National Assembly for Wales Plenary 04.07.18

Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I call Members to order.
Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to
the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, and the first question is from Lynne Neagle.
Lynne Neagle AM: 1. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the impact of Brexit
on the automotive industry? OAQ52464 Ken Skates AM: Can I thank the Member for
her keen interest in this particular subject, and assure her that we’re in regular dialogue
with both the Welsh Automotive Forum and the national sector bodies on the potential impact
of Brexit? Based upon these discussions, and based on daily interaction with Welsh automotive
companies, my officials continue to assess the potential scenarios.
Lynne Neagle AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I’m very proud that I’ve got hundreds of constituents
employed in highly skilled, well-paid and unionised jobs in manufacturing in the automotive
sector in Torfaen. I’m sure that, like me, you’ll have seen numerous warnings from experts
that Brexit, especially Brexit where we leave the customs union and single market, poses
a very severe threat to automotive manufacturing in particular. Can I ask youóyou mentioned
assessmentsóto provide some detail on the assessments that you’ve made of a likely risk
to the automotive sector, and what steps your Government is taking urgently to try and mitigate
those risks, given what we know about just how competitive automotive manufacturing is
and how dependent it is on just-in-time manufacturing principles? Thank you.
Ken Skates AM: Can I thank Lynne Neagle again for making an important point about just-in-time
delivering? This is something that the outgoing Confederation of British Industry director
recently talked of in the context of Brexit. And the Member is absolutely rightóthere
are hundreds of her constituents employed in the automotive sector in Torfaen, and there
are 19,000 people across Wales employed in this crucial sector, and crucial because it
contributes over £3.5 billion worth of revenue to the economy. Across the UK, there are more
than 800,000 people employed in the automotive industry. Very recently, the likes of BMW
and other major employers have been talking about their concerns over Brexit. Now, we’ve
been working with Cardiff Business School, as well as with the Welsh automotive forum,
and with sector bodies across the UK, to assess the likely impact of Brexit scenarios on the
automotive industry. There are some factors that we could mitigate, but many are out of
our control, and that’s why it gives us very grave concern that the UK Government, and
the Cabinet particularly, have not reached an agreed position on a customs union.
Suzy Davies AM: Cabinet Secretary, you’ll remember our exchanges in this Chamber over
the concerns of the 1,000 or so jobs that could be lost if new opportunities aren’t
found for the Ford factory in Bridgend, in my region. And in our cross-party meeting
with the Ford staff, at that time, Brexit wasn’t their main concern, although I suspect
it may be more of a concern now; it was, rather, their relationship with the American market.
And of course, with President Trump’s announcement on tariffs, you can see why this is now an
immediate worry. As Welsh Government has invested heavily in offices around the world now, I
wonder whether you can explain what those offices have been able to do in the meantime
in order to expand opportunities for Ford across the globe. Thank you.
Ken Skates AM: Well, we’re in active discussions with other employers concerning utilising
the Ford site in Bridgend and in terms of growing the automotive sector in Wales. Of
course, Brexit, and the uncertainties concerning Brexit, are an inhibiting factor in terms
of being able to attract investment. However, through our new offices not just in north
America, but across Europe, we are discussing with major automotive companies the potential
to see investment come to Wales. There is also, of course, the other challenge that
we’ve discussed at that group, which concerns the need to transition to a decarbonised economy,
and in particular ensure that as many UK-based automotive manufacturers move towards hybrid
and electric power trends, and ensure that they see the challenge of producing diesel-only
engines in terms of the likely impact that the targets that the UK Government has set
out will have on their employers. So, there are three main challenges that we need to
overcome: one, the known and as yet unknown consequences of Brexit; two, the American
market of course, and developing the supply chain within the UK to take advantage of any
possible opportunities presented by Brexit; and then three, ensuring that manufacturers
embrace the decarbonisation agenda and the move towards ultra-low emissions vehicles.
Neil Hamilton AM: I’m sure the Cabinet Secretary will agree with me that no sensible person
wants to see tariffs on imports and exports of cars between Britain and the EU. In the
unhappy event that the European Commission continues to block proposals for a free trade
deal, it would be the EU that would come off worst because they export £3.9 billion-worth
of cars to us; we export only £1.3 billion to them, and half the cars that are exported
to Britain from the EU are from Germany alone. Has he seen that Rupert Stadler, the chairman
of Audi, has said that there will be no winners if a trade deal wasn’t struck between the
EU and the UK, and it would cost jobs in Germany as well as Britain, and that Lutz Meschke
from Porsche cars says failure to strike a deal would put German jobs at risk? And, of
course, as a result of the Trump tariff plans, there would be massive problems created for
the European car manufacturers, and that’s because the EU imposes a 10 per cent tariff
on cars imported from the US, whereas the US imposes only a 2.5 per cent tariff at the
moment. So, it’s the EU’s protectionism and their own negotiating intransigence that produces
these potential problems. Ken Skates AM: Look, nobody wins in the scenario
that we have no agreed deal, based on the negotiations that have taken place. I think
one area in which the Member is absolutely right in his assessment is in saying that
this shouldn’t just be a debate about who is going to be the worst loser and ensuring
that the UK is not the worst loser. In order to ensure that we all benefit to the maximum,
and that we all lose the least, we have to have a very pragmatic approach to negotiations,
and that pragmatic approach means that the Prime Minister has to drop those red lines
that she’s embraced over many months and adopt a position that serves the purpose of sustaining
employment. And that means continued participation in a customs union and free and unfettered
access to the single market. We’ve been consistent now for some time in our position, and I would
hope that, eventually, the UK Government and its Cabinet will adopt that position too.
Dawn Bowden AM: 2. How will investment in rail and metro services benefit the Merthyr
Tydfil and Rhymney constituency? OAQ5245 Ken Skates AM: Local people will be better
connected and will be able to take advantage of job, health and leisure opportunities.
The metro will deliver four trains per hour to each of the Heads of the Valleys communities
north of Cardiff Queen Street, from 2022 for Merthyr, and from 2023 for Rhymney.
Dawn Bowden AM: Thank you for that information, which sets out the clear benefits as we deliver
the 2016 manifesto commitment in this regard. In the recent report by the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation, entitled ‘Effective housing for people on low incomes in the Welsh Valleys’,
there was a recommendationóit was recommendation 3 in factóto improve access to employment.
And the report states that employment-related initiatives can only be effective if they
lead to decent, sustainable employment, and, in certain parts of Valleys, which I believe
must include places like the upper Rhymney valley, that will require significant economic
renewal. Now, given that there are only limited opportunities to directly intervene for the
economic well-being of these communities, it seems to me that when the Welsh Government
holds the levers of economic power, as with investment in the rail franchise and metro,
we must make sure that our more isolated communities, like the upper Rhymney valley, are the direct
beneficiaries of these projects. Can I therefore ask you, Cabinet Secretary, what you will
do to ensure that this happens? Ken Skates AM: Well, I’d agree entirely with
the Member that transport has a crucial role to play in regeneration and growing the economy
not just in established centres of wealth, but also in more deprived areas. And Rhymney
will see investment in a new bay platform, will see investment in track stabling and
charging points and enhanced light maintenance. And this will support the more and bigger
trains that will be coming down the line, and it’s also in addition to the four services
an hour from 2023. But I’m pleased to be able to tell the Member that light maintenance
of the rolling stock will be undertaken at the Rhymney stabling facilities, providing,
as she rightly identifies, the opportunity for employment in the future.
Mark Reckless AM: Residents in the upper Valleys have often told me that one of the greatest
barriers to travelling to Cardiff to seek work is not the frequency of service or necessarily
the speed, but the cost. So, from that perspective, can I really welcome the agreement between
Welsh Government and the new franchise holder to reduce the fares from the upper Valleys,
and can I ask the Cabinet Secretary will that apply in reverse for people travelling from
Cardiff up to Merthyr for work or otherwise, and will it also apply to people coming from
the upper Valleys to Newport? Ken Skates AM: Yes, the aim with flatlining
is to make sure that those who are accessing opportunities or coming from those communities
at the Heads of the Valleys pay less, making sure that we bring a degree of equality of
opportunity in terms of access and job opportunities. It’s worth saying that one of the major barriers
facing people who are not in work is the cost and availability of transport, and I identified
one particular statistic that is of great concern to me and that is that 20 per cent
of young people in the north-east of Wales are unable to get to their job interviews
because they can’t afford or access public transport. That is not acceptable in the twenty-first
century, and I think the concessionary schemes and the flatlining agreement that we’ve reached
with the operator and development partner are crucial in ensuring that everybody has
access to employment opportunities. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Questions now from
the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM: Thank you very much. Before I start, I will explain that these
are questions to you, not the Minister for heritage or the Minister for the Welsh language.
I’d like to start by congratulating all of those businesses that have a healthy and constructive
attitude towards the Welsh language, not only because they support the language and our
culture but because they see a value in using the language in their businesses. But, of
course, there are exceptions. So, given the insulting comments made by one company, which
I won’t name, about the language over the last few days, do you believe that we can
always rely on goodwill among private companies to respect and use the Welsh language?
Ken Skates AM: I don’t think we can necessarily rely on goodwill alone; I think what it requires
is goodwill, a degree of co-operation with Welsh Government, but also a recognition that
if you are to be successful in business, particularly in the retail sectoróand the company that
the Member has not named is part of the retail sectoróyou need to engage with the community
upon which you, basically, survive. If you’re alienating a significant proportion of that
community, you should not expect their custom. And so, it makes not just good business sense
to adopt and embrace the Welsh language, but I think it also makes good commercial sense,
because you can add value to your product and your services by using something that
is unique, and the language is absolutely unique to Wales.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM: That’s entirely right. Also, in highlighting those businesses that
are already working positively, it strikes me that those businesses themselves should
be used to encourage other businesses to be more positive towards the language, particularly
bearing in mind the major contribution that the private sector can make in terms of reaching
the target of a million Welsh speakers. Why, therefore, might I ask, was there no appeal
for businesses to extend their support and use of the Welsh language as one of the core
calls to action of your economic strategy, particularly where companies have been in
receipt of Government funds? Ken Skates AM: Of course, with the economic
contract, that’s designed to drive inclusive growth and then the calls to action is a new
lens through which we’ll be supporting businesses, intended to drive down the productivity gap
between ourselves and many European countries. Within the economic contract, which is, I
repeat, designed to drive inclusive growth, there is a certain point in the criteria to
promote fair work, and fair work means that we have to ensure that people have access
to good-quality jobs and that they’re able to utilise their skills, and that includes,
of course, being able to speak in the tongue that people choose to speak. I think the economic
contract, in driving inclusive growth, won’t just be of benefit in terms of reducing the
gap in inequality in terms of wealth and well-being, but it will also be of assistance in making
sure that we reduce the gap between those people who are working or living in Welsh-speaking
communities, often in more rural and deprived areas, and those more successful economies
in intensely urban areas. Rhun ap Iorwerth AM: I think you’re rightóthere
is reference in the economic strategy to using economic development to grow and develop the
language, but there’s no reference there to how the language itself can boost economic
growth. I chaired a recent meeting of Wales International, the cross-party group, and
we looked at a report from the British Council on soft power and how to make the most of
our soft power. It made a number of recommendations, and interesting ones. One thing that really
strengthened Scotland’s soft power abroad was the fact that it had had a referendum
on independence recentlyóand I trust we’ll have one in Wales before too long as wellóbut
it was about boosting that nation’s identity. And another thing that it said as a recommendation
was that we should highlight those things that make us stand out from the rest of the
UK, and there’s an obvious one, which is the Welsh language. Isn’t there, therefore, much
more that Government can do to use the language and the fact that it makes us stand out and
be different as a tool for growing our economy in Wales?
Ken Skates AM: I’d agree entirely, and I think the example of the Euros is perfect in demonstrating
how the attention of an entire continentóactually, the entire worldócan focus on a small country
and focus in on what its unique attributes are. In the case of the Euros, the Welsh language
was being spoken very far and wide, and giving us that added value. But I’m delighted to
be able to say that we will be looking at a specific project in Wales that will examine
the potential of the Welsh language in driving economic development. That will be the Arfor
project, which has been proposed by Adam Price, and which will be taken forward by this Government.
Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Conservatives’ spokesperson, Suzy Davies.
Suzy Davies AM: Diolch, Llywydd. Weinidog, thank you for visiting Neath abbey and the
ironworks very recently with Jeremy Miles and me. I have to say the friends were delighted
that you took the trouble to come and see them, so that they could show you the hard
work that they’ve been doing, promoting and looking after that site, even though they
don’t own it. Obviously, it’s owned by the local authority.
Tourism is one of the strands of the Valleys taskforce work, and I know that you agree
with me and the friends that these sites, along with other culturally-significant sites
in the Neath and Dulais valleys, have huge tourism potential. So, how can the Welsh Government
help us to capitalise on the growth in wealth coming from the city deal, and promote Neath
tourism as a coherent offer? And have you considered further a Resilience-style programme
to help support community groups, like the friends of the ironworks, to manage and even
assume full responsibility for some of our important cultural sites?
Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: I really enjoyed my visit to the abbey and to the ironworksó
David Melding AM: Neath abbey. Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: Yes, Mynachlog Nedd
in Welsh. I had better respond to Suzy in Welsh.
Suzy Davies AM: Why not? Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: I very much enjoyed
my visit. It was wonderful to see the quality of the work already done on the abbey, in
bringing the building back to a safe stateónot all of it, but parts of it, certainly. Of
course, we didn’t see the most excellent works because they haven’t yet been completed, but
I am sure that it is being done to the highest possible standard.
The way that Cadw works is that we collaborate as an organisation. It continues to be part
of the Welsh Government, but it is independently managed within Government. Before too very
long, there will be a further advertisement to appoint a chair and board for Cadw, and
then I hope that that board will be able to continue with the work of collaborating with
communities who have already demonstrated their care for their own heritage. There’s
been a very good example recently, where we took possession of a castle in Caergwrle and
Hope from the community council, and negotiations are ongoing for the volunteers who looked
after the area surrounding the castle to continue to do that whilst the professionals working
for Cadw, as contractors, can look after the monuments.
So, we very much appreciate the support that we receive from volunteers. I will ensure,
in any plans developed for cleaning and adapting, particularly the ironworks, which have such
great historical significance in terms of building steamboats and so on in Wales, that
that work will continue, and that the volunteers will continue to co-operate.
Suzy Davies AM: Well, thank you very much for that. Actually, I’m really pleased with
the answer because, when we have so many individuals in our communities who really want to buy
into the places in which they live, and help keep them strong and sustainable, we shouldn’t
overlook the opportunities for doing that. Last weekend was, of course, Armed Forces
Day, and I know that many of us here will have been paying our respects to serving and
former armed forces personnel in our own ways. The Welsh Conservatives pledged to create
a multi-site national military museum for Wales, building on, and including, existing
museums. This would be an opportunity not just to show our veterans and serving personnel
how much they mean to us, and to celebrate their achievements, but to examine wider questions
about conflict and the changing nature of warfare, and the work of the forces in peacekeeping
and non-military work as well. Last year, the UK Government committed £2 million to
support a museum of military medicine in Wales. A museum of football is on the table here
in Wales. What’s your view on a national military museum for Wales?
Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: I’ve not considered this question because I am still awaiting
a report on one further proposal, which is a contemporary art gallery, and I will consider
that when I receive the report. There are, of course, a number of elements of our military
traditions that are already commemorated. Various parts of the armed forces do have
small museums of their own. There is a museum, as you will know, within Cardiff castleóthe
Firing Line. I used to be connected to that museum before I took this role, so I’m very
happy to look at the possibilities, but that would have to be a partnership with the armed
forces themselves, if we were to receive artefacts or historical evidence for any exhibitions
of that kind or any museum of that kind. I haven’t seen the proposal by the Welsh Conservatives,
but I would welcome a meeting to discuss this if you so wish.
Suzy Davies AM: Thank you very much for that offer. I can recommend the manifesto of the
Welsh Conservatives for a good read one night. [Interruption.] Oh, dear. Earlier this month,
the Cabinet Secretary tweeted that he was, ‘Delighted to announce that one of the latest
UK productions to be commissioned by @NetflixUK is currently being filmed in Wales thanks
to @WelshGovernment support.’ That is excellent news, I welcome that. However,
with our ongoing inquiry into Welsh Government support for the media and the fact that the
media investment budget is in suspension at the moment, can you confirm that we’re talking
financial support here? And if so, which fund or loan programme does that support come from?
Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: We are currently looking at our investment programme. We are looking
particularly at how we can merge the development of Creative Wales, which is a Government commitmentóa
commitment made by Welsh Labour. The discussions that I’ve had to date are that we would anticipate
that, when we do establish Creative Wales as an organisationóand I will say more about
this at committee, because I do intend to give evidence on this issueóthen we will
bring together the investment funds with the work of Creative Wales, so the current panels
that decide on support for the media and film could become part of that organisation. I
think that would be the rational way to move ahead, but no decision on that has been made
as of yet. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: UKIP spokesperson,
David Rowlands. David J Rowlands AM: Diolch, Llywydd. Does
the Cabinet Secretary think that the failure to reduce the number of local authorities
in Wales will make it more difficult to implement your economic strategy, as outlined in your
document ‘Prosperity for All’? Ken Skates AM: Not necessarily, because the
economic action plan places a particular focus on regional working and now that we have the
chief regional officers in place and we have strong regional working through the development
of growth and city deals, I’m confident that we’ll be able to further strengthen regional
economies with their own distinct identities in years to come.
David J Rowlands AM: I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer, but does he not think that
the multilayered approach to economic delivery has the very real potential of becoming a
bureaucratic nightmare, and that the plethora of local government exacerbates this potential?
Ken Skates AM: I would say that we need to resolve certain pressing issues concerning
local authority activities, including planning, for example. It’s also essential that we have
a simplified and more transparent process to support businessesóthat’s why Welsh Government
is consolidating a number of funds into the economy futures fund. But, in the months to
come, as we further implement the economic action plan, with a particular focus on the
regional part of the plan, I’m keen to look at where we can consolidate as much as possible
the activities that local government does in tandem and collaboration with Welsh Government,
in order to further drive down the amount of bureaucracy and administration that many
businesses complain of, and to make sure that we utilise our collective resources to best
effect. David J Rowlands AM: Again, I thank the Cabinet
Secretary for his answer, but if we look at the organisations now charged with delivering
the strong regional-based economyócity deals, Valleys initiative, the remaining enterprise
zones, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and, of course, local authoritiesósurely,
there is considerable blurring of demarcation between all these bodies. Is the Cabinet Secretary
confident that they will be able to operate in a co-operative and cost-effective manner
and do you have the evidence that this co-operation is in fact being implemented?
Ken Skates AM: I think in terms of the regional plans that are being put together, those plans
will need to lead to a framework for regional working that drives out the sometimes burdensome
complexities with too many organisations and bodies doing essentially what the other body
is doing, but in a different way or with a different branding exercise. What businesses
tell us they want is one point of contact for all support from Government or local government,
and that in terms of economic development we focus on those factors that can drive up
productivity, we focus on making sure we’ve got people equipped with the right skills
to fill vacancies, and that we go on investing in the right infrastructure. These are all
components of the economic action plan and I’m confident that in maintaining the course
that we have now set economic development on in Wales, we will lead to greater levels
of prosperityónot just wealth, but greater levels of well-being as well.
Mick Antoniw AM: 3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the application of the
minimum wage in Wales? OAQ52459 Ken Skates AM: The minimum wage is set by
the UK Government and applies to all employers in Wales. We strongly support measures that
increase household income and actively encourage businesses to consider paying the living wage
as defined by the Living Wage Foundation. Mick Antoniw AM: Thank you for that answer,
Cabinet Secretary. It’s perhaps timely to welcome the appointment of Linda Dickens as
the chair of the Welsh Government’s fair work commission, because when it comes to the issue
of the minimum wage and workers’ rights generally, we can see that the ball game is beginning
to change at UK Government level, where the hard line Brexiteers are now beginning to
talk about the opportunities of deregulationóthat is, removing workers’ rights, standards and
terms and conditions. So, the steps being taken by Welsh Government at this stage, I
think, are very welcome. My colleague Jo Stevens, the MP for Cardiff
Central, raised last year the fact that there had been no prosecutions in Wales in 2016
for minimum wage breaches. I’ve just seen the announcement in respect of the 10 prosecutions
that have taken place subsequently. Cabinet Secretary, it seems very clear that there
is no will within the UK Government and no resource or commitment to dealing with the
impact of the gig economy and the lack of worker rights. All of us as Assembly Members
will know of companies and issues that arise where there are breaches of health and safety,
terms and conditions, and where the minimum wage is clearly not being paid or is being
abused through complex payment systems. Do you not agree with me that, firstly, the
fair work commission in Wales, establishing that as the ethos of employment within Wales
is something that is very much desired? Secondly, isn’t it about time that the issue of the
minimum wage or certainly its enforcement should be devolved to a Government that’s
prepared to stand up for it? Ken Skates AM: The Member makes many, many
important points and I’d suggest that anybody who talks with great enthusiasm about the
opportunities of deregulation should first just take a quick look at what’s happened
with bus services and then assess whether opportunities of deregulation are something
that are always attractive and beneficial to the wider population.
Can I thank the Member for welcoming the appointment of the chair of the fair work commission and
say that, whilst enforcement of the statutory living wage is pitifully under-resourced and
the minimum wage is pitifully under-resourced in the UK, this is something that our fair
work board has recognised? So, as we transition from a fair work board to the fair work commission,
it’s been decided that enforcement and how we can make sure this happens in Wales will
be an early part of the commission’s consideration. The commission should be reporting back with
early recommendations in the spring of next year and I would hope, given that it is going
to be a priority area of concern, that enforcement of this important process will be part of
the report, with recommendations next spring. David Melding AM: Cabinet Secretary, you’ll
know the Low Pay Commission is visiting Anglesey today and tomorrow to get the views of people
affected by the minimum wage. Do you agree with me it’s essential that all people are
involved, from businesses, workers and trade unionsóindeed, anyone with an interest in
this important public policy areaóto ensure that they deliver evidence so that next year’s
minimum wage is set at an appropriate level? Ken Skates AM: I’d agree that participation
is crucial. The vast majority of businesses are incredibly responsible businesses and
it’s just a small minority that can be ruthless and exploit workers. In terms of ensuring
that we get the best rates that can be paid, of course there are many concerns that need
to be factored into it. They can’t be factored into the setting of the wage rate unless participation
by employers takes place, and for that reason I would certainly agree with the Member that
participation is required. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Michelle Brown. Michelle
Brown? Michelle Brown AM: Sorry. No.
Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Question 4, Hefin David.
Hefin David AM: 4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on ancillary services for
Transport for Wales? OAQ52460 Ken Skates AM: Yes. Presently, Transport for
Walesís remit covers the implementation of the next rail service and the south Wales
metro. TfW are establishing a plan to review the scope of services at key milestones throughout
the contract. Where elements satisfy economic and deliverability tests, they will be delivered
by Transport for Wales. Hefin David AM: I listened with interest to
the Cabinet Secretary’s answer to Dawn Bowden with regard to the depot at Rhymney, and I
have to say what he’s offered is not enough. I think more can be done for that economically
deserving area, with particular regardó. He’s mentioned stabling and light maintenance.
