Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd03/11/2020
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 by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. A Plenary meeting held by video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply to today's Plenary meeting, and these have been noted on your agenda. And I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Gareth Bennett. Is Gareth Bennett there?
Is Gareth Bennett there? I can't either see him or hear him. Okay, Gareth Bennett is not there to ask his question.
Question 1 [OQ55782] not asked.
Question 2, therefore, David Rees
I can see you. Ask your question, David Rees. Thank you.
2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to support the workforce in the Welsh NHS? OQ55808
Llywydd, everything we do to reduce the spread of coronavirus is designed to support our NHS workforce. Those who undermine these efforts simply add to the pressures that face hard-pressed front-line staff during this uniquely challenging winter.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. As we know, our nurses and our NHS staff have been on the front line dealing with this pandemic since the start of the year. Every Thursday, we used to go out and clap and say 'thank you' to them. Though that's now stopped, we still owe a huge debt to those who put themselves at risk every day when they go to work to look after our family members who are in their care. And it's critical that we continue to say 'thank you' by providing support now and in the future. And in saying 'thank you', we must ensure that they are both kept safe and not have any anxiety about supporting their own families. I hear the warm words of the Tories about supporting our staff here, and in Westminster, but their recent actions tell us a different story. For example, they've reintroduced full value added tax on personal protective equipment, taking the money away from the NHS and giving it back to the Treasury. They've not rewarded our NHS staff with the pay awards they deserve for everything they've done for us and will do for us. Will you and your Minister support the call from the NHS staff, and urge the Government, particularly the Chancellor, who seems to find money when Tory Ministers' seats are at risk, to stop talking and start acting in the interest of our fantastic NHS staff?
Well, Llywydd, can I thank David Rees for those supplementary questions? And I absolutely agree with him—we have relied so much on our health and social care workers during this pandemic. They go into this winter having worked right through, from the spring through the summer, to restore NHS services to continue to provide for those who fall ill, and they deserve our support in every way.
The decision to put VAT back onto personal protective equipment I think defies any sense or logic. It will create enormous new bills for the NHS and social care providers. It will create new bills for those many businesses who want to do the right thing, who invest in PPE to protect their staff and customers—businesses that we know have struggled throughout the pandemic. And now, they've got to find extra money—20 per cent over and above what they were finding only weeks ago. Now, our finance Minister wrote on 30 October to the Treasury, urging Ministers to reconsider the end to zero rating. That was very good advice, and it's a terrible shame that it does not appear to be being heeded.
As to pay awards, of course, David Rees is right. We're coming to the end of a three-year pay agreement struck with Agenda for Change staff in the NHS. We are committed as ever to partnership working—social partnership with employers and health unions. And I echo the remarks that David Rees has made. The pay review timetables and the quantum that is available to reward these workers are set by the UK Government. We are able to make different decisions in Wales about how we deploy that quantum. It's how we struck an agreement that the Welsh NHS would be a living-wage employer. But the timetable and the quantum lie in the hands of the UK Government, and I hope that they will take some notice of what our colleague David Rees has said this afternoon.
Thank you, First Minister, for the answers so far. I'd like to direct my question to you around the Royal College of Physicians' request last week for the Government to consider the rules around discharge. We know the pressure that NHS staff face when, obviously, they can't discharge patients and accept new patients into the hospitals. Some of the regulations that the Welsh Government brought out in April, which were revised in July, require a 14-day isolation period when patients are sent home. The Royal College of Physicians believe that this should be looked at. Can you give us any encouragement as to whether the Welsh Government is looking at the discharge procedures to alleviate some of the pressures within the hospitals?
Llywydd, I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for that question. I discussed this report with the director general for health and social services and the NHS Wales chief executive, Dr Andrew Goodall, earlier in the week. And we certainly will take the report seriously. But he will remember a time earlier in the pandemic when the Welsh Government was under significant questioning about discharging people from hospitals without being clear of coronavirus. That's why the 14-day period was instituted—to make sure that people couldn't be discharged to care homes, for example, until we were completely sure that they weren't carrying coronavirus into those settings. So, the 14 days are there for a particular clinical purpose. But the Royal College of Physicians make very important points about the health of the wider population—the wider population in hospitals, that is to say—and how that might be better served by a shorter period. And we will certainly be discussing that with them and with other colleagues in the Welsh NHS.
Minister, I know many assurances have been made about the Welsh NHS being open for business. However, I am hearing from constituents that even those working on the NHS front line cannot access routine procedures, like steroid injections for arthritis. If the NHS can't look after its own, Minister, how can it look after the wider public? Thank you.
Llywydd, we've never had a policy in Wales of moving NHS employees to the front of the queue when it comes to routine treatments. Now, what I can say to the Member is that the NHS has worked very hard to restore routine treatments in the Welsh NHS. Cancer services have recovered more or less to what they were back in April. We've got 70 per cent of out-patient activity recovered in the Welsh NHS. We will only be able—we will only be able—to sustain that level of activity in the NHS for non-coronavirus patients if we do everything we can to stem the flow of the disease here in Wales. And the single biggest contribution that anyone can make to making sure that the NHS is there for all the other things we need it to be there for is if each one of us does everything we can to bear down on the spread of this deadly virus here in Wales.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the Conservatives, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, as the Welsh Government starts considering the effectiveness of its firebreak lockdown, it is crucial that it also assesses the level of support that is being offered to Welsh businesses, many of whom have been under some form of Government restrictions for much longer than just two weeks, of course. Can you tell us whether you believe the Welsh Government's package of support has met the needs of businesses across the country, and do you believe that your grant funding systems have adequately provided for businesses?
Well, Llywydd, the Welsh Government provides the most generous package of support for businesses of anywhere in the United Kingdom. Does that mean that we have been able to meet every impact of coronavirus on every business in Wales? Well, of course not, because these are extraordinary times, with extraordinary challenges being faced by businesses here in Wales. What I can tell the Member is that, during phase 1 of our economic resilience fund—a £500 million fund—a total of nearly 7,000 grants were made to microbusinesses, totalling nearly £125 million. In phase 2, another 5,000 grants, totalling over £58 million. And, in phase 3, when our eligibility checker went live on 19 October, nearly 160,000 users explored the help that was available to them through the Welsh Government. Now, we would like to do more, and it will be good when we are in possession of the full facts, both of the furlough scheme and of help that will come to Wales because of changes in assistance to businesses in England. I'm sure the Member looks forward to urging his Government, even though he is apparently no longer a supporter of it, to make sure that we get everything we need here in Wales.
Well, First Minister, it remains a fact that businesses in most parts of south Wales and north Wales have been under Government restrictions for several weeks, and many have simply not been able to access the support that they need, and prior to the Wales-wide lockdown, you made it clear that businesses would receive grants automatically. However, that hasn't been the case. Not only have businesses had to apply for grants, the funding is provided on a first come, first served basis, rather than on actual need. And, last week, the economic resilience fund phase 3 business development grant, which you've just referred to, was suspended a mere 24 hours after opening, and businesses are still concerned and anxious over how they can stay afloat and provide jobs for local people. And, even now, hospitality businesses are still in limbo about what the new Welsh Government measures will mean for them from next Monday. So, First Minister, what steps is the Welsh Government taking to provide confidence to Welsh businesses that they will be able to access the support that they need, when they need it? And are you now in a position to provide some much needed clarity to hospitality businesses across Wales so they can plan ahead of the new measures next week? And can you tell us if the economic resilience fund phase 3 will be reopened, and when will this take place?
Well, Llywydd, the first way to give confidence to Welsh businesses is in being accurate about what we say to them. So, I could try and unscramble a number of the inaccuracies in the questions that the leader of the opposition has just put to me. Let us be clear, properties will automatically qualify for help from that aspect of the fund that deals with people who are on the non-domestic rates rating for their local authorities. Of course, they have to apply for it; we're not in the business of offering help to businesses who don't want it. But all they have to do is demonstrate that they were on the non-domestic rates rating list and they will get that help automatically.
Nor is the Member correct in saying that all aspects of the third phase of the ERF were closed that rapidly. The £200 million lockdown business fund element remains open and is still taking applications. It is true that one strand in the fund received a very large number of applications very rapidly. We will look, Llywydd, to see whether there is any further possibility of reopening that aspect of the fund, and, as I said to Paul Davies, we'll be immensely helped in that when the Treasury is able to tell us the consequential funding that will come to Wales as a result of the help that has already been guaranteed to businesses in England.
I'm making a statement later this afternoon, Llywydd, in relation to the post-firebreak arrangements here in Wales, and I'll have things to say for the hospitality sector then.
Well, I'm glad you will be saying something a little bit later on this afternoon, because businesses do actually want clarity from you, First Minister. Now, it's not just businesses that need support; it's people too, of course. On 30 October, you once again confirmed that self-isolation grants can be awarded to people on low incomes in Wales who are required to self-isolate. You had previously given a similar commitment on 22 September. Now, First Minister, we know that local authorities in Scotland and England have been delivering the grants for some weeks and backdating them to 28 September, yet we're not seeing the same level of action being taken to support those people that need it the most in Wales, and this may risk them ending their isolation too soon in order to pay their bills. Therefore, can you tell us why people on low incomes across Wales have not yet received their self-isolation payments? Can you also update us on the latest discussions you have had with local authorities in Wales about delivering those grants? And can you give us a realistic time frame now for when people in Wales will actually receive their self-isolation grant?
Well, Llywydd, we've already set out our plans to support people who are self-isolating. Those £500 payments will be available to people in Wales. They will be available through local authorities, who are in the best position to be able to respond quickly to people's needs and, at the same time, to make sure that the system we have in Wales has some safeguards against fraud in a system where you want to get help to people quickly but you still have to make sure that the help is going to the right place. I'm very grateful to our local authorities for taking on this additional set of responsibilities on top of everything else that we have relied on them to do in supporting their local populations. The help that we will give to people to support them in self-isolation will be matched by a set of penalties to bear down on those people who knowingly and deliberately fail to follow the advice given to them by our test, trace, protect system. At the same time, we will make it an offence for employers knowingly to encourage people to go into work when they should be self-isolating. It is a package deal that the Welsh Government has put together with elements of the carrot and the stick, and all of that is designed to make sure that our TTP system goes on being as effective as it already has been, and far more effective than in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
First Minister, you said yesterday that, if we were not part of the UK, we wouldn't be having a discussion about furlough because, you implied, we couldn't afford it. Why is that?
Llywydd, I was simply making it clear that people in Wales pay into the insurance scheme that is the United Kingdom. I was taking issue with remarks made by the Secretary of State for Wales that somehow help had been given to Wales out of the largesse of the UK Government. What has happened is that Wales, which makes a greater tax effort—its citizens make a greater tax effort than any other part of the United Kingdom—is using that insurance policy. We have paid in and now we are taking out of the scheme when it meets our needs. But if we weren't part of a scheme, if we weren't paying in, then we wouldn't be able to take out, and that's the point that I was making.
Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Ireland and even Luxembourg, with a population the same size as Cardiff, are all funding wage subsidy schemes equivalent to the furlough as small, independent countries, so why would an independent Wales be any different? Indeed, as an independent country we could even decide to go further than that, and introduce a universal basic income so that we could help the one third of self-employed people who aren't currently getting any help at all. If Wales was an independent country, we would have our own fully functioning Treasury and a central bank, meaning we could do what every other country in the world is doing at the moment to meet the cost of the pandemic, which is borrowing on the capital markets and using quantitative easing. The UK Treasury is paying for the furlough scheme by borrowing and through monetary financing. What makes you convinced, First Minister, that an independent Wales wouldn't or couldn't do the same, like the other small countries that I've mentioned? Why do you believe that we are uniquely unable to make economic decisions for ourselves?
Llywydd, we just have a completely different point of view. The Member is in favour of separatism. It is for him to make the case for that, not for me to explain why I think he is in error. I make the positive case for membership of the United Kingdom. Wales, which has our own independent powers here in the Senedd, which has exercised those powers independently throughout the whole of the coronavirus crisis, at the same time is able to draw on that wider pool of resources that we have through our membership of a United Kingdom, where the needs of working people in Wales are very similar to the needs of working people in other parts of the United Kingdom, and where that sense of solidarity extends beyond our border. The Member's not in favour of that. He wishes to take Wales out of the United Kingdom, to separate us off from everything that we do with others in, as I believe, in my party, the wider labour movement. He can make his case and the people of Wales will decide, but I fundamentally disagree with him.
First Minister, you say that being part of the UK means that Wales has the advantage of participating in a large-scale insurance policy, but haven't the past few weeks just demonstrated that it's a policy that doesn't pay out when we in Wales need it the most? The Tories have claimed that we've had £4 billion from Westminster during the pandemic, but that's just our Barnett share of the money the Treasury has borrowed on our behalf because it's prevented us from borrowing it ourselves. If we were able to borrow ourselves, unfettered as an independent country, then we could do so much more. We could invest in our own testing capacity, as Slovakia has been able to do, enabling it to test two thirds of its entire population over the weekend. When you compare that to the failing UK lighthouse lab system, which is letting Wales down, is it any wonder that people are joining YesCymru in their thousands?
Well, Llywydd, I make the case that the Member never does for social solidarity across the United Kingdom, for us to share our risks and to get our rewards when we need them. I think that has always been to Wales's advantage. It's for the Member to explain to Wales why he believes that, bereft of everything that we obtain through being part of the wider whole, Wales would be more successful alone on the high seas. I've never accepted that argument. I didn't want us to leave the European Union; I don't want us to leave the union that is the United Kingdom.
3. What plans does the Welsh Government have to deal with a potential future increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Caerphilly? OQ55803
Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. The greatest contribution to dealing with potential future increases comes through doing everything we can in our own lives to prevent that from occurring. I thank the people of Caerphilly for all they have already done, and for everything I know they will want to do over the difficult weeks that lie ahead.
And I recognise as well, with the First Minister, that the people of Caerphilly have made enormous efforts over the past two months to get the rate under control, but he will be aware—as aware as anyone else—that Caerphilly has been under restrictions of some kind for longer than anyone else in Wales, since 8 September. With that in mind, we've learned some lessons in Caerphilly, and the borders that we have with county boroughs have caused problems for single households who, under the local restrictions, were only allowed to connect with people within the county boundaries. For many, that's a false border—people who wanted to connect further north in Rhymney, people who want to connect in Nantgarw—and it makes it very difficult. And there are a whole load of other associated issues with those county boundaries. So, should further restrictions be needed, would the First Minister please keep that in mind and perhaps think about how we can ensure that people who live alone particularly, but more people affected by restrictions, are able to connect beyond those county boundaries in local restrictions?
