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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
13:30
1. Questions to the First Minister
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister.
 
Strategic Priorities
 
13:30
Mohammad AsgharBiography
1. Will the First Minister outline his strategic priorities for sport in 2015? OAQ(4)2069(FM)
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Our priorities for sport are set out in the programme for government.
 
13:30
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for the short answer, Minister. A recent report predicted that Cardiff could see its economy boosted by some £316 million, as a result of hosting Rugby World Cup games this autumn. Will the First Minister advise the Assembly what action he and his Government have taken, and will take, to ensure we maximise the benefits of holding the Rugby World Cup in Cardiff?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
All that work is well in hand, of course. We know full well that the stadium, as it brings thousands of people into Cardiff, and the surrounding area, helps in terms of accommodation and hotels, and helps in terms of the hostelries in the area, and restaurants, of course. We are fortunate, indeed, that the Millennium Stadium is the biggest among several stadiums, of course, that add so much to the economy of Cardiff.
 
13:31
John GriffithsBiography
First Minister, our Welsh Government’s sport strategy, ‘Climbing Higher’, goes back quite a number of years now. With recent developments such as Tanni Grey’s report, and its importance for physical education in schools, and the closer links between the health agenda and the sport and physical activity agenda, I wondered now whether it’s time for a new Welsh Government sport’s strategy, which would closely involve all Government departments.
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, ‘Climbing Higher’ was launched in 2005, and it set out the Government’s strategic direction for sport and physical activity over a 20-year period. In 2010, the ‘Creating an Active Wales’ action plan introduced specific targets, which were based on the progress that had been made. What I wouldn’t want to do is to duplicate what is being done at the moment. But, that said, the physical activity executive group was established in 2013, to examine new opportunities and to refresh our approach to increasing levels of physical activity in Wales. In December of last year, Cabinet agreed an action plan, drawn up by the group, and work is now under way on planning the next steps.
 
13:32
Bethan JenkinsBiography
First Minister, you may or may not be aware that, in the Afan valley, it seems to be that the local community have been forced into a position whereby the pool will close if a social partnership is not set up by January 2016. I’m sure you would agree with me that we need a strategic outlook, in terms of where we take swimming for the future, because if pools like this are closed in deprived communities, people’s health will, inevitably, deteriorate, and they will not be able to access facilities as easily as they can do at the moment. What will your Government do to support this particular partnership?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I mean, this is a matter, ultimately, for Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. But, where we can help social partnerships to come together to run a facility such as a swimming pool, then, of course, if such a partnership were to come forward, we would do what we can in order to help them. I’m aware of examples elsewhere in Wales where that has worked, but much of it depends, of course, on the condition of a building when it is first purchased, the amount of capital that might be needed to refurbish it, and, of course, the people coming forward to run such a partnership. But, I know this is an issue that is important in the Afan valley; I’d encourage people to examine the possibilities of forming a social partnership, and we will do what we can to help.
 
The Welsh Economy
 
13:33
Byron DaviesBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on projections for the Welsh economy? OAQ(4)2073(FM)
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, over the short term, Welsh economic indicators generally track those of the UK quite closely. UK prospects, as we’ve seen today, remain highly uncertain. But, we know that our policies have a major impact over the longer term, such as Jobs Growth Wales.
 
13:34
Byron DaviesBiography
Thank you, First Minister. Do you share my beliefs that electrification of both the main line and Valleys lines presents us with a once-in-a-generation chance to invigorate the economy and increase social mobility across south Wales? And, on that basis, would you outline what work you are undertaking to capitalise on this investment, and what specific outline projects you are perhaps commissioning, to ensure we squeeze all the added value out of this investment, to provide more employment and a long-term solution to the deprivation and poverty that exists along south Wales?
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, two points. First of all, of course, I’m glad that an agreement was reached with the UK Government, despite the fact that no support came from the party opposite, but we got there in the end. And, secondly of course, he is right to say that as far as the main line is concerned, and Valley lines in terms of electrification, they do offer the opportunity to connect communities more effectively and more quickly than before, and of course, to make sure that there is no threat to mainline services, particularly in the long term. I am very glad, of course, that the UK Government listened carefully to our arguments.
 
13:35
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
The Office for National Statistics figures published last week confirm what we saw in December, namely that there has been a change of direction in terms of the jobs market in Wales. Unemployment had reached the UK average quite recently; now, Wales is at 7% as compared to 5.8% for the UK, and 43,000 jobs have been lost in Wales over 2014. Does the First Minister take responsibility for the failings of his Government in terms of what we see in employment, and what can the First Minister do to reverse this decline?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, if I remember rightly, it was his party that was responsible for the economy for four years and things have moved in the right direction since then, particularly with Jobs Growth Wales and the fact that unemployment has fallen. It’s true to say that, over the past year, the trend has been in the right direction. There has been a blip in the last quarter, and the same thing has happened in Scotland, too. What we are doing is ensuring that more investment is coming in; Pinewood is one example of that, CGI is another example, and the fact that we are supportive of projects such as Surf Snowdonia, which is vital for the Conwy valley. That shows the impact that we can have as a Government in order to ensure that unemployment drops in the long term.
 
13:36
Eluned ParrottBiography
In July last year, when Welsh unemployment rates did fall faster than the rest of the UK, you were happy to take the credit for that. You said that
 
‘with youth unemployment falling faster in Wales than any other part of the UK, it is clear that JGW is having a major impact in creating opportunities’.
 
But whilst unemployment rates are still falling of course in Wales, in the rest of the UK, they are falling faster consistently over a period of time. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recommendation to make sure that youth unemployment is tackled is to invest in skills over job creation schemes. When will you start to see investment going in to those kinds of programmes instead?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, what is Jobs Growth Wales other than a scheme that provides young people with skills in order to get employment? Of course, it’s a scheme that was put in place partially because the Future Jobs fund was abolished by her party. We wanted to make sure that we supported young people to get skills, supported our young people to get jobs in the longer term, and to make up for the gap that was left as a result of the policies of her party, I have to say.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:37
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and first this afternoon is the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:37
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, today sees the publication of two reports highlighting the failure of the Government to deliver consistent improvements. One report from the Wales Audit Office shows how more than one in 10 patients have to wait over six months for non-emergency treatment, and the Auditor General for Wales goes on to say that the current approach to delivering services does not deliver sustainably low waiting times. Now, I’m sure you’d agree with me that patients waiting for that non-emergency treatment are fed up of waiting. When will we see policies being delivered that are going to make sure that people waiting for non-urgent treatment get the help, service and the healthcare that they need and deserve?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have put, of course, extra resources into the health service and are working with the health boards in order to make sure that more and more people—and most people get treatment within 10 weeks—get the treatment in the time that they would want. I must say that I do welcome the leader of the Liberal Democrat’s approach in this regard, in the sense that she has put forward the idea of an all-party commission. I think that is something that has merit. Whether it can be done in the political times that we live in, with an election coming this year and next year, is difficult to assess, but I do think the time has come for an all-party commission to look at the health service and to come up with an honest appraisal of where the health service should go in the future. We’re happy to play our role in that and I’m sure she is as well.
 
13:39
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Thank you very much, First Minister. Can I move on to the issue of education, since I’ve been able convince you of the merits of our arguments on health? When Estyn published their annual report last year, you told me then that what was lacking was consistency and that there was no question about that. Well, you weren’t wrong, First Minister. At best, today’s Estyn annual report paints a mixed bag across Wales again. Last year, standards were failing at our secondary schools. This year, Estyn points to falling standards in our primary schools. Last year, our children were struggling with literacy. This year, Estyn points to struggles with numeracy. Now, the inability of your Government to deliver real change is in danger of condemning a generation of young Welsh people to emerge into the workplace underskilled and underprepared for the needs of employers. When will the countless speeches, initiatives and programmes that you announce as a Government actually see real, consistent delivery in our education system?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We’re seeing it. We’re seeing the improvements in secondary schools; we’re seeing the improvements in GCSE results, which we hope this year will be at least on a par with England after having been behind for some years; we see Schools Challenge Cymru, the money that’s going into secondary schools there; and we see the pupil deprivation grant, which her party, of course, suggested. There is work still to be done in primary schools. We see that literacy has improved; we see that there’s still work to do with numeracy, but things are certainly moving in the right direction. If you look at the Estyn report, it’s absolutely clear to me that education is improving in Wales. There will still be some areas where there needs to be greater improvement, and that is what we will focus on.
 
13:40
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, the number of primary schools requiring re-inspection and follow-up visits by Estyn is increasing. The one piece of really good news in Estyn’s report today is that the gap between those children on free school meals and those who are not is closing, and that’s happened as a result of Liberal Democrat policy. First Minister, I appreciate that things can’t be changed overnight in our education system and in our health service. I understand that, but you’ve had 15 years as a Labour Government to change things and you personally have had five years as First Minister to see real results and change. Do you not recognise that the vast majority of Welsh people can’t opt out? They can’t afford private schools and they can’t afford private insurance for their healthcare. When will you provide the consistently improving public services that I think the Welsh people deserve?
 
13:41
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think what our young people deserve is not seeing the level of tuition fees that her party has imposed in England. One of the major promises that her party put forward—not her personally, or the Welsh Liberal Democrats, but in the general election—was broken almost immediately. We have kept faith with Welsh youngsters. We’ve kept the education maintenance allowance. Her party voted to abolish it in England. We have made sure that our schools have improved. It’s not right to say that, somehow, there’s only one thing that’s improved in Welsh education and that’s as a result of a Lib Dem policy—clearly not. We see what our secondary schools are doing. We are not complacent and we know there’s still work to be done in some aspects of primary school work, but the one thing we will not move away from is our commitment to increase spending on schools. We’ve done that year after year after year. Also, we will make sure that students who come from less well-off backgrounds are not penalised by the tuition fee hikes England has had, nor by the education maintenance allowance’s abolition, which the Liberal Democrats supported there.
 
13:42
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:42
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, this morning, a written statement was issued by the Minister for local government ruling out the three voluntary mergers that have been put before the Welsh Government for its consideration. One of those three was a clear footprint of what Williams had identified in all its modelling of what would be a successful reorganisation of local government. Can you explain what the current thinking of the Welsh Government is about the future shape of local government here in Wales, in light of this rejection of the voluntary mergers?
 
13:43
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Williams is still the preferred map, but not the definitive map. I will be asking the party leaders, over the course of the next few weeks, to meet with me in order that I can have a better assessment of what they think the map should look like, because no party in this Chamber has said that it wants things to stay as they are. I’d love to know where his party stands, I’d love to know where Plaid Cymru stands—they had a consultation; I don’t know what happened to it—and the Liberal Democrats. Let’s have discussions with an open hand to make sure that, of course, we get a map that is agreed. We have an idea of what the map should look like, what we need to do is to understand what the view of other parties is. Tell us, please, what your view is and what the map should look like. [Interruption.]
 
13:44
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order.
 
13:44
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, I think we clearly know what the Welsh Government’s view is on local government reorganisation: it’s just a big black hole. You don’t have a clue where you want to go, do you? In light of this statement this morning, it is quite clear that the relationship between you and local government has broken down—that’s unquestionable. What we are talking about here are people who depend on services—some of the most vulnerable people who depend on services—that local authorities deliver, and many thousands of individuals who depend on local authorities for their jobs, but all we are getting are rants in the press and speeches from the local government Minister, but with no coherent map forward over the shape of future government. So, I ask again: is it the thinking of Welsh Government that Williams is the model that you are working to, or is it the model that has been talked about by some senior Labour figures of six large local authorities?
 
13:45
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Williams is the preferred option, but I look forward to meeting with the leader of the opposition to hear what his view is on the map, because I have absolutely no idea and nor do the people of Wales. I would prefer to move forward on a basis where there is a map that is agreed by more than one party. I think that is the right way to move this forward. So, let’s do that. There is no point shouting about it from the Paid benches because Plaid was supposed to have a consultation on this and it got buried. I look forward to having a discussion with the party leaders to see what their position is.
 
13:45
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
I have asked you two questions now, First Minister, to try to gain some clearer understanding. Anyone connected with local government, or anyone dependent on local government, really is going to be at a loss with your performance this afternoon and, in particular, with the actions of your local government Minister who has form on this, admittedly, in education, where he marched people up to the top of the hill and then let them run back down again. What people want is a coherent plan. You’ve had the time to digest Williams and you’ve come forward with nothing. When are you going to set a timeline on the Welsh Government proactively engaging to develop a coherent plan for local government? Our plan is quite clear: local people—. You know what it is, First Minister; I have met with you and talked to you. But what is important here is to make sure that the map of local government bears a relation to the areas it serves and ultimately is capable of delivering the services that are required. We want to see health and social care as one. We want to see greater funding going directly to education. So, therefore, are you signed up to the model of local government that would develop a truly borough-type council of local government that we used to historically have, with the major services delivered by health and social care as one and education funded directly from the Welsh Government?
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I have to say, in the discussions that I’ve had with him the only thing he said to me about what he wants local government to look like is that Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan should be standalone authorities. That is all I’ve heard from him. Now, he invited me to express his view. That is his view. He doesn’t care about anything else as long as Monmouthshire and the Vale are fine. I wonder why that is. Let’s move away from this parochialism and this party political advantage that he is trying to promote. We have said that Williams is our preferred map. I would prefer to talk to opposition party leaders to come to an agreed map by the summer. If we don’t get agreement, we will publish our own map by the summer. But, the invitation is there. Let’s move away from the parochialism of the Tories. [Interruption.] I take no lectures from a party that—[Inaudible.]—by 12%. I take no lectures from a party that wants to cut education spending by 20%. [Inaudible.] They are very, very happy to talk about record-breaking health cuts. [Interruption.] They say they want record-breaking cuts in education, record-breaking cuts in local government, record-breaking cuts in farming spending and record-breaking cuts in job creation. When it comes to breaking records, the leader of the opposition is the Roy Castle of those benches. [Laughter.]
 
13:48
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Did you all enjoy that? Good. So, no more please this afternoon.
 
We now move to the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:48
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, yesterday the Environmental Audit Committee at Westminster published a significant report and they made a key recommendation. I quote:
 
‘A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid both the inconsistency with our climate change obligations and to allow the uncertainty surrounding environmental risks to be fully resolved.’
 
Plaid Cymru supports a moratorium on fracking, First Minister, for the same reasons. Does the Welsh Government agree?
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, you can’t support a moratorium on fracking unless you agree that licences should be devolved. I take it that licences should be devolved and then we should consider an effective moratorium on fracking.
 