I’d like to ask him how many jobs will that create, and what further can be done in the
Rhymney area. Ken Skates AM: First of all, I’d say that
the provision of four trains per hour is hugely, hugely beneficial to the community, and I’d
also say that, whilst I know you’ve been a champion of establishing a depot there, the
Taffs Well option was more deliverable. The alternative would have cost in the order of
an additional £144 million. But we’re keen to ensure that the metro is used to redevelop
communities, particularly where transport hubs and where stations are going to be upgraded,
and it’s worth remembering that all of the stations are going to be upgraded as a consequence
of the agreement we’ve reached with KeolisAmey. It’s a startling fact that, in the last 15
years, approximately £600,000 has been spent on stations, whereas, in the next 15 years,
we’ll see something in the order of £194 million spent on stations. We’ve also had
agreement that many of those stations will be utilised to support business development
and business growth, particularly those stations where there is existing space and office availability,
but where it’s not fully utilised. I can’t give exact details in terms of the
number of jobs that will be created as a consequence of the light maintenance that will be taking
place, but I can give the Member assurance that we will look at exploiting every opportunity
of the incredible sums of money that we are spending in the Valley to ensure that the
Rhymney area gets as many new jobs attracted to the community as possible.
Mohammad Asghar (Oscar) AM: Cabinet Secretary, Transport for Wales is at present seeking
specialist civil contractors for the framework of rail works, which include ancillary works
to stations, interchanges, car parks, roads and paths and other general construction work
associated with rail enhancement. However, in 2014, your predecessor announced that Newport
was to get £4 million for a new footbridge crossing the railway station, improvement
to the new bus station and for bus stops in the city. I’m advised that this funding was
never received and the work was not even undertaken. Could the Cabinet Secretary confirm this and
advise the reason why these improvements did not proceed, in spite of being announced publicly
in Wales? Thank you. Ken Skates AM: Thank you. Can I assure the
Member that I’ll look into this? It may require consultation with Network Rail. I’ll need
to look at the detail of the investment that was announced, and check against that what
actually has been delivered. If there is a case of promises not being met, I’ll then
need to assess why it was that investment was not channelled into the station as the
Member outlines. Jack Sargeant AM: 5. What discussions has
the Cabinet Secretary had with the Leader of the House regarding the economic impact
of digital connectivity? OAQ52457 Ken Skates AM: I regularly discuss the importance
of digital connectivity throughout Wales with the leader of the house, and we share the
same view of its enormous importance to economic growth and sustainability throughout the country.
Jack Sargeant AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for that reply and I’m particularly pleased
that you are working with the leader of the house on this issue and opportunity, in fact,
because, in addition to the community and household benefits of broadband and full fibre
and digital connectivity, there are clear economic benefits as well. Statistics clearly
show that the country will receive £20 for every £1 investment in broadband, and this
is a great return on infrastructure investment. Would the Cabinet Secretary agree with me
that we need to do all we can to invest in digital full fibre connectivity, and support
the idea of a gigabit hub in and around the Flintshire/Wrexham area like I’ve previously
suggested to the leader of the house? Ken Skates AM: Well, I’m delighted that in
the summer the next phase of Superfast Cymru will be announced by the leader of the house.
The Member is absolutely right to identify the economic benefits of digital connectivity.
Indeed, the strong performance of the digital sector has helped to create or safeguard around
about 11,000 high-value jobs in the last eight years as a consequence of Welsh Government
support, and the sector’s performance in the last year is particularly startling, for almost
30 per cent of foreign direct investment projects recorded for Wales came through the digital
sector. So, it’s a major, major contributor to the wealth of the nation. With regard particularly
to north Wales, well, I’m very pleased to say that the six local authorities across
north Wales are collaborating to develop a strategy to enhance digital connectivity right
across the region. I know that the leaders of the growth deal bid will be very keen to
explore every opportunity to exploit the latest digital technology and infrastructure.
Russell George AM: When you announced your digital innovation review, Cabinet Secretary,
you said that you wanted to develop the potential of our regions so that they would support
better jobs closer to home, and this is something that I would agree with you on. You’ve also
been very supportive, like me, of a mid Wales growth deal. Now, in order to ensure that
mid Wales is plugged into the wider midlands economy, improvements in high-speed broadband
and mobile connectivity should be part of any mid Wales growth deal. I wonder: would
you agree with me on that view? Can I ask what steps are you taking in association
with your colleague the leader of the house to ensure that the digital divide between
mid Wales and other parts of Wales does not widen further, which is, sadly, the case at
the moment? Ken Skates AM: Well, I’m confident that, with
the next phase of Superfast Cymru, we’ll see that gap narrowed. The intention of the second
phase, the next phase of the project, is to ensure that those harder-to-reach properties
are connected, therefore leading to a narrowing of that gap that the Member has identified.
And I would support the Member’s call for the growth deal in mid Wales to dovetail with
interventions and deals across the border. It’s absolutely essential that a good degree
of collaboration and co-operation takes place on a cross-border basis. I’m certainly encouraging
that. I know that Lord Bourne as well has stated that this should take place, and I’m
pleased to be able to tell the Member today that it’s my intention to meet with him, subject
to his diary availability, on 24 July to meet with a number of businesses in mid Wales to
discuss how it is that we can promote economic development in places like Newtown and Welshpool,
utilising not just the built infrastructure such as roads and rail networks but also digital
infrastructure. Caroline Jones AM: Cabinet Secretary, the
Swansea Bay city deal is built around and dependent upon digital connectivity. In the
initial business case for the city deal, a new terabit capacity transatlantic cable between
New York and Oxwich Bay was proposed but never made it into the final deal. The new link
would have put Swansea Bay region at the heart of a digital superhighway, not just delivering
higher speeds and greater capacity but also, more importantly, lower latency. So, Cabinet
Secretary, what happened to the new transatlantic cable?
Ken Skates AM: Well, I always thought that the vision outlined by Sir Terry Matthews
was absolutely compelling, and it’s a vision that has been used to shape the Swansea Bay
city deal. Now, it’s for local authority leaders to construct a city deal that is based upon
the existing strengths but also the future opportunities of the region. I know that the
Swansea Bay city region leaders are determined to make best use of the levers available to
them through the deal, and I am encouraging them to continue to reflect on that vision
that was outlined by Sir Terry Matthews and to make sure that the interventions and investments
that are made in the region get the maximum value for the people they’re designed to serve.
Darren Millar AM: 6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to promote ethical engagement
in sports? OAQ52449 Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: Thank you very much
for that question. The Member will know that Sport Wales acts on our behalf as the Government-sponsored
body in the whole field of sport. To that end, it hosted an ethics and integrity conference
last year, highlighting the importance of recognising the values of fair play in sport
and for all sports organisations and individuals to uphold the highest forms of integrity.
Darren Millar AM: I’m very pleased to hear that response, Minister, but I met with Sports
Chaplaincy Wales just last week. They’ve got 50 volunteer chaplains working with sports
clubs across the country, including some of our premier clubsóCardiff, Swansea City football
club, Ospreys, the Scarlets and the Cardiff Blues among them. They do a tremendous amount
of work delivering around £0.5 million-worth of volunteer hours in terms of pastoral care,
promoting ethical engagement in sports in the clubs in which they work, dealing with
things like drug and alcohol misuse and, indeed, helping people through individual problems.
I wonder if you could tell us what engagement the Welsh Government may have had with sports
chaplaincy services and whether, if there hasn’t been any engagement, you might be prepared
to meet with them with me in order to discuss how they can support the Government’s ambition
to have ethical sportspeople in Wales in the future.
Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: Yes, I would be delighted to co-operate with chaplains in this field.
Some of these sports chaplains are indeed known to me and I admire their work very much.
I’m thinking particularly of the chaplaincy work going on in Swansea. So, yes, I would
be very happy to join in that meeting because it is important to encourage the voluntary
activity of faith communities, and that includes all faith communities, clearly, and there
may be room for more humanist chaplaincies as well in this area, but I won’t go into
that this afternoon. Jenny Rathbone AM: One of the issues that
I’m concerned about, which is a huge ethical issue, is the increasing conjoining of the
gambling industry with sport. There’s research done by Goldsmiths college in London that
shows that gambling logos are on televised matches most of the time. This is deliberately
trying to inject into the minds of children that gambling is a part of being a sports
fan, and it seems to me that this is wholly reprehensible. Now, the Football Association
in England has announced an end to all sponsorship deals with betting companies, but, unfortunately,
rugby has yet to kick out gambling from the game. So, what do you think the Welsh Government
can do to tackle betting sponsorship in sport, which is making it endemic in the way that
big tobacco was in the past? Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM: I accept, certainly,
the points that you make, and you will remember that the First Minister did respond last week
to a question from our mutual friend here, Mick Antoniw, about the cross-government group
that’s been established to develop a strategic approach to reducing gambling-related harm
across Wales, and I think it is essential that we should look again at the recommendations
from the chief medical officer’s annual report, which called for co-ordinated action and identified
new activity that might be required both at the Wales and the UK level. And, since I’ve
been asked specifically about the relationship between both football and more particularly
rugby with betting, I will certainly raise these issues with the governing bodies of
sports where there appears to be a promotion of gambling activity alongside the sporting
activity, because that is not the role of sport governing bodies. I understand that
sport governing bodies benefit from income in different ways, and that is a commercial
matter for them, but, where the health of the population is damaged by promoting activity
related to sport, then we, the Government, should intervene.
Mohammad Asghar (Oscar) AM: 7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on how the Welsh
Government’s policies are growing the economy? OAQ52439
Ken Skates AM: Yes. The economic action plan sets out the actions we’re taking to grow
the economy and improve the business environment right across Wales.
Mohammad Asghar (Oscar) AM: Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. The performance
of the enterprise zones in creating jobs and boosting the economy and regeneration in Wales
has been mixed. So much so, that the Assembly’s economic committee said that the lack of available
evidence has made it challenging to fully analyse their contribution to the Welsh economy.
Will the Cabinet Secretary commit to setting clear and realistic targets for enterprise
zones, along with annual reports containing detailed data on their performance, in the
interests of transparency so that their contribution to the Welsh economy can be properly scrutinised
and monitored? Ken Skates AM: Can I thank the Member for
his question and say that, yes, there is a varying degree of success across the enterprise
zones in Wales? That’s in no small part due to the fact that each of the enterprise zones
are at varying stages of development. Some are far more advanced and some have a higher
intensity of business activity already established in them, which then can act as a magnet to
draw in fresh investment. There is reform of the advisory network taking place and the
architecture that advises us, including on enterprise zone activity, is being reformed;
we’ve consolidated it. In the future, the activity that takes place within enterprise
zones will have to comply also with the economic contract and the principles that are contained
within the economic action plan. But I think it is important that we provide data in the
most transparent way possible. I take on board the recommendations that the committee presented,
and it’s my hope in the future that we will be able to demonstrate a commitment to transparency
in the delivery of data, and in the establishment of any targets for particular enterprise zones.
However, I would also urge the Member to examine, in a broader way, the infrastructure that
is being invested in enterprise zones to enable the sort of growth that established enterprise
zones have enjoyed in recent years take place at speed.
Steffan Lewis AM: Central to future economic growth, of course, will be our trading relations
with the rest of the world. As part of its preparations to separate from the European
Union, the UK Government has established 14 trade working groups that involve 21 third
countries to lay groundwork for future independent trade deals upon leaving the European customs
union. The Cabinet Secretary wrote to the external affairs committee in May, stating
that the Welsh Government are not being invited to participate, or not been consulted on the
work of such working groups, but the same committee has received correspondence from
the Department for International Trade since then, saying that a forward work programme
has been established with the devolved administrations. I wonder if the Cabinet Secretary can confirm
that that has indeed happened, and could explain to the Assembly the extent of Welsh Government
involvement in those trade working groups. Ken Skates AM: I’m not sure whether the letter
that was received concerning the forward work programme and the involvement of the devolved
administrations actually identified the degree to which the devolved administrations were
actually part and parcel of the process of deciding on the particular piece of work that
will be taken forward. I’d happily write to Members to clarify exactly what engagement
has taken place between Welsh Government and UK Government on this matter, and, indeed,
what engagement has taken place between the devolved administrations as well.
Mike Hedges AM: 8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on cycling infrastructure
in the Swansea bay city region? OAQ52444 Ken Skates AM: Active travel, as set out in
the national strategy, is a cornerstone of our approach to the integrated transport solution
for the Swansea area. Mike Hedges AM: Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary
for that response? There are a lot of good and well-used cycle tracks in the Swansea
bay city region, including a large amount that are in the constituency of Julie James,
coming along from Mayals towards county hall. But often, there are gaps, and these gaps
are from where people live to the main cycle track, which stops a lot of people using it.
I’ve got people living on an estate near me that has a brilliant cycle trackóroute 44
or route 45óbut they’ve got to go down a lane that is narrow, that has got a 60 mph
speed limit, and consequently people don’t use their bikes because they don’t want to
do that mile, or half a mile, journey. What plans has the Welsh Government got to fill
the gaps in the network? Because until it’s safe to go the whole distance, very many people
won’t do it at all. Ken Skates AM: I’m pleased to be able to tell
the Member that we’ve announced an extra £60 million to support active travel across Wales.
I think it’s important to recognise the role that consultation has in developing integrated
network maps and in ensuring that the existing route maps are up to scratch and reflect the
infrastructure that’s in place at presentóand that the integrated network maps are able
to identify any gaps in the provision of cycleways and footpaths so that, through consultation,
people can be confident that their communities are fully recognised, and that all of the
infrastructure within those communities is identified. And then, based on those maps,
and based on the submissions from local authorities, either strategic programmes or local active
travel schemes, or potentially both, can be funded from Welsh Government support funds.
I think it’s absolutely essential that local authorities identify deliverable but ambitious
strategic routes and strategic opportunities, but also don’t take their eyes off those local
schemes, which can be an individual scheme or a package of improvements to identify those
gaps and address those gaps, so that people are able to cycle or walk to work, to leisure
opportunities and to friends and family. Dai Lloyd AM: There’s much frustration due
to local authorities not investing in active travel infrastructure, and frustration is
particularly high when new developments fail to take the active travel principles on board.
Within my area, a recent planning application for a coffee drive-through in Birchgrove,
Swansea failed to provide any active travel infrastructure for pedestrians or cyclists.
I know the clue is in the title. [Laughter.] So, how can we truly expect people to become
active if we are not prepared to put in essential infrastructure? Do you agree that we need
to see a significant strengthening of the planning legislation here in Wales if we are
truly to make strides in this area? Ken Skates AM: I wouldn’t wish to encourage
either pedestrians or cyclists to go through drive-throughs at any fast food restaurant
or cafe. However, I think it is important that provision is established at any leisure
facility for bikes to be safely stored and locked and for people to be able to access
them by foot on safe pedestrian footways. I think the design guidance for active travel
routes plays an important role in this regard, but I think, also, we do need to take a look
at planning guidance and planning rules and I think this is something that my colleague
Lesley Griffiths has taken a very keen interest in in recent times. But I’d also add that
there is now no excuse for not investing in active travel schemes, given that we have
increased substantially the amount of resource available to local authorities to carry through
those schemes. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Thank you, Cabinet
Secretary. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next item, therefore,
is questions to the Counsel General. The first question is from Simon Thomas.
Simon Thomas AM: 1. What legal advice has the Counsel General provided to the Welsh
Government regarding legislating against problem gambling? OAQ52463
Jeremy Miles AM: A cross-Government group of officials is tasked with developing a strategic
approach to reducing gambling-related harm. The group is currently considering the recommendations
in the chief medical officerís annual report, and will co-ordinate action and identify new
activity required, including any calls for further steps required at UK level.
Simon Thomas AM: I thank the Counsel General for that response. It’s clear that many of
us are concerned about the terminals in gambling shops and welcome the fact that the UK Government
intends to limit the bet to £2 per wager on those terminals, but are disappointed that
it will be at least two years before that is delivered. There are legislative tools
in the hands of the Welsh Government, including using planning legislation. In the absence
of action from the UK Government, would it be within the competence of this Parliament,
and therefore the Government here, to use planning regulations to restrict the use of
these terminals and to use our own legislation to restrict them?
Jeremy Miles AM: Thank you for that supplementary question. As a Government, we work across
portfolio to ensure that we can tackle this problem, which is a health problem and is
very widespread. The chief medical officer is leading on much of that work. As, perhaps,
the Member will know, a consultation is taking place as regards changes to the planning system,
which will propose a change in the categorisation of betting shops from category A2, which means
that you would have to have a planning application in order to change the use of that kind of
building. If that proceeds, that will provide an opportunity for local government to tackle
this on some level. Problems occur when the buildings reduce the number that come into
our towns and villages. So, if that change is made, it will enable local authorities
to design LDPs with this problem in mind. As regards the broader competence on gambling,
as the Member will know, the Government and the Assembly have very restricted competence,
which is limited to the numbers of these terminals rather than the maximum amount of the wager
that you can have. There will be a two-year period of time before these changes come into
force. The Government welcomes the fact that the change will actually limit the total that
can be placed on a bet, but there are no plans to use the Government’s limited powers in
the interim. Lynne Neagle AM: 2. What assessment has the
Counsel General made of the Welsh Government’s powers to advance childrenís rights? OAQ52458
Jeremy Miles AM: I thank the Member for the question and for her commitment and her work
in this area generally. Members will know that the Rights of Children and Young Persons
(Wales) Measure 2011 requires Ministers to have due regard to the requirements of the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child when exercising their functions.
This requirement rightly continues to influence the Governmentís policies, legislation and
decisions. Lynne Neagle AM: Thank you. I recently attended
the children, young people and democracy event here in the Senedd, where I was shown what
seemed to me to be a really innovative Street Law project that is designed to give children
a good understanding of the law and their rights. It was actually highlighted when Hillary
Clinton visited Wales recently. Given our commitment to children’s rights and given
that information is power, what more can the Welsh Government do to ensure that our children
and young people do have sufficient understanding to uphold their rights?
Jeremy Miles AM: This is a really vital issue. I think, as I’ve said before, legislating
for rights is important, but unless you know how to find your rights and how to enforce
your rights, they will always have a limited impact. In terms of the accessibility of the
law to children and young people, there are particular challenges and particular strategies
that we need to use in order to ensure that young people and children have the full effect
of the rights that we legislate for on their behalf. The Welsh Government has a number
of strategies for raising awareness, actually, amongst children and young people of their
rights. I, too, was at the event in the Senedd, and I thought it was really illuminatingóthe
range of organisations there working to increase advocacy on behalf of children and young people,
but actually, more importantly, participation by them in the democratic process. I thought
the Street Law initiative, which is based in Swansea University, is a really good example
of that. I was at the same event that she was at when
the Llywydd was interviewing Hillary Clinton, and I thought it was marked how former Secretary
Clinton was emphatic about the progress that Wales is making in this area and the emphasis
that Wales is placing on this important issue. I’d commend to her as well a paper issued
by the Children’s Legal Centre in Wales, which is the first research paper they’ve issued,
which is about this very issue of public legal education for children and young people in
Wales. There are some very interesting ideas about what can be done on a Government level,
but across Wales, to enhance public legal education, in particular in the context of
children and young people. Suzy Davies AM: You referred, Counsel General,
to the UNCRC and the protection that has under the children’s rights Measure. I don’t think
it’s just Government that looks at children’s rights when it’s developing its legislation,
but I think it’s fair to say that we as an Assembly consider that very strongly as well,
when we decide to pass those laws. The operation of those laws lies in the hands of many of
our public services, and I wonder what your view is on whether public servicesówhether
that’s local authorities or hospitals, health boards and so forthóshould also pay due regard
to the way that they implement those laws. Do we need statute for that to happen, or
does your obligation to have due regard pass down to local authorities, for example, when
they’re doing that? It’s a particular issue when it comes to the decisions about closing
schools, and there’s one in my area at the moment that I’m thinking of particularly.
Thank you. Jeremy Miles AM: I thank you for that question.
I didn’t mean to suggest that the Assembly wasn’t also engaged in that work. Obviously
it is, and it has passed legislation to that very end, so I’m obviously very happy to acknowledge
that. She will know of the report that my friend the Minister for children and social
services, as he was at the time, launched in March, which indicated where we are in
terms of compliance with the Measure generally and included some very useful analysis of
the next steps that we need to take in order to ensure that the children’s rights agenda
is embedded much more broadly across the Welsh public sphere. I’m sure he will be giving
that attention in the coming weeks and months. Llyr Gruffydd AM: I’m sure you will be aware
of questions that have been asked by the children and young people committee and by the children’s
commissioner on the Government’s budgeting process, where we more and more receive integrated
impact assessments, rather than, for example, specific impact assessments on the rights
of children. So, can I ask you as a Government to look at that again, and for you, as Counsel
General, to confirm for yourself that you are meeting the legislative requirements both
domestically and internationally by not holding specific impact assessments in relation to
the rights of children, to ensure, for example, that we won’t see decisions such as the abolition
of the school uniform grant, as we saw recently, without there having been a thorough assessment?
Jeremy Miles AM: May I thank the Member for that supplementary question? As I said to
Suzy Davies, the Government has carried out an analysis of what we will need to do following
the Bill, to ensure that we will actually attain the aim. I will take into consideration
the comments that he has just made. David Rees AM: 3. What assessment has the
Counsel General made of the application of EU laws in Wales that are passed during any
Brexit transition period? OAQ52451 Jeremy Miles AM: I thank the Member for that
question. If EU law continues to apply in the UK during transition, as Part 4 of the
current draft withdrawal agreement envisages, EU legal obligations will need to be implemented
domestically during that period. David Rees AM: Thank you for that answer,
Counsel General, because it is important that, if we do get an agreement, there will be a
transition period, and as part of that we’ll be expected to abide by EU laws. But the EU
withdrawal Bill only transposes EU laws as of the final date, which is 29 March. So,
it is therefore a year for clarifying that, during the period of 29 March 2019 until the
end of the transition period, any EU laws that are passed in Brussels will need to be
transposed into UK or Welsh laws here in the Assembly, under our control.