Llywydd, can I thank Hefin David for those important points? He will know that we made it clear yesterday that, in the post-firebreak period, where we will have a new, simpler set of national rules for Wales, people will not be confined to their own county borough areas where travel is concerned. And that is partly in recognition of the important points that Hefin David has made: both because of their impact on particular groups in society, but also because of the complexity that dealing with matters on an entirely county borough basis has inevitably engendered. So, people in Caerphilly will be able to travel beyond the county boundary when we get to 9 November, and that will be particularly helpful, I know, in those anomalous cases where people have the people they would most wish to be in contact with just a few miles across that border. I know how difficult it has been, both for people to follow the rules but sometimes to understand the rules, and I commend the Member very much for the efforts I know he has made—the enormous efforts he has made—in all sorts of ways to make sure that the people of Caerphilly have the very best advice and the most up-to-date information made available to them in the most accessible ways.
First Minister—. Can you hear me?
Yes, carry on.
Fine. I had some problems with my buttons then.
First Minister, so that people in Caerphilly and Wales can prepare, there appears to be some sort of confusion that I hope you can clarify for us this afternoon. One of your Ministers has spoken out saying that there'll be another firebreak in January and February—another firebreak lockdown. Could you confirm or clarify the Government's position on this, please?
Llywydd, provided we all do everything we can to make the most of this firebreak period, not to undermine it as so many Members of her party have spent the last 10 days trying to do, and provided we all do the right things in the period beyond the firebreak, then we have a path in Wales through to Christmas that will not require a further period of this sort to be imposed on people in Wales.
Beyond this calendar year, none of us is in a position to gaze into that crystal ball. Many things will change between now and then, including the course of the disease itself, but also other possibilities that will come our way in dealing with the disease. Later this week, my colleague Vaughan Gething will issue a statement on new developments in testing, led in many ways here in Wales. And if those possibilities are crystalised and those tests become available—tests that people can use for themselves, with rapid results being provided to them without having to go a centre or send them off for results—then that will give us a different set of actions that we might be able to take to combat the disease in the new year. Nobody sensible is in a position to say that any course of action should be ruled in or should be ruled out, but we have a pathway through the rest of the calendar year, provided every one of us does the things in our own lives that most protect ourselves and others, and that needs the support of every single elected Member in this Senedd.
4. What support is the Welsh Government giving to NHS workers during this COVID-19 pandemic? OQ55797
Llywydd, I thank Jayne Bryant for that question. The Welsh Government continues to work in social partnership with employers and health unions to make help available for our dedicated health and social care staff. The exceptional efforts they make on our behalf deserve the support of every one of us.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Over the last few months, we've seen front-line NHS staff speak out about the reality of fighting this pandemic. Respected consultants in the Aneurin Bevan health board area, such as David Hepburn, Tim Rogerson and Ami Jones, have all voiced their experiences and described the pressure they and their colleagues are facing day in, day out. Staff have worked tirelessly throughout. Early on in the pandemic, they were often in new roles. Many are spending hours upon hours in layers of PPE. They're also feeling the pain of loved ones not able to say goodbye to patients at the end of their life. Our NHS staff have had very little opportunity to rest as more routine services have resumed. They've been heroic throughout this pandemic, but as we go into winter, we all need to remember that they're not superhuman. What support has the Welsh Government been able to put in place to help those on the front line to ensure we look after those who continue to look after us?
Well, Llywydd, can I thank Jayne Bryant for that very telling supplementary question? Can I pay tribute to the clinicians that she mentioned in that supplementary question, for the way in which they speak up on behalf of the front-line experience of so many of their colleagues? And can I just take this chance to condemn the abuse that I know a number of those clinicians have experienced as a result of the work that they have done in communicating directly to people in Wales about what it is like to be a front-line clinician in the NHS during the period of coronavirus? It is shocking and utterly unacceptable the way that some people have chosen to abuse those people who have simply explained to the rest of us what it is like to provide the services on which we all rely.
We go on, as I said, Llywydd, working in social partnership with all those who have an interest in our NHS. I think it was remarkable that earlier in the pandemic we were able to provide 950 individuals with additional clinical skills training so that they could be deployed to help one another and to reinforce people at the front line in dealing with urgent and emergency care services. And I'm very glad indeed that we took an early decision to provide £1 million in additional funding to Cardiff University so that they could make available the health for professionals service, which had previously been available only to doctors in the NHS, to make that available to the whole of the NHS workforce. The toll this pandemic is taking on our front-line staff is not just physical, and it's very real in its physical sense—Jayne Bryant referred to people working those long shifts in PPE equipment—but it is emotional as well. A draining sense of being at the front line has its impact on people's mental health and well-being, and that's why we extended that health for professionals service to all those who work in the NHS here in Wales.
Diolch, Prif Weinidog, for that answer. First Minister, the opening of the new Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran is imminent; I believe it's this month. It's going to be a great new facility. I know many Assembly Members—Senedd Members we are now—have had a chance to look around that facility during its construction period. But it's also vitally important that it's well staffed, particularly as we go through the COVID-19 pandemic second wave. Nevill Hall and the Royal Gwent are also, of course, dealing at the front line with COVID-19 and cases of that, so can you tell us what steps are being taken to make sure that this great new facility in Cwmbran, serving Monmouthshire, Torfaen and the south-east of Wales, does have not just the building and the facilities it needs, but also staff who are well trained and able to meet the enormous challenges and stresses that have been placed on them at this moment in time, as we've just heard from Jayne Bryant?
I thank Nick Ramsay for that question and for his continued interest in the development of the Grange University Hospital, which I know he will remember came out of the Clinical Futures work led by staff in the Gwent area. Of course, not only do we need the fantastic facilities that it will provide, but we will need the committed, skilled individuals who we rely on to make the most of those facilities.
I know Nick Ramsay will recognise the fact, Llywydd, that between January and June of this year the overall NHS workforce increased in Wales by 4.8 per cent—an additional 4,000 full-time equivalent staff. The comparable figure for the same period in the previous year was a staff increase of 0.5 per cent, and I think that just demonstrates the extent to which we were successful in drawing people into the front line of the NHS in Wales during the pandemic crisis. The usual time for staff recruitment is October and September, as students come off courses and so on, but we have managed to, in the quieter time of the year normally, increase the staff in Wales by over 4,000. That will undoubtedly have an impact on our ability to provide for staffing in the Grange University Hospital.
Llywydd, this Government has invested not just in the staff that we need here and now but in the staff that we will need in the future. In the last five years, there's been an 89 per cent increase in the number of nurse training places, a 57 per cent increase in radiography training places and a 71 per cent increase in both midwifery and physiotherapy training. That will allow us to go on growing the NHS workforce here in Wales so that fantastic new facilities such as the Grange hospital will be properly staffed, but also that we will have the staff we need in all parts of the NHS throughout Wales.
Question 5, Neil Hamilton.
You need to unmute yourself, Neil Hamilton. There you go.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of intergovernmental relations on public policy in Mid and West Wales? OQ55799
Llywydd, I made a statement and published the Welsh Government’s first annual report on inter-governmental relations last week. We continue to work with the other Governments within the United Kingdom to ensure our strategies and policies deliver for the people of Mid and West Wales and the country as a whole.
I thank the First Minister for that reply. The Welsh Government rightly protested to the UK Government that a disused army camp in a small village like Penally in Pembrokeshire is an unsuitable place to dump 140 illegal immigrants from the shores of Kent, but the Welsh Government's protests seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Isn't the Welsh Government more likely to be listened to if it works at building good relations with the UK Government rather than being confrontational and obstructive, as it did over Brexit, and hasn't the Welsh Government also compounded this problem by its virtue-signalling policy of Wales as a nation of sanctuary for illegal asylum seekers? It seems that the UK Government has simply taken the Welsh Government at its word in Penally. Isn't it true that because of their poor relations with each other, both Governments have failed the people of Pembrokeshire?
Llywydd, I entirely reject the deliberately inflammatory words that the Member uses. These are not dumped illegal immigrants; they are human beings with a right to a life every bit as much as he has, or any one of us in this Senedd has either. It's utterly unacceptable to me that he should try to smear people who through no choice of their own find themselves being moved to deeply unsuitable accommodation. The Welsh Government has attempted throughout to influence a decision that is entirely in the hands of the UK Government—to influence it so that that setting is not used, and if it is to be used, then the services are there to make sure that the individuals who are housed there can be properly looked after, and that the legitimate concerns of the local community are properly addressed. The utterly insensitive handling of the Home Office lies at the root of the difficulties that are being experienced, and that's where the responsibility begins and ends. This Government will speak up for people who find themselves in that position, because we are a nation of sanctuary. We'll go on being a nation of sanctuary, and that extends not just to people who we happen to like, but to people whoever they are and wherever they come from, and that is the difference between the philosophy of my party and that sort of stony-hearted view of the world that the Member continually parades in front of us whenever he has the opportunity.
First Minister, I think, actually, I will not ask the question I was going to, but I think I need to follow up on the observations made by the previous Member. We all recognise that we are in a very difficult world. We all understand that there are many people who flee to our shores for all sorts of reasons, whether it's because they are incredibly poor, or their lives are in danger. I feel great sympathy with the UK Government in that they have to find homes for these people, places for them to stay. They're in short supply and we have to step up to the mark. I'd like to take this opportunity, First Minister, to thank the people of Pembrokeshire who've been so kind and so welcoming to the asylum seekers who have found themselves in the Penally camp. I'd like to thank the local organisations who've stepped forward to try to help wherever they can. I would urge the UK Government to try to find better accommodation as soon as they possibly can, whilst recognising that we have an unprecedented number of asylum seekers looking for sanctuary in the UK. And I would absolutely like to refute all and any suggestion that these are people who should be dumped, who should be marginalised and who should be treated badly. It isn't their fault that they are in the position they're in, and I think that the people of Pembrokeshire have proven themselves to be exceptionally welcoming. I would like to finally ask that people who do not live in Pembrokeshire who insist on marching down to demonstrate outside the Penally camp refrain from doing so.
Llywydd, can I thank Angela Burns very much for that contribution and for everything that I know she has done locally to try to make sure that people's—? As I said, the legitimate concerns of people who live locally need to be addressed, but they need to be addressed in exactly the spirit that Angela Burns, as the local Member, has just provided this afternoon. I entirely agree with her; there are fantastic organisations and individuals in Pembrokeshire who want to reach out, who want to make sure that people who end up—not by any decision of theirs—in that community do have a sense of kindness and of welcoming. And it is precisely the sort of question that we had from Neil Hamilton that leads to people coming from elsewhere, because it is deliberately designed to exploit people's fears. It is deliberately designed to bring people from elsewhere to make the lives of the people at the camp and in the local community more difficult than they otherwise would be. I entirely associate myself with what Angela Burns said about rejecting in the strongest possible way everything that those people try to do.
6. How much funding has the Welsh Government provided for out-of-term free school meals across Mid and West Wales? OQ55790
Since March, the Welsh Government has made available additional funding of over £52 million to all local authorities in Wales, to continue free school meal provision during the pandemic. This includes provision for school holidays up to and including Easter 2021.
I thank you for that. With so much uncertainty around, at least those families now know that holiday provision will continue, as you say, over the Christmas period, and through to next April. Now, that, of course, is with no thanks to the Conservative MPs in my region, including the Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, who voted against giving families in England that same security. Neither is it commensurate with the views of Philip Davies, Tory MP, who thinks it's mere virtue signalling and that it is the responsibility of parents, not the state, to feed hungry children. But, I do remain concerned, though, that more families who don't have recourse to public funds may struggle to make ends meet this winter. I know local authorities have the discretion to provide free school meals to any pupil that they know to be in need, but I would ask you, First Minister, if you would encourage local authorities in Wales, before the Christmas break, to ensure that the needs in their area are being met, and that no child goes hungry. And again, thank you for the most generous provision for free school meals in any part of the UK.
I thank Joyce Watson very much for that. Welsh Conservative MPs will be answerable for denying help to children who go hungry in a part of the United Kingdom that they do not represent. Here in Wales, thankfully, children are protected from the action of those Conservative MPs, because, as Joyce Watson said, we were the first Government in the United Kingdom to guarantee that children would go on having free school meals and we provide the most generous level of help to local authorities to go on doing that. In the spirit of Angela Burns's last question, let me also say, Llywydd, that I want to pay tribute to all those businesses and other organisations in Wales who have gone beyond what we are able to provide through the free school meals service, to make sure that children who have other needs in their lives are able to be helped. Many of us will have seen the example in my colleague Alun Davies's constituency of a fantastic group of people who have been helping hundreds and hundreds of families over and above what schools themselves are able to put in place. I think that just tells us that the instinctive spirit of people in Wales is an entirely different place from the way that the Conservative Party has approached this basic issue. Apparently, we could afford to subsidise people to eat out in order to help out, but it isn't possible to provide for children who go hungry during school holidays. That tells you all you need to know. I'm immensely grateful to our local authorities for the way that they do this, and we do indeed talk to them, as Joyce Watson has said, about the extra discretion they have. I know that our local authorities often apply that discretion to make sure that children who are at the margin of the rules get help, and to use that to make sure that no child suffers in their education because they simply don't have food in their stomach.
First Minister, you've mentioned the need to support those on lower incomes. It's been 42 days now since your Government announced that it would roll out payments of £500 per week for those on low incomes who are asked to self-isolate, but the payments are yet to be received. Now, people in England and Scotland have been entitled to payments of £500 since 28 September, with grants being paid from 12 October. Earlier today Paul Davies, in his questions, asked you when people in Wales will receive the £500 self-isolating grants. You didn't answer his question, so can you tell us now when these payments will be made?
Llywydd, these payments are available in Wales and they'll be backdated in Wales as well; all of that has already been announced. It's for Conservative Members to keep up with policy in Wales, not to use First Minister's questions as some sort of personal research service.
If I can return us, First Minister, to free school meals, I'd associate myself with a lot of what Joyce Watson said about how positive it is that we are still providing those, particularly in school holiday times. The First Minister will be aware of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report that was published yesterday, calling for a Welsh benefits system. One of the issues that we still have with free school meals is that approximately 20 per cent of those families who are entitled are still not taking that up.
Now, it has been put to me that there may be an issue, particularly in some smaller communities—for example, the village communities in the Gwendraeth, places like Pontyberem, Pontyates and Tumble—where people may still feel some stigma in making a request for this support. Can I invite the First Minister today to re-emphasise that this is not in any sense charity? This is an entitlement that we all would want every single family who are entitled to it to take up. What more can the Welsh Government do, working with communities and with local authorities, to ensure that every single child who is entitled to support so that they are not hungry here in our country does get that support?
I entirely agree with Helen Mary Jones: of course, this is help that children are entitled to receive. The old days when children were singled out if they were receiving a free school meal are, surely, long over here in Wales, although the long tail of stigma can take a long time to disappear. But we have a whole new set of ways in which schools make sure that children who are entitled to free school meals aren't discriminated against or picked out from other children, and I know that huge efforts are made.
Some local authorities in Wales do succeed more than others in making sure that entitlement to free school meals is automatic—that it is linked to other benefits that the local authority already knows a family to be in receipt of. The more that we can make free school meals not a matter of families having to apply for it, but it being done through the other systems that local authorities have available to them, the greater the take-up will be. The ambition of the Welsh Government is exactly as Helen Mary Jones set it out: that every child who is entitled to this benefit should be in a position to take it.
