Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd14/01/2020
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome everybody, and welcome to the sitting of the Plenary.
The first item on our agenda is questions to the First Minister this afternoon, and question 1 is Joyce Watson.
1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the UK Government's plans to abolish a commitment to protect child refugees in Europe who are seeking to reunite with their family in the UK post Brexit? OAQ54906
I thank the Member for that question, Dirprwy Lywydd. Last week, Welsh Ministers wrote to the Home Secretary supporting the retention of family reunion rights for refugee children. I regret the UK Government’s decision to abandon its previous commitments in this area, and urge the House of Lords to support amendments that protect the rights of vulnerable children to a family life.
I thank you for that answer, First Minister. But, by dropping from the EU withdrawal Bill proposals to protect child refugees, Boris Johnson's Government has clearly set out its stall. So, my question is: how can we in Wales distance ourselves from a UK Government that would abandon the most vulnerable children and betray Britain's proud humanitarian tradition? The Bill is now at the Committee Stage in the Lords this week and next week. So, will you, and will Welsh Government, lobby the Lords to restore the Dubs amendment, which would guarantee the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their family members living in the UK after Brexit?
I thank Joyce Watson for that supplementary question, Llywydd. The Welsh Government welcomed the inclusion in the withdrawal Act of 2018 section 17, which was the result of cross-party action on the floor of the House of Commons, which provided a legally binding commitment to negotiate the continuation of the current Dublin III arrangements. That was deleted last week in the EU withdrawal Bill, and it is absolutely right that the Welsh Government work with others to see that commitment restored.
Last week, in the House of Lords, my colleagues the Deputy Minister for equalities and the Counsel General were, on two separate days, talking with peers who are interested to support amendments that we have drafted, and there will be amendments in the House of Lords to protect these most vulnerable children. The Welsh Government believe that the previous arrangements did not go far enough. At the very minimum, we need to secure the continuation of those protections that have been there in the past that the previous Conservative Government was prepared to see put on the face of the 2018 Act. Yesterday, in the House of Lords, Dirprwy Lywydd, Lord Callaghan said that the policy position of the UK Government remained unchanged. In that case, why did they amend the Bill? Why did they take away a commitment that they had already made? They ought to replace it, and they ought to give security to some of the most vulnerable children we see in this country.
I'm very disappointed to hear the scaremongering from your back benches, and, indeed, from your Government today, on this very important and very sensitive matter. As you've already quite clearly stated, the policy position of the UK Government in respect of child refugees has not changed in the slightest, and the UK Government still wants to maintain the commitment that it has previously given, reiterated in the House of Commons last week as well. As you will know, the reason that the amendment was voted down, and that other amendments to the withdrawal agreement Bill were voted down, was because, frankly, to tack them on to that Bill is insufficient in regard to the importance of this policy. And that's why the UK Government has said, 'Let's address this separately in other ways rather than simply tacking it on to the end of this Bill.' Do you regret the shroud waving from your back benches and the shroud waving from your Government, and will you acknowledge the very clear commitments that have been given by the Government in terms of its stated policy?
Well, Llywydd, the Member simply gets the facts of the matter completely wrong. It's not a matter of amendments being voted down; the amendment was—the amendment is Government made. His Government, in the 2018 Act, included a legally binding commitment to negotiate the continuation of the Dublin III arrangements. They took it out, that's the change. That's what we're concerned about. It's not amendments, it's the change that your Government made and the amendments simply sought—[Interruption.] Their amendments, the amendments in the Commons and the amendments in the Lords, simply seek to restore the position that he and his colleagues here and his colleagues in Westminster were supporting just a month or two ago. It's indefensible. He knows it's indefensible and he hasn't offered us even a smidgen of a defence this afternoon.
Will your Government carry out an assessment of how vulnerable children are protected or not protected in Wales today—children living here? Because there are examples, and I'll give you this, First Minister, where a child can allege abuse constantly, constantly—. I don't know why you're shaking your head, First Minister. A child in Wales can allege abuse constantly, not be given an advocate. You can have a child with learning difficulties and he's not given an advocate, not taken to a place of safety to be interviewed, and then to be told off by police. What assessment—this is the question—what assessment will you do to ensure that our children living in Wales are protected?
Llywydd, none of those points are relevant to the protection of child refugees, which is the subject of this question. The points the Member makes are no doubt proper points and ones that he can pursue. But I don't think he should try to hijack a question that is about a very important matter, specifically about child refugees, which I've attempted to answer this afternoon.
First Minister, I grew up in a community of refugees post war and to this day have friends of mine who actually came over as children after the second world war, lived in displaced persons camps for periods. So, what has happened is something that I personally feel is incredibly distressing as to what has happened. We have commitments in any legislation we pass in respect of compliance with various conventions: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1951 refugee convention, the 1967 protocol on refugee children and, of course, the UN guidelines with specific rights in respect of refugee children. Will you give consideration to the fact that, if we were to give any consent to the current European Union (Withdrawal) Bill without the commitments in respect of refugees, we might actually be legislating in breach of our obligations under the Government of Wales Act 2006?
Well, certainly, Llywydd, I will do that. This is one of those many instances in which the Bill currently before the House of Commons is a deterioration in the Bill that the current Prime Minister presented just shortly before the Christmas recess. They were happy to have this last year—why are they not happy not have it this year? They should. They can put it right. They can put it right in the House of Lords and then all the difficulties that Mick Antoniw rightly points to will have been addressed in the way that previous Conservative Prime Ministers and Conservative Members of Parliament were willing to support.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the teaching of basic first aid in schools? OAQ54893
Llywydd, we encourage everyone to learn first aid. It is for schools to decide if and how best to provide first aid learning for their pupils. The statutory guidance that will surround the new curriculum will provide that learners should be able to respond to harmful situations and safely intervene when others' health is at risk.
Can I thank the First Minister for that response? There are certain life skills that all children should have when they leave school—skills that will be more useful than a lot that is in the formal curriculum. Basic first aid, including things such as stopping heavy bleeding, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the Heimlich manoeuvre, are basic life skills and they help someone save a life. Does the First Minister agree that these need to be taught either within school or outside of school? But they need to be taught so young children can actually save lives.
Well, can I entirely agree with Mike Hedges about the importance of first aid, about those aspects that he has drawn attention to specifically? Wales is fortunate, Dirprwy Lywydd, in having a vibrant third sector in the health area in which a range of opportunities exist for acquiring and practising skills in first aid. The curriculum for Wales guidance, which was published for feedback in April 2019, had a lot of comments in from those organisations in relation to it and, as a result, CPR and first aid guidance will be strengthened and it will involve the British Heart Foundation, St John Ambulance and the Red Cross, both in making sure that the right guidance is given to schools and that there is a range of resources and lesson plans available so that practitioners can be confident in meeting exactly those needs to which Mike Hedges has referred.
According to St John Cymru, less than one in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, and nearly a third of UK adults would not have the confidence to intervene if they saw someone in need. Now, improved education of our youngsters is definitely the answer to this cardiac catastrophe. Children in England will be taught CPR and other lifesaving skills from September 2020, and every local authority in Scotland has committed to teaching CPR. The new curriculum, however, does not make the teaching of first aid and lifesaving skills compulsory, yet, according to the British Heart Foundation, nearly one in four could survive if all young people were trained. I appreciate that the Minister for Education wants to move away from prescribed subjects, however will you allow an exception by making CPR training a compulsory part of the new curriculum?
The difficulty is, Dirprwy Lywydd, as the Member knows, that right around this Chamber there are people who argue for a whole range of exceptions to be made. Everybody here will have an example of something that they think and believe passionately should be made an exception to the rule in the way our curriculum is constructed. And, once you start to go down that route, the curriculum will stop being what we in this Chamber have said we want it to be: purpose-led and in the hands of teachers when it comes to implementation.
Of course, young people should be taught about these important things, and can be within our schools: 99 per cent of schools in Wales participate in the Welsh network of healthy schools schemes, with all that goes alongside that, including teaching young people about these things. But Mike Hedges made an important point in his supplementary question, that opportunities for learning first aid don't simply exist in schools. There are many other ways in which people can learn these skills. I myself took part in a fantastic scheme that Cardiff medical school students are running here in Cardiff. They held a session over in the Wales Millennium Centre here just before Christmas, where any member of the public could be trained in basic first aid to give them the confidence to intervene in the circumstances that Janet Finch-Saunders has mentioned, and there is a broader set of actions that need to be taken to address something that is, I absolutely agree, a very important issue here in Wales.
I agree, as do 70 per cent of parents and the Youth Parliament, that one lesson per year of first aid should be presented to our pupils. Now, I understand the problem that you have with the new curriculum, and the vision and concept underpinning it, but there are some things that are so important that you do need that assurance and clarity on them. I'm pleased to hear that guidance is to be strengthened, but perhaps there's a further opportunity: perhaps we could look at reforming the part that is called 'planning your curriculum', and I would ask you whether you'd be willing to have discussions with the Minister for Education to see whether that section could be amended so that first aid becomes a more core part of the curriculum.
Well, thank you for that idea. If there's a way that we can be flexible in the way that we develop things and the advice that we give to people, then of course I am willing to discuss that with the Minister for Education. But the principle, as we've discussed more than once on the floor of the Assembly, is to create a new curriculum where we create the fundamental things, but we give the responsibility to the teachers in the classroom to do things in the way that works for them and for the children before them.
We'll now turn to leaders' questions, and the first leader this afternoon is the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. First Minister, I'd like to start by raising with you the case of Peter Connelly, who died in what the Welsh ambulance service trust described as 'difficult and unacceptable...circumstances'. There had been an eight-hour delay in admitting Mr Connelly to Wrexham Maelor Hospital. Following his death, the senior coroner for north Wales issued a regulation 28 report on the prevention of unnecessary deaths. It was the thirteenth such report since 2014 that highlighted long waits outside hospitals in north Wales. The coroner concluded that, unless working practices changed within the NHS in north Wales, it was inevitable that future deaths would occur that might otherwise have been preventable. That report was issued at the end of last year. This year already, a further report—making it the fourteenth in six years—into the death of Samantha Brousas identified failings in the transfer of care at Wrexham Maelor. Despite suspected sepsis and being critically ill, she was held outside the hospital in an ambulance for over two hours. As a consequence of the concerns raised by the coroner about Betsi Cadwaladr and the Wales ambulance trust, will the First Minister undertake an urgent investigation to ensure that lives are not put at risk any further?
Well, Llywydd, any coroner's letter about the avoidance of future deaths is taken very seriously in the health service, and certainly the ambulance trust will have responded to previous such advice and is currently responding to the example that Adam Price referred to. The problem is not one that is soluble in the hands of the ambulance service alone, as those letters always make clear. It is a whole-systems issue, in which we have to be able to clear people through the whole system so that, when the system comes under pressure, as it has over the last few weeks, there is room at the front door. Because the emergency reception of patients is linked into the way that the whole system, inside the hospital and outside the hospital too, is operating. Nobody wants to see people waiting in ambulances when they could be admitted into our accident and emergency departments and treated there. That is absolutely the view of the Welsh ambulance trust. They work very closely with health boards. The health Minister works with them both to try to create the conditions in which those sorts of delays can be avoided.
I'm sure that it's right to say that there are systemic reasons for the problems that have been highlighted, but would the First Minister accept that there have been so many cases in north Wales that there must be specific reasons, which would suggest that the kinds of general factors that exist elsewhere have caused a large number of tragic cases?
Part of the issue, of course, is a lack of capacity. You mention every winter the unprecedented levels of pressures, so let's look in more detail at that. In 2018, one reason given for the additional pressures at that time was norovirus, but in reality there had been a reduction of 11 per cent in the number of cases as compared to the previous year at that point. Last year, flu was to blame according to you, but flu had been categorised as a low-intensity problem for the large part of that year. Now, in 2020, in a relatively warm year, what will be the reason this year?
Well, there are a number of reasons, of course, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I don't agree at all if the Member was suggesting that the problems are causing this in north Wales more than in other places, because we know that that is happening in every area.
The Member, I think, misunderstands the nature of some of the challenges, norovirus in particular. It's not a matter of the overall level of norovirus; it is the fact that norovirus tends to be concentrated in particular places and then ends up—as it has in Glangwili Hospital this year, for example—with the closure of whole wards and an inability, therefore, to admit patients. There may be a low level of norovirus overall, but it attacks particular places and causes particular impacts where it does. This year, there has been an early onset of flu; it may not be the most virulent strain of flu that we have faced in the last five years, but the fact that it has started early means that there has been an earlier influx into emergency departments of people with flu-like symptoms.
Particularly this year, we face the fact that a number of very frail elderly people coming into emergency departments have required a higher level of admission to emergency departments than previously, and this is partly, Dirprwy Llywydd, a reflection of the success of the way that things have been done in Wales. We have large numbers of elderly people still living in their own homes with very intensive packages of care from local authorities, who in previous years would have been in residential care. When they come into hospital, it isn't a simple matter of simply plugging in one small extra service to allow them to go home; they are already receiving a very significant level of domiciliary care, and putting a new package of care ready for them is something that is complex and demanding amongst a whole range of services.
And finally, we are still seeing this winter the impact of the changes to tax and pensions that has affected the ability of doctors to fill rotas and to carry out additional sessions. Two thousand sessions in Wales were cancelled in the run up to the Christmas period, 15,000 patients were affected by it, and that is still to be resolved. Nevertheless, Dirprwy Lywydd—and it's really important to say this, isn't it—over the whole of the Christmas period, when there were 15,000 attendances every week at emergency departments, 10,000 calls to the ambulance service in Wales, 4,000 emergency admissions every week into our hospitals in Wales, despite all those pressures, the health service goes on day in and day out responding to clinical need here in Wales, and patients in every part of Wales are grateful for the service that they get.
If I understand the First Minister correctly, you were arguing that your failure, in a way, is a reflection of your success. For the eighth year on the bounce, it is again true to say that over 85 per cent of the beds are occupied, which is above the safe threshold that you have set. Some 125 patients were healthy enough to leave one hospital last week, but there was no social care available for them, which is very different to the picture that you have just painted.
Whilst you were health Minister seven years ago, you said that the front door problems—to use the term that you've just used—of the health service were way worse because patients remained in hospital although they were healthy enough to leave. Having highlighted that problem in a previous post, why have you failed to get the Government that you now lead to resolve it in your current post?
Well, we have resolved the problem, Dirprwy Lywydd, and the situation is much better than it was when I started as health Minister.
The two best years since figures have been recorded for delayed transfers of care in the Welsh health service were 2017 and 2018. So, we had fewer delayed transfers of care in those two years than at any time since those figures have been recorded, and that is a huge tribute to the effort that our colleagues in social services departments have made, with extra funding through the ICF, with the work that's been done in the regional partnership boards.
And yes, it is a struggle for social services departments, as well as the health service, to deal with a sudden surge in demand, but last week, when Hywel Dda was under the pressure that it was under, it was because of the help that they received from social services departments in those areas that they were able to recover the position so that, by the end of last week, things were in a much better position.
I was very grateful, Llywydd, that I was in Carmarthenshire on Thursday with social services staff and able to thank them, and the Plaid Cymru leader of that council, for the enormous efforts that they had made that week to assist the health service and to make sure that, as much as possible, people who were fit to be discharged from hospital were being assisted by those local authority services.
Thank you. I change to the leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, the Welsh Government's own latest figures have shown that more than 11,000 young people received counselling in 2017-18. Indeed, more worryingly, figures from the charity Barnardo's Cymru have confirmed that the number of children it helped in the past year rose by 56 per cent. In light of these very serious figures, can you tell us what immediate steps the Welsh Government is taking to address this problem and what new early intervention measures will be introduced to help reduce the number of children needing mental health support here in Wales?
