Desktop
Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 
 
You are in :
Back to list View this page without hyperlinks
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I call the National Assembly to order.
 
13:30
1. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
We will start proceedings with a commemoration of the tragic event that occurred 50 years ago in Aberfan, on 21 October 1966, when 144 people were killed, 116 of them children. Members will have heard the contributions of our guests from Aberfan, who joined us in the Assembly’s memorial event earlier, and who join us in the public gallery. On behalf of all Members, I thank you for joining us today, and for participating in such a special tribute.
 
The Senedd is a platform on which we can represent our nation’s story. It’s important that it plays a role in reflecting our spirit, our past, our present and our future. The resilience of the community of Aberfan in the face of adversity is testament to the triumph of hope, even in the face of tragedy. I know invite Dawn Bowden to speak on behalf of her constituency and the community of Aberfan, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Dawn Bowden.
 
13:31
Dawn BowdenBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Nine-fifteen a.m., Friday 21 October 1966—the terrible events visited on Aberfan that day reverberated around the world. On the last day of the school term, one small mining village lost 116 children and 28 adults. Nothing would ever be the same for Aberfan, for Wales, for the world. Just one day later, just one hour earlier, things would have been so different.
 
Aberfan was the first major disaster seen by the world through the lens of a television camera, and the impact was immediate. The sight of endless streams of miners, volunteers, emergency workers and the military fighting tirelessly to find survivors, and recover those who perished, is emblazoned in the memories of anyone who was around at that time. Despite these heroic efforts, no-one was found alive after 11 a.m.
 
As a small child, not living in Aberfan, or even in Wales, at that time, this was the first news story that I have a memory of. Such was its impact that the horror of what happened on that day has stayed with me all of my life, as I recall so vividly my parents thanking God that it wasn’t me or my brother who had gone to school that day never to come home. Their sorrow poured out for people who they didn’t know and they would never meet, but, as young parents themselves, these were people with whom they had complete empathy. At that time, everyone felt the pain of Aberfan.
 
It was, of course, the day that the community of Aberfan changed forever. Survivors would never know the normality of life without tragedy. Families lost sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, parents and grandparents—lives that were torn apart under the mountain of black sludge. The guilt of survivors who lived when their friends perished, the guilt of parents whose children survived when many were left childless, the parents of children lost, unable to visit their graves, or alter a child’s bedroom, teachers killed doing their job—the unspoken trauma that we know stays with so many even now.
 
No-one was unaffected by those terrible events, but the community gave each other comfort and strength to come through it. As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the disaster, it gives us all time to reflect on lives lost, families broken, survivors tormented. But it also allows us to reflect on a community’s resilience and the courage shown in the face of the most terrible of tragedies.
 
What happened that day shows us that the price of coal, in a place whose only reason for existence was to dig for it, was too great a price for any community to pay. But coal had also created these mining communities, whose values of solidarity, comradeship and community spirit were rarely seen elsewhere. That spirit has lived on well after the last coal was cut in Merthyr Vale, and that spirit has been such a credit to the people of Aberfan, enabling them to rebuild their lives and their community, and to look forward with courage, dignity and hope.
 
That dignity has been so apparent as the people of Aberfan have come together to make arrangements to mark this anniversary, and I pay tribute to all of you, not just this year, but every day of every year, for everything you do for each other, and for the memory of those who were lost. I’ve worked with many of you in the recent months and weeks while we’ve been discussing these events, and it has been my privilege to get to know you and to now call you my friends.
 
While it’s difficult to talk about positives when contemplating the scale of suffering visited on this small mining community, there is perhaps some comfort in recognising that it did result in the eventual removal of all coal tips across the country, ensuring that there could never be a repeat of the Aberfan disaster. It led to improvements in health and safety at work, particularly in heavy industry, and resulted in the effect of the experiences of people in Aberfan finally being recognised as the medical condition of post–traumatic stress disorder, so that those who needed it could receive treatment for the traumas that they suffered. So, while these anniversary commemorations will undoubtedly bring back terrible memories for many, it is also a time for the whole country to come together to support Aberfan and let them know that those lost will never be forgotten. This community will grow and become stronger as each year passes and as new generations build their futures and become their new hope.
 
In closing, I must acknowledge that whatever sympathy and empathy we express, only those directly involved can know the true impacts of the effects of 21 October 1966. But we, as the National Assembly for Wales, on behalf of the people of Wales, and so many people beyond, can hope that our acts of commemoration will offer some continuing support and comfort to the community of Aberfan.
 
13:37
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I call on the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Llywydd, at 9.15 a.m. on 21 October 1966, Wales changed forever. When the Merthyr Vale No. 7 tip slid through the mist of the morning in a 40-foot wave and engulfed Pantglas junior school and the surrounding buildings, it had a profound effect on the community, of course, but also on the wider world. My mother was a young schoolteacher, pregnant with me, when she first heard the news from Aberfan. It was break time in the junior school where she was teaching. The head came in and said, ‘A school in Merthyr has collapsed. We don’t know if anyone’s hurt.’ And that’s all they knew at that time. And then the full story came out during the course of the day.
 
It affected her. Over the years, I heard her talk of Aberfan. I heard her talk of teachers who had been found buried with their arms around children trying to protect them against the deluge, and when my own children were young, we went to Big Pit mining museum, and there on display are newspaper front pages describing the disaster, and she was deeply affected then. For although she wasn’t from Aberfan, she was from a small mining village and she knew what the cost would be to the community.
 
Men knew the risks of working underground. They knew the risks of a fall. They feared being engulfed by blackdamp. They knew the explosive power of firedamp. They knew about the risk of injury underground. The lamp rooms were full of men who bore testament to that. Many of us in our families saw the effect of the dust on the lungs of those who worked underground—pneumoconiosis and emphysema taking the lives of those as they aged prematurely and were taken so young. They knew the price of coal was high, but they didn’t realise that the price would be so extortionate, because who would have thought that coal could take the lives of children so suddenly, and above the ground?
 
We can’t share the experience of the community of Aberfan and those who lost so much. We can’t share their grief because their grief is different. Their grief has been, and still is, played out in the full glare of the public spotlight. And this week will be difficult. Friday will be hugely difficult for so many families. But I hope I speak for all Members in this Chamber when I say that today we stand in solidarity with the people of Aberfan. We offer them support and I hope some comfort as they deal with the memories of that day when winter darkness came early to the community of Aberfan.
 
13:40
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
The events of 21 October 1966 resonate right across Wales. Many of our communities were created as a result of the rich seam of coal beneath our feet. Coal brought employment, it brought opportunities, it gave us infrastructure, but it did also extract a very heavy price. Many of us grew up with a coal tip perched upon the mountains above us. What happened in Aberfan could have happened almost anywhere that had a coal mine. Many of us grew up in very close-knit communities where you looked out for your neighbours and where your neighbours looked out for you. And it’s because of these links that we feel such a strong sense of solidarity with the people of Aberfan.
 
To those closest to the event, you must know that you have our support, you have our sympathy, you have our solidarity and you have our respect. It’s incumbent upon all of us and the generations that follow to ensure that we continue to remember what happened that day in Aberfan 50 years ago and today we will ensure that Wales will remember.
 
13:41
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Conservatives
The harrowing images of the Aberfan disaster shed some light on the unimaginable scenes that the community of Aberfan, Wales and the world had to endure 50 years ago. This tragedy, which devastatedly consumed 20 houses and the village school, took the lives of 28 adults and 116 children. The children had just returned to their classes after singing ‘All things bright and beautiful’ at their assembly. Today, we remember those adults and children who lost their lives so tragically, but we must also reflect on the bravery of the survivors and of the bereaved. Having read the stories of the survivors who have now felt able to break the haunting silence and share their experiences of that day, I am awed by the formidable courage and community spirit with which the people of Aberfan have faced the future in the aftermath of such heartbreak and devastation. The personal accounts given by those who were there on the day, like that of Karen Thomas, who along with four other children were saved by their school dinner lady, Nansi Williams, who so selflessly sacrificed her own life to save the young children in her care, reveals the extraordinary fortitude which is grounded in the community of Aberfan.
 
From those haunting black and white images, we are able to see the immense blackness that engulfed Aberfan on that day. But despite the horrors endured, the community did not succumb to the darkness, instead choosing to tirelessly dig for light. It is with feelings of the utmost reverence and compassion that we remember.
 
13:43
Neil HamiltonBiographyLeader of the UKIP Wales Group
Aberfan: 50 years ago today, an obscure pit village barely known beyond its physical horizons, but within 48 hours known throughout the world for the dreadful cataclysm that engulfed the village school and rendered its name immortal. The tip slide not only crushed the bodies of 116 children and 28 adults but temporarily crushed the heart of our nation too and it touches yet the heart of generations then unborn.
 
I remember Friday 21 October 1966 very vividly. It was half term. My parents, my sister and I had crossed the newly built Severn bridge to stay for a few days with my father’s aunt and uncle near Bath. In those days there was no rolling 24-hour tv news, no mobile phones—my relatives had no phone at all. We heard the news on what we then called the ‘wireless’. My father was the National Coal Board chief engineer in west Wales and he went out to the village red phone box to get a first-hand account of what was happening. Our holiday was abruptly cut short. We packed our bags immediately, as he rushed to help in the rescue operation.
 
I grew up in a vanished world of coal tips and pithead winding gear. Wales has seen many mining disasters, and some like Senghennydd in 1913 and Gresford in 1934 with even greater loss of life, but Aberfan was something else. Danger was endemic in a deep mine, but this disaster on the surface seemed even more a sacrifice of innocence.
 
Looking back now at the images of the black and white world that we then lived in, what strikes me most is the nobility on the faces of the bereaved and the stoic, silent sadness of their grief. This day, we remember not ony those who died, but those who survived: their familes, their friends and neighbours.
 
‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you all for your contributions. It is right that Wales’s Parliament pays its respect on the fiftieth anniversary of this tragedy. We are conscious that, for the community of Aberfan, it is a tragedy that you live with day in and day out. However, we commend the community for facing the future with strength and resilience. I now ask the National Assembly and the public gallery to rise to remember those 144 men, women and children, who, on that morning of 21 October 1966, had their future taken away from them.
 
Assembly Members stood for a minute’s silence.
 
13:47
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you.
 
2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:47
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item on our agenda is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government.
 
Local Authority Capital Expenditure
 
13:48
Angela BurnsBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on recent local authority capital expenditure? OAQ(5)0042(FLG)
 
13:48
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government
I thank the Member for that question. After adjusting for the one-off capital expenditure associated with the buy-out of the housing revenue account subsidy system, capital expenditure by local authorities increased by 7.4 per cent in 2015-16.
 
13:48
Angela BurnsBiography
Cabinet Secretary, statistics out last week show that capital expenditure on social services has fallen by 45 per cent in the last year from £22 million in 2014-15 to £12.6 million in the last financial year—the greatest fall of all local government capital expenditure. Revenue spend has also fallen by 0.4 per cent. In light of this reduction in funding, would you please provide clarity on Welsh Government commitments to better integrate health and social services and work to remove the uncertainty that hangs over many local authorities’ social services departments?
 