We have been working with local authorities—as I say, some of them are already more advanced down this path than others—to find ways in which not just free school meals but a whole range of other help to which families are entitled comes to them as a result of things that the local authority already know about them because of information that they've supplied, rather than requiring people to make repeated applications for help that ought to be straightforwardly available to them.
7. What action will the Welsh Government take to support the Welsh heritage sector before the next parliamentary election? OQ55800
Llywydd, the Welsh Government continues to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the heritage sector by providing financial support packages, guidance and advice. That support will continue through the remainder of this Senedd term, including a focus on longer term recovery.
Thank you, First Minister. The COVID pandemic has obviously hit the heritage sector hard. National Museum Wales and the National Library of Wales are both institutions that have seen a drastic loss of revenue from the lack of visitors, or from no visitors, but this on top of significant reductions in grant-aid funding before the pandemic outbreak. The national museum and the national library are vital parts of Welsh heritage and culture, and need to be adequately supported. What plans do you have to put both institutions on a more sustainable footing, together with long-term funding agreements, to ensure they can continue to serve and benefit future generations in Wales?
Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. It comes with the normal selective amnesia from the Conservative Party, because the reason that they're having reductions in assistance to those institutions in Wales is the result of a decade of austerity that her party imposed on people in Wales, with year-on-year reductions in the funding available to the Welsh Government for all the purposes that we provide. So, the single best way in which we can make sure that there is adequate funding, for our heritage institutions and for the rest of our public services, is to make sure that that policy is not reintroduced once the pandemic period is over. Anything the Member can do to persuade her colleagues in London of the advantages of the course of action that she advocates I'm sure would be very powerful with them.
First Minister, the Welsh Labour Government has launched the £53 million cultural recovery fund and the £18 million prior funding stream. Cultural and heritage organisations since September have been able to apply for funding as we begin the long, slow recovery from the greatest public health crisis of the last century, and this pandemic has spared no sector of our society. Indeed, the cultural landscape is the very fabric of Welsh life. So, First Minister, how will the Welsh Government assess the need, going forward into 2021, to aid Welsh cultural and heritage institutions so that they are not lost to future generations?
Llywydd, I thank Rhianon Passmore for that. The heritage strand in the cultural recovery fund—Members will know there were four strands in the £53 million fund—the heritage strand attracted over 120 applications, and so far over £380,000 in grants has been offered and accepted by organisations in the sector. We continue to assess, appraise and—wherever possible—approve applications to the fund. That has to be done by a panel process. There are some significant applications from major organisations such as the National Trust in Wales that are still going through that process, so I'm very pleased to provide Rhianon Passmore with an assurance that the £380,000 already agreed is not the end of the story, that those panels continue to meet, and that there will be further grants and awards made to the heritage sector here in Wales from that £53 million fund.
8. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Welsh hospitals? OQ55809
I thank the Member for that question. We work closely with health boards to support them in managing the spread of coronavirus in hospitals. All outbreaks are reviewed and lessons are shared between health boards as they emerge.
Thank you, First Minister. The fact that COVID-19 has been allowed to spread in our hospitals is a clear failure of Government policy and a dereliction of the Welsh Government's duty to protect our most vulnerable. First Minister, why is there no clear demarcation between COVID and non-COVID patients? Why are we testing just over half of all hospital admissions? And, First Minister, surely you agree with me that the best way to protect our NHS is to test everyone and to dedicate certain hospitals for treating those infected with COVID-19? Diolch.
Well, Llywydd, I have to take issue with what was a nonsensical introduction to what turned out to be a sensible question at the end of it. The sensible point that the Member managed to make was about the way in which NHS premises in Wales are creating separate facilities for people suffering from coronavirus in order to be able to protect facilities for those people who need to use the NHS for every other reason. Earlier today, Llywydd, the director general and chief executive of the NHS took the Welsh Government press conference and dealt directly with the issue of the spread of coronavirus within hospitals. He said that, of course,
'We regret every case of hospital-acquired Covid. But I want to be clear',
Dr Goodall said,
'this is not as simple as a failure of hand-washing or poor infection control procedures.'
He went on to explain the ways in which coronavirus can still, despite everything that our staff do to safeguard those closed settings and those people who work and are treated within them—despite all those efforts, he set out the ways in which this highly infectious virus can still make its way into those places, and how incredibly difficult it can be to prevent its spread in busy healthcare environments, especially when we see 100 people with coronavirus being admitted to our hospitals now every day. And I think just a little more understanding, on behalf of the Member, for everything that those front-line staff do to deal with those really difficult circumstances would not have gone amiss, given the questions we've had earlier today in marking the ongoing efforts that those people make to keep us all safe.
People in England who are clinically vulnerable and can't work from home have been given new shielding advice, and the over-60s have been advised to minimise contact with others. In Wales the advice to the clinically vulnerable group, including the over-60s, is to continue to work if you can't work from home. Your advice says your employer should be able to explain to you the measures that they've put in place to keep you safe at work. Now, I'm sure you can imagine that this isn't cutting it with all of those who face an impossible choice. As one Rhondda constituent put it, it's either shield and have no support financially, or work and face long-term complications with our health or even death. The mental health pressures that go with this kind of choice cannot be overstated. The clinically vulnerable need more protection at work and this is especially the case if people work in high-risk settings like hospitals, schools, prisons and other closed settings. Now, I understand that the details of future regulations are still being worked on, but will you give us a commitment today that you'll undertake to give this protection to people who are in work and clinically very vulnerable?
Well, Llywydd, I ought to make it clear to Members that it was not my advice that the Member was quoting; she was quoting the advice of the Chief Medical Officer for Wales in the letter that he has sent to all 130,000 people who were on the shielding list, and he provides them with the best clinical advice that he is able to provide to them.
I know that Leanne Wood will well recognise the mental health impact of shielding as well. This is one of the things that we were told very powerfully by the shielded population earlier in the year during that long period when we asked them not to go to work, not to go out shopping, not to leave their homes for exercise. The message back from them was that that had a profound impact, in many cases, on people's sense of mental health and well-being. And all of that is summed up in the advice that the chief medical officer provides to people, trying to balance the different harms that come from asking people to live their lives in that highly restricted way.
But I do agree with Leanne Wood about the points that she makes about people who are in work when they are highly vulnerable. I think the letter deals with that in a more sensitive way than maybe she has implied, but I am happy to say to her that that is an issue that we will keep under review, and if there is better advice that can be provided to people and to employers about the way in which they respond to people who are of that age and who are clinically vulnerable—the way that they are protected in the workplace—then of course we're very pleased to go on doing that.
I thank the First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement—Rebecca Evans.
Thank you, Llywydd. I have multiple changes to report to today's agenda. Added to this afternoon's agenda are statements on public health protection measures post firebreak, strategic assistance for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the future of rail—details of the new arrangements—and the innovative housing programme year 4—modern methods of construction/modular special.
Postponed until 17 November are the statement on the economic recovery plan, the legislative consent motion on the Non-Domestic Ratings (Public Lavatories) Bill and the statutory instrument consent memorandum on the European Union Withdrawal (Consequential Modifications) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the debate on the second annual report of the president of Welsh Tribunals. The debate on the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) (Amendment) (No. 19) Regulations 2020 and the oral statement on homelessness have been withdrawn. Finally, the statement on an update on developments in the UK's trade policy will issue as a written statement.
Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Darren Millar. [Inaudible.] Oh, still not hearing you, Darren Millar.
Can you hear me now?
Yes, we can, yes. Carry on.
Thank you, Llywydd. Can I call for two statements from the Welsh Government please, business Minister? The first is in relation to the recent Natural Resources Wales report into their response to flooding last year. You'll know that the report identified some significant shortcomings in the Natural Resources Wales response to the floods that were caused by storms Ciara, Dennis and George. And there were many in my constituency that were affected by some of those shortcomings, unfortunately. Many people will recall that there's a community in Llanfair Talhaiarn that suffered flooding twice in as many years and, unfortunately, had not seen significant improvements in its flood defences, even though they were promised back in 2012. So, I think it is important that we have an update from the Minister responsible for the environment on what action she is now going to take to make sure that Natural Resources Wales are able to step up to the mark on behalf of those communities that felt the brunt of those shortcomings, and, unfortunately, suffered significant losses and interruption to their lives because of the flooding that took place.
Can I also call for a statement from the Minister responsible for transport in relation to safe cycling? There have been a number of incidents in the past few months in my own constituency of individuals being hit by cyclists, sometimes using electric-powered bikes, but often cyclists under their own power and speed, on the coastal path in particular, on the promenade in Colwyn Bay, and indeed, here in Kinmel Bay, in the community in which I live. Clearly, it's not acceptable for people to be going too fast in areas that are shared with pedestrians, and this is a matter that must be given better attention, I think, in the future.
So, can I ask for a statement on both of those things, so that we can avoid unnecessary injury in future to individuals who've been hit by cyclists? Thank you.
Thank you to Darren Millar for raising both of those issues this afternoon. As you were speaking, I was just looking ahead through the future business of the Senedd, and I don't see any obvious opportunities for those to be addressed, so I will make sure that I draw the request for both of those statements—the first being on the significant flood damage and the NRW report that followed that, and the second on safe cycling—with the relevant Ministers for them to consider how best to address those concerns.FootnoteLink
Can I have a statement about the new isolation payment of £500? I know the question was asked earlier on, but it was dismissed by the First Minister. I want to know whether a chunk of it will be clawed back by Westminster in the form of tax, national insurance and deductions for universal credit purposes, just as the £500 carers bonus was. We need information about this payment to be better communicated than the carers bonus situation was, because that has plunged many people into a very difficult situation, where they've spent the money that they received from the bonus, and then subsequently had the money taken from them in universal credit.
I'd also like to know why this isolation payment was only backdated for one week to 23 October, despite being announced in September, when people in England have been able to access this payment since the end of September. So why are people losing out in Wales?
Thank you to Leanne Wood for raising the issues of the £500 payment to people who are required to self-isolate. As colleagues will be aware from the statement that the First Minister made a few days ago on this particular issue, there are some final details that are being concluded. And I'll be sure that a statement or a letter is sent to all colleagues with the very latest, once those final details have been clarified, in order, as much as anything, that we can best advise our constituents as to how to go about accessing that payment, should they be eligible for it. So, I'll be sure that those details are shared with colleagues as soon as they're finalised.
I wonder if I can ask for one statement, Minister. I'd like to ask for a Welsh Government statement to give clarity on both the legality and the morality of employers using workers' return to work after days away from work due to isolation as an automatic trigger for disciplinary measures on sickness absence, and also employers who refuse to acknowledge a phone call from test and trace to an individual as a valid reason to isolate because there is no written trail or confirmatory e-mail or text when a phone call has been made. Even when there is a text confirming the person has been in contact with someone who's tested and needs to go into isolation, the employer refuses to accept this and demands more proof, which simply cannot be obtained. And a statement, Minister, could also clarify the clear financial and other penalties for employers—the few employers, the few poor employers—who try to bully people back into work when they should be in isolation or, indeed, are symptomatic. So, I'd welcome a statement on this, although I know Welsh Government has made this clear before.
I agree with Huw Irranca-Davies that the majority of staff—the majority of employers—really want to look after their staff. But there are a number—a small number—of employers who just aren't doing what they need to do in order to keep their staff safe, and, as a result, the rest of society safe. So, that's why the Welsh Government is strengthening the coronavirus regulations by imposing a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if told to do so by the NHS Wales test, trace, protect service. But, alongside that, there will be a duty placed on employers to ensure that they can't prevent an employee from following the NHS Wales test, trace, protect advice to self-isolate, for example. And of course, this goes in and ties in then to the issue that Leanne Wood has just raised about the financial support that we're able to offer people who are eligible in order to help them self-isolate as well. So, it comes as a package of support—the financial support, but, alongside that, the important duties upon individuals and employers.
Business Minister, on the back of something my leader's already touched on today, and on the fact that I've been inundated with e-mails and calls since last Thursday, I'm just asking you, and begging the Government, to please bring forward the statement that they were meant to do today on the economic recovery plan. It's absolutely vital that businesses know what they're doing in the course of this pandemic. Obviously, they're struggling and very stressed out at the moment, and many businesses are worried that they'll have to close. I've been contacted by one—well, by numerous businesses, but one in particular is a hotel in Usk. And they spent weeks on applying for phase 3 of the economic resilience fund, and then, within 24 hours, it was closed, even after lots and lots of work on it, and then new advice, which they had to adhere to and adapt their forms for, coming out the same time it was opened on the Wednesday. So, obviously, that took time, and then, by the time they'd finished that, it was closed. It's just not good enough, Minister.
I know there's a small pot of money, and the First Minister today said he's waiting on the UK to provide more money. But the Government has billions of pounds left to spend. This money is obviously needed by a lot of businesses, and, within that statement, the Government need to outline how they're going to put more money in the pot and open it back up, and when they're going to open it back up. It's just not good enough, business Minister. It needs to be brought forward—17 November, businesses cannot wait that long. Their e-mails are not being answered by Business Wales, businesses do not know what to do. So, I am praying on you, Rebecca, to please see what you can do with this. Thank you.
Welsh Government has had some discussions with the UK Government and Treasury over the past few days, and I do hope that in the coming days I will have more information from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in terms of any additional consequentials that might be coming forward to the Welsh Government as a result of the recent changes across the border in England. And, of course, if we are able to say more on that we will, and we do have the economic recovery plan statement, which, unfortunately, has had to be postponed, but that will be brought forward.
Just for a point of clarity, we don't have billions of pounds that we haven't allocated. Unfortunately, the reserve is much smaller than that, but, as I say, we're keen to keep supporting businesses as well as we can. And, of course, the First Minister has made the point that businesses in Wales do have access to the most generous package of support. Now, I appreciate we haven't managed to get every business, and we're not going to be able to support every business, but I think that it does need to be recognised that we have gone above and beyond what's available elsewhere to try and support as many businesses as we possibly can.
I would like to add my voice to some of what's been said, because I'd also like to call for a statement urgently from the Minister for the economy that's going to update business owners on this, Trefnydd, and how the Welsh Government intends to provide interim support for those companies that were relying on the ERF phase 3 funds. Now, I know that this is something that's been raised a number of times already in the virtual Chamber today, but I make no apology for adding my voice to this, because there were so many companies who had been working hard on the complicated application process only to be told that the funds were frozen within less than 48 hours of those applications opening.
I've received many angry and upset e-mails—I'm sure that other Members will have done so as well—from people who haven't received any support so far from Government schemes and who, as I said, had worked so hard on these applications for the phase 3 business development grant: they were chasing quotes, they were working though all of the complicated paperwork, they were being very diligent with it. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that they were left dumbfounded by the news that the applications closed so early. One business owner in my region also pointed out to me that Business Wales advice had earlier said that the applications would remain open until 25 November or until all the funds had been committed. Many valid claims won't now be considered on their merits because of an arbitrary cap that's been reached, and it's just not good enough, and I'd add my voice to that. I know what—
You are going to need to draw this question to a close.