13:49
Leanne WoodBiography
Yesterday, First Minister, your party tabled amendments to the Infrastructure Bill in Westminster that would see the devolution of licensing for onshore fracking to the Scottish Parliament. Not only did you exclude Wales from having the same powers, but your party refused to support a Plaid Cymru amendment for the devolution of these powers to Wales. Do you want these powers—the same powers of licensing for onshore fracking, First Minister?
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes.
 
13:49
Leanne WoodBiography
Well, I think many people are going to be confused and frustrated, First Minister, that you say one thing and you do another. You’ve suggested concern about fracking, but you haven’t made any representations to the Westminster Government, have you? You say that you want us to be offered the same powers as Scotland, but you take no action in order to gain such powers. You say that you oppose Tory austerity, but you vote with them to entrench it, and you bemoan Wales’s fiscal disadvantage, but refuse to take greater responsibility for it. First Minister, you offer warm words when it comes to concerns raised about fracking, but you don’t want the powers to stop them, do you? Otherwise, you would have instructed your MPs to support Plaid Cymru’s amendment yesterday. When Plaid Cymru says it, we mean it. When Labour says it, you say one thing and is it not the case that you actually do another?
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I do wonder sometimes, I think—. The leader of Plaid Cymru asked me a direct question and I gave her the most direct answer imaginable, and she denies I ever gave her an answer. I mean, the reality is this: the issue of fracking is something that representations have been made on as part of the St David’s Day process. We want to see it devolved to Wales. There is no question that somehow Scotland should get something and Wales should not, and it’s part of the St David’s Day process. You are either part of that process or you are not. The last thing we should do is move to a situation where we try to have powers given to us in an ad hoc fashion. We need Silk part 1, we need Silk part 2, we need delivery of Smith with regard to Wales and discussion about that, and then we will see progress. That is the position of Welsh Labour, and that is the position, I believe, of the people of Wales.
 
13:51
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper, having finished leaders’ questions. It’s now question 3 and it’s Elin Jones.
 
Flooding Insurance for Businesses
 
13:51
Elin JonesBiography
3. What discussions has the First Minister had regarding flooding insurance for businesses? OAQ(4)2066(FM)
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
This is a matter for the UK Government, of course, but we did respond to the consultation last summer on the implementation of insurance under Flood Re. We told the UK Government that there were major problems in terms of the regulations in the pipeline at that point, and we welcome the fact that the UK Government has taken the decision to amend those regulations following our comments as a Government.
 
13:52
Elin JonesBiography
The continuing problem, First Minister, is that businesses are exempted from those agreements with the insurance companies. Businesses in my constituency can’t get flood insurance at the moment, and some are quite large, longstanding businesses. What it means is that they then can’t borrow money or develop their businesses because of this lack of insurance. Will you, as a Government, first of all work with some of those businesses that find themselves in this invidious position, but also raise this issue once again with the United Kingdom Government and tell them that they must come to an agreement with the insurance companies on a scheme that also includes businesses, rather than just residential homes?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’m more than happy to ask the Minister to write to help commercial businesses. It’s true to say that they’re not included in Flood Re, and so if we proceed in that way, there will be an answer available to the Member.
 
13:53
Nick RamsayBiography
First Minister, flooding insurance might well be the responsibility of the UK Government, but roads are yours. You’ll be aware, no doubt, that during this winter, as in previous years, flooding has closed the A4042 at Llanellen bridge, just south of Abergavenny in my constituency. The A4042 is a key strategic route and very important to local businesses, and, indeed, regional businesses. Has any assessment been made of the impact of these ongoing closures on local business and the wider regional economy? And, what progress has been made with the implementation of the trunk road review, which I know the Minister referred to in questions I asked her last year?
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, we’re not responsible for all roads; we’re responsible for trunk roads and motorways. The issue of non-trunk roads is a matter, of course, for local authorities. I confess I don’t know whether it’s a trunk road. He’s nodding at me, and I accept his word, of course, on that. Where there are issues that are identified, then we seek to address those issues as part of our coherent plan. He will know, of course, that the national transport plan deals with the macro issues of transport. Then, of course, it’s a matter for the agencies that work on behalf of the Welsh Government to identify problems and deal with them quickly.
 
13:54
William PowellBiography
First Minister, residents in affected areas of Wales will welcome anything that the Welsh Government can do to improve engagement over flood insurance. But the wider problem of properties affected is surely going to be alleviated if we can get fewer properties and fewer businesses developed in flood areas. And to that end, First Minister, will you give consideration to working with your Minister for Natural Resources to actually build in a provision within the forthcoming Planning (Wales) Bill to allow statutory undertakers, the water companies—Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Severn Trent—to be full statutory consultees in planning applications in the future, so as to avoid a situation where we have properties, homes and businesses developed in areas of risk?
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it is an interesting suggestion. I mean, this shouldn’t happen anyway. TAN 15 covers this. I remember introducing TAN 15 to this Chamber—maybe in the previous Chamber—but certainly before the Assembly, and at the time it was seen as extreme, because it covered, in the case of the properties of the land most at risk, one in 1,000 year flood-risk occurrences. Now, of course, we know that the pattern of climate change is such that the weather is becoming even more unpredictable. We will always look to see what can be done to strengthen any TAN, but the reality is that this should not be happening now—inappropriate development—particularly on the land that is most at risk.
 
Wales’s Tourism Sector
 
13:56
Suzy DaviesBiography
4. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s capital investment in Wales’s tourism sector? OAQ(4)2068(FM)
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. We provide a range of investment in Wales’s tourism, including through our tourism investment support scheme. We also delivered a £35 million capital investment programme through the environment for growth convergence programme, which has developed seven iconic centres of excellence in Wales, as well as coastal improvements along our beaches.
 
13:56
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The tourism investment support scheme has seen funding to approve projects halved since 2011-12, although some businesses are getting six-figure support. Larger grants are required to be repaid in part, so can you tell me whether repaid monies are ring-fenced for reinvestment in the scheme? If so, why have approvals halved? Or, does that money go elsewhere?
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No. We would expect the money to return to the place where it came from, namely the scheme. The intention is to make sure that we are able to help businesses, but to help more businesses through recirculating money. That’s an important principle that we operate to, and there are many businesses that have benefited from the scheme and the way that it operates now.
 
13:57
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Does the First Minister agree that erecting another line of electricity pylons across Anglesey could be very damaging to the tourism industry? Does he agree that there should be a very detailed assessment of the costs of pylons to the economy, including tourism, as well as the impact on the value of privately held property? Although this, as we know, is not a devolved issue, will the First Minister express his support for the multi-party campaign against pylons, and to ask the grid to look in earnest at alternative options, rather than taking pylons overground, and make the investment necessary to achieve that?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I believe that it’s extremely important to ensure that any pylon scheme is one that receives the greatest support, bearing in mind that any scheme has to be practicable. I understand the feelings of the people of Ynys Môn about some of the schemes that have been brought forward now, and of course I would expect the National Grid to consult in detail with local people before proceeding with any project. This, of course, should be devolved. I am sure he and I would be of one mind on that issue, but at present it is something for the United Kingdom Government to grant or otherwise, unfortunately.
 
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales
 
13:58
Simon ThomasBiography
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the latest annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales? OAQ(4)2077(FM)
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We welcome the current chief inspector’s final comprehensive report and also thank Estyn for their work.
 
13:59
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, First Minister, and I note the good work that Ann Keane has done over the years. I notice that, in this report, it states that this has been a mixed year in terms of standards in education providers and that standards in primary schools have declined. Now, as Estyn inspects every school and college, all training providers and all education authorities in Wales and identifies these problems, would you open the Welsh Government’s doors to have an inspection of your department of education and training, so that we can understand exactly where the problem lies?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, they would have to do that and also ensure that they did it to every local authority in Wales as well. I don’t think that that is something that comes under the powers of Estyn, this is something, of course, that we do ourselves and we are directly accountable to the people of Wales regarding this. It is disappointing, what we see happening in the primary schools, but the picture in the secondary sector is encouraging and, of course, we want to ensure greater consistency and that primary schools continue to improve in future. The Minister will be responding on this in February in any case, and the Minister will go into greater detail on the Government’s response then.
 
14:00
Christine ChapmanBiography
First Minister, as the Estyn report notes, attendance rates in Welsh schools have improved significantly through concerted action by schools, local authorities and the Welsh Government. Truancy impacts on educational success, and, as Professor Ken Reid reminded us, evidence shows that absence from school is a plea for help.
 
If we are to narrow the gap in attainment for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, does the First Minister agree that tackling absenteeism is crucial to this, and will this continue to remain a focus for his Government?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, absolutely, and the Member’s quite right to point out the significant improvement that there’s been in tackling absenteeism. It shows that what has been put in place is working, and, if I remember rightly, on 11 December—last month—the Minister did issue a statement clarifying school attendance regulations in Wales relating to holidays in term time and fixed-penalty notices. That’s not the entire picture, of course, because I very much welcome the work that has been done by schools and local education authorities in order to ensure that attendance improves.
 
14:01
Angela BurnsBiography
I too would like to add my thanks to Ann Keane for her sterling work as chief inspector of schools here in Wales. This is a report that is a bit of a curate’s egg. I agree with Simon Thomas that our primary schools do still seem to be suffering, but another area that is highlighted is the provision in pupil referral units. We have a disastrous record in pupil referral units, as has been evinced by a number of other reports. So, First Minister, my question to you is: will you ensure that the findings on the pupil referral units are incorporated into the proposed Bill on additional learning needs, and will you commit to ensuring that that Bill comes before us all in good time for us to be able to examine it and, hopefully, pass a successful Bill into legislation before the end of the Assembly term?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think the Member raises a fair point in terms of pupil referral units. We have seen difficulties in some LEAs with pupil referral units and those difficulties have repeated themselves, quite often. I think the first stage is for the Minister, of course, to give the formal response to the report. There’ll be an opportunity, obviously, for the Member to ask the Minister about this and then, of course, the Government will suggest a way forward in terms of how to strengthen PRUs in the future.
 
14:03
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, I am sure that each one of us respects the view of the chief inspector and we thank her for her work. It is a very mixed picture in the report, but are you concerned about the statement by the chief inspector that there’s still an imbalance between investment in mechanisms that bring other schools and other providers to account and investing in strategies to develop skills in the workforce, including leadership skills? She says that there is an imbalance in the way in which the Government deals with this.
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we will consider, of course, the statement made by the chief inspector and I am sure that this is something that the Minister will deal with when he speaks next month.
 
Home Ownership in Rural Wales
 
14:03
Antoinette SandbachBiography
6. Will the First Minister outline what support the Welsh Government is providing to help people in rural Wales own their own homes? OAQ(4)2076(FM)
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We offer a range of support in rural areas, including, of course, the Help to Buy-Wales scheme, which has helped individuals to buy more than 2,000 properties in Wales.
 
14:04
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Well, of course, your help to buy scheme, Minister, only applies to new builds and there are very few of those in rural areas. In fact, most rural areas are excluded. And by limiting the right to buy, or seeking to abolish the right to buy for people to own their own council properties, the options for, particularly, young people to get on the housing ladder in rural Wales have been severely curtailed. Given the lack of help given to people in rural areas, will you commit to look at the figures again in relation to help to buy and see whether or not you would extend the scheme to properties other than new builds?
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
What young people need is the ability to access more accommodation, and rural Wales suffered more than anywhere else with right to buy. Powys lost more than half of its social housing—more than half of its social housing—under her party. We know that there has been a 40% reduction in public housing over the past 35 years. Now, of course, we are able to build more houses. What sense did it make to say, ‘You have to sell houses to people’—fine, that’s one suggestion—and then, ‘You can’t re-use the money to build public housing?’ I mean, that was a deliberate attempt to reduce the amount of public housing available, and Wales, and rural Wales particularly, suffered immensely because of that policy, added to the fact, now, that we know that the UK Government, apparently, is going to come forward with a policy that will mean that social housing is sold but the money that’s brought in isn’t enough to replace it. That’s the reality of the situation. We cannot go on seeing the leakage of public housing that is available to young people, particularly in rural areas. We must make sure that the amount of reasonably priced accommodation is where it was in the 1970s, before the party opposite brought in this policy and forbade councils to actually replace the houses that were being sold. That was the utter lunacy of it.
 
14:06
Joyce WatsonBiography
What young people in rural Wales tell me is that what they expect is a secure, affordable and good-quality place to live, and low-cost home ownership is part of that mix, but so too are social housing and private renting, and I’d like to see more co-operative options available. So, First Minister, would you join me in congratulating Carmarthenshire County Council on its very bold decision to be the first council in Wales to suspend the right to buy, a policy that has, as you just said, wasted millions of pounds of public money and contributed towards homelessness and housing needs across Wales? Are you confident, First Minister, that your Government will meet its target of 10,000 affordable homes and bring back into use 5,000 empty homes during the course of this Assembly?
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are. We are confident that we will reach that target. What we could not do is to, as it were, fill up the bath while not putting the plug in properly, which is what was happening, in effect. You have to look at some parts of rural Wales: some houses that were originally council houses are now second homes or they are actually in the private rented sector. So, there’s a private landlord now renting those homes out instead of a council. We cannot go on with that policy now. In fact, it’s a policy that has seen fewer and fewer people, anyway, buying their houses. We need to make sure we have good-quality social housing for our young people in rural Wales and in urban Wales. In order to do that, we have to make sure that the money is there to deliver on that. It will not happen if we continue with the right to buy, because houses were not replaced over 30 years, and we have seen a hammering of the social housing sector in Wales during that time, and more and more young people unable to gain accommodation, and we intend to stop that.
 
14:07
Llyr GruffyddBiography
One frustration raised with me regularly from the point of view of local authorities is the fact that the Planning Inspectorate, in the process of creating local development plans, has insisted on reducing the percentage of affordable homes provided within those plans, and that then means that there are fewer options in terms of people owning their own homes in rural areas. Do you have any sympathy with that frustration and, if so, what you are endeavouring to do to put that right?
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, there are definite guidelines on this as regards how many affordable houses should be in a development. If there’s any evidence that that number is reducing, then we would be interested in considering that evidence. We have, of course, seen some authorities, such as Carmarthenshire, as the Member said, which have ensured that there are more houses available for people in the future, and we would expect local authorities and also the inspectorate to ensure that that happens across Wales.
 
Children who Self-harm
 
14:08
Mike HedgesBiography
7. What advice is the Welsh Government giving to schools to identify children who are self-harming? OAQ(4)2062(FM)
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, counselling services are available for all 11 to 18-year-olds and year 6 pupils who are experiencing emotional difficulties. One of the actions in the ‘Talk to Me 2’ action plan, which is currently, as I think the Member knows, out to consultation, is around raising awareness on suicide and self-harm amongst staff in schools.
 
