Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

21/10/2020

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

A warm welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in a hybrid format, with some Members in the Chamber and others joining by video-conference. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitute Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on your agenda. And I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber as to those joining virtually.

1. Questions to the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for finance, and the first question is from Janet Finch-Saunders.

The Economy Budget

1. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales about the possibility of increasing the budget available in 2020-21 for spend on the economy in Wales? OQ55724

I have regular discussions with the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales about the fiscal challenges facing the economy as a result of the pandemic. We have so far provided additional funding amounting to more than £1.7 billion to help support our economy across Wales in 2020-21.

Thank you, Minister. If the ever-changing details available from Business Wales on the website are anything to go by, it now appears that businesses in Aberconwy will potentially be awarded the same support as new businesses going into lockdown on Friday—new areas going into lockdown—as other regions, despite Aberconwy having been in local lockdown since 1 October. And I can tell you, many of my businesses are facing hundreds of thousands of pounds of loss. Now, the decision to make a further £1,000 discretionary to those areas who were affected by lockdown measures prior to this firebreak announcement is simply unacceptable. So, will you liaise with the Minister for economy to ensure that he does have the necessary budget allocation to provide additional financial support to businesses in local authority areas that were already in local lockdown and, by the end of it, will have nearly been in lockdown for approximately six weeks? And will you urge him to review the decision to enact a rateable value cap of £51,000 so that my local hospitality businesses get the support they actually need to support their business and, indeed, to support their employees? Thank you.

Both the Minister for economy and I do recognise what an incredibly difficult time this has been for businesses across Wales, but probably nowhere more so, I imagine, than in the tourism and hospitality sector. And that's why a total of 1,206 microbusinesses and small and medium-sized enterprises in the tourism and hospitality sector in north Wales have already been awarded funding through the economic resilience fund, and that totals £25.9 million. And in addition to that funding, in north Wales our regional tourism engagement fund and tourism product innovation fund revenue grants are supporting both public and private sector organisations to deliver nine projects, to a value of nearly £1 million. And in the north Wales tourism and hospitality sector, the Development Bank of Wales's COVID-19 Wales business loan scheme has provided over £5.7 million of support to 105 businesses. So, we and the Development Bank of Wales are doing our best to support businesses across Wales.

I do take the point that the Member has raised, but we've tried to reflect the additional challenges facing those businesses that have already experienced local lockdown, across the majority of local authority areas in Wales, by ensuring that there is additional funding available through the latest package. And it is worth recognising and never losing sight of the fact that businesses across Wales have, by far, the largest access to the greatest amount of support, compared to any other part of the United Kingdom. And I think that that's a testament to the priority that we're putting on supporting business. But, that said, I completely don't take away from the challenges that businesses are facing in this difficult period, and especially in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Let me begin just by welcoming the additional support that's come in yesterday. It's not going to help everyone, but it'll go a long, long way, I have to say, particularly the discretionary fund, to fill some of those gaps for people who've fallen between the stools so far. And I'm certainly speaking to local authority leaders in my area so that they can process the applications quickly and explain to people how they work as well. But could I ask, in your discussions with the economy Minister and with the First Minister, can you also make the representations to the UK Government, as well, for additional funding, both for jobs in particular—for job support—as well as business support, because our coffers are limited in Wales? And, whilst I agree with the previous Conservative speaker, who asked for more support to be forthcoming, that support needs to be forthcoming from the UK Government, not just the limited coffers we have available. So, will she make those representations, please? 

13:35

I absolutely will make those representations. In fact, I have a finance quadrilateral meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury just later on this afternoon, where I'll be making exactly that point about the switch over from the job retention scheme to the job support scheme. It unnecessarily creates difficulties for businesses in Wales, where they'll need to apply to two different schemes over a period of two weeks in order to provide their staff with the support they need. And there's obviously that real problem with the quantum of support now that's available for each of those jobs and the way in which the UK Government has decided what kind of jobs are viable jobs. There are whole sectors that are missing out as a result of that. The arts sector is one of them. But I can give my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies the assurance that I will be raising exactly this issue later on this afternoon. 

Support for Businesses

2. Will the Minister make a statement on support for businesses affected by Welsh Government regulations? OQ55763

In response to the imminent national firebreak, and in line with our commitment to provide further support, we have created an enhanced phase 3 of the Wales-only economic resilience fund, comprising of almost £300 million to support businesses affected by the firebreak and previous local lockdown measures.  

Minister, people across Wales, and certainly in my constituency in Blaenau Gwent, are very grateful for the work that the Welsh Government has done to support businesses throughout this time. I know there have been many hundreds of businesses in my own constituency that have been helped and supported by the Welsh Government, and I think the largest package of business support anywhere in the UK is something that's safeguarded many jobs already. But, as has already been pointed out by our colleague Huw Irranca-Davies, some of the smallest businesses particularly do fall through some of the gaps that we have available to us. I'm thinking of taxi drivers, for example, and I'm thinking of people who are working as tradesmen and tradeswomen in order to support them and their families who don't work in a formal corporate structure, if you like. Minister, is it possible to ensure that we do have the funds available to support these people who are the lifeblood of a local economy? 

As part of our £300 million support package, just announced this week, we are ensuring that there is a discretionary element there for local authorities to disseminate to businesses in their area, and, to do so, we're particularly thinking of those businesses that, as Alun Davies says, don't have a premises, so they're not subject to non-domestic rates, for example, and so they miss out on that automatic grant funding that all businesses receiving small business rate relief will receive, but nonetheless they play an important part in our local economies and they're jobs that are often particularly vulnerable. So, I'm really pleased that, with this particular scheme, we've been able to provide that discretionary element of funding, and we're currently working through the final guidance and the mechanism by which we will provide that funding to local authorities, but progress is very fast on that, so we should be able to say more very shortly. 

Minister, businesses in Conwy and Denbighshire are literally on their knees, and there are many jobs that rely on those businesses that are now hanging by a thread. It's been almost three weeks since you put Conwy and Denbighshire, along with other parts of north-east Wales, into local lockdown. That means that they already have a wound that is three weeks deeper economically than the wound that is going to be inflicted on these parts of Wales as a result of the Wales-wide lockdown that will commence on Friday, and yet, as has already been pointed out, there are businesses there that have not received any additional support to reflect that local lockdown period. I've heard you griping about the resources available to the Welsh Government. You've had £4.4 billion's worth of firepower at your disposal, thanks to the support of the UK Government. Why can't you focus some more support on those places that have not yet been eligible for additional resources in north-east Wales, as part of the package that you have unveiled along with the economy Minister this week? And can you assure businesses in Conwy and Denbighshire that they, because of the three weeks additional pain that they've endured, will be at the front of the queue for support?

13:40

Well, as Alun Davies has just recognised in his contribution, businesses across Wales have access to the most generous package of business support anywhere in the UK. And I think that that is a reflection of the priority that we've put on supporting businesses through the adjustments that we've made to Welsh Government budgets, alongside the additional consequential funding we've received from the UK Government. And, as a result of the decisions that we've taken, in Conwy alone, 461 micro and SME businesses have been awarded funding, totalling £8 million, and 83 start-up grants have been awarded to businesses in Conwy as well, totalling £207,500. And through the COVID-19 non-domestic business rates grant, a total of 3,311 awards have been processed to Conwy businesses, totalling nearly £40 million. A great deal of this funding wouldn't have been possible had it not been for the prioritisation exercise that we undertook across Government, which released £0.5 billion of additional support in order for us to fund our economic resilience fund. So, Welsh Government is going above and beyond what you're seeing from the UK Government in relation to our support for businesses. 

During the UK-wide lockdown earlier in the year it became clear that certain people were not protected by the furlough scheme. One example is Aled from Ystrad Mynach in my region. He set up a business a year ago, which meant he didn't qualify for the self-employment income support scheme, which demanded tax returns for two financial years to access it, and his business also didn't qualify for the Welsh Government's start-up grant scheme. The loss of earnings for his business amount to over £1,000. Now that we're entering a firebreak on Friday, Minister, what assurances can you give me that self-employed people in Aled's situation won't fall through the cracks again? Could I also ask you, Minister, if you'd consider the call from the Wales freelance taskforce, who are representing the interests of freelancers working in the performance industry, to increase the funding available? They say the current scheme is oversubscribed, with many unable to access any support. So, I'd be interested to hear if the Welsh Government intends to help them further. 

Thank you very much for that question, and also for setting out the particular circumstances that Aled finds himself in. Clearly, I don't know the full circumstances behind his situation, but, as I said in response to a previous question, it's really important that, this time, we have added that discretionary element for local authorities, which hasn't been there before. And that's in recognition of the cases that have been brought to us, such as Aled who you've talked about, who've fallen between all of those different offers of support from both Welsh Government and the UK Government. So, we're trying to ensure that there is an additional mechanism now for local authorities to be able to provide support for businesses locally. And, as I say, we're just working through the final detail on that, with a view to providing local authorities with some guidance.

Minister, sadly far too many businesses are falling through the cracks in the support offered, and what support there is certainly doesn't make up for the long-term impacts that various lockdowns have had. Businesses don't know if they'll be open or closed from one week to the next, and many microbusinesses get no support at all because they don't have multiple years of accounts. One example: my constituent contacted me concerning her beauty salon's future because she's not eligible for support. She doesn't have full accounts due to maternity leave. Minister, what steps will you take to ensure all businesses in Wales impacted by COVID protection measures do receive financial support, such as my constituent through her maternity leave? Diolch. 

Thank you for providing another example of a business that hasn't been able to access funding thus far. Clearly, I don't want to give the impression that the Welsh Government is going to be able to support every single business in Wales, because the funding we have simply doesn't extend to that. So, I do want to be realistic, but, at the same time, I do want to reflect that we have taken on board and considered well those issues that have been brought forward by yourself and others in terms of those individuals who run businesses that have fallen through the gaps in support thus far. And that's why this discretionary element is so important, and why it's important that we get the advice and guidance for local authorities right in order to enable them to support those locally often very important businesses.

13:45
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and may I thank the Minister for the supplementary budget published last night? I look forward to the scrutiny in the Finance Committee over the next few weeks. There are substantial sums that have been vired within this financial year, as we would expect, because of the exceptional circumstances, and that includes to local government. But there is great uncertainty about next year's budgets. Without going into too much detail, my council on Ynys Môn has spoken to me about the millions of pounds of deficit that they can identify already for the next year directly because of this pandemic, pressures on the care sector. You look at things such as additional pressure on the council tax reduction scheme, because more people are reliant on it and so forth.