Okay, Llywydd. I know that the First Minister said earlier that he needed clarity about the Barnett consequentials on this, but I would welcome further clarity on what he meant, because this seems to be a formula for funds that's already provided. So, I'd like that statement, please, from the Minister urgently, because these businesses do deserve better.
Well, the same case has been made by several colleagues now this afternoon in terms of recognising just the sheer level of need that there is out there in terms of businesses requiring support, and we're very, very alive to that and wanting to support as many businesses as we possibly can. Obviously, the economy Minister will have heard your comments, the comments of Laura Anne Jones and those comments that have been made during the course of First Minister's questions as well, as he considers what further support might be available for businesses and, clearly, as soon as he is able to say more, I know that he would want to do that.
Trefnydd, I would like to ask for a statement from the Minister for Housing and Local Government regarding the ongoing situation at Henllys flats in Swansea. Following the flooding issues, some residents have had to be put up in temporary accommodation and those who remain in their properties have been informed that the lifts will be out of action for at least a couple of weeks, and this is severely impacting many disabled residents, particularly those on the fifth floor, amputees included, as well as adversely affecting their mental health. They are unable to leave their properties unaided, and one resident had to rely on the fire and rescue service to get to the ground floor. Residents have told me they're unable to get deliveries beyond the second floor from supermarkets. Coastal Housing have told disabled residents that they can request a move, but, as one lady informed me, she's been on the waiting list for this for five years, for a move from the fifth floor to the ground floor. Trefnydd, I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is unacceptable, and I hope that the Minister for housing will intervene and inform this Senedd of the actions the Welsh Government will take to ensure situations like this do not occur in future. Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you. Clearly, the situation you describe is a very distressing one for the residents concerned. Could I suggest, as the best way forward in the first instance, you write to the Minister for housing in order for her to be able to consider the case that you've just made?
I call for an urgent Welsh Government statement on COVID-19 restrictions on visits to care homes in Wales. As one constituent wrote,
'Our mother has only resided at the nursing home since February. Visits stopped completely during the first wave of the pandemic, and resumed with outdoor visits in mid August. However, all visits stopped again on 1 October. The restrictions on visiting at this moment are detrimental to Mum's health and well-being and an infringement of her civil liberties and rights. I hope you will urge the Welsh Government to advise that, where visits for residents in care homes can be made safely, they should be reinstated as soon as possible.'
As the daughter of another care home resident wrote,
'I beg you to speak up for my beautiful mother who's at the late stage of dementia and her mental and physical health are deteriorating rapidly due to not being able to have her family around her. There are many things that could be put in place to allow visits to be able to happen. Please help us before it's too late and the majority of these helpless old people die of broken hearts and loneliness.'
I call for an urgent statement accordingly.
Thank you to Mark Isherwood for raising those issues on behalf of his constituents, and, obviously, it's a tremendously difficult time for those and others who have loved ones in care homes who they're not able to see as they would wish. I do recall that the First Minister answered some quite detailed questions on this very recently to the Senedd, and I will speak to my colleague the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services in order to provide an update on the latest work that is going on to ensure that we're best able to support people who are in care homes, but also recognising that the needs are not just around protecting people from COVID-19, but also about promoting their mental health and well-being and ensuring that they keep those family ties alive. So, I will, as I say, speak to the Deputy Minister with a view to exploring how best to update colleagues on that.
I think we'd all be grateful to hear the update that you just promised to Mark Isherwood, Trefnydd.
I wonder if I could request a statement from the Minister for the economy, preferably an oral statement but a written one would be okay, I think, to update us on how well the £40 million package promised to the over-16s needing assistance to find work, training or education, or to pursue self-employment, is going. We already have the highest proportion amongst the UK nations of young people not engaged in any of that, and, as we've all heard previously, youth unemployment is likely to rise further. So, as it's been three months since the announcement was made, I think it would be helpful, actually, if the Minister would update the Senedd on where we are with the retention and recruitment of 5,000 apprentices, whether graduates are getting work experience, and what kind of employer is coming forward to apply for the incentives that were expressed in the statement when it was made. And, in particular, if such a statement could be brought forward, it needs to be made clear whether the cash is being allocated on a first come, first served basis, as we've just been speaking in this session about the difficulties that have beset the third round of the ERF. We certainly don't want that happening to this £40 million package. Thank you.
Thank you. Yes, that £40 million package was a really important part of our response to the coronavirus pandemic in terms of the economic crisis. And, as well as looking to support particularly young people, who we know have been very hard hit, into employment, it also seeks to support people who are members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic community, people who are already on low wages, for example, and people who have low levels of skills, to ensure that they don't miss opportunities to enter employment at this point. So, again, I'll be sure that the Minister, who I'm sure is listening anyway, is aware of your request for that particular statement and the kind of detail that you're particularly interested in.
Finally, Nick Ramsay.
Diolch, Llywydd. Trefnydd, the Welsh Government has announced that up to 15 people will be able to take part in indoor organised events, including sport, from next Monday. I've received a number of e-mails from parents who are concerned that this may prohibit their children from accessing gymnastics clubs, as the clubs won't be able to operate with such a low number and could end up going out of business. I wonder if we could have an update from the Minister for sport on what support is on offer to gymnastics clubs across Wales at the moment, and whether it's possible to allow these clubs to operate with a higher number of participants to make them viable over this difficult period.
Thank you. The Minister, I can see, is here to hear your request for details on support for gym clubs in particular, but what I will do in the meantime is ensure that any Q&A that is updated with regard to the post-firebreak regime includes details about the number of people who are able to participate in organised indoor settings, and the way in which children in particular will be factored into that number, so that there's clarity for all clubs and organisations who are organising those indoor events. But, of course, we have a statement from the First Minister immediately after the business statement, which looks ahead to the post-firebreak situation, so that might be an opportunity to hear more then.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
That statement is next, namely the statement by the First Minister on health protection measures after the firebreak period. I call on the First Minister to make his statement. First Minister.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to present this statement to the Senedd on the next steps after the current firebreak period. I can confirm that the current restrictions will come to an end next Monday, 9 November. As we all know, we face a new context following the decisions of the UK Government on Saturday.
Llywydd, I don't want to criticise the decisions of other Governments in the United Kingdom. Each one of us is doing our best to respond to the present crisis. We have to consider the effect of the virus on individuals, on the health service and on the economy, we have to weigh up evidence that changes on a day-to-day basis, and each Government in the UK is answerable to the Parliament it serves.
Llywydd, I should put the decisions about the period beyond the firebreak in the context of the latest figures we have on coronavirus in Wales, which indicate the seven-day incidence of the virus for the whole of Wales lies at 259 cases per 100,000 people, with the incidence increasing in all but a handful of our local authority areas. This pan-Wales picture underpins the need for national measures as we come out of the firebreak period.
Earlier today, Llywydd, the chief executive of NHS Wales reported on the impact of the virus on our health service. There are currently 1,275 COVID-related patients in Welsh hospitals, 18 per cent higher than last week, and the highest number since late April. We expect this rising trend to continue until the impact of the firebreak is felt. In spite of this increasing pressure, our hospitals continue to provide planned activity, with cancer referrals returning to expected levels and the number of new out-patients 75 per cent higher in September than in April. Our actions have been designed not simply to protect our NHS’s ability to provide care to COVID patients, but to go on doing all those other things that matter so much to patients across Wales.
During the firebreak, we have taken steps to strengthen our response to the virus and to implement our NHS winter protection plan. Innovations such as the accident and emergency booking service here in Cardiff and the Vale will be accelerated in other parts of Wales, and our local health boards continue to work on plans to make the best use of our field hospital capacity. Our test, trace, protect service continues to perform strongly in dealing with significantly increased case numbers, and its resources have been increased. New local test centres have been opened to improve access, including to students, and more such local centres are planned. Innovations are being developed to increase lab capacity and to enable point-of-care testing, which could be particularly valuable in hospital and care home settings. As I said earlier this afternoon, the health Minister will update Members on new testing technologies in the coming days.
Llywydd, during the past week we have continued the consultative approach we have deployed throughout this pandemic, talking to partners before we make decisions, not simply informing them once decisions have been made. I am grateful to all those who have contributed to these discussions: the social partnership council, which has met twice in extraordinary meetings, including trade unions, businesses and other partners; the inter-faith forum; the Welsh Local Government Association and local authority leaders; the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and the third sector council; the police and crime commissioners and chief constables of the Welsh police forces; and to young people from Children in Wales, and many, many others. Llywydd, all these partners will be directly affected by the regulations we make this week and each has contributed to shaping them. We will finalise the regulations once we have heard from Senedd Members as a result of this statement today.
The result is that, from 9 November, we will introduce a national response, with one set of rules for the whole of Wales. These will enable aspects of Welsh life to resume, but the virus has not gone away and it is only through behaving responsibly and protecting each other that we will make the necessary headway in coming out of this emergency. Llywydd, from Monday, we propose changing the law in Wales in the following ways: churches, temples, synagogues and other places of worship will be able to reopen as they were before the firebreak period. Community centres will also reopen. Universities will continue to operate as they have during the firebreak, and schools and colleges will be able to welcome back all pupils and students. Shops, gyms and all other premises open to the public required to close during the firebreak will reopen. But, in all these premises and in workplaces, the legal requirement to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus will continue to apply in order to protect staff and customers alike. This includes pubs, cafes and restaurants. These will reopen, but our clear advice to people in Wales is that we should visit these places in as small a group as possible, and, for many, this will only be the people we live with. But we have listened carefully to what young people and single people especially have told us about how important it is to be able to meet some friends and other family members. Our intention is that the regulations will allow groups of up to four people to meet in a regulated setting such as a restaurant, cafe or pub, but that this will be subject to strict protections discussed with the hospitality sector, including advance booking, time-limited slots and verified identification. Llywydd, as in all aspects of our lives, maintaining the basics of good hygiene and keeping our distance will be crucial in these settings, too.
This is one of the most challenging changes from a public health perspective, and we will keep it under continuous review. Its success will depend upon the actions of the sector and of every Welsh citizen in using this reopening responsibly and sparingly. And, Llywydd, the 10 p.m. end on alcohol sales will remain in place in Wales.
Llywydd, as a result of the many discussions we have held over the last 10 days, we are very aware of the need to provide opportunities for social contact in the coming winter months. Organised activities for groups of up to 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors will be allowed once the firebreak period ends. But, once again, risk assessments will be needed to be carried out in advance, and all reasonable measures taken to minimise the risk of contracting or spreading the virus, and these activities will not be able to involve the sale or consumption of alcohol. There will be a separate exception for up to 15 people to attend a reception for a wedding or civil partnership or a funeral wake, and children under 11 will not count towards the limits on meeting others in these regulated settings.
I turn, Llywydd, now to another very challenging area: the extent to which we should meet one another in our own homes, a setting where we know coronavirus continues to spread and to take hold. As a result, beyond the firebreak period, at home, including in gardens, people will only be able to meet others from their extended household, and that extended household will be limited to just two households coming together. If we are to make the most of the gains the firebreak period has created, then we must avoid the riskier types of behaviour beyond that period altogether. House parties, larger events and gatherings indoors will be unlawful, and we will make this absolutely explicit in our regulations.
Llywydd, so that we can keep the new national rules as simple as possible, we will not return to local travel restrictions. People will be able to travel anywhere within Wales, but, once again, we ask people to approach the issue of travel responsibly, to stay close to home and continue to limit their contact with others. Permission to travel is not an instruction to travel, and the way in which we behave in this area of our lives too will be reviewed in the weeks that follow the firebreak period.
While the English lockdown is in place, travel to and from England will be prohibited by the English regulations unless that is for an essential reason such as work or education and, recognising that Wales will come out of the firebreak as a high prevalence area of the UK, we will also place travel restrictions on people leaving or entering Wales until those rates come down. International travel will not be allowed without a reasonable excuse.
Llywydd, as we are about to enter the next stage in our national effort to control the virus, at the heart of that effort is the way in which each and every one of us go about each and every aspect of our lives. We all need to take steps to keep each other safe. I know that the vast majority of people in Wales have made huge sacrifices to live within the rules before the firebreak. I am so grateful to all of them. And over this winter period, we must all be prepared to live our lives differently so that the effort we have made together is not wasted and we do not find ourselves in this position once again. We must all keep our contacts with one another to an absolute minimum, keep the circle of people we meet with as small as possible, and consider all those other ways in which we can continue to keep in touch.
Llywydd, in the weeks after 9 November we will have more evidence of the impact of the firebreak. We will review these measures to check that they are proportionate and effective. But we must be under no illusion. After the firebreak ends, the virus will not have ended. In the weeks ahead we must ask ourselves not, 'What can I do?', but, 'What should I do?' to keep ourselves and others in Wales safe from what goes on being a terrible disease. Llywydd, diolch yn fawr.
Can I thank the First Minister for his comprehensive statement this afternoon? The new measures announced yesterday by the Welsh Government to follow the current Wales-wide lockdown period, of course, provide some clarity, and what we've heard from the First Minister this afternoon has provided further clarity, however there are still some outstanding issues and concerns that need further information so that we can better understand what we should and shouldn't do from next week.
Firstly, I appreciate the steps that the Government is taking to allow two households to form a bubble in Wales. For so many communities across the country, the ability to meet with another household will be very welcome and gives some comfort to those who have not seen family members for some time.
Now, your announcement is very clear that schools across Wales will reopen from Monday, and I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's vitally important that children and students are able to return to the classroom, provided the evidence shows that it's safe to do so. Of course, it's important that we better understand how the virus may or may not be transmitted in school and university settings. So, in light of the reopening of education providers, I'd be grateful if you could tell us a bit more about the assessment that has been made of the transmission of the virus in those settings and how that's impacted the Government's policy.
The Welsh Government statement also makes it clear that working from home will become even more important, and I know that the Welsh Government has already been considering a shift towards more homeworking across Wales. Whilst there are benefits to homeworking, there are also economic consequences for high streets and town centres, and there are also some valid concerns over the mental health impact of homeworking on some people. Therefore, can you tell us what discussions the Welsh Government has already had with public service providers, local authority leaders and indeed others about the Welsh Government's remote working policy and the economic impact, and indeed the mental health impact that homeworking may have in the longer term?
It is absolutely vital that, moving forward, mental health is prioritised by the Welsh Government, whether that's in relation to carers, children and young people, or indeed older people. Given that the virus is still prevalent in many communities across Wales, and as a result, freedoms for so many people have been restricted for some time, will the Welsh Government now develop a longer term mental health strategy that reflects the challenges that the virus presents?
