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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 Minister for Natural Resources
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Natural Resources, and question 1 is Nick Ramsay.
 
The Farming Industry
 
13:30
Nick RamsayBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on support for the farming industry in south-east Wales? OAQ(4)0263(NR)
 
13:31
Rebecca EvansBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
It’s my priority to support the farming industry in all parts of Wales to become more profitable, sustainable, resilient, and professionally managed.
 
13:31
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister. None of us would disagree with those objectives. As we know, our dairy industry is facing a crisis, with the price paid for milk by supermarkets reaching an all-time low in the last few months, with it actually dipping below the production price of milk, which I’m sure you would agree is completely unsustainable for any business in the long term. This has led to some farmers seeking to sell their milk to supermarkets directly, which, in some cases, has been successful. However, it’s not been so successful in terms of the price they’ve got for cheese and other dairy products. What discussions have you held with supermarkets, and, indeed, what progress are you making in discussions with supermarkets, and the UK Government—because I know they’ve got to put pressure on them as well—to make sure that our farmers get the price for the milk, and for the cheese and other dairy products, that they deserve and need?
 
13:32
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, you’ll be familiar with the fact that I’ve made representations to the UK Government regarding the Groceries Code Adjudicator, asking for her to be given more teeth in order to support our dairy farmers here in Wales. I’m really pleased that she’s been given the powers to fine supermarkets when they’re not giving a fair deal to our farmers. I’m meeting shortly with the Welsh Retail Consortium, to continue these conversations. I have met with one of the major supermarkets recently, and I have to say that not all supermarkets are the same. And I’ve met a large number of dairy farmers over the past couple of months, and they have different contracts with different supermarkets, and different processors, and, actually, how they’re faring now in difficult times is a reflection of the vast range of kinds of contracts that farmers have.
 
The Procurement of Dairy Products
 
13:32
William PowellBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the procurement of dairy products in Wales? OAQ(4)0270(NR)
 
13:32
Rebecca EvansBiography
The survey of public sector food—
 
13:33
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I think you’ve requested to have this grouped.
 
13:33
Rebecca EvansBiography
Yes, thank you. You’ve given permission to group this with question 4.
 
13:33
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. Okay.
 
Mohammad AsgharBiography
4. What action will the Welsh Government take to support dairy farming in Wales in 2015? OAQ(4)0258(NR)
 
13:33
Rebecca EvansBiography
The survey of public sector food purchasing in Wales 2013 found that 86% of fresh milk purchases and 68% of other dairy purchases were through Welsh companies. Public sector procurement is important in our view of commitment to sustainability, and we’re working hard to ensure the success of our Welsh businesses.
 
13:33
William PowellBiography
I’d like to thank the Deputy Minister very much for that response and, indeed, for the energy that you’ve shown over recent weeks in engaging with dairy farmers across Wales in the difficult challenges that they’re facing. Given those challenges, Deputy Minister, what consideration have you given to proposals worked up recently by Patrick Holden, founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust, and formerly of the Soil Association, specifically for the establishment of a fair trade accreditation and marketing scheme for dairy herds of up to 400 cows? As well as encouraging sound procurement practice, surely such a scheme would also help to promote human-scale family farms, which are the bedrock of Welsh rural communities.
 
13:34
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, I’m really proud of Wales’s position as a Fairtrade Nation, and of our commitment to supporting fair trade both at home and abroad. I’m doing a farm visit next week, as it happens, with the Farmers Union of Wales’s farmer exchange initiative, to mark Fairtrade Fortnight. A sugar cane farmer from Malawi will be coming to Ceredigion to meet a dairy farmer there, to exchange views and experiences of their different farming practices. So, I’m interested to learn more about that particular proposal. I do struggle sometimes to see how a Fairtrade mark would work, in the sense that milk is processed in different ways—well, milk from different farms is processed together, so it’s difficult to separate out those different kinds of farming systems. But, I’ll certainly look into this further and will certainly write to you after I’ve considered it.
 
13:35
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee is holding an inquiry next week into the state of the dairy industry in Wales. Representatives of the National Farmers Union Cymru, the Farmers Union of Wales and Farmers For Action are due to give evidence. Will the Minister commit to studying the results of this inquiry and to implementing its recommendations to secure a viable future for dairy farming in Wales?
 
13:35
Rebecca EvansBiography
I’ll certainly watch that with interest. You did give a list of people who’ve been invited to give evidence to that committee, which is looking at the Welsh dairy industry. I have to say that I was quite perplexed that the Welsh Government hasn’t been invited to give evidence to that inquiry. That said, I’ve asked for an independent review into the Welsh dairy industry here in Wales, which will be reporting to me by the end of next week. I’ll be considering those responses and responding in due course. Our review has been much more wide-ranging and holistic than the review proposed in Westminster. We’ve taken views from right across the supply chain—from banks, processors, farmers, retailers and so on—and I hope it will address some of the specific issues that are affecting our farmers in terms of price volatility in the market at the moment. We’ll come forward with some really strong, specific recommendations as to how we can use the next rural development programme to support our dairy farmers too.
 
13:36
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Does the Deputy Minister agree that one way of ensuring that more Welsh dairy produce is procured is to ensure that more public sector contracts in Wales related to food are given to Welsh companies? I will give the Deputy Minister a nudge in the direction I hope she will travel by saying that the contract for school lunches in my constituency is delivered by a company in England.
 
13:37
Rebecca EvansBiography
I thank the Member for that contribution. You’ll know that we have ‘Towards Sustainable Growth’, our action plan for the food and drink industry, to grow the industry here by 30% by 2020, and we have specific actions within that action plan focusing on enabling public sector purchasing. Those are measurable things as well, so I want to see the numbers of our food and drinks suppliers supplying to the public sector increase and the volume of products supplied increase, and we’ll also be benchmarking this against what’s happening in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland to check that we are leading the way on public sector procurement in Wales.
 
13:37
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
We all support greater public procurement of Welsh produce, but, in the dairy sector in particular, there is precious little processing capacity here in Wales. There isn’t, for example, a large liquid milk processing facility in the whole of south Wales. Given the size of the milk field in west Wales, that is a pretty indefensible position to find ourselves in, to be honest with you. So, how will you correlate the aspirations in your plan for 2020 growth of public procurement with the inability for us to have a processing sector that would be able to meet that public demand for greater Welsh produce?
 
13:38
Rebecca EvansBiography
I fully agree with you that increasing our processing capacity here in Wales is a priority, and I can tell you that my officials in our food division are working really hard to try and attract processors to Wales.
 
13:38
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
But would the Minister agree that we must now look at the dairy market as a market where there is price volatility, as a global market, and that we are dealing here with international commodities, and that we therefore have to model the position of the dairy industry in Wales in relation to that? Therefore, would the Minister take particular note of the need for us to produce far more cheese, butter and dairy produce so that we add value here?
 
13:39
Rebecca EvansBiography
Yes, again, I agree with you, and it’s very much in the spirit of the last question about increasing our processing capacity, for liquid milk but also for added value products as well. I think added value products really are where the future needs to be for our Welsh milk, because it’s very difficult to increase consumption of liquid milk; we already drink about 50% of what we produce here, so the next steps absolutely have to be in the direction of increasing our output of cheeses, yoghurts and other dairy products. I’m interested in seeing what we could do in terms of import substitution. For example, there’s no reason why we can’t be making French-style cheeses here in Wales and that’s something that I’m paying particular attention to as well.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:39
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople. First this afternoon, the Welsh Conservatives spokesperson, Antoinette Sandbach.
 
13:39
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, I recently attended a public meeting of Save our Paths, a group in Llangollen that is very concerned about bridle ways and footpaths being used by motor vehicles in north Wales. And it’s not just a problem in Llangollen, but elsewhere in north Wales. Legislation was introduced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2006, covering England and Wales under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to allow local authorities to prosecute for misuse of these pathways, but uncertainty remained and further guidance was issued in 2008. Last year, in October, in response to a question from Aled Roberts, you accepted that there was a void of guidance here in Wales. What steps have you taken since last October to look at introducing guidance around green lanes, effectively?
 
13:40
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
Of course—and I think the Member is right to raise this issue—we are also concerned about the misuse of these bridle ways and footpaths by illegal use of motor cycles in many cases. This is about working with the Minister for Public Services to see what and how enforcement action can be taken in these areas. But, also, supporting the issue of guidance is something that I’ve asked my team to look at, particularly around what’s in the NERC Act currently, and what potential there is for the environment Bill moving forward.
 