So, can the Minister give us an update on what principles the Government will follow in terms of ensuring that councils can balance their books in the next financial year? And will she look again, in light of what's being highlighted now, at the concept of budgeting over a longer period—let's say three years—in order to give more assurance for the future?

Thank you to Rhun ap Iorwerth for raising the importance of certainty for local authorities, but also for Welsh Government, in terms of managing its budget over a period of years. I'm sure that he will share my disappointment at the news today that there will not be a longer term comprehensive spending review and instead we'll have a one-year spending round—a one-year spending review. 

The UK Government has said it will look to give greater certainty to health in England, to schools in England and also to large infrastructure projects. But that is of no use to the Welsh Government at all, because we need to know the total quantum of our funding to understand where, if anywhere, the additional funding, should there be some for hospitals in England, for example, is coming from. So, it's a really disappointing result, I think, for Welsh Government and also then for local authorities, because we simply can't pass on that certainty if we don't have it ourselves. 

We're working very hard at the moment in preparing our budget for next year. I've already had a series of bilaterals with my colleagues and just recently one with my colleague, the Minister for Local Government and Housing, who was very keen to press the case for support for local authorities. And in terms of the overall Government's strategic approach, we've agreed again this year, obviously, that health will remain a priority, our priority, unsurprisingly, given the situation we're in, but also, again, we will want to give local authorities the best possible settlement for the next financial year.

Thank you for that response and, of course, I agree with the Minister in terms of the decision not to proceed with a comprehensive spending review at the UK level. It is proof yet again, for me, that Westminster and Whitehall aren't working for Wales—they work for Westminster and Whitehall.

Now, staying with local government, one element that's hit local authorities is loss of income. It hits various local authorities in various ways, depending on the elements that they have within their portfolio that generate income. But, of course, the loss of income at local government level has a direct impact on everyone through council tax ultimately, perhaps, but certainly in terms of the sustainability of the services that everyone is reliant upon. So, can the Government give an assurance that there will be compensation in terms of that loss of income for local authorities—not just now, but there is also income that will be lost for many months to come, because of the nature of the pandemic that we're currently facing?

Well, support for local authorities has taken two forms: first of all, there's been the hardship fund, and that's a fund of £310 million, which includes additional funding to tackle homelessness—to get rough-sleepers off the street, for example—the funding for free school meals, adult social care, school cleaning and so on, and some general funding to help local authorities to address the issues that they're facing. But, alongside that, we've put in place a fund of £198 million to take local authorities to the end of this financial year in order for them to address the loss of income that they have been experiencing. That funding is drawn down on a monthly basis. So, I can say that, to date, we've paid over £127 million in additional costs through that hardship fund, and £59 million for lost income thus far. The lost income, I should say, is claimed on a quarterly basis, whereas the hardship fund's on the monthly basis. So, I think the funding that we have put aside for local authorities through both of those funds, amounting to £0.5 billion, is sufficient, as best my understanding is in terms of discussions that I've been having with local authorities, to meet both of those aspects of the challenge that they're facing. Certainly, for this financial year, there'll be further discussions to be had as we move forward with the budget process.

13:50

That's the point I'm making here: this isn't something that's going to be over soon. We need to look at this as part of proposals for next year too.

One final question, again on local government, but also looking to the longer term. I welcome the funds that have been put in place to assist businesses directly. I'm still pushing for greater support, particularly to some sectors that have been hit particularly hard and those that are still slipping through the net. But when it comes to the work of rebuilding the economy, yes, helping individual businesses is important, but also economic planning and development on the ground is going to be hugely important too, and local government is going to to be crucial and will need resources in order to do that kind of delivery in terms of economic development at a local level. Can we have an outline of the level of economic development support that councils can expect? Because the councils know the areas that they serve and the opportunities that will arise as we rebuild.

Well, you will certainly have had a flavour already of the kind of areas in which we'll be investing through local government with the work that Jeremy Miles has been leading on the reconstruction package, and you will have heard the announcement of £340 million to support some of that work. And some of that funding will be going through local authorities, with a particular focus on house building, for example—the modern methods of construction, those homes that are built to very good environmental standards. My colleagues will be making further announcements in the coming weeks about schemes that are included in that £340 million, so I won't say too much more in terms of the particular schemes that will be announced, but local authorities will have an important part to play in a number of those schemes.

Looking forward, we're having some very good discussions with local authorities at the moment to explore whether or not we have a role in supporting borrowing for local authorities to undertake some capital work that is in line with our own strategic priorities, which you'll find within the Welsh infrastructure investment plan, and those discussions are ongoing at the moment. But, again, the areas of particular interest to us are housing and healthcare.

Diolch, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Minister. Minister, these are worrying times for Welsh businesses and for workers across Wales with the ongoing pandemic. What assessment of the financial costs associated with the impending firebreak have you made, and have you considered the cost of any future potential lockdowns as well—rolling lockdowns?

So, clearly, the impact of any lockdown on businesses is particularly harsh, there's no denying that, and that's why we've put in place this £300 million support package for business, with a view to doing absolutely everything we can to support businesses across Wales, and to make the application process—where there is an application needed and it's not automatic—as swift as possible to get that money to businesses as quickly as possible. Because we know that many businesses are facing such difficult times that they can't be waiting for that funding to come through to them as well.

We're also making those representations to the UK Government. So, whilst Welsh Government has a really strong and important role in providing a level of business support, when it comes to wage subsidies, that is absolutely the responsibility of the UK Government and it's something that Welsh Government doesn't receive funding for. We just simply don't have the level of resources to be able to step into that area and take that on without funding from the UK Government. So, any support that the spokesperson is able to offer in that regard in terms of making representation to his colleagues in Westminster would be much appreciated.

13:55

I'll do what I can, Minister, in that regard. The impending firebreak is clearly going to have a significant financial impact on businesses and employers across Wales. You've spoken about the need for co-operation with the UK Government. It now appears that Welsh Government officials knew that a firebreak was coming on Wednesday of last week, yet the Welsh Government only wrote to the Chancellor on Friday. By that time, it was already clear that the job support scheme could not be brought forward in Wales earlier than was planned. How are you now ensuring that adequate finance is in place to plug any gaps so that Welsh businesses don't end up having to plug the wage gap themselves, or, in the worst-case scenario, end up making workers redundant?

It's a great shame that the UK Government didn't respond positively to our request to bring forward the job support scheme by just one week. We even offered to provide the funding that would fill the gap from Welsh Government resources in order for them to do that. So, that is a great shame that the UK Government hasn't taken its responsibility to workers in Wales seriously, as I would have liked them to have done. I'll have the opportunity, as I mentioned earlier, to raise this again with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in a meeting later on this afternoon. But, clearly, it's not a satisfactory situation, and particularly for businesses that now have to apply to two different schemes in order to support their staff, and we are very concerned, obviously, about the impact that that will have on the workforce and on people's jobs.

Thank you. I agree with you on that last point, Minister; it's certainly not a satisfactory situation. Ian Price, the director of the Confederation of British Industry has said that it appears that some people may well be falling through the cracks between the job retention scheme and the job support scheme, whilst Ben Cottam of Federation of Small Businesses Wales has said that

'the amount of confusion surrounding this...illustrates just how complex'

all of this can be to a small employer in Wales.

Looking to the future now, businesses have been promised access to funding of up to £5,000 each in some cases through the current package of support that's on offer. What discussions have you had with the Minister for economy to ensure this money is made available to businesses as swiftly as possible?

I have regular discussions with the Minister for economy and transport on support for businesses in Wales, and we've sought to create a scheme here that provides local authorities with the ability to move these grants on to businesses as soon as possible. Some of them, obviously, will be automatic, in terms of supporting those businesses that are subject to small business rate relief. What I would do is encourage businesses to ensure that the local authorities have their up-to-date details. I know that that held up a few payments previously, so that would be something that I would encourage businesses to do. But we're working very closely with local authorities, and I can't express enough my thanks to the workers in local authorities who last time got the grants out to businesses so quickly and efficiently, and I know that they will do the same again—many of them going above and beyond, working long hours to do that. So, I'd like to put on record my real thanks for that.

County Councils

3. To what extent will the Minister ensure that the Welsh Government's budget can be adapted over the coming months to support county councils in Wales? OQ55761

We continue to work closely with the Welsh Local Government Association and local government to assess and respond to the financial pressures currently placed on them by the pandemic. We are providing up to £0.5 billion of funding to support councils and to help them respond to the impacts of the pandemic. 

If it is true, as you said earlier in response to Rhun ap Iorwerth, that the funding that is already there in terms of the hardship fund is sufficient for the rest of the year, why has Caerphilly council said today that there is

'considerable uncertainty in respect of additional funding'

during the remainder of this current financial year, and do Ceredigion say that

it isn't entirely clear what the sum of the COVID-19 funding from the Welsh Government will be, which areas are funded, which means that it's 'difficult to make financial forecasts'?

Shouldn't you do what the Scottish Government did last week, namely provide a package of additional funding worth £750 million in addition to local councils in Scotland?

Well, with respect, that's exactly what we have done. We provided a package of funding worth almost £0.5 billion to local authorities, and that funding is drawn down by local authorities on a monthly and quarterly basis on the basis of need, and the funding that they've already expended. So there shouldn't be confusion amongst local authorities in terms of what funding is available for them, because it's very clear that there is £310 million for the additional costs incurred by local authorities as a result of the pandemic, and within that we've set out what local authorities are able to claim for: work to support people off the streets, free school meals work, adult social care, temporary mortuaries, cleaning, and then a general fund that covers all sorts of other costs, such as IT staff, overtime, absences, PPE and cleaning costs. And we've also extended the support to adult social care from October to the end of the year as well, so that funding shouldn't be a mystery to local authorities. I know that the discussions I've certainly had with local authority leaders have proved very useful, and they're very welcoming of the funding and they understand it very well.

Alongside that, we worked very closely with local authorities to understand the level of the lost income that they're facing, and agreed a sum of £198 million as being sufficient to meet those costs. As I say, it's all completely under review at all times because we're working very closely and having those monthly and quarterly updates, and should I deem that that funding is insufficient, then clearly I would look at it again, but we haven't had an indication that it's not sufficient and there's been no suggestion to me that the system isn't clear.

