Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd08/10/2019
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 First Minister, and the first question is from Huw Irranca-Davies.
1. What use will be made of citizens assemblies to tackle issues relating to the climate change emergency declared by the Welsh Government? OAQ54463
Llywydd, amplifying the voice of citizens has been a policy over the 20 years of devolution. I recently met again with Citizens Cymru, one of the largest citizen-based bodies in Wales. Extinction Rebellion will lead a workshop on the role of citizens assemblies at next week's Welsh Government climate change conference.
That is very welcome news indeed, First Minister. The First Minister will have noted that, only just over a week ago, I and several Assembly colleagues sponsored an event in the Senedd that brought together activists and campaigners, local authorities and other organisations, and members of the public, to focus minds and ideas on the climate emergency, but also the biodiversity emergency we face. And, this week again, today, in fact, we see protests right across the world, urging Governments to take the necessary urgent actions to respond to the clear evidence that we as individuals, as communities, as nations and governments, and internationally, need to do more, much more, to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies.
So, could our Welsh Government continue to work with others to establish citizens assemblies as a way to help us, us politicians, find a way forward with the urgency we truly need, and to work on this with those climate change activists and campaigners, as well as, crucially, the wider public? And, First Minister, in trying to work with others, including the campaigners, and many young people, including those who've been inspired by Greta Thunberg, what does he make of those who'd refer to such campaigners as 'nose-ringed, unco-operative, climate change crusties in their hemp-smelling bivouacs'?
Well, Llywydd, can I begin by congratulating Huw Irranca-Davies and those other Assembly Members who were involved in organising the event to which he referred, and particularly for the breadth of participation they achieved in bringing people together here at the Assembly? And of course the Welsh Government is keen to go on working with that wide range of citizens beyond the Assembly itself who have such a committed interest in climate change and making sure that, here in Wales, we are able to take the actions that fall to us in our time in order to respond to it.
Next week's climate change conference will be a real opportunity to do that. As well as the workshops run by Extinction Rebellion, there is a specific strand for young people, who've made an enormous contribution to making sure that this matter is kept in the public eye, and who are part of the action to which Huw Irranca-Davies referred that is going on across the United Kingdom, and more broadly, today.
We ought to welcome the fact that so many of our fellow citizens are so committed that they leave their own homes and take part in those protest actions, that they demonstrate their commitment in that practical way. Those people are to be congratulated and respected, not to be the target of the sort of language that Huw quoted. We look forward in Wales to go on having a purposeful relationship with all of those who want to make a contribution to tackling that major challenge of our time, to do it through citizens assemblies, but in many other ways as well, including our own Youth Parliament, and to draw people together to make that difference, rather than attempting to create division and to pretend that people who have a different point of view and want to make a different sort of contribution don't have the value that we know they do.
Of course, the simple answer that you could have given to the latter part of the Member's question was that we need a general election, First Minister, and your party's stopping that happening. But, on the principal question of people's assemblies, surely what we need to be looking at is how we can take along with us community councils and county councils here in Wales, many of whom have passed motions supporting the declaration of a climate change emergency, but really do feel that, sometimes, they are not part of the process, especially at community and town council level. What work has the Welsh Government undertaken with colleagues in town and community councils, so that, where these resolutions are passed, they are fed into the network of advice and support that is given to communities over the change that they can make in their communities to play their part in reducing our carbon footprint?
Well, Llywydd, let me welcome the fact that so many principal councils, and town and community councils, have passed resolutions here in Wales, declaring their own intention to be part of the solution to the climate change emergency that we face. And I want to put on record my appreciation of the work that the best of our town and community councils do, right across Wales. Where we have town and community councils that have ambition, where they want to make the extra contribution that we know they can, we've got really successful examples in parts of Wales where those contributions make a difference. That's why we set up the group, chaired by Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Gwenda Thomas, earlier in this Assembly term, to make sure that the work that is done by the best of our town and community councils becomes more typical of the sector as a whole. As a result, we have worked closely with them. I myself have addressed their general meeting twice during this Assembly term, and my colleague Julie James has met with the sector again recently. We want to capture the commitment that town and community councils and their members make in Wales, because they have a genuine contribution that they can make to the decarbonisation and climate change agendas. We look forward to being able to work with them positively in the future.
There’s no doubt, of course, that Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers have transformed the narrative around the climate emergency that we’re currently facing. And I agree with you entirely that we should congratulate and support those people for their efforts. But, of course, Plaid Cymru did table a motion here a fortnight ago doing exactly that in the context of the school strikers, and, unfortunately, your party voted against our motion, and amended it to such an extent that it became a meaningless statement. Do you regret doing that now?
Well, what we did on the Assembly floor was acknowledge the fact that there is more than one way in which people can work in this field and that there is more than one contribution available to supporters in dealing with the crisis we face. We do acknowledge the fact that young people have blazed a trail on this. But there are many other contributions that people can make, and that is why we as a party tabled the amendments, and those amendments were supported by the National Assembly.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on ticketing services on the Transport for Wales network? OAQ54477
I thank the Member for the question. Transport for Wales will improve ticketing services through a combination of well-established and new methods. Two hundred and thirty-six new rail ticket machines will begin to be installed at stations early next year. At the same time, a new passenger app and web-based ticket sales will also be made available to passengers.
Thank you for that answer. First Minister, it's been brought to my attention that a customer who went to buy a ticket from the Transport for Wales app was offered the price of £30.05 for a cross-border train journey. That customer then checked National Rail, to find the same journey for £22.10. That difference could feed his kids for a couple of days. What is the Welsh Government going to do to ensure that Welsh train passengers are offered the fairest prices when they're travelling?
Well, the Member points to a general issue, which is that train fares are confusing, and people do sometimes struggle to find the best deal that is available. We support those measures that have been taken to simplify fare structures. It's why here in Wales we are abolishing fares for under-11-year-olds, and we'll have half-price fares for under-16-year-olds on the network in Wales. It's why we're reducing fares in north Wales and on the Heads of the Valleys lines, and why we've introduced standard fares for people over 50 making journeys of more than 50 miles. But I'm very happy to look at the specific example that the Member raises, to see if there are any general lessons that can be drawn from it. We need transparent ticketing and transparent pricing so that passengers can easily navigate their way to the best deal for them.
Last week, First Minister, I was written to by a constituent, in a handwritten letter, who outlined her experience of travelling by rail. This particular person is a disabled person, has mobility issues, carries a blue badge. I got the impression that this person is an elderly person, and she certainly doesn't feel comfortable, apart from the mobility issues, using a ticket machine on a station, because previously she had made mistakes and found it difficult to use. She also outlined to me in her letter that she doesn't own a phone—a smartphone—let alone know how to use one. So, she explained her difficulties to the conductor when he came around to collect the fare and check the tickets on her, and she said he came short of accusing her of fare dodging. So, my issue is that, with this particular lady, she was issued with a penalty fare, and I suppose the question here, First Minister, is what support does Transport for Wales offer conductors in terms of how they respond to and how they support people who have disabilities and mobility issues. And how does Transport for Wales's revenue protection policy support the kind of issue that I've just outlined to you?
Well, I thank the Member for that question. When the new rail ticket machines are installed early next year, they will be easier for passengers to use and, hopefully, the constituent who's written to you will feel confident in being able to use them. Conductors on trains have a difficult job to do. They do have a role to play in making sure that people pay the fare that they are expected to pay, but I would absolutely expect them to go about that job in a way that is sensitive to the circumstances of individuals who they come into contact with. It's why we are having training programmes for people who are working for Transport for Wales. It's why we have a group specifically set up to be able to reflect the experiences of people with disabilities who use our train services. And I'll make sure that, through the Minister responsible, we draw the attention of Transport for Wales to the correspondence that Russell George has received so that it can be part of the effort to learn from that and to ensure that such incidents don't get repeated.
First Minister, earlier this year it was announced that Transport for Wales had signed a £1.9 million contract with multinational information equipment and service company, Fujitsu, to improve efficiency and, as you said, to upgrade ticket office machines and mobile handsets across the rail network. So, First Minister, as the first train operator in the UK to commit to such an upgrade, the rail company's new STAR ticket office machines offer that prospect of providing an efficient ticketing system for all customers at stations, encouraging rail transport and taking cars of the road. So, First Minister, with the extra news of this investment in more than 200 new ticket machines plus providing ticket sales through local convenience stores to improve access, what additional ways can the Welsh Government use to ensure that Wales creates a modern, clean and customer-friendly railway service fit for the twenty-first century for our future generations and the climate emergency agenda?
Well, I thank Rhianon Passmore for that, and behind her question lies the determination that we have and Transport for Wales has to make it as easy as possible for passengers in the very many different ways in which people now expect to be able to access tickets to be able to do so. Whether that is with the new and improved ticket machines, whether, as Rhianon Passmore said, by being able to purchase rail tickets at convenience stores or, as I suspect many people in this Chamber do, by being able to book tickets online, either through the new app or through web-based ways. We want to have as many ways as possible in which people are able to use our public transport services efficiently, easily and, therefore, as Rhianon said, to get cars off the road and people using the improved services, which we know will be there as Transport for Wales rolls out the franchise that was negotiated and which will lead to not simply better ways of buying tickets, but better services with which those tickets can be used.
Questions now from the party leaders and, first of all, the leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you tell us how many operations have been cancelled in the Welsh NHS in the last four years?
Llywydd, it's not an examination in which the Members thinks that we can find a figure out of fresh air. What I will tell him is this—anticipating his next question—over half the operations that are cancelled in the Welsh NHS are cancelled by patients.
Well, let me help you, First Minister. Over the last four years, the number of operations cancelled by Welsh health boards has increased by 7 per cent, with an incredible 170,000 operations having been cancelled since 2015 at no fault of patients. The Wales Audit Office has stated that each minute of surgery costs £14. We are therefore looking at tens of millions of pounds wasted in cancelled operations, which our Welsh NHS desperately needs. Now, despite being under direct control by your Government, First Minister, the health board that saw the largest increase in 2015, was, in fact, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which saw a 31 per cent increase in cancelled operations. That is a damning verdict of you and your Government, as you are in direct control of that health board. What is your Government specifically doing about reducing cancelled operations, First Minister?
Well, Llywydd, the Member takes a complex subject and proceeds to try to simplify it beyond all sense. As I have said to him already, over half the operations that are cancelled are cancelled by patients themselves. Now, if this is an afternoon in which people want to read out letters that have been sent to them by constituents, let me tell you of a letter that was sent to me recently by a constituent of mine who went to have a cataract operation at the Heath hospital, where the surgeon was available and nurses were available and the operating arrangements were available to carry out five cataract operations that morning, and two patients turned up. And that was written to me asking what steps can be taken to share the responsibility.
So, the idea behind the Member's question was this sense that, somehow, it's the health service itself that is responsible for all those cancelled operations. As I've said, half of them are cancelled by patients. The next largest group that are cancelled are cancelled for clinical reasons, because when people present themselves for the operation, the assessment made by clinicians is that they are not fit on that day to have those operations carried out. The position is a great deal more complex than the Member implies, and it would have been useful, maybe, if, as well as quoting the number of cancelled operations that have increased, he would've quoted the number of extra operations that are carried out in the Welsh NHS as well, because he would've found that that number has gone up at the same time.
First Minister, these figures refer to non-clinical reasons. That's why they've been cancelled, First Minister. You need to get your facts right. You can spin it as much as you like, because, clearly, you and your Government are failing to run the health service here in Wales, you're failing to run north Wales's health boards, and even this morning, it was concerning to hear that your Government is struggling to get Cwm Taf maternity services out of special measures as well. And I hope this isn't another Betsi Cadwaladr in the making, where your Minister allows another health board to languish for years, failing the people that it's meant to serve.
Now, on the cancelled operations, First Minister, Dr Phil Banfield, chairman of the Welsh British Medical Association consultants committee, believes that the Welsh NHS has, and I quote, an
'insufficient capacity to cope with current demand…Continued under-funding, huge rota gaps and too few staff to provide adequate care'.
Those are his words. And I can hear the health Minister chuntering from a sedentary position. Those are his words. He goes on to say that the human cost of this is an increase in
'anxiety and distress…for patients and their families'
and for Welsh
'NHS staff trying their best to deliver high quality care'.
First Minister, what do you say to Dr Banfield and his colleagues and what will your Government do to deliver a Welsh NHS that is fit for the people of Wales?
Well, what I say to him and his colleagues is that when the general election to which his predecessor refers comes, the best advice to them is to vote for the Labour Party, because then the funding crisis that affects our public services, which is the direct result of his party and everything that they have done in 10 years of austerity—that's before, by the way, they embark on a 'no deal' Brexit and create another enormous hole in the national finances—then the difficulties of funding to which he's referred can be properly addressed. At the same time, my advice to them to vote Labour in that general election will also help to deal with the issue that is currently the single biggest contributor to cancelled operations, and that's the pension difficulties that his Government has created that mean that consultants right across Wales are no longer able to fill rotas in order to carry out operations, directly, Llywydd—directly as a result of policies that his party introduced, and it's having that impact.
On behalf of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you, Llywydd. The UK Government has updated its temporary tariff regime, which will impact lorries, bioethanol and clothing if we leave the EU with no deal, but there are no assurances for farmers. So, we are looking at a situation where farmers could be priced out of foreign markets, and we know what the impact of that could be on farms and rural communities. In light of that announcement, will you put pressure on the UK Government anew in order to ensure that Welsh farmers aren’t forgotten and thrown on the scrap heap as a result of a destructive Brexit?