13:41
Antoinette SandbachBiography
The difficulty is that, without guidance here in Wales, what is happening is that we are getting people who would have been doing it in England now coming over and using the green lanes here in Wales. It seems that one of the things causing a problem with NERC is the option for an application to upgrade a green lane to a byway open to all traffic—a BOAT status. The guidance in England clarified that in 2008, but, without guidance here in Wales, local authorities can’t take that action to prosecute. Are you willing, Minister, to write to me and other Assembly Members, giving a timeline for when you’re looking to issue this guidance and to commit yourself to a date to issue it by?
 
13:42
Carl SargeantBiography
I will review the policy objective of my department and I will write to the Member accordingly.
 
13:42
Antoinette SandbachBiography
I’m very grateful for that answer, Minister. Many of these byways and bridle paths go through Forestry Commission land and, last year, on 4 November, I called for a statement from you about the sell-off of Welsh Government-owned forestry land. We know that there have been sales by Welsh Government, but nothing has come into the public domain, effectively, to allow us to question you on that. Can you give us details on that, particularly given that the Welsh Government is so far away from its target of planting 100,000 acres of forest by 2032? It seems odd to be selling off land when you could be using it for planting, and will you commit to making an oral statement in this Chamber about that issue?
 
13:43
Carl SargeantBiography
I have met with forestry officials; I’ve met with the forestry industry. We’re looking very carefully at the objectives set by Welsh Government in terms of our targets for the growth and planting of new trees. It is something that we are working together on to ensure that we are making the best use of land. Of course, I am aware of information requests from the Member seeking information about the forestry in land sales. I’m sure that she has plenty of information that we have released for her.
 
13:43
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
 
13:43
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Next week, Minister, is Climate Week, as I’m sure you are aware, but Wales, of course, is the only part of the UK without statutory climate change targets, or at least the stated intent to introduce such targets. Will you now confirm to the National Assembly for Wales that you, as Minister, and the Welsh Government, will introduce statutory climate change targets for Wales in the forthcoming environment Bill?
 
13:44
Carl SargeantBiography
We will be having many discussions about the environment Bill over the next couple of months and we will be seeking to place milestones within the Bill structure as it is presented in the future.
 
13:44
Llyr GruffyddBiography
I’m not sure if that’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ actually, Minister, and maybe a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ would have sufficed. If it is your intention to do that or if it is your wish to do that, then maybe you could indicate, and I’d appreciate that you maybe use this opportunity to tell us whether you would like to do that, if it is at all possible.
 
13:44
Carl SargeantBiography
I think I refer the Member to my previous answer. I am very keen to ensure that the discussions that will be ongoing around the environment Bill will include limits that we will be keen to discuss, as to what that means for Wales and how that will be presented in a more global context.
 
13:44
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Okay, yes, that was an even longer answer. If you are minded to do so, do you believe that it might be also an opportune time to review the current targets of a 3% year-on-year decrease or cut in carbon emissions or a 40% cut by 2020, and do you share the disappointment of many that the climate change annual report from the Welsh Government noted a 3.3% increase in the year reported upon recently, against the annual target, and a 5% increase against the 40% reduction target?
 
13:45
Carl SargeantBiography
I think the Member raises a fair question in term of the targets that are currently in place. I think what we have to do is recognise that Wales does sit in a global context and how the effects of that are and can be mitigated by a Welsh effect and that’s why the seventh goal of the future generations Bill looks at the global impact. Of course, I’m hopeful that the Member will support that next time around when the future generations Bill comes to the floor of the Assembly. It is something that I know he has concerns about, but I also share many of his concerns about what our footprint is in the world and in particular in Wales.
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson, William Powell.
 
13:46
William PowellBiography
Diolch yn fawr, Lywydd. Minister, what assessment have you made of the significance of the announcement last week by the European Commission of an investment of some €79 million through the INTERREG programme in Ireland and in Wales, with regard particularly to climate change mitigation and the potential benefits that would accrue both to Ireland and of course, equally importantly, to Wales?
 
13:46
Carl SargeantBiography
It’s too early to tell about the impacts that will mean for Wales, but we are making assessments of that. I think, what we are well placed in our legislative framework of where the future generations Bill and the environment Bill will work hand in hand, making sure our position and our global footprint works to the best effect on both a European context and beyond.
 
13:46
William PowellBiography
I’m grateful to the Minister for that response. In the context of Climate Week that’s coming up, but also with the ongoing discussions that your colleague the Minister for finance has been having with the European Investment Bank, Minister, will you commit to working with her and, indeed through her, with her Irish opposite number, Brendan Howlin, the Minister for public finance, to maximise the benefits particularly to coastal communities of climate change mitigation, with particular emphasis on the very important issue for regeneration, but also most importantly of all for public safety, of flood defence schemes?
 
13:47
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed, and the Member will be aware that, in Wales, we have maintained and enhanced our flood defence budget, whereas in the UK context that has been decreased significantly, and it’s something that is a priority for me and this Welsh Government. I work very closely with the finance Minister and my Deputy Minister to ensure that we can have the best leverage to ensure not only Welsh Government finances, but from other sectors that can protect communities that the Member is raising with me today.
 
13:48
William PowellBiography
I’m grateful for that response. Finally, Minister, will you commit to working with relevant Cabinet colleagues and also the Welsh Local Government Association to ensure that communities from the bottom up—from town and community councils right up through principal local authorities—are able fully to understand the significance of this structural funding from the European Union and the benefits and opportunities that that brings in terms of enhancing the prospects for future growth, particularly in the coastal communities of Wales?
 
13:48
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed. The Member raises a very important procedural issue. I will speak to the finance Minister where we will discuss the best way of disseminating this information once collated.
 
13:48
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is William Graham.
 
Environmental Permits
 
13:49
William GrahamBiography
3. Does the Minister have any plans to review the guidelines for applications to Natural Resources Wales for environmental permits? OAQ(4)0265(NR)
 
13:49
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for South Wales East for his question. I currently have no plans.
 
13:49
William GrahamBiography
I’m grateful to the Minister for his answer. Last week, Sonorex Oil and Gas applied for an environmental permit to drill a 4,000 ft exploratory borehole at Uskmouth in Newport to see whether oil or gas were contained within the rocks below the surface. Whilst this is only an exploratory exploration at this time, will the Minister give an assurance that all necessary safeguards and regulations will be strictly complied with, should the site become one of potential fracking?
 
13:49
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed, and the Member will be aware of our precautionary approach to all planning applications with regard to this, and we made a very positive statement on fracking, and the moratorium we raised around this, only last week.
 
13:49
Simon ThomasBiography
On that point, of course, Minister, the Assembly voted very recently, with the support of the Government, on the fracking issue, in order to take the most precautionary approach possible towards fracking in Wales, with the support of Plaid Cymru. Therefore, don’t we need to look at the guidance given to Natural Resources Wales to ensure that they do correspond to the requirements and aspirations of this place?
 
13:50
Carl SargeantBiography
The Member will, or should, be aware that, following that vote and my announcement only a week later, I wrote to planning authorities right across Wales informing them of the new policy objectives of this Government.
 
13:50
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 4 was grouped with question 2, so we now move to question 5.
 
Planning Priorities
 
13:50
Mick AntoniwBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on his immediate planning priorities? OAQ(4)0260(NR)
 
13:50
Carl SargeantBiography
My immediate planning priority is delivering the Planning (Wales) Bill, in order to create a more efficient, effective and resilient planning service in Wales.
 
13:50
Mick AntoniwBiography
Minister, may I also very much welcome the Welsh Government’s announcement in your statement that there will be a de facto moratorium on fracking—on the extraction of unconventional gas—and that this is effective from 15 February? Could I ask the Minister what the Government’s position would be with regard to those applications that are already, I suppose, in the pipeline—if that’s not an unfortunate phrase—because there is certainly one in my constituency like that, and it seems to me that we have to ensure that there is consistency from now onwards?
 
13:51
Carl SargeantBiography
I’m grateful that the Member and many other Members in this Assembly have raised this on a continuous basis. We took positive action on 15 February. The direction is clear that it only applies to applications made after 15 February, and it is not retrospective to apply to those regulations. The direction applies to applications for onshore gas or oil developments that propose to use unconventional methods, including hydraulic fracturing, to stimulate extraction of gas at this stage of the development. We are not aware of any applications currently submitted that would fall into this category at this stage.
 
13:52
Russell GeorgeBiography
Minister, one of the concerns raised during the report stage of the Planning (Wales) Bill was that legislation could create a democratic deficit, with decisions being taken away further from the communities that they affect. As I understand it, there is a provision within Part 5 of the Localism Act 2011 around community asset transfer and community right to reclaim land that could be enacted by Welsh Ministers, if they so wished, which could mitigate some of the concerns without changing the Bill. Have you examined those provisions, and, if not, will you commit to doing so?
 