14:00

It took months for the quarter 1 funding to come through, and in July, the Welsh Local Government Association's finance sub-group report on COVID-19 income and expenditure survey for quarter 2 and future budget pressures said that the Welsh Government has had funding of at least £280 million in consequentials, and may receive more, because that was for the first and second quarters. However, there is the potential for future budget shortfalls depending on several complex and interlinked factors, a downside scenario quotes this at £475 million. Addressing deficits this large in the current financial year will require discussions across levels of Government.

The WLGA chief executive said today that the current situation made it very difficult for councils to plan financially, so I'm surprised you haven't heard that. Flintshire said managing the budget in a changing and fast-moving climate is proving very challenging, while Gwynedd described its financial situation as again being very challenging. How do you therefore respond to calls from north Wales, but representing the whole of Wales, for assurances that decisions by Welsh Government resulting in income loss and additional expenditure due to COVID continue to be met by Welsh Government, and that council tax collection losses are supported, and for clarity on what options for local authority borrowing may be permissible to meet funding pressures? That was put to me today.

As I say, we have put that certainty in place for local authorities in terms of the additional funding, and as I said in response to an earlier question, to date we've paid out over £127 million for additional costs, which is claimed on a monthly basis, and £59 million for lost income so far, and that's claimed on a quarterly basis. So, as you'll see, there is a significant amount of funding in that pot yet to claimed.

I don't disagree with local authorities that this is an extremely challenging situation, and budgeting is extremely challenging, but I think that this pot of money, which we worked with local authorities to develop, I have to say, does give that certainty that the funding is there. I appreciate there are other areas where local authorities are experiencing pressures, and we're still working with local authorities on that. One would be the loss of income, for example, on council tax payments, and in recognition of that I've provided an additional £2.9 million to local authorities in order for them to address some of that lost income. We're working very closely with them to understand the loss of income from council tax over the rest of the financial year, but also doing an important and in-depth piece of work with them on the implications of potential loss of income in terms of non-domestic rates as well, so that's an ongoing piece of work.

There's no doubt that this is a challenging situation for local authorities, but we do have to recognise that this funding is in place, and a mechanism is in place that has been established in partnership with local authorities, and which actually stands local authorities in good stead to respond to the local lockdowns, because we didn't have to suddenly invent a new system: we had a system in place that was working and which local authorities could bid into, or rather claim from, for additional funding.

14:05

Minister, on 17 August this year, the Welsh Labour Government announced a funding boost of more than £216 million for local councils in Wales to provide them with that certainty they do need to plan for the remainder of the year, and it is disappointing in regard to the comprehensive spending review. That additional investment from the Welsh Government in August takes the total amount of Welsh Labour Government COVID-19 support for local authorities to almost £0.5 billion. Minister, what message does this send to my Islwyn constituents about the commitment that this Welsh Labour Government places in local authorities, such as Caerphilly county borough authority, where Labour leaders like Philippa Marsden are leading their community's responses to this unprecedented global pandemic?

I thank Rhianon Passmore for that and for also giving me this opportunity to put on record my thanks to the leaders of local authorities, who have been doing incredible work supporting their communities and ensuring that their teams are able to respond to the needs of people on the ground. They have done incredible work over the whole course of the pandemic and have been wonderful partners to work with in addressing the pandemic, too.

In terms of what this says, I hope that it says that this Welsh Labour Government puts a really high premium on local authorities and the services they provide. If you look across the border, you can see exactly what the UK Government thinks of local authorities, both in terms of the way in which they have chipped away at funding for local authorities over many years, and now in the way in which they are failing to engage properly with leaders, such as Andy Burnham in Manchester, for example. So, I hope that this shows that the Welsh Government values local authorities and is very keen to work as closely as possible with local authorities, respecting them as the important partners they are in addressing this pandemic.

Cosmeston Farm

4. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's proposed residential development at Cosmeston Farm in Penarth? OQ55747

A planning application for residential development of land at Cosmeston has been submitted. The site is allocated for housing in the adopted Vale of Glamorgan local development plan. If permission is granted, the site will be an exemplar for affordable, sustainable homes using modern methods of construction and energy efficiency.

Thank you, Minister, for that answer. This is a substantial development on the outskirts of Penarth. It's 60 acres of land owned by the Welsh Government and, obviously, this is a Welsh Government application to the local authority, which is the Vale of Glamorgan Council. And I declare an interest as a member of that authority. Do you think it is appropriate that such a major scheme should be brought forward and promoted by the Welsh Government with the current restrictions stopping public engagement on such major schemes? And would the Welsh Government reconsider this application, withdrawing it and waiting for better times, so that the public can have a fair crack on engagement and consultation over these major proposals for a residential development?

Well, I think it's important to recognise that the land is already allocated for development in the Vale of Glamorgan's local development plan, and that has been, obviously, already adopted and it was subject itself to consultation, scrutiny and examination throughout its preparation. As I said, the land at Cosmeston would provide a significant contribution to the Vale of Glamorgan's identified housing need. And, of course, if this proposal doesn't go ahead, it's likely that an alternative site will need to be allocated. But, importantly, representations do need to be made to the council in respect of the application, and I would expect that the local authority would find ways to engage with the public and allow them to make their representations with regard to this particular scheme, regardless of the current situation. 

Higher Rate Houses

5. Will the Minister make a statement on the number of higher rate houses appearing in the latest land transaction tax figures? OQ55756

Yes. The latest LTT data was published by the Welsh Revenue Authority on 25 September. It showed that, from 1 April to 31 August, there were 3,300 higher rate transactions.

Thank you for that response. The houses within that higher rate include a number of different kinds of houses, such as second homes, buy-to-let properties and properties sold to housing associations, and so on. So there's a range within that same rate. 

Now, recently in the Senedd we have discussed the housing crisis and particular proposals to tackle that, but it's proved impossible to get the necessary statistics to understand how many of those higher rate houses are second homes or buy-to-let houses and so on and so forth, and that makes it more difficult in drawing up policy. So, can I ask you whether you will ensure that LTT figures clearly differentiate between those kinds of houses bought within the higher rate, so that we can get a clearer picture of the exact nature of the income coming from the various kinds of houses?

14:10

I'm grateful to Llyr Gruffydd for raising this particular issue, and I know that we have a meeting coming up shortly as well in which we can have the opportunity to talk about land transaction tax, but also the wider issue of second homes, because I know it's an issue of serious concern to many people.

Llyr is absolutely right in the sense that you cannot read or that there is huge difficulty in interpreting the data as we have it, in terms of land transaction tax and that higher rate, because it does include people who are bridging from one home to another—so, selling their main home to move into another main home, but there's a period in between moving into the second and selling the first, if you like—and as was also mentioned, it includes those properties that are bought by residential landlords, which I'm sure would be something that many of us would be very supportive of. And, equally, the data doesn't show the land that churns the other way, so those properties that were previously buy-to-lets, which are now being bought as main properties as well. But when we have that meeting, I think it would be an opportunity for us to discuss, in more depth, to what extent we can get better data, really, in order for us to understand what's happening behind those figures. But I look forward to that conversation.

Local Procurement

6. What assessment has the Minister made of the level of local procurement by public bodies in South Wales West? OQ55752

South Wales West procurement spend, at local authority level, in 2018-19 was £588 million with 61 per cent spent in Wales. We are working, with colleagues, to deliver national procurement frameworks regionally and to generate greater economic and well-being outcomes. The foundational economy programme is also working to identify opportunities for localising procurement expenditure. 

Thank you for that, Minister. Now, data held for the latest full financial year of 2018-19 show that Wales-based suppliers won only 55 per cent of total local authority and NHS contracts in Wales. In other words, 45 per cent of contract spend was lost outside of Wales. We know that Scotland retains around 70 per of its contracts within its borders. We also know that supporting local companies by encouraging them to tender and by awarding them public sector contracts can have a significant impact on the local economy and create jobs. Do you, therefore, accept that the Welsh Government needs to do more by working with bodies such as Swansea council and Swansea bay health board to ensure that more public contracts are awarded to local companies?

I'm absolutely keen to work with Swansea council and with the health board to see what more we can do in order to ensure that local companies win those contracts. The data that I referred to in my response, of course, only referred to local authorities, because other public sector organisations, such as health boards and others, don't necessarily reside in a single area, so we haven't been able to include them in the analysis. So, it's worth just bearing that in mind as a bit of a health warning for that data.

But I absolutely agree that there is more that we can do, and we can do that through our approach on the foundational economy programme. We've engaged the Centre for Local Economic Strategies to work with clusters of public services boards across Wales to identify opportunities for localising procurement expenditure. That's really important and exciting work, which I think has the opportunity to be quite a game changer there.

We also, of course, have the foundational economy challenge fund, and Swansea council is delivering one of those projects, which aims to increase the proportion of construction contracts that are won by local contractors here in the area. So, again, that's an important piece of work, and the learning that we have from that we can spread across Wales as well. And I think that the pandemic has provided us with huge opportunities to support and engage with local businesses in a way that we haven't been able to support them before and engage with them before. There are some excellent examples of how local engineering firms and others are changing the way that they produce things in order to help with the effort by moving into production of PPE and so on. That's been fantastic in terms of supporting local business but also giving that certainty to other public services in terms of that supply chain of important goods during the pandemic. 

14:15
Financial Support as a result of Coronavirus Restrictions

7. Will the Minister make a statement on the financial support available for those affected by local coronavirus restrictions? OQ55719

The Welsh Government has introduced a range of measures to support communities across Wales, including almost £300 million that has now been made available to support businesses during the firebreak. We are particularly focused on supporting businesses and working with local authorities to address the needs of people in Wales. 

Thank you for that answer, Minister. It's not just businesses that have borne the brunt of the restrictions that have been imposed across Wales in recent months. We know that the national health service has seen waiting times absolutely balloon in recent months, and of course, in north Wales in particular, we already had the worst waiting times in the country. Can I ask you what specific support you're going to make available from the Welsh Government's budget to support the NHS to deal with this huge backlog of patients waiting for appointments and treatments? And specifically, will you support the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board with any strategy that it brings forward in order to eradicate those waiting lists and get back on top of them?

Thank you for raising this important issue. As Darren Millar will know, the Welsh Government has recently announced a stabilisation package for the NHS here in Wales, and that's an £800 million package of support that should allow health boards and others across Wales to be able to get to that point at the end of the financial year where they've been able to meet all of those additional pressures put on them by COVID, but also stabilise the other parts of the NHS, which, of course, are so important as well. So, that funding is there. I provided a block of funding rather than having to have a situation where the health Minister had to keep coming to individual meetings to discuss different parts of the health service. I felt that a significant injection of funding to the health department was the best way to go in terms of giving him the ability then to pass on that funding and certainty more quickly. Because I think one of the things that we always try to do during this pandemic is provide funding as quickly as we can, and I felt that that was the appropriate way to go forward. I have been having some discussions in my regular bilateral meetings with the Minister for health in terms of support for Betsi Cadwaladr and those discussions are currently ongoing. 