13:49
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank the Member for her supplementary question. I think that when accounting adjustments are taken into account, capital expenditure on social services actually fell by 1.1 per cent last year, and that was in line with the estimates that local authorities had provided and takes no account of the £10 million additional capital provided through the intermediate care fund, which is largely spent on social services matters.
 
In the draft budget, published yesterday, in which, for the first time for a number of years, we are able to provide local authorities in Wales with a budget that has no cash cuts within it, I have earmarked £25 million for social services purposes, in response to the call from local authorities themselves, but in clear recognition of the pressures that that service faces.
 
13:50
Vikki HowellsBiography
Building works will start in my constituency soon on a new community primary school at Cwmaman, where the local authority is using twenty-first century schools funding to deliver school facilities that are fit for purpose. Will you join with me, Cabinet Secretary, in congratulating Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council for the way in which it is engaging with the twenty-first century schools programme to improve capital infrastructure, but also the educational opportunities it is offering to children and young people?
 
13:50
Mark DrakefordBiography
Certainly, I agree with Vikki Howells in her commendation of RCT council, and indeed councils across Wales for the way in which they have embraced the twenty-first century schools programme. Over 150 schools and colleges across Wales are seeing rebuilding and refurbishment of their premises. But the point that my colleague made in her supplementary towards the end is perhaps the more important. Schools are more than buildings: it’s the message that they send to young people about the value we place on them and the opportunities that proper premises of this sort will go on providing into the future.
 
13:51
Julie MorganBiography
Will the Cabinet Secretary join me in congratulating City of Cardiff Council on their project for capital spending to introduce light-emitting diode and dimmable street lighting in the city? Doesn’t he think that’s an excellent way to use capital money with long-term benefits?
 
13:51
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Julie Morgan for that question. I think Cardiff’s record in using capital spending on environmental purposes of this sort is admirable. The latest intention to use capital spending for street lighting in the city is part of a wider pattern in which they’ve used money, made available through the Welsh Government in part, for street lighting energy efficiency, council building energy efficiency and school lighting programmes—in Rhydypenau Primary School in her own constituency, for example. It is a very good example of the way in which local authorities are using the assistance available to decarbonise their spending, providing a better future, not only for their own citizens but for the whole of our nation.
 
Her Majesty’s Treasury Deficit
 
Eluned MorganBiography
2. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that the £66 billion HM Treasury deficit resulting from Brexit will have on Wales? OAQ(5)0049(FLG)
 
What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the impact that the £66 billion deficit predicted in the leaked treasury report will have on Wales if we were to have a hard Brexit?
 
13:52
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Eluned Morgan for the question. The protection of our economic interests in the Brexit context is vital to Wales. Together with finance Ministers from Scotland and Northern Ireland, I will meet with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury next week ahead of the autumn statement. The impact of EU transition is at the very top of our agenda.
 
13:52
Eluned MorganBiography
Thank you. The Cabinet Secretary yesterday gave a warning that there are leaner times ahead, and that this year’s budget should be used as an opportunity for those public sector recipients of funding to prepare for cuts in terms of the austerity that’s being imposed by the UK Tory Government. But now we have this additional problem of this £66 billion of a projected shortfall if we were to go for a hard Brexit, complying with World Trade Organization rules rather than having free unfettered access to the EU. That would make a massive dent in Welsh Government receipts. To what extent has the Cabinet Secretary factored into his predictions the impact of that £66 billion dent, and what impact would that have on future capital expenditure projections?
 
13:53
Mark DrakefordBiography
Eluned Morgan draws attention to the long-term impact that leaving the European Union on the wrong terms would have for Wales. The budget I laid yesterday grapples with the immediate consequences of losing potentially European funds that otherwise would have come to Wales. But the long-term impact of lower growth in the UK economy, with everything that that would mean in terms of tax receipts and money available for public expenditure, is the greater long-term anxiety. For yesterday’s budget, it’s beyond the scope of the one-year revenue budget that I was able to lay, partly because of the uncertainties that she points to. Undoubtedly, if we were to see cuts on anything like the scale suggested in that leaked document, the implications for Wales would be very serious indeed.
 
13:54
Steffan LewisBiography
In addition to the Treasury forecasts that were leaked regarding the fiscal deficit and the impact of Brexit upon that, there have also been numerous reports on the impact of leaving the European customs union and the single market as well—all issues I expect will be discussed at the Brexit Joint Ministerial Committee that I understand is happening on Monday. Of course, in the Scottish press, that’s being characterised as a Sturgeon-May showdown. Can the Cabinet Secretary tell the Assembly who will be representing Wales at that Brexit JMC and what the game plan is to ensure that Wales’s voice is not drowned out?
 
13:55
Mark DrakefordBiography
The Welsh Government will be represented at that JMC by the First Minister and I will accompany him to that meeting. We will go into those negotiations in exactly the same way as you would expect Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland to approach those discussions, making sure that the interests of Wales are firmly and inescapably drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister and other UK Ministers, and to ensure that our voice goes on being heard as the UK’s negotiating position continues to develop.
 
13:56
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Minister, obviously, since 23 June, the sky has not fallen in, economic growth is in good health and, ultimately, manufacturing capacity is expanding. There have been many predictions on both sides of the referendum debate, but what we’re dealing with here is the real world that needs to now take shape, post the negotiations. Have you had discussions with your Cabinet colleagues about the promotion of Wales as a destination for investment and investment opportunities, because the other devolved administrations and, indeed, regions across the United Kingdom are ramping up their operations, obviously, to promote the virtues of their area? Have you had discussions with Cabinet colleagues about making additional resources available to make a stronger platform to promote what Wales has to offer, post the Brexit referendum vote on 23 June?
 
13:56
Mark DrakefordBiography
The promotion of the Welsh offer remains a very important part of the work that the Government does as a whole, and it’s led by my colleague Ken Skates. I think it’s fair to point out to the leader of the Conservative Party that we’re yet to leave the European Union, and the impact of that on our economy remains very much still to be seen. What is absolutely clear, from those businesses that have talked directly with the First Minister and with the Cabinet Secretary, is that full and unfettered access to the single market remains a determining factor in businesses that wish to locate in Wales.
 
13:57
Neil HamiltonBiography
Can the Cabinet Secretary confirm that there is no official Treasury forecast of a £66 billion deficit from Brexit, and that this figure came from one briefing paper amongst many by one anonymous Treasury civil servant, and may well have been written in order to be leaked in the first place? The £66 billion shortfall in tax revenue, which is what it referred to, would imply a 9.5 per cent collapse in our national income. This is clearly preposterous given that, even if we have no deal with the EU arising out of these Brexit negotiations, 75 per cent of the traded goods and services of the EU have a zero tariff in any event.
 
13:58
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, the £66 billion figure comes from a leaked document, as the Member agreed. Nevertheless, the Treasury produced a series of far more formal briefings in advance of the referendum on 23 June. All of those demonstrated the adverse effect that leaving the European Union would have on the United Kingdom’s economic prospects. I see that the Treasury has not disassociated itself from any of the statements it made then.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:58
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I now call for questions from the party spokespeople to the Cabinet Secretary. First of all, Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Sian Gwenllian.
 
13:58
Sian GwenllianBiography
First of all, I wish to thank the Cabinet Secretary for presenting the draft budget yesterday. It was good to see a number of the Plaid Cymru priorities being reflected in it, including an additional £25 million for local authorities. As you know, local authorities across Wales have suffered serious cuts to their funding over the years with their resource budgets being reduced by £461 million in real terms between 2010 and 2014-15. So, it is very good to see that the additional funding that has been received, as a result of the agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, and that there will be additional funding for the non-domestic rates and it does mean that this is the first year since 2013-14 for the finances and funding for local authorities to increase in nominal terms, although it will still be a reduction in actual terms.
 
Our attention now turns, of course, to the local government settlement for 2017-18. I would like to ask you about the formula used to allocate funding between the various local authorities. I read in your statement—
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
A question, please, Sian Gwenllian.
 
14:00
Sian GwenllianBiography
I see that the formula has been revised. Could you elaborate, please, on how exactly that has been done?
 
14:00
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Sian Gwenllian for her initial comments on funding for local authorities in the next financial year. Of course, I recognise the fact that there is £25 million in that budget following the agreement made between the Government and Plaid Cymru.
 
As far as the formula is concerned, I have followed the convention that has, for very many years, been taken by local government Ministers in this Assembly. I take the advice of the expert group that is established to advise us on the formula. That group includes political representatives—the leader of Gwynedd is a member of that group, and other council leaders—together with experts in the field. And I have followed the advice of that group. So, here are three ways in which the formula has been amended this year. As a result of their advice, it has been updated to take account of the latest population estimates, it has been updated to take account of the latest information in relation to pupils attending schools, and it has begun to take account of the latest advice in relation to social services expenditure. There was a major reform of the way in which social services expenditure was to be negotiated through the formula. The advice of the sub-group was to implement that over a two-year period. I’ve taken that advice. It will be implemented and it will be phased in that way.
 
14:01
Sian GwenllianBiography
Thank you. As a former member of Gwynedd Council’s cabinet with responsibility for finance, I’m very pleased to see that you have now started to amend the formula and that the rural element of social services expenditure can vary and be an additional pressure, of course, on councils covering rural areas.
 
There are many other ways of amending the formula, and several groups, including the Welsh Local Government Association and the Federation of Small Businesses, have been calling on the Government to amend the formula, referring in particular to the use of old data, derived from previous censuses. What steps has the Welsh Government taken for next year’s settlement to ensure that the data used is more current and reflects today’s conditions better? Do you think that it is now time to revise the formula in that manner too?
 
14:02
Mark DrakefordBiography
Of course I agree that the formula should rely on the most up-to-date data possible. That’s why I was pleased to agree the recommendations in relation to population numbers and school pupil numbers. I think every effort is made, both by local authority partners and those who advise them, to make sure that the formula does depend on the most reliable data available. During my visits around Wales, meeting all 22 local authority leaders, every one of them had something to say about the way the formula applied in their own localities.
 
What I’ve agreed with the members of the group that advises the Government is that we will begin the next year’s round of consideration of the formula with a more open seminar, in which we will look at the way the formula currently operates and think of whether there are better ways in which we might be able to reform it for the future, and we’ll do that in an open-minded way with our partners.
 
14:03
Sian GwenllianBiography
Thank you very much. In the narrative on the budget that was announced yesterday, you allude to the fact that the Government will take further steps to reduce the administrative burden on local authorities, by combining grants and viring funding from specific grants to unhypothecated funds, through the revenue support grant. What steps have already been taken to do this?
 
14:04
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, we will continue with that intention in the next financial year. I’ve spoken to all Cabinet members and they have all placed some grants into the RSG for next year. That is part of the pattern that we, as a Government, have drawn up over the past few years. I am eager to proceed in the same way for next year, where we can provide greater flexibility for local authorities to use the funding available to them. I agree with them that that is the best way of using those funds in future.
 