Thank you for that question. I have seen the United Kingdom Government update; I saw it this morning. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to consider the impact that will have in Wales on the biodiesel field, in particular. We have previously spoken to the United Kingdom Government about the effect that the original proposals would have here in Wales, and, of course, I spoke with the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, when he came here to Cardiff back in the summer about the impact on the countryside here in Wales, the rural communities, of falling out of the EU without any deal. He didn’t have very many answers, and he didn’t have very many details behind the answers that he did have to give me any confidence that the United Kingdom Government had considered in detail the impact of the path that they wish to follow on farmers here in Wales. Subsequently to that, in almost every meeting that we have had with them, we have raised the issues that Rhun ap Iorwerth has raised this afternoon—we continue to do that.
I’m pleased there is consensus between us on this issue, but I now want to appeal for regenerating a consensus that used to exist between us on the name of this institution. In the past, you have said that you would favour the name ‘Senedd’, and I was very pleased to hear that. Could I ask you why you decided to break with that consensus by saying that you now want to scrap the monolingual name ‘Senedd’, a name that has earned its place very widely already, and you now want to support an amendment to the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill to call it ‘Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament’, as its official name? Now, this is a matter that goes beyond party lines—and I’m very grateful to Hefin David and Mike Hedges for jointly tabling an amendment that we’ll discuss tomorrow—but may I appeal to you, at the eleventh hour, to show confidence in the ability of the people of Wales, whatever language they speak, to take ownership of one name that belongs to each and every one of us?
Llywydd, as I’ve already said, I use the term ‘Senedd’ every time I allude to the National Assembly, and I believe that, throughout Wales, that will be the common usage, and that all people in Wales will allude to this place in that manner. But it is a matter for Assembly Members to decide on this question, and there is more than one view in this Chamber. There will be an opportunity tomorrow to hear the views of those who wish to persuade us to support one or other of the names, and I look forward to that debate.
If it's a matter for Members, can you confirm to us that you will allow your Ministers also a free vote on this matter? There's certainly no legal barrier to calling it 'Senedd' only, and in explaining his reason behind his amendments to drop the Welsh-only name, your predecessor, Carwyn Jones, said in The Guardian a few days ago it's because it would cause confusion. But who's confused? Those who've now long called this place the Senedd, who are being told that should be undone—and, of course, we can still call it Welsh Parliament if we want—I'm sure I would at times too—but we're talking about the official name. Is it those who don't speak Welsh who would be confused because they can't understand why Welsh Government believes they somehow can't cope with the word 'Senedd'.
I sincerely hope that we are all very serious about creating a bilingual Wales, but that does not mean compartmentalising people into Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers. Here's what you call your Parliament if you speak Welsh; here's what you call your Parliament if you don't. Let's be confident in ourselves, uniting the nation behind the name that belongs to everyone regardless of their language, reflecting both our heritage and the dawn of a new kind of democracy. This is our Senedd, a unique name for a unique Parliament.
Llywydd, my experience going out and about and talking to people over the summer and since, including children in English-medium and Welsh-medium schools, is that the term 'Senedd' is already in popular parlance, and it's what people use in practice. It's what I myself use and intend to go on using. The term that people think is best reflected in an Act of this Assembly may be different to that, as it is in Ireland, as you know. The Dáil is what people call the Parliament in the Republic; in the Act of Parliament that set it up, it's referred to as something more extensive. There'll be an opportunity tomorrow for people to hear the debate. There are views that deserve to be respected on all sides of this Chamber, and nobody, no individual and no party, has a monopoly of arguments on this matter. That's why we will debate it here, but Government will act collectively—that's the nature of being in government. Labour Members who are not members of the Government will be able to vote as they are persuaded by the arguments, and I look forward to hearing those arguments when the time comes tomorrow afternoon.
Brexit Party leader, Mark Reckless.
Diolch, Llywydd. My grandfather was a Member of it—I think is called the Dáil. Llywydd, you worked very hard on trying to get a version of the Bill that we're debating tomorrow that has as close to a consensus as we could find, and you worked no harder, I think, than on the naming of our institution. Now, I wonder, First Minister, if you recall that there was a stage in the process where the plan was to have in the Welsh version, 'Senedd' or 'Senedd Cymru', and then in the English version, 'Welsh Parliament', and it was suggested that that was the best option to command the closest to a consensus. Yet that then changed, and it changed, I'm told, following representations from within the Labour group and from one senior figure in particular. You tell us now it's a choice for Members, but is it not the case that the Bill we have before us is as it is regarding the name because of the representations you made, suggesting that that would garner a consensus, and it's because of that we have a version of the Bill that we're going to need to amend tomorrow.
Well, I certainly don't recognise that version of history. It's not a Government Bill, it's a Bill for Members of the Assembly. I absolutely think it is for Members here to put their arguments, to try to persuade one another. There will be many different points of view, and then we will decide on it in the democratic way. The Government has not been the sponsor or the inspiration for this Bill, and neither should we be.
I know the Government's not the sponsor, but you, First Minister, as an individual Member, were responsible for the representations that you made, and that was why I asked was it not the case that we have the version the Llywydd put forward because of those representations, and because of how strongly and forcefully you put forward that having 'Senedd' on a monolingual basis would command a consensus when it patently does not.
Now, another aspect of that Bill that you're now looking to change, and I hope you will vote for the amendments that are down in my name and that of your predecessor, relates to the rights of foreign nationals to vote. Now, I recall at Labour conference that there was a motion passed towards the end that said not only did Labour now want to keep freedom of movement with the European Union, but Labour wants to extend freedom of movement to the whole world, and give people an immediate right to vote, regardless of nationality. And a week or two later, we see Welsh Government come to seek to amend this Bill, which isn’t a Government Bill, to implement Corbyn and Labour’s policy. Now, if the situation is as you and your party wish, of lifting immigration restrictions and extending freedom of movement globally, have you made an estimate of how many people would be involved if we extend voting rights to foreign nationals in the way you now propose?
Llywydd, I think the Member is accusing me of supporting Labour Party policy, so I’m grateful to him for that. I look forward tomorrow to voting in favour of allowing those people from other parts of the world who have made their homes and their futures here in Wales to give them the opportunity to express their commitment to our futures by taking part in our democratic processes. That is absolutely the right thing for us to do, and it is particularly the right thing for us to do at a time when those people feel that their place in Wales is less secure than it ever has been, where they are made to feel by others that they’re not welcome to be here, and this party—and others, I hope, on the floor of this Assembly—will be determined to send exactly the opposite message. Those people have a stake in our futures and their futures, they live in our communities, they have a right to participate, and they have a right to participate democratically too.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the disciplinary process for senior officers in local government? OAQ54487
I thank the Member for that. I have always been clear that, once the disciplinary process at Caerphilly council came to a conclusion, the regulations agreed by the National Assembly in 2006, and their implementation, should be reviewed on an all-Wales basis. The current system has not worked and needs to be reformed.
Disreputable, dishonest and should have been dismissed long ago—these are the views of Caerphilly residents about Anthony O’Sullivan, the disgraced and now finally dismissed chief executive of Caerphilly County Borough Council. He was sacked last week after being found by the whole council of being guilty of gross misconduct. There were concerns raised about the way he was appointed by the then Plaid Cymru-led authority back in 2014, when the post wasn’t advertised to external competition. That rule was changed in 2014 by the Labour Welsh Government. Will the First Minister give his commitment today that the Oldham review will consider all aspects of recruitment and disciplinary practices for senior officers, and ensure that the misery that has been inflicted on the Caerphilly county borough for the past seven years cannot be repeated?
Llywydd, can I think the Member for his continued attention to this mater? One of the first questions I answered on the floor of the Assembly as the then local government Minister was a question from Hefin David asking that the processes that have governed events at Caerphilly council should be reviewed, and I gave him an undertaking then that, once the process came to a conclusion, such a review would be instituted. And Members will have seen the written statement issued yesterday by Julie James, setting out the terms of that review, and the rapid timescales within which we expect it to report.
In the meantime, as Hefin David has said, principal councils are now required to advertise publicly a chief officer role where the salary is £100,000 or more per annum, and that is absolutely the way in which those very important posts should be made known to the public, and competed for on the basis of the best possible field of candidates. I look forward to the work that Peter Oldham QC will now carry out. I want to make sure that the whole process that was previously agreed on the floor of this Assembly is thoroughly reviewed. I want him to look at the way in which those rules have been implemented on the ground, in case there are flaws of implementation as well as any difficulties in the rule book itself. And I look forward to us being able to come back to the Assembly as rapidly as we are able to, in order to ensure that the events that have unfolded in Caerphilly will not be repeated elsewhere.
First Minister, I'm sure you will agree that it is totally unacceptable for all concerned that the chief executive of a local authority can be suspended on full pay for more than six years. I understand the case of Caerphilly council's former chief executive is the longest running disciplinary case of its kind in local government history. It is estimated to have cost the council already more than £4 million, which could actually cover all the homelessness in Wales—you know, we are suffering at the moment. And this £4 million—. Mr O'Sullivan is reported to be taking his case to an employment tribunal now. You know and I know that—you have already indicated—the system needs to be reviewed and reformed. You said that earlier on the television. Can you advise when this review will be commenced and how long you expect this process to take, please? Because this situation cannot be allowed to occur again in future, at a huge cost to the public purse and to the life and the reputation of the individual involved in this case.
I thank the Member for that. As Members will have seen in the written statement issued yesterday by Julie James, Peter Oldham QC has now been appointed to undertake a rapid review of existing arrangements. That work has therefore already begun. We hope that that will report early in the new year, so it is a genuinely rapid review, and then we will report to the floor of the National Assembly on the conclusions that Mr Oldham reaches and bring forward any changes to existing regulations that we need to make in order to avoid the difficulties that have been experienced in recent times at Caerphilly.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's lobbying rules? OAQ54503
Llywydd, the rules in relation to lobbying are set out in the ministerial code.
First Minister, you were elected to lead your party claiming to be a twenty-first century socialist, but the simple truth is that there are no rules on corporate lobbying in Wales, making our Senedd the least protected in the UK and in Europe, in fact. Labour is the party opposing these rules. In the US, democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is working with none other than Ted Cruz to make a deal on banning lawmakers from lobbying. US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has launched a plan to curb corporate lobbying, including making it so that former members of Congress or senior staffers are not able to lobby. But there are no such rules here in Wales, or, indeed, plans. The lobbying firms are packed with former Assembly Members and special advisers, which is a recipe for corruption. Your Government has opposed bringing in even a statutory register of lobbyists, let alone something stronger. Do you recognise the need for stronger lobbying rules? And will you, as a self described socialist, join what is going on in the US by bringing in tough rules on corporate lobbying?
Llywydd, these matters have been discussed and considered at the standards committee, a committee with which I think the Member has some familiarity, and I am content to abide by the advice that the standards committee provides.
As Neil McEvoy has said, or indicated, I think if one thing is clear about lobbying in Wales at the moment it's that there is a distinct lack of clarity, which has caused some of the issues over the last, well, few months and years. So, it's clear, as you mentioned, the standards committee report—I think my colleague Paul Davies was on the committee at the time that was looked into—came forward with various proposals of how to clarify matters within Wales. I think the idea of a lobbyist register was mentioned, whether that be voluntary or not. Can you tell me, since the publication of that report—yes, that has been discussed by standards committee, but, obviously, Welsh Government will need to provide a way forward through this—have you come to any conclusions in terms of whether a register would be a good way to go in the future, and whether that should be voluntary or non-voluntary, and how it would be regulated, in fact?
Well, Llywydd, as I said, I think these are matters for the standards committee to advise on, and my understanding is that, when the standards committee considered the matter of a register, it decided to make further inquiries and to give further thought to that matter. I look forward to receiving any advice that the standards committee provides, because these things are not matters for Government, they are matters for the standards of conduct of all Assembly Members, and that's why we have a standards committee to advise us on the best way to resolve these matters.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the outbreak of legionnaires' disease in Barry over the past 12 months? OAQ54496
I thank the Member for that question. Public Health Wales and partner agencies continue to investigate a higher than usual number of cases of legionnaire's disease in the Barry area. Extensive investigations have so far been unable to link any of these cases to a common source.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. There are around 30 cases of legionnaire's disease in Wales each year, on average, but in the last 12 months there have been 11 in Barry. You're quite right that Public Health Wales has not yet been able to find a cause and does not consider it, yet, an official legionnaire's disease outbreak, but it's surely of great concern to residents. And they will remember the unfortunate deaths and serious illnesses in 1999 that occurred in the authority.
Members of the public, of course, can do many things to reduce their risk—basically to ensure standing water isn't left in taps, and draining water bowsers and garden hoses, and using commercial screen washes in their vehicles. Because I don't think many people realise that these are the vectors, often, and the way the disease is transmitted. Public Health Wales and their partner agencies, I understand, are advising employers to check their policies, because, unfortunately, the workplace has, in the past, also been a vector. Can you give us any specifics on what is being done to raise the public profile and, in particular, to ensure employers are doing what is their duty to do?
I thank the Member for that question and drawing attention to the advice that Public Health Wales, drawing on wider UK expertise in this area, has provided to citizens and to businesses in Barry. The last press release containing advice for members of the public and for businesses was released in September. Since then, the incident management team that has been set up has continued to take action in the Barry area. It's due to meet next on 21 October. It will look at the latest information, including, for example, the recent testing of all four registered local water cooling towers in Barry, none of which turned out to be a source of the legionella bacteria.
Now, the incident management team will stay in place for six months beyond the latest incident, and the latest individual to be identified as suffering from legionnaire's disease was in August of this year. So, the incident management team will stay in place at least until the early months of next year. It will continue to work with businesses, it will continue to pursue any new avenues of inquiry that become available to it, and it will continue to provide advice for local citizens of the actions that they can take of the sort that David Melding set out: removing unused taps and shower heads, draining water bowsers and garden hoses, using commercial screen washes in vehicles, and so on—all of which are practical things that individuals can do and which will reduce the risk of further incidence of legionnaire's disease in Barry over the months ahead.