14:09
Mike HedgesBiography
I very much welcome that Government initiative. There is a substantial amount of self-harming by young people taking place, and whilst most of it is not life-threatening, it does show that such young people are disturbed or depressed. Will the Government promote schools taking action to help children who self-harm?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, again, as I say, there is a consultation process that is taking place at the moment. That’s due to conclude on 5 March. The document sets out the Welsh Government’s proposed approach to suicide and self-harm over the next five years and it does advocate certain actions relating to young people. Of course, identifying self-harm and identifying the risk of suicide is an important part of the care that a school can offer, and so being able to offer staff the training to spot those possibilities will be an important part of combating the problem in the future.
 
14:10
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, when you look back in the records of Welsh Government support for children’s mental health services here in Wales there’s been report after report—I’ve gone back this morning—in 2000, 2006, 2011, and as recently now as 2015, identifying a lack of funding and sustainable funding for children’s mental health services here in Wales. I appreciate there’s pressure on the public purse, but are you confident that the money that the Government is making available to help with counselling and to help the support services, when it comes to young people, is sufficiently directed to put the best effect to that resource that you’re making available, and are you confident that that money is enough to deal with these issues that we are faced with in children’s mental health services?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, yes. Since September 2010, all secondary schools in Wales have offered counselling services. They were supported by a £13 million grant between 2008 and 2013 for the development of that service and, of course, legislation was introduced for last year that requires local authorities to make reasonable provision of independent counselling services to all children and young people, as well as those between the age of 11 and 18 and as well as those in year 6 of primary school. At the same time, money was transferred: £4.5 million was transferred to the revenue support grant for the continued support of this service, bearing in mind, of course—if I understand rightly—those councils can refer to child and adolescent mental health services anyway. So, it’s not a question of the two services operating independently of each other. But the approach that we take is that it’s best that these matters are identified early, and dealt with early by counselling, rather than being in a situation where too many are referred to CAMHS without having the opportunity of resolving their issues through the counselling service, and we believe that that’s exactly what’s been happening.
 
Welsh-medium Education
 
14:11
Keith DaviesBiography
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the provision of Welsh-medium education? OAQ(4)2080(FM)
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, increasing access for people of all ages to Welsh-medium and Welsh-language education remains a priority for Welsh Government.
 
14:12
Keith DaviesBiography
Thank you. Next week will see the official opening of Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes, which will provide quality education for 450 children. At a meeting held by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg in Carmarthen 10 days ago, representatives from Carmarthenshire said that, because of the growth in Welsh-medium education in Llanelli, they were looking at the possibility of having a second Welsh-medium secondary school there. Do you agree with me that that would be very valuable for the Welsh language?
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I welcome that, naturally. It is up to the local authority to ensure that there are sufficient spaces available in Welsh-medium education. Of course, there are strategies that they must write to demonstrate how they would promote the Welsh language through education in their areas. But it is encouraging bearing in mind that, at one time, Llanelli was a Welsh-speaking town. The Welsh language has lost a lot of ground, particularly in the town, since then, and it is encouraging to think that many people would like to see their children educated through the medium of Welsh. Some of them, I think, had Welsh-speaking parents and can perhaps understand Welsh themselves and want to ensure that their children can speak Welsh once again so that the Welsh language can be reintroduced into the family and that is something to be appreciated, of course.
 
14:13
Suzy DaviesBiography
In a recent response to a written question, the Minister for education claimed that cuts to the education budget would have as little impact as possible on the Welsh-medium education strategy because other budgets within the Education and Skills department support the development of the Welsh language within the education system. The assistance, and I quote, wasn’t easy to quantify, but the total financial support for the Welsh language in education was significantly higher. Now, how can you say that financial support for the Welsh language is significantly higher if, according to your own Government’s admission, it cannot be counted?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I must say that, if the Member wasn’t a member of the party that wants to cut the education budget between 12% and 20%, I would pay more attention, perhaps, to what she has to say, but we are quite confident that the strategies being developed by the local education authorities are strong enough to ensure that the Welsh language is promoted and that there are sufficient spaces for those who wish their children to have a Welsh-medium education.
 
14:14
Simon ThomasBiography
Despite some of the more encouraging shifts in places such as Llanelli the pro-tem review of the Welsh language strategy does demonstrate that the targets included within that strategy by the Government cannot be achieved as the growth is going at present throughout the whole of Wales. There will be a full review and evaluation published, as I understand it, this spring. I very much hope that you will publish that as a Government as soon as possible, so that we can scrutinise that. It appears to me that there is a gap between the local Welsh language strategies and your objectives as a Government at a national level. Do you agree that that gap exists, and what specific steps do you have in mind to actually close that gap?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There are variations, of course, between local authorities in Wales. Of course, implementing the schools policy happens on a local authority level. However, we have said that we need the strategic plans in order to promote Welsh-medium education. The majority of the local authorities, namely 19 of them, have now ensured that their plans have been presented to us as a Government anyway. However, it’s true to say that there are variations in every part of Wales. In some places, the growth still exists there; in other parts—in my own county, for example—the growth has not been as great as, perhaps, that seen in many other parts of Wales. That is why, of course, we must ensure that the local authorities consider their role in relation to the promotion of the Welsh language and Welsh-medium education. That is why, of course, we have asked for strategic plans: in order to ensure that we can understand what their plans are, and then, of course, for us as a Government to take steps to ensure that they are moving forward with the plans that we have as a Government.
 
14:16
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, today, the Cabinet of Powys County Council will consider a PricewaterhouseCoopers review that recommends that up to three secondary schools in Powys should close, and also that some Welsh-medium streams in English high schools should close. Are you aware of these proposals to close Welsh-medium streams, as well as three stand-alone high schools? What advice do you have for parents who are ringing my office, concerned as to where their children will go for their education in the future, and who are having to make decisions about whether to send their children to Welsh-medium units that might not exist in a few years’ time?
 
14:17
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, these are matters, of course, for the council to explain, not for Government. It is a matter for them to decide how they will resolve the issues that your constituents have raised.
 
As the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats knows, there is potentially a ministerial role here, in terms of examining decisions that are taken by local education authorities, so I cannot say more on a particular case, but the issues that she raises will be for Powys County Council to answer in the first place.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
14:17
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is the business statement. I call on the business Minister, Jane Hutt.
 
14:17
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Diolch, Lywydd. I have one change to announce to this week’s business. As only two questions have been tabled to the Counsel General, the time made available has been reduced to 15 minutes. The remainder of Government time on Wednesday will be utilised for an urgent legislative consent motion on the Serious Crime Bill (memorandum No. 2), led by the Minister for Public Services. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:18
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Minister, could I seek two statements? I am most grateful to the business and transport Minister for sending a letter to me about road conditions around the Cowbridge bypass—in fairness to the Minister, she addresses winter preparedness—but in my address to you a fortnight ago, seeking a statement, I was focusing more on the engineering of that particular stretch of road. I think you’re familiar with it, Minister, being the constituency Member for the Vale of Glamorgan. It is designed in an ‘s’ shape, and I do question whether it is today suitable for modern traffic, which does travel at higher speeds. I would be grateful to try and understand: has the Welsh Government commissioned any surveying work on this particular road to assess the road safety measures that currently exist and whether any other measures should be introduced, given that, as I said in my earlier request, another accident had happened on that piece of road only some two days before?
 
I would also request a statement from the Minister in relation to the accident that happened on the M4 on the weekend, just short of Cardiff west service junction. Obviously, there’s major engineering work going on at that particular junction. I have highlighted it before in this Chamber. I’m sure the end product will provide for greater safety and greater flow rates of traffic, but there is a real concern over the backlog of traffic that does happen when lanes are closed down on that particularly busy piece of road. I, like others, have grave concerns over the management issues of the traffic on that junction, and I’d be most grateful if the Minister would give consideration to bringing a statement forward as to what safety measures have been put in place to mitigate the road closures around the engineering works that are going on on that particularly busy piece of motorway/A-road intersection.
 
14:20
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for those questions, and also welcome the fact that you recognise that the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport did respond to the concerns raised about, of course, that stretch of bypass in my constituency, for Cowbridge, which I am very familiar with. Of course, it does date back to a very early time in terms of highways engineering, which, of course, the Minister will be taking into account in terms of looking at the road safety issues, because road safety issues, of course, are paramount as far as those kinds of stretches are concerned, with highways of that age.
 
The second point you make is something that is, of course, very regrettable when situations occur, as they did at the weekend. Of course, it was the weekend, not during the rush hour or times when there is a real heavy load of traffic moving for work purposes. But, I know that the Minister is very aware of the road safety issues and lessons learned from the weekend.
 
14:21
Julie MorganBiography
On Thursday, Cardiff cycle city will launch its manifesto, which 700 people have fed into. It's got wide cross-party backing, lots of cycling groups are supporting it, and it calls for a united vision to make Cardiff one of the top cycling cities in the UK. Does the Minister agree that our capital city should lead the way in encouraging people to cycle, especially as we know the well-known health benefits of keeping fit? Could we have a statement about how cycling is progressing throughout Wales?
 
14:22
Jane HuttBiography
I thank the Member for Cardiff North for that question and, I think, would want very much to congratulate those who have engaged in the Cardiff cycle city, which is launching its manifesto. The fact that there’s been such a public engagement, as well as cross-party engagement, shows that, I think, there’s every prospect for Cardiff to become the top cycling city in the UK. Also, of course, this is very much in line with our policy—Welsh Government policies—in relation to cycling, and, of course, it’s all part of our cross-Government health and wellbeing policy, as well as accessibility, tourism. The enjoyment of cycling, and the ways in which our policies are taken forward very much fit with that. I’m very glad that you have drawn this to our attention today.
 
14:22
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Can we have a statement from the transport Minister on the redoubling of the line between Wrexham and Chester, please? A number of concerns: the redoubling has been cut back to around half the original extent promised, leaving around half the distance still on a single line; much of the route will still be restricted to 60 mph; and there is a substantial cost overrun, as I understand it. Anyway, all these concerns have been expressed to us by travellers, and I believe it’s incumbent on the Government to make a statement on it.
 
14:23
Jane HuttBiography
Certainly, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will, I’m sure, want to update in terms of this important stretch in terms of the Wrexham and Chester redoubling.
 
14:23
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, I would like to call on the Minister for infrastructure to make a statement on the district network operators—electricity operators. I have raised a number of times with the Minister for the environment and planning problems around the connection costs of the DNOs and the way that particularly smaller schemes are being priced out of the market in terms of connection to the grid. I know that the Minister is aware of some of the issues, and I know that, in south Wales, a small community scheme has been quoted over £5.7 million to connect to the grid, which seems to me to be a quite unbelievable price. It is an issue that is causing a great number of problems, effectively because of the monopoly position that Western Power Distribution and ScottishPower have in Wales, and I do think it’s important to know what negotiations the Minister has been doing with Ofgem, and to highlight some of the problems and issues that we are facing here in Wales. I don’t know whether they’re unique to Wales or whether they are issues that arise across the network elsewhere, but it is something that I do think we should look at.
 
14:25
Jane HuttBiography
It’s certainly within our powers. Obviously, this is an issue where we are limited in terms of our powers to intervene, but certainly we would want to look at examples, both positive and negative, in terms of the opportunities. I think that’s something that the Minister would want to report back on.
 
14:25
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Following the publication of the UK Government White Paper on Scotland within the UK, with far-reaching clauses that reform the constitution of Scotland and the powers of its Parliament, as well as the rather noisy debate that we had earlier between the party leaders in this place, would the Minister consider arranging a debate in this parliament, so that we as an Assembly can fully consider what’s included in the UK Government White Paper, and its implications for us?
 
14:26
Jane HuttBiography
Diolch yn fawr, Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Of course, we enjoy those lively debates and question times—when they’re constructive, particularly, we value them. I do think it’s important that we look back to the way in which we could unite across this Chamber in a debate with a motion on the future of devolution for Wales, which was accepted across this Chamber, and of course has been very influential in our negotiations and our discussions leading up to the first part of the St David’s Day process. I’m sure there’ll be more to report shortly, which we will want to debate.
 
14:26
Russell GeorgeBiography
Minister, I recently tabled a question to the Minister for Natural Resources on the development of a national marine plan, which resulted in no meaningful answer. Will you, as Minister for Government business, look at an improvement in the way in which Welsh Government Ministers respond to written questions? On the specific issue of the national marine plan, will you facilitate a more substantive statement from the Minister for Natural Resources?
 
14:27
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, you have every opportunity to raise these issues in terms of the national marine policy objectives of this Welsh Government, which of course are considerable. You did get a reply from our Minister, and you will have every opportunity, I’m sure, to question him, not only in his oral questions, but also as this policy is developed and implemented. Of course, very importantly, this is an area where we are fully engaged, I would have to say, in terms of the European dimension. I would say, on the recent announcement that we got approval in principle for the Wales-Ireland collaboration, the €100 million is going to be very important in terms of marine policy, which will have a benefit for Wales and Ireland.
 
14:28
Suzy DaviesBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Last week, in our debate on the Enterprise and Business Committee’s inquiry into tourism, I invited the Deputy Minister to commit to making a statement on the future of the tourism investment support scheme. The Deputy Minister didn’t have the opportunity to deal with it in his answer, so I would like to re-issue that request now, please. Could such a report not just deal with the future of the scheme, but also report back to this Assembly in terms of the amount of money recuperated from this scheme from successful grantees, and also the measurements of success against business plans put in by various applicants during the course of the lifetime of the scheme?
 
14:29
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, the Deputy Minister did respond positively to that request, and he will be making a statement in due course.
 
14:29
Nick RamsayBiography
Minister, today is Holocaust Memorial Day: 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and the close of a war that saw the genocide of 6 million European Jews. Some people, Minister, doubt that we should remember horrors like these in this way, but will you join with me in agreeing that remembrance and commemoration of days such as Holocaust Memorial Day are a vital part of making sure that these types of atrocities never happen again?
 
I wonder whether, on that basis, we could have an update from the Welsh Government on how schools are being supported in educating young people about some of the worst horrors of human history. How can they be supported to make sure that that act of remembrance isn’t just important today, but continues to be important in the future, to avoid these horrors of human history happening again?
 
14:30
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I thank Nick Ramsay very much for, again, making sure that we can acknowledge in this Chamber today the importance of Holocaust Memorial Day, particularly in terms of the fact that it is 70 years. And looking at the fact that, all across Wales, I believe, not only civic services—an exhibition in my constituency, involving local schools, which is very important—there are so many ways in which Wales is rising up in support of Holocaust Memorial Day.
 
