evaluation and self-improvement, and even if pupils are doing well in these core subjects, isn't there an argument for keeping these three subjects as a point of focus in every school, bearing in mind their particular status for moving on to further education, training or work?
Now, I accept there's an argument that an individual school may decide that it is in six entirely different areas that it needs to improve. But I can see nothing in the existing or the new regulations preventing setting targets in more than six areas. Until we get into the new curriculum fully, and we can see how the maths and numeracy and languages, literacy and communication areas of learning and experience present, I'm asking Members just to consider that governors must keep these three subjects as annual target items until the new curriculum has worked its way through a little bit, and—unless the Minister can persuade us why not—to support the annulment of these particular regulations.
The second reason for tabling this motion is because it was the only way of getting this issue to the Chamber. This is not the fault of the Minister, but a perfect example of why we as a legislature should exercise caution about leaving too much to secondary legislation where the exercise of Welsh ministerial powers can go unnoticed. Now, these regulations arise from Westminster statutes, but the point applies to our primary legislation too. Here is an important change to the overview, and possibly the status, of English, Welsh and maths within our current education system, introduced via the negative procedure, which I wouldn't even have known about if I hadn't happened to be in a Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on a given day.
And I'm asking: is it right that we as a legislature are asked to legislate, in the case of the negative procedure, by dint of deemed consent, if we don’t know that these regulations are coming through? And so I'm asking Welsh Government to consider a more proactive way of directly publishing its secondary legislation to spokespeople at the very, very least. The legislation Act is all about the accessibility of law and us as Members having to randomly trawl through the national archives on the off-chance that we might find something really doesn’t count as accessible. And while I repeat, Minister, this is not a matter for you uniquely, I think it is something that the Welsh Government should take account of because it's hindering us doing our work. Thank you.
Plaid Cymru will abstain on this issue, not because we are sitting on the fence in terms of these regulations, but as a signal of our dissatisfaction with the process. The regulations do scrap the statutory need for schools to set particular targets, because the circumstances have changed. That is sensible, and we do agree with that change, and the move away from that narrow focus on borderline grades, which is that narrow focus on increasing grades from D to C. Now, generally speaking, I think schools welcome the change, and it will give them the ability to develop real meaningful targets that will help to raise standards for all pupils. So, we don’t abstain because of the particular issue covered in the regulations. The reason that we will abstain is to make the point that Suzy Davies has already made as her second reason for tabling this annulment motion—that this is the only way of getting a debate on this in the Chamber. It is important that we don’t use secondary legislation and the negative procedure too much. There is a risk that Ministers will use their powers and make changes without much discussion at all. That isn’t healthy for our democracy. Government needs to be as open and as transparent as possible, and it is important that the legislature can scrutinise fully issues of importance. Certainly, that is one reason why we believe that we need to move urgently towards having more Assembly Members in the Welsh Parliament, so that that scrutiny can happen properly. I agree with Suzy also that it would be beneficial for the Government to adopt a transparent method of introducing secondary legislation. I know that this isn’t specifically a matter for the Minister in terms of the second part of what I’ve just said, but I do hope that this discussion will engender that change that is so necessary.
I'd like to thank Suzy Davies for raising this issue, because obviously 6 June was a Thursday when we weren't sitting, and it was a written statement, so it could very easily have passed us all by. And I think that the subject under consideration here—it looks very dry and it's quite difficult to understand exactly what governors are going to be expected to do. But, fundamentally, this is a really, really important issue. So, I think it's very much worthy of discussion in the Senedd.
I think we have to avoid teaching to the test, which is what has been going on—certainly in some schools. There is nothing served by learning by rote, because it won't serve the young person well in the future, when the jobs that they're going to need to do in the future simply don't exist. So, we have to have something that's in line with the new curriculum and the areas of learning and the ability of students to adapt their learning to suit unforeseen circumstances. It seems to me that is really, really important.
So, I can see the value of enabling governors individually to be able to look at particular targets in their school. For example, if Estyn has highlighted that music or the dual language offer is weak, then clearly that governing body may want to set a target for how the school is progressing in addressing those weaknesses. But I think what we need to get away from is this narrow focus on the C/D borderline, which does not serve most pupils well. I want to see all schools being judged by the value they add to the learning of each and every individual, rather than the previous method, which was simply allowing schools to tread water in the proverbial leafy suburbs, where it was pretty easy, on the whole, to achieve the targets we were setting them, and simply wasn't judging them against the raw materials that were coming into the school in the first place.
