Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

03/12/2019

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Mark Isherwood. 

A Community Bank in Wales

1. What progress has been made to establish a community bank in Wales? OAQ54778

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The partnership created between Banc Cambria and the Community Savings Bank Association is completing a detailed project plan, an initial market assessment and feasibility study, with the help of both the Development Bank of Wales and Cardiff University. I look forward to early receipt of that report. 

Well, I note the cross-party group today, which I couldn't attend, referred to that and the development of the group working in Banc Cambria to take forward your proposals for a community bank. Of course, these run in parallel to the development of the Post Office banking framework agreement with 28 UK banks to enable customers on the high street to access wider banking services, and the proposals two years ago from Responsible Finance Wales, for others, for groups, to work together to develop a community bank model. And, of course, I used to work in one of the forebears of the community banks—one of the mutual building societies. 

However, when I raised with the First Minister at that time, in 2010, the risk management and capital adequacy requirements and regulation a new bank would have to comply with, which an established bank partner would not, the then First Minister agreed that setting up a new bank can be, quote,

'a costly and protracted business if you start from scratch, and using the expertise that is already in the sector to develop a social model of banking makes sense'.

What discussion have you and your colleagues therefore had, in consultation with consumer groups and industry experts, regarding the feasibility of a community bank in Wales reflecting those core banking needs, regulations and principles? 

Well, Llywydd, I thank Mark Isherwood for that question. He is quite right to say that the business of setting up a new bank has significant regulatory hurdles to overcome and that it can be a protracted business. But that is why we are working with the Community Savings Bank Association. And in that way, the landscape has changed since 2010, because the Community Savings Bank Association, coming out of work carried out by the Royal Society of Arts, has financed itself and led preparation of constitutional documents, IT systems, branch designs, payment system links, product specifications, and, critically, banking licence application documents. So, there is now a great deal more work that has been done by a group of experts that gives us the foundation for what Banc Cambria can do here in Wales. 

The banking licence application document, particularly, breaks the process of obtaining a licence into a number of manageable phases. And that's the way that we intend to work through the process in Wales, taking it a step at a time. That's why the initial market assessment and feasibility study is so important, because it will test those basic questions of viability and sustainability, and then we will move to the next stage, working with 11 other initiatives that are at various stages of progress across the United Kingdom, each one of them under the umbrella of the Community Savings Bank Association, giving us the confidence here in Wales that we have the advice we need to make a success of our ambition to establish a community bank. 

I’m sure it would be easier if we had our own regulatory rules in order to establish such a bank, but we as a party have supported having a community bank for many years, and I look forward to having an account in our community bank here in Wales. And, of course, this is a response now to the fact that high-street banks have left our communities in the numbers that we have seen over the past few years. Would you agree with me that the fact that we have failed to regulate and failed to put conditions on those banks has left us in this position where we have seen that exodus of financial services from our high streets in the way that we have seen over the past few years?

Well, to be honest, Llywydd, it’s far more complicated than to just say that it’s regulatory issues that lie behind what’s happened on the high street. What the banks say is that the business model that they’ve used over the years just doesn’t work as it used to many years ago. The numbers of people using their branches have fallen, very many more people do their banking online, and so there is something about the business model, too. And that’s why it’s been so important to work with the Community Savings Bank Association, because they’ve created a new model where they are confident that it’s possible to run something on the high street in a different way and which can work locally. That is why we’ve made progress on that. I do agree with what Rhun ap Iorwerth was saying about the problem, and the problem exists throughout the whole of Wales, as we know. But just saying that the old ways of doing things are the best ways is too simplistic and will not work. And that’s why we have the new model, and we’re working hard to get that model up and running here in Wales.

13:35
The National Infrastructure Commission for Wales

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the performance of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales? OAQ54798

Llywydd, the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales has made good progress in its inaugural year. Its first annual report was published, as intended, on 27 November.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. As you say, on 27 November, the commission presented its first annual report. No Assembly Members were invited, and I am informed that even the Chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, Russell George, was not informed of the presentation. It would seem massively disappointing that, after sitting for 12 months, the report simply outlined a series of areas on which the future work plan will concentrate. However, just a cursory glance at this report tells us that all of these aspects have already been identified and discussed at length in Assembly committees, and in the public inquiry into the M4 relief road. It would appear to be simply a cut and paste exercise, surrounded by the usual preamble. So, First Minister, if it has taken the commission, with 12 members, 12 months to come up with the questions, how long will it take to come up with the solutions? Given this process is again a considerable cost to the taxpayer, is the First Minister truly satisfied with the progress made so far?

Llywydd, I hear around the Chamber that other Assembly Members take a different view as to whether or not invitations were issued for them to be part of the publication of the annual report. I don't agree with the Member's assessment of it. It is important that the commission provided an evidence-informed baseline assessment in its first annual report. That is what it was asked to do. It identifies the three key themes of decarbonisation, connectivity, and resilience. It identifies 10 specific key issues that it says it is going to address, and asks for views, from Assembly committees and others, as to how they might best be resolved. It sets out three areas in which it intends to concentrate over the year ahead: in digital communications, especially in low-density rural areas; in renewable energy and connections to the electricity grid; and transport, where it wants to explore issues of capacity, congestion and decarbonisation.

I think the annual report is a solid start to the work of the commission, and what it will do is to respond to the report of the relevant committee, agreeing that the first state of the nation report should be in November 2021, and that it will report, as the committee recommended, every three years thereafter. The Government has undertaken to review the commission by May 2021, both its scope and remit. And I think all that demonstrates that there is an active programme of work that the commission has begun to get a proper grip of, and that there is a plan in place for it to continue to discharge that work over the years ahead.

I should confirm I was at the event last week. But what I will say is that, although I was there, I was very underwhelmed by what was said at that first annual report. It's taken the commission one year to find out that what they need to focus on is energy, digital connectivity, broadband and transport. Well, any of us in this Chamber could have told the commission just that. The only thing I did learn last week is that the commission, which is set up to look at the long term, isn't going to take any evidence on the long term approach at the moment. So, I have to say I am totally underwhelmed by the commission's work to date, and I don't think that the commission is currently up to meeting the challenge that it has before it.

Can I ask, First Minister, do you think that the current approach lacks ambition and substance? What are you going to do in terms of changing the approach that's currently happening so far, with a lack of ambition and substance taking place? How many staff does the commission appoint at the moment? And how many staff will be appointed in the future, because I do think it needs to be properly resourced? You are appointing a long-term chair, which I do think is welcome, and what qualities would you expect to see in that long-term appointee? 

13:40

Well, I thank the Member for that. I'm glad that he was able to be present at the launch of the report. I don't accept what he says. When I last answered questions on the floor of this Assembly about the work of the commission, I was asked around the Chamber if it was going to be considering issues to do with water, to do with waste, to do with flood risk management, to do with housing, and the commission has, quite rightly, had to make choices in its first year about the issues on which it should concentrate, and that was a proper exercise of selection so that its priority areas in the next 12 months could be identified.

There is, indeed, an exercise that is currently ongoing for the public appointment process for a long-term chair of the infrastructure commission. I am glad, Llywydd, that in the discussions that I have had with your office that that post is on the list of significant public appointments that will be tested through a pre-appointment scrutiny process here in the Assembly, and Members who have strong views on the qualities that the person appointed to this post should have will be able to test that individual through that scrutiny process. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.  

Given the seriousness of what's happened at Cwm Taf, should we not have expected a Labour shadow Cabinet Minister speaking at the Senedd to have familiarised themselves with this tragic case? Or is it simply true that Wales matters as little to the Labour frontbench in Westminster as it does to the Tories? 

Llywydd, the events at Cwm Taf deserve a more serious response than the one we've just been offered by the leader of Plaid Cymru. Whether a frontbench spokesman was completely familiar with the details is hardly of any relevance to the mothers and families caught up in events at Cwm Taf. This Government has been focused and the Minister has been focused on making sure that those mothers' concerns are properly responded to, that there is every opportunity for them to contribute to the process of putting right what went wrong at Cwm Taf. Those are the things that matter to those families and to patients in the Cwm Taf area, and the attempt to turn it into some trivial political knockabout does them and him no credit at all. 

Surely, the fact that a Labour shadow Cabinet Minister called for an inquiry on Friday, then had to withdraw that on the Sunday, simply because they hadn't shown I think what we would expect from them, which is a decent level of interest in what is happening to people in Wales—. It happened on the Friday, and you'd have thought, having been caught out once by their indifference and ignorance in relation to what is happening in Wales, you would have briefed Richard Burgon on the Sunday. It wasn't just a moment of utter embarrassment to the Labour Party, as Alun Davies said. His silence in not being able to respond to me, in terms of what's happening in the NHS in Wales, spoke volumes about an indifference to Wales that borders on contempt. 

Now, one area that I did agree with Richard Burgon—[Interruption.] One area I did agree with Richard Burgon on is in relation to the NHS. The President of the United States clearly, despite his denials earlier today, is a clear and present danger to the future of the NHS, but can you explain, therefore, why you will not be supporting our proposal in the motion set out before the Senedd to give this institution a constitutional veto on any trade deal that will imperil the NHS, and why you're not supporting our call to back the NHS protection Bill that Plaid Cymru MPs will be supporting in the next Westminster Parliament?

13:45

Llywydd, the Member has spent too long touring the television studios. His view of what matters to people in Wales is distorted by the hours he spends running Wales down in front of television audiences. And, in fact, he's a victim of his own propaganda if he believes that shadow Labour Members are somehow answerable to him. The NHS in Wales is controlled by a Labour Government with Labour Ministers here answering questions across this Chamber every week, and on every aspect of it. That's where decisions are made. If he doesn't understand devolution, luckily people in Wales do, and they'll take, I think, not kindly at all to his view that the things that he happens to say in a television studio are the way in which public services in Wales ought to be organised. [Interruption.]—I heard him say it, so he'll want to dwell, maybe, for a moment on that. 

The reason we won't be supporting Plaid Cymru Members on the floor of the House of Commons in the way that he suggests is because we are campaigning for a Government that would render the need for such a Bill entirely unnecessary. What this country needs is a Labour Government in Westminster prepared to stand up to Donald Trump, prepared to make it clear that our NHS is not up for sale, and then there will be no need for the sort of Bill that the Member refers to. We're still fighting this general election; we haven't already given it up. 

First Minister, I'd like to ask you, finally, to respond to some new information that's been released in relation to the now-rejected proposals to introduce unpaid breaks for nurses in the north. First of all, can you say whether you believe it is appropriate that your officials sought to involve the chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Gary Doherty, in political matters by sharing the text of a Plaid Cymru motion in the Senedd with him, to which he responded with, as he put it, 'a suggested line to take'?

He also states in his e-mail that the now-rescinded proposals to introduce unpaid breaks for nurses, condemned by the Royal College of Nursing and Unison as draconian and wholly unacceptable, are already operating in another health board in Wales. You have redacted the identity of the health board in question. Are you able to tell us now which one it is? And before you're tempted to say, 'These are operational matters', or 'Blame it on the Tories', are you prepared to acknowledge that, from Cwm Taf to Betsi, there is one person that is ultimately responsible, First Minister, for the NHS, and it's you?     

I'm responsible for the NHS in Wales, Llywydd, and I'm very proud indeed to be in that position. I'm very proud indeed of everything that our NHS does every single day, of the thousands of people who work in it, of the hundreds of thousands of people who are treated by it here in Wales, and whose levels of satisfaction with the Welsh NHS rose again in our national survey earlier this year. I am responsible, I'm proud to be responsible, and I'm very glad indeed that, here in Wales, we have the strong support of the Welsh public for the sort of NHS that we are determined to preserve here—an NHS publicly provided, publicly funded, available free at the point of use. That's the sort of NHS that I'm responsible for, and that's the sort of NHS I intend to go on being responsible for. 

I am astonished that the leader of Plaid Cymru believes that a motion placed in front of the National Assembly is somehow a political document. It is a public document; it is available to anybody to read. The idea that it could not be drawn to the attention of a health board in which it is named is nonsensical to the point that baffles me that the Member should have even thought that it was worth raising. I don't know which other health board has similar arrangements, nor do I need to know. I'm not responsible for nurse rotas; I'm responsible for the policy, the direction and the funding of the national health service.  

Diolch, Llywydd. 

First Minister, today's programme for international student assessment results once again confirm that Wales has remained the lowest-performing country within the United Kingdom for all subjects, despite improvements being made. Why is it that there have been no statistically significant improvements in Wales's PISA scores in reading and maths since 2006? 

Well, Llywydd, it is disappointing that, on a day when young people in Wales and those who teach them have received results that show that, uniquely in the United Kingdom, Wales has improved its position in relation to reading, science and mathematics, the leader of the opposition here cannot find a single good word—not a single good word—to say for those young people and their teachers. Because I think that is the story that our schools will be hearing today—that, of course the position is not perfect, but the news today is positive. It shows improvement in all three domains; no other part of the United Kingdom is able to demonstrate that. There are many other things in the PISA results today that we should be celebrating, and we should be recognising the efforts that children and their teachers have made. 

13:50

Well, clearly, First Minister, you weren't listening. I did say that improvements have been made, but you can't dress this up because we are still at the bottom of the league table of the United Kingdom. Despite the hard work of those in the teaching profession, Wales's science scores are still significantly worse than in 2006; Wales is ranked bottom of the UK nations in reading, maths and science; and Wales is the only UK nation to score below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average in all PISA measures. It's quite clear, First Minister, that you and your Government are failing to significantly improve Wales's education system.

Now, I know and accept that the Welsh Government has announced a series of reforms, and only last month, Professor Calvin Jones of Cardiff Business School and Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, published the 'Fit for the Future Education in Wales' report, which called for a new hypothecated and broad-based Welsh tax, specifically directed at enabling the curriculum transition. Now, given that you confirmed last week that taxes will go up under a Labour Government, can you confirm, therefore, whether the Welsh Government will be bringing forward a Welsh education tax?

I've never heard this idea other than from the Member himself. It has no resonance whatsoever with this Welsh Government. The truth of today's results is that Wales is now at the international average in all three subjects for the first time ever; that in mathematics and science, Wales performs at the same level as Northern Ireland and Scotland; and that we have the best ever scores in reading and maths and improvement in science as well. It's not where we want to be. It's not where our ambitions for the next PISA round want us to be, but you will never bring about improvements in a system if all you manage to do is forever—[Interruption.] I can hear the Member, I can hear him. He doesn't need to keep repeating it, I can hear him. The first few times that he thinks that it's a sensible thing to try and interrupt from where he is sitting, it doesn't help him, it doesn't help anybody trying to make sense of these things, and it certainly doesn't help children and young people in our schools, who have achieved something very worthwhile in these PISA results, to act as though it didn't count for anything.

But, First Minister, we are still at the bottom of the UK league table when it comes to these results. Yes, of course I accept that there have been improvements, but you are quite clearly failing our children and young people because we should have seen much better improvement over the last few years.

Now, of course, the 'Fit for the Future Education in Wales' report, which, clearly, you want to dismiss, has called for GCSEs to be scrapped, and as we're all aware, Qualifications Wales is launching a consultation on the future of GCSEs and other qualifications taken by 16-year-olds. First Minister, it is crucial that the Welsh Government gets this right and that Welsh learners will not be let down like the learners of the previous decade have been.

Now, it is an undeniable fact that Wales's 2019 GCSE results are on a par with 2007. Our PISA results, as I've just said, are still the worst in the UK, and only 29 per cent of young people in Wales actually go to university. First Minister, what reassurances can you offer learners across Wales as well as families and education providers that the Welsh Government will take responsibility for its record of delivery, and that, moving forward, no stone will be left unturned in ensuring that learners in Wales have access to an education system that is fit for the twenty-first century?

Well, Llywydd, this Government has the most ambitious programme of reform in the education system of any Government anywhere in the United Kingdom. It's a programme for reform that the OECD has endorsed again today as the basis for the improvements that you have already seen.

The Member is right to say that PISA is only one of the measures that we use to understand the success of our education system. That's why we were so pleased to see in the summer that the best A-level results in Wales are better than any region of England or of Northern Ireland. I answered a question from another of his Members last week in relation to the report to which he refers and Qualifications Wales. The report will be a useful contribution to the consultation that Qualifications Wales is carrying out, but in the end, it will be Qualifications Wales that will be responsible for making representations to the Welsh Government as to how we have a qualifications system that stands alongside our new curriculum, and that all of that underpins our ambition. And we are as ambitious as anybody in Wales for our young people to get the best possible education to achieve everything that we would want them to achieve and then to go on to have chances in this economy, where those chances are fairly distributed rather than the sharply unequal society that his party has been determined to create.