Of course, this is something that our Minister for Education and Skills has taken a key role in, in supporting schools, and also, of course, our Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, who joined the First Minister, and, indeed, I think, leaders form across the Chamber, at the national service of remembrance, with the Presiding Officer, today. I shall be wearing my badge, not just today in memory, but also knowing that this is something that can ensure that we spread that message, and educate our young people—as they are willing to respond to, I was very clear, from the responses across Wales over the last few days.
 
14:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
14:31
3. Statement: Introduction of the Local Government (Wales) Bill
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 3, which is a statement by the Minister for Public Services, on the introduction of the Local Government (Wales) Bill. I call on Leighton Andrews.
 
14:31
Leighton AndrewsBiographyThe Minister for Public Services
Presiding Officer, yesterday I introduced the Local Government (Wales) Bill before the National Assembly for Wales, along with the explanatory memorandum. This is the first of two Bills that will implement our agenda for the reform of local government, as set out in the White Paper on the reform of local government last year.
 
These proposals, and the further White Paper I’ll be issuing next week, move us significantly beyond Williams. Our vision is for open and transparent councils, with elected members who represent the diverse range of people in their communities. We aim to forge a new relationship between local authorities and the communities they serve, and between the Welsh Government and local government. We intend to create a framework for local authorities that will be capable of playing a key role in shaping the future of public services in Wales. This will mean a seismic cultural shift in our local authorities.
 
I’m not simply intending to create bigger councils going about their business in the same way as our existing authorities. We need fundamental reform that will lead to a profound change in the way councils work and deliver for their communities. Primarily, as our White Paper next week will make clear, this is about leadership. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remodel local government in Wales, a system where councils are engaged in delivering modern, accessible, high-quality services for, and with, their communities. This Bill lays the groundwork for these reforms.
 
The Bill, if passed, provides for certain preparatory work to enable a programme of local authority mergers. Earlier today, I issued a written statement, following my consideration of the three formal expressions of interest for voluntary merger received from local authorities. In light of that statement, I will give further consideration to the voluntary merger provisions included in the Bill during the legislative process.
 
Previous experience of local government reorganisations points to the need for effective co-operation between merging authorities if the process is to be as smooth, constructive and productive as possible. The Bill places a duty on the Welsh Ministers to require merging authorities to co-operate through the establishment of transition committees. Responses to consultation on last year’s White Paper supported the need for the early establishment of transition committees, to ensure certain preparatory work takes place prior to the establishment of shadow authorities. Transition committees for the new principal areas to be created by our second proposed Bill will be established as soon as practicable after that Bill is introduced into the Assembly in the autumn of 2016.
 
The Bill we are concerned with today also makes provision to minimise the opportunity for negative behaviour by introducing procedures where the advice of the transition committee, or, when established, the written consent of the shadow authority, is required in respect of certain transactions above a value prescribed in the Bill—for example, entering into long-term revenue or capital contracts.
 
Existing legislation only allows the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales to conduct electoral arrangements reviews of existing principal areas. The Bill, therefore, provides for reviews to be undertaken of proposed principal areas and for recommendations to be made to the Welsh Ministers. The Welsh Ministers may make regulations implementing the recommendations with or without modification. This will enable the new authorities to be launched on the basis of new electoral arrangements proposed by the commission.
 
The Bill makes similar provision enabling the Welsh Ministers to require the independent remuneration panel for Wales to undertake its functions on councillors’ pay in relation to shadow authorities and proposed new principal local authorities. The Bill also temporarily extends the remit of the panel to include a requirement for local authorities to seek the views of the panel in respect of variations to the pay of all chief officers of all principal local authorities in addition to their existing role as regards chief executives’ pay. The Bill increases the maximum number of panel members from five to six, and allows for further change if required, in recognition of the anticipated increase in workload.
 
In line with the recommendations to the expert group on diversity, the Bill amends the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 to enable local authorities to distribute questionnaires for the survey of candidates at local elections prior to an election. It also clarifies that an authority may arrange for the survey to be conducted by a third party. The Bill also amends the Local Democracy (Wales) Act 2013 to remove any legal uncertainty as to the Welsh Ministers’ powers to implement the recommendations of electoral arrangements reviews completed by the former Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales.
 
The work of reforming local government has commenced. This Bill contains important provisions that will enable and allow this reform. I look forward to hearing Members’ comments.
 
14:36
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
This is the first of three statements this afternoon and I have a large number of people who wish to speak on each of them. So, I remind people that this is an opportunity to ask questions of the Minister and not make long speeches.
 
14:37
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Well, Minister, today we should have actually been responding and welcoming the reform in the local government Bill, and, not before time, should I say, looking at ways to pass forward legislation that would see reform to local government in Wales. Part of that, of course, was to include the facilitating and incentivising of voluntary mergers. Now, your earlier statement today actually contradicts the Bill that you’re now wishing to introduce. I have to say, as a Member from north Wales, with my own constituency of Conwy, the demoralisation that you have caused with your statement is insurmountable. Here we had expressions of interest; they came in on time and they did fit the criteria. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report actually supported a lot of the expression of interest detail that you had, and you said here in this Chamber, when I questioned you about the timetable and your ability to reform local government in this way, that the expressions of interest coming through for that day were only the early stages and that the devil in the detail would come through in the established business cases at stage 2. Really, you have left local government now, particularly in north Wales, with hardworking front-line staff, senior officers, officers across the divide, and also elected members not knowing really whether you do have any idea, any vision or any strategy indeed for going forward.
 
Minister, can you be honest—? You talk about transparency and accountability with local government, and about scrutiny. Can you be honest with the Chamber today and tell us why the Conwy and Denbighshire model in particular doesn’t meet the criteria? Just tell us the truth. And also, is there not a bigger agenda here, in terms of the time when I questioned you on how many number of authorities, when the figure six was something that you said came from senior members of your own party?
 
Minister, I’ve described your approach—and you are, incidentally, as I’ve reminded you before, Minister no. 3, since I’ve been shadow Minister in this Assembly term. But there just doesn’t seem to be any vision or any strategy, and we want to know where you stand now. Our local authorities in Wales, not just Conwy and Denbighshire, and not the others that have come through—and I have to say, any Minister that set out with these proposals and wrote to 22 authorities—. I shared your disappointment when only 11 responded. Four local authorities didn’t quite match the criteria, but Conwy and Denbighshire did. I ask you: they decided to engage with you; you practically had Conwy and Denbighshire eating out of your hands. All we were waiting for was your commitment to some financial incentive, but instead you’ve pulled the rug. Explain to this Chamber and explain to the people out there why you have moved the goalposts and why you have changed the criteria, because, frankly, I actually think that you really don’t know what you’re doing now as regards the reformation of local government.
 
The CIPFA report, as I said, was quite strong. You’re the one shifting the goalposts. [Interruption.] Come on, let’s have some transparency, some accountability, and spell out to the people in Wales and to the Assembly Members here, who are charged with scrutinising—tell us what your vision is, and tell us the real reasons why you have failed, so far, in your aims to reform local government.
 
14:41
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Llywydd, quite extraordinary. According to the Member for Aberconwy, I should simply have rubber-stamped any expression of interest that came before me. Well, I’m afraid I wasn’t prepared to do that. I’ve spoken to six leaders this morning, all of whom, I think, were disappointed with the fact that we had turned down the proposals that they had put forward, but it is our job to evaluate the expressions of interest against the criteria that we set out in the prospectus for voluntary mergers, and that we have done and we have made judgments on each of the expressions of interest on their own merits. What would have been irresponsible, bluntly, would have been to put through any expression of interest in which we had no confidence and then subsequently jettisoned it at the next stage. That would have done nothing for the confidence of local government staff, local government elected members or, indeed, local people. In fact, that would have been precisely the wrong thing to do. Therefore, I am very clear that the decision today was the decision that we had to take.
 
She asked me specifically in respect of Denbighshire and Conwy, and, as I have said to the leaders this morning, we had concerns about the robustness of their expression of interest; we did not feel that it sufficiently met the minimum requirements of the prospectus; we thought there were areas that required significant extra work; and we did not consider that the authorities, in the timescales available to them, could move sufficiently quickly to develop a comprehensive merger proposal. Further, we felt that the expression of interest submitted did not set out a clear vision for the new authority, and we were also concerned with a lack of engagement and consultation on the proposal locally. Now, it is quite open to all Members to read the expressions of interest, because they are available, as my written statement said, on the websites of the local authorities involved. I invite them to read them and to take a proper judgment against the factors set out in the prospectus for voluntary mergers.
 
14:43
Mike HedgesBiography
Local government has done great work. Historically, we’ve had Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham; the Poplar Labour councillors; London County Council and the Inner London Education Authority developing comprehensive education; and, closer to home, the development of nursery provision by Glamorgan County Council; the redevelopment of the lower Swansea valley by Swansea council; and, of course, the provision of post-war council housing, which many—certainly on our side—had the great benefit of.
 
Many services have been removed from local authorities at or around previous reorganisations—things like water. I can think of no service that has been better provided after being removed from local government control than it was when run by the councils. From my experience of the last reorganisation, it is very important to get effective co-operation between merging authorities, and as soon as possible. Also from my experience of being a member of a transition committee, they are needed as soon as the make-up of the merged authorities is agreed. It’s important to get people talking about how the new authorities are going and to get them thinking forward rather than thinking backwards to the authorities they’re coming from.
 
I have three questions. What is the value of capital contracts that will need the written consent of the transition committee? At the last local government reorganisation, that figure was laid down so local authorities knew what did and what didn’t have to be put forward. Whilst welcoming the seeking of the view of the remuneration panel in respect of all chief officers, will the Minister ask the panel to produce a salary guide based on authority size? Finally, what impact will the rejection of the voluntary mergers have on the creation of a public service staff commission, and will that body be created by the end of next month as was originally planned?
 
14:45
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Can I thank my colleague the Member for Swansea East for his comments? He is absolutely right to draw attention to the historic role of local government in Wales and in Great Britain in general. It is very important, I think, that we recognise that. When we come to publish our White Paper next week we will have rather more to say about that.
 
He asked specific questions and I will say to him that I want to discuss some of those in more detail as we take the Bill through. But in respect of transaction values, these are set out in the Bill, for example, in respect of acquisition and disposal of land to £150,000 non-capital contracts to £150,000, capital contracts to £0.5 million and awards of grants and other financial assistance at £150,000. So, those figures are there in the Bill. He is absolutely right to talk about the importance of transition committees. Again, I would welcome a further discussion with him about his previous experiences in this area where I think we can draw on those. We’re giving further consideration to the question of the staff commission and the timing of that. As he will know, we have had a consultation on the staff commission, which concluded in the second week of January, and we will publish our conclusions in respect of that in due course.
 
14:46
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, you have said in response to Janet Finch-Saunders that you couldn’t approve these proposals without giving them detailed attention. Now, if this process had begun during your tenure as Minister, we could understand that. But, we go back quite a long time, and the Williams commission was established by the Labour Government, by the First Minister, back in 2013. A report was presented to the First Minister, and in response, the First Minister said that this was a matter of urgency and he said that he would be able to give the view of the Labour Party on this within months. A year later, Minister, we don’t have the slightest idea what the intentions of the Labour Government are. Can you explain to us this afternoon why the Williams commission was set up by the First Minister two years ago to look at this issue? Why did the First Minister say, when he received the Williams commission, that he had to respond with urgency to those recommendations? Why did he say that he would be in a position to present the Labour Party’s views within weeks, within months, by last summer, yet we still don’t know what the Labour Party’s stance is on this?
 
In the statement this afternoon, you allude to providing leadership, Minister. I assume that your tongue is firmly in your cheek when you talk about leadership, because there is no leadership. No-one in Wales knows what is going to happen now. We have a Bill before us for a process that doesn’t exist at the moment, because you’ve turned down the three proposals for moving towards a voluntary merger. What do you say to local authorities across Wales? They face swingeing cuts in their funding and now they face another period of uncertainty. They haven’t got the slightest idea when the next elections will be held. They haven’t got the slightest idea what will happen to them as individual authorities or as merged authorities. They don’t know whether they should move now to propose voluntary mergers or whether you are going to determine this. If it is you who will decide, Minister, why don't you come before the Senedd, present your map of local authorities in Wales to us, and tell us how you intend to deliver services in Wales? Isn’t the truth of the matter, in the context of the voluntary merger of Conwy and Denbighshire, that the only objection was that you didn’t want to see more than two local authorities in north Wales? Isn’t that the truth, Minister? And if that is the truth, please come before us and tell us that.
 
14:49
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I am grateful to the Plaid Cymru local government spokesperson for his views. Let me say to him that Wiliams reported just over a year ago and, of course, only four, I think, out of the 62 recommendations of the Williams commission actually were about the merger of local government. There were many, many other recommendations that we are pursuing at the present time. In respect of our position as a Government, our position remains that we currently support option 1 of Williams; that is our preferred option, as we have said. The decision that was taken today was in respect of voluntary merger proposals submitted against our prospectus for voluntary mergers; those we have turned down on the grounds that I have set out in the written statement.
 
Again, I have to say to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson: is he seriously suggesting that our only role as a Government on receipt of expressions of interest should be simply to rubber-stamp those that we have received? I’m afraid it is our job to evaluate those against the criteria that have been put forward, even if those proposals fit with Williams option 1. If the voluntary merger is to proceed on the basis of the rules set out in the voluntary merger prospectus, then we have to have confidence in it. If we do not have confidence in the proposal that has been brought forward to us, then we may have to look at other routes for implementing a future map for local government.
 
Finally, let me say to him that the First Minister today, of course, extended an invitation to the leaders of all parties in this Chamber to take part in active discussions about seeking a consensus on a future map for local government. We would, of course, be happy to engage in bilateral or multilateral discussions on those proposals.
 
14:51
Peter BlackBiography
Can I thank the Minister for this statement? I think, Minister, that most of us here accept that you obviously have the right to turn down the voluntary merger proposals in front of you on the basis of the criteria that you’ve set out as part of that. I think the question that I’d like to ask is, having turned down all the voluntary merger proposals that have come in front of you, why are we now discussing a Bill to actually enable voluntary mergers to take place, because there are no voluntary mergers in front of us for this Bill to enable? It does seem to me that we are effectively wasting our time on that particular part of this Bill. I think we do need an explanation as to what processes are going to be in place in terms of future voluntary mergers. Will you be inviting more voluntary mergers to come forward, or are you actually going to be adopting another form of volunteering whereby you tell people what they’re going to do, which I think is quite common in the armed forces and possibly in the Labour Party as well?
 