So, I very much welcome this debate. I think it's one we can and should come back to. So, thank you, Suzy Davies.
I'd like to congratulate Suzy Davies for bringing this motion to annul today, and also for alerting me to this motion in the Chamber when I raised this, I think two weeks ago, at First Minister's questions, when I did bring it to the Chamber in another context. Generally, I support what Suzy has said about making it easier and more accessible for spokespeople and, indeed, other Assembly Members to note what is proposed, particularly when what is proposed is significant. In this case, I was aware of these regulations, hence why I raised them with the First Minister. I don't actually recall what it was I read, or what I saw that happened to make me aware of them—I'm very pleased I was. But I also support arrangements to make it easier for us to be aware of the important issues that we really should debate in this Chamber, as we are today, thank you to you, Suzy.
I disagree, though, I think, with a couple of points that you raise—or I at least have a difference in emphasis. I would challenge the overall direction of travel from this Government in terms of school performance targets. I think there is a real issue in Wales, and a real issue—whether it's a Labour-led Government, or having a Lib Dem in the post, there may be differences of opinions. But there is a lack of accountability, there is a lack of ability for parents to make meaningful comparisons between schools, in a way that is taken for granted in England. And when you compare the trajectory and overall performance of the school system in England versus Wales, and note that that has taken place against a background where there has been significantly more information published in England, and presented in a way that parents and others, including elected representatives, can compare, to hold schools and Government to account—I think that is too much to consider that to be a coincidence.
Suzy put the emphasis on the English or Welsh and the maths. And yes, that's part of the threshold too, but it's also five good GCSEs at grade C or above, including English or Welsh and maths. And it is that threshold that's perhaps been the key driver in terms of the targets that have been set in England, and have seen such performance in overall performances against those targets, but most especially in London. Unfortunately, we haven't seen that in Wales. And to move away from this, the one area where schools are required to set a target, on a specified threshold, where we can actually compare them, where there can be pressure put on different schools as to how they are doing, and why it's not better, or how it compares to other schools—. If we lose that, we lose a hugely important lever in driving up, hopefully, school performance. It hasn't been happening in Wales, and I fear that the key reason it hasn't been happening is the refusal to publish information on a consistent basis, to set targets on a consistent basis and to hold schools to account.
I also think that the C/D threshold is a very important one. I have sympathy with arguments around gaming and I think particularly the early entry and the steps that the Minister has taken to at least limit that compared to what we were seeing are good. But actually if you get a C or a D it is very, very significant for that individual. In many jobs, you are required to have at least a level C pass at English or Welsh and maths, and if you don't have that, opportunities may not be available that otherwise would. So, actually, if there is a significant emphasis on schools on trying to get children through that to get five good GCSEs and make sure they're at least the level they need to have in those key subjects, then I think that's something to be welcomed. It is a target that we should have for schools. I greatly regret that the Government is proposing to do away with at least the compulsory setting of that target, and we look forward to supporting Suzy Davies's motion to annul.
Thank you. Can I now call the Minister for Education to speak? Kirsty Williams.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome very much the opportunity to respond to this motion and to clarify the need for these regulatory amendments. I appreciate that the progress of education reform in Wales, as set out in our national mission, is moving at pace, and I always welcome scrutiny at every stage. Over the past year, I have made no fewer than five oral or written statements on matters relating to our new system of school accountability. These have provided updates on policy changes that form part of the implementation of the recommendations arising from 'Successful Futures', something that has received mostly—I'm not quite sure what the Brexit Party feels about it—cross-party support in this Chamber.
Let me first be clear that annulling these regulations will not reverse the changes I actually announced in May 2018 to key stage 4 performance measures, which were developed through collaboration with headteachers and key stakeholders. It would, however, create an unreasonable situation in which schools would be expected to set targets for achievement measures that will no longer be reported upon. The target setting regulations, as they currently stand, do not align with the key stage 4 performance measures that we will be reporting on—quite rightly, Suzy—from this year.