13:52
Carl SargeantBiography
There are two parts to the Member’s question. The first one, around democratic deficit, I do not accept that there is a democratic deficit in this process and the Member hasn’t been able to allude to it, either, in detail. The fact is that I still only preside over around a dozen applications a year in making decisions; there is no intention for that to change in that process. Indeed, I receive many letters from many Members in this Chamber asking me to make those determinations as the planning Minister. So, you can’t have it both ways. One minute, you want me to adjudicate over a planning application, and, sometimes, you don’t.
 
The issue around community asset transfer is not a matter for me; it is a matter for another Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
 
13:53
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, may I refer you to the democratic deficit, because you talk in the Bill about the establishment of strategic development plans that will be carried out on a regional level? That means that the decisions will be taken by people who are not directly elected by the public. May I refer you to the position in Scotland, where, on the comparative boards in Scotland, the non-elected people act as consultants or advisors rather than the decision makers? Wouldn’t such a system be more democratic for Wales?
 
13:54
Carl SargeantBiography
Yes, it would, and I will consider that very carefully in the amendment stages.
 
The Extraction of Unconventional Gas
 
13:54
David ReesBiography
6. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy regarding planning applications for the extraction of unconventional gas in Wales? OAQ(4)0267(NR)
 
13:54
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. National planning policy on the extraction of unconventional gas is contained in ‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’ and reiterated in the policy clarification letter issued in 2014. On 13 February, I issued a notification direction that sets out circumstances where such applications should be referred to Welsh Ministers.
 
13:54
David ReesBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister, and I also welcome the decision on the moratorium on fracking. Like my colleague from Pontypridd, we also have an application prior to the date set, and I was also listening to your answer to him on that point. Many of these applications are actually for exploratory boreholes. Are you going to look at the combination of exploratory boreholes for the fracking applications, but also the exploratory boreholes for coal-bed methane and for shale gas? Have you done any analysis of the implications of the pollutants that might be in the water that are coming out as a consequence of the coal-bed methane extraction?
 
13:55
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course. I think we are doing some more work with regard to other technology involved in fracturing the ground. The borehole element of this isn’t covered by this direction. What we don’t want to do—. Boreholes are used for extensive purposes, whether that is for potential fracking or otherwise for ground assessment in terms of what that may mean for water or other extraction. So, borehole drilling isn’t covered by the direction, but most certainly fracking is. I will give further consideration to the examples that the Member raised with regard to other activity post that, but it’s certainly a very clear message that any fracking potential in Wales must be referred to me.
 
13:56
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you for your answers to David Rees, Minister. Your party, of course, is seeking more control over energy through a revised devolution settlement, yet you have not until now used your powers to revise planning guidance, not even on exploratory work in connection with unconventional gas extraction. You’re also introducing a planning Bill that aims to bring consistency to the interpretation of guidance and yet you haven’t been prepared to give guidance on this very specific and controversial issue. Why should the Welsh public support your primary legislation and your calls for further powers over energy, when you haven’t even been prepared to address mere guidance?
 
13:56
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, the Member should perhaps refer herself to a conversation with Russell George. The fact is that the planning Bill is a structural framework Bill, not a policy Bill, and the Member should be made aware of that process. We have been very clear in terms of the process of guidance issued to planning authorities. They fully understand the regulatory regime that they have to follow, and I don’t believe that the authorities are short of guidance in any way, shape or form. We’ve been very clear on energy policy here in Wales.
 
13:57
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, I accept that you’ve written to the planning authorities, but the devolution of energy powers is not just a matter for Welsh Government, but is an issue that was dealt with in Silk part 2. If that power is devolved, have you done any preparatory work so that we can move very swiftly because of all the pressures of these applications?
 
13:57
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course, energy policy is split between myself and the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport in terms of where the levels of power or energy consents lie. Particularly in planning terms, we are prepared for an increase in powers, subject to whatever Silk may deliver in the near future.
 
13:58
Keith DaviesBiography
I welcome the answers you’ve given to both my colleagues to earlier questions, but a British Geological Survey study on potential unconventional gas resource in Wales states that the south Wales coalfield contains a significant thickness of coal that meets the criteria to be called a coal-bed methane resource with the highest measured seam content in the UK. I’m told that a licence has already been granted to explore in the Burry Port inlet. Would you please confirm, Minister, that NRW will have to assess the environmental impact of any proposals that come forward for exploration in the inlet?
 
13:58
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, of course, again, all of my department and external bodies such as NRW are clear on the application of the precautionary approach around borehole applications. As I said, that’s a separate issue from the issue around fracking or coal-bed methane extraction, and we’re very keen to ensure that developers understand completely the planning regime that operates here in Wales, which is very different to what’s happening in England. This moratorium is applying in Scotland and in Wales, but not in England, and I don’t hear the opposition party saying much about that today.
 
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
 
13:59
Julie MorganBiography
7. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that Wales takes into account the effects of its CO2 emissions on the rest of the world? OAQ(4)0266(NR)
 
13:59
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Cardiff North for her question today. Our report, published last December, showed the solid progress we are making towards meeting our emission reduction targets, but further action is needed. I am committed to working with our international partners to help secure a legally binding global agreement in Paris this December.
 
13:59
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Minister for that reply. I think we all know that our actions here in Wales contribute to climate change, and climate change does affect the poorest people throughout the world. The Minister says that he is committed to getting a meaningful and universal climate agreement in Paris later on in the year. What can Wales actually do to ensure that summit is successful?
 
14:00
Carl SargeantBiography
We, I believe, with our legislative profile, are starting to create a spur in the global context of saying look at what Wales is doing, and we should be very proud of the whole process. We’ve already contributed to achieving formal United Nations recognition of the key role regional governments have on climate change. We are working alongside international European Union and UK partners towards a strong global agreement, and I think we are well placed here in Wales to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that we tackle climate change very seriously, and we are legislating towards that too.
 
14:01
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, I’m slightly surprised by that answer, given your earlier answer to Llyr Huws Gruffydd, when you said that the 3.3% increase in Wales’s emissions was down to factors that you couldn’t particularly identify in relation to Wales. Now, given that the three Westminster party leaders have signed up to push for a fair, strong and legally binding global climate deal, which affirms their commitment to UK targets in line with the climate change Acts—in other words, an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050—and your disappointing delivery of that in Wales, what action have you taken to discuss that failure to deliver in Wales with the UK Government and the other opposition parties in Westminster?
 
14:01
Carl SargeantBiography
I think the Member may live in a different climate to our climate change, because we have exceeded our 3% annual emission reduction targets for 2012 data, and are likely to meet our 3% annual reduction target for the 2013 data. So, the Member suggesting that we are not doing well at all on this is incorrect. We are very keen to play our position in a union context; Wales is part of the UK, which I’m very proud to be part of, and we have to take this very seriously. Our commitment to climate change is very clear, and we are introducing an environment Bill, hopefully in April.
 
14:02
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
If we are to reduce our carbon emissions, then we must produce more electricity in a sustainable manner for the future. When will the Government set meaningful targets for energy production from renewable sources?
 
14:02
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, we are very keen to have a mix of energy. Low-carbon energy programmes are part of that programme. I’m sure I can count on the Member’s support for low carbon technology as we move forward here in Wales, particularly in Anglesey.
 
Wales YFC
 
14:03
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
8. Will the Minister provide an update on progress in discussions with YFC Wales over funding? OAQ(4)0268(NR)
 
14:03
Rebecca EvansBiography
My officials have met with representatives from YFC Wales in relation to any support that this Government, alongside others, might provide to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation.
 
14:03
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister, for that. I do declare an interest on this question as I’m a vice-president of a local young farmers club, and I do have children connected to the movement at the moment.
 
Minister, obviously the withdrawal of Government funding from a significant level—I think it was £120,000 to zero overnight—provided a real financial challenge to the YFC movement. Are you in a position to give any indication at all as to whether the negotiations and discussions that your officials have had to date will enable the young farmers movement to bridge some of that difference in funding that they find themselves facing, given that the end of the financial year now is only one month away?
 
14:04
Rebecca EvansBiography
I do have to correct you; there was no withdrawal of funding. What happened was that applications were made for national voluntary youth organisations funding, and the young farmers were unsuccessful in that particular round of funding, so there wasn’t a cut in funding or withdrawal of funding, as some Members on your benches have suggested. But what I will say is discussions—[Interruption.] There was no withdrawal of funding. Discussions are ongoing, and Welsh Government is grateful for the work that the YFC do in terms of providing a young persons’ voice for us, helping us ensure that our policies are futureproofed to meet the needs of young people entering the industry. We’re very grateful for their work. I’m unable to provide a fuller answer in terms of the detailed discussions today, I’m sorry.
 