Of course, underpinning the new post-firebreak measures is a need to ensure that businesses across Wales can access the support that they need. We all know of businesses that are struggling to survive the pandemic and it's clear that many will need more support in the coming months. Now, as I said earlier today, many businesses have been under some form of Government restriction not just for the two-week firebreak period, but in some cases for a significantly longer period of time, and so it's vital that the Welsh Government is listening to their concerns and helping them find and access the support they need quickly. Can you therefore confirm, First Minister, what changes are being made to ensure businesses are aware of the support on offer and are able to get the help that they need during this time?
I know that Ministers have been having ongoing discussions with the hospitality sector about the rules for reopening, and I welcome the news that hospitality will reopen to allow groups of up to four individuals to meet in a regulated setting. Today's statement says that this will be under constant review, and I appreciate that this will have to be monitored very carefully, however, can you confirm when you will be reviewing this measure and can you tell us how you'll be engaging with businesses across the country to ensure that the measure is the right one going forward?
When the Welsh Government announced the firebreak lockdown, it made it clear that the two-week period was absolutely essential in delivering significant improvements to its processes, and whilst I accept that we've still got a week to go, it's really important that the people of Wales can see those improvements and understand how the Welsh Government has used the time during the lockdown to make the necessary changes. There has been some information already given about work done in relation to the testing system, which is very welcome, and you've confirmed today in your statement that new test centres have been opened and more are planned, but perhaps you could tell us a bit more about that and what other work that has already taken place during the firebreak period in relation to the Welsh Government's testing programme, and what more we can expect to take place over the next few days and in the coming weeks.
First Minister, you will have seen the worrying news that there have been another 30 deaths linked to COVID-19 infections caught inside four hospitals, and it's clear urgent action is needed to address that. Today's statement says that local health boards continue to work on plans to make the best use of our field hospital capacity. Can you therefore update us on how that work is going and when we can begin to see that capacity become available?
And finally, Llywydd, I want to place on record my sincere thanks to our outstanding NHS staff and our third sector organisations and charities who have continued to do so much to support people across Wales in what has been a very difficult time. And, First Minister, I know you'll join me in thanking them for their efforts over the past few months. Thank you.
Llywydd, I thank Paul Davies for those questions and I absolutely do associate myself with his last remarks. I'll try and answer as quickly as I can a number of the specific questions he raised.
As to schools reopening, the evidence does continue to evolve all the time, and it's another area where we have to be prepared to adapt our response if it were necessary, if different evidence were to emerge. But at present, the evidence we have continues to be that younger children particularly do not suffer themselves from coronavirus or spread it to other people in significant numbers. And we've now had a full half-term of schools being back in Wales, and, again, the evidence is predominantly that where there have been cases in schools, it has been because people have contracted the virus outside the school setting, and that intra-school transmission has not been a significant feature of the way in which schools in Wales have experienced the last six weeks. That is a tribute to all the work that is done by teaching and non-teaching staff in all those settings, to keep themselves and their students safe. And while that continues to be the evidence, then I agree with what Paul Davies said about making children and their education our top priority, and trying to make sure that whatever other restrictions we have to impose on life here in Wales that we put them and their futures right at the top of our list.
Paul Davies referred to the ongoing mental health impact of the crisis, and that is true in all parts of our lives, and it does have an impact on people, some people who work from home. It's why we've been keen to emphasise that our approach to remote working is not that a certain percentage of people will always be in work full-time and the other people will always be working from home; it's a blended approach in which people are able to spend some of the working week working remotely and other parts of the working week in their normal place of work. And when you add all that up, he knows that for the Welsh Government, we've thought of 30 per cent as a working hypothesis for the number of people who are able to work successfully from home, being at home during this crisis. And that, I think, is designed to respond to the fact that, for some people, working from home without the chance to be sometimes in the workplace does come at a toll to people's sense of mental health and well-being. My colleague Eluned Morgan, who now has responsibility for mental health services in Wales, will be talking with Members, as she has been, I know, talking to a very wide range of interests, about a longer term sense of how we can respond to the mental health impact of the crisis, which will not be over during the crisis itself. As we know, there are some long-term impacts from coronavirus, both physical, but also in terms of people's well-being.
As for business support, of course I recognise, as Paul Davies said, that many businesses in Wales have been living with restrictions for more than two weeks. Across our border in England, Leicester has been under restrictions for the best part of three months, and finds itself now facing a four-week lockdown. No Government takes these decisions lightly. All Governments are—as I said at the start of my statement—having to juggle these impossible dilemmas between lives and livelihoods, between our health and our economic futures. Here in Wales, we'll continue to develop our business support offer to make it available through the Business Wales website. And in all the conversations we have, whether that is through the social partnership council or whether it's through—as I was able to do yesterday—speaking at the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference, we take all the opportunities that are there to talk to the business community and to make sure we understand their perspectives and to gather their support. We will review the measures we put in place for the post-firebreak period after two weeks. I'm happy to provide that confirmation for hospitality businesses and others.
We've used this period, as Paul Davies says, to introduce changes in a number of the services, including further strengthening our TTP services. Just for reasons of time, Llywydd, I'll just mention one further way in which we're doing that. We're going to create a central surge capacity—a team that can be deployed in any part of Wales when the system comes under particular pressures because of local flare-ups. And as far as the field hospital capacity is concerned, it's already being used in Cwm Taf Morgannwg, where Ysbyty'r Seren is open and taking patients. We will be learning, in all parts of Wales, from ways in which that early experience can be put to best use elsewhere.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. Thank you, First Minister, for the statement and for the announcement yesterday, which I know would have been welcomed by so many people across Wales, not least my own mother and father, who are looking forward to being reconnected with their grandchild. I'm sure that's felt in many, many families across Wales.
Your own economy and transport Minister has said that the current firebreak is unlikely to be the last in Wales, and that another Wales-wide lockdown is looking likely in the new year. Do you agree that we should set it as an agreed goal that, as far as humanly possible, this should be the last national lockdown? Now, of course, as you've been rightly stressing, we all have a part to play as individuals and as a community in making that possible, but there are some things, of course, that only Government can do. You've referred to the test and trace system, which is absolutely central to this, and you've said a little bit about what you've been doing during the firebreak, but I was wondering if you could say what level of improvement you plan to make in the crucial 24-hour turnaround target in getting the test results back to people, which is absolutely central to making it an effective protection in terms of preventing a further exponential rise in cases.
I was wondering, as well, if you could say whether you have reconsidered the issue of the testing of asymptomatic contacts, as other countries are already doing, because we know from scientific evidence now that asymptomatic transmission is a very, very important element within the spread of the virus. And when do you think we'll be in a position where we could see population-wide testing, which, as I referred to earlier, has been happening over the weekend in Slovakia, and is being proposed in the city of Liverpool? On contact tracing as well, are we likely to see an increasing emphasis on backward as well as forward contact tracing, which is important in terms of identifying the sources of infection, and have you looked at the adoption of the three-tier contract tracing system, which has proven such a successful element in Vietnam?
On vaccines, Scotland, it's been reported, is preparing to start vaccinating in six weeks' time. Are you also working hard to shorten the timelines as far as possible so we can get vaccinations potentially under way in December? I'm mindful, First Minister, of the lighthouse lab failure or fiasco. Are we making our own independent plans in Wales so we're not reliant on the UK taskforce, headed by another Boris Johnson political appointee? And in relation to the Prime Minister's comments yesterday—because the economic policy, of course, needs to work in tandem with the health policy—that furlough and other economic support would be available to the devolved administrations when they required them, it was contradicted today by the housing and local government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, who said that it would be a matter for the Chancellor. What is your understanding of the latest position of the UK Government in this regard?
Finally, we've advocated, as we emerge out of the firebreak, a slow and steady approach, rather than a sudden relaxation of restrictions, in order to ensure that we secure the hard-won gains. Can you say, First Minister, what the current scientific advice says as to what the infection rate, R, will be next Monday? What is the latest understanding of the R figure? Do you believe, or is the scientific advice to you currently, that the current framework that you've announced today will be enough to keep that crucial R rate below 1 so we don't end up in the position of having to have a further cycle of lockdown and release?
I'd like to thank Adam Price for those questions.
I thank him both for his general sentiments of support over recent days and for the opportunity to discuss some of the measures we have announced with Members of his party. All I can say to him is what I've said to other people in relation to what will happen in the future, which is that we're not in a position of being able to rule anything in or anything out. The future is so inherently uncertain that anybody who says to you that something will definitely be needed or definitely not be needed in eight weeks' time really is relying on nothing more than a crystal ball, and I don't think people in Wales would be grateful to us if we tried to proceed in that way.
I thought Adam Price made an important point, Llywydd, when he said that there are things that only Governments can do and there are things that only each one of us can do in our own lives, and we have to maximise both of those things. There are a number of things that we have been doing to respond to some of the points that Adam Price mentioned. We are part of the whole-town testing experiment that is being carried out in Liverpool, in the sense that we will be able to gather the learning from that direct. I think there will be a lot to learn from the first time around that track to see if we can then apply the approach that emerges from that experiment in parts of Wales where that would be useful to us.
The asymptomatic testing and the population-wide testing, I think, are very much linked to the next generation of tests that may become available and that Vaughan Gething will report on further later this week. What I don't want to do is fall into the trap that I see others making of saying to people in Wales, 'Oh, there is some magic solution just around the corner, there is a test, there is a vaccine, there is something that will just get us out of jail free on this.' I think people have become allergic to being told, 'Oh, it'll all be over in 12 weeks', 'It'll all be over by Christmas', 'It'll all be over by the spring', 'There's something just about to happen; just you wait, it'll all be okay.' People don't believe it and they're right not to believe it. This is a long, hard slog, in which we're all going to have to play our part, not just for the next few days or the next few weeks, but well into next year.
Then, when these new opportunities do come our way, we will, of course, want to deploy them, and deploy them to make life easier for people—through backward contact tracing, which is already happening in our TTP system in Wales, for exactly the reason that Adam Price said. We know that there are superspreader individuals and events that can be responsible for a hugely disproportionate number of new infections, and that's why we are doing all of that. We have independent plans for distribution of a vaccine once it becomes available, but, again, I don't want to suggest to people in Wales that the first vaccines that will become available will be the sort that they're most familiar with—a flu vaccine that lasts for a whole year or an MMR vaccine that lasts for a whole lifetime. The early vaccines that are likely to become available will confer some immunity for some period of time, and they won't be what people, I think, thinking of other experiences in their lives, might be expecting.
On furlough, it is deeply disappointing that we're back in confusion, having had it clarified, as it seemed yesterday, by the Prime Minister. UK Government Ministers were pressed hard by Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in a COBRA meeting yesterday to make sure that we have the clarity that we need, that it cannot possibly be only English Ministers who can declare a public health emergency and invoke a furlough scheme. I thought what the Prime Minister said yesterday in the House of Commons was very helpful to that, and on this one, what the Prime Minister says really does need to go.
We won't know the R figure for next Monday for a couple of weeks beyond next Monday, because R is a lagging indicator. That's why I've always said we won't know how effective the firebreak period has been until weeks afterwards. 'Will it be enough?', Adam Price quite properly asks. Well, my answer can only be this, Llywydd: it will only be enough if every one of us does everything we are asked to do, both the things that Government can do, but also the things we can only do in our own lives, because Governments by themselves cannot solve this crisis. It's how we behave in our own homes, in our workplaces, when we are outside and in other regulated settings that, in the end, drives this virus and puts other people at risk. We can all do things that minimise that risk. We can all do things that maximise that risk. If we do the right things and ask ourselves, as I said, 'What should I be doing?', then it can be enough.
If I could, First Minister—I'm grateful to you for your statement this afternoon—continue the theme of business support. Many people, of course, welcome what you've said over the last few days, and welcome the sense of personal responsibility and that tone that you've introduced into the public debate on this, but I hear from a lot of small businesses and self-employed people who are very, very anxious to find the balance between maintaining their businesses, maintaining employment, maintaining the services they provide to local people, but also being able to do that in a safe way through these extremely difficult times. The chaos that we've seen in Westminster over the last few days—the Prime Minister saying that furlough was available yesterday, being told by his Ministers today that he was wrong yesterday—means that, as we speak today, we don't know what the policy of the Treasury is, and whether they've told the Prime Minister what his policy is. So, we need some coherence and some sense of seamless support for people, and the ERF support from the Welsh Government has offered that. I think many of us would be grateful to see that ERF support reopened and available to businesses as soon as possible.
The second point, First Minister, is this: you've just answered Adam Price on the issue of test and trace, and for me it's one of the great successes, if you like, of how the Government has dealt with this. I think it's fair to say that the Government has spent something like £102 million in Wales on it, which represents £32 per head, and is reaching 80 per cent and 90 per cent of the people it needs to. Across the border in England, where it's been privatised, of course, they're spending £12 billion, £1,700 per head, and not reaching the same number of people. So, that demonstrates the power of values in action. It demonstrates the power of the public sector—health boards, the Welsh Government and local government—working together. Can you perhaps explain to us, First Minister, your vision of how test and trace will provide us with an opportunity to control the transmission of the virus, to break the transmission of the virus, and to allow us to have regulations that recognise that test and trace is able, through its power, to ensure that we're able to control the spread of the virus? Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
Llywydd, diolch yn fawr to Alun Davies. I absolutely recognise what he said about the way so many businesses have worked so hard to make sure that they can continue in these difficult times, but to do it in a way that is safe for their staff and for their users, and that is the experience of most businesses in Wales. Where there are businesses who don't operate in that way, then the Welsh Government will take action against them, because that is not fair, both to their staff and to their users, but it's not fair to other businesses either, who have made the effort that we asked them to make.
And in terms of fairness, let me say as well that, not only has the uncertainty about the furlough scheme been deeply unhelpful, but the fact that when we asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give some flexibility to businesses in Wales as we went into our firebreak period, we were told that that was impossible, but when the English Government, in that capacity, decided to introduce a lockdown, suddenly all that was possible after all. And what strikes people in Wales about that is that it simply is not fair when one part of the United Kingdom is denied help and another part has it available to them. The Treasury is the Treasury for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just one part of it, and it needs to recapture some ground that it has lost because of the way in which it has behaved in that partisan way over recent weeks.
I completely agree with Alun Davies that the TTP system has been a great success story here in Wales. Every pound that we put into it goes into the public service. There's no money skimmed off the top of it for private profit making, as there inevitably is in England. And that is because of our values, because we believe that this is a public service best provided by people who work in the public service, and with that public service ethos, but it gives us value for money, as you heard as well. Now, we will continue to recruit more people in our local teams. We will provide that surge capacity I mentioned earlier. And as we come out of the firebreak period, we will look again to the enormous efforts our TTP teams have made, doing more in backward tracing, now having a new set of tools, both to persuade people to self-isolate, and to explain to them the consequences of not doing so, and to prepare for the time when, as I say, a new generation of tests may become available that could allow us to reduce the length of time that we ask people to self-isolate and that could allow us to do more in asymptomatic testing, as Adam Price mentioned earlier. And all of that thought is going on as we speak in our TTP system, so that we use this 17 days of the firebreak not just to gather our breath in TTP, but to prepare for new possibilities and an even bigger contribution that it could make here in Wales in the future.