6. Will the First Minister outline how the Welsh Government is supporting the pharmaceutical industry? OAQ54475
I thank the Member for that. The Welsh Government supports the pharmaceutical industry through investment in research, product development, expert promotion and professional development. Earlier this year, for example, the Minister for health announced a new £100,000 funding package for pharmacist training. This funds specialist clinical skills training for 50 new pharmacists across Wales.
Very positive news indeed, First Minister. And, as you will be aware, the pharmaceutical industry in the UK invests £4.3 billion per annum into research and development, more than any other sector of the economy, and the UK has the lowest prices for medicine in the whole of Europe as a consequence. How do you propose this support and investment is secured for the future, given the 'Medicines for the Many' policy launched at the recent Labour Party conference in Brighton—a policy that could rob research and development of much-needed investment, and a policy that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has stated will not lead to more patients getting access to the medicines that they need, the medicines that some desperately need?
Llywydd, there's a long history here in Wales of supporting the pharmaceutical industry. If you'd permit me, I'd like to congratulate my old employers at Cardiff University, where the pharmacy department is this week celebrating its centenary, having opened its doors in October 1919. It continues to carry out research and professional training in the pharmacy field. There are many new ways—and very many calls around this Chamber over many years—in which we support the community pharmacy network here in Wales. But we do that because we have our eyes very firmly on the public interest. There is a long call—it was led by Dr Julian Tudor-Hart here in Wales—for Governments to take action, so that the public interest is put to the fore in medicine production. While we are very keen to work with the pharmaceutical industry to support the many good things that it does in Wales, we shouldn't turn our back on the idea that there may be further ways in which the public interest can be pursued in the pharmaceutical field. As a Government, it is always the public interest that guides our actions in investment, in support for the industry and in new possibilities for doing that in the future.
I would agree that the public interest is integral here, which is why, in relation to the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi, Vertex isn't only submitting an application for the drug, it's submitting a patient access scheme alongside that, which of course allowed for it to be okayed in Scotland. My question is: how often are these patient access schemes considered here in Wales alongside a drug application, so that we can not only help the drug industry and the pharmaceutical industry—because of course, they exist, and they must exist, although I understand that the parameters could change—but also in terms of how the patients could benefit? Because I do sincerely believe that, sometimes, it's so astronomical in price, that affects how the NHS can allow those drugs to be put on the market. So, we must find a way that, if these drugs sincerely change people's lives, they get access to them, but in a way that is ethical and that helps society as a whole.
I agree entirely with the way that Bethan Sayed put the conundrum at the end of her question. Llywydd, can I express my frustration at the actions of Vertex here in Wales? This company said, in June this year, that it would put forward evidence and a proposal to the all-Wales medicines strategy group, and it has failed to do so. We cannot act to make the drugs available in Wales if the companies that supply them aren't prepared to put their products through the process that we have for their recognition. They said that they would do it in June. I wish that they would get on with it. We want patients in Wales to be able to benefit from medicines where those things have been properly considered. Patient access schemes are often part of the package that we agree with a company. The company was prepared to do it in Scotland, it's indicated that it was prepared to do it in Wales, yet it's failed to take the steps that it promised. I wish they would get on and do it.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on hospital waiting times in the Swansea Bay University Health Board area? OAQ54502
I thank the Member. At the year end 2018-19, 36-week waits in the health board had fallen by 22 percent over the year, and stood at the lowest figure since April 2014. The health Minister has made available £50 million to health boards to build on recent progress and to improve waiting times further by March 2020. The Swansea Bay UHB has received, of course, its share of that funding.
Could I thank the First Minister for that answer? It's very helpful to understand that we have seen a reduction—and we have seen a reduction, particularly with life-threatening conditions. I remember a time when waits for heart surgery were over 12 months, and cancer also a long time, but they've come down dramatically. But as we've seen the drops in times and waits for life-threatening conditions, we've seen a rise in waits for other conditions that have an impact upon people's quality of life. I'll give you two examples. I had a constituent who I wrote to back in February asking about a gallbladder situation, and I was informed there was a 143-week waiting list for that condition. I wrote back again in the summer saying, 'Sorry, we still haven't had any progress', and the waiting time had gone up by 26 weeks to 169 weeks. So, in 26 weeks waiting, it had gone up 26 weeks. So, effectively, that patient had not moved anywhere on that waiting list because of the changes. And we're seeing things with knee operations. And as these people wait for these conditions, they may not be life-threatening, but they are life-changing and they have chronic impacts upon people. Somebody with a knee wait may have to wait two years for a bad knee, but whilst they wait for that bad knee operation, the other knee goes as a consequence of the pressure placed on it. So, we are increasing the challenges for these people and worsening their quality of life. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that not just the life-threatening conditions are being reduced, but that the waiting times for other conditions are also being reduced?
Well, the Member's account demonstrates the pressures that public services in Wales are in 10 years into austerity, with the uncertainty that Brexit places on essential staff in our public services, and when pension arrangements mean that consultants in Wales are withdrawing from activity that otherwise they would have routinely been prepared to carry out. Now, of course, we expect all patients to be seen in order of clinical priority and that routine patient care is delivered in a timely fashion, but nobody here in this Chamber should be under any illusion about the very real pressures that all our public services, including the health service, are facing and the challenges that that poses when providing care in the timely way in which we would wish to see it. As I said, Llywydd, The Swansea Bay UHB succeeded last year across the range of things that it does in reducing longer waiting times and the additional money that the health Minister has provided earlier than ever in this financial year gives them the best opportunity we can provide to go on reducing those waiting times further.
Finally, question 8—Neil Hamilton.
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on recent discussions with Transport for Wales on the performance of its services in Mid and West Wales? OAQ54468
I thank the Member. The Minister for Economy and Transport has regular discussions with Transport for Wales on the performance of rail services across the Wales and borders service. Transport for Wales are currently finalising their preparations for the autumn and winter months to underpin the reliability of their services.
I thank the First Minister for that reply. He'll know that 24 per cent of the population in Mid and West Wales are over 65 and older people in particular rely on various forms of public transport more than others to get about. He'll be aware also of the fiasco of the concessionary bus pass website for the renewal scheme, which crashed on 11 September and took two weeks to get up and running again. Would he give us an assurance that everybody who wants to renew a bus pass will be able to do so before the end of the year? And given that overcrowding on trains and delays and cancellations are so frequently in the news, can he assure us that Transport for Wales is actually fit for purpose?
I thank the Member for the opportunity to reassure others in the Chamber that the website is now operating very effectively, and that as of this morning 211,000 had registered with it and that it is working in the way that we had originally intended. As for Transport for Wales, Members will have seen the statements put out by the Minister for transport at the end of last week demonstrating the changes that will be made on 15 December. They will see a 10 per cent increase in the number of passengers who can be carried on our railways. That will go alongside the £194 million investment in stations across Wales. It will lie alongside the reductions in fares that I mentioned earlier for children and for older people. It will lie alongside improvements that are being made, for example, to passenger experience, in information, and in Wi-Fi. Transport for Wales has the most ambitious programme of improvements to rail services in Wales during the whole period of devolution. They have embarked on that programme. As was always said, it will last over a period of years, and citizens and passengers in Wales are already seeing the benefits.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is questions to the Deputy Minister, and the first question is from Vikki Howells.
1. Will the Deputy Minister provide an update on the community facilities programme? OAQ54469
I'm pleased to say that I've recently agreed community facilities programme grants worth £2.72 million to 22 projects. These awards bring the total number of projects funded by the programme to 157, a total of £27.3 million helping to improve community-run facilities across Wales.
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that update. I truly welcome the CFAP funding in Cynon Valley. It has helped some really amazing projects to get off the ground. But having said that, from my experience of dealing with community groups that are going through the application process, the timelines given to them are often unclear, the dates by which they expect officials to reply to them, or for funding to be confirmed, can often slip, and that makes the process very, very stressful for applicants and can lead to them losing other vital grants that are time sensitive. Will the Welsh Government look into the CFAP process to see what more can be done to progress bids in a timely manner and to minimise the stress placed upon applicants?
I thank Vikki Howells very much for her question and also for recognition of what the community facilities programme has brought in terms of investment to her constituency of Cynon Valley. But it is also very helpful to have that feedback regarding the application process. I think one of the strengths of the community facilities programme is that it is a rolling programme; there's not one cut-off date. So, it means that we can make awards and grant decisions throughout the year, and often, as you say, it's in partnership with other funding bids. Each project has a named case officer and they must keep in regular contact and provide a focus for communication. But it is good to see that in Cynon Valley, those three projects recently approved, including Cylch Meithrin Seren Fach—a refurbished building and expanded services—is one that will make a huge difference to that community.
Minister, you just mentioned three of the projects in Cynon Valley. I didn't quite catch, at the start of that, the number of projects overall that have been given funding, so if you could repeat that, I'd be grateful. From my own perspective, I'd be interested to know if any projects in Monmouthshire have received money since the scheme has been going, and what's being done to ensure that there is an even spread across urban and rural areas when it comes to communities applying for this funding? And very finally, I notice that on page 13 of the Welsh Government live document, it mentions procurement and that there must be evidence provided of projects being properly procured and care taken to ensure it's fair. We often talk about the need to ensure that, or try to get as big a proportion of Welsh procurement as possible to our own businesses. I wonder if that's been factored into the application process at all.
Thank you, Nick Ramsay, for that question. I think, as there is a rolling programme of grants awarded—I know that over the years, Monmouthshire has benefited, but it very much depends on applications coming forward. As I said, there are 22 new projects just recently announced, and 157 since this programme started. I'll certainly write to you on any Monmouthshire projects that have come forward.FootnoteLink It is true that issues around procurement are important in terms of the grants that are awarded to these usually voluntary groups who are making applications, but also that procurement is fair and ethical. But also, we are now particularly looking at other issues in terms of any capital programmes that we are allocating funding for; that we also look at issues in terms of decarbonisation, biodiversity, impacts in terms of schemes that can, of course—. All of our capital funding now has to look at it through the lens of climate change.
2. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s support for the voluntary sector in Pembrokeshire? OAQ54467
Welsh Government provides core funding for the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and county voluntary councils to deliver third sector support infrastructure across Wales, and £154,134 of this funding is provided to Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services, who help support the third sector in Pembrokeshire.
I'm grateful to the Deputy Minister for that response. I recently had the privilege of attending the open day of a local charity called HOPE, based in Neyland in my constituency, which supports people living with multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions. The viability of this particular centre is largely down to the support it receives from local people, both in terms of donations, and in terms of voluntary support to patients and their families. Deputy Minister, this centre is a lifeline to a lot of local patients with complex conditions, and given its huge impact locally, can you tell us what specific support the Welsh Government can offer to smaller charities like this to protect their sustainability for the future?
Well, thank you, Paul Davies, for that question. HOPE in Neyland sounds a very inspiring, local project. I'm not sure whether it's constituted as a local charity, but it's clearly going to be eligible for a range of funding sources. I think Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services are local county voluntary councils who we fund to help those organisations access funding, and also through the local authority, and indeed even town and community councils also have funds for these sort of projects. Anything to do with capital, then, obviously, I've already been referring to the community facilities programme in terms of opportunities, but it is very much local organisations linking up with, whether it's health, local government. It's possible that this could be a third sector organisation that might be eligible for the integrated care fund, so I would suggest that that could be discussed with the local Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services.
3. What action is the Welsh Government taking to protect the human rights of Welsh people in the criminal justice system? OAQ54486
The Welsh Government seeks to ensure that the Ministry of Justice and its agencies embed and uphold all human rights issues associated with Welsh people within the non-devolved criminal justice system.
Thank you for your answer, Deputy Minister. Last week, we debated giving prisoners the vote, which I opposed and was criticised for. My point in that debate was that we should be focusing on rehabilitation and support, and far too many ex-offenders are released without housing or any support mechanism according to their needs, which often relate to mental health issues. Deputy Minister, do you agree with me that this is a contravention of the human rights of ex-offenders, and will your Government ensure that every ex-offender has housing, support and welfare in place upon release, and not just a black bag containing a few possessions when they leave?
I thank the Member for that question, and I would say that we were pleased to accept the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in its report on voting rights for prisoners, and we'll work to introduce legislation in the Assembly to enable some Welsh prisoners to vote in local government elections. But, I entirely agree that we need to invest, and ensure that the Ministry of Justice is investing in appropriate services for rehabilitation. That includes not only employment, but housing, education, and health services as well. And we are working, of course, with the Ministry of Justice at a local level, particularly in relation to female offending and our youth justice blueprints as well. But it is clearly crucial that we have rehabilitation, particularly in relation to housing, and we are working closely with the Minister for Housing and Local Government to ensure that rehabilitation and housing linked to the probation service are followed through.
When the Wales Governance Centre reported that Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe, and although the total number of prison sentences have risen in Wales between 2010 and 2017, they've fallen by 16 per cent in England, they said that wider research is needed to try to explain Wales's high rate of imprisonment. This is particularly relevant given that many of the services required to manage offenders, ex-offenders and promote rehabilitation are already devolved, raising questions about the comparative effectiveness of these devolved services, where, for example, the acting Prisons and Probation Ombudsman said last year that, unlike English prisons, Welsh prisons do not offer integrated drug treatment systems, and where we heard at lunch time, at the cross-party group on policing, that the Welsh Government's advisory panel on substance misuse has not met in the last year, or so we were told. What research is the Welsh Government, or has the Welsh Government commissioned, undertaken or accessed since this report to meet the call by the report's author, so that we have a better understanding of the true causes of this excessive imprisonment rate?