Funding Flood Recovery

8. What consideration has the Minister given to funding flood recovery in Wales when allocating the Welsh Government's budget? OQ55745

Preventing and addressing flooding is a priority for this Government. Alongside the funding provided following the devastating February flooding, by the end of this Senedd term, we will have invested £390 million in flood and coastal erosion risk management, helping to protect over 47,000 properties in Wales.

Minister, the Welsh Government funding has been very welcome, in particular the 100 per cent funding of preparatory work for the flood damage from the February flooding. Two weeks ago, I asked about the promise that was made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales that money would be passported through to the Welsh Government for the flood damage that occurred. The Rhondda Cynon Taf assessment is around £70 million, and of course there is the issue of the funding of the work that needs to be done in terms of stabilisation and work on coal tips. Minister, have you had any indication yet from the UK Government that that money that was promised will be coming to enable Rhondda Cynon Taf to carry out the infrastructure repairs that are so desperately needed? 

Thank you to Mick Antoniw for that question and also for the useful meetings that we've had in order to hear very much from the ground in terms of the support that the local authority needs and that communities need in order to recover properly and move forward after the devastating floods. We have provided some early funding and early certainty to local authorities to allow them to get on with the work, because we know that there are safety issues involved. But in terms of the way in which the UK Government's been able to play its part, it's been quite lamentable thus far, given the fact that the Prime Minister made such a strong promise that funding would be passported to Wales as a result of the flooding and the need to address it. We haven't yet seen a penny of it. We've seen a commitment for a small amount of funding, but as Mick Antoniw says, the overall funding both in terms of addressing the local damage but also the work that needs to be undertaken over a long period on coal tips in Wales runs into the hundreds of millions of pounds. I have had a recent letter from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury suggesting a further conversation on that, and I look forward to it, but I think that the scale of the issue here is one where the UK Government really does need to fulfil its promise, which the Prime Minister made, and also recognise that in terms of the coal tips, much of this predates devolution as well. The Coal Authority has a particular and specific role to play, I think, in addressing these issues. 

14:20
Bill Financial Statements

9. Will the Minister make a statement on how financial statements accompanying new Bills compare to the actual realised costs? OQ55760

The Welsh Government publishes a table showing the implementation costs of enacted legislation alongside the draft budget. The table includes an explanation if costs have changed significantly from the regulatory impact assessment estimates. Guidance states that, where feasible, the actual cost of legislation should be considered as part of the post-implementation review.

Thank you very much for that information, because we don't get a huge amount of time for post-legislative scrutiny here in this Senedd, and tracking the ongoing costs attributable to a piece of legislation can be very difficult, particularly at the moment when we get no chance for pre-legislative scrutiny of the cost of regulations. Can you confirm for how long consequent costs attract after various parts of the statutes and regulations come into force? And when do you plan to publish a comprehensive statement on the costs of the coronavirus Act and the COVID regulations brought in beneath it?

Thank you for raising that particular question. In terms of when we publish that detail, we publish detail alongside the draft budget every year in terms of legislation that is being enacted. We would normally stop providing that information once the Act has been implemented, because then the costs of that and delivering that just become business-as-usual costs and are absorbed either by the departments or have some additional particular funding attached to them. So, that's the normal way in which we would provide the detail of that. I'm always keen to explore what more we can do in terms of transparency and providing the information that people need, both before Bills are voted on, but then also afterwards as well. So, yes, I'd be more than happy to have that discussion with Suzy if there are some particular ideas that she has or some particular concerns that she'd like to discuss in further detail, because as I say, transparency is really important in helping people to understand what the cost has been of the Bills that we've enacted.

2. Questions to the Minister for Education

The next item is questions to the Minister for Education and the first question is from Hefin David.

COVID-19 and Schools

1. Will the Minister provide an update on the actions expected of schools to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections? OQ55750

The operational guidance clearly sets out the actions that need to be taken by schools and settings in order to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. It is crucial that staff and pupils who are showing any symptoms of COVID-19 do not attend school and book a test.

Two things related to that. First of all, I've had questions from parents asking for justification for the fact that year 9 onwards won't be in school during the lockdown the week after half term. Can you just reiterate the reasons for that and why that's taking place? And associated with it, the advice to schools is to keep classrooms ventilated. A number of parents—and in fact, teachers—have come to me and said that ventilated classrooms are very, very cold. It's a concern that's been raised in Caerphilly, but I've also seen it elsewhere. I've written to Caerphilly council and they say they're providing advice to schools, but is it possible that the Welsh Government also provides advice that ventilation doesn't necessarily also mean freezing classrooms, which is quite important?

14:25

Schools and settings should ensure that there is an adequate level of ventilation, and Welsh Government has given operational guidance to schools in that regard. In terms of the implications of the firebreak for education, I have been very clear since this summer that the best way in which we can minimise disruption to our children's education is to keep community levels of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible. As a Government, we recognise a firebreak is essential if we are to reduce levels of transmission and reduce the R rate. I appreciate that for those parents and learners in year 9 and above, this is an extremely difficult time, but these year groups have the ability to undertake self-directed learning more easily than other parts of the cohort, and they will be supported in doing so for the week by their teachers, who will be in the classroom.

Diolch, Llywydd. The unmuting took a while, sorry. Minister, our schools, as you know, are doing an excellent job, and work very hard to ensure that the schools are COVID safe for pupils and teachers alike. However, there does seem to be a chink in the armour to me, at drop-off and pick-up. Although there are great one-way systems, phased collections, all those great things happening, parents and guardians are still not, on the whole, social distancing and wearing masks. Do you think there's a bit more that you and the Welsh Government can do in tackling this? It looks to have the potential to undo all the good work being done by the school, particularly as we're looking to stop gatherings in this firebreak. Thank you. 

First of all, can I thank you, Laura, for your recognition of the hard work, on behalf of school leaders and teachers, to make our schools and our colleges as COVID secure as they possibly can be? But, you are absolutely right; parents can greatly enhance those efforts by ensuring that they follow all relevant advice when they are bringing their children to and from school, and when they are organising other activities for their children. You are correct; we have had concerns expressed to us about families gathering at the school gate and not doing so in a socially distanced way, or perhaps families overseeing children's activities, and, again, families forgetting to do that in a socially distanced way from other mums, dads, carers and grandparents. The Welsh Government will use this time to review all of our communications, to get those strong messages out to parents and carers that they too have a crucial role to play in ensuring that we can minimise disruption to their children's education, and that one of the easy ways they can do that is remembering to remain socially distanced from other parents at the beginning and at the end of school days. 

Outdoor Education Centres

2. Will the Minister make a statement on the opening of outdoor education centres during the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ55739

Thank you, Russell. I am sympathetic to the challenge faced by outdoor education centres due to the pandemic. Our current guidance advises against domestic residential school trips, but it does allow for domestic non-residential day trips. This guidance is kept under review and updates will be informed by the latest medical and scientific advice.

Thank you, Minister, for your answer, and I'm grateful that you are sympathetic, as you've outlined. Two outdoor centres, as it happens, have been in touch with me, based in Powys in my own constituency; I know, Minister, you'll have similar outdoor centres in your own constituency in Powys as well. They are keen that Welsh Government do provide guidance that will allow them to reopen on the same basis as schools, to prevent them from facing imminent ruin. I'd suggest that outdoor educational centres provide huge benefits in terms of personal development, education and physical and mental health. I'm aware that Tim Farron MP is campaigning for a change in the UK Government current guidance, which prevents overnight educational visits at outdoor educational centres, and I'm very much campaigning for the same here in Wales. So, can I ask you, Minister, whether you will be able to discuss with colleagues and take some action to allow them to reopen, with appropriate guidance to follow, following, of course, the current lockdown period, which ends at the beginning of November?

14:30

Russell, you're correct—outdoor education can bring huge benefits to children and young people, and, as you said, in a range of developing skills and knowledge. At this time, day trips to such residential centres can indeed go ahead, and as long as schools do that in a risk-assessed way, there is no reason why all of those activities have to stop. But at this stage, scientific advice is very clear that residential trips are not appropriate. But as I said in my initial answer to you, we will continue to keep that under review, and we do not want to limit those residential trips for a moment longer than they need to be, given the benefits to children that you have outlined.

Minister, thank you for that assurance that you do not want to keep these closed for residential visits for a minute more than is necessary, and that, once safe, we will get back to having residential visits. She will know that, for many of us, outdoor education centres were the first time that we would have been immersed in an outdoor environment, and learnt through skills and confidence and self-esteem all the benefits that come from that. So, could I ask her, firstly, will she, along with other Cabinet colleagues, continue to work with people like the Institute of Outdoor Learning and the Outdoor Alliance in Wales to put in place those plans for when we can get back to residential outdoor learning? But, secondly, will she also with Cabinet colleagues work with UK Government to amend the current job support schemes they have to extend their reach to the outdoor learning environment? At the moment, they're not able to apply for that support, and we need to get them through these current constraints, in order to get to rebuilding after we've got through this crisis.

Thank you, Huw. I'm sure many people will have shared your experience—that the ability to go on a residential trip was the first opportunity to spend extended time in the natural environment. And I know that that is something that is very much valued by many schools in parts of Wales where access to the outdoors is perhaps more limited, to be able to take children out to areas—such as Russell George's constituency, and indeed to Brecon and Radnorshire—to give them that experience and, hopefully, a lifelong love and interest of spending time in the outdoors.

As I said, we're keeping this issue constantly under review. My officials met as recently as 14 October with Public Health Wales, to discuss the appropriateness of current advice. Unfortunately, at this time, residential trips are not recommended, but as soon as we are able to do so, then clearly we will want to change that.

With regard to discussions for economic support, recognising not only the importance for children of outdoor education, but actually they are valuable employers in their own right in rural communities, then such centres are able to look to support from the economic resilience fund that the Welsh Government has made available. But I will certainly make the representations that you have asked for this afternoon, and I will write back to the Member.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Siân Gwenllian.