Thank you for your statement, First Minister. We have seen lockdowns do untold damages to the lives and livelihoods of the Welsh public, and particularly the poorest in our society, because many vulnerable in society have been left behind. People have lost employment and businesses have closed. And whilst I appreciate we have to strike the correct balance, going forward, First Minister, will you pledge to do all that you can to avoid countrywide lockdowns in future, because we have to learn to live with the SARS-CoV-2 virus if Wales is to avoid a crippling depression and debt that will take generations to recover from? Our poorest in society must also not be allowed to become poorer at the end of this lockdown, and the best way to live with the virus is better testing, so that we can isolate the sick rather than isolate the healthy also during lockdown.
So, First Minister, do you plan to dramatically scale up testing from a few thousand tests a day to several tens of thousands? Countries that have the disease on the back foot have adopted mass testing, and I'd like to ask if this is also the Welsh Government's goal. And I'd also like to place on record our thanks to all in the NHS who have kept us safe during this time, but also to the many shopkeepers, delivery drivers, staff in other services, such as the prison service, who have also provided meals and very many necessary services to people less fortunate than ourselves. Diolch yn fawr.
Caroline Jones is absolutely right to remind us that there are front-line workers in many aspects of life here in Wales, people who have kept serving food, people who have collected our refuse, social workers who continue to go out and make sure that vulnerable children and older people are looked after. Right across the public service, people have been willing to put themselves at risk in order to protect other people, and it's right that we recognise that this afternoon. And I also recognise Caroline Jones's starting point, of course, that there's more than one form of harm from coronavirus. And everything we do is a very, very challenging matter of trying to strike that balance. I don't myself sign up to the proposition that the way to get through coronavirus is to isolate the sick, or to try and keep people who are vulnerable out of society, so that everybody else can carry on with their lives. Personally, I don't think that is an ethical position to take. But even if you didn't have ethical qualms about it, it's not a practical way either, because those people have so many connections with other people in their lives. It doesn't work, as well as being unacceptable.
I've referred a number of times this afternoon to the potential that there are new testing opportunities ahead of us. And I just want to emphasise again that that is a potential, it is not an actual. There is still a lot of work going on, on the reliability of those tests, of how those tests can be successfully administered, the use that could be put to them. Nobody should think that we're just around the corner from, as I say, some sort of magic breakthrough. But undoubtedly there will be new possibilities in the future, and it will allow us, as Caroline Jones said, to make different choices and to protect people in new ways. And everything we do as a Welsh Government is designed to do two things. It's designed to deal with the here and now—that's why we are expanding the number of current tests, why we now have labs working 24 hours a day here in Wales—but also to prepare for the future, and to make sure that we are right up to date with all those possible developments, and to make sure that, when they are genuinely available, we're ready to take advantage of them in Wales.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement. Three quick points out of the statement, if I may. You talked about hospitals being able to undertake normal NHS work. It's important that we understand what the waiting times are and what the performance targets are. Will you commit to restarting the publication of these target times, so that we can assess the waiting times and the target times that the NHS is performing against?
Secondly, when it comes to the Dragon's Heart Hospital that was in the Principality Stadium, and the barn at the Vale of Glamorgan, for Cardiff and Vale residents obviously these two facilities have been taken out of action now, and the field hospital that's set to replace them will not be available until February. How is the Welsh Government working with Cardiff and Vale health board to ensure that there is capacity within this area so that there isn't a shortfall?
And, thirdly, you talked at the latter end of your statement about restaurants and social facilities using verified identification. For most people, that would mean either a passport or driving licence. But can you clarify what would be acceptable in the terms that you use of 'verified identification'? And who is the onus on providing that to—is it the owner of the establishment, or at the point of booking, or at the point of entering the establishment? Thank you.
It's an inescapable fact, I'm afraid, that waiting times for many procedures in the NHS, in every part of the United Kingdom, are not what they were before we went into this pandemic. And I bitterly regret that because of the huge effort that has gone on in Wales, both through the funding that the Welsh Government has provided, but by front-line workers as well. We were in our best position since 2014 when the pandemic struck, and so much of that ground will now have been lost and will be very difficult to recover if we are unable to do all the things that we have talked about this afternoon in keeping coronavirus at bay. Because every day that more beds in our hospitals are taken up by coronavirus patients, every day there are more people in critical care beds with coronavirus, that inevitably narrows the scope for treatments to be offered to people for all the other things that are so necessary. We will look with others across the United Kingdom as to when it is sensible to reset expectations in the NHS, but I don't think we're in that position where we are today, where we are deep in—deep in—a public health crisis, which every Member in this Chamber will be well to recognise and to reflect in the public statements that they make on this matter.
As far as Calon y Ddraig is concerned, then about half of the 5,000 extra beds that we have planned for this winter are to be found within the NHS by expanding capacity that's available within our existing system. So, it's about half that will come from new field hospital capacity and about half that will come in other ways, and our plans are in place, of course, with Cardiff and Vale to make sure that there are ways in which it will be able to respond should numbers go on rising.
The final point that Andrew R.T. Davies makes is an important one. Of course, our regulated settings, our pubs, are very used to seeking identification. They do it all the time in order to make sure somebody is as old as they say they are in order to be able to order a drink. So, it's that sort of level of identification we're looking for, and part of this is driven, as I'm sure Andrew will understand, by the new border issue that has been created by having a closure of these establishments for four weeks in England and them open here, as we want them to be open here, in Wales. We have to find ways to support our English colleagues in preventing large numbers of people trying to cross the border in order to be able to get a drink when that is against the law in England. And being able to book ahead, and then provide verification of who you are, is one of the ways in which we will be able to support our colleagues elsewhere in the efforts they are now making to overcome the virus in other parts of the UK.
I thank the First Minister for his statement and, as Adam Price has already said, the First Minister is aware that Plaid Cymru has broadly supported the need for the firebreak and advocated a cautious approach as we come out.
The First Minister referred to consultation in this process, and I think he will understand that there are some sectors of the hospitality sector who perhaps haven't felt as included in that consultation as they might have been. I ask him today if he can give further consideration, as rules and regulations need to change, to ensure that the broadest range possible of those businesses that are most affected are consulted at the earliest point possible as we move forward, and as he rightly reviews the effect that the firebreak has had and the lifting of the firebreak measures have.
Specifically, the First Minister has referred to providing detailed guidance to the hospitality sector after today, and it is quite right, of course, that these discussions should take place in the Senedd and that the Government should finalise guidance after that. But can he tell us today when that detailed guidance will be available to hospitality businesses so that they can be clear about exactly what is expected of them? And specifically in that regard, can I ask him and the Welsh Government to ensure that details, when they are taken from customers, are securely kept and only used for proper purposes? I have heard of women, specifically young women, having had their contact details taken and then used by members of staff or management in hospitality businesses for inappropriate approaches. This I know was raised with Welsh Government as a risk, so can I ask him to ensure that, as what's required in terms of taking identification is made clear to businesses, a further emphasis is put on keeping that information secure and using it properly?
You'll have to bring your contribution to a close now; you're out of time. Thank you, Helen Mary.
Can I just finally, then, ask, in terms of further business support, whether the First Minister can consider that that should perhaps be more targeted in future to those businesses most affected, rather than taking a first come, first served approach?
Thank you to Helen Mary Jones for those questions, and, as I said, I am grateful for the broad support that Plaid Cymru has offered to the direction that we have taken here in Wales. And I recognise what Helen Mary Jones said about the very diverse nature of the hospitality sector. As a Government, we have to rely generally on those representative bodies that exist within the sector, and we certainly have been talking to them, but, in a sector as diverse as hospitality, not every business is represented in that sort of forum. The speed at which we have to operate inevitably means that we rely on the existing networks that we are able to tap into. And that, in a way, is the tension we face in answering questions in guidance in the way that Helen Mary has quite properly asked, because the speed at which we're able to provide guidance is, to an extent, a reflection of the number of questions that come in from the sector asking for us to be able to find an answer to them. So, the more questions there are, the slower it tends to be, but we will try and get the guidance, of course, as quickly as possible.
Llywydd, I'm very anxious about what Helen Mary Jones said about the misuse of information being provided, and I'll certainly make sure that, after this statement is over, I'll make some enquiries myself about that. We would like people to use the NHS app as the basis for the way in which they collect information, because then it's guaranteed to be secure, and the more we can promote that and the more we can make it available, the less we will run the risk that Helen Mary Jones identified. And, of course, we will continue always to look to see whether further support for business can be made. And first come, first served is a very blunt instrument, I understand that, but, as she will know, thousands of people, thousands of businesses applied, even on that basis, and we will see what more can be done.
Can I thank the First Minister for his statement and say that I, obviously, also look forward to an opportunity to reconnect at some stage with my four grandchildren, and I suppose also to visiting my local pub and being asked to produce ID? Underage drinking is a scourge on our society.
Can I raise particularly the issues of well-being, of the mental welfare of our communities? And can I say that some of the measures that have been taken now, particularly with regard to gymnasia, with regard to religious gatherings, I think sport, dance, leisure centres and community centres—how important they are? Because they are amongst some of the institutions that have been incredibly well regulated, but also they contribute very substantially to the physical and, I think, the mental well-being of our communities. I think mental welfare is something that is really coming to the apex of some of our considerations as we go into the future months of various restrictions.
Can I ask the First Minister particularly about his contacts with the Health and Safety Executive and the trade unions, particularly in respect of the well-being of those tens of thousands of people who are now working from home, who previously wouldn't have been working from home, often in very non-ergonomic environments, but also the actual mental health risks that are there now from the considerable long hours and the fact that we now seem to be very heavily regulated by, or controlled by, Zoom and Teams and other technology, rather than the other way around? It seems to me that there hasn't been adequate consideration of that. Can I ask whether you think that now is the time that probably the Health and Safety Executive ought to be devolved within Wales, because it forms such an important part of our public health?
And can I say also then one further item, and that is the issue of gambling addiction? You'll be aware of the recent correspondence in The Lancet suggesting that we ought to have now gambling addiction clinics. We have a large proportion of our population now vulnerable and exposed to the continuous onslaught of gambling advertising, and this has significant, I think, consequences. We identify already increased access to gambling from many people across Wales and the consequences of this for the future are, I think, quite significant and need to be addressed as a serious public health issue, particularly linked with COVID now. Thank you, First Minister.
Llywydd, thank you, and I thank Mick Antoniw for those questions. I know that Mick Antoniw began with a slightly jocular remark, but, actually, Llywydd, we do, all of us, I think shy away a bit from saying much about the impact of coronavirus in our own lives and in the lives of the staff that we all employ in our own constituency capacities, and who I know have borne an enormous burden of the efforts we all of us try to make in our local capacities to answer people's questions, keep them well informed. But there is a mental health and well-being toll in all of that that elected representatives in our constituency roles, with our teams there, also experience. So, I've always thought, Llywydd, that one of the fantastic things about devolution in Wales is that the gap between those people who are elected and those people who elect us is much narrower than it is in many other legislatures, and that we live lives that are as full of the experiences that our fellow citizens have to experience as anybody else, and I think it does bring a different sort of richness to the type of discussion that we've been having this afternoon.
On the Health and Safety Executive and trade unions, we, of course—Mick Antoniw will know—have a new national health and safety forum in Wales until the time when the HSE is devolved. I'm very grateful to it for agreeing to participate in that forum and making sure that staff are available to contribute to those discussions, including the discussions of the health and well-being of people working from home. I'm certain that I am not the only person who, at the end of many days, suffers from Zoom fatigue, and I don't just mean that in terms of just the toll it takes on you, but just literally, where your eyes are burning and you feel you've stared at that screen for longer than is sensible for any one individual to do. And that is experienced by other people working from home. That's why the health and safety forum will take an interest in it; that's why we're accelerating our programme of local hubs, where people will be able to work remotely, but not within their own homes.
And the point on gambling addiction, which Mike Antoniw has made very regularly throughout the whole of the time he's been an Assembly Member, will have been heard by Eluned Morgan, and I'm sure that she will be happy to have a direct discussion with him on the particular impact of the coronavirus crisis on people who are at home and bombarded, as he said, by invitations and adverts trying to induce them, sometimes vulnerable people, to spend money in that way.
We have three new grandchildren, all nearby, but two in England. You can imagine how we're feeling. Epilepsy Wales state there's currently no epilepsy surgery for children or adults in Wales, and there hasn't been for the last seven months. Can the First Minister tell us when this will change so that essential surgery can be provided to the highly vulnerable population of people with epilepsy who are living with uncontrolled seizures, with all the associated risk to health and life, where most other specialist centres across the UK have resumed essential epilepsy surgery for their patients with drug-resistant epilepsy?
Last month, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation Wales published a report on restoring basic care. Seventy per cent of their beneficiaries are managing an exacerbation of their symptoms, such as an asthma attack, themselves. Over 40 per cent report that their respiratory care has either been delayed or cancelled during the lockdown, and nearly a quarter are avoiding the NHS altogether, meaning that they're no longer managing their condition. As we now approach winter, when historic referral rates for lung disease admissions increase by 80 per cent, what actions will you now take, based on the recommendations from the report, to restore better access to basic care for thousands with a lung condition across Wales?
Last week, Macmillan Cancer Support launched their new report, 'The Forgotten 'C'? The impact of Covid-19 on cancer care', which detailed the diagnostic and treatment backlog that has developed. How do you therefore respond to the report's statement that the Welsh Government must prioritise and ring-fence cancer services during the second wave of the pandemic?
And, finally, further to your announcement that the border will be shut until the new lockdown in England ends on 2 December, what assurance can you give to Welsh students in term-time residence at universities in England that they will be able to come home to Wales for Christmas and the holiday season after university terms end early in December?
Well, Llywydd, I will, of course, investigate the specific point that Mark Isherwood makes about epilepsy and will write to him on that. The general answer to all his enquiries has to be this, hasn't it: that our ability to go on resuming activity in the Welsh NHS other than coronavirus is entirely contingent upon the extent to which we are able to turn back the tide of coronavirus itself. And there are things that each one of us are able to do to help persuade the public to take this matter seriously and to abide by the restrictions that we are asking them to abide by, because, if we don't, and if we do things that discourage people from taking it seriously and abiding by regulations, then all we do is guarantee that more people will catch this disease and all the opportunities that Mark Isherwood has asked me about will diminish rather than increase. So, I look forward to his support, his wholehearted support, and that of his party, in the efforts that we are making here in Wales. My party in London will vote for the restrictions that the Prime Minister is extending in England. It would be very good if we were able to rely on the same sort of support for the actions we are taking in Wales from his party.