14:04
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
 
14:05
Nick RamsayBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, as Sian Gwenllian said, your budget agreement, announced yesterday, features £25 million additional funding for local authorities, but this does come in the wake of the £761 million real-terms reduction in aggregate external finance, as has been identified by the Wales Audit Office. That’s between 2011 and 2016-17. How are you going to ensure that this extra money that is going to be received by local authorities this year is distributed evenly and fairly across those authorities?
 
14:05
Mark DrakefordBiography
I’ll do that in exactly the way I explained a moment or two ago. We have a funding formula. It is an agreed formula. It is revised every year. It’s been revised again this year. It involves political voices and expert voices in it, and I take the advice of that expert group. We will use that formula as recommended to me and then we will distribute the quantum that we are able to make available to local authorities through the formula that has been updated for next year.
 
14:06
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you. This is clearly a very important area for local authorities across Wales, financially. The programme for government commits to a floor for future local government settlements. This is particularly important for rural authorities that have consistently received poorer deals, for whatever reason—you and I might have different views on the reasons for that. But, for whatever reason, they have consistently received poorer deals than their urban counterparts across Wales. That’s a fact. But when do you anticipate the new floor kicking in? And can you confirm it’ll be fully operational this year and at what level?
 
14:06
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, Llywydd, I have to be a bit careful not to anticipate the detail of the statement that will not be released until later this afternoon. What I think I can say at this point to the Member is that I do intend to use a floor mechanism for next year’s distribution to local authorities and that will be reflected in the settlement that I will lay before the Assembly later today.
 
14:07
Nick RamsayBiography
I did anticipate that this is probably in advance of your statement later today, Cabinet Secretary, but, as I said, it’s a very important issue for local authorities, so it does need airing at the earliest opportunity. I hear what you just said. A funding floor, I’m sure you will agree, is all well and good, but, as we know from the Barnett experience, a funding floor can be seen as a quick fix that doesn’t deal with the underlying structural problems over the longer term.
 
The previous Finance Committee recommended that the Welsh Government commit to a fundamental review of the funding formula. This has been mentioned by Plaid Cymru in the earlier questions. Why have you rejected a fundamental, far-reaching review? I hear what you say about listening to experts across local government and within the WLGA, but why aren’t you considering at least an initial commitment to a future review of the mechanisms for funding local government in Wales? Because, surely, over the long term, a full, structural review that addresses the issues affecting local authorities across the modern Wales will be far better than the continual, piecemeal, annual modification of the existing formula, which is past its sell-by date.
 
14:08
Mark DrakefordBiography
I think there are two different ways in which it’s important to explore this issue in Wales. First of all, I am keen to set in motion work that will look at the whole way in which we raise local taxation in Wales and to see whether the system we currently have is the one that best reflects future needs. However, whatever methods you use for raising money, there will always be a need to find a way of distributing that money across Wales. The current formula copes with all sorts of different variations: urban needs, rural needs, age-related needs, economic arguments, needs arguments and so on. In the end, there is a fixed quantum, and, however you distribute it, the quantum remains the same. I sometimes think that the best advice to those who urge me, rather emphatically, to tear up the formula and devise a new one is that they might worry about what they wish for, because there is no way of knowing where such a fundamental reform of the formula might lead—to winners and losers, and they may not always be where people might anticipate them.
 
14:09
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
UKIP spokesperson, Mark Reckless.
 
14:09
Mark RecklessBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, you told the Finance Committee this morning that there was £10 million in the budget for the coming year for pilot schemes for the Government’s childcare plans. The overall budget, I think you said, when it’s fully operational, will be £84 million. Can we therefore assume that around one in eight areas will benefit from a pilot, and when will we be hearing where they are?
 
14:10
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, those really are questions for the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the childcare policy area. I know that he’s working very actively with officials and partners beyond the Assembly, informing the pilot schemes, and I’m sure that he’ll make an announcement to Assembly Members as soon as he’s in a position to do so.
 
14:10
Mark RecklessBiography
To speak more about the financing, as a father of a two-year-old and a four-year-old I’ve experienced both the Welsh and the English systems for childcare. It’s clear that the provision in Wales, largely, in schools is good in quality, but the inflexibility of five 2.5-hour sessions means that it’s very difficult for many working parents to take advantage of it, and the rate at which female participation in the labour market, in particular, is lower in Wales. Is that something that the Government intends to change through its new childcare system? Is the intention greatly to boost participation in the labour market? If so, and despite the independent research, is the Cabinet Secretary really confident that £84 million is enough to provide for the likely change in behaviour, when this comprehensive system comes in?
 
14:11
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, our approach to childcare in Wales has always been predicated on the links between affordable, available and good-quality childcare on participation in the labour market. We’ve always wanted to make sure that childcare is there in sufficient quantity to make sure that women, in particular, are able to pursue careers in the jobs market in the way that they would wish. The Member makes an important point about flexibility because that is exactly why the Cabinet Secretary has decided to proceed on a pilot basis, in order to make sure that we design the extra supply of childcare that will be needed to meet the pledge in a way that is able to meet the working patterns that families who will want to take advantage of the new service will need. So, it is an important consideration, and already there as part of the pilot approach. We carried out some serious work in advance of the election to draw up the figures that we have published that show what we think this scheme will need, but we will learn from the pilots in relation to the quantum, no doubt, as well.
 
14:12
Mark RecklessBiography
I commend the Cabinet Secretary and the Government, on the whole, on the system that is proposed. It doubtless will provide much more flexibility and support for working parents, but I disagree with his assertion that that flexibility and support for working parents has previously been part of the Welsh system. Five 2.5-hour sessions without flexibility makes it far harder for two parents to go out to work. I think it’s likely that there will be a very significant increase in the participation rate, and I would question whether that’s been allowed for in the finances of the £84 million.
 
The Cabinet Secretary also said this morning to Finance Committee that he will have to ramp up spending gradually because of a lack of capacity. Certainly, in my personal experience, it’s incredibly difficult to get a childcare place at a good nursery in the south-east of England. It is far easier in Cardiff and south-east Wales to find capacity and find a number of really good-quality nurseries that can quickly take a child in the private sector. Given that, will the Government look at greater use of private sector nurseries, as well as state provision, particularly taking into account that, when you ramp it up from 38 hours to 48 hours a week, that may fit the school timetable and provision less easily and lead to greater average costs for school provision than has been the case to date?
 
14:13
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, Llywydd, I’m happy to confirm what I said to the Finance Committee, that if you want to design a system that has the active participation of parents within it and learns from what they tell us about the sort of childcare they will need for the future, we need to calibrate the programme to take account of those views, and that will mean a build-up over time in the capacity that we will be developing. I’m quite sure that the Cabinet Secretary responsible will look at the contributions of the different sectors that already exist for childcare in Wales, and will look to make sure that we align those in the way that best meets the needs of parents, including the need for flexibility.
 
European Structural Fund Programmes
 
14:14
Simon ThomasBiography
3. Following his statement on 11 October, will the Minister confirm what funding will be available for the remaining European structural fund programmes from 2014 to 2020? OAQ(5)0034(FLG)[W]
 
14:14
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, may I thank Simon Thomas for the question? Over the life of the programme from 2014 to 2020, around £1.9 billion is available through European structural funds in Wales—£855 million, namely 44 of that allocation, has already been committed. I expect the remaining £1 billion to be deployed to the maximum extent, although our ability to do so remains dependent on the UK Government’s timescales for leaving the European Union.
 
14:15
Simon ThomasBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response, and I tell him, of course, that we all hope that it will be possible to retain as much of this funding as possible within the pot for as long as possible. Now, may I draw his attention to one particularly successful scheme in Wales, which is the Sêr Cymru scheme, to attract researchers and scientists to Wales? The ‘Science’ magazine, over the past fortnight, has reported on the success of this scheme, which has attracted over 100 fellows to Wales and some 20 innovative researchers, which helps us to respond to things such as climate change, energy issues, and to respond to Brexit in the way that we look at the future of the agricultural industry, for example. So, what confirmation can the Minister give that projects such as Sêr Cymru will continue to be supported by the Government even after leaving the European Union?
 
14:16
Mark DrakefordBiography
Thank for that question. Of course, I acknowledge the excellent work that the Sêr Cymru programme undertakes. I had an opportunity, when I was responsible the health sector in Wales, to collaborate with Edwina Hart at the time on this programme and to try and attract people to life sciences in Wales and to do the excellent work that is carried out in Swansea.
 
Designing everything that we want to do in the context of reductions, potentially, in European funding will cause some challenges, but those programmes that have such demonstrated records of success speak for themselves in making a call on the limited, inevitably, resources that we are able to put to all the different needs we wish to address in Wales.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
 
14:17
Mike HedgesBiography
Will the Cabinet Secretary join with me in congratulating Swansea University on the development of a programme to extend research Master’s and engineering doctorates, working with some of the UK’s and world’s leading industrial companies? Surely it’s something that the Welsh economy desperately needs. This has been backed by European Union funding. What will happen after the European Union funding ends?
 
14:18
Mark DrakefordBiography
I was very pleased last week to be able to announce an additional £850,000 of European Union funding for the scheme that Mike Hedges refers to. Participating businesses in it include Tata Steel, BASF, the Royal Mint and others. They will be actively involved in formulating research projects based on the technological developments taking place within their industries. Our aim, as he knows, is to draw down the maximum possible of European funding while it is available to us. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement about the lifetime guarantee for schemes agreed prior to leaving the European Union is helpful in that way. I’m sure that this scheme will demonstrate its worth and we’ll then be able to argue for its continuation beyond the period of structural funding.
 
The Impact of European Structural Funding (Islwyn)
 
14:19
Rhianon PassmoreBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of European structural funding in Islwyn? OAQ(5)0047(FLG)
 
14:19
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Rhianon Passmore for the question. Islwyn has benefitted from structural funding in many different ways, from the very local support of two apprentices at a Newbridge dental surgery to the far wider impact, for example, of the Aspire to Achieve programme for at-risk young people and the Business Wales SME and entrepreneurship support scheme.
 
14:19
Rhianon PassmoreBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Since 2007, EU structural funds projects alone have, in Wales, helped nearly 73,000 people into work, helped over 234,000 people gain qualifications, supported the creation of nearly 12,000 businesses and created some 37,000 jobs. The UK Government’s commitment to guarantee expenditure for all European structural investment fund schemes approved prior to the UK leaving the EU is to be welcomed. What impact would be wrought on communities, people and businesses across Wales if the UK Government does not, penny for penny, fund Wales the moneys it presently receives from the European Union?
 
14:20
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, the impact would be the one that I’m sure the Member would anticipate: that those investments that we are able to make, which help to shape the futures for individuals and communities and to secure the long-term success of the Welsh economy, would be set back if we did not have the money that is currently guaranteed to us as a result of our membership of the European Union. It would be a strange message, I’m sure she would agree, to take to members of her constituency if it were to turn out that Wales did less well out of its membership of the United Kingdom than it does out of its membership of the European Union.
 