It is, I think, very important that we do engage, as we have responsibilities for, with the devolved services around offenders and the criminal justice system. Of course, I've already mentioned the importance of our responsibilities relating to housing, to health and social care, and welfare, and of course substance misuse comes into that line of responsibilities. It's also very important that we see that the Ministry of Justice is delivering on expectations in terms of their responsibilities, and also in terms of funding.
I'm very pleased that we are now looking towards the reunification of the probation service, on 2 December of this year. The reunification of the probation service is vital in order for us to work together in an integrated way in terms of our services. The privatisation of the probation service was one of the worst policies of the Conservative Government, which did so much harm. But we can now see this reunification in Wales. But I would also expect the Ministry of Justice to deliver on the recommendations of the inspections of prisons. We know that there have been unannounced inspections of prisons, particularly at Berwyn, recently, and we would expect those recommendations to be delivered in terms of non-devolved services, and we will play our part in terms of our responsibilities.
4. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's justice policies? OAQ54472
While responsibility for justice policies and the justice system in Wales rests with the UK Government, delivery of justice services is inextricably linked to devolved services. The blueprints for youth justice and female offending, which I published in May, set out our distinct approach to the delivery of justice services in Wales.
I'm grateful to you for that, Deputy Minister. I think, Presiding Officer, the Conservative Member for North Wales possibly inadvertently made a stronger case for the devolution of these services than the rest of us could ever make, in his earlier question. The fact that we do have a settlement that is broken in this regard leads to human suffering, day after day after day, and the systemic failure of a political and service system to meet the needs of people who are in or have been in the criminal justice system. Within that context, Deputy Minister—and we understand the background to it—is it possible for you to provide this place with an update on the delivery of those blueprints? The blueprints were designed, of course, in order to bring together these services, in order to produce a more holistic approach to policy, to ensure that young people and women, who all too often bear the brunt of these failures, have the services that they require and need in order to be successfully rehabilitated in our communities.
I thank Alun Davies for that question, and also thank him for the work that he undertook, as my predecessor, leading up to the publication of those two blueprints on female offending and youth justice. I will be very happy to bring back an update to this Assembly in terms of the robust governance arrangements we're developing—that's both internally, in terms of Welsh Government policy, and our external stakeholders. We now have an overarching programme board for both blueprints. That met for the first time on 16 September. It does include senior officials, not just from Welsh Government—we are acting as chair—but the Ministry of Justice, the Youth Justice Board, the Home Office, and also representatives from police and crime commissioners. It is clear that we need to move forward on these blueprints and show that we can deliver, particularly, a youth justice system that treats children with fairness and respect and also an urgent solution to female offending in Wales. There are around 250 Welsh women currently held in prisons in England. We should not be in that situation. We want at least one residential women's centre in Wales. We've pressed for this, and I've been asking for an answer since April from Ministers. We now have a new Minister, and we will be meeting Robert Buckland shortly to discuss this and press further.
5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to encourage youth volunteering in Carmarthenshire? OAQ54480
Good afternoon, Angela Burns. Welsh Government values volunteering as an important expression of citizenship and as an essential component of democracy. And we are encouraging youth volunteering through our third sector support Wales grant, which provides both funding and local support.
Thank you for that. And I just want to give you a quick apology, because actually when I say Carmarthenshire, in fact, this applies throughout the whole of Wales, my question.
We need volunteers for the future. We know our volunteers are dedicated, but they're ageing and there is a real gap coming along stream. So, I just wondered how innovative we could be as a nation, and I wondered what discussions you might have with, for example, the Minister for Education, first of all to encourage volunteering as part of the school programme. Because I think that with the new curriculum we have a real opportunity to perhaps try and slide that in, so that we train young people from a very early age with the whole principle of helping others, going out and finding things that they find of interest to volunteer in. And, secondly, what consideration, if any, has been given to the fact that if you undertake a proper volunteering scheme, that might act as some kind of credit towards your qualifications, your exams, your baccalaureate, like a points-based system, so that you're rewarded and encouraged to go out and volunteer, so it helps you and it helps the organisation or the people you're volunteering for?
Thank you for those questions. And, of course, they're relevant to the whole of Wales. Carmarthenshire, of course, is benefiting, I was going to say, from grant schemes for volunteering, and Wales grants schemes are actually exclusively supporting young people. I'm sure you've met many of them in your constituency, because volunteering, as I said, is an important expression of citizenship, and it is possible, accreditation for young people. It's an all-age volunteering policy that we have, but I certainly know that young people engaging through, not only the Welsh baccalaureate, but often through the Duke of Edinburgh award, have credits for their bronze, silver or gold. But I will certainly raise this with the Minister for Education in terms of the new opportunities with the new curriculum. But I think it is something when young people, as our citizens of the future, recognise that they have, not only a role to play—. Many of them also happen to be young carers as well in their own families, but are also increasingly, I would say, speaking up for their communities, engaging with activities like the climate change activities, youth forums, our Welsh Youth Parliament, and we do need to ensure that they're recognised for their contributions.
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make her statement, Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Trefnydd, can I ask for a statement on parking arrangements at Welsh hospitals? Obviously, I am aware and fully support the free parking initiative that we have at hospitals across Wales, but this is causing some considerable problems in terms of parking at many of our hospital sites, not least Glan Clwyd Hospital, which serves many of my constituents.
In a bid to alleviate some of those problems, the health board in north Wales has provided a park-and-ride facility that has been extremely popular with patients and staff using the new parking arrangements for that hospital. But it is set to be withdrawn at the end of this month, and I'm very concerned about the stress that that might cause, particularly for those people who are frequent users of hospital services because of conditions like cancer and other chronic or life-limiting illnesses. I wonder whether the Government could bring forward a statement and whether there's any financial support that might be made available to support these park-and-ride schemes, which are, as I say, extremely popular with patients, extremely popular with staff and very, very useful in easing the congestion problems around our hospital sites.
I thank Darren Millar for raising the issue. The health Minister is aware of the issue at Glan Clwyd and the park-and-ride facility in particular. I know that it's been raised with him by the local Member, Ann Jones, and the health Minister has agreed that he will write to all Members providing an update.FootnoteLink FootnoteLink
I want to express my deep concern for the safety of Kurds in northern Syria. Despite being outgunned in many battles, the Kurds not only put a halt to the advance of Islamic State forces, but forced them to retreat. The Kurds did what western forces were unwilling to do on the ground, and they've paid a heavy price for that sacrifice. They're now running the prisons that hold thousands of captured IS fighters. The reward for such bravery and unstinting work: being left hung out to dry by the President of the United States, despite assurances that they would be afforded protection.
Trump has given the green light to Turkey to launch a military offensive in northern Syria by signalling his intention to pull US troops out of the region. We know what the plans of the Turkish Government are. Time and time again, the reward for Kurdish bravery and a justified campaign for autonomy, often encouraged by the west, has been a brutal put-down and no help from the international community. I'm well aware that foreign policy is not the remit of this Senedd—not yet anyway—but this Welsh Government can and should send a clear message to the Foreign Office that this treachery, which will cost thousands of Kurdish lives and put all of us at risk, will not be tolerated. We have a significant Kurdish community living in Wales, who are active in their local communities and are a force for good. The Kurdish people and anyone else in Wales wanting a fair and compassionate foreign policy want clear leadership from the Welsh Government on this matter. Will you therefore agree to a statement from the Government on this, outlining what can be done to help to protect those people who are families and friends of the Welsh Kurdish community, who are currently being badly let down?
I thank Leanne Wood for raising this serious issue with us this afternoon. I will speak directly with the Minister for international relations to explore what's the best way in which we can make the UK Government aware of the concerns that you've raised this afternoon, but I know they're concerns that are shared by many Members in this Chamber.
Last weekend, I, along with my colleague Chris Elmore MP accepted an invitation for a drink by Bridgend council leader, Huw David. We were delighted to do so because he offered to buy the first round, which is unheard of, quite frankly, but also because of the special nature of the pub that we went to. Two years ago, a group of villagers in Cefn Cribwr raised, with only one day to go, enough money to buy at auction the last pub in the village—a 150-year-old pub called the Three Horseshoes. They managed it. They've spent the last two years gutting it and totally refurbishing it and turning it into a community-owned and community-managed pub. It is beautiful, it is gorgeous inside. It serves coffee as well as beer, and so on and so forth. But I wonder if this is the right time, now, to ask for a debate on community-owned facilities. There is a rising tide of these facilities right across Wales—shops, cafes, pubs—and very often they become the beating heart of the villages and the towns that they are in. So, could I ask for that debate, as we go forward? I'd certainly celebrate it as a member of the co-operative party as well, who believes in co-operative models of ownership and management as well, and if the Minister, the Trefnydd, would like to discuss it further, I'm more than happy to do so, and I'll happily buy the first round at the Three Horseshoes so that we can discuss it further.
I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that invitation that I'm certain that I can't say 'no' to. The importance of communities taking over local assets is very much recognised by Welsh Government, so I was really pleased, just last week, to publish an updated community asset transfer guide, which gives local authorities and others with interest in this area some concrete examples of community asset transfers that have gone very well. It explores as well some of the pitfalls and barriers that could exist in terms of successful projects, but also provides almost a route-map, really, in terms of how this kind of thing can be turned into a real success. And I'd be happy to share a copy of that with Huw Irranca-Davies, perhaps over that pint.
May I ask for a statement from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on further measures to protect animals in homes, farms and in the wild? The UK Government has announced it is to consult on a step to ban the keeping of primates as pets, bringing in the compulsory microchipping of cats and on improving the welfare of live animals during transport. Please could we have a statement from the Minister, confirming that the Welsh Government will carefully consider the results of these consultations and implement any recommended measures in Wales to ensure we maintain the highest standard of animal welfare? Thank you.
I thank Mohammad Asghar for raising that, and good standards of animal welfare is something that the Welsh Government is particularly passionate about. I know that the Minister for environment and rural affairs has this very, very high on her agenda. Obviously, we'll be looking at UK Government consultations in this area to see what we can learn from the responses that come forward to that, but I know that the Minister has her own very ambitious programme in terms of animal health and welfare and is advised by the experts on the animal health and welfare group in terms of the most effective things that we can be doing in Wales in this area.
Trefnydd, can I ask for a statement from the Minister for environment, please? Last week, residents in my constituency, particularly in the Margam, Port Talbot and Taibach areas, experienced large noise pollution plus visible huge, black dust clouds coming from the blast furnaces as bleeders were required to ease the pressure. Now, when Tata put out their announcement on this, they actually blamed waterlogged products as part of the input. Now, they might be living in their offices in Tata, but I'm sure they understand a lot of rain comes into Port Talbot and it's not unique, but residents have had to put up with quite a large proportion of pollution and nuisance dust as a consequence of some of the recent events in Tata. Now, I appreciate the Minister actually visited Tata in the summer and had a discussion with them as to what works were going on, but this is getting to a stage now where we need to take some more action to ensure that they behave as a reasonable and responsible neighbour, to ensure that the residents of the area are not suffering through this unwarranted, unsolicited pollution.
Yesterday, we had a new statement from the Minister for transport, talking about M4 junctions 41 and 42 and the levels of nitrogen dioxide that have been reduced as a consequence of the actions, but if people travelling that road look to the sea, the see Tata and they see the emissions coming from Tata. So, it is important we address the emissions from our industrial industries and, in this case, Tata. So, can we have a statement from the Minister as to what discussion she's having with Tata to ensure that this does not happen again and they continue to act as a responsible neighbour, ensuring that people in that area can actually live in their houses, without, on going into the garden, being covered in black dust?
So, the Minister for environment's been here to hear your concerns on behalf of your constituents this afternoon, and I know that she'd be very happy to meet with you within the next week to discuss the concerns that you've raised in more detail.
Trefnydd, perhaps I could request two statements, please, the first one from the health Minister regarding the provision of minor injuries units in Wales, especially in view of the Choose Well message that I hope we're all hearing. As a constituency Member in my own region, of course, you'll be aware that the GP-led minor injuries unit in Singleton has been temporarily closed—some reconfiguration, but also some issues over staffing. In response to my recent freedom of information request, the new health board confirmed that they'd asked 430 GPs in the health board area if they would consider contributing to the rota as the existing handful of GPs there can't manage it themselves. That's over 400 GPs, and not one of them said 'yes'. I think that needs some direct ministerial investigation, as well as an up-to-date statement, perhaps, on the current state of the service across Wales.
The second: perhaps I could request from the environment Minister on the back of the state of nature report and the role of Welsh Government in protecting privately owned nature reserves of national importance. Kenfig nature reserve in my own region has been under the management of the local authority, by virtue of a lease that expires in December. Local residents and volunteers have naturally been very concerned about the future of this nationally significant reserve, as the council will not be renewing that lease. The corporation trust that owns the land has been anything but communicative and transparent about its proposals to ensure good management of that land from January, and, bearing in mind that the wider community of Kenfig is the beneficiary of the trust, I'm a bit worried about observance of fiduciary duties. But I would like some clarity, please, concerning the role of NRW in situations such as this, where these certainly nationally important sites appear to be in jeopardy. Is it just advisory, for example? And I would like confirmation of any powers that Welsh Government may have, directly or indirectly, as they do under the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016, to compel owners to maintain officially designated nature reserves to a particular standard, or to protect a particular identity. Thank you.
Thank you very much. On that issue of the Kenfig nature reserve and the importance of the management of nationally important land, there were some quite detailed aspects to your question there, so I'll ask the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to write to you in response to those particular concerns.FootnoteLink
Again, on the issue of the minor injuries unit at Singleton, and your concern more generally about minor injuries provision, and the survey that was done of GPs in terms of seeking their agreement to become part of that rota to provide the service, I know that the health Minister will be interested in what you've outlined this afternoon and, I'm sure, will look into it further.