Jeremy Miles AM: Well, just to be clear, the Welsh Government has supported throughout
the efforts to secure a transitional period, and we very much welcome the agreement at
the end of March European Council that there will be a transition period to 31 December
2020, subject to a final withdrawal agreement. We don’t know, unfortunately, what approach
the UK Government will take towards implementing EU laws during a transition period. We expect
there to be a high degree of similarity between the practice now and during that transition
to include a role in particular for Welsh Ministers, to make sure that EU law is implemented
in devolved areas. Obviously, in order to ensure that single market participation and
membership of the customs union in the short term is maintained, the acquis of European
Union law, we’ll need to be bound by those provisions. As I say, we don’t know yet how
that mechanism is proposed by the UK Government. As he will know, we are anticipating a withdrawal
agreement and implementation Bill. It’s our understanding that that will need to put mechanisms
in place to deliver the UK’s commitment, in terms of the transition period. We haven’t
yet had details of what that will contain. Obviously, we’ll need to make a full assessment
of that, and how it relates to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as it’s now been
passed, when we have full sight of that. David Rees AM: 4. What discussions has the
Counsel General had with the UK Government on ensuring that the rights of EEA citizens
are protected following Brexit? OAQ52450 Jeremy Miles AM: The Welsh Government has
been clear that UK withdrawal from the EU should in no way lead to a dilution in rights
protections. In terms of rights to move and reside, Wales welcomes and values individuals
from around the world, and will continue to do so.
David Rees AM: Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. Last week, I was in Brussels,
and I met with the Norwegian ambassador to the EU, and it was quite clear that there
are some serious concerns in the EEA countries regarding this. Because there’s a lot of talk
about EU citizens’ rights, and whilst we appreciate the EEA and the EU are so closely linked,
there was no tight connection to ensure, in any withdrawal agreement, that those rights
would be also applied to EEA citizens. Now, people may say there may not be many Icelandic
citizens or Liechtenstein citizens in the UK, but there are over 20,000 Norwegian citizens
in the UK, and some will be in Wales. So, it’s important that we address this issue.
So, will you therefore take up this matter with your counterparts in the UK Government
to ensure that the rights of EEA citizens are not forgotten in the discussions that
are going ahead on EU citizens? Jeremy Miles AM: The Member makes a very important
point. In fact, as his question acknowledges, it’s not about the individual numbers involved,
because the impact of this on an individual life, or an individual’s plans, can be very,
very significant. So, it’s absolutely vital that we make sure that EEA citizens have the
same protection as EU citizens will have under the deal as we currently understand it. We’ve
paid careful attention to the drafts of the withdrawal agreement. Obviously, we are pleased
to see, during the transition period, the proposals that that contains to ensure no
change to citizens’ rights. We are carefully reviewing at the moment the
statement of intent that the Home Office published on 21 June, which sets out their proposals
for a settlement scheme, which would allow EU citizens to begin to take steps to confirm
their status in advance of exit from the EU. That scheme is also intended to be open to
EEA and Swiss nationals, as well as EU citizens, and we should analyse that with that in mind.
I should just remind the Assembly that the Welsh Government’s position in relation to
these issues is as set out in the ‘Brexit and Fair Movementof People’ paper in September
2017, which sets out our belief that our future relationship with Europe should include a
differentiated and preferential approach to immigration for EEA and Swiss nationals as
well. Mike Hedges AM: 5. What assessment has the
Counsel General made of the Welsh Government’s legal powers to support a new model for the
Swansea bay tidal lagoon? OAQ52446 Jeremy Miles AM: I thank Mike Hedges for that
question. I should say that whilst not in my constituency, constituents in Neath would
stand to benefit from any development of this sort, so I will declare an interest insofar
as that goes. The Welsh Government stands ready to consider
how it could use its powers to support alternative delivery models that may emerge from the marine
energy summit and from the ongoing discussions with regional leaders, referred to in the
statement of the Cabinet Secretary on 26 June. Mike Hedges AM: Can I thank you for that response?
There has been unanimity amongst those of us who represent the whole of that south-west
Wales region, perhaps starting with my colleague and neighbour with the other half of it David
Rees, but also the regional Members across party who have given their fullest support.
So, this is not a party political comment as such. But a new model for the lagoon is
being discussed, not based on the contract for difference, with the UK Government. So,
the new model would not involve Westminster’s reserved powers. Does the Welsh Government
then have additional flexibility to support this method of funding the lagoon?
Jeremy Miles AM: I thank the Member for that supplementary question. He’s right to say,
obviously, that there’s strong cross-party support in this Assembly and across Wales
for the lagoon, which is why it’s so disappointing that the UK Government took the decision that
it did. As he rightly suggests in his question, the involvement of the UK Government was partly
driven by the need for a contract for difference, which obviously is not devolved to Wales,
and we don’t have competence in the Assembly to set up a comparable regime to the contract
for difference regime. I’m aware, as he is, of the discussions that
have been happening, and the press coverage in particular, of an alternative model, which
might involve a mechanism other than a contract for difference method for delivery. Obviously,
if that were the case, the powers of the Welsh Government would be different from a model
where contract for difference is necessary. And subject to a large number of questions
around resourcing, and broader questions, Welsh Ministers obviously do have broad, general
executive powers to facilitate job creation and economic development, including by way
of loans and guarantees and grants and so forth. In fact, those powers were actually
the basis of the offer that the First Minister made to support the current proposal for the
tidal lagoon. Those would need to be looked at in the context of a particular proposal
if that comes forward, a concrete proposal, and obviously, again, in the context of state
aid rules. Clearly, we’d need to either establish that there was no state aid or that the aid
was compatible with the framework in the legislation. As I say, there isn’t, at this point in time,
a concrete proposal to evaluate, but he should rest assured that the Government will look
at all its powers and consider them in that context if that proposal comes forward.
Dai Lloyd AM: As the Counsel General will know, the issue of the tidal lagoon is still
very much a live issue, and, clearly, there are a number of possible options being mooted
at the moment in terms of how we can possibly salvage this situation. Now, Plaid Cymru has
long argued that we should establish a national energy company for Wales, with Wales’s natural
resources being used to deliver a sustainable and affordable energy supply. Clearly, the
national model is one option. There are alternatives. One such suggestion is a local delivery model,
led possibly by the city and county of Swansea, but there are also other regional options
too. So, given the range of possible delivery options, which need to be explored, to what
extent are you supporting the Welsh Government in discussing the legal and the linked financial
issues with local government, public bodies and other stakeholders in Wales, and when
can we expect the Welsh Government to bring forward a statement on this matter?
Jeremy Miles AM: I thank the Member for his question and for reminding us of his support
for a national energy not-for-profit, I believe, company. As I just said to Mike Hedges, there
are clearly, as one knows from what one sees in the press and what discussions are going
on, people who are looking creatively at what alternatives might be available to confirm
the opportunity that exists in Walesóacross Wales, in factóto use our tidal capacity
to generate renewable energy. As I have just said, from my personal point of view, my role
will be to advise on the legal powers the Welsh Government have, but, obviously, those
conversations, as you will have gleaned from my earlier responseóI’m pursuing those discussions.
Simon Thomas AM: 6. What discussions has the Counsel General held with other law officers
regarding the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018? OAQ52465
Jeremy Miles AM: I have not discussed this with other law officers since the Attorney-General
withdrew the reference of the Bill, as it then was, to the Supreme Court, and the Bill
was given Royal Assent. Simon Thomas AM: Thank you for that. In laying
the question, of course, Counsel General, I didn’t know that you were to make a statement
yesterday, where I had an opportunity to ask the supplementary of you yesterday rather
than today. However, events overnight just underline, I think, how sensitive the nature
of the fact that the inter-governmental agreement is leading to a position where the Law Derived
from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018 is to be withdrawn. I refer to the White Paper
on fisheries published by the UK Government this morning. Again, there is no reflection
in that paper of the discussions that we had just yesterday in this Chamber on fisheries
in Wales. The importance of the inter-governmental agreement having to reflect the kind of trade
deal that will be made ultimately is crucially important to the decision as to whether we
retain legislation here, and the right to legislate fully here, or shareóas the inter-governmental
agreement doesówith the Government in Westminster. Yesterday, in answering the question I was
going to ask today, you said that you were going to retain that inter-governmental arrangement
under a spotlight to see how it operates. But, when will you assess whether this agreement
is working effectively, and will you do that before the consultation period and the period
to decide whether to repeal this Act comes to an end?
Jeremy Miles AM: The inter-governmental agreement is one that is clear on what needs to happen
as regards the obligations on the parties to that inter-governmental agreement. As I
said yesterday, we need to have assurance on the amendments to the Act that has received
Royal Assent in Westminster. That means that more powers will be coming to this place,
following that agreement. I’m happy once again to take this opportunity to assure the Member
that the Welsh Government has every intention of ensuring that this Government and the Westminster
Government adhere closely to the heads of agreement in our agreement. Thank you.
Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Thank you, Counsel General.
Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next item is the topical questions. The first question
to be asked is to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, and that first question
is from David Rees. Ken Skates AM: We broadly welcome the announcement
to create 50:50 joint venture to combine their European steel businesses and we continue
to engage with the company and the trade unions to consider the detail of the announcement.
David Rees AM: I thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. The announcement has undoubtedly
lifted a cloud that has been hanging over the steelworks in the town for over two years
now and offers hope of a secure future for the steel making in Port Talbot and other
plants across Wales, because let’s not forget that, actually, Port Talbot feeds those other
plants as well. It’s been welcomed by steelworkers, as you pointed out, who are actually meeting
today to discuss it, as well as trade unions, politicians and the community across the town.
We are aware that the dark skies can come backóthat’s the problem. This proposal is
actually focusing on the medium term and not the long term, because it talks about no compulsory
redundancies before 2026 and the work to be done on the blast furnace to keep it operational
until about 2026. So, there’s still a longer term position. The ThyssenKrupp chief executive
officer has often said that he’s focusing on European operations and we are possibly
not in his mind when it comes to that. So, will this agreement impact upon the investment
that has already been committed by the Welsh Government, because you’ve already made the
commitment to the power plantóphase 1 has gone through. The funding has not yet been
released for phase 2. I know there has been an issue of conditionality. Where are we on
that? So, again, there’s security coming through from the Welsh Government on that process,
on that side of it. Have you had discussions with Tata on this matter as to what investment
they’re talking about in their merger and where that will go? Will it be simply in maintenance
and repair, or will it actually be in new technologies and investment in new plant to
actually take it to the next level of productivity, such as the capital line for new coke ovens
that need to be undertaken? And have you had discussions with the Secretary of State for
BEIS, because there is still a steel sector deal that has not yet been agreed, and it
seems, at the moment, the UK Government is failing to do its bit, and if we want long-term
sustainability, you also have to have discussions with them? So, how is it all pulling together
now, based upon this merger plan? Ken Skates AM: Well, can I thank David Rees
for his questions? I’d agree that the announcement does indeed offer hope for all of the plants
across Wales and the UK. I think it’s worth reflecting on where we were just two years
ago, when skies were indeed very dark, and it was as a consequence of the hard work that
the Welsh Government carried out, to a great extent, that we’ve reached the point that
we’re at today, where all those involved in the agreement can recognise the strength of
the Welsh steel-making family. In terms of ensuring that dark skies don’t return, we
need to guarantee the competitiveness of Welsh steel making, as well as ensure that it is
efficient and it is productive. Now, we are obviously carrying through our support. Our
support, in many respects, will be dependent on binding conditions being agreed by Tata.
However, it’s essential that the UK Government steps up to the mark and addresses the concerns
of the sector, particularly in regard to uncompetitive energy prices, but also the need for a sector
deal. These were issues that were discussed very recently at the UK steel council. They
were issues that I raised regularly with Ministers within BEIS, and that we raised through officials
with their counterparts in BEIS, and indeed other departments. It’s an interest that my
colleague Lesley Griffiths has, considering the decarbonisation agenda and the need to
ensure that we drive down emissions. We are able to support businesses in the steel sector
in reducing carbon emissions, in making sure that there are power savings, in making sure
that employees are fully and properly skilled, and our support will continue into the future.
But if we are to get the efficient, competitive, productive steel-making operation that we
wish to see for the long term in Wales and the UK, it will require decisive intervention
by the UK Government. Suzy Davies AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary,
and I associate myself with the questions, actually, that were asked to you by David
Rees. I think there will still be some residual concerns, going back to what we were talking
about 18 months or so ago about the relationship with ThyssenKrupp and Tata, and the date that
David mentioned, I think, is something that’s firmly printed in our minds now. With that
in mind, have you had any indication at all of the timeline for any potential investment
in this plant? Obviously, the blast furnace is of huge importance there, and it’s great
to get the promises, but until somebody signs a cheque, it’s a bit difficult to rely on
those promises. With the steel sector deal, obviously I agree
that we need to know about this now, and I don’t suppose that the Trump announcement
has helped enormously. Energy costsóand I think you did refer to it brieflyówere a
big issue when we were talking about this some months ago. Have you had any, shall we
say, promising mood music that that’s less of an issue now, and what steps have been
taken to try and resolve those? And then, finally, Tata has of course made
huge commitments in terms of Swansea bay university, and a relationship with the steel innovation
centre under the city deal. I wonder if you’ve had any news on whether this merged partnership
would also be prepared to commit in the way that Tata’s done to date. You said that you
were considering the announcement, and perhaps you could raise that in any questions that
you have when you’re speaking to Tata and ThyssenKrupp.
Ken Skates AM: Indeed. Can I thank Suzy Davies for her questions? She makes a very important
point about the collaboration that’s taken place in Swansea bay between higher education
and the steel making of the region, and also some of the spin-off companies and the supply
chain companies as well. It’s my understanding that that collaboration will be maintained.
However, we will be seeking to engage with the company and the trade unions to seek further
information about the detail of the announcement, to ensure that that collaboration continues
into the future, and to ensure that we secure iron and steel making in Wales for the long
term. Now, I think it’s worth saying, in terms of
the time frame, the joint venture is subject to regulatory examination by the authorities
that include the European Commission and, until closing, both joint-venture companies
are going to continue to operate as separate companies and as competitors, but, during
that period, we expect to be able to take forward our discussions over the support that
the Welsh Government can give to Tata insofar as the Welsh-based operations are concerned,
but I would welcome the announcement of an extension of the employment pact to 2026,
with a commitment to seek to avoid compulsory redundancies as a result of the joint venture.
In terms of the other commitments, Tata has committed to invest in a life extension of
Port Talbot’s blast furnace 5, which will proceed this year. I think, in general, this
is a very, very positive announcement for steel making and all of the associated steel
sites across Wales. However, we remain committed to ensuring that the long-term future of steel
businesses in Wales can be guaranteed. Bethan Sayed AM: I think the joint venture,
on the face of it, seems like a positive step forward at the moment, but there are key questions
to ask to ensure that we move forward with scrutiny and caution. Our first duty, of course,
is to the workforceóthe highly skilled workforceóthat we have in Port Talbot. As I mentioned yesterday
in questions to the leader of the house, Brexit is going to loom large in the prospects of
the joint venture, and although the outlook right now, in the medium term, seems secure,
our exit date from the EU is approaching, and this could, in fact, impact upon the joint
venture. Last week, Heinrich HiesingeróI’m not sure if I said that rightóchief executive
officer of Thyssenkrupp said, regarding the effects of Brexit on the JV, and I quote:
‘We hope that whatever the outcome, there will be a free market.’
Of course, we can’t guarantee that there will be a free market, with the Conservatives and
your party needing to answer questions still on this on a UK Government level, and seeming
to be blocking a free market or obfuscating it. So, I think we need answers on that.
I’d like the Welsh Government to outline what case they will make to the UK Government also
regarding state aid and other industries, because Wales could be in a different environment
in the future, with the UK Government redesigning those rules post Brexit under powers returning
from the EU, and I believe there should be a more clear position on that at this date.
So, as I’ve said, over all, I would want to bring some security to the sector in Port
Talbot. I know it’s up until 2026, but I think that that is a medium-term goal and that we
should all be keeping our eyes on that, and to reiterate that the investment in Port Talbot
is key now, and I hope that the money going forward on the other phases of the agreement
between Plaid Cymru and Labour in that regard will be able to go ahead smoothly because
I do know that there were some teething problems to more funding getting their way. If we could
avoid that so that the steelworks can be utilised and developed for the future, then that would
be beneficial to everybody in this room and in our communities across Wales.
Ken Skates AM: Can I thank the Member for her questions, and begin by saying that my
party here, and in the UK as a whole, couldn’t have demonstrated a greater commitment to
sustaining steel making in the UK? We’ve been absolutely determined to influence the UK
Government, and to influence the company in terms of long-term investment, and the work
that we’ve invested in this area, I think, has paid dividends, and the announcement demonstrates
it. With the exception of the fundingóand the
Member rightly points to the support that the Welsh Government has been able to offer
to TataóI can say that, with the exception of funding for skills support, Tata won’t
be able to draw down funding against these offers until we have agreed the detail of
overarching, legally binding conditions, and I would expect all Members to support that.
We need to make sure that those conditions apply for several years, and that they are,
indeed, legally binding. Now, in terms of Brexit, we’ll continue to
work closely and constructively with Tata in terms of planning for the challenges and
the opportunities presented by Brexit, but, to date, the Welsh Labour Government has offered
£8 million towards an £18 million investment in the power plant at Port Talbot, and we
continue to discuss the potential for further investments to increase efficiencies in this
area, and I think it’s worth reflecting on the important point that the Member makes
concerning state aid rules. Well, until the UK has exited the European Union, of course,
Welsh Ministers remain bound to comply fully with EU state aid rules, and any support provided
to the steel sector must be given in accordance with EU state aid rules. However, post Brexit,
whether and to what extent Welsh Ministers would continue to be bound by the EU state
aid rules will depend on the terms of the withdrawal agreement that the UK negotiates
with the EU. But it’s absolutely essential that, during the course of the negotiations
that are continuing, the UK Government recognises the importance of steel making to the UK.
Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Thank you to the Cabinet Secretary. The next question will
be answered by the Minister for the Welsh language, and the question’s from Dawn Bowden.
Eluned Morgan AM: Well, can I just say that I was really disappointed to read Bruce Robertson’s
comments over the weekend, and I wrote a letter to him on Monday expressing my disappointment?
And I must say that I think his comments are misinformed, and I think they are out of step
with public opinion in Wales. I am happy to share that letter with Assembly Members.
Dawn Bowden AM: Thank you for that response, Minister. You’ll be aware that the bilingual
signage was actually only one aspect of the comments that were reported last week, but
I want to deal specifically with the language issue because it is a fact that Merthyr Tydfil
has one of the lowest levels of identified Welsh speakers in Wales. I want to see that
change and I’ve been supportive of Welsh language services and learning opportunities that are
provided in Merthyr, most notably at Canolfan Soar that you visited with me only recently.
Despite the relatively low level of Welsh speakers, I’ve received representations from
a number of constituents who were offended by the reported comments. And I understand
that anger, because whether people speak Welsh or not, many value the language and know how
important it is to normalise its use in everyday situations and activities, and, as a Welsh
learner myself, I can vouch for the value of that. And, indeed, I see nurturing and
developing the use of the Welsh language and fostering more positive attitudes towards
it as an important responsibility for all of us.
Trago Mills is an important new business in my constituency and it’s providing many valuable
jobs, and I want to develop good working relations with them. So, would you agree with me that
a more enlightened business practice that might in fact draw more people to support
the business, rather than drive them to protest against it, which we’re going to be seeing
this weekend, would be for them to recognise the status of both languages and to embrace
that fact? Dawn Bowden AM: It’s important that we should
all support the language and that includes Trago Mills.
Eluned Morgan AM: Well done, and thank you very much, Dawn, not only for bringing this
case before the Senedd today, but also for your commitment to the Welsh language.
Eluned Morgan AM: I’d just like to thank you for your enthusiasm for the language, because
we need to get to a million speakers and you’re on that list, so thank you very much. I think
you’re absolutely rightóI think that people underestimate the value of Welsh language
education. We know that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that, actually, it helps
broaden education in its wider sense, and there’s evidence across the globe that bilingualism
is a positive development. I think, also, it should be noted that there is increasing
demand in places like Merthyr, and I’m very pleased to see that and I’d like to thank
you for your support in that. But I think there’s also a commercial reason
for him to do this. The fact is that, in the last census, if you look at how many people
live within an hour of Trago Mills, there are about 110,000 people who speak Welsh,
and 86 per cent of the people of Wales are enthusiastic and supportive about the Welsh
language. So, it doesn’t make any commercial sense not to be in the same place as those
people, and so I do hope that the chair of Trago Mills will rethink his approach to the
language. Mohammad Asghar (Oscar) AM: Minister, the
opening of the Trago Mills store in Merthyr Tydfil in April, with the creation of 350
jobs, was warmly welcomed, with the leader of the council calling it,
‘a fantastic addition to Merthyr Tydfil’s shopping offer and also because it’s another
landmark in the overall regeneration of the county borough.’
It is disappointing, therefore, to read these comments that have caused considerable outrage
and could damage the profitability of this store. As you said, Minister, earlier, and
I agree with it, it’s important that business leaders understand that we are increasingly
a bilingual country and that it’s commercially beneficial for businesses to be respectful
of each of the languages. You know, Minister, I can’t speak Welsh, but I think it’s great
to have bilingual ability for every individual, especially if you live in a country and you
speak the local language. It’s not only interaction between trade and commercial benefit, but
also political, social, economic and cultural. It is getting together. Language is the one
that gets us together, and togetherness is the best virtue of all. Thank you.
Eluned Morgan AM: Diolch yn fawr, Mohammad, and you’re welcome to join me in being one
of those million as well. I know you speak several other languages, so it should be fairly
easy for you to pick up. So, there you go, you’re on my list as well. Diolch yn fawr.
I think it is important that we underline the importance of this company. There are
a lot of jobs here in an area that needs jobs, so I actually wouldn’t support those calls
for people to be suspending their use of the shopping centre. I think that it’s important
that we do support businesses that are in Wales, but I do think that what we need to
do is to encourage them and to make sure that they understand that they are investing in
a bilingual country where there is this great support now for the Welsh language. Diolch
yn fawr. Si‚n Gwenllian AM: It is entirely appropriate
that you criticise Trago Mills for their insulting comments on the Welsh language, but we must
bear in mind that what this is in reality is the latest example of a broader problem,
and concrete evidence that to believe that we can get fair play for the Welsh language
in the private sector without legislation, and by relying on good will, is simply foolish.
You’re very happy to criticise the record of companies such as Sports Direct, GWR and
now Trago Mills on the Welsh language, but are far less willing to take action.
In the autumn, this cross-party Assembly agreed that action is required to extend Welsh language
standards to the private sector. How, therefore, do you intend to deliver the will of this
Assembly given this further proof that we need to place a fundamental duty in law so
that large businesses respect the Welsh language? Eluned Morgan AM: I don’t accept that it is
folly to expect companies to use the language. The fact is that many companies do. If you
look at Aldi and Lidl, I believe that they have an excellent record, and we need to appreciate
that. I do think that it’s important that we appreciate that it’s not possible with
the Measure that we have now to do something in this field. You are aware that I have very
much more interest in promoting the Welsh language as a priority, and that is why we’re
bringing business Welsh into the picture, to ensure that when people want to be committed
to the Welsh language they have the right to ask for support. That is what the Welsh
Government should be doingóassisting and supporting where possible to deliver on our
expectation that they will put those signs up in the future.
Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Thank you, Minister. The next question is to be answered by the
Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services. The question is from Si‚n
Gwenllian. Alun Davies AM: Presiding Officer, Members
will be aware from our order papers that I’ll be making a statement on this matter on 17
July. Si‚n Gwenllian AM: Some months ago, we learnt
through a personal blog that the Government had made another u-turn on the reorganisation
of local government, dropping Mark Drakeford’s proposals for regional collaboration. Last
Friday, I and everyone else who wasn’t at the WLGA conference at Llandudno, learnt through
Twitter that you had once again changed your mind by announcing that you were going to
scrap the reorganisation map. Twice, therefore, important statements such as these that impact
on the way in which public services are run for the future have been announced without
you informing Assembly Members through written statements in a formal way. Twice you have
shown a total disrespect and undermined the credibility of the Government and the role
of this Assembly as the legislative body for Wales. Usually, and according to Welsh Government
guidance on making good decisions, Ministers are expected to publish their response to
consultations held, and to do so in a timely manner. Usually, that does happen in the Assembly
in a formal oral statement with a report attached. So, given that just three weeks ago the consultation
period ended, can you confirm that you were responding directly to the consultation in
your comments at the WLGA conference? And do you think it’s appropriate for a Minister
to make policy statements of national significance in this manner?
Alun Davies AM: Presiding Officer, I repeat that I’ll be making a full statement on this
matter on 17 July, where I will be responding to the consultation and responding to other
matters as well. However, the Member seems to believe that Ministers should be silent
in terms of a national debate and not participate in national conversations outside of this
Chamber. I’m sorry, if that is her case, then I disagree with her. I think it’s absolutely
right and proper that Ministers participate actively in the national debate around many
issues that are the responsibility of this place, and others, and I will continue to
do so. But I will always make substantive policy statement to this place, and to this
place first. However, there is a national debate taking place around the future of our
public services, and I will also participate in that debate.
Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Thank you to Si‚n Gwenllian for bringing this question here
today as a topical question. I was present at the WLGA conference, and I was there very
close to the stageóI don’t think I could have sat any closer, franklyówhen the Cabinet
Secretary came on stage to less than warm applause from a roomful of nearly 200 delegates.
I have to say, after his speech, the applause was warmer; the difference being that he had
announced in a split second that he was scrapping the mapóthe map that he told us when we met
with him, if you remember, wasn’t going to be a map.
Cabinet Secretary, I have scrutinised you alongside Si‚n Gwenllian, and even members
of your own backbench, on your third setówhen I say ‘your’, your Welsh Government’s third
set of proposals, so let’s just run through this. In 20 years of devolution, we’ve had
no less than 10 Cabinet Secretaries for local government. You are No. 5. These are the third
set of proposals for local government reform. Now, as part of the WLGA conference, I was
actually very privileged, alongside Rhun ap Iorwerth, to take part in a panel with Professor
Gerald Holtham also about health and social care, and the integration of it, and making
that a reality. One thing became abundantly clear, namely that good housing or bad housing
affects our health. Education affects our health, and social care. Housingó. Sorry,
educationóI thought I’d written these down earlier. With local government, we have social
care. Those are five fundamental services and policy areas that need to be integrated
with local government. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: You do need to come
to your question now. Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Now, I’ve asked time
and time again, when you decide to go off on one bringing forward a Cabinet Green Paper,
what consultation have you taken with your other Cabinet colleagues? One thing that was
fundamentally agreed to in that room was that you cannot bring local government reform forward
on its own; you do need to integrate health, education, social care and housing. So, Cabinet
Secretary, Williams identified this in his report, 62 recommendations of which this Welsh
Government has only ever gone forward with four, all relating to local government. Will
you at some stage when you make your statement please look at it in a joined-up manner, and
bring those other policy areas into line? If you do that, you will have the support
of these benches. Thank you. Alun Davies AM: Well, that would be lovely,
wouldn’t it? [Laughter.] I’m grateful to the Conservative spokesperson for the 20 years
of history she’s managed to weave into this topical question. I will be making a statement
on these matters in two weeks’ time, and I will address the matters that she’s raised
in her question. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next question
is to be answered by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services once
again. The question is from Vikki Howells. Alun Davies AM: Presiding Officer, I think
Members across the whole Chamber will wish to join me in thanking all those firefighters
from across Wales who have worked extraordinarily hard over the past weeks. Their commitment,
their expertise, their skills have been tested in some very difficult circumstances. I have
made a written statement on this matter already today and I think that Members across the
whole Chamber will wish to take time to consider that and ensure that we do pass on our thanks
to the firefighters who have been involved in fighting these grass fires over the last
few weeks. Vikki Howells AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
Further to your written statement today, I’d just like to stress the fact that my constituency,
like many across Wales, has been scarred by a series of devastating fires over the past
few days. Incidents have included a forestry fire near Llwydcoed, described as hundreds
of metres wide, the Maerdy mountain fire and the Hirwaun ironworks.
Firstly, Cabinet Secretary, I join with you in paying tribute to the bravery and endurance
of our firefighters who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe, but secondly, with
the suggestion that many of these fires may have been started deliberately, how is the
Welsh Government working to prioritise measures to counter this dangerous and potentially
fatal activity? Alun Davies AM: Presiding Officer, I did visit
firefighters on the duty watch in Tonypandy earlier today, and I spoke to them about the
work they were doing across Wales and also to those firefighters from the south Wales
area who had attended the fire on Saddleworth moor. I visited the station alongside Andrew
Morgan, the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, and we did discuss some of the wild fires
that have affected the Member’s constituency. I spoke to the firefighters who had worked
up at Llwydcoed and around the site at Bryn Pica who had been working extraordinarily
hard to keep that under control. I think we all owe these people a great debt of gratitude.
Presiding Officer, we do work with the fire service, the police and other partners to
tackle deliberate grass fires at source. This means preventing them from happening in the
first place by deterring those who may be thinking about getting involved. This encompasses
a wide range of programmes, from general awareness raising to anti-arson patrols in high-risk
areas, and tailored interventions with those who have offended or are at risk of doing
so. The most intensive of these that we have long supported has a reoffending rate of under
5 per cent. David Melding AM: Cabinet Secretary, I do
commend the written statement you made earlier today for concentrating on the prevention
of fires and the work of the fire service and the other emergency services to raise
awareness in schools and also just around the community about the dangers of starting
fires. I think that’s a really, really important part of their work, and we are seeing a lower
incidence it seems now in terms of these fires. But also the public need to be aware that
you can inadvertently start a fire by, for example, holding in a clumsy fashion a barbecue.
You leave the area and it will be hours and hours later when a change in wind direction
or whatever flares up and then you’ve got another grass fire. So, this is really, really
important that we get this public education right, and I commend the efforts so far of
the fire service. Alun Davies AM: I join the Member in commending
those efforts as well. At the same time as investing in the education and public awareness
that the Member for South Wales Central has referred to, it is also useful to point out
that the fire service itself has invested heavily in specialist equipment and training
to take on these fires. The firefighters I spoke to this morning have been working together
with Natural Resources Wales, bringing significant resource to bear on the fires across Wales,
from the south Wales Valleys to north Wales to Ceredigion. At the same time, we have invested
in altering firefighting vehicles, lightweight protective gear for working in upland areas,
and drones, which safely and quickly provide vital intelligence to inform firefighting
decisions. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Thank you, Cabinet
Secretary. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next item is
90-second statements, and the first statement is from David Rees.
David Rees AM: Diolch, Llywydd. During the week in which we celebrate the seventieth
anniversary of our national health service, we also lost one of its pioneers in primary
care. Julian Tudor Hart was born in 1927 in London, the son of politically active doctors.
His early life growing up in a home steeped in radical politics, which was regularly used
as a transit centre for refugees fleeing fascist oppression in Europe, shaped his values and
beliefsóvalues and beliefs that he never moved away from throughout his life.
Julian followed his father’s career path and studied medicine at Cambridge before moving
on to London. After graduating, he took up posts in hospitals and urban general practice
before working at the Archie Cochrane-led Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit,
where he met his wife and research partner, Mary. Now, this background in epidemiology
taught him to study how his patients’ lifestyles caused their ill health, and he worked with
them to improve this. In 1961, he moved to the coal mining community
of Glyncorrwg in the Afan valley and set up practice, where he stayed for 30 years until
he retired. Julian turned Glyncorrwg into an international name associated with innovative
general practice. He was a man of theory and action. He was a researcher, lecturer, writer
of articles, papers and books, with many of his most innovative ideas making their way
into everyday practice. His concept of the inverse care law is as relevant now as it
was when it was published in The Lancet decades agoóin fact, as far back as 1971. A true
visionary, he undertook many research projects in a community setting, which many said could
not be done, but was successful because he had faith in the altruism of the citizens
of Glyncorrwg and the upper Afan valley, and they trusted and respected him.
He felt passionately that good healthcare was the right of everyone, and that services
couldn’t be targeted at those most in need unless the national health service was free
of market influences and allowed to concentrate solely on patient welfare.
Llywydd, I could go on for another 90 seconds, because his life went well beyond that, even
after retirement. Julian Tudor Hart was, and remains, one of the true giants of the national
health service. Dai Lloyd AM: The contribution made by Meic
Stephens, who passed away yesterday at the age of 79, to Welsh literature is priceless.
Through his tireless work as an author, poet, director of the arts council, founder of magazines
and university tutor he enhanced our appreciation and understanding of the range of our nationís
literature in both languages. Born in Treforest, he was self-taught, spending
periods in Aberystwyth, Bangor and Rennes in Brittany before learning different crafts,
as a French teacher in Ebbw Vale and then as a journalist at the Western Mail. Although
brought up in a non-Welsh-speaking home, he decided to embrace his Welsh heritage with
conviction. He was a nationalist to the core. Indeed, he was responsible for writing the
unforgettable slogan, ëCofiwch Dryweryní, on that rock near Llanrhystud. This was an
important revolutionary act by an affable and thoughtful man. Walesís debt to Meic
Stephens is enormous, and he will forever be remembered as a national literary hero.
Vikki Howells AM: Earlier this year, we commemorated the centenary of the Representation of the
People Act 1918. More than 5 million mainly working-class men received the vote, and nearly
8.5 million women also became voters. But these women did not receive the franchise
on an equal basis. Rather, under that Act, new women voters had to be over 30 years of
age. They or their husbands also had to meet stringent property qualifications. Equality
in terms of the franchise had to wait another decade. It was on 2 July 1928 that the Representation
of the People (Equal Franchise) Act became law. This granted all women aged over 21 the
vote, regardless of the property they owned, regardless of their husbands.
Some commentators have referred to the consensus and lack of controversy over this, suggesting,
perhaps, that there is an air of historic inevitability. We must not make the mistake
of overlooking the transformative nature of the 1928 Act. Politics became more representative.
The electorate of Aberdare, for example, swelled by around 7,000, and, finally, women could
now vote on an equal basis to men. Neglecting this historic occasion also does a disservice
to the campaigners who fought during the intervening period for this principle of equality, campaigners
like the Viscountess Rhondda. As the 1928 Act celebrates its ninetieth birthday, we
remember what one commentator has called ‘this simplest, yet most radical of reforms’.
Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Thank you, and I would hope that you’d look at the screens
now, please. I was thrilled to attend the tenth National Armed Forces Day 2018, held
in Llandudno on Saturday along with my colleague Darren Millar AM. Much excitement had already
built in witnessing the arrival of the frigate HMS Somerset in Llandudno bay, along with
the arrival on the promenade of army tanks to include a Jackal, helicopter and a Typhoon
jet. We stood, with other dignitaries, excited for the parade to begin.
Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Glorious sunshine saw Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal,
our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May, Fusilier Shenkin IV, the regimental goat,
taken from our Great Orme, and 100,000 people lining the North Shore Promenade, providing
rapturous applause in support of all those individuals and families who selflessly serve
in our armed forces. This year, also marking the RAF centenary, it was particularly special
to see the Red Arrows display conclude with the number 100 painted across the sky and
followed by the RAF battle of Britain memorial flight.
LlywyddóDeputyóI would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in
organising and to those taking part in what was such a memorable event. This went some
way in particular to acknowledge the brave and courageous commitment by our servicemen,
servicewomen and veterans, and simply to say ‘thank you’.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Item 5 on the agenda is a debate on the Children,
Young People and Education Committee’s report on its inquiry into the emotional mental health
of children and young people, and I call on the Chair of that committee to move the motion.
Lynne Neagle. Lynne Neagle AM: Thank you, Deputy Presiding
Officer. I usually begin by saying Iím pleased to open this debate, but, today, Iím more
than pleased; Iím proud and privileged to address this Chamber on the Children, Young
People and Education Committee’s ‘Mind over matter’ report.
For me, the emotional and mental health of our children and young people is one of the
most important issues, if not the most important issue, for us as an Assembly. Ensuring that
our next generation of leaders in this place, and in our nationís schools, hospitals, farms
and factories are resilient, mentally well, and equipped with the tools to tackle the
challenges that will inevitably come their way, is a fundamental responsibility for all
of us. It is estimated that one in 10 young people
will experience a mental health problem, and nearly three in four young people fear the
reaction of friends when they talk about it. Half of all mental health problems begin by
the age of 14, and three quarters by a young personís mid twenties. And that is why we
chose to dedicate much of the winter term to this crucial inquiry.
Our predecessor committee in the fourth Assembly undertook a comprehensive review of specialist
mental health services for children and young people in Wales. We wanted to revisit that
and to hold the Welsh Government to account on its progress. But we wanted to go further.
We were also committed to looking at what support could be provided to avoid escalation
to specialist services. The costs of emotional and mental ill healthónot just to the public
purse, but, most importantly, to the children, young people and families involvedóare too
high for us not to try to stem the flow earlier. We know that, without support, mental distress
can have a severe impact on childrenís well-being, their development and their attainment. But
evidence also shows that, with appropriate and timely support, children and young people
who have encountered emotional and mental health issues can live well and happy lives.
This need not, and should not, be an inevitable spiral.
Before we continue, I want us to hear from children and young people themselves. We are
committed to giving them a voice in all the committee’s work, and this inquiry was no
exception. I want to put on record my thanks to all those who spoke with us, but particularly
to those children and young people who let us visit them and who spoke so openly and
powerfully about issues that, even as adults, we often struggle to articulate.
During the course of our inquiry, we collected the experience of young people in a variety
of ways. One of them was a video, with young people participating in Newport Mindís Changing
Minds project, which provides peer support for young people who are struggling with their
mental health. I know some of them are in the gallery today. Iíd like to welcome them
here and give everyone a chance to listen to what they
have to say. Lynne Neagle AM: Iím sure that youíd all
like to join me in thanking the young people for sharing their views and experiences with
us. I hope that gives everyone a taste of some of the things that came up during our
inquiry. So, what did we conclude? We believe that
a step change is urgently needed in the support available for the emotional and mental health
of children and young people in Wales. What is available has been too limited for too
long. We have called our report ‘Mind over matter’, because we think the time has come
to do just thatóto put mind over matter; to deliver appropriate, timely, and effective
emotional and mental health support for our children and young people, once and for all.
While we recognise that improvements have been made in specialist child and adolescent
mental health services in the last two years, it is not enough. More is needed, particularly
in relation to primary care services, crisis care, and how we refer our most vulnerable
children and young people into support services. Medical diagnosis alone should not be the
key that opens the door to support. Being without a diagnosed disorder does not diminish
the severity of distress and harm experienced. It should not act as a barrier to getting
help with services. We need to urgently help this so-called ‘missing
middle’. Our predecessor committee was told in 2014 that too many children and young people
entering specialist CAMHS were being referred there incorrectly and ought to be helped in
other parts of the system. By 2018, not enough has changed. The pieces of the jigsaw that
need to be in place to support children and young people outside the most specialist settings
are simply not there. Four years since the last inquiry, this is unacceptable. It must
be addressed urgently by the Welsh Government. As a committee, we believe that something
drastic must be done at the preventative end of services. If we continue failing to provide
emotional well-being, resilience and early intervention support, children and young people
will continue suffering unnecessarily. It also means that the sustainability of more
specialist mental health services will continue to be under threat.
So, what needs to happen? We think that a major step change is needed in the priority
given to the emotional resilience and well-being of children and young people. We have called
on the Government to make this a stated national priority. But words alone will not do. They
need to be underpinned by the planning, resource and commitment to deliver real change. We
think that ring-fenced resource is needed to make schools hubs of cross-sector and cross-professional
support for emotional and mental well-being based in our communities. We also think that
those who work with children and young people should be trained in emotional and mental
health awareness, to tackle issues of stigma, promote good mental health, and enable signposting
to services where necessary. Reform of the curriculum in Wales offers a
once-in-a-generation opportunity to embed well-being into our childrenís lives, and
schools are very well-placed to make a significant contribution to building an emotionally resilient
population of young people. But they cannot do it alone. We are certainly not expecting
teachers and other school staff to become experts in mental health. Support from other
statutory and third sector bodies, most notably health, is crucial. The whole-school approach,
where an ethos of good mental health runs through everything, needs to be a cross-sector
responsibility and a genuine step change is needed to deliver it.
Our report makes one key recommendation and 27 in support of it. Taken together, we believe
that these will deliver the step change that is needed to build a population of emotionally
resilient and mentally healthy children and young people in Wales. They are detailed,
demanding and ambitious, and I make no apologies for that. Our children and young people deserve
our ambition to be high, and our demands to be significant on their behalf.
That is why I regrettably have to say that I and the committee are deeply disappointed
with the Welsh Governmentís response to our recommendations. Firstly, too many vital points
have been rejected. Secondly, while many recommendations are accepted in principle, this is largely
on the basis that the Welsh Government perceives that the things we have called for are already
in place. Well, I say to the Welsh Government today: we do not agree with you. We do not
believe sufficient attention has been given to the robust and comprehensive evidence that
we have presented in our report. Finally, the Governmentís response does not meet our
expectation of, and demand for, a step change in approach. As a committee, we reject this
response; it is not good enough. Neither the detailed evidence weíve outlined, provided
by a range of experts with significant experience in the field, nor the recommendations to which
we have given considerable and serious thought have met with the acknowledgement, analysis
and respect they deserve. The step change we have called for is not visible in this
response as it stands. Our ambition is not met with the ambition we expect and demand
of our Government. As such, today, I invite the Cabinet Secretaries to reflect again on
their response, and to come back to us early in the autumn term with a renewed approach.
Our committee will then use our time to explore these important issues with the Cabinet Secretaries
in the forensic detail this important topic deserves.
Now, I do not wish to conclude my remarks on a negative note. Our report has been welcomed
on a cross-sector, cross-party basis. It has been welcomed as an important step towards
the transformative change that our children and young people deserve. It has been welcomed
as a key part of the important journey that I and my fellow members of the committee are
determined and committed to travel and complete in this Assembly. As our report says, this
is a subject that touches us all, and an area in which we all have a responsibility and
an ability to make change happen. We are unwilling to allow this vital issue to be handed on
in a legacy report yet again to a successor committee in the sixth Assembly, saying, ‘More
needs to be done.’ The time has now come to put mind over matter, and make the step change
that is so urgently needed. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Thank you. There are a number of Members who wish to speak in this debate. Therefore, I
will be applying the five-minute rule very strictly. So, it’s no good looking at me and
smiling if you’ve got another half a page. The answer will be ‘no’, the button will go
off, and I will call the next speaker. I’m sorry to do that, but we have a number of
people who want to speak who are not committee members, and I think that is a great testament
to the work of the committee, that others want to take part. So, I just ask you all
to bear in mind the five-minute rule strictly, and we’ll see how we get on. Darren Millar.
Darren Millar AM: Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Seven point two billion pounds, 6,000 emergency
admissions into our hospitals and 300 lives per year; that is the cost of mental health
every single year here in Wales. And I’m sure that everybody in this Chamber recognises
the severity of needing to get to grips with this problem, and the urgency, given that
we’ve had very little progress to date, to take action to tackle it. We know that around
three quarters of all mental illnesses start before a child reaches their eighteenth birthday,
and that children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, or those with parents with existing
mental health illnesses themselves, are more likely to develop mental health problems of
their own. It’s very clear from the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s work
that we need to build more resilience in childhood and adolescence, and to take some urgent action
to address the difficulties that many of our young people face when needing to access more
specialist care too. Our ‘Mind over matter’ report sets out the challenges and the details
and provides a host of sensible, practical recommendations to address them. It was universally
welcomed by stakeholders, but notóor so it seemsóby the Welsh Government.
I have to say, I don’t think I’ve seen a single Government response, in the 11 years that
I’ve been a member of this National Assembly, that is so disappointing and complacent. Just
seven recommendations have been accepted, nine have been rejected in whole or in part,
and of the rest, those that have been described as ‘accepted in principle’ frankly should
have ‘rejected’ sat beside them, because ‘accepted in principle’ is not an accurate description
of the response that we read on the paper. There’s no wonder, therefore, that we’ve had
a chorus of voices from stakeholders who have been in touch with committee members and other
Members of this National Assembly prior to the debate this afternoon to express their
concerns. The Cabinet Secretaries for health and education have managed to unite not one,
not two, but 73 psychologists to sign a single letter calling for all of the recommendations
in our report to be implemented in full. The children’s commissioner has said that the
response that’s been received is a missed opportunity, and said that the current system
it not adequate or coherent. The NSPCC have said that it won’t deliver the step change
that’s required and they are absolutely right. We need to see that step change, and it’s
a shame that the only one that some people seem interested in is a step change from one
office into the First Minister’s office. I really do feel that the Welsh Government
needs to tear its response up and go back to the drawing board and to produce something
that is a little bit more respectful, not just to the committee, but to those stakeholders
and those individuals who provided the evidence on which our report is based. We’re fed up
with empty words. We’ve seen reports that have identified problems before in previous
assemblies, and I’m afraid we haven’t seen the action coming from the Welsh Government,
from successive Ministers, to be able to deal with the challenges. We saw good practice
in the evidence that we receivedógood practice on building mental health resilience in our
schools. Schools such as Ysgol Pen y Bryn in my own constituency and their mindfulness
programmeóa wonderful opportunity that we presented and suggested should be rolled out
further in other schools. Yet, your response to our recommendation 3 was complacent, it
was inadequate, and it simply suggested more of the same and suggested that you’re already
doing the things that were necessary. That isn’t the case.
You’ve rejected our recommendation 9 and part of our recommendation 11, which call for simple
things like data to be collected and published on a regular basis on mental health waiting
times for children and young people seeking assessment and intervention, whether in primary
or secondary care. It is shockingóabsolutely shockingóthat those recommendations have
been rejected, and it suggests a complete lack of priority for our children and young
people here in Wales. Unless we have that data, we’re not going to be able to hold people
to account. And it’s no wonder that organisations like the Betsi Cadwaladr health board have
got in excess of 1,000 young people, more than all of the other health boards in Wales
combined, on waiting lists for more than a year, waiting to access assessments and waiting
to access treatment for their acute secondary care issues in mental health. It’s completely
unacceptable. And it’s for the sake of those 1,000 individuals in north Wales, and the
others around the country, that we need to see the step change that our report refers
to. So, I think we need to stick this particular
response in a place where the sun don’t shine, the shredder, and come up with something much
better in accordance with the wishes of the committee, because that’s the only thing on
which we’re going to see any change. Llyr Gruffydd AM: May I say at the outset
that I and my party agree with the main recommendations of the committee? The main recommendation,
of course, is that this should become a designated national priority. We’ve heard reference to
previous reports done by committeesóone in 2014, for example, which led to some changes
in terms of care in this area. But we now need to move to the next level, and the statistics
insist upon that. We’ve heard some already. In 2017, for example, Childline Cymru saw
a 20 per cent increase in the number of calls on suicide. In the 12 months to October 2016,
there were 19,000 referrals to CAMHS services in Wales, 3,000 more than the previous year.