14:21
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Cabinet Secretary, it is clear from the result of the EU referendum that the people living in Islwyn and other areas of South Wales East did not feel the impact and benefit of European structural funding. Over 50 per cent of people living in Caerphilly council voted to leave the EU, over 56 per cent in Merthyr Tydfil, 60 per cent in Torfaen, and 62 per cent in Blaenau Gwent. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that these figures show the total failure of the Labour Party to demonstrate the benefit of EU membership in its heartland, hindered as it was by the half-hearted support for ‘remain’ from Jeremy Corbyn, and how will funds be supplemented to the South Wales East valleys by your Government in the near future?
 
I’m afraid, Dirprwy Lywydd, that it’s like arriving at the cinema to find a reel from an old film still going on in front of you. Of course I am aware of the results of the referendum. [Laughter.] I’m equally absolutely certain that the people in those communities to which he has referred did not vote for a poorer and more impoverished future.
 
Local Government Funding
 
14:22
Lynne NeagleBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government plans for local government funding in this financial year? OAQ(5)0044(FLG)
 
14:22
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Lynne Neagle for the question. The majority of the funding provided to local government by the Welsh Government is delivered through the annual settlement. In this financial year, 2016-17, the settlement provided £4.1 billion in unhypothecated revenue funding.
 
14:22
Lynne NeagleBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I was pleased to welcome the announcement yesterday that you would be protecting local government funding in next year’s budget, and I look forward to hearing more detail from you on how you will prioritise targeting our most needy local authorities. The announcement last week that the Welsh Government is minded to phase out Communities First, and the apparent quiet ending of Schools Challenge Cymru in yesterday’s budget, does, however, make me worry that the Welsh Government is beginning to dilute its commitment to target resources at those communities most in need in Wales. What assurances can you offer me today that that is not the case?
 
14:23
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, as I said during the statement on the budget yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary’s decision on Communities First is not driven by budget considerations. It is driven by making better use of the funding that has been put to those purposes in the past, bringing it together with budgets for Families First and Flying Start and trying to make sure that we have more of an impact in those communities that she so regularly represents on the floor of the National Assembly. As far as education programmes are concerned, there were two programmes, time-limited in nature, for which no funding provision would normally have been made next year. In the circumstances we find ourselves, it is impossible to carry on everything, particularly when schemes have been specifically identified as having a limited life. We were unable to take forward Schools Challenge Cymru, but we were able to take forward the pupil deprivation grant, which has a far higher budgetary implication, and to double the pupil deprivation grant for children in their most early and formative years. Together, I think they demonstrate the ongoing commitment of this Government to the agendas that she has so ably championed.
 
14:25
Russell GeorgeBiography
Each year for the past 10 years, either Powys or Ceredigion county councils have received the worst or joint worst funding from Welsh Government. I’ve heard your answers to earlier questions today, but what I would ask you, Cabinet Secretary, is: do you accept that you need to take into account the minority view that’s often posed by rural local authorities that isn’t heard when that recommendation is made to you, and is that something that you would be prepared to take into account when that recommendation comes to you?
 
14:25
Mark DrakefordBiography
I listen very carefully to what rural authorities say to me, and the changes to the social services strand in the formula this year very much do respond to the argument that those authorities have put. I’m afraid the Member will have to wait with everybody else to see the specific impacts of those changes on particular authorities for next year.
 
14:25
Gareth BennettBiography
I just wanted to raise a technical issue with the Minister. Now, when you made your statement on local government reform recently, you kindly briefed me some days before, and I was grateful for it, and, of course, I respected the embargo. With your local government settlement, to my disappointment, I only received the briefing at 1.30 p.m. today. Could we have an early briefing wherever possible, as I feel this would benefit the work of the Assembly, and perhaps could you enlighten me as to the reason why we have these embargoes, as I feel they do impede somewhat the work of the Assembly?
 
14:26
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, all opposition party spokespeople, Dirprwy Lywydd, were offered a technical briefing on the announcement that will be made later this afternoon, and all opposition party spokespeople were offered that briefing at more or less the same time. It’s a courtesy that we are keen to continue to afford opposition party spokespeople, because we would like to see people well-informed so that, when you are asked to comment, as I’m sure you will be, you will have had a chance to consider what it is the Government intends, having had some time in advance to digest the impact of that. It’s a tradition that I think has served us well so far. I’m keen to continue it. I’m very happy to have a discussion with the Member to make sure that he’s properly able to take advantage of the facilities that we try to provide.
 
The Real Living Wage
 
14:27
Dawn BowdenBiography
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the real living wage in the Welsh public sector? OAQ(5)0037(FLG)
 
14:27
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Dawn Bowden for that. Working in partnership with trade unions and public service employers, progress continues to be made in broadening adoption of the living wage in Welsh public services.
 
14:27
Dawn BowdenBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your response. Recent research by Middlesex University and the University of Liverpool showed a clear case in support of the real living wage, as opposed to, of course, the Tories’ phony living wage, with businesses who are paying it experiencing fewer employee disputes, an increase in productivity and staff motivation, and reputational and corporate brand advantage over competitors. Another study, by the Bevan Foundation, of employers in Merthyr showed that around 6,000 workers in that area—that’s about a quarter of the local workforce—were paid below the real living wage. The Bevan Foundation research revealed that different employers are at different stages in moving towards the real living wage, but they are often able to draw encouragement and confidence from other local employers who do pay it. Wales’s biggest employer, the NHS in Wales, with the highest level of women workers as the primary earners in their family, pay the real living wage, and I’d like to pay tribute to the Cabinet Secretary who, in his former position as the health Minister, worked hard with trade unions to deliver this. So, as we approach Living Wage Week, does the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that our public services here in Wales can play a role in taking a lead on introducing the real living wage not just for their own employees, but also to make this an expectation in respect of employers providing contracted-out services, and will he also congratulate those local authorities, such as Merthyr Tydfil and Caerphilly councils in my constituency, who can, with some pride, call themselves living-wage employers?
 
14:29
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, I certainly congratulate Merthyr Tydfil and Caerphilly councils for the approach that they have adopted and the leadership that they have shown in this area. The Member began, I thought, with the most important case for the real living wage, that it actually benefits employers as well as employees, and that there are strict business advantages to companies who deploy the real living wage in terms of reduced sickness, reduced absence, reduced recruitment costs, reduced training costs. It makes good business sense, and the leadership that local authorities have shown in this area helps to demonstrate that proposition.
 
The Delivery of Public Services
 
14:30
Angela BurnsBiography
7. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of proposed local government reform on the delivery of public services? OAQ(5)0041(FLG)
 
14:30
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Angela Burns for the question. The proposals I announced on 4 October for mandatory and systematic regional collaboration between local authorities are intended to build resilience and enhance the effectiveness of services and outcomes for citizens.
 
14:30
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you for that. Because, of course, not taking forward the Williams commission recommendations has meant now that we need to seek to see that local authorities do collaborate more, I wonder whether you could just give us a little bit more information about the discussions you’ve had with local authorities or with the WLGA. Have you put a timescale on being able to see some tangible benefits from local authorities of mutual collaboration?
 
14:31
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, as I explained in my statement on 4 October, I spent a great deal of time over the summer in visiting all 22 local authorities in Wales, meeting leaders and chief executives. I’ve met with trade unions, I’ve met with third sector organisations and I meet with the WLGA. I’ve done my best to be out and about in all of that.
 
The timescale for the next stage of the discussion is the rest of this calendar year, when we need to look at the detail underlying the big-picture pattern I was able to announce on 4 October. The prize for local authorities that I try and remind them of is that I would like to be in a position to argue for a local government Bill in the second-year legislative programme of this Assembly. It will be a competitive bidding round, you can be sure, with lots of Cabinet colleagues with ideas they want to get into the programme. I won’t get a place for a local government Bill to do all the things we would like to do unless I have an agreement that I can take forward. I want to get that by the beginning of the next calendar year, and then I want to move into the next phase.
 
Implementing the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015
 
14:32
John GriffithsBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on progress in implementing the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? OAQ(5)0043(FLG)
 
14:32
Mark DrakefordBiography
Good progress is being made in implementing the Act, including, but by no means confined to, the publication of ‘Taking Wales Forward’. This committed us to develop four cross-cutting strategies, guided by our well-being objectives. I will publish the first iteration of the Welsh Ministers’ well-being objectives by 5 November, as the Act requires.
 
14:32
John GriffithsBiography
Thank you for that, Cabinet Secretary. I think there’s widespread agreement that this Act is a very important opportunity to help build a better Wales. I wonder whether you could explain some of the linkages between the Welsh Government’s well-being objectives and accompanying statement under the Act, with the programme for government, the four overarching strategies you mentioned, and also the budget.
 
14:33
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I was asked questions about this in front of the Finance Committee this morning, where I attempted to set out the way in which the budget has been aligned with the five ways of working that the Act sets out. I won’t repeat them all here, but I hope I was able to show that we have taken a long-term view, balancing the needs of current generations with future generations, that we’ve sought to involve people in the way that we’ve made those decisions, and that, through our budget decisions, and the policies set out in ‘Taking Wales Forward’, the well-being of future generations Act has provided a lens through which we are able to view the actions across the Government as a whole.
 
Collaborative Working across Local Authorities
 
14:34
Joyce WatsonBiography
9. Will the Minister provide an update on the progression of collaborative working across local authorities? OAQ(5)0040(FLG)
 
14:34
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Joyce Watson for the question. Local authorities have many collaborative arrangements already in place across Wales. These arrangements not only deliver better services for people, but can do so more effectively and efficiently. Building on this, my proposals for local government reform are aimed at more systematic and mandatory collaboration between authorities in regional arrangements.
 
14:34
Joyce WatsonBiography
I thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. I don’t know whether you did watch last night’s BBC Two programme ‘Who’s Spending Britain’s Billions?’, but it did actually outline a collaboration that maybe people don’t think is worthy of spending millions of pounds on—when the Plaid Cymru leader of Ceredigion was asked specifically about a contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers, spending that large amount of money, informing them how to close down facilities in order to save money, and also how to privatise local services. So, as you foster greater local authority collaboration, Cabinet Secretary, and also financial collaboration, would you please examine closely the use of these so-called risk and reward contracts? Because I also was outside yesterday with Unison representatives who are actually, quite rightly, in my opinion, aggrieved at that use of money.
 
14:35
Mark DrakefordBiography
Thank you for the question. I’m afraid I didn’t see the television programme. I spent my evening in the company of my questions folder and the advice I needed before appearing before the Finance Committee this morning. But, I hear what the Member says, and of course, will reflect carefully on it in my next conversations with local authorities.
 
3. Questions to the Assembly Commission
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet. Symudwn yn awr at gwestiynau i Gomisiwn y Cynulliad. Comisiynydd diogelwch ac adnoddau’r Cynulliad, Caroline Jones, fydd yn ateb y cwestiwn cyntaf.
 