Trefnydd, last week a planning application for 111 houses on the edge of Raglan in my constituency, which had been called in by the Welsh Government, was refused by the independent planning inspector, and I received a copy of the report and the letter, primarily on the grounds of conflict with the well-being of future generations legislation. It strikes me that this legislation and the growing body of Welsh legislation in this area is having an increasing impact on planning decisions for local authorities across Wales, and I wonder if they are fully versed in all the aspects of the complexity of that legislation, because I've certainly been brought up to speed on it. So, I wonder if we could have a statement from the Minister for local government and planning on advice that's currently being given to local authorities so they are completely up to speed with issues such as the legislation that I've mentioned, and other areas—the climate emergency as well is having an increasing impact. It seems to me that the authorities would benefit from clarity surrounding the new framework that we're in.
Secondly and very quickly, in terms of Welsh-medium education, the Welsh Government obviously has the admirable intention to create one million Welsh speakers by 2050. However, in my neck of the woods there simply isn't currently the provision available to help increase the number of Welsh language learners. I think we have one Welsh-medium primary school in Monmouthshire. There is a plan for a second, but it's unclear where that will be. I wonder if, in light of that, we could have an update from the Welsh Government on how the Welsh Government intends to deliver on this promise and make sure that local authorities in south Wales can provide that Welsh-medium education where parents and pupils and teachers want it.
Thank you for raising the issues. In respect of the first issue, the context was a particular local planning application and, obviously, I'd be unable to comment on the specifics of that. But I will explore with the Minister for Housing and Local Government how we're ensuring that local authorities and planning departments have all of the access that they need to information, advice and potential expertise in terms of undertaking the roles that they have and the considerations that they have to make in terms of planning. I'll also explore opportunities to discuss in further detail with local authorities whether they've identified any gaps in terms of access to information or expertise that we can potentially support them with in the undertaking of those roles.
I know that the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language will be very keen to provide an update on Welsh-medium education to Members, and I will speak to her about the most appropriate and opportune time to do that.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
The next item, therefore, is the statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on an update on Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, and I call on the Minister to make his statement—Vaughan Gething.
Diolch, Llywydd. In April, following publication of the royal colleges' report into maternity services at the former Cwm Taf University Health Board, I committed to updating Members on the interventions I had put in place to secure immediate and sustainable improvements. In addition to maternity services, this extended to improving the quality governance arrangements in place across the organisation as a whole. Earlier today I published the first quarterly update from the independent maternity services oversight panel that I established in April. This is a comprehensive report that sets out the extensive work the panel has overseen in the past months.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.
I am encouraged to hear the health board have fully engaged in this process, in an open, honest and transparent way, and fully recognised the scale of the challenge that they face. This is a consistent message that I have heard from all parties, including regulators, about the health board’s engagement in the wide range of interventions that have been put into place. As an organisation, they are now showing that they're determined to learn and improve. They welcomed the supportive, and at times challenging, way in which the panel has engaged with them. It is positive to hear that the work to involve and engage women and families is developing at pace in particular. Equally, the feedback from women about their experience is improving, with high levels of satisfaction being reported significantly more often than not.
I'm sure that we will all be pleased to hear that there is early evidence of improvement across a number of the recommendations, and that the foundations for this are now in place, albeit initial progress was slower than the panel had hoped for. It was important for the panel in their first update to place a particular focus on seeking evidence, both written and observational, through their check-in visits with staff to be assured that the immediate 11 'make safe' recommendations from the royal colleges’ review are being embedded in practice. In addition, my officials continue to have weekly calls with the maternity leads at the health board, reviewing a core set of metrics including staffing levels, acuity and any clinical risk issues to ensure patient safety and that women are receiving a good experience, and this information is also shared with the panel.
So, today I have also published the panel’s clinical review strategy. One of the key responsibilities that I set for the panel was to design and deliver a plan to review past cases. This will initially extend to cases falling from January 2016 to the end of September 2018, as proposed by the royal colleges' report. However, it will not end there. The panel have advised me that they wanted to start with a clean-sheet approach and take every opportunity to maximise opportunities for learning. They have therefore agreed a broad criteria, over and above those already required to be reported to existing national review systems. This included reviewing information relating to around 350 cases in which either the mother or baby had needed to be transferred out of the local unit for care. From this extensive first look they have determined that, across the full criteria, approximately 150 cases should be covered by a multidisciplinary review. This includes the original 43 cases that had been identified by the health board. It is important to make clear that these are not all serious incidents. This does however underscore the independent panel’s determination to look at a comprehensive range of cases so that they can determine what has gone well, in addition to determining where this may not have been the case. It is important to learn from good practice as well as from failings in care.
All of these cases will have an independent multidisciplinary review. My officials are working closely with the appropriate royal colleges to identify additional teams to work with the panel to get this next stage under way as soon as possible. I do want to assure all women and families, whose care is being identified for review, that they will be contacted by the panel and be given the opportunity to contribute to the review if they wish to do so and to pose any questions that they may have. They will be supported to do so as is needed. I also want to confirm again that any family who have concerns about their care can self-refer to the panel to seek a review. This process needs to be done thoroughly and robustly, but it will clearly take some time, so I'm not setting any deadlines for completion.
I'm determined that women and families must be at the heart of all the work that is in train to take forward all aspects of the improvements needed. I'm grateful to the panel for meeting with families yesterday so they could hear at first-hand about the work to date and the next steps. Whilst I want to ensure the greatest transparency and engagement in the work, I also recognise that these updates may be distressing too. But I sincerely hope that a continued focus on improvement, to ensure the very highest standards of care are provided going forward, will offer some degree of comfort. I do, however, recognise the loss and heartbreak that many families will have suffered, and for that I am truly sorry.
I also recognise that this is a difficult and challenging time for the staff, and I do want to thank them for their continued commitment, day in, day out, to continuing to provide maternity services in the area.
The past months have required much soul-searching for the board. I have no doubt from my conversations with the chair, Marcus Longley, and David Jenkins, who I asked to provide support and advice to the board on its leadership and governance, that the board accepts the need to make fundamental change to their previous way of working. They have reflected that they were not sufficiently focused on understanding service quality, patient experience, or engaging with their staff. They fully appreciate the need to rebuild public, staff and stakeholder trust and confidence.
The board acknowledge that the arrangements they have in place for the management of concerns and incidents needs significant improvement. A number of work streams are already under way to improve leadership and culture, as well as their quality governance arrangements. These actions will undoubtedly be further informed by the findings and recommendations from the joint Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and Wales Audit Office quality governance review in the coming months.
Overall, I am encouraged that there are clear signs of improvement and, importantly, a strong desire and will to achieve it. There is, without doubt, a long journey ahead and we are not yet in any position to consider any change in the organisation's escalation status. I'm grateful to the panel for their contribution and initial assessment, and for the advice and support that David Jenkins has provided. I'm confident that the interventions that have been put in place are proving effective. This is very much down to their professionalism and their approach, together with the reflective approach adopted by the board. There is, however, much more to do to deliver and sustain the lasting improvement in maternity care that all of us would wish to see.
I'd like to thank you, Minister, for your statement today and also for the opportunity you afforded my staff members to receive a technical briefing on the report this morning. Of course, your statement is entitled 'Update on Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board', and I appreciate that in the content you mainly focused on the progress report and the clinical review strategy, which indeed I will do—I have a number of questions just to ask you on it. However, I do want to put on record again how incredibly sorry we are that this has happened to these families in this health board. How incredibly sorry that they've had to go through not just the trauma of losing a child but now trying to put right that exercise. We will try to support you in whatever way we can to ensure that those parents get the answers and, indeed, the justice that they seek. So, I have to ask you this first question, which is: what reassurances, Minister, can you provide that the senior management involved at the time are held accountable for the failings within the health board, in light of the panel's clear statement that they are not there, rightly so, to establish who is to blame? That is a separate area and we'd be grateful for an update on that.
In terms of the clinical review strategy and the quarterly progress report—very interesting reading. The update states that the interim minimum staffing levels have been agreed with the health board. Minister, could you just explain what those levels are and do they meet any existing recognised minimum staff levels for this service? I know we are waiting for the publication of Birthrate Plus, which isn't until later this month, but can you tell us whether those minimum staffing levels are above Birthrate Plus, about what you anticipate it would be, or slightly below? Can you shed any light on that at all?
In the report, the authors say that they are seeking independent validation of the board's claims that 30 per cent of those initial recommendations have been fully embedded into the working practices of the board. How satisfied are you? What confidence can we have in the health board, that this panel have to go out and get that independent validation?
Despite feedback that's been sought from surveys and comments collected from social media, the update states that the data of all of this has not yet been fully analysed and that the themes that have been identified are not influencing yet the improvement, quality and safety of the maternity services. So, could you please clarify, Minister, whether that's because of a lack of allocated resources, or is there this ingrained cultural inertia still within the health board?
Are you able to give us a time frame for when the 150 identified cases will be reviewed, so that there's peace of mind to be given to the patients? You said yourself that the panel is taking on self-referrals, which I think, actually, is an incredibly positive and outreach way of trying to handle a very difficult situation. But can you clarify whether those 39 so far are in addition to, or included in, the 150? What extra resources are you able to give to ensure that these referrals are heard in a timely manner, because there's been an upturn in complaints, as you yourself have identified. Not all of them will be serious, but nonetheless there's obviously still concern and worry about this whole issue, so we obviously need those additional resources.
Finally, could I ask what training is being put into place to retrain people who may need that retraining? During the technical briefing your officials offered this morning, they talked about the fact that it was very evident that they could see an ebb and a flow in practice and outcomes. It's very identifiable who, perhaps, needs that extra hand, who needs that extra support. So, what steps have been put in place to ensure that specific front-line staff members have been given that additional support that they need to improve the way they deliver midwifery care to the mothers and families in this health board?
My final point is your issue No. 11: culture within the service. The report says it
'remains work in progress and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future'.
I totally understand that. They say
'it is unrealistic to expect that longstanding issues related to culture, attitudes and behaviours can be addressed within a few months.'
Of course they can't. Cultural change does take a long time to embed. However, we can't wait too long. We do not want to see this dragging on and on and on as a running sore, like we have seen running sores in other health boards over other issues. Are you able to give any sense of time frame as to when you might hope to see some of these changes embedded right into the culture of that health board, and, of course, not just in maternity services but, as the panel said in one of their witness statements to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, there's an indication that some of this malaise, if you like, runs in other areas within this health board, and we need to drill down to see whether it is a one-off just in maternity services or whether this is a systemic issue. And if it's a systemic issue, really we have to get on top of it. But I do commend you and your team for the work that you've done so far, but we cannot take our foot off the accelerator on this.
Thank you for the comments and questions. I'll try to deal with as many of them as I can. If there are things that are missed, then, obviously, at the end of this, I know I'll have an opportunity to go to committee, and Members will, of course, be free to, and I'm sure they will, contact me.
At the outset, and on the point you started with, I just want to speak about the continuing commitment to families to continue being engaged with improvement. Lots of families have come forward since the report and since the work has started, in particular the engagement work. That has led to an increase in complaints, as you'd expect, and that's part of the reason why there's a challenge with the complaints function, but, actually, that's a complaints process that wasn't functioning as effectively as it should do, and the interim chief executive has recognised that, in terms of one of your points about resources into complaints. But I do want to thank again all those families who are not just engaged in wanting an answer for what went wrong, potentially, with their care, but also want to make a more general improvement, because some of these families may have children again, but some of them also, in a very selfless way, just want to make sure they're part of improving the whole service so other families don't go through what they've gone through. And that is quite an altruistic thing to do and a difficult thing to do, given the experiences they're having to go through again.
On your point about senior managers' accountability, at the outset, and again today, I made it clear and the panel are clear that it isn't their job to go and find people who are responsible, from the staff side. What they are also clear about—and they've had a joint meeting with the two regulators, the NMC, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and the GMC, the General Medical Council—is that, if they do find issues in the clinical reviews that are undertaken that should be reported to professional or regulatory bodies for further investigation, then they will do so. But it's not their job to go looking for that. But, as they go through the reviews, if they find evidence of it, then they will make the referrals that are necessary. Obviously, if that happens, then they'll be reporting back publicly about what referrals have or haven't been made in terms of the numbers.
On your point about staff levels, in terms of the minimum staff levels, they're working towards doing that. Because there has been recruitment into the unit at the doctor level. Some people have left. In terms of the leadership, there's a new medical director, who has been in post for about two months. There's a new clinical director in the service, who has been in post for less than a month. And, when it comes to the midwifery numbers, I can't give you an indication, because I think that that would be the wrong thing to do until the Birthrate Plus assessment is made. That will give us a proper understanding of how staffed up the unit is.
Now, the health board—. Part of the challenge previously was—. The information provided announced their willingness to actively recruit to all of the vacancies. They're very clear about doing that now. They've done rather better on early recruitment. So, within the next few weeks, we'll have the Birthrate Plus assessment, and I'll make sure that the output of that is made available to Members generally. So, rather that me going on the fly today, I think, if you wait another few weeks, then everyone will have something that they can rely on in terms of the figures.
On the 11 'make safe' recommendations made in the royal colleges' review, eight of the 11 have been at the stage where the independent panel say that they've been achieved; three are still a work in progress. They're, to a large extent, about staffing and about the ability to embed change. So, they recognise that, in each of those areas, progress has been made, but they want the reassurance that it's been there over a longer period of time before they say that they've been achieved, and I think that that's the right approach to take.
I'll come back to one of those in particular that relates to another one of your questions. On the time frame for reviews, the panel themselves indicate that they expect those reviews to start next month—for the reviews to actually start. They're not giving, and I'm not giving, any kind of timeline for when those reviews end. They'll do them in batches, so they won't all get all held up to the last one being done. They'll be done in batches, and we have got to work with other royal colleges to provide independent staff to do them. Because it won't just be the college of obstetrics and gynaecology and the college of midwives that will have their members needing to be there—some of them, the care will be wider and we'll need to have other people involved in the reviews as well. And I think that it's important that they're done right, rather than done quickly. I understand that the Member and others will ask me to try and provide a time frame, but I think that it's the wrong thing to do. It's much more important that they're done properly, and that families, as I say, have the opportunity to be involved.