As for the issue to do with Christmas, I was pleased to agree, in the COBRA meeting yesterday, that there should be a further rapid meeting between the four nations of the United Kingdom in order to plan together for the Christmas period in order to deal with exactly the sort of issues that Mark Isherwood raised about students living on either side of the border during term time having homes to which they wish to return. That is an issue on which I think a four-nation approach is sensible, and I'm glad that the UK Government has agreed that we will have the sort of regular pattern of engagement that I have been calling for for many, many months in order to be able to work towards such a common plan and approach.
Rhun ap Iorwerth. Rhun ap Iorwerth. There we are.
Sorry, I was waiting for the signal. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Thank you for the statement, First Minister. Thank you in particular for recognition of well-being issues, be that allowing gyms to reopen, which is so important for physical and mental health, and in particular, as well, I think, allowing single people to get together in very controlled circumstances. A number of issues—I'll run through them very, very quickly. I'm desperately worried about hospital transmission of the virus—currently, I think some 200 cases of transmission in hospitals in Wales over the past week. How much of a priority is it for Welsh Government to get to grips with that, which is so worrying in terms of undermining the confidence that we need to instil in people that they should continue to seek treatment for illnesses and so on?
On testing, I'll emphasise again my wish that we hear more about the developments that we need post this firebreak in order to make our testing system more robust. There are exciting advances in technology that need to be matched by exciting advances in policy as well. My daughter had a COVID test last week, got the test result back in 18 minutes. That's a game changer, and we need to know that that is the direction we're going for wholesale testing in Wales.
Treatments—you'll know that I spent a lot of time in the early months of the pandemic trying to argue the case for earlier intervention. I believed that lives were being lost because people were being told not to come forward until they were too ill. We have better treatments now—that's good—including things we argued for—continued positive airway pressure and oxygen treatment and so on. Do you think there's room for even more early intervention in order to avoid people getting quite so ill?
On hospitality, I'm glad we had clarity on what's happening in hospitality. Tourism is linked to hospitality, of course. Now, can you give us an idea of what we can expect or what should be allowed in terms of accommodation and attractions? We are clearly not inviting people to travel a long distance for tourism purposes, but you are recognising in opening hospitality that recreation is important. What can people expect in tourism? And I'm making the case again, whether it's tourism or other areas that are still not getting any support from Government in terms of financial assistance, please try to fill those gaps. I think what happened with the fund last week, closing within a day or two instead of being open for a month, has undermined confidence. Please look again at that, and make sure that businesses are given the support they need.
Equally rapidly, as I said, the chief executive of the NHS said things earlier today on hospital transmission, and I'll ask Members to look at what he said. I am concerned—I should have said it in answer to Mark Isherwood's question when he talked about people avoiding the NHS. I don't want us to head back to where we were back in April, when there was so much coronavirus in our hospitals that people didn't feel safe in going there for other purposes. That's yet another reason why we need to make the very most of this firebreak period and persuade people to behave in different ways beyond it.
On the technologies, as I've said, the health Minister will issue a statement later this week on some of those technological possibilities and how we are preparing for them. I too recognise what Rhun ap Iorwerth said about there being better treatments available in this second wave than in the first, and you can actually see that, I think, already, to an extent, in the slower path of people from hospital beds into critical care. We do have more people in critical care beds in Wales than we had three weeks ago, that's inevitable, but the rate at which hospital patients are converting into critical care patients is not what it was in the first wave, and that is because we have those additional treatments.
Of course I recognise the points that Rhun made about tourism as well as hospitality. Tourism will be able to resume in Wales, but it will inevitably be on the reduced basis that comes without our largest market, in the sense that the largest number of people who travel to Wales for tourism come from England, and that won't be happening over the next four weeks.
First Minister, has the coronavirus pandemic accelerated building a Welsh state? Before it started, many in Wales had little idea of the power you had over them. Indeed, many didn't know who you were. Now you are beamed into their living room and you decide when they can leave their house. Meanwhile, a previously barely visible border between Wales and England looms ever larger. From Monday, you are restoring internal freedom of movement within Wales but preventing movement in and out of Wales, as if Adam Price were already First Minister.
You claim this is because of COVID, but the prevalence of COVID differs much more within Wales than with England. You'll have no problem with my constituents in Merthyr, where the prevalence of COVID is high, visiting Monmouthshire, where it's low, yet you ban my constituents in Monmouthshire from travelling to nearby low-prevalence areas just because they're English. First Minister, you accuse Adam Price of wanting to separate us off, but isn't that what you are doing?
Llywydd, all I am doing is focusing on coronavirus. I don't share the obsessions that the Member has with all these other entirely irrelevant and erroneous contributions. Let him just for a minute, I think, just in one of the things that he says to the Senedd, focus on the lives that are being lost, the futures that are being blighted here in Wales, because of this desperate disease. Let him once in a while tell us something of his views on that instead of entertaining us in the way that he does with these theories that belong on the further fringes of Welsh public life, and hopefully, before too long, beyond the fringes.
Finally, Laura Jones. Laura Anne Jones. Can the mike be unmuted?
Just done it. Thank you.
Firstly, thank you, First Minister, for your statement, and thank you, Presiding Officer, for letting me sneak in at the end here. I'll try and keep it brief. I just want to firstly say, First Minister, I'm delighted that Alun Davies and Delyth Jewell have both also recognised the dire need to reopen the ERF phase 3 fund for businesses who were applying for £150,000 and are now being told to apply for mere grants of £2,000. It's obviously not going to cut it, so I thank you that you're now going to look into reopening that.
My question is, quickly, on grass-roots football. Your post-firebreak rule of 30, in terms of football, would mean 14 versus 14 on either side in a match, with one ref and one first aider, meaning one sub and no linesmen. For training purposes, that's fine, First Minister; for friendly matches, obviously not so good. But, from this rule of 30, do I assume that there is no intention to start grass-roots football seasons here in Wales? In England, obviously, as you know, grass-roots football seasons have started and are now on hold but with the intention of restarting them. So, could the First Minister just explain what discussions he's had with the Football Association of Wales on this, and whether the intention is to start those seasons, or not, as obviously our clubs need to know? Thank you.
Llywydd, I may not have been following the Member's question entirely closely; I thought that football was played with 11 a side and that, with 30, it would therefore be possible for a football match to take place. So, I may simply have misunderstood the point the Member was making, and apologise if that's the case.
What I want to say to her is that we promised a review after three weeks; that's a review of everything that we are putting in place beyond the firebreak period. If things are going in the right direction, if we can show that the firebreak has had the impact that it needs to have in turning back the tide and stopping people from being admitted to hospital and so on, then we will look to see where we can go further. If we're not in that position, then, inevitably, we will be unable to offer further relaxations in the way that we would like. But, in this area, as in all others, we will keep it under review, we will talk to the governing bodies in the way that Laura Anne Jones suggested and, as I said, in the end this just depends on us all. We can all do things that will mean that, two weeks beyond the firebreak, we can attend to some of the points that the Member makes. Or, we can all regard the firebreak being over as a chance to just forget that coronavirus exists and behave in ways that will just guarantee that it comes back with a vengeance and then nothing will be possible of the sort that she advocates.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Thank you very much, First Minister.
We move on to item 4 on the agenda this afternoon, which is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: strategic assistance for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. And I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I want to update Members today on the progress that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has made to address the issues that led it to be placed in special measures in 2015. Together with my officials and the health board, I remain focused on the work to secure ongoing sustainable improvements.
The heath board has recently submitted a comprehensive and balanced account of progress during the period of special measures escalation. This shows genuine progress but also insight and acceptance of areas for ongoing action and improvement. Areas of progress include the ability to drive improvement to lift some services out of special measures. Maternity services and out-of-hours services have both achieved this and are now part of the board’s ongoing improvement drive. Measures of quality, such as responding to concerns and infection prevention and control, demonstrate that historic performance issues have been addressed. The board now has a more structured approach to continuing assurance and improvement.
It is important to recognise the positive and sustained response to COVID-19 from the health board in the most difficult of circumstances. This reflects the improved resilience and ability to deliver. The health board has provided an honest assessment of areas for ongoing action and improvement that coincide with the views of the recent meeting of tripartite partners, including: the need to further improve leadership and governance; the development of a long-term integrated clinical services strategy; further strengthening leadership capacity within mental health to enhance stability and resilience; the development of a robust three-year financial plan to meet its financial duties as part of the integrated medium-term plan; the need to finalise and implement a revised accountability and performance framework, and deliver improvements in performance, particularly in the acute sector.
Whilst many other health organisations have related issues to address, as Members are aware, they are more long-standing for north Wales and performance is disproportionately poor in respect of high-profile areas, such as referral to treatment and accident and emergency, demonstrating a need to enable recurrent and longer term solutions. To address these long-standing challenges, I have decided that a different approach for the next phase of improvement is required. I will, therefore, provide strategic longer term funding for key service and performance issues. This will enable the health board to move away from short-term actions and make progress on medium and longer term planning that translates into an approvable plan.
I have already confirmed the position on NHS historical deficits and cash support that will benefit the outlook for the health board. To enable further progress, I am today announcing a package of strategic assistance support for the next three and half years. This assistance will provide a different set of parameters that will enable the health board to reset and plan sustainably for the future, to meet the health needs of the people of north Wales. It will include: cover for the deficit of up to £40 million a year; funding to improve unscheduled care and build a sustainable planned care programme, including orthopaedics, of £30 million a year; £12 million a year to support performance improvement and implementation of the mental health strategy in partnership; and support to build broader capability and capacity in the organisation.
The support for this strategic approach will be on the basis that the health board continues to build on existing partner relationships and fully engages with the public, staff, trade unions and wider partners. The essential first step will be to work in partnership to build a sustainable vision for the future, leading to a medium-term plan, focusing on prevention, physical and mental well-being, population health and, of course, primary and secondary care services.
I recognise this as a priority area for investment. It is therefore my intention to continue this support for the years 2021-22 through to, and including, 2023-24. It will involve a revised improvement framework and development of a maturity-matrix approach to assess progress. In addition, Members will be aware that I issued a written statement informing Members that I will establish a task and finish group to make recommendations to me on a proposal for a north Wales medical school.
This support that I'm announcing today will help to bring about transformation and innovation, leading to improved outcomes, patient experience and financial performance year on year. It is a clear demonstration of our growing confidence in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's ability to further improve and deliver the high standard of services and care that the people of north Wales have every right to expect. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement and for sharing an advance copy with us. Can I first of all, Deputy Presiding Officer, put on record a tribute to the staff in the NHS in north Wales, who I think have been doing an absolutely sterling job to be able to cope under some very difficult circumstances as a result of the COVID pandemic? It's not always easy, particularly at times like these, but they have stepped up to the plate and really are delivering on behalf of my constituents and the constituents of other representatives in this Senedd, and I want to applaud them for their work.
It's been over five years now—we're into the sixth year of the special measures regime here in north Wales—and many people are very unhappy that it's taken this long to try and sort the problems out there. We know that the Welsh Government announced, when the health board went into special measures, that there would be a suite of 100-day plans to try and turn performance around. Well, it's actually feeling a little bit more like the 100-year war in terms of making progress there. The Minister alluded to the fact that the maternity services and GP out-of-hours services have both been taken out of the special measures regime, and I welcome the fact that they've been taken out, but we must not forget that it was as a result of the public marching on the streets that we saw the improvements in those maternity services and the security of the maternity services, particularly at Glan Clwyd Hospital, the hospital that serves my own constituency and, indeed, the constituents of yours, Deputy Presiding Officer.
In terms of leadership as well at the health board, we've had something of a revolving door. We've seen chief executives come and go, we've seen finance directors come and go, we've seen mental health leaders come and go, and it really has been a little bit of a shambles. So, I really do hope that the new incoming chief executive, when she arrives in the new year, will be someone who is able to stick around, really get to grips with these problems and deal with them once and for all.
Now, if I can also take the opportunity today to really welcome this additional investment in north Wales from the Welsh Government. I have always said that I think that there's been a structural deficit, which the organisation in north Wales inherited when it merged with the other health organisations in the region, when it was set up. I do believe that the additional £40 million a year over the next three years will help it to get to grips with some of those problems that it's not been able to get to grips with because of a lack of resource and funding. Can I ask the Minister whether this funding of £40 million is an acknowledgement that there's a structural deficit, and if it is, whether that's something that will continue beyond these three years? We know that structural deficits have been identified in other significantly sized health boards—Hywel Dda in particular—and that funding was made available on a permanent basis there, and I do think there's a case to make this additional £40 million available on a permanent basis rather than just for a three-year period.
Again, I welcome the £30 million that's being made available to try to help performance in terms of emergency services, and indeed to get to grips with the referral-to-treatment time waiting lists as well, but again, I'm not sure whether £30 million will actually completely deal with that problem or eradicate it. I know that the health board has got proposals that it's bringing forward that will require some capital investment in order to get to grips with some of these issues, particularly with referral-to-treatment times, which have absolutely spiraled out of control over the past few months because of the pandemic, but were already in very, very bad shape even prior to that, with people waiting for two years typically for orthopaedic surgery. So, can you tell us, Minister, in addition to this resource of £30 million to support unplanned and elective surgery, whether there will also be some additional capital investment that you'll be able to make in things like robotic surgery, which we don't have at the moment for urology patients in north Wales, and indeed in terms of helping to clear that backlog, perhaps with diagnostic and treatment centres that are separate from the services currently provided on our existing hospital sites?
And just finally, if I can turn to the mental health part of the statement today, obviously we know that there have been serious concerns about mental health services in north Wales for some time. We've seen some poor judgment used by the health board with 1,600 patients that were discharged from primary care services. I know that there's going to be some change—and there has been some change—in the leadership of the mental health directorate within the board, but it is obviously essential that we can have some confidence going forward that these services are an absolute priority. The Welsh Government has obviously taken a decision to invest in a new mental health unit at Glan Clwyd Hospital, which I'm very pleased to see and which is now in train, but I am concerned that obviously it's not just money on buildings that's required here; we do need to change the culture within the health board to make sure that people can get the services that they need. How confident are you that you'll be able to secure the sort of turnaround leadership for our mental health services in north Wales that we so desperately need to see? Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Thank you for the questions. I'll start with your final point on mental health. The health board has its own strategy that it has developed together with partners outside of the health service, 'Together for Mental Health in North Wales'. That sets out an approach to continuing the transformation and improvement of mental health services and we've had good feedback from partner organisations that the health board really did look to co-produce that strategy, and that's come about because of the change in leadership that took place after special measures were introduced. So, there has been progress and improvement in mental health services and the money that I have announced for the next three and a half years is to further drive that improvement forward. We'll continue to measure and monitor the progress; it's a key factor in all the tripartite conversations that take place between, as the Member will know, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, the Wales Audit Office and the chief exec of NHS Wales, not just to consider north Wales, but each organisation when considering their escalation status.