I thank the Member for that important question. He will have seen that, in the draft budget published on 16 December, there is a doubling of the budget for mental health support in our schools in Wales; partly a response to the report of the health committee published earlier in this Assembly term. We want to make sure not only that we strengthen the counselling services that we currently provide, but we extend the age range of them as well and we extend their availability down the age range so that it's available to young people earlier in their school career, and when it may be possible to intervene in a way that will prevent problems from developing into the future. I think I managed to quote some figures last week in the Chamber that showed that 87 per cent of those young people who received school counselling didn't require any further intervention, and I think that is a real endorsement of the strategy that, right round this Chamber, Members have advocated in relation to children's mental health; that we get in early, we aim to prevent, and we don't draw young people into the more serious part of the system when we're able to provide more mainstream everyday services to which there is less stigma attached and more effect in their lives.
I appreciate that response, First Minister, because as you know poor mental health can, of course, affect anyone from any background and at any age. Indeed, one of the less discussed facets of mental health is in relation to the farming sector in Wales. Sadly, agriculture carries one of the highest rates of suicide, and the remoteness of many farming communities mean they are often geographically distant from mainstream health services, which may limit their access to support.
Now, you may be aware of the outstanding work done by the DPJ Foundation based in my own constituency, which is supporting those in rural communities by helping to break down that stigma you were just talking about attached to mental health. And as well as doing that, they are also running a project called Share the Load, a 24-hour telephone and counselling service. Therefore, in light of the good work done by the DPJ Foundation, and indeed others, can you tell us what your Government is doing to support the delivery of more local, tailored mental health support networks across the country?
I thank the Member for that supplementary question, again dealing with a very important aspect of mental health. I was very pleased to meet the founder of the DPJ Foundation at the Pembrokeshire show, where I saw other colleagues as well, and Lesley Griffiths and I were able to open their office there at the Pembrokeshire show and to hear from them about the fantastic work that they do. The Welsh Government has been pleased to support their work financially as well, because of course Paul Davies is right, there are particular vulnerabilities in the farming sector at different times. We've had dedicated mental health helplines to assist the farming community going back as far as the foot and mouth epidemic at the very start of devolution. So, we continue to work and to invest in those specialist services that are relevant in rural Wales.
But, Paul Davies is also right, there are other aspects of mental health where there are particular needs—veterans services, for example, where we know that we have to provide a mental health service that, as well as being available to everybody, is skilled and able to respond to the particular sorts of mental health conditions that people who served in the armed forces are especially vulnerable to experiencing.
First Minister, of course, it's not just children and young people, or indeed farmers, who are struggling to access appropriate mental health services. We also know that depression is more common in older people than in any other age group, and sometimes they are not being recognised as they should and therefore not being provided with the support that they need. It is deeply worrying that people are not receiving some of the support that they need. The Welsh Government, of course, needs to ensure that individual departments aren't actually working in silos, either, but rather under one co-ordinated umbrella.
Moving forward, what assurances can you offer the people of Wales that these services will indeed be made available to anyone who needs them, regardless of age, geography or background, and when will you be confident that we'll actually start to see these figures improve in the field of mental health support in Wales?
Llywydd, can I just say to the Member that there is a complexity, isn't there, in the figures in that we want people to come forward, we encourage people not to feel stigma, we encourage people to declare that they need help with a mental health condition, and then the figures sometimes look as though demand has risen and is not being met? But in fact, it is partly a reflection of the success of the campaigns that have been led around this Chamber over many years to try to make sure that people who need help with a mental health condition feel confident about presenting themselves for it. It's partly why in this Assembly, in the third term, the Mental Health (Wales) Measure was put on the statute book with the new primary care mental health service, and I think that has been a tremendous success and a tribute to the work that was done in this Assembly, because that is somewhere where— . We know that older people are more likely than any other part of the population to be in touch with their family doctor, and therefore the primary care mental health service ought to be the way in which older people who are suffering from loneliness, isolation and where that shades into a mental health condition like depression—that is where that is first recognised and a front-line service is able to be provided for them.
The number of people getting help from the primary care mental health service has grown every single year and is now at its most successful, and yet, waiting times for that service have been kept down through the extra investment that's been made in mental health. It would be completely wrong for anybody to think of an older person who is depressed, that this is just something that older people have to put up with because it's part of the condition of ageing. Those people need to feel as confident as anybody else that the services that are there are available to them, too.
The leader of the Brexit Party, Mark Reckless.
First Minister, GDP declined by 0.3 per cent in November, and I know that you like to blame Brexit for any weakness in the economy. However, isn't it revealing that we've had some much stronger data since the election? For instance, the Halifax have reported that house prices rose by 4 per cent in December. Deloitte, who surveyed companies' chief financial officers between 13 December, which was, of course, the day after the election, and 6 January, saw their business optimism balance rising from -35 per cent to +45 per cent. They say this constituted, and I quote,
'an unprecedented rise in business sentiment'.
First Minister, isn't it now evident that what was holding the economy back was not the prospect of Brexit, but the prospect of Corbyn?
I don't think that's true for a moment, Llywydd. I want the UK economy to be a success, because the Welsh economy will be a success alongside it. So where there are signs that the economy is strengthening and recovering, then of course those are to be welcomed. But the signs are by no means all in one direction. Not only did GDP data show the UK economy growing by just 0.1 per cent, it showed a 0.3 per cent fall in both manufacturing and in services.
So the data on the UK economy is mixed. Where there are good signs, let's welcome them, and hope that they can be used to go on creating a successful economy, but it's far, far too early to draw any conclusions about whether the signs that are there of things strengthening will turn out to be the long-term trend, or the trend that we saw in GDP data yesterday—which some serious economists are suggesting are likely to see a formal recession in the UK economy in 2020—whether that turns out to be the truth.
I thank the First Minister for his considered and thoughtful response. First Minister, when I first asked you about the fall in stamp duty commercial receipts following the introduction of land transaction tax, you said it was too early to draw any conclusions. We now have the definitive data in the 'Welsh taxes outlook' from the Office for Budget Responsibility, and they say that your pre-announcing rates and thresholds for LTT created challenges for their LTT forecasts, in particular with your 6 per cent supertax on commercial transactions over £1 million. They conclude that the final quarter's outturn for commercial stamp duty land tax paid to the UK Government in Q1 2018 was £20 million, or 25 per cent higher than they'd expected, as transactions were brought forward to avoid Welsh LTT. They also say that, in the first quarter of 2108, property transactions generally rose by 50 per cent relative to the first quarter of 2017, since forestalling was evident prior to the introduction of LTT. This included for higher value residential properties. Do you accept that pre-announcing those tax hikes was a mistake, as it brought forward property purchases, since people prefer to pay lower taxes to the UK Government than higher taxes to the Welsh Government?
No, I don't accept for a moment that it was a mistake, Llywydd, it was done for very good reasons, and it was done particularly on the advice of the sector, who needed to be able to plan for the changes, needed to be able to plan for the fact that these were taxes that were now being discharged here in Wales, needed to make sure that they had plenty of time to be alert to any changes that this National Assembly would put on the statue book. Forestalling was always going to be a phenomenon of moving from one system to another; it was absolutely a phenomenon of the Scottish experience.
There is a problem. The solution was not to delay announcing what we announced—the solution is for the UK Government to repay to us the windfall that they have now received, and we're in discussions with them about that, because the rules of the fiscal framework are clear that, if there are unexpected shifts of this sort and they can be attributed in the way that I agree—the Member is right in his attribution—then that money should be paid back to the Welsh coffers because that's where it belongs.
3. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of economic investment in Ogmore since 2016? OAQ54920
I thank the Member for that. Amongst the many economic investments we've made in Ogmore are Sunday services and new rolling stock on the Maesteg line; growth funding for businesses in Brynmenyn and Pontyclun; supporting 30 apprenticeships at Sony in Pencoed; and the revitalisation of Maesteg town hall with £3.5 million worth of investment.
I thank the First Minister for that answer, but I'm going to ask him if he could go even further, looking forward. I just wonder whether he and his Ministers in the Cabinet would be open to some ideas that the local authority is working on. So, for example, developing a Bridgend transport hub along with the re-regulation of the buses could actually get the buses to go to the places of work at the time that we need them along the routes that we need them; community and town centre investment in places like Pontycymer and Nantymoel; mixed-use redevelopment of empty sites, such the Ewenny Road strategic site, as well as Sarn and the empty Christie-Tyler site; enterprise hubs in the three valleys delivering jobs closer to home; further development of things such as the Caerau mine water geothermal scheme as well; and also, developing the Bryngarw country park further than it is now, as that gateway for adventure tourism, not only into the Ogmore, but into the Rhondda and the Afan valleys as well. Would he impress that, working with his Ministers together across Government, and would he like to come and visit us, at any time that's convenient to him, so that we can show him the potential of delivering jobs and prosperity for all throughout our communities?
Well, Llywydd, with the repertoire of ideas that we have just heard, it is no wonder, is it, that unemployment in the Ogmore constituency is at an all-time low, where active enterprises in the constituency are at an all-time high, and where the growth in earnings in the Ogmore constituency over the last decade has outstripped the growth, not just in Wales, but across the whole of the United Kingdom? It's fantastic to hear such a wealth of ideas, that we as a Government will want to take up across my ministerial colleagues, and, of course, I would be delighted to come to the constituency and to be with the Member seeing for myself the practical possibilities for even further improvement in the Ogmore economy.
Well, of course, Ogmore is in my region, so perhaps I can piggy-back on the back of that invitation, Huw—thank you. As we've heard before in the Chamber, of course, constituents in Ogmore, as well as other parts of my region, will have worked at Ford and the supply chain companies that have supported Ford. The Welsh Government committed to match fund the Cardiff capital region's £50,000 contribution to a seed fund for Bridgend County Borough Council to invest in initial resources to help develop some proposals to mitigate the impact of those job losses, and some of them may be those that Huw Irranca-Davies has just mentioned. Have you had any indication yet as to whether the council has had the full £100,000 and how much of that has been invested in those priority areas of clean energy and the town centre improvements that we desperately need, in other parts of my region, actually? Is it clear that those are mitigating the impact of the Ford job losses or are they more generally involved in improving the local economy?
I thank Suzy Davies for that, Dirprwy Lywydd. It is true that the Welsh Government has provided £50,000 to Bridgend County Borough Council, to be matched by the city deal. I don't, I'm afraid, have immediately in my head the projects that are being worked up as a result of that investment, but I do know that there is a list of projects that Welsh Government officials and those in the Cardiff capital region have been working on specifically in order to be able to use that investment.
That is part, Dirprwy Lywydd, of a far wider range of actions that the teams that are working on the future of people and places in Bridgend are invested in: the bringing of Ineos to Bridgend, with the potential for jobs there in the future, the investment that the Welsh Government is making to make sure that that is the most attractive proposition that we can make. We are determined to go on working with all our partners, including the UK Government, to make sure that we provide new economic opportunities for people who have lost their jobs at Ford Bridgend, and that Ogmore and the Bridgend constituency, and the whole of the region that the Member represents, goes on enjoying a successful economic future.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of the Erasmus Plus programme? OAQ54932
I thank Lynne Neagle for that. It is deeply disappointing that, last week, the new Conservative Government defeated efforts to require UK participation in Erasmus+ once the UK leaves the European Union, and this, Dirprwy Lywydd, despite consistent calls from both the Welsh and Scottish Governments for that participation to be guaranteed.
Thank you, First Minister, and I share that disappointment about the vote last week. I was an Erasmus student. I, from a working-class home, from one of Wales's most deprived communities, who had never even had a family holiday abroad, was able to go and study at the University of Paris under the Erasmus programme, and have always been grateful for that opportunity.
Continued participation in Erasmus is not in any way incompatible with leaving the EU. Will you, working with your Minister for Education, do everything you can to impress upon the UK Government the enormous benefits that Erasmus+ brings to young people, especially our most disadvantaged young people, and do whatever you can to ensure that Wales can continue to play a full part in this life-changing EU programme?
Well, can I thank the Member for that? Her individual testimony is very powerful. Surely, we ought all to be determined that young people in the future are not denied opportunities that have come the way of others as a result of participation in Erasmus and Erasmus+.
I know that the education Minister, Kirsty Williams, has consistently argued in meetings with UK Ministers for the UK to continue to participate in it because, as Lynne Neagle says, it's available to third countries; there is nothing in leaving the European Union that means that we have to leave Erasmus+. And Wales has been a huge beneficiary of it. Over €40 million have come to Wales for Erasmus+ projects between 2014 and 2018, and we had €13.6 million invested in giving young people those experiences last year alone. It's often not well understood, Dirprwy Lywydd, that as well as the sort of university experiences that Lynne referred to, it's also now available for further education, for schools, in adult education, and crucially, for the sort of young people that Lynne Neagle referred to, through the youth service as well. I, too, have had direct experience of taking groups of young people to Europe under the Erasmus+ scheme who would never ever have had that opportunity were that funding not available to them, and it is such a shame that, given an opportunity to guarantee that future participation last week, the new Conservative Government turned its back on it.
After the vote you referred to on this clause, the Channel 4 News FactCheck website said that voting the clause down is not the same as scrapping UK involvement in the scheme, and the UK Government made clear that the vote does not end or prevent the UK participating in Erasmus. How therefore do you respond to the statement by the UK Government that, as we enter negotiations with the EU on the future relationship, we want to ensure that UK and European students can continue to benefit from each other's world-leading education systems and that it is wrong to say that the vote by MPs last Wednesday means that the UK will quit the Erasmus scheme?
Well, if the vote by MPs changed nothing, Dirprwy Lywydd, then why did his Government defeat it? If their intention is that everything we have now should be continued into the future, they had a way to guarantee that that would happen. He asked me what I fear, and here's my fear: that when the UK Government come to design their own system, it will be a slimmed-down system, it will be a less generous system, it will cut out of participation the sort of young people that Lynne Neagle highlighted in her question.
There was a very simple, direct, unambiguous way in which the Government could have sent its message about continuing participation in Erasmus+: it could have allowed that amendment to go through last week. It didn't, and there must be a reason for that. The reason is that they don't intend to replace Erasmus on a like-for-like basis in future, and young people in Wales will be worse off as a result.
I'd like to concur with some of the comments made previously that this is an amazing opportunity for many young people, not only academically, but it can change their lives and the people they meet and the type of lifestyle they'll go on to lead in this country. And I do think that, as a party of aspiration, the Conservatives are taking the wrong stance here, because if they believe that everybody should have the chance to study abroad, then they will deny, potentially, the chance to working class and middle class people and it will only be the rich that will be able to take part in these particular schemes. And that is an embarrassment for them.
I've heard, and I've read the fact-checking, that they are looking—only looking—to have negotiation on the future of Erasmus in any trade negotiations in the future. It doesn't guarantee that we will stay within Erasmus. In that eventuality, what type of discussions are you having with the European Union? For example, if the Conservatives come up with this watered-down project that you have anticipated, what will you be able to do from a Welsh perspective in terms of an alternative plan? I know that you can't directly liaise, because we are not a nation state in that regard, to be able to have those conversations, but can we do it by institution, or will that prove to be more difficult to do? Are there other options on the table, albeit that we all want to fight for the current Erasmus programme? What other alternatives are you looking at at the moment as a Government?
There will be other ways in which we can try and support the very important work that's carried out in Erasmus through institution-to-institution links and so on, but the first thing, Dirprwy Lywydd, we would need to do would be to secure the money for it, because the money for Erasmus is not held in the education department at Westminster, it is held by the Treasury. And if the UK Government choose to spend less on Erasmus in the future, then they must give us the money that would previously have been spent in Wales. That's what I believe was meant by the Conservative Party claim that Wales would not be a penny worse off. We should have the money that is spent on Erasmus now, and if they won't spend it, they should give us the money so that we can create those opportunities for young people in Wales.