The outcome of the consultation on these amending regulations showed that stakeholders, which included schools, local authorities and teaching unions, are generally in support of the proposals and the policy intentions. Requiring schools to set targets based on a narrow set of highly prescriptive indicators has generally been deemed unhelpful by schools and those that have scrutinised our education system, and has driven a very specific focus on elements of quality at the expense of more rounded self-evaluation and reflection.
Mr Reckless might be quite happy with that focus on the C/D boundary, and I don't have any argument with him if a child is on that boundary—a C, of course, is helpful to them. But what about the progress of the child who should have been getting an A* or an A, whose school perhaps had said to that parent, 'I'm going to enter your child for a certain tier of maths paper or English paper', knowing that the maximum that they could get was a C? Now, that's fine for the school's performance measures, but if that child could have gone on to get a B or an A or an A*, they have been denied that chance, and the system that has helped the school achieve what it wants, but doesn't necessarily help the child achieve—[Interruption.] I'll give way.
So surely, then, what we need is accountability, measurements, targets, ability to compare those, rather than rounded self-evaluation that might otherwise be termed schools marking their own homework?
What we will have instead, from this summer, is a points-based score system, where every child's achievements—every child, from the highest achievers to those for whom actually getting a D is a massive achievement for them—will be counted. And we will still have headline measures for counting English, maths, as well as science. We're not getting rid of accountability. We're moving to a smarter accountability where every child matters in our system, the performance of every child matters in our system and, crucially, we measure the impact of that child's progress through the education system. So, if you came in expecting a certain grade at year 7, then we can track that child's progress and the impact that that school has had on that particular child.
What we know is—. And, Suzy, I think, in your response to my statement last year, you recognised that the unintended consequences—whether they should have been foreseen by previous Governments or unforeseen—have led to a narrowing of curriculum, and indeed, timetabling that has led to subjects such as history, geography, drama, art, music and French being driven out of the curriculum, as teachers concentrate their timetabling lessons, sometimes for entire half terms, simply on English and maths to the exclusion of everything else I think we want our children to learn and achieve in our schools.
Now, the purpose of these amending regulations is not to remove quality control from our school accountability system. Schools will continue to be inspected; parents and guardians will continue to receive reports on progress of learners; schools will still be required to set targets for improvement and local authorities will continue to quality assure those targets; and Estyn will also inspect local authorities and regional consortia and judge the arrangements in place in each region, to ensure rigour and consistency. And it is a fallacy to say that parents don’t have access to information. You only have to go onto the ‘My local school’ website here, this afternoon, in the Chamber, and you get a very, very full and rich picture of what is going on in individual schools.
Now, our national mission sets out our vision for an accountability system that is fair, coherent, proportionate, transparent and is based on our shared values for the Welsh education system, and not market values, Mr Reckless. The new evaluation and improvement arrangements will help bring about the cultural change that is ultimately needed to support the realisation of our new curriculum.
Will the Member give way? No-one is suggesting a market—it's just parents having to pay merely being able to compare how well schools are doing, to inform their judgments of (1), where they want their children to go to school, and (2), then how to help those schools get better by holding them to account.
It pretty much sounds like a market to me, Deputy Presiding Officer, and that’s fine. The Member is perfectly entitled to have those values underpinning his approach to education policy. That’s absolutely fine. The reality of living in our country, Mark—the reality of living in this country—is that, actually, children don’t have the ability to move around—[Interruption.] The reality is that we need every school to be a good local school and not to be able to have a situation where parents who can afford to move into the right catchment areas are able to do so. All schools need to be good schools regardless of where they are. And we do not move schools forward by setting them against each other.
At the heart is robust and continuous self-evaluation for all tiers of the education system and not teachers holding their arms around what’s good practice in their school. We need to break that open and share that good practice, and you don’t do it if you create a market system where schools compete against each other, and there is self-interest in not sharing that good practice.
Now, we also need to use these targets, along with professional dialogue, to support learning and improvement, embed collaboration, as I’ve just said, build trust in our profession, drive self-improvement and raise standards for all of our learners. Outside accountability will continue to be a feature of our system, but we will provide greater autonomy for schools to self-improve and develop genuine targets that contribute to raising the quality of education in schools and the standards of their learners’ achievements specific to their needs in their schools.
