National Assembly for Wales

Back to Search

Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

26/11/2019

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

And the first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. And the first question is from Michelle Brown.

Academic Outcomes

1. How does the Welsh Government intend to improve academic outcomes for school children? OAQ54771

Llywydd, introducing our new curriculum, boosting the pupil development grant and pressing ahead with the greatest investment in twenty-first century schools are amongst the measures the Welsh Government is taking to improve outcomes for schoolchildren.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. On the eighteenth of this month, Qualifications Wales stated that the GCSE brand is 'valued and widely recognised', and should not be ditched as part of the Government's education reforms. This is in direct contrast to the future generations commissioner, who wants GCSEs to be scrapped. I agree with Qualifications Wales, and think that, although GCSEs may need updating, we're doing no favours to our young people if they leave our education system with qualifications that no-one outside Wales has heard of, recognises or understands the level they're at. Who do you agree with, First Minister—Qualifications Wales or the future generations commissioner?

Well, Llywydd, there is a very important consultation going on at the moment, to make sure that the qualifications that we offer to our young people in Wales are aligned with the new curriculum, and deliver the sort of active participance in learning that that curriculum is designed to provide. It's a consultation, and the views of the children's commissioner, of course, will be read very carefully as part of that, and then we will rely on the advice of Qualifications Wales, the expert body set up exactly for this purpose. 

First Minister, to improve academic outcomes, of course, children and young people have to be somewhere that they can learn, and if they're being off-rolled to boost a school's apparent academic record, then they're not necessarily learning. I know that your Minister is completely against the practice of off-rolling, obviously, but what immediate action is the Government taking to both look into allegations with particular schools, and to crack down on any schools that are gaming the system?

Well, Llywydd, just to add my voice to the same issue: off-rolling of young people in order, artificially, to make it appear as though results in a school are better than they otherwise would be is completely unacceptable. Those young people deserve the best of educations, and the fullest consideration, and we know they are sometimes children who provide challenges in the classroom. That's why the education Minister has said what she has said. She has instituted a series of measures immediately to make sure that we have the best information in this area, and to alter the way in which assessments are carried out in schools, so that the incentives, the perverse incentives that might otherwise have been there, and which some schools are said to have unfairly exploited—that those opportunities are closed off in the future.

Wales participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment tests for the first time in 2006, and the latest set of results is to be published next week. As you know, the Welsh scores in the last round in 2015 were lower than the scores in 2006 in all areas, and the Welsh results in that year were also lower than the results of the other three nations of the United Kingdom, and lower than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average in the three areas: literacy, maths and science.

In looking at the data that’s been recently published, including Estyn annual reports, do you see encouraging signs before publication by the OECD next Tuesday?

Well, Llywydd, there are many things that children do in our schools that are encouraging to us here in Government, and also encouraging to parents throughout Wales. Of course, schools, teachers and the pupils themselves are working very hard to do the best in the system that we have, and we have worked hard with the OECD. They have said that the things that we are doing in Wales—that we really are on the right road. We will see what the PISA figures show when we receive them next week.

Human Rights

2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to protect the human rights of Welsh citizens? OAQ54770

Llywydd, we will commence the socioeconomic duty set out in Part 1 of the Equalities Act 2010. We will implement the recommendations of our gender equality review, and we will bring forward a social partnership Bill—all steps to help protect the human rights of Welsh citizens.

13:35

Thank you for your answer, First Minister. My constituents are having their human rights eroded by South Wales Police, mainly their article 8 rights. Liberty and the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that the widespread use of facial recognition technology, employed by South Wales Police, clearly contravenes the right to privacy afforded by article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Court of Appeal has granted Ed Bridges leave to appeal against its use, and Lord Justice Singh has stated that the case has a real prospect of success.

South Wales Police continue to use automatic facial recognition, despite the fact that it has been shown to be inaccurate, to provide false positives, and that the algorithms used display racial bias. On Saturday, AFR will be employed during the Wales-Barbarians match at the Principality Stadium. So, First Minister, will you call upon South Wales Police to stop using this technology against Welsh citizens until such time as the Home Office can safeguard our article 8 rights and ensure the software used is accurate and free of racial bias?

Llywydd, I think the points the Member makes are important ones, because it is right to have a debate about this matter, and there are important points to be made on both sides of the debate, as we have seen it emerge so far. And I'm glad to see that this will be tested further in the courts, and that leave to move to the next stage in the courts has been granted. But I'm also aware that South Wales Police have not taken the steps they have lightly, that they themselves have a very lively debate about the ethical and practical issues that surround automatic face recognition. I think that's a very important debate for us to have. On the one side, there are the arguments that say that automatic face recognition can help to keep us all safe, particularly in large-scale events, such as major rugby matches, where the potential for bad things to happen cannot be ignored. On the other hand, there are the concerns that the Member has articulated this afternoon, and they equally deserve to be taken seriously and to be tested. And the courts now will be the place where that is debated and resolved.

Strengthening the human rights of Welsh citizens in a post-Brexit scenario is, of course, essential. But I'm wondering if you've given further thought to the human rights of the minority of Welsh citizens who will be regarded as neurodivergent? Do you think the time has come for equalities legislation to regard neurodiversity as a protected characteristic in its own right?

Llywydd, I'm aware of the debate about it, of course; it's not a concluded debate. I don't think myself we have got to a point where there is a sufficient consensus in the different communities that would have an interest in this to conclude that we have reached the moment where characteristics could be broadened to include neurodivergent individuals. But it's a debate that is very different today than it was only a couple of years ago—more information emerges, more people add their voices to that debate. I think it's absolutely right that we should have that discussion. As I say, my own understanding of the current state of discussion is that there is not yet a consensus around that issue that would put it on a par with the other protected characteristics that we already have in legislation.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, under a UK Labour Government, and a Welsh Government, can you confirm whether taxes will go up or down?

Taxes will rise for some people when the next Labour Government, at a UK level, comes into office on 13 December. And that's absolutely right and proper, because we need a fairer distribution of the burden of taxation in the United Kingdom. My party made a manifesto commitment at the last Assembly elections that we would not vary the rates of income tax that have been devolved to the National Assembly during this Assembly term, and that will remain our commitment until the next election, when, with all other political parties, we will be able to make fresh proposals in manifestos.

13:40

First Minister, I finally got a straight answer to a very straight question that taxes will actually go up under the Labour Party. And, of course, another person who wasn't afraid to say that everyone will have to pay more tax under a UK Labour Government was John McDonnell, who finally admitted yesterday that many of the party's policies will affect the entire population. And, of course, as you've just said, where a UK Labour Government leads, the Welsh Government will follow, and your own manifesto commits to asking for a little more from those with the broadest shoulders, making sure that everyone pays what they owe. And we all know what that means—that means taxes going very high under the Labour Party.

Of course one thing that was conveniently not mentioned in your manifesto yesterday was Welsh Labour's tax plans for social care. When are you intending to come clean to the people of Wales and confirm that you are about to start taxing them more and more for social care in the future?

Well, Llywydd, let's put the record straight on a number of those matters. Labour will raise more tax from individuals earning more than £80,000 a year. I absolutely welcome our intention to do that. We will end the horror of universal credit in this country, where the poorest people in our land live in fear of the reforms that his party has introduced, and we will do that by taking a small amount of extra money from people who can very well afford to make that contribution.

We will raise corporation tax back to where it was when his party came into power—back to 26 per cent: still less than Belgium, still less than Australia, still less than New Zealand, still less than Canada, still less than Germany, still less than France, still less than the United States of America. But we will do that because we know that far too many businesses in this country act to escape the burden of taxation that they ought to play their share in carrying.

As far as social care is concerned, wouldn't it be good, Llywydd, if the Green Paper that his party has promised for five years had seen the light of day before the general election? We continue to do the detailed work, working with Professor Gerry Holtham and other experts, on how we will fund a social care system for the future here in Wales that will respect those older people who currently don't have the services that they would wish to see as they get into older age. I notice that the Conservative Party manifesto is magnificently silent on this point, Llywydd. We carry out our work in plain sight. We report it every time the group meets. In his party's manifesto this is hidden from anybody.

Well, it's quite clear, First Minister, that your spending commitments in your manifesto will actually bankrupt our country. We were nearly bankrupt back in 2010 when we had £150 billion deficit because of your mismanagement of the economy. But it's not just social care that your Government is planning to force taxpayers to pay even more for, though, is it? Under your Government Wales has the most expensive business rates multiplier in Britain at 52.6p in the pound. We have the highest commercial property tax in the UK on properties over £1 million. Wales's tourism sector will be stifled by the potential introduction of a tourism tax. Our independent schools will lose charitable rate relief where they're registered as charities, and only last month, new hypothecated and broad-based Welsh tax specifically directed at enabling the curriculum transition was being mooted. And let's not forget your party's plans for inheritance tax, which will mean even more hard-working taxpayers' money being filtered back to the state. And that's the Labour Party all over, isn't it, First Minister—taxing our businesses, taxing our land and taxing our people? Is there nothing out of bounds when it comes to generating taxes for the Labour Party? And will you now come clean to the people of Wales and tell us exactly how much a Labour Government at both ends of the M4 will cost?

13:45

Well, Llywydd, it is indeed the Conservative and reactionary party that we are offered this afternoon—a party stuck in the economy of the past, their ideas not a jot advanced over those that they have put and seen rejected by people in Wales time after time after time.

The Labour manifesto in this election, Llywydd, will move the United Kingdom into the European mainstream. The proportion of our economy that we will spend on public services in the United Kingdom under a new Labour Government will be the same percentage as is spent in France and in Germany—in Germany, the most successful economy in the whole of Europe. And why is that? That is because we understand, as they understand, that you have to invest in order to create the conditions of economic success.

We have had a decade of Tory starvation—starvation in investment in our public services, starvation in the sorts of infrastructure investments that would have made a difference to productivity across the whole of the United Kingdom. A Labour Government here in the United Kingdom will work with a Labour Government here in Wales to make sure that we are able to repair the damage done by the Conservative Party, to create an economy here that offers us hope for the future, and I'm very pleased indeed to have been able to get that on the record again this afternoon.

First Minister, in 2017, the Labour manifesto contained an explicit commitment to devolve policing to Wales. Your 2019 manifesto does not. Why?

Because, Llywydd, in the meantime, we established and have seen the report of the Thomas commission, which provides a comprehensive set of recommendations for the whole of the justice system here in Wales, not simply policing. That report was published in the same week as the general election was called. My party's manifesto refers directly to the major conclusion of the Thomas commission, that the justice system is not serving people well in Wales, and makes a commitment to put that right, using the Thomas report as the basis for doing so.

Yes, you're right, the manifesto does refer to the report, and it uses the language of 'working with' and 'considering the report', but why couldn't there be a cast-iron commitment at least to devolve policing, and then to go further and deliver the recommendations of the report? This is a rowing back, effectively, from the position that you had in the 2017 manifesto. Now, the paper 'Reforming our Union', which you published recently, says the Barnett formula should be replaced by, and I quote,

'a new relative needs-based system implemented, within a comprehensive and consistent fiscal framework'.

Now, in your manifesto, your 2019 manifesto, there is a reference to that document, yes, but only in the context, yet again, of it being considered by a constitutional convention. On the Barnett formula, you merely refer to long-term reform of how the UK allocates public expenditure. Now, we've been awaiting that long-term reform, haven't we, since the Barnett formula was first introduced as a temporary measure by the Callaghan Labour Government in 1978. Now, can you say if your party is explicitly committing to scrapping the Barnett formula, and, if so, by what date?

Well, Llywydd, I am very glad that the Labour manifesto at this election contains two specific commitments in the fields that Adam Price refers to. It does indeed refer directly to the 20-point plan that this Government has published, which is a serious plan for the future of the United Kingdom, a future in which my party wants to see a successful Wales in that successful United Kingdom in a successful European Union. And to have our report directly recognised as one of the foundational documents of the constitutional convention that we will set up I think is a recognition of the seriousness with which that document has been taken since its publication.

Quite separately, and in a different part of our manifesto, we refer to reform of the way in which funding flows through the whole of the United Kingdom, and making that funding flow based on an assessment of relative need. That is inevitably a reform of the Barnett formula, and it's there in Labour's manifesto for anybody to see. 

13:50

Well the paragraph, actually, on the need for reform is exactly the same. It's cut and pasted from the 2017 manifesto. I would have—. Given that you have set out this 20-point plan—and it's good to have references in a manifesto, but I would have expected progress, that you actually would have been able to make a cast-iron explicit manifesto commitment to scrapping the Barnett formula, and you don't do that in either your Welsh or UK manifestos. 

Let's stay with funding. Your Welsh manifesto says that Scotland will receive at least £100 billion of additional resources over the two terms of a Labour Government—£10 billion will go to a new national transformation fund to build 120,000 new homes in Scotland, another £6 billion to retrofit existing homes, the new Scottish national investment bank will get £20 billion to fund a wide range of projects. Now, if Wales were to be funded on this scale, we should expect at least an additional £60 billion, but there's no such explicit commitment in either your UK or Welsh manifestos. Why are you so detailed on Scotland, even in your Welsh manifesto, and so silent on Wales?

Well, Llywydd, in his first question to me this afternoon, the leader of Plaid Cymru criticised the Labour manifesto for saying something different on policing to 2017 and, in his second question, he criticised the manifesto for saying the same as it did in 2017. The truth of the matter is that we rewrite our manifesto where there are new things that we have to take into account and, where there are outstanding commitments that we want to progress, then of course we repeat them there.

A UK Labour Government, Llywydd, will transform the funding available to Wales. There will be £3.4 billion more available to invest in the running of public services here in Wales than we have had under the current Government, remembering, Llywydd, that, if the resources available to us had simply gone up in line with the growth of the economy, we would already be £4 billion better off than we are today. Labour's manifesto fills that gap and will allow public services in Wales and people who rely on them to have the sort of services that they deserve. And, as far as public expenditure on investment is concerned, our manifesto makes an explicit commitment to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon—£1.3 billion of capital investment there. It makes a specific commitment to advancing the Wylfa project on the island of Anglesey—a £20 billion investment in the Welsh economy. It gives us a share in the great new programmes of transformation that a Labour Government will bring about and, here in Wales, we will see not just revenue to allow us to reinvest in our public services, but an ability to reconstruct the infrastructure that a successful economy allows on a scale that has been entirely missing over the last 10 years. And people in Wales who want to see that happen should be voting for it on 12 December.

Well, First Minister, that £3.4 billion of Barnett consequential is dependent on a huge increase in public borrowing and, if you succeed in your aim to force the people of Wales and the UK to vote again and succeed in your campaign to remain, you will be banned from borrowing that money by European Union rules. 

Now, First Minister, Labour's manifesto has promised to build 100,000 council houses every year in England—how many will you be building in Wales?

Well, I'm able to provide the Member with the figures that we have for council house building in Wales as projected over the coming period. By the end of 2021, there will have been over 800 new council houses built in the city of Cardiff; there will be 150 new council houses built in Powys; there will be 176 new council houses built in Ynys Môn. So, in an unbroken line from the south-east to the north-west of Wales, there will be hundreds of new council houses built under a Labour Government, under existing rules, and a Labour Government in Westminster, providing us with the investment we need, will see the pace of that production accelerate over the years of the next Labour Government. 

13:55

First Minister, given you only built 57 council houses last year, people can judge the plausibility of that, or otherwise, for themselves. You have said that you are going to—and I quote your manifesto here in 2016:

'We will deliver an extra 20,000 affordable homes in the next term'.

Yet that implies 4,000 a year. You've been averaging only 2,500 a year. Is it really plausible that you are going to overcome that deficit in the next two years?

Now, the UK Labour commitment is for 100,000 council houses per year in England, yet since 2009-10 in Wales—and let's look at the record, rather than your claims for the following year—only 153 council houses were built in all those years. In six of those years, local authorities did not build any council houses at all. Given Wales only managed 57 last year, this compares to 5,600 that should have been built if you were to match your party's pie-in-the-sky promise for England. What preparations has the Welsh Government made, if any, for a near hundredfold increase in council house building?

Well, Llywydd, the first question was whether we have confidence that we will build 20,000 affordable homes during this Assembly, and the answer to that question is 'yes'—we will reach that figure, and I believe we will exceed it, during this Assembly term.

The reason why councils haven't been able to build houses in Wales is because of the policies pursued by the party of which he was then a Member and marched through lobbies in the House of Commons to support whenever he had the opportunity.

I can hear—I can hear the nonsense being offered to me, Llywydd, from my left in the Chamber. That party's policies, from the days of Mrs Thatcher onwards, have led to a decimation of council stock right across the United Kingdom. It's why we've abolished the right to buy here in Wales—to preserve council houses in those parts of Wales where young families need them to get on the housing ladder and where that ability has been stripped away from them because of the actions of his party, with the support of Mr Reckless whenever he had the chance to do so.

Now that we have an opportunity to reverse that position, to get councils building houses again, I am immensely cheered by the appetite of our local authority partners of all parties to take advantage of the new opportunities that there will be there. That's why I was able to give those figures to Mark Reckless in my initial answer—figures that demonstrate the appetite among councils that are under Labour control, under Plaid Cymru control, under no control of any council. Right across Wales, there are councils that want to build council houses, because they know the urgency of the need. We are determined to do it here in the Welsh Government, and, with a Labour Government in Westminster, our ability to do that will be immensely improved.

Priorities for the NHS in South Wales Central

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's priorities for the NHS in South Wales Central over the next 12 months? OAQ54769

Llywydd, amongst our priorities for the healthcare system over the next 12 months are prevention, reducing health inequalities, delivering the primary care model for Wales, timely access to care and further investment in mental health services.

Now, we've heard a lot over the past three years about the allegedly disastrous effect of Brexit on all kinds of public services in Wales, including the NHS, and we know that the Welsh NHS is already struggling to recruit enough staff to keep up with demand. But we now discover that the Labour Party's intention is to introduce a four-day week, which will surely exacerbate the problems of recruitment within the health service in Wales. It's a policy so damaging that Labour's health spokesman in England has already claimed it won't be applied to the NHS. Would the First Minister like to take this opportunity to repudiate this potentially disastrous policy?

Llywydd, well, it's good to hear, at last, Gareth Bennett acknowledge the disastrous impact of leaving the European Union on recruitment in the health service here in Wales. I thought his question got off to a very promising start in that way—it went downhill fairly fast after that.

I can tell him, Llywydd, that hard-working people in the Welsh NHS, who work every day to make sure that people in Wales have the services they need—they look forward to the day when there is a Labour Government prepared to invest in those public services so that the ambition of a four-day week can be realised here in Wales. Why could it possibly be thought of as an unworthy ambition to allow people to spend more time with their families, more time investing in their own development, when we are able to do that? We have a plan to do that. It will apply here in Wales. I look forward to the opportunity to be able to do it. 

14:00

First Minister, it's ironic that you're saying about hard-working health workers when your own party had to use an actress in your party political broadcast, because you couldn't find any health workers to endorse your policies.