Thank you, Llywydd. May I begin with the financial situation of our universities as a result of the health crisis? I'm aware that there is support being provided by the investment and resilience fund for higher education. It appears that the applications need to be in by the last day of this month, which is within the firebreak period. And, of course, universities will have additional requirements as a result of the firebreak lockdown, which begins very soon, particularly with regard to assistance with track and trace and emotional and mental well-being.

The support is being divided between assistance to individual universities and an allocation for co-operative investment. Under the new circumstances, will you think again about extending the time available to universities to make their applications? But also, will you think about changing the way that this funding is allocated, so that you amend the financial allocation process to ensure that the funding is prioritised for that urgent assistance to individual universities, rather than for the collaborative investment? 

14:35

Thank you for that question. We have indeed made additional resources available to the higher education sector, in additional moneys to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and a remit letter to HEFCW to support the distribution and the prioritisation of those resources.

The Member raises the issue of timescales—that is a matter for HEFCW. What I do know from universities is that they are as anxious as possible to see that money into their accounts, rather than in the accounts of HEFCW. So, there is a balance to be struck, is there not, of bringing that application process to a close and allocating that money, rather than extending the application process?

With regard to asking universities to work together, there is a huge appetite amongst the higher education sector here in Wales, which is based on values of co-operation rather than competition, to work together to support each other during this time. That is particularly important when being able to resource a blended learning approach and support each other in the provision of bilingual opportunities for blended learning. So, I wouldn't want to curtail the ability of Welsh universities, who see the value in co-operating to help one another to get through this time, to be lost.

Clearly, the situation is changing all the time. I'm very pleased that in even during the firebreak universities will be able to continue to provide a blended learning approach with in-person teaching as well as remote learning. But, clearly, we meet regularly with both HEFCW and the universities and the National Union of Students Wales to discuss what additional support universities and higher education and students may need during this time, as we enter into this very uncertain period of the winter. 

I welcome your decision to extend your free school meals scheme to include school holidays until the spring of next year, and, also, your decision to extend the free-school-meals scheme to include additional pupils, particularly those from low income families. Will you consider extending it further still to include families who receive universal credit, the basic provision, or, even better still, to all pupils and children in Wales, given how difficult it is for families to cope at the present time, and how important it is for children to receive nutritious food? 

Thank you, Siân. Wales, back in the spring of this year, was the first part of the United Kingdom to announce continued support for families entitled to free school meals during school holidays, and I am very pleased to have been able to work with the finance Minister to obtain an additional £11 million, which will ensure that children who are entitled to free school meals will continue to receive that support during this half term, during the Christmas holiday, the February half term and, indeed, the Easter holidays. We keep under review our range of support for families who find themselves in financial difficulties at that time. We know that schools are seeing an increase in the number of children who are now eligible, sadly, for free school meals, which is adding additional pressure to budgets. But we are determined not to forget those children for whom school is about so much more than just learning, and to ensure that those families have some certainty with regard to support for their children during what is, as I said, a very uncertain time. 

I am pleased that you're keeping the situation under continuous review. That is vital, isn't it? 

Now, turning to another issue, to conclude, in July it was announced that 600 additional teachers would be recruited to schools and 300 teaching assistants for the current school year. I would like an update on this, and perhaps there isn't sufficient time this afternoon for you to give that update, but will you give us a full statement, in due course, on this, and explain to us what monitoring work and evaluation work the Welsh Government is undertaking with regard to this expenditure on the additional teachers and the additional teaching assistants, and an explanation of how this will lead to decreasing the classroom sizes in schools?

14:40

Thank you, Siân. You're correct to say that we have allocated in excess of £29 million to support schools to address the learning loss that has already happened in our children's education. That means schools can indeed look to recruit additional teachers, teaching assistants, or indeed any other professional who they feel would be appropriate to work with their cohort of children. That could be youth workers, mentors, and we have provided guidance, alongside the financial resources, to make that happen, and I will be more than happy to be able to give Members an update about how those resources have been spent in school.

The Member also talks about class sizes. Despite the immense pressure on Government budgets at this time, we have been able to maintain our funding for our class size reduction budget as well. But the Member is right and proper to ask for an update on the use of the £29 million, and I will be happy to give that once details are available.

Diolch, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Minister. Why did Welsh Government ignore the wishes of all 22 local authority leaders to keep secondary schools fully open during the forthcoming lockdown?

Well, Suzy, a range of views have to be taken into consideration at this time. As I said in answer to Hefin David, we know that keeping community levels of transmission of COVID-19 low is the best thing that we can all do to minimise disruption to education. The firebreak is essential if we are to slow the rates of infection and bring R down. In doing so, we will see less disruption in our schools, from teachers who are perhaps contracting the virus and having to self-isolate, children who themselves are catching the virus and having to self-isolate, and the knock-on effect that has to other children within their bubble.

The contribution of schools opening to R was well known and is inevitable. The Government has published its technical advice group paper, and it was felt that by asking those pupils in years 9 and above to study from home for a week, given the fact that they are more able to do that, allowed us to make sure that the firebreak is successful, and everybody's sacrifices can make a difference. 

Well, Minister, the news has been full of the negotiation between the Prime Minister and city region mayors, and the different deals on whether gyms, for example, should be kept open. But when the Welsh Local Government Association leaders speak as one, with one voice, on something as important as our schools, it seems that Welsh Government is perfectly content to instruct and not to listen. And I hope that the implication isn't that those leaders haven't given due consideration to the technical advice group advice, and I hope that some of the accusations levelled at Welsh Conservatives yesterday, simply for taking a different view from Welsh Government, don't attach to those leaders for also having a different view.

Minister, we all know what the children's commissioner has had to say about further reducing children and young people's access to an experience of education that they have a right to expect, with particularly serious consequences for poorer children and those in care. The age of those children isn't necessarily the determinant of how well they can learn at home. We know what some parents and young people are saying about the quality of some of the blended learning, and the work that they get sent home, and the existence of Google classrooms doesn't necessarily mean anyone attending is learning what they need do. We also know that secondary schools are now geared up to teach mainly in school, not to find out from leaked letters that expectations are going to change without any decent lead-in time. What we don't know, with all this chopping and changing, is how Welsh Government is supporting the rapidly deteriorating mental health of our teachers and lecturers. Can you tell us, please?

Well, let me be absolutely clear: we have, even in this most difficult and serious of circumstances, been able to ensure that primary schoolchildren, children in our special educational needs schools, pupils in education other than at schools and in specialist centres within mainstream schools will be able to attend school in person after the break. I appreciate that this is a worrying time for all of those students who have been asked to stay at home for that week, but they will be supported in their learning by staff who will be indeed in school to be able to deliver that online learning. And before the Member is quick to condemn the quality of that, I can assure her that Estyn, regional consortia, local education authorities and schools themselves have been working very, very hard to put contingency plans in place to support distance learning. 

I regret that there is any further disruption to education for children here in Wales. Unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn't care about that. As I said, the best way in which we can minimise disruption to schools is to keep community transmission levels low. As we have seen community transmission levels rise, we have seen growing numbers of children in our classrooms who have had to self-isolate. If we are to get back to a more even keel and to lessen that disruption to individual classes and teachers and schools, we have to bring the R number down and that is what the firebreak is intending to do.

14:45

Thank you for that, Minister. Obviously, the quality of work that's either being given to young people to take home or that they're getting remotely, is very variable. You've admitted this in the past and it's certainly not a reflection on the hard work that teachers are putting in, which is why I asked you what Welsh Government is doing to support the mental health of our teachers, particularly as over half of them are now saying that their mental health has been impacted, and the main reason for that is late arrival of new guidance on any changes that they're expected to deal with. I think the combination of education reforms and the disruption of teaching and learning due to COVID have placed a very, very visible strain on practitioners in the sector, which was already struggling with years of difficult funding arrangements and low uptake of opportunities. How can we all help to make sure that those considering teaching as a career haven't been put off by all of this?

Forgive me, Suzy, you did ask a very direct question and it is only right that that is answered. This Government has made additional financial resources available specifically to support mental health and well-being during this crisis. And, quite rightly, whilst the majority of that resource has been made available to support children and young people, an element of that resource has been made available to support the mental health and well-being of staff and school leaders.

I appreciate that additional stress occurs when situations change, but I'm sure the Member would understand that we are dealing with a fast-paced and rapidly changing situation. Cases and statistics and infection levels can change very rapidly, and whilst it is almost always my intention to give as much notice as possible, sometimes governments find themselves in a position of having to act very quickly.

With regard to initial teacher education, I am pleased to say that we have seen a strong level of recruitment into ITE programmes this year. We will continue to work with the Education Workforce Council in Wales to promote teaching as a career, and, goodness me, if ever there was a time for an individual who wants to make a difference to the lives of children and young people in Wales, and feel that they want to make a contribution, then helping us to recover in education from the impact of COVID-19 now would be a fantastic time to think about and join the profession.

Social Distancing in Schools

3. What steps are being taken to ensure that schools are adhering to social distancing guidelines? OQ55742

Thank you, David. The operational guidance for schools sets out the control measures that need to be put in place to minimise the risk of transmission, including social distancing. Local authorities continue to work with their schools to ensure that all measures are put in place as far as possible. 

Minister, we know that social distancing is our best defence in stopping transmission. Hygiene practice is also very important, but social distancing is really crucial. I think that we should be grateful to the professionalism of our teaching staff and the whole staff in complimenting schools, because we have not had the sort of transmission events that we've seen in higher education. Now, I realise that they are not comparable directly, but they are the same in that there are lots of young people gathering together. And, I think that it is really important that we maintain these best practices, and are thankful to all of the staff that have allowed us to maintain attendance rates in our schools in the high 80s. Obviously, we want to do even better than that to ensure that our young people get as full an education as possible. 

14:50

Thank you, David, for recognising the huge amount of effort that has gone into our school settings to make them as COVID secure as possible. Like you, what we need to do is continually keep under review our support and guidance available to schools in the light of experience. There are things that we can learn from this first half-term of the new academic year—hence, issuing new guidance last week—in light of the experiences that we have. But, overall, we have seen strong levels of adherence to social distancing in our schools, for which I am very, very grateful.

What's really important, as we head into half-term, is that young people remind themselves of the need to continue to social distance, not to gather in each other's homes over half-term, and to continue to follow the rules, because that gives us the best chance of minimising disruption to education going forward.