The requirement for schools' governing bodies to set performance- measure targets at key stage 4 will be removed in favour of increasing the number of non-specific targets that must be set, based on schools’ evaluation. So, actually, we’re asking them to set more targets than they’re actually setting at the moment, but they will have the autonomy to reflect on their own performance and judge where they need to make the improvement. Our plans are about making sure that the way in which we assess schools’ performance represents performance of the school in the round and more trust will be given to our educational professionals who are there, day in, day out, in our classrooms and those who lead our schools to identify the matters that mean the most to them in their local context.
I ask Members to vote against the motion today and not take a step back on an important, practical step in helping to bring about the cultural change that I believe is ultimately needed within our schools and will be needed to deliver on our national mission. I take the point that Suzy Davies makes about procedure. I’m very happy to reflect on the way in which we undertake those procedures in the context of the department for education, and I’m sure that colleagues in wider Government will reflect on the points that have been made today. The procedure has not been there to avoid scrutiny, but I shall reflect on that with any other further legislation or regulations that we bring forward in the education department.
Can I now call Suzy Davies to reply to the debate?
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you very much to all Members who took part in this debate today, and I'm glad, Jenny Rathbone, you thought this was important enough to discuss. Perhaps I can just begin with the Minister's points. This has been brought at a higher level to the Chamber before; it's not complete news to us. But the very specifics of English, maths and Welsh, we hadn't had a chance to discuss those. Even though I agree with what you said in your response to this debate, that we have been told about this before and something needs to change, I don't think you did cover off the English, maths and Welsh part particularly, because those particular subjects, in our current system—not our current education system, but in our current economic system, our higher and further education system—have a unique status. They're always asked for, and I would be very worried if schools were given the opportunities not to make those three subject areas one of the six or more that they're going to be setting targets in the new way on, and that's why I chose these particular regulations rather than any others. So, perhaps you can reflect a little bit more on that.
Teaching to a test—yes, we agree with you there, Jenny, but, as I say, these three subjects are priorities, I think, for any school, however good it is and however well it's been performing in those three areas up until now.
More Members—now then, that won't solve the problem if these regulations are hidden. We can have 160 Members, but if we can't find these regulations, they still can't be scrutinised by anyone. So, I'm grateful to you, Minister, for the final points that you made there.
Will you take an interevention?
Yes, of course.
Having more of us would mean that there are more of us to look for the regulations or anything that is hidden. My problem is that there is a lot that we don't know about, and because there are so few of us, we haven't got time to actually delve into the lack of transparency that Government seems to like.
It's a perfectly good answer, Siân. 'We are AMs, not detectives,' I suppose would be my response to that, but it's not a reason for not having more AMs, incidentally.
Mark Reckless—school performance and how to judge it. Actually, I think this is worthy, perhaps, of a full debate at some point. I'd be very happy for the leader of the Brexit Party to table that. My thinking at the moment is that something has to change, and I'm more than happy to give the Minister's new look a chance to see how it works. It may be that they'll be fantastic and we'll have a really good idea about school performance, or they may not work. We need to give them a chance, and we need to have the opportunity to see if they do work. I hope they do, obviously, for the sake of our children and our teachers and staff. The Welsh Conservative jury is out on that at the moment, but we've got to give it a fair chance. So, thank you to everyone who took part today.
Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, we will defer the voting on this item until voting time.
Item 6 on the agenda—[Interruption.] I don't mind, I heard 'object', so—[Interruption.] No, no, I heard 'object', and so we defer the voting under this item. I don't care who calls 'object' out; I've heard it.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Item 6 on our agenda this afternoon is a debate on the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee's report on film and major television production in Wales, and I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion—Bethan Sayed.
Motion NDM7116 Bethan Sayed
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the report of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on the Inquiry into Film and Major Television Production in Wales laid in Table Office on 16 May 2019.
Joyce Watson took the Chair.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. In the first instance, I want to thank all the industry leaders who contributed to this particular inquiry and everybody who gave evidence. I'd also like to thank the Government for their response to the film and television industry report that we produced. The committee was fortunate to see the up-and-coming talent at the University of South Wales when we launched our report, and we were able to use the green screens there to be creative ourselves, so we enjoyed that. It was very impressive to see the number of high-profile productions and the range of jobs the students are involved in. So, well done to the students there.