Electric Vehicles
 
14:36
Simon ThomasBiography
1. What provision has the Commission made for electric vehicles at the Assembly? OAQ(5)0001(AC)[W]
 
14:36
Caroline JonesBiographyAssembly Commissioner
I thank the Member for his question. As part of the Assembly Commission’s environmental plan, we encourage the use of sustainable transport. We recognise the development of electric cars and their falling costs and we are considering the viability of charging points within the Cardiff Bay estate. Demand will, in part, be assessed through our travel survey, which we intend to conduct shortly.
 
14:36
Simon ThomasBiography
Can I anticipate your travel survey and say that I want to get an electric car? But I can’t, living in Aberystwyth, travel down to Cardiff if I can’t charge it here. So, why don’t we take that step? Why don’t we show that we’re going to be leading the way in responding to climate change and the environment and put that infrastructure here? By all means, charge for charging. Some of the problems with charging facilities in the past have been some idea that it has to be free. It doesn’t have to be free, but it has to be available, otherwise we can’t make the move to more sustainable transport solutions.
 
14:37
Caroline JonesBiography
I thank the Member for making that point. Obviously, there was a travel survey conducted a couple of years ago, and in the travel survey, 250 staff members were given the surveys and they were completed. However, the demand was only 12 per cent at that time. So, on the positive side, I’d like to say to the Member that, yes, they are a low-carbon means of travel, and our Green Dragon environmental system requires a reduced carbon footprint. Our infrastructure in our car park would allow us to install charging point for electric cars, and the cost in procuring and installing charging points has reduced in recent years, along with the cost of electric cars. So, you make a valid point. However, when it was only 12 per cent who had responded, it was a small amount of people interested—that’s not to say that we’re going to purchase. So, the introduction of charging points in the car park would reduce car parking for conventional vehicles, so there’s an awful lot that we have to consider, and there would be an additional demand on the Assembly’s electricity supply. We would need to introduce a payment system for staff to pay for electricity consumed by the owners of electric vehicles.
 
But I would say to the Member that, within the next few months, we will produce a further survey to monitor the demand by staff. And I think that the lower cost of the electric cars to purchase will be an incentive for the demand to grow. So, we’ll have to wait for the next survey, which will we implement within the next couple of months, and we may have a more favourable response to the Member’s question.
 
14:39
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much. The second question to the Assembly Commission will be answered by the Llywydd, who is Chair of the Commission and the Commissioner for communications and engagement.
 
A Youth Parliament for Wales
 
14:39
Lynne NeagleBiography
2. What plans does the Commission have to develop a youth parliament for Wales? OAQ(5)0002(AC)
 
14:39
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The Commission has already been successful in engagement with young people, as young people are having a great influence on the work of the Assembly and its committees. Earlier this year, we agreed, as part of our new strategy for the fifth Assembly, that we want to take this success even further. I certainly do want to see the establishment of a youth parliament early in this Assembly term and I have been working closely with the children’s commissioner and the Campaign for the Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales on the best way forward. We will be deciding on our plans at the Commission meeting in early November.
 
14:40
Lynne NeagleBiography
Obviously, I tabled this question before the debate was tabled today and I tabled it because I think it is incredibly important that we do have a youth parliament for Wales. I very much welcome your answer. I hope to speak in the debate later on, but if I could just ask you to state your personal commitment as Presiding Officer to driving this work forward on behalf of the Commission.
 
14:40
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
It is a timely question and I thank you for getting in there first before the debate this afternoon. I can give my personal commitment and, I hope, following the Commission meeting on 3 November, also the full Commission’s endorsement for taking the next steps in finally establishing a youth parliament here in Wales. We are awaiting a piece of work that is being undertaken by the campaign for the children and young people’s assembly and that piece of research work will be instrumental in advising us on the right way to do this. But, certainly, you have my assurance and my support for this to happen and to happen early on in the term of this Assembly.
 
14:41
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much.
 
4. Statement by the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on the Committee's Forward Work Programme including Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
We move on to item 4, which is a statement by the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on the committee’s forward work programme including refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. I call on John Griffiths to move the statement. John.
 
14:41
John GriffithsBiography
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I am grateful for the opportunity afforded to committee chairs to make statements to the Chamber. It is a welcome opportunity, Dirprwy Lywydd, to raise the profile of issues important to the Welsh public.
 
I and members of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee have given careful thought to the priorities we wish to pursue through the fifth term of this Assembly and Members were unified in their belief that the committee’s work must be: outward facing, by providing genuine engagement with communities in every part of Wales, and in new and innovative ways; committed to being solution focused by bringing together expert knowledge and experience to provide solutions for public authorities to tackle some of Wales’s deepest inequalities; and dedicated to the effective scrutiny of the Welsh Government, with a view to improving public policy and legislation in Wales.
 
The committee is currently carrying out post-legislative scrutiny of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. I am pleased with the progress of this work and hope it contributes to making the implementation of the Act a success. Our ability to revisit key legislation and policy decisions by Welsh Government, and critically analyse their progress, will be an essential role of our committee. In the new year, the committee intends to focus heavily on tackling poverty and reviewing progress to date of interventions, such as Communities First. I hope to bring further updates to this Chamber early in 2017.
 
The committee’s next inquiry will focus on one of the world’s most pressing issues. Last year, one in every 113 humans was either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. In all, there are more forcibly displaced people today than the populations of the United Kingdom, France or Italy. In 2016, with an intensifying conflict in Syria and huge uncertainty across countries in the region, there are now more displaced people in the world than at any other time in our history. There are millions dead, families torn apart by conflict and children left without parents. The constant news cycle of images and stories of people escaping war and persecution in Syria, Iraq and other countries are extremely distressing. It is a situation that has made me and many others in this Chamber, I know, despair.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, I want this Assembly to make a small but significant contribution to this global issue. Earlier this month, the French Government took the decision to close the Calais Jungle camp, where around 7,000 people are currently living. This has rightly been welcomed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as more suitable accommodation and support is expected to be delivered. But the reality is that 700 unaccompanied children living in the Jungle, and countless other people, could be left vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.
 
Refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children coming to the United Kingdom will have specific needs for settling into their new lives and becoming a full part of our communities. I am mindful that while a substantial amount of responsibility for resettling these people is with the UK Government, there are still key interventions and support that can be provided by Welsh Government.
 
In Wales, there are currently 112 people here under the UK Government’s Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme. In Scotland, there are 862, and in Northern Ireland 155 have been resettled. To make sure displaced people are effectively supported in Wales, the committee’s inquiry will look at the areas where we can do things differently and better.
 
The committee will have a particular interest in the pace and effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s approach to resettling refugees through the UK Government’s Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme; the effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s refugee and asylum seeker delivery plan, particularly around funding, accountability, mental health support, advocacy, housing provision, access to rights, protection for children, and destitution; and how unaccompanied children are supported, particularly because the Welsh Refugee Council said that the refugee and asylum seeker delivery plan
 
‘overlooks the need for independent advocacy for children and young people beyond duties owed by the Social Services and Well-being Act 2014.’
 
The committee will also look at how well the Welsh Government’s community cohesion strategy is helping refugees and asylum seekers integrate into Welsh communities. The committee will be talking to recently resettled families in Wales and exploring good practice in the UK and internationally.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, I am heartened by the First Minister’s call with the third sector for urgent action by the UK Government to help child refugees. This is particularly important with the imminent closure of the Jungle camp in Calais by the French Government.
 
In conclusion, I hope this inquiry will lead to improved experiences for refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children in Wales.I want the generations of displaced people to be proud to call Wales home.
 
14:48
Sian GwenllianBiography
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to make a contribution as a member of the committee. I welcome the important piece of work that the committee is to carry out on refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We have almost 3,000 people in Wales seeking refuge, which represents 0.1 per cent of the population—a very small figure, but an important and vulnerable cohort of people who deserve our full support.
 
It will be important for the committee’s inquiry to cover a number of issues, and you’ve referred to some of them already, but, for me, I will list some important issues. I think it is important for us to discover what the Welsh response is to the refugee crisis in Syria. It is a situation that varies from one part of Wales to another. For example, are the refugee relocation figures fair, and are local authorities taking their fair share? That clearly needs to be addressed. We will also need to consider how effectively local authorities are working in achieving the targets that have been set. One does hear about huge discrepancies in terms of what was agreed and what was provided, and therefore, during our inquiry, we need to understand how the Welsh Government and local authorities have been able to respond to the crisis to date, and also how swiftly they’ll be able to respond to the relocation of refugees in future.
 
I hope that we’ll be able to look at how this work is monitored, and therefore the committee will need to consider how effective the Syrian refugee taskforce has been in supporting these relocation efforts. It will also be important, I think, for us to discover how the Welsh Government is influencing the UK Government and the European relocation policy in concentrating on best practice, what has worked well, but also discovering what doesn’t work effectively.
 
I think we also need to look at the response of public services to the relocation of refugees and those seeking asylum. Has this been properly co-ordinated and is there sufficient co-ordination in the response between social services, the health services, housing providers, education and so on? That’s an important part of our work, I think.
 
We also need to consider how recent policy and legislation can feed into the relocation of refugees and those seeking asylum, particularly the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and responsibilities therein.
 
Now, I understand that Wales doesn’t have an advocacy support service for children and young people who are refugees or are unaccompanied, and I think that this is something that this inquiry should consider also.
 
So, that’s a number of suggestions for further discussion, and I look forward to contributing to this important work during the next few weeks. Thank you.
 
14:51
John GriffithsBiography
Diolch yn fawr, Sian. May I thank the Member very much for her commitment to this piece of work, and I know that she has a great interest in it? I think it is very important that we take a view as to how joined up the services are in Wales, and how they can be joined up for refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children coming to Wales, and, indeed, how new legislation like the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 can help us achieve that joining-up and general improvement to services.
 
I very much recognise the points about advocacy. As I mentioned in my speech, the Welsh Refugee Council have highlighted that as an area that does require examination.
 
I think it was clear from the summer consultation exercise that the committee conducted that there is considerable support in Wales for this piece of work and a need for our committee to carry it out. So, I look forward to a high degree of interest and ongoing contribution from all those organisations in Wales with an interest. And it will be important that we look outward to what the UK Government is doing, what the picture is in Europe, and to make appropriate points, but, of course, our main focus will be on Welsh Government’s role and, indeed, local authorities, as the Member mentioned, because they’re absolutely crucial in terms of the powers and responsibilities that are devolved to Wales that can make a difference to the experience of these vulnerable groups.
 
14:53
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thanks very much for your statement. I’m in a strange situation as this is the first time since I’ve been in the Assembly when I’ve not a member of this committee or its equivalent predecessors, although many of the issues you raise have been subject to work by those predecessor committees. I hope, therefore, that you will—and I’m sure you’ll confirm that you are—looking at the legacy work of the last committee particularly, but some of the legacy work carried forward that’s relevant to the work you’re doing from predecessor committees also.
 