In terms of the other questions, it's positive to hear Darren Millar welcome today's investment decision. On the suggestion that there is a structural deficit of £40 million, that isn't where we are. This is a recognition of the fact that we need to enable the health board to be able to move forward and to plan for the future. They have made more progress in becoming a more efficient organisation, so they have made progress in their financial management, but to allow them to get on with the longer term planning they need to do, we are resolving some of the issues. And in reference to Hywel Dda, we did give significant support to Hywel Dda in a multi-year package that allowed that organisation to move forward, and it is now positively in a better position than it was three to four years ago. So, the choice we made there has paid dividends not just for the leadership of the health service, but, much more importantly, for the staff and the public that they serve, and we're now in a position to make a similar investment choice over a multiple number of years for the people of north Wales.
We have already undertaken a review of the allocation formula to update the Townsend formula, and so we're in a position where we're going to use it for future allocations in the general formula, and that will reflect the assessment of need that exists in different parts of Wales. That looks at a range of factors, and we've had engagement with the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee previously about that review, so you can expect to see the growth in healthcare change in line with that updated allocation formula.
In terms of your point about capital, it's already the case that the health board are developing plans for a diagnostic treatment centre and a range of other service areas, but, as with every health board, we have a business case assessment process, we need to review that on a case-by-case basis and see that as part of the overall plan for the organisation. So, I do anticipate that some of the service transformation may well require capital moneys to be spent. But, actually, we've demonstrated our willingness to spend significant amounts of capital on the health service in north Wales. You'll recall the recent report into the significant money spent on Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, but on other projects too. That has highlighted improvements we have made in our business case assessment process and we need to continue doing that. So, I'm not in a position to give an open-ended commitment to capital, but, as I say, there's a recognition in making this decision that there may well be a need to have capital spending to go alongside the service improvement plans and the money that I've allocated on a revenue basis for the next three and a half years.
Thanks to the Minister for this statement today. The first thing I will say is I'm very pleased when I hear of any improvements that are being made in the performance of health boards, wherever that might be in Wales. But I must say, this does read largely like any one of the statements that we have heard over the past five and a half years since the board was put into special measures. I think there must be a template somewhere that has been fetched off the shelf; again, some improvements have been made, but there are still major issues that still need addressing with Betsi Cadwaladr, and I'm not seeing in this statement, certainly, the evidence even to back up the claims that real improvements are being made, so I'd appreciate some more clarity on what is happening. And of course, when you do hear of major issues still in referral-to-treatment and accident and emergency, we're talking about hugely important elements of the health board in the north that are problematic five and a half years on from going into special measures.
I've made my position clear: I think there has been enough of an opportunity to try to turn things around for Betsi Cadwaladr. I think it's time for a fresh start with a new structure for health in the north. I know far too many health workers in the north; I respect them and the work that they are doing in difficult circumstances, and the messages I get from them saying, 'Thank you so much for saying that we need a fresh start.' That's my belief. But, for the time being, of course I welcome additional funding. I also question whether it makes sense to put a time limit on some of the fundamental increases that are being suggested here, and I ask the Minister: does he think now, following the review that has led to this statement today, that there has been a basic error in setting the baseline for funding the health service in the north of Wales? I'm certainly of that opinion and would like to hear the Minister's latest thinking on that.
Finally, we have news of a task and finish group to make recommendations on a proposal for the north Wales medical school. If the good people of Ynys Môn decide that they don't want me to represent them in the Senedd after next May, that is probably the one campaign that I'll be very pleased that we were successful in—in making sure that we move towards the introduction of undergraduate medical training at Bangor University. Let's not dither too much now. I know this Government likes its task and finish groups, but let's make sure that this is a group that decides on the detail of how we move ahead with the establishment of a full medical school for the north of Wales. We need it for the future of the workforce here in the north, and it's something that hopefully we can all agree needs to be pursued now with some urgency.
I simply don't agree with the opening statement that the Member makes that this reads like any one of the statements in the last five and a half years. There have been various points in time where statements over the last five and half years have been much more downbeat about where we have been. The fact is that, at various points in time, maternity and out-of-hours have come out, which shows that this has been progress over time. We've also had challenges over financial management and performance over this time, so it just simply isn't the case that we're taking a statement off the peg. And it really doesn't reflect the tripartite escalation statement that was introduced, where the external views of HIW and the Wales Audit Office were taken account of, and their assessment is that the health board has made real and definable progress.
I simply don't agree with the Member on his plan to break up the health service in north Wales. I think that over the next term, to say that a health board that has dealt well with the COVID pandemic would then need to turn in on itself to consider how it would reallocate different jobs and services would be entirely the wrong thing to do. But the Member is entitled to his view and people will decide what vision they want for healthcare in north Wales and the rest of the country.
On the point about the time limit and whether there's a fundamental error in the baseline, in answer to Darren Millar's questions I indicated that we have already reviewed the allocation formula. The Member should be aware of that, following his participation in the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee. I'm happy to circulate another note to that committee to confirm where we are with the allocation formula, if that's helpful to provide clarity. And in terms of the time limit, we took a similar approach in Hywel Dda, in Powys, indeed, before, but also with Cardiff and Vale and, indeed, Swansea Bay health board, where we provided moneys for a limited period of time to help deliver improvement. That 'something for something' approach has worked well in those areas, and so I don't think it's a mistake to provide a time limit indication for the length of time this strategic support will be available for.
On the medical school, I think that the fact that we're able to take this forward, the fact that we had a much more worked through and credible proposal that was worked up between Bangor University in particular and the health board, but also with the buy-in and support from other significant partners in north Wales, is a real demonstration of the improvement in partnership working. It would not have been that long ago that you would not have expected north Wales partners to have come together to deliver a genuine north Wales plan with whole north Wales buy-in for a significant development like this. It's a good indication of improved activity from the health board and its partners, and I believe that bodes well for the future. And, of course, I want to have a returned view from a task and finish group that will allow me to make choices within this Senedd term, so we can actually provide some sort of plan for the future, but I will need to see what the recommendations of that task and finish group are. And, of course, I have already announced that, Deputy Presiding Officer, in a previous written statement.
I'd like to start this contribution by sending my condolences to the staff at Wrexham Maelor, who recently lost their colleague Wilbert Llobrera in a hit-and-run outside the hospital. My thoughts are with his wife and daughter.
I've mentioned before how special measures have clearly become business as usual for the north Wales health board. You denied them then, you will probably deny them again today. Out of interest, I have had a look at the published announcements relating to Betsi over the years of this Senedd term. In 2016, positive progress; 2018, escalation, review and additional support; also in 2018, £6.8 million to improve performance. And so it goes on.
I'd like to say I welcome this statement today and the use of the word 'strategic'—that's a new one, after all. However, I have little confidence that anything will really change. Just two questions to you for today, Minister—[Interruption.] Sorry about that. Two questions for you today, Minister: when will you try something fundamentally different to get this board on its feet and when will the people of north Wales get the service they deserve and pay for? Thank you.
Thank you for your comments, and I admire your ability not to properly swear when interrupted. In terms of the challenge that the health board faces, I think we should have more confidence in their ability to deliver. That comes from the tripartite review, and I wouldn't be making this significant and different approach in announcing an investment package of this sort over three and a half years if there wasn't more confidence they'll be able to make good on the plan they have. It's about the level of insight, understanding and acceptance of their need to improve. It's also the fact that partner organisations in north Wales are in a much better place in terms of their confidence in the health board. Nothing is perfect in any partnership or relationship, when it comes to it, as those of us who have other views on partnership working in other fields of life, partners need to come together to work through difficulties as well as coming to agree matters. They're in a much more mature place in north Wales, and they have done that over the last couple of years, so that's a good thing. There is more confidence. This is a fundamentally different approach. In terms of the point about when people will have the service they deserve, that is exactly the whole point of making this choice today and delivering this statement to the Senedd. I believe that people in north Wales deserve high-quality health and care services, and this is about enabling the health board to play its part with more confidence and a greater capacity to deliver the care that every citizen in Wales deserves.
I do want to finish, Deputy Llywydd, by sharing my own condolences for the nurse from the Maelor who lost their life in a hit-and-run recently. It's a marker that there are always challenges, but we don't expect our staff to lose their lives in these circumstances. I know it's had an impact on friends and colleagues within work and outside as well. So, my best wishes and condolences to the family and all of those who are grieving the loss at this time.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales on the future of rail and details of the new arrangements. And I call on the Minister to make the statement—Ken Skates.
Diolch, Llywydd. I would like to provide more information to Members on the new arrangements for the Wales and borders rail service and the delivery model Transport for Wales will be implementing.
COVID-19 has created serious challenges for public transport operators, challenges that the whole rail franchising system right across the United Kingdom has not been able to withstand. Despite these challenges, we remain absolutely committed to delivering our ambitious vision for a high-quality, low carbon and integrated public transport network right across Wales. We'll set out more detail on this vision with the launch of the consultation on our new Wales transport strategy, which I am planning for 16 November.
We have provided, and will continue to provide, significant financial support to the sector to ensure that services continue to operate so that those who depend on public transport are able to continue to use these services.
The impact on passenger revenue, which before COVID-19 provided roughly half of the funding needed to operate our services, requires us to take urgent action. We need to ensure that we have a stable contractual basis to deliver on our key commitments of the creation of the metro, the delivery of brand-new rolling stock and the decarbonisation of our public transport network.
Transport for Wales have now agreed the fundamentals of a new relationship between themselves and Keolis and Amey, which will provide a new robust delivery model. We are taking the urgent action necessary to protect services, to safeguard jobs and to deliver the ambitious metro programme. At this point, though, I do need to emphasise that we are still negotiating the particulars of the contract with our partners, so I'm sure Members will understand that I can't be too specific about commercially sensitive details at this stage.
The rail services that passengers use will, from February of next year, be operated by a new publicly owned subsidiary of Transport for Wales. The new publicly owned company has obtained its own safety licence and will be subject to safety and other regulation by the Office of Rail and Road, in exactly the same way as all other rail operators. We're taking public sector control over the day-to-day operation and delivery of rail services, to balance the need for best value for money for the taxpayer and to ensure the continuation of our vital rail services.
As well as protecting the delivery of rail services, we have also taken steps to secure the continued transformation of the core Valleys lines and ensure the building of the south Wales metro. This work will continue to be delivered by Amey Keolis Infrastructure Ltd, and a new partnership with KeolisAmey, led by Transport for Wales, will be established to help with the delivery of important commitments such as integrated ticketing and the ongoing integration of light and heavy rail. This is a necessary step that we have to take now to ensure the stability and ongoing operation of our rail services. We will continue to operate our rail services in this way, with our new public sector delivery model, for the foreseeable future.
We are still waiting for the UK Government to publish their long-promised Williams rail review. I expect this to recommend both greater public sector involvement in rail, and that we are finally given the powers and fair funding settlement we need to deliver rail services and rail infrastructure in Wales. The current crisis means that this need is greater than ever now.
As Members are aware, last month I wrote to the UK Secretary of State setting out the historic underinvestment in rail and the potential impact from HS2 on the Welsh economy. There is a fundamental need to reconsider the comparability factor under Barnett for the future consequentials in relation to HS2. Our ability to turn the misfortunes of the rail industry in Wales around and to encourage new passengers onto services in the future is dependent on fair and adequate investment in the infrastructure, to open up new routes, to increase service frequencies and to improve capacity.
Members will also recall that the UK Government's contention is that, unlike Crossrail, which is an England-only project, HS2 is in fact an England and Wales project. There will be no direct HS2 services benefiting Wales. According to HS2's own figures, HS2 will cause a net £150 million annual damage to the economy of Wales. As a result of the classification as an England and Wales project, we will get nothing from the £100 billion of UK taxpayer expenditure on a project that damages Wales. Scotland, who will receive direct benefits from the project, will get a share of the £100 billion. A fair share of the £100 billion would certainly allow us to transform the railways in Wales.
Now, I must be clear that we expect that the impact and the extent of this crisis on our public finances will be felt for some time. We've already provided up to £105 million of additional funding to run our rail services during this emergency period, and we'll probably need to make available a further £62 million of funding for the operation of services up until the end of March next year. This additional funding is essential to provide sufficient services and capacity within a reduced timetable to meet the travel needs of key workers and those with other essential travel needs, such as pupils and students returning to schools and colleges.
In the longer term, while passenger demand remains at significantly reduced levels, we are likely to have to continue to make some difficult choices. Now, the operation of rail services will continue to suffer from a significant reduction in revenue until we are able to fully welcome passengers back onto our public transport network. We'll need to take decisions about resource availability, operational costs and the potential of continuing to offer a reduced level of service until demand and passenger revenues increase again. However, we will take the steps necessary to ensure that key workers and those that depend on public transport will continue to be able to make the journeys they need to. I can assure Members that I will keep them updated on the work we are doing and the choices that we will face with the delivery of rail services in Wales.
Can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon, and for the advance copy as well, which was appreciated? I am a bit disappointed, Minister, that you haven't brought forward a statement on the last Wednesday before half-term. Instead, I and Members had to read about it later that day in the media. But it would be useful if you could set out why you weren't able to bring forward a statement to the Senedd before the half-term period.
From my perspective, people generally don't care who runs a train service, or what name is on the side of a train; they tend to care more about the service, they tend to care about whether the train is going to arrive on time, or is it going to arrive at all, are they able to get Wi-Fi, are they able to find a clean toilet or a toilet at all on the train. These are some of the issues that passengers tend to care about, rather than who is running the service. But Welsh Government's decision to take control of the operation, regardless of the right or wrongs of that, doesn't fill me with great optimism. I think of Cardiff Airport and the cost implications for the Government and the risk associated with that, and this is on a whole new level in terms of taking on the operation of rail.
Now, it's the cost implications that I think we do need to have answers on, and I'm specifically thinking of the long-term costs of the decision that you've made. Putting aside the rights and wrongs, you've made the decision and there are going to be huge cost implications for not just your Government department, but across the whole of Government. When I raised this with you 10 days or two weeks ago at the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister, you said that you're going to be working through the cost implications as part of those detailed negotiations, and that when you made the oral statement in two weeks' time, which is now, you'd be able to provide us with the costs moving forward. I appreciate your statement today talks about not being able to do that at this stage, because negotiations are still going on and you're asking Members to have patience with that process because of the commercial sensitivities, but perhaps you could tell us when you will be in a position to conclude those negotiations and answer questions around the costs. Ultimately, tell us, Minister, what it is that you won't be spending money on in the future to meet the costs of this decision two weeks ago.
Perhaps you could also tell us, Minister, what other options were Welsh Government and you considering before reaching this decision—what were your other thought processes? What were the other options on the table? Perhaps you could talk about those. Also, what are the Welsh Government's long-term aspirations in terms of public ownership of rail services in Wales? Is it the case that, ultimately, you believe that it will stay in public ownership and be operated by Welsh Government, or do you envisage that the operation will go back to private ownership at some time in the future?
And finally, and probably back to my opening comments, really, passengers care about the implications of the service for them, so what are the implications in terms of new rolling stock and station improvements, which, of course, are what passengers and the public particularly care about?