In terms of the self-referral in, that's a self-referral for an assessment. It doesn't mean that everyone who has a concern will need to undergo a full clinical review. But I think that the assurance for members of the public who are concerned is that the panel will be involved in that assessment. So, it won't be the health board deciding for them whether they need a full review or not. The panel will be engaged within that as well. So, we'll have that independence from the panel about whether a full review or not is required, but they will have the opportunity to be supported in doing so.
In terms of when the intervention will end, well, again, there'll be quarterly reports on the general improvements provided through the independent panel. I've committed to publishing those on the escalation status. You will know that there's a long-running process where we consider the escalation of every organisation. And it's when the organisation itself has made the requisite improvement that that status will change. So, some of this will be longer term, and that's the same about the cultural change that's highlighted in the report as well. I don't think that it'd be reasonable to expect all of that cultural change to have taken place. It is a work in progress. The ebb and flow you're describing is what we'd expect to see in any, not just public service, but any private sector business where you need to make a significant cultural change with your staff. So, that will need to carry on, not just in midwifery but in the medical service as well. It's not just a change at one point in time, but something that is actually within the culture of the organisation and expectations of staff of each other, and indeed the way that they treat and work with the public.
I thank the Minister for his update on the situation at Cwm Taf. You will be aware that the health committee is also scrutinising events in Cwm Taf, because this is a very grave issue. Babies have died. Families have been torn to pieces. This report today is, of course, of huge concern. Five months since the vote of no confidence in the health Minister, ensuring that maternity services in Cwm Taf are safe still hasn’t happened. Families have the right to expect services that are, above all, safe, but are also effective and efficient and well managed. With the health board in special measures, the health Minister should ensure as a matter of urgency that improvements are made. The Minister says that he is content that people have accepted the need for change. Now, with all due respect, that simply isn’t enough; Plaid Cymru and the families called for change five months ago. What has he been doing since May?
Talking about improvements is not what’s necessary now—we need action. The health board has a huge job of work to do and, on such an important issue, particularly when these services are directly overseen by the health Minister, he must pull up his sleeves rather than sitting back and expecting improvements to be made without him. This report today says that feedback from staff and patients suggests, and I quote:
'There remains a need to change the underlying culture and values so shockingly revealed in the Listening to Women and Families report'.
Yes, it was hugely shocking that such things happened, and we need urgent action. We cannot be content that things are only now starting to change and say there is a long way to go. We need action as a matter of urgency. And, as you’ve mentioned, three of the 11 urgent recommendations by the royal colleges have yet to be implemented—the review of safe staffing levels in maternity services; the health board isn’t content that staff exercise safety guidance adequately; and a change of culture will take a long time. Yes, that may be the case, but cultures can be changed and it needs to be changed as a matter of urgency, because families in Cwm Taf have suffered dreadfully over many years and continue to suffer. The death of a baby is an appalling event for any family. So, what are you doing to hasten the necessary improvements in maternity services in Cwm Taf?
I think there were two broad questions in the comments made by the Member. The first was about the rapidity of the change that has taken place to date and I think the second was broadly what I'm doing myself. On the three of the 11 'make safe' recommendations that were made, the panel have been really clear about the fact that work is in progress in each of those areas. It is not the case that nothing has happened in any of those, and, actually, if I'd stood up today and said that the cultural change required has taken place, then people in this Chamber and outside it would not believe me and nor should they. I know from my own experience outside of life in this place that, if you're looking to deliver significant cultural change in any workplace, it is not something that happens rapidly and it is not something that happens by demanding that it takes place. You have to bring people with you. And this is difficult. You have to be honest. This is difficult for people—[Interruption.] This is difficult for people working with each other in delivering that cultural change in the way they've worked in the past, and we need to take people with us to make sure the service is not just delivering and saying, 'Look, the right sort of things are happening now', but that that change is embedded and is sustainable. So, I think for me to try to say today that, 'Actually, there's enough progress made in each of those areas and everything is fine' would absolutely not have been the right thing to do.
And the same point—when I met the panel yesterday, they made the point that, on the implementation of protocols, they were clear there was much greater awareness and adherence to all of those protocols, which is one of the real problem issues identified in the royal colleges' report, but they wanted to see that adherence carry on for a longer period of time before they signed off that that change had been achieved rather than being a work in progress. And I think that's the honesty that all of us should want to have from the panel and from me as well rather than—. The convenience factor for me would be to say that everything is achieved, but I need to be able to look myself in the mirror, as well as, when I meet families at the end of this year, to look at them in the face and say that we're doing the right thing and being honest about this.
And that comes back to what I'm doing: I've been really clear in my expectations in public and in meeting the panel that the most important thing is to do this properly. The most important thing is to deliver the improvements. So, we are providing all of the resources that we could and should do to make sure that the clinical review process takes place with the appropriate expertise that is required, with the additional resourcing that it'll require to make that happen, and, in addition, the clarity and expectation in the work that's being done, and that additional scrutiny is taking place, not just with the board, but with other stakeholders too.
In all of the other parts of ministerial life, the other factors and challenges at the moment, I can honestly say this is one of my very top priorities and one of the biggest calls on my time, as it should be. So, there's no lack of understanding, there's no lack of ministerial effort or engagement. But what I won't do is to say that I can, and will, deliver change faster than anyone should believe is possible at the expense of actually doing the right thing by all those families and those staff who, understandably, have been let down in the past, and to make sure they're not let down in the future.
Can I thank you, Minister, for your statement? And, at this point, can I once again put on record my condolences and thoughts with the families who were affected by the failings in this health board and have had to live with those tragedies since then? Can I also repeat the thanks to the members of the independent maternity oversight panel for their work, and, in particular, Mick Giannasi, who gave me several hours of his time at Prince Charles Hospital when I had the opportunity to talk to him directly about the work of the oversight panel and see at first hand some of the things that were being put into place, including talking to some of the staff and some of the new managers who were there? So, I was very grateful to him for having the opportunity to do that.
I was also pleased to attend the briefing this morning that you facilitated with the oversight panel, together with my colleague Vikki Howells, and we had the opportunity to directly ask the oversight panel questions at that briefing. What I would say is, unlike some of the comments that I've heard this afternoon, I see this slightly differently in terms of what I've seen, what I've heard and what I've experienced in talking to some of the staff and patients. And I do take some reassurance from the thorough work that the panel has now put in progress and as a result of your intervention, although no-one, as you've said, and as others have indicated, should underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead. Indeed, one of the things we heard from the briefing this morning was that, following the inquiry into the Morecambe Bay maternity services, it took some six years from the point at which Morecambe Bay went into special measures to the time that they were considered to be a good unit. And that unit now is actually seen as an exemplar of maternity provision. So, I think the point I'm making here is that anybody who thinks that there is a quick fix to this is clearly not on top of the brief in terms of what needs to be done. There are no quick and easy solutions, it seems to me.
However, I'm sure that you would agree that the experience of women and families must remain at the heart of this improvement journey. So, to that extent, the response to the 11 'make safe' recommendations so far is encouraging, though, as you've already indicated, there clearly is much more to do. Now, I note that the number of cases in the clinical review has been extended as the criteria of the panel has been broadened, to ensure that all appropriate lessons can be drawn from the process. While that is something that I welcome, I will await the expert evidence from those reviews before making any detailed comment on them. But I am encouraged to hear about signs of improved performance as a result of the changes already in place.
Now, Minister, you've talked a lot about resourcing, but, as the work has to be centred on improving the experience of women using this service, can you assure us that you will continue to provide the resources that are required to support the work with those women and families who wish to continue to be involved with this review?
And, finally, do you agree with me that, if we are to achieve some of the cultural changes that clearly are needed, we must create an environment in which people, staff, feel confident about speaking up and speaking out without fear or favour about poor practice and poor behaviour? Because, for too long, doing that has been a career-ending decision for too many staff. And, if we are to see that cultural change, people have to feel secure in the knowledge that they can make those concerns known to the highest levels of the authority without fearing for their own careers in the process.
Thank you for the comments and the questions that you've asked. In terms of your first point about there being no quick fix, that is absolutely right, and I just need to be honest with people about that at the outset, as I have been in the first statement today as well, rather than suggesting that there will be a point of political convenience that will drive what happens, rather than doing the right thing by the service and honestly reporting the level of progress that has been made, as well as that that is still required. Again, I'm happy to reiterate that women and families will be at the centre of the work that is being done in the engagement work that is being led initially by Cath Broderick, and now the health board are taking a greater lead on, as they should do. In taking that forward, there are going to be three public-facing events—one in Merthyr, one in Llantrisant within the next six weeks or so, and then one in the new year in Bridgend, so that the health board will try to co-produce their future strategy with women and families to try to make sure that there isn't a disengagement between the service and the people using it.
The improvements are real that the panel set out, but they're not even, and we're not in a state of perfection. In any human service, there is always room for error, even in a good service. But I wouldn't try to pretend that people won't have things come to their postbag that are more recent, where there are reasons to go back to the health board. I wouldn't try to say that to anybody. But it is, nevertheless, true that it is in a better place now than it was before the intervention had started. My ambition is to see that improvement carry on and on and on, because I don't want to hear continued, justified complaints being made about the quality of care and the experience of women and their families in any of these services.
That's why I can confirm that there will be future resources to support women and families who are engaged in this. There are the resources in the support services that are often provided by the third sector. So, for example, the Snowdrop support group and the Sands service, again, are available to families to make use of, and what I think is a very helpful 'frequently answered questions' sheet that the panel have produced for the public that sets out how to get in touch with them. But, in addition, if women and families need to be supported in engaging with the panel on some of the review work, then we'll look to see how we actually properly facilitate that to make sure they're supported. And, obviously, the community health council are engaged in doing that work as well.
On your final point on supporting people to speak up, that's part of the culture change we need to see happen, to move away from a punitive culture, where people feel that if they step outside, either with their managers, or in a prevailing group of opinion with their peers in work—that people feel punished in their day to day work—and that, actually, we do move to being a learning organisation, where people recognise where things go wrong, as well as recognising excellence, to be able to point that out and to talk about it in a learning environment. And that's part of the reason why I'm really clear the panel can't have a role in saying 'It's your job to go and find people who are responsible', because, actually, that will turn it into a blame culture. It will reinforce a punitive culture, rather than moving on to being a genuine learning environment, where people are supported to point out when things go wrong, to hold their hands up for themselves when things go wrong, to make the improvements that all of us want to us to see in a real and sustained way.
Thank you for your statement, Minister, and your earlier written statement. May I too offer my condolences to all those families affected? I welcome the steps being taken to make maternity services in Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board safe, but there must be accountability, because families have suffered unimaginable grief. The fact that, as the independent review states, there is a very long way to go is of great concern to my constituents who became part of the health board earlier this year. Of course, we also have the huge problem of restoring public faith in the service. Unfortunately, solving this issue will be one of the biggest challenges. We need action and change, and we need it sooner rather than later. Minister, how will you address the concerns of future parents in the Bridgend area about maternity services now that they come under the Cwm Taf health board?
Whilst I understand the changes will take time, and progress is being made, my constituents will be rightly concerned for their safety, and the safety of their babies. Minister, will neighbouring health boards be called upon to support maternity services in Cwm Taf to alleviate the fears of expectant mothers, who will be concerned that services are still unsafe? I note from your statement that your officials have weekly calls with the maternity leads at the health board to review metrics. Given the criticism from the outgoing chair of ABMU, who stated that weekly calls from Welsh Government were hampering improvements, Minister, are you satisfied that Welsh Government officials are not hampering improvement efforts at Cwm Taf?
And finally, Minister, given the failings of Cwm Taf, ABMU and Betsi, many people are calling for a wide-ranging inquiry into the NHS in Wales. Are you satisfied that the current structures are fit for purpose, and how will you ensure that no other systemic failures materialise at this or any other health board? Diolch yn fawr.
On your final point about a wide-ranging review of the whole structure of the health service, of course, we had an independent parliamentary review at the start of this Assembly term, and they indicated that the structure of the health service in Wales makes sense. They were very clear that they did not recommend a wide-ranging structural review and turning the apple cart upside down. It's often attractive for a politician to say the answer is to reorganise the structure of a service, and there are times when it does need to take place. But we've just had an independent review that says that is not the right thing to do. And of course we've seen the challenges in a wholesale restructure across our border, where, regardless of your view on the Lansley changes, there has been a significant amount of churn within the English system. I don't think that is something that I would recommend or be prepared to impose upon the service here in Wales.
In terms of your point about whether the Welsh Government is hampering the improvement, given that we've put maternity services in the former Cwm Taf area into special measures—and the whole organisation is in targeted intervention—it would be extraordinary if there wasn't regular interaction between Welsh Government officials and the service. It's part of the point about the whole escalation status and what it means: the further up you go, the more interaction, the more oversight, the more scrutiny you can expect from Welsh Government. And if I were to say, 'Actually, I'm taking a light-touch approach to improvement', then I think Members in this place would quite rightly question what on earth I'm doing and why my officials aren't in more regular contact. We heard the exact opposite point, of course, made in Dai Lloyd's contribution. He wanted to see even greater intervention and forcing the pace more. I've been really clear about the approach we're taking—I think it's the right one. So, those weekly calls will continue until we're clear that the service is on a more sustained improvement trajectory.