You indicate that you’ve focused already for some time on the post-legislative scrutiny of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. I hope you will, or would encourage you to, include within that—I’m sure you’ll confirm that you have—the matter that, as you’ll recall, had things on a tightrope at the end, which was the essential need for healthy relationships education. We were promised action to address that in the regulations and codes and the strategy following. There was some concern at the recent cross-party group on violence against women and children that insufficient rigour perhaps had been given to that. Similarly, concerns were raised there by a number of experts, including the national adviser, that the draft national strategy on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence up to 2020-21 caused concern in a number of matters, not least the need to adopt the internationally recognised definition of violence against women. So, it would be appreciated, certainly by the people attending the cross-party group, if the committee listens to their concerted evidence in that respect.
 
You refer to focusing heavily on tackling poverty programmes. Perhaps you could confirm whether you are not only looking at the legacy but carrying forward the series of inquiries the previous committee was carrying out but hadn’t completed—I think we’d got to stage 2 out of a three-stage process—and whether you’re going to carry that through on the same basis or not.
 
I welcome the fact that your next inquiry will focus on refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. You refer to the 112 people here under the UK Government’s Syrian vulnerable person relocation scheme, against Scotland’s 862 and 155 in Northern Ireland. It does seem that those other two nations have taken, thus far, a greater share of the affected population. Hopefully, you will look at that. But, in terms of those figures, could you also comment on the figures I was given by Oxfam Cymru last week that, in fact, the Syrian refugee resettlement programme has already brought 257 people to Wales, with a further 103 expected before the end of this year, with 21 local authorities of the 22 already having accepted some persons from that programme?
 
By the end of 2015, 65.3 million people will have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations, a small proportion of whom have sought sanctuary in Wales. I’m actually hosting and sponsoring a Sanctuary in the Senedd event with the Welsh Refugee Council on 7 December, when Members can meet asylum seekers and refugees from across Wales. So, I’m unashamedly putting a plug in for that now and encouraging Members to come along and meet, learn and hear first-hand about people’s experiences and the role that Wales has played and can play in the future.
 
Obviously, references have been made to the horribly named Jungle camp in Calais and the fact that that’s closing down. The Children’s Commissioner for England has previously said that about 300 children there, from countries like Syria and Afghanistan, will come to the UK. We know that, last week, British and French officials began registering unaccompanied children in the camp who are hoping to join relatives in Britain. Do you have any indication if those figures are accurate or can you perhaps drill down to try and establish the number? If it is 300, or more, what proportion will be in Wales?
 
Similarly, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has said the UK Government is, to quote, ‘moving quickly’. She wants as many children as possible brought to the UK before the camp is shut. But the charity Safe Passage UK, which is working with the UK Government, says it’s not yet been shown any operational plans setting out how the children will be transferred. Again, could you look at the operational plans as they develop, not only with the UK Government but with the Welsh Government, in terms of the settlement here? I won’t say much more, except to ask—
 
14:58
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Are you winding up, please? Winding up, Mark, please.
 
14:59
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Yes. The final question therefore relates to—. I’m sure you’ll confirm you will be keeping an overview of the disparate delivery so far in Wales. I have represented people, with a number of councils, and there has been a different approach, but above all, the key points raised are, for example, in Wrexham—which has already agreed to accept—the need for language support and, in Flintshire, for full language and curriculum support, supporting integration of families into local communities, as well as the hard-end issues around issues such as housing and health. Again, I hope you’ll confirm that you’ll be looking at those. Thank you.
 
14:59
John GriffithsBiography
Can I thank Mark Isherwood for his contribution to this statement and his questions? We will, indeed, as a committee, look at the legacy report of the previous committee, which we’ve already done, but we’ll certainly look at that in respect of the matters that the Member mentions. With regard to the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, we have, just today actually, been engaged in scrutiny of the Cabinet Secretary and, indeed, the national adviser, and many of our questions focused on healthy relationships and how we get the school educational offer right. We’ve also written to Kirsty Williams and have had a response in that regard, which we will follow up. Much of it, of course, revolves around Donaldson and the curriculum review, and the place of healthy relationship education within that, and whether or not it’s on a statutory basis and consistent across Wales in terms of quality and availability. So, I’m sure those are matters that will feature in our committee’s report. We also touched on the importance of having internationally recognised definitions, and I know that’s something that the Cabinet Secretary is considering very carefully in terms of the national strategy and general policy.
 
Can I also say that, in terms of previous inquiries around poverty, indeed there is some unfinished business, I think particularly with regard to the committee’s identification of welfare benefits and in-work poverty as areas that could fruitfully be the subject of future work? So, obviously, the committee, in taking forward further inquiries and further work on poverty, will look at that unfinished business, as it were, as well as the work it generally wants to do around poverty, and I’m sure it will be guided by the previous work of the committee.
 
With regard to numbers, whether it’s the Syrian refugees and the UK Government’s most recent scheme, or, indeed, the situation at Calais, the committee, I think, will be very keen to get as accurate a picture as possible of those figures, and that will be part of the committee’s work.
 
Finally, when we considered this inquiry in committee this morning, we did consider the event on 7 December of the Welsh Refugee Council, and I think we’re clear that that will be a useful opportunity for the committee to engage with those present around this piece of work.
 
15:02
Lynne NeagleBiography
Can I thank you, John, for your statement, and give a very warm welcome to the work that you are going to be undertaking on supporting refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children? Torfaen local authority has been punching above its weight in terms of taking Syrian refugees, and I’m very proud of the record of that council and also very proud that, yesterday, the council unanimously agreed to take to cabinet a paper to become one of the first authorities in Wales to take unaccompanied children. So, I think that is something that we can all be proud of and commend.
 
It has already been highlighted, though, that there is variation between local authorities in terms of engagement with these schemes, and I wanted to ask how you see the committee’s role in terms of bringing pressure to bear, both on Welsh Government and on local authorities, to improve the engagement with those schemes across Wales. I was also particularly pleased to see the reference to advocacy in your statement. The children’s committee is going to be conducting a short inquiry on advocacy, because there are still some issues that we’re concerned about with delivery across Wales, and I think it would be useful if the two committees could co-operate on that.
 
You referred to Communities First; again, I’m really pleased that you’re going to be looking at Communities First. You’ll have heard me say when the Minister made his announcement recently that, in Torfaen, our record of delivery on Communities First has been excellent, including on the kind of hard outputs like employability. I wondered if you could say a bit more about how you intend to scrutinise the Government’s decision to phase out Communities First. I think it is absolutely essential that we retain the excellent parts of that programme going forward, and I’m grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government for his assurance on that earlier. I would also be interested to know how you intend to engage with the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children about the consultation. We’re still awaiting details of the consultation with external and internal stakeholders, and I’d be interested to know what input the committee is going to have into that.
 
15:04
John GriffithsBiography
I thank Lynne Neagle very much for her warm welcome for this piece of work and her support for it. I’d be very keen to work with the children’s committee, Lynne, on advocacy particularly. I think, in this Assembly, there’s a lot more thought and consideration as to how the committees can work together generally, and perhaps this could be an important example of how we achieve that. I very much agree that what we need is local authorities in Wales to come forward to show the right sort of commitment to understand the massive moral case, to play their part in taking unaccompanied children, but also, of course, refugees and asylum seekers. So, when a good example is set, such as in Torfaen, then that’s something that I hope other local authorities in Wales will sit up and take notice of. It’s very good to hear about that cabinet paper that’s going forward also.
 
I think what we have to do in our work is to make clear which local authorities are stepping up to the plate, as it were, and in doing that, I think that will bring a deal of pressure to bear on other local authorities that are not showing similar commitment and action. I think action, obviously, is the important thing, because all local authorities in Wales have signed up to playing a part in taking people under the various schemes, but what we haven’t seen up to now is a great deal of action. So, we do need a greater pace and a greater number of adults and children benefitting from the verbal commitment that local authorities have given.
 
In terms of Communities First, it will be a matter for the committee, obviously, but I think we will be looking to scrutinise the Cabinet Secretary once the statement is made early next year, following the consultation, and also, earlier than that, around our budget scrutiny, and particularly how, as you say, the most important projects—the real progress that’s been made through Communities First—how those areas of activity will be maintained and supported, going forward into the future. I think most Members’ general experience of Communities First is that, yes, it has been variable and patchy, but, yes, it has worked particularly well in some parts of Wales and there is some particularly valuable work that does need to be retained. So, I think that would be our focus.
 
15:07
Julie MorganBiography
I’m not a member of the committee, but I’m very interested in this issue and I’d like to congratulate you for taking on this particular inquiry, because I think it’s absolutely vitally important. Obviously, because of all the recent news of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK, I think that is one of the issues that’s foremost in our minds.
 
I was very dismayed this morning—other Members may have heard it—on the Radio 4 programme, when there was a debate going on about whether the unaccompanied children who were arriving were over 18 or not, and there were talks of dental scans and bone scans to try to identify whether they were children or not. It just seemed to me that we know that these young people who are arriving are traumatised, we know that they have lost family and it seems to me that this is an incredibly awful way to start the debate of them coming. So, I wondered if the committee was going to look at some of the attitudes that there are around—whether there was any way of looking at people’s views of refugees. Because, I suppose, when you think of a child refugee, people think of a small child, and we that know most of them are teenagers—teenage boys. I was just very shocked at that, so I hope the committee will take that on board. Bearing in mind that many of these children and young people will be traumatised, they will need access to counselling and post-traumatic stress treatment, and I hope the committee will be looking into that as well.
 
Yesterday, I was at the Radio Wales and BBC World Service programme over in the Pierhead—I think others were there—and one of the speakers who came from Syria six years ago made the point that people who come from Syria, his fellow countrymen and women, aren’t unskilled, on the whole. They are mainly doctors, teachers, architects and engineers—they were the professions that he listed—and they’re very keen to work, because when you don’t work, very often you do lose your sense of self-esteem and you do lose the sense that you are contributing to the community. Also, he did say, if you work in a community and that community extends the hand of friendship to you, you’re loyal to that community in the future, because of what it’s done to you.
 
So, in terms of the Syrian resettlement scheme, I wondered if the committee could look at what opportunities for work there would be available, because we do know that, under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, refugees will be allowed to work for five years, but that is not actually true of other refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Over the years, I’ve met many, many asylum seekers, as the rest of us have, who are—well, the meaning of their life is gone, because they are unable to work. So, I think many of the people who come in on the Syrian scheme will actually have a lot of attention and support, but I wonder if the committee could bear in mind as well that there are other asylum seekers who are here who do not have that type of support that the Syrian scheme will have, which I applaud, and we want to do all we can to help them. But there are other people there, and there are people who are destitute who are asylum seekers and who are seeking jobs in this country and who are actually on the streets in Cardiff. There was a sleep-out last weekend to note the fact that there are homeless, destitute people on the streets in Cardiff.
 
Finally, the last point I wanted to make was: I know that we talk about the resources that are needed to be put into the communities to help refugees settle and integrate, and I do believe that very strongly—we need to do that—but I also think that we must recognise the strengths that those families bring. I’m particularly thinking in terms of schools, because in Cathays High School in my constituency, where a lot of asylum-seeking children and economic migrants, as we call them, are, there are 63 different languages spoken and children from many different communities, including Somali, Czech, Slovak, Roma, Bangladeshi, Pakistani—you can go on listing where they come from. All the staff and the school say that they bring enormous energy to the school, they really enrich the school, the parents are so keen for the children to succeed because many of them have gone to many great lengths to get to this country, and I think, as part of your report, it would be good to see some of that enormous enrichment that it’s brought to this country.
 