13:55

Diolch, Llywydd. May I congratulate the First Minister, the education secretary, the 107 schools and the 3,165 learners who took part in the PISA tests? They are significantly better than the very poor results we saw in 2016, and I think it's appropriate to put that on the record. If it had been the other way, I would have been coruscating in my criticism.

Can I, however, ask about the results? On the science and the maths, there is a one or two-point, very fractional, difference where we're below the OECD average. On reading, it is rather larger; there's a seven-point gap on those. And while it's true for the Welsh Government to say that these results are, individually, across the three areas, in line and not statistically significant when they are fractionally below, is it not the case that, in aggregate, being below in all three, including a gap that's close to statistically significant on reading, means that the overall claim cannot necessarily be made that Wales has performed in line on an aggregate basis?

Llywydd, let me begin by thanking the Member for the way in which he introduced his question. It surely is a day to recognise the efforts that have been made and the achievements that have resulted.

He is right to point to the fact that the gap in reading is the largest of all three, and when he has a chance, as I can see he has already begun, to look into the detail of the results, he will see that that is partly driven by the gap between boys and girls in reading scores that we have here in Wales. And we know that there is work that we have to do to persuade young men to take an interest in improving their literacy ability and that that is there in the results that we see.

There is evidence in the figures of Wales's relative improvement over time in reading. We have improved our position in the OECD rankings of different countries on reading, as well as the other two domains, but we recognise, of course, that there is more that we need to do, particularly in tackling the phenomenon, which is true internationally—it's true in every single OECD country—that young women outrank young men when it comes to reading. That is a more challenging problem in some parts of Wales, and there's more that we will want to do, and our new curriculum, we believe, will help us to do that.

Well, I think what Welsh Government has said in response to these results is broadly fair, and I think the points about the OECD comparisons are well worth noting in light of what we saw three years ago and the difference in the debate there. And I think that should be reflected in our comments.

Will the First Minister, though, accept that the picture is not as rosy in the intra-UK comparisons? And while, for maths and science, the gaps with Scotland and Northern Ireland are not statistically significant, we do see England doing significantly better than both us and the OECD, and are there any lessons we can learn from England in that respect? Does the First Minister also accept there is a particular issue in reading, where the results have bounced back from a particularly poor result in 2016, compared to, say, maths, where we've seen quite sharp improvements for two cycles in a row, which we should note? But the results for reading—(a) it's a reversal of a bad result last time, rather than an improving trend, and (b) our results are, statistically, very significantly below the other three nations in the UK on reading, and I just wonder what the First Minister might think about that.

I just wonder, could he comment also on two other things I thought were significant? There was concern from headteachers in Wales reporting greater shortages or inadequacies of educational materials, for example textbooks and information technology equipment. Does he think that that is a fair concern for them to express? Finally, in terms of well-being—and this was a UK-wide rather than wheels-specific issue—quite a lot of young people were reporting being likely to feel worried or miserable, and I know, with the young people and education committee, we've done some work on this, but has the First Minister got anything to offer to those students?

14:00

I thank Mark Reckless for those additional questions. I think, as the education Minister has said, whenever she's been asked about this already today, and will have another opportunity on the floor of the Assembly, we've never suggested that these results are perfect. They are positive, and there are issues, in the reading domain particularly, that we will want to take up as a result of these scores and to see what we can do to improve them still further in the next round of PISA results.

In relation to resources, the Welsh Government is putting a major investment of £50 million into improving IT in the classroom. Of course, I would expect teachers and headteachers to say that if they had more resources, they could do better. But that is a major investment.

If you look at any international survey of reported well-being amongst young people in the United Kingdom, we come in the bottom half of the league table. That is a matter we should be concerned about, but it also, in some ways, reflects the way in which some of the questions in this test are phrased to get the raw material from which the answers are derived.

If I was looking for something positive in the results that you could say to those young people, then I would point to the fact that the disadvantage gap in Wales is significantly smaller than across the OECD and that young people in Wales are better able to overcome disadvantage as a result of the education that they receive in Wales than would be true over the OECD as a whole. So, a young person who comes into our school with a disadvantage gap is more likely to overcome that gap in Wales than across the OECD as a whole. I think that sort of positive message and that positive investment that our education service makes in young people, I hope makes its contribution, along with many other things, to trying to convey a message to those young people about their importance to us, about the value we attach to them and about how their well-being, as well as everything else they achieve, matters in their lives and to Welsh people as a whole.

People with Autism in Higher Education

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of people with autism who are studying in higher education in Wales? OAQ54803

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. There were 800 higher education students in Wales recorded in 2017-18 as having a self-declared social or communication impairment, such as Asperger's syndrome or other autistic spectrum disorders.

First Minister, you may remember the unfortunate case last year at Swansea University, where a student was allegedly suspended from her university course on health grounds. Now, I'm very pleased to see that Swansea University and Gower College Swansea have teamed up in a year-long project to support students with autism spectrum conditions as they prepare to make the transition from college to university. I think that's a very, very important transition, for, in addition to the usual concerns that any student will have about which course to enrol in and where to study, autistic students typically need to take into account other factors, such as the environment, social opportunities and special education needs support of any particular university and, indeed, a particular course at a university.

According to the National Autistic Society, education, health and care planning is key, and this is done at schools and colleges increasingly, I'm pleased to say. But it's not being taken forward into higher education. Do you agree with me that it's high time that we set the standard in Wales and insist that our universities have these plans, so that students with autistic spectrum disorders are properly supported?

14:05

I thank David Melding for those important points. I entirely agree with him about the importance of transition and that young people who are already getting help in one part of the system—that the next move that they will make within the education ladder, the work that has been invested with them in one place, is properly translated to the next place that they intend to go, so that that transition is as smooth as it possibly can be.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales published its position statement on well-being and health in June of this year. It has a series of actions that it proposes from the position statement that it will work on, together with NUS in Wales—the National Union of Students—to make sure that young people with autism who are studying in higher education have all of the help that they need.

I recall the Swansea incident to which David Melding refers. Within the last two weeks, I met a young woman who is studying at Swansea University today who was very positive indeed about the help that she was receiving to make sure that her autistic condition was recognised and understood. She was getting some help through the disabled student support allowance that we have here in Wales—3,400 Welsh students benefiting from that £8 million fund. But the money was a small part of what she felt she was getting. It was the understanding that she was experiencing from the university, from her tutors and others, that she felt was supporting her to make the very best of her abilities and to get everything she wanted out of her higher education experience. Better transition planning, making sure that the things that David Melding referred to are done, would be of help in any young person's experience.

Prior to this question today, I spoke to a number of people with autism. They were telling me that they're often drawn to higher education, and some of them are often overqualified because they feel safety in having that academic background, and safety in learning, as opposed to facing a job market where, potentially, they are stigmatised, and they find that job application processes don't fit with their needs.

The Office for National Statistics has recently said that there is a 12 per cent pay difference between disabled people and their non-disabled peers. So, we can talk about higher education and getting those with autism into the system, which is all well and good, but what is the Welsh Government doing to support them when they're going out into the real world, when they want to compete for jobs on a level playing field in a way that is equal to them and that respects them also?

Llywydd, I think that it's a bit more than just 'all well and good'. I think that the conversations you report are very interesting because they do reflect what I've heard from young people as well. If you have a condition that involves autism, then the period that you spend in higher education is valuable for the qualification that you might get, but it is also a really important part of your sense of being able to equip yourself to deal with the world beyond education. So, I entirely agree with what Bethan Jenkins has said about the need to make sure that the world of work is also one that understands the needs of people with autism, and that is equipped to be able to respond in a way that allows those people to make the contribution that they want to make. And there's a great deal of work that we have done, over a number of years now, to deal with mental health issues in the workplace, and with stigma that people face. But a period spent in higher education by a young person who is experiencing autism is a genuine investment, both in their own sense of qualification but also in their own sense of an ability to be able to face the world in the way that Bethan Jenkins reported people she has spoken to saying, and to be able to do that in a way that they feel confident that they will be able to deal with.

14:10
Support for Rough-sleepers

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on support for rough sleepers in Flintshire? OAQ54805

Llywydd, the rise in rough-sleeping is one of the most visible signs of a decade of Tory austerity. In this year alone the Welsh Government will invest over £20 million in preventing and relieving homelessness. All Welsh local authorities, including Flintshire, have benefited from this new funding.

Diolch, First Minister. You mentioned in your response there the impact of austerity, and this is happening on every single high street now. This is not just a big-city issue anymore. Towns like Connah's Quay and Shotton have, for the first time in my memory, experienced people sleeping rough on the streets. Now, councils like Flintshire could well be overwhelmed this winter, so I have written to you, First Minister, to seek what urgent support you can offer as the Welsh Government to councils like Flintshire to ensure people are not left out in the cold this Christmas.

First Minister, if I may, I also want to seek your assurance that the housing support grant will also be strengthened, because as often, it is the only flexibility available to support those people in very, very difficult circumstances.

I thank Jack Sargeant for that, Llywydd. He is absolutely right to point to the fact that many of us in this Chamber have lived most of our lives when the sight of someone without somewhere to sleep would have been absolutely rare and shocking, and now we see this phenomenon, as Jack has said, not simply in our major urban areas, but in smaller towns across Wales, and it is authentically shocking that the fabric of our welfare state has been allowed to fray to the extent it has, that we see people in those numbers now forced into that position.

The homelessness action group that the Minister established and was chaired by Jon Sparkes of Crisis has reported with a series of immediate recommendations for things that we can do this winter to try to avoid the situation that Jack Sargeant has referred to. The Government has accepted all those recommendations and is working hard with local authority colleagues and with third sector organisations to implement those immediate measures. We have sustained the investment we make in Supporting People, which, as Jack said, is one of the flexible parts of the budget that local authorities and their partners are able to use to provide services to people, because while rapid rehousing is at the core of what we want to offer to people who find themselves sleeping rough, we also know that those individuals, because of the histories that they've been obliged to go through, often have needs beyond accommodation, and that's what the Supporting People grant is there to do, and that's why we've sustained it through the whole of this Assembly term, and intend to go on doing so.

Public Health in Newport East

5. What further steps will the Welsh Government take to improve public health in Newport East? OAQ54793

I thank John Griffiths for that. Action to improve public health must begin from an early age, Llywydd, and I congratulate Newport schools, all of which are members of the Welsh network of healthy schools, and eight of which have already achieved the highest level of national award for their work in promoting health amongst their young people. There are a further eight Newport schools on track to achieve this genuinely significant milestone.

I thank you for that answer, First Minister, and particularly highlighting the very good work taking place in Newport schools, which obviously I'm very familiar with.

I recently met with the British Lung Foundation, and the extent of breathing problems I think is now something like one in five people in the UK having breathing difficulties. Obviously, clean air is a key way of ameliorating and hopefully, in due course, eliminating those problems. We need to get to the stage where people are breathing clean air with healthy lungs.

One major way of getting to that situation, First Minister, is tackling road traffic, getting people and freight onto public transport as much as possible. I know there are many policies in train, and many practical ideas to help achieve that, but, obviously, it does need to be done as quickly as possible. I know that there have been many campaigns, and indeed court action, to try and achieve better-quality air in Wales and in the UK generally, and some local authorities have responded. I'm very pleased that Newport City Council are now bringing forward proposals, indeed, with public health partners. But there are lots of ideas around when you meet with groups, First Minister. We have our 20 mph speed limit work going on, all of the active travel improvements that we need to make, there are exclusion zones sometimes around schools, there are ideas about prohibiting car idling and making sure that buses and taxis—

14:15

Diolch, Llywydd. So, no shortage of ideas, First Minister, but, really, I just think we need a sense of urgency as to how we make this change.

Well, Llywydd, I entirely agree with John Griffiths about the importance of the issue and the need for urgency. The Minister, Lesley Griffiths, will make a statement on the floor of the Assembly next week, I believe, on the clean air plan for Wales. In the meantime, it is very good to see that Newport council have submitted to the Welsh Government their new sustainable travel strategy, which has clean air at the heart of that. And, as John Griffiths said, Llywydd, the local health board for the Gwent area published in September 'Building a Healthier Gwent'; in a conference on 6 November, had the need for clean air and its impact on people's health absolutely as part of that very lively discussion. Because John is right: there's not a shortage of ideas in this area, and we, in many ways, will need to be bolder in our willingness to take on some of these ideas, which will undoubtedly have areas where people will find some difficulty in accommodating themselves to the steps that need to be taken. But we have to be serious about clean air—it's a genuine public health issue, and using the third sector, through the British Lung Foundation and others, to add to the repertoire is absolutely part of how we wish to go ahead.

The NHS in South Wales East

6. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's priorities for the NHS in south-east Wales? OAQ54811

I thank the Member for that. Amongst our immediate priorities for the NHS in South Wales East is the completion of the £350 million investment in the 470-bed Grange University Hospital. It will provide specialist acute and critical illness services for over 600,000 people in the south-east of Wales.

Thank you, First Minister. A constituent of mine recently contacted me with serious concerns about the way that Cwm Taf health board has been dealing with his case. Now, he was given an operation around a decade ago to remove a malignant melanoma, which was, thankfully, successful, but he was told he would need yearly check-ups for the rest of his life to monitor the situation. He's since developed freckles on his eyes, which are benign, but they could turn cancerous, and, obviously, owing to his medical history, it's even more important that he would receive yearly check-ups.

Recently his requests for an appointment from Cwm Taf have been rebuffed on numerous occasions and it all come to a head when he received a letter from a private health company, called Community Health and Eye Care, acting on behalf of the health board, who told him that he did not require further appointments with a consultant, and that, if he wished, he could see an optician every now and again instead. Now, my constituent then contacted his consultant directly, who was adamant that he did indeed need early check-ups with a consultant. First Minister, could you tell us what Community Health and Eye Care's relationship is with Cwm Taf health board, and do you agree with me that it would be completely unacceptable for a Welsh health board to employ a private company to cut waiting lists by denying patients appointments that they need for health reasons?

Llywydd, I'm not familiar with the details, of course, of the individual case, and, as Cwm Taf is not in South Wales East, I haven't come prepared with all the details to answer the question this afternoon. But what I do know is that the Minister has recently reformed the way in which ophthalmology services are—[Interruption.] I'm so sorry, I can't hear the—

I'll ask the First Minister to continue answering the question.

I do know in general—I'm trying to be as helpful as I can to the Member in her question—that the Minister has reformed the way in which ophthalmology services are provided in Wales to make sure that follow-up appointments are treated just as first appointments would have been in the previous system, because we know that 90 per cent of follow-up patients are likely to need the sort of ongoing care to which Delyth Jewell referred in the individual case that she has identified this afternoon. 

It is very important that we make maximum use of the very skilled individuals who we have practising ophthalmology in the community. We have an underused resource. We've known this for a number of years—that people are sent to hospital for appointments when those conditions could just as equally clinically be attended to by our highly trained opticians who operate on the high street.

So, our policy is to maximise the use of community services, so that people who need a consultant-led service are able to get it more rapidly because they're not waiting behind people who could equally easily and more conveniently have received the care they need in the community. I'm very willing to look at the individual case to see whether those principles have been properly applied in that case, but that is the underlying approach that the Welsh Government brings to these services.

14:20
The Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019 Results Report

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019 results report? OAQ54809

Llywydd, the latest Welsh index of multiple deprivation was published on 27 November. It well illustrates the impact of a decade of enforced austerity on communities across Wales.

There was some positive news for Lansbury Park in the Caerphilly constituency. It is no longer ranked as the most deprived area in Wales, although, as the First Minister recognises, there are still difficulties and it remains in the top 10. I think the improvement has been down to a mixture of investment from the Welsh Government, the European Union and Caerphilly County Borough Council, particularly with regard to the Welsh housing quality standard—£8 million has been spent on new cladding and roofing for council properties, £4.5 million has been spent on new bathrooms and kitchens, and overall £2.5 million in addition with regard to the Welsh housing quality standard.

I think some of the things we've talked about today with regard to education and the improvements the Welsh Government has planned there will make a difference in Lansbury Park—Flying Start makes a difference to that community. What more can the Welsh Government and the First Minister envision will be done for a close-knit community, a wonderful community, like Lansbury Park?

I thank Hefin David for that. It's very important that we analyse the wealth of information that's there in the Welsh index of multiple deprivation, both to understand why there are some communities that remain at what the report describes as the deep-rooted end of deprivation, and why there are other communities who have managed to find a different place in that report, and, Lansbury Park—it's very good to hear that there's been some progress made there. 