14:05
Elin JonesBiography
I also declare an interest, as I am one of the vice-presidents of the young farmers movement. From my perspective, as the Assembly Member for Ceredigion, this movement is so important in the work that they do. They filled Theatr Felinfach every night last week with their competitions, and it would be a huge retrograde step if this movement did not receive funding from Welsh Government. One of their strengths, of course, is that they are a national network of young people in rural areas. So, they offer themselves, as ân organisation, to work with you to deliver some of the priorities and policies of Welsh Government. In that context, will you look at how you can use the organisation to work with you, and to fund them appropriately, in order to deliver on some of the objectives that you as a Government share with this important organisation?
 
14:06
Rebecca EvansBiography
I do hear what you’re saying and I’ll bear all this in mind as the discussions go on. I agree that the YFC provide excellent resource for Welsh Government in terms of, I suppose, testing the pulse of young people in rural Wales. They have already participated in our young entrants support scheme stakeholder group and the knowledge transfer strategic advisory board, which helps to develop our vision for the next rural development programme, as well as being involved in the ‘Working Smarter’ task and finish group on communications and customer service, and the on-farm health and safety partnership as well. They’re a really effective campaigning group in terms of on-farm safety and rural issues more generally, so I’m completely in tune and sympathetic and in agreement with what you’ve said.
 
14:06
Peter BlackBiography
Minister, as someone who was once a member of a young farmers club, I understand their importance to rural communities. [Interruption.] Can I ask what consideration you’ve given to funding the YFC through your department, perhaps through the rural development plan?
 
14:07
Rebecca EvansBiography
As I say, discussions are ongoing at the moment, and I’m unable to provide a fuller answer on the detail of those discussions today, I’m afraid.
 
14:07
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I’m not sure why there should be such disbelief that Peter was a member. [Laughter.] We now move to question 9—Gwyn Price.
 
Allotments
 
14:07
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
9. Will the Minister make a statement on the availability of allotments in Wales? OAQ(4)0259(NR)
 
14:07
Carl SargeantBiography
I refer you to the recent statement I made on allotments in Plenary on 27 January.
 
14:07
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Thank you for that answer. Minister, allotments have traditionally been the territory of pottering old men, but allotments are now appealing to a wider age group, as people increasingly recognise their many benefits. I am delighted that many schools in Wales, including Pantside Primary School in my constituency, have their own allotments on site, and the pupils plant seeds and grow vegetables. What action is the Welsh Government taking to encourage communities to use allotments as an educational resource?
 
14:07
Carl SargeantBiography
It’s a fantastic opportunity. I recently visited a school in Ann Jones’s constituency where they had a fantastic allotment area and livestock too. It was a great experience for the young people. I think this offers great opportunity. I know that the leader of Plaid Cymru is an allotment addict too, like our ‘Percy the Park Keeper’ on our backbenches, and we welcome his question this afternoon.
 
14:08
Paul DaviesBiography
I’m sure the Minister will agree with me that allotments can result in improving social cohesion. They combine the local community together, as well as being a great way to learn more about the benefits of healthy eating. Given that there is clearly increased demand for allotments—and there is certainly demand in my own constituency—can the Minister tell us how the forthcoming Planning (Wales) Bill will help in increasing the number of allotments in Pembrokeshire, and, indeed, across the whole of Wales?
 
14:08
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, as the Member will be aware, the planning Bill won’t help in terms of allotment provision, but what it will do, what we can do, and I’ll do with the Green Paper that we recently consulted on, is about understanding land use, and it’s not always about allocating land as allotments. There are examples, I think in Swansea, where they have community garden facilities, which is a very similar activity, undertaken in allotment-style, but it doesn’t have the same legislative burden around it. So, it’s something that my team and local authorities, local parishes, are thinking about: how can we enhance that better in the future?
 
14:09
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, you will know from the statement that you made in January that I have been working with a number of allotment holders in Fairyland, in Neath, after the town council changed its policy there. The great concern still is that the town council intends to implement the new policy retrospectively from September 2015, taking additional sites from those already in situ and from those who live outwith the boundaries of the town council at present. Do you agree, therefore, that councils should note clearly, and justify, any retrospective decisions in consultation with those people and also give them an opportunity to appeal, an opportunity that isn’t available at the moment?
 
14:10
Carl SargeantBiography
I think what’s important is that we recognise the value allotments have in communities—not just in the growth and supply of vegetables, but, actually, it’s great for the human aspect and health qualities too. Of course, I think one of the important things for any local authority or local town and community council is engagement with communities and what the effects are of any changes that may be taking place. But this is a matter for the local authority that the Member relates to.
 
Flood Prevention Planning
 
14:10
Darren MillarBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on how lessons learnt from the 1990 Towyn floods have influenced flood prevention planning in north Wales? OAQ(4)0256(NR)
 
14:10
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Clwyd West for his question. I do remember those floods very well, as a Member in north Wales. Many of my colleagues worked in the fire service, rescuing many in his particular constituency. We always learn lessons from flood incidents. Towyn has remained resilient in the face of last year’s coastal storms, and, over the term of this Government, we have invested over £40 million in coastal flood prevention across north Wales.
 
14:11
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you for your answer, Minister. You will know that this Thursday marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the floods in Towyn, and I can sorely remember my family household being affected by those devastating floods and, of course, they’re seared into the memory of many thousands of homeowners in not just Towyn, but also Kinmel Bay, Rhyl and beyond in terms of the flooding events that took place on that fateful day. But, Minister, I have to say that I am disappointed that there isn’t a greater effort being made to promote flood awareness as a result of the commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary. I do think that it is a missed opportunity, not just for Towyn but, as I say, the whole of the north Wales coast, in order to refresh people in terms of the action that they need to take to protect their homes from flooding in low-lying areas around our coasts and indeed along Welsh rivers. I wonder, Minister, whether you will accept an invitation from me to come and visit Towyn at the earliest opportunity in order to highlight the good work—and there has been some very good work—that has been done.
 
14:12
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course, and I do recall that the Member has invited me to come; it’s just diary commitments at this point in time that I’ve been unable to commit to that, but I will indeed, and I do often go to his constituency and walk my dog along the coastal front, as the Member will know very well. What we have to be very clear about is that flooding won’t go away, but we have to make sure that communities are resilient and aware of that process. We are the only part of the UK that has community wardens that look after people in flood areas. In England and Scotland, this doesn’t happen, but in Wales we are still committed to doing that. Natural Resources Wales do a tremendous job of informing the local people in communities about the risks of flooding, but the Member raises an important point about making sure that people are prepared for this potential of flood risk, and it is something that I’m very keen my team work on with the agencies alongside them.
 
14:13
Llyr GruffyddBiography
One other important aspect, of course, is to ensure that there are no inappropriate developments happening in the first place. Can I ask you, therefore, as Minister with responsibility for planning, are you confident that enough is being done to prevent development on coastal floodplains and, of course, inland floodplains also?
 
14:13
Carl SargeantBiography
Yes, we are very keen to ensure that the raft of advice given to local authorities on floodplains is considered very carefully and assessed at every opportunity when an application is presented.
 
Household Waste Incinerators
 
14:14
Eluned ParrottBiography
11. Will the Minister make a statement on the disposal of ash from household waste incinerators in Wales? OAQ(4)0261(NR)
 
14:14
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question. In line with ‘Towards Zero Waste’, the Welsh Government encourage operators of energy-from-waste plants to recycle ash. The most common use is as secondary aggregate.
 
14:14
Eluned ParrottBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. You’ll be aware that the Splott incinerator is operational, but I’ve had concerns raised with me by residents near the Lamby Way waste disposal site that ash from the Splott incinerator is being sorted and processed in the open air on that site and that, with heavy machinery moving ash and sorting metal out of the ash in the open air, obviously, there is potential for that ash to be dispersed into the air and to affect the local population. I have written to Natural Resources Wales to ask what monitoring they’re doing of air quality in the area, but I wonder if you could investigate and just make sure that Viridor are operating within the terms of their licence.
 
14:14
Carl SargeantBiography
I will.
 
14:15
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, I know you’ll be aware of the fines of the Castle Cement plant in Padeswood in my region. There are concerns about dioxins contained in emissions from incineration. What research is Welsh Government undertaking to ensure that those don’t represent a health risk to citizens in North Wales and elsewhere?
 
14:15
Carl SargeantBiography
Proposals for any incineration plant to be built in Wales come under strict regulation, operated by Natural Resources Wales and the local planning authority. These are taken into consideration at that point in time.
 
14:15
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
14:15
2. Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. Question 1 is from Llyr Gruffydd.
 
The Availability of Affordable Housing
 
14:15
Llyr GruffyddBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the availability of affordable housing? OAQ(4)0292(CTP)
 
14:15
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Diolch. Increasing the supply of housing is a key priority for this Government. Our programme for government commitment to deliver 10,000 additional affordable homes and bring 5,000 empty properties back into use during the term of this Government is well on target.
 