Minister, if these voluntary mergers are not robust, as you have said, how will you ensure that, when you come to put forward your proposals for compulsory merger, local councils won’t then follow a robust process that you’re happy with in terms of compulsory mergers? I think it’s quite important that you set down some very clear challenges to local authorities in terms of these voluntary mergers, and you ask them to do certain things to satisfy you that the proposals they’re bringing before you are ones that are sustainable and can be delivered. Having now rejected the three coming before you on the grounds that they haven’t met those criteria, we then have to ask: what is it about the mergers, in terms of the Williams commission, which will meet those criteria? How will you enforce those criteria in terms of the compulsory mergers, given that you don’t appear to have the co-operation of local councils in this agenda?
 
In terms of the statement, you say in the third paragraph of the statement that the proposals that you’re bringing forward today and the White Paper move us significantly beyond Williams. Obviously, we haven’t seen the White Paper, but what we have in front of us, as you have just said, just relates effectively to four recommendations in the Williams report. In what way are we moving beyond Williams in this agenda, given that we’re not departing from the map that Williams has set out, and given that we’re effectively just talking about those four recommendations and haven’t changed those recommendations or moved on from those in any way?
 
You also say in your statement that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-model local government in Wales. This will be the third reorganisation in 40 years of local government. If we don’t get this right now, we will find ourselves back here in 20 years’ time doing it again. So, how are you making sure that we have sustainable models based on compatible communities when you don’t have the co-operation of local government, and when the proposals that are put forward on a voluntary basis are not acceptable to you? How can we make sure that the map that you now seem determined to impose on local government is sustainable and that we will not be revisiting this in 20 years’ time?
 
And finally, you refer also to previous experience of local government reorganisation and point to the need for effective co-operation between merging authorities if the process is to be as smooth, constructive and productive as possible. You had the co-operation of six authorities; you said ‘No thanks’. Have you got the co-operation of the remaining authorities, plus the six, in terms of what you now want to do, so that we can have that smooth, constructive and productive process?
 
14:55
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Okay. I thank the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for his questions, and let me try to answer his primary point, I think, which is about the Bill in respect of the question of voluntary mergers. The Bill does contain sections in respect of voluntary mergers, and so I think it’s very important to be clear about what we have done. What we have done is turn down expressions of interest submitted by six local authorities in respect of voluntary mergers, as set out in our prospectus. We were not satisfied that they satisfactorily met the terms of the prospectus or gave us the sustainable way forward that we wanted to see.
 
It is still, of course, possible, on Williams’s option 1 footprint, to take forward voluntary mergers on the basis of the Bill. Those might be different criteria, of course, from those we set out originally in our voluntary merger prospectus. There is a time-lapse provision in the Bill, which is the end of November 2015, by which time any further discussion of voluntary mergers could be taken forward. Now, I am perfectly prepared for my officials to talk with local authorities around the provisions in the Bill and to see what we can do to take things forward, but we have to do this in the context of, I think, wider discussions on an overall map. As I said, our position remains that we remain in support of Williams’s option 1, but the First Minister has extended an invitation to all party leaders to see if we can reach agreement on a map across Wales for local government. That invitation is open to his party, as it is to other parties.
 
In respect of moving beyond Williams, I think it’s fair to say that, you know, we have already published—. Last year, we published a White Paper, taking forward our suggestions in respect of the local government map. We took forward the voluntary merger prospectus. We also published a statement of policy in respect of the other Williams recommendations. So, I think that it’s fair to say that we are moving forward and we are moving beyond Williams. The publication of our White Paper next week will complete that process, I think, of moving beyond Williams.
 
I don’t actually agree with him that I am anxious for us to implement a programme of local government reorganisation that requires us to return to the subject, or maybe requires our successors to return to the subject, in some 20 years’ time. That is why it is more important to get things right at this stage than it is to proceed with haste.
 
14:58
Keith DaviesBiography
Just to follow up what Peter Black said there about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I’ve been in principal councils, where we started with 18, then we moved to eight and then we moved to 22. That is all in my lifetime. So, I hope that this next change will last a lot longer.
 
Really, I think we need to look at what leadership is about and how we can provide services to members of the public. Back in 1995, the Conservative Government in London said about the unitary authorities in England that not one of them should serve less than a 300,000 population, and what did we have forced upon us in Wales? Twenty-two principal councils, with only one of them serving more than 300,000. Then we talked about mergers. I remember in 1995 trying to get voluntary mergers between Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen to run the school advisory service. Pembrokeshire didn’t want to know. Two councils got together. But that’s voluntary mergers; they don’t work. And then we talk about leadership. One of my concerns on leadership is that we have executive boards, which consist of elected members, but then we have the chief executives, and the chief executives think they’re the decision makers and not the executive boards, so we need to look at that.
 
My last comment and question, in a sense, is on this independent remuneration panel. Back in 1996, authorities like Carmarthenshire started with something like 15 senior officers as well as a chief executive, and, in six years, they restructured three times. What happened each time? Irrespective of the population of that authority, Mike Hedges, each time, the chief executive’s salary went up. So, they didn’t compare population with population, they just pushed it through. I hope that the independent remuneration panel will look at this, because the other thing that has happened in the last 10 years is that senior officers have taken early retirement and for one, in the fire service, within a week, he’s back as a chief fire officer, having taken his lump sum. Now, I hope the independent remuneration panel will look at that.
 
My last comment is on the Porsche in Pembrokeshire. [Laughter.] But, I can tell you as well that there are Range Rovers and Jaguars, and they’re on top of the salaries of chief executives. So, I hope that this independent remuneration panel will actually look at what is the total cost of these senior officers.
 
15:01
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I’m grateful to my colleague, the Member for Llanelli. I hope he’s not asking me to buy a used car from him. [Laughter.] There appear to be many used cars in local government at the present time, some of them rather more expensive than others.
 
Can I start with the point that he makes about the independent remuneration panel? I’m sure he would want to join me in congratulating Labour-run Cardiff Council and Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf council in the action that they have taken in just the last week to reduce the number of officers on senior salaries in their authorities. They are very significant moves that they have taken, and I welcome their moves to reduce the cost of management in local government. That is something that we will have more to say about when we publish our White Paper next week.
 
I think my colleague the Member for Llanelli also made a further important point about who is really in charge in respect of local authorities. I think it is important that we get the balance right between chief executives and leaders of local authorities. Again, that is something that we will be commenting on next week when we publish the White Paper. I paid attention last week, in a speech, to a very interesting development in Denmark where they have published a code of governance for chief executives of local authorities, which I think we could usefully learn from.
 
My colleague is absolutely right, of course, to remind us that the current system of local government in Wales—the 22 local authorities that we have—was one created by the Conservative Government in the mid-1990s. I think nearly everybody in this Chamber now believes the time is right to change. Twenty-two local authorities in Wales is too many.
 
15:03
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Minister, thank you for your statement this afternoon. I’ve listened intently to what you’ve had to say. If I could just seek two points of clarification from you. You talked of devising a map for local government in Wales and then you also talked about moving beyond Williams. Obviously, in earlier questioning of the First Minister, he seemed to be pretty decisive that Williams was the template that the Government was working to in devising that map for local government in Wales. Can you confirm that that is still the case or, in your mind, do you have a different map to what Williams mapped out as to the footprint of local government here in Wales? And, are you as a Minister, now, moving away from the principles that the Williams commission set for local government reorganisation?
 
15:03
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, if I can say to the leader of the opposition, the First Minister was very clear that Williams option 1 remains our preferred option, as I have said myself and as we said in the prospectus for voluntary mergers. That is our current option. However, the First Minister also extended an invitation to him, and to the leaders of other parties in this Chamber, to engage in practical discussions around the future map of local government. If it were possible, of course, to reach a consensus with one or other parties in this Chamber—a consensus that moved away from the Williams map—then we would not necessarily stand in the way of that, and we would be prepared to have conversations around that.
 
15:04
4. Statement: Improving the Availability of Allotments and Community Gardens
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 4, which is a statement by the Minister for Natural Resources on improving the availability of allotments and community gardens. I call on the Minister, Carl Sargeant.
 
15:04
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am pleased to be able to update Members about the recent Green Paper consultation on improving the availability of allotments and community gardens.
 
In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of people who want to grow and eat their own produce. The benefits of cultivating allotments or taking part in growth schemes in the community include enabling people to grow fresh, sustainable produce for themselves and their families, improving physical and mental health, and better community cohesion. It provides opportunities for socialising between all ages, backgrounds and abilities, to encourage a sense of collective ownership of open space. There is also a view that locally grown food could form part of a sustainable response to the challenge of food poverty.
 
The Green Paper was informed by the report and recommendations of the 2010 sustainability committee inquiry into allotment provision, which recommended a review of the existing legislation to establish what is relevant and what needs to be updated. I was delighted to see the amount of interest that the consultation attracted. All respondents agreed with the overall goal of the Welsh Government to see the supply of community-grown food sites, including allotments, meeting the local needs more effectively.
 
The consultation responses revealed that there is no overwhelming consensus on the role of legislation as a mechanism for improving the provision and management of allotments and community gardens. There were also opposing views of what new legislation should look like and as a consequence of any changes, for example, some stated that the current definition of ‘allotments’ is too narrow and that a revised definition should be flexible enough to cover the wide variety of community garden activity that currently exists, and to avoid excluding new ways of providing such activities in the future, whereas others suggested there is no need to redefine community gardens as allotments, as it may discourage landowners from making land available for new sites, because of the current restrictions placed on statutory allotments to safeguard for the public interest. Because of these differing views, it is my intention to give further consideration to potential changes to the law that could best secure additional land for community projects. I will not be seeking to legislate in this Assembly term.
 
In the meantime, however, there are actions that I intend to take that are practical and will make a real contribution to delivering the objective of increasing the availability of land and growing opportunities. Ninety-six per cent of the respondents stated that there should be a requirement for Welsh Government to provide guidance specific to Wales that is clear, consistent, robust but flexible. Guidance will help local authorities to plan positively for allotments and community gardens, recognising that there is competing pressure for land. I see the involvement of key partners such as the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens and local authorities as crucial in delivering guidance that is clear and helpful. The guidance will need to provide the flexibility needed to respond to local conditions, while also having appropriate levels of consistency across all local authorities. It will need to cover the roles and responsibilities, how to establish new sites, the registration and management of sites, funding and support, structures and wider planning concerns, and the administration of, indeed, the waiting lists.
 
The lack of suitable land continues to be a major barrier to the creation of community-based food-growing activities across Wales, with demand for land for community growing far outstripping the availability. Yet, many respondents to the consultation were able to provide examples of agreements and projects that they’ve developed with innovative ways for communities to find pockets of land in order to grow food. Guidance will capture good practice, so that it can inform the activities of local community groups and those of local authorities.
 
Another challenge identified in responses, which we’ve already taken steps to address through support for various community-growing projects, is the lack of knowledge of how and what to grow. There is already excellent work being done, endorsed by Welsh Government, through Tyfu Pobl and the Community Land Advisory Service. These projects are run by the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens and funded through the rural development fund and the Big Lottery, respectively.
 
I want to build on the expertise already out there in our communities across Wales to benefit from increased opportunity for growing communities. With this in mind, I’ll look at how community growing can be further supported through the RDP and other financial initiatives. Increasing the provision of land for community-growing schemes is included the latest food action plan, ‘Towards Sustainable Growth: An Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014-2020’. The community-grown food action plan is due to be reviewed and the evidence gathered during the consultation will inform the refreshed priorities and interventions.
 
I will also issue guidance specifically on the types of structures that can be erected, and the land management practices that can be undertaken on an allotment without the need to apply for planning permission. Setting out clear guidance will be a step in the right direction for ensuring that the work on allotments and community gardens meets local needs and better aligns with Welsh Government priorities. The summary report and Green Paper consultation responses will be published today. I look forward to hearing from Members their views this afternoon.
 
15:10
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Well, Minister, thank you for your statement. I believe that the consultation responses were published earlier today. I was slightly surprised that you expressed happiness with the number of responses that you had received because, although 3,250 people viewed the website, only 69 responded to the consultation. The vast majority of those were local government rather than individuals. So, given those 69 responses, I think that, in a way, given how many people actually saw the website, that’s quite disappointing, that after 3,000 looks, as it were, only 69 people responded.
 
But, I do welcome the fact that you aren’t legislating in this Assembly term because, quite rightly, in your statement you have pointed out that there has been some very good local practice that has been what I call ‘bottom up’, or coming from the communities themselves. I think that the risk of legislation is that it trammels things in—. It means that there is less opportunity for growth.
 
I wonder if you’re looking at the planning system to see whether or not you can promote allotments and community gardens, particularly in relation to social housing developments, to see whether or not it may be possible to incorporate those into the builds, and whether your guidance will also look at local authority housing, where it remains with the local authority, or affordable housing when that’s built, to ensure that designed into the plans are community garden or allotment space. Many private developments will have gardens attached to properties if they’re houses, which may well provide the opportunity to give people the choice as to whether or not they want to grow their own food.
 
You identified in your statement that a lot of people don’t know how to grow their own food or how to take advantage of the fact that they can grow their own food. I know that a school in my region, Ysgol Bro Cernyw, is very good at teaching its pupils. They have a school allotment and they’re really good at encouraging pupils to get outside. That encourages them not only to look at diversity, but I’ve seen a project in the Vale of Clwyd as well. I wonder, when you’re looking at your guidance, whether you could look at the roles that schools could play in educating a younger generation, but also in involving an older generation, so that there’s that crossover. Very often, there are older people in the community who have grown food from when they were much younger and who had learnt it from their grandparents. It will be an opportunity to decrease social isolation and get intergenerational knowledge exchange.
 
So, in summary, Minister, if you could perhaps answer my questions on those points, I welcome the fact that there isn’t going to be legislation. The final concern is that last year, for example in Wrexham, allotment fees jumped 20%. Now, price rises of that sort—a 20% price increase—can effectively price people out of the market, or out of being able to have an allotment. I wondered what response you have to that kind of jump in price increases.
 
15:14
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question. Indeed, there are two ways of looking at the responses, where there were 3,000 hits on the website and 69 people responded. There are two ways of looking at that: people are either uninterested or happy. I’d prefer the latter one in terms of the process. The Member raises an important point about community engagement and engagement with people. I do welcome the responses of the people who took the time to engage with the Welsh Government.
 
The Member raises several issues. On the one around planning, I don’t see planning being as prohibitive in the process of developments such as housing estates. I visited many, when I was housing Minister, where many of the housing associations were building into their structure, or their network, a place for gardening or a community garden. That’s something that I would encourage and I know that the housing Minister would also share that vision again. It not only provides a supply of fresh vegetables or fruit—flowers, indeed, too—this also is a great health activity, in mental health and physical activity, and builds community cohesion around that community. I visited a site in Ely only last week where, already, there was a refurbishment of a housing estate. The community started to come together around a particular community garden, which was very encouraging. I think that the Member is right to raise the issue. I visited a school in Ann Jones’s constituency where Eco-Schools is leading the way in terms of the opportunity to show young people how they can start on the green growth agenda, which is life changing for them, but they also take this vision home too. I think that it is a great opportunity for both young and older people to work together and share their experience, particularly around this particular subject, where we see a lot of benefits. I would encourage that through the schools, but also other community groups to build on that too.
 