Llywydd, when that analysis comes to be done, I think what we will see is that those communities who find themselves at the sharpest end of deprivation in Wales have one key characteristic in common—that they have an over-representation, compared to other parts of Wales, of families with children. And the reason that they end up in the position they are in is because of the cuts in benefits that those families have had to face over the last decade.

A lone parent in Wales will lose £3,720 every year as a result of benefit cuts in Wales. A family with three or more children in Wales will face cuts of £4,110 every year. That's £75 every single week less to manage on to meet the needs of your family and your children. And those communities that find themselves at the sharpest end of the Welsh index of multiple deprivation have more families with children than other communities in Wales. It's no surprise to me that you see that reflected in the tables. 

But, just as we look to understand why there are communities that face those challenges, it's really important that we look to see how other communities have managed to find themselves in a different part of the spectrum. So, Butetown here in Cardiff, where we are today, which back in 2005 was ranked in the top 10 of the most deprived wards in Wales, is today ranked at 150. The Riverside ward in my own constituency, where I live, was ranked eleventh in 2005, and is now one hundred and eighth. So, there are communities—and they're to be found not just here in Cardiff, but in Swansea, in Merthyr, in Aberavon, in Caerphilly, in Rhondda Cynon Taf—that found themselves at the sharpest end, who, today, have moved to a different part of the spectrum. And it's equally important that we try and identify what the conditions have been that have allowed those communities to move in that direction. I think Hefin David, in pointing to the Welsh housing quality standard and some other investments that have been made, has begun to help with that analysis, identifying the factors that create conditions of success, and then helping us to do more of that in the future. 

14:25

Question 8 [OAQ54807] is withdrawn, so, finally, question 9. Vikki Howells. 

The Unadopted Roads Taskforce

9. What consideration has the Welsh Government given to the findings of the unadopted roads taskforce? OAQ54799

I thank the Member for that. The unadopted roads taskforce group published its report last summer and the recommendations were approved by the Minister for Economy and Transport. That group is now implementing the recommendations that it made. 

I thank the First Minister for that answer. And I've arrived here at Plenary today straight from a meeting with Persimmon, where it looks as though we are very, very close to getting three estates adopted, some of which were built almost 18 years ago. But I'm very well aware that, for every family who I've been able to help with regard to that, there are many, many other home owners out there in Wales living on unadopted roads or on unadopted estates. I welcome the findings of the unadopted roads taskforce, but I would like to know what plans are there for the future to progress those recommendations. 

I thank the Member for that. There were seven different recommendations made by the group. It wanted a good practice guide to be produced, and that has been produced, and it's currently being trialled by local authorities. It asked for the development of a set of common standards, and that work is very close to completion. It's been carried out jointly by local authorities and by housing developers. And it began its recommendations by asking for the establishment of a comprehensive database of unadopted roads here in Wales, so we knew the scale of the problem and what needed to be done. That work of establishing that database is nearly complete. We expect to see it ready for publication in the new year, and the Minister for Economy and Transport will provide further information to Members on that work once it has been completed. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to this week's business. Later this afternoon, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs will make a statement on the food and drink Wales cluster network, and, additionally, tomorrow's short debate has been postponed. 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. 

Can I call for two statements today, Trefnydd, the first, on the issue of primary care counselling services in north Wales, from the Minister for Health and Social Services? There is a significant problem in terms of waiting times for access to primary care counselling services in some parts of my constituency, and, obviously, with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board currently being in special measures for its mental health services, I wanted this to be highlighted, and to find out what the Welsh Government are doing to resolve it. I understand that, in the Conwy east area, there are some individuals who are currently waiting—a typical wait is 12 months to see a primary care counsellor, which is clearly unacceptable, when compared to Conwy west and central and south Denbighshire, where individuals have almost immediate access because of a different approach that has been taken by the GP primary care clusters. Now, I'm sure that you'll agree with me that people ought to have equity of access to these sorts of services where they're served by the same local health board, and I would be grateful if the Minister could look into this in order that we can make sure that services are available to those who need them in a timely fashion. 

Can I also call for a statement from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on safety in rented accommodation? I understand that there are no legal requirements at the moment for carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in rented accommodation in rooms where there are gas burning appliances. But, given that we will all be aware of the tragic scenes that have unfolded in some homes, whereby individuals have unfortunately succumbed to carbon monoxide, some of them passing away, I do think that this is something that ought to be looked at for the future here in Wales, where we could usefully change the law to make carbon monoxide detectors a requirement in rented accommodation. Carbon monoxide is responsible for around 60 deaths each year in the UK, and thousands of people have hospital admissions as a result of being poisoned by carbon monoxide. I do think that this is something that is worthy of consideration, and I would be very grateful for a statement.

14:30

Thank you to Darren Millar for raising these issues this afternoon. He'll remember that the Minister for Health and Social Services published on 14 November the revised improvement framework for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, setting out the expectations it will need to meet in order to be stepped down from its special measures. And I know the health Minister was pleased to note that positive progress has been made in terms of mental health services, including the I CAN approach to improving mental health. But I appreciate Darren Millar's concerns about different approaches across the area that he represents. So, I would invite him to write to the health Minister, reiterating the concerns that he's spoken about in the Assembly today.

In terms of safety in rented accommodation and carbon monoxide, I'll ask the Minister for Housing and Local Government to write to you with the latest update in terms of the standards that we do require for rented accommodation, but with a particular focus on the importance of carbon monoxide testers.FootnoteLink

Could we have a statement, or a debate, on plastic shopping bags, which can help inform the Minister's deliberations as she decides the way forward to make Wales a global leader in reducing single-use plastics? It would allow us then to debate the first long-term scientific study of biodegradable, oxo-degradable and compostable plastics, which has shown that, after three years of deposition in soil, sea water and open air, the biodegradable and oxo-degradable bags were remarkably resilient, still able to hold 2kg after the three years. And we could also debate, of course, the increase in the use of thicker plastic bag-for-life bags. And subsequently, I would suggest the need to end the use of single-use bags and plastic bags for shopping entirely. We've led the way in Wales; we can go further, and I know the Minister is sympathetic to that.

Could we also have a statement on the developing Welsh Government position on CCTV in slaughterhouses in Wales? And I declare my interest as a long-term associate member of the British Veterinary Association. I support their position on mandatory CCTV in abattoirs, because it would increase opportunities to observe and verify the handling of animals, it would increase opportunities to observe and verify the proper application of the stun and slaughter processes, and it would also increase opportunities to protect the food chain and protect public health.

And finally, could we have a statement in due course—particularly, perhaps, after President Trump has left the UK—on the issues of future trade deals with the US, and the implications for Wales in terms of not only health services, but also the need to protect our farmers, our food producers and our consumers against lower animal welfare and hygiene standards. The idea that we suddenly open our markets to imports of cattle that are pumped full, unnecessarily, of antibiotics, or chicken that is routinely bathed in chlorine to kill off rampant bacteria—. That's not a level playing field for our farmers, and, I have to say, it's not the standard our consumers want of animal welfare and food hygiene. So, I ask for consideration of those three debates and statements.

Thank you very much for asking for those three statements, or debates. I know that you have a meeting planned with the Minister for housing and regeneration in order to discuss the particular concerns about waste, and I know that she's aware of the research to which you referred. The Welsh Government has itself commissioned a study into carrier bag usage in Wales, and that research has gathered data on both single-use and reusable carrier bags, and it's also examined people's attitudes and behaviours in relation to those carrier bag charges that were introduced. The outcome of that work is due to be published this month and will be used then to help us to consider the future action that might be needed in this regard. And I know that the Minister's keen to explore that with you.

On the issue of CCTV in slaughterhouses, our larger slaughterhouses, which process the vast majority of animals here in Wales, already have CCTV, and official veterinarians are able to access that footage for all of those useful reasons that Huw Irranca-Davies has described. The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs has committed to working with slaughterhouse operators in a supportive relationship to ensure CCTV is in place in all Welsh slaughterhouses, and, in order to facilitate that, the food business investment scheme for small to medium-sized slaughterhouses does include funding for investments to safeguard animal welfare, and that would include, of course, the installation, upgrade or improvement of CCTV. The introduction of legislation to make it mandatory hasn't been ruled out by any means, and any decision to do so won't be made until after the application window for that scheme has closed in January, and then the type and the scale of investments undertaken by those slaughterhouses will be able to be reviewed.

And on the last issue, after the general election, if it is the situation where we have a Government that wants to open up negotiations with the US as a priority, then certainly we will schedule an opportunity for the Assembly to consider what could be very significant negative impacts for Wales, because, of course, the EU and the US are two of the toughest and most experienced trade negotiators in the world and there are fundamental differences in terms of the approach between those two countries in areas such as food safety and access to public services, and I know that this is something that the Minister with responsibility for international relations and who has trade within her portfolio is keen to explore with Assembly Members. 

14:35

Minister, may I ask for two statements from the Minister for Education on attendance at secondary schools in Blaenau Gwent. According to a recent report, over the last three years, attendance at secondary schools in the borough has failed to improve. Blaenau Gwent ranks lower than all the other local authorities in south-east Wales and well below the Welsh average of 93.8 per cent. Please could we have a statement from the Minister on what action she intends to take to address this serious situation—[Interruption.]—which has seen Blaenau Gwent ranked—this is my region—twentieth of 21 Welsh local authorities for secondary school attendance for the last three years? 

And the second one is, Minister, on this PISA result, word by word they are saying on the well-being of Welsh pupils: 

'They were more likely to feel miserable and worried...and less likely to feel joyful, cheerful and proud.' 

That is the PISA result for our Welsh students. So, how can we improve our children's morale standard and our teaching system in our schools to make sure that they not only learn, but also that they enjoy in Welsh schools? Thank you.  

So, on the first issue, which is the attendance at secondary schools in Blaenau Gwent, I'd invite you to write to the Minister for Education outlining your views and concerns there. 

And, of course, the next item of business this afternoon is the statement by the education Minister on the PISA results, and I know that she's keen to discuss all of these issues with Members this afternoon. 

Minister, as I'm sure you're aware, this Saturday coming is Welsh Small Business Saturday. A great opportunity for all of us, as Assembly Members, to support local homegrown businesses, both in the high street and elsewhere. Last week in this Chamber, the First Minister made the important point that the high street of the past cannot simply be resurrected, no matter how much we sometimes might like that, but the future will lie in a combination, a fusion, of the physical high street and online sales. 

When I was Chair of the Enterprise and Business Committee, back in 2014 I think it was, we reported about how the high street could be improved and we suggested this approach. So, five years, six years have gone under the bridge since then, and I wonder if we could have an update from the Welsh Government on how we might achieve that more modern, more sustainable high street with a rebalancing of business rates so that businesses, whether online or in the physical high street, can better compete and survive. 

Secondly, could we have an update from the Welsh Government on proposals for a national forest? I know that this is something that is in the pipeline and there have been different ideas about how it might be achieved. It's very much in vogue at the moment, with many parties in the UK general election looking at ways that we can plant more trees. I think all of us would agree that that is a good way to go, but the issue is how you do that, how quickly you do it and where those trees are planted, whether it's done on a local authority basis, which I think is the Welsh Government's plan, rather than having it in one place. So, I wonder if we could have an update on the Welsh Government's strategy for making sure that we make Wales greener in the future and we make a lead across the UK to show that we can be the most sustainable and environmentally friendly part of the UK in the future. 

14:40

I'm certainly looking forward to celebrating Small Business Saturday, as I'm sure many other colleagues are as well in the run-up to Christmas, and obviously I'm sure that we'll take every opportunity we can to support and promote those independent traders that we have within each of our constituencies across Wales, and the vibrancy that they bring to our high streets. The Minister with responsibility for regeneration is here, and she will have heard your request in terms of an update as to how Welsh Government is supporting high streets, especially in terms of addressing the need to create the high street of the future, which, as the First Minister said, will look very different to that of the past.FootnoteLink Welsh Government has been doing some really interesting work with the Carnegie Trust, which has been looking at what the future of Welsh high streets might look like, and I'd be happy to share a link to that work with colleagues because I'm sure it would be of interest to Members across the Chamber.

And in terms of a national forest, I also share the enthusiasm of various parties that are now grappling with and understanding the importance of ensuring that we are planting trees in the right places, and that we put in those plans for the maintenance of our woodlands and our forests as well. I will speak to the Minister with responsibility for this to explore what opportunities there might be in due course to update the Assembly on our plans in that area. 

Organiser, can I seek three statements, please? As we come closer to the recess dates now, we all know that the Christmas period puts huge pressure on our medical services, in particular A&E, and I pay tribute to each and every one who works in those services right the way through the Christmas period to keep us safe and put us back on the road to recovery if we do need those services. But very often, sadly, there are negative stories around that time of year about pressures within the departments. Could we have a statement from the Minister for health on how health boards are gearing up for this particularly busy time of year, where staffing rosters come under pressure in particular, and obviously the festive celebrations that many people enjoy at the time of year put some unique pressures on the service? As a Member, I know I'd be greatly enhanced if I could address some of my constituents' concerns if I was presented with that information at the start of the season, rather than maybe when we all come back and seek statements after the recess. Hopefully, we'll be seeking statements to celebrate the success of those departments and the way they've dealt with it, rather than some of the pressures that apply during that time.

Secondly, I've had a letter from various student groups at Cardiff University, but in particular the Cardiff Conservative university group, who have highlighted, obviously, the pressure that the strike action is putting on study time. I appreciate that universities are independent institutions and this isn't a direct role for Government, but Government obviously does put money into the higher education sector and supports students through their learning environment. I'd be grateful if we could have some sort of statement from the Minister for Education as to what intervention, if any, she has made to speak with vice-chancellors. The request that the Cardiff Conservative university students seem to make seems pretty reasonable to me: that where learning time has been lost, there is some form of reimbursement; secondly, where timelines have been challenging because, obviously, the strike action has put pressure on deadlines, those deadlines are extended.

And importantly, thirdly, as I understand it, if there isn't a resolution—. Sadly, I can see the Minister shaking her head not to give the statement, which is regrettable, but students are obviously upset by this. But thirdly, if we could see some sort of light in January at the end of this tunnel, because, as I understand it, the action is to be replicated in January if there's no resolution to the dispute, which obviously will put considerable pressure on exams in particular—.

And so, with those three requests, I'd very much hope that we can get a response from the Government, accepting that universities are independent institutions and that this is a matter for them to negotiate directly, but the Government does have a big stake in the money it puts on the table to support both the institutions and the students, and I'd be grateful for a response on that. Thank you.    

So, just for the benefit of the record, Llywydd, the Minister for Education wasn't suggesting that she shouldn't or the Welsh Government shouldn't be making a statement on this issue; she was making the point, really, that neither Welsh Ministers nor the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales can play any kind of formal role in what are UK-wide negotiations. Of course, higher education institutions are autonomous bodies responsible for employment matters, including pensions, and those responsibilities lie with those institutions themselves. That said, officials are continuing to monitor the situation and any future negotiations that may occur, and officials are also working with HEFCW and Universities Wales to monitor the impact on both staff and students. I think the greatest concern, really, is the impact on students, and we would certainly encourage all parties in their efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement.

On the issue of winter resilience, our focus really has been unrelenting in supporting improvement and planning for the winter period, and we haven't stopped the process of reviewing the previous winter nor planning for the forthcoming period. Health board-level plans for winter have now been received and targeted feedback has been provided to those organisations and they've been asked to provide refined plans alongside a plan on a page outlining actions in extremis and an assessment of bed capacity for the winter period to be returned to Welsh Government this week

Regional partnership boards' plans have also been received and feedback has been provided to them. And on 1 October, the Minister announced a package of £30 million to support the delivery of health and social care services over the remainder of 2019-20, with £17 million allocated to regional partnership boards, £10 million to local health boards and the remaining £3 million retained for nationally agreed priorities over the winter period. And, of course, again, we have got the Choose Well campaign, which we'll be delivering at key times during those winter months, to remind the public that it's even more important than ever to use our health service responsibly, and that campaign will help to signpost people to the correct service for their needs, and, again, this is something that I'm sure that Assembly Members will want to promote locally to their constituents.

14:45

I would like to raise a concern that emerged yesterday evening, if you were watching Newyddion 9 that ethnic minorities in Wales are being forgotten as the 2021 census is held. The particular concern is that there will be no option to state that you are Welsh unless you are white. Now, this is entirely irresponsible. May I thank the singer, Kizzy Crawford, for discussing this live and for discussing how that is going to impact on her identity and how she defines herself? The situation is different in Scotland, as I understand it, but the Office for National Statistics is responsible for administering the census in Wales, on an England-and-Wales basis.