First Minister, many non-EU countries, as you well know, participate fully in Erasmus+, including Turkey. No-one is arguing that UK students wouldn't actually enjoy the same educational and cultural opportunities that Turkish students would. The Government doesn't need to bind itself by statute to negotiate this at all. Does the First Minister agree that this is an area that both Government and all political parties could be united on in the upcoming negotiations with the EU?
Well, I certainly hope that the UK Government will negotiate an equivalent involvement in Erasmus+ as we have enjoyed up until now, and I agree with this point that Mandy Jones made: there is no reason why they couldn't, because a third country can have full participation in Erasmus+. That's what I'm looking for from the UK Government, not some diluted, slimmed down, made-at-home version. I want Welsh young people to have exactly the same opportunities after we leave the European Union as they have had now. The rulebook doesn't preclude that, and that's what they must secure.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's policy for economic development in Newport? OAQ54917
I thank John Griffiths for that. While real pressures are evident in long-standing industries located in Newport, the national development framework identifies the city and its surroundings as a centre for future economic growth. The Welsh Government's policy is to support existing employment while growing those industries that offer jobs for the future.
I thank the First Minister for that. Newport does have great potential with its transport links, motorway, rail and port, and, of course, its geographical position between the economic powerhouses of Cardiff and Bristol. It also has a very resilient local population and workforce that have adapted to economic challenges over many years. We see the new industries, First Minister, of cyber security, computer software, the microchip industry, and, obviously, we want to hang on to our existing jobs in steel and elsewhere. We have city-centre regeneration on the back of the international conference centre and new hotels. Much is happening, much could happen, and I very much back the South Wales Argus campaign to highlight these positives as we move forward. So, how can Welsh Government best work with Newport City Council, the private sector, universities and others to structure, take forward and realise this potential for Newport and Wales?
Can I thank John Griffiths for that, and absolutely to endorse what he said about the positive future that is there for Newport, and the enormous efforts that are being made across the public and private sectors in the city to create the sort of future that will offer prosperity to its citizens? The Welsh Government is already investing in the National Cyber Security Academy, making sure that we develop the next generation of work-ready cyber-security experts. We're involved in the Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus, and that's a really big opportunity for Newport to make sure that it is at the forefront of the UK-wide public and private effort to gain from the investment that is being made in data science research.
And Newport has so much to offer in all of this. I'm just going to take two examples from the supplementary question that John Griffiths offered: the commitment of its local workforce. When I, with the Minister for the economy, met with the full board of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, the train manufacturing company, they said to me that they were hugely impressed by the quality and the commitment of the workforce that has been recruited to that new industry in Newport. They'd come directly from the factory, they'd spent the whole day there, and they said if they had one take-away from their visit to Wales, it was about the quality of the people who they had been able to recruit to work in that industry.
In terms of connectivity—final point, Llywydd—when I was in Japan in late September of last year and met a whole range of major Japanese companies, many of them are attracted to investment in Newport and the south-east of Wales because, from their point of view, being an hour and a half by train from London means you're practically on the doorstep, and distances that seem long to us—to them, that was something that was absolutely on Newport's side.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government Investment in the food processing industry? OAQ54934
Thank you, Llyr Gruffydd. Over successive Assembly terms, Welsh Government has provided comprehensive investment in food processing as part of the food and drink sector. We have invested £94 million directly into programmes, which have included capital investment, technical support and developing the sector's profile and routes to market.
We're all highly aware of the impact that losing the Tomlinson's plant has had, not only on the 330 workers working there but also on dozens of farmers, who have faced huge losses in terms of providing milk without having been paid for it. And we understand now from PricewaterhouseCoopers that only 3p in the £1 will be provided to those milk providers in payments—indeed, if there is anything left to deliver even that. We see time and time again that the farmers are at the bottom of the list when it comes to such situations. We saw something similar when Dairy Farmers of Britain was put in the hands of the administrators. The administrators themselves have the first rights to payments, then the banks, then the staff, and it's the farmers who are bottom of the list.
Now, there has been a suggestion, of course, that a special fund should be created where milk processors pay into it—some sort of insurance scheme, if you like—that could be drawn on in a situation where you do need to compensate the producers. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board does administers such a fund from the point of view of grain crops, so can I ask if that's something that the Government has looked at or is willing to consider? And more generally, what steps are you taking to safeguard producers from being open to situations such as this in the future?
Thank you to Llyr Gruffydd. Of course, we are aware of the impact that Tomlinson's Dairies has had on the sector in north Wales. I'm pleased to say that what we've heard is that almost all of the people working in Tomlinson's who did want to find new jobs have succeeded in doing so. I do know that the Minister responsible for this sector had been clear with officials that they should give priority to farmers when we were making farm payments—that we should clear that we should provide priority for them in that system. And I do believe that almost all of the people who had provided milk to Tomlinson's have found other processors to take their milk.
The Minister will have heard what the Member said about that fund, and the insurance aspect of it that you mentioned, and I'm sure that she would be willing to discuss the possibilities around that with officials.
And finally, question 7—Dawn Bowden.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of the defence manufacturing sector to the economy of the south Wales valleys? OAQ54929
Dirprwy Lywydd, the sector is a significant employer in the south Wales Valleys. General Dynamics alone provides some 1,100 people with highly skilled and well-paid jobs at its sites in Oakdale and Merthyr Tydfil.
Thank you for that and answer, First Minister. In the case of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, can I place on record the huge importance that I attach to the jobs, the economic benefits and the profile that comes from General Dynamics Land Systems in the constituency? Indeed, I know such jobs are of great value across all of our Valleys constituencies, so would you confirm that the Welsh Government is doing all it can in support of General Dynamics Land Systems UK in winning the UK multi-role vehicle protected group 2 programme? These types of investments are clearly of strategic importance to the Welsh economy, and if successful, this will mean more well-paid, highly skilled jobs delivering the first-rate Eagle 6x6 vehicle for the British army? I'm sure you would agree with me that we must help them to achieve that.
I thank the Member for that and for her very strong support for those companies in her constituency that make such an important contribution to the Welsh economy and are such a valued employer in her constituency and in others as well.
I know that she will be pleased to know that the Minister for Economy and Transport visited the Merthyr facility last week and was shown the Eagle vehicle at first-hand, and as a result has written to the Minister for defence procurement in the UK Government this week supporting the UK multi-role vehicle protected group 2 programme and particularly emphasising the benefits that winning the contract will have on the south Wales Valleys area, and ensuring that those jobs that are so important in the Merthyr constituency go on being supported by this Government and by the UK Government too.
Thank you very much, First Minister.
Item 2 on the agenda this afternoon is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans.
There's one change to this week's business. As no amendments have been tabled, the time allocated to the Stage 3 debate on the National Health Service (Indemnities) (Wales) Bill has been reduced. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Can I call for two statements today, if I may, from the Welsh Government? The first is a statement request from the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to his proposals for a new citizens' voice body for Wales. As the business manager will know, as the Trefnydd will know indeed, the Government's intention is that community health councils will be replaced with a single citizens' voice body to act as a patient watchdog in Wales, and it seems that that policy will be fully implemented by the Government. One of the things that I would like to see, if there is going to be a body like that, is for it to be located in another part of Wales, outside of Cardiff. And can I put a bid in for my own constituency, with it being centrally located along the north Wales coast, easily accessible along the A55 corridor, as a potentially suitable location? I think that it is important that, where possible, jobs should be away from this capital city, given the number of jobs that are already here in terms of Welsh Government and public sector jobs, and I do think that placing such a new body in north Wales would go a long way to recognising the importance of that region for the Welsh Government.
Can I also call for a statement from the Minister for Housing and Local Government in relation to any support that the Welsh Government may have offered to the Australian fire services as a result of the bush fires down there? We've all seen the devastating scenes of homes being destroyed, properties being destroyed, businesses being destroyed, and indeed the huge destruction of wildlife in Australia in recent weeks, and I'm sure that all of our hearts would want to go out to every one of those affected. But we've seen, of course, brave firefighters, unfortunately, struggling to cope with the challenge that's presented to them, and some, of course, have lost their lives.
I've been contacted by a number of members of staff who are firefighters for the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, who, compassionately, want to go out and assist in a practical way. Having discussed this with them, it would appear that the response of the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service is that they don't have the resources to enable them to be released in that way. I do think that, given the links between Wales and Australia, it would be an opportunity, really, to strengthen those links and stand shoulder to shoulder with the fire service down there if Wales were able to resource a number of firefighters from each of the fire services to go and assist in that effort. And I would therefore call for a statement on whether this might be possible from the Minister for Housing and Local Government.
I thank Darren Millar for raising those issues. On the first, which relates to the future of the patient voice in Wales for health and social services, he made a keen bid for his own constituency. I know that the Minister for Health and Social Services will be keeping the Senedd updated on this particular issue, of course. But, more widely, I can say that the Welsh Government has published, quite recently, our own location strategy, because we understand that we need to demonstrate leadership in this area in terms of ensuring that our employment footprint does stretch across Wales and that we do so in a way that promotes our efforts for decarbonisation and our 'town centre first' policy and so forth. So, I'd suggest the Member has a look at that strategy, just for the general interest that he has in that approach.
On the issue of the Australian fires, obviously, we also send our sympathies to everybody who's been affected. It's clearly quite devastating for the country. I think that you've tabled a written question, or I've certainly seen a written question, on exactly this subject to the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, and I'll be sure that you also receive that response, and, obviously, she's been here to hear that particular query regarding the fire service.
The Llywydd (Elin Jones) took the Chair.
I want to raise a matter that's been brought to my attention by people working in the disability support sector—that your Government is no longer funding the Wales Learning Disability Helpline. The helpline was established more than 20 years ago in the very early days of devolution, and it's supported more than 50,000 people in that time, and it's a crucial lifeline to the estimated 64,000 people in Wales with a learning disability. Last year alone, more than 2,000 people were supported through the service. Now, I've been told that the service costs around £150,000 a year to run and, up until now, it's been run by Mencap. I think that represents excellent value for money, given that it handles complex cases, such as helping parents to formally challenge decisions about support hours, helping distraught families through inquests and providing advice on accessing specialist education provision. So, on behalf of the people who rely upon this service, I would like an explanation for the withdrawal of that funding for the service, and I'd also like to know what, if anything, is scheduled to replace it after 1 April.
I want to raise the Welsh Government's support for the principle of providing paid leave for survivors of domestic abuse. I welcome the statement made by the Minister that it should happen and she called upon local councils to introduce it. But what I would like to know is when are you going to be introducing it for your own employees? So, an early statement on that matter would be welcome.
And, then, finally, Minister, will you join me in saying llongyfarchiadau to Dafydd Iwan and all of the campaigners who have worked tirelessly over the weekend to get the 1983 classic 'Yma o Hyd' to the No. 1 slot in the UK iTunes chart? We did it. It got to No. 1—the first time a song in the medium of Welsh has ever made it to a UK No. 1. So, I'm sure that you will want to celebrate with us, on behalf of the Welsh Government. We may be in dark political times at the moment, but I think it's worth us all remembering:
In spite of everyone and everything, we're still here.
I thank Leanne Wood for raising both of these—all three of these—issues in the Chamber this afternoon. On the first, I will certainly ask the Minister with responsibility for equalities to provide an update as to the situation regarding the disability support helpline, because I don't have that information in front of me today.FootnoteLink
But she has also indicated that she would be keen to provide an update or a statement on the Welsh Government's approach to the issue of paid leave for survivors of domestic abuse, because I know this is something that we have indicated a keenness to make some progress on within Welsh Government. Again, it's about us demonstrating leadership in this area. So, a statement from the Minister will be forthcoming on that.FootnoteLink
And, of course, celebrating the first Welsh language song to make it to No. 1 in the iTunes chart—I think that raised lots of eyebrows over the weekend, but it's certainly an opportunity to promote Wales and to promote our wonderful language.
Minister, can we have a statement from the Minister for Education on the parlous state of a number of schools in the South Wales East region? We understand that there are five schools in special measures, three in need of significant improvement, and five where progress is under review following Estyn inspections.
Could we also have a statement from the First Minister on the announcement by the chief executive of Airbus—forgive me if I don't get his name right—Guillaume Faury, that the production of wings in the UK was guaranteed to continue? And he further promised that Airbus was working with the new Government on an ambitious industrial strategy in the UK. This, of course, seems to fly in the face of prophecies of doom and gloom often heard in this Chamber.
On the first issue, regarding schools and your concern about particular individual schools within the region that you represent, I would encourage you to write to the education Minister and potentially the local authority raising the concerns you have regarding those specific schools.
And, on the second, of course Welsh Government wants Airbus to be a great success. We've invested over the years greatly in Airbus and its workforce and we're very keen to continue to do so into the future.
I'd like to raise two issues, Trefnydd. One is looking at the ways of tackling the disastrous air pollution that certainly my constituency suffers from. One of the ways we can do that is by accelerating the switch to clean cars. And we know that a shortage of charging or refuelling points make people nervous about switching to electric or hydrogen vehicles, but we know that 10 new electric charging points are being installed every day across the UK. Nevertheless, one Cardiff car dealer told me there were no hydrogen refuelling points in Wales, and the nearest one was in Swindon, when I know that that is simply inaccurate. If we have that difficulty amongst people who are supposed to be advising people on what the best buy is, I feel we need to rectify that. For example, I'm aware that we are in the vanguard on hydrogen from renewables, due to research done at the University of South Wales, and they've installed a charging point for hydrogen at Baglan. At least one company based in Llandrindod that is pioneering hydrogen vehicles has installed another one in Abergavenny. So, I wondered if we could have a statement from the Welsh Government as to how Wales is not being left behind in this revolution and how we're ensuring that we are continuing to grow a Welsh network of both electric and hydrogen vehicle refuelling/recharging points in order to build on the expertise we already have in Wales on the technologies of the future.
Secondly, I was disturbed to read yesterday that counter-terrorism police are classifying Extinction Rebellion as an extremist organisation, putting it on a par with far-right or religious extremists. So, can the Welsh Government confirm that it will instruct schools not to refer young people who are concerned about the climate emergency to the discredited Prevent programme as if they were a security risk, because I think this is absolutely the opposite to what we should be encouraging young people to do?
I thank Jenny Rathbone for raising both of those issues. On the first, obviously, Welsh Government is investing additional funding through our most recently published draft budget, which looks to support and increase the use of electric vehicles here in Wales. But, alongside this, we're also preparing for hydrogen opportunities that we expect to come forward over the next five to 10 years. Stakeholder activities include the development of the south Wales industrial cluster, National Grid and their zero 2050 innovation project, the development of activities at the Baglan energy park, to which Jenny Rathbone referred—and that's part of the south-west Wales growth deal—together with the detailed design of hybrid hydrogen solutions in Pembrokeshire. Alongside this, consultancy support is being provided to the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to help assess the hydrogen opportunities for north Wales as part of the growth deal development of programmes and projects covering both heat, power and transport. We're also working with Monmouthshire County Council and the Gwent local authorities to facilitate research on the potential opportunities to maximise the Riversimple hydrogen trials that are currently taking place in Monmouthshire as well. So, there's a good body of work being undertaken in this area to ensure that we are in the right place to be able to maximise our response to the opportunities there.
On the issue of Extinction Rebellion, the Wales extremism and counter-terrorism unit inform us that Prevent policing do not classify Extinction Rebellion as an extremist group or ideology. Clearly, it's not a proscribed organisation, and, consequently, association with it or membership of it is clearly no kind of criminal offence, and I've seen suggested in the media that it might be. We really do welcome the fact that young people are speaking out against climate change, and we want all of our children and young people to become ethical, informed members of our society, because those are the principles that are very much guiding our new curriculum as well.
But, in terms of Welsh Government's relationship with Extinction Rebellion, I know the Minister with responsibility for energy, environment and rural affairs particularly meets with them, and we have ongoing discussion with the organisation. We find those discussions very, very informative and useful.