14:16
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you for your response. One major frustration raised with me regularly is the success that many developers have when it comes to reducing the number of affordable housing that they are expected to include in their housing developments. May I ask what discussions you have had with the planning Minister to try to tackle this to ensure that we insist that there’s a higher level of affordable housing as a part of every development?
 
14:16
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes. That is a discussion that I have had with my colleague, Carl Sargeant. In fact, yesterday, we had a joint meeting with developers. It’s not something that developers have raised very often with me since I came into post, but it is a matter that we have discussed.
 
14:16
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Minister, I welcome the progress that’s been made on the Government’s ambitious targets to build affordable housing. Would you agree with me, however, that the cost-of-living crisis is making it more difficult for people to get on the housing ladder and making the need for affordable housing more acute?
 
14:17
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes. I would absolutely agree with you. We do face a very real cost-of-living crisis. I think that’s a result of many of the UK Government policies on taxes and benefits, falling wages, and the cost of fuel bills is continuing to rise. I think that really makes it very difficult for people to get their foot on the property ladder.
 
We have several schemes, as a Welsh Government, to help people get on that ladder. You’ll be aware of our Help to Buy Wales scheme, and that’s really helping first-time buyers and existing home owners to purchase a new build property. I’ve just today announced our intention to extend the Help to Buy Wales scheme beyond 31 March 2016. You rightly point out the importance of affordable homes, and we have made excellent progress with a total of 6,890 additional affordable homes delivered against our target of 10,000 in the term of this Government.
 
14:18
Suzy DaviesBiography
Minister, the number of student houses in multiple occupation actually let in Swansea dropped by 25% last year. What progress have you made following questions to you and your predecessor about working with landlords to convert empty HMO houses into more permanent and affordable one and two-bedroomed homes?
 
14:18
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I have had discussions with some landlords, particularly on my visits out and about across Wales. I can’t think of anything specifically in Swansea, but I think our renting homes Bill is another area where that perhaps will encourage landlords to increase the HMOs that we do have in Wales. I think it’s really important that both tenants and landlords are very well aware of their roles and responsibilities.
 
14:18
William PowellBiography
Minister, one issue that’s been raised with me on a number of occasions in this regard is the management of affordable housing contributions from housing developers, particularly in Wales’s national parks. Some stakeholders are concerned that national park authorities are sometimes somewhat overprotective of these contributions and are not always prepared to engage fully with the respective housing authorities in their areas. In this context, Minister, there is, then, potentially, a failure for the most effective spend of those moneys to address the affordable housing need. As a result of this, Minister, will you commit to looking into this matter and also to engaging with your Cabinet colleagues with responsibility for planning, but also for national parks, to endeavour to have this issue addressed so that housing need also in Welsh national parks can be fully addressed?
 
14:19
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I’m very happy to have that discussion with my colleague, Carl Sargeant, Minister for Natural Resources.
 
Childcare Entitlement
 
14:19
Ann JonesBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on childcare entitlement for families in the Vale of Clwyd? OAQ(4)0291(CTP)
 
14:19
Lesley GriffithsBiography
All three to four-year-olds in Wales are entitled to a minimum of 10 hours a week of free early education through the foundation phase. The Welsh Government also provides 12.5 hours a week of free childcare to eligible two to three-year-olds under the Flying Start programme.
 
14:20
Ann JonesBiography
Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. I’m delighted that we are leading the way here in Wales with providing childcare. It’s often seen as one of the barriers that many women will find trying to return to work. Often, the provision of childcare is the other side of the town, and many of them who haven’t got access to transport find it difficult then to access the employment market. I’m delighted that you are committed to ensuring that we do have this extra childcare to allow women to work. What assessment can you make of other programmes that the Welsh Government may be able to facilitate to ensure that women can make the best use of the childcare provision or offer that is available to them at present?
 
14:21
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. We know that work is often difficult for many people, not just women, but men as well, to access because of childcare, so it’s very important that we are able to offer high-quality childcare in the places that they’re very much needed. We know from our programmes such as Communities First and Lift that women in particular are deterred and often prevented from taking paid work by the difficulties in finding and paying for childcare. I mentioned in my original answer to you the childcare provision we have. You’ll be aware that we’ve recently launched a pledge that, following May, when we have a Labour Government in Westminster, we’re then going to increase our childcare. At that time, we will consult. I think it’s very important that, in providing that childcare, we consult with parents, we consult with the workforce, and we consult with the childcare sector and schools to make sure that provision is of high quality and is where it’s required.
 
14:21
Antoinette SandbachBiography
I was amazed to hear that statement by Ann Jones about us leading the way in accessible, affordable childcare, because the independent Family and Childcare Trust’s assessment of Wales was that, in fact, we, of all the nations, were the one falling the furthest behind, Minister. In my region, Llanbedr school has a wraparound childcare service called Munchkins, which provides a huge deal of support to local working parents. What are you doing, particularly in rural areas, where childcare is often connected with a local school and that local school is under threat of closure, to ensure that the childcare remains available and accessible for those parents who are working?
 
14:22
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As a Government, we provide funding and grants to local authorities for them to provide wraparound childcare and play during out-of-school hours and holiday periods. So, it’s up to the local authorities to ensure that that provision is there.
 
14:23
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
The situation in many areas, of course, is that childcare for children aged three to four years is associated with schools, but, sometimes, outside school, in a village hall. There are cases in my constituency where the Government’s requirement to spend money to improve the resources outside the classroom means that the money must be spent before April, but that’s impossible because of circumstances relating to property, and things like that. Is it possible for you to ensure that this provision can be extended by the Government to give local organisations more flexibility in order to adapt these sites?
 
14:23
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I can’t comment on specific examples, but if the Member would like to write to me, I’m certainly very happy to look into it.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:24
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to spokespeople’s questions. First this afternoon is the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
 
14:24
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, earlier in your questions session, you were talking about the impact of the Westminster coalition’s policies on people in Wales: benefits being cut, and the introduction of the bedroom tax. Have you carried out an assessment of how much your department has had to spend in administrative terms in order to deal with these cases?
 
14:24
Lesley GriffithsBiography
That’s something I’ve asked my officials to look into.
 
14:24
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Well, it would be very interesting if you could do that, and, at the same time, Minister, perhaps you would consider the report of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which states that there would be a cut of 2% in the Welsh Government budget if a Labour Government were to be elected following the next general election. Will you ask your officials to estimate the cost of that to your department’s administration?
 
14:25
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As I say, I have asked my officials to look into that piece of work. Obviously, budgets after the general election in May will be a matter for the UK Government to discuss. I know it’s going to be very difficult for a Labour Government going in, but I’m absolutely convinced that if it is a Tory Government again—if we had that misfortune—then we’ll probably be looking at in the region of £50 billion.
 
14:25
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Well, I’m pleased that you accept that there will be a cut in the Welsh Government’s budget, whoever wins the next general election. Is there scope for you, Minister, to take a strategic look at your department and to try to use the funding available to you more strategically, given that there is no way for you to protect the people of Wales from these cuts coming from Westminster, whoever governs there? You could be much more effective by using your budget in a strategic manner, in order to try to tackle child poverty, for example.
 
14:26
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, I do think we look very strategically at how we spend our funding. One area of work that I have undertaken since I came into portfolio is looking at how much more closely aligned our major tackling poverty programmes can be. Communities First, Flying Start and Families First do fantastic work separately, but I think to align them much more strategically will bring better outcomes.
 
14:26
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrats spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
14:26
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, the recent issue of ‘Inside Housing’ highlighted the concern of a number of Welsh councils that they’re going to struggle to train staff in time to implement the new homelessness policies by the April deadline. In particular, they’re concerned about the timetable because the consultation on new guidance for councils on accommodation and homelessness will not close until 23 March, meaning that they have very little time to train staff. Can you give some assurances that this issue is not going to arise for those councils?
 
14:27
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I don’t think those issues will arise. I think they’ve had plenty of a heads-up and plenty of time to get ready for this. I know my predecessor, Carl Sargeant, did a huge amount of work with local authorities as the Bill was going on its passage through the Assembly before it became an Act.
 
14:27
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Nevertheless, there is very little time between the closing date for the guidance consultation and when that new guidance is going to be issued, and local authorities only have a matter of weeks. How quickly are you going to be able to get that guidance out so that local authorities will know precisely what they’ll be working to and what they have to train staff on?
 
14:27
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Officials are already starting preparatory work, which you would expect, and I hope to get it turned around very, very quickly before implementation on 1 April.
 
14:28
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you again for that answer, Minister. I think the other issue that was raised is that the allocations for the £4.9 million fund for 2015-16 were only announced last month, leaving councils very little time to find and train appropriate staff. Are you confident that councils will be able to put in place the staff they need to implement these homelessness provisions?
 