So, emotional well-being and mental health problems among children and young people are
growing, and we need an uncompromising emphasis on the preventative side of the care pathwayóresilience,
emotional well-being and early intervention. We’ve heard about the missing middle, and
if the Government doesn’t introduce transformational change, as the committee has recommended,
then the services at the top of the spectrum will become entirely unsustainable because
we won’t be able to cope with the numbers that will require those services.
Schools, of course, can’t shoulder this burden alone, and that is why we want to see a whole-systems
approach, where children, young people, schools, social care, health and the voluntary sector
all work together and collaborate in order to provide the service and support and do
so to the best possible standard. But, while the committee’s ambition is clearóthat we
need this transformational actionóI have to say that the Government’s response, as
I said to the First Minister yesterday, is very weak, is complacent and is inadequate.
It is disappointing, and I share the disappointment of other Members that so few of the recommendations
have been accepted and that so many are accepted in principle and, indeed, that many have been
rejected entirely. They’ve rejected the recommendation that we should map out the availability of
staff who don’t teach in school but are there to support the emotional health and well-being
of pupils. ‘Oh, that’s the responsibility of local authorities and health boards’, according
to the Government. But that is buck passing, because this is a national problem. It is
the role of Government to look at that national bigger picture and to take it into account.
More data available and more information to the public in terms of how health boards spend
their funds on mental health services for childrenóthat, again, is rejected, and that
tells you something about transparency, I would say, too.
The committee recommended that we need to ensure that everyone who cares for children
and young people are given appropriate training in terms of the emotional and mental health
of children and young people and can refer people then, or feel confident in referring
young people, to other services. How many times did we, as a committee, hear school
staff saying that they didn’t feel empowered to respond to what they were picking up on
in the classroom? Indeed, they are overwhelmed by these cases, and they need assistance,
as does the broader workforce. The curriculum, of course, will contribute to this, but, as
I say, there is a broader workforce. There is another point here too, which has
emerged more and more. Clearly, Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers share responsibility in this
area. That can be a strength at times, but clearly I feel it can also be a weakness because
the risk is that nobody drives this issue, and nobody takes ownership and provides that
momentum to the effort to tackle these problems. As a result, ‘accepting in principle’ becomes
some sort of default response that, to all intents and purposes, means ‘business as usual’
and not transformational change. I support the comments made by the Chair and her criticism
of the Government. It is a clear failure, in my view, in this case. I suggested yesterday
that, if we are serious about sharing responsibilities across Government, then we should be looking
to the leader of that Government to be driving this, as the only person, I would have thought,
who has sufficient status to ensure that this truly is a national priority.
Briefly, to conclude, I want to talk about one specific scheme that I have come across,
which is SAPóthe student assistance programme. It’s a programme for children and young people
between 14 and 19. It is implemented at the moment in schools in Wrexham, where children
come together to discuss their feelings and problems, so that they can access the support
that they need. They are referred to services where necessary too, and groups of peers come
together. They meet on a weekly basis in secondary and primary schools, and this allows them
to identify the problems that we are talking about at an early stage. It has beenó
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Right. Thank you.
Michelle Brown AM: Of the key recommendations in this report, the only ones the Government
accepts are the ones that either require no action or are not measurable. They accept
the recommendation to state the emotional and mental well-being and resilience of our
children and young people as a national priority, but when it comes to the recommendations that
mean they have to take action, the Government start to fudge and spin their responses with
either rejections or only accepting recommendations in principle, which we all know means that
nothing meaningful will be done. I don’t know what more this committee can
do to get the Government to take the actions needed. The situation is desperate. As Darren
has mentioned already, more than 1,000 children and young people are waiting 12 to 18 months
for neurodevelopmental assessment in Betsi Cadwaladr, and the committee has recommended
that the Government immediately develop a recovery plan. What’s the Welsh Government’s
response? They say they’ll write to Betsi Cadwaladr, asking them to set out a recovery
plan. First, this problem has been growing for years on Labour’s watch, so why have they
not asked Betsi to do this previously? If they have, why ask again? Secondly, the current
board presided over this disgusting, inhumane backlog and helped create it in the first
place, so what makes the Government think that one of the main creators of the problem
have any idea how to fix it? The Government talks about establishing baselines for the
delivery of neurodevelopmental pathways, but that’s pointless when it comes to health boards
that are under this Government’s watch that routinely, and by increasing margins, miss
the existing baselines. In the week we celebrate 70 years of the NHS,
and Labour try to claim they’re the sole guardians of Bevan’s legacy, it is important to remember
he said that people should have access when ill to the best care that medical skill can
provide. Well, the Cabinet Secretary for health is nowhere near providing that. The longer
the wait, the more mentally ill a sufferer can become. The risk of suicide or self-harm
increases, their education will be further damaged and life for their families becomes
increasingly difficult. As a committee, we looked at this in great
detail, as a group of AMs from very, very different parties, coming together to try
to improve the lives of children and young people, so why does the Cabinet Secretary
think it will be okay to reject some of the recommendations and only accept in principle
most of the others? At point 4, you say you accept it in principle, but then you actually
reject its key recommendation, saying you won’t endorse a specific programme the committee
are asking you to, even though that project involves the Samaritans, who I think have
a much deeper insight into mental health issues than you, Cabinet Secretary.
Point 9 of this Government’s response tells Welsh youngsters and their parents all they
need to know about what the Labour Government think of their own management of this issue.
The Government are refusing the committee’s recommendation, a very sensible recommendation,
to publish data on waiting times for assessment and interventions for children and young people
since the commencement of the provisions of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010. I’m
sure that if the data were good news, the Cabinet Secretary would have already announced
it. So, I do wonder what positive reason there could be for the Welsh Government to withhold
this information from the public. The situation has become so intolerable that
nothing less than a full acceptance and commitment to implement all of the recommendations from
the committee is going to be good enough. The Government still has its head in the sand
over this problem, and their attitude of ‘Make the right noise, but do nothing’ is what led
to this problem in the first place. The Cabinet Secretary should be bending over backwards
to apologise to the young people and families he and his Government have so badly let down
and do everything the committee has recommended. So, finally, my despair at the scale of the
problem is topped only my despair that, still, even in the face of a report such as this,
they are still trying to spin their way out of it while Welsh children and young people
suffer. The Government’s response is disgusting, and I will leave my comments there.
Julie Morgan AM: I’m a member of the committee, and I think this is one of the most important
inquiries that we have actually undertaken. I know the Government does acknowledge that
children’s emotional and mental health is an issue that crosses so many boundaries between
so many different people and so many different organisationsóhealth, schools, youth support
organisations, youth clubs, CAMHSóso I welcome the committee’s recommendation and the Government’s
acceptance that it should be a national priority, but I think if you have something as a national
priority, you have to go all out to achieve it, and it’s in the more detailed recommendations
that we don’t really have the response that we were hoping for.
I agree very strongly with the committee’s view that it should be the business of everyone
who comes into contact with children to have their well-being and mental health at the
forefront of their minds, because what could be more precious than a child’s state of mind?
We must aim for a generation of emotionally secure, happy children with a positive mindset,
but to do that the Welsh Government does have to take action.
The report recommends that everyone who cares, volunteers or works with children and young
people be trained in emotional and mental health awareness so that they can tackle issues
of stigma and promote good mental health. Now, the Government accepts this, but only
accepts it in principle. It is disappointing to see this described as ‘unrealistic’. Surely,
most people who work with children receive, as a minimum, some initial training, so why
could not this include an element to at least raise awareness of the importance of looking
out for children’s emotional and mental well-being? I can’t see that there’s any problem at all
in that, and I don’t see that that’s unrealistic at all. I think it’s essential that initial
teacher training has this built in, and the training that youth workers have, the training
that health staff have, and I really think that that is something that could be incorporated
into the training that already takes place with no problem. So, I do not accept that
it is unrealistic that that recommendation should be taken forward.
Now, I think when a child’s mental health suffers, it does cause a huge amount of stress
and upset for their family, their friends, for the school, for everybody who works with
them. The ripples from a child’s mental health, I think, go so far, and many of us have experienced
that issue. Families can do their best to provide for their children emotionally and
materially, but problems with your emotional and mental health can happen to every family.
So, children’s mental health is a great leveller. But I think we do know that there are particularly
vulnerable groups, and two of those are looked-after children and adopted children, and I think
it’s important to signal that out. Last week, I sponsored an event in which Adoption
UK launched its report, called ‘Bridging the Gap’, about giving adopted children an equal
chance in school. Adopted children do need extra support in school, and schools are maybe
not sometimes as aware of this as they should beóthere is an understanding gap. And it
shows that 65 per cent of adopted children did not feel that their teachers fully understood
how to support them, and this rose to 74 per cent at secondary school age. So, I think
this is very concerning that the feedback from adopted childrenówho, we know, because
of attachment issues they may have had early in life, are more vulnerable to have mental
health problemsódidn’t feel that they could turn to their teachers. I do think that our
report has reflected that, really, in most of the aspects that we’ve dealt withóthat
children have to seek support and wait for support in a way that the Chair has described
that is not acceptable. I feel it should be the burning mission of
this Assembly to ensure that our children do grow up with sound, healthy bodies and
minds, and that it should be our burning mission to make this happen. So, I feel that this
report does lay it out, but I do think it is up to the Government to ensure that this
is their burning mission as well, and that together we can all work together to make
our children happy and fulfilled. David Melding AM: Today is 4 July, and in
Jefferson’s sparkling prose, we are reminded that we are born with inalienable rights,
and the most important are ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.
Now, ‘the pursuit of happiness’ we would define as some form of emotional well-being today,
and there’s absolutely no doubt that the denial of effective help and diagnosis of emotional
and mental health conditions in childhood has a huge impact on the person and their
development as adults, and the potential for their happiness and the pursuit of all sorts
of goals in life. I speak from my own experience. It was not
something picked up. I have lived with periods of depression and, more particularly, anxiety,
throughout my life. A lot of my coping mechanisms have been self-learnt and, more latterly,
through effective health interventions. But, you know, it’s an incredibly alienating experience,
and I remember, even at university, being completely perplexed by some of my symptoms
and not having a basic apprehension of what they were. That, I think, is a terrible situation
to be in. I commend this report. I think it is outstanding,
as is Lynne Neagle, who has to be one of our greatest backbenchers, and the way you hold
your side to account is a masterclass about how people should pursue the national good,
and that takes you way beyond partisan politics. You’re held in the highest esteem across the
Chamber. Can I just say that I have the privilege of
chairing the Government’s ministerial advisory group on outcomes for children? We met on
Friday, and this report, ‘Mind over matter’, was one of the agenda items, and it was received
with great enthusiasm, particularly amongst the third sector representatives that are
crucial to the working of that group. But there was some concern, in particular, about
this practice of accepting in principle. Now, I explained, in a fairly neutral way, that
this was something that had been the practice in Governments’ responses to reports for many
years, and that a committee would usually spend a lot of time returning to the items
that had been accepted in principle, and examining how deep that was after six months, a year
or whatever, whether something had practically been done, or whether it was a way of basically
putting something on the shelf. So, I know you will return to this when you come to your
in-depth scrutiny post report, and I know the Ministers will be aware of this as well,
and they will know the concern and the frustration of some Members here. But I do remind the
Cabinet Secretaries that the Permanent Secretary last year said that the Welsh Government would
move away from the practice of accepting recommendations in principle and say frankly whether they
accept the recommendation as it’s framed or not, and then they can give their reasons
for that. I do think that’s at the heart of real accountability. It is somewhat frustrating
to see what happens in this report. Can I just turn to some of the detail? I think
the need to focus now on the preventative end of the pathway is really, really important,
otherwise we will see further difficulties with the acute end, and the referral via CAMHS
in the inappropriate referrals out of not knowing where else to go, so you make a CAMHS
referral. I think some of the practical suggestionsóthe national approach for schools, including the
need for a guidance teacher model, so that lead members of staff have responsibility
and enable other teachers to pick up the thingsóthis is basic pedagogy. I find it astonishing that
it is referred to as somehow being impractical that, amongst the most highly professional
people we have in our country, the teaching staff are not capable of this. They should
receive the training and the support to do it. The importance of therapeutic intervention
has been very, very key in my own experience, and the active offer of advocacy for children
accessing mental health services. Can I commend, in particular, recommendation
22óthe assessment of the emotional and mental health needs of children entering care? That’s
of particular concern to the ministerial advisory group. And recommendation 23óthe Welsh Government
to assess the provision of emotional mental health services for looked-after children,
and this should be informed by the work of the ministerial advisory groupó[Inaudible.]
Dai Lloyd AM: Yes, indeed, and I’m privileged to take part in this debate. I’m not a member
of Lynne Neagle’s excellent committee. I commend Lynne Neagle as Chair, in the first instance.
I’m the lowly Chair of the health committee in this place, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned
before that I’m a GP as well, in Swansea, for about the last 38 years.
So, from the front-line experience of dealing with the children’s mental health service,
it is really, really frustrating, I’ve got to say. We need an absolute step changeómore
than a step change, an actual revolution in the provision, not just of the mental health
service for children and young people but in all the emotional and counselling support
services as well, both in the voluntary sector and in the statutory sector as well. We need
to increase statutory and non-statutory provisionóactually, more people working to help our children and
young people. Why is that? Well, over the yearsó. I used to do the baby clinic years
ago, and beautiful babies that would be all happy, smiling, but I see them growing up
nowóthey’re now grandparents, as I told you yesterdayóbut growing upó. Sometimes if
you’re unlucky to be in a traumatised household, you suffer a horrendous childhoodóbeautiful
babies become brutalised toddlersóand then you become a traumatised teenager, mistrusting
everybody in authority, even those trying to help you. You self-harm, you’re emotionally
damaged, and who can you turn to? So, you try your GP. So, GPs, yes, we’re programmed
to help people, but unless I can convince secondary care that you’ve got a describable
mental health disorder, they won’t take you. Referrals to CAMHS are bounced back to the
GP. That’s because the element of a young person’s distress is not taken into account
at all. There has to be a proper diagnosisóthat’s the missing middle that this excellent report
is going on about. And we have to muddle through with the missing middle, and that’s not how
we should be doing things in Wales in the twenty-first century. So, I keep seeing people,
they are still growing up, my children and my young people, and some of them are horrendously
damaged. And yet, I’ve got to wait for them to be bad enough to access CAMHS. Now that’s
not the stuff of early intervention. It’s not the stuff of early intervention;
that is about reaching a threshold of treatment and that’s not what we’re about nowadays,
since we passed the excellent Mental Health (Wales) Measure under Jonathan Morgan’s leadership
here in 2010. It’s about early intervention, it’s about prevention, and we’re still not
doing it. We have to get those services on the ground. I don’t want to keep seeing people
in distress with my limited capabilities, with nowhere to refer them to, because they’re
not bad enough or don’t have a mental health diagnosis, to sort them out. We can’t cope
with young people so distressed because of things that have happened without there being
an actual mental health disorder. Yes, some people have a mental health disorder as well,
but some young people don’t and the distress of the whole situation is just not bad enough
for us as a society to do anything about. It hurts us as GPs, having letters from secondary
care saying, ‘No, you can’t refer this person here because thereís no recognisable mental
health disorder.’ So, what am I supposed to do then? Yes, back to the schools. I have
no locus of control over school-based counselling services, though. I’m looking forward that
the full implementation of the recommendations here means that primary care, the voluntary
sector and schools will work togetheróGPs, primary care and teachers together. Because,
at the moment, we’re bombing back and forth by default, because I can’t help them. Hopefully,
the teachers can. But weíve got to empower our teachers as well, letís be fair.
Letís be fair here now, because we’re muddling through. Parity of physical and mental illness
people sayówell, if I’ve got a physically ill child, I pick up the phone, I ring secondary
care, and they deal with it. I try getting hold of secondary care for children who are
emotionally distressed, and nothing happens. That has to change. Diolch yn fawr.
Lee Waters AM: I well remember when this building was opened, the national poet for Wales, Gwyneth
Lewis, gave a reading where she described this Chamber as the cockpit of the nationóthe
place where we come together to discuss things of importance. And listening to this debate
and reading this report, it’s clear there’s a cross-party consensus that the current system
is inadequate. To be fair to the Welsh Government, the last time a report like this was written,
they responded and there have been significant improvements in the quality of specialised
treatment for young people with mental health disorders, and the same type of response is
merited now for the central call of this report to treat the earlier stages of the development
of mental health problems. I’m not on the committee, but I’ve read the
report in detail, I’ve read the children’s commissioner’s response, I’ve sat through
multiple presentations from different groups, I deal with these issues on an almost weekly
basis in my surgery and I’ve discussed it with my local health boardóa health board,
it must said, that has a waiting list of two and a half years to see CAMHS. Parents come
to see me on a regular basis in a desperate stateóa desperate stateóand they have to
wait for two and a half years to get a diagnosis. And when they get the diagnosis, their expectations
are overly inflated, because the system has very little to offer them. There’s despair
on the part of GPsóthis we’ve heard already. There’s despair on the part of teachers. I
was speaking late last night to a teacher from my constituency who told me, ‘You don’t
always know where to look for help for these children, you just want something to be done.’
The missing middle the report so effectively pointed out, where therapeutic or lower level
support can help, is really the focus we should have on this report. I should commend this
report. It’s the best report of a committee I have read in my time in the Assembly and
I pay tribute to all its members and particularly to its Chair.
But I should say it’s a very tough report. It’s very well crafted, it has SMART targets,
the recommendations are specific, they are measurable, they are attainable, they are
relevant, and they have time limits to them. It’s no wonder the Government has struggled
to respond to that in its formal response, which I too found bitterly disappointing.
I understand the anger of the members of the committee and, looking at the faces of my
friends and colleagues the Cabinet Secretaries, I too can tell that they are not happy with
the position that they find themselves in. I think we need address this to the Welsh
Government and not make poorly judged comments, if I may say to Darren Millar, to personalise
this. I think the machine of Government is struggling
to respond to this crisis we have with young people. This is a problem that has increased
in intensity and volume over recent years and I think the system is struggling to know
how to respond to it. The merit of this report is that it is evidence based from practitioners
and from the third sector to give us a practical route-map, and I think it would be prudent
for us to return in the autumn, perhaps with an individual Member’s debate or another committee
debate, to give Ministers a chance to reflect over the summer on the strength of feeling
and on the evidence. I’ve lived the issues presented in this report.
I hesitate about discussing personal matters in this Chamber, but I’ve reflected that we
are elected here not just to represent our constituents, but because of our personal
experiences too. When I first experienced the system when my son was seven years old,
I was told, ‘Come back when he’s throwing himself against the wall’, and sure enough,
six years later, after a month of very expensive hospital treatment, we did get effective support.
It was support from the third sector, from Action for Children, which we found to be
superb, and from family therapy through CAHMS, which is also highly effective. This is the
sort of support that we would have benefited from six years earlier, which would have prevented
enormous family strain and distress, not just to my son, but to all of us. Its impact is
profound and far reaching, and that’s the type of intervention this report recommendsóthe
smaller type of measures, the earlier interventions that can help before it gets to crisis.
There is a quote in here from young people in Abergele, where they say
‘You have to have a crisis first’, before the system will respond. The children’s
commissioner, in her very pointed response, describes the Government’s response as a missed
opportunity and she says there should be no wrong door. She says there hasn’t been joint
working within the Government, and I’d ask my colleagues on the front bench to reflect
on that and come back to us in the autumn. Diolch.
Angela Burns AM: First of all, I’d like to thank Lynne Neagle and her committee for this
report. Lynne, you are fearless and tough and I have great admiration and total respect
for you. I think the children and young people’s committee is in very good hands, and if it
was up to me I think the children of Wales would be good and safe in your hands too.
I think the ‘Mind over matter’ report has got to the heart of the issues, they’ve listened
to the voices of the experts, they’ve listened to practitioners, young people and organisations,
and they have made meaty and insightful worthwhile recommendations. I think that they are recommendations
that deserve to be listened to. I thought very hard about how I was going
to pitch my contribution to this debate today. Would I reflect the chorus of shock and dismay
of the committee and of witnesses with regard to the Government response, or should I talk
about the effect that this has on children and young people in my particular constituencyóthe
kids we’ve tried to rescue, my team and I, in my little office in Tenby with the help
of county councils, both Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshireóor would I talk about the multiple
suicides that we’ve seen in Pembrokeshire over the last few years and the ongoing coroner’s
questions, or should I just do a forensic analysis of the Welsh Government responses?
I’ve decided I’m not going to do any of that. ‘Mind over matter’, perinatal mental health,
adoption services, children and adolescent mental health, child obesity, attendance and
behaviour, adoption, advocacy services for children, placement of kids in care, youth
justice, not in employment or education, autism in further education, dyslexia, post 19 with
additional learning needs, mental health services: 15 committee reports by three different committees,
each and every one of them since I’ve been an Assembly Member.
What does perinatal mental health have to do with what we’re talking about today? Well,
let me tell you. Recommendation 10, recommendation 22, recommendation 26, they all point to what
David Melding encapsulated so well: that if we do not help at the very, very beginning,
if we do not get it right at the very, very beginning, then all we’re going to do is spend
the rest of our time picking up the pieces. And it’s a quarteróa quarteróof our population
that is in distress at some point or another. Ninety eight per cent of the children who
are not in education officially have got mental health issues of the type that this report
talks about. No, they’re not psychotic in a way that we can medicalise, but they have
all the other issues. They’ve been badly let down. They have been neglected. They have
been abused. They are lost, they’re confused, they don’t know where to go to, they have
emotional and behavioural problems. In 11 yearsóI thought it was 10 years but,
Darren Millar, you mentioned 11 years, and we came in at the same timeóin 11 years,
15 reports, all of which touch on the fact that we have not got it right. What does it
take? Because I say this to you: we have too many children out of education, we’ve got
too many kids unable to cope with twenty-first century life, we’ve got too many wounded kids
in our nation who will grow into adults who will not fulfil their potential, who will
not be able to do all the things that those of us in this Chamber are lucky enough to
do. How can we develop our maturity as a nation? How can Wales step forward into the twenty-first
century when we leave so many people by the wayside? How can we hope to improve people’s
lifestyles? Because if we don’t get them a firm bedrock to build on, how will we, Wales,
afford to pick up the pieces in the years to come?