Minister, I would like to have two statements, one from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs about Welsh Government policy toward energy generation by biomass incinerators. Campaigners in Barry have called for an immediate stop or halt to work on the biomass incinerator there, and I'm advised another incinerator is being talked about on the Wentloog levels near Newport, which is causing local concern. May we have a statement from the Minister on what Welsh Government policy is toward biomass incinerators and whether she has any plans to impose a moratorium on approvals of such developments in Wales in future?
The second statement I would like to ask for is from the Minister for economy. Liberty Steel in Newport is shedding 72 jobs, and an announcement by Tata Steel on the Orb plant, again in Newport, could cut off another 380 jobs. Given the challenging conditions the steel industry's facing in Wales, what emergency or contingency business plans are available there to help not only the families but also the experienced workers in this industry in our country?
On the first issue, which relates to Welsh Government policy on incineration, Mike Hedges raised a similar issue within the Chamber in recent weeks, and I know that the Minister's provided him with a comprehensive background on Welsh Government policy in this area, and I know that she'd be keen to share the same with you. We are currently considering the report from WSP on the adequacy of the environment statement prior to public consultation in terms of the Barry biomass incinerator. So, that's the very latest position with regard to that.
And of course, we were very, very concerned to hear about the potential job losses in the areas you described. I know that there was a statement from the Minister Ken Skates on the Liberty Steel Newport announcement, and that statement was in the past few days. Again, I understand that he was answering some questions relating to the steel industry more widely, including Orb, within the Chamber recently as well. But he is very keen to ensure that Members have the latest updates, and when there is more to say, he will certainly share that with Members.
I'm aware we've had many statements on steel in this Chamber, and I'm grateful for that, but over the weekend I was reliably informed that one particular contractor in Port Talbot has laid off 16 members of staff already. Basically, they were told by Tata that they would get the invoice for the goods that they bought to do a job but that they won't be carrying forth with that particular operation; that's as much detail as I can go into. But I would like for a statement to be given by the Welsh Government specifically on contractors, because it seems that they're the first to go. Many of them are employed by agencies and don't have the same rights as the formal Tata workers in Port Talbot. So, I would like to hear what the Welsh Government are doing specifically on the contractors, because this may be one company, but what will happen then with other contracting companies in the town? It will have a knock-on effect on jobs and prosperity.
The second issue that I wanted to raise with you: you have kindly written to the Office for National Statistics with regard to the census. Clearly, those like the singer Kizzy Crawford who are campaigning because there's no option on the census for a black Welsh definition option, only black British, say they want a specific option on the census—for those who haven't been following it—for Welsh and black. Now, my colleagues Leanne Wood and Liz Saville Roberts have written to the ONS and they've had a response back saying that you can complete a write-in option to define yourself as black Welsh, which I don't think is sufficient enough and doesn't go far enough. They've told Leanne Wood and Liz Saville Roberts in a letter that they've done a significant amount of surveying and questioning in Wales, which I'm totally unaware of, because otherwise I don't think we'd have this outrage. What more can you do to pressurise the ONS not to put forward this Bill to Parliament in 2020 before they consult further on those questions and options? Because I feel that the BME community here in Wales is being let down.
Again, I'm grateful for these issues being raised again this afternoon. I know, on the issue of steel, the Minister will be meting with Dr Henrik Adam, CEO of Tata Steel Europe, in the coming weeks in relation to Tata particularly. However, the points are well made about the contractors, and obviously the full supply chain that is dependent very much on Tata. So, I'll be sure to make the Minister aware of the request for the statement, and also the information more widely on those particular angles that you've identified.
On the second issue, I had the opportunity to meet the national deputy chief statistician just last week to discuss this particular issue, about how the current census isn't as inclusive as we would wish it to be, and I do hope that we are going to be able to come to a satisfactory and positive conclusion on this issue. Obviously, I'm keen to keep Members up to date on that. The ONS is currently undertaking some focus groups in different parts of Wales to look at what might be done to improve this issue, but I think that they've engaged very well with this in recent times on this particular issue, and there is a genuine will and keenness to make an improvement.
I would like to ask for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on the sustainable social services grant, please. I'd also associate myself with the remarks made earlier by Leanne Wood; the learning disability helpline was funded by the sustainable social services grant. I've also received representations from the Wales Council of the Blind, who've had their funding cut under that programme, and, as committee Chair, by Adoption UK, who have also had their funding cut. It is also my understanding that Disability Wales and Wales Council for Deaf People have lost funding under this programme. Now, this to me very much plays to the concerns I have anyway about third-sector funding in Wales, which is anything but sustainable. We see organisations that health boards and local authorities are very happy to refer to who really, really struggle to get core funding, and therefore depend on the funding under the sustainable social services grant. So, I too would like to have an explanation as to what's happened here, and a general statement about the fund from the Deputy Minister. Thank you.
Well, I know that the overall amount of funding that the health Minister has put into the sustainable social services grant has been increased for the next financial year, but I also know that he and, I believe, the Deputy Minister are both attending health committee tomorrow for scrutiny. So, I think that this would be a good opportunity to get into some of that detail with them.
Trefnydd, in the past, it's always been courteous, when a Minister visits a Member's constituency, that a notification is sent out in advance. Over recent times, I've noticed that those visit notifications do tend to be more and more last minute, often with an apology for those notifications being last minute. But I would point out that I've been aware that many of those visits have been confirmed many weeks in advance. Yesterday, a Minister visited my own constituency and I had no notification at all, although I'm aware that other AMs in that region did have a notification of that particular event. So, can I ask, Trefnydd, if you agree with me that notifications should continue, that you discuss this with your Cabinet colleagues, so that notifications are issued in a timely manner, and indeed to all AMs rather then just particular AMs?
Yes, I apologise to Russell George if he wasn't notified of a ministerial engagement within his constituency. Perhaps if he lets me have the details I will look into that, but I will certainly undertake to discuss with all private officers to ensure that we are informing all Members of those areas of visits that are undertaken in their patch. And again, apologies to Russell George.
May I ask the Trefnydd if she can arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement about the implementation of the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations 2000? Of course, we would all very much welcome public buses becoming more accessible for disabled people, and it is of course true to say that companies have known for some time that these regulations are coming in. However, in my region, this is having an effect on children in the Tumble and Drefach areas because the spare capacity that was available on local authority buses that parents were able to buy into has been reduced because private companies have opted out of providing the service rather than adapt their buses suitably.
It seems likely to me that this is impacting in other parts of Wales, and I would like to have an opportunity to ask a Welsh Minister what can be done about this, because I'm sure this is one of those unintended consequences. I think it's true to say that the private contractors can't say that they weren't given notice, but if this does lead to a situation where children are having to walk, and sometimes having to walk quite long distances, that may have implications for Welsh Government policy going forward.
It may be that we need to reconsider the current law, which only commits us to—I think it's two miles for primary school children and three miles—. Two miles for a primary school child, when you think that primary school children are now as young as three years old—whereas they would have been almost six when these regulations first came in. I think there are implications. I would be interested to know if there are implications in other parts of my region. The concerns have come to me from Carmarthenshire, but obviously this has a bigger implication for rural areas, potentially, than for urban ones. So, if the Minister was able to make a statement so that we could discuss this further, we'd be very grateful.
The Minister with responsibility for economy and transport has this area within his portfolio, and I will make him aware of the discussion that we've had and the particular concerns you've described in your area and make him aware of that request for the statement, because the points you raise are important points.
Can I call for a single statement on resources in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? I receive many e-mails from constituents, whether that's patients, family members or staff, who, based on their own experience, wish to share suggestions for how services might be improved in the health board. I'll only quote one of those, received this month:
'Just before Christmas, my husband became ill with a serious chest infection which became pneumonia. He had a total of three admissions to the emergency department. On the third occasion, he was eventually admitted to the high-dependency unit where he received excellent care. However, the fact is on three occasions he was, in my opinion as a registered nurse, not well triaged. The matron of the unit was working extremely hard to move patients through the department and she was introducing herself to patients, however she did not seem to be getting a lot of support from junior staff. She apologised for the state of the department, which was obviously desperately overstretched. I hope that she is given the time and the resources to sort this department out. Please can you do something to help her by asking the Welsh Government to urgently put more resources into Glan Clwyd? Not just by throwing money at the problem, but by ensuring that the money available is spent on opening beds in the main hospital and also in the community hospitals, so that people are not occupying beds in the acute sector when they really need community hospital care. I'm thankful to the staff and consultants in the high-dependency unit for the fact that my husband is still alive, but I fear that he's lucky to be so after what he's been through in the emergency department. I hope that this e-mail is taken note of for the sake of all of us who live in Flintshire, Denbighshire and Conwy.'
I call for a statement in that context, not just about the totality of money spent but, in this context, responding to suggestions about how that money might be spent better.
I would ask Mark Isherwood, if I may, for him to share that correspondence that he's received with me and with the Minister for health so that we can consider it more fully. I know that the health Minister would want to consider it in the context of his efforts in north Wales as well. But I think that Mark Isherwood's point does really speak to the importance of the patient voice and the user experience within the NHS, and the fact that, by capturing that, we can certainly look to continue to make the improvements that patients and their families would expect. So, that kind of contribution, I think, will be really useful and I look forward to receiving that and any other similar contributions that Mark Isherwood has that he wants to draw to our attention.
Finally, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. May I ask for a written statement as a matter of urgency from the Minister for transport on concerns around the Flybe airline? There are suggestions from Westminster that the UK Government is considering some sort of funding package for the company, which of course is very important in terms of Cardiff Airport, providing a number of flights to and from Cardiff, and of course responsible for the service between Cardiff and Anglesey, which has become important to individuals, companies, businesses and in terms of the governance of Wales, which is very important.
I understand from my colleague in Westminster Jonathan Edwards MP that he has asked the Minister for transport there whether there has been any communication from the Welsh Government over concerns on Flybe, and the transport Minister said that nothing has been heard from the Welsh Government on the issue. I'm slightly surprised by that. But given the importance of this company, can we have a written statement now explaining exactly what steps the Welsh Government is taking, and the assurances that the Welsh Government is seeking in terms of the future?
So, we're very aware of the media speculation around Flybe. Although, certainly at the point of coming into the Chamber this afternoon, there had been no comment from the company. But we are already in discussion with Cardiff Airport on the potential impact of the airline going into administration or, indeed, reducing the number of routes out of Cardiff. Of course, air passenger duty is part of this picture, and you know that we've long campaigned—and I think this is a view shared across parties in the Chamber—for the devolution of air passenger duty to Wales so that we can make our own decisions on how we would support Cardiff Airport.
I think it's clear from what's happening at Flybe that there is a major issue with regional connectivity, and we're keen to continue having those discussions with the UK Government, but, as I said, at the moment, we understand there only to be speculation regarding Flybe and there's been nothing formal from the company yet.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
We now move to a statement by the Minister for Internal Relations and the Welsh Language on the international strategy, and I call on the Minister to make the statement—Eluned Morgan.
Thank you, Llywydd. In just over two weeks' time, the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union. This will fundamentally change the relationship that we have had with our closest neighbours for 40 years—a relationship that has brought positive benefits for Wales in almost all spheres of life. But this is not a statement about Brexit, not about its fact or its form; this is a statement about our place in the world. It may be true to say that we are leaving the European Union, but we are not turning our backs on the EU or the world. We are determined to go on being an outward-looking nation; a nation ready to work and trade with the world; and a globally responsible nation committed to playing our part in combating some of the most challenging issues facing the international community. This, Llywydd, is the very reason why the Government is launching its first international strategy.
Since devolution, Wales has been making its mark on the international stage. We have developed partnerships with countries and regions around the world. We've exchanged ideas about minority languages and technology with the Basque Country and with Ireland. We've planted 10 million trees in Uganda as part of our ongoing work with African countries. And Wales was there at the very beginning when the global Under2 Coalition was founded, and this was the kick start on climate action under the Paris agreement.
We are duty bound to work with other nations around the world for all of our benefits. This is a principle that is central to our identity as a nation. We are proud to host many people who have left their own nations and have made their homes here in Wales. There is no doubt that their contributions enrich our nation in so many different ways. Our award-winning goods and services are exported all over the world, and given that we're a small nation of just three million people we have excelled on the world stage—in the arts and creative industries without forgetting sport, of course. Our heritage, our culture and our breathtaking natural beauty continue to attract tourists from all parts of the world.
As Wales's first Minister for international relations, I thought it was important to bring the achievements of the last 20 years together, and use those as a foundation to set Wales's course in international work for the future, particularly in the shifting political and social climate created by Brexit. Over the last year, we have worked with almost 600 partners and stakeholders to identify our priorities for the years ahead. Welsh Government has an important role in leading this agenda, but it is only through working together that we will be able to amplify our voice around the world.
Our international partners in the UK Government, in voluntary organisations and in other Welsh organisations have already said that they are willing and eager to work with us, and they’ve welcomed the fact that we have developed a cohesive strategy that is ambitious and that will underpin their work, too.
The strategy has three core ambitions over the next five years: to raise Wales’s profile internationally, to grow our economy and to establish Wales as a globally responsible nation. At the heart of the strategy is a recognition that Wales is a modern and vibrant country—a place that fosters talent, that is sustainable, creative and technologically advanced.
Our people, of course, are our biggest asset, whether here in Wales or overseas. People will be key to driving the success of this strategy. We will nurture the relationships that we have developed over the last 20 years, and we’ll develop new relationships in new emerging markets.
We'll develop a new, ambitious approach to reach out to our diaspora and our alumni networks. We know that culture, sport and our expertise in minority languages development will help set us apart from other nations. Last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan was a wonderful example of how Wales can sell itself on the world stage, building on the success of sport to promote Wales and Welsh business opportunities to a wider audience. The Wales dome in the heart of Tokyo brought sport, a large trading mission, cultural performances and a 360-degree immersive experience of Wales, together with our award-winning food and drink sector, in an effort to promote our country in Japan.
We'll grow our economy by putting more energy and money into unlocking the immense potential in Wales and in Welsh companies to export more to established and to new emerging markets. That will help to support jobs and communities at home.
Competition for inward investment will be challenging once we're outside the European Union, but we're undeterred. We'll draw attention to Wales by demonstrating how we are world leaders in three key sectors. The sectors we've chosen underline our prowess in the fields of sustainability, technology and creativity. They have significant scope for growth and are in keeping with the growth deals and the economic action plan. And they should not be too adversely affected by the impact of Brexit. These sectors are: cyber security, compound semiconductors and the creative industries, in particular film and TV. It's important for me to emphasise that these do not preclude investments from other sectors and they send out the message that Wales has a skilled workforce and is open for business.
Our ambition to establish Wales as a globally responsible nation encompasses both environmental and social priorities. Our approach to decarbonisation and tackling the climate emergency is set out through ambitions to become a world leader in recycling and support for renewable energy as well as the promotion of sustainable tourism. My commitment to expand the flagship Wales for Africa programme—now renamed 'Wales and Africa'—embraces a community-led approach that is mutually beneficial. I want to share our expertise in minority language development with other countries and learn from others in this field.
Llywydd, it's important that we promote the message that Wales is, and will continue to be, a European nation. Our relationship with the EU and its organisations will inevitably change over the coming months and years, but we want to continue working with our European partners wherever possible. We have long-established and strong relationships with many European countries and regions, and Europe remains our most important export market.
This strategy sets out which will be the priority countries and regions we aim to focus to promote Wales in. Values are at the heart of this strategy. We will shout loudly and proudly about how we were the first and are still the only nation in the world to have transposed the UN sustainability goals into law.
There's been much discussion about values and human rights through the development of this strategy, and I've welcomed this challenge. I want Wales to be known as a welcoming nation, as a nation of sanctuary, as a fair nation, promoting fair work, fair trade and fair play. We'll ensure that the world knows that it was Wales that inspired the NHS, and we still hold true to its core values.