There is, obviously, good reason to celebrate the success of the film industry in this country. Over the last decade, growth has outstripped that across the UK, and studios here are responsible for international hits such as Doctor Who, His Dark Materials and Hinterland. But we have to move more swiftly and react faster to the demands of industry in a more agile way, and I simply don't believe that that's happening to the best of our abilities at the moment here in Wales.
So, this report covers the whole spectrum of the industry, from funding, training, production and promotion. But I want to concentrate on funding and the Welsh Government’s approach to support for the sector, and I know that other Members will talk about other elements of the report.
Turning to the media investment budget, we are pleased to finally see the figures on the media investment budget. I understand that some of the projects are yet to reach their full commercial potential. but having waited so long for this information, it is disappointing to see that the actual performance of the fund is so far from initial projections. Of the seven projects managed by the Welsh Government, only one has recouped any money. For a total investment of over £5.1 million, only £75,000 profit has been made, and this is insufficient
The picture looks a little better if we look at the projects previously managed by Pinewood, but it still shows that less than half of the nearly £10 million invested has been recouped. It’s not a case of regretting the fact that the profits are so little after all this time. Rather, it's a shock to see the losses are so great, and I would like to understand the Deputy Minister’s view on the reality of the situation.
The media investment budget was supposed to be an investment fund, generating profits that were to be reinvested in further productions, but it was also meant to guarantee spend by major productions in Wales. The Wales Audit Office report states the intention of establishing a £30 million fund was to generate a £90 million spend in Wales. But, since 2014, only half of the budget has been spent, and it generated just over £25 million in Welsh spend.
So, I would like the Deputy Minister to set out why the investment budget has generated only 15 per cent of the Welsh spend anticipated, and what he is doing to change this particular situation. This budget, after all, has existed for five years. Something, I believe, has gone very wrong. Either the initial estimates were wildly optimistic, or the performances of the projects have been exceptionally poor. Given that concerns about the budget were first raised by the creative industries sector panel in August 2016, there has been plenty of time to learn from mistakes and put things right.
The issues with the Pinewood 'collaboration agreement' have been well documented by the Wales Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee. Has anything changed as a result of these reports?
In terms of Creative Wales, every time I talk about Creative Wales in the sector, there's a sharp intake of breath, waiting for further details. During the growth of the film industry, the Welsh Government has had several initiatives designed to boost the sector. But stakeholders felt that this action lacked focus. Screen Alliance Wales told us that projects have been funded randomly based on the profile of the company, without looking at a long-term, sustainable legacy for Wales. Whenever the committee has asked for greater focus, we have been told this leadership will be found in the yet-to-be-established body called Creative Wales.
Since it was first announced in 2016, we are still waiting for the details of Creative Wales. We were told in February that the Minister would announce details on the form, function, preferred board members and the governance arrangements of Creative Wales in April of this year. The statement that was released in April gives no more information on any of these issues. It's filled with well-meaning phrases such as,
'Partnership and collaboration are key to successful delivery',
and that Creative Wales will embrace the synergies between the economy and culture of Wales. But there was no mention of how this will be done, and the sector is asking how they can be engaged in this process and how they can bid to Creative Wales so that they can benefit from what you as a Government want to do.
So, we are now in July and we are now still waiting for the details, as promised. The Welsh Government’s response to our report says, and I quote,
'We are currently determining the governance structure for Creative Wales'.
What is the delay, because the sector are waiting and waiting? There has been plenty of consultation. We are told that,
'The Team has engaged with...120 companies, public bodies, third sector organisations and unions'.