Minister, the operational guidance for schools and settings for the autumn term—version 3, published by the Welsh Government—was updated two days ago. This guidance states that local authorities should communicate the control measures to schools and settings, and that schools and settings should work with staff, parents, carers and learners so that the revised arrangements will work in practice. Minister, how will the Welsh Government seek to ensure that there is a consistency of approach across schools in Islwyn, and how will the Welsh Government be kept updated by Caerphilly county borough on the measures adopted across the authority and across the academic year 2020-21?

Well, we are in regular contact with local authorities. We are aware that, sometimes, there are differences in the approach taken by local authorities in supporting their schools. That's why Estyn is currently doing a piece of work to identify good practice in local authorities supporting individual settings to adhere to rules and to support education during this time.

We, as a Welsh Government, will look to use all of our platforms to reinforce those messages with parents, because they, too, have a crucial role to play in decisions that they are making about their lives, and how they support their children to make good decisions—especially older children, and how they make good decisions when they are outside school—to ensure that we can minimise disruption and bear down on community transmission rates.

The 2020 Summer Examination Results

4. Will the Minister confirm when the review into the awarding of examination results in summer 2020 will be published? OQ55757

The independent panel that are reviewing arrangements for the awarding of grades from the 2020 summer exam series, and exploring considerations for 2021, will publish their interim report by the end of this month and their final report in December.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. I have been approached by teachers who are very concerned about what will happen for the examinations in the summer of 2021. They need to be aware of what assessments pupils will be taking so that they can prepare pupils and they can prepare their work. And, if it is going to be an internally moderated type of approach, they also need to understand the extra work that that will require. So, while you indicate that the interim report will be published by the end of this month, and the final report by December, to be blunt, December is too late for some of the decisions and some of the actions that need to be taken. Will you be making a decision sooner than that to identify when, or whether, examinations will be going ahead in July 2021, and if not, what will be replacing them?  

It is my intention to make a statement in this regard, David, in the week beginning 9 November.

Schools in Pembrokeshire

5. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government's immediate priorities for schools in Pembrokeshire? OQ55718

My immediate priorities for schools in Pembrokeshire and, indeed, across Wales, is to provide the best possible learning experience for pupils, drawing on the learning guidance Welsh Government published in July, while keeping children, young people and staff safe.

14:55

Thank you for that response, Minister. Now, as you know, supply teachers can play a key role in supporting our schools, and I'm sure that supporting those professionals is also a priority of yours. Now, I've received correspondence from local supply teachers who are deeply worried that many are not being paid the basic recommended minimum rate, as outlined in the supply teaching framework. As you know from my previous representations to you on this matter, supply staff have had a really tough time since the COVID-19 crisis. Many have been without any work, and furlough has been hard to work out or apply for due to the transient nature of their incomes. Therefore, can you tell us what steps the Welsh Government is taking to ensure the supply teaching framework is enforceable and that supply teachers are being paid adequately? And can you also tell us what the Welsh Government and local education authorities are doing to monitor this issue and ensure that supply staff are treated fairly, not only across Pembrokeshire, but, indeed, across the whole of Wales?

Yes, indeed. All those supply teaching agencies that are on the framework need to abide by the conditions of that framework, which seeks to protect the interests of supply teachers. If you, Paul, or indeed if any Member has evidence where that is not the case, then I can assure you that will be pursued by my officials and by members of staff in the National Procurement Service. Indeed, recently, such a case was brought to our attention, and that was immediately dealt with. In that case, the offer of work had been made directly by a school, and conversations were had to remind those people involved of their requirements to treat and pay supply staff securely. So, Paul, if you have constituents that are not in that position, please do bring them to my attention and I will assure you action will be taken.

Diolch, Llywydd. I was interested in the Minister's reply just now—

Education in South Wales Central

6. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of education in South Wales Central? OQ55746

I would be delighted to. Local authorities have a statutory duty to maintain schools in their area. In South Wales Central, the Central South Consortium provides school improvement support to the 277 schools, the two special schools and the four pupil referral units that it covers.

Thank you, Minister. In schools in England, the UK Government's intention is to go ahead with most exams next summer. Now, I'm aware from what the Minister just said in response to David Rees that she's making a statement on 9 November, and I realise she will not want to pre-empt this. Notwithstanding that, exams are the fairest and most transparent way to assess the ability of schoolpupils, and when they were cancelled last summer and we had replacement grades instead, there was a fiasco. Most pupils and students are saying that they want exams to proceed as they don't want a grade allocated by a teacher or generated by an algorithm. I know we are having this statement in a couple of weeks' time, but could the Minister assure us that she is doing all she can to ensure that school exams do take place in Wales next summer?

Well, the Member is right—examinations are an important and mainstream part of how we run our education system in Wales, but I am sure the Member will also agree that these are extraordinary times, and what an examination system cannot do is solve the issue on its own of the extreme disruption that there has been to children's education. Indeed, if the Member was to look at his own region, he would be aware that there are some children who, through no fault of their own but because they are in a bubble with a child who has contracted COVID-19, have had their education disrupted. How we find a system—an examination system—that treats that child as fairly as a child who has had no further disruption to their education because they are fortunate enough to be in a cohort that has not been sent home from school, I'm sure he would agree, is a challenge indeed. That's why I have asked the independent review to look at the situation, and he will have seen from Qualifications Wales, only this morning, that they too recognise that the disruption to education is considerable. England have made their decision; Scotland have made a different one. I will make a decision that I believe is in the best interests of Welsh learners and is fair to this particular cohort of children who, again, in the words of Qualifications Wales, have suffered more disruption and are more challenged—this cohort is—than even that of last year, and we need to be fair to them.

15:00

Thank you, Minister, for that response to the opening question. Obviously, with the national lockdown that's coming in as of Friday evening, years 9 and above have been ordered to stay at home for one week of the school calendar. Can you point me to the scientific evidence that says that this is a sensible course of action for years 9 and above, or is it, as you said in your response to Suzy Davies, a sacrifice that we have to make to, obviously, suppress the virus?

You'll be aware of evidence contained within the TAC paper that talks about the contribution to reducing R from closing schools in their entirety and closing secondary schools in particular. Throughout this pandemic, I have tried to minimise the disruption to children and maximise education. It is very worrying for those children in years 9 and above that this decision has been reached, but, as I said in answer to earlier questions, this part of the cohort are best placed to be able to engage in self-directed and distanced learning. And I hope that, by suppressing the virus across Wales and driving down community rates of transmission, that will limit the amount of disruption to education as we head towards the end of this term.

School Years Self-isolating

7. Will the Minister make a statement on the changes in the new guidance regarding full school years being sent home to self-isolate? OQ55758

Additional guidance has been published in collaboration with Public Health Wales and test, trace, protect on the role of contact tracing when a positive COVID-19 case is identified in an education setting. This includes the identification of close contacts to limit, where possible, the number of pupils and staff who are asked to self-isolate as the result of a positive case.

Thank you. I don't underestimate the task for secondary school heads, in particular, of reconfiguring school layouts, timetables and attendance times in order to comply with the rules on social distancing and hygiene. But I don't think there can be any justification for hundreds of pupils being sent home to self-isolate just because one individual has tested positive. Five hundred and fifty three children were sent home from just two schools in Cardiff a week ago, and both of these where there was just one case. I don't think that's proportionate. Why are heads still in the position where they feel that they have no choice but to send so many pupils home? And do they need the protection of the law to give them the confidence to isolate smaller numbers?

Well, Suzy, you have just outlined beautifully the disruption that is happening on a daily basis, in some parts of Wales, to children's education. In the light of experience of this first half term, we have worked with TTP teams and health protection teams to reflect on the feedback given by headteachers to develop new guidance so that we can reduce the number of pupils and staff who are having to self-isolate. As you identified, one way in which we are looking to do this is by making sure that we can focus on schools having the processes in place to capture information so that we can have more confidence around what constitutes a close contact and to work with those schools to identify—perhaps, in the first instance, a bubble is sent home, but then to work as quickly as possible, following the bubble being sent home, to identify the close contacts within that particular group and then bring more of those children back into school within those 14 days of self-isolation.

So, you're right: we need to give support and confidence to headteachers to make these decisions. And, of course, headteachers need to work with us to have processes in place so that they can more easily and readily identify those children who will have had a close contact with a positive case, rather than asking entire year groups, or very large bubbles, to miss school.

Digital Education Services

8. How will the Welsh Goverment support digital education services this academic year? OQ55754

Thank you very much, Joyce, for that important question. Clearly, digital education services have come to the fore during the crisis, and we will continue to work with individual schools and local educational authorities to provide the digital resources children need.

15:05

I thank you for that answer, and the Welsh Government has made keeping children in schools one of its top priorities. And reflecting on the first wave of the pandemic, the Education Policy Institute commended Wales for leading the way in the UK in terms of providing IT and online learning and for supporting families eligible for free school meals in particular. But, sadly, disruption to face-to-face teaching and blended learning could be a feature of education for the foreseeable future, so we can't rest on our laurels. So, by your assessment, Minister, what additional support and resource will schools, teachers and families need to ensure no pupil is left behind?

Thank you, Joyce, and thank you for the recognition of the excellent partnership working between my department and local education authorities that allowed for the very swift distribution of many thousands of pieces of kit and equipment and Mi-Fi devices in the first phase of the pandemic. We continue to work with local education authorities to ensure that planned tech spend is getting kit into schools so that it can be distributed and we can continue to ensure that no child doesn't have the IT resources or connectivity that they need to allow them to participate in distance and blended learning, and to make sure that staff themselves have the requisite kit so that they can use that if they are required to work off school premises.

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, I just listened to your response to Joyce Watson very, very carefully, and the particular issue I want to raise is the children who will be, or the students who will be, scheduled to take exams next year. Quite a few parents have raised concerns with me that their children are the ones that they feel should be—forgive me for using the word 'prioritised', but, because of the exam element, really need to make sure they have the right kit, and not only the right kit, but actually have the ability to access not just the blended learning, but, more importantly, the live learning. Parents are saying to me that they didn't have some of those opportunities during the first coronavirus wave. So, when you do publish your decision on the examinations later on this term, will you also perhaps give consideration to what reassurance you can offer the parents who are specifically concerned about their children who are facing those exams?

Yes, of course. I can give you absolute assurance, Angela, that we will, in coming to a conclusion as to the summer series for 2021, be absolutely mindful of the needs of those learners for whom some have had even more disruption than others to their learning, and how we come up with a system that is fair to all learners that recognises the disproportionate impact that COVID may have had, through no fault of teachers. Because, even with extra kit and IT, the ability of a child to engage in some of that sometimes can be hampered by other issues at home. So, I can absolutely give you that assurance that learner interest will be at the forefront of my mind, and recognising the significant disruption that those children have had through no fault of their own.