15:12
John GriffithsBiography
I thank Julie Morgan very much for her ideas as to the sort of work that the committee could carry out as part of this inquiry. It’s really useful to have those ideas coming forward today as part of this statement. I’m sure the committee will be very interested to look at all those areas of work.
 
Can I say that I, too, caught some of the debate today in terms of how you determine the age of young people coming here as part of some of these resettlement schemes? I know that many in the medical profession have serious concerns around medical ethics in terms of carrying out scans, for example, that might have possible health consequences when there isn’t a medical reason for that procedure to take place. So, I think there are some serious issues and, of course, in terms of human dignity, I think that many of us would have strong views as to what should and what shouldn’t take place. So, I’m sure that these, as topical matters, will be matters that the committee will be concerned with. It is about attitudes, isn’t it? If we are to give the warm welcome that should be on offer in Wales to asylum seekers, refugees and unaccompanied children, then we do need to get the right messages across and try and create the right atmosphere in Wales and within our communities. To some extent, I think we do hope for responsible media coverage, which, unfortunately, is by no means always the case.
 
We will be doing work around community cohesion and looking at how we can integrate people as effectively as possible. I think that does come down to attitudes and messages, and the atmosphere that prevails. So, I think those will be interesting matters for the committee to look at. I very much agree that, not just people coming from Syria, but many others too, bring valuable skills, professional qualifications and experience, which are very valuable and will be very valuable in Wales, and could fill some important gaps in terms of provision of public services and adequate numbers of qualified professionals and experienced professionals to carry out those jobs. So, again, I think that will be a significant part of that work.
 
As the Member stated—it’s my experience as well in Newport, as a multi-ethnic area, that schools with high levels of children from a variety of diverse communities do bring a lot of energy, a lot of commitment to education, and a lot of drive to succeed to those schools, for their benefit, but also for the benefit of the other pupils and the whole school.
 
15:15
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. I have got three more speakers, but I think it’s a subject that people are interested in. So, if they can all promise me that they can be brief, we can have everybody. So, Gareth Bennett.
 
15:15
Gareth BennettBiography
Thanks. Thanks, Chairman, for your statement. It is a welcome development that the committee is looking closely at the issue of refugees. A lot of the work, though, will inevitably involve hearing from groups who are involved with refugees, groups trying to help them to integrate with society as a whole, groups providing services for refugees, and some of these groups also call for us to take on more refugees.
 
As you stated, Chairman, we do need to be outward facing and, in considering refugees, we do need to take into account their impact on the wider community. We need to look at the likely cost and resource impact of resettling refugees here in Wales. How will it impact on local councils financially? How will it impact in terms of the housing list? How will it impact on the health and education services? So, along with hearing in detail from the providers of refugee services in Wales, the Assembly must also—at the same time, I feel—consider these wider implications.
 
15:16
John GriffithsBiography
I thank Gareth Bennett for that contribution. The committee will look at the wider community issues around community cohesion, as I mentioned in my response to Julie Morgan. In my statement, I identified that as a significant part of the committee’s work. We do need to hear from others beyond those groups that provide the services and have a particular role in helping to resettle and supporting asylum seekers, refugees and unaccompanied children. Of course, funding is important. There are many issues around the level of funding that the UK Government provides to local authorities, for example, and I think that that has been an important part of the information that local authorities have sought in advance of taking part in the various schemes. So, I think that all those matters will be significant to the work of the committee in carrying out this inquiry.
 
15:17
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you for your statement, John. I’m slightly thrown now by Mark Isherwood’s figures earlier on, but in your speech you mentioned that we had 112 refugees from Syria resettled in Wales, which means that that doesn’t seem to have changed since August, if that’s still the case, and it still means that 13 councils haven’t resettled any Syrian refugees at all. I’d certainly like to know whether your inquiry into this is going to drill down to find out why, after two and a half years, 13 councils still haven’t taken anybody. On the back of that, congratulations to Torfaen. Swansea and Neath Port Talbot have also got modest numbers of Syrian refugees resettled. Is your inquiry going to assess the quality of support and the outcomes for the refugees who have been resettled here? The First Minister, a couple of weeks ago, said that he would be talking to the WLGA personally about the new children’s resettlement schemes. I was wondering whether the First Minister was likely to be asked to come and give direct evidence on the back of those talks.
 
On a separate issue: language. In fact, I regret chickening out on moving this amendment now, but whether languages in some of the communities in Wales—and I don’t mean the Welsh language now—still prove a major source of isolation for particular groups of people, including women in particular and older people who might have moved into communities and not had access to languages other than those that they speak themselves; whether there’s any work that could be done there to find out how much of a barrier to integration language can be. Sorry; you probably know where I’m going with that.
 
Then, thirdly and completely differently, I wonder whether it would be possible for the committee to look at reviewing the effectiveness of disability awareness raising in Wales across all sectors, not just the public sector, and perhaps pinning down who should be taking lead responsibility for that. I’d like to include autism awareness and dementia awareness in there as well. I appreciate that that’s different from disability awareness, but we speak about this a lot and I’m wondering whether, at some point, we could get an Assembly report, as opposed to Government figures on this, to show how well it’s going. Thank you.
 
15:19
John GriffithsBiography
I thank the Member again for a number of ideas that could help inform the work of the committee and add value to the work of the committee. In terms of disability awareness raising, we had a summer exercise in terms of asking organisations within Wales for ideas for our forward work programme. That wasn’t one that was particularly prominent, but I’m sure the committee, in going forward over the fullness of this Assembly term, will consider those matters, along with many others.
 
In terms of numbers, I would hope that we will be able to provide a greater degree of accuracy around numbers. There will be some instances where it’s easier than others. Some information, I think, is not easily available. Obviously, if people achieve refugee status, then they may travel from Wales to other parts of the UK or beyond, and it may be quite difficult to track that, but it will be easier, I think, in terms of asylum seekers who are a part of particular accommodation arrangements and also with unaccompanied children.
 
With local authorities, as I said earlier, hopefully, through the work of the committee, pressure will be applied to those local authorities that have been less forthcoming in helping to resettle refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. I would hope that we do see a greater degree of commitment, but, more importantly, more action from those that have been relatively reluctant up to now.
 
Yes, it is a matter of the quality of support and services, and we will be looking very carefully at that. When it comes to language, I think schemes such as the provision of English as a second language are very, very important, and we would want to look at what availability is like across Wales, whether it’s sufficient to meet demand and what sustainability there is in those services during these times of great funding difficulty.
 
Whether we would call the First Minister to give evidence or not would be a matter for the committee as we go forward. We’re currently considering witnesses.
 
15:22
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. Finally, Joyce Watson.
 
15:22
Joyce WatsonBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Thank you, Chair, for your statement. Not to lengthen the debate too much, I want to focus in particular on the report that we will eventually come up with about asylum seekers, refugees and specifically unaccompanied children. I would ask that, within our stages of going through the report, we look at the children we’ve seen from the care report by ECPAT, which particularly focuses on asylum-seeking children being taking into care, because they’re unaccompanied minors, and then going missing from that care provision simply because they haven’t been looked after in maybe quite the way that they should have, and some of the practices that go alongside unaccompanied minors hadn’t been thought about.
 
I’m going to be quite specific when I say that it is very often the case—and I hope it will never be the case in Wales—that unaccompanied minors do end up being trafficked. They end up being trafficked because people haven’t quite grasped the fact that they are under extreme pressure and that many of them, in the very first place, have arrived where they are due to being trafficked in the very first place. So, we do really need to be very, very aware of that.
 
Moving on with the same theme, it is the case, and it would be worth us examining this, that we have the new anti-slavery Bill that is coming through from the UK. There are trial projects in Wales that we could certainly look at when we look at the role of child trafficking guardians, and anything that we can learn from that, that might be useful to work along those lines in this instance.
 
I do have to say—and I don’t expect a comment, but I have to say it—that waking up this morning and listening to David Davies, the MP for Monmouth, suggesting what he did suggest this morning about checking individuals in a very personal, intrusive manner really did appal me, and I just wanted to put that on the record.
 
15:25
John GriffithsBiography
I thank Joyce Watson very much for her views and thoughts. I did say earlier, actually, that I do very much agree with the sentiments that express great concern around the comments of David Davies in terms of age checks and how they might be carried out. It’s very undignified and, as I say, it gives rise to many concerns around medical ethics, as well as many other concerns. In terms of the care system and the report, I think that will be an interesting aspect of the work that the committee could carry out because, obviously, these children are very vulnerable and they do require a substantial amount of committee concentration and focus.
 
We hear now that, at Calais, as part of the demolition of that site, it is entirely possible—in fact, it has proven to be the case in the past—that many children simply disappear and go missing. There are huge concerns around trafficking and exploitation in general for those children. The sooner that countries agree to take those children, and the sooner they are settled into safe and secure circumstances, the better. I am sure that the committee will want to pay careful attention to how Wales can play its part in that more positive possibility for those children, rather than the dangers they obviously face. Again, with the anti-slavery Bill and the child trafficking guardians, I think that, too, could be a significant part of the committee’s work.
 
15:27
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much, Chair.
 
15:27
Motions to Elect Members to Committees
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
We move on to motions to elect Members to committees. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motions—Rhun ap Iorwerth.
 
Motion NDM6124 Elin Jones
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3 and 17.13(ii), elects Dai Lloyd (Plaid Cymru) as a Member of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.
 
Motion NDM6125 Elin Jones
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3 and 17.13(ii), elects;
 
1. Llyr Gruffydd (Plaid Cymru) as a Member of the Standards of Conduct Committee, and
 
2. Adam Price (Plaid Cymru) as an alternate member of the Standards of Conduct Committee.
 
Motions moved.
 
15:27
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Formally.
 
15:27
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. I see nobody wants to speak. Therefore, the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Thank you. Therefore, those motions are agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
Motions agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
5. Plaid Cymru Debate: Local Government
The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Paul Davies, and amendment 2 in the name of Jane Hutt. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected.
 
15:27
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
We move on to the next item on our agenda, which is the Plaid Cymru debate on local government. I call on Sian Gwenllian to move the motion. Sian.
 
Motion NDM6121 Rhun ap Iorwerth
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
 
1. Notes the importance of good local government in contributing towards the local economy, health service and educational outcomes.
 
2. Regrets that too many public services have been ‘poor and patchy’ and characterised by a ‘poverty of ambition’, as described by the Williams Commission.
 
3. Calls on the Welsh Government to:
 
(a) increase accountability of local government through electoral reform and lowering the voting age to 16;
 
(b) examine the way in which local government finance can be reformed to ensure a fairer and more sustainable system;
 
(c) introduce a nationally decided set of pay scales, terms and conditions to control senior and chief officer pay through a national framework; and
 
(d) establish regional combined authorities as part of the Welsh Government’s local government reform for improved regional cooperation between existing local authorities.
 