The international strategy is our guide in a challenging and changing world. Relationships constantly change, economies fluctuate, and priorities move on, but we'll hold true to our values, whatever comes our way. We'll engage with the UK Government to secure the best possible trading conditions for Wales that will be key to our economic success in the future. Wales is a small country with big ambitions, and this strategy will help to put Wales on the international map. Diolch.
Can I thank the Minister for an advanced copy of her statement and congratulate her on the production of the international strategy? It's been 21 years since the advent of devolution and I think it's very important that Wales reaches out beyond its borders into those countries overseas where we have strong relationships and where there are opportunities to develop new relationships. I just think it's a matter of regret that it's taken such a long time to get to this position where we actually have a strategy before us. Can I also welcome the tone of the Minister's statement too? It's refreshingly different from the statement that we received last week on international trade.
There's much that we can welcome on this side of the Chamber in the international strategy. I think it's absolutely right that there's a deliberate attempt by the Welsh Government to strengthen the presence of the Welsh Government overseas post Brexit. I think it's absolutely right that there are some very key and core ambitions that flow through the whole of the document. And I think it's right that we are attempting to get the Government focused on delivering centres of excellence around those three particular sectors that you referred to: cyber security, compound semiconductors and the creative industries. Because I think when we've got strengths, we must play to them, and we can certainly do more to capitalise on those and, indeed, to capitalise on our expertise in securing the future of Welsh as a very important official language, but nevertheless a minority language. So, can I congratulate you on all of those things, Minister, before I turn to some questions?
One of the things that you have indicated in the document, and you referred to it briefly in your statement, is the importance of sporting events as opportunities to engage internationally. Of course, we did see some success in helping to harness the opportunities that were presented by the Rugby World Cup. We have the European championships coming up this summer, and I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about your plans to harness the opportunities that that also presents.
You referred, towards the end of your statement, as well, to the importance of human rights to us all here in Wales, on all sides of the Chamber in this National Assembly, and I would concur with your comments on those, but, of course, there's very little reference in the document to human rights. I think it's just mentioned five times, and it's very difficult to see how you're going to realise presenting Wales as a beacon of human rights. Now, you will recall that I presented a—. I was very fortunate to be drawn in the legislative ballot to bring some backbench legislation forward, and I chose to introduce an older people's rights Bill. Of course, the Welsh Government voted down the opportunity to take that Bill forward and instead said that it was going to do some more cross-cutting work on human rights. We're yet to receive an update on that and, of course, we're fast approaching the end of this Assembly and the opportunity to legislate in this Assembly. So, perhaps you could tell us how your commitment to human rights and the Welsh Government's commitment to human rights lines up with what appears to be a lack of action in taking anything forward.
You mentioned also the importance of the diaspora, and you're quite right, where we have individuals who are overseas, they can help us to fly the flag for us here back home. But I was surprised at the lack of specific reference in the document to the importance of faith communities and the diaspora and the opportunity and the networks that faith communities are very often plugged in to. You will know, Minister, as well as I do, that Christian congregations, Muslim communities and others across Wales have a plethora of links to communities overseas. In many cases, Christian communities are trying to champion international development opportunities in many developing nations, and, of course, many Muslim communities are first-generation immigrants to this country and have links directly to families in their own nations. I just wonder whether that's a missed opportunity, really, in this strategy, and whether you might be able to do a little bit more work on that going forward.
There are a number of key sectors in the document. One of them that you mentioned is tourism, and the importance of tourism to the Welsh economy, of course, has not gone unnoticed by you in this document. You mention adventure tourism, for example, being a growth industry. Of course, faith tourism is also a significant growth industry, and we've got a great network of pilgrims' ways across Wales and some wonderful sacred historical buildings that we have an opportunity to, again, help to promote a little bit more. So, I think that, potentially, is a missed opportunity too, and perhaps you could tell us whether that's something you're prepared to pick up outside of this strategy in terms of being able to benefit our tourism part of the economy and sector.
Of course, one of the problems that that sector may face in the future is the potential advent of tourism taxes because of policy positions of your Government. I wonder if you could tell us how and whether that fits into your thinking.
You mentioned the overseas network of offices—quite right that you've opened some new offices this year, and you've mentioned in previous statements your intention to do more. But, obviously, it's also important that they're accountable to this National Assembly and that there's a direct line of accountability back. I wonder if you could tell us how you're going to measure the success of those offices and their productivity, or otherwise.
In addition to that, of course, foreign direct investment—you've mentioned the United States is the biggest area or nation in terms of foreign direct investment into Wales. Of course, some of the comments from the Welsh Government around the Trump administration won't help to grease any wheels in order to get more foreign direct investment into the country and, again, perhaps you could tell us how you're going to change the narrative around that in order to have a warmer relationship going forward.
Just finally, if I may, we've championed on this side of the house the opportunities that we could have if we had a more team Wales approach on a cross-party basis, in order to promote this great nation in which we live. One of the things that I took note of in your document is that you do actually say that you want to, as a Welsh Government, invest in opportunities for the National Assembly and Members, on what appears to be on a cross-party basis, to engage internationally in networks. I think that's very, very welcome indeed. We'd like to see that formalised a little bit more through the establishment of a network of envoys on behalf of Wales. We reach far and wide when we work together, and with the proper resources we could really capitalise on the opportunities that that presents. So, perhaps you could tell us whether that is something that you might like to formalise in that sort of way, so that we can all move together as team Wales in terms of selling us to the world.
I know I said 'finally', but I'm going to say one more 'finally', if that's okay, Llywydd, and that is just in terms of the Wales for Africa programme, something that we applaud the Government for investing in. I wonder whether you could consider widening the Wales for Africa programme out so that it becomes Wales for the world, because we know that there are links with Latin America that could be made, there are links with the middle east and Asia that could also be made, just with a little bit more investment. Many civic groups and societies have those links already, and I think some sort of focus to that by the Welsh Government getting on board in terms of broadening its reach beyond just sub-Saharan Africa would be something that we would very much welcome on this side of the Chamber. Thank you for being so accommodating.
Diolch, Darren, and thanks for your continuing interest in the international work that we undertake. I'm glad that you acknowledge that we need to strengthen and deepen our relationship with the EU and the nations and regions of the European Union, irrespective of the fact that we will now be leaving. Thank you also for drawing attention to the fact that we have emphasised three sectors that we're anxious to promote, and this is really because we're in a world where there's a lot of competition for attention, so you have to work out how you're going to stand out—what makes us distinctive, and I think these three sectors certainly do that for us.
Our sporting prowess is something that we should be very proud of, and I think we did a really good job in Japan, and there is a challenge now to see what we can do in the European championships. If we're honest, I don't think Azerbaijan is a huge market for us, but we will certainly be focusing a campaign in Italy, so that's something we will be looking forward to doing. Obviously, we'll wait to see who we'll be playing against, and there'll be opportunities perhaps to bounce off the back of that.
Human rights, I know, is something that you have a great interest in. There is an annex in the back that has a section on human rights, but what we're trying to do here is to really make sure that people understand that Wales wants to present itself as a fair nation. And fair play I see as the rights agenda, and I think it's really important that we underline that. When I meet ambassadors from around the world, if there are human rights issues, then I'm never shy to raise those issues with them.
I think in terms of faith communities, certainly, if you look at the number of organisations and faith organisations that are engaged in work with Africa, one of the things we've done is to try and map out who those people are and what they're doing, and, certainly, the Hub Cymru Africa is a great forum for that to happen. And I think also in terms of the tourism work in relation to faith, well I know that this year is 100 years since the establishment of the Church in Wales, and that their focus is on pilgrimage, and so there may be an opportunity there, and, certainly, that's something that maybe I'll speak to the Deputy Minister for tourism about. Certainly, what I don't want is that we preclude other areas in relation to Africa. So, obviously people can get on with their work in terms of developments and relationships with developing countries, but in terms of the suggestion that we reach out and expand it beyond Africa, what we've found is that, actually, with very small resources, if you want to make an impact, it makes more sense to focus, and that's why we've taken that approach. Maybe we'll have different opinions about that, but that's the decision that we've taken.
In terms of Welsh Government offices, we have appointed an overall manager now to make sure that we are monitoring those offices. I think they do a very good job, but what we haven't had, perhaps, and what the Assembly perhaps hasn't had, is the feedback. Certainly, that's something that we are feeding in more regularly now to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, so they'll be getting those on a more regular basis to just get a better sense of what those offices are undertaking.
Our relationship with the United States is really crucial. I'll be heading out there towards the end of February. There are 1,250 foreign companies who invest in Wales and a quarter of those are American, so we are absolutely clear about how important that relationship is.
On the relationship with trade envoys, there are great relationships that already exist. I know that the Welsh Assembly sends people around the world on occasion. What I'd like to do is to make sure that there's an opportunity for those Assembly Members to sing from the hymn sheet that is the Welsh Government hymn sheet and the Welsh people's hymn sheet, and that's something that we'll be looking at doing in future.
On the ambassadors, we're looking at what we can do in the space of diaspora, so that's something that we're exploring further. So, I hope that's cleared some of those issues up.
I'd like to thank the Minister for her statement and broadly welcome the international strategy. It does come very late, about seven months by my reckoning, and it follows on from a widely criticised consultation document published last summer, but the good news is that there is a lot to be welcomed in this. I've only had a chance to read the strategy quickly ahead of Plenary today, but I'm happy to say that there's a lot that has improved here. It seems that, for once, the Welsh Government has actually listened to the criticism made by opposition parties and representatives from the sector, and the revised publication is so much stronger for it.
Some of the main criticisms that we had made in September included the lack of co-ordination between different departments of the Welsh Government, the fact it was a mixture of overgeneralisation and too much detail, and a general confusion about its purpose. But the new document is clearer and it includes explanations about how the international strategy will support the general aims of the Welsh Government, and, again, that is to be welcomed.
I also think it's a good thing that sustainable development and action to tackle climate change now plays a leading role in the strategy. It's clear that the Welsh Government has now realised that declaring a climate emergency has to mean something. We do need more than warm words on this, however, so I'd like to ask the Minister how she'll push forward the green energy agenda in terms of her international duties. Can the Minister tell me what practical steps she'll take to drive this forward?
Now, on trade, Plaid Cymru agrees that maintaining our trading relationship with mainland Europe has to be an overriding priority. I welcome the clear asks made of the UK Government, and it's great to see the Welsh Government flexing its muscles on this for the first time. Your call for the UK Government to seek the agreement of devolved Governments before agreeing its negotiating mandate sounds perhaps suspiciously similar to the veto Plaid Cymru has been calling for and that your Government rejected only a few weeks ago. However, we'll let bygones by bygones and we'll support the Welsh Government's effort to force the UK Government to listen to Wales before trade negotiations begin. We also agree with you that Welsh officials should be involved in the negotiations during all stages of the process.
In order to strengthen your hand, Minister, would you consider publishing a document that details exactly what the Welsh Government wants to see in terms of defending Welsh interests in the UK negotiating mandate, so that we as a Senedd can then amend and vote on the proposals? Having the Senedd agree to a Welsh position on trade negotiations would send a strong message to the UK Government that they need to listen to our concerns and ambitions and take it outside the party-political sphere.
I'm glad that you have finally published details about how you intend to engage with the Welsh diaspora all over the world, since this is fertile ground that Plaid Cymru has been calling for Government investment in for years. We are way behind countries such as Ireland and Scotland, so setting up this diaspora database is a positive first step that will allow the Welsh Government to take a more proactive approach. Now, that will help us culturally and economically, and will benefit Wales, and I'm glad to see that in the strategy, but could you give a little more detail in terms of how you'll engage with these diaspora communities once you've identified them?
Now, there are welcome initiatives, again, in the strategy about the Welsh language, including the development of technologies and steps to promote Welsh musicians on a global scale. There doesn't seem to be a commitment to make the Welsh language a key aspect of selling Wales abroad, though. Now, I've no objection at all to your aim of making Wales a world leader in sustainable adventure tourism, but shouldn't we also try to sell ourselves as a twenty-first century example of a country with a blossoming native language that people who visit can immerse themselves in? Now, I would suggest you co-ordinate your work with the Minister for the Welsh language, but you have both roles, so I really hope that you can revisit this. I do, however, welcome the plans to engage more closely with the Basque Country, Flanders and Brittany, and I'd welcome the opportunity to discuss your plans with you at a future date.
But, Minister, there are two main things missing from this strategy. They are targets and ethics. I can only identify one target in the whole 40 pages—again, I read this quickly before Plenary, so please correct me if I'm wrong with that—but without targets, it would be very difficult for us on these benches to hold you to account. I think you've mentioned in the past the possibility of publishing a parallel document to the strategy that sets out targets, and if that's your aim, could you tell us when that will be published, and if not, could you tell us what measures you suggest we use to track the success of the strategy?
And finally, for all the talk of global responsibility, there is a distinct lack of a clear vision for Wales as an ethical country in the strategy. I'd like to have seen, for example, a commitment to procuring only conflict-free materials for use in the Welsh technological supply chain. And there seems to be an ongoing failure to ensure that Wales plays no role in the arms trade. Minister, why is the Welsh Government so reluctant to pursue an ethical economic and international strategy in this regard? I'd appreciate your answers to these questions.
Thank you very much. I actually think, despite the fact that this is later than we'd hoped in terms of publishing the strategy, the timing has actually worked out very well. There have been a lot of shifting sands, let's face it, in the past few months, and now at least we know where we stand on Brexit, and it does mean that it's easier. And I think the timing is very important, in terms of the fact that I'll be going out, for example, to Brussels to launch this strategy on Thursday, and that will send a very clear signal, I hope, that we are not pulling back from the relationship that we hope to continue with the European Union in terms of those relationships that we've fostered and developed over many decades.
The co-ordination of this strategy has been cross-Government, and Ministers have been feeding into it. And you're absolutely right: sustainability has been central to what we've been trying to deliver here. The well-being of future generations will be core, and it's of real interest. Whenever we speak to people from different countries around the world, that's the thing that many of them pick up on, that we are genuinely unique, we are pioneering, in this sense, and they all want to learn more about that particular aspect.
On other aspects of practically what we're hoping to do, you will see in the strategy that we will be promoting magnet projects, and one of the magnet projects we'll be promoting is wave and tidal technology, which will shift the focus, we hope, in terms of inward investment, into north Wales and to west Wales. So, that's a very deliberate action. And the other thing that you need to understand is that compound semiconductors are very high-tech, but what they are, actually, is power savers. They save energy, and the impact they can have on, for example, data centres, in terms of reducing energy, is significant. And so that is absolutely central to that tone that we're trying to impress on people in terms of our commitment to sustainability.
On trade, we are very keen to make sure that we have that relationship with the UK Government before trade negotiations start, and we're still waiting for a date; we're hoping that a date will be forthcoming next week for us to start really engaging in practical detail on where we should be heading next. But you can be assured that we will be defending Welsh interests. It's very difficult to work out when can we come to the Assembly and say, 'This is what our strategy is', because it's going to be very, very fast moving, and we still don't know what the rules of engagement look like. And so it's very difficult for us to make a commitment to the Assembly when we're in a position where we don't know where we stand. So, I will try and keep you informed in terms of when we get more clarity on how we intend to engage with the Assembly on that.
On the diaspora, I think this is an area where we do need to do some more significant work. We've already commissioned some work on how we can digitally engage across the world, and how best we can impact and make a connection with people. So, that work has already been commissioned. We've had meetings with the people who are engaged in different diaspora communities, so that we can pull our work together, and I think there's a huge opportunity for us there. All of the offices now have been targeted with making sure that they build up that diaspora network as well.
In terms of selling Wales abroad, and Welsh abroad, we've already commissioned a document, and I made a presentation on the forthcoming international strategy to a group of ambassadors and consuls in London before Christmas. And one of the things we showed them was a specially commissioned video demonstrating what we've done in relation to the Welsh language. So, that is already in progress and something we're already using.