3. Questions to the Senedd Commission

The next item is questions to the Senedd Commission, and the first question is to be answered by Commissioner Joyce Watson and to be asked by Helen Mary Jones.

Staff Working from Home

1. How does the Commission support staff working from home during the coronavirus pandemic? OQ55729

6. What measures are in place to support Commission staff working from home during the pandemic? OQ55741

I thank you for that question. The measures provided to Commission staff are extensive and include practical support in the form of ICT and other hardware and home office adaptations, including desks and chairs; health, safety and emotional support, ranging from display screen equipment assessments and working from home guidance through to support and access to well-being resources. There's flexibility around working practices to support those staff with caring responsibilities, and ongoing and regular two-way communication. Since September, identified individuals struggling with well-being or who have difficulty with their home environment can attend the workplace, and all these arrangements are kept under review as the circumstances change.

15:10

I'm very grateful to the Commissioner for her answer. I have to say that that is very reassuring. I'd specifically like to ask whether those criteria that enable some staff to come into the workplace include circumstances where people may be at home with very small children and may find it very stressful to be working from home. So, are those kinds of family circumstances included in the kind of special circumstances under which a member of staff might be allowed to work in the workplace?

Thank you for that. Of course, every home has a different environment, and all individuals, of course, have different challenges. And, as I said in my first answer, it is the case that the communication lines are kept open, and there are many communications. We do have the business continuity surveys—two well-being pulse surveys have allowed us to explore and respond to the practical, as well as emotional and physical well-being, to good effect. We do meet with the trade unions twice weekly, with regular interaction with staff networks. And, of course, we as employers, the Assembly Members, also have a duty to our staff. So, there have been things put in place, where it's safe to do so, for staff to enter the workplace when that's possible. Of course, it won't be so easily possible in the lockdown period, where the advice is clearly to work from home.

Question 1 has been grouped with question 6, so David Melding to ask his supplementary. David Melding.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Commissioner, can I put on record my own thanks—and I'm sure I speak for all Members of this Senedd—for the outstanding support we get from the Commission staff, and, of course, we realise that much of that support is coming via our own Zooming and contacts. But the level of professionalism that's been maintained is really quite extraordinary. But we obviously see that staff are often now in a much more isolated position than they would be in the usual work environment, and I think we do need to be reassured that the normal methods, both informal and formal, of supervision, appraisal and support are present so that staff have those lines of communication should they be feeling either direct strain through their duties, or just the general social situation we're all in at this extraordinary time in our history.

You're absolutely right, David. Keeping communication lines open—because we all are here today, as you've just said, quite rightly, because other staff are supporting that. So, there are regular team meetings and individual meetings and social activity that are ongoing, and some of those are weekly communications. There are several all-staff meetings, there are question and answer sessions, there are written and video blogs on sustaining business, working at home and our planning work to ensure staff feel connected with each other, because isolation is obviously a big challenge to many, many people. That's done through engagement with the trade unions and equality networks.

We are, of course, having to move on. We're having to plan actively for the long term, and there are pulse surveys that are providing rich data, and a large percentage of staff feel well connected at home. Working from home is a challenge for some people, but it is equally an opportunity for other people, and it may well be the case that, moving forward, in the recruitment, we will be able to offer employment opportunities to a wider range and a more diverse range of people.

15:15

Can I thank you for the report, and also applaud all the good intentions and the work that is being done? But can I say that I really am not so reassured in this process? What we have is the most dramatic change in the way in which work is carried out at home, and in work technologically, in many ways, and where similar situations have occurred over recent decades, there is a need for us as employers and for the institution to actually take a proactive approach to this. I think there are issues of mental health, eye strain, musculoskeletal problems, occupational stress, ergonomic issues, and there are issues over the hours. What is very clear is that it is not a case of us managing this new environment and Zoom and so on, but Zoom and the environment is actually managing us far more.

What I think needs to be taken, and what I think should be taken, and what I think is our legal duty to take, is to actually commission a radical occupational health analysis of what is happening at the moment and how people are working. I think it has to be a proactive, expert report that will come forward with recommendations. I think it needs to be done sooner rather than later, because this way of working is going to be with us for a long way in a very intense period of time. I wonder if you could actually take that back to the Commission to actually take those steps, which actually, I think, are probably the legal steps that we do need to take now. The existing steps are, I think, reactive rather than proactive, and I think it's that change of approach that I would recommend.

I agree that we have to make absolutely certain that all those things you mentioned, the eye strain, the posture—I'm sure mine isn't very good here at the moment, and that of many other people. So, I think a review now is absolutely the right time because, as I said, we are looking at reviewing working forward. There is a recognition, of course, that many people will want to carry on working from home, and on the other hand, other people may have to work from home. That is what happened when we had the coronavirus in the very first place: we suddenly had to find different ways of working in March and people are carrying that out.

In terms of the immediate, which is what the Commission has focused on, and the things that they've done, they are giving health, safety and emotional support in the form of working from home guidance and display screen equipment assessments, and they've set up guidance on posture, ICT guidance, information and links, and that is of course all online. We've also helped people who've experienced domestic abuse during lockdown and, again, that is hugely important for those people.

But you raised the issue, quite rightly, about looking after the workforce in the same way that they would be looked after if they were visibly within an office, and all those things that would have happened to make sure that their chairs and their screens were ergonomically aligned, and that their desks were able to move according to their need. So, there is an assessment that needs to happen. That assessment, I'm sure, will happen and I most definitely will, along with other Members here, be taking that back and giving it very serious consideration, and I thank you for it.

Question 2 is next, and that question is to be answered by Commissioner David Rowlands, and asked by Andrew R.T. Davies.

Andrew R.T. Davies—can the microphone be unmuted? Here we go.

Welsh Government and the Tŷ Hywel Building

2. Will the Commission make a statement on the Welsh Government's use of facilities in the Tŷ Hywel building? OQ55748

Can I thank Andrew R.T. for that question? The position is that the Welsh Government has a sub-lease to occupy office space on the fifth and second floors of Tŷ Hywel. The sub-lease includes the use of shared facilities, including car parking, meeting and conference rooms, canteen and catering facilities, cycle storage, electric vehicle charging points and, lastly, post room services.

15:20

Thank you for that answer, Commissioner. Obviously, the Welsh Government, since 29 September, have chosen to participate in Plenary and Assembly proceedings via the Zoom method, rather than being in person in the Plenary or committee meetings. I'd be grateful to understand from the Commissioner: have any Government Ministers attended the facilities in Tŷ Hywel, because obviously people have seen Ministers—I'm not referring to officials, I'm referring to Ministers only—within the precincts of the Assembly estate? So I think it's important for us to understand whether Ministers are making use of the facilities that they have access to on the Tŷ Hywel part of the complex.

David Melding took the Chair.

Well, there is a process for managing access to the estate, which includes a notification process for all users of the estate, Members and their staff, Ministers and their staff, and Commission staff and contractors, and this has been shared with all users and it is working effectively. 

Well, it does cover the fact that we have to be very careful as to who is actually on the estate at any one time. I am not in a position to answer for Ministers, R.T., as you know.

Thank you, Commissioner. These are questions, not conversations, I remind Members. 

Question 3 will be answered by the Llywydd. Alun Davies.

The Next Senedd Elections

3. Will the Commision make a statement on preparations to ensure that next May's Senedd elections will go ahead as planned? OQ55764

The forthcoming Senedd elections will be a historic milestone for Wales, with 16 and 17-year-olds voting for the first time. The COVID pandemic will likely result in changes to the administration of the election and voter experience, in order to protect public health. Now, it's returning officers in local authorities, the Welsh Government and the Electoral Commission who are responsible for delivering Senedd elections. However, Commission officials have been attending a Welsh Government convened election planning group to ensure that the Commission is well prepared and to advise on relevant procedures of the Senedd.

Thank you very much. I appreciate that response from the Llywydd, and I appreciate the work that is being done. I want to be in a situation where, if we do need to change the law, that we do that in good time. I am very, very eager to ensure that we consider all the options available to us, those options that we may face in May, and that everything possible has been done—if we need to make changes to the law or to make particular arrangements, or whatever it may be, that the Commission should be part of that process. I understand the situation with returning officers in local authorities and so on, but I do want an assurance that we have everything in place so nothing will prevent those elections from taking place in May.

Well, the Member will know, as I said in my response—I referred to the fact that the Government has convened an electoral planning group, and that group has been meeting, and the Commission has been part of that group, and has agreed on a report that hasn't yet been published, but has been submitted to the First Minister. There are several aspects to that work. I'm sure that, at some point, the First Minister and the Government will make announcements with regard to the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for our elections next year, but I want those decisions and those announcements, whether they involve the need for legislation in this place or not, to be made as soon as possible so that every decision is discussed here at the Senedd and scrutinised thoroughly, particularly with regard to legislation, if need be.

So the sooner the better in terms of when we will see this discussion happening in the public sphere, remembering, of course, that we are facing a situation that is very difficult for the Government and the people of Wales and that we have to be reasonable in this regard. But, of course, the people of Wales deserve to exercise their right to vote for our next Senedd, and that should be next May, in the hope that the COVID pandemic will allow that to happen.

15:25

Question 4 will be answered by Joyce Watson. Neil McEvoy.

Indirect Racial Discrimination

4. What assessment has the Commission made of its policies to ensure that indirect racial discrimination of elected members and staff does not take place? OQ55734

[Inaudible.]—are developed and periodically reviewed through a robust process, which includes consultation with all our workplace equality networks, our trade unions, our lawyers, and, when appropriate, advice from our external lawyers. New or revised policies are assessed against all protected characteristics through an equality impact assessment, and the Commission works with independent benchmarking bodies for external assurance on specific aspects of policy. We also gain feedback from Members, their staff and Commission staff, through various surveys, including the dignity and respect survey. Diversity and inclusion training is available for Members, Members' support staff and Commission staff. Members, Members' staff and Commission staff all have avenues to raise concerns formally, if necessary. Provision of specific policy for Members and Members' own staff is the responsibility of the remuneration board. Diversity and inclusion considerations are central to the remuneration board's work.

Thank you. The definition of victimisation according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of race-related discrimination. Indirect discrimination is when an organisation has a particular policy or a way of working that puts people of your racial group at a disadvantage. During the lockdown, it was at the discretion of the Presiding Officer to decide who would question the First Minister rather than the usual fair ballot system.