The Government response, I thought, was off-hand. I thought it was unengaged, Cabinet Secretaries,
and in parts I thought it was downright resentful. I felt there was a real whiff of inertia.
Welsh Government, you are out of step with Assembly Members of all parties, including
Members of Welsh Labour. The kickback to this report has been phenomenalóthe children’s
commissioner, the Samaritans, the NSPCC, the psychologists. If you had any sense, you’d
put Lynne Neagle in charge of a task and finish group to drive this kind of report through
and make it happen, because my kids, your kids and your grandkids need this. These people
up here, they need this change now. Leanne Wood AM: Cabinet Secretary, I know
that we all want to see the best possible outcome when it comes to the mental health
of children and young people, but you must feel the palpable disappointment from Members
across this Chamber with the Government’s response to this report. We know the problems,
we know the solutions, but the Welsh Government seems reluctant to act.
Accepting ideas in principle will not lead to action, and action is what we need. Every
expert agrees the Welsh Government needs to act to ensure that the regional partnership
boards have a mechanism to focus on children and young people. They must also require all
regions to ensure that CAMHS and social care services provide an integrated service to
children with emotional, behavioural and mental health needs. A whole-school approach, mapped
and led jointly by health, education and social care is needed to guide schools, and this
will ensure that the help that should be available for children and young people will be at the
foundation of an equitable emotional and mental health service for young people and children
in this country. Cabinet Secretary, these are technical policy
solutions. Acronyms and jargon make us feel disconnected from the real effects that poor
mental health service provision leads to. If anyone knows any teachers, young people’s
mental health is a matter raised by them all the time. It’s impacting now on so many people.
As so many people have said today, there is so much despair out there.
When I was young and growing up, my mother’s biggest fear for me was an early pregnancy.
Now, I would say that most parents’ greatest concerns are about their children’s mental
well-being. Quite late this morning, I posted on my Rhondda Facebook page that I was speaking
in this debate, and the response was overwhelming. I want to make the Cabinet Secretary aware
of some of the real stories behind some of these statistics. One person I’m not going
to name gave the following account of their experience.
‘I visited the GP four times to ask for help and was simply given links to online self-help
guides in NLP. On the fourth and final occasion, I gave a full disclosure of my use of alcohol
and cannabis as a form of self-medication and I said that I was suicidal. I wasn’t leaving
without him understanding how I felt and how desperate I had become. I was told that I
would first have to stop drinking before I could access any further help and wait six
months for the most basic counselling appointment. On 12 August, I attempted suicide. I was only
interrupted by a friend coming home unexpectedly.’ Now, that moment was a turning point for this
person. They turned to friends for support and I’m pleased to say that they got it and
are now in a much better place. A mother commented that her seven-year-old
son suffers from anxiety. Despite the 28-day maximum waiting time for access to mental
health support, she’s now been waiting around four months. He is now on the verge of being
excluded from school and even placed in a special school due to the school not being
able to accommodate him without an official diagnosis. Anyone in a crisis cannot afford
to wait, and, for children and young people, the urgency is even greater. Stories of children
waiting months on end or being passed between child and adolescent mental health services
were so prevalent in response to my Facebook post that I can’t even scratch the surface
here. If you read these pleas for help, Cabinet
Secretary, I’m sure that you would agree that this is heartbreaking stuff, and for the families
that suffer as a result of the system’s inaction it is doubly so. So, please, listen to Members
here today. Act with urgency. For some, this question is literally a matter of life or
death. A child mental health crisis is brewing, and if you do not make urgent radical changes
now we could be facing true disaster. I fully support the calls made by the Chair of the
committee, who has spoken excellently in this debate. We all owe it to our future generations
to get a much better grip on this question. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Finally, Jayne Bryant. Jayne Bryant AM: Thank you for the opportunity
to speak in this important debate today. It’s a very important report and I’d like to commend
the Children, Young People and Education Committee for conducting their thorough and timely inquiry
and my friend and colleague Lynne Neagle for her leadership in that and for the way she’s
spoken today. Research by the Office for National Statistics
earlier this year found that 10 per cent of young people aged 16 to 24 describe themselves
as always or often alone. This is the highest in any age group. These figures are reflected
in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s announcement that
they have seen a significant increase in children and young people contacting ChildLine about
their emotional and mental health. It’s now the most common reason for ChildLine counselling
in Wales. The excellent ‘Mind over matter’ report has
been welcomed by clinical and health professionals and third sector organisations. They support
the report’s identification of the urgent challenges faced at the beginning of the care
pathway and its key recommendation that emotional well-being, resilience and early intervention
should be a national priority. The situation is urgent. Research has shown that around
half of all mental health problems begin at the age of 14. Failure to intervene can lead
to demand outstripping supply of specialist services and, like other Members here, I deal
with many of these issues on a daily and weekly basis.
The report highlights the importance of measures that can be taken to prevent children and
young people reaching crisis point and building resilience. Across Wales, there are some fantastic
examples of projects working to support the emotional and mental health of children and
young people, and I’d like to highlight a few that I know well. Earlier this year, I
visited the nurture group in Pillgwenlly Primary School in my constituency with the Cabinet
Secretary for Education. The group provides assistance to children who need extra support
with emotional and behavioural needs by building relationships between pupils, teachers and
parents. The group helps equip children with the skills and resilience they need to get
the most out of every aspect of school. The children themselves are very open about how
being part of the nurture group has changed how they feel, and this group makes tangible
differences to those children’s lives. I’m very glad that the committee visited the
Changing Minds project in Newport as part of their inquiry. I’ve seen for myself how
the project at Newport Mind provides peer support for young people. Its preventative
nature has had a marked impact on reducing the use of local primary mental health support
services, and I’d like to thank the Chair today here for including their voices again
this afternoon. Among those who gave evidence to the inquiry about the importance of preventative
measures was Carol Fradd, director of Newport Samaritans. I met Carol not long afterwards,
and she explained about the DEAL, the developing emotional awareness and listening tool, a
teacher resource developed by the Samaritans. Following the success of DEAL, the Samaritans
have called for emotional and mental health awareness to be included in initial teacher
training qualifications, and work conducted by the Children’s Society has shown that the
school environment can have a big impact on children’s well-being, yet the responsibility
cannot fall on teachers alone, and, as others have said, it’s the responsibility of all
of us. Establishing working partnerships with children’s
clinicians and professionals who have the skills to transform children’s mental health
careóWelsh Government must continue to enable them to share their experience and expertise.
Barnardo’s are among those who have highlighted the benefit of developing partnership working
with local communities such as Millbrook primary in Bettws, which I visited with the Minister
for children earlier this week. A key contributing factor to the increasing
prevalence of emotional and mental health issues is undoubtedly the influence and pressure
of social media, and it’s really difficult for all of us here today to imagine how social
media affects young people’s self esteem. Young people are increasingly experiencing
a significant portion of their social interaction online, but this cannot replace human-to-human
contact and the valuable skills gained from it. Scrolling through social media can magnify
the mixture of emotions we all experience, unfortunately often reinforcing and prolonging
negative thoughts and feelings. Today, we’ve really heard the strength of feeling, cross-party,
about this. From a young age, we instil in children that they do not need to tolerate
physical pain. The committee’s report is an excellent and crucial reminder that we all
have a responsibility to ensure young people grow up knowing that their minds matter as
well. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Thank you. Can I now call the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams?
Kirsty Williams AM: Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Firstly, can I thank the
committee for their comprehensive report detailing the step change that they feel is needed in
this area? I will join with David Melding in paying tribute to the committee’s Chair,
Lynne Neagle, for her dedication to these issues, not just in this report, but over
her time here as an Assembly Member. Could I also join her in thanking those who gave
personal testimony to the committeeóthat’s never an easy thing to doóand also thank
David and Lee who, today, have spoken of their own personal experiences in this regard? It
reminds us that nobody is immune from issues of mental ill health.
Emotional and mental health support for young people is a matter that cuts across portfolios
and an area where only effective cross-government and multi-agency working will effect the preventative
and interventionist action that we need to take to make a change, and it’s critical that
we get this right. And I say that, Deputy Presiding Officer, not just as a Cabinet Secretary,
but a mother of teenage girls. Improving mental health and well-being is a Welsh Government
priority, and although the report acknowledges that there have been improvements in services,
particularly at the specialist end of provision with mental health, it highlights the area
where we can and we must do better for our young people. Overall, I believe the committee
and the Welsh Government share the same ambitions, although we may disagree in some areas about
how that is best achieved. But I can promise you thisóthat both I, myself, and the Cabinet
Secretary for health are committed to working with the committee and its members to make
progress on this agenda. We have come a long way, Deputy Presiding Officer, but I would
be the first to acknowledge that there is still a very long way to go. And the speech
by Leanne Wood, and the evidence that she’s presented from her own constituency, backs
that up. Our aim is to effect a cultural shift in Wales
to direct focus on the well-being of young people. One of the outcomes of this new focus
on well-being should be prevention, so that we move our emphasis from crisis management
to the prevention of mental health problems from developing or escalating in the first
place. As acknowledged by the Chair, this is the best thing for the individual, so we
can limit their pain and distress. But it will also create the space within specialist
mental health services to concentrate on those children and young people who, despite help
and support, need those services the most. We expect different areas to be able to work
together so that we have a whole-system approach that truly puts the child or the young person
at its heart, and, to this end, we need to continue to build and improve those relationships
between different services. If I may turn directly to some issues facing
education, there is already a lot of work under way in our schools to support this renewed
focus on well-being, such as the development of the new curriculum and the health and well-being
area of learning and experience, changes to professional learning, and the schools’ health
research network, with the new data that they have collected on well-being.
Also, before the end of this term, I hope to publish the online safety tool for children
to address some of the very relevant points that Jayne Bryant referred to in her speech
and the effect of social media on the mental health of young people. With regard to the
training of staff, which was mentioned by Julie Morgan, we are currently reforming the
way in which our initial teacher education is delivered in Wales. The reforms require
the newly accredited ITE providersóand they were announced on Friday of last weekóto
design and deliver courses that address the health and well-being area of learning and
experience. If they don’t do that, they won’t be accredited.
Now, with regard to that recommendation that there has been a lot of focus on today, it
is, of course, absolutely, Julie, right to expect that people working in our education
profession and in our youth service have been trained in this regard. But the recommendation
says that every volunteer working with a child also should be trained, and we need extra
time to consider how, practically, that could be achieved, and how we can do it without
any unintended consequences of maybe putting people off from volunteering with children.
And we will need to consider more carefully how we can work with those who support children
in their football club on a Saturday, or their Brownies or Guides or Scouts, or even people
like me and my husband, who volunteer with our local young farmers’ clubóhow we can
make mandatory training work for all those people who give so much to their communities
in their spare time and without any charge to the state. We don’t want to have any unintended
consequences. There is a clear need for teachers to have
help and support in responding to children experiencing difficulties such as anxiety,
low mood or self-harm, and I’m very grateful that there’s been recognition across the Chamber
that this cannot just be the job of teachers alone. We’re already asking an awful lot of
our education system and our professionals, and I’m very grateful that Members have recognised
this. So, the NHS does have a role in training and
consultation across sectors, providing early help in schools by suitably trained staff.
That’s why, in September of last year, the Cabinet Secretary for health and I jointly
launched the CAMHS school in-reach programme, backed with £1.4 million of investment to
provide dedicated professional support to schools. Such school-based services have benefits
for the schools’ staff and their learners, but also bring benefit to the NHS service
by easing pressure on specialist CAMHS, by reducing inappropriate referrals, and, crucially,
building those relationships that we need in between different sectors of the public
service. [Interruption.] We needó. Yes, of course.
Lee Waters AM: Just reflecting on a point you made a little earlier about the practical
implications of one of the recommendations, and David Melding made the point: the Permanent
Secretary had assured the Public Accounts Committee that the Government would stop this
practice of accepting things in principle and be clear when they were rejecting it.
I’ve written to the Permanent Secretary again this morning, asking her to reinforce that
ruling in the light of this report. There will be times, of course, when it’s not possible
to accept it, but do you accept that it would be better to be clear about the reasons for
that rather than accepting in principle? Kirsty Williams AM: Well, Lee, what I would
say is that I would much rather, as a Cabinet Secretary, be in a position to be able to
accept or reject, but sometimesóand I acknowledge the extra time that the committee has given
my officials and myself to work on thisówe need more time to truly understand what the
implications of saying ‘accept’ are. Because if we say, ‘accept’, then we mean that that
has to happen, and sometimes there are complex issues that need to be fully understood, and
the unintended consequences understood and mitigated against. Therefore, I want to make
progress on all of these recommendations where we say we’ve accepted in principle. And, as
I said at the beginning of my speech, I give an absolute commitment that myself and the
Cabinet Secretary for health will continue to work with the committee to be able to move
those things forward. Indeed, since the time that the Government’s report, recommendations
and response has been published, ongoing work has happened, and already, as a Government,
we’ve been able to be more positive about responding to this. If I could make some progress
on my speech, Deputy Presiding Officer, I’d be able to give the Member a very real example
of how, in the short space of time, we have been able to continue that work and been able
to respond appropriately. As I said, we need to take a whole-school
approach, and have already recognised that our education institutions are key sites for
both promoting positive mental health and well-being and providing evidence-based prevention
and early intervention. In recent years, Welsh Government has invested significantly to improve
CAMHS provision across primary and secondary care, with over £8 million of annual dedicated
funding, which has enabled the recruitment of new staff, training of existing staff and
the establishment of new services. However, the report rightly recognises that there are
areas where we need to improve, particularly in the case of primary care. We have commissioned
the NHS delivery unit to review activity and relationships with other CAMHS so that we
can address provision challenges. Since responding to the committee, the health
Secretary and I have continued our discussions about how we can continue to move the agenda
forward. We will, therefore, be accepting point 4 of the committee’s key recommendation
on reviewing the progress made in prioritising the emotional and mental health and well-being
and resilience of our children. We will prioritise and strengthen arrangements to drive this
agenda, working both strategically across the education and health departments to deliver
sustainable approaches to mental well-being. With regards to evaluating our progress, we
will work with the committee to ensure that we are setting the right parameters for that
work. Although we have some concerns about what is the optimum time to continue to review,
we will engage with the committee and report on progress at a time that we are able to
agree with the committee Chair. I’m sure that other Assembly Members, as has been demonstrated
across the Chamber this afternoon, will also be interested in this, despite not being members
of that committee, and we will bring forward proposals as our thinking develops.
We have also had further discussions around recommendation 12ópoint 2óregarding distress.
This has been mentioned several times this afternoon. Specialist CAMHS provide support
for young people with more complex mental health issues and, as such, will always need
to respond to the clinical needs of the individual. However, distress is considered as one of
a number of factors to determine the most appropriate services to meet a person’s needs,
both for those who are referred to CAMHS and for those who do not meet the referral threshold.
Therefore, we will be engaging with the Aneurin Bevan university health board to monitor the
delivery of their services in Gwent, which are exceptional and doing very well, to see
how we can learn from their experiences on the Gwent project to improve services across
the length and breadth of our nation. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Could I ask you to wind up, please? Kirsty Williams AM: Of course. Apologies,
Deputy Presiding Officer. Therefore, can I finally thank the committee
and the Chair again for their extensive engagement and their raising awareness of these issues?
I also welcome the health committee’s work that they’re currently doing on suicide prevention,
which is an important element to sit alongside this work. Deputy Presiding Officer, we can’t
allow any child or young person to feel that they have no-one to turn to, and I will, with
Cabinet colleagues, work with the committee to secure the emotional and mental health
support provision that we know we all need and we all need to deliver soon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. Can I now call on Lynne Neagle
to reply to the debate? Lynne Neagle AM: Thank you, Deputy Presiding
Officer. I’ve got three minutes and 30 seconds to reply, which does rather limit what I can
do. So, I hope that Members will forgive me if I don’t respond to each individual contribution,
but I would like to assure you that we will go through the Record and make sure that everybody
gets a response to this really important debate. I would like to thank everybody who’s spoken,
from across parties. It is just so heartening to hear the massive support that there is
in this place for the step change that the committee knows is needed. Particularlyóalthough
I said I wasn’t going to respond to individual contributionsóI would just like to thank
David and Lee for sharing their personal experiences, which is not just courageous but helps everybody
else realise that it’s okay to talk about these things. So, thank you to both of you.
I should thank, as well, our brilliant clerk and our fantastic research team. We are really
lucky, as a committee, to have such a brilliant team supporting us. I thank the members of
the committee who’ve worked really hard on this important inquiry and thank again the
stakeholders who have come to us so willingly and shared their experiences in such a powerful
way. I think the committees are one of the huge strengths of this Assembly, and we’re
privileged and should be grateful that people come to us to share their views in that way.
Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, and I hope that is something that the Welsh Government
will take into account. I’d like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for her response and
thank her for her engagement with me, as usual. Even where we haven’t agreed, there has been
a willingness to engage, and I know that she personally is very committed to tackling these
issues. I hope that the Government will reflect on
the response, because even the Cabinet Secretary’s comments there highlight some of the anomalies,
really. I am disappointed that the Welsh Government has got so hung up on the issue of everybodyóor
people working with childrenóhaving some basic mental health training, because I don’t
think that is too ambitious. There are loads of models out there. You only have to look
at Dementia Friendsó45 minutes to give you a really good understanding. The health committee
has heard about 20-minute suicide prevention training. There are models out there, and
I don’t think it should be too much of an aspiration for us to try and do this for our
children and young people. I’m pleased with the movement that there’s
been, but there needs to be much, much more. What I would say is that the movement on the
‘missing middle’ recommendation just is a very powerful example, really, of how I don’t
think this response has been properly considered, because if people had read the narrative,
understood the narrative and realised that this is happening in Gwent anyway, then there
should have been no need for that rejection. So, it doesn’t tell a good story about joined-up
Government on such an important issue. Can I just conclude, then, by thanking again
the young peopleóthe young people that are here for this debate, but also all the young
people who have engaged with the inquiry and who I know this is so important to? I assure
them that we have heard their voices and we, as a committee, will continue to do everything
that we can with maximum urgency to get that step change that we need. This is about more
than talking about early intervention. It’s about more than claiming mental health has
parity with physical health. This is about delivering this for our children and young
people. If we get that right, not only will we improve the quality of their lives, but
I believe we will save lives. Thank you. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Thank you. The proposal is to note the committee’s report. Does any Member object? No. Therefore,
the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Item 6 on the agenda is the Member debate
under Standing Order 11.21 on Carillion and Capita. I call on Lee Waters to move the motion.
Lee. Lee Waters AM: Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I wanted
to bring to the attention of the Assembly these two reports, published in quick succession,
at a juncture where I believe Wales has some critical choices to make. The first, published
jointly by the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and
the Work and Pensions Committee on 6 May this year, opens with this stark paragraph:
‘Carillionís rise and spectacular fall was a story of recklessness, hubris and greed.
Its business model was a relentless dash for cash, driven by acquisitions, rising debt,
expansion into new markets and exploitation of suppliers. It presented accounts that misrepresented
the reality of the business, and increased its dividend every year, come what may. Long
term obligations, such as adequately funding its pension schemes, were treated with contempt.
Even as the company very publicly began to unravel, the board was concerned with increasing
and protecting generous executive bonuses. Carillion was unsustainable. The mystery is
not that it collapsed, but that it lasted so long.’
Lee Waters AM: Published the very next day after this Carillion inquiry, the second report
I have sought to bring to the Assemblyís attention is by the National Audit Office,
and chronicles a complete failure of understanding, both by NHS England and Capita, of the services
they were attempting to transform. In one of its starkest conclusions, the report states
that in this botched delivery of back-office NHS functions, lives could have been put at
risk, and it was lucky that they weren’t. In Wales, we have proactively staved off deep
private sector involvement in our public services, but we’ve been pragmatic. After all, we are
not hostile to the private sectoróthere is much that public services can learn from their
drive and innovationóbut we are clear that public services are there to serve the public,
and not shareholders. These values are central to why they were created, and what they seek
to achieve. Devolution has been referred to as a policy
laboratory, allowing different parts of the UK to pursue different policy directions and
to learn from each other. In that spirit, todayís motion calls upon the Welsh Government
to publish an analysis of the lessons for Wales from these two reports. Starting first
with the Carillion report, what struck me wasnít just the rotten corporate culture,
but the utter failure of both internal and external checks and balances, supposedly designed
to prevent malpractice of this magnitude. From KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Youngóthree
of the big four accountancy firms, who together monopolise the audit market and each of whom
were paid ‘lucrative fees’, in the phrasing of the report, in return for their ‘badges
of credibility’óto the individual actions of the chair, the finance director, the chief
executive, the Pensions Regulator and Financial Reporting Council, as the report itself says,
‘Carillion became a giant and unsustainable corporate time bomb in a regulatory and legal
environment still in existence today.’ We must proactively address an environment
in which firms like Carillion and Capita have been able to proliferate. Likewise, the report
on the delivery of primary care support services by Capita marks out the recklessness of a
cost-driven, rather than outcome-driven, centralisation of servicesóservices that were outsourced
before any of their complexities were fully understood. Clearly, in a bid to save money,
the NHS in England jumped too soon into a delivery model that was inherently unsuitable,
and then put the operation into the hands of a private contractor. When it comes to
something as important as health, the consequences could have been dire. Fortunately, in this
case, the worst possible fallout appears to have been avoided, but the residual ramifications
are still being mopped up. We need to be wise to both of these issues: how acute pressure
of budgets may mean decisions are made in haste and without clear forethought, and the
need to address the inadequacy of our procurement system that has allowed these monolithic companies
to dominate. And we must do this as we navigate through some of the biggest challenges of
our generation: Brexit and automation. I have spoken on a number of occasions about
the financial pressures councils face and the lure this will present to private sector
firms, all too quick to offer ways of automating jobs and services in order to free up resources,
without understanding the complex nature of the services provided, and with scant consideration
of the consequences if things go wrong. We can already see that happening in some parts
of Wales. Capita, for example, already delivers contact centre and control room operations
for South Wales Police, employing automated services, ostensibly to, I quote,
‘help speed up the decision making process for call handlers and therefore improve overall
response times to incidents.’ I canít help but think this is PR speak for
cost cuts. If we continue to allow automation to be driven by private sector profits, there’s
only one possible end in sight. If we allow this approach to take hold, all talk of automation
will be seen by the workforce as being driven by cuts, and it needn’t be. If we harness
automation, we can use new labour-saving devices to free up staff to work on the front line,
to improve public services. That’s the debate we need to have. And Government needs to mobilise,
right across its whole breadth, to face up to how we can use these new technologies to
help us with the problems that we know we have to tackle.
The second lesson from these reports we must speak of is that, while we havenít let Carillion
and Capita hoover up public service delivery contracts to the same extent as England, we
are all well aware that our procurement processes need transformation. The drive to reduce administrative
costs, coupled with a shortage of procurement skills, has limited Welsh local government
ability to restructure procurement practice, and has led to the domination of large-scale,
privatised companies. However, transforming procurement strategy will require public institutions
to shift away from the conventional transactional approach towards capacity building. They will
need to become partners in procurement practice, not just one-off purchasers of goods and services.