Motion moved.
 
15:27
Sian GwenllianBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Public services of a high quality are central to Welsh life. This is the glue that binds our communities together. Plaid Cymru has always stood for public services, for the people who provide them, and for the communities and homes that rely on them. The public sector is a crucial partner for the private sector, to make Wales a more prosperous, fair and sustainable nation. Public services are also the foundation of the success of the private sector, from education and skills to the provision of public transport, infrastructure and job opportunities in light of strong procurement policies. The success or failure of public services is also crucial in terms of the progress of the Welsh nation, but the future of those services is at great risk at the moment. We cannot over-emphasise the gravity of the challenge posed by austerity at a time of a changing demographic.
 
The Institute for Fiscal Studies and others have anticipated that the demand for health services will continue to take an increasing percentage of Welsh budgets in the future, which will place a huge strain on the funding available to local authorities specifically. There’s also a specific challenge facing Wales in terms of ensuring that public services are provided at the appropriate level in order to reduce complexity and to ensure improved democracy, scrutiny and collaboration. Our motion today does concentrate on the crucial elements when we look at local government reform in the future, in order to ensure that it will serve and meet the needs of our communities effectively for the future.
 
I want to look first at reducing the voting age to 16. The younger we can actually attract young people and children to politics, the better. Giving young people the opportunity to vote at 16 can engender the interest of young people in schools and beyond. If young people don’t participate in the electoral process, then there’s a risk that candidates and political parties will concentrate their messages on the needs of older people. And, as we have seen a number of times over the past few years, it’s youth services that are often cut first.
 
Now, in looking at electoral reform, then it is clear that people have lost confidence in politics. In local elections in 2012, only 39 per cent of people actually got out and voted. And, in the Assembly election in May, only 45 per cent of people voted—that was the highest percentage since 1999, which is a problem in and of itself.
 
There are a number of reasons for this, of course, but one of them is without doubt the fact that a number of people choose not to vote in certain areas, because it’s the same faces that win time and again. How many times have we heard that? Particularly in those council wards that are unchallenged—there were 99 in the 2012 local elections, which is over 8 per cent of the total seats.
 
I’ll give you some examples. In Sketty, in Swansea, the Liberal Democrats won all the seats, although they only gained 37.4 per cent of the vote. The Labour Party won 29 per cent, and the Conservatives 20 per cent, but they failed to take any seats. And, under the current system, parties that finish third can go on to win most of the seats. In Cardiff, in 2008, the Liberal Democrats came first according to the number of seats, but third according to the number of votes cast.
 
A new electoral system is necessary if we are to enhance people’s confidence in politics once again. Our long-established policy in Plaid Cymru is to introduce the STV system—the single transferable vote—in order to ensure fair representation for all political views. When the Sunderland report was published in 2002, it said that STV was the most appropriate way of meeting the needs of local people in terms of the local election system, and that was after the commission actually tested seven alternative methods of voting.
 
In my view, the introduction of STV to local government elections in Scotland is one of the most positive developments in the age of devolution. In Scotland, local government elections are far more competitive, and the constitution of local government is far more closely aligned to the desires of the population. The Government here has had an opportunity to take action on the recommendations of the Sunderland report in the past, but, unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.
 
But it is important to note that this isn’t a party political point, because all political parties have benefitted disproportionately from the first-past-the-post system. The question is: do we want to accept the inequality of the process? And, as a nation, if we truly believe that all citizens are equal, then we should also believe, and ensure, that all votes are equal. There is no good reason for not introducing STV for local government elections in Wales. We therefore need to make a positive change for the benefit of the democracy in our nation.
 
A few words on the regional element in our motion: like any nation, Wales needs regional leadership in order to give strategic direction that reflects a set of priorities that are pan Wales, along with strong local government to ensure local accountability that is co-ordinated at a community level. Our proposal is gradual evolution, using current structures to create new leadership at a regional and community level. And others from the Plaid team will expand upon this point and other issues within the motion.
 
Now, in terms of the amendments, we will be voting against the Conservative amendments, clearly, because they delete many of our points. We don’t necessarily disagree with your first amendment, and, indeed, this is one of the main factors that needs to be considered when we do look at the way in which local government is funded in future, in order to ensure that rural communities aren’t disproportionately disadvantaged.
 
With the second amendment, in terms of transparency, although transparency is, of course, extremely important to scrutinise the expenditure of taxpayers’ money, transparency in and of itself isn’t going to actually manage wages or create a national framework.
 
And, in terms of the Labour amendments, I would like greater clarity on what exactly the Government means, in practical terms, with the wording in point (a), namely to
 
‘increase accountability of local government through electoral arrangements’.
 
Now, I don’t know exactly what that means. Do you agree with the need to introduce change to the electoral arrangements or not? Perhaps we will get greater clarity on that this afternoon. Other members of the team will expand on some other elements of the motion. Thank you.
 
15:35
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much. I have selected the amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected. I call on Janet Finch-Saunders to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Paul Davies. Janet.
 
Amendment 1—Paul Davies
 
Delete point 3 and replace with:
 
Calls on the Welsh Government to:
 
(a) examine the way in which local government is financed, to ensure that rural authorities receive fair funding equivalent to all communities across Wales; and
 
(b) increase transparency in local authority senior staff budgeting to ensure that executive officer pay is sustainable and cost effective for council tax payers, and not to the detriment of the delivery of local services.
 
Amendment 1 moved.
 
15:35
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you. I move amendment 1 in the name of Paul Davies, and thank Sian Gwenllian for the opening address on the local government debate—a debate that’s very close to our hearts here on the Welsh Conservative benches, because it’s clear from the proposals with regard to regional combined authorities, of course, put forward by Plaid Cymru’s manifesto, and in the Cabinet Secretary’s local government reform statement earlier this month, that this is one of those mysterious areas in which Labour and Plaid have done a deal. And I have to say that we are disappointed that these workings have not been more open, and, indeed, more transparent, especially given that there have been calls for the new approach to local government reform to be put across the Chamber on a more cross-party basis—however. And it is vital to remember that, in this Chamber, and in the back-office workings upstairs on the fifth floor, it is to the people of Wales that we are all, irrespective of political colour, accountable—to the electorate. It is they for whom we are seeking to secure and improve services, and it is upon them that Labour and Plaid Cymru are now seeking to work together to deliver the aims of the Plaid Cymru political manifesto. But what matters to our hard-working families is not the intricate structures of local government, but the security of knowing that services will be improved and that they will be delivered in an efficient and cost-effective way.
 
Welsh Conservatives believe that public services are best delivered locally so taxpayers can hold local representatives to account for what happens in their community. Indeed, Paul Williams, of the Williams commission, himself has highlighted several concerns about the pooling of sovereignty by councils to form regional consortia and describes it to be ‘very tricky’. Now to justify these additional costings, Cabinet Secretary, how do you envisage regional combined authorities to be democratically engaged and accountable to the electorate? After spending over £130,000 on the Williams commission, and a further £434,000 on the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales last year, the cost to the taxpayer of local government in Wales reform planning and electoral reviews is well over £0.5 million, and we are no closer to seeing any meaningful changes. Instead, we have the discarded—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mike.
 
[Continues.]—expensive folly of reports, draft local government Bills, lining the waste paper bins of the latest Welsh Labour Government. Goodness knows the full costs associated with that process, on which we, of course, submitted questions for answer. Again, Paul Williams has spoken of his dismay that, since the publication of the report almost three years ago, requiring much-needed reform of our public services, nothing—nothing—has happened. The Welsh Conservatives make no bones about it. We have always been strong and we have always been clear. We would hold referenda to ensure public support for any local government mergers of any size. We would ensure full openness and accountability at all levels of government, and we would publish all local authority spending, such as the Welsh Conservative-led Monmouthshire council, who have been noted by the Wales Audit Office as having effective financial governance, and I hope to see more Conservative-led councils after next May.
 
It is abundantly clear that the Cabinet Secretary obviously does not wish to fall foul of his own Labour councillors so early on in his new portfolio role. And who could blame him, given the demise of his predecessor, charged with bringing about such reform? But we do need to look at new, smarter, more open ways of working. There’s no denying that. Certainly, we need to examine the way in which local government is financed to ensure that rural authorities receive a fair funding equivalent, and, when we once again see Powys struck by the biggest cuts in the provisional local government settlement, it is clear that you do not value or appreciate rural authorities. And it is disappointing that a Cabinet member for the Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams, actually has a seat at the Cabinet table and has let her own people down.
 
Coupled with the centralisation of social services spend, it is vital that the Welsh Government come forward with a clear strategy on how public services will be improved, not downgraded, as a result of their consistent cuts to local authorities, and those concerns are echoed in the first two points of this motion. They could and should, of course, look to Monmouthshire for examples of good practice, transparency, efficiency and democratic accountability. There the three social services localities have now co-located social care and occupational therapy staff under the management of a single integrated care manager, providing easier access to senior occupational therapy practitioners for advice on complex cases—
 
15:40
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
[Inaudible.]
 
15:40
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Okay. And to be truly accountable for the delivery of these services. Cabinet Secretary, I applaud you for the work that you’ve done on the social services, to the budget there, and to the car parking in town centres, because that was really affecting my constituency. [Interruption.] I thank you for my contribution.
 
15:41
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government to move amendment 2, tabled in the name of Jane Hutt, formally.
 
Amendment 2—Jane Hutt
 
Delete point 3 and replace with:
 
3. Calls on the Welsh Government to:
 
(a) increase accountability of local government through electoral arrangements and lowering the voting age to 16;
 
(b) examine the way in which local government finance can be reformed to ensure a fairer and more sustainable system;
 
(c) continue to examine the case for a nationally decided set of pay scales, terms and conditions to control senior and chief officer pay through a national framework; and
 
(d) establish regional arrangements as part of the Welsh Government’s local government reform for improved regional cooperation between existing local authorities.
 
Amendment 2 moved.
 
15:41
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government
Formally.
 
15:41
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much. Neil McEvoy.
 
15:41
Neil McEvoyBiography
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I will speak more to
 
‘(c) introduce a nationally decided set of pay scales, terms and conditions to control senior and chief officer pay through a national framework’.
 
I just wanted to quickly address the Labour amendment
 
‘(c) to continue to examine the case for a nationally decided set of pay scales’
 
and so on and so on. To ‘continue to examine the case’, which basically means do nothing: not good enough. I think, if you look at local government in Wales, the pay at the top end is out of control, really, and the amount of six-figure salaries, of people earning over £100,000 a year, is shocking, really. Millions upon millions could be saved every single year and that money could be put into front-line services. If you look at Swansea, the top salary, without pension contributions, is £140,000 a year—Neath Port Talbot is £125,000 a year, Cardiff is £170,000, Wrexham is £125,000. If you look at the local government ombudsman it is £140,000 a year. If we look at one single—just one single—housing association in this city, Wales & West Housing Association Limited, the chief executive earns £133,000 a year.