But I'd like to ask you a serious point, if I may, because Health Inspectorate Wales and the Wales Audit Office just recently undertook an audit of Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, and they pointed to the failure of staff to have confidence that if they raise concerns, those concerns would be taken seriously. In fact, the report went on to say they felt they could do no more to escalate their concerns. Can you give me confidence today, First Minister, that your Government is working with the health boards in South Wales Central to make sure that health workers' concerns, when raised, are acted on, because the best friend in the health service is a critical friend to highlight failings that might lead to some disastrous consequences further down the line?  

Llywydd, I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for that serious question, and I agree with almost everything that he said. It is absolutely essential in our health service that, when people have concerns that they have to raise, that they have confidence that the system will listen to them carefully, respond to them seriously, and act on those concerns when those concerns are borne out on investigation. 

Now, the report published on 19 November by the healthcare inspectorate and the Wales Audit Office at Cwm Taf did say that there are steps that are being taken to strengthen quality, safety and governance within the health board, that the new chief executive, for now, is doing a great deal to lead the organisation in that direction. It then provides a series of further recommendations that the health board needs to respond to to demonstrate that it is redesigning its structures and processes, and to make sure that the values of openness and of careful attention to what staff members are saying to the board are absolutely embedded in the culture of that organisation. And I share the views that the Member expressed about the importance of that happening right through our health services.   

Dental Services

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of dental services? OAQ54749

Thank you for the question. More people in Wales have access to national health service dentistry than ever before, and access for children is at an all-time high. However, provision in some parts of Wales remains challenging. Contract reform, investment in dental education and liberalisation of the profession are amongst some of the solutions being implemented.  

Following on from the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee's report on dentistry in Wales, as Assembly Members, we continue to receive complaints from members of the public with regards to the lack of NHS dentists locally. Now, in the old Abertawe Bro Morgannwg area that I represent, we are told that only nine out of the 65 dental practices are taking on new adult NHS patients. Local NHS dentistry is a thing of the past for many of our communities. The Welsh Government has previously spoken, as you have today, of its intention to address recruitment and retention of dentists, and of contract reform in the medium term, but people want to know what actions you are taking now in your discussions with health boards to try and improve local NHS dental capacity in the short term, now? 

I thank the Member for that. I think it is important in recognising that there are genuine challenges in NHS dentistry in some parts of Wales, that we also recognise what has been achieved. There are 40,000 more people receiving NHS dental treatment in Wales today than there were five years ago. In 2014, we had 1,439 dentists working in the NHS in Wales. Today, we have over 1,500 dentists working in the NHS in Wales, and as I said in my original answer, the percentage of children accessing NHS dentistry in Wales is at an all-time high.

Now, there are parts of Wales where that is a bigger challenge. One of the reasons why it is a bigger challenge, thinking of Gareth Bennett's referral to the impact of Brexit on NHS staff, is exactly that: 30 per cent of NHS dental care in the United Kingdom is provided by EU nationals. Those people are not being recruited in the way they were because of the Brexit chill, and that has caused a particular impact on some of the big dental corporates in Wales, finding that they're not able to recruit dentists from overseas as they were once able to do. But, we are training dentists in Wales. We train every year an extra 75 to 80 dentists, but there is a challenge for the profession here as well. The reform of the contract should mean less time spent doing routine work that doesn't have a clinical benefit freeing up time to do more things that you need somebody with the skills of a dentist to do. And we need to see liberalisation of the profession. We have far too many dentists in Wales carrying out routine fillings and dental checks, which you just don't need somebody with a highly-trained capacity of a dentist to do. We need the dental profession to follow the primary care medical profession in Wales in liberalising the number of people and the types of professions able to provide NHS dentistry, and then, we will be able to use those scarce skills to full clinical impact and to provide a greater level of access to NHS dentistry. 

14:05

Of course, another challenge to the retention of dentists in Wales is the lack of support they're currently getting if they have stress-related illnesses. Now, this was highlighted by the British Dental Association. They've raised it as a significant issue amongst dentists that work in the NHS throughout the whole of the UK, not just in Wales.

Now, in England, the Department of Health and Social Care has recently announced that it's providing access for dentists to their comprehensive NHS practitioner health support programme, but according to the British Dental Association, there's currently no comparable support from the Welsh Government for mental health well-being here. I just wondered, First Minister, if you would consider that concern, because having trained a dentist, having recruited a dentist, we certainly want to hang on to them, and if lack of help when they're suffering from mental health or stress-related illnesses is one of the reasons that they're leaving dentistry in Wales, then there's something tangible we can do something about—or you can do something about.

I thank Angela Burns for that. I think we are more aware in general now of the pressures that primary care professionals of all sorts feel in a very pressurised part of the workforce. If there are new ideas that we can deploy to support dentists in the important work that they do, then, of course, we would be happy to speak to the BDA through the normal ways in which we have contact with them. I'm very happy to make sure that that is part of that next conversation.

South East Wales Transport Commission

5. Will the First Minister provide an update on the progress of the South East Wales Transport Commission? OAQ54772

I thank Jayne Bryant for that. The commission published its 'Our Approach' document in October. It sets out how it will go about its work. The commission will also deliver a progress report by the end of this calendar year.

Thank you, First Minister. When it was created, the ambition of the transport commission was to operate collaboratively and transparently, providing regular updates on their work. Today, I understand that the M4 commission meeting invited groups in Newport for the first time. While I'm pleased that an official from Newport City Council is part of it, many of my constituents have asked me how the commission will take into account the views of the people who are impacted the most by any recommendation they make. I'm sure you'll understand that my constituents and I are eagerly awaiting the commission's progress update in the next few weeks. In that, the commission promises a short list of potential fast-track measures, also eagerly anticipated by myself and my constituents, followed by the interim report in spring next year. First Minister, how will this be communicated with Newport residents, and in particular those who are not part of any group? How will they be able to have their say on any changes that will inevitably impact on them to ensure that any measures make a meaningful and real difference for the better?

14:10

Well, Llywydd, I thank Jayne Bryant for that supplementary question and the important points that she makes. I can give her an assurance, Llywydd, that, when I first met Lord Burns, in an attempt to persuade him to take on this important work, one of the points that he made to me then was that he would only be interested to do it if he had the scope directly to talk to people in Newport and others affected by the problem that he is going to help us to solve. And you will see that in the 'Our Approach' document, where Lord Burns says that the commission intends closely to involve stakeholders in its work. And one of its top priorities is to understand the choices made by people living, working and travelling in south-east Wales, and in particular, users of the M4 around Newport.

The same part of the 'Our Approach' document then sets out how the commission intends to communicate with those wider discussions with the public of the sort that Jayne Bryant has referred to, happening today. Stakeholder meetings and workshops, using social media as a way of reaching people who might not communicate with and through more conventional means, and reports and letters to Welsh Ministers.

I too look forward to receiving that initial set of ideas from the commission before the end of the year. And I intend to make whatever advice is given to me available for people in Newport and elsewhere to see as well, and then to invite them to comment on those ideas, to contribute any further ideas they have, and to make sure that the commission is, as it has wanted to be from the outset, a genuinely iterative body working alongside those people most directly affected by its work.

One of the responsibilities of this transport commission is to produce recommendations for fast-track implementation to tackle the acute problems of congestion and safety on the M4 around Newport. First Minister, can you confirm that work to implement any such recommendation will begin at the earliest opportunity and that they will not have to wait until the commission produces its final report at the end of next year? Thank you.

Absolutely, Llywydd, I'm happy to give that assurance. That is exactly the way the work of the commission has been structured. They will produce their most immediately available actions before the end of this calendar year. I certainly don't want to wait for those ideas to be implemented until further parts in the reporting process. The commission is focused on looking at those ideas that are closest to hand that can be put into practice as fast as possible, and we will certainly not wish to hold up anything that we can get on with as fast as we are able to.

Priorities for the NHS in North Wales

6. Will the First Minister outline his priorities for the NHS in north Wales? OAQ54744

I thank the Member for that question. Priorities for the NHS in north Wales reflect those for the whole of our nation, as set out in my answer to an earlier question this afternoon: a move in the direction of prevention, reducing health inequalities, improving primary care, timely access to care services, and further investment in mental health.

I was hoping that one of your priorities might be to deal with the ongoing problems that we've seen since that health board has been put into special measures because, of course, the people of north Wales feel let down by your Government when it comes to our national health service in the region. We have a health board that has been in special measures for four and a half years. Its financial position has deteriorated while it's been in special measures, many of its performance indicators have also deteriorated; people are waiting up to two years for their orthopaedic treatment; we've seen a domino of GP surgeries that have closed since you took charge of special measures in that particular health board; and, of course, we've seen the unpalatable situation of the incompetence of the current leadership having to draft in somebody based overseas who is being paid £2,000 per day—not per week, per day—in order to sort out the problems in that health board because of the lack of quality leadership.

When will people in north Wales see the turnaround that you promised them four and a half years ago and see that health board firing on all pistons so that people can get their treatment in time and get the outcomes that they deserve?

14:15

One day, Llywydd, as you know, the Member will find something good to say about the health service on which his constituents rely. Their report on health services in north Wales is so different to his own.

Only last month, the health Minister set out a series of actions that the health board needs to take in order to move on from being in special measures, and we expect the health board to report against those requirements by 13 December. That will show how the health board intends to build on the successes that it has achieved, which it would be good to hear the Member just occasionally acknowledge: the fact that all trainee GP posts in north Wales have been filled for the first time; the fact that flu vaccination rates in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board are amongst the very best in Wales; the fact that maternity services, which were a concern at the very start of special measures, are no longer a matter of special concern.

When I hear the Member lecture us on the state of the health service in Wales, deficits and the need to follow the advice of the Public Accounts Committee in securing external help to bring about even further improvement, I'm reminded of the United Lincolnshire trust that his party is responsible for, a trust that is half the size of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, and whose deficit last year was greater than the whole of the Welsh NHS put together, and which spends millions of pounds in securing external support, yes, in order to try to deal with the issues that that trust faces.

First Minister, we know how health and well-being are shaped by more than just clinical intervention. Social, cultural, political, economic and environmental factors have a huge impact to play on health outcomes. Wales's future generations commissioner talks about the need for a national approach for wellness and the need to encompass all these factors when talking about a healthy nation. What considerations has the First Minister given to building on the work already undertaken by the future generations commissioner and the Welsh Government's plan for health and social care in establishing a national wellness service that would work with our NHS to improve health outcomes, take the pressure off our wonderful NHS staff and make sure that we are firing on all cylinders?

I thank Jack Sargeant for those very important points. In answering both the questions that I've been asked this afternoon about priorities for the national health service, the first thing that I have mentioned has been the need to shift the system in the direction of prevention. If we are to prevent ill health in the Welsh population, then it is an emphasis on those things that keep people well that we will need to see in the system as a whole.

Now, how you keep people well is a combination of things that the health service itself can do through vaccination programmes, for example, a really important contribution that public health makes, but also all those other public services that Jack Sargeant made reference to. We know that the state of housing has a profound impact upon people's health. We know that being able to be in a job that you find fulfilling and allows you to pay your way in the world has an enormous impact on people's well-being. We also know that there are things that individuals can do for themselves with assistance in terms of diet, in terms of exercise, in terms of looking out for their own health and well-being, and it's only when you draw all those things together—the things that the health service can do, the things that other public services can do and the things that individuals are able to do for themselves—that we will succeed in creating a service that is not a national illness service, but a national health and well-being service of the sort that we would want to see here in Wales.

Supporting Welsh Businesses

7. How is the Welsh Government supporting Welsh businesses? OAQ54736

I thank the Member for that. In line with our economic action plan, we remain committed to supporting Welsh businesses through Business Wales and the Development Bank of Wales, both offering bilingual advice, support and finances to businesses in Wales to start and to grow.

Diolch. Small and medium-sized businesses in Wales make up, as you probably know, 99.3 per cent of all businesses, almost 65 per cent of employment, turning over £46 billion a year, £126 million every day. But, sadly, a high proportion don't survive more than five years, and beyond survival also face considerable challenges.

The Small Business Saturday campaign exists to support, inspire and promote them, and the next Small Business Saturday is on Saturday 7 December. I know you'll wish to join me in wishing them well. However, the Federation of Small Businesses identified key megatrends affecting towns in Wales and made a series of recommendations to ensure their future success and sustainability. How do you respond to those recommendations, which include—I'll give two examples—publishing town strategies in every town, ensuring the ownership is local and that businesses and the voluntary and public sectors are engaged, and rethinking the role of business rates in towns, replicating the recently announced English relief for high street businesses, and then better consideration of the impact of rates on our towns in the longer term?

14:20

Llywydd, first of all, to acknowledge the point that Mark Isherwood made at the start, on the importance of SMEs to the Welsh economy, and anything that we can do to point to that importance and to their success is certainly to be welcomed. Business birth rates in Wales exceed business birth rates across the United Kingdom, and one-year survival rates of Welsh businesses exceed the UK rate as well. So there is a great deal to celebrate in Welsh SMEs, which I'm sure this weekend will play it's part in doing.

I welcome the report that Mark Isherwood referred to, because it tells us that, in order to make the high street the success that we want it to be, we have to reimagine it. It is not enough to take the model that we have had over the last 20 years and to try to run harder to prop it up. The world has moved on. The way that people go about their shopping and other things isn't what it was back then, and the report of the FSB, I think, helps us to see some of the elements that there could be there that would allow that reimagining of the high street to happen.

It is very important that it does. People's attachment to their localities and to the towns in which they live is often rooted in the town itself. In the town that I grew up in, people always referred to 'going down town' if they were going out, and they meant they were going into the centre of Carmarthen, indeed. So I welcome the report. We will look at it carefully, and I'm glad to see that it has moved on from just trying to find ways of sustaining a model that no longer, I think, will stand us in completely good stead.

'The State of the Coalfields 2019' Report

8. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s response to the findings contained within the State of the Coalfields 2019 report? OAQ54734

Llywydd, we value the work done by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, including the commissioning of this report. The report has been shared with the Valleys taskforce members as they develop actions for the remainder of their programme.

Thank you, First Minister. One of the standout findings from the report for me was the link between the former coalfield communities and deprivation, with 42 per cent of communities being amongst the 30 per cent most deprived in Britain, and the figure is even more pronounced for the south Wales coalfields area, where it stands at 52 per cent. How is the Welsh Government ensuring that tackling this link remains at the heart of all areas of policy making?

Can I thank Vikki Howells for that important supplementary question, Llywydd? Here are three ways in which I think we are making sure that that link remains at the heart of all that we do: the work of the Valleys taskforce itself, which is all about bringing new economic opportunities to people in the Valleys area to make sure that those underlying and historic trends as the report identifies can be eroded further into the future. Then we are investing in the foundational economy in Valleys communities: 27 different projects through the foundational economy challenge, found in all parts of Valleys communities, and which will strengthen the indigenous ability of those communities to provide those services and those jobs that cannot be moved elsewhere and go on being such an important part of those localities. Then, everything that we are doing in the child poverty field: the things that we do through the pupil development grant, the access grant that we have doubled and doubled again during this Assembly term, the school holiday feeding programme that uniquely in the United Kingdom we have as a national programme here in Wales. I'm thinking back to Dr Dai Lloyd's question about dentistry earlier this afternoon: the Designed to Smile programme, which is a very unusual programme indeed in social welfare provision, in having closed the gap between those with the best and worst oral health amongst our children. The oral health of all our children is improving, but it is improving fastest amongst those who needed that help the most. And that's a pretty unusual programme in social welfare terms. So, all those things—the economy, the foundational economy, the futures that we are creating for our children—those are the things that this Government is doing to make sure that the findings of that report go on being addressed in all areas of our policy making.

14:25
2. Business Statement and Announcement

Next is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement. Rebecca Evans.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three sitting weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for health about the results of a study by the European Heart Journal? The study found that more than one in 10 cancer patients die from heart and blood vessel problems rather than from their initial illness. The researcher advised that the increase in the numbers of people surviving cancer means that more attention should be focused on cardiovascular risks. Minister, please could we have a statement from the health Minister about these findings and on what action he will take to ensure that the cancer doctors and cardiologists work closer together to minimise the risk of patients surviving cancer succumbing to heart and circulatory disease in Wales?

I'd be grateful if Mohammad Asghar would send me a copy of that report in relation to the cardiovascular risks for cancer patients, and I will be sure to ask the health Minister to look at that report if he's not already familiar with it, and to write to you with his thoughts on that report.FootnoteLink

Some of my constituents have been to see me recently to talk about an exciting proposal to create an environmental centre in Snowdonia. The aim of the International Earth Resources Centre would be to use the latest scientific research to help people understand the effect that they're having on the world and what steps we can take to mitigate. But it appears that there is some slowness in your Government's response which is holding things back. An appropriate site has been identified in Glynrhonwy near Llanberis and a business plan, a work programme and feasibility work have been completed. I have written to Ken Skates and to Lesley Griffiths, but I haven't received a response to date. The claim is that the project could bring at least 100 jobs to the area. I'd be grateful therefore if you could take a personal interest in this issue and could ask the two Ministers to discuss the issue and to respond appropriately. It would be a huge shame for north Wales if it were to miss this unique opportunity because of lack of interest from the Welsh Government.

Secondly, in turning to health, and unfortunately another GP surgery in my constituency is to close. After a number of years of serving individuals and patients in Penygroes, the Llys Meddyg surgery has given notice that they will bring their contract with the health board to provide GP services to an end in April 2020. The health board states that they are working closely with the practice and other local GPs to plan how patients will continue to access the necessary services from next spring onwards. There is a plan in place in the Nantlle Vale for a new health centre for the area, so I would like to ask your Government to bring that project forward immediately for the benefit of all the constituents of the Nantlle Vale. You taking a lead in this area in taking it forward immediately could safeguard and develop services for the future.

Thank you to Siân Gwenllian for bringing forward both of those issues this afternoon. I can certainly give you that commitment that I will liaise with both the Minister for environment and rural affairs and the Minister for economy to ensure that a response is forthcoming on the issue of the international earth—I can't read my writing—on the centre that you've described in your contribution today.

And in terms of the GP surgeries, and the potential for a new facility, I'll ask the health Minister to explore with the health board what the latest is on that, and provide you with the very latest update.FootnoteLink

14:30

Given that a press conference was held in Europe this week, at which Professor Guus Berkhout of the Climate Intelligence Foundation gave information on the 700 signatures he has collected from prominent scientists and professionals, including a Nobel Prize winner, where they declare there is no climate emergency, and also that four new scientific indices have recorded that the earth's temperature has actually fallen by 0.47 per cent over the last decade, despite the 2 per cent rise in carbon dioxide, and new revelations that show the world is actually experiencing record levels of snow cover, which includes the fact that snow covering the northern hemisphere is the fifth highest for the last 52 years, would the Government make a statement on whether it will continue to accept this totally erroneous assertion that there is a climate change and global warming crisis, because your pursuit of policies that are accepting of this fact is pushing increasing numbers of people in Wales into fuel poverty?

Well, just to be clear, Llywydd, this Welsh Government is very clear that there is a climate emergency. Welsh Government is very clear that climate change exists, and we're very much focused on tackling that climate emergency. And the Member will be aware of the low-carbon delivery plan, which sets out a detailed and ambitious programme across Government in terms of what we will seek to do to ensure that Wales becomes a low-carbon nation.