14:28
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I am.
 
14:28
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And, finally, the Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
 
14:28
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Diolch. Under international definitions used by the EU, those with less than 60% of median income are defined as ‘poor’, which means, technically, no matter how narrow or wide the ranges, there would always be poverty. The Bevan Foundation has said that there’s no definition of poverty in the Welsh Government’s tackling poverty action plan or programme for government and that the definition should broaden to include wider individual household resources and needs. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also said that the definition should be:
 
‘When a person’s resources…are not sufficient to meet their minimum needs’.
 
When this was put to you in committee, you said you would need to look at all those indicators. You were quite warm in your response. Since that time, what consideration have you given to what definition of poverty should apply in Wales to recognise those resources and needs?
 
14:29
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thought it was really important that we do have a definition of poverty. I very much like the Joseph Rowntree definition and that’s about a person who doesn’t have the minimum resources for their basic needs living in poverty. Officials are working on that definition.
 
14:29
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you for that. Interestingly, at UK level, as you know, the definition of fuel poverty was changed to move towards more needs and resources. Of course, Wales has stuck to an income-based definition. But we also heard from the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation about the omission of fuel poverty, which I understand is not in your brief now, from the tackling poverty action plan, which is within your brief, which they believed should be central to your tackling poverty action plan. What consideration are you giving to that, given that fuel poverty is endemic, and often a major contributory factor to wider deprivation and vulnerability?
 
14:30
Lesley GriffithsBiography
You do raise a very important point: fuel poverty isn’t in my portfolio—it’s in the Minister for Natural Resources’. However, tackling poverty is not just my responsibility; it’s absolutely cross-Government. Every Minister in the Cabinet has responsibility for tackling poverty, so I have discussions with all my Cabinet colleagues around this. When we bring forward the tackling poverty annual report in July, we will be looking at previous ‘poverties’, if you like, that weren’t in the original tackling poverty action plan, because they weren’t so acute at the time—for instance, food and in-work poverty. So, we will be having further discussions around that before the annual report comes forward in July.
 
14:31
Mark IsherwoodBiography
In doing that, you are probably aware, and I’ll put on record, that Friday is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day—thanks to the campaign run by National Energy Action and National Energy Action Cymru. As they pointed out, Arbed and Nest are very welcome schemes. They partly fall in your portfolio, partly in your colleague’s portfolio, as they cross housing, poverty and fuel poverty. Over 98% of people living in fuel poverty fall outside that, but there is great work going on, across Wales, in many areas, to address that. What consideration, working with your colleagues, but within the tackling poverty action plan—which is the only plan we currently have—have you given to revising and updating the fuel poverty strategy, to meet and reach the needs of those 98% of people?
 
14:32
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Both Arbed and Nest are actually in the Minister for Natural Resources’ portfolio, but I mentioned that tackling poverty is absolutely cross-Government. I chair the tackling poverty implementation board, where I hold Ministers, on behalf of the First Minister, to account about what they’re doing within their department to tackle poverty. So, as we go forward, to bring the tackling poverty annual report to the Assembly in July, those are the sorts of discussions we will continue to have.
 
14:32
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is Peter Black.
 
Shorthold Tenancies
 
14:32
Peter BlackBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on the future of shorthold tenancies? OAQ(4)0283(CTP)
 
14:32
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Under the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill, and subject to the Bill being passed by the Assembly, assured shorthold tenancies will be replaced by the new standard contract, which may be either periodic or fixed term. Existing shorthold tenancies will also convert to the appropriate standard contract.
 
14:32
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. You will, of course, be aware of disquiet in the sector about the proposal in the renting homes Bill to do away with the minimum six-month tenancy, and concerns that it will cause further insecurity for tenants, in terms of the future of their tenancies. Can I ask you whether you have considered alternatives to that, such as that put forward by David Miliband, for two-year tenancies, which he proposed to bring in in England, which will not only provide security for tenants, but also give landlords the security they need in terms of the money coming in for the property that they own?
 
14:33
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Obviously, I introduced the renting homes Bill earlier this month into the Assembly, and I do recognise that the six-month moratorium is one of the more controversial aspects of the proposals, but it was supported by 84% of the respondents to the White Paper consultation. I think there are a couple of points to emphasise. One is that local authorities, in discharging their duty to secure accommodation for applicants in priority need into the private rented sector, will still be required to provide a fixed-term contract of at least six months. Obviously, this will be discussed as we go through the Assembly’s passage. But, at the moment, I’m just having discussions with officials, with organisations such as Shelter Cymru and Citizens Advice, and I am listening very much to their concerns. But I think another point I would like to emphasise is that this Bill is about a balance—it’s a balance for both tenants and landlords, and their specific roles and responsibilities.
 
14:34
William GrahamBiography
Minister, one of the benefits of the shorthold tenancy was that, when a landlord was seeking possession—perhaps for rent arrears, or anti-social behaviour—there was an absolute certainty the court would have to grant possession. Can you assure us that that will continue?
 
14:34
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, this is something that we’ll be looking at as the Bill goes through its passage. I’m having discussions, as I say, with several organisations and with individuals, but, having read the responses to the White Paper, I believe that this aspect is very important; it’s really important that both tenants and landlords are aware of their roles and responsibilities and what those contracts mean.
 
14:35
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Noting the proposal, as we’ve heard, to end the minimum six-month tenancy, but noting also the decision to enable local authorities to make more use of the private rented sector to help homeless people, what steps will the Government take to ensure that people who request assistance with housing from local authorities aren’t sent to homes in the private sector where the landlord has no intention whatsoever of entering into a long-term agreement?
 
14:35
Lesley GriffithsBiography
That’s something that we are discussing with local authorities, and, as I say, we’ll be discussing further as the Bill goes through this Assembly.
 
Support for Housing Associations
 
14:35
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
4. To what extent has the Minister prioritised support for housing associations in her departmental budget for 2015-16? OAQ(4)0285(CTP)
 
14:36
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Diolch. Capital funding of £62 million is available in 2015-16 to housing associations for additional affordable housing. A sum of £43 million is allocated to stock transfer associations to meet the Welsh housing quality standard. Across all schemes, £126 million is allocated in grant and loan funding to housing associations in 2015-16.
 
14:36
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
I am grateful to the Minister for that constructive response. I had an opportunity recently to visit, having been invited by the tenants, the £1.6 million Grŵp Cynefin housing project for 17 new homes in Tywyn, Meirionnydd. I was given confirmation of the importance of the local housing enablers in these projects in order to identify the real needs of communities. Is there certainty that there will be continued support for these crucial workers in her budget?
 
14:36
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I think it’s absolutely crucial that we continue to support housing associations such as Grŵp Cynefin, as you said. They carry out so much work beyond providing a roof over somebody’s head, and I’m very impressed with the work that I’ve seen since I came into portfolio. They are absolutely crucial partners to us as Government in ensuring that we deliver on our housing targets.
 
14:37
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, you’ll be aware that, obviously, there are 11 local authorities in Wales that have not undertaken any stock transfer and they’ve been removed from the housing revenue subsidy scheme. I just wonder what work you are doing with them to ensure that they work collaboratively with housing associations that operate in their areas to ensure the delivery of a maximum number of affordable homes across Wales.
 
14:37
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, it’s absolutely vital that they do have that partnership working and, certainly, I haven’t come across any incidents where that’s not happening, but we do rely on both housing associations, as I said in my answer to Dafydd Elis-Thomas, and local authorities, to work with us as partners to deliver on our housing targets.
 
Poverty Among People with Disabilities
 
14:38
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
5. What plans does the Minister have to eradicate poverty among people with disabilities? OAQ(4)0296(CTP)
 
14:38
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Our tackling poverty action plan and strategic equality plan include commitments to improve outcomes for disabled people. The framework for action on independent living has seven priorities for action, including housing and employment. These priorities have been identified by disabled people as areas having the biggest impact on their lives.
 
14:38
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Minister. I know from visits around my constituency, and a recent stakeholder poverty group with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, that those with disabilities such as sensory loss find it very difficult to find out what financial assistance they’re entitled to, and there are large inconsistencies between those who are able to access all the support and those who are not. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that the support available is easy to access and adequately signposted?
 
14:39
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. We’ve put an additional £4 million into our advice services; you’ll be aware of the national advice network, which will be meeting for the first time next month. That part of their remit will be to ensure that services are very consistent across the country. We know that people with disabilities are often very much hampered in being able to access information. I went to an excellent launch in Bangor—Alun Ffred Jones was also present—of the all-Wales welfare rights service, where the RNIB have been working with partners to ensure that people such as you identified are able to make sure that they are claiming all that they are absolutely entitled to.
 