I am not quite sure I agree with the Member in terms of her final point around the pricing issue. I think that there is something there that is a matter for local authorities to address. But, based on the fact that we have high waiting lists, it would suggest that there is a high demand, regardless of what the price is in terms of the allotment space allocated. But I do recognise that what we have to do is ensure that the availability of allotments is proportionate to the cost of that. I would like to encourage local authorities actually to look at the Allotments Act not being—. While it is in situ, actually, there is a lot more that you can do outside the Allotments Act, and Swansea council is a great example of a council building—I think that they have got two designated allotment sites, but they have four other leisure gardening, for want of a better word, allotment sites, but not under the same legislation. I think that it is encouraging that they have seen the vision to do that, so I would welcome that. The Member is quite right in her approach. We will not be legislating in this Assembly, but it does not mean that we won’t be legislating in the future, subject to the next Government.
 
15:17
Sandy MewiesBiography
Minister, I am absolutely delighted with your statement today, and that you’re going to encourage local authorities to provide extra plots and, indeed, ensure that the land available at present is used wisely and well for allotments and for community gardens. Both of us have our constituencies in Flintshire, and you will know how demand for allotments and gardens has far outstripped the supply of land in the past. Nevertheless, certainly in my community, I have Leeswood allotments; Mostyn Hall has restored its walled kitchen garden, so that the community can grow fresh fruit and vegetables; FlintShare is a community-run cooperative based in Flintshire, in Cilcain, Northop and Hawarden, in both our constituencies; and Bagillt has recently had a grant for a community garden. All of these things, they provide—as you said already—not just fresh produce, but also other benefits: social benefits, health benefits, and so on.
 
I’m slightly disappointed that legislation is causing difficulties and that it will not come forward until the next Assembly. However, what I am going to ask you is to ensure just a few things. Can you sow the seeds now, so that, in the next Assembly, people will already be working hard to produce legislation, and that, if it does have to be legislation, it is not too complex, so it doesn’t put people off this wonderful idea? Because all of the things that I have been talking about have been partnership working and the local communities themselves working hard. Can I also ask, while we are asking local authorities to do this, that the Welsh Government itself looks at the land that it has, to see—. You know, it owns a lot of land, and we have health authorities that own land, which is perhaps too small for some things but would provide allotments and community gardens. So, can I ask that we don’t just put the pressure on local government, but that the Welsh Government looks to itself to see what it can do?
 
15:19
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her questions, indeed. The issues around Leeswood, Cilcain and Bagillt that the Member rightly represents—. They have a fantastic opportunity there not just to grow their gardens and allotment sites, but actually they’re a key part of the community and they do engage with many others who may be socially isolated other than for the allotments and community gardens that she talks of. I'm very proud that, across the whole of Wales, we have some fantastic organisations working together to the major benefit—. Much more than just an allotment, this is adding value in other areas, too. The Member is quite right to raise the issue around sweating the assets of Government and other public bodies; it is something that I will be working on with other Ministers to ensure that we can see if we can align land usage better for the use of allotments and community growing in some of the public estate broader than the local authorities.
 
15:20
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, thank you for the statement today. I had been doing some research requests on allotments, and I’d seen the consultation, unlike Antoinette, but I was curious as to why there had been some delay in any sort of statement. But, you know, it is better to have it than to not have it at all.
 
You say that you will be focusing on guidance within this Assembly term. I wanted to fully understand, because I didn't from the statement, why you've gone on the side of guidance as opposed to legislation. Is it because of the timelines? Is it because of the pressure on legislation timelines that you have as a Government, or do you believe that guidance would be the most effective way forward? Do you believe, as Minister, that you will increase the availability of land for allotments by introducing greater flexibility for some land, for example, village greens and so forth? I'm particularly keen to come in on this statement today because I've had a local issue in Fairyland in Neath with regard to access to allotments, whereby the town council have retrospectively inflicted a policy of not allowing allotment holders to have more than one plot, and then, also, the allotment holders who come from outside the Neath town council area will not be allowed to have an allotment anymore. Some live 400m outside the boundary, and some live in Pontardawe where there are no allotments currently for them, and waiting lists over in Port Talbot are relatively long. And so, while they are not against the policy being put in place in 2015, they don't want it to be applied retrospectively, because the council actually, at the time when they were developing allotments, it wasn't the craze to have allotments, and they wanted them to take them on. So, now they feel that they've nurtured and grown the allotments, and it takes a lot of time—I've suddenly found out a lot about allotments that I didn't know before, like how much time it takes to nurture these plots—and what they tell me is that there are plots that are un-nurtured, but some people don't want to take them up. They go on a visit to the site, and they go, ‘Oh, gosh, that's too much’, or there are chickens on another part of the allotment, and they can't get the chickens off the land. All very interesting; I'm sure you will know.
 
Questions: will any new guidance compel the councils to clearly define their allotment policy in perpetuity? Would new guidance provide a right of appeal? Because, of course, that's been an issue in my instance, where they can't appeal. Would councils have to clearly set out and justify any retrospective decisions? And, lastly, would councils be encouraged to work with allotment holders to ensure such sites are managed to the best of their use?
 
The final point I wish to make is that there is a conflict between waiting lists and retention. Yes, there may be long waiting lists in some areas, but when somebody is actually then given a new allotment, many of them fail to retain it because they don't understand the implications of that. So, we need to have a more comprehensive list from the Government, I believe, as to what the situation is across Wales in that regard.
 
15:23
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her questions and, indeed, her recent interest in the many questions that she's posed to me. The difference between the guidance and the legislation: I think it would be right to say, from the consultation and the work that we've done, there is some legislative tidying up that needs to be done, but I don't think it deserves a Bill on its own, and I think that's why it does have the opportunity for future legislation that could be built on to perhaps another Bill. Something that I'm thinking about there would be possibly the Commons Act 2006. There are some issues around commons and certainly allotments that could be brought together in a more comprehensive Bill.
 
I do believe guidance will help qualify some of the issues that the Member raises, and consistency, of course. Let us not be mistaken: allotments aren’t a sleepy hollow that you just go to and have peace and quiet, because they are lively bunch—most of the allotment growers that I know and meet are very positive in their actions, and very keen to promote their particular area, and there are rules. They are generated both by the authority, and also, sometimes, by the actual allotment owners. I think what the guidance needs to do is to have a very clear understanding about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, but understanding the flexibility in there required for local circumstances, too. I think it is only fair and appropriate that there is an appeals mechanism for people who do dispute the actions taken by an authority, and I would expect, in the guidance process, for that to be addressed by the local authority or the governing body of that particular allotment in the future.
 
15:25
William PowellBiography
I’m very grateful to the Minister for bringing forward this statement today. Just last week in this Chamber I was speaking about the importance of people across Wales, both in urban and rural Wales, knowing where their food comes from, and I think there is nothing more positive than developing a fostering and nurturing climate for people taking on local growing. I know, in the Minister’s own backyard of Deeside, there’s been a very strong partnership between the Clwyd Alyn Housing Association and Deeside College, a number of years ago, developing community gardens. In my own area of Talgarth, there has been a doubling in the capacity for allotments as a result of support from Powys County Council and, on a weekly basis, they supply a large volume of quality produce for the local luncheon club, which is greatly appreciated. But not far down the road, in Hay-on-Wye, there is actually currently a six to seven-year waiting list for allotments, which is roughly about the time that will have elapsed between the 2010 report and any legislation that comes forward, so, while I understand the importance of not rushing to legislation, as we know from the Prevention of Terrorism and Dangerous Dogs Acts, I think it is important that we do retain some pace in this matter, for the reasons that Bethan Jenkins outlined earlier.
 
Minister, one practice that does from time to time occur in Wales is what’s known as guerrilla gardening, where people take the initiative into their own hands, and, where you’ve got neglected sites, sometimes there will be unauthorised cultivation. In that context, Minister, I wonder whether you would give some consideration to the introduction of a small levy on developers who have very substantial land banks of territory, which can be unsightly in communities, to create a small fund to actually introduce the possibility of supporting community gardens in a more meaningful way. In the context of the Planning (Wales) Bill that’s been referred to by Antoinette Sandbach, would it not be possible to introduce a clause with regard to the need to identify land for cultivation, both at LDP level, and also in terms of place plans? I would very much value your thoughts on that suggestion.
 
Finally, Minister, elsewhere in my region, in Llangattock, there’s been a particularly strong initiative of community gardening. I believe that your predecessor, John Griffiths, may have visited the site, and I would also pay tribute to the work that he has done in the earlier stages of setting out the terms of the Green Paper and the consultation that we’re discussing today.
 
15:28
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. I also pay tribute to green-fingered John Griffiths. He’s also a very keen gardener and promoter of this particular issue, and I follow in his footsteps. Can I also pay tribute to the many housing associations across Wales—Clwyd Alyn, Wales and West, Coastal, just to name a few—where they are very keen to promote that community spirit and the ethos around any developments that they are now involved in? I welcome any community gardens that are built within that process.
 
Let me be very clear in terms of the legislation. Let us not see that the Allotment Act is prohibitive to ensuring the growth of community gardens and developments. It is a fact that the Act is there, and we have to take notice of that, but it doesn’t prevent anybody using their innovation and new opportunities to develop new community gardens, as I mentioned in terms of Swansea as an example earlier on.
 
I think the LDP process already does consider the issues of green space and allocations, and place plans are an important element of where communities right at the heart of local activity can demonstrate the need for community opportunities.
 
The issue of guerrilla growing is an interesting one. I am aware of that, in the same term as ‘guerrilla knitting’, which is another interesting sport that goes on, I believe. I think, if it’s lawful, then I wouldn’t want to be the Minister who steps in the way of that. Certainly, what I would be very clear to ensure is, whatever we grow, wherever we grow, that it’s lawful first of all, and, effectively, that we can build a community together, to increase the supply of this provision.
 
15:30
Jenny RathboneBiography
Minister, I, too, welcome your excellent announcement.
 
I’d just like to highlight the success of the Community Foodie programme, which was funded by the rural development scheme, as part of the European programme, both to highlight the improvement in the wellbeing of people—with the anecdotal evidence about the reduction in the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants as a result of the growing schemes, which would be worthy of further academic investigation—but also, bringing back land into productive use, instead of it being used for fly-tipping, and things like that, community cohesion, which results from people working together, as well as the possibilities of growing local businesses. I know that one Community Foodie programme, in the Vale of Glamorgan, was overrun with demand for any of their produce from local restaurants and pubs, which would have taken absolutely everything that they could grow, and more. That indicates the real possibility of growing more businesses around horticulture.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15:31.
 
Jenny RathboneBiography
Now, you rightly mentioned that there are competing demands for land, and nowhere is that more true than in Cardiff. I wondered what you, Minister, could do about some landowners, who hold back from allowing community gardening projects, because they’re holding back thinking they’re going to be able to make bigger sums of money out of housing. For example, the flood plain between Cardiff and Newport would be an ideal area for growing more community gardening schemes, particularly to meet the increasing demand for locally produced fruit and vegetables, not least from our schools and health centres, including our local hospitals. There is the possibility that there really is going to be a crisis of supply unless we can identify more areas for locally grown food.
 
15:32
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her contribution. She’s absolutely right—the Community Foodie is a European-supported programme, and demonstrates exactly the reason why this is a good investment in terms of community change. Not only does it support the supply of food, but actually it demonstrates all the activities that the Member raises, such as the principles of sustainable development, actually—economic, social, environmental impacts. Beyond the issue around health, which the Member quite rightly raises, about the interest that young and old people gain from gardening and growing, actually there are huge benefits for health and wellbeing, too.
 
This doesn’t come out without its problems, though, because, as soon as you allocate land for community growth, as Bethan Jenkins raised earlier, it takes quite some time to cultivate these areas of land. Of course, I think what has to happen is, while not covered by an allotment Act, where we allocate land, maybe on a temporary basis, for the use of community growing, the community have to understand the expectation around that, too: that, in time, this may come back to local government or public service ownership. Therefore, the break in allotment use or community growing, back to public use, is sometimes fraught with tension, and we have to manage that better.
 
I think the planning of this is something that we can get over, but it’s something that the Member is quite right to raise, and I welcome her contribution today, as always. A very useful point she raises around the European support that we gain in Wales.
 
15:34
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I’m in a good mood, but, if I’m going to get everyone in now, we need to speed things up.
 
15:34
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, would you agree with me that flexibility is something that has to feature more strongly in allotments and community growing? I’ve seen good examples in Wales, where there are small plots available for local people—local older people—which have really helped involve those older people in their local communities much more than was previously the case, but there are too many restrictions, I believe, in terms of how communities can get involved in allotments and community growing. Would you agree with me that, where communities are showing good practice, where there’s a collectivism and a community ethos to local community growing—and they hold social evenings, they have pizza ovens, they’re producing honey and preserves, as well as fruit and vegetables—they’re often quite frustrated that there are too many restrictions in terms of selling that produce and producing an income for their community endeavours from it? So, will you look at the law very closely and urgently, notwithstanding what you’ve said about legislation, to see what easing there may be of those restrictions that would allow a greater flowering of that community activity?
 
Finally, Minister, Incredible Edible is one example of guerrilla gardening, if you want to call it that, or community empowerment, allowing better use of land. Will you do all within your power before there are changes in the law to make sure that that sort of community activity can flourish?
 
15:36
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his very brief questions. I agree with him that flexibility is key. With city gardens, size and scale is irrelevant as long as people are active and have the opportunity to get involved, something I very much support. The Allotments Act 1922 is prohibitive for any trade or business on allotments, but let’s be clear: for many, many years prior to this Act, people swapped and traded goods right across the land. I don’t see there’s anything wrong with that process, in swapping honey for pumpkins, or whatever you do on allotments, and long may it last, I say. The issue is to make sure that we get more supply and more people involved in this process. The Member raised a very important point right at the end there, and I will give that further consideration as we move forward.
 