I would like to ask for two Government statements—firstly, on the use of supply agencies to provide supply teachers to schools. This, to me, is a very serious social justice issue. I believe supply teachers are being exploited. I believe that we need to have a public sector solution rather than supply teachers being at the mercy of private supply agencies.

The second statement I'm requesting is on free swimming for those over 65. A large number of my older constituents in the least advantaged parts of Swansea East are now losing out on free swimming. If our aim is towards preventative rather than reactive health action, then free swimming for our elderly living in the poorest of communities is surely very important to keep people active and keep them out of hospitals.

Well, there has been a great deal of change in terms of the way in which supply teachers are procured in Wales. So, the new National Procurement Service framework for supply teachers became operational in September of this year for the start of the academic year, and there are 27 agencies on that framework, so schools are now offered a choice of provider. Framework agencies must comply with the terms of the framework agreement, including promoting the minimum pay point, and the NPS is monitoring compliance with the framework, and they will address any issues of non-compliance with any agencies. So, if Mike Hedges has some examples of agencies that are exploiting supply workers, we'd be very keen to have that evidence, and we certainly will work to ensure that that exploitation comes to an end. The framework is designed, really, to ensure that workers' rights are protected, so there'll be the minimum pay rate for qualified supply teachers, abolition of the Swedish derogation and fixed and transparent agency charge rates. So, I think that we've made some really important steps, but if there are agencies that aren't working to the spirit and to the letter of what we've set out, then I need to have that information.

In terms of the free swimming initiative, Mike Hedges will be aware that it was only 6 per cent of the over-60s who were taking up the opportunity for the free swimming initiative, and the independent report suggested that the scheme did need to be amended, to ensure that young people, particularly from poorer backgrounds, were able to take up the opportunity for free swimming.

So, the situation now is that, based on the understanding of the needs of their own communities, local authorities are being asked to focus on supporting young people, and older citizens from more disadvantaged areas, and provide new plans to meet those objectives. And those plans, I can say, are currently being introduced, and we are in a transition period, where users are being encouraged to feed back their views and experiences to the provider via their local swimming pools. Again, I'd be really pleased if Mike Hedges and other Members are able to feed back some of their feedback to Welsh Government in terms of what their constituents are telling them, because that feedback will be used to help local authorities and delivery agents provide a more tailored service in the future. Support will be provided by Sport Wales and Swim Wales, who will, in turn, report back to the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism every six months, for a period of 18 months.

14:35

Organiser, could I seek two statements, please, if possible—one from the Deputy Minister responsible, for the comment that she made back in February 2018 about an environmental impact assessment required for the Barry biomass incinerator. The Deputy Minister and Chief Whip was here to protest on Saturday, and I understand she spoke to the crowd, and said that the biomass boiler—or the incinerator, should I say—will be up and running in a matter of days. Now, this cannot be right that, given that the Deputy Minister said back in February 2018 that she was minded to have an environmental impact assessment; we understand now from Government Ministers that the incinerator is going to start in a matter of days. And yet, we had a statement back in April that the Government was working on breaches of the planning system, they believed, that they were going to talk to the Vale of Glamorgan Council over. And I declare and interest as a Vale councillor. But we cannot continue with this complete open-ended, unanswerable question: are you going to insist on an environmental impact assessment before this incinerator starts, or aren't you? You've had nearly two years now to come up with the answer. It just isn't good enough for the residents of Barry, and it's not good enough for other residents in South Wales Central. So, can we have a statement from the Minister, to clarify the position, rather than this ineptitude, I would say, that is at the heart of the Government decision-making process on this particular matter?

Secondly, could I seek a statement from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs in relation to the new regulations that she's bringing forward in relation to pollution incidents, and the nitrate vulnerable zones that are going to be created after 1 January? We are obviously now on the—virtually, there are only two weeks left of term, and these regulations will pose significant burdens and new responsibilities on agricultural business, and there's still widespread concern over exactly what obligations will have to be met, and in particular around the timings that people will be able to dispose of slurry and farmyard manure onto the land. And given the autumn we've had, it is quite an acute problem at the moment on many farms. So, more information is required from the Government, and I'd be most grateful if there is an indication from you that a statement will be forthcoming before we break for the Christmas recess, given that these regulations are due to start on 1 January.

So, in relation to the Barry biomass plant, the Member will be aware that, back in May, we announced our intention to consult on an environmental statement that the developer was offering to prepare. The developer has now provided an environmental statement, and we've just appointed WSP to undertake independent scrutiny of the materials submitted. If the environmental statement is found to be adequate, WSP will undertake public consultation after the general election. And WSP have a team that has both an in-depth knowledge of the UK power industry and the Welsh planning system, and has extensive experience reviewing and producing environmental statements for energy projects. And their experience will add welcome support to the Welsh Minister's consideration of the case.

In terms of the very latest situation, I'm aware that Natural Resources Wales has been monitoring compliance with the conditions of the company's environmental permit throughout the testing phase. And should any permit breaches come to their attention, then they would obviously take appropriate action, in line with their enforcement and prosecution policy. That, as I understand it, is the very latest in relation to the Barry biomass plant.

On the second issue, of the agricultural pollution regulations, I know that there are still discussions under way between the Minister and various interested parties, including those who are members of the Wales land management forum sub-group on agricultural pollution. I know that they are being asked for their views on the possible transitional periods, including those with potential closed periods for fertilizer applications. I also know that the Ministers have responses on this issue from both farming unions, and they'll be considered in the final regulatory impact assessment, alongside the other responses received. But, obviously, the Minister is here this afternoon, and she's heard your concerns and your requests for the update.

I would like to make reference to two different cases. The first relates to electric cars, and I give the Government a choice to respond in one of two ways—either by giving us a statement, or by providing a written response. I would like a response to the following statements: how many charging points for electric vehicles are available on sites managed by Natural Resources Wales? What information is available for the reliability of electric vehicle charging points on NRW sites? How many electric vehicle charging points have been set on sites managed by NRW? And when are charging points at Coed y Brenin Forest Park likely to become available again? So, a statement on that, or a response to those written questions that I sent to the Government on 7 August and still haven’t received a response to—either way I’d be happy.

The second point that I wanted to raise is on funding for Citizens Advice.

Recent changes to the way Citizens Advice is being funded is going to be leaving some of the most vulnerable people in my constituency even more vulnerable and unable to access help when they most need it. So, can I ask for a statement from Government on how it intends to deal with this lack of capacity now to deal with issues that are of importance to my constituents?

Just to give you an idea, we currently in citizens advice bureaux on Ynys Môn have five and a half full-time equivalents working with constituents: one and a half debt caseworkers, two welfare benefits specialists, and two generalist specialists. From January next year, there'll be 1.6 for everything else other than debt, with a 0.7 full-time equivalent working and dealing with all my constituents' needs to do with debt. It is impossible for CAB to give the kind of advice and service that they have been giving to my constituents. On many of these cases they work with my office as an Assembly Member, because we work very, very closely. I would like a statement on how on earth they're meant to cope with that situation, and how Government would give a consideration to the possibility of moving to a situation whereby numbers might vary from one county or one area to another, but that there is at least one full-time equivalent person to deal with issues, such as debt, because nothing else will suffice, especially when the service has been so good from CAB in recent years.

14:40

On the first issue, in terms of the written questions that you submitted to Welsh Government on electrical vehicle charging points, I will certainly make sure that you receive a response to those questions.

And on the second issue, I share your admiration completely for the work that Citizens Advice does and the way in which they work with Assembly Members' offices to ensure that people get the support that they need when facing debt and other issues. And I think that we are seeing increased demand, for obvious reasons, because of the impact of austerity, and that's one of the reasons why my colleague the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip recently announced a new £8 million grant funding scheme for advice services here in Wales, and the grants will be awarded through the new single advice fund. I'm confident that that will give us a strategically planned and collaborative approach to advice services, helping to meet that increased demand across Wales. But I know that if you were to write to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip with your particular experiences within you constituency, she'd be able to consider that as we move forward with our approach to advice services.

And can I ask for two statements or debates—one of them on that topic, actually, of debt advice and the very positive and crucial role played by debt advisers in many organisations—CABx, StepChange Debt Charity, Christians Against Poverty and many others? Last week, at an event organised by Hefin David, StepChange's 'Wales in the Red' report showed that, in Wales, single parents are significantly over-represented amongst their clients; that the biggest cause of going into debt in Wales is income shocks, and we often find families who are just one event away from being cast into debt; over half of new clients in Wales are behind on at least one household bill after receiving debt advice, after receiving counselling—that's how critical the financial pressures are; and, based on general polling, there's an estimate now that around 8 per cent of adults living in Wales are facing severe debt problems, compared to around 6 per cent of the UK adult population—that's around 193,000 people in Wales in severe problem debt. 

On the plus side, it would allow us to debate the fact that short-term, high-cost credit as a proportion of clients in Wales with those short-term, high-cost debt loans has substantially fallen over the last five years, from 17 per cent of clients in 2014 to just one in 10now. And that, I have to say, is not least in thanks to regulatory interventions by the Financial Conduct Authority and the withdrawal of some of these rip-off high-cost credit firms—these sharks—from the market, both of which have been subject to major campaigns supported by Labour and other colleagues in Westminster and here. So, a debate would allow us to further explore what more we could do in Wales by further supporting those debt advice organisations and also supporting responsible lending through organisations like credit unions within Wales.

Could we also have a statement or a debate on the Wales union learning fund, described by the president of the Wales TUC, Ruth Brady, last week as a shining example of union partnership with Welsh Government? It was a moving birthday celebration under the banner '20 years, 20 stories' in the Pierhead, which I was pleased to attend. People have seen their lives transformed—like Mark Church, who spoke eloquently at the event. In his forties, he decided to seek help for problems with reading. He took a WULF-funded essential skills course, which he described as being like being let out of a cage, and he spoke about how the experience left him with greater confidence and a host of new skills, which he uses at the office and at home, including helping his daughter with her homework for the first time. For those people who criticise the union learning fund at a UK level, but also here in Wales, they should see the evidence before them of how it's transformed people's lives. So, it would be great to have a statement or an opportunity to debate the way in which that has made a transformative impact on people's lives. 

14:45

Huw Irranca-Davies reminds us that there is a wide range of organisations that are available to individuals who are experiencing debt problems. He mentioned StepChange and Christians Against Poverty, and we're very fortunate to have such a vibrant community of people who are seeking to ensure that people have access to the right support and advice when they need it. And I'll make sure that the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip are aware of the request for a statement to explore the importance of that particular sector and also, of course, the credit unions, which provide access to affordable credit and offer a fairer and more ethical alternative to exploitative high-cost credit, which many people find themselves seeking or feeling that they have to seek to access. And, in support of the work of credit unions, Welsh Government is providing £544,000 to credit unions this financial year, and I think that that is money well invested.

Huw Irranca-Davies, again, is right to say that people have seen their lives transformed by the Wales union learning fund. Since its inception around 20 years ago, over 200 Wales union learning fund projects have been supported, helping thousands of learners, and around 1,000 union learning representatives in Wales have helped to provide access to learning to 7,088 people in the last financial year alone. And those workplace learning teams have also, obviously, contributed greatly to the effective delivery of those projects and have done so through very much their grass-roots level knowledge and support. So, I think that any opportunity to celebrate that would be certainly a positive thing.

Two issues, if I may, Trefnydd. First of all—well, the first issue, actually, that I was going to raise with you has already been very eloquently raised by Mike Hedges, with regard to the free swimming initiative and the changes made to that. And I hear what you say about a small minority—I think 6 per cent, you said, was the uptake of that. So, nothing's perfect, and I know that the independent review suggested it wasn't fit for purpose, but, like Mike Hedges, I've got constituents, older constituents, who have been concerned about it. So, given that the decision has been taken by the Welsh Government to finish with that scheme, I wonder if they could be reassured with what alternative might be forthcoming or in what other ways older people can be encouraged to take up a benefit such as swimming or maybe other activities. I think that that would be appreciated, because there are concerns out there.

Secondly, the Welsh Government has recently announced 66 active travel projects from the Wales infrastructure investment plan. I've just been looking through the projects now, the allocation for 2019-20, and I see that there are two projects in Monmouthshire: Abergavenny town centre active travel improvement phase 3—quite a mouthful—which is being funded to the tune of £300,000; and also there's £50,000 available for a multi-modal Chepstow traffic study. Can I welcome both of these? I think it's good to see that, after years of talking about active travel—and I remember when the Minister came to the previous Enterprise and Business Committee and gave evidence supporting the creation of the active travel Bill—it's good to see that we're getting some development now of actual projects on the ground, which is what it was all about in those early days. So, I've mentioned those two projects; obviously, other AMs will be interested in projects in their constituencies. I wonder if the Minister could bring forward a statement to this Chamber as soon as possible so that we can discuss these issues more fully.

14:50

Okay. So, thank you for raising again the issue of free swimming, which was raised by Mike Hedges. In my response to him, I was able to say that we're in a transitional period at the moment, where users are being encouraged to feed back their experience. So, if you were to capture the experiences of your constituents and share them with the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, that would be very helpful indeed.

I'm grateful for your enthusiasm for the work that we're undertaking now in terms of improving our active travel offer for people in Wales. I think it is a really exciting part of the journey that we're on, in terms of active travel. We are starting to make some real progress in this area, and I know the Deputy Minister has heard your request for a statement, and I know he's always enthusiastic to share the latest information about the projects that we've been able to support.

Three things. One is: can I just follow up on the points raised by Mike Hedges and Nick Ramsay on free swimming? Because, like them, I've had correspondence from older people who've been affected by the changes in the timetable in our local swimming pools, but I've had absolutely no correspondence whatsoever from any families of children, or indeed from children, who are affected by the reconfiguration of this service, which tells me that they were probably, in the main, unaware that this service existed, which is what has been worrying me for some time. So, what I want to see, in due course, is a report that demonstrates that the more-targeted approach on communities that can't afford to do this free swimming is actually working, so that we are seeing an increased uptake by the people who really most need this service. Anyway—so, I'll leave that with you.

Secondly, I just wanted to highlight a report launched in the Pierhead today on infrastructure supporting healthy and active lives by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, which is the outcome of the deliberations of a conference with other engineers. The ambition that they have for integrated infrastructure planning to promote active lifestyles and create active social, healthy places is really good, because without excellence in engineering it is extremely difficult for us to achieve the ambitious targets that we have. So, I just wanted to point that out to all Members, including the Government, particularly as you're in charge of procurement, as they, I'm sure, have a lot to contribute.

Thirdly, I wonder if I can just ask for a statement from the health Minister—an update on the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy—to confirm whether or not he intends to include, as a matter of priority (a) restrictions on price promotions on high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods, and (b) a restriction on hot food takeaways near schools.

Okay, so, again, on the issue of free swimming, I would invite you to share the experiences of your constituents with Dafydd Elis-Thomas. As I've mentioned, he will be receiving six-monthly reports in terms of the transition to the new offer and how that's impacting on those target groups.

The infrastructure report, the integrated infrastructure planning and healthy lives report—I'd be really keen if you could share a copy of that with me. I was unable to attend today, but I am very keen to see that report, especially as we start to consider the next iteration of the Wales infrastructure investment plan, for example, and ensuring that our infrastructure offer is done in a way that takes into account the impact across Government—so, thinking of skills, for example, but also thinking of our wider ambitions in terms of 'A Healthier Wales' and so on.

Insofar as the 'A Healthier Wales' strategy goes, I can confirm that to take forward delivery of a series of two-yearly delivery plans there will be work launched by the Minister on 6 February, and that will set out our early commitments and next steps. A key action of the strategy will be the establishment of the national implementation board, which will oversee the actions for each delivery plan and provide leadership and governance to drive forward the change we need to see across a range of settings, including environments and behaviours. That will meet for the first time on 13 January and is being chaired by the Minister himself, because he's taken a very strong personal interest in this agenda.

Through the delivery plan, a consultation will be held next year to consider a package of legislation in the food environment, and that will include price promotions, energy drinks and calorie labelling, as well planning and licensing around schools. We'll be working with that national implementation board to develop the approach.

14:55

Diolch, Llywydd. On Saturday, we had Labour AMs, Labour MPs—or potential MPs, former MPs, candidates now—a Deputy Minister all protesting against the Government policy on incineration. So, I just want to be clear—I listened carefully earlier—could you confirm, maybe—well, get a statement from the environment Minister confirming that there will be no production of electricity at the Barry incinerator? I do want to press the point on the environmental impact assessment, because that's what residents were promised, and anything less than that is simply not good enough. So, I want to press the Minister on the environmental impact assessment: where is it and when will it take place?

So, Neil McEvoy would have heard my answer to Andrew R.T. Davies earlier on this afternoon. That is the full information that I have at my fingertips this afternoon, so I would encourage him to write to the Minister responsible to seek a further update in answer to those more detailed questions.  

3. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport: The Foundational Economy

The next item is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport on the foundational economy, and I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement—Lee Waters.  

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. One of this Government’s key areas of focus is on nurturing the everyday parts of our economy. The industries and firms that are there because people are there, the food we eat, the homes we live in, the energy we use and the care we receive: these are the foundations of our economy. They account for four in 10 jobs, and £1 in every £3 that we spend. And they are well-being critical. That is to say, the fallout from their disruption goes beyond economic impacts and would undermine safe and civilised life.

As we head into increasingly challenging economic conditions, our focus on the foundational economy is intensifying because it's the part of the economy that can be more resilient to external economic shocks. Even if a change in the global economy tips the attitude of a large multinational company against investing in Wales, the foundational economy remains. And fostering it is within our power—the levers are devolved and can be pulled relatively quickly.

My colleague Ken Skates has set the direction in the Welsh Government’s economic action plan to shift away from a sectoral approach to economic development to one focused on place. The plan's emphasis on inclusive growth places a greater importance on making the communities we live in stronger and more resilient.

Over the last year, we've been working together to design an approach to nurture the foundations of our local economies, focusing not just on economic outputs, but on the quality of people's experience of everyday life. This is part of a movement that is taking place in cities and regions across the world. In Barcelona, the city region is developing a strategic plan for foundational basics, and in Austria their equivalent of the Trades Union Congress has a foundational campaign under the slogan 'a good life for all'.

But the Welsh Government is the first in the world to adopt the foundational economy approach at a national level, and, in fashioning a distinctively Welsh approach to this movement for change, we are focusing on three key areas. Firstly, experimenting: we've created a £4.5 million foundational economy challenge fund to trial ways of growing and improving this part of the economy. Over recent weeks, we've announced 52 innovative projects across Wales that we are supporting, from food and social care to construction and regeneration, and from applicants in the public, private and third sectors. They are now experimenting with different approaches, and we'll be creating strong communities of practice to spread what works, and to learn from what doesn't. And I want to include projects in the Arfor innovation fund. These schemes, which we agreed with Plaid Cymru as part of the last budget agreement, are focused on supporting the Welsh language through the local economy, and they fit within the foundational economy approach. So, it's important that they are part of the learning networks that we are creating.

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

Dirprwy Lywydd, I'm anxious to avoid creating 52 pilot projects that risk fizzling out. That's why our second focus is on spreading and scaling best practice. The foundational economy agenda is a practical expression of the principles laid out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. So, I'm working with the public services boards as key partners to help apply what works to all parts of Wales.