To what end? What is the outcome of this consultation? And we need answers now. Who is leading Creative Wales? What are the governance structures? What are the terms of reference? Who are they accountable to? And how will success be measured? The lack of information is especially frustrating because the Government has chosen to accept some of our recommendations with reference to the future strategy and funding conditions of Creative Wales. But how can we assess whether our recommendations will be delivered without the details we have been promised since February? This vacuum of no decisions means that people are simply not able to understand how they apply or know where to access funds. Those are real conversations that I'm having with people in the industry on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
The frustration that the committee feels with the lack of detail in response to our report is also felt by the industry. Whilst there are individual examples of success, such as the planned partnership with NBC International, there's a real danger that momentum will be lost. Those looking to invest in Wales need to know what is replacing the media investment budget and how they can access that fund. I have been asking questions about funding and governance since the Deputy Minister came to our committee in July of last year. So, I would be grateful if he could answer our questions today.
I will end there. I know that other committee members would like to contribute to the debate, and I look forward to hearing what the Deputy Minister’s response will be. We had various recommendations on many different issues—from ensuring that we had on-screen talent quotas, which was one of our ideas; we wanted to clarify the apprenticeship schemes; and we wanted to understand what appropriate support could be given to film festivals. We are friendly in that regard. We want to see what's happening here in Wales, but we want to ensure that action now takes place so that we can realise the potential that Wales has to offer in the film industry here in Wales.
I'm pleased to contribute to this debate, although I was not a member of the committee when the report was being formulated. I have been very pleased to follow the work as it moved to publication and was then launched, as the Chair has indicated. I think it has been a very important area of work, and the report focuses on very practical ways in which we can improve film and major tv production in Wales.
I do want to start by saying that I am largely encouraged by the response of the Welsh Government in accepting most of the committee's recommendations, though I do note the Chair's frustration that some of that acceptance is contingent on the operation of Creative Wales when it is established.
I think it's right to note the growth in this sector since 2007—faster than that for the rest of the UK. Again, this has been referred to. But, there is still a long way to go. I think that Wales, as a nation, does extremely well compared to any region of England outside London and the south-east, and possibly Manchester. But, we are still well short of any proportion that was related to population, in terms of the amount of GVA that we generate through the film and tv industry. We could probably increase it by two or three times, and then only just get to a sort of rough calculation of what you'd expect by population. So, while we do have great success and we are one of the major areas for production—our creative industries have performed incredibly well over the last 10 years, and I'm sure it's a sector that will continue to grow—we shouldn't limit our ambition. We should really extend our expectations for this sector.
I think that there is a particular need to invest in Welsh language projects and Welsh language projects that can also be produced bilingually. There's no doubting the potential that we've seen fairly recently in terms of series like Hinterland, which completely normalise the use of Welsh, as well as producing a Welsh language version and a largely English one, but with the use of Welsh. I'm sure that this has done enormous good for people across the United Kingdom to know that it is normal if you are driving around Ceredigion to hear Welsh being spoken. I just think that it really was—. It lifted the heart to see that.
I also think that we should remember that it markets Wales to the rest of the world. Wales is the most distinctive cultural part of the British isles because we have a culture that is a non-English-language culture, as well as, obviously, a Welsh-English culture also and a British culture. All of these magnificent traditions mingle and are incredibly creative, and there's a great appetite out there to share in this, worldwide potentially, which is why I think some clever investment in Welsh film making is warranted. Obviously, you only get the occasional hit that makes it to the award ceremonies of the Oscars or whatever, but I think overall, at that level, that sort of creative excellence has an effect on the general sector as well, and I think we could also align it to the 'Cymraeg 2050' strategy—again, normalising Welsh and portraying our country as a truly bilingual one. So, I think that needs to be looked at, and the funding. It is the one area where we have real responsibility for projecting that aspect of the Celtic civilisation that continues to thrive in western Europe. I think more need to be seeing our drama about that.
I note that there's a need to strengthen the skills strategy. We do pretty well, as we saw when we went to the Atrium building of the University of Glamorgan, but there is still a need to improve skills, particularly relating to Welsh language output.
I also think the Government could do a bit more in terms of co-ordinating film festivals and ensuring that their worth is projected more widely. I know there's a slight difference of opinion on how that's best secured, but I think a more central, co-ordinated approach might be valuable.
Can I just end also with a plea that it's time for Creative Wales to step forward? It was envisaged in 2016, which was when the referendum on Brexit occurred, and at this rate we might get Brexit before we get Creative Wales. I'd be very happy to see Creative Wales 10 times. I'm not going to mention my attitude to the arrival, presumably when it does come, of Brexit.