On targets—listen, generally, I'm somebody who likes to see targets. The problem is that we have a situation here where we have very fast shifting sands. And so for us to set out targets, it's very difficult. And I'll just give you an example. On education, if we said, 'Right, we want to see thousands more students from around the world coming to study in Wales', we would have set that target too low before—. The UK Government now has said that those students will be allowed to stay for two years extra. That's probably going to encourage a lot more students to come. So, we'd have hit those targets far sooner than we should have. That's an example of where it's going to be difficult.
On inward investment, likewise, until we know what the relationship with the European Union is, it's going to be difficult for us to assess to what extent people are likely or not to want to invest in our country. And I would refute the fact that it's not an ethical document. The values are absolutely core to what we are putting out here. And I do think that we have to be very careful about defence. Defence is an important industry in Wales, and aerospace is an important industry. We have 160 companies employing 20,000 people, in the aerospace and defence companies. You've just heard Dawn Bowden talking about how she's keen to see the vehicles that they're producing in her area being used in the military. So, I don't think we should shy away from the fact that actually a core reason for Government is to defend its people, and certainly that's something that we would be very proud to see. And the fact that we have put cyber as central to this—. Cyber security is core to what we need to do now as a nation to defend our NHS, to defend the work we do as parliamentarians, because already the UK Government Parliament has been attacked. So, these are significant issues. The line between defence and commercial work is something that we've got be aware of, but there are a lot of people employed in this sector and I don't think we should shy away from it.
Minister, there are many points in this statement that I welcome. I believe in a global United Kingdom trading and working freely with the whole world. I think that this can provide the foundations for a bright and prosperous future for Wales. The UK is leaving the European Union at the end of the month. The democratic will of the people of the UK and Wales is finally being respected and this statement does seem to recognise the opportunities leaving offers Wales as an outward-looking international nation.
You just stated that there is a lot of competition out there and, as I said last week in this Chamber, I do hope that the Government considers the possibility of actually hosting a new trade summit here in Wales for Commonwealth countries. This could promote trade and also celebrate cultures, history and future relationships. I see this not as a replacement for the EU relationship, but as an additional relationship with countries who also share our goals and our values.
Minister, you've spoken about increasing the Welsh Government presence in EU member states and work to ensure that the European Union remains our strongest partner. Given that most of the decisions on trade and international policy will be decided for EU member states in Brussels by the EU Parliament, could you please inform us of the roles of the offices in EU member states? And how well, as scrutineers, we will be able to see the value for money for the taxpayer?
I do welcome the Minister's much improved statement today. Thank you.
Thank you, Mandy. And thank you for the fact that you welcome the statement, but also for underlining the importance of working with the UK Government, because they have massive resources that we need to tap into, and some of what we're trying to do here is to make sure that they are working on our behalf. But for them to work effectively on our behalf we need to make sure that they have the right script—a script that they can work from—and that's what we've been trying to do here: to develop a script that they can work from. And we will be really putting, I hope, a lot more pressure on the department of UK Trade and Investment and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make sure that they are acting in our interests and on our behalf around the world. But there are other agencies that we need to take into account as well. The BBC World Service, the British Council—those are organisations that could do and do great work for us but where's the opportunity for them to do more, and how can we help them in that endeavour?
And thank you for, again, bringing up this issue of the opportunities with Commonwealth countries. We have great relationships here in Wales with the diaspora community, in particular some of the ones throughout—India and Bangladesh are very, very well represented and very vocal. And we had somebody from India on the group that was helping us to develop this strategy. So, there are opportunities and we have trade missions and things that go to these countries to make sure that those relationships develop.
Whether we can explore the option of seeing if we could host some kind of event—. We'll have a look. At the moment, my guess is that anything to do with trade, in terms of the UK Government, they are going to be head down for the next year, and it's going to be very, very difficult, I think, for them to come up for air in any way. So, I think there that it was probably a practical issue. But we now have the centre, the international conference centre, which is a real opportunity, and you'll see that that's also been outlined in this strategy as a place where we can host those kinds of events if they were to come.
Can I thank the Minister for her statement and also welcome the international strategy, which is now in its final version? And I hope the report of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee gave you some sort of extra thinking before you put that strategy together.
The strategy is very much appreciative of where we want to go, but does still focus sometimes on our strengths and perhaps not a total vision of where we will be in five or 10 years' time, which I think is crucial. What you want Wales to be in 10 years' time is critical and is part of your vision. So, I think we need to ensure that, perhaps in the coming months, we focus on that in particular.
A couple of points on the strategy. I'll try and keep it brief, Llywydd, because I know you're conscious of the time. You don't mention EU programmes very much. It was mentioned this afternoon to the First Minister about Erasmus. There are two mentions and you will 'push for' involvement in these programmes, but the question is: what does 'push' actually mean? Are you as Wales going to be looking at how you can actually get involved in these programmes outside? Because Horizon Europe, which is what the successor is, and Erasmus+ are going to be crucial to our education sectors. So, where are we going with that?
How will we increase our presence elsewhere? Because I noticed that, of the memoranda of understanding you have with various regions and nations, three are in regions of Spain. You talk about a relationship with Spain in regard to education. We have no office in Spain or anywhere in Spain. So, are you looking to actually produce an office somewhere in Spain to link into all those associations you currently have? And also how are you going to be using those offices? Because it's Brussels, three in Germany, I believe—or two in Germany definitely—one in France, but we need to expand into Europe. Because I didn't see Europe as a separate entity in a sense in the discussion. It seems to me that the flow was that everyone would be treated the same. Are you going to focus more on Europe and, if so, how do we separate the European agenda from the global agenda? In the sense of also in Europe, what is the position of the Welsh Government on ensuring that we build up those relationships? Because outside of China, it is Europe you've got memoranda of understanding with, effectively—I think Quebec is one, on aerospace, but it is the focus of the Welsh Government's interests. So, we need to build up our offices in those areas and we need—as was pointed out by Delyth Jewell, I think—a form of assessing the success of those offices for Welsh Government in relation to the strategy that you've set out in this document.
Also, I agree with Delyth, and the committee has mentioned this many times, about trade and the UK Government and the involvement of the Welsh Government in the second of the negotiating mandate, plus the process through. But, other than that, have you had discussions with other UK departments as to how you can actually work together on this? Because it will require co-ordination and collaboration with UK departments. You mentioned yourself, in your document, that you will be dependent on some departments of the UK Government. Have you had those discussions and where are we on those discussions, so that we show how we can deliver this with our collaboration?
I also looked at the sectors that you picked up on. We picked up on three. I understand the three. I'm not going to repeat those three. But I do worry that we don't just focus on those three, because our long history of industrialisation in Wales and our heavy industries, which are moving ahead in the twenty-first century—. I'll take steel as a perfect example. We're not steel of the nineteenth century; we are steel of the twenty-first century. So, are you ensuring that those sectors are also going to be equally respected and worked on and supported in the global marketplace so that we can push those? Aerospace would be another clear example. These are industries that have been fundamental to the Welsh economy and are still going to be fundamental to the future Welsh economy, not just the three that you have identified in the document.
Finally, soft power. I totally agree that soft power is going to be crucial. The Welsh office in Brussels is expert at soft power. I hope you're able to expand that and how you're going to use soft power, not just the diaspora, but the soft power we currently have and the skills we have in soft power to actually benefit the Welsh economy and the strategy to ensure that we progress this through, in Brussels, in Europe and across the world.
Thank you very much, David, and thank you for the committee's work too.
Thank you very much for all the work that the committee has done to feed into this document as well. I actually refute the fact that we don't know where we're going to be in five years. If you look at the executive summary, it's absolutely clear what we want to be doing in five years' time. And that's how you can measure us. You know, 500,000 connections in terms of the diaspora community; I think that's pretty clear in terms of where we would like to be.
On the EU programmes, I think we've made it clear, not just in this document but in this Chamber on several occasions and by several Ministers, that we are very keen to continue with our involvement in those EU programmes; in particular, I think, Erasmus, which we've discussed this afternoon. We're particularly concerned that it looks like the UK Government is going to walk away from the vocational part of that. They're not trying to push that in any way at all. The fact is that we've actually put some money into trying to develop vocational relationships and exchanges with Brittany, just to make sure that we can keep those relationships going during this difficult transition phase.
On Horizon 2020, it's crucial for the success of our scientists in this country and our researchers. And if you think about the fact that, at the moment, we pay about £5 billion into Horizon 2020, but we get £7 billion back, in any new relationship, you can only get back what you put in. That's the difference between being in and out. Israel is a part of the Horizon 2020 programme, so there's no reason why we couldn't be. So, this is a matter of political will, but let's be clear that we will not be getting as much out and we will not be there to frame and to shape the programmes in the way that we've been able to in the past.
I think that it's very clear in the document that our focus is on the EU—that that's our main relationship, that's where we want to develop—but obviously we need to recognise that the world is changing as well, and that we have those important relationships, in particular with North America, and that we have that global responsibility, in particular to developing some of the poorer parts of the world, and we have chosen to focus on Africa, and on two particular parts of Africa.
How do we assess the success of the offices? Well, they've all been given a very clear direction now in terms of what the expectation is. I get monthly reports on that, and your committee will now be receiving fairly regular reports.
On the trade side of things, the UK Government, of course, is going to be working on many different fronts in relation to the trade negotiations. If you think about agriculture, it's going to be fundamental, and Lesley Griffiths is very much involved in that. At some point, as the Minister with responsibility for trade here, I will have to see how we balance the relationships and the priorities between consumers and producers, between different sectors of the economy, between the EU relationship and the rest of the world. All of those things are discussions that we will have to have across Government, and those are things, again, where we don't know what the UK Government negotiating mandate will look like. Once we have sight of that, we will be able to make a more intelligent assessment, I think.
Let me make it absolutely clear that we are not just focusing on three sectors. Those three sectors are to just get the attention of people when we walk into the room. We did that when we went to Germany last year. We invited people to a tech meeting, we told them that we were going to talk about cyber and compound semiconductors; we finished up talking about insurance tech. So, it's about getting people through the door and how you pique their interest. And certainly, we are not closing off the discussions on investment in any of the sectors, it's simply to give a bit of direction to people, because you basically have a couple of minutes to make an impact, and you can't start talking about every sector.
On soft power, we had a conference on this recently, organised by the Wales Centre for International Affairs, and that was a really useful setting for us to pick up how best to use soft power. I think an example of us using soft power well was Japan; we need to do more of that. But we also need to bounce off things, like the fact that there are two people nominated from Wales for Oscars now, and those kinds of things make a difference. That's the kind of thing that projects our image onto the global stage. So, I think there are real opportunities and I hope that we can work well together now as a department and with your committee. We'd be very willing to hear and to listen to some of your ideas.
We are out of time on this statement, but as Darren Millar did say, it's the first international strategy in the 21 years of the existence of this place, so to extend it by 10 minutes, I think, would be proportionate. I have three other speakers to call, and if they can be reasonably succinct, and succinct in answers as well, then we can get through all interested parties. Mick Antoniw.
Thank you. Minister, tomorrow I'll be doing a short debate talking about some of Wales's heroes—recognised and unrecognised—which I think, actually, will play a part in the international strategy and the need for the links that we establish with international countries. But what I wanted to do now is just refer to a theme that I've raised in this Chamber and with you a number of times about how we actually project Wales's image, and that's on the back of our art and our culture.
Of course, you'll be very aware of the world champion Cory Band, who have been world champions so many times and who are fantastic ambassadors for Wales. When you look at their itinerary: they've just returned from America, clearly an area that we want to develop our relations with; they are attending in Lithuania, in Palanga in April 2020, the European championships; they will then be in South Korea in August 2020; they will be in Ireland, in Kilkenny, in April 2020; they will be in Japan in 2021; they have concerts lined up in Austria, Lille in France, and in Brussels. I wonder, Minister, if you could perhaps put a little bit more meat on the strategy as to how, when we have ambassadors like this, we can integrate their tours and their cultural activities all over the world with the agenda of the Welsh Government promoting Wales, promoting our cultural links and our economic links.
One of the issues that we have within Wales is that, of course, many parts of the world don't really know where we are; they don't know much about Wales. It is through culture that people can learn so much and can engage. And it seems to me, over the past decade or so, we have missed the opportunity of bands like the Cory Band, but also some of the folk dance groups and some of the many other wonderful cultural assets that we have.
Thank you, and I'll be very sorry to be missing that debate tomorrow, because it does sound fascinating. I do hope that we'll have opportunities in this international strategy. Something I'm hoping to do when I go to the States is to really promote the fact that we had, for example, the women's peace petition, which I know the Llywydd has talked about in the past. About a third of the women of Wales signed a petition to ask the United States to join the League of Nations; an incredible moment in history and something that we should be proud to tell. So, there are heroes, and there are women amongst those heroes.
Thank you for bringing up the Cory Band. I do think that there are arts organisations that we should be really, really proud of in Wales. The Cory Band is one of them; national champions 2019 and European champions 2019. What an opportunity. I've already asked for a co-ordinating group to bring together the big organisations, like the Welsh National Opera and like the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, to see how we can link up our trade missions with those big events. But I've also now asked and requested that the Cory Band be invited so that we can map out and see if there are any opportunities for us to bounce off their visits, or at the very least to give them some resources to promote Wales. So, they will be receiving an invitation to attend a meeting so we can co-ordinate those efforts in the future.
I know Côr y Penrhyn in Bethesda is also an amazing choir, and I hope that we'll be able to do things with some of those great, great choirs around Wales as well; get them to speak on our behalf.
Minister, I very much welcome your statement. Your ambition and determination to raise Wales's international profile is inspiring and much needed. You've mentioned in your statement how important sport can be to promoting the Welsh brand. As you know, I'm a big fan, as is the Llywydd, of the Cymru Premier League, in particular Connah's Quay Nomads for myself and Aberystwyth for the Llywydd.
I've mentioned in this Chamber as well, Minister, I'm also a fan and a keen player of the game FIFA. The latest edition of the game was released in September of last year, and within one month it already had 10 million players globally. You've mentioned already the role of sport and how good we have done in recent years, both nationally and domestically in rugby and football. So, it's my intention, Minister, to write to the game's developer, A&A Sports, and call on them to include the Welsh Premier League, the Cymru Premier League, and Wales's national team in the next roll-out of the game.
So, this will mean, Llywydd, that players in Deeside, in Aberystwyth, in Delhi, in Shanghai, in New York and in Tokyo will be able to take control of football players such as Michael Bakare, the legend George Horan, and Flintshire's very own Elise Hughes. So, it would put the Cymru Premier League on an equal footing as leagues in England, Ireland and Scotland, but it would also put towns right across Wales on the international map. So, Minister, do you agree with me that this is an innovative and great way to promote the whole of Wales, and will you join me in calling for this and calling for the Welsh Premier League and the Welsh women's national team to be on the game FIFA 2021? Diolch.
Thanks very much. I spend most of my time telling my son to get off the FIFA game, but I can't pretend that I understand how it works. So, it's difficult for me to say, 'Right, that's a great idea', without knowing a bit more about it. But as a principle, if there's any chance we can get a platform on those kinds of systems, then that would be wonderful. So, crack on, and let me know how you develop.
I'm tempted to continue with that discussion, having had a discussion with my son as to whether to buy the latest version of FIFA or not in order to get Aaron Ramsay in a Juventus shirt this last week. We decided to stick with the old model, but perhaps I'll now need to reconsider.
I just want to speak very briefly as chair of the cross-party Wales international group, and to extend an invitation to all Members, as I usually do, to become involved with the activities of that cross-party group. I want to welcome the fact that we do now have this international strategy, and to make an appeal for that strategy—although it's only just emerging and the ink is yet to dry on it—to be a flexible strategy for ensuing years. It's a milestone that we now have a strategy in place. And I pay tribute again to Steffan Lewis, almost exactly a year since he left us, who was so enthusiastic for having a Minister for international relations and for seeing such a strategy in place, and we do now have that strategy in place. It's so crucial that we as a small nation do look outwards towards the world and make the most of the opportunities that exist out there in order to reach our potential as a nation.