Initially, we will focus on spreading the success achieved by Preston council in using local purchasing power to build local wealth. We're appointing a partner organisation to work alongside public services boards to maximise the social value of procurement. Together, they will identify local providers for goods and services. But we don’t just want to copy Preston’s progressive approach to procurement, we want to go beyond it. As we scale up, we're aiming to develop an approach that avoids displacement and a crude postcode approach of local invoice counting, and we want an approach that emphasises supporting grounded firms across the supply chain.

It’s time that we in Wales reclaim the leadership on this approach. We can point to a number of examples where we have pioneered, from the Can Do toolkit in housing that was developed in Wales 10 years ago to the more recent work on Better Jobs Closer to Home that my colleague, Julie James, initiated, building on work from the Wales TUC.

Wales was ahead of Preston in many ways, but sustaining the early promise has so far proved elusive. I should be clear with Members that I am concerned with the capacity and capability of the Welsh public and private sectors to respond to this challenge, and the pace at which we can mobilise our efforts, but if we can spread and scale success and sustain that change, this time around, we can claim genuine leadership for Wales on a global stage. To that end, within the Welsh Government, I have now created, with the finance Minister, Rebecca Evans, a cross-departmental delivery board to make sure that our internal wiring is connected.

We are trying a new approach and we cannot afford to be timid. If we leave the EU at the end of January with a deal, or without one next December, then the Welsh economy will be hit by a storm worse than the 2008 crash, and the Thatcher de-industrialisation. We therefore need an approach that can build resilience into our local economies to try and cope with that. Each economic crisis disproportionately makes women worse off, reinforcing the case for an approach that supports the everyday economy that so many women rely on for work.

The third pillar of our approach is crucial in this: supporting grounded firms, building the so-called ‘missing middle’, and aggregating local demand to help us do so. My aim is to increase the number of firms rooted in their local economies, including micro firms, SMEs, social enterprises, co-ops and community interest groups, which, in the tradable sectors, are capable of selling outside Wales, but have decision-making grounded in our communities and provide access to fair work opportunities for people across all parts of Wales.

Too often, growing Welsh firms are lost to us when founders cash out. Through our development bank and through Business Wales, we're already doing a lot to build and retain firms in Wales and I’m working with a sub-group of the ministerial advisory board to see what more we can do. We've had great success in supporting firms to grow fast. Our accelerated growth programme is bringing real added value to firms, as I discovered when I met—[Inaudible.]—in Burry Port in my constituency just last Friday, who are getting support under the scheme. And it is generating £17 of benefit to the Welsh economy for every £1 we are investing in it.

We’re now looking at what more we can do to provide patient support to slower-growing, sustainable firms too. In just over a year’s time, the funding we’ve used to fund our Business Wales support services disappears as we leave the EU. We are still waiting to hear from the UK Government what, if any, funding will come in its place, as they promised to do. But as we design the shape of the next iteration of business support, we will ensure that we build in the lessons from our work on supporting grounded firms in the foundational economy.

Dirprwy Lywydd, good progress has been made so far, but as we implement this approach, it is demanding new relationships and new ways of working within and across Government, as well as between Government, businesses and communities. The Welsh Government is kick-starting change, but the dividend will only come at scale if we have alliances for change. We must see co-ordinated working across departments in Government and between public bodies that cuts through the different agendas and budgetary rules that can get in the way.

Gains can be made from procurement, but much larger gains can be made by thinking laterally about how we co-ordinate public sector budgets. And this is a challenge for us all, but an opportunity too, not least for local leadership. Preston Borough Council took action themselves, and I want to see public services boards themselves prove their potential, not by waiting to be asked, but using their powerful local partnerships to bring this agenda alive. The Welsh Government will do our bit, but we can't do it alone. The communities that we all exist to serve demand that we get this right. Diolch.

15:05

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and can I thank the Minister for his statement today and for the advance copy provided as well?

The Minister will be aware of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee's work on procurement and how that can play a part in the foundational economy. The committee is yet to make any recommendations or bring forward its report, but a key message that was coming through is that good practice doesn't seem to travel well in Wales. Given the range of activities supported across the different projects and the different timescales, outputs and outcomes, how does the Welsh Government intend to monitor and evaluate the wide range of projects in order to be able to come to a view on the ones that represent good practice and should be shared and scaled up?

In the past, Business Wales has focused on job targets and economic growth, so I wonder if you, Deputy Minister, would agree with me that the next focus of Business Wales should support companies in the foundational economy and that the next scheme should look to support companies to develop long-term business models in a broader range of issues such as productivity and turnover, as well as targeting those traditional measurements, as well, of GDP and employment levels. What other internationally recognised social, economic measurements will the Welsh Government use to measure well-being and monitor the success of specific projects?

I know that there's been a real challenge in small firms growing to medium sized, and a recent development bank report suggested that only a small number of medium-sized firms were growing. The Federation of Small Businesses's report on Wales, 'Wales' Missing Middle'—and you referred to the missing middle yourself in your statement today—also highlighted that Wales is dominated by those microbusinesses and multinational businesses. So, how will the Government's approach to the foundational economy address this, what I think is an anomaly, and help those small businesses grow?

How are you going to develop Welsh supply chains under your economic action plan to support the foundational economy when awarding grant funding to anchor companies to encourage inward investment? I wonder also, Deputy Minister, do you feel that the sectoral approach to the concept of a foundational economy provides adequate flexibility, building cross-sectoral alliances, ensuring that the concept of the foundational economy does not operate in different silos, but reflects the different economic necessities in different parts of Wales that will actually deliver those practical solutions and services that people want? I very much am someone who's a supporter of the foundational economy approach, so you'll have my support in that regard.

And my final question would be this: how should local procurement be defined, and how should local spend be monitored? And if you aren't in a position to be able to answer that question or offer that definition today, when do you think you'll be in a position to be able to do so?

Well, thank you very much. First of all, to address one of the final points about the support being offered, which I appreciate, Members will remember the movement behind this policy agenda came from this Assembly as part of a civil society movement. It was from the universities, it was from the third sector, and from business organisations, as well as a cross-party effort that the impetus for this came, and I value that and I hope we can retain that. So I welcome his support for the concept of it

The detail of it—we are finding our way as we go. The Basques, I'm told, use an elegant phrase, that they lay the road as they travel. I use a less elegant phrase, that we were making it up as we went along. This is what I was referring to, specifically this experimental approach, rather than saying, 'We have a template, we know how this works.' The whole point of this agenda—that's why it is both exciting and slightly terrifying—is that we are iterating and developing in real time, and there's a risk to that, as I can testify, but that is the policy intent behind it. It is a different approach and has clearly attracted some controversy, but I think it's the right one, given the uncertainties that we are facing.

The Member has asked me seven or so meaty questions, and I won't be able to do justice to them properly, but I'll try, briefly, Dirprwy Lywydd. In terms of the inquiry by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, I look forward to seeing the report and to contemplating your recommendations, because this is something that is open for shaping and for influence.

The question Russell George poses about monitoring and evaluation is a very reasonable one, and that's something that we are currently thinking through with the sub-group of the ministerial advisory board that I've set up, which is a genuine advisory board, where we invite challenge and input from a range of civil society organisations and academics. So, we are creating these communities of practice. They're not siloed, as he said at the end; this is not a sectoral approach within the foundational economy. It is explicitly a sector-neutral approach. In the original economic action plan, there were sectors identified; we've moved beyond that now into having an agnostic view on sectors, and looking across the whole of the foundational economy. If you look at the full list of projects that are published on the Business Wales website, there's a real range there, including some policy projects as well to test the boundaries of our thinking.

In terms of his question about jobs targets in Business Wales, that, also, is a live question, and something I'm discussing with the advisory board—how we can measure this. He mentioned the challenge we have moving from micro to medium-sized companies, and the stats are arresting: 95 per cent of Welsh businesses have fewer than nine employees; the medium-sized firms, which are between 50 and 249 employees, make up less than 1 per cent of all Welsh businesses, but they account for a turnover larger than all of the 95 per cent of businesses. So, we've got a small number of firms punching above their weight in the Welsh economy, and what we want to do is to increase the size of the micro into the small, the small into the medium, and then, as they're medium, keep them rooted in Wales. Things like employee ownership are an attractive option for making sure they remain grounded in our economy.

Working across supply chains, he mentioned, is again the key challenge here, and this is the work we need to do now with the public services boards, and use data to properly understand it. The Better Jobs Closer to Home project that Julie James led on has done a lot of work already with some very committed civil servants within the Welsh Government to properly understand the data of where spending falls, the gaps within that and how we interrogate that to make the most of it. So, that's what we're going to be working with across the public sector.

What I'm interested in doing as well is—we've had a large number of private sector firms bidding into the challenge fund, I want to now explore how we can develop this agenda with larger private sector firms, so the large anchor firms are using their spend, their discretionary spend, to tie into this agenda so we're making the most of that funding as well. This is not a public sector only agenda.

I think I've tried to cover the majority of the points. The definition of, forgive me—

15:10

Yes. Was it: how is local procurement defined? As I said, we're looking to move beyond Preston's model, which tried to define it within spending within the local postcode, to taking a relational approach. So, in Carmarthenshire, for example, there's a very exciting project to get local food into local schools and local hospitals. Now if, for example—I'm just using this for illustrative purposes—they weren't able to source all of their produce in that project or any other within their local postcode, but could source it within a grounded firm in another part of Wales, that would be a good thing. So we shouldn't be too narrow in simply looking at postcodes, because that can have distortive impacts. The example we've mentioned in the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, for example, is were a local authority to spend money in Kwik-Fit to buy some tyres, that could look good as a local postcode procurement, but the money wouldn't stay in the area—it would go out of the area to Kwik-Fit. So it's possible to manipulate these figures to flatter, to deceive, and so we want to take a more intelligent approach, and that's why we want to take time working through how that works in practice.

15:15

May I also thank you for the statement? The Deputy Minister will know that he and I broadly agree in this area. I'm pleased to see the role played by Plaid Cymru in that regard and I'm pleased that we, in our agreement with the Government on the budget, could put the foundation in place, with £1.5 million if I remember correctly, to build upon that foundation. I'm pleased to see that there are some developments happening as a result of that work done a few years ago by us. I'm also pleased to see mention of Arfor, which again is an idea that we developed specifically on rooting development and economic prosperity in our communities here in Wales, and I look forward to seeing further developments as pilot projects and so forth hopefully do come to fruition in ensuing years.

I am pleased that there is also mention of the need to work cross-departmentally within Government and there’s reference by the Deputy Minister to this new group, run jointly with the finance Minister, Rebecca Evans, to ensure that the internal wiring of the Government is done properly. I am surprised to a certain extent that there hadn’t been that kind of cross-departmental working happening already. Perhaps you could explain more as to what exactly you’re referring to here. Is it just that cross-departmental work on the foundational economy, or is it something innovative in terms of the economic development department and the Government’s finance department? Because I would assume that that should have been working cross-departmentally already, if truth be told.

Just a few questions. One, how do you expect to see local government and those working in economic development on the ground responding to this agenda? If I give you an example from my own constituency, and I don’t expect you to respond to the particular example, and I won’t even name the company, but where you have a company that is rooted in one part of Wales that feels that they are being persuaded to move away in order to grow, but they want to remain in that area, it’s a company in the foundational economy engaged in construction and the maintenance of homes, and it’s a large and successful company, but they want help in order to expand, in order to grow deeper roots in their own area—they perhaps want more land on an industrial estate. But what would you expect the attitude to be from economic development teams to assist that kind of company?

Then, in terms of targets, yes, there’s a major element of experimentation in what you intend to do in this area, but you do have to have some idea of what your targets are. So, what kind of indicators of success should we be looking for? It might be difficult to put robust KPIs in place when you are experimenting and trying new things, but surely there is something that we could look at in a year, two years’ time, which will determine, yes, we are seeing success here in terms of the impact on GDP or the jobs created, and crucially the level of salaries in those posts.

And also in terms of targets, I would welcome your comments on what we are aiming for in terms of targets for local procurement. We in Plaid Cymru have talked about aiming at around that 50 per cent of public funding in Wales spent in Wales and looking to raise it to around 75 per cent, which is still quite modest in our view, but in setting a target and reaching that target you're talking about creating 40,000 jobs if you take that figure of 2,000 jobs for every 1 per cent of additional GDP spent locally. So, will you be willing to set a target for where we are going in terms of increasing local procurement?

Thank you again. I'll try and take those points in order and again reiterate the point that the support for this agenda has come from across the Chamber, and I appreciate that. And in fact, as I mentioned in the statement, the initial £1.5 million commitment to an experimental fund came from the negotiations and agreement between the Welsh Labour Government and Plaid Cymru. I'm delighted that I've been able to treble that with the support of the finance Minister and the economy Minister and the First Minister through this budget round.

And in terms of Arfor, Eluned Morgan, the Minister for international development and the Welsh language, and I recently met with the leaders of the Arfor programme from across Wales, and had a long discussion with them about how that project works, and it struck me then that we were creating a silo here, that there was so much in common between this agenda and the foundational economy agenda, we need to mesh them together. And the learning from their projects needs to cross-pollinate into the others and vice versa. So, I'm committed to doing that. So, we, I think, are making connections as we go.

His surprise that Government works in silos was rather sweet I thought, but large organisations tend to do this. Procurement, for example, cuts right across the work the finance Minister is doing. It does cut right across the agenda, so there is cross-Government working already in place around that. What I found when I came in post, the schemes that I was responsible for not only fell outside of our department but outside of our group within Government, and it was very difficult for the civil servants, given the structures they work in, to communicate effectively with each other. That's why this group specifically on the foundational economy has been set up. I've set up another group, which met yesterday with the finance Minister, on artificial intelligence and data-driven innovation, similarly, to try and cut across the horizontal axis of the Government.

So, this is part of the learning that we have here, that this has been one of the barriers to spreading and scaling in the past, and I've cited the frustration of pilot projects showing enormous success in the past. I mentioned the Can Do toolkit, where we were ahead of the pack, but that inability then to embed that into common practice and to work across boundaries, both in central Government and in local government, has been a hamstring and that's something that we need to cut through. But I'm under no illusion how difficult this is and how difficult this is going to be, and it may not work. I think we have to confront the fact that it may not work, but I'm being open and honest about that, and having named that danger, we need to make sure it doesn't happen.

You mentioned the dilemma of how do you allow firms to expand whilst keeping them grounded. And I think this is why we need to take a regional approach to economic development, how local authorities must collaborate. They don't have the bodies they used to have in economic development departments, and they must share with neighbouring authorities in the regional footprint, as we'll see under the local government Bill, and co-locate and work with the Welsh Government's new regional economic teams and chief regional economic officers so we can take a regional approach. So, even if the small firm in the hypothetical example given isn't able to grow on the exact footprint it was founded, it can still do so within the region. [Interruption.] That is something that is going to be hard to achieve, but, clearly, we'd want them to grow in the place where they are rooted. It's difficult to generalise on a hypothetical example. If the Member, who's heckling me to say it's not good enough, wishes to give me a specific example, which he may not want to do publicly, I'm happy to meet with him and discuss the specific example, because it sounds like the sort of problem we want to avoid, and I'd like to work with him to see if we can figure that out.

In terms of KPIs and targets, there's always the risk of unintended consequences to targets because in the past, certainly when Jane Hutt was finance Minister, we achieved over 50 per cent of procurement. Bearing in mind that in the public sector, in most organisations, 75 per cent of funds goes on staff, and most of those staff live within a reasonably small catchment area of where the firm is based. You can, without too much difficulty, come up with figures that look very impressive on local procurement, but don't actually tell the full story, so I think we need to have a more nuanced and intelligent approach to targets. We're experimenting here. I'm reluctant to commit to KPIs and targets at this stage because I don't want them to have a distortive effect. We need to monitor closely how this is working, and then once we've learned some lessons, at the next stage we may be in a position to set some targets. But in terms of the broad question—and I daresay I hope the report of the EIS committee has some thoughts on this—'How do we know what success looks like?' is a good challenge, and certainly Russell George mentioned earlier that we have the truism that good practice is a poor traveller. I think, in the first instance, getting a dozen or so public services boards embracing this agenda and applying it consistently across its boundaries, that would be success, given where we're starting from. Beyond that, I've got an open mind as to how we work out some of the granular metrics for measuring success. I agree with him that, in the medium term, we do need targets and KPIs, but I'd be reluctant to put the cart before the horse. 

15:25

Thank you. I am going to have to ask for shorter questions and shorter answers. I've got five speakers and roughly 15 minutes left, so I'll let you do the maths on that one. Jenny Rathbone.

Thank you. I'm very pleased that you want to tackle this issue of good practice not travelling. When I was chairing the European programme monitoring committee, there were excellent bottom-up programmes that could have been applied to other, very similar, communities, and I know that Huw Irranca-Davies is working on this in the current programme, but we really cannot afford to discard good practice. So I'm hoping that the Carmarthenshire public services board will be leading the way, given that they were very successful in winning a contract for the foundational economy in food procurement. 

I think I'd just like to focus for a moment on your chilling warning, that if we leave the EU at the end of January with a deal or without one next December, which of course is the Farage/Johnson plan, then we have very little time to prepare our economy for the absolute storm that is likely to result, which is far worse than anything that Mrs Thatcher achieved in her de-industrialisation rush.

I agree that public services boards can be key partners to help apply what works in all parts of Wales, and it's great that you have that ambition, but I'd also like to ask you about the role that community councils could also play. Yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee was scrutinising Government officials about the role that community and town councils have been playing, and we've known for some years that far too many of them are sitting on unspent capital, rarely consult their communities and are not seizing on the opportunities that they could be using to strengthen their own small-scale economies. However, yesterday, we did hear about the good practice of, for example, Solva Care in Pembrokeshire, which is delivering a much more person-focused approach to the care of the elderly. And it was delightful to hear that community councils—. I think they're probably fairly rare, but there are community councils who've set up community-owned renewable energy schemes. Hallelujah. How are we going to ensure that all community councils are thinking along these lines and using the opportunities of the natural resources all around them to enrich their local communities?

Thank you. Well, in deference to the warning of the Dirprwy Lywydd, I'll try and keep my answer brief. I'm aware that some community councils did bid into the challenge fund, but I don't think any were successful. It was a competitive fund and there were far more quality schemes than we had funding for, even after tripling the budget. But I think, in my statement, I set out the challenge for public services boards in this, and public services boards should include community councils. I agree with the point that Jenny Rathbone makes about the contribution they have to make in this. And the fact that many applied shows there's an appetite there amongst some of them.

I think the danger we have under the public services boards is that they become strategy factories. And there's a good deal of scepticism that they have yet to deliver anything of substance, and I think this is their opportunity. It's going to be a stretching target for some of them, but they've got to prove their worth. This is an agenda entirely in keeping with the mandate that they have. So I'm discussing with the future generations commissioner developing some joint guidelines between us to allow us to maximise the potential of the public services boards to get the most out of this agenda, and I will take the point that she makes about the role of community councils into consideration as we go about that task. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your statement. I'm afraid much of what I have written here reiterates a lot of what you've said, but I'll make no excuses for that, because it just shows that perhaps we're all thinking along the same lines.