Participants on both sides of this new style of contracting will require significant support.
Action to bolster the foundational economy and efforts to use procurement policy to support
local producers will help redress this domination. The recently published economic strategy is
disappointing in this regard. Although the economic impact of Brexit is
likely to be profoundóand this mustnít be underestimatedóit could end our obligations
to follow EU procurement rules, depending on the terms of future trade deals. This could
present the ideal opportunity to fashion our own rulebook on the public purchase of goods
and services that will allow us to break up impenetrably large contracts and better support
local firms. These reports are clear warnings of the dangers
of relying on too-big-to-fail corporate monoliths that put profit before public interest. Devolution
does allow us to learn the lessons from each other, so let us learn that. Diolch.
Dai Lloyd AM: Can I commend Lee Waters’s opening salvo in this debate and also commend him
for being the prime mover in bringing this debate before us? I was going to concentrate
on the performance, or otherwise, of Capita when it comes to that report from the National
Audit Office in England about the outsourcing of the primary care support services, or NHS
shared services partnerships, as we call them here in Wales.
Now, general practice is an amazingly complex entity that is difficult for anyone who is
not a GP to understand what’s going on, and it’s difficult for GPs to explain to anyone
else how it works. So, here goesóbut that was one of the problems with the Capita contract:
they failed to understand the complexity of the whole issue, because GPs, by and large,
are independent contractors who are basically contracted only with the NHS. So, GP practices,
put simply, are paid by the NHS according to the number of patients they have, and basically
what they tend to do to these patients, what services they provide for them, how many are
immunised and stuff. They’re agreed by various complicated quality outcome frameworksóQOFóguidelines,
providing services with regard to chronic cancer, diabetes, heart disease. All that
sort of service provision is counted minutely, patient by patient, totted up. It’s amazingly
complex, and it goes back to the local primary care support, or the NHS shared services partnership,
who deal with that contractual obligation. So, they then give the individual general
practice a fairly large dollop of money. From that money that arrives in the practice, the
independent, contracted GPs then employ a practice manager to run the practice. They
employ receptionists, they employ other salaried GPs and practice nurses and, after all that
employment, then split the remainder as the so-called net salary for each GP practice
principal. It is amazingly complex, and that is all handled by the primary care support
services, dealing directly with individual practices.
There are hundreds of GPs, all our patients are individually monitored, individual patient
registrations, leaving and goingóit’s amazingly complex, but it doesn’t stop with just GP
practices. They perform the same detailed analysis for pharmacists, for opticians and
for dentists. So, the business support, if you like, for primary care practice is amazingly
complex. It has evolved over generations and the people in shared services partnerships,
the business support of primary care in Wales, are amazingly experienced, have usually been
there an awfully long time and they know the businesses inside out. That’s general practice,
that’s pharmacy, that’s optometry and dentistryóthey all have their individual complexities. You
cannot just package it together into a little package that’s nice and simple to be outsourced
and joined together with other similar practices, because all GP practices or pharmacistsóthey’re
individual entities with different people, different needs.
So, it’s amazingly complicated, every practice is different. Decades of experience then is
swept away then, when in England it was decided to outsource that sort of business support
elementóoutsourced to Capita, and as we’ve heard from Lee Waters, with predicable, disastrous
results. I’m quoting from the report now, ‘a long way below an acceptable standard.’
Because if only a little bit of detail goes wrong, it upsets the smooth running of many
practices or it can totally undermine, for a couple of days, the running of that individual
practice, just by something going wrong. And, again, as the report says, both parties, NHS
England and Capita, misjudged the scale and the nature of the risk in outsourcing primary
care support services. Yes, they did, as does everybody who doesn’t understand the immense
complexity that is primary care in the United Kingdom. So, I say: keep the NHS in all its
forms public. Private outsourcing of a complex public service only ends in tears. Support
the motion. Jenny Rathbone AM: I had intended to speak
about Capita, but the mere mention of the name reminds me of the meeting that Jane Hutt
and I had this morning with victims of, mainly, vaginal mesh implants, who, unprompted, were
absolutely apoplectic about Capita’s role on behalf of Department for Work and Pensions
in assessing these people as to whether or not they were still eligible for attendance
allowances as well as other disability benefits, and Capita’s refusal to allow people to have
the dignity of an assessment at their home. These are people who are suffering from incontinence,
and many of them walk with crutches because they have additional problems with their back
and their mobility. And because they then struggled into a meeting in Cardiff city centre
with Capita, they were then deemed not eligible for mobility allowances. Incredible. This
is absolutely outwith the public service that we have here in Wales.
Anyway, my main remarks I wanted to make are about who audits the auditors, because it
is rarely asked, and in the context of Carillion, it needs to be asked. Because the good audits
are the bedrock of fair and transparent financial markets and good business decisions, and this
system of auditing public spending dates back more than a century. Why should we have to
read between the lines to work out what auditors are really thinking? They have developed this
code for enabling the people on the inside, in the know, to realise that there may be
something dodgy going on, but not for the ordinary potential investor, and this is completely
unacceptable. We have to make auditors more accountable for their actions because of the
spectacular failure of Carillion, where, frankly, their published works turned out to be works
of fiction. Extraordinarily, KPMG tried to argue that
its independence was not impaired by 19 years of auditing Carillion. I think that that is
beyond credibility and needs to change. One of the immediate sources of conflicts of interest
is that auditors are paid by the company that they are auditingóthe people they are meant
to be policing. That in itself is a potential conflict of interest. The work and pensions
and business committees in the House of Commons’s joint inquiry into Carillion recommends that
the Government refers the audit market to the Competition and Markets Authority, because
the big four are effectively operating a cosy cartel where their audit work takes second
stage to their much more lucrative business of advising companies, and as we have seen
with Carillion, they are in many ways directly in conflictóthese two activities.
So, we either have to break up the big four into more audit firms, or we have to detach
the audit arms from those lucrative consultancy services that have come to dominate these
accountancy firms, into which all the big four have branched out in recent years. Non-audit
work now makes up £4 in every £5-worth of fee income garnered by the big four. So, you
can see that there’s already a total imbalance. This will, I hope, find favour in view of
the lack of competition in the market, particularly for the big companies. Of the top 350 companies
in Britain, 97 per cent are audited by the big four. The situation is getting worse,
because the fifth-largest company, Grant Thornton, has said they’re no longer going to tender
for audit for the FTSE 100 companies because the cost of bidding for work they are unlikely
to get is just too great. Now, the Competition Commission, which preceded
the CMA, did investigate the lack of competition in audit between 2011 and 2013, but ruled
out breaking up the big four. One of the reasons they gave was that, because auditors carry
unlimited liability for their recommendations, they therefore need to be big. But the fees
available are unlikely to be worth enough to make small audit firms want to take on
the risk of a large audit account. We have seen in the past that being large
does not make organisations immune to collapse. Remember that there did in fact used to be
the big five, and Arthur Andersen collapsed because of their failure to properly audit
Enron. I think that there are huge dangers for the Welsh Government in doing nothing,
because let us recall that Abellio was one of the approved shortlisted companies that
could have been awarded the contract to run the Wales and the borders franchise, had the
Carillion collapse not occurred earlier, taking them out of the market. I think in general
termsó Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Are you winding up, please? Jenny Rathbone AM: Yes, I’ll wind up to say
that I think this, in conjunction with the failure to control the obscenely high salaries
of the very large companies, may undermine the whole process of large companies’ business
and it now needs reforming substantially. Neil Hamilton AM: I commend Lee Waters for
bringing this motion before the Assembly this afternoon and for the succinctness and accuracy
of his speech and its diagnosis. I agreed with everything that he said. This is a grotesque
case. Carillion, which is what I want to concentrate on in particular, is a company that on its
collapse has left £7 billion in liabilities, £2 billion of that to suppliers and £2.5
billion to the pension fund. I think it’s important to recognise that this case is an
example of failure at all levels. First and most obviously, of course, failure of management
of those who had responsibility for running the company, as the report of the business
committee in the House of Commons makes clear, and the non-executive directors failed to
scrutinise the accounts, failed to challenge the corporate executives and utterly failed
in all their duties. The top corporate executives utterly failed to manage the company with
any degree of competence, and possibly honesty. That remains yet to be investigated.
Neil Hamilton AM: It is also a failure of Government. The Government has something called
the Crown Commercial Service, which is part of the Cabinet Office, which is charged specifically
with looking at major suppliers to Government like Carillion where a collapse might pose
a systemic risk. It’s not clear why nothing was done by that organisation in this particular
instance to try to stave off the possibility of disaster. It was only after the last profits
warning a £1.34 billion contract in relation to HS2 was granted by the Government to Carillion.
So, a lot was wrong at governmental level as well.
The problem with the Government sanitising by granting such contracts to companies like
Carillion in the circumstances in which its collapse occurred is that smaller suppliers,
who don’t have the means to do proper due diligence on the companies they are intending
to contract with, take that as a kind of by-appointment sign, and therefore the Government is, in
effect, impliedly encouraging people to do business with them in spite of its own failure
to do the due diligence that others can’t afford to do.
It is, thirdly, of course, a failure on the part of the regulators. This isn’t new, and
the banking crisis occurred, which was a much, much more systemic problem than the failure
of this one company, in spite of the failure of the Bank of England, the failure of Her
Majesty’s Treasury and anybody else who was responsible for regulating the system. The
idea that third-rate regulators will be successful in controlling second-rate bankers or businessmen
is, of course, a fantasy. The whole private finance initiative racket, which was developed
under the Blair administration substantially, is another example in point of people who
simply don’t understand what they’re doing in letting contracts that are so complex,
very oftenóso big, as Dai Lloyd pointed out a moment ago very wellóand therefore the
failure is on both sides. I certainly totally approve of and agree with
what Jenny Rathbone’s just said about the audit racket, where four large firms now effectively
control the whole business for big companies like Carillion. This is not a new problem
either. When I was the corporate affairs Minister a quarter of a century ago, Terry Smith, who
subsequently has become celebrated as a highly successful private sector fund manager and
has been described as the English Warren Buffett, wrote a book called Accounting for Growth,
which was a pun, because at the time many companies were reporting large profitability,
but actually had very, very poor cash flow. The result was massive bankruptcies like Polly
Peck and British and Commonwealth Holdings, both of which were cases I had to deal with
when I was corporate affairs Minister. So, these problems are of longstanding and go
back a long way. Carillion increased its size rapidly through
a spending spree through debt, as is referred to on page 14 of the business committee’s
report, but the largest item on the company’s balance sheet was goodwill, which is, of course,
in effect, how much they’ve overpaid for the assets of companies that they purchased. The
goodwill amounted to £1.57 billion. The actual equity in the company was only £700 million,
so the goodwill was twice the size of the actual cash in the business that had been
invested by shareholders. So, clearly, that fundamental point ought to have raised alarm
bells right from the start. The big problem that we face here is that
Governments have marketised services, but they haven’t actually created markets. Most
privatised utilities have become regional monopolies or oligopolies. A genuine market,
of course, has customers spending their own money from a choice of providers, like when
we go to the supermarket and choose what we want to buy. Companies, similarly, will choose
their suppliers of goods, money is paid, profit is made. But what happens in marketised public
services is differentóthis is the last point that I shall make.
A charity or company is often selected from a limited sphere of options, as in this case
here where Carillion provides it, and taxpayers’ money is handed over. The private sector providers
make a profit from it, but throughout the taxpayer is on the hook. If something goes
wrong, the taxpayer pays. These are fake markets and they proliferate in Britain’s social state.
There is no genuine market mechanism here, and market sectors spring up purely to suck
at the Government teat. And very often these providers demand assurances from the Government
that there will be more contracts to come; otherwise it’s not worth their while even
to bid in the first place. So, there’s a systemic failure here that needs
to be addressed at all levels, both at the corporate level and at the regulatory level,
both in the public sector and in the private sector. So, I think this is a very timely
debate, and I hope that lessons will be learned from it.
Mick Antoniw AM: The Carillion debacle is the most recent example of the failure of
market forces and of the policy of privatisation that fuelled the unbridled growth of companies
like Carillion. The reports of the National Audit Office and the House of Commons joint
select committee should be seen as more than an analysis of the failure of one company,
but an exposÈ of the economic and political corruption at the heart of the so-called free
market economy. For this reason, the debate is timely and of direct relevance to this
Assembly if we are to plough a different economic and social pathway, one that promotes the
policy of social partnership, recognises the importance of the public sector, and one that
recognises the fundamental role of Government in the provision and promotion of social responsibility,
ethical employment and social equality. The 2017 Conservative manifesto declared,
‘We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism.
We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology
not just as needless but dangerous.’ And just like the Tory manifesto commitment
to railway electrification, just like the Tory commitment to the tidal lagoon, this
is just another broken promise. It is just another election deceit and another election
fraud. In his book, The Corruption of Capitalism,
Guy Standing explains how global capitalism has become a system rigged in favour of a
plutocracyóan elite that enriches itself, not through the production of goods and services,
but through the ownership of assets, including intellectual property, aided by subsidies,
tax breaks, debt mechanisms and revolving doors between politics and business and the
privatisation of public services. Meanwhile, we see all around us wages stagnating
as labour markets are transformed by outsourcing, automation and the on-demand economy. And
the Carillion story is part of that ongoing storyóa company living off public procurement
and privatisation on an ever-downward spiral of delivery, standards and ethics under a
Government that has sold its soul to the private market. We see the classic signs of this with
the Tories’ knee-jerk obsession with the privatisation of the failing rail franchises. We see it
here with the Tories in Wales and their obsession with calls for the re-privatisation of Cardiff
airport, which failed under privatisation. As Carillion began to flounder, the directors
continued to increase dividends and executive bonuses, treating the pension fund with contempt.
The report, as has been said, is damning. The consequences are clear, with the taxpayer
being left to foot so much of the bill for the Carillion clean-up operation, and the
failure of the regulatory system compounded by what appears to be the complicity of regulators,
accountants, Government, lawyers and directors, ultimately at the expense of everyone else.
And the various auditors creamed off £72 million. The UK Government failed to back
a plan that could have recovered £364 million from Carillion. The pension fund was starved
and left with a pension liability of around £2.6 billion, thousands of workers were not
paid, and small companies and suppliers were left with a bill of around £2 billion and
27,000 pensioners now live on reduced pensions. Cabinet Secretary, my reason for endorsing
this motion is not just to expose Carillion and companies of a similar ilk, but to expose
the very system that has created monsters like Carillion and allowed them to flourish.
As well as calling on the Welsh Government to publish analysis on the lessons for Wales,
we must look to a different way of doing business, one that recognises the importance of the
public sector, recognises the advantages in certain sectors of public ownership and co-operation,
recognises that our economic policy and our £5 billion-or-so procurement should be based
on ethical standards of business, ethical standards of employment, fair work, an end
to the culture of minimum wage, an end to the culture of enforced self-employment and
zero hours, a recognition of the important role of trade unionism in achieving these
objectives, and an overriding operating framework of social justice, equality and prosperity
for all. In this new global economic system we are
embracingóa system of hyper technology, automation and artificial intelligenceówe must ensure
that we learn the lessons from the past that a system that is based on the philosophy of
greed and exploitation is doomed to failure. We must show that, in Wales, we can do things
differently, that we can do things better, for business, for workers and for our communities.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. Can I now call the Cabinet Secretary
for Finance, Mark Drakeford? Mark Drakeford AM: Thank you very much, Dirprwy
Lywydd. Can I thank all those Members who have brought forward this genuinely interesting
debate this afternoon? We concentrate here, quite rightly, on reports produced by our
own Assembly committees or by the Welsh Government. Sometimes, however, the issue at stake is
so relevant to us that it is worthwhile debating reports prepared for others. Both Carillion
and Capita have had a presence here in Wales. The accounts we’ve heard across the debate
can leave no doubt that we should attend carefully to the lessons learned from experiences elsewhere.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I’ll have less to say on Capita because the lessons to be drawn from that
report have been very well explored here, particularly by Dr Dai Lloyd, who covered
much of the ground I would have covered myself. I think we should say, in general, that the
report teaches us to beware of the headlong pursuit of unrealisable savings and that the
promises by those whose thirst for business outstrips their appetite for the truth should
always be looked at very carefully. Here was a company that, when it took over
the contracts of real clinical sensitivity, had neither the staff, nor the knowledge,
nor the basic systems in place to discharge their new obligations. Here was a Government
that appeared to believe that outsourcing a service was also to absolve itself of its
responsibilities to service users and citizens. Lee Waters suggested that it does not have
to be that way, but Capita is a cautionary tale showing us how badly things can go wrong.
Mark Isherwood AM: Will you give way? Mark Drakeford AM: Of course, Mark.
Mark Isherwood AM: Thank you very much indeed, because I have lots of casework related to
my cross-party group work and local work where people who should have had their personal
independence payment at full rate haven’t got it, but we know that an appeal to the
DWP is somewhere between 60 and 80 per cent successful, particularly for those on the
autism spectrum and those with sensory loss issues. The problem is a failure to understand
and accept these conditions. But we also encounter the same problem with many public sector bodies,
local authorities and health bodies. So, is it not the case that it’s that lack of understanding
we have to address, so that people in all sectors have the rights they have respected,
and their needs met accordingly? Mark Drakeford AM: I began by beginning with
the point that the Member made, and it echoed what Jenny Rathbone had said earlier, that
Capita is an outsourcing company that has very significant responsibilities in many
areas of UK Government responsibilities and it is not equipped to discharge those responsibilities.
Where I disagree with Mark Isherwood is this: when public service organisations get things
wrongóand of course they doóthen those organisations are accountable for what they do and voters
are able to change the way that those services are provided. They have a choice at the ballot
box. Whoever was able to vote to get rid of Capita? That, surely, is the fundamental difference.
Darren Millar AM: I’m very grateful for you taking the intervention, but what happens
when there’s a failure in public services? We can’t vote out the management of the Betsi
Cadwaladr health board, for example. So, if you accept that that’s a principle that you
want to employ in relation to private businesses that engage with the public sector, what about
public sector organisations that engage with governments too?
Mark Drakeford AM: Well, Llywydd, people vote for the individuals who are responsible here
for the health service here in Wales. People are able to make different decisions if they
don’t think that that is being done successfully. Whenever did Capita put itself up for election?
Whenever were people in north Wales, affected by the problems that Mark Isherwood pointed
out, able to go to the ballot box to get rid of that company? That’s the essential difference:
that’s why the comparison between private companies and public services is not a fair
or relevant one. I followed much of what Neil Hamilton said.
His analysis, I thought, pointed to some very important issues. I draw a very different
conclusion than he does from that analysis. He says that the problem with Capita and Carillion
is that what we really need are more, and better, markets. My conclusion is much closer
to Mick Antoniw’s, that what Carillion and Capita demonstrate is the failure of the market
model when it comes to delivering public services. They simply do not operate, and neither do
those people who use them operate, in that economy-driven way.
Mark Drakeford AM: I want to concentrate mostly, if I can, Dirprwy Lywydd, on Carillion, a
behemoth, a super-charged company that aggressively chased complex Government and public sector
contracts, always looking for the next deal to cover the costs of the last. It was propped
up by a Government that continued to award it multi-million-pound contracts well after
the writing was on the wall, causing the supply chain damage that others have pointed to this
afternoon. And, when the house of cards finally fell, the Carillion collapse has left in its
wake a depressingly familiar tale of untouchable directors, a devastated workforce, lost pensions
and business failures by others who had depended upon Carillion for their livelihood. Dirprwy
Lywydd, I am going to rattle, in less than 30 seconds each, through 10 lessons that I
think are there to be drawn from this experience, as the motion suggests. First of all, while
there are real personal failures vividly set out by Lee Waters, the real lessons of the
reports are of institutional failure: failure by the company, failure by the many different
regulatory regimes designed to prevent those failures from happening in the first instance.
It’s in looking at those institutional failures that we draw the real lessons.
And the second lesson from that is that, in terms of corporate governance, we need to
reform directors’ duties to make promoting the long-term success of the company a primary
duty of those directors, not pursuing the short-term interests of only one group of
relevance to that companyóshareholders. The pursuit of shareholder value has surely been
one of the most inhibiting factors in the way that British companies have been run over
the last decade and more. It’s for that reason that the TUC, and my party, argue that worker
directors should be placed on the board of companies with more than 250 workers in order
to demonstrate that there is more than one interest at stake in the way that those companies
are operated. In the fourth lesson, we say that investors’
corporate governance rights should be subject to a minimum period of share ownership of
at least two years, otherwise we are exposed to the sort of activity that we saw when GKN
was taken over by a hostile bid from Melrose, a short-term asset stripper, where the people
who voted to take GKN into that ownership were short-term shareholders piling in at
the last minute, buying shares and voting for the takeover in the hope of speculative
gains and lining their pockets from the profits of the deal. There has been a curious silence
from the Conservative benches during this debate, Dirprwy Lywydd, but let me quote one
of their number at Westminster, Robert Halfon, when he described it as ‘robber baron capitalism
at its worst’. And we can do better than that. My fifth lesson is in the audit, accounting
and reporting regimes, which Jenny Rathbone particularly highlighted. Audit companies
should not be permitted to engage in contracts for other business services with their clients.
It puts them in an entirely false position. Every one of the big four auditing companies
worked for Carillion in some capacity at some point, and, as the Financial Times says, a
system where we have too few companies to fail is simply not one that benefits the public.
The sixth and seventh lessons are to do with transparency and accountability. We believe
that all providers of public services should be obliged to provide details of supply chains,
company ownership and governance structures in order that the public can have an insight
into what goes on. We believe, seventhly, as Lee Waters said,
that procurement approaches need to be informed by value, not simply price. In an eighth lesson,
we need to rethink company law to address the limited liability that is provided to
directors of limited companies. The Guardian has argued that just signalling such a step
would ‘send a shiver through boardrooms’óand a healthy and purposeful shiver too.
‘Limited liability is supposed to encourage entrepreneurship. In Carillion’s case it seems
to have created moral hazard’. It invited directors to act recklessly because
they were able to avoid any personal consequences of their actions.
On to the final two lessons, and, very briefly, Dirprwy Lywydd, first of all, we need to deal
with that fundamental difficulty that is caused when Governments outsource work only because
it moves debt off the Government balance sheet. It is a cosmetic effort solely, and it really
should be eliminated by changing Government contract accounting.
Finally, and most of all, Dirprwy Lywydd, the lesson that I think we draw from these
experiences is the one that Lee Waters started with, that public services should be designed,
funded, run and evaluated by the public sector, with democratic participation so that it is
the public interest and not the pursuit of private profit that is at the heart of the
way that our public services are run. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Thank you very much. I call on Mike Hedges to reply to the debate.
Mike Hedges AM: Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’m very pleased to reply to the
debate and I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part in it.