Order. Order. Order. Neil, this relates to an issue of procedure in the Senedd, which is conducted by the Presiding Officers, and it's not something that the Commissioner is qualified to speak about. So, I have to ask you to sit down as this question or this supplementary cannot be in order.

It was in order. The officials agreed this question. It has been accepted. I'm raising an issue of racism in this Parliament, indirect discrimination, and I would ask you with the utmost respect that you let me continue, please.

Was the script cleared with him? What was the script cleared with us? 

Order. You've just told me that the script you were reading was given to the Presiding Office.

Order. Neil. I will accept that what you've just told me related to the first question, and I misunderstood it. I was just checking to see if your supplementary had been cleared with the Presiding Office, and it has not. And I've just said, in my view, it cannot be considered in order. You must now sit down.

[Inaudible.]—in this Parliament of not being allowed to put questions to the First Minister while other Members have been allowed to ask questions up to six times.

Neil—[Inaudible.]—will be switched off. Now, please sit down so that we can continue with our business.

Question 5 will be answered by David Rowlands.

Order. Neil, please leave the Chamber. I think that's best for everyone now.

You walk around with my skin and see how you get treated. You don't understand.

Question 5, sorry, will be answered by David Rowlands. Janet, I'm sorry to have interrupted you.

Biodiversity on the Senedd Estate

5. Will the Commission make a statement on improving awareness of biodiversity on the Senedd estate? OQ55725

Can I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for her question? Within the limited green space on our estate, the Commission has made significant improvements in recent years to encourage biodiversity. We introduced two beehives and organised a launch event with local children, Members and academics to promote the value of bees and improvements to support the wider pollinator population. A third beehive has been installed this summer. The Commission has also worked with the RSPB and Buglife to become an Urban Buzz centre over the past 18 months. Our work was promoted to wider audiences via an RSPB guest blog written by Commission staff as an example of what can be achieved in an urban environment.

15:30

I've read the sustainability annual report for 2019-20. I've no doubt that positive action is being taken to enhance biodiversity on our estate—we have the Pierhead beehive project, a small pond, and the wildflower strip. Now, according to the report, the gardening and biodiversity club are committed to maintaining and improving these habitats. But I believe there's room for more ambition. Whilst not strictly part of the Senedd estate, Cardiff Bay itself is clearly visible from our terrace. So what consideration could you give to perhaps build on past experience of working with the RSPB and Buglife, by co-operating with the Marine Conservation Society to develop a 'Senedd and the sea' project to inform visitors of the complex biodiversity that could be achieved in Cardiff Bay? Diolch.

Whilst the Commission has not considered this particular aspect before, I'm sure that, now you've brought it to our attention, we are more than willing to have a look at it and to consider how we may react to your suggestions.

4. Topical Questions
5. 90-second Statements

Item 5 is 90-second statements, and there were none selected. So we will now have a short break, to allow for change-over in the Chamber.

Plenary was suspended at 15:32.

15:35

The Senedd reconvened at 15:37, with the Llywydd in the Chair.

6. Debate on a Member's Legislative Proposal: Welsh Hearts Bill

The next item on our agenda is a debate on a Member's legislative proposal on a Welsh hearts Bill. It is to be moved by Alun Davies. 

Motion NDM7427 Alun Davies, Rhun ap Iorwerth, Dai Lloyd, Andrew R.T. Davies

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes a proposal for a Welsh hearts Bill to improve the outcomes for people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.

2. Notes that the purpose of the Bill would be to place a duty on:

a) Welsh Ministers to publish a strategy to improve the outcomes of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and to develop pathways for survival for the whole country;

b) local authorities to plan to ensure sufficient access to community defibrillators in each part of their area;

c) Welsh Ministers to ensure that training in CPR is provided for people throughout Wales;

d) health boards to collaborate in the production of regional pathway of survival for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests; and

e) Welsh Ministers to report to the Senedd on the progress of their strategy against objectives every year.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I'd like to start my contribution today by thanking Dai Lloyd, Rhun ap Iorwerth and Andrew R.T. Davies for their support in bringing forward this legislative proposal. But, Presiding Officer, I would also want to start by thanking Thoma and Mike Powell, who saved my life by performing CPR on me; Tom, who cycled like mad to find a defibrillator; to all those people whose names I don't know who helped when Thoma needed a rest; to the paramedics; and, then, to Sean Gallagher and his cardiac care team in the Heath hospital. In thanking all these people, we also tell a story of a cardiac arrest and the people who need to be able to save a life.

Now, I would be first to accept that I'm not a natural athlete. But, when I decided to go for a quick run one evening in the spring, I had no reason to believe that it may well have been the last thing I would ever do. I'd experienced no pain or discomfort at any point in the days leading up to this happening. I had no sense of being unwell and had no underlying issues that led me to believe that I was at particular risk. It was a bolt out of the blue. There were cuts on my face because it was instantaneous. I wasn't even able to break my fall. When this happens the person needs immediate help: immediate CPR and the use of a defibrillator. But we know that both of those things can be frightening and intimidating for any bystander. I was unconscious before I had any understanding of what was happening to me. There's no time to call for help. 

Tom wrote me an e-mail, which explained what happened. Let me say it in his words: 'When I arrived at the scene, they were already giving you CPR. All seemed frantic but organised. To make use of myself I offered to direct the ambulance in. A frantic dog walker told me they couldn't locate the defibrillator, as directed to them by the 999 operator. I knew locating the defibrillator was critical, so I set my mind to finding one. A very nice lady on the security desk at the college handed it over with minimal questions asked. I then rushed back with it. The adrenaline was coursing and I was too squeamish to do it myself, but your friend knew what to do. She had obviously had training.' And it was that training, Presiding Officer, that saved my life and that enables me to make this speech today.

I recognise and understand that Wales has an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest strategy, which was launched back in 2017, and I understand that it sets out a collaborative programme of work to improve both survival and aftercare. In many ways, this strategy touches on the main issues that I seek to address this afternoon. I'm making this legislative proposal today because I do not believe that this plan has had the reach or the impact that we would all like to see.

In essence, there are two main elements to this proposal. First of all, to ensure that we have the opportunity to save a life when a person suffers a cardiac arrest, and, secondly, that they receive the care required to lead a normal life afterwards. I recognise that the British Heart Foundation, and many Members, have been campaigning for some years for CPR training to be delivered in schools and colleges. I agree. In this proposal, I am simply asking that the Welsh Government takes responsibility for ensuring that such training takes place. The Government has resisted formal training in a school environment. Therefore, the Government has a responsibility to outline its alternative. 

The location of community defibrillators is also essential. Unless a defibrillator can be found and used within minutes, then it will be too late. I was very lucky, but I'm aware that a young man suffered a cardiac arrest close to where I did a few years ago. At that time, a defibrillator was not found, and that young man lost his life. I'm also reminded of the campaign being led by the family of Justin Edinburgh, the former manager of Newport County, who died after suffering a cardiac arrest in a gym where there was no defibrillator. I can see no way forward unless we specify a direct duty on local government to ensure that there is access to these life savers through each one of our different communities.

The second aspect of this proposal is to ensure that health boards work together and collaborate to create pathways of survival. This means clinicians and NHS management working together across health board boundaries to develop and deliver not only the best diagnosis and care, but to deliver the best outcome for patients. I fear sometimes that our health boards do not work together as well as perhaps they should. There is no purpose in competition, and no purpose in duplication of resources. I would like to see the ambitions and the words of the existing strategy become a reality. And that's why I want to see this thing on the statute book. There is much to learn from this example, and much to learn from other places and other countries.

Again, in Tom's words: 'Your chest must have been feeling bruised and sore. A number of members of the general public worked hard on you. It was dramatic stuff. Having seen it done, if ever it happens again, I feel confident I could take charge of the situation.' It is that confidence and that belief that I want to become commonplace in Wales. In April, I became one of only 3 per cent of people who've survived an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. I feel strongly that we all now have a profound responsibility to all those who have not survived and did not survive to ensure that, in the future, we can all have the same opportunity to survive and to live. Thank you very much. 

15:40

Alun, I'm delighted that you brought this to the Chamber today. Nothing is more powerful than personal testimony, personal experience that has inspired you to try and change something that really does need changing. Unfortunately, as you said, 97 per cent of those people who suffer a cardiac arrest aren't here to share testimony in the way that you've been able to do.

I think your call for a strategy and a pathway is really well made. Personally, I'd like to see it sit alongside a new disease-specific heart condition delivery plan. Cardiology is not something that can be cut and shut with other delivery plans, and yet what you're talking about should certainly be part of this, because cardiac arrest is not the same as heart failure or a heart attack. You can be as fit as a flea, as you discovered, and you can still have this. You can't prepare for it, and that's why I'm going to be supporting these proposals. 

In so doing, though, I hope you won't mind, Alun, allowing me to remind you all that I introduced some very compatible legislative proposals right at the beginning of the process when you were able to do that. And one of the elements of that—because there were many that were in common with what you're asking for today—was for basic lifesaving skills to be mandatory on the curriculum. And, at the time, the Assembly was in favour of that, which is why I'm pleased you've raised in the debate today the need for Welsh Government to explain what it would do instead—something that would achieve the same results as efficiently and as cost-effectively. To be honest, I'm not sure that anything would be quite as efficient and effective in overcoming the bystander CPR problem, as two hours of training every year in schools is a pretty tiny amount of time to be spent on it. I think two hours is not cluttering up a curriculum. And what it does, of course, is introduce or create that ability to step in, just like the people who stepped in to save you. And I don't think a general availability of training will quite create that.

The Members of the Youth Parliament get that and that's why it's their top ask in terms of curriculum—delivering on a promise to give young people the skills for adult life. And I suppose the question that springs from that is: why should delivery of their top ask be pretty much a postcode lottery, where Scotland and England are making sure that their children know how to step in and save a life? Denmark is an exemplar in this—mandatory curriculum training is part of why they are so great at this and why their survival rates are so high.

But I want to finish, if you don't mind, Llywydd, with a big shout out to all our communities who actually put their money where their heart is. You'll know what I mean, Alun: hundreds and hundreds of people in our communities have been fundraising to put defibrillators into places where the community can benefit from them? I wouldn't want any legislative proposals to take away from the social capital, and I'm sure that's not your intention. Let our constituents be active players in solving a problem, and I'm sure that anyone watching today will be more than willing to support your legislative proposals. Thank you. Oh, I only had three minutes.

15:45