So, the importance of the foundational economy cannot be overstated, with a UK figure of 40 per cent of the workforce, and accounting for £1 for every £3 we spend. And it is recognised that, in many places, the foundational economy is the economy—it's the food we eat, the homes we live in, the energy we use, and the care we receive. Despite the scale of employment, these jobs are often characterised by low wages, highly precarious patterns of employment and poor working conditions. So, these are failings which have to be addressed if this foundational economy is going to work. There's no doubt that a revitalised foundational economy would have the potential to deliver a social benefit to all disadvantaged communities, by providing more targeted economic activity that also has the added potential to deliver on environmental benefits that arise from a more localised economy, where goods and services travel less distances.

Whilst there has been a broad acceptance of the foundational economy, the Welsh Government's decision in their economic action plan to have just four sectors—food, retail, tourism and care—I believe is too narrow. Should we not have included construction and energy generation in that? It was mentioned in your earlier statements, but you didn't actually include it in the last one. We, of course, welcome the moneys allocated under the challenge fund, reaching £3 million, and the last allocation in October of £1.077 million, taking the total to over £4 million.

In your announcement today, you talked about the third pillar and building the missing middle in order to increase the number of firms rooted to local communities. You need to first ensure that the infrastructure is in place to enable goods to move quickly and efficiently. This would not only encourage new companies to locate in communities, but it would also facilitate those who are already there to grow. Local councils, as has been mentioned, can also play a major part in keeping things local by ensuring tenders are within the reach of local microbusinesses, perhaps by breaking them down into modules, rather than large tenders that are called only by large companies, who are, very often, not only out of the locality, but often out of Wales itself.

We acknowledge that progress has been made in strengthening the foundational economy in Wales, but this must not be based on expanding the public sector, but also on nurturing the private sector. As an aside, you mentioned the fact that this may not work, and I think, in doing that, you are running the risk of being a politician who tells the truth.

15:30

Thank you for the comments. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So, the fact that I recognised so many words included in your statement is testimony that that is true. I recognise that there is a lot of common ground here. Just to address two specific points that you made—you talked about in the economic action plan that we identified four foundation sectors, and you said that was too narrow, and I think, as I mentioned in my statement, the fact that we've now gone beyond that and taken a sector-neutral approach, so we're no longer restricted to just four, and that the enabling plan on the foundational economy we committed to in the EAP will not be restricted to just the four and we'll take a broader view, reflects the fact that our thinking has moved on.

On the point about tenders being of a manageable size, I entirely agree, and that's the work Rebecca Evans, as finance Minister, is doing about reforming procurement to open it up, and to upskill the profession, to being able to offer tenders that encompass small firms. One of the projects we are funding through the challenge fund is with Swansea Council. It's a very modest scheme, but it is to design and specify contracts from the council to maximise opportunities for small businesses to bid for work—for example, construction-based contracts. There's a similar bid from the housing association in west Wales, Pobl, to open up its work for one-person traders and odd-job people, as part of the experimental fund too. So, we've been monitoring those two closely, and the whole point of the experimental fund is that we're trying these different things, and if they work, we'll be demanding of the public services boards to adopt or justify. Now, clearly, we're not saying everything's going to work everywhere—you can't lift and shift something that works in one area automatically into another. But I think we will be turning that on its head, and saying to local authorities, 'It works here—you need to give us a good reason why it won't work with you, or we expect you to adopt that good practice.'

15:35

Deputy Minister, as you know, I've always been a leading proponent of the foundational economy, and it's really great to see you now, as a member of the Welsh Government, working to embed some of the ideas that we worked on so closely as backbenchers.

So, I'm holding here the draft national development framework, which the First Minister, in the foreword, describes as setting out

'where we think we should try to grow and the types of development we need over the next twenty years to help us be a sustainable and prosperous society.'

When completed, this is, I would argue, perhaps the most important document that the Government will be producing. So, it was a surprise to me to see that there is no mention of the foundational economy within the draft NDF whatsoever, and that does give me some cause for concern. What would be your reply to that?

Thank you very much. And I absolutely must acknowledge the role that Vikki Howells played, with a number of other colleagues, in supporting this agenda to date. And I am keen that we continue to work together on it, and it's only right that that role is a challenging one. So, I welcome the question, which points out that there's still some room to go to break down those silos. The NDF is not a unique example; there are some other policy areas where I think more can be done. Our food strategy, for example—I think there's room to include the foundational economy agenda within that more than it currently does. And that's what we are going to have to work through within Government. So, I'm glad you've raised that specific point. I will raise that specifically with the Minister, and I will write to you with a reply.

I think this will be welcomed by not only all the Labour colleagues here, but also the Labour and Wales Co-operative colleagues as well. The idea of developing community wealth-building initiatives that are bolted down in your community is something we've long supported. So, I wanted to ask about two specific areas that I'd like the Minister to expand on briefly—one is the Project Skyline, which we hosted here recently. The initial exemplars they took through were in Caerau, Treherbert and Ynysowen. Some of the funding has been put towards building on this now, and taking this forward. The idea that communities, in all that they survey within their valley, can have a stake in managing and owning and generating the rewards from that, and reinvesting in their community, is tremendously exciting. So, I wonder if he could expand a little bit on that, and how we might take that forward. That's a sort of oven-ready one, in a sense—as some other politicians might suddenly use that phrase at the moment.

The other one is, if there were other initiatives, community-based initiatives, that wanted to take forward similar ideas—so, for example, I've got a local company, a high energy-intensive user, that is willing to gift land and their surplus energy and heat in order to do something totally different from what they're doing: horticultural enterprises, run by social enterprises, right on their doorstep. It's something we've talked about for a long time, in terms of local food networks and the south Wales Valleys growing. How would they get involved in this foundational economy approach, which is based around those community interest groups, co-operatives, employee ownership, and so on? How could they even start to take this forward within the framework that he's done?

And finally, Minister, you said that brave thing—this may not work. I would say to you: one, I've never heard a Minister say that before, but I think, in trying these things, and then applying the co-operative principles—which are: prove that it works, and then scale up and teach others how to do it—this will work.

Thank you very much. To address those points quickly, Project Skyline I think is a very exciting project. The first phase, as you know, was a feasibility study, looking at how communities could manage the landscape that surrounds their town or village. And the Green Valleys community interest company worked with Treherbert, Ynysowen and Caerau. Now, they've successfully put a bid into this fund, for the next phase, working with Welcome to Our Woods, to look at Ynysowen and Caerau, to take it into the next phase of development. And in itself it's an iterative experimental project. So, I'm very pleased that they emerged successful, and I'll be watching that project with interest.

On horticulture, I agree there is huge potential. I am meeting soon, I hope, with the Cardiff capital region to discuss how we can work together to look at the potential of horticulture, particularly within the Valleys taskforce. The Valleys taskforce itself has made a significant contribution to the experimental fund, and so there are a number of earmarked experimental projects in the taskforce area. We are setting up, through Josh Miles from the Federation of Small Businesses, a sub-group of the Valleys taskforce to look at grounded firms and the foundational economy to see how we can have a specific Valleys focus on that. And so I'd encourage the Member to give me more information about the company he mentioned to see whether or not there's potential for us to develop that further.

15:40

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Certainly, Deputy Minister, I welcome the steps that you've already taken, especially in conjunction with the Valleys taskforce to invest and quickly spread best practice and innovation that we find in the foundational economy. I'm not going to go through all my preamble, because I'm conscious of time, but I know that amongst some of the beneficiaries in the initial round of funding are projects led by the Bevan Foundation, and they include developing a community regeneration think tank in partnership with the Wales TUC to help increase fair work in foundational sector businesses, and I'm going to be watching that with interest, because I know what I'd like to see come out of that. But can you tell us more about your expectations of this project and the benefits that you believe it can deliver to communities in the south Wales Valleys?

Well, as I say, the money we've announced, for example the £10 million through the Valleys taskforce for bringing empty homes back into use and, as we wanted to expand that to look at empty shops as well, has huge potential within the grounded firms foundational economy space, because it's mostly going to be local firms who are going to be doing that work. I went with Vikki Howells to see in Ynysybwl one of the first projects funded under that and, clearly, from that example it was local tradespeople who had done the work. So, I think, from the work that we're doing under this project and from the allied work through the Valleys taskforce, which, as I say through this cross-Government group we're trying to look at as one thing, there's big potential.

You mention the work of the Bevan Foundation and the funding they've had for the Wales TUC. There are two projects that have been funded. What I expect from that is challenge to this agenda. This isn't an easy or a flabby agenda. There's some real difficult policy dilemmas in this agenda and some thorny issues. The traditional view has been that the foundational economy is characterised by low pay, low productivity, low-value industries and activities and we shouldn't be trying to prop them up, we should be trying to go for the opposite, which would be fast-growing firms and high productivity. And my response to that is to say, 'We don't want to grow the foundational economy as it is, we want to change the foundational economy.' I see no contradiction. I don't see why there shouldn't be high productivity innovation within the foundational economy. I don't see why there shouldn't be artificial intelligence and robotics in the foundational economy. But there is an issue around fair work and low pay and lack of employee organisation and recognition that does characterise many parts of these economies, and that's something, through this work, we need to challenge.

The work that Preston did, for example, in identifying the local anchor institutions—five of the six local anchor institutions they identified through that work ended up as living wage employers. So, I see this as really improving the way that that part of the economy works. But we absolutely have to acknowledge that, as of today, there are many parts of the foundational economy that are not the way we'd wish them to be. So, I want this to be a disruptive force within the foundational economy, not a comfortable one. 

4. The Sustainable Drainage (Enforcement) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2019

Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is the Sustainable Drainage (Enforcement) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2019, and I call on the Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move the motion—Lesley Griffiths. 

Motion NDM7200 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Sustainable Drainage (Enforcement) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 5 November 2019.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Following extensive consultation, a mandatory requirement to provide sustainable drainage systems on new developments was introduced in Wales from 7 January this year. SuDS, as they are more commonly known, will provide multiple benefits for flood risk reduction, rainwater re-use, water quality, well-being and biodiversity. I am proud that we are the first country in the UK to introduce mandatory SuDS on all new developments.

The recent flooding in parts of the UK shows the need for us to be vigilant and innovative in how we deal with excessive rainfall, which is only likely to get worse as a result of climate change. The original enforcement Order was one of five pieces of secondary legislation the National Assembly made to implement the SuDs provisions in Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

Under the 2010 Act, approval is required before construction of drainage systems can commence on new and redeveloped sites. The Sustainable Drainage (Enforcement) (Wales) Order 2018 provides for the enforcement of breach of the approval required concerning drainage systems. The Order makes provision for the SuDS approving body to exercise powers of entry and issue enforcement notices or stop notices to a developer that breaches the requirement for approval.

However, following implementation, it has come to light that a minor amendment is needed to article 21 of the 2018 Order to bring it in line with recent changes to other enforcement legislation. Article 21 limits the fines that can be passed in a summary case for the offence of failing to comply with a temporary stop notice, enforcement notice or stop notice to a maximum of £20,000.

The 2018 Order was drafted before section 85(1) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 commenced, but was not put into force until after the commencement and so was not caught by that provision. The 2012 Act removed the upper limit on the fines magistrates' courts could pass for almost all offences. To provide consistency with other offences of a similar nature, it is proposed the limit of £20,000 be amended to simply 'a fine', enabling magistrates' courts to pass an unlimited fine. This is consistent with the wording used in amendments to other legislation made by the 2012 Act.

It is important the SuDS regime is backed up by appropriate enforcement arrangements, and I commend this Order to the National Assembly.

15:45

Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw?

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. We considered this Order at our meeting on 18 November, and we laid our report before the Assembly on 19 November. Our report noted one merits point under Standing Order 21.3, which raised a concern that the explanatory memorandum accompanying the instrument was not as clear as it might be, specifically in relation to the limitations of fines for offences. We note that the Welsh Government, in its response to our report, acknowledges this lack of clarity, and we further welcome that an updated version of the explanatory memorandum has since been relaid. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. We talk about how we're keen to increase house building and construction in Wales, both to provide housing and to generate economic growth, yet the reality is we put more and more restrictions and conditions on what developers have to do before they are allowed to develop. One of these has been the sustainable urban drainage requirements.

When I served on the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, we were looking into the small and medium house builders and received evidence emphasising the drainage requirements as a particular problem, in many cases requiring drainage arrangements that were ongoing and required estate management and very significant regulatory work that added a lot of cost to the developments. There were also very substantial complaints about Dŵr Cymru—Dŵr Cymru resisted those. But I'm nervous about having more and more requirements, and more and larger fines, that have regulators reducing the ease with which people are able to build the houses and the developments that we need.

I'm pleased that the change is going to be made to the explanatory note that was identified by CLAC, and I thank CLAC for their work in noting that requirement for the change in the explanatory note, but I would just question the unlimited fine. If there is a series of well-known issues where developers have just seen £20,000 as a cost of doing business and have done truly egregious things, and there's a problem that we need to address, fine, but it's just suggested, 'Oh well, we need to be consistent with these other things—there's this need to do this', and I'm not convinced whether that need is there.

But I am willing to listen to the Minister's response and would specifically ask her to clarify the authorities that can put the initial stop notices—the 22 local authorities—. Can she clarify—national parks authorities, Dŵr Cymru—? Is Natural Resources Wales also allowed to do this? What is the scope? Will any fine be a requirement of the magistrates' courts and independently assessed there before the developer would have to pay? I look forward to a hearing a response before we consider our voting position. Thank you.

I simply wanted to ask how this regulation—amendment to the regulation—will make sure that there is a proportionate approach, and that there is a reasonable approach that is taken to fines and penalties. I disagree with the point that Mark has made; I think SuDS systems now are absolutely essential—we've learnt this, they have to be in place, and it is right that there is a proportionate, in terms of an appropriately high, level to deter abuses of actually not proceeding with SuDS in the appropriate ways too. But, then again, I think to give some reassurance to the housebuilding community out there that there is some way in which this process goes through checks and balances, so it's not used in any arbitrary way, but those that choose not to comply with the SuDS regulations—and some of these will be builders of significant size, not just small and medium-sized businesses; they could be large housebuilders—they have something that will deter them from not complying with the SuDS regulations that are in place. But I would emphasise to the Minister that I think the SuDS regulations that we've put in place are absolutely a necessity nowadays, not a burden to be avoided or shilly-shallied around on—they have to be in place, because of the loading now on our water and sewerage systems.  

15:50

Can I call the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to reply to the debate? Lesley Griffiths.

Thank you, and I thank Members for their contributions. I think it's absolutely vital that we deliver a drainage infrastructure to meet the demand placed on it, whilst also reducing flood risk and protecting water quality and providing a wider range of community benefits, as Huw Irranca-Davies was alluding to. 

I really do hope, in answer to other people's concerns, that developers and SuDS-approving bodies work together to ensure that enforcement action is unnecessary and, certainly, I would hope that the initial approvals sought would make sure that that doesn't happen. 

Regarding the fines—about being proportionate, of course, that's very important. Again, I think the scale of fees that are chargeable for an SAB approval is set out in the regulations, so any larger sums that are incurred might be attributable to the use of a third-party consultant. They're not governed by the regulatory regime for SuDS, but again I think engaging in early discussions with both the planning authority and the SAB will provide the developer with clarity on the design requirements for the site, keeping their detail design cost to a minimum.  

Thank you very much. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, we defer voting on this item until voting time. 

Voting deferred until voting time.

5. The Rural Affairs (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (No 3) Regulations 2019

Item 5 on the agenda is the Rural Affairs (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (No 3) Regulations 2019, and again I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move that motion—Lesley Griffiths. 

Motion NDM7201 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Rural Affairs (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (No. 3) Regulations 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 25 October 2019.

Motion moved.

Thank you. I move the motion. The amending regulations address deficiencies in the following domestic regulations as a result of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, including transitional arrangements, inserting definitions and updating references to EU regulations: the Marketing of Fresh Horticultural Produce (Wales) Regulations 2009; the Eggs and Chicks (Wales) Regulations 2010; the Poultrymeat (Wales) Regulations 2011; the Food (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which amend the Beef and Veal Labelling (Wales) Regulations 2011; and the Food Information (Wales) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which insert transitional provisions in the Food Information (Wales) Regulations 2014.

Regulations 2 and 5 amend the Marketing of Fresh Horticultural Produce (Wales) Regulations 2009 and the Beef and Veal Labelling (Wales) Regulations 2019 respectively. Those regulations insert and amend transitional provisions to ensure businesses are provided with a 21-month grace period to adapt to labelling changes arising from our withdrawal from the EU, therefore allowing producers a fair opportunity to adjust without unduly committing an offence.

Regulation 3 amends the Eggs and Chicks (Wales) Regulations 2010, which make provision for the enforcement and execution of marketing standards applicable to eggs for hatching, farmyard poultry chicks and eggs in shell for human consumption. A definition of 'third country' is inserted and references to EU legislation and terms that will no longer be appropriate or relevant after exit day are removed from the Schedules.

Regulation 4 amends the Poultrymeat (Wales) Regulations 2011, which make provision for the enforcement and execution of marketing standards applicable to poultry meat. The amendment inserts a definition of 'third country' into regulation 2(1) of the 2011 regulations. Finally, regulation 6 amends a transitional provision inserted into the Food Information (Wales) Regulations 2014. The change provides greater certainty on how this applies to products placed on the market prior to exit day and following the exit day as well as to differentiate between the treatment of wine produce and other specified produce during the transitional period. Regulations 1 to 4 come into force on exit day. Regulations 5 and 6 come into force immediately before exit day. 

15:55

Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee? Mick Antoniw.

Diolch. We considered these regulations at our meeting on 11 November and we laid our report before the Assembly on 12 November. As with our scrutiny of all statutory instruments, we consider them against the criteria set out in our Standing Orders 21.2 and 21.3. In the case of these regulations, our report noted only one point under Standing Order 21.3(ii), namely that the regulations have been made under the 'made affirmative' procedure. We noted that this was the first use by Welsh Ministers of the urgent procedure under paragraph 7 of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and that this was in preparation for the UK's then expected exit on 31 October 2019 from the European Union. I'd just like also to take the opportunity to say that we noted the same point in our report on the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which are also considered this afternoon as item 6, but on which I won't make a further comment. Diolch.

Thank you. Can I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to reply?

No. 

No. Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. The Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2019

Item 6 is the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and, again, I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move the motion. Lesley Griffiths.

Motion NDM7199 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 25 October 2019.

Motion moved.

Thank you. These amending regulations impact on two pieces of domestic legislation: the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Wales) Regulations 2014. Amendments were made in the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 that removed the need for the competent authority in Wales to recognise certificates of competence issued by the other EU member states as if they'd been issued in Wales. Certificates of competence are required in order to kill animals or carry out related operations in a slaughterhouse. These regulations make provisions supplementary to those made by regulation 5(2) of the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which amend regulation 3(1) of the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Wales) Regulations 2014. This amendment will provide that evidence of training and examination that can be accepted by a competent authority in Wales when granting a certificate of competence will include approved training and examination undertaken in the Republic of Ireland. This amendment maintains Welsh Government commitments relating to the UK-Ireland common travel area, which provide for the right of Irish citizens to work in the UK and to have professional qualifications recognised. 