15:37
Mick AntoniwBiography
Minister, I’ll be succinct and I won’t make silly jokes about allotments being a growth area and so on and so forth. [Laughter.] The issue has already been raised about the availability of land. In Rhondda Cynon Taff, of course, there’s a 10-year wait, the problem being—and I imagine it’s the same with a lot of allotments—that no-one’s actually quite sure, because all the allotments tend to operate separately and everybody puts their names on every single allotment that there is. So, the actual registration and access to allotments is in really quite a state of confusion. I put a submission in myself, but that was based very much on an engagement process in RCT with allotment holders. Of course, one of the things they came up with was the idea of having some sort of consistent registration. The other thing is perhaps a role for community councils in registration where they’re in a position to do so. But the main issue, I think, is the one of governance: how you actually deal with allotments; how you deal with allotments that are now no longer being properly maintained; and how you maintain the relationship between allotment holders. What’s interesting about the situation in England is that they’re based on a co-operative model. Maybe we should be looking at governance being based on a co-operative model within Wales.
 
15:38
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. He’s absolutely right that there are many variants of management and registration processes. The guidance, we hope, will give some clarity to authorities to start to have consistency. There are already some local town and community councils that manage allotments. Again, we can learn from the best practice and see how that is transferred. On governance, sometimes there is some self-control management on allotment sites by the committees that are set up, and they manage these sites very well, but, sometimes, they can be overzealous in their actions, and that’s something that we have to make sure of—that there is consistency wherever you are. This is something I would want to see, working with the Member, in terms of RCT and other areas, to see whether we can make this better for people and communities across Wales.
 
15:39
Joyce WatsonBiography
I do thank you, Minister, for your statement. Members may know that this year marks the centenary of the Women’s Institute. That was borne out of necessity during the war here in Wales. In Anglesey, it helped revitalise rural communities and encouraged women to become more involved in food production. So, I think it’s fitting that here we are, a 100 years on, still talking about allotments and community gardens, and discussing how we can best meet people’s growing appetite for growing their own.
 
I do, however, have a question, Minister, following on from your statement. My office has been involved in a case concerning the village of Red Roses on the St Clears road. Building work for the new bypass meant a piece of land became available, which the community wanted to use to grow food for local use, fundraising and that sort of thing. I’m happy to report that the Welsh Government has now agreed to offer to sell it to the community council. I understand the original plan was to divide up the land and auction it off, which would’ve raised more money, no doubt, but the community would’ve lost out. I highlight this case, Minister, because if you look at this particular case and if you discuss it with other colleagues in the Cabinet, I think it might provide a useful case study: where land is purchased under compulsory orders for road-building projects or anything else, it could provide a rare opportunity for communities to buy up that land for use, perhaps, for allotments. Maybe I might suggest, Minister, that the Government could be proactive by actually approaching community councils or other organisations when land is purchased to ask whether they would like to organise a community bid.
 
15:41
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for the final contribution and questions. She raises some very important issues. John Griffiths, and Alun Davies, indeed—a very big supporter of allotments—and I have all continued to push this very hard. However, the Member is right to raise the issue of the Women’s Institute. We can learn a lot from what the Women’s Institute have done in the past, and currently, including the women’s land army. We should remember, and never forget, those issues of cultivating land for the greater good.
 
There are some great case studies. The one the Member raises is something that I will take up with colleagues. Sandy Mewies raised earlier asset management in the public sector. We can do better, and I think this is something that, as a collective, both Government and public bodies externally, we need to think about: how we use these assets to a greater extent. I’m very grateful for the contributions on today’s statement.
 
15:42
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
15:42
5. Statement: Refreshing the Financial Inclusion Agenda
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 5 is a statement by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty on refreshing the financial inclusion agenda, and I call on the Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
 
15:42
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It is timely to update Members on work that will be undertaken this year on the financial inclusion agenda. Our financial inclusion strategy will be refreshed in order to ensure we are continuing with appropriate measures to protect and support our most vulnerable individuals and families. Our stakeholders will be involved in this refresh, particularly members of the Welsh Government financial inclusion delivery group. As agreed, I have asked Bethan Jenkins AM to nominate a representative to be part of this work.
 
In July 2009, the Welsh Government published its financial inclusion strategy, ‘Taking Everyone into Account’. This brought together financial inclusion activity taking place across Wales and served to raise the profile of financial exclusion and how to address it. The strategy sets out five themes for action. These were improving access to mainstream services, affordable loans and savings, and debt advice. There was also a focus on improving financial literacy and capability, and on maximising people’s income.
 
The themes in the strategy are still relevant today—more so as the financial implications of welfare reform and the economic climate impact on communities across Wales. Since 2009, we’ve worked hard to put in place new measures to support our most vulnerable who are struggling to make ends meet. It is now important to take stock of the support we have in place, considering and refreshing our strategy, to ensure it reflects what is required in the future.
 
Alongside welfare reform, the prevailing economic climate in the UK has also had a direct impact on the ability of Welsh families to manage their household incomes effectively. Debt and money advice services are essential for families who struggle to pay their bills and manage household budgets, and the demand for debt and money advice services has increased dramatically. Through the ministerial task and finish group on welfare reform, we commissioned research to better understand how the changes being imposed by Westminster are affecting people in Wales. Some of the headline findings of this research indicate the average annual loss per working-age adult in Wales is estimated to be around £500 in 2015-16 alone. Combined with the impact of other changes, losses could be even higher for some people.
 
Although the Welsh Government cannot wholly insulate the people of Wales from these external factors, we have put in place new and increased measures to help alleviate some of the impacts. Advice services are a key lever, offering a lifeline to so many of our most vulnerable people affected by welfare reform who were already struggling to make ends meet. As a Government, we are committed to supporting free and independent advice services as the need for them increases. In September, I announced a further £2 million to support front-line advice services on some of the very issues that are becoming more common as a result of welfare reform. It is important that we invest in these services because they play an important preventative role. Not only are they there to offer support to people when they run into serious difficulty, they also provide somewhere for people to turn to before their circumstances or debts spiral out of control.
 
According to Welsh Government-commissioned research, the groups more likely to bear the brunt of the changes in the benefits system include people with protected characteristics. Those around the poverty line, non-working lone parents and workless couples with children are also likely to be affected. It is essential to understand what impact our support of advice services is having. Raising household income is crucial and directly supports our wider efforts to tackle poverty. We are measuring a number of things, including benefit take-up. The Better Advice, Better Lives project has helped secure more than £42 million in additional benefits since April 2012.
 
There is also work under way to bring about longer term improvements in advice services arising from the recommendations of our advice services review and relating to our longer term vision and strategy for advice services in Wales. We are bringing together key players and stakeholders in the form of a national advice network, chaired by David Phillips, to drive forward the planning, quality and delivery of these services. I am keen to see an advice network develop in Wales which can respond to people’s individual needs in an integrated way and guide them towards longer term solutions.
 
An essential theme of the strategy is accessing affordable finance. We recognise the role of credit unions in achieving this. Therefore, alongside advice services, credit unions will remain a cornerstone of the refreshed financial inclusion strategy. They are available to everyone and can offer vital support to many of those who are most in need of affordable finance. Credit unions are increasingly recognised as part of the solution for people who need to borrow smaller amounts for a short-term period or when a poor credit rating means an affordable loan from a bank or building society is not an option. It is likely that loans provided by credit unions are saving many consumers millions of pounds in interest, especially when compared to the extortionate rate of interest charged by pay-day loan companies. To underline the importance we place on credit unions, in March 2014, Welsh Government committed a further £1.9 million to continue the credit union project until March 2017. It is important we encourage and develop the link between advice providers, credit unions and other sources of support as we go forward. Stronger connections between different providers and relevant partners will enhance the experience of service users and make the sector responsive to changes in the underlying and root causes of poverty and financial exclusion.
 
Another vital support service we have provided is the discretionary assistance fund, which was introduced in 2013 following the abolition of the Department for Work and Pensions’ social fund. Welsh Government moved swiftly to introduce the replacement scheme for the discretionary assistance fund, which has ensured vital support is still available to our most vulnerable individuals. I have already agreed in principle to the extension of the contract to deliver the fund for 2015-16. Since the beginning of the fund, 44,000 of the most vulnerable people in Wales have been supported with over £12 million awarded in grants, and it has raised the maximum grant from £30 to £50.
 
Our efforts to tackle financial exclusion are about ensuring everyone has the opportunity to access fair financial services and products. This key principle is central to mitigating the impact of poverty and financial exclusion. It is vital we continue to prioritise the needs of the poorest and protect the most vulnerable against poverty and marginalisation. The purpose of the Welsh Government’s financial inclusion strategy was to focus efforts to improve access to financial services to financially excluded people in Wales. This remains a key objective of the Welsh Government and one to which I am firmly committed.
 
15:49
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thanks for your statement. Firstly, I refer to your comments about Welsh Government support for independent debt and money advice services. What discussions have you had with the financial capability fora in north and south Wales, who clearly have a wide network of membership, regarding the provision of support in debt and financial advice for people in crisis, who might be facing court or repossession or a bailiff’s visit, to ensure that the large contracts given to excellent but large charities by the Welsh Government are meeting that crisis need and not simply putting people on waiting lists?
 
You refer many, many times to welfare reform. This morning at the cross-party group on disability, we had a presentation by Capita, the organisation delivering the personal independence payments. I was wondering what dialogue you might have had with Capita or the Department for Work and Pensions over that. We were advised this morning that the Minister of State for Disabled People in the UK Government will be making a statement to the Work and Pensions Committee tomorrow, and that we can expect some very good news on backlog of personal independence payments assessments, but clearly we need to be putting insurance in place for the future to ensure those backlogs don’t rise again. He also referred, although not delivered by them, to the work capability assessment and the fact that Atos—of course, appointed by the previous Government as the work capability assessment provider—has been replaced by Maximus, and that they will be needing to increase staffing levels and improve accessibility to the work capability assessment process. These have been two of the key contributory factors to the problems you identify, but what engagement are you having regarding the hoped-for solutions that have been put in place to address that?
 
You refer many times, and quite rightly, to credit unions. We know that you funded the North Wales Credit Union advertising campaign and that 5,300 more people signed up because of that advertising campaign. Of course, the issue was to attract more middle and high-income members to enable funding for smaller, shorter term loans, which most credit unions simply can’t do under the current scale. So, how are you ensuring that we target those higher-end investors beyond that advertising campaign where, as I say, most credit unions still aren’t able to provide those smaller, shorter term loans? Also, how are you working with Community Housing Cymru Group and Moneyline Cymru who are now working in both north and south Wales to reach people who are denied finance by mainstream lenders?
 
Again, on credit unions—I’ve asked this many times and still not had a straight answer, even from your predecessors—how are you working with the Association of British Credit Unions Limited over the UK credit union expansion programme? I know that, last week in Westminster, the all-party parliamentary group on credit unions heard that the expansion project had delivered automated lending decision tools, speeding-up loan-making, and that over 70 credit unions were collaborating in less technical areas such as group purchasing, paying dividends for credit unions and much work behind the scenes to scope, source and refine not just the banking platform but a new way of working. I welcome the Welsh Government support of £1.9 million over a three-year period, but huge investment is going into a parallel scheme seeking to deliver sustainability to our credit unions and reach those customers in need, apparently replicating what’s going on. Are they working together and, if so, how, and, if not, why not, where all the larger Welsh credit unions, I believe, are signed up to it?
 
Finally, on schools, how are you, in terms of credit unions, working to develop credit unions within schools? I know that, when the Communities and Culture Committee did a report on this in the last Assembly, I visited a primary school in Mold who told us that they were developing and taking the All Flintshire Credit Union Ltd to the high school, Mold Alun School, because of the young people going up. What a wonderful model. I also visited a school in Bala using Institute of Financial Services products. Both staff and pupils told us that this was a wonderful way of enabling them to develop the financial skills they would need in later life.
 
Finally, you referred to the discretionary assistance fund, which, of course, received UK Government funding when the social fund was split at UK level, and some of the funding came to the Welsh Government for aspects of the fund. You say that, beyond the current scheme, you’ve agreed in principle to the extension. Why only in principle? Is that a matter of not being clear what funding is coming from the UK Government, or is that a matter that’s within your remit already? Thank you.
 
15:55
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Mark Isherwood for those questions and observations. You referred many times to what discussions I’ve had, how I met with and whether I’m working with the Department for Work and Pensions. My officials work very closely, and I think it’s good to see that they do have a very good relationship. I myself have not met with Ministers since I’ve been in portfolio, but my officials do work very closely. You referred to the fact that I mentioned welfare reform many times. Well, the reason I do that is because welfare reform is having a massive impact on many people in Wales, and I think it’s very important that those discussions do go on between officials. We need to find out as much information as we can as early as we can regarding the welfare reform and benefit changes the UK Government is bringing in. So, I think that’s very important. You referred to the work capability assessments too, and, again, officials are having discussions around that area.
 
In relation to credit unions, I think you’re quite right that we do need to target more higher and middle-income earners. I’ve met with North Wales Credit Union, and it’s a discussion I’ve had about how what I want to do and what Welsh Government wants to do is support credit unions the very best way we can. I want them to become more sustainable. I want them to be able to be in a position to bid. I gave an example last week in my questions that the Ministry of Defence is looking to tender for payroll deductions, and most credit unions—well, I think the majority, well, every credit union in Wales, certainly, isn’t able to tender because the threshold is £10 million of assets and there are no credit unions in Wales that have that level of assets. So, I want to see credit unions, while they are not even at the level of pay-day loan companies—. I want more people to be aware of credit unions, and I think that’s another issue that I need to look at in relation to the campaign we’ve had previously to get more members—how to raise the profile of credit unions out there with the people of Wales. I think the work that we’ve done in relation to payroll deductions—. I know many people, and I’m sure Members are the same, have direct debits rather than payroll deduction, but I think it’s really important that credit unions go into public sector workplaces to discuss this. All my ministerial colleagues, I think, are very signed up to that. I know that both the Minister for Health and Social Services and the Minister for Public Services—it’s something that they raise. And, indeed, the Minister for Education and Skills I know has circulated that information to schools. You raise the issue of schools, and I’m about to visit Cadoxton Primary School in the Vale of Glamorgan, which has an excellent junior savers club, very much on the model, I think, of the ones you referred to in north Wales.
 
In relation to whether we are working with ABCUL in the Government, I certainly have had no discussions with them. What I want to see is a very Wales-specific model. I think our credit unions do excellent work, but what I want to do, as I’ve mentioned, is to support them to become more sustainable and for more people to be aware of them. In relation to the discretionary assistance fund, I have agreed in principle. Obviously, I have to look at budgets and, obviously, beyond this Government also.
 