14:39
Ann JonesBiography
Minister, welfare reform has a huge impact on many of the disabled people living in our communities. Two-thirds of household that have been hit by this bedroom tax are families where at least one disabled person has been living. What assessment have you been able to make, as well as your colleagues in Welsh Government, of the impact that the bedroom tax has had on efforts to eradicate poverty amongst those most vulnerable, including the disabled, within our communities?
 
14:40
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. As part of our programme of research to assess the impact of welfare reform in Wales, we have considered the impact on those with protected characteristics, such as disabilities. From this, we know that the impact of welfare reform is not equal and it’s not spread equally either. I think the impact of the UK Government bedroom tax has a disproportionate effect on disabled people. I myself had a piece of constituency casework where I had a disabled constituent who had made a bedroom for herself downstairs and, because the bedroom upstairs was vacant, the local authority wanted to charge the bedroom tax—outrageous.
 
Flying Start Policy
 
14:40
Jeff CuthbertBiography
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the value of the Welsh Government’s Flying Start policy in disadvantaged areas? OAQ(4)0297(CTP)
 
14:41
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Flying Start provides a unique and life-changing experience for children and families from disadvantaged areas across Wales. It is a key component of the Welsh Government’s Tackling Poverty agenda and independent evaluation has highlighted the many positive effects families feel the programme has had on their lives.
 
14:41
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Thank you very much for that response, Minister. That’s why I welcome the further funding that has been committed, during this Assembly, to double the number of children who will be helped by this scheme—all the more important given the way that many of the poorest families will be affected by the UK Government’s ill-informed welfare changes.
 
Now, Plas-y-Felin Primary School in my constituency is set to benefit from £150,000 of Flying Start funding. This school serves the Communities First area of Churchill Park. It’s expected that this money will be used for demountable buildings to provide facilities for the very young children of the area. It’s likely that, by working in partnership with Families First, these children and their parents will benefit from this investment. So, Minister, do you agree with me that planning and co-operation like this will bring important improvement for some of our most disadvantaged families?
 
14:42
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely; I agree with you. I mentioned in an earlier answer that I think it’s really important that programmes such Families First, Flying Start and Communities First align themselves to bring about real change for our communities. We’re working very hard to improve the lives of those living in some of our most disadvantaged communities. You mentioned the Welsh Government’s commitment to double the number of children benefiting from Flying Start from 18,000 to 36,000 and we’re well on target—last year, we’d reached 31,000 children.
 
14:42
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, school readiness at the age of five has a strong impact on future educational attainment and life chances. Can the Minister update this Assembly on how Flying Start is supporting parents in disadvantaged areas to increase the number of children who are school-ready?
 
14:43
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Absolutely. I attended Maes y Morfa Community Primary School in Llanelli with my colleague Keith Davies earlier this month, where I saw a class being undertaken of pre-school children, along with their parents. They all had tablets and were being encouraged—both the parents and the children—to be able to have the ability to use the internet, because they didn’t have access at home. So, it is schemes like that that are helping our children to be school-ready by the age of five.
 
14:43
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
Minister, I wonder if you’d tell us what the approach is within Flying Start to the physical punishment of children.
 
14:43
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I will have to write to the Member on that.
 
14:43
Keith DaviesBiography
I welcome the recent £6.9 million announcement in January for Flying Start, Minister. I shall be visiting several sites at the end of the week in my constituency to have a look at all stages of construction and work that they’re doing on those particular sites. Do you agree with me that in your recent visit, which you mentioned now, to Maes y Morfa, you saw the positive health and education benefits provided to children and families by their involvement in Flying Start?
 
14:44
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely. The visit to Maes y Morfa—. The headteacher, I think, was probably one of the most passionate of headteachers and teachers I have seen, who had embraced Flying Start in a way that was just fantastic to see in the way he evaluated the children who were going through his school. Certainly for me, I find it invaluable going out and seeing how Flying Start is working out there. It’s good to see also that the capital funding that we’ve put in over the term of this Government, along with doubling the number of children benefiting from Flying Start, has also helped deliver the programme.
 
Child Poverty
 
14:44
Antoinette SandbachBiography
7. Will the Minister outline what the Welsh Government is doing to reduce child poverty in North Wales? OAQ(4)0289(CTP)
 
14:45
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Our revised child poverty strategy will reaffirm our ambition to eradicate child poverty across Wales. We believe prevention is key and continue to prioritise investment in the early years. For example, in 2014-15, we allocated over £13 million for over 6,000 children across north Wales to access Flying Start services.
 
14:45
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Well, Minister, I’ve long raised with you the Wales Rural Observatory’s rural services survey, and, of course, one of the best routes out of child poverty is to help parents back into work. In my short debate last September, I highlighted the lack of affordable and available childcare in rural areas. Since that debate last September, what have you done to look at those councils that have not provided it? The Welsh Government has an obligation under the Act to ensure that Welsh councils do have affordable and accessible childcare available to them, and I know that, Minister, you were particularly concerned about childcare outside normal working hours that dealt with, for example, shift work, which is one of the hardest-to-access childcare provisions.
 
14:46
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Obviously, I’ve been in post since September—I think the short debate was one of my first ones—and it is something that we’re monitoring very closely. As you say, the local authorities do have a duty to provide. We provide the funding. Shift work has been raised with me as a specific problem, and that’s why, in an earlier answer, I set out that I think it’s very important that, as we go forward with our new pledges for childcare, we do consult with parents, with schools, with the childcare sector, to ensure that that childcare is absolutely of high quality and is of the flexibility that we know parents want.
 
14:46
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Increasing the skill levels and employability of the parents of children living in poverty plays, of course, as we have heard, a central part in efforts. But, we also know that more children are now brought up by their grandparents for various reasons. Can I therefore ask what you are doing to ensure that these households have adequate income levels, because they are more likely to be of a non-working age, to have medical conditions and to spend more on heating their homes?
 
14:47
Lesley GriffithsBiography
You raise a very important point, and that was something that was raised with me very early on in the portfolio, which is that, often, it is grandparents, although it was pointed out to me that grandparents are a lot younger and can often be economically active more than previously. But, I think it is really important, in just looking at the skills of parents, that we do also look at the skills of grandparents. This morning, I opened the Communities 2.0 conference, which, obviously, is around digital inclusion, and, to me, digital inclusion is a real social justice issue. Again, I think it’s an area where we can work, and we have been working, with grandparents to help them help their grandchildren as we get them school-ready.
 
14:48
Aled RobertsBiography
May I ask you about the situation with regard to Queensway ward in your constituency? I raised this last month, and, by now, that ward has reached no. 3 in the list of most deprived wards. Last month, you said that you were carrying out an evaluation of the Communities First programme. Has that evaluation been completed and will we, as Assembly Members, have an opportunity to evaluate the evaluation, as it were?
 
14:48
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, the evaluation has been completed. I will be very happy to share the evaluation with Members. I have committed to doing that in committee, and I am looking very closely at it. I was very pleased to see that the report and the evaluation is very broadly positive about the reshaping of Communities First, which this Government undertook a little while ago. It does make a number of recommendations about the future of the programme. I will need to consider those in depth. It does acknowledge that the redesign of the programme has improved its capacity to meet its objectives and deliver the outcomes that we want for people in some of our most deprived wards and areas of Wales, but, certainly, yes, I will be very happy to share that evaluation with Members.
 
The Rehousing of Ex-prisoners
 
14:49
Peter BlackBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the rehousing of ex-prisoners? OAQ(4)0284(CTP)
 
14:49
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Our prisoner accommodation and resettlement working group has made good progress with arrangements to ensure all prisoners will benefit from the legislation, which emphasises preventing homelessness. A national pathway for homelessness services is being finalised and will clarify the support by statutory and non-statutory organisations working in partnership.
 
14:49
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. When you and the Welsh Conservatives agreed to abolish the priority need for ex-prisoners, you did set up this group. I would've expected, actually, some more concrete results by now in terms of how you’re going to be dealing with that particular group. Can you give an indication of when measures will be put in place to ensure that ex-prisoners, particularly those who are vulnerable, will not end up on the street and reoffending, and can you tell us what sort of timetable and measures you will actually be implementing?
 
14:50
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The group to which I referred is finalising a model pathway for support. I’ve asked for that to be with me within the next couple of months. Local authorities are aware of the legislation that is coming and I think they, like me, are committed to doing as much as possible to help prisoners on housing matters and help to contribute to reducing reoffending.
 
14:50
Christine ChapmanBiography
Minister, figures show that while 65% of men return to their original address following release from prison, 65% of women don’t. We also know that reoffending rates amongst women remain high, at 53%, which shows that prison doesn’t work for women. There are many examples across the UK of where the use of women’s centres and community centres would be far more effective, particularly in light of the fact that around 80% of women’s offences are non-violent. Minister, what discussions are you having with the Ministry of Justice on the recommendations of the Corston report, to improve the approaches, services and interventions for women in the criminal justice system in Wales?
 
14:51
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Help for female offenders is of particular interest to me and we are part-funding a post within Integrated Offender Management Cymru alongside the National Offender Management Service in Wales to identify specific challenges faced by women leaving prison. But, principally, this is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Public Services, but our officials are collaborating on a women’s pathfinder project also, which is focused on diverting women away from custodial sentences.
 
14:52
Byron DaviesBiography
Minister, just leading on from what Peter Black was saying, can you perhaps tell me what additional measures are in place to minimise reoffending by not placing ex-prisoners in less than appropriate places within our communities?
 
14:52
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, I think it’s really important that local authorities, which are obviously responsible for providing that housing, as I said, are very much committed to helping prisoners on housing matters. The new legislation means that they will reach into prison initially, before somebody is released from prison, to try to ascertain what their housing needs will be. I expect the majority of prisoners to have had their housing issues resolved prior to release, and I think this will assist prisoners when they come out—they will know where their housing will be. I do hope that, again, it will reduce homelessness.
 
14:52
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
In 2012, Minister, the Scottish Parliament, under the control of the SNP, passed the Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012, which removed the priority need test and ensured that any applicants who could prove that they were unintentionally homeless and were eligible for assistance could actually access that assistance and help with homelessness. By insisting on having the Pereira test on the face of your housing Bill for ex-prisoners, can you explain to Assembly Members, homeless charities and groups involved with prisoner rehabilitation how this is compatible with social justice?
 
14:53
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, as I said, because this support is reaching into prison before a prisoner is released, I expect the majority of prisoners to have their housing issues resolved prior to release. I don’t think that always happened before.
 
Poverty
 
14:53
Bethan JenkinsBiography
9. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle poverty in the south Wales valleys? OAQ(4)0294(CTP)
 
14:53
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Diolch. There are a number of initiatives being delivered in the south Wales Valleys that are contributing to tackling poverty, including Communities First, the Lift programme and Flying Start.
 
14:54
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Thank you for that answer. I just want to have some idea as to how your Government is working on a cross-departmental basis in the context of my short debate last week on the reopening of the Rhondda tunnel. Had you heard that short debate, you would have heard that there is huge potential to regenerate the Rhondda and Afan valleys in light of reopening that tunnel. Of course, the Minister for the economy will lead on this, but how will you, for example through Communities First and local projects, collaborate with the Minister, should this concept be successful?
 
14:54
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the Chamber to hear the Member’s short debate, but I have asked my regeneration officials to liaise with the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport’s officials.
 
14:54
Mick AntoniwBiography
Minister, one of the issues contributing towards poverty in the Valleys is, of course, the growth of gambling and addiction of course the growth of gambling and addiction, and the growth, particularly, of online gaming. There’s been an issue with regard to the potential withdrawal of funding provided by the Responsible Gambling Trust, and, of course, concerns around that were raised with the business Minister yesterday. How do you intend to approach the issue of poverty and gambling and to ensure that there’s a joined-up strategy to alleviate poverty, but also to ensure that we get a proper share of the funding to enable us to actually deal with issues related to gambling?
 
14:55
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. I know this is an area where you’ve done a great deal of work, and, obviously, gambling has very clear consequences for those facing poverty, and for their families also. We know it disproportionately affects vulnerable groups within society, particularly, unfortunately, sometimes people with financial difficulties and with alcohol and mental health issues. I’m very happy for my officials to liaise with the Minister for Health and Social Services’ officials to see what more can be done to increase the effectiveness of the programmes that we do have.
 
14:56
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Minister, obviously we’ve had two tranches of European funding that is directly related to poverty levels in certain parts of Wales. We are now into the third tranche of money. Given that you’re the Minister responsible for many of the schemes, where would you like Wales to be, and where will you commit the Government to putting Wales, and especially some of our most deprived communities in the south Wales Valleys, at the end of that scheme regarding poverty levels?
 
14:56
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I think what’s very important is that this funding is targeted at some of our most deprived and disadvantaged communities, and one of the targets that’s coming out with the next tranche of funding is that 20% of it must go towards tackling poverty. So, my officials are currently working on programmes. We have one programme called PACE, which will specifically help with childcare, and we also have one called Communities for Work, which will work on a similar basis to the Lift programme, for instance. So, we’re working these two programmes up as we go forward over the next two months.
 
Adaptable Social Housing for Disabled People
 
14:57
Eluned ParrottBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on the availability of adaptable social housing for disabled people? OAQ(4)0287(CTP)
 
14:57
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Adapted housing plays a vital role in meeting the housing needs of disabled people. The Welsh Government encourages the use of accessible housing registers and partnership working to make the best use of existing resources to enable people to live as independently as possible. All local authorities have an accessible housing register matching process.
 
14:57
Eluned ParrottBiography
Thank you, Minister. I raised in October with you the case in the Vale of Glamorgan of 20 families waiting for adaptive homes. One of the issues that has since been raised with me is that when minor adaptations are required, that can be provided quite quickly, but when major adaptations such as hoists or widening of doorways are necessary, that that takes very much longer to achieve, because the social housing stock that we have at present in Wales cannot be adequately adapted to provide those things. What guidance and what discussions have you had with local authorities in Wales to talk about building purpose-built adapted housing for people with significant disabilities?
 
14:58
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Obviously, we have issued both frameworks and guidance, and local authorities are responsible for meeting housing need in line with those. I haven’t had specific discussions about them building specific housing, but I think it’s really important that they ensure that, wherever possible, they get on with the adaptations as quickly as possible. Certainly, when you look at local authority performance data, there is an unacceptable level of differences in some local authorities as to how quickly they provide it. I don’t think that’s acceptable. There have been some improvements, but I’ve made very clear that I want to see even more improvements, as has my colleague the Minister for Public Services.
 
14:59
Mohammad AsgharBiography
According to the report by Leonard Cheshire Disability, many councils in Wales have no estimate of the number of disabled-friendly homes they need or the impact the lack of such homes is having on health and care services in Wales. Will the Minister agree to look at this issue and provide guidance to local authorities in Wales to improve the availability of adaptable social housing for the disabled?
 
14:59
Lesley GriffithsBiography
We already provide a framework and guidance to local authorities, and we do expect them to have registers. Certainly, our research has found that all local authorities have an accessible housing register matching process, for instance, so I do think that that work is already being undertaken.
 
14:59
Simon ThomasBiography
Minister, the work of Care & Repair is very important in making minor adaptations that enable people, particularly older people with disabilities, to remain in their own homes. Are you confident that you have made adequate provision for the continuation of this important work, and what sort of further work can you do to ensure that the work of agencies such as Care & Repair are included by local authorities, and that they collaborate more closely with the health boards?
 
15:00
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Certainly, Care & Repair do carry out very important work, and you’ll be aware of the report on the review of the independent living adaptations that we had a debate on in the Chamber earlier this month. Now, officials are working my other ministerial colleagues’ officials to make sure that we take the report’s recommendations forwards, but, obviously, Care & Repair have a huge role to play in that work going forward.
 
15:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
15:00
3. Statement: Update on Announcement by 2 Sisters Food Group Ltd
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the next item, which is a statement by the Minister for Economy—Economy, Science and Transport: an update on the announcement by the 2 Sisters Food Group Ltd. I call on the Minister, Edwina Hart.
 
15:01
Edwina HartBiographyThe Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I have similar difficulties, some days, with the title, as well.
 
On Friday, it was announced that 2 Sisters Food Group Ltd is entering into a consultation period on proposals to move to a single-shift operation at the poultry facility at Llangefni. The announcement made clear that there may be an impact on the number of staff employed onsite. This is, obviously, very disappointing news and a very concerning time for the staff and their families affected by the announcement.
 
We have a long-standing relationship with the parent company, Boparan Holdings Ltd, which is one of our anchor companies and has a number of business interests in Wales. We are working closely with 2 Sisters to deliver all opportunities to grow investment and employment across the businesses in Wales. 2 Sisters currently has four processing sites in Wales, which employ over 4,000 people. The site in Llangefni employs around 750 people, including around 200 agency staff. It was acquired in March 2013, with support from the Welsh Government, when 2 Sisters bought the Llangefni, Sandycroft and Merthyr Tydfil sites from Vion UK Ltd; this secured 330 jobs at the Llangefni site. Further support in August 2013 assisted in the creation of a second shift at Llangefni, creating 318 new jobs.
 
More recently, we’ve been working with the company and the trade union, Unite, on their long-term plans for the site. In particular, we have been working to encourage them to retain as much production and employment as possible and to invest in further modernisation.
 
The company informs us that they have been experiencing a number of issues recently relating to shift patterns and productivity. I have spoken to the company at the highest level, and the trade union, following the ann