Thank you. I have no speakers for the debate, so the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

7. The Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release and Transboundary Movement) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019

Item 7, the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release and Transboundary Movement) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019. Again, I call on the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to move that motion. Lesley Griffiths. 

Motion NDM7198 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

1. Approves that the draft The Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release and Transboundary Movement) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 5 November 2019.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion. These amending regulations impact on three pieces of Welsh legislation: the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Wales) Regulations 2002, the Genetically Modified Organisms (Transboundary Movement) (Wales) Regulations 2005, and the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release and Transboundary Movement) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

Regulations 2 and 3 make various amendments to correct failures of retained EU law to operate effectively and other deficiencies arising from withdrawal from the EU. This follows technical points raised by CLAC in their report of 13 March 2019, as set out within the accompanying explanatory memorandum. The amending regulations ensure that existing processes on the release and marketing of genetically modified organisms continue to need prior authorisation. Such authorisation will only be granted if a science-based assessment indicates the safety of human health or the environment will not be compromised. In addition, regulation 4 of these amending regulations make revocations necessary for regulations 2 and 3 to be effective. Our approach on the release of GMOs will be consistent with that taken by England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

16:00

Thank you. I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Following our consideration on 18 November of these regulations, you'll see the committee—obviously a very exciting committee—laid a report before the Assembly that identified both the technical and merit points against criteria set out in Standing Orders 21.2 and 21.3. These regulations make reference to various pieces of EU legislation, most of which have been amended, so would operate effectively in UK law after exit day. However, we noted that one council decision from 2002 does not appear to have been amended. In our first reporting point, we therefore requested an explanation from the Welsh Government. In its response, it said that failing to update the EU legislation should not cause confusion and that updating EU legislation in this way usually falls to the UK Government. We were advised that the Welsh Government officials will be raising the matter with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consider whether any amendments may be needed, and we welcome this course of action.

Under Standing Order 21.3, we identified three points where we considered that further clarification was needed. Our first two merit points relate to references within the regulations being amended. These regulations amend regulations from 2002, and as a result, there are now references to both the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Ministers when, in these circumstances, they mean the same thing.

We also noted a mix of the use of 'shall' and 'must' in the 2002 regulations. While we do not believe that this causes the 2002 regulations to be deficient in any way, we do note that, where mixed references remain, the possibility of confusion therefore also remains. We have noted that the Welsh Government's response to the 2019 regulations deal with outdated uses of the National Assembly for Wales and 'shall', where practicable.

On the final point, it noted that the explanatory memorandum included an incorrect definition of exit day. We noted the Welsh Government's response to this point and we acknowledged that the explanatory memorandum has since been relaid. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

Thank you. I have no speakers. I call the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to reply. No? Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

8. Debate: The General Principles of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill

Item 8 on our agenda this afternoon is a debate on the general principles of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill, and I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to move the motion—Vaughan Gething.

Motion NDM7203 Vaughan Gething

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 26.11:

Agrees to the general principles of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm happy to move the motion before us today and the debate on the general principles of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill, which I introduced on 17 June this year.

I'd like to place on record my thanks to all stakeholders and members of the public who engaged with us and contributed to our thinking. The Bill reflects the findings of the parliamentary review from 2017, which found that there needs to be a continuous focus on quality across the board and a strengthened citizen voice. It reinforces our priorities set out within 'A Healthier Wales', our long-term plan for health and social care. It outlines how quality will be key to making the health and social care system in Wales both fit for the future and one that achieves value. The Bill's objectives address four issues designed to ensure that the citizens of Wales are placed at the heart of high-quality services.

The first is the duty of quality. This goes to the heart of what we are trying to achieve. The duty is more than just cultural change. It requires NHS bodies and Welsh Ministers to think and act differently by applying the concept of quality and improved outcomes, not just to services being provided, but to the whole process and across all functions, within the context of the well-being and health needs of our population.

The Bill introduces a duty of candour that will support increased openness, transparency, and the continuing development of a learning culture across our NHS. The Bill also modernises and strengthens the way in which the voice of the citizen is heard. We will replace existing community health councils with a new citizen voice body that, for the first time, will operate across both health and social care. And finally, it introduces a power for Welsh Ministers to appoint vice-chairs to NHS trusts, putting them on the same footing as local health boards.

The four elements of the Bill make a step forward to better quality improvement and support, more integrated working between health and social care and improved citizen engagement. I'm grateful to members of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, the Finance Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for their scrutiny of the Bill so far, and for their recommendations. But, in particular, I want to thank the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee for their support of the general principles of the Bill that is set out in their report.

I do now want to turn to address some of the points raised in the committee reports. Firstly, the health committee recommends that there should be statutory guidance on the duty of quality. Now, I have already indicated that there would be guidance on the duty. However, I'm content that making it statutory would add weight to this, and I will table an amendment to do so.

There are a number of recommendations about the detail of the duty of quality, what the focus of the duty should be and how it should be implemented. Again, I've been clear that, in my view, many of these are actually dealt with better in the guidance, which I now propose to make statutory, rather than having a long list on the face of the Bill. This approach should ensure that full consideration is given to all those issues that enable the duty to be discharged. We'll be better placed to describe a range of circumstances in an illustrative way and to be much clearer about what is meant in different scenarios.

On both the duties of quality and candour, we will describe and explain in that statutory guidance the consequences for non-compliance. We need to strike a balance between clarity around what will happen if an organisation doesn't comply with the duty and the ability to take appropriate and proportionate steps. I want to think about the circumstances, and, importantly, to ensure that we take every opportunity to learn and improve.

There has, of course, been significant interest in the proposals relating to the new citizen voice body, with a number of recommendations, most notably on providing the body with the right of access to health and social care services premises; ensuring the body is not a remote national body that is inaccessible and unable to represent the interests of people across the whole of Wales; and a requirement for NHS bodies and local authorities to respond to representations made by that body.

I agree that the body needs to be able to seek the views of people at the point at which health and social care services are provided. I believe that the best way to achieve that is through a code of practice on access to health and social services premises. One of the principal benefits of this approach is its flexibility to apply to the huge variety of settings where health and social care services are provided. Vastly different forms of care, support and treatment are delivered across these settings, responsive to individuals' needs and wishes.

The code also has the benefit of being a living document, capable of responding to changes in practices and people's experience of applying the code. It will carry with it the necessary weight to ensure that all parties discharge their respective responsibilities. It will, of course, be the subject of engagement and consultation in its preparation to ensure that, as a document, it is fit for purpose and clearly understood by all those who will need to apply it. We've taken this approach in developing and publishing codes of practices under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2016, and I believe it's the most appropriate way forward to proceed here.

I also agree that the new body needs to be able to represent the interests of people across Wales and be accessible to people in all parts of Wales, so I will bring forward Stage 2 amendments to address both the concern around the ability of the body to represent people across the whole of Wales and access to premises.

I note the health committee's comments on the representations that the citizen voice body will be making and what can be done to ensure not only they are listened to, but that the body and the public can see that they are being listened to. The report recommends a requirement to respond to representations be included on the face of the Bill. Now, I believe the current wording already requires NHS bodies and local authorities to have regard to representations, and that carries considerable weight. However, I have taken account of what the committee has said, and I do intend to bring forward a Government amendment at Stage 2 to require Welsh Ministers to issue again statutory guidance on how this will work in practice.

Again, having listened to the evidence presented on the topic, it's clear that the citizen voice body will need to be kept up to date with how a public authority is dealing with their representation, and, importantly, the outcome of that representation. The publication of statutory guidance will enable us to set out how this should happen in a proportionate way that reflects the different types of representation that may be made. 

I've read what the health committee have to say on the independence of the new body, as well as some of the evidence that was used to form its view. We need to be clear when talking about the appointment of members—the Bill gives Welsh Ministers a power to appoint members of the board of the new body. An appointment of board members will be subject to the rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. That requires open and fair competition for posts. I did, though, indicate during my appearance before the health committee that I am more than happy to include an additional stakeholder stage in the appointments process. 

Unlike the current position with community health councils, where Welsh Ministers appoint 50 per cent of the volunteer members, under the new arrangements in the Bill, the citizen voice body itself will be able to directly recruit all of its volunteers, which increases rather than decreases its independence from Government. There are also sufficient safeguards on the face of the Bill to ensure the Bill's independence from Government, such as a requirement to produce an annual plan containing the body's priorities and objectives for the year, which is produced following consultation and without the need for permission or approval from the Government. 

Turning now to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, I'm happy to accept the committee's recommendations. All of the elements, and therefore the meaning of the duty of candour, are set out on the face of the Bill. The Bill is clear that the duty is triggered when there is more than minimal harm. An explanation of this will be set out in the statutory guidance, which we will develop in conjunction with both clinicians and the wider public. That's important as it will enable us to guide healthcare staff, patients and service users about how the duty works in a way that is accessible and user-friendly. I understand the committee's point about the need for a clear explanation of what the duty of candour means, and that that should be accessible to the public. I think statutory guidance, again, provides the best way of doing so. The explanatory memorandum with the Bill, on pages 19 and 20, includes a clear explanation of what is meant by a duty of candour and why we are introducing such a duty. 

Regarding their second recommendation, I can say now that I have no current intention to use the powers in section 26 in respect of amending primary legislation. The power is there to ensure we can respond appropriately to any unforeseen future developments, such as UK Government legislation. This is a standard provision in Assembly Bills. If the Government were to bring forward amendments to primary legislation, the regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure and Assembly scrutiny. 

I've reflected on the discussion in the committee about the use of the word 'expedient' in the English and the Welsh, and I'll be bringing forward a Government amendment to replace the word 'expedient' with the word 'appropriate'. I'm also grateful to the Finance Committee for their constructive and helpful recommendations. I will bring forward a revised and strengthened regulatory impact assessment to reflect the report where appropriate, including sensitivity analysis for some parts of the Bill and a range of costings covering different scenarios. 

Finally, I'd like to reiterate my earlier comments and once again thank all committees for their input to date and engagement throughout Stage 1 scrutiny of the Bill. As citizens of Wales, I believe we are genuinely fortunate to enjoy some of the best health and social care services provided by committed and compassionate staff at all levels. The success or passage of this Bill will help futureproof these services for generations to come. As the health committee's report recognises, there is considerable support from a broad range of stakeholders for the aims of the Bill, and I hope that Members will give their support to it today. 

16:10

Thank you. I call on the Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, Dai Lloyd.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I'm pleased to contribute to this Stage 1 debate to outline the main recommendations and conclusions of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee in relation to the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill 2019.

The committee held a public consultation exercise over the summer and took oral evidence from a range of stakeholders. I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to our scrutiny of this Bill. The Bill is one component of a suite of measures aimed at improving and protecting the health, care and well-being of the population of Wales. It would be difficult to disagree with its principal aims, namely: to ensure that quality becomes a driver of a system-wide way of working in the health service; to require health organisations to be open and honest when things go wrong; and to strengthen the voice of citizens across health and social care services.

Overall, we broadly welcome the proposals in the Bill and believe it represents an important step towards greater transparency and accountability across health and social services in Wales. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Assembly should agree the general principles of the Bill. That’s recommendation 1.

However, we have considered the evidence from stakeholders and made a number of recommendations to the Welsh Government for amendments to the Bill. I hear the words that the Minister has said about that and I would urge the Minister to give his full consideration to these recommendations as the Bill proceeds.

First of all, the duty of quality. The Bill introduces a new broad duty to require Welsh Ministers and NHS bodies to exercise their functions in relation to health with a view to securing improvement in the quality of health services. Quality includes, but is not limited to, the effectiveness of health services; the safety of health services; and the experience of individuals to whom health services are provided.

Many respondents told us that, while they welcome the aim of the Bill and recognise the need to improve quality, there should be clarification and strengthening of the duty of quality, that there was a need to define the quality more explicitly on the face of the Bill, and that there should be provision for sanctions for non-compliance.

As a committee, we are fully supportive of any measures that seek to improve the quality of services provided by the NHS to its patients. To this end, we support the shift in focus, proposed by the Welsh Government via this Bill, to a system-wide way of working that will require Welsh Ministers and NHS bodies to exercise all of their functions with a view to securing improvement in the quality of health services.

We were, therefore, disappointed to hear from stakeholders, particularly NHS bodies, that the Bill was not strong enough in setting out how quality in service provision would be assessed, how an organisation would demonstrate an improved outcome, and how a failure to deliver improvements in service quality would be addressed. These are matters that must be dealt with by the Welsh Government. To this end, we note the Minister’s intention to issue guidance about the duty of quality to support and assist NHS bodies in the implementation of this duty, and that he has provided a draft outline of that guidance. We accept his argument that guidance is the most appropriate vehicle for the level of detail he intends to provide on this matter.

However, we believe that the guidance to accompany the duty of quality provisions in the Bill is central to the success of these provisions and, as such, they should have statutory authority. Currently, there is no provision in the Bill for the Welsh Government to issue guidance specifically on the duty of quality. Again, I hear the Minister’s words today.

We therefore recommend that the Bill be amended to make provision for the issuing of statutory guidance and I welcome what the Minister said relating to the duty of quality. This guidance should clearly set out how the duty of quality in service provision will be assessed and how an organisation would demonstrate an improved outcome. It should also include details of how innovations and improvements designed in one area will be spread and scaled across the whole of Wales. That’s recommendation 2.

We heard strong evidence about the need for a clear link between service quality and the workforce. We support this. In our view, it’s impossible to separate out the issue of quality from the provision of appropriate staffing levels—they are inextricably linked. In order to deliver quality in service provision, we must have the requisite staffing. Therefore, the Bill should be amended to make specific provision for appropriate staffing levels and workforce planning as part of the duty of quality. That’s recommendation 4.

Further, we believe that there is an inextricable link between improving service quality and reducing health inequalities, and that this link must be more clearly provided for on the face of the Bill. That’s recommendation 5.

In relation to sanctions, we heard strong evidence of the need for a clearer indication of how to address failure to deliver service improvements. To this end, we believe there should be clear consequences for non-compliance with the duty of quality, and that this should be provided for on the face of the Bill. Such sanctions should not have a detrimental impact on the financial position of the organisation. We agree with the Minister that the NHS escalation and intervention arrangements are an appropriate mechanism.

I move on now to the duty of candour. We fully support the policy objective of a duty of candour, and the cultural shift towards greater openness and transparency within the health service that should flow from it. When things go wrong in health settings, patients and their families should be able to expect to be dealt with in an open and honest way. Equally important is that organisations have a culture in place that encourages and supports the principle of learning from mistakes and that creates the right conditions for this to happen.

Although the Bill sets out the conditions to be met to trigger the duty of candour, so much of the detail about the practical operation of this will be a matter for regulations and guidance. The regulations will set out the process to be followed once the duty has been triggered. As such, we welcome the commitment from the Minister to hold a public consultation on the regulations and to provide supporting statutory guidance. 

As with the duty of quality, we heard strong evidence of the need for sanctions for non-compliance with the duty of candour. We heard very real concerns from stakeholders about barriers to disclosure and legitimate fears for health service staff about speaking out. It is vital in delivering the sort of cultural change promoted by this Bill that staff have a safe environment to be open and transparent, without fear of recrimination. Whilst we support these actions, we are not fully persuaded that they are sufficient. We believe there is merit in further exploring a support system for staff that is more independent and robust and that enables them to feel safe in raising concerns and whistleblowing.

In relation to the citizen voice body, there are a number of challenges with the existing statutory framework. As such, reform is needed in this area and therefore we support the proposal to replace the community health councils with a new citizen voice body that will cover both health and social services. However, we must acknowledge the invaluable role that community health councils have played over the past 45 years in reflecting the views and representing the interests of their local communities in the delivery of health services in Wales. We must not lose the strengths of the CHCs, including their ability to represent the voice of local people, in any new structure, but we must built upon and develop them. A number of witnesses suggested that the appointment of members of the citizen voice body should be entirely independent of the Welsh Government. As a committee, we agree with that.  

We also heard concerns about the ability of the citizen voice body to undertake announced and unannounced visits, and we support that. This has been a very valuable and inexpensive way of checking on service quality and provision. We recognise that there are issues around access where people are receiving services at home, especially where this is in a residential care setting. However, we are not proposing unfettered access to people’s private rooms, rather reasonable and proportionate checks should be possible to do. 

Drawing to a close, and thank you for your patience, even though we agree that it would be unlikely that Welsh Ministers would ignore the comments of the citizen voice body, establishing the right to respond in legislation would ensure that the body has sufficient powers so that the public can be confident that it can make a difference. In that, we recommend that it should be included in the Bill. 

There are a number of other recommendations and comments that I would like to make but, of course, time is against me. To conclude, I hear what the Minister has said today. There are a number of amendments necessary to this Bill. I have listened to what the Minister has said, that he is to introduce certain amendments  and I would suggest that he should listen to all the remarks made this afternoon. I welcome the Minister's intention to bring forward some amendments, but we do need amendments that do respond to the health committee's report to ensure that this is a Bill that is fit for purpose. Thank you very much. 

16:20

Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd?

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm pleased to contribute to this debate. The Finance Committee, of course, has made nine recommendations. The committee heard from the Minister that the Bill is about leading cultural change and is required to introduce a series of reforms to strengthen health and social services. He said that it wasn't possible to put a monetary value on every single part of the change.

Now, the Finance Committee accepts that the benefits of the Bill may be varied and difficult to quantify, but we have highlighted on numerous occasions the importance of the fact that regulatory impact assessments should contain the best estimate possible for the costs and benefits of a Bill in order to ensure that the committee is able to fully scrutinise the overall financial implications. We have, therefore, recommended that the Welsh Government undertakes further work analysing and estimating the benefits of the Bill, which are identified as key drivers for implementing the legislation, and I acknowledge the comments that the Minister made to that end in opening this debate.

The committee is pleased that the health sector has been involved in developing training materials on the duty of candour, and we believe that this will aid the cultural change that the Bill is seeking to achieve.

However, we are concerned that the Minister considers that it's feasible for NHS bodies to absorb the additional costs that will be imposed on them as a result of the Bill, particularly as the regulatory impact assessment does not quantify all costs to fall on NHS bodies. We recommend, therefore, that further information on the additional costs should be included in the RIA, once again.

In regard to the duty of candour, an adverse outcome is described as one that has, or could, result in more than minimal harm and the provision of healthcare was, or may have been, a factor. The committee is concerned that the estimate of ongoing costs for the new duty of candour reflects the number of incidents classified as moderate. If the definition of 'more than minimal harm' is to reflect a low level of harm, then it's likely, of course, that the cost could be significantly higher. We recommend the Welsh Government prepares a sensitivity analysis to show the impact of changes in the number of incidents on the ongoing costs arising from the introduction of the duty of candour. Once again, I recognise the Minister's earlier statement in that respect.

Now, the RIA quantifies the legal services arising for the duty of candour as £30,000 for NHS bodies, which is based on the existing legal costs for Putting Things Right—the campaign that was used, of course, to launch the new NHS complaint procedure back in 2011. This equates, on average, to an annual cost of £3,000 for each local health board and NHS Trust in Wales. However, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has told the Finance Committee on a number of occasions about his concern regarding the volume of health complaints that are made to his office. Therefore, we have concerns that the legal costs could be significantly higher and recommend the Welsh Government undertakes further work, including a sensitivity analysis once again, to demonstrate a range of costs.