Politically, there is disagreement in this Senedd as to how we deliver that potential in terms of a constitutional context. I firmly believe that it's as an independent nation in our own right that we would deliver that potential. Others see opportunities, as those set out in this document, to seek new opportunities elsewhere. But, we must be willing. When operating internationally, one can't be isolationist. You have to respond to what's happening in other parts of the world and see how Wales can fit into patterns and to influence others simultaneously.
Just a brief word in terms of the diaspora: I'm pleased to see a commitment now to work specifically with diaspora groups already in existence. There is mention of GlobalWelsh in the document and the Wales week in London. I could add to that—while declaring an interest, my father has been chair of the organisation in the past—Wales International, which for over 70 years has been making links between Wales and the Welsh diaspora, the Cymry ar wasgar as they used to be called. We do need to make the most of those networks. And I will quote from the Wales International website the words of Rhys Meirion, the president of that organisation:
'With pride in our Welsh identity and heritage, in a world which has become so small, we can be an international nation as we all, both the Welsh in Wales and the Welsh in all corners of the globe, have an important contribution to offer to each other, and to Wales.'
So, there is a great opportunity for us. I'm pleased we have this strategy in place, but can I seek that assurance that this will be a dynamic document and strategy as we move forward?
Thank you very much, and thank you for all the work that you do with the cross-party group. I think that that is a forum that does provide a great help. Of course we have to be flexible—that’s the world that we live in. And so, it’s important that we do have some targets, but that we also understand that we will have to change as things move forward.
I would also like to pay tribute to Steffan and his passion for international affairs, and what he did in this place to help to move that debate forward.
In terms of the diaspora, Wales and the World came to the meeting that we had before Christmas to bring some of the diaspora groups together, and so they are now part of that discussion about how we can co-operate and how we avoid duplication of work, and that we use the networks that we already have.
Thank you, Minister, for that statement.
The next item is a statement by the Counsel General and Brexit Minister, an update on regional investment in Wales, and I call on the Minister to make the statement.
Thank you, Llywydd. I make this statement in order to update Members on the progress the Welsh Government is making with stakeholders to develop successor arrangements for replacement of EU funds post Brexit. The timing of this statement is very relevant. We now face leaving the European Union by the end of this month. But also, we have less than 12 months before we reach the point where we would expect successor EU programmes to be in place. The funding provided currently by the European Union will start to gradually tail off at that point, putting investment in our businesses, people and communities at risk.
Over a period of 20 years, Wales has benefited significantly from EU structural and investment funds—funding worth £375 million per annum. Where damaging austerity policies have had a severe impact on our communities, EU funds have helped bring new and better jobs and given people the skills they need to do those jobs. Businesses have been supported, including through the financial crisis. The boost was given to our infrastructure and we were assisted in narrowing the gaps in terms of economic inactivity and research capacity in Wales and as compared to the rest of the UK. It is vital that Wales has an ongoing source of investment in order to avoid taking retrograde steps. We must secure funding to help reduce inequalities within the UK and to support economically vulnerable regions, and we know that it's those regions that will be hit hardest by Brexit.
After setting out repeatedly our principles of 'not a penny less, not a power lost', the new UK Government has indicated that its proposed shared prosperity fund will, at a minimum, match the size of the funds received by each nation within the UK at present. Crucially, however, we still await details on how this funding will come to Wales and confirmation of whether devolution, voted for twice by the people of Wales, will be respected.
If the Prime Minister is genuine about upholding and strengthening the union, then respecting the devolution settlement will be one of the UK Government's first tests.
The First Minister informed the Senedd last week that, in their discussion, the new Secretary of State for Wales indicated that the new Government will work with us in a consensual way and will seek practical ways forward on key policy issues. That will work best if each Government is mindful of the distinction between what is reserved and what is devolved.
Regional economic development and decision making on related EU funds in Wales have been devolved to Wales for 20 years. We are seeking urgent discussions with them to ensure existing policy making and funding decisions remain in Wales. This is not just the view of the Welsh Government; our positions for replacement funding set out in 2017 in 'Securing Wales' Future' and in our 'Regional Investment in Wales after Brexit' paper have been backed by this Senedd, an all-party parliamentary group, the Welsh Local Government Association, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Confederation of British Industry, Universities Wales, the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action and think tanks including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research.
Since the predecessor Government proposed a shared prosperity fund over two and a half years ago, their actions have fallen way short of promises to engage and consult on it. We are now keen to find a way to work with the new UK Government on a solution that involves real participation and genuine agreement across all four Governments, not a one-size-fits-all solution that is imposed by the UK Government. Our policies and regional model in Wales are distinctive. This is why we have been working at pace and closely with our partners to prepare a flexible regional model that will be ready for delivery in 2021.
The regional investment for Wales steering group chaired by Huw Irranca-Davies and comprising business, local government, academic institutions and the third sector, has advised Ministers on issues covering policy scope, outcomes, delivery models and wider engagement plans. Technical sub-groups, well represented by a range of people with expertise, have also met regularly to help inform thinking. The steering group met five times last year and will meet again next month to consider a consultation document before it's presented to Cabinet for agreement and is launched in March.
We are also drawing on international best practice in our work. A two-year partnership with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is under way to test our thinking and provide rigorous challenge and advice where there are improvements to make, to share what works in other regions and to provide us with the tools to assess capacity and capability at all levels of Government. During their visits in June and November last year, the OECD met a range of stakeholders across Wales to gather feedback. This included a seminar in November that brought together stakeholders and international peers in multilevel governance and public investment, and I look forward to the OECD's report recommendations by the end of this year.
I'm grateful to the OECD, to the steering group and to all stakeholders for their commitment and their work so far. The extensive engagement and the broad consensus on how we want to see things work in future have led to a number of key commitments agreed by Ministers. They include: regional investment to support growth and inclusiveness throughout Wales, with four broad investment priority areas, covering healthier and more sustainable communities, the zero-carbon economy, business productivity and reducing income inequalities for people; the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to be at the heart of our plans; greater delegation to regions and local areas, including the principle of some funding being allocated regionally; an approach more focused on outcomes; better opportunities to integrate funding and projects with wider investment and policy areas; a strong, cross-cutting approach to equality and sustainability; a single fund delivered on a multi-annual funding basis; and a more simplified process.
These commitments, together with our emerging regional working proposals being developed through our Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill and the economic action plan, have provided a solid basis for our detailed work with stakeholders to prepare our consultation proposals. A lot of work remains for us to develop new arrangements for delivery in 2021, and I am keen that Members shall have the opportunity to feed back on our proposals so that we can build on the detailed and thoughtful contributions we've already received from the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, and from the Finance Committee as well.
We do not underestimate the huge challenge of cultural and governance changes and new ways of working that Brexit will bring. I take confidence in the wide-ranging support and expertise we have from partners, which will help us to consider what and how we will deliver as Welsh Government over the coming years, including a new regional investment model that can work for all parts of Wales.
Can I thank you, Minister, for your statement today? I'm not going to be long, you'll be pleased to know, Llywydd, in response to this statement, because, of course, there's not a great deal that's new in it. In fact, you could have been fooled into thinking that we were still in the pre-election period that we saw prior to the landslide election result that saw your numbers reduced significantly here in Wales in terms of Labour MPs. What we do know, of course, is that, in advance of that particular election, there was a very, very clear commitment from the Conservative Party and from Boris Johnson which said—and I'll refer you to page 41 on the UK Conservative Party manifesto—it says,
'Wales will receive at least the same level of financial support as it currently receives from the EU'.
It's there in black and white; it's a clear commitment that the UK Government is absolutely signed up to and will deliver. Indeed, the new Secretary of State for Wales, who I very much welcome to his post, Simon Hart, has categorically said that Wales will continue to receive not a penny less from the UK Government when compared to the finances it currently receives from the EU. And of course, you've already, I know, as a Government, had some positive engagement with the new Secretary of State, and there is very much a respect agenda. I was just watching media reports yesterday where the new Secretary of State was making it absolutely clear that the UK Government has no intention of parking its tanks on the lawn of the Welsh Government in respect of overstepping the devolution boundaries and settlement. It wants to work with the Welsh Government to deliver the benefits that can arise from Brexit as we leave the EU.
Now, we all know that the reality, the sad reality, the sad fact of the matter, is that when it comes to EU structural funds, they have not worked here in Wales. Unfortunately, the gap between our GDP here in Wales versus the average GDP across the whole of the European Union has not narrowed, and that's the whole purpose of the structural funds that were made available. We've seen round after round of those structural funds and yes, of course we've seen some improvements in our transport infrastructure and we've seen some investment, particularly capital investment, in different parts of Wales, but they haven't delivered the sea change that those funds were designed to deliver. So we've got to do something differently, and the reality is that the shared prosperity fund gives us an opportunity to do something differently, and it gives us an opportunity to better target that assistance to those parts of Wales that currently completely miss out on any prospect of receiving EU structural funds because they're not in west Wales and the Valleys.
So will you agree with me—just a few questions, now, if I may—that it's equally important that the Welsh Government also subscribes to this very clear respect agenda that the UK Government has set out? I welcome the fact that you refer to greater decision making to be made at local levels in the statement—I think that's very welcome indeed. Can you tell us how and why you're not getting on with that anyway? It doesn't take the fact that you don't know enough information about the shared prosperity fund to act as a Welsh Government and devolve more decision making down to a more local level. Perhaps you could tell us what the road block to just getting on with that is in any case. And can you tell us also how you're going to ensure that, when you do have a seat at the table in terms of making and shaping the way that the prosperity fund works, particularly in terms of the way that the cash is distributed across Wales, can you assure us that when you're making the case for investment in certain places, you will not overlook those parts of Wales that, unfortunately, I think, feel as though they’ve had a rough deal from the Welsh Government in the past in terms of the way that you've carved up cash, particularly north Wales, mid Wales and west Wales? Thank you.
I thank Darren Millar for that series of questions. In his closing remarks, he talked about a seat at the table, and I think that encapsulates it to me in many, many ways. I think what we need to see in relation to this policy agenda in Wales is a sense that the arrangements are agreed between the Governments of the UK operating in parity, rather than imposed by the UK Government on other parts of the UK. I think he's hit the nail on the head in using that particular image, and he will acknowledge, I think, that I made a reference in my statement to the indication that the UK Government has made about the replacement of quantum, but we don't yet know what they regard that figure as being. And crucially, even if that principle is accepted, what we have not had is any detail about how the devolution boundary is going to be respected in the deployment and the setting of those frameworks in Wales. Again, this is not something that we can have imposed on Wales, and I hope he would agree with that.
I will give him the reassurance, categorically, that we will always seek to be collaborative with the UK Government in relation to this policy area. We have throughout sought to do that and, bluntly, it hasn't been reciprocated. I hope that with a new Government that will be the case. It will best happen if the devolution boundary, for which people in Wales have voted on two occasions, is respected. I think that then provides the platform for that engagement, and we will seek to be collaborative in relation to that.
He mentioned, as he is so fond of doing, his analysis of why the funds have not been effective in Wales as he describes it, and yet, ignoring the tens of thousands of new jobs created, the tens of thousands of businesses supported, the tens of thousands of people helped into employment, the increasing levels of employment, the falling levels of unemployment, the falling levels of economic inactivity and higher skills levels. [Interruption.] I'm not sure if he's completed his question—I rather thought that he had. [Interruption.] The challenge that we face in Wales is that—
The Minister is answering your question, Darren Millar. Please allow him to continue.
The challenge that we face in Wales is that however effectively those funds are deployed, when we have a UK-wide economic policy that is based on austerity and the continued maintenance, on a UK-wide basis, of the most unequal regional economy in any part of Europe, those funds cannot do the heavy lifting for that failure in fiscal and macro-economic policy across the UK, which is punishing so many of our communities. But they have been effective, and we have a good track record, and that compares very, very favourably to the failure of the local enterprise partnerships and the local growth fund in England, which the public accounts committee in Parliament has analysed in some detail.
I will make the commitment to him that we are very keen to make sure that the replacement funds respect the regionalisation agenda that flows throughout the whole of our policy in Welsh Government, and I will make the commitment to him that all parts of Wales will benefit from these funds. There is a potential in the replacement funds—which we've worked together with stakeholders to design and to map out—to look at this more flexibly than perhaps has been possible in the past. So, I hope he will engage constructively with the consultation when it comes forward.
I must say in opening my remarks that I very much regret the flippancy of the Conservative spokesman. He either is very naive in accepting the, to date, meaningless promises made by UK Government, or he really does care more about heaping praise on his London masters than he does about the interests of the Welsh economy. And in terms of wanting Welsh Government to have a seat at the table, I think he did very much betray what he actually thinks on this. We want the table—we want to decide in Wales how money is spent, and that is exactly what devolution is all about.
And you say that European funding has been a failure and that it hasn't closed the GDP gap. You know what, I agree with you in that it hasn't been spent as well as it should have, but at least European funding is aimed at closing that wealth gap. UK funding is not. You forever, Darren Millar, praise the additional funding coming to Wales. It is all about locking Wales in poverty. That is what additional money coming to Wales is about.
Minister, could I agree with your assessment of the value of the funding that has come from the EU over the years? I don't agree every time with the way in which that money has been spent, but that funding has definitely brought benefit and there was potential, of course, to continue with that. I do agree also that there are several principles that are vital as we move forward—first of all, that we have to ensure that not a penny is lost, and it's not just the shared prosperity fund that we're talking about here. We've already heard mention about Erasmus today and that is a separate pot. Well, we have to ensure that that comes as well. So, No. 1—not a penny less. And, secondly, this principle that we have to respect the devolution settlement.
We haven't yet heard what we need to hear from the UK Government. Yes, there are a number of warm words that have emanated and promising signs from the new Secretary of State for Wales. But as we are now within a year of losing that EU funding, warm words are not enough. They weren't enough a year ago, but by now I do agree with the Minister that we should be in a much stronger place, and we will support the Government as you move towards having the kind of assurance that you're asking for.
There's not much in this statement today beyond those statements, that is I agree with them. You're talking about the announcements that will be made in the next few months about thinking about different ways of targeting funding on a regional basis. So, just two questions suddenly on that. What kind of targets do you want to put in place to ensure that that funding does bring results? That is, we as a part, have supported having growth targets and prosperity targets on a regional basis for many years and we would wish to see that kind of target driving Welsh Government policy.
And, secondly, how flexible are you willing to be as a Government in terms of what kind of regions we're talking about? For example, I was talking to a member of the leadership team in Gwynedd Council a few days ago who was talking about the benefit that could come to Gwynedd through working regionally across north Wales in some contexts; in working with Ceredigion and Powys when it comes to issues relating to south Gwynedd; and then working across west Wales, on the map that we've come to know as Arfor, in other contexts. So, how flexible are you willing to be in terms of the regions that you're going to create, if the creation of regions is the intention?
Thank you to Rhun ap Iorwerth for those questions. I would like to be in a position to share more details with him about what the UK Government has in mind in terms of this fund. We have asked for input into any reference to Wales in the proposed consultation, but we haven't received that confirmation from them as of yet. As I mentioned earlier to Darren Millar, we do need far more detail in terms of securing that devolved border.
In terms of measuring success within this new funding system that we've been discussing with our stakeholders and the work that Huw Irranca-Davies's committee has been doing, they do have a sub-committee of that group that has been looking at this question of how to evaluate success and performance within the new system, drawing on best practice in doing so.