On neighbouring health boards and support, it's true that neighbouring health boards are supporting the service in Cwm Taf Morgannwg. The heads of midwifery meet as a group and they look at service issues in a very collective way. That's been really positive—and the proactive offers of help that have been provided, and the way in which recruitment issues have been dealt with around the service, to try to make sure that the service wasn't capsized by taking people out of the Cwm Taf area. But more broadly, it's about supporting people to make their choices, because some people have made a choice, saying they don't wish to attend a birth centre in the former Cwm Taf area, and that choice has been made available to them. It's important that people are supported in making those choices and start that conversation with their local community midwife. But that's been important in the way that neighbouring services have happened.
Bridgend is not in the same position as the former Cwm Taf area, it is not in special measures for the maternity service there. We've had a recent interaction with Healthcare Inspectorate Wales; there has been no suggestion that that's a required action for that part of the Cwm Taf Morgannwg area. So, I want to provide that reassurance to people who are going to give birth in the Bridgend area—they do not need to have any concerns on the level of improvement that is required in the former Cwm Taf area. But of course, every part of our service has the opportunity to reconsider what's happened, to reconsider what improvement it could still make in its own services.
Thank you. We've had all the major spokespeople now on this statement, and I have still a number of Members who wish to contribute. So, can I ask the remaining speakers now if they would just do a brief introduction to their one question, please? David Melding.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It's quite simple what we need to know: when do you expect maternity services in Cwm Taf to be safe—not good, not excellent, not sector leading—when will they be safe? This report says there's a very long way to go. And, frankly, I find your approach remarkably passive. You've sat on your hands, you did nothing about the chief executive—you waited for her to resign. You calmly now tell us that you think the board that was unable to oversee the performance of this health board and the services they provide is the one to get us out of trouble, and the only thing you've done about that side of the senior management is send David Jenkins in there to keep an eye on things. I think we need better than this, frankly. We still, according to this report, have problems with the complaints process and responding to complaints. The culture still needs to improve dramatically, staff are not confident and neither are patients. Guidelines and protocols are not yet adequately embedded. What sort of training scheme is going on? How long is this going to last where we are providing health services that are not in accordance with protocols and guidelines? And in terms of the current progress on the improvement plan, I just read from the report that from the beginning of July, the pace of progress has started to falter. Minister, you need to take some responsibility here, because the one thing that hasn't happened is that we've had leadership and energy from you.
Well, I completely reject the accusation made by David Melding. He's regularly urbane and reasonable as opposed to the rather temperature-raising approach he's taken today. I have intervened in the health board. I have set in train a proper process of independent scrutiny and oversight for that improvement, and I will continue to be honest with people about the level of improvement made and the actions still required. If you look at what the panel themselves say about the progress made, they themselves are honest about the areas where progress has been made and is embedded and the areas where progress has been made but it is not yet at the point when they are prepared to sign off to say that that is progress that has been embedded. They're also clear about the work that is ongoing every day to provide assurance about the safety of the service. I'm not going to give a free pass to anyone in the health service to sit back and allow things to wash over them; I've taken action, I've been clear about what that is and I will continue to report back honestly and openly about the progress made to date. And if any further support is required, that is the point about having an independent panel to make clear what is required, as well as the interaction of my officials, and I will continue to act to safeguard the service.
Minister, thank you for your update today. My question is around the issue of cultural change. We all know that cultural change is something that's very, very difficult to implement, but it's so important and underpins all the work that needs to be done to put Cwm Taf maternity services on a safe and sustainable footing. The oversight panel began their work in May of this year, and I know that they are currently looking back over historic cases of concern, but if cases of concern are brought forward by families relating to the period after May of this year, will the panel be made aware of these, or will they just be dealt with in-house by the health board? I ask this because it is absolutely imperative that we see evidence of culture change, and I am concerned that any potential new cases, which may indicate a continuation of some of the cultural issues we have seen previously, absolutely must be examined if we are to be confident that this cultural change really is happening on the ground.
I'm happy to deal with that. You're right about the length of time that cultural change takes—not just to take place, but to be sustained and embedded within the service. It's important to note that the normal complaints process should still continue, so 'Putting Things Right' is still the first point of access and people can be supported by the community health council in making those complaints as usual. However, if families do want to refer in to the independent review process, then they can do so. As I said in my statement, the panel will be involved in determining whether those cases do need to have an independent review or not. So, it's not simply the case that people will need to only and uniquely deal with the health board; if they have concerns in this area, they can refer in and the panel will be involved in determining whether a full clinical review is required or not.
My thoughts also go out to all the families who've suffered deep and enduring loss. Could I add to the comments that were made by my colleague Dawn Bowden on the issue of the ability to encourage and support whistleblowers on the front line, but also to encourage people to speak out at board level as well? Because it does seem to me that one of the failures here was the lack of confidence to challenge at board level and the lack of information put in front of that board. And I'd appreciate his thoughts, bearing in mind the progress that has been reported, but also the need for fundamental change at board level, as to whether we are now confident that board members are confident to challenge, to ask questions, to contradict, because that is also a point of failure here and we need to challenge that. Is he confident that the board is now fundamentally changing in that way?
If you look back to the initial royal colleges review, they recognise that information presented to the board was not always the full picture. It's one of the big challenges that face the organisation. The phrase that the board received false assurance was a real concern for me when reading that report. When I said in my statement there has been lots of soul-searching at board level, there really has. People really have taken very seriously and very much to heart what has happened on their watch and their responsibility for putting it right.
The work that David Jenkins has done is important in both not just advising the board, but providing a different level of assurance to me about the change in the board's behaviour and approach. So, they are already more challenging, they are already seeking further information and they're being very clear in wanting to have more independent members involved in different parts of the work of the board, as well as in reorganising their quality, safety and risk function, as well. These may sound, occasionally, as if they are simply moving pieces around, but it actually really matters about how an organisation works and functions. Actually, for Members here, I think David Jenkins has been invited and has accepted an invitation to go to the health committee so that people have an opportunity to question him directly about the behaviours he's seen and the move on that has plainly been required from the way they had previously worked.
Thank you very much, Minister.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government on homelessness, and I call on the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Welsh Government is committed to preventing and addressing all forms of homelessness. 'Prosperity for All' sets out our vision for a Wales where everyone has a safe home that meets their needs and supports a healthy, successful and prosperous life. We are committed to working together, across the public and third sectors, to prevent homelessness and, where it cannot be prevented, to ensure it is rare, brief and un-repeated.
Homelessness is about far more than just rough-sleeping. Figures from Crisis in 2016 showed that of those homeless in Wales, approximately 6 per cent were rough-sleeping, with another 94 per cent in other forms of homelessness, for example, temporary or unsuitable accommodation, sofa surfing or emergency hostels. Our own statistics show that demand on services is increasing, with over 10,000 households presenting to local authorities in 2018-19 as at risk of being homeless within 56 days, and 11,000 presenting as already homeless.
We cannot and should not ignore the impact of austerity and welfare reform and the pressure that places on household budgets. Fundamentally, poverty is what causes homelessness. In recognition of the scale of the issue, Welsh Government is investing over £20 million this year alone to specifically prevent and relieve homelessness. However, homelessness remains at unacceptably high levels in Wales and the root causes show little sign of abating, particularly in view of the continued economic uncertainty we face.
However, that is not to say we have not made considerable progress. We have taken significant strides forward in embedding a preventative approach. In large part, this has been delivered through the introduction and subsequent implementation of Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. Implementation of the Act by local authorities across Wales has made a significant difference, with over 23,000 households prevented from falling into homelessness since 2015. Over that period, local authorities, who are at the forefront of our prevention agenda, have done an admirable job maintaining prevention rates in the face of increasing demand and wider budgetary constraints. However, whilst prevention rates remain high at 68 per cent in 2018-19, there are still far too many whose homelessness is not prevented and who are falling through the net.
The fact is that, despite the new legislative framework and our significant financial and policy investment, we are fighting against a rising tide. Whilst we have introduced fresh, new evidence-based approaches such as Housing First, and are embracing them fully, we are still too heavily focused on acute interventions and crisis management. The statistics last week on homelessness deaths show the unacceptable and tragic consequences of failing to support those in the most vulnerable and acute situations, but, equally, we understand that unless we address homelessness in all its forms, we will not succeed in vanquishing rough-sleeping from our society.
It is time to look afresh at our approach. The ethos of our legislation is prevention, but we all know true prevention starts far earlier than 56 days. True prevention requires a holistic approach from across the public sector: it is not simply a housing issue; it is a public services issue. True prevention means ensuring the homelessness legislation is seen, as it should be, as the final safety net when all other preventative actions have failed.
We are absolutely committed to ending all forms of homelessness, but we must be clear what that means in practice. In those rare circumstances where it cannot be prevented, we will seek to minimise the damage it causes, focusing on rapid rehousing and ensuring homelessness is rare, brief and un-repeated. To achieve this, our approach has been to support those currently homeless into long-term, suitable accommodation, whilst also significantly reducing the flow of individuals and families falling into or becoming at risk of homelessness. This will involve shifting our effort and resources over time from temporary, emergency accommodation solutions to earlier preventative approaches and long-term housing solutions.
The strategic policy statement that I am publishing today provides the policy framework for everyone working with us to deliver our ambition. The statement and the policy principles it sets out have been informed by discussion at the homelessness ministerial task and finish group, which includes expertise from the third sector, as well as senior public service officials from health, social services, public health, education and criminal justice agencies.
The statement will be supported by an annual action plan, setting out the measures that will be taken across Government, working with partners, to address homelessness. The action plan will be refreshed annually and annual progress reports will be published against the preceding year’s plan. The first action plan will be informed by the work of the expert homelessness action group that I established in June this year.
The group, which is chaired by Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, has been tasked to provide advice and recommendations to Welsh Government on a number of key areas. The action group has already met four times and is working independently of Welsh Government, undertaking its work at pace over a nine-month period, reporting at key points between now and March next year. The group has already provided me with the first of their reports just yesterday. It looks in particular at actions they recommend we take to tackle rough-sleeping this winter. I will be responding quickly and positively to their report and recommendations reflecting the urgency needed to address this most acute and damaging form of homelessness.
The strategic policy statement being published today sets out our ambition for homelessness to be a rarity. It is clear that when it does occur, it should be brief with individuals or households supported back into accommodation quickly with sufficient support to ensure they do not fall back into homelessness. It is vital we set up households to succeed, not to fail.
For that to happen, we need to help people in crisis so they can quickly enter long-term accommodation and thrive there. It is high time we acknowledged the need to move away from the staircase earned-rewards model of service delivery. We are striving to re-shape services around a rapid rehousing approach, shifting the focus of our policy, practice and resources towards long-term housing-led solutions, away from the provision of emergency, temporary and hostel services. We have made a significant start with our Housing First programme, in which we are investing £1.6 million this year. However, Housing First is only one aspect of a rapid rehousing approach. We also need to take a whole-systems approach if we are to shift our model of service delivery. This is one of the areas where I can look forward to the advice of the action group to help set out how we can achieve this.
So let me be clear, Deputy Presiding Officer: homelessness cannot be prevented through housing alone. A key aspect of a whole-system approach is the wraparound support for individuals, particularly in respect of health services. This requires alternative service delivery models jointly owned and funded by relevant public services, including mental health, substance misuse, primary care, community safety and housing, and specialist multidisciplinary teams to support individuals to address their needs and take a trauma-informed approach. A truly preventative approach begins before an individual or family ever becomes at risk of homelessness. It is about that whole-system approach and involves investing in primary and secondary prevention.
Our approach to tackling homelessness amongst young people is taking exactly this approach. Primary approaches to prevention are well under way, supported through education reform in pursuit of the four purposes of our new curriculum and the introduction of the whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. More targeted secondary prevention work, through the youth service and in collaboration with a range of partners, aims to identify and support young people who start to show some of the risk factors that can lead to homelessness. Investing in services at this early stage to support young people and their families will address issues before they escalate.
All public services and the third sector have a role to play in delivering this vision, and I call on everyone here in this Chamber and all public service leaders across Wales to pledge to work in line with these policy principles. Deputy Presiding Officer, together we can and will prevent homelessness and we can and will end homelessness in Wales.
I welcome this statement. It's World Homelessness Day on Thursday, and I also agree broadly with the approach, the references to Housing First, vanquishing rough-sleeping from society, ending all forms of homelessness and shifting away from emergency accommodation and a stepped or earned approach, and moving towards trauma-based practice. I really think that is a direction of travel that everyone in this Chamber will agree with.
I'm also glad that the ministerial task and finish group will publish regular advice and will inform your action plan. I do want to know when you're going to publish the action plan, and then what sort of annual report you will be making on its progress, because I think the data that we get in that is really going to be important. I hope it's solidly evidence based, because that will definitely help us tackle this, amongst the very most pressing challenges in society.
I was pleased that you referred to children and the particularly vulnerable, and I would say that looked-after children here are a really key group. Many of them become householders at the age of 18 and their tenancies often break down—they're not terribly appropriate, for whatever reason the support mechanisms don't work. Lots of reasons. But, you know, that is one group that needs careful monitoring, help and assistance.
I also welcome the references to the role of the education sector. I welcome the approach in the new curriculum, which is broader and skills-based, including life skills and health and well-being. It’s a natural way to educate the older pupils anyway about the challenges they will be facing in terms of securing housing and eventually being householders.
And finally, can I just say that something not mentioned in your statement today is that the quality of data still leaves a lot to be desired? We rely a lot on survey evidence, and I think we need to move to a system that, on a Welsh basis, we could be more confident about.
Just for the Minister’s information, I'll make my mini statement. The Welsh Conservative group will very shortly publish its own homelessness agenda and strategy, and I think it will chime a lot with what you have talked about this afternoon, because I really think a cross-party approach on this issue is really important, because it will mark this Senedd and the Welsh Government as being really committed to the people of the Wales.