Finally, the majority of the total cost of the Bill, £6.1 million, is associated with establishing and running costs of the new citizen voice body, including, of course, significant information and communications technology transitional costs. The citizen voice body will replace the seven community health councils in Wales and will be set up to represent the interests of the public in health and social care.

The ICT cost estimate in the RIA is reflected in the net cost of the Bill, and that's £2.13 million. However, the supporting information includes costs that range from £2.13 million up to £3.12 million. Whilst we acknowledge that ICT can enable and facilitate flexible working practices, the RIA doesn't set out sufficient evidence to demonstrate this. Therefore, we don't support the use of the low cost estimates in the assessment of the financial implications. We recommend the regulatory impact assessment should reflect the potential range of ICT costs rather than the low cost estimate. As I said, I acknowledge the Minister's intention to provide much of the additional information—financial information—that we have requested as a committee, and we look forward to seeing that in due course.

I'll briefly conclude my comments in my capacity as an Assembly Member for North Wales, because the Minister will know that there is strong support for the North Wales Community Health Council. It's been a strong and effective advocate for patients and citizens in north Wales over the years. It's been at the forefront of the debates on the Tawel Fan scandal; on the special measures debacle; and on the loss of the special care baby units, which eventually came back, subsequently, after quite a long campaign. It made 500 unannounced visits to wards across north Wales last year, helping to hold the health board and the Welsh Government to account and ensuring that patients in north Wales get the services that they deserve. 

This Bill, as we know, proposes to scrap the North Wales Community Health Council. It'll diminish the voice of north Wales's patients and it'll centralise that important scrutiny function to a, potentially, far away and more remote body, no doubt based in Cardiff. If there is going to be a new body, I, for one, would like to see it based in north Wales. So, I urge you, Minister, to scrap your proposal, to retain the North Wales Community Health Council and to ensure that patients and citizens in north Wales have the strong and independent voice and advocate that we all deserve.

16:25

Can I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw?

We reported on the Bill on 15 November. We made three recommendations. Our first recommendation relates to the definition of the 'duty of candour'. Part 3 of the Bill makes provision for and about a duty of candour in respect of health services. While the Bill sets out the procedures to be followed when the duty of candour is triggered, it does not define on the face of the Bill what the duty of candour means. As a consequence, we took the view that citizens unfamiliar with such terminology may not understand how the legislation would affect them, so we recommended that the Minister should use this debate to explain why the definition of 'duty of candour' does not appear on the face of the Bill, and in its absence, where citizens could find information about its meaning. I very much welcome the comments that have been made by the Minister in respect of the face of the Bill and the introduction of a commitment to the issue of statutory guidance in this area.

Our other two recommendations concern section 26. It provides the Welsh Ministers with the power to make regulations to make supplementary, incidental or consequential provision, or transitory, transitional or saving provisions. We expressed concern at the breadth of powers being taken by the Welsh Ministers under section 26, particularly when such powers can be used to amend or repeal primary legislation, and there is no clarity about if or how they will be used. In such circumstances, applying the affirmative procedure to these powers does not validate their use. Regulations cannot be amended and we do not consider that regulations capable of wide yet unspecified changes to primary legislation should be subject to a 'yes' or 'no' decision to approve or reject them.

On that basis, our second recommendation was that the Minister should use this debate to set out clearly and in detail how he intends to use the powers contained in section 26, and I note the comments by the Minister that he has no intention to use these powers to amend primary legislation. However, whilst we ask for clarity on how the Minister intends to use the powers, there's one change we would also like to see made, and that is under 26(1), the power to make regulations can be exercised where the Welsh Ministers consider it expedient or necessary for the purpose of the Act. Now, we have, as a committee, repeatedly expressed concerns about the use of the term 'expedient' and the use of similar terms when applied to regulation-making powers, and we drew attention to some of our previous reports that had done so. It remains our position that Welsh Ministers should adopt a more targeted approach, rather than taking the widest powers available to them. So, we believe that a regulation-making power should be taken for a clear purpose; drawing powers too widely always runs the risk of them being used in the future in ways that were not originally intended or anticipated when the Bill was introduced. So, we recommended that the Minister should table an amendment to the Bill to delete the words 'or expedient' from section 26(1).

I note the intention of the Minister to bring forward a replacement to use the term 'appropriate'. Now, the term 'appropriate' appears to be 'expedient rather than appropriate', and therefore 'not appropriate', and is, in our view, superfluous, and that the appropriate means of proceeding would be to actually delete it completely so that the section just reads that the Ministers have the power to make regulations when they consider it necessary for the purposes of the Act. Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.

16:30

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Welsh Conservatives are pleased to support the general principles of the Bill before us. However, there are areas that we would like to see either added to, amended or improved, and I'd like to touch on three specific areas.

I'd like to start with the duty of quality. Minister, there does need to be more clarity as to how the provision of quality would be measured. The statement says that that duty of quality is about the effectiveness of health services, the safety of health services and the experiences of individuals to whom health services are provided is very broad brush, and I'm concerned that this duty of quality could be interpreted as being done by putting quantitative processes in place, such as quality assurance methodology, but what is really needed is quantitative measures to underpin that duty of quality: do people feel that they're getting the service that they deserve and want? Do they feel good about it? Do they feel safe? Do they feel treasured? Do they feel well cared for? And many, many stakeholders have raised concerns over this. Indeed, Public Health Wales themselves said that an annual report on quality improvement appears to be a relatively weak control, and many stakeholders felt that the quality as currently described simply isn't robust enough. So, Minister, I would ask that over the next few stages that we really address this and tie this down.

With regard to the duty of candour, I think this is a really interesting step forward by you, Minister. I mean, let's be honest, you'd think our NHS would be candid enough, but as most of us have casework that demonstrates that that is not so, we absolutely need a duty of candour because it's about trust and honesty with patients, particularly if a service user has suffered unexpected or unintended harm and where the provision of healthcare may have been a factor in that adverse outcome.

And, again, Minister, stakeholders raised concerns over how the duty will be defined. Will it sit? How will it sit with prudent healthcare? Will it tie in with wider organisational processes? What about proportionality? What about training and integration between health and care or other partnership arrangements, such as GPs? Why is this duty so delayed on an organisation? Where is the individual duty? Because if there is no other lesson to be learned from Cwm Taf, it is that individuals failed to act openly and with transparency.

Both the duty of quality and the duty of candour as currently prescribed give little detail on how they will be measured, monitored and reviewed, and, to be frank, a yearly report is neither here nor there. I'm really pleased, Minister, to hear that you're going to make the guidance statutory, but I think then we need to have an involvement process as to what goes into that guidance. There needs to be a consultation and I'd like you to assure us that all of that will happen so that the guidance that goes forward that is statutory on these organisations to provide duty of candour and a duty of quality do sit well with us as an Assembly and with the wider stakeholders.

I'd like to just turn to the citizen voice body. I agree that some reforms are required of the existing CHCs. However, we're not seeing evidence that moves us from the Welsh Conservative position that citizen voice bodies must be independent. And that's not only us and the current CHC organisation that obviously believes they should be independent, but also the seven health boards, the three NHS trusts, Health Education and Improvement Wales, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, the British Medical Association Cymru, and numbers of other organisations who are also very keen that a new national body should have local representation.

Minister, the recommendations of the parliamentary review are clear: the citizen's voice should be put front and centre in the development and delivery of health and care services. And your 'A Healthier Wales' aspirations echo this ambition, but make no mistake, engagement with the public isn't about form filling but is about voices around the table where policy is made or reviewed.

A citizen's voice body has much to add to the discourse, provided their national branches are firmly rooted in the local communities that they represent. There is a genuine concern that a nationalised Government-run citizen voice body will be staffed by people unwilling to tell it as it is, unwilling to stand up for people's rights, unwilling to deviate from Government process, unwilling to challenge health boards, unwilling to take on local concerns. Minister, therefore, I ask: would you be willing to amend the Bill on that? I did hear what you said. I'm really pleased about some of the commentary you made. I did take on board your point that because it's going to be a wider pool, there's more for people to draw from, but, as you said, it's not enough to be independent. You need to be seen to be independent.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I have one more very important quick point to make—I'm sorry, I know I'm over time—I am of the view that the Bill must not be silent on how health and social care services support and protect those who raise genuine concerns. I've met health and social care professionals from all over Wales who have witnessed, reported and challenged bad practice, poor practice, inappropriate practice, but many of those healthcare professionals have not been listened to. Instead, they've often been blamed. They've been hounded, vilified, marginalised and have felt their careers have stalled. Too many of them suffer inordinate amounts of stress for trying to do the right thing. I started raising this concern some eight years ago, and I would like to ask you, Minister, and say to you, if you truly want the duties of quality and candour to be game-changers in our NHS, you absolutely must address this issue on the face of the Bill. If you're going to lead culture change, which is what you say you want to do, we've got to really protect our whistleblowers and give them the voices and that they know they can raise their concerns. We've seen so many cases where they've been ignored. Thank you.

16:35

I rise to participate in this debate somewhat conflicted. There is much to commend in what this Bill seeks to achieve: the strengthening of the citizen voice, introducing a duty of candour, a duty of quality. But as the committee's report highlights, and as referenced by the other committee report, and is clear in evidence from stakeholders, as it's actually drafted at the moment, it's a missed opportunity. It risks, I'm sure unintentionally, weakening the citizen's voice by centralising a body that currently delivers locally, by removing or unreasonably restricting the right of access to settings that we know has been pivotal. Llyr Gruffydd has referred to Tawel Fan. People being able to come in to see what's going on without having to ask—absolutely crucial, and by reducing the independence from the current community health council sitting. If these people are Government appointees, as Angela Burns has said, there is a risk that even if they are truly independent, they may not be perceived to be, and people may not trust them.

16:40

Thank you for taking an intervention. And just to emphasise the reasonable request, if you like, of the community health board in north Wales, they're not even arguing against not scrapping it as an entity in itself. What they're keen on doing is protecting the functions that it provides so well, so independently, and its ability to react, without notice, to concerns on the ground in the north.

Rhun ap Iorwerth is absolutely right in what he says, and this, of course, is why the committee recommends that it should be, on the face of the Bill, set out how these organisations will operate regionally. I don't think anybody in the committee is arguing that there shouldn't be change, but we don't want to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. And while that may not be the Minister's intention, that is the risk as things stand.

I do acknowledge that the Minister has said that he will agree to some of the amendments that the committee is recommending, and I welcome that. But what he hasn't done at all is to address the issues raised in section 7 of the committee's report about all the things that could have been included in this legislation that have not been. Angela Burns has already referred to what whistleblowers too often face in our NHS. We need strengthening, truly independent international whistleblowing processes that are completely outside the health bodies in which people work, and this Bill doesn't offer us that. Again, some of these things are addressed here. A single, strengthened, independent health and social care inspectorate—we could have had that included in this legislation. We could have included the alignment of health and social care complaints procedures. We could have looked at the regulation of non-clinical NHS managers and revised codes of conduct and training for development of that management workforce. And none of that has been done.

When the committee discussed this and came to its conclusions that we should recommend that this Bill be allowed to proceed, I agreed with that recommendation. And, again, as I've said, I'm glad that the Minister has accepted some of our concerns. But I have reflected on that agreement. I've discussed again with stakeholders, and I've come to the conclusion, and my group has come to the conclusion, that this Bill is just too much of a mess and too much of it is left out for it to be allowed to proceed as it is. We will abstain as to whether the Bill should proceed; we will not oppose it. But I would ask the Minister to consider withdrawing the Bill, taking on board all the comments that the stakeholders have made, taking on board the evidence from the different committees, and coming back with something much more comprehensive, much more inclusive. Now, were he to take that approach, I can give him the guarantee that Plaid Cymru would support him in that and would work with him to try and address the gaps that we see in the current legislation, because I think there is some consensus around supporting what the Minister's legislation is seeking to achieve, but it just doesn't do it.

Now, if the Minister won't withdraw the Bill, and I'm sure he won't, we will of course seek to address some of these gaps by moving on with amendments to the legislation, if he won't withdraw. But this really is not good enough. It is such a missed opportunity. This could have been internationally groundbreaking, and there are some really good things in it—the duty of candour is a really good thing; the duty of quality, now I understand it. When I first heard of it I thought, well, what's all that about? But once that was explained by the Minister and his officials, I can see the value of that. But there are just so many gaps. We could lead the world on this, Deputy Presiding Officer, and, instead, we're potching around at the edges. Now, I just really think that isn't good enough, and I'm also concerned that it happens too often—we get an inadequate piece of legislation brought forward by this Government that then has to be extensively amended, and that's not good parliamentary practices.

So, as I say, if the Minister won't withdraw the legislation and start again, which we believe he should, we will seek to amend it. But, really, this Senedd, our Parliament, the staff of our health and care services, and, more importantly, the patients and citizens of Wales, deserve better than this. We can do better than this.

16:45

I've listened with interest to the reservations of Angela Burns and Helen Mary Jones, and I hope that we can iron out any inconsistencies and issues across the Assembly, because it seems to me that health and social care are something that we really do have to try and seek consensus on, because they're very large-ticket items, and it's a question of getting it right. It's very easy to put a duty of quality as words on the page, but I think it's the how do we achieve that quality that is the main issue.

In terms of the duty of candour, it's absolutely my view that, unless the complaints system is fully integrated into the plans for continuous improvement of professional development, it is absolutely not fit for purpose, and we've seen countless horror stories happen all over the UK where this has not been the case.

One of the most important things about the current community health councils is their right to inspect, their right to enter premises, health premises, and see what is there that the patient is experiencing. So, whatever replaces the CHC has to have that capability to stand up for the citizen, and we all can agree that there is a need for a culture change, because too many of us are dealing with issues in our constituencies where people simply haven't been properly informed about what is going to happen to them.

I'm not on any of the committees where the committee Chairs have spoken, so I want to probe how this Bill empowers stakeholders to reshape services to better meet people's needs, obviously in line with prudent healthcare, because, otherwise, we will continue to have a bottomless pit from our health services. It's very good to read in the explanatory memorandum that we have to have a system that's 

'person centred and seamless; without artificial barriers'

and

'where NHS bodies are not just there to manage or deliver care but to improve it every day'

and we need to ensure that the voice of the citizen is clearly heard.

The Minister will know I have a particular interest in Buurtzorg as a radical new way of working to better meet the needs of citizens. I don't know if you've all seen the report that was published in one of the national newspapers last week about the way in which Buurtzorg has been applied to children's social services in England, and where there's been an absolutely dramatic improvement in the amount of time that social workers are able to spend with families—so, instead of it being a little more than 20 per cent of their time, as opposed to form filling and other bureaucratic tasks, they're now able to spend at least 60 per cent of their time with families, which surely must improve the outcomes for those families. So, in relation to the healthcare needs and the social care needs of the elderly, this seems to me an entirely important way of looking further at how we better meet the needs of our elders towards the end of their life.

So, I want to probe how this Bill is going to advance the voice of the citizen being heard, and how it will enable professionals to be able to change the way they're working without having to have a fight with bureaucrats at the top of the tree. What do the three Buurtzorg pilots of the last 12 months tell us about their ability to ensure that the citizen's voice is much more centre stage? The chair of Cwm Taf health board, which is one of the three Buurtzorg pilots, reports that the trial is progressing well. It's too early to tell, but the encouraging signs are that this will enable us to have a change in the way people are using unscheduled care. Patients and nurses report feeling that the nature of the conversation they're having is changing, and that the conversation is now focused on what the patient wants to achieve and how the patient and the nurse can work together to achieve that. The conversations are becoming more co-productive and relationships are being restructured.

So, that's a very positive message coming from Cwm Taf, but it would be very good to know what's happening in the other two pilots. What is the potential for the other two pilots to indicate—for improved job satisfaction and capacity of professionals to take their own initiative to better meet the needs of patients? How does this Bill eliminate the barriers to rolling out this way of working—for example, the transfer of data from one agency to another, so that patients aren't simply having to tell their story time over? And does the Bill allocate sufficient resources for the continuous professional development required for self-managed teams? Are senior managers going to let go to enable that to happen?

16:50

My party will be supporting the general principles of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill, as there are aspects of the proposed legislation that are badly needed. However, the Bill will need a lot of amending before it is wholly acceptable. The duties of candour and quality are both needed, and are long overdue. These duties will instil an honest culture of openness and transparency in health and social care in Wales. Whistleblowers must have the confidence to come forward when things are not as they should be—how else are we able to improve or correct mistakes? I've spoken many times about the need for a no-blame culture in health, a culture in which we accept that mistakes can happen, and, rather than hiding them, we learn from them.

A duty of quality can help deliver continual improvements in the quality of care, both in health and in social care. However, as drafted, there is much uncertainty about how the duty will work in practice. The NHS Confederation have asked for greater clarity on what is meant by 'quality', not just in health but also in social care. Social Care Wales have criticised the focus the Bill gives to NHS performance. NHS managers have stated that the duty of candour needs further clarification.

There has been widespread critique of the Bill. It's a good idea, but it lacks direction. The health committee have requested that the Government heavily amend their Bill in order to provide greater clarity and greater bite to the duties. If the Welsh Government can strengthen this aspect of the Bill, then my party will support it. There is, however, one part of the Bill I cannot support as is, and that is the decision to abolish community health councils and replace them with a new citizen's voice body. I'd like to know if this body will have local representation, because this is extremely important, and local issues are important, because transparency can only help bring about best practice. I fully support efforts to strengthen the citizen's voice and completely accept that the CHCs were far from perfect. However, I feel we need reform and not replacement. CHCs could have been reformed to enable them to work in social care as well as the NHS. As it stands, the new body will lose local representation, and, most importantly, lose the right to conduct unannounced visits and demand a response from public bodies. As constituted, the citizen's voice will be confined to a whisper and will have no teeth at all to back it up.

I hope the Minister will accept the health committee's recommendations and bring forward substantial amendments at Stage 2. We have an opportunity to deliver true improvements to the quality of health and social care, and this Bill provides a starter for 10, but we have a long way to go before we can deliver a truly transformative piece of legislation. I support the general principles of the Bill and look forward to working with all parties in this Chamber to improve this proposed legislation. Diolch yn fawr.

16:55

Thank you. Can I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to reply to the debate?

Yes. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to Members who have contributed in today's debate, but, more than that, as I say, to the ongoing scrutiny process over a period of time.

I should start, perhaps, with the comments made by the Plaid Cymru spokesperson in indicting that their whole group had changed their mind post the committee's report. That's obviously disappointing, but you're allowed to change your mind and take a different position and cast a vote in that way. I don't agree with her comments that the Bill is inadequate or potching around the edges—I think this will make a substantive and material step forward for health and social services.

In terms of some of the points made by a number of Members about community health councils, I should just point out that I don't think it's helpful for the community health council movement to talk about one community health council that should be saved. That's almost damning everyone else with faint praise or absence, and it's also worth noting—[Interruption.] It's also worth noting that the current community health councils are hosted by Powys Teaching Health Board. The suggestion that moving them to a position where the entire board goes through an independent public appointments process, that that somehow lessens their independence, is not one that I think stands up to the evidence.