I think that one of the weaknesses of the Assembly, one of the criticisms we’ve had,
is that we tend to be very inward looking and not prepared to learn from outside. I
think this is an example of where we are looking at what’s happened, what’s gone wrong, outside
and learning the lessons from it, and I think that really is important, because, if we don’t
learn the lessons from what happens not just over the border, but throughout Europe as
well, in some of these things, then we can end up repeating the mistakes.
Lee WatersóI’m very pleased that he brought the reports of the House of Commons on Carillion
and Capita to the attention of the Assembly. I doubt if many people would have read them
if he hadn’t brought them to the attention of the Assembly, and I think that, in itself,
is very helpful. And we need to learn lessons. We’ve seen two very large companies having
problems, but why? Carillion seemed to engage in this ‘dash for cash’, as it was described
by Lee Waters, and it was unsustainable. It had to be unsustainable when you were chasing
capital from the next contract to pay for the current one.
Capitaówell, I’ll come to what Dai Lloyd said earlier, but I think Lee Waters summed
it up with ‘a lack of understanding’, ‘botched delivery’. We have to learn lessons from the
report. Procurement is not just about putting out a contract, getting the lowest price coming
in and then letting them have it and hoping it works. Because, a lot of the time, it doesn’t
and I think, with very large contracts, you end up being sucked into paying more and more
money as the contract goes on, because you can’t get out of it, because it’s so important.
Dai Lloyd explained Capita and GP practices and the rest of primary care far better than
I could, but I think that one thing he did explain is how amazingly complex it was, and
people without experience of the complexity were bidding for contracts, winning contracts,
and then saying, ‘Oh dear’. Dai Lloyd knows because he was on the council, I think at
the same time as me, or had just left it to come hereówe had Capgemini coming in, who
couldn’t even produce a payroll system, as other Members here who lived in Swansea or
worked for the council at the time can lay out. It couldn’t produce a payroll system
for our council, despite bidding for it. We have outsources that are a predictable
failure. These things go wrong with a level of regularity that you might think people
might have learnt lessons from. NHS England and Capitaóthey misjudged the risk. Sometimes,
people are bidding for things that they don’t quite understand. I remember once seeing,
in a computer book, that it said that somebody wanted a swing, and, after it had gone through
all the different changes of the design process, it ended up with a swing that wouldn’t swing,
which was fixed and was unable to be sat on, but it had just gone through all the different
design procedures. A lot of this seems to happen with the outsourced contracts.
Jenny Rathbone went through Capita and its role in assessing attendance allowances. Well,
I’m sure that there’s not a person in here who couldn’t go through the problems they’ve
had with Capita and the attendance allowances. But she went on, more importantly, to auditors
and auditing. And there is a problem. There are three major companies for which auditing
is only one part of their income; they do lots of best-value work and other benefits
to the company. When it becomes that important to you as a company, because of the amount
of money you’re getting from the additional work you’re doing, how keen are you on making
sure that you pick up all the warts in the auditing system, when, if you get sacked as
an auditor, then you’re in serious problems? The same independent auditor for 19 yearsóI
mean, that is ridiculous. Anybody who has been involved with charitable and voluntary
organisations has been told, after having the same auditor, many of them local people
they know, for three or five years, ‘You need to change your auditor’. If that’s what you
tell small organisations dealing with relatively small sums of money, why a public company
can have the same auditor for 19 yearsó. You’ve got to develop a cosy relationship.
I think Neil Hamilton came out with the failure of the Westminster Government, the failure
of the regulator, leadsóit’s basically a systemic failure. It takes me back to thinking
of PFI. The people who proved PFI was value for moneyóit took a genius to do that, because
you were borrowing money at a higher and a higher level, you were paying out money for
almost the rest of time, you had contracts that had payments for everything from £30
to change a lightbulb right the way through. But somebody would do a calculation, and,
if it didn’t come out with the right answer, you were sent back to try again. I think that,
too often, we answer first and then we work back to what the question should be. And a
lot of that has happened here. Again, Carillion funding via debtówhen the
biggest part on your sheet is goodwill, which is twice as much as you’ve got in cashó.
One of the things I did bring in, when I was working for the councilófor some small organisations
that were council run, I asked them, ‘Can we have the cash flow?’ In which case, I was
told that it wasn’t really helpful. ‘You don’t really want to see that; you want to see the
accounts. The accounts give you a true and accurate record. You don’t want to see cash
flow, because that gives you an inaccurateóit varies.’ Well, I said, ‘Can I have it for
every month for 12 months? Because it’s bound to go up and down. It’s bound to be right
some of the time, and, after 12 months, it can’t be that much out.’ Because people put
things into stock, and they value stock. There are all these little tricks that accountants
know in order to make sure that money is not lost.
Failure of privatisationóMick Antoniw was absolutely right. Should we be promoting social
partnership? It’s too much about competition between you trying to get the best deal, and
them trying. How about working together? I think Mark Drakeford talked about learning
lessons from elsewhere. Beware of a pursuit of something that is both unrealistic and
unachievable in terms of savings, but somebody tells you they can do it. Capita is a cautionary
tale. It was not equipped to achieve what it meant to. Carillion, aggressive at chasing
contractsóI was very pleased with the 10 lessons Mark Drakeford put out. I would have
thought they would be a very good Government statement, at some time, of the lessons that
we need, or rules we need, or procurement rules or lessons we need toó. Because I think
it is important that we get it right, we learn from what’s gone wrong. We don’t want to repeat
it. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Thank you very much. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore,
the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Item 7 has been postponed until 19 September.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: We have nothing to vote on this afternoon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Therefore, we move to item 9 on our agenda,
which is the short debate, and I call on Llyr Gruffydd.
Llyr Gruffydd AM: Well, thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officeró[Interruption.]
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Just a minute. If you’re going out from the
Chamber, please do so quickly, and, if not, if you’re staying in to listen to the short
debate, please pay attention. I will call the short debate now. Llyr Gruffydd.
Llyr Gruffydd AM: Iawn. Wel, diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd. Rwy’n siwr bod nifer
ohonom ni wedi bod yn gwylio cwpan y byd dros yr wythnosau diwethafóyn wir, mae wedi bod
yn amhosib osgoi’r peth yn y 24 awr ddiwethaf. Ond rydw i’n cyfeirio at hynny oherwyd mi
ges i’r profiad o ddarllen erthygl yn ddiweddar ynglyn ‚’r tlodi dybryd roedd un o chwaraewyr
mwyaf amlwg y gystadleuaeth honno wedi ei brofi yn blentyn a dim ond wedi sylwi pa mor
dlawd oedd y teuluóroedd e’n cael ei ginio bob dydd, roedd e’n cael llaeth a bara, ac
mi ddaliodd o ei fam ryw ddiwrnod yn rhoi dwr ar ben y llaeth, a sylweddoli o’r eiliad
honno ymlaen, ac yntau dal yn blentyn bach, pa mor wirioneddol dlawd oedd y teulu.
Y chwaraewr hwnnw yw Romelu Lukaku, ymosodwr Belg, un o chwaraewyr mwyaf amryddawn y byd
erbyn hyn, un o sÍr mwyaf y gamp, ac mae e wedi ysgrifennu am ei brofiadau e o dlodi
plant. Roeddwn i’n meddwl bod hynny’n drawiadol iawn ac, wrth gwrs, yn ein hatgoffa ni bod
yna filoedd o blant yng Nghymru heddiw yn byw mewn tlodi, a rhai ohonyn nhw, rydw i’n
siwr, yn byw yn yr un fath o dlodi a brofodd e pan oedd e’n blentyn. Mae e’n destun pryder
i ni gyd, rydw i’n gwybod, ein bod ni’n gorfod dod fan hyn i drafod y pwnc yma pan mae e
yn codi fel hyn yn y Siambr, ond, wrth gwrs, ni allwn ni ddim osgoi’r realiti fod yn agos
i draean o blant Cymru yn byw mewn tlodi incwm cymharol, ac mae’n rhaid i ni felly gymryd
y mater yma yn gwbl o ddifri a gwneud mwy i fynd i’r afael ‚’r broblem.
Fe fydd nifer ohonoch chi’n cofio, nÙl yn 2005, y cyhoeddodd y Llywodraeth bryd hynny
strategaeth ‘Dyfodol Teg i’n Plant’, gyda’r bwriad o haneru ac yna cael gwared ar dlodi
plant yn llwyr. Yna, yn 2006, mi gyhoeddodd y Llywodraeth y papur ‘Cael Gwared ar Dlodi
Plant yng NghymruóMesur Llwyddiant’, a oedd yn gosod cerrig milltir ac yn amlinellu’n
glir pa gamau roedden nhw am eu cymryd i gyrraedd y targed hwnnw. Yn 2006 hefyd, mi gafwyd y
cynllun gweithredu tlodi plant, ac eto, yn yr un flwyddyn, fe wnaeth Llywodraeth Cymru
ymrwymo i gael gwared ar dlodi plant erbyn 2020. Bryd hynny, roedd 27 y cant o blant
Cymru yn byw mewn tlodi. Er gwaethaf hyn, wrth gwrs, mae’r ffigurau yn dangos, 12 mlynedd
yn ddiweddarach, fod yna ganran uwch o blant Cymru erbyn hynó28 y cantóyn byw mewn tlodi
incwm cymharol. Ac yn wir, fis Rhagfyr diwethaf, fe wnaeth yr Ysgrifennydd Cabinet ar y pryd
ddatganiad fod y Llywodraeth am gael gwared ar ei huchelgais o ddileu tlodi plant erbyn
2020. Wel, pa fath o neges y mae hynny yn ei roi ynghylch blaenoriaethau, dywedwch?
Fy ngobaith i, felly, yn y ddadl yma heddiw yw tanlinellu difrifolwch y sefyllfa yma,
wrth gwrs, ond hefyd yr angen i’r Llywodraeth edrych eto ar ei approach i daclo tlodi plant,
a’r angen iddi wneud mwy i fynd i’r afael ‚’r felltith yma. Yn wir, mae adroddiadau
annibynnol yn amcangyfrif erbyn hyn y gall fod hyd at 250,000 o blant yn byw mewn tlodi
yma yng Nghymru erbyn 2021, ac mi fyddai hynny yn cynrychioli cynnydd o 50,000 o’i gymharu
‚ lle rydym ni ar hyn o bryd. Ac rym ni’n gwybod bod plant yn fwy tebygol o fod mewn
tlodi cymharol o’u cymharu ag unrhyw grwp arallóer enghraifft oedolion oed gwaith neu
bensiynwyr. Ac o blith y plant hynny, mae plant sy’n byw mewn teuluoedd gyda rhieni
sengl, neu sy’n byw mewn aelwydydd di-waith, neu sy’n byw ar aelwyd sy’n cynnwys person
anabl, hyd yn oed yn fwy tebygol eto o ffeindio’u hunain yn byw mewn tlodi.
Mae rhai rhannau o Gymru, wrth gwrs, yn dioddef lefelau tlodi plant a ddylai’n cywilyddio
ni i gyd. Er enghraifft, yn Ùl ymchwil ymgyrch Dileu Tlodi Plant, mae dros hanner plant Gorllewin
y Rhyl, er enghraifft, yn byw mewn tlodi. Fel y dywedodd Sean O’Neill, cyfarwyddwr polisi
Plant yng Nghymru, yn gynharach elenióac fe wnaf i ddyfynnu’r hyn a ddywedodd eó
Llyr Gruffydd AM: ‘Children in low income families in Wales are facing considerable
pressures and are growing in number. Figures again show that child poverty is prevalent
in all parts of Wales with an increasing number of families struggling just to get by. The
impact of changes introduced by the UK Government’s programme of welfare reform at a time of rising
everyday costs is hitting many families hard. Governments at all levels must ensure that
urgent action is taken to prevent and protect families already struggling to provide for
their children.’ As we know, Children in Wales aims to contribute
to policy making that reduces levels of child poverty and mitigates the impact on children,
young people and their families, and that includes co-ordinating End Child Poverty Network
Cymru. We see annual surveys being conducted, which look at how family poverty has changed
compared to previous years, and the latest survey was carried out between mid February
and mid April this year, with both professionals and young people. Respondents to that survey
identified changes to the benefits system as the top issue relating to poverty, with
insecure income and employment as the second most important factor. Forty-eight per centónearly
half of respondentsósaid that the situation had got worse over the past year, and some
of the issues identified in the survey also included a lack of essential items such as
clothes and beds. Other issues included access to food banks, social poverty, such as not
being able to participate in activities, low self-esteem and aspirations, and the negative
impact on physical and mental health as well. It paints a very bleak and depressing picture,
doesn’t it? I want to pay tribute to Children in Wales,
and all the other organisations who do so much work in their crusade against poverty
and its effects on children and families in Wales. We have plenty of evidence here, in
Wales, of course, of the negative impact welfare changes are having on some families, including
the freeze or cuts to benefits, delayed payments, sanctions, bedroom tax, and the new two-child
limit on means-tested benefits. This is clearly a huge problem facing families and children
in Wales, yet as we know, the Welsh Government is still refusing to demand that some of the
powers over welfare be devolved to Wales so that we could mitigate at least some of the
worst elements of the UK Government’s welfare reforms.
Llyr Gruffydd AM: I mentioned access to food banks a moment ago, and I was speaking to
a trustee of the Vale of Clwyd food bank only last week, and he told me that around a third
of the people who receive food packages from them are children. Over 500 children received
food parcels from them last year alone. All of this means, of course, that people are
having to make impossible choices on a daily basis, which they shouldn’t have to make.
We’ve heard it before, haven’t we? They have to choose between putting food on the table,
clothing their children, or heating their home.
I was pointed recently in the direction of an article that appeared in the British Medical
Journal that warned that the next public health crisis in the UK would be child malnutritionóchild
malnutrition in a twenty-first century western economy. Now, this, in turn, of course, impacts
on educational attainment, with teachers doing their best to work with children who are hungry,
who are tired, and who are suffering some of the other physical impacts of poverty.
One teacher in a primary school near to where I live was telling me recently how she had
to deal with the social services in the last couple of years more than she had ever done
beforeóto unprecedented levels, compared to her experience of a long career in teaching.
So, let’s be clear: child poverty is a rights violation, and Ministers of this Government
have a due-regard duty to the UNCRC through the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales)
Measure 2011. Now, the question we’re faced, asking ourselves, is this: is child poverty
really now becoming the norm for many families, schools and communities across Wales, and
what’s being done about it? Now, I touched, at the start of this contribution, on some
of the initiatives from previous Welsh Governments from over a decade ago now to try to tackle
child poverty. So, where are we today? The Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010
continues to provide the legislative framework for tackling child poverty in Wales. It places
a duty on Welsh Ministers and named public bodies to set objectives for tackling child
poverty. The previous Welsh Government published their
revised child poverty strategy in December 2015, and after evaluating the strategy and
assessment, a progress report was published in December 2016. However, it’s not clear
how this strategy is being utilised, nor how, today, it’s shaping this current Government’s
thinking. ‘Taking Wales Forward’, the Government’s foundational strategy is seen as the new vehicle
for taking actions; however, it doesn’t have an explicit reference to poverty, aside from
a brief mention of fuel poverty. Indeed, the Government’s flagship ‘Prosperity for All’
national strategyóin that, there’s only one reference to poverty, which can be found within
the text of the early years cross-cutting priority, but of course there’s no child poverty
action plan to deliver the strategy. The Government did have a broader tackling
poverty action plan, which had within it measurable milestones, targets and key performance indicators
between 2013 and 2016. However, this plan came to an end with the end of the last Government,
and we’ve seen no replacement action plan to deliver this agenda. Of course, what we
have seen, however, is the scrapping of the anti-poverty Communities First programme,
we saw the initial scrapping of the school uniform grant, which was subsequently reversed
due to mass public outcry, we know that Flying Start provides a service, but it’s very much
a postcode lottery, where we recently reported from the Children, Young People and Education
Committee that most children who need those services don’t actually live within those
areas that can access it, and, of course, we’re now seeing the Government bringing forward
a childcare offer that proposes to give couples earning up to £200,000 a year free childcare
whilst excluding the poorest children from workless families from receiving that same
support. A poverty advisory group that was convened under the last Government and had
representation from all sectors and key groups has also been scrapped.
The sad truth is that Wales is now without a headline target or a similar pledge to eradicate
child poverty by a certain date in the future, and there doesn’t seem to be an appetite,
from what I see from this Government, to introduce such a target, either. But we must have ambition,
and we must have a target to aim for. How else can we measure whether or not Government
policies are successful in any meaningful way? The UN Committee on the Rights of the
Child called for concrete targets within a time frame back in July 2016. The Jospeh Rowntree
Foundation called for an aim that fewer than one in 10 people are in poverty at any one
time by 2030. Indeed, a 2030 target would be in line with Wales’s sustainable development
goals on ending poverty and inequality, providing a solid relationship with the intentions of
the well-being of future generations Act. The End Child Poverty Network Cymru has also
repeatedly called for the Welsh Government to renew its previous ambition and set new
headline targets, something that we in Plaid Cymru very much support.
The Government also lacks an annual reporting mechanism that would bring together all of
the activities in one place and would allow a better understanding of how all the different
programmesósuch as Flying Start, Families First, the different funding streams and policiesóare
together contributing towards an overarching target. Such a single coherent plan could
be a compendium of existing actions with clear and complementary targets and milestones and
a strong narrative around it as well to reinvigorate the whole debate around child poverty. That
will help us as well move from problems to solutions and send an unequivocal message
to all delivery partners, including public bodies and the public services boards, of
the Government’s clear intention and expectations, putting an explicit focus on tackling child
poverty. Contrast our situation in Wales with Scotland,
where the Scottish Government has set itself new targets for 2030, such as having less
than 10 per cent living in relative poverty, less than 5 per cent living in absolute poverty,
less than 5 per cent living in persistent povertyóand there are others too. They’ve
also published a child poverty delivery plan, which clearly sets out the actions to be taken
to progress towards the ambitious child poverty targets set for 2030. It pains me to say that
our Government’s response here in Wales has been weak in comparison.
Key recommendations put forward by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
that a clear tackling poverty strategy is published and that the Welsh Government develops
a dashboard of poverty indicators have both been rejected. I’d urge the Government to
reconsider their refusal and to look at these proposals again. Plaid Cymru has been clear
in terms of our policies: we want to see universal childcare for all parents rather than the
limited proposals that are on offer from the Welsh Government. Why can’t we reorientate
adult skills programmes to reward providers on outcomes such as income rather than qualifications
achieved? And of course we want to see adopting a no-evictions policy due to benefit cuts
for all families with children. I realise that time is short so I’ll make
one important point, and I made a similar point in an earlier debate. There are strengths
to having a cross-Government approach very often to some of these broader issues, but
there can be risks as well. I’m not convinced in this context that it’s actually working.
It says something that I really had no idea which Cabinet Secretary or Minister was going
to be responding to this debate this afternoon. I’m not sure what that tells us about the
clarity around who actually leads on this within Government. There may be plenty of
back-seat drivers, but who’s sitting in the driving seat here, leading on this agenda,
leading the charge from the front? I am running out of time, so I’ll conclude
my remarks by saying that child poverty in Wales is getting worse and the Government’s
response really needs to reflect that fact, because it is a fact. We need to be intensifying
our actions, redoubling our efforts, being more ambitious and more determined than ever
to rid Wales of this scourge. Like Romelu Lukaku, we need to play the game of our lives
to beat child poverty. We need the same kind of comeback in this context as the Belgian
team experienced the other night against Japan. I hope, in his response, that the Cabinet
Secretary will reflect that very same sentiment, that same ambition, that same determination,
but backed up with action. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Thank you. Can I now call the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to reply to the
debate? Ken Skates. Ken Skates AM: Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I’d
like to thank the Member for North Wales for highlighting this most important of issues
today. I’m pleased to respond on behalf of the whole of Government. Our tackling poverty
programme is something that all Ministers are responsible for. However, I’m delighted
to be able to respond on behalf of each of the Ministers in this debate.
I’ll begin by saying that whilst recent data shows that the level of relative child poverty
in Wales has fallen slightly, we have no room whatsoever to be complacent. Current levels
are too high, admittedly, and there is a consensus of opinion from a range of respected research
organisations that the detrimental impact of the UK Government’s tax and welfare reforms
on disadvantaged families means that we’ll see a significant rise in child poverty in
the coming years. It’s been estimated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that
an additional 50,000 Welsh children could be plunged into poverty, and that we could
see an increase in levels of deprivation for our most vulnerable families.
Now, as you know, fiscal powers over the welfare system that are needed to bring about any
significant change in levels of child poverty do not sit with Welsh Government, but there
is much that we can do with our existing levers to help to mitigate the impact of poverty
for our children and their families, and, indeed, to prevent poverty in the longer term.
That’s what I want to focus on: the prevention of poverty.
We believe that investing in the early years of a child’s life is a key priority for our
national strategy, ‘Prosperity for All’. We’re focusing on those areas where we can have
the most impactóon the pivotal early years of a child’s life and on maximising employability.
We’re making an important contribution to improving health and developmental outcomes
through programmes such as Flying Start and our Healthy Child Wales programme. Our Families
First programme provides advice and support to parents, looking at the whole needs of
the whole family. On employability, there is a strong evidence
base to show that employment provides the most sustainable route out of poverty, and
our employability plan sets out those actions that we’ll take to support individuals to
find, to maintain and to progress in employment. We know that staying in work and having opportunities
to progress through work are vital in improving outcomes. The employability plan, it has to
be said, works in tandem with our economic action plan, a plan to increase wealth and
well-being whilst also reducing inequalities. And at the heart of the economic action plan
is a new relationship between Government and business based on the principle of public
investment with a social purpose. Our economic contract requires businesses seeking direct
investment from us to act responsibly as businesses and as employers. Our ambition is to make
Wales a fair work nation, with access to better jobs, closer to home, developming skills and
careers, a nation where we can all expect decent life-enhancing work, and a nation where
we all build prosperity and all share in that prosperity. We’re setting up a fair work commission
that will test the evidence and make recommendations on supporting fair work in Wales, and we expect
the commission to report in the spring of 2019.
In terms of the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on the child poverty agenda, this will
have far-reaching consequences for the prosperity of Wales for many years to come. Analysis
shows that any significant reduction in access to the single market will be damaging for
Wales’s prosperity. For example, the cost of food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables,
could rise significantly in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario. Such price rises are likely
to be disproportionately felt amongst those children living in the least affluent families.
While we don’t underestimate the scale of our challenge, we must also recognise the
strength of the opportunity. Our labour market is, by historical standards, in a relatively
strong position. We have an opportunity to build on the advances made in recent years
that have seen close to a record number of people in work. We also have a real opportunity
to build on our relationship with world-class companies and significant investments. Through
our work, we can build on the strong foundations we are developing, futureproof our economy
and empower our people and communities, so that we all have the opportunity to contribute
to and benefit from economic growth. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Thank you very much. That brings today’s proceedings to a close. Thank you.

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