15:58
Jenny RathboneBiography
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, some of my constituents fall for these incredible offers of £0.25 million coming from nowhere and, in one case, a gentleman replied with £20 to cover administrative costs, which then led to thousands of other offers of incredible wins and made him seriously ill. I know that Age Cymru and the Advertising Standards Authority and the Financial Services Authority are trying to deal with scams and swindles, but I wonder what can be done to really try and prevent people going through this agony. For example, what work has been done to create more no-cold-calling zones in Wales? What work has been done in the light of the fact that, very soon, people are going to be able to get early pension releases of huge lump sums, by the standards of the money they normally deal with? How can we prevent the scammers and swindlers having a field day getting hold of this money, which will obviously then disappear completely?
 
15:59
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Well, the work in relation to no-cold-calling zones is actually in my colleague the Minister for Public Services’ portfolio, but, certainly, when I was in that portfolio, I know that the Welsh Government did a great deal of work to encourage local authorities to come forward to have no-cold-calling zones. I can’t remember the figures off the top of my head, but I know we did increase the number of no-cold-calling zones right across Wales.
 
One of the barriers local authorities told me that they had in increasing the numbers was the paperwork that was involved; you had to go and contact a huge number of residents, also. This was something that I did take up with the relevant UK Government Minister at the time. But it is certainly heartbreaking to hear the stories that you related, and I know the Minister for Public Services wants to do all he can to prevent such scams.
 
16:00
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, thank you for the statement today. Obviously, you’ve mentioned already the fact that I’ll be able to put forward a representative to take part in the process and clearly, I welcome that. During the Bill process, of course, I always said that I didn’t have an issue with what was contained within the strategies and the work that was being done, but I had an issue with the effectiveness of the delivery. I wonder whether the Minister now agrees that it wasn’t robust enough, and that, as my research demonstrated, local authorities perhaps found it too easy to ignore this particular agenda, regardless of the fact that the strategies, ultimately, if implemented, would have gone a long way to help those people in those particular areas.
 
I’m sure we’ll get much more time to discuss the refresh of the strategy down the line, but the question I’ve got, initially, is: how can we make sure that it is more effectively implemented, and how can we make sure that we monitor it effectively? I don’t want to re-rehearse the arguments, but the whole reason for my Bill was because we identified the fact that strategies weren’t being put in place and the Government hadn’t made moves before now to look at where and what was working well and where best practice could be rolled out across the Welsh local authorities.
 
Some local authorities, of course, are doing great work and I believe there needs to be some kind of mechanism to share that best practice. So, how can we do that?
 
I’m glad to hear what you say about credit unions. Obviously, we all know here, in our respective areas, the hard work that people put into making the credit union sector work, but quite often, we see that they can’t work together, because of charters and because of restrictions within their working practices. So, how can we promote better seamless networks within the credit union sector? Following on from Mark Isherwood’s comment, whenever I speak to credit unions, they feel they have to be proactive in going into schools, as opposed to the other way around. So, how can we change the agenda around, so that schools also see the benefit of setting up young-saver schemes in their communities?
 
A few things I couldn’t get into the Bill, because of the legislative competence issues, were issues with regard to cold-calling zones. When I put in research requests with my team, we were finding that there wasn’t clarity over competency. So, I think that this refresh needs to look into that, so that we can make the creation of cold-calling zones much more easy, and again, from Swansea council in particular, whether they could put planning powers in to curtail the proliferation of betting shops and high-interest lenders on their high streets. I think that’s something that the strategy could at least look at, because, of course, you don’t need to walk down a high street in our areas—well, in my area and I’m sure in your area, Minister—where you’ve got the BrightHouses of this world enticing people to come in knowing that they, potentially, will not be able to pay off those high interest rates. So, those are the issues that I’ve got today, because I’m sure we’ll be talking about this much more in the future and I welcome the refresh of the strategy.
 
16:04
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Bethan Jenkins for that contribution. I won’t go over the history of your proposed Bill, et cetera, but I’m very pleased that we are able to work with you to take that forward, because, as we discussed at the time, you brought forward some very good suggestions that I think we do need to look at in great detail. I know you have been in contact with my officials regarding a meeting and putting a name forward and I’m aware of the work that you’re also doing with my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills in relation to the financial education part.
 
I think, on the point you raise about some local authorities doing really great work and how we share that best practice, well, I think that’s a nut that is pretty difficult to crack in lots of areas of public services in Wales. One of the things that I’m doing—I’m going to organise another credit union conference. My predecessor had one last year, and we’re going to have one this year, where we will invite, you know, credit unions, health boards, housing associations and local authorities to come to share best practice, because I think that is the only way, you know—get everybody together. That includes credit unions. As you said, some of them are in very different positions across Wales, so, you know, we’re going to have a conference—get everybody together, see if we can build on the good work that was done last year—later on, probably in the early summer.
 
In relation to the cold-calling zones, as I said, it’s an area for the Minister for Public Services. However, we do need to look at those barriers, because the main barrier that, certainly, was raised with me was this issue of the data collection, which the UK Government controls, and it is up to them. One of the barriers they did feel that we could help with was funding, and, certainly, that’s what we did: we put the funding upfront. So, we removed that barrier for them. But, clearly, more needs to be done in relation to having more cold-calling zones across Wales.
 
In relation to planning, that is not something that I’ve discussed with the Minister for Natural Resources, but I will make sure that I have that discussion to see if there is anything that we can do around the planning issue that you raise in relation to betting shops, pay-day loan companies et cetera. I will write to the Member with further details.
 
16:06
Peter BlackBiography
Can I thank the Minister for the statement and can I start by asking about the discretionary assistance fund? Following on from the item in the minutes for the financial inclusion advisory group in September last year, has any work being done on the demographics of those who apply for help through the discretionary assistance fund, in addition to any analysis by super-output area? With reference to the emergency assistance fund element, is there any suggestion that applications are increasing from people in work?
 
On a different subject, prisoners are one of the most vulnerable groups in this context, and while community rehabilitation companies will be responsible for financial education training and financial management advice before release and employment support afterwards, I’m anxious that best practice is reflected throughout the Welsh prison estate and, indeed, at Gloucester prison, where Welsh women prisoners are held. The minutes for the financial inclusion advisory group from September mentioned in passing the work being done by LASA Credit Union Ltd and Her Majesty’s Prison Swansea over a period of years, whereby prisoners are encouraged to open credit union accounts and pay in their earnings while in prison. This gives them access to an account immediately upon release and eases the problems faced by many prisoners with financial inclusion. It also gives them an account into which benefits can be paid and priority debts disbursed, if the Department for Work and Pensions ever paid benefits on time, of course, and when they promised to do so. Will the Welsh Government put pressure on the community rehabilitation companies in Wales to work with LASA Credit Union and Her Majesty’s Prison Swansea to ensure that this excellent initiative is available to soon-to-be-released prisoners throughout Wales? I’m sure, as well, Minister, you would benefit from a visit to Swansea to have a look at this excellent project for yourself.
 
With regard to universal credit, it is likely that tenant arrears for the most vulnerable tenants will rise significantly once universal credit is operational in Wales, which is supposed to be in July of this year, though I’ll believe that when I see it. Are local authority housing providers and social landlords putting strategies in place to deal with this, such as advice and strategic alliance with credit unions, so that the most vulnerable can have access to credit union accounts from which rent can be paid automatically?
 
Fourthly, Minister, in relation to your reference to credit unions, you say,
 
‘Credit unions are increasingly recognised as part of the solution for people who need to borrow smaller amounts’
 
and also
 
‘when a poor credit rating means an affordable loan from a bank or building society is not an option.’
 
Of course, credit unions do carry out their own credit checks and they don’t necessarily lend money to people who they don’t know and who don’t meet those criteria. I understand that the DWP credit union expansion programme, Cornerstone project, is developing a bespoke credit scoring mechanism for credit unions. Is the Welsh Government involved in that project and, if not, will you liaise with the DWP to make sure that can be rolled out across Wales? Of course, we do know that there are too many Welsh credit unions for them all to be able to reach critical mass or develop the requisite banking platform, attract tier 1 and 2 members and maintain financial inclusion services at the same time. So, what are you doing to facilitate mergers and system development to try to overcome that problem?
 
Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, one of the major plights of the financial inclusion strategy is for closer co-operation between advice services and credit unions throughout Wales. Have you been promoting meetings between Citizens Advice and ABCUL Cymru and ACE to discuss nationwide initiatives? Thank you.
 
16:10
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Peter Black for his questions. In relation to the emergency assistance payments, I don’t have the data specifically if it’s people in work applying more than people out of work, but we do know that in-work poverty is increasing. So, I think that it would probably be safe to assume that the emergency assistance payments are being applied for by people who are in work. I will certainly see if I can drill down to find out if that is the case.
 
In relation to best practice in prisons, in a previous portfolio I visited Oakwood prison in Gloucester, and also Cardiff prison, where I saw a very similar scheme to which you referred to. There, as you say, people could pay in their earnings or benefits when they’re in prison, and that money would be there, safe for them, when they came out of prison. They would be able to access that money straight away. I would be very happy to visit Swansea, but I think that it’s certainly something that I would like to see in the four prisons in Wales.
 
In relation to universal credit, you’re quite right; I think it’s something like 240 households that are now having universal credit in Wales. We expect that figure to go up to 0.5 million. So, I think you’re right; you know, it is taking its time. But I think that it’s really important that community housing associations and social landlords are getting in place their ability to help their tenants who may then be facing difficulties in paying their housing benefit, particularly. You’re quite right: credit unions do carry out credit checks. I wasn’t aware of Cornerstone. My officials probably are, and I will certainly ask for a briefing on that. I’m always happy to look at best practice. If it’s something that we can look at, to support credit unions, I would be very happy to do that.
 
I think that we have 21 credit unions in Wales. Not all want Welsh Government funding. We don’t give funding to all of them. There’s a handful that don’t have Welsh Government funding, but I have certainly said that if credit unions want to merge—and there certainly are some that do want to merge—we will do all that we can to help, provide funding, if that’s necessary, and expertise. But I think it is something that we can look at. Obviously, the North Wales Credit Union Ltd was a merger of several credit unions. I know that there are other discussions going on with other credit unions across Wales.
 
I am very keen for advice services and credit unions to be having discussions. You’ll be aware of the advice service network, which is just about to be established. We have the chair, and we’re just about to establish the rest of the members. I think, again, that’s something that they can take forward.
 
16:13
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
We’re over time for this item, but I’m keen to take two more contributions. Please keep the contributions succinct. Jeff Cuthbert.
 
16:13
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. Minister, we know of course that this refresh in the financial inclusion agenda is at a very difficult time. You’ve made the point where the UK Government’s welfare reform programme would mean a loss to every adult in Wales of working age of £500 per annum, meaning to the Welsh economy as a whole over £900 million in total—clearly a blow by any standards. You’ve quite rightly talked about the value of independent advice services, the Better Advice, Better Lives programme producing £42 million in additional benefits for people who are entitled to them.
 
I do want to focus my question on the role of credit unions, as have others. We did, as you know, launch the one-off, Wales-wide advertising campaign last year, led by the North Wales Credit Union, which produced 5,300 new members. Admittedly, some dormant accounts have also been closed, so the figures are a little bit skewed. but it did show, I would argue, despite what others have said, that that campaign was very worthwhile. Can I encourage you as well to hold another joint conference between the Welsh Government and credit unions in Wales? I’m pleased to hear that you’re thinking about that. I can recall that just about every credit union in Wales attended last time. Members of both ACE and ABCUL were there. ACE and ABCUL were invited. ABCUL could not attend; they had other events to go to. But I’m sure that you’d agree with me that there’s still more that we can do to encourage more people to join credit unions. So, will you would agree with me today that, when it comes to refreshing the financial inclusion agenda, we have to put credit unions centre stage, in terms of increasing membership and by ensuring that they offer a broad range of services, including payroll deductions and low-cost purchase finance, as well as putting them on a long-term sustainable and independent footing at the heart of our communities?
 
16:15
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you, yes, for that contribution, Jeff Cuthbert. You’re absolutely right. It’s very clear—the financial challenges that so many people in Wales are facing due to the UK Government’s welfare reform changes. I think Better Advice Better Lives is certainly, you know, an excellent initiative that has helped many people. In relation to the credit union campaign to which you refer, you’re quite right that the new members did increase by 5,323 from April to September. It has been skewed because of the dormant account closures, but I do think that it does show that credit unions are very healthy. You have heard me say that I am very keen to do all I can to promote them, to support them, help them become more sustainable. I’m very happy to hold a conference. As I say, we’re hoping to hold one in the early summer following the one that you arranged last year. I think it’s really important, for the reasons that I said to Bethan Jenkins, to share that best practice and get everybody there. You mentioned that all of the credit unions were there. Hopefully, ABCUL will be able to come this time. It’s really important to get all the public sector there, and also to encourage its workforce to have payroll deduction or direct debit, if that’s the case. I’m very keen for Welsh Government officials to sign up as much as they can, and we’ve had credit unions coming in to have discussions with officials. So, I’m very keen to continue to promote credit unions. I want more people to be aware of credit unions. I think that they’re a bit of a best-kept secret, if you like, and I don’t want that to be the case. I want people to be very aware of them and the services that they offer.
 
16:17
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. I’ve just got two questions—legacy questions, really, from Bethan Jenkins’s original Bill. The first is in connection with benchmarking and how you’ll monitor the success of this refresh strategy. Do you have any plans to use the future generations Bill for that? Obviously, this sits outside legislation, so I think that we would all like to know whether the new strategy will work. The second is a question I raised about the civil society advisory services and the purpose of your £2 million investment there. I’m not quite sure that you covered Mark Isherwood’s question about what is the difference between that and the money that you’re giving to credit unions, in terms of the type of work you’re expecting from them. But essentially, I wanted to ask you this: do you think the problem with advisory services at the moment is not that there is lack of capacity, but that it’s not joined up? Presumably, that’s what your national advisory service is about. I can’t help noticing the new leader of that, or the new chair of that. Or, is it a question of there being insufficient capacity, in which case a networking organisation isn’t what you need, but actually more people on the front line in civil society? Thank you.
 
16:18
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. You will be aware of my answers to Bethan Jenkins around the Bill. Certainly, the inclusion of financial inclusion in the wellbeing plan is being outlined in the wellbeing of future generations Bill. So, that’s something that Carl Sargeant is taking forward.
 
In relation to the advice services, I don’t think that it’s a lack of capacity. I think that we have the services there. I think they’re not as joined up as, perhaps, I would want, and that’s certainly one of the jobs that the network will look at. I think, also, there’s more demand, at a time when we’ve got lowering budgets; I think there is a higher demand for the services, so it’s very important that those services are there. I don’t want to see a postcode lottery. I think that’s another issue. We need to map out what’s there; you know, where they’re being set up, as I don’t want duplication. I’ve told the chair that that’s another thing that needs to be looked at. We don’t want duplication.