I'll take the intervention, but I will need it to be brief.

Yes. I just wanted to refer to the North Wales Community Health Council, because it is greatly appreciated, and I think what the problem is in our community health council movement, if I may put it as a problem, is that there's an inconsistency between the quality and the depth of the work in some community health councils when compared to others. So, for example, the value that's attributed to the North Wales Community Health Council is because of the excellent work that it does on advocacy, on speaking up for patients, and being a very effective patient watchdog. In my years as the shadow health Minister—I know that others in this Chamber will agree—I found there to be a great inconsistency in the way that community health councils engaged with members of the public, and the way that they supported them in raising their concerns. And, when you have a good model, you want everybody to have access to that model—you don't want to scrap it.

Well, I think that reinforces two points. The first is that I still don't think it's helpful to try and say there is a good community health council and that others aren't. I think that's problematic. It's not a view that the national board of community health councils themselves take.

And the second is, of course, that, in talking about wanting to have different ways of working, there's a point about whether you want to have a national model, where you say you want some consistency on a national level with local standing, or whether or not you want to have different ways of working across the region. The approach we're taking is actually to say that we want a national model that is consistent, with local standing and local representation. I've indicated I'll bring forward amendments to set that out. And, again, to underscore the independence of the new body, it will be significantly more independent than current community health councils, and I don't believe it will be remote.

I will confirm, briefly, in terms of Angela Burns's point, that the consultation responses—there will be a consultation and it'll be published, as is the normal matter of working, on the statutory guidance that I've indicated.

On your point about whistleblower protection, I don't think that the face of the Bill is the place to do that, actually. You're talking about employment rights in some of the cultural change. It is important, though, that the duties of quality and candour move us to a position where people are more likely to raise concerns and the organisational response will actually make real the current rights people are supposed to have. And I say that as someone who used to be a former employment lawyer and dealt with the reality of people who had been whistleblowers and they way that they'd been dealt with in their workplace, in the public and the private sector.

I hope that in the opening I did demonstrate that I have listened to what committees have had to say, and I'm genuinely interested in developing the best possible piece of legislation. Of course, other people may not agree, and that is part of the point of the scrutiny process and the votes that we cast in this place. But I do hope we'll have the best possible piece of legislation, the response to the recommendations and the approach I've set out for statutory guidance, and I look forward to continuing this debate into Stage 2, and I hope we can have a proper, modern and fit-for-purpose piece of legislation on the statute book here in Wales. 

17:00

Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore we'll defer voting on this item until voting time. 

Voting deferred until voting time.

9. Motion to agree the financial resolution in respect of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill

Item 9 is the motion to agree the financial resolution in respect of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill, and I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to move the motion—Vaughan Gething. 

Motion NDM7202 Vaughan Gething

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, for the purposes of any provisions resulting from the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill, agrees to any increase in expenditure of a kind referred to in Standing Order 26.69, arising in consequence of the Bill.

Motion moved.

Formally. Thank you. There are no speakers and, as we've already deferred voting on the general principles of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Bill until voting time, we'll defer the vote on this financial resolution until that time as well.  

Voting deferred until voting time.

10. Debate: Improving Outcomes for Children Annual Report

Item 10 is a debate on the improving outcomes for children annual report, and I call on the Deputy Minister for Health and Social services to move the motion—Julie Morgan. 

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2 and 3 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Motion NDM7197 Rebecca Evans

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

Welcomes the Ministerial Advisory Group’s first Annual Report of the Improving Outcomes for Children programme.

Motion moved.

Diolch. It's a privilege for me to present this annual report to the Assembly today. This is the first report of the improving outcomes for children programme overseen by my ministerial advisory group, so ably chaired by David Melding AM.

I deliberately use the word 'privilege' because I feel passionate about my responsibility for this agenda and I'm sincerely grateful to David for his leadership, strategic direction and his commitment to care-experienced children and young people across Wales. We've both campaigned, with others in this room, for a long time to improve children's rights and I'm delighted that we're still working together to realise this ambition, and so I look forward very much to his contribution to this debate.

And also, importantly, I must thank members of the ministerial advisory group for their commitment to this work. The group benefits from a membership of key service delivery partners who generously provide strategic advice and scrutiny to the work programme. Many members are also actively engaged in delivering our wide-reaching improving outcomes for children programme of work. And I must, of course, thank our key contributors, the children and young people involved in this work. The group is fortunate to have Dan Pitt as its vice-chair. Dan is care-experienced and has freely offered valuable insights into how the system has worked for him and others. 

The annual report describes a significant amount of progress and activity. The challenging programme we have set ourselves is necessary and I'm very appreciative of everyone's contribution. The report responds to an important recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee's inquiry into care-experienced children and young people, which asked for published details of the group's work. I welcome scrutiny of our work and I look forward to any comments or suggestions this report attracts. 

At a recent national peer-learning event last month, I was pleased to launch the improving outcomes for children and ministerial advisory group pages on the Social Care Wales website—

Will you take an intervention, as you mentioned the work of the Public Accounts Committee? And thank you for doing that. As you know, this was a departure for the Public Accounts Committee; it's not the sort of area that we normally look at. But I think, from what I've gathered from speaking to some of the young people who were involved in our inquiry, it's important that the old silos are broken down in this area and that care-experienced children actually affect all portfolios, all aspects of Welsh Government expenditure, and so I hope you agree with me that it's good that other committees, outside of the normal children's committee, look at these issues. 

The Llywydd took the Chair.

I thank Nick Ramsay for that intervention and I absolutely agree with him. Care-experienced children are the responsibility of all departments and I think we're very keen to be as public and open in what we're doing as a result of his committee's report, and we really welcome the scrutiny, so I thank him for that. 

I'm sure you've read the report, but here are a few highlights: our establishment of edge-of-care services in every local authority in Wales; our rolling out of the Reflect programme across Wales, emotionally and practically supporting parents who have had a child placed into care—I think that is one of the most effective initiatives that we have taken; an introduction of legislation to exempt all care leavers from paying council tax; and our establishment of the St David's Day fund to help provide support to young people leaving care as they transition towards adulthood and independence. 

We piloted the Bright Spots survey to discover what matters to care-experienced children and to help influence improvements in the way services are delivered. This survey provided a valuable insight and we are now, as part of the new performance and improvement framework for local authorities, looking to introduce a new approach to the citizen survey. The survey will gather a range of views from children on their experiences of care and support, and will ensure that children's views are actively sought and used by local authorities to inform improvement and change.

We've also identified a range of research to address gaps in the evidence around care-experienced children and young people. In December, we will be publishing an important piece of research about the number of children placed into care from parents with a learning disability.

I'm also pleased to report we're progressing a programme of work around corporate parenting, which David is leading. This is about strengthening responsibilities for children looked after across all public services. My Cabinet colleagues will remember a recent discussion at Cabinet about what we're taking forward, and I was very grateful for the cross-Government support received. I will keep Members updated as this work progresses.

All too often, we hear about the unmet need of children with very complex and challenging behaviours. I'm pleased that the children's residential care task and finish group, a sub-group of the ministerial advisory group, has been considering how best to develop capacity to meet the needs of these children. At the advice of the task and finish group, we're about to begin a focused piece of work on developing options for the small cohort of children whose needs cannot be met solely in in-patient mental health or other types of secure accommodation. 

Even in this very challenging financial climate, we continue to make significant investment into improving outcomes for children. Most recently, we have increased the integrated care fund by £15 million. This is a ring-fenced annual allocation for services that support children at the edge of care to prevent them from becoming looked-after, as well as projects to provide support for children who are care experienced and/or adopted. This is in addition to the £659 million spend overall on children and families services by local authorities.

So, I am pleased with the progress we are making, but I'm not complacent. Our recently published statistics show us that the number of children looked after by local authorities is still increasing. In 2018-19, the number rose by a further 7 per cent, taking it to 6,846. This is something we are actively working to address, and I'll say more about that shortly. But, there is a note of optimism. It's important to note that, for the second year running, the number of children starting to become looked-after has decreased. I'm hoping that we're now beginning to see the results of the investment in our prevention and early intervention services, and all the work of the group that David is chairing. I want this trend to continue—this downward trend. To do this, we are working with local authorities and other partners to make whole-system improvements so that services are delivered that provide timely and early help to families so that, wherever possible, they are supported to stay together.

You'll all be aware of the First Minister's clear commitment to reducing the number of children removed from their families, being placed out of county and out of Wales, and removed from parents with a learning disability. We've been working hard to deliver this by working closely with every local authority to develop plans to achieve the First Minister's priorities. From the outset, and throughout this journey, I've been absolutely clear that we take a safety-first approach here in Wales—nothing overrides the need to protect children.

All local authorities have submitted reduction expectation plans tailored to their own populations and demography, and we are in the process of receiving the first quarterly updates. I am actively supporting this work by holding conversations with partners who are key contributors and can influence a whole-system approach, for example, Mr Justice Francis, the family liaison judge for Wales; the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru; and some council leaders. We're having very productive discussions with those people.

The recent national learning and peer support event I mentioned earlier provided a valuable opportunity for local authorities and key partners to come together and share their knowledge and experience in relation to looked-after children, including the good practice in those authorities that have managed to buck the general trend and reduce the numbers of children looked after over time. There is an opportunity to continue this peer-learning arrangement. And alongside our local government partners, we're looking to establish a more formal peer-support network to take this work forward. Attending this conference, I was absolutely struck by the buzz of enthusiasm and determination about those people in the room to do their best for the children that we have the privilege to be looking after. 

Before we start the debate, I wanted to say something about the amendments, which I'm very pleased to accept. Rhun ap Iorwerth's amendments make very important points about poverty and austerity, rebalancing the system in favour of a preventative approach and targets. I think there is a wealth of evidence that shows the impact that poverty and austerity have on children and families. But we also know that the numbers of children in care have been rising for at least 10 years before austerity began, so there are other factors too, such as variations between local authorities in policy and practice.

The work we are taking forward with local authorities and key partners is designed to help develop practice and facilitate the sharing of learning, so that we can meet our shared objectives of safely reducing the numbers of children in care.

In terms of the system, our whole legislative framework and the guiding principles of the improving outcomes for children programme is about shifting the balance of care towards an early intervention and preventative approach. The First Minister has said—and I'm sure we'll agree—that we should prioritise repair rather than rescue. We've seen, for two years running now, as I said earlier, a decrease in the numbers of children starting to become looked-after, which we can link to the investment we have made in early intervention and prevention services.

And finally, on targets, I'm very pleased to say that we have worked in a co-productive way with local authorities and key partners. Rather than Welsh Government imposing binding targets, local authorities have proposed their own specific bespoke strategies, and there are no plans for punitive action if the targets proposed are not met. I've made this clear to local authorities from the beginning. I think it's also important to note that the Children's Commissioner for Wales has recently acknowledged that she is supportive of the Welsh Government's approach in designing and delivering this work, and she has recognised our safety-first approach. So, I am pleased to accept the three amendments put forward by Plaid Cymru. Thank you. 

17:10

I have selected the three amendments to the motion, and I call on Siân Gwenllian to move all three amendments, tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Amendment 1—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point at end of motion:

Acknowledges that the increase in the number of children taken into care is the result of a number of complex factors, including intergenerational poverty and austerity.

Amendment 2—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls for the re-engineering of the system to focus resources on prevention to protect children and improve their outcomes.

Amendment 3—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to avoid the use of binding targets to reduce the number of children taken into care.

Amendments 1, 2 and 3 moved.

Thank you very much. I warmly welcome the publication of this first annual report. When I was a county councillor, I had the privilege of chairing a corporate parent panel for Gwynedd Council, and I clearly remember the detailed responsibilities on county councillors to take action for the benefit of children in care in accordance with training as if it were my own child, and there is a duty on all of us as Assembly Members to do likewise—to think about the needs of every child in care, to put the needs of the child at the heart of everything that we do and to ensure that their voices are heard.

The numbers have increased significantly and the picture has changed since my time in Gwynedd Council. According to professionals in this area, there has been a substantial change in the needs as a result of years of poverty, as a result of austerity and other social changes and new issues that are emerging. For example, county lines, problematic and inappropriate sexual behaviour, the use of social media, online abuse and so on and so forth. Historically, these weren’t prominent factors, but they are now.

The main issues leading to teenagers entering care arise because of often dangerous behaviour, young people going missing, the misuse of alcohol and drugs, behavioural problems and self-harming. The main factor is complex needs as a result of emotional and mental health problems that usually don’t reach the criteria to receive CAMHS services. And the main challenge in these cases is to find appropriate settings for these young people that meet their complex needs and keep them safe.

Issues around parenting are another prominent reason. Parenting skills can be compromised because of mental health problems among parents, the misuse of alcohol and drugs, and children witnessing violence in their homes, where there is a history of sexual abuse. There’s been a year-on-year increase in the number of pre-birth cases that are referred to authorities, often because mothers have children who are already in care, because of issues of neglect, abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and the situation may not have changed or they may have moved to another relationship where the same factors are an issue. Very often, and in most cases, it isn't just one of these factors that is a cause for concern in terms of child safety and welfare, but a combination of factors. I do think it’s important that we recognise this picture and that we take account of how this picture is increasingly changing.

As you mentioned, the Welsh Government has asked local authorities the length and breadth of Wales to create plans to reduce the number of children in care, and those plans are to be welcomed. They can provide a focus for services whilst identifying the changes that have happened. And as you know and as you've made reference to already, these plans do set raw numerical targets. I'm not entirely sure if this afternoon you're saying that the targets set for local authorities will disappear, or whether it'll be the national target that will be abolished. I assume from what you say that there will still be a need for local authorities to set targets, and I would like some clarity on that. I do think that setting numerical targets is a dangerous mis-step. This isn't the way to reduce the number of children in care.

Reducing the number requires comprehensive solutions. There may be changes to legislation required; we need to look at the courts process; we need to look at how kindship care is different in Scotland to the situation in Wales; we need to look at placements with parents where a child can live at home with the parent with a care order and with support, but in some areas the courts are reluctant to agree to that.

Certainly, we need major investment in preventative services. Short-term grants aren't going to be adequate to support those services. So, I do welcome what you've said and what the report says, namely that we need to make whole-system improvements in order to provide timely and early services for families so that they are supported to stay together with the ultimate aim of reducing the number of children in the care system. But we must do that in a planned long-term way that is careful and systematic, and we must bear in mind above all else the needs and the safety of the child, as if it were my own child. Thank you.

17:15

Can I start by thanking the Minister for her leadership and work and her kind references to me as chair of the ministerial advisory group? But can I also then formally tell Members that I have that interest as we're debating the first annual report? I'm delighted that we do have an annual report and also a website. It was a key recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee that we should be more public-facing and I'm really pleased they've taken an interest in our work—very helpful—and in terms of accountability and transparency, it's a definite improvement, including some really important data, which I will refer to in a moment.

The ministerial advisory group is more like a conference, frankly. There are between 40 and 50 members. I'm not quite sure how many we have at each meeting, although it usually seems quite packed and it's difficult to peer at the end of the conference table to see all the members. But what's amazing is how the members work together. They don't idly repeat points or just get in and speak for the sake of it. It works as a team despite being large to encompass the whole community, then, involved in providing care for looked-after children.

I'm really grateful to the members for the work they put in, particularly those from the various voluntary and charitable groups. I'm very grateful to Dan Pitt from Voices from Care, who is the vice-chair and brings that insight of a care-experienced person; and also Phil Evans, former director of social services, who is the chief engineer in the engine room, I think, and has done immense, immense work; and outstanding officials in your department, Julie, who have provided such able advice and really produced quality outputs as a commission requested by the ministerial advisory group members.

If I look at safely reducing the numbers of children in care, the Minister's already given the figures, and we've heard from Siân the range of factors that affect this, but the number has gone up, and it's not always clear why that number is increasing. Deprivation; triggers like domestic abuse—and I should say on White Ribbon Day, it's a really important factor and it's something that needs to be remembered—the influence of ACEs, but there are also policy differences and differences in practice, not only in local authorities but in the courts also, which has a big impact on the numbers we being taken into care, though that incidence is now starting to reduce, but the cumulative figure is still going up. But as the Minister said, it is important to note that the incidence has started to decline.

The Thomas commission, I think, made some really interesting remarks on family justice, and we need to reflect on that. But, do you know, at the end of the day, it's the local authority that goes to court and requests a court order, or care order? So, we can't just say it's a problem with the family courts, though, clearly, they do oversee this practice in different ways in different parts of Wales.

One of the things that we've done to really try to understand these differences between local authorities is conduct an appreciative inquiry. So, we went into six local authorities and really examined what they were doing to reduce numbers and preventative services, edge-of-care services. We've had some really valuable lessons there.

If I turn to what we really need to achieve, we've always known that high-quality placements are key to successful services. Stable placements close to home are really, really important, but as our data shows in the annual report, those experiencing three or more placements in 2017-18, that was 9.6 per cent of children, and this year 9.2 per cent are getting three or more placements. That's really not acceptable and we need to ensure that that figure comes down.

If we look at educational attainment at key stage 2, the indicator is met by 60.2 per cent of children, or was last year. This year, that's gone down a little bit to 58.3. But at key stage 4, when we're often dealing with children with more complicated needs, sometimes, and also they may have come into the system later, so there are many other pressures on achieving good outcomes, but that indicator is really not good at all. Those achieving it last year, 9.5 per cent, and this year, a little improvement to 10.9 per cent. So, that's a reminder.

If I look at NEETs, those who are NEET after 12 months, after leaving care, last year, 48.6 per cent, this year 46.5 per cent. So, again, a very large figure. Local authorities have improved their practice in becoming more like the family business and ensuring that they can provide a lot of the opportunities for their care leavers, and that's really, really useful.

And we're also looking at housing. The number of care-experienced young people who have experienced some homelessness in the last year was 11.5 per cent. So, that's really problematic.

I don't have long enough to look at the other areas of the work other than to say I'm really looking forward to the task and finish group on corporate parenting. One of our tasks is to come up with a more humane, loving—as Dan Pitt, our vice-chair would say—term than 'corporate parenting'. So, if anyone's got ideas, please drop them to me in an e-mail. And there have been many innovations as well. Siân mentioned kinship caring. We'll really look at this important area. New adoption registers being launched, implementing the strategy on a national fostering framework, and our foster carers are so important. And the THRIVE report looking at emotional and mental health support. So, lots of things being done, much to do.

But let me finish with this stat: 71 per cent of care-experienced children report that they had positive outcomes of their care, and that's very important for us to remember. It's nearly 20 years since Sir Ronald Waterhouse's report 'Lost in Care' was published, and we will have a conference in the Pierhead the day before the general election to commemorate that report and a few of us in the Chamber remember the days when we were on the Health and Social Care Committee in that first Assembly, the first months of our work looking at that report. We must ensure that no-one is lost in care, and it's my privilege to have been asked, as an opposition Member, to chair the ministerial advisory group, and I thank the Government for the opportunity they've given me and the constructive way in which they've worked with the ministerial advisory group. Thank you, Llywydd.

17:25