In terms of that regional question that Rhun ap Iorwerth mentioned, that is hugely important. The vision in terms of principle for us is that there are some things that are better done at a national Welsh level but that there are others that would work best regionally, and then another element that would work best at a very local level, and that reflects, to a certain extent, the current plans. But we see that there are opportunities within that to be flexible and to ensure that appropriate decisions are taken at a sub-national Welsh level when that is appropriate, and that would include providing some of that funding at the regional level, rather than everything being at the national level.
I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon. Whilst we welcome all those initiatives outlined in the Minister's statement, including the setting up of the regional investment for Wales steering group, and your extensive engagement with the OECD, it does however beg the question what the Welsh Government has achieved with the billions of pounds received in EU regional funding over the past 20 years. Perhaps you can explain to us and the people in the south Wales Valleys why they are still classed as some of the poorest in Europe.
Surely, Minister, your continued scepticism with regard to the UK Government replacement funding does little to foster good relations with Westminster. Perhaps you can explain to us how you feel that this is the best way forward. And, as Darren Millar pointed out, you have had many assurances in statements from the UK Government that Wales will not receive a penny less. Indeed, it could receive a great deal more once the shared prosperity fund is administered. And perhaps I should point out that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not alone in awaiting this allocation. Many of the regions of England are similarly placed.
You point out that we will lose out on EU structural funding to the tune of £375 million per year, but fail to point out that we had to comply with restrictive EU rules in its application, whilst the £14 billion allocated by the UK Parliament through the Barnett formula, which, although flawed, comes with no such restrictions and which the Welsh Government is free to administer as it sees fit. May I also say, Minister, that one cannot ignore the irony in your call to respect the devolution referendum, given you and your party's deliberate attempts over the last three years to thwart the decision by the Welsh people to leave the EU in that referendum.
Much of this statement contains reference to initiatives and actions being put in place to create a prosperous and inclusive Wales. Minister, one has to ask, irrespective of Brexit, when will the rhetoric stop and the delivery begin?
Well, I hope I'm not striking a tone of scepticism, as I have indicated to Darren Millar previously. We stand ready as a Government to engage constructively with the UK Government on this, and I've outlined what that means from our point of view, and part of that involves the crucial aspect of respecting the roles that different Governments in the UK have, the different powers and responsibilities the different Governments in the UK have, and I look forward to having that confirmed by the UK Government in detail. As I say, we've had positive indications but now, I think, we would all see as the time to move beyond those broad positive indications to a detailed discussion of what the UK Government are proposing and a commitment to that basic principle.
He invites me, I think, once again, to enumerate the ways in which these funds have benefited the people of Wales. We have significant growth in employment and drops in unemployment, increases in skills levels, and drops in economic inactivity in those regions that have been able to benefit from European Union funding. We've created thousands of new jobs through that, supported thousands of businesses, helped tens of thousands of people into employment. He may not know who those people are, but I have plenty of people in my constituency who will come to my surgeries and tell me that they have benefited from apprenticeships and other skills programmes, all of which have been funded by the European Union.
I'll resist the temptation to re-fight the referendum, which he seems to want to do. All I will say is that we think there are imaginative and constructive ways of ensuring that regional funding in Wales into the future continues to deliver the benefits that Wales has accrued from this for the last 20 years. We have an imaginative and creative approach to designing those schemes. I think what we would like to see now is the confirmation that the plans that the UK Government have for the shared prosperity fund will enable us, effectively, to make those proposals real. I think that is in the best interests of the people of Wales.
Can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon on the update on the regional investment plan for Wales? I think it's important to remind ourselves that it is an update—we're not there yet. Can I also express my disappointment at the contributions from the Conservative spokesperson and the Brexit Party spokesperson, who have attempted to deride the benefits we've had from European funding. If they want to come to my communities and see what benefits they have given, they are welcome to do so, because that has been some of the help that those communities have needed at times of difficulty that they have faced because of the agenda of austerity that has been in place since 2010.
Minister, in relation to the statement, you mentioned one aspect there—a multi-annual funding basis. Clearly that was a European programme and it should be multi-annual-funded, but we don't seem to have a multi-annual-funded replacement in place at this point. All we know about the shared prosperity fund is its name. We know nothing else. Darren Millar may have more detail on that than we have, because we know nothing about it. We don't even know how it's going to be administered, what type of contributions and what type of limitations will be placed upon it, will there be any frameworks that we have to abide by? We just don't know anything yet. But have you had any indication that it would be multi-annual, so that we will have this guaranteed not just for one year but that these figures will be there for continual years so that we can put a multi-annual programme together, because it is important to help those communities that have been using that fund for that purpose to be assured that they will have that funding coming in, not just for one year but for several years, so that they can put something together carefully?
You also commented upon the regional investment for Wales steering group, and that you will be expecting a consultation document to be launched. Can you confirm that that's a consultation document and therefore it is not a final document given to the Government, but there's a process that will continue beyond that? Because you highlighted that the OECD will not report until the end of the year. I'm assuming from those bits of information that the Government will not be putting together its final plan—its final regional investment plan—until the end of the year or early 2021. When will, then, that be kicking in to ensure that our communities will have an idea of what the regional investment plan of the Welsh Government is for the future direction?
I thank David Rees for those questions. He's right to say at the start of his questions that, effective though the use of these funds has been, the broader context of austerity is one within which we are all operating. One can't expect any level of intervention of this kind to make up for the impact, the adverse impact, that that will have on the communities that many of us represent.
It's exactly the kind of detail around multi-annual funding and the central availability of that that we are still uncertain about. I think his question goes to the heart of it. The programmes that we have currently are, obviously, available on a multi-annual basis. So, being able to continue providing support on that basis is essential.
I will also say that there will be programmes that one would expect to qualify under the existing programmes and future programmes, and, typically, there's an overlap in those programme years so that there can be smooth transition from one programme to the next. So, that's another concern—that we make sure that replacement arrangements and replacement funding are in place in good time for that to be possible in relation to some of these programmes as well.
In relation to the consultation in March, that will be a public consultation. It will describe the output of the steering group and it will describe the principles and the broad frameworks and so on, but that will be available for public consultation. He is right to mention the fact that the final report of the OECD won't be available until the end of the year. This is a programme that the OECD has been working with us on for two years, and there have been some interim outputs from the work of the OECD, including visits to Wales during the last year and a stakeholder meeting, as I said, in November of last year. That has given a sense of some of the direction of travel from their reflections on best practice as well.
There are a number of questions involved here. One is around the frameworks, the priorities, the governance and then the delivery mechanisms. Some of that will be available only at the end of the year from the OECD, but, in relation to the frameworks, the governance, the principles and so on, we will want those to be consulted upon sooner than that.
It's important for us to be in a position to have replacement funding arrangements in place as soon as possible next year so that we can maximise that smooth transition between one set of EU-funded programmes and the UK-wide funded programmes after that.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on the 'A Healthier Wales' transformation fund progress report. I call on the Minister to make the statement—Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Last summer, I provided a written update on 'A Healthier Wales' and the transformation fund to Cabinet. I am pleased to provide a further update today to Members on the transformation fund.
I launched the £100 million fund in September 2018. The purpose of the fund is to support the scaling up of new models of seamless health and social care across Wales. New models of care were a prominent recommendation from the parliamentary review. This approach is reflected in the published guidance for the fund and in engagement with regional health and social care delivery partners.
Every proposal has been considered against the 10 design principles set out in 'A Healthier Wales'. Those design principles bring together several key strategic considerations, including our commitment to prudent healthcare principles, the quadruple aim endorsed by the parliamentary review and the five ways of working incorporated into the well-being of future generations Act.
I have always been clear that regional partnership boards have a key role in driving transformation. That is why proposals needed to be supported by one or more RPBs. The Deputy Minister and I have met several times with key stakeholders and leaders in each region to understand the key pressures and to see developing new models. I'm encouraged that our regional partners have risen to the challenge. They have brought forward a range of proposals that show a desire to innovate and a genuine commitment to significant transformation.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.
To date, I've already awarded £89 million to support 14 proposals, with at least one in each region. Transformation projects are visible across Wales. For example, technology-enabled care in west Wales is bringing communities together and reducing social isolation. In Gwent, services are being reconfigured to provide specialist expertise to staff on the front line in order to support some of our most vulnerable children. Community Connectors in the most rural parts of Wales are helping people to access local well-being services. Over 1,000 expressions of interest have been received for the I CAN mental health support training that is now being rolled out across north Wales. I'm grateful to all of our regional partners for their enthusiasm and the tireless work of their regional teams in turning their ambitions into reality.
As all of us know, health and social care is a complex system that is continually under pressure. Quickly translating policy into tangible change on the ground is a real challenge, and that is, after all, partly why four parties from this Assembly agreed to commission the parliamentary review in the first place, and we're now implementing the recommendations from the review. Of course, I set out the Government's approach and vision in 'A Healthier Wales', but we must continue to engage closely with our delivery partners and to evaluate the impact of what we do.
So, we have completed two rounds of quarterly reviews, with the third round imminent. Fourteen workplace engagement events highlighting local transformation projects have taken place across Wales, organised and run as a partnership by the Welsh Government and regional partnership boards.
I've listened to feedback from regional partners who told me that initial progress was slower than they had expected, largely due to recruitment and procurement issues. In response, I have extended the funding period in support of new models from December 2020 to March 2021. I've always been clear, though, that the transformation fund is intended as a catalyst and will be non-recurrent. Regional partners need to identify resources from their recurrent budgets to support the scaling up of transformation, including further transformative priorities.
I also promised to look closely at options for the fund, including how to allocate the remaining £11 million. Given the delays in the budget process by the UK Government, we, of course, face a very challenging situation, and I also recognise the need and the reality that limited funding for the health and social care system has to support the whole system.
I'm grateful for the work and commitment of partners in developing their second-round proposals for the fund. In taking into account learning from the first round of proposals, I've made a decision, and I've written to regional partnership boards to set out the indicative allocation of the remaining transformation fund budget. This will be delivered on a regional basis in line with the NHS funding formula for health boards together with a call for new proposals that build on existing projects. That should enable regions to frame the scale and scope of their proposals in terms of an approximate funding envelope, to help focus time and regional effort. Confirmation of funding will be subject to regional partnership boards submitting viable proposals. I'll be looking for submissions that enhance and supplement approved proposals, with an emphasis on scaling out from single-region to multi-region working and to national scope.
A template and supplementary guidance will be provided and bids will be assessed by the appraisal panel within a set time frame. The core criteria for the fund will remain as in the published guidance, with that emphasis on multi-regional working and national scale.
I expect regional partnership boards to provide proposals by the middle of March 2020, so within the next few months, and I will then promptly confirm decisions to regional partnership boards thereafter. The transformation fund team are available, of course, to support regions as they develop their bids.
This, I believe, is a flexible and pragmatic approach that recognises the current position of our budgets, the urgent need to offer clarity to regional partners, the challenges in the delivery of approved proposals, and learning from the implementation to date, which has highlighted the need for further support to enhance the existing transformative progress. I look forward to answering questions from Members today.
Good afternoon, Minister. I do welcome the statement. It's good to see the 14 projects that have been funded, and I'll be very interested to see how the other £11 million is finally deployed.
I'd just like to pick up on a couple of points. Regarding the final funding round, could you clarify whether you'll be targeting applications from any specific health board area, or will you be looking at a whole-Wales approach? And you say that proposals should be brought by mid March. Do you have a deadline for when you would be setting yourself a deadline for when these proposals might be signed off?
In the statement you gave on this fund last year, you said that workforce planning and workforce development would be a strong theme, and I wondered how this ambition is progressing and what evidence is there that the projects promoting better workforce planning are making that difference. Again, in last year's statement, my colleague Darren Millar stated that you hadn't given us any indication as to what the split of investment would be between social care, community care, primary care and secondary care. Are you looking at it in those terms or is it very much in the round? Because I have obviously had a look at the projects that have been agreed so far.
The statement draws reference to how the fund is intended as a catalyst and will be non-recurrent. What process exists if these schemes, once funded, ultimately fail? How are you able to ensure sustainability and ensure, if it's a good project, that it actually does get that buy-in from the people around it, the organisations around it, to be able to move forward? I just wondered what checks are in place to measure the success of a scheme.
Last year you highlighted that you were working with partners to develop a set of national indicators to evaluate new models as they develop so that more promising innovations can be scaled up, and I wondered if you can give us an update on what those might be. Following on from those aims, you expressed your desire to see these projects cross borders, and, again, it's all about what support will be there to fund schemes that are deemed a success in one part of Wales to ensure that they do make that transition across to other parts and pollinate through well.
And, finally, you put a lot of emphasis in your statement on the regional partnership boards and doing everything through them, and, of course, you'll be aware of the Wales Audit Office report on the regional partnership boards that showed somewhat patchy and inconsistent outcomes in some areas, and I wondered if you might be able to give us some reassurance that, whilst you're putting your trust, your effort, and you're asking them to come forward with those ideas, they will be able to take them forward and they will have that strength and support to make sure that this transformation money isn't wasted.
Thank you for the list of questions. In terms of the £11 million in the second stage, as I tried to indicate in my statement already, I will be targeting that in the sense that one regional partnership board area will have a larger sum than others, apart from the way that the funding formula works, which already takes in the variety of points about need and population. So, we will then publish the amount of money that each regional partnership board has potentially to bid against, but, of course, partners themselves will have budgets to add to or otherwise. And I think I want to link that to a couple of the other points you made, both about evidence of progress, the national indicators update, and the transition from one region to another and the scale of that. Because the point of the second stage is, if there are novel and new things boards want to do, about what those are, together with the design principles, with an emphasis on wanting to see people taking on board across more than one region what is working in another, and I want to see more scale as that develops. Because, when we get to the end of the transformation fund period, we'll still have choices to make, regardless of who is the Minister at that time or not, about how we take that forward.
And the point about regional partnership boards as a key building block to this is (a) they already exist. People are used to having to make more and more choices together to share information, share learning, and actually to resolve problems together as well, because none of us should pretend that, even within our own families, let alone groups and different public services, we all agree on everything all of the time. So, it's a way to resolve those differences but then to still have a plan that people sign up to for the future. And I do think, bearing in mind your reference to the confidence we can have in partnership boards, we can have real confidence, because you can see not just that they came together to agree bids, but, on a range of areas, they are starting to make more more of a difference. And, in winter, for example, the fact that every regional partnership board agreed how to use winter moneys, rather than having a big row about who had which share of it, and what the whole-system priorities were within that area. That does give us more confidence about practical choices being made. I'm hoping for more of that, and then there'll be an open question for me or a future Minister about what then happens if we end up driving that further.
So, after this next stage, the transformation fund is over. Is that about money? Is that about encouraging people? Is it about requiring people to do things? Or is it more than that? But that would be forecasting the future, ahead of the evaluations we've had on the success of the projects. And I think that does come back to your point about evidence on progress in stage one and your point about the questions that Darren Millar previously asked on whether there was going to be a split between primary care, secondary care and social care. I don't think that's helpful, so I do want to look at it more in the round about the impact across the system. That's also the point about having partners agreeing together what should make sense, because, otherwise, if it got to be what's a split between different parts of our system, you can easily see those people moving off into corners saying, 'This is my money to decide what to do with,' rather than, 'What should make a difference for the person who will need to flow through and around that whole system?'
I said in my statement that the third of the quarterly evaluations is due imminently. What I intend to do is to write to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee after the fourth evaluation we've had, so a full year's evaluation of each of the areas, and to give an update at that point. I imagine the committee may or may not decide they want to look at it in more detail, but there'd then be a public and visible, 'Here's the progress at that point, and the progress across the system.' You could also check that off then against the national indicators. I think it'd be helpful to see that together with the context of the evaluation and progress.
We should also then have decisions made on each of the second-stage bids that I've announced. I can't give you a hard deadline as to when I'll respond to that, because, of course, I need to see what the bids are and whether there is a need to go back to people before making a decision. But I am keen to make choices sooner rather than later, so we can get on with delivering the future.