Now, Nia Jeffreys, who is a Plaid Cymru cabinet member for corporate support on Gwynedd Council, has already corresponded with the ONS, but I would like to ask you, as the Welsh Government, what steps you are taking to communicate this concern to the census and what efforts are you making in order to enable people to officially note what their identity is. If this happens with the census, then we must ensure that it doesn't happen in other official capacities. At the end of the day, we are not going to have a clear picture of the people living and working here in Wales unless they can define themselves as they would choose and as should be a right for them, too.

Welsh Government agrees completely that the ethnicity question at present isn't inclusive of all of those members of society who consider themselves to be Welsh but aren't white. I can confirm that Welsh Government officials have been raising this directly with the ONS for quite some time, and I have written recently to the Minister for the Constitution on this matter to more formally raise Welsh Government's concerns. We haven't yet had a response to that letter for probably obvious reasons with the general election ongoing.

I think it is important to recognise that, within the census, there is a separate question on national identity. So, anybody can identify as Welsh, English, British or any combination of that, but we do agree that the ethnicity question isn't so inclusive in its current wording. We do want the ONS to consider this issue carefully. I think this is an opportunity as well to emphasise that the census in 2021—it's so important that it is a successful census, because it's critical to our understanding of all of those population groups to ensure that they are included in the data that helps inform decisions that Government takes. Therefore, we would encourage as many people as possible to respond to that census when it does come around. But, Llywydd, I'd be very happy to share the response to the letter I sent to the Minister for the Constitution and a copy of the letter that I sent with colleagues.FootnoteLink FootnoteLink

Business manager, the First Minister referred to the new hospital being built, the Grange University Hospital, being built in Llanfrechfa, during FMQs. This has been welcomed by people I represent in Blaenau Gwent, who are looking forward to the hospital and the facilities, and the extension and improvement in healthcare that this offers. But to maximise the potential of the hospital in delivering healthcare for people across the Aneurin Bevan area, of course, we do need the transport networks that will enable people to use the facilities there and to visit those who are in-patients in the new hospital.

I have spoken to both the health Minister and the transport Minister on this matter, and I think it's important that we do have a statement from at least one of them to ensure that we have in place all the public transport networks, the funding and the provision of particularly bus services to enable people to reach that hospital. So, I'd be grateful to have a statement on that early in the new year to ensure that all of these transport systems are in place when the new hospital is commissioned.

14:50

Thank you very much to Alun Davies. Of course, he's right to say that public access to the new Grange hospital will be absolutely critical in terms of ensuring that that hospital is able to best meet the needs of the people of the area and to offer opportunities for their families to visit and support them, and so on.

I'm pleased that he's had the opportunity to discuss it with the Minister for transport and the Minister for health, but the health Minister has just indicated that he'd be very happy to have a further meeting to discuss the issue in perhaps some more detail at an early opportunity.

3. Statement by the Minister for Education: PISA results 2018

The next statement will be the statement from the education Minister on the PISA results, and I call on Kirsty Williams to make the statement.

Llywydd, today sees the publication of the 2018 PISA results, and for the first time ever, Wales is in the international mainstream, and that is thanks to the efforts of our teachers and our students. I want to let every teacher, every student, every parent, and every employer know that we have caught up. We have improved in all areas and we've got more top performers than ever before. Today's news is positive for all of those invested in the success of our young people and our education system. Positive, yes, but it's not perfect.

Three years ago, I made it very clear that we were not where we wanted to be and that PISA is an important signal to employers, investors and parents. I took the advice of the OECD on our reforms. They told us to stay the course, to be brave, and that what we were doing were the right things. I listened to that advice. Subsequently, we went on to deliver the biggest ever investment in our teachers, the biggest ever professional learning programme, and we have continued with reforming our curriculum. 

Now, for the first time ever, we are performing at the OECD average in all three domains: in reading, in science, and in mathematics. For the first time ever, our scores are up in all areas tested and among a very small set of countries across the world that have done this in the 2018 results. We've also reached our best ever raw score for reading and for maths. So, yes, we have caught up with the pack. We've spent far too long lagging behind countries such as the Netherlands or Switzerland, or Scotland and Northern Ireland for that matter, and we've now joined them in that OECD mainstream. And, crucially for me, we've done it at the same time as closing the attainment gap. But let me be absolutely clear: this is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator. At a very bare minimum, we need to keep pace. I want to see us keep up this momentum and keep moving forward. 

So, let me now turn to particular issues and developments. The PISA sample in each country reflects each national system. So, of course, for us, that is a mix of Welsh-medium, English-medium and bilingual schools within a non-selective public service education. The sample in other systems is very different, reflecting selective and non-state schools, such as across the border. But that's not the Welsh way. We—I—will continue to back our system, setting high expectations for all, no matter what your background is; working together to raise standards for all and ensuring that we partner equity with excellence. Therefore, we will continue to work with the OECD and systems beyond Wales and beyond the United Kingdom. After all, 79 countries participated in PISA, and we are benchmarking ourselves against all of them.

The OECD findings provide us with a rich set of information and some very interesting narratives. A common concern across all participating countries is the gap in performance for reading between boys and girls. Girls outperform boys in every single country, and in Wales, that is the same story. 

Funding for education matters, but the OECD says it's more about how you spend it. Estonia spends 30 per cent lower than the average, but the OECD pinpoint them as a top-performing country. And they can show what a small, smart nation can achieve, so let’s not put any limits on our ambitions for Wales. I know that teachers across Wales share those ambitions. I want today’s results to give each and every teacher a spring in their step. Improvement, we have shown, is possible. We are heading in the right direction, but, again, let me be clear: there is much more that needs to be done.

Our national mission has charted the right course and we can, and must, keep on improving. For example, Presiding Officer, take my challenge from three years ago to improve our proportion of top-performing learners in PISA from the woefully low levels that we saw in 2015. In reading, we now have 7 per cent of high performers, as opposed to 3 per cent in the last round, and we have increased the proportion in the other two domains. A similar gain for maths, and a bit less for science.

It is a significant step forward, but we have to do more. Unlike the overall scores, we have not yet reached the OECD average for these groups of learners. But, I believe that our first proper action plan for more able and talented pupils, expanding our Seren programme to pupils from year 8 upwards and setting high expectations for all are making a difference and will continue to make a difference. 

Working with leading businesses in Wales, as well as our colleges and universities, we are setting a high bar. And it means that our students are making a huge impression when they spend time at universities such as Oxbridge, Yale, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now, one of my priorities as Minister has always been to view our reforms through that international lens. And, as I said, that’s why we will keep working with the OECD as we push forward with our reform programme. Last time, their key messages to me were that we should

'continue efforts to reform the curriculum and raise the standards of teaching'.

Well, the revised curriculum framework will be published in January. It will be backed with direct support, resources and advice for schools and teachers. We will continue to invest in the pupil development grant and additional learning needs reform, giving those learners the extra backing that they need to succeed in our system. And we will continue to reverse the years of neglected leadership as a prime driver of our reform programme, and we will continue to prioritise giving teachers the tools that they need to be the best they can be.

In conclusion, Llywydd, in our national mission action plan, I set out three objectives: to raise standards; to tackle the attainment gap; and ensure a system that is a source of national pride and enjoys public confidence. Today’s results show success against each of those objectives. Scores up in every domain; a reduction in the gap between our most disadvantaged learners and their peers; Wales in the international mainstream for the first time during the PISA era; record scores in maths and reading; and the only UK nation to improve in each domain.

Once again, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our teachers and students. These results are a testament to their hard work and their commitment, and they are just beginning to show what Wales is capable of. 

14:55

Can I thank the Minister for her statement, particularly the last bit, when we were talking about what you are planning to do next, which I'm sure will be a subject for debate in time to come? This time three years ago, Minister, you said to my predecessor that 

'nothing that you say here in this Chamber today can make me feel personally any worse about these results.'

So, I'm assuming that you're allowing yourself a small sigh of relief today, but are still very, very conscious of the fact that this is no reprieve. I recognise, as do your officials, that there has been an improvement, and I also want to thank the teachers and students for their efforts in doing that. But do your officials recognise also that these have not been significant improvements?

My contest is not with the teachers and the young people who have taken part in these tests. It's with you as a Government and the hopes that you've raised, based on the last three years of reform, that continue to be dashed. So, yes, while we acknowledge the modest but not significant improvements, they still leave Wales the poorest performing nation in the UK. Our results, in effect, are slightly less bad than they were. It reinforces quite how high the mountain is that we have to climb to reach our UK fellows, let alone some of those in other countries.

We are still missing that target of 500, confirmed just a fortnight ago by the First Minister. We are still below the average in some of the areas that are being examined, although, as we know, the OECD average itself has fallen, and being average is not what we should be achieving anyway. Catching up with the pack, which is going backwards, is not really winning the race. We need to be doing more than keeping pace. We need to be stepping it up.

So, my first question on the statement, and I'm sure that there will be loads, is: you said three years ago that you would look at other countries to see what they do well and to get their good ideas. Even at that point, we were a little bit worried about Scotland because of its obvious influence on the reforms that you were bringing in. Obviously, they've had a good result on reading this time around. Despite that, their scores have remained depressed since the Donaldson era, and even the reading score today doesn't take them back to before that. So, can you tell us what it is that you are still learning from the Scottish experience and their woes, and what you will also be learning from the English experience? Obviously, their scores, as we heard from Mark Reckless earlier, are considerably better and are improving.

Can you just give us a little bit of information about where you think the improvements have actually come from? In 2016 you quite rightly acknowledged—and you've mentioned it today—that our more able and talented children were underperforming. I think that all of us would be uncomfortable if that played any part at all in the position we had in the attainment gap. Specifically, have the changes affected the top half—the seventy-fifth percentile, if I can call it that—as compared to the ninetieth percentile?

You mentioned the Seren programme, and I'd like to hear a little bit more about that. But the reason I'm asking this question is this: while our A* GCSE standards this year were very high—and the First Minister mentioned that earlier—our A* to C grades are down this year across these subjects. This is the same cohort of young people who sat the PISA tests the year before they sat these GCSEs. As you acknowledged, these GCSEs are now more aligned with the skills that PISA is designed to tease out, and your reforms have been in place in informing those exams for some time now. So, why are marginally better PISA results reflected in a drop in A* to C GCSE attainment?

We spoke in this Chamber some weeks ago now about the drop in achievement at the moment across years 7 to 9. It was in the context, if you remember, of the removal of the requirement of school governors to set targets for the purpose of pupil improvement on school leaders in English or Welsh and maths and science. This year's year 7s will be the next cohort of PISA test children. So, do you now worry that the current trajectory for those year 7 to 9s means that adults and children involved in that current education system haven't really grasped the delivery of these reforms? And do you regret now that the removal of these targets for overall pupil achievement in those key subjects may indeed present us with a picture in a few years' time that we'll all be pretty unhappy with?

Earlier, listening to your response to Mark Reckless on the issue of schools not having enough resources, I noticed you were nodding vigorously when he was talking to you, and, obviously, you've mentioned Estonia here today. Whatever you can say to us about the education system and the spending that goes into it, it still remains the case that schools—specifically schools—are not getting enough money, and I'm wondering if you're able to give us some comfort on that today.

I wonder what your observations are that, while reading scores have improved, there is still the serious OECD concern over understanding. So, even though the love of reading is still a bit of a challenge in and of itself, this issue of understanding—'comprehension', as we used to call it in the olden days—is still of considerable concern, I would say, because if you can't understand what you're reading, the ability to actually move into the area of critical thinking is seriously compromised, and of course this is the whole purpose behind what PISA is testing and what our own exams are working towards. That's the direction we're going in, and if there's an issue over comprehension, then we're obviously going to fail.

Then, finally—because I appreciate, obviously, that there will be questions coming from others—it's basically this: how can it be that our scores in these areas are still lower than they were in 2006, when Wales decided to participate? Yours aren't the first reforms, Minister, and even with them, we are still further back than when we started: bottom of the UK, targets being missed, thousands of children still behind their cousins across the world when they don't need to be. So, my final question is this: what guarantee will you give us that in 2021 we will be above this average, that we will hit your target of 500—effectively, when will we be where you want us to be? Thank you.

15:05

Presiding Officer, can I thank the Member for that series of questions? I will do my best to make sure that I've logged them all and answered them all.

There is no sigh of relief from me today, Presiding Officer—just a determination to carry on with the reform programme and to do even better. The Member says that we have dropped the target of 500 and then she just says at the end of her statement—am I going to meet the target of 500? The target of 500 is clearly outlined in our national mission action plan for the next set of PISA results. I set a target for this set of PISA results, which was to demonstrate improvement across three areas, which we have done today, and to see an increase in the top performers in our PISA tests, which we have done today. Rather than a missed target, that is a target delivered.

Can I say, Presiding Officer, it is simply not true to say that we are at the bottom of the pile in the United Kingdom? Those that administer the PISA tests, the National Foundation for Educational Research, are quite clear that, statistically, our performance with maths and science is on a par with Northern Ireland and Scotland. Now, I appreciate the Tories have a reckless disregard for the future of the union, but the last time I looked, they were still in the United Kingdom. I will be the first person to acknowledge that we have more to do to improve our reading scores. They were also the words of the NFER to say that we have reached, and are statistically similar to the OECD average across all three domains, whereas last time round we were significantly below the OECD target.

Now, with regard to the curriculum, the Member asks us about the Scottish curriculum. What's important to remember is that we are developing our own curriculum in Wales. It's not the Scottish curriculum that we are replicating in Wales—we are designing our own. For the first time ever, we will have a curriculum designed by the people of Wales for the children of Wales, and we continue to learn lessons from across the globe as to what represents good practice and what we need to avoid. That includes learning the lessons of successful curriculum implementation from around the globe, including Scotland. For instance, one very clear example of what we've learned is not to rush the process, which is why I made the difficult decision to delay the implementation of the curriculum, making sure that we got our profession ready.

With regard to the other lessons that can be learned, the Member will see that there's been great focus in the British media today—and I made mention of it—on the system in Estonia. The system in Estonia focuses very, very heavily on early years care and education, ensuring that all children, when they go into formal education, have the maturity and the sense of well-being and confidence to make the most of their learning. That's why in this Government we continue to prioritise Flying Start, we're making more high-quality childcare available to families, and why I will always, when resources allow, front-load investment into education for those early years, because that's where we know that we can ensure that our children will develop those early skills—the oracy that is so important to developing good reading and understanding later in life—and it's by investing in early years we will see a return on that investment.

The Member asked about Seren fach. Well, I've been very fortunate to come this morning from the Seren conference in Newtown, where universities in Wales, in the UK and from America were represented. And it so positive to hear people from Oxbridge talk about the high numbers this year of interviews that they have offered to Welsh students, far outstripping the national picture. They know the quality of a Welsh A-level Seren student and they want that quality in their institutions. But we've also listened to parents and teachers about how we can bring the benefits of Seren sooner into a child's education career, and I'm very pleased to say we have Seren fach pilots in every single Seren hub running this year. And, again, I'd like to thank the hub co-ordinators and the participating schools that have worked really hard to begin to pilot that approach for younger students.

With regard to the issue of what has made the difference, it's impossible to point to one single factor, but I do believe that the significant improvement in top performers has had an effect. And when I say 'significant improvement', those are not my words, those are the words of the OECD that have characterised what we've done in top performers in that way. But let me be absolutely clear, as I said in my statement, even though we have seen that significant improvement, we are not at the OECD average yet for the percentage of students performing at that level, and that's why we must persist with our support for the more able and talented, because that is one of the ways in which we will hit the target of 500 in the next round.

Issues around resources—I was nodding to Mark Reckless, because he is perfectly correct in what he was saying: teachers in Wales did report a higher proportion of feeling that they did not have the resources—in this case textbooks and ICT—that they required. What's interesting is that teachers in Welsh schools did not report not having the right amounts of staff. Actually, that was at the OECD average. So, Welsh teachers did not feel that they didn't have the teaching personnel that they needed. And I'm nodding because we've recognised that issue within Welsh Government. So, this year, for instance, we have supplied, on a national basis to every single school in Wales, Microsoft Office, so that schools don't have to buy that. It's universal, everybody's on the same playing field, and we've been able to do it at a cost saving, actually, to overall spend. And this year alone, we will invest £50 million in educational technology. I'm pleased to say we're doing that in partnership with each of the 22 local authorities. Each local authority will have a share of that investment, and each local authority has been asked to send in an assessment of where their schools are at the moment. All those assessments have now been received by Welsh Government, and we are now in the process of ensuring that that £50 million is spent by the end of the financial year. And that will, I believe, go some way to addressing some of the concerns that teachers have raised. That's a practical response, even before we had this report.

Can I say, with regard to targets missed, the Member only needs to refer to the national mission document where we said the target for this time was to see an increase in the performance of top performers? We have delivered that. The national mission also states quite clearly that we want to reach that 500 target by the next set of PISA results. Interestingly, if you look at girls' reading, actually, that score is not that far away. But, clearly, there is more work to be done to reach that target, and I, and, more importantly than me, everybody involved in the education system, is determined to push on to make sure that that happens.

15:10

I would like to pay tribute to Welsh pupils for all of their hard work, as well as to thank all the staff and teachers for their unstinting efforts in ensuring that our young people do achieve. The PISA international tests are one way of measuring progress, but we must use the data wisely, and I look forward to having an opportunity to analyse the content carefully over the next few days and weeks, and will also seek the views of educational experts on these latest results.

There has been a small increase across the three domains—maths, reading and science—since 2015, which is encouraging. In comparison with 2006, there has been a small increase in maths and reading, but a reduction in science. Now, we must bear in mind that there had been a decline in the three areas in 2009 and 2012, and we are only now getting back to the position of 2006. It is good to see some signs that these results could be back on the right track after a long period of decline, but it is early days and the challenge is a great one.

My first question, therefore, is: how confident are you that we will reach the 500 point mark by 2021? I'm pleased, having heard you say it today, that that target remains, but how confident are you that we will reach that target and what are your priorities in terms of the work that needs to be in order to be in that situation in 2021? Because it is clear that we need to continue with the slight progress that we have seen since 2015, but it is a period of huge change in our education system, and the new curriculum needs time to bed in, and we need to provide resources and sufficient opportunities for professional development for our staff.

It does concern me that it appears that there is some inconsistency across Wales in terms of how teachers are facing the challenge of the new curriculum. I'm talking here about a study carried out by Cardiff University, which shows that almost 40 per cent of teachers in the pioneer schools don't feel that they are part of the development of the curriculum. Now, I'm talking about 40 per cent in the pioneer schools; it appears that the figure would be quite a bit lower in the schools that aren't part of the introduction of the new curriculum. And I'm sure that you would agree with me that such inconsistencies need to be addressed. So, my second question is: what plans do you have in place to ensure that teachers in all schools are part of the process of introducing the new curriculum?

Now, in addition to the work on the curriculum, new assessment arrangements and accountability systems are changing. As a background to all of this, there are teacher recruitment problems, and one in three new teachers leaves the classroom within five years. And, as well as the ambition of reaching that 500 point mark, then it's clear, too—. I do share that ambition, by the way, and am confident that we need to have that ambition in place, but surely we need an injection of consistent funding for schools now and we need to improve teachers’ working conditions. Teachers need to be able to allocate their time to teach and inspire our pupils, and we need to make the profession one that is attractive to prospective teachers, leading to the recruitment of more teachers into our schools.

We, as a party, have pledged to provide £300 million in addition per annum to school funding, in light of the reduction of 8 per cent in real terms in the funding that has actually happened, and, although one is aware of countries such as Estonia, the teachers do tell us that the financial pressures that they face are hindering their work. We know that far too many of our most experienced teachers have to be made redundant as schools have to operate on smaller and smaller budgets as a result of cuts, and that in turn leads to a large number of children in classes, fewer opportunities to provide attention to individuals’ needs, and pastoral work being cut and neglected.

And I turn to that final point in conclusion. The report does highlight concerns about the well-being of pupils. This is worrying. They report levels of anxiety and concern that are higher than the international average. So, I would like your response to that, and what you're going to do about it. The children's commissioner, and the children and young people committee, have been drawing attention to the welfare issue for some time now, but it appears that progress is slow, and I would like to know whether you have specific plans in place to tackle this increasing problem in terms of pupil well-being. Thank you.

15:20

Diolch yn fawr, Siân. And can I say thank you for recognising the efforts of teachers in achieving these results today? As you went on to say, we are in the midst of the largest reform of education anywhere in the United Kingdom, so we're already asking an awful lot of the profession to engage in those reforms, especially in the curriculum, and therefore to be able to achieve these results is a real testament to their ability not only to engage in those reforms, but to carry on with the day-to-day job of teaching our children. And we are asking a lot of them. 

Can I also agree with you that we need to use the data wisely? Sometimes, it feels that, having participated in the PISA tests, we just wait for today, we see the raw scores, and that's the end of that. Actually, there is a wealth of information here that we need to analyse carefully, not just in relation to our own schools, but to look at international trends and to really engage in that narrative, so that we can get the full meaning out of participating in the PISA tests.

You're absolutely right: today, we have seen the best ever scores for maths and for reading since we participated in 2006. Our science scores haven't got back there yet, and I was very clear outside of Government, as I was clear last time, when we had the results for 2015, that nobody could describe those intervening years as good years and scores that any of us wanted to see. And that's why we've engaged in this process of education reform. But what these results demonstrate is that decline is not inevitable—we can do better, and we must do better. 

How will we achieve that? Well, we will achieve it by focusing on the four core enabling objectives within our national mission. And we're focusing on those not because we need to hit a PISA target of 500, but because we know that, by focusing on those objectives, we will develop and deliver raised standards, we'll close the attainment gap, and we will deliver that education system that is a source of national pride. So, what will we do? We will continue to invest in our teaching profession, by ensuring that we will give them the resources necessary to engage in professional learning. We will focus on the well-being of our children. We know that children with higher levels of well-being, on average, do better academically. So, we will need to continue our focus on ensuring that our children can make the most of their opportunities in school by addressing issues of well-being. 

We do need an accountability and assessment regime that drives the right sort of behaviours in our schools. When we look at an accountability regime that gave equal weighting to certain science qualifications, as opposed to GCSE science qualifications, understandably—quite understandably—we saw a huge drive towards those particular types of qualifications. And then we look at our decline in science scores and we wonder what happened. We've changed that accountability marker, and what we have seen is a significant, over 50 per cent, increase in the number of students studying triple science GCSEs, and those students doing well in them. So, getting the accountability regime that drives the right sort of behaviours in schools, not just academically, but also measuring well-being and how schools are addressing well-being, is absolutely clear. 

And what we've also been very clear about is that we have neglected the important point of leadership within the education system, and, too often, we have not been there to stand alongside our school leaders to provide them with the professional opportunity and the support that they need to be the best they can be. So, a focus—professional learning, well-being, accountability and assessment and leadership is where we need to focus, which is what will drive our education journey onwards. 

Properly resourced schools are important. The OECD says that, but it also goes on to say that simply spending more and more and more money is not necessarily directly linked to better and better results. It's how you spend the resources available that does make a difference. And that is, of course, why we have engaged Luke Sibieta to carry out our independent evaluation of education spend in Wales—yes, to look at the global sum that we as a Welsh Government make available to education, but also to really interrogate how that money is then used within our system, and is it being used to best effect. So, I'm not running away from the situation that are we absolutely confident that every single penny is being used to the best it can be, and that's why we have somebody outside of Government that is looking at that issue.

Well-being: the results of the well-being section of PISA I'm sure are of concern to all of us. Any of us who have our own children, or grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or just have a general interest in the well-being of the children of our nation, will want to understand what lies behind some of that question. Notwithstanding what the First Minister said in answers in FMQs, we do need to have a look at those results, and we need to see what more we can do. Of course, we are already beginning to address this, I believe, in the work of our whole-school approach, which we have begun since the publication of the Children, Young People and Education Committee's report, and that work is progressing really well. My feet, and those of Vaughan Gething, are held to the fire at every meeting by Lynne Neagle—and, believe me, she doesn't wait for meetings to happen either to hold my feet to the fire on those issues. So, we are continuing to see the whole-school approach work that the Government is undertaking to address that.

Of course, health and well-being will be one of the six areas of learning and experience within our new curriculum. But we also, Siân—and I hope you would agree with me—need to look outside our education system at what might be some of the factors that are driving that—so how can we work with our youth service, especially at these critical adolescent teenage years, how can we make sure our youth service—. We have seen a significant increase in investment this financial year in our youth services; I have had significant and long discussions with the finance Minister about our ability to keep that investment in youth services going. But we also have to look at issues, which were raised, again, in First Minister's questions, around poverty. If you're a child who is living in poverty, I daresay that you'll answer those surveys by saying that you feel miserable. If you're watching your mum and dad struggle, if you don't know whether there will be heating when you get home, if you are going with your parent down to the food bank, because that's the only way that you know your family will be fed this week, I daresay that affects your well-being. And, therefore, there is a responsibility across Welsh Government to take action to address these issues. So, yes, schools have a role to play—of course they do. But wider Government, and, indeed, wider society, has a role to play as well to ensure that our children have a better sense of well-being; it cannot be just the job of schools alone.

15:25

I congratulated you, education Minister, earlier in remarks, along with everyone involved, on the improvements that we have seen in the PISA results on this cycle. Reading your statement earlier, I was just a little concerned that you might be becoming a bit too self-congratulatory on these ones. The remarks that are positive, yes, but not perfect, for instance, I thought was a bit too much, and it's not as good as the rest of the UK. But I think in what you said now in the answers to both the spokesmen before—. And you also you added at the end of your statement—the verbal version—that this must just be the beginning, and I do recognise that. However, when you say that we spent far too long lagging behind other countries—you said Netherlands and Switzerland, and then you said, 'Well, Scotland and Northern Ireland, for that matter, we now join them in the OECD mainstream.' Do you recognise that Scotland and Northern Ireland are significantly above that mainstream for reading, and we're not quite there yet in the overall comparison?

Could I refer to the—? We had some slides circulated earlier that were jointly badged Welsh Government and Education Wales. And one of those was on high performers. You also mentioned just now the improvement at level 5 or above in reading from 3 per cent to 7 per cent—a significant improvement, and behind but beginning to approach the OECD average of 9 per cent. On the maths, not quite as good—we've gone up from 4 per cent to 7 per cent, and that compares to the 11 per cent average. You said in your statement just now—an increased proportion of top performers in the other two domains, referring to maths and science. And we also see this in the slide that was shared earlier. In science, it says it went up from 4 per cent in 2015 to 5 per cent in 2018 at level 5 and above. However, in the results report that was also circulated to us earlier, I note at page 194, it says that for science, only 4 per cent got level 5 or above for Wales in 2018. So, I just wonder if we could check that, and if we haven't seen the improvement compared to the 4 per cent in 2015, if we could, at least, correct that while recognising the improvements in the other areas at this level, which matches the emphasis you put earlier on the A* proportion at A-level. 

Since you came into the role, I've questioned you quite a lot about the Seren project, and it has struck me that it has been something you've been pushing personally and persuading colleagues to get behind as well. Perhaps we do see some of those outcomes coming through. Again, though, while I'd say there have been improvements and I am prepared to welcome those, I just caution against getting too far ahead of ourselves in comparisons to the rest of the UK about where we now are with Oxbridge or the Russell Group. Yes, there have been improvements, and I'm really pleased that admission staff are recognising that. But do you agree that there's still a long way to go, and keeping that trajectory going is really important if we're going to be saying that we're better than other parts of the UK? I would caution against suggesting we're there yet. 

One area I would like to ask about is, you have the ambition to close the attainment gap in terms of the socioeconomic basis and also to raise standards, and I just wonder if, as we push towards that, whether a tension may emerge between those two aims. The attainment gap is relatively flat for Wales when you compare with the rest of the UK, but particularly with the OECD average, where there's a very steep upward trajectory across the socioeconomic groups. And internationally, quite a lot of countries will actually see more spending for kids of well-off parents than poorer ones, and perhaps may correct for that, to a degree. But we're very unusual in going far beyond that and having substantially higher spending for the children of less well-off parents than for the better-off parents.

And I just note, when you compare with England in reading, most of the difference with England is in the top half of the socioeconomic distribution, and there, we're averaging 30 to 40 points less on the reading tests than England. I just wonder, if we are to close that gap with England, we may need to see significant improvements at that level of the socioeconomic, as well as the lower level where, if you were to do it all through a closure of the attainment gap, you would be seeing attainment that would be really quite extraordinary at the lower levels, and I welcome your ambition on that. But I just wonder about the funding of some of the schools, which have their socioeconomic intakes in the upper half, and I've been struck at the primary level by barely £3,000, a bit more sometimes, per year, per child, and to some extent, at secondary. And in England, what we're seeing is a levelling up of those lower spending schools, and I worry that, if we don't also see that in Wales it will be very hard to get up to that 500 level, and particularly to get our levels close to England on the reading side in particular. 

Finally, you refer to advice from the OECD, and after the poor results last time, you emphasise these results and this advice and engaging with them, and I just wonder, can you clarify what that is? We've got this 262-page results report. I don't know when you've received that or whether you've got other material for them that we haven't seen yet. What is it that you do with the OECD in terms of advice? Is that an ongoing relationship? Do schools who participate in PISA have an opportunity to benefit from that as well? And what, so far, do you see as the key bits of advice as to what they're saying to you as to what's required now, having looked at these results and the improvements relative to last time, albeit still lagging behind the rest of the UK on many measures? 

15:30

Can I, Presiding Officer, thank Mark Reckless for his acknowledgement of the efforts of staff and students in achieving these results today? If I could start with that last point first, I don't know which schools did PISA. Some people find that extraordinary, but that actually is part of the rules of engagement. I can't tell you which schools did and which schools didn't do PISA. So, we don't facilitate an ongoing working relationship with individual schools and the OECD. The OECD works at a system-to-system level, and so I have only, in the last couple of days, received the report from the OECD—again, that's part of the rules of engagement.

So, I've had less than—let's see, Thursday, Friday—. Well, Wednesday afternoon, I saw the initial results and then got the report on Thursday, so I've only had a few days myself to acquaint myself with it.

But we have had OECD back in Wales earlier on in the autumn term to, again, give us an independent assessment on where we are with our reform journey, and they are looking to report that sometime in the new year. So, again, we've commissioned them, we've asked them to come in to have a look at what we're doing and scrutinise us as a Government; to go out to schools and speak to headteachers; speak to local education authorities; speak to regional school improvement services to ask them about where they think they are; and to speak to other stakeholders, and we'll have that independent report delivered to us, as I said, in the new year. And that is a genuine attempt to keep the pressure on, to have that outside independence looking at what we're doing so that we don't get carried away, or begin to believe our own spin, but to actually have that outside scrutiny to keep us honest with regard to the delivery of our programmes, and then use that advice to amend or adjust things that are going well, or if things are not going so well, to be able to respond accordingly. So, that will come in the new year.

You talked about the issue of trajectory, and I think trajectory is important. What gives me some satisfaction today is that we have been able to sustain, over two cycles now, that improvement in mathematics, and that's what we need to see happening in the other domains as well. Whilst we have gone up in reading, that's from the low base that we achieved last time, and although we've gone up in science, which is different from the rest of the UK, again, that is from a low base. It's the first time ever, actually, that we've ever been able to improve our science score, but that has to be sustainable. We've seen that now over two cycles for maths, which I think can give us a greater level of confidence, and we will have to see that continued in the other two domains as well. 

With regard to equity and excellence, I think it is important to reflect that, in Wales the disadvantage gap was significantly smaller, and pupils in Wales were relatively more able to overcome the disadvantages of their background than the average of OECD countries. So, we're closing that attainment gap, and we're giving our young people the skills that they need and the tools that they need to overcome disadvantage that they may bring with them within the system. What's also important is that pupils in Wales with an immigrant background were not significantly different from non-immigrant pupils with regards to their reading performance which, again, bucks the OECD average. So, with regard to learners who might have a variety of challenges coming into school, whether that be perhaps not from an English or a Welsh-speaking family, or coming from a socially-disadvantaged family, our system helps those children do well.

But does that mean there's a tension between our support for more able and talented students versus our support for our students from a more socioeconomic deprived background? I don't believe there is a tension there. The Government cannot ignore anybody. The education system has to be a system that works for every single pupil to allow them to reach their full potential, whether they are students with profound additional learning needs, like I met in Trinity Fields School & Resource Centre in Caerphilly yesterday, or whether they're the students I met today who are destined for world-leading universities, we have to create an education system that allows each and every single individual to reach their full potential.

I never will make any apology for the investment in the pupil development grant. Those children we know are less likely to do well, and I don't want to live in a country where the size of your parents' pay cheque or the background that you come from designates you and tells you from the very youngest of ages, 'This is your destiny.' We have to buck that. We have to let the innate abilities of each and every child shine through, regardless of where they come from—regardless of where they come from. And I will never apologise for chasing that dream for those children.

With regard to reading, you are right; we are not where we need to be with our reading scores, and that is particularly true for our boys. We will need to reflect on our performance and understand what more we can do to ensure that we make progress in this regard. Reading for girls, their score is significantly higher, but we do—and I'd be the first to admit—have a challenge here, especially for boys, to drive up that reading level. There's been much reporting on the 44 per cent figure of people not reading books. Now, I don't know whether that's a stable door that has closed, but what I do know, it takes us back to early years, the development of reading habits early in the child's educational career, developing a love of reading, is something that we have to engender from an early age. Suddenly turning around to a 15-year-old—and as a mother of a 15-year-old, I know this—and saying, 'You have to pick up that book and you read it' is not going to get us very far. We have to start that again at our very earliest years and develop that love of reading and that habit of reading. And, of course, there's a huge amount of work to be done, then, by parents. Parents can help us hugely, help schools hugely, by reading with their children at home from the earliest age to get children into that habit of picking up a book and discovering the joy of reading. But we also have to embrace new technology. Maybe young people—we're more likely to get them to engage in the world of words if we find them different alternatives, but we have more work to do in this regard, and I'd be the first person to admit that we are below the UK when it comes to our reading scores.

15:40

Can I join others in congratulating our young people and their staff and their work? I'm sure everybody across this Chamber will actually join in with that congratulations. Minister, you've answered an awful lot of the questions on points that I wanted to raise, because you clearly are passionate about this and you can see that passion coming through. I do agree with you, the early years is key to reading and the joy of reading because I was interested to read—and Siân Gwenllian was quite right—the analysis of the text, not just the headline figures, is important. Ninety-one per cent online chats is where they get a lot of their reading from, and when they say 44 per cent rarely or never read a book, we need to look at how we address that whilst encouraging young people to use technology for their research and their development. I couldn't understand how the understanding element of reading, or comprehension, as Suzy put it, was below the line and yet, our reflection and evaluation was above the line, which is clearly a critical point.

But also, I want to remind ourselves of the positive message here: actually, we've improved nine places in science in the national figures; we've improved eight places in reading; and we've improved seven places in maths. So, actually, against other countries, we have definitely improved ourselves and gone up the line and we should not ignore that point. It's not just about improving those individual figures, we've gone up against other nations as well, and that's critical. I also noticed the attainment gap has decreased as well, though I do recognise the 10 per cent dial and the 90 per cent dial aren't necessarily at the levels we want them to be to be able to have that gap smaller, but giving us better averages, and we need to do something on that.

Can I ask the question of, clearly, how we address this? Some of the things—. I think vocational education is an important aspect when we hit some of these levels, because I think vocational education can also be a need to help some of those pupils understand some of the points we're talking about. It's not just purely the academic agenda, it's the vocational agenda as well, which we can feed together into approval. So, how will you look at how the vocational agenda and the academic agenda in your curriculum will work to ensure that we can improve those levels of both the bottom 10 per cent and the top 10 per cent, which gives us that better figure in that? How do we ensure that we raise the expectation of possibilities? You talked about reaching the potential, but we want to raise the expectation and opportunities and possibilities for those people to reach that potential. So, what are you doing to work towards that so that we're giving them more hope?

Siân Gwenllian talked about teachers. Again, I also raise the question of teachers. How do we encourage more in? But also, we weren't reflected in that about the absent teachers, but we do have a lot of supply teachers coming in. How do we address the supply teacher agenda to ensure that that doesn't impact upon the learning of our young people, so they can still continue the development? There are many schools where supply teachers come and go quite frequently, and that does impact upon them. You've talked about food banks and their well-being, but let's not forget, the well-being affects the learning of children, and that's crucial. We need to address that.

I noticed the OECD reflected Andreas Schleicher and his comment: 'You're on the right path.' That's what he said: 'You're on the right path. Stick to it', but can you convince us that the curriculum changes that you are going to be bringing in next year will actually take us continually on that path, that it's not going to divert us off the path into another route, another direction? Because it is important that we continue the progression we have seen in the last three years. We've all called for this progression. From 2015, I remember it—we all called for this progression. We've got it now, let's celebrate it, but let's also make sure that we continue with it, because that is the aim for our young people, to ensure that they're able to benefit from improving our systems.

15:45

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

I want to thank David for his commendation of our teachers and students and for his question.

The aim of the new curriculum is to be a much broader-based curriculum that will address both the knowledge that our children will need but also to give them the skills and experiences. And that does mean that, potentially, there is more scope within that curriculum for a more vocational focus. But you'll also be aware that Qualifications Wales is carrying out a consultation at the moment with regard to the qualifications, and there is some suggestion of a narrowing down of the literally thousands of qualifications children can do, but that, really, will be the guide as to the qualifications that will be available after the time at school. But this more broad-based curriculum and the ability of teachers to be able to design a curriculum that meets the needs of the children in front of them and the needs of local employers and the local economy—I believe that that greater freedom will be able to address that crucial thing of engagement.

I was at a school recently being interviewed by students, and they asked me to name something that I studied at school that I have never, ever, ever used again in my entire professional career, and I suspect we can all think of those kinds of things. And they gave me a long list of things that they felt that they had learnt in school that they were convinced were ever, ever going to be of use to them. We've got to listen and give the opportunity for our children to be able to have a say in, actually, 'What do I need?', and to give relevance to the learning. So, even if it's something that—. Surds in maths comes up a lot, so even though you might not understand why you're having to learn surds in maths, we give relevance to the learning by saying, 'Okay, maybe you don't like this, but you need to learn this because—', and show them the linkages to their future life skills, to their future careers, and that's how we really engage all of our learners. Raising aspiration is an important part of that and explaining to children that what they see around them isn't necessarily the limit of their ambitions and that they can think beyond that. And our Seren programme is the epitome of raising aspirations of our children to say, 'You are good enough. You can compete with the very best. There is a place for you at these universities, at these high-tariff courses.' That's one of the reasons why we want to bring Seren down the school age to be able to address those issues of aspiration earlier.

Teachers, of course, are crucial. No education system can exceed the quality of the teachers who work with our children day in, day out. That's why we've reformed our initial teacher education programme, that's why we are actively considering moving to a two-year newly qualified teacher phase, so there's greater support and mentoring for those first entering the profession, and that's why we need to look once again at the Master's programme. But not telling teachers in their first year of teaching they've got to do a Master's then, because they've got enough to contend with, but actually creating that gap for teachers to study at a Master's level. But also to continue the initial investment that we have started off in professional learning and ensuring that I can secure those resources so that professional learning can be ongoing.

Now, the head of the education department in the OECD indeed has had an interesting take on the Welsh education journey. He does believe that the reform programme that we're engaged in is the best chance of achieving a great education system, and he is very supportive of the curriculum and the curriculum changes. But what is crucial to me—it's all very well having a national mission written down on a piece of paper—in January, we will have our finished curriculum written down on pieces of paper. Our attention then has to turn to the serious business of implementation. I have been in this Chamber long enough to see very worthwhile plans formulated on paper and then fail in their implementation phase, and I am determined to learn the lessons of that and not to repeat that on my watch.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Minister said in her statement:

'for the first time ever, we are performing at the OECD average in all three domains: in reading, in science, and in mathematics.'

But will she acknowledge that there's less cause for self-congratulation here, perhaps, than meets the eye? Because her own graphs show that the OECD average is itself falling; it's getting lower and lower year by year. So, if we stand still, eventually the OECD will fall below us and that wouldn't be a cause for self-congratulation. Having said that, I do acknowledge, obviously, that the Minister has achieved something worth while—she has arrested a long period of decline in standards in Welsh schools. With Wales languishing below the other countries of the UK after 20 years of the existence of this Assembly, I don't think that any education Minister could rightly expect to be pleased, even with the results we've been talking about today. We certainly can't celebrate still being below all other countries in the UK. We can't celebrate still being below the OECD average. Indeed, in the case of Northern Ireland, of course, they haven't had an Assembly in operation for several years, and they haven't got a democratically controlled Government, but they have beaten us in these results.

I wonder if the Minister will acknowledge that we should look at the most recent results through the eye of history. And we look back to 2006, what we have seen—although there has been, and I acknowledge it and welcome it, an improvement since she has been the Minister, we have actually not gone forward very much at all. In the case of reading, we've gone from a score of 481 to 483. That's broadly static. In the case of maths, we've gone from 484 to 487, and in the case of science, disastrously, we've gone from 505 back to 488. We have to do a lot better than this before we can pat ourselves on the back.

I don't think it is really much of an ambition in life to seek to be at the average. What we should be seeking to do is to be a lot better than average. If we look at the tables of all the countries that have been participating in the PISA results, and we look at Singapore—almost at the top, because it's actually No. 2—Singapore's scores in reading is 549, compared with ours at 483, 569 in maths, compared with ours at 487, and 551 in science, compared with ours at 488. Of course, not everybody can be the best, that's the whole point of averaging, but I still think that our ambition should be greater than that.

I know that the Minister doesn't like to be congratulated or complimented by me—she doesn't have a good reason to be so—but I do applaud her for the energy, commitment and passion that she has brought to the conduct of her office, and I do welcome the change that she has brought to the education system in Wales. If this arrest of decline is to be sustained, and I believe that she has put in place some of the building blocks for future success, then she will go down in the history of Welsh devolution as the best Minister for Education that we have had, albeit that may not be too great a compliment.

15:50

Well, I'm not sure if the Member availed himself of the opportunity to attend the briefing this morning—I'm afraid I was at the Seren conference—if he was there, he would have received a very deep analysis of the figures, and it's simply not true, what he has characterised. Statistically, we are performing at the OECD average. Is average good enough? Well, as the old cricketing saying goes, averages are for average players, and I want to be better than average. But considering that just three years ago, we were significantly below the OECD average, I think we have picked ourselves up and we have regained some dignity here in our Welsh education system, and it is a building block on which we can move forward, and move forward I am determined to do. We are not standing still, we have made improvements in our scores across all the pieces.

Now, the Member is correct to say that we have come from a low base, but we have now recorded today the best ever score in maths and the best ever score in reading. There is more work to be done—I have been very clear since I got to my feet this afternoon that I'm not resting on my laurels and I'm not taking anything for granted. There is more hard work to be done. But today is something that we can be pleased with. As I said, it's positive, but it is not perfect, and I, and, more importantly than me, the teachers of Wales are determined to do even better. I see that every day when I visit them; there is a shared ambition across our nation. We have improved today, but we will improve further, I am confident of that.

15:55
4. Statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport: Disabled People's Employment

Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport on disabled people's employment. I call on the Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day designed to promote the rights of disabled people and to increase awareness of the challenges they face. However, as a Government, our role is far greater. Working with disabled people's organisations, arms of Government, the third sector and business, we must lead in the identification and removal of the barriers that disable people.

Most of these barriers are rooted in negative attitudes, the way we do things, and the built environment. We must all remember that many of these barriers are illegal, resulting in the daily discrimination faced by disabled people. To mark this day, I wish to update Members on the work this Government is doing to help disabled people overcome the barriers that they tell us that they face when seeking and maintaining employment.

We are clear on our commitment to create a more prosperous and equal Wales, pursuing equality for all. Our employability plan, published in March 2018, included a commitment to increase the number of disabled people into work. We've taken a cross-Government approach to initiate the step change necessary to remove the barriers that they are facing. Whilst I am very pleased to report that we have seen a rise in the employment rate of disabled people in Wales for the year to June 2019—an increase from 45.2 per cent to 48.6 per cent—more needs to be done if we are to achieve the UK average employment rate for disabled people.

Our cross-Government framework 'Action on Disability: The Right to Independent Living', launched by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt AM, on 18 September, communicated our commitment to identify and challenge discriminatory employment practices; to increase the number of disabled people in work through tailored support for individuals to overcome barriers to gaining and maintaining sustainable employment; and change employer attitudes, reduce the stigma, and better support employers to recruit and retain disabled people.

We are refocusing our existing employment provision, by working collectively with partners and contractors to focus resources to drive up engagement and support more disabled people into work. It is estimated that, across Welsh Government and European social fund programmes, this could support approximately an additional 25 per cent increase over the next three years.

We've made great strides to develop bespoke employability provision to tackle barriers to employment, by supporting those at the heart of the community through our community employability programmes; supporting those who are furthest from the labour market due to significant health barriers, through our health-led employment schemes; and providing on-the-job training through programmes such as apprenticeships.

In May we launched Working Wales, our new employability advice service, which makes it easier for people to access professional advice and support, needs-based assessment and referral to job opportunities. That service, delivered by Careers Wales, has qualified careers advisors and coaches who offer professional and personalised advice and guidance to identify and overcome barriers that individuals, including disabled people, face, progressing towards employment.

Our long-term plan for health and social care, 'A Healthier Wales', sets out how we need to support people to lead healthier lifestyles. Finding employment is hugely important to this prevention-based approach, and we are ensuring that our health-led employment programmes can support more disabled people gain and sustain employment.

Today marks a year since we launched our 'Inclusive Apprenticeships' disability action plan, and we are making good progress against the actions contained within it. The latest data for 2017/18 shows that 5.6 per cent of apprentices declared themselves as disabled in comparison with only 3.4 per cent in 2013/14. By delivering the actions in the plan to remove barriers to participation, we are confident that we can see this figure increase year on year.

We are not just supporting individuals, but also businesses, to create the conditions for disabled people to thrive in work. I can confirm that disabled people's employer champions, who will work with employers across Wales to make workplaces more inclusive and better support the recruitment and retention of disabled people, will be recruited in the new year. We are also reviewing our marketing material and employer resources to dispel myths, influence and change employer attitudes, and raise awareness of wider support available to businesses when employing disabled people. Additionally, we are working in partnership with a range of organisations representing disabled people to assess options for building on the current DWP Disability Confident scheme. I'll be updating Members on this very soon.

We are also changing the nature of conversations with businesses. Business Wales, alongside its general business advice, includes advice on equality and diversity policies and practices to advise businesses on the recruitment and retention of disabled employees. This will increase awareness of opportunities for disabled people to start a business, including alternative business models such as co-operatives and social businesses. The Business Wales website will be expanded to bring together relevant information for disabled people seeking to start and grow a business, and encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs through Business Wales, enterprise hubs, Big Ideas Wales and Social Business Wales. And, in order to encourage and promote business behaviours and employment practices that go beyond the legal minimum, we are considering options to broaden and deepen the impact of the economic contract so that it further improves employers' understanding and responsibility for improving recruitment and retention of disabled workers. Certainly, at a minimum, this could include specific reference in our economic contract guidance to policies, processes and programmes that have the potential to support a more diverse workforce.

We are aware that maintaining the scope and volume of support for individuals and business may be challenging going forward, as our approach is underpinned by European funds. So, this Government repeats its clear and unambiguous position to any new UK Government: not a penny less, not a power lost if we leave the European Union.

We all know it is our societal barriers that disable people with impairments. This understanding comes from the social model of disability that we as an Assembly adopted in 2002, making Wales one of the first countries in the world to do so. Our aim is to visibly and effectively embed this model across all areas of work, including economic development and employer support, to encourage all Welsh organisations to do the same.

If we, in Wales, work together, we can end the discrimination that blights so many people’s lives. It is both our moral, and, dare I say, economic, duty to do so. 

16:00

As you stated, today is the International Day of Disabled People. The theme this year of the international day is 'the future is accessible'. In March 2013, I chaired an event here—'Towards an Enabling Wales: improving employment prospects for disabled people'—as then co-chair of the cross-party group on disability, which I chair today. In my introductory comments then, I detailed the purpose of the group: to address key pan-impairment disability equality issues, including implementation of the social model of disability and the right to independent living, emphasising that people are disabled by society, not themselves, that we must work together to tackle the barriers to access and inclusion for all, and that everyone must be allowed independence, choice and control in their lives.

In September 2013, I chaired a parallel meeting in north Wales with the theme of disability and employment. In March 2017, I sponsored and spoke at the Engage to Change project event in the Assembly. Led by Learning Disability Wales, the project was funded for five years by the Big Lottery Fund in partnership with the Welsh Government to support 1,000 young people in Wales with a learning disability, learning difficulty and/or autism spectrum condition to gain employability skills and find sustainable employment. There's no reference to this excellent project in your statement, and I'd be grateful if, either now or subsequently, you could provide progress on that, particularly as it's designed to embed sustainability from the end of that project.

As you say, many of the barriers that disabled people face are illegal. We have in Wales, as in the UK, under the Equality Act 2010, a public sector equality duty, and regrettably, I still find, when representing disabled constituents with public bodies, they rarely, if ever, volunteer the existence of the duty until I make them aware of it. And that has also applied to employment or disabled people seeking to negotiate perhaps the planning process for self-employment purposes. So, how can we give that a greater push, not to make local authorities and others feel this is an imposition, but an opportunity to make things work better for everybody, improve lives and ultimately reduce pressure on statutory services?

As you say, more needs to be done to reach the UK average employment rate for disabled people, where the figure is 48.6 per cent in Wales. But, in terms of autism, National Autistic Society research in 2016 found that only 16 per cent of working-age autistic people were in full-time employment. That had flatlined for a decade, and the figure was believed to be even lower in Wales. So, how do you propose to focus not only on the general disability rights agenda, in terms of employment, but on the disparity that exists across different conditions, and also the disability pay gap, which in Wales remains, I believe, at 9.9 per cent between disabled and non-disabled people?

You state you're exploring opportunities to provide disabled people's employer champions. In fact, at the cross-party autism group meeting I chaired in Prestatyn on 18 October, Ben Morris from NEWCIS, which you may well know—the North East Wales Carers Information Service—discussed his work supporting carers and autistic people to find work, as well as his own experiences as an autistic person in the workplace. And he said that, while autism awareness is increasing, the number of autistic people in the workplace was not. He said he'd worked with employers to help them realise that their responsibility to make reasonable adjustments doesn't just begin when they hire someone, but that they're missing out on hiring lots of qualified autistic and disabled people because they don't make adjustments in their recruitment process. And he said his work also involves helping employers to understand the qualities of autistic and disabled employees and the value of having a diverse workforce. So, in driving that agenda forward, do you agree that the champions that you propose should have lived and/or direct experience rather than be well-meaning people, but people who do not have that key added asset?

You state that assessing options to build on the current DWP Disability Confident scheme—or you are assessing options to build on that, and changing the nature of conversations with business. Of course, the UK DWP Disability Confident scheme helps employers make the most of opportunities provided by employing disabled people, it's voluntary, and has been developed by employers and representatives of disabled people. They're working with employers through Disability Confident to ensure disabled people and those with long-term health conditions have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations. And I've met some incredible DWP officers working on this programme in Wales—most recently only a couple of weeks ago. How are you ensuring that you will complement rather than replicate this work, and ensure that, together, you're adding value rather than doing the same thing?

Similarly, you refer to the Working Wales employability advice service. Speaking here last year, after visiting Remploy in Wrexham to discuss their launch of the UK Government employment support programme, the Work and Health Programme, in Wales, I stated the Welsh Government must therefore provide assurance that its new employability programme adds to rather than replicates that programme also. And I wonder if you could confirm how you're ensuring that, by working in partnership in the way you describe, you're working with the complementary DWP programme. Similarly, the Access to Work programme—

16:05

—I'm conscious that's even supported my own daughter in work.

And finally, if I may—one final question.

How are you working with key third sector bodies that are also working with the DWP, such as the Autism Directory in Treforest, working with the DWP on an autism employment programme, and Oxfam Cymru, working with the DWP on embedding their sustainable livelihood approach to equip DWP staff with the skills needed to deliver person-centred service, moving away from short-term fixes that trap individuals in a revolving door of being in and out of work and therefore poverty? Diolch.

16:10

Can I thank Mark Isherwood for his incredibly constructive comments, and also for his questions, and recognise the dedication that he's given to this particular agenda over many years? I think that Mark Isherwood would agree that we all wish to ensure that all disabled people have the same freedom and dignity and choice and control as everybody else in society, whether it be at home, in work, in education or in the community. Mark Isherwood has raised the question of how we can support business and promote responsible employment practices across the business community more. 

I'd like to just highlight the fact, Dirprwy Lywydd, at this point, that there is a range of evidence that shows why businesses should employ disabled people. For example, disabled employees are, frankly, more likely to stay in a job for longer and also have less sickness absence. Research has also found that they're more likely to approach problems creatively and accomplish different tasks in new and innovative ways. So, employers need to tap into the talent of disabled people and take positive steps in diversifying their workforce. 

Mark Isherwood raises a number of very important points, including the performance of employability programmes to date, the need for local authorities to recognise the duty applies to them, the role that the disability champions could have in the future, the disability pay gap as well and how we're going to be seeking to reduce that, and also liaison with DWP and the third sector. 

I'm going to try to get through all of these important points. To begin, though, with the first question that was raised, that being how we can ensure that disabled people have the right to independent living, well I would refer to the 'Action on Disability: The Right to Independent Living' report, which was launched by the Deputy Minister and contains a series of actions for ensuring that there is independent living provision and support available to all people. 

In terms of employability performance to date, the Member referred to a specific project that I will happily update Members on. We know that the outcomes through employability programmes to date have been impressive. We know that, since 2014, for example, the current round of ESF programmes have supported more than 16,000 individuals into employment, and around 16 per cent of these have declared a disability.

In terms of our Communities for Work programme, 1,843 disabled people have been supported into employment since May 2015. Communities for Work Plus has supported over 4,250 into employment since its launch in April 2018, and 2,264 of participants to date are disabled or have a work-limiting health condition. And, in terms of the traineeship programme that is operated, 750 young people who have declared themselves disabled have entered work. 

We will be improving performance, we will be refocusing and reprioritising ESF spend—European funding that we expect to have replicated in full, if we leave the EU, by the UK Government—and in so doing it is our aim to create opportunities for another 25 per cent of people who face disabling factors in their lives. 

Mark Isherwood I think supports the principle of appointing disability champions across Wales. This is something the Deputy Minister is keen to make firm progress with, and we'll be announcing more regarding this scheme in the new year, but I can assure the Member today that those champions will have personally lived and experienced disabling factors in their lives, to bring the insight that is so important that the Member himself recognises. 

Mark Isherwood also pointed to the disability pay gap that exists within Wales and currently stands at 9.9 per cent. That pay gap is unacceptable. It is, however, lower than the UK as a whole, which currently stands at 12.2 per cent. Wales was the fifth smallest of the 12 countries and regions of the UK in 2018 in terms of the pay gap. In order to further reduce that gap and in order to reduce the employment gap between the Welsh average and the UK average, we have a number of new interventions that will be fully exploited, including work on the social partnership Bill, including a considerable amount of work that's already been undertaken in terms of fair work and embedding the principles of fair work and through rolling out further the economic contract that I mentioned in my statement.

With regard to engagement and liaison, engagement with the third sector is at the heart of everything that we do with regard to supporting people who face disabling factors in their lives. And in terms of engagement with the DWP, I am pleased with the degree of collaboration that takes place between Welsh Government and the DWP, whether that be ensuring that Disability Confident is aligned and is fully recognising additional support that is available from Welsh Government employability programmes or the Access to Work programme, which is vitally important, in my view, and is featured on the Business Wales site. It's featured there in order to signpost individuals and employers to funding that can help to pay for a range of support, including any adaptations to the working environment, to special equipment and support workers and support mental health provision.

In terms of ensuring that we further align DWP interventions and Welsh Government interventions and specifically with regard to Disability Confident, we are currently undertaking policy work to consider how we'll meet the action within the Welsh Government's new framework, 'Action on Disability: the right to independent living', regarding developing a Welsh disability award scheme for employers, which might either build on the Disability Confident scheme or be a new scheme to encourage employers to aspire to be more supportive of disabled people. And in considering the specific needs recognised for Wales and how a Welsh disability award scheme would work, and aligned with Disability Confident officials, we'll be meeting with a number of stakeholders in the sector, including the third sector, to seek their views on this important matter.

16:15

Can I thank the Minister for his statement on disabled people's employment? As he says, today's the United Nations' international day for disabled people, a day designed to promote the rights of disabled people and increase awareness of the challenges they face. So, it's a moot point. 

Can I first of all support many of the issues that Mark Isherwood has just raised? As the first ever chair of the cross-party group on autism in the Senedd—or of the Cynulliad as it then was, 17 years ago—employability issues amongst the autism community were a large issue then. They remain so. So, if we can keep that on your timetable, that would be excellent.

And also, as the current chair of the cross-party group on deaf issues, I've got a couple of challenges from the deaf community as well. Because, as you've said today, Minister, disabled people, including, plainly, those who are deaf have long faced barriers in accessing employment. It is encouraging, as you say in your statement, that the Welsh Government is seeking to improve this situation, for example, through your inclusive apprenticeships disability action plan, and people like that. However, ensuring that disabled young people have access to appropriate careers advice so that they can understand their rights, including their right to adaptations in the workplace and the access to work fund, all of that is also crucial in tackling these barriers. That is why myself and the National Deaf Children's Society are concerned that the draft additional learning needs code of practice published by the Welsh Government earlier this year outlined a significantly reduced duty on the provision of specialist careers advice for learners with an additional learning need. Now, I appreciate cross-portfolio issues here, but we are talking employability and, obviously, learning, education and careers are very much part of that spectrum. So, can I ask the Minister to outline whether there's been further consideration on duties around specialist careers advice within the ALN code, and has he been privy to such discussions?

In addition, I am mindful of the current review of the national curriculum. Whilst the draft curriculum does place an emphasis on careers, it would be helpful for there to be a specific focus on ensuring that disabled young people are aware of their employment rights. This is another cross-portfolio issue, but you can never discuss disabled people's employment in strict isolation. So, can I ask what discussions the Minister is having on these issues with ministerial colleagues so that careers advice, employment advice is tailored towards disabled young people? Diolch yn fawr.

16:20

Can I also thank Dai Lloyd today for his contribution and the very, very keen interest and commitment that he has shown to this important area of policy concern for Welsh Government? I'm sure that Dai Lloyd also believes, as I do, that equality of outcome for everyone sits at the heart of everything that we do, and should do, and that our ambitions for Welsh society are ambitions rooted in equality and equality of opportunity for all.

I think it's fair to say, in reflecting on the leadership role that Dai Lloyd himself has taken in this field in recent years, that whilst Welsh Government can provide national leadership, and politicians in this Chamber can provide national leadership, action at a local level is absolutely essential to really make a difference for individuals in their day-to-day lives. And action at a local level can include the sort of advice that Careers Wales and schools themselves are able to offer young learners.

Dai Lloyd has raised principally three important points. One: 'Action on disability', the framework and the plan, with specific regard to people who are deaf. Secondly, the role that Careers Wales has in offering one-to-one advice and support to individuals. And then thirdly, Dai Lloyd also referenced the 'Inclusive Apprenticeships: Disability Action Plan for Apprenticeships 2018-21', which is something that is making a considerable difference in terms of creating opportunities. And that's shown in the latest figures, which, for 2017-18, demonstrates that around 6 per cent of learners on apprenticeship learning programmes self-identified as having a primary disability and/or a learning difficulty, and that proportion has increased year on year since 2012-13. Back in 2012, the figure was something in the order of 3 per cent, so it's doubled in the space of five or so years.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I'll commit today to publish in February of next year the official statistics that will reflect on 2018-19, and it's my hope, it's my belief, as well, that those figures will show further improvement. And I think it's fair to say, as a result of the hard work that's been undertaken to date, we are making excellent progress on the plan, but we should not take our foot off the gas, and we will ensure that that plan continues to be delivered. 

In terms of 'Action on disability', well, the framework requires us to work towards removing barriers that prevent not only people from getting into work, but also prevent people from remaining in work—not only physical obstacles in buildings, in towns and the countryside, but also, importantly, the hurdles and the blockages created by structures and organisations' policies and, indeed—and probably most important of all—people's attitudes. And the framework is accompanied by an action plan. That highlights the main actions currently being undertaken or led by Welsh Government, and is designed to be kept up to date to reflect changing circumstances and new developments. And I would be more than happy to engage with Dai Lloyd with regard to support that can be offered to individuals who are deaf.

Turning to the role that Careers Wales has in offering support, and, in particular, advice to learners, within the existing resources—and Dai Lloyd questioned the resource available through Careers Wales—we have approximately 30 full-time equivalent staff who are dedicated specifically to working with customers with ALN and their families. Support to this particular customer group includes face-to-face support through group work and careers interviews. It draws up learning and skills plans for individuals and their families, and it also offers support at transition points, and also advocacy.

In terms of the outcomes, as a consequence of the advice and support that is offered, the latest statistics show that 3,365 transition reviews were undertaken by careers advisers and that they agreed just over 1,000 learning and skills plans for those moving from school, identifying the education and training needs of young people and the support required to meet those needs. I hope that these figures, including those figures concerning inclusive apprenticeships, demonstrate that we are making progress. But ultimately, Dirprwy Lywydd, if we are to reduce the gap in terms of pay and the gap in employment rates between the UK and Wales, we need to redouble our efforts.

16:25

If you have a disability, you are more likely to be unemployed, and if you're in employment, you're more likely to be on the minimum wage. That's the reality for people with disabilities in Wales today. Whilst there are organisations like Barod—a community interest company based in Swansea, specialising in innovative training and information, where the owners and the workforce are an equal mix of disabled and non-disabled people, who specialise in bridging the gap between public and private sector organisations and people with learning disabilities—there are nowhere near enough companies of this type in order to get people with learning disabilities into employment.

I'm old enough to remember when we used to have the green-card system. Companies were expected to employ a certain proportion of people with green cards and the percentage was reported. This disappeared, unfortunately, with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and I think that's done far more harm than it's actually done good, because then, you could hold employers to account. At the moment, it's very difficult to hold employers to account.

I've got one further comment and two questions. We talk about disability as if it's one thing. There's a whole range of disabilities of varying degrees and problems for the people suffering from them. There are people who have very minor disabilities, who you wouldn't know were disabled if you saw them walking down the street, except that they might be walking a little slowly, to those who have very serious disabilities and multiple disabilities. So, I think we do tend to talk about disabled people as if they were one amorphous mass; they're not, they're a group of people with entirely different problems and different needs.

Dai Lloyd mentioned the deaf community. My sister is profoundly deaf, which I've mentioned on more than one occasion in here, and it's incredibly difficult. An employer gets around any Act by saying 'the ability to answer the telephone.' That excludes anybody who is profoundly deaf. Many people would describe it as not an unreasonable thing to expect somebody to be able to do, but once you put that in, you exclude anybody who is deaf from working there. 

I've got two questions. What's the Welsh Government going to do to promote the employment of people with disabilities in Welsh Government, and, more importantly, in Welsh Government-funded bodies? That's something you've got direct control over, and you've also got direct control over those bodies you fund. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Although, he who gives the funding to an organisation can give them instructions.

What more can be done to support organisations such as Barod, who are doing such a good job in treating people with disabilities and those who haven't as exactly the same? One of the problems we have is that, too often, we treat them differently. They may have a disability, but they must be treated and should be treated the same. So, what can we do to help organisations like that?

Can I thank Mike Hedges for his comments and his questions? He was right to say that disabled people are more likely to be unemployed, and that disabled people, if they are in employment, are more likely to be underpaid. Therefore, as a consequence, it is clear that disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty in this modern age, and that is morally unacceptable.

The Welsh Government is absolutely determined to ensure that the people of Wales have opportunities to secure employment and then to progress in their careers. It is a priority for this Government that every single person should have the opportunity to work. Mike Hedges referenced the fact that people who are looking for work are absolutely determined to secure decent, well-paid opportunities. The evidence that demonstrates that people who face disabling factors are determined to work is very, very clear indeed, Dirprwy Lywydd. We know that disabled people account for around about 45 per cent of the economically inactive group within Wales today, and that a third of unemployed people in Wales are facing disabling factors. Approximately 49,000 economically inactive disabled people are either seeking work or are not actively seeking work but would like to work. That means that over 50 per cent of economically inactive people who face disabling barriers are either seeking work or would like to work. That accounts for around about 90,000 people in our country.

In order to achieve the target of closing the gap in terms of employment between the UK and Wales for disabled people, we would have to find opportunities for at least 16,000 people. Clearly, Dirprwy Lywydd, the determination of people to find work, their desire to find work, shows that finding 16,000 people who wish to get into the workplace will not be a problem. The challenge is in ensuring that businesses make those opportunities available to people who face disabling factors.

We work with Business Wales in advising entrepreneurs in small and medium-sized enterprises on how they can remove barriers for people. We are also working with numerous stakeholders and, through the action on disability framework, we have outlined a number of ambitious plans for how we can improve opportunities for individuals through our major and smaller employers in the country.

In terms of the specific question that Mike Hedges raises about what the Welsh Government can do and also, very importantly, what those funded bodies that rely on Welsh Government resource can do, I'm pleased to inform Members today that the economic contract is to be extended to a significant number of Welsh Government-funded bodies, to ensure that those funded bodies drive inclusive growth and embrace the fair work agenda, which is at the very heart of the economic contract, and, in so doing, create more opportunities for disabled people to get employment within their organisations.

16:30

Can I thank the Cabinet Minister for his statement, which acknowledges the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities? I think that it's true to say that we all share concerns on how we treat our fellow citizens who find themselves unable, through disabilities, to find work. But I may say at this juncture that it seems to be the case that employers do not share the same level of public service that was once prevalent towards those in our society who have a disability. I have to say that there are some of us who regret the demise of many of the Remploy units, which were criticised for segregating disabled people but at least gave them the dignity of good, long-term work in good conditions.

However, it is gratifying to read in the report that Business Wales is working with employers, not only to raise their awareness of those with disabilities but also to disabuse them of their often negative attitudes towards the abilities of disabled people, rather than their disabilities. I also acknowledge the work Careers Wales is doing at a critical time in the lives of young disabled people, and their interventions are coming at that critical time, which are to be very much welcomed.

One aspect not mentioned in your report is the ability of disabled people to actually get to the various places of employment. Given that transport has traditionally been a barrier to the disabled obtaining work, the great improvements to transport with regard to access for the disabled, either already in place or to be put in place over the next few years, should have the effect of, if not eliminating those barriers completely, making them far less obstructive. These improvements, not only of the transport itself, in the shape of a step change in accessibility to buses and trains, but also to the stations, for both modes of transport, should make a dramatic difference in the ability of the disabled to access all sorts of working placements.

Surely it is incumbent on all of us in this Assembly to address the issue of unemployment of the disabled in our community. They should not be looked on as a drain on society, but a huge resource of untapped talent. It cannot be right that, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report 'Poverty in Wales 2018' pointed out, 39 per cent of disabled people in Wales are in poverty, compared with 22 per cent of non-disabled people, and that the poverty rate among disabled people in Wales is the highest in all of the UK. You yourself, Minister, once declared that these figures were a national disgrace. Yet, despite decades of laudable legislation designed to tackle discrimination against disabled people, the overwhelming experience for many is a life of poverty, exclusion and barriers to opportunity. I accept that your report acknowledges these failings, and look forward to them being addressed—no, aggressively addressed—over the coming years.

16:35

Dirprwy Lywydd, can I thank David Rowlands for his comments? I share his view that the demise of Remploy units was extremely disappointing and disadvantaged many, many people indeed. Can I also thank David Rowlands for recognising the good work that is taking place by Business Wales and Careers Wales?

The Member rightly identified the need to improve access to employment, and that includes transportation, as a consequence of £800 million of investment in rolling stock. Under the new Wales and borders franchise agreement we will see new trains—half of which will be built in Wales—offering access for all, and I'm also pleased to say that as a consequence of our investment in the south Wales metro, all stations within the metro will be step-free. Almost £200 million is being spent on stations across the Wales and borders route network, and, again, we will see a considerable sum of money invested in ensuring that as many stations as possible are step-free.

I think also, in terms of the future of the bus industry—and I'll be introducing legislation in the new year—and alongside the reforms that we wish to make to the way that local bus services are managed and planned, we also have ambitious plans for replacing the fleet of 2,300 buses in Wales with zero-emissions vehicles and vehicles that offer, again, access to all people who until now have often faced disabling barriers. So, in terms of transport, we are most certainly moving in the right direction, and we are doing it at maximum pace.

David Rowlands noted what I touched on earlier, which was that there is a huge untapped talent pool that should be embraced by businesses. I've already outlined the research that has been undertaken and which shows that disabled employees are more likely to stay in a job for longer and have less sickness absence, but it's also the case that disabled people have huge, huge opportunities now to start and grow their own business, with the support that is offered by Business Wales. I should highlight to Members, so that they are able to disseminate this information to their constituents, that a participation fund exists within Business Wales's service, and that's available to pay for any additional support disabled people are faced with, to help them overcome the barriers to participating in business start-up activities, and this is in addition to the standard business-planning modules that are available face-to-face or online.

16:40
5. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: A Healthier Wales—Update on the 'Train. Work. Live.' Campaign

Item 5 is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: A Healthier Wales—an update on the 'Train. Work. Live.' campaign. And I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Welsh Government is committed to providing the NHS workforce that we need to ensure the best outcomes for people receiving care. We are achieving this with increased training places, encouraging young people to take up a health professional career, and supporting recruitment through our successful 'Train. Work. Live.' marketing campaign. The 'Train. Work. Live.' campaign is continuing to market NHS Wales healthcare careers alongside the lifestyle opportunities available in Wales. That's been marketed both within the UK and, of course, internationally.

What started as a campaign focused on promoting the benefits of working in general practice in Wales has, over the last three years, expanded to include a range of other key professions—nursing, psychiatry, pharmacy and most recently midwifery. The campaign is creating a positive view of Wales and what we can offer to healthcare professionals. This year I personally attended the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives conferences, seeing first-hand the positive response to our presence at these major events and the interest that that generated. Next year 'Train. Work. Live.' will showcase at the RCN and the RCM events as part of the international year of the nurse and midwife. With the RCM event, it will take place for the first time here in Wales. The campaign has also been key to establishing links with healthcare systems outside of the UK, and work is under way to develop a co-ordinated approach to international recruitment for nurses.

General practitioner training has remained a key focus for the campaign. Following the considerable success in filling places since 2016, I agreed an increased baseline allocation from 136 to 160 places, starting this autumn. This reinforces this Government’s commitment to delivering the workforce we need following record levels of doctors choosing Wales for their GP training.

This year we achieved the highest fill rate ever, filling 186 places from the allocation of 160, surpassing even that increased new allocation, with every training scheme across Wales filling to capacity, including those historically hard to recruit to areas. This includes, for example, the Pembrokeshire scheme, which had a zero fill rate as recently as 2016. This year, following all rounds of recruitment, Pembrokeshire now has filled seven places. The three north Wales schemes filled 28 places from their initial target allocation of 22 places.

Health Education and Improvement Wales is continuing work to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support an increased number of GP trainees, with a view to a further expansion of the training schemes over the next two years. The sustained improvement in the recruitment position has been achieved by setting realistic targets about what can be delivered and extending our ambition incrementally as the system developed the capacity to deliver those additional numbers.

The campaign has also promoted other medical specialities that have seen increases in their fill rates. The fill rate for core psychiatry training has increased from just 33 per cent to 100 per cent in two years. That is another positive outcome. Despite the ongoing difficult financial climate, we continue to invest in the long-term sustainability of our NHS workforce, which continues to grow year on year.

For the sixth consecutive year, funding to support health professional education and training in Wales will increase. I made the decision to invest £127.8 million in 2020-1. That equates to a 13 per cent annual increase, with an extra £16.4 million for education and training programmes for healthcare professionals here in Wales. That includes £1.4 million for 47 additional medical postgraduate training places. That means that, since 2014, nurse training places have increased by 89 per cent, midwifery training places have increased by 71 per cent, physiotherapist training places have increased by 71 per cent as well, and radiography training places have increased by 57 per cent.

This is a record level of funding and will support the highest ever number of training opportunities in Wales. It increases the capacity of our workforce to help the NHS respond to the challenges facing it now and in the future. I am proud of this Government's record on investment. In the teeth of a decade of austerity, the NHS has more people working in it than at any time in its history, all aimed at prevention and care for people across each and every community here in Wales.

In addition to recruitment and training, retaining the existing workforce is key to securing a skilled and sustainable workforce. That is why the well-being of staff was central to our vision set out in 'A Healthier Wales' and will be part of the workforce strategy being jointly developed by Health Education and Improvement Wales and Social Care Wales.

I was pleased to announce last week the extension of the NHS Wales bursary until 2023. The bursary will be available for an additional two cohorts for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years. It will be available to nurses and midwives, but, unlike Scotland, we will continue to provide the bursary to allied health professionals too. This announcement provides clarity on bursary arrangements for the next three academic years to both students and providers.

It is essential that we engage our next generation of healthcare professionals at all stages in their education. The supporting medical careers programme aims to increase the number of successful applications from Welsh speakers to medical schools in Wales, and I have extended this for a further year. Following the success of the 2018 programme, I agreed the scheme would run for a second year in 2019. Of the 60 students who attended the programme in 2018, 43 enrolled on health-related courses in Wales—28 to medicine and 15 to non-medical courses.

In addition to this, I have agreed a further one-year extension to the widening access to GP practice through work experience programme. The programme, which is now in its fourth year, is aiming to give year 12 students an opportunity to see the work involved in general practice. To date, over 200 students from across Wales have successfully taken part in the programme.

This year, we've also have introduced three key tools to inform a more holistic approach and support effective workforce planning in primary care: an all-Wales register for locum GPs, a national workforce reporting system to capture staff information in general practice, and a streamlined website for GP practices to manage and advertise vacancies.

Work is also continuing through the strategic programme for primary care to identify future priority areas for the 'Train. Work. Live.' campaign, including allied health professionals, who are of course a key part of the workforce. The allied health professions framework, 'Looking Forward Together', was launched at the national primary care conference on 7 November. The framework was developed collaboratively with members of the professions and a number of stakeholders.

The purpose of the framework is to ensure that citizens achieve outcomes that matter to them and experience the highest quality of care and treatment at all times. It provides a clear direction for transforming the way in which allied health professionals are used and accessed. In particular, it will help support the shift of allied health professionals into directly accessible primary and community care based services. This is consistent in delivering our national vision to provide care closer to home, to improve population health and well-being, and to maximise recovery that enables people to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.

The framework is supported by an action plan to drive change. One of the actions already implemented is the appointment of a national allied health professionals lead for primary care in the strategic programme for our primary care team. I look forward to taking questions today, and, of course, in the future. 

16:45

Good afternoon, Minister, and thank you for today's statement and for the advance sighting of it. I think there are some very good signs being shown in the 'Train. Work. Live.' campaign, and I especially welcome the efforts to improve the recruitment of young people and to increase the training places across all the healthcare professions. 

Now, one of the aims was to attract a more diverse demographic into the profession. A campaign was launched at the beginning of this year, featuring Richard Desir, as a male nurse, to try to attract more than the 12 per cent of male nurses we currently have, and I wondered if you could outline how this campaign is progressing and whether more male nurses have been recruited and whether in fact nurses have been recruited from a better or wider spread of ages. Additionally, could you outline whether or not there have been any successes in attracting nurses back into the profession who have previously left?

Now, I'm sure you will know the Royal College of Nursing has outlined there are severe gaps in the nursing workforce, noting that, every week, nurses in Wales give the NHS extra hours to the value of 976 full-time nurses. Now, last year, 2018-19, NHS Wales spent over £63 million on agency nursing, which is a rise of some 24 per cent from last year, and that's the equivalent of over 2,600 newly qualified nurses. Now, I do acknowledge the recent announcement of more nursing training places, but it is a question about whether or not those additional training places would actually cover that level of vacancy rates over the long term, and I wonder if you can give us a view for your anticipation for how that shortage in nurses would be covered and how long you may think it would take to do so.

Last week, the Scottish Government launched their 'What did you do today?' campaign to recruit more health staff, and I would like to know if you've had any discussions with your Scottish counterparts surrounding their attempts to make health a more attractive career path for young people, and is there anything we might learn from them. 

I'm very pleased to hear that specific areas of GP recruitment have been a success, particularly—and I'm highly partisan, as you'll probably know—the Pembrokeshire area, but are there any plans to expand this further, focusing specifically on other counties or other particular areas? Because, whilst these new training places are good news, I do remain concerned about the ability of Welsh health boards to retain existing GPs. Figures from the Royal College of GPs highlight that 31 per cent of GPs say that they are very stressed and they cannot cope at least once a week, 23 per cent of GPs say they're unlikely to be working in general practice in five years' time, and 72 per cent of GPs say they expect working in general practice to get worse in the next five years. So, I think what this is signalling is that there's a real disaffection and concern over their working habits amongst the GP profession. So, whilst it is very welcome that you've managed to fill all the places you have available, that we've recruited in some of the traditionally hard-to-recruit areas, I just wanted to have a clear understanding of your long-term strategy to turn around this situation to retain the GPs we have, to improve their conditions in such a way that we aren't having this potential threat of people leaving. 

Finally, I do remain concerned that gaps remain in a lot of the diagnostic workforce across the board and I just wondered if you could provide an update on Health Education and Improvement Wales's workforce strategy and how it specifically plans to address the gaps in the diagnostic workforce. I'm sure we all agree that, if we can diagnose people earlier, we can probably get to them, have better outcomes in terms of health and less cost to the country. What are you doing to increase clinical training places in line with present and future patient needs? And—this is an ask, actually, from some of the cancer charities—will the Welsh Government commit to a comprehensive audit of diagnostic staff numbers in the Welsh NHS? When I took a look at that situation, I thought that actually wasn't an altogether unreasonable ask and I wonder if HEIW might be addressing that. Thank you.

16:50

Thank you for the series of questions. I think some of that was slightly outside of where we are with 'Train. Work. Live.', but I'll do my best to respond to the points today and I'm pretty sure that, with debates on nursing tomorrow and potentially in the future, there will be plenty of opportunities to talk about workforce.

On male nursing, we won't have the figures until at least the end of this year and into next year to see if there's a trend, and, interestingly, this is an issue of concern both to the Royal College of Nursing and, indeed, Unison as well, where they've had particular issues about wanting to see nursing as a career for men, because the traditional images of nurses are women and then, for all the Charlie Fairheads, there are lots of others in terms of our regular depiction of the nursing workforce. So, there is a challenge there, and, as you say, it was a deliberate choice to pick a male nurse to head up the recruitment campaign last year, but I think it would be an unfair challenge to set to say that there should be a significant turnaround within one year, because we're dealing with a cultural turnaround to be required, but it's important we're deliberately trying to address it.

And, again, in terms of your point about learning from the Scots and attracting people to careers in the NHS, I'm happy to take good ideas from where they come from. If they're effective, I'm interested in how we could adapt and adopt them here in Wales rather than to try to point out how and why they couldn't work. And ideas that work within the context of the UK family of nations are much more likely to be adapted and adopted within Wales because of the similarities within our systems. So, I genuinely remain curious and interested in what other UK nations are doing in the face of broadly similar challenges. We should also have more information at the end of this year on some of the information on the return to nursing work and the trends that we see. So, there's a challenge in understanding what we do so that people return to a career in the NHS if they've left, but also how we retain some of those people who would otherwise leave, and that is something about some of the working patterns that we have. It's also something about the flexibility we want to see in the workforce as well, because some people may want to carry on working on a part-time basis. Now, what I don't want to do is to get into an artificial exercise of saying, 'Well, even though our nursing numbers have gone up by a net amount, when you think about it, it's gone up by more because we've kept people in who would otherwise have gone.' I don't think that's very helpful. But I do want to be able to set out how much more could we do with the flexibility we want to offer to keep people in the national health service, regardless of whether they are porters, admin workers or nurses or otherwise.

On the agency spend, look, part of this is the reality of wanting to roll out the legislation that we have done, when you think about wanting to have adequate staffing across the workforce, the ability to flex and deliver that, particularly with the challenges we've had with recruitment—. Because we can't ignore the reality that about 90 per cent of nurses who were otherwise registering on the NMC who registered in Europe are no longer coming. That puts big pressure on the nursing workforce we've already got. We know, within the western world more generally, there is pressure on nursing numbers. So, actually, regularising our ability to recruit and retain nurses from Europe is a big part of what we want to do, as well as international recruitment as well. But that is in the hands of the voters and others in the coming weeks about what our future relationship will be. But the significant investment in nurse training is to make it clear it's not just about recruiting from other people's countries, it is, actually, about training our own, who are much more likely to stay. Because nurses who go into the workforce tend to already have responsibilities and ties to an area, and that is not the same in other parts of the recently graduated workforce.

In terms of your point about the diagnostic workforce, you can expect to see some of that within the joint workforce strategy, but I think you'll see more of that as I come back to talk not just about the cancer workforce but more specifically about diagnostics as an area. In terms of retaining our existing GPs, we've got a range of work that I've regularly spoken about on reforming the contract, on the work on resolving indemnity in the short Bill that is in front of the Assembly right now. The challenge is on wanting to recruit people in and it to be done successfully, and a big part of it is actually about having more training practices. And that is something that GPs have told me, and HEIW themselves, would help them to want to sign up to stay within the health service system as well, within the national health service.

In terms of the reform agenda, though, it's important that they're able to see something's being done to general practice, because lots of that reform is being driven by people in the service. At the national primary care conference, one of the most impressive parts of it was to look at the cluster handbook that has been provided, where each cluster talks about what it is choosing to do and the leadership from general practice, working with others. And it's not because I have told them specifically what they should do—there's much greater ownership and ideas and innovation that's coming together. When I met the cluster leads in two particular meetings, I was really impressed by some of the enthusiasm to own some of the challenges and to come up with answers from them. Because, as you and I know, sadly, it's the case that, whatever speeches I may make, people don't always believe that a politician is the person they should listen to on how they should improve their job within the service. They are prepared to listen to their peers who are delivering the future already. And that is the encouraging part: the future's here alrea