Thank you very much for that contribution. I very much welcome the spirit in which you gave it. Just a couple of points, really. On the data, I agree with you completely. We've just taken on another data analyst to do justice, so we're having an analysis done of where the gaps are and what we need to do to get it. I must say that I've been quite startled by some of the things we don't know, so we're putting in place a whole series of things that we need to understand better, and one of the things that the action group is looking at is what data sets we need in order to be able to fill that in. So, I completely agree with the remarks you made on that.
And in terms of youth homelessness and the care leavers issue in particular, I am working on a cross-public-sector pledge that I hope we will be able to deliver—it’s more helpful if it’s cross-party—where we agree across public services in Wales that no-one is ever evicted into homelessness. So, if we can pull that off, I think we will have made a big step forward in where we are.
The homelessness picture, I think, is something that we should all be deeply ashamed of. More people have died on the streets of England and Wales in the last five years than the British army lost troops in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Homelessness is a choice, it isn't an accident, and we can choose to do something about it, or we can choose not to.
I'm pleased that the Welsh Government is finally working with Crisis to implement plans that aim to eradicate homelessness. Eliminating homelessness will save money. Implementing the Crisis report will cost Wales around £900 million over the next 20 years, but it will bring benefits of £1.5 billion. For the UK as a whole, those figures are even bigger, with spending of £40 billion needed to achieve benefits of £60 billion. So, I hope that the Minister will be implementing the recommendations of the homelessness action group and the Crisis report in full.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to every homeless person—every person is an individual. Someone with severe substance misuse problems clearly requires a different approach and different accommodation and support to someone who is homeless because of domestic abuse, and they in turn will need different support to someone who is in employment and has been evicted.
So, I'd like to see a clear action plan to do the following: first of all, replace priority need with a duty on local authorities to secure safe accommodation and support for everyone who is found to be homeless, alongside their duties to prevent homelessness; fund outreach programmes and emergency accommodation to get existing rough-sleepers off the streets; tackle the barriers that exist for people accessing shelters through reform of shelters and the environment that can exist in shelters; provide a range of different accommodation types that can be accessed by homeless people so there are safe places available for everyone; protect and increase funding for all shelters and refuges for those escaping abusive relationships; review and increase the support for the Supporting People budget, which helps to prevent homelessness; and support providers of housing first solutions for those homeless people with the most intense needs.
I welcome that rough-sleeping in winter was addressed in your statement, as this issue has been described as a national tragedy by Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes. You mentioned that you've received recommendations by experts from the homelessness action group yesterday on this particular problem, which you commit to taking on board urgently, and I hope these measures will help us see a decrease in the damaging impact of winter conditions on rough-sleepers this year.
So, questions, Minister: how can you reassure me that you take yesterday's recommendations and any future recommendations from the homelessness action group seriously? And how will you monitor the success of the Government's implementation of the recommendations in the spring?
A particularly pernicious piece of legislation in relation to rough-sleepers is the Vagrancy Act 1824, forcing rough-sleepers out of city centres. Criminalising homeless people for rough-sleeping and begging is archaic and it removes any dignity that a homeless person may retain. I, like many others, would like to see the Vagrancy Act abolished as it is in effect in Wales, but until then, I'd like to know what official discussions have been taking place with the police regarding the execution of this Act. Has the Welsh Government made representations to the police forces and local authorities in Wales to encourage and promote kinder methods of helping homeless people, rather that increased enforcement of the Vagrancy Act? They could, for example, decide not to operationally enforce the Vagrancy Act. Would you support such a course of action?
Thank you very much for those points. Again, we're largely in agreement—on that very last one, absolutely. We are working on two things around the Vagrancy Act, first is how far we can go in Wales to disapply it—we can't repeal it, but how far we can go to disapply formally. And then, secondly, how far we can work with partners to ensure that it's not used, even where we haven't been able to formally do that. So, I can assure you that those are ongoing active discussions. I share your belief that it's archaic and a highly unsympathetic way of treating people in vulnerable position.
As well as that, we're looking to roll out our trauma-informed approach to this right across public services as rapidly as we possibly can. So, getting the trauma-informed training out to the police who are on the sharp line and the range of teams in city centres and that kind of thing is also very much a part of that. So, I share your view on all of that.
We will be publishing the action report early next week and I'll provide a written statement to the Assembly outlining the actions we will be taking in response to that at the same time. So, you'll have the report in writing, Deputy Presiding Officer, with a written statement from me saying what the initial actions are to take that forward. I very much want to have my own feet held to the flames on this, so we're going to publish the actions and the timelines, and then—I expect Assembly Members are all on the same page on this—to be sure that we are going as fast as we possibly can to end the scourge of rough-sleeping.
Then, Leanne Wood's analysis around what we need to do I completely agree with. So, we currently have a piece of academic research going on about priority need replacement, the outreach programmes and so on. When you see the action group's report, you'll see that they're very much on the same page—no surprises there—and we will be looking at what temporary measures we can do to take away some of the barriers in the short term while we get the legislative framework in place to do it in the longer term.
But the bottom line here is to get the hearts and minds of the people administering the system into the right place. The legalisation is only enough if everybody is on the same page. So, it is about working with local authority partners in particular, their homelessness groups, about what they perceive as the barriers and getting them into the right frame of mind, and, alongside my colleague Vaughan Gething, getting the mental health and substance abuse services lined up at the same time. Because, no surprises, Deputy Presiding Officer, if you find yourself homeless, you rapidly find that your mental health deteriorates, even if it is was perfectly fine in the first place. All of us occasionally have a glass of wine if we've had a bad day. People who can't afford that rapidly decend into other kinds of substance use in order to ameliorate what is an unacceptable situation that they find themselves in. Your heart can only go out to them. Together, we can wrap the services around them that they need to put their lives back on track.
I very much welcome the Minister’s statement. Homelessness is complicated and is caused by a number of different events. A job loss coinciding with splitting up with a partner can quite easily make somebody homeless who never thought that was ever likely to happen to them.
Whilst people often equate homelessness with rough-sleeping, many more homeless people sleep on sofas and floors of friends and family or are in temporary accommodation. The most important thing—and I agree with the Minister—is to stop people becoming homeless in the first place by early intervention—prevention, an emergency response and housing, accommodation and support, then the provision of housing and ongoing support as a means of moving people out of homelessness.
For some homeless people, providing a house or flat will not solve their problems. Their problems are far greater than that, and all you’re doing is putting them up to fail. You move them into a house or a flat that they’re unable to cope with. I feel what the Minister said about 18-year-olds; at 18, I was not capable of looking after myself in any way whatsoever, and I think that to send them out, give them a flat and wish them luck is always going to end, or in very many cases, with a lot of failure.
I think I'd like to add that there’s good work done by charities such as the Wallich, including their cross-border women’s project in Birchgrove, Swansea. But does the Minister agree that, until we start building more council houses, get empty houses back into use and until the supply of housing meets housing demand, then we are always going to have some form of homelessness, because what we’ve got is out of kilter at the moment? There is far more demand than there is supply. I know the Government puts money into the demand side of housing, but if we could put more money into the supply side so that we actually get sufficient housing, we could end up in a virtuous circle, rather than the vicious one we’re in now.
Yes, I completely agree with that last point. Mike Hedges is very well aware that we've been putting an increased amount of money into the proper kind of supply. I recently visited a very good innovative housing project in his own constituency, which he has, I know, been very supportive of, with a view to us getting the supply of good-quality social housing to where it needs to be. And it's not about all-tenure housing, it is about the right kind of tenure housing and in the right place as well. So, I absolutely accept that point. Until we have the supply side sorted out, we will always be juggling with demand that can't be met. My colleague Lee Waters is also working with me on a series of innovative programmes around taking empty properties back into beneficial use as well, and I'm very keen to roll that out across Wales. And Mike Hedges will be delighted to know that Swansea Council is looking very positively at that scheme in his own patch—and my own patch, for that matter, as well.
Last week, I had the real pleasure of going with the Wallich to one of their breakfast runs in Swansea to see for myself the good work that the third sector does on the ground for supporting people. And these are not necessarily people who are rough-sleeping, but they are people who have inadequate or insecure housing. And they are just as homeless, really, as the people who are on the street. So, we do need to have a whole-system approach to homelessness prevention, working across the Government, as I said earlier, with mental health, substance misuse, community safety and primary care to deliver a public service model that addresses the needs of everyone.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. The fact that anyone is homeless in the twenty-first century in Britain is morally reprehensible. Successive Governments, both here and at Westminster, have failed to ensure sufficient high-quality housing to meet demand. And even though Governments now accept they need to do more, they are still not doing enough. Meeting demand requires forward planning, which is sadly lacking here, and words are not enough.
In Wales, we're not building enough affordable housing to meet the Government's own targets, let alone meet the true demand. Of the households eligible for homelessness assistance in the past 12 months, only 80 per cent were positively supported. In some parts of Wales, only around half of the households receive the necessary support. I am pleased that you are working with Crisis, but note that the number of new dwellings that have started construction in the past 12 months as fallen, as has the number of dwellings completed.
Far too many people are finding themselves forced into temporary accommodation or, worse, forced to sleep in shop doorways or tents on wasteland. Little children and other vulnerable people are suffering.
Minister, I welcome your affirmation that homelessness should be a rarity. Of course, that shouldn't have to have a strategic policy statement. What difference do you envision that such a statement will make to services on the ground? You say in your statement that homelessness cannot be solved by housing alone, and that's true, especially when it comes to rough-sleepers. Most homeless people have complex needs.
Minister, the vast majority of rough-sleepers in the UK are ex-forces. What is your Government doing in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence and forces charities to improve support for former armed forces personnel, because our veterans are committing suicide because of a lack of support, with housing being a huge issue? One can only imagine the ingratitude that these veterans feel after serving their country and coming home to having not even their basic human rights addressed.
Finally, Minister, a large reason that a number of ex-offenders reoffend is because of a lack of housing and support services. There is no support mechanism for the majority who come out. During my time as a prison officer, I saw many young people—and not just young people, either—come through the prison doors because they had been sent out with their meagre possessions in black bags and nowhere to go. So, Minister, are you working with the Ministry of Justice to reduce homelessness in ex-offenders? Thank you again for your statement. I look forward to significant progress in tackling homelessness in the next 12 months. Diolch yn fawr.
Well, I think that you've identified some of the issues that we're dealing with. I must say I disagree with some of the solutions that you've put forward. We are working very hard to get the pathways for ex-prisoners in place. The pathway is adequate. We've had it tested. What we need to do is make sure that everybody implements it in the right way. We've currently got a task and finish group working here in Cardiff to see what the barriers are to implementing the pathway, and as soon as that work is complete, I will be updating the Senedd accordingly, so that we do not release people from custody into homelessness. So, I agree with that much of it.
In terms of the housing completion rates, they are down in the final quarter, but that's because we are entering a recession. We have had a number of small and medium-sized building firms go under and go into administration very recently, and I'm afraid that that's a direct result of Brexit and the fall in the rate of sterling. So, I find it very ironic that you're accusing me of having some part in that. Because if you speak to the SME firms, in particular, they're saying that they have a real problem with getting labour and with getting materials at the right prices. So, I think that that's very ironic indeed.
In terms of the demand side, as I said in answer to Mike Hedges, we are building as many affordable homes that are for social rent as we possibly can. Just to be clear, our target of 20,000 affordable homes we have easily met. So, we are not failing our own targets. What we are doing is upping our target to meet the increased demand that we see. So, I just want to be very clear about that.
There are issues around the armed forces covenant. The UK Government has put a commission in place that we're very anxious to work closely with. My colleague Hannah Blythyn has been working closely to ensure that we uphold our end of the covenant for armed forces personnel here in Wales. Wales contributes a higher proportion of its population to the armed forces than the benefit we get back from army investment, so we're very keen to make sure that we put that circle back in place.
Deputy Presiding Officer, if I could just say—. I've been meaning to mention this a couple of times now as people have raised it: I couldn't agree more about 18-year-olds not being necessarily fit to maintain themselves in their accommodation. One of the things we want to work very hard on is what skills people need if they are placed in accommodation. I cannot emphasise enough that this not about not having sufficient places to put people. This is about not having sufficient skills, money, supplies and so on to keep them there. It's pointless me giving you a flat if it has no beds or crockery or curtains. You will not be able to stay there. But also, you have to have the skills to be able to pay the utilities bills and the rent and so on. So, clearly, as I said before, it's a whole-system approach to homelessness prevention.
Can I thank the Minister for updating this Chamber on a very important issue—one that is a key priority for me? I fully agree with you that we all must be committed to ending homelessness in all its forms, so I welcome Members' contributions from across the Chamber, because cross-party support is certainly needed on this issue.
Minister, as you said, mental health is one of the biggest issues that people who find themselves homeless face on a daily basis, and particularly in the winter, during those cold nights, they seriously do suffer. Now, whenever I've had a difficult week or am struggling with my own mental health, which is far too often these days, there are few better things than being welcomed home by Joseph. Now, for Members who don't know, Joey is my Lhasa Apso. So, I will be leading a short debate on this topic in the next few weeks, because it's actually really important for people who are homeless. I discussed this when I slept rough on the streets of Chester for one night last year, and, Members who are listening today, I would seriously encourage you to go and spend some time on the streets and you will then realise what these people are going through on a daily basis.
Deputy Llywydd, for many, owning a dog is one of the only means of contact that they'll make and they're a source of strength to support them through that night and through other nights during the winter. Now, unfortunately, most accommodation providers in the UK still operate a 'no dogs, no pets' policy, meaning that homeless dog owners are denied access to the shelter and real support that they so desperately need. Now, the Hope Project works with hostels and temporary housing providers to encourage them to accept clients with dogs. So, Minister, ahead of my more detailed debate coming later this month, what can the Welsh Government actually do to support projects like the Hope Project, led